On Top of the World – A Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The mountains are calling and I must go.

– John Muir

We like living in Florida.  While the weather during the summer is atrocious – hot and humid and rainy – the weather from October through April is glorious.  And, besides, summer in Florida is no worse than winter in New York.  We have found the people to be open and friendly where we live.  There is so much to do, especially with kids, that we are constantly on the go.  Overall, moving here has been a very positive experience.

I miss the mountains, though.  I grew up in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.  While the Ozarks don’t have the lofty elevations of the Rocky Mountains, or even the Appalachian Mountains, they are quite rugged and beautiful.  My childhood was an outdoor childhood, and those mountains are a place I understand.  They are home, in a real way.  The mountains in New York are similar.  We never lived far from a good, rugged, up-and-down hike, with waterfalls and bluffs and incredible views merely a short drive away.

Florida doesn’t have much of that.  The area around here is beautiful in its own way.  The wildlife is spectacular, especially the birds.  There is little to match the thrill of a non-Floridian encountering the sight of a medium-to-large sized alligator floating in the water, or lounging next to a golf course water feature.  The sunsets and particularly the sunrises can be incredible.  The swamps, while claustrophobic and somewhat scary places to me, can be majestic, with tall cypress trees looking like columns stretching out to the horizon.

But there aren’t any mountains.

I have decided that the mountains are going to remain a feature of my life.  I am unwilling to let them go.  But I am also going to be living in Florida for the foreseeable future, so I am going to have to figure out what to do about that.  And the answer is that I am going to have to be willing to travel and make time to make that happen.  Recently, I got a chance to do that by extending a work trip out West – I got a chance to go for a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Entering the park a few hundred feet from the Allenspark Trailhead

For all of the time I’ve spent in “the mountains,” I have had very little exposure to the Rockies.  I went to a wedding in Winter Park once, but that was in February so I didn’t wind up leaving the resort all that much.  I spent a week in Boulder once that featured a hike up into the mountains, but I was 18 and really wasn’t paying attention like I should have been, or would now.  So when this trip came along and I realized I could flex my schedule and make it work, I got excited.  I spent a lot of time researching areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, and then looking at possible hikes and trails.  I worried about my ability to hike at elevation, especially with pretty severe changes in elevation – for a guy that lives in Florida, 2,000’ of elevation change is, um, a lot.  But I got it all planned up, and in late August the day finally came, and I was headed to the mountains.

The feedback you always get about hiking in the Rockies during the summer is that by late morning or early afternoon you are likely to get thunderstorms up on the mountains.  Apparently the afternoon thunderstorm is not just a feature of the tropical Florida climate.  And I was worried about timing for the day, anyway – I wanted to get my hike in and also get a chance to go to a visitor’s center and poke around – so I left my hotel room in Denver at 4:30am and headed up to the mountains.

I had chosen the southern area of the park for my hike, a place that they call the Wild Basin.  The trailhead was out of a little mountain town called Allenspark, and I was parked and on the trail before sunrise.  The trailhead was at about 8,500 feet, and I was hiking to a place called Pear Lake, which was at about 10,600 feet.  I had chosen that route for a couple of reasons.  First, it looked awesome.  Second, the reviews all said that it was relatively lightly traveled and also represented a good chance for spotting wildlife.  And third, I was worried about my performance at elevation, and there is another lake, called Finch Lake, about halfway up the mountain that would have represented a fulfilling and beautiful destination for me if I felt I needed to turn around before I got all the way up to the top.  The total hike was going to be right at 12 miles – 6 miles up, and 6 miles back.

I was on the trail before sunrise, probably around a quarter to six.  The first 1.5 – 2 miles of this hike was nice, but relatively featureless.  The trail can be quite rocky, and initially climbs through a thick forest that seems pretty impenetrable.  At just under a mile in, the trail from the Finch Lake Trailhead joins in … with a very steep approach … and then at just under two miles the trail comes to its first major junction and open view of the Wild Basin.

