WHO: Tila, 47, and Bruce Ramin, 49, and their children Danny, 13, Lily, 10, and Lisa, 8, of Waban
WHERE: Arizona and Utah
WHEN: 11 days in July
WHY: ''We take a family vacation every year," Tila Ramin said. ''We all love to travel together; we love the exploration part of it. I had been really interested in Kayenta [Ariz.], in Navajo country."
A ROUGH START: ''I always plot everything out ahead of time," Ramin said. ''I'd read about every place. I did everything six months in advance." But she could not have planned for a canceled flight and then a missed connection. ''We got in at midnight and had to drive in the rain to a hilly place, up and down, for two hours. And there was no food anywhere."
DAYLIGHT SURPRISES: ''We're very extravagant when we travel," she said of their stay at the Hilton in Sedona, Ariz. ''We always have two rooms, or have a suite. Our hotel was in Oak Creek Canyon, which we could see from our room. It was surrounded by these red rocks. We took the Pink Jeep Tour, which everyone thought was great. You go to the top of a plateau, very bumpy. The kids loved it. We got out to see cacti. It was really, really different. And it was sunny and beautiful all the time."
NATIVE AMERICA: A few days later they drove to Kayenta Township, next to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, on the Utah-Arizona border. ''It was a beautiful drive. There was no greenery and it was flat, then there would be sand dunes," Ramin said. ''Kayenta itself is very small. We stayed at the Hampton Inn, operated by the Navajos. Curly was our Navajo guide. The kids loved him. When you get into Monument Valley, you really need a Navajo guide because everything is owned by them. Right next to the hotel there were little homes with different colored rooftops, which I'd say were upper middle class. The rest of the area was very, very poor."
HOODOO HUNTING: Next they headed to Bryce Canyon National Park. ''On the way we stopped at a trading post for a traditional Navajo dish, like a taco. We bought some beans to bring back," she said. ''Bryce was to me the nicest of the parks we went to," Ramin said, especially for its hoodoos, the colorful sandstone formations the park is famous for. ''We went to a rodeo nearby. It was interesting to watch, but slow. It's more interesting on TV." They spent a day at Zion National Park, two hours away, going on some small hikes and wading in the river. ''We stayed at the Zion Park Inn. It was very elegant with a great view of the rocks," she said. ''I called Utah the friendly state. It was the friendliest place I've been."
GRAND AND DANGEROUS: The family's final stop before heading back was the Grand Canyon. ''We stayed at the Maswik Lodge, which we had to book a year in advance. We wanted to stay at El Tovar, but you had to book there a year and a half before," Ramin said. ''We took tours that take you to different stops. The sunset was beautiful, very romantic." Ramin was fascinated by a book she bought at the gift shop, ''Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon" by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers (Puma, 2001). ''So many people have fallen off just from looking over," she said; the guide joked about Ramin reading it during a tour. They had dinner at El Tovar, which sits on the rim of the canyon. ''It was very, very fancy. We always take nice clothing with us for things like that." They had planned to go on a mule tour, ''but the kids were too short."
WHAT THEY SAW