By Susan Munroe
When I was a kid, my family’s Christmas day celebration included stuffed stockings and flying wrapping paper and shrieks of glee over new toys—much like any other household in our neighborhood. But the boxes under the tree weren’t always as they seemed. My mom would wrap up our ski boots, stuffed with vouchers for lift tickets at the local ski hill. Another box might be full of old maps and a hand-made card announcing an upcoming family vacation. My dad crafted ingenious “treasure hunts” with rhyming clues that would lead the recipient on a merry chase into the attic, dog kennel, the trunk of the car, and the basement before finally revealing a new bike or other special gift. For my parents, Christmas wasn’t about giving “stuff,” but about giving experiences. And as much as my sister and I might have felt disappointed when we didn’t get all the toys on our wish lists, the things we talk about as adults are the ski trips, hikes, games, and adventures we had as a family.
We live in a society that tells us to buy! buy! buy! And most of us enjoy giving to the people we love. But when you’re trying to decide between yet another cute knickknack for mom or “Life is Good” t-shirt for dad, or when you’re loath to buy more technology for the kids, consider giving the gift of a shared experience. Naturally, we’re biased, but we feel pretty strongly that a river trip is the kind of gift that the whole family will remember for the rest of their lives. Spending two, three, four, or more days exploring the unique river canyons of Utah and Colorado, disconnected from everything except each other, is a powerful experience.
Our office staff are adept at recommending trips to suit your family’s interests, and they can even make up gift certificates toward the value of a trip so that your loved ones can pick the exact dates and sections of river they like.
Already booked a trip but still need gift inspiration? Here are some ideas for gifts that will come in handy out on the river.
Sarong: the most versatile piece of fabric ever invented! Use it as a bathing suit cover up or a beach towel. Create shade for your knees and shoulders during the heat of the day. Get it wet and wear it over your head and shoulders to keep you cool while on longer hikes. It’s also a great deterrent if there are bugs. And with a little creative wrapping, a colorful sarong makes a great outfit for dress-up night.
Headlamp with a red light setting: hands-free is hands down the best way to illuminate your surroundings at night. And the red light setting is key for preserving your night vision (and that of your fellow rafters) so that you can see the wonders of a truly dark night sky. Red lights also attract far fewer insects.
Books: give a gift certificate for a local book store so your family members can pick out their own beach reads. Belknap’s river guides are a great resource for learning about the specific canyon you’re travelling through, and a perfect place to make notes about favorite camps, hikes, and rapids. History buffs will love Edward Dolnick’s “Down the Great Unknown,” about John Wesley Powell’s trip down the Green and Colorado Rivers. “The Emerald Mile” by Kevin Fedarko is a lighter read that not only details the history of the Powell expedition and dams in the west, but also tells the nail-biting story of the fastest-ever descent of the Grand Canyon in 1983. “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey is a beautifully written ode to the Utah desert, and Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” is like reading the script of an action movie set in the desert southwest. Riddle or “mini-mystery” books are a great way to keep kids engaged while floating quieter sections of river.
Insulated water bottle: to keep drinking water icy cold in the middle of summer.
Mug or camping cocktail “glass”: to enjoy morning hot beverages or evening aperitifs (just, please, not made of actual glass).
Sun hat: protect the faces and necks of your loved ones. It is a desert out there, friends!
Binoculars: for the bird watchers or wildlife-lovers; make sure to get a splash-proof model.
Camping gear: although Holiday rents camping gear, this could be the opportunity to buy someone that new tent or upgrade an old, leaky Therm-a-rest for a cushier sleeping pad.
Need more ideas? Check out our store.
One of my favorite memories from my childhood is the tradition that my father, sister, and I had of baking loaves of cinnamon bread. We spent all of Christmas Eve day sifting flour, cracking eggs, kneading dough, and waiting for it to rise, rise again, and finally emerge, sweet and crackling, from the oven. We’d eat it for breakfast, sliced and toasted with butter, while we sat around the tree and opened gifts and laughed together, excited for the things we got to enjoy right then, but also full of delicious anticipation for the memories we’d be making together as a family throughout the rest of the year.
However you celebrate this season of giving, we here at Holiday wish you clear skies, clean lines, and plenty of fun. We hope to see you and your loved ones out on the river next summer!
Susan Munroe is a reader, writer, traveler, and river guide. She moved to Utah from New Hampshire for the mountains, but it was the allure of the desert and its rivers that have truly kept her transfixed. More than eight years after she first came to work for Holiday River Expeditions, she still can’t get enough of life on the water. Susan spends her winters skiing and working in Salt Lake City, Utah, with frequent trips to southern Chile to run the Río Baker and support the work of the educational kayaking exchange program Ríos to Rivers. See more of Susan’s work here: www.susanmunroe.com, and photos of the river life here: www.susanmunroe.zenfolio.com.