At the junction from the Finch Lake Trailhead

A pretty magical thing happened about 30 minutes into my hike.  The sun was starting to rise over the mountains behind me.  That initial morning light comes in at an angle, and it lacks the strength of the overhead sun that will come later in the day.  The first sunrise light allows itself to be manipulated by things – trees, mountains, the quality of the air.  As I was walking, the sun officially rose behind me, and the light did not bathe the area fully.  Instead, it lay down a path, directly on my trail, and curving with the trail as I walked.

The sun lit my path directly, as though to tell me, “Go this way.  This is the way.”

On very lucky days the trail tells you that you can relax and know that you are on the right path…

There are some days when you wonder if you are on the right path.  When you worry that the path you have chosen is going the wrong way.  And on those days, knowing how way leads on to way, you begin to doubt if you can ever get back.  On this day, though, I did not have to wonder or worry.  On this day, the sun came up behind me and said, “Go this way.  This is the way.”

Anyway.

I began to see wildlife almost immediately, and I was very much hoping – though not really expecting – to see a moose.  One day I will see a moose in the wild, and I hoped that this was the day.  Initially, though, it was the squirrels, and the birds.  Regular readers know I am crazy about birds, and this park did not disappoint.  In the first hour or so, I encountered my first Stellar’s Jay, and then a few minutes later a male/female pair of American Three-Toed Woodpeckers.

Stellar’s Jay

Struggled to make this picture work, but this is a male American three-toed woodpecker

I also was beginning to get views of the mountains.  Mt. Meeker was the most clearly visible, with Longs Peak peeking over its shoulder.  There was an interesting triangular peak that I discovered later was very appropriately called Pagoda Mountain.  And the basin itself was wild and deep and amazing to see for a guy that currently lives in Florida and grew up around mountains that topped out at under 3,000 feet.

Mt. Meeker, with Longs Peak saying “hi” in the background

Pagoda Mountain

The trail was climbing all of this time, sometimes steeply.  Rocks were everywhere, which is particularly OK on the steep sections – they almost act as stairs.  I climbed through a section that had once experienced a large forest fire and is still re-growing the forest.  And then, after I had climbed probably 1,000 feet, the trail turned and headed downhill for a half mile or so, losing 200 – 300 feet as it dropped down toward Finch Lake.  This downhill section was very steep, the only section of the whole trail that had switchbacks, and even steps, cut into the mountain.  While I appreciated the downhill, I also knew that I was going to have to climb this on the way back out, so … yeah.

When an otherwise very steep trail resorts to steps … buckle up

Finch Lake was about four miles into the six it was going to take to get to the top of my hike.  I approached the lake at about 8am, and had the entire view to myself.  This was my first ever experience with a sub-alpine lake, and – and I know this is cliché but I don’t care because the clichés are clichés for a reason – it was breathtaking.  There was a mist coming off of the water in the soft morning light, with the sunrise lighting Copeland Mountain, Ogalalla Peak, and Elk Tooth in the background.  Copeland Mountain, in particular, loomed over everything.  Here was my first real chance to see a moose, though it was not meant to be.  A flock of ducks landed on the water as I watched, though, and I could have sat there and smelled the forest and listened to the quiet for hours.

Finch Lake, with Copeland Mountain and Ogalalla Peak in the background

But I was making good time, and I had promises to keep (and miles to go before I sleep…).  In the first four miles I had gained probably just under 1,000 feet of elevation.  I was going to gain the next 1,000 feet in the next two miles.  Here was where I worried about my fitness, especially at elevation.  The trail was about to get steep, and I was already at well over 9,000 feet.  But I was not feeling any obvious impact from lack of oxygen, so I headed out around Finch Lake and started up the mountain.

The trail didn’t disappoint in terms of steepness, either.  Almost immediately I came upon a long, steep section that was more like climbing stairs than hiking a trail.  On the way back down, while I was at the top of this section, I met a couple of hikers that were just topping out right there.  They had clearly struggled with that section, and were hoping I would tell them that was the hardest part and that they were almost there.  It hurt to tell them that they still had over a mile and a half of climbing to go.  They looked … cowed.  I hope they made it to the top.

