AN IN­DIAN SUM­MER

Colorado turns out to be an ideal fam­ily des­ti­na­tion, say A. A. and Flora Gill

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

HOL­I­DAYS are cycli­cal; they mark the curves of our lives. Hol­i­days are the mea­sure of achieve­ment and en­ergy, they pace the dis­tance run. I have re­cently achieved a fur­ther fam­ily, the tricky sec­ond album. I am look­ing into cots again and bal­anc­ing heavy wob­bly heads in the crook of my arm again, be­witched, both­ered and be­wil­dered again.

Un­bid­den, one of the first thoughts that born-again pa­ter­nity has given me was, ‘‘ Oh good, Bri­tish beaches again, Corn­wall and Mull, Bournemouth beach huts, Hamp­shire chimes, the grit­ted good-for-you mis­ery of north Nor­folk and bat­tered had­dock in Scar­bor­ough.’’

There are few plea­sures avail­able to so­phis­ti­cated ur­bane life that can com­pare with in­ves­ti­gat­ing a shingly, drift-strewn, siz­zling, wave-hit­ting beach with a five-yearold. And just as I thought about that, I was also re­minded with a skewer of sad­ness that I was en­ter­ing the fi­nal In­dian sum­mer of hol­i­days with my first fam­ily. Flora and Ali are 16 and 14. Their ex­cite­ment at, and tol­er­ance of, the old oxy­moron ‘‘ a fam­ily hol­i­day’’ will soon wax into gap years and group don’t-ask-athons in Phuket.

I want to make the most of their last sum­mers as my chil­dren. It’s dif­fi­cult to come up with hol­i­days that keep them en­ter­tained with­out keep­ing me sleep­less. I don’t want to go to some­where that caters for chil­dren as if they were a dis­pos­able an­noy­ance to be taken off your hands in the morn­ing and dumped back af­ter din­ner. I don’t want to have to com­pare pho­to­graphs to see what their hol­i­day was like.

Sum­mers are the bright colours in any fam­ily’s quilt and I think we’ve just found a pretty per­fect place for ours: Colorado, on the edge of the Rock­ies, within strik­ing dis­tance of the arid In­dian coun­try of Utah and Ari­zona.

The US is not ev­ery­body’s idea of a hol­i­day; Amer­i­cans aren’t ev­ery­body’s cup of tea. Many of my con­tem­po­raries twitch their noses in dis­taste. Who would re­ally have theme parks, ham­burg­ers and shop­ping malls in­stead of risotto, fres­cos and cam­panile? Ac­tu­ally, I would.

I’d cer­tainly rather have rodeos, bears and beavers, trout fish­ing, rid­ing fields of wild flow­ers, hik­ing pre-Columbian ru­ins and din­ers to 24-hour traf­fic jams, Mediter­ranean rip-offs, bad tem­per and the flabby pizza of the south­ern Euro­pean coast. And, more im­por­tant, so would my chil­dren.

No one un­der 20 shares the fash­ion­able grown-up snob­bery about the US or Amer­i­cans. They like ev­ery­thing about it: the mu­sic, the films, the slang, the trashy fash­ion and the food.

The big skies of the West turned out to be where my grow­ing-up kids and I could over­lap for a cou­ple of weeks. This is how Flora saw it: There are few op­tions for a teenager’s hol­i­day. There’s go­ing down to the beach to hang out with surfer boys who are se­cretly afraid of wa­ter. Or you can go some place in the coun­try to have ran­dom old peo­ple tell you how fast you’ve grown. Or you can spend nine weeks of the long sum­mer hol­i­day sit­ting in front of a screen. The com­pli­ca­tions of find­ing a suit­able hol­i­day are dra­matic when the lo­ca­tion has to suit each mem­ber of the fam­ily.

We were taken to Colorado, US. Colorado is not known as the most pop­u­lar place for teenagers. When I men­tioned it to a friend she asked if it was some­thing like Su­doku.

Af­ter a long flight of scream­ing ba­bies, beef or chicken and re­runs of Friends, we ar­rived at Den­ver.

I was scep­ti­cal of the fort­night ahead. We drove up the Rock­ies to a house in the south­west, be­side Dun­ton Hot Springs.

The land­scape was huge and strangely familiar; it looked like a cross be­tween a cow­boy movie and a screen­saver.

The first thing that struck me was how much sky there was. The space was amaz­ing, and the colour, the warmth. Still, I wasn’t sure a view was go­ing to be enough to sus­tain or en­ter­tain me and I doubted the amount of fun the moun­tains were hid­ing.

Within a few days, though, I’d been white­wa­ter kayak­ing down a bumpy river, rid­ing through fields and woods, had turned my­self into a wrinkly prune in medic­i­nal hot springs and had spent a great deal of time cheap shop­ping in Wal-Mart, weird hard- ware shops and In­dian trad­ing sta­tions. And then there was camp­ing in the desert.

I’m most def­i­nitely a city girl and my only ex­pe­ri­ence of tents was on a school trip, which was one of the most trau­matic nights of my life, but I dis­cov­ered not all camp­ing trips are the same. We set up un­der some red bluffs. I spent a long time tan­gled in ma­te­rial and rope, stick­ing pegs in poles in wrong slots. Even­tu­ally, I let the fa­thers do it, since it seems to be what they come for. Their ex­cite­ment was re­ally em­bar­rass­ing.

With camp­ing you have to adapt. A rolledup jumper for a pil­low, chew­ing gum for tooth­paste, a muddy river for a bath; but best is a tent un­der the stars for a bed­room. As it grew dark we made a fire and cooked, and passed round the food and the drink, toasted marsh­mal­lows, made up sto­ries and sang and laughed. In Colorado I got wet and muddy and hot, and dressed up like Brit­ney’s for­mer in-laws. With­out my usual clus­ter of com­pet­i­tive friends, I could re­lax. The things that usu­ally em­bar­rass me didn’t seem to mat­ter out there. I fell off my horse, cap­sized in a river, sang songs round a camp­fire.

I’m just not go­ing to do any of it back home and I’ve hid­den all the pho­to­graphs. The Spec­ta­tor

Il­lus­tra­tion: Eric Lobbecke

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