Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tonto Natural Bridge: A Great Hike for Kids

It is no secret that I absolutely love the state I live in. The fact is that Arizona has the best climate, the greatest outdoor treasures, and the coolest places to explore. If this were an academic paper, I wouldn't need to cite sources, because this is common knowledge (at least for those of us who live here). And for all of the years I have lived here, I find that there are still new places to explore, especially with kids.

So a few weekends ago we loaded up into the family truckster and headed to the mountains. The destination was Tonto Natural Bridge. This is an Arizona state park that is just north of Payson (just under two hours from the Phoenix area). While it is a kid friendly state park, it is not pet friendly, so Kona had to stay home.

When I read about the hiking trails, they all seemed pretty short, with the longest trail being 1/2 mile long. The suggested amount of time for this short trail was one hour. I was pretty sure that Arizona State Parks had grossly underestimated my kids, but two hours seemed to be minimum amount of time needed for a decent hike.

Destination: Tonto Natural Bridge
Driving time (from Phoenix): <2 hours
Time hiking: 2+ hours
Distance: 1-2 miles
Cost: $22 for a family of 5 (depending on kids ages)

My kids loved the hike. There was a lot of scrambling up rocks, sliding down rocks, watching daddy grab his chest because he thought he was going to have a heart attack because of how close the kids were getting to the edge of everything. But all three kids, ages 5, 7, and 9, did a phenomenal job on the trails, with almost no complaints.

The Natural Bridge itself was amazing. While my hope is to inspire Arizonans to visit (or non Arizonans to come to Arizona to experience our breathtaking beauty), I won't go into the details of why the Tonto Natural Bridge is truly spectacular. However, I can say that it is amazing to walk over and through this natural wonder. The kids loved looking at the rock formations, the caves, and the waterfalls. It was truly beautiful.

Let's go back for a minute to the daddy heart attack. My kids were being kids. They were exploring and having fun. They weren't doing anything reckless, or dangerous, or careless, nor would I allow them to. But in my mind, every step was the one that caused them to careen down the rocks into the icy pool under the bridge. Or the one that made them slip and fall and break an arm. And then I saw my younger self, my 9 year old self, in my daughter's exploration, and I remember my dad telling me about all of the grey hairs that we caused him (cue The Cat's in the Cradle now). So dad, I'm sorry. I now understand.

But my hope is that in letting my kids explore and have fun and, yes, give their daddy some grey hairs, they will grow up to be independent risk takers. They will hopefully look for opportunities that others might shy away from, but, because I let them crawl around on some rocks or slide down some boulders, they will take those opportunities and those risks.

So this is hopefully the first of many posts that will be about exploring the great state of Arizona. I'm hoping that my family and I can begin to travel to various sites around the state, both known and unknown, and inspire both ourselves and our readers to go explore. Be on the lookout for more articles on great places In the Backyard.

Until then, stay safe, remember to breathe, pack plenty of water, and let the kids be explorers in the great outdoors.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thanksgiving Tree: Helping Kids (and Parents) Learn Gratitude

Fall is a wonderful time in Arizona. The temperature finally shifts from surface-of-the-sun to absolutely perfect. We are able to open our windows and go outside. And while most of the country is raking up leaves and preparing for snow, we are getting ready to enjoy our sunshine for the next six months.

But, just like the rest of the country, as we move into November, we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving. As parents, we look for ways to teach our children thankfulness. Enter our Thanksgiving Tree.

Every year, we crumble up brown packing paper in the shape of a tree and cut out dozens of paper leaves. Each evening, before dinner, each member of the family takes a leaf and writes down something that we are thankful for. The one rule is that whatever it is cannot be repeated. We get things like, "I am thankful for family" (sweet), to, "Vitamins" (weird), to, "Quesadillas" (who's not?). But as we move through the season, and the tree gets more and more leaves, our kids are learning to be grateful for all of the things that they have.

And I've come to realize that my gratitude increases. On the bad days at work, I am still thankful for my job. When breakfast is a half-warm piece of toast because I didn't have time to let it actually toast, I'm thankful that I have something to eat. When I get cut off by another driver on my way to work, I am thankful that I have a car, and thankful that my horn works (yeah, I'm still learning). The fact of the matter is that the Thanksgiving Tree is just as much for me as it is for all of us. So whether it is leaf shaped papers taped to a crumpled paper trunk, a notebook with a list, or a stack of index cards, I encourage you to practice gratitude for the next couple of weeks.

Oh, and by the way. Happy Thanksgiving!

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