The trail then began to work through an area that had little bogs on the side.  This area looked very moose-y to me, and I slowed down and did a little exploring.  At one point, the trail bottle-necked in a section that was steep on both sides – no good way up, and no good way down.  Right in the middle of the trail at this point I found a moose print as big as my hand.  This got my heart-rate up.  They say to fish where the fish are, and that was clearly happening here.  But, alas, that print was all I saw of the moose that day.  Still a thrill, but I’m going to have to save the excitement of actually encountering one of the creatures for a different day.

Fish where the fish are … with my foot for scale

Eventually, the forest started to change.  I could tell I was gaining elevation when the big trees started to thin out a little, and in some cases give way to more open areas.  There were more bushes and shrubs, and the sunlight was able to penetrate much more heavily.  It was in this area that I encountered a bird that I did not recognize at all.  It was about the size of a large chicken, but colored perfectly like the bark of the trees it was living near.  The bird never did fly – when I asked a ranger about it later, that was the first question he asked me – but ran away slowly.  That ranger told me it was called a dusky grouse, recently recognized as a distinct species from a bird called the sooty grouse.  Together, they had been called blue grouse until fairly recently.  I love birds.

Dusky Grouse, disappearing into the tree behind it

And then, a short climb later, I topped out at Pear Lake, at about 10,600 feet.  Pear Lake is below the tree line, and stunning. Copeland Mountain and Ogalalla Peak are no longer looming off in the background – they stand guard right there, watching over the lake.  I was the only person there at about 9:15am, and I took the opportunity to head down by the water and explore around the edge.  I sat down to eat my breakfast / lunch (don’t granola bars and trail mix taste so much better when you’re out hiking?), and after a while began to see the wildlife around me.   There were goldfinch in the bushes, and little rodents that I assumed by their coloration were some kind of chipmunk – they looked like chipmunks, anyway, but were a bit bigger and less skittish than any chipmunk I’ve ever seen.  It turns out that they aren’t chipmunks at all, but are called golden-mantled ground squirrels.  Pro-tip – a chipmunk’s stripes go through its eyes.  If what you are seeing doesn’t have stripes on its face, it is a ground squirrel.

Pear Lake

A different angle, focusing on Ogalalla Peak

The outflow from Pear Lake

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

I probably spent 30 to 45 minutes at Pear Lake, just enjoying the scenery and exploring.  I tried to take pictures from multiple angles, in multiple directions.  I wandered down by the outflow of the lake and marveled at the view back down the trail, toward the mountains.  I tried to soak in everything – because, as beautiful as this place is, knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.  After a time, and before I’d gotten my fill, I knew I had to head back down the mountain to make sure I didn’t get rained on and to give myself plenty of time to get up to the visitor’s centers.  I headed back down the mountain and, for the first time, began seeing people.  On my way down I met several groups headed up, which reinforced a lesson to me – the early bird gets the worm.  I was glad I had left so early.

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Painted Lady butterfly, at about 10,000 feet

Words are inadequate to explain the feeling that I had on my way down the mountain – though they are all I have, so I’ll try.  18 months and about 75 pounds prior to the day I stepped out of my car in the Rocky Mountains, I would have not been physically capable of completing that hike.  12 miles would have been a challenge.  2,000 feet of elevation gain would have been an extreme challenge.  2,000 feet of elevation gain starting at 8,500 feet would have been nearly unthinkable.  But instead of physically failing, or even really struggling, I felt strong the whole day.  The lack of oxygen was not noticeable, and while the steep climbs were challenging, that was going to be true regardless of oxygen levels.  I powered up that mountain, finishing a 12 mile hike, including stops for food and mountain-gazing, in just over 6 hours, and was back to my car by noon.  Knowing that my physical abilities now include strenuous hiking in the mountains?  Priceless.

