Editor’s note: what a wonderful story of bonding with a newborn through travel! Sam’s adventures may be changing, but I have no doubt that his stories, while a bit different, will be just as inspiring to all of us. For more of Sam’s incredible writing, click here to visit his index page.
As everyone knows, traveling is my big passion. Understandably, the scariest idea for me in having children and the most annoying thing I would hear was, “When you have children, your days of traveling will be done.” With my wife and me waiting for the arrival of our child, this thought bothered me more and more. When my daughter arrived into this world, I discovered a new joy that I had never felt before and found at my hands eight weeks of family leave. However, when you are a rabbi, lifecycle events, people being sick, and Jewish holidays do not work around your family leave, and your input is needed in many decisions daily at the synagogue. I quickly found out that multiple days a week, I was putting in five hours of work and meetings and telling my wife, “I can’t go for a walk with you and the baby, I need to have this meeting.” On the days where I did not have meetings, our baby would wake us up at 6:30am and it felt as though we would blink and all of a sudden it was 10pm. The days had never gone by more quickly and before I knew it, half of my family leave time was gone and I felt as though I had not been as present as I should have been for my growing family. I knew that I had to get away. Low and behold, I found that it was not that traveling was impossible with a baby like I had been told, but, rather, that traveling saved my family leave.
Living in Salt Lake City and a Four Corner state, there are an infinite number of great trips that are a half day or less drive from my home. Many of these places, like when I lived in Los Angeles, I have said, “I will visit them someday,” and then used my vacation time to jet around the world. On a whim, I asked my wife and myself, “Why not now?” The next thing I knew, we loaded up our four-week-old baby, our two dogs, and our bags and drove north to get out of town. On that first day, we stopped at Bear Lake, known as the Caribbean of the Rockies for its bright blue water. This large lake, formed by an earthquake 250,000 years ago, is a popular regional vacation destination on the Utah-Idaho border known for its raspberry shakes and water sports. My wife and I walked with our daughter on the beach as our dogs frolicked in the lake, thrilled to be out of the house. Shortly thereafter, we loaded back up and drove a couple more hours until we got to Soda Springs, Idaho. This town was famous along the Oregon Trail for its massive geyser and is named for its spring water that is carbonated. Today, the geyser is controlled and goes off every hour on the hour for about ten minutes to the delight of onlookers.
Though had we done the drive straight it would have been around three hours, with our stops, we arrived seven hours after we left in the small town of Freedom, Idaho, a town that straddles the border with Wyoming. There, we stayed in a small cabin and watched as deer and elk went by and relaxed as our cell phones got no service. Going to bed early, we knew that we would have to awake by 7am for our action-packed day; yet the baby had other plans and woke us up at 5am for us to get a jump start on our journey. That morning we drove up to the jaw-droppingly beautiful Grand Teton National Park. When we arrived at the gate, the park ranger asked us if we wanted to pay $35 to enter the park or buy an annual National Parks Pass for $80. Jill and I looked at each other and at Miriam in her car seat and in that moment decided that we were going to make this journey more than a one-park stop. By day’s end, we had driven the 43-mile loop at Grand Teton, walked our dogs around the Jenny Lake Campground, driven up to see the sulfur pools in Yellowstone, and watched the legendary Old Faithful erupt. We ended our long day by stopping in the charming tourist haven of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, walking along its streets and through its antler-arched parks before eating a delicious dinner on the dog friendly patio of Hatch Taqueria & Tequilas, a Mexican fusion restaurant.
The next day, Jill, Miriam, our two dogs, and I drove the 3.5 hours home, stopping for lunch and to walk around Park City. During that drive home, I reflected on how over those three days I had been the happiest during my family leave and also how I had seen new things, given my dogs a great journey, but most importantly, I had been more present with my wife and child than any other moment. Were we scared to go on this trip? Yes, but we found that traveling with a baby, stopping to take pictures with her to show her one day, was different; it had its challenges, but was really fun. Though all babies are different and maybe we are lucky, at this age our daughter does not need constant stimulation as she sleeps about 17 hours per day. For the most part, on our sightseeing and driving, Miriam happily slept in her car seat while Jill and I got to talk with each other about anything and everything. I was not ready to get back to sitting at home and watch the days fly by.
That afternoon, we arrived back in Salt Lake City, and I immediately walked in, grabbed my laptops and booked a two-night stay at the Dolores River Campground (DRC) in Dolores, Colorado for two days later. Jill and I switched out the clothes in our bags, took a couple days to do some chores around the house, and then hopped back in the car with Miriam and the dogs and drove six hours to Dolores, while making a pitstop in Moab, Utah, about halfway there, for lunch. The DRC was yet another wonderfully peaceful place away from the stresses of work. On the grounds were two small fishing ponds and the Dolores River beautifully cutting through the property as it headed south. In Dolores, we had farm to table food, went cider tasting, and enjoyed the outdoors. The next day, all of us headed out to Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument to explore different easy trails, take in beautiful views, and learn, through their ruins, about the Anasazi Pueblo Indigenous Tribe. After a long day of exploring, we went to the incredibly charming, beautiful, and happening town of Durango. Durango was a mining town in Colorado, and today is nestled among mountains and by rivers. During the summer, the sidewalks are packed with people and the local restaurants take over a lane of traffic on the streets with outdoor dining of trendy restaurants. This town of under 20,000 residents, whose motto is “Open Spaces and Familiar Faces”, was one of the most enchanting cities I have been to in our nation and is a place where I would love to return.
Though as I have mentioned, there is so much to see and do in the area, the main attraction, where we spent the next day, is Mesa Verde National Park, 40 minutes from Durango. Mesa Verde is one of the 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States and is the only place in the United States to be designated a national park because of its archaeological ruins. Mesa Verde, which is appropriately named as it is a lush green flat-topped mountain, is home to over 5000 archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. There are more archaeological sites and dwellings here than anywhere else in the United States, most of which are between 800 and 1400 years old. I am sure that I will write about Mesa Verde in another article, but driving around with our baby and doing a one mile hike to ruins with her strapped in a pouch to my chest, made seeing a place that has long been on my American bucket list a more thrilling experience than I ever could imagine.
On our way home, we did a quick drive through part of our beloved Arches National Park in Moab, and a little beyond, raced up into Canyonlands National Park. There, we spent a couple hours and sat as a family as we watched the sunset over the sprawling landscapes beneath us, and the canyons carved out by Utah’s Green River. In that moment, I felt immense pride as a person, as a husband, and as a father. Had there been some hiccups along the way and a couple moments where we found ourselves driving with an inconsolable infant for twenty minutes? Had there been times where plans were interrupted by feedings and diaper changes? Absolutely. But in that week, my wife and I went to places we had always wanted to visit, we talked for hours with conversations I would not trade for the world, we overcame our fear of traveling with an infant, and most importantly, we created cherished memories with our daughter (though she will only have the pictures).
Someday, she will tell people that her insane parents took her to four states and five national parks in her first five weeks of life, but in that period, we became resolved to take our child traveling at all stages in life. We believe that she will grow to be a more patient, understanding, tolerant, educated, and cultured person getting exposure to different places, environments, histories, and cultures. And, like me this past month, she will gain appreciation for what is most important in life. Through travel, I used my paternity leave the way it was intended, to bond with my daughter, be present for my wife, all while doing what I enjoy the most.