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Taking the Kids: A bucket list in the U.S. that few take

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Hang on tight! It’s going to be a big fun ride! Especially on this roller coaster, one created mostly by nature, which comparatively few people ever experience.

On a seven-day Western River Expedition on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, we navigate more than 60 rapids, at least one (Crystal) rated 10 out of 10) and another (Hermit) with 10 “haystack” waves one right after another.

“It was the best,” said Emily Cleary, 18, who was celebrating her high school graduation with her parents on our trip. “I got really hammered by Hermit!”

“I have friends who have been all over the world but not to the Grand Canyon or other national park, this should be a must,” said Tom Coonan, here from Chicago with his wife Kris Anderson after their trip to Ireland was canceled. (Check out our video.)

Besides all those rapids, there were challenging hikes scrambling over rocks and through creek beds to hidden waterfalls and ancient Anasazi granaries. We were treated to the best wilderness cooking — blueberry pancakes and crisp bacon for breakfast; grilled trout and asparagus for dinner, even a Dutch-oven chocolate cake for my birthday.

With cruises and many trips canceled, national parks have been jammed, but not on the Colorado River deep in the Grand Canyon.


Only 18,000 people a year — fewer this year — get to see the Grand Canyon from the river — not only the rapids but the incredible side canyons and waterfalls, as compared to 6 million on the rim. Another 4,000 or so raft and kayak on private trips, according to John Dillon, executive director of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association. Raft trips from April to October are strictly regulated by the National Park Service. He added that outfitters lost $20 million in gross sales and thousands were forced to postpone or cancel trips they had been planning for a year or more.

Two-thirds of our group met in Marble Canyon, Arizona, where we left our cars. The rest flew in a chartered plane from Las Vegas. At the end of the trip, we helicoptered up from the river and took flights back to where we began.

We were all glad to be here on a bucket list trip that was safe this pandemic year and exactly what so many Americans are craving — the chance to get outdoors safely to escape the news for a week, since there is no Wi-Fi.

“With no distractions,” observed Kris Anderson, who is from Chicago. “You really have the ability to be present, to take in the beauty, the geology, the history … the stars at night.”


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