But I learned other things that day, too.  I learned that I love the mountains.  I learned that my home, regardless of where I live, is out in the woods, exploring and climbing and breathing the fresh air.  I badly wanted my wife and kids to be there, though I don’t think any of them would have been comfortable physically doing this climb.  I want to show them these places.  I want them to know what mist on a mountain lake looks like, and smells like.  I want them to know what rushing water at elevation sounds like.  I want them to know the anticipation of slipping up on a mountain bog hoping there is a moose out there looking back.  I want them to feel the sense of elation and satisfaction and pride that you feel when you reach your destination at the top of the mountain and get to bask in the beauty.  I want all of this for me, as much as I can get it, and I want to give it to them, too.

My soul is restored when I go outside.  The mountains, in particular, remind me what a beautiful world I live in.  At a time when people are fighting, and tension and uncertainty are high, and work is stressful, and life feels challenging – being alone in the wilderness is a tonic.  I can focus, and relax, and remember what I love to do.

And remember who I am.

Take a hike.  Go outside.  The world is an awesome place.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Back in August, relatively early in my current path to fitness, I wrote this post, in which I articulated some secondary goals related to my fitness.  These are not goals about the fitness itself – they are goals that address a theme I’d call “How I Want to Live My Life”.  For the record, though I couldn’t have done so when I wrote that post, I can sum the answer to that up in one word now – Adventure.

One of those goals is worth quoting in its entirety:

Start keeping track of bag nights.  I love to hike and camp, and I don’t do it enough because it can be hard.  I don’t have the energy, and the physical work is just exhausting.  It has been on the order of years since I’ve done even minor camping.  That has to change, if for no other reason than that I’m committed to introducing my kids to the outdoors.

And so last weekend I took my oldest son on his first camping trip.

Several weeks ago I was inspired to commit to a bunch of these kinds of things (more on that in a later post), and I reserved a tent campsite for two nights at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park here in Florida.  Paynes Prairie is just south of Gainesville, and Interstate 75 runs through one end of the prairie.  The first time I drove through there I saw a hawk soaring, so I looked it up.  The website and everything you read talks about a dried lake bed, a big sink, and serious mega-fauna – alligators, wild horses, even wild bison.  The park is also off of the Lake Wales Ridge, which is where I live, and is essentially a big sand dune that is covered with scrub pine and landscapes that are cool and different but also monotonous and not the most attractive.  You’re not going to see many wall posters of a Lake Wales ridge scrub scene.  So, with the promise of wildlife and some interesting forest and scenery, I signed us up.

Before I get into this, I want to mention my conclusion, which is this:  nothing you can ever read or watch – no website, no brochure, no review, no book, no magazine, no documentary – can adequately give you the sense of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.  This is a place that simply must be seen and experienced.

I have a bunch of camping gear, including most all of the basics – tents, sleeping bags, camp stove, etc.  Most of that is designed for a single camper since I’ve always done my camping Star Wars style – Solo. (Thank you, thank you – I’ll be here all week.  Tip your waitress.).  So my five-year old and I left out on Friday morning with a car full of stuff and very high spirits, on our way to get a few odds and ends we needed to finish out the gear checklist and stock up on food for the weekend.  A few Tubmans later, and we were on our way into the park itself.

Paynes Prairie is an interesting geological place.  It is essentially a big lake bed, and as recently as the mid- to late 1800s the area was apparently a big lake.  But there is also a big hole in the bottom of that bed that drains the whole area into the aquifer.  That hole is called the Alachua Sink, and apparently gets clogged up every now and then and causes a lake to be formed.  According to a ranger we spoke with, the last time the lake was basically a permanent feature was in the late 1800s, and when the sink “unclogged” the whole lake drained out within a matter of just a few days.  What was left was a big basin that is now a grassy area that looks for all the world like you’d imagine a prairie to look.

