You have your baby who you feed who becomes your kid who you feed, nurture, and entertain who gradually becomes a person with experiences who is unfolding into the person he or she will be. You realize you are part of this process, this unfolding and you hope that your part helped make them stronger, more well-informed, and more well- adjusted. In the usual pace of life, the maintenance of house and home and car and body and keeping the bills paid and food in the fridge and the forever endless pulls on your time that you always feel like there is something you're forgetting, it's so easy for months to go by without stopping to really think about where is my child right now in his or her trajectory of becoming. Not just, how is my child doing in school, but how is he doing? Is there something she's not saying that she should be saying? Is there something I should be seeing or hearing that is passing me by because I'm too consumed with my own maelstrom. Partly consciously for this reason and partly because I know my boys and I can have a great time together, we make a point of getting away together several times a year. Since I'm fortunate enough to live in Utah where there are so many INCREDIBLE places for us to explore, there's simply no excuse not to. When we do go, there is no time I'm more keenly aware of the relationships I've made with my boys. There is no time I can see them as clearly. There is no time I can hear them as well - - really hear them. There is no time during which they are more willing to share themselves - their voices, their concerns, their jokes, and their love, with me than when we share an adventure to a new place or just an old favorite.
Over Easter Weekend 2013, we headed for an old favorite place to camp, but threw in a new adventure to share. Just outside of Goblin Valley State Park, there are a number of primitive BLM campsites that we've enjoyed on numerous occasions and which my boys are inevitably overjoyed about when they hear we are going to return to. I let them know we'd try something new this time, IF the weather was good. We'd go explore a relatively tame, but incredibly beautiful slot canyon called Crack Canyon, and we'd bring our dog along. I'm not sure whether they were more excited about the slot canyon or that we'd bring "Cookie" along, but they were big white teeth shown through ear to ear smiles and unbridled enthusiasm. "But what about Easter, Dad," asked my youngest.
"What do you think about having a big Easter egg hunt in the desert, and getting your baskets when we get back," I replied. He was satisfied with the answer. Over the next few days, I found myself filled with the feeling that what I'm doing is exactly what I should be doing and that there's no place else I'd rather be. When we arrived at our first camp site, we hiked a big sandstone dome. The boys were so surprised how it was so much bigger than it looked. "You were right, Dad!"
Of course, I know I'm not always right. When we got to the top, we stopped to take in the views. We talked about where Goblin Valley State Park was. Then I pointed to the part of the San Rafael Swell we'd be going to in the morning to hike Crack Canyon. By the time we arrived back at our campsite, the sun was getting low in the sky. The boys played, Cookie ran free, and I got our simple little dinners together: fruit, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, crackers, trail mix, and some cookies for desert. We'd roast our marshmallows and make smores a little later. The night was serene. The stars shined brightly. After the boys insisted it was time for bed, we climbed into our little tent, snuggled up and drifted to sleep.
The next day's adventures went from hiking Crack Canyon and watching the boys' demeanor change from looking sluggish and asking how much longer it would be until we'd get into the canyon, to them hopping around, all smiles, and telling me about all the things the vivid shapes and colors of the canyon inspired in their imaginations. "Hey guys - please don't run in here, WALK, and don't go so far ahead that I can't see you." We talked about flash floods, the forces of nature, and why it's incredibly important that we be mindful of the many hazards there are in a place like this, but how lucky we are to be able to explore these places together. We found ourselves at short drop offs, which we carefully discussed on how best to climb down. We looked at the possible routes together and talked them over. This was my boys and I working together. "Dad, how is Cookie going to get down?"
At one particularly big drop, my older son was boasting that he could easily climb down it and that there's no reason to consider turning back here. I explained that we always need to think about the person in our group who might have the most trouble FIRST and then think about ourselves later. I asked him if he thought about how Cookie was going to get down. We decided to turn back, that is until we bumped into a group of well-prepared canyoneers escorting a group of kids. They said they'd be happy to assist us. The little challenges we encountered along the way became a main source of our bonding, of our conversations, and of our memories being made indelible. The remainder of the canyon was simply magical.
That afternoon, we loaded the car and headed for the Burr Trail, which I was excited to see. It would be a first visit for all three of us. The campground we hoped to stay at was very small, Deer Creek Campground. It had just seven or eight sites and was full. Just across the road was the Deer Creek Trailhead which leads into the vast desert wilderness of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The sheer enormity of the surrounding desert wilderness was instantly apparent and awe-inspiring. Red sandstone domes surrounded in sparse evergreens, probably cedar and juniper trees, recede into the unfathomable distance. To the north, rises the snow-covered Escalante Mountains. To the south, a canyon wilderness begging the serious outdoor enthusiast to acquire topographic maps and guide books, the proper backpacking gear, a friend or two, and a week or two (at least) of free time. The boys and I filled out the overnight permit at the trailhead and wandered in a few hundred feet and set up our tent behind some juniper trees and a curvy sandstone cliff. We may have been violating a rule regarding the allowable distance people are allowed to camp from the trailhead, but I hope not. The convenience of having the pit toilets across the street at the Deer Creek Campground was nice for the kiddos. We wandered the area and played together well after nightfall before retiring to our beautiful little space in the middle of nowhere.
We rose on Easter Morning with plans to meet some friends at the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trailhead at the Calf Creek Recreation Area and to begin our day's hike with an Easter egg hunt there. My youngest was eager to get going, but I insisted that it was important that we explore more of the Burr Trail Road for work, before heading to our egg hunt destination. He was not pleased with my verdict. The drive down into The Gulch was astonishing, incomparable beauty to rival anywhere. The canyon narrows to towering walls stained with desert varnish, which I frequently referenced with enthusiasm, and apparently, unconvincingly. We drove until the pavement ended and then turned back to get breakfast before the hunt.
We had a delicious breakfast in Boulder, UT and then headed south on All-American Scenic Byway 12 for Lower Calf Creek Falls. Our friends had already arrived, so the boys were immediately running this way and that, laughing, chatting, and happy to be connected. I found a quiet corner near of the picnic area and put the Easter egg hunt together. Once I said it was time and pointed out the perimeter, I counted down, "10, 7, 4, go!" I have to appreciate how important these little things are for kids, how they anticipate it. "50 eggs total. Once you've collected 25, you're done." If I don't lay down some ground rules, my older son leaves me with a very disappointed little boy. So I do.
I was happy to have our hunt conclude, and to see that the boys obviously enjoyed themselves. So, we got our gear together and began our hike to the falls. The two mile-hike took us past prehistoric rock art, or pictograph panels, granaries, or food storage spaces the ancient Fremont Indians built to store and protect their food high on the cliff walls, beaver dams, and beautiful scenery around every sinuous bend of the canyon. The furthest point of the hike revealed a breathtaking waterfall splashing over several levels of the sandstone cliff and an array of color streaking outward from the water due to mineral deposits, algae, and plant life sustained by the falls, which originates high in the nearby Escalante Mountains. We all spent several hours enjoying the view and eating. The dogs swam in the pool beneath the waterfall, and occasionally the kids would follow, and come out shivering. I consciously took moments to appreciate their joy and satisfaction that we were spending time together and creating a connection and reverence to an extraordinarily beautiful landscape I call home, Utah.