Obamas return to Camp David after 8 month absence

Marine One with President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughter Sasha approaches the South Lawn of the White House on Aug.15, 2010, in Washington. President Obama was returning from the Gulf Coast where he and his family spend the weekend in Panama City Beach, Fla.
Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

It'll be a change of pace for the first family this weekend as they'll be spending it at Camp David. They haven't been to the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland since early last October.

In fact, compared to his immediate predecessor, you might think President Obama doesn't care for the rustic getaway very much. This weekend will mark only his 17th visit to Camp David since taking office.

President George W. Bush made use of Camp David far more often. At this same point in his presidency, he had been to the heavily-guarded mountaintop hideaway 62 times. By the end of his 8 years in office, his visits totaled 149 and spanned all or part of 487 days, that's well over a year.

The Clintons were more like the Obamas and didn't visit Camp David that often in their first years in the White House. At this point 2 years and 4 months into his presidency, Bill Clinton had made only 15 visits to Camp David. He would later explain that he and the first lady wanted to stay home at the White House with Chelsea, who had obligations to school and friends that didn't lend themselves to Camp David weekends.

It's likely the same with the Obamas, preferring to spend weekends at home with Malia and Sasha who are known to have school & sporting events to attend in town.

But today' is Sasha's 10th birthday, and some of her friends are likely invited to join her at Camp David for some cake and partying.

Birthdays aside, some members of past first families made no secret of their distaste for Camp David. Before President Eisenhower renamed it for his son, it was known as Shangri-La. First Lady Bess Truman reportedly found it dull. And daughter Margaret wrote in a 1973 memoir that "deep in the woods, Shangri-La was damp and cold." She called it "a terrible place" and said she went there as little as possible."

The Trumans went to Camp David only 9 times in 8 years. Since those days though, accommodations at Camp David have been significantly upgraded to luxury hotel status. And after their first visit to the place in February 2009, Mr. Obama called it "a beautiful place."

"The girls just had a great time," he told reporters. He said he hit a few golf balls and played a little basketball.

He'll probably stay with golf this weekend - coming a week before his first-ever round of golf June 18 with Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Mrs. Obama came away from that first visit with similar feelings. Addressing an audience a few days later at the Interior Department, she spoke of "the beauty of those grounds." She said "it was just wonderful to get a bit of a break and to spend some quality time as a family in nature."

For most first families, that's the appeal of the place. It's a getaway from the museum and life-in-a-bubble that is the White House.

Presidents can go for long walks on a moment's notice or even get behind the wheel of a golf cart and go for a drive on the scenic paths and trails throughout Camp David.

Anyone can walk up to the fence line at the White House. Don't try that at Camp David where you'd likely find yourself confronted by heavily-armed U.S. Marines in combat gear.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.