Observation Tower at the Paynes Prairie Visitor's Center

Observation Tower at the Paynes Prairie Visitor’s Center

The entry ranger station, the campground, and the visitor’s center, though, are all in the woods that ring the prairie itself.  We got in around 1pm on Friday, and since our campsite wasn’t available until 3pm, we headed to the visitor’s center to poke around.  The center is buried deep in the woods on the approach, but out of the back window is a panoramic view of the prairie.  There is a little museum inside, with a few activities for the kids, a very small gift shop, and spotting scopes lining a back window looking out into the prairie.   After looking through the few exhibits (apparently there was a recent remodel done and the place is not as full as it will one day be) and putting a puzzle together, Noah and I headed down a side trail towards a 50-foot observation tower.

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So here’s the thing about a big wilderness area like this – from a distance, unless something happens to be happening right in front of that tower, big wilderness areas can look awfully boring.  In this case, grass and dirt and little trees, but not much else.  An awesome view, and I appreciate it much more now that I’ve actually been out in the prairie and know more about what I’m seeing … but initially, it doesn’t seem like much.

And the prairie stretches before us...

And the prairie stretches before us…

We headed back over to the Chacala Trail near the visitor’s center, and did our first hike of the weekend – about 2 miles through an oak stand and a lowland pine forest.  No wildlife to speak of on this hike, except the anthill that Noah stepped on and then was fascinated by.  And some lichen that was inexplicably quite interesting.  But it was a great hour or so outside, and then we headed over to the campground to set up camp.

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Ants. We’re very lucky these didn’t swarm his foot.

Lichen. I want to have curiosity like a child again...

Lichen. I want to have curiosity like a child again…

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Shenanigans on the Chacala Trail

I grew up camping.  I’d load up a 4-wheeler as a 14- or 15- year old and head out for the weekend.  My grandparents fished and stayed at a campground on a Corps of Engineers lake in Arkansas, and we’d spend weeks out there with them.  I love camping.  But I haven’t been in years, for a couple of reasons.  First, priorities are an issue.  I’ve learned to say this differently – the issue is not that I don’t have time, the issue is that I didn’t make it a priority.  I wanted to, but I guess I didn’t want to bad enough to actually do it.  The second problem, a contributor to the first, was that I got so big that the physical effort and work of it was challenging.  But I remember loving it, and I know that I wanted my kids to have some of the same experiences.  Noah was excited for this trip, and that helped make me excited.

He helped me pitch the tent.  He helped me set up our beds.  He helped me build a fire.  He helped me make dinner.  He helped me eat the hot dogs.  He especially helped me eat the smores.  He danced.  He kicked my ass at Uno.  And then he slept like a log all night.  I’m not sure I could come up with a “father” moment that can top how that evening made me feel – proud and happy and accomplished and, and, and…  I’ll have my bad days and my bad moments, but I felt like a good Dad that night.

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Campsite 22

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Pawpaw always says that the food is better outside

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Smores!

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Dance party!

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He really did kick my ass at Uno

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He slept better than I did

And then Saturday morning we went on a hike that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life.

If you spend much time reading about Paynes Prairie, you’ll quickly come across descriptions of a hike on what is called the La Chua Trail.  The La Chua Trail runs through a few hundred yards of basic trail, through an old barn, and then out onto a boardwalk that runs right around the actual Alachua Sink – the hole that drains the entire thing.  The boardwalk then winds around a bit and then ends on a kind of berm or dike that parallels the creek that runs into the sink and heads straight out into the prairie itself.  After a mile and a half or so it ends at a big observation platform raised up on stilts so that you can get a view of the surrounding prairie.  At that point, you hike back to the start for a good day outside.

Sounds pretty basic, no?

This hike is anything but basic.  About the time you round the first curve on the boardwalk you see your first alligators. And then you round another one and you see a few more.  And then you reach an overlook on a small pond and it turns out that there are dozens of alligators surrounding this pond.  And then you get off the boardwalk and walk, well – out with the alligators.

And these are not small alligators.  These are the ones that eat the small alligators.  15-footers.  Monsters.  Dinosaurs.

"Not a zoo. Not a theme park."

“Not a zoo. Not a theme park.”

