The Replica Trip

Have you ever done a replica trip? You know, a trip you plan in hopes of replicating some magical experience you had a child. Think the movie “Vacation,” except without the R-rated scenes.

For my husband, Alan, that magic happened in 1977 on a family trip to Durango and Mesa Verde, Colorado. Part of what made this trip so special was that it was rare. And part of what made it so special was that his dad joined the family for this one. When the family did take a trip, Alan’s dad sometimes stayed home to earn money. But for this particular family trip, the whole family was there and it made an impression on young Alan.

Two other things also made an impression: the Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango and the Pueblan dwellings of Mesa Verde. Thirty-eight years later this trip was still locked in his brain somewhere between Farrah Fawcett and the 1977 Yankees, and he was determined to recreate it with our three boys.

We recruited another family of all boys and headed down to Durango for a week of dad-planned fun.

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Boarding the train the next day was the first and last similarity between Alan’s childhood trip and ours. Alan fondly remembered riding the train to the beautiful old West town of Silverton at the rail’s end. For us, the train broke down halfway up the mountain, several members of our party got motion sickness and the only view we really reveled in was spying the bus that took us back down the mountain.

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We tried again for replica magic the next day at Mesa Verde. Alan prepped the group on our drive up the winding two-lane highway with tales of crawling up ladders into ancient Indian ruins. They were pumped. Until . . . they found out you can’t climb in the ruins like that anymore, and that several sites were closed for maintenance.

There would be no climbing up ladders, or anything else for that matter, but we could view some spectacular pieces of history from across the gorge through a set of pay-by-the-minute tourist binoculars. What a fail!

And then there was our attempt at Four Corners. Who knew it had visiting hours? Not this dad-lead group. When we arrived after an hour-plus drive from Mesa Verde the monument was 10 minutes from closing. The gatekeeper, who was clearly annoyed, reluctantly allowed us in with a gruff warning: If we weren’t out by closing, she was locking us in.

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We blazed through the gates and ran to the four corners, tripping over one another and frenzied at our predicament. We still managed some flips, a kiss and a couple obligatory photos (one with a pouting boy who didn’t get to be in the State of his choosing) before it was time to hightail it back to the cars. As we sped out of the gates, a plume of dust billowing from our back tires and honking animatedly at the now very unhappy gatekeeper, the kids were already proclaiming Four Corners sublimely fun.

And that’s when it hit me. It didn’t matter that we weren’t able to replicate any of the magic of Alan’s childhood trip. We were making our own, messy magic.

We were breathless and frantic at Four Corners instead of casually walking around. We were picnicking and catching lizards on a plateau of orange rock across from Indian ruins instead of climbing around in them. We were walking on the streets of Durango when my 5-year-old lost his first tooth, and were close enough to pop by the Cold Stone to celebrate immediately instead of being on the Silverton Train.

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In 38 years my three boys may be taking their own children to Durango and Mesa Verde, Colorado to replicate the magical trip they took in 2015. And while they won’t be able to make the train breakdown, the Indian dwellings closed, or the gatekeeper hostile at Four Corners, they will be able to make their own precious and magical memories.

Republished with permission of St. George News.

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