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.