Published August 15, 2009
While President Obama is pressing hard to rally support for his health care reform plan at different stops across the country, he hasn't allowed that to interfere with a weekend family trip to the rustic West and its national parks.
The Obama family -- the president, the first lady and daughters Malia and Sasha, and other relatives -- had a busy sightseeing weekend planned: visiting Yellowstone National Park on Saturday and touring Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona on Sunday.
"Oh, that's pretty good. Cool! Look at that. That's a geyser there," a casually dressed Obama said as he and his family watched Old Faithful erupt in Yellowstone after they strolled up a path with park rangers.
Earlier, his entourage walked wooden boardwalks and bridges in the steamy Black Sand Basin, where hot springs and small geysers dot the picturesque landscape.
The president has shrewdly mixed business with pleasure as he seeks to regain control of the public debate on health care. His weekend out West comes before he leaves for a summer break on Martha's Vineyard.
On Friday, the president took 2 1/2 hours after his health care town hall near Bozeman, Mont., on Friday to make good on a campaign promise to learn fly fishing when he revisits the state.
Obama didn't let thunderstorms and unseasonably cool weather stop him from fishing for Montana's famous trout.
"He insisted that fishermen fish in the rain, so he said, 'Let's do it,"' fishing guide Dan Vermillion said. "The weather was really horrendous. We were all real cold at the end of the day."
Vermillion, who runs the Sweetwater Fly Shop in Livingston, said the commander in chief has become a serious student of the sport.
"I found him to be a real good listener. He really wanted to learn about the whole experience of fly fishing," he said.
Obama reported practicing the difficult-to-master mechanics of fly casting on retreats at Camp David, Vermillion said.
It paid off. The president did well for a first-timer by hooking half a dozen fish in an area mixed with brown and rainbow trout, but he didn't land any during the afternoon getaway on the East Gallatin River, his guide said.
No reporters or TV cameras were allowed on the trip. The president simply wanted to enjoy the learning experience rather than turn it into a media event, Vermillion said.
Obama used fishing gear he received as a birthday president from some avid fishermen on his staff. Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, who used to work for Montana U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, helped set up the trip and fished during the Friday getaway. Press secretary Robert Gibbs joined them.
While fishing, Vermillion said he and Obama talked about everything from Montana land issues to their personal lives, and the president insisted on being called by his first name.
"We talked a lot about his family and the challenges he and Michelle face trying to keep his kids grounded in the surreal experience he lives in," he said.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer had some other advice as Obama headed off Saturday to take the kids to see the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park.
"I told him to watch his kids' faces, and not the geyser, and you will never forget the expression on their faces when that thing goes off," Schweitzer said in an interview. "It truly is memorable."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.