How we spent summer vacation

In the elite circles of private schools in Washington, D.C., globe-trotting vacations are common, but it is hard to imagine that many schoolmates of Malia and Sasha Obama will be able to rival their summer adventures.

Although the White House zealously guards many of the details of the Obamas' private family time, the public caught a glimpse Sunday of the girls' sightseeing tour of the Grand Canyon, and a day earlier, of their visit to Yellowstone National Park.

Earlier this summer, photographers captured visits by the first daughters to the Eiffel Tower and the Pompidou Center in Paris, a slave dungeon in Ghana, and the Kremlin in Moscow.

The girls' tour of London with their mother included stops at Big Ben, the Tower of London and 10 Downing St., where they met the prime minister's wife.

This weekend, First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters joined President Obama on a swing through Montana, Colorado and Arizona, blending family time with his campaign to overhaul the nation's healthcare system.

Arriving outside Bozeman, Mont., on Friday -- shortly before a heavy thundershower drowned out the introductory remarks of a speaker at Obama's event -- the president announced that his family was heading off for a white-water rafting trip without him.

"I just heard some rain out there, so I don't know what's going on there, but they're on their way," Obama told his audience.

Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, dealt not just with rain but hail on their 1 1/2 -hour river excursion -- which a White House spokesman described as "a blast" -- before decamping to a mountain resort near the timberline in Big Sky, Mont.

The president joined them in Big Sky after fly-fishing, unsuccessfully, for rainbow trout on the east fork of the Gallatin River with his deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina.

Avoiding summer traffic the next morning on a fee-free weekend at the national parks, the first family headed by helicopter to Yellowstone for a private walking tour of Black Sand Basin, an area that encompasses fountain geysers and the Emerald Pool hot spring.

After the family watched an eruption of the Old Faithful geyser, White House staffers allowed the cameras to chronicle a stop for ice cream at a nearby general store.

Leaning over the counter with Sasha, Obama asked about the ingredients of flavors like Moose Tracks, Stuck in a Rut -- a caramel and vanilla concoction that was Sasha's choice -- and Buffalo Chip.

"That sounds a little suspicious," the president observed to laughter.

When a server began carving an enormous scoop for Sasha, her father cautioned restraint: "You don't have to make it that big," he said. "She's not going to be able to eat all that."

That afternoon during another town-hall-style meeting on healthcare in Grand Junction, Colo., the Obama girls headed to a nearby orchard, again leaving the president to wrangle with his crowd over the sometimes dry details of healthcare legislation.

"Last time I was here I had some really good peaches," Obama told the audience, sounding momentarily wistful. "Somehow, though, Michelle and the girls got to go pick peaches -- and I'm hoping they bring some back for me."

Later this month, the president and his family will have a more uninterrupted vacation on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

The Obamas' final Western trip Sunday was to the Grand Canyon -- which Obama last visited at age 11.

Escorted by two park rangers, they walked along the South Rim to Hopi Point, an overlook with a 5,000-foot drop to the Colorado River.

Malia may have been savoring her last few weeks of vacation before returning to school, but she could not escape a geological quiz about rock samples that one of the rangers had brought from the bottom of the canyon.

"You just studied this, right? What kinds of rocks are there?" Obama asked his daughter.

With a small hint from the ranger, Malia identified igneous and metamorphic rock.

That brought her squeezes of pride from both parents.

"High-five," Michelle Obama said, looping arms with her daughter.

Then it was time to move on to other lessons in the park -- out of earshot of the press.


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