Vacation has always been my time to be a SLUG – to rest, relax, and do absolutely nothing. It started when I was ten with my family’s annual summer beach trip. Every year, the same trip, the same beach, and the same slug-like behavior. When I had a family of my own, Edward (the hubs) and Rory (the kidlet) joined me. And I loved it. And I was happy. And I was a SLUG. Until last year. My family decided not to go to the beach, and my Edward got excited and decided to plan our summer trip. And because I wasn’t thinking about the summer in FEBRUARY, I agreed. I should have known then what lay ahead. I should have known. Because, you see, Edward is NOT a SLUG.
In April, Edward laid out the plan: COLORADO and UTAH. National parks, hikes, rafting, and rock climbing. And the SLUG in me? It threw up in disgust. This did NOT sound like a vacation. This sounded like WORK. I complained and moaned and whined. But Edward had spent so much time planning and was really jazzed. So, I swallowed it and pretended to be jazzed too. But the SLUG in me? It cried every single day. The next months were filled with preparations including the dreaded yet obligatory trip to REI. After THREE HOURS of shopping, I was the reluctant owner of hiking boots, a sun hat, AND an emergency first aid kit. Awesome! Who doesn’t want a vacation that may endanger their life? And the SLUG in me? It fainted. And before I knew it we were off.
At some point during our trip something strange happened. The SLUG inside me actually died. Or maybe it crawled away. But somewhere between the highest point of Colorado and the lowest point of Utah, I changed. We all did. By breaking our vacation paradigm, we experienced and explored and learned and grew. We impressed ourselves and each other by taking chances. We experienced unreal beauty while holding hands. And as a family, we made more memories in one week of adventuring than we did in nine years of sluggish vacations. Here are some of those memories.
GARDEN OF THE GODS: Colorado Springs, CO
Our first stop of the vacay. I admit my head still wasn’t fully in the game yet. But watching Rory scramble up numerous red rocks and then declaring himself a mountain goat was pure joy. In the Garden of the Gods, Rory discovered his love of rock climbing, scrambling, and (eek) high places. Not to be missed: Kissing Camels (adorable and cheesy), Balanced Rock (which I could not figure out) and the Three Graces (which made me feel small and loved). If you have kids, be sure to stop at the Visitor Center for information on the Junior Ranger program. Most parks have them. Essentially, they give them an activity booklet which helps keep them engaged in the visit; its completion earns them a badge from a park ranger. The experience truly does keep the “how much longers” and “are we there yets” at a minimum.
PIKES PEAK: Colorado Springs, CO
Our second stop of the vacay. We took the cog railway to the top. It was long. And slow. And crowded. But once we arrived at the top, 14,000 feet above sea level, the view took your breath away…almost literally because the oxygen is so thin. The moment I will always remember is walking through wisps floating through the air and then realizing, I WAS WALKING THROUGH A CLOUD. I will never forget the feeling.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK: Moab, UT
I am glad we visited the Garden of the Gods first; it was the appetizer to the Arches entrée. Trying to explain the Arches experience is like trying to explain to a parentless person how you feel about your child: it’s impossible. The magnitude and the other world-ness of it all cannot be described – only experienced. Our first drive through the park was silence. We couldn’t even speak. And then from the backseat: “I am so happy right now, and I don’t even know why.” Exactly Rory.
Not to be missed: ALL OF IT but I especially enjoyed Double Arch. Standing underneath the massive structure, I felt so small and almost felt like I was in the palm of God’s hands with His fingers interlaced above me. Even now, when I need to calm my mind, I go back to Double Arch where it’s very clear I am small, my problems are even smaller, and God is holding it all. Again, if you have littles, the Junior Ranger program is an absolute MUST.
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK: Moab, UT
Another national park in Moab; Moabites are just the luckiest. If Arches was impressive for its coloring, height, and unreal formations, Canyonlands is impressive for its sheer depth and breadth. If you want to feel tiny, go to Canyonlands. My memory from Canyonlands: fear. Mr. Mountain Goat scrambled to great heights above great depths. My heart nearly stopped several times. And the Mesa Arch? That’s a photo op that just cannot be missed. Perfection. Yet again, the Junior Ranger program was an absolute homerun. At Canyonlands we learned why the desert hare has such long ears. I won’t spoil it for you.
DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT: Jensen, UT/Dinosaur, CO
I must admit. This detour (about three hours from Moab) was my idea. And in theory, it really is cool. But in actuality, it was fifteen minutes of observation of something that looks just like the online photo and exhibitions not much different from our local natural history museum. In all, I am not sure it was worth the trip. Although passing through towns named Dinosaur and seeing dinosaur statues along the way was kitschy but fun. And the Junior Ranger program was Rory’s favorite. If you have very little kids, you’ll want to get them a dino hunting license, again, super kitschy but super fun.
ACTIVITIES: Moab, UT
Even though our national parks are unbelievably beautiful, one can only spend so much time hiking those parks with one’s jaw dragging on the ground.
Red Rock UTV
By far Rory’s fave activity, we spent three hours off-roading in a UTV: up (AND DOWN) 500 foot red rocks. I started counting down to finish time almost immediately. Edward and Rory went insane with delight. Sheer adrenaline rush for three hours. We slept like babies.
One of those surreal moments. Here you are in a raft with the people you love. The amazing red rocks on either side of you. The gorgeous Colorado River below you. And clear blue sky above you. At one point Rory asked me to jump in the river with him and float along the boat. Our guide nodded his ok. We were fully clothed and I had on a full face of makeup, but the SLUG had long moved on and I jumped into that river with my son. And we held onto the raft’s rope with one hand and held hands with the other and floated down the Colorado River together.
At one point he turned to look at me, and we had one of those powerful connection moments. Then he smiled and looked up to the sky. It was a brief, small moment. But it was a perfect moment. And it was a never to be forgotten moment.
Potash Road Dinosaur Tracks & Petroglyphs
Potash Road was the most insane drive of my life – more like a natural history museum than a state highway. Artwork etched into rocks hundreds of years ago lined the highway – genuine, older than dirt petroglyphs- the ones you read about in history books – just right there along the highway. Mind. Blown. And then there was the dino footprint. We heard about this from locals. Marked off Potash Road was a trail called, wait for it, POISON SPIDER TRAIL. Coolness factor: 10. Fear factor: 11. We had the trail to ourselves, and it was a bit of a scramble, not an issue for Mr. Mountain Goat, but the reward for the scramble was huge, literally: an authentic theropod footprint. An actual dinosaur stood in that spot. A REAL DINOSAUR. Oftentimes, it’s hard to envision dinos actually living on earth. We read about them and see pictures and see fossils, but when you put your hand in their hand, BOOM.
After we got home, and I had time to reflect, I realized I had just experienced the best vacation of my life – not because it was a different vacation but because I was a different vacationer. And this summer, my family is sending postcard sfrom Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. There may be boating. There may be tree climbing. There may be ziplining. The SLUG would definitely not approve, and that makes me EXCEEDINGLY happy.
This is a guest post written for Families That Travel by Kelly Russell-Tutty