Now, these things are not a surprise – you are very definitely warned.  The sign above was my favorite – “This is not a zoo.  This is not a theme park.”  I’d seen warnings that you shouldn’t take small children on this hike.  I talked to the ranger when we checked in, and she said they’d be in the grass on the side of the trail – she wouldn’t recommend me taking Noah.  Others wave that off, but there was some concern.  My wife, for example, was concerned.  And her opinion counts.  But, we decided that we’d go out there and see what it was about, and if we ever felt uncomfortable, we’d turn around.  The biggest thing in our favor when we got there is that the trail was absolutely packed.  We barely found a parking spot at the trailhead.  Now, usually this would be disappointing.  But today, I found comfort in numbers – with that many people around, it was going to be very hard for a 15-foot alligator to hide in the grass on the side of the trail and not be seen.

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The first two on the way in. These were safely below the boardwalk.

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Ten steps later.

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Near the end of the boardwalk

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Most definitely not on the boardwalk. These guys were kinda right there.

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Pictures don’t do this justice. EVERYWHERE.

The benefits of not being able to read.

The benefits of not being able to read.

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Oh, I’m sorry – are we BORING you?

I also changed the rules a bit on the boy.  Normally when we hike, he gets behind me.  We use walking sticks, and he’ll poke things, or wave it around, and generally lollygag.  I rarely say anything to him, I just keep going at a reasonable pace and eventually he runs and catches up.  Or I’ll sometimes stop and wait on him.  Regardless, he gets a little independence.

Not on the La Chua Trail.

He was to stay in the dead middle of the trail.  He was to be within arm’s length of me at all times.  He was to be in front of or beside me at all times – I had to be able to see him.  No wandering toward the sides.  No running.  Nothing that might end with a tumble down into the creek or the wetlands on the other side.  Because, yeah, that would end poorly.

And it was awesome.  Luck was with us and some wild horses were very near the trail.  When we got to the observation tower, some very nice folks let Noah borrow their binoculars and he got to see the bison out in the prairie.  An alligator experience unlike anything you’ll get outside of a zoo or a theme park.  And this doesn’t even mention the birds – holy crap the birds.

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The wild horses of Paynes Prairie

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Those brown dots? Bison. In Florida.

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A Cooper’s Hawk looking for lunch.

In retrospect, as I show these pictures, I find it remarkable how non-Floridians react to these pictures.  This was, of course, a bit tense, but at no time did I ever feel that I or my child was truly threatened or in a dangerous position in any way.  But people look at this pictures and think we’re crazy – one friend actually called me “brave”.  I’m not sure about bravery, but I do know that if one of my life’s goals can be summed up with the word “adventure” … well, this was a day where we met some goals.

The sun on that hike was brutal, so we went back to camp and had some lunch and then just rested for a while.  We did some geocaching, and then had another great night in camp making hot dogs and playing games and sleeping in a tent.  I should say that he slept great, but me – not so much.  I did fine until I woke up in the middle of the night needing to pee … unzip the tent, slip out, walk to the bathhouse, pee, reverse all of that … and then I’d lay back down and find I was uncomfortable enough I didn’t fall right back to sleep.  My backpacking mattress was better than nothing, but not great.  I did OK, but I’ll invest in something more comfortable for future car camping trips.

On Sunday morning, which was my birthday, we broke camp and went over to another popular trail called the Bolen Bluff Trail.  The Bolens had at one time owned the land, and this area was on a hill at the edge of the prairie apparently near their old house place.  The trail winds through some beautiful, Spanish moss draped, oak hammocks, and then drops down to the bottom of the “bluff” (for you non-Floridians, you may read “bluff” as “small hill”) and turns and heads straight out into the prairie toward another observation tower.  No alligators along this trail, and we also didn’t see the horses or the bison.  The morning was foggy, so we couldn’t see that far – though the feeling of walking out into that prairie when you can’t see very far, and then losing contact with the tree line behind you, was a bit creepy.  There were lots of birds, lots of squirrels, and that’s about it.  We only saw three other people on the trail until we got back to the trailhead.  A very peaceful and beautiful hike. And then we loaded up and headed home.

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Spanish moss on a foggy morning

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The edge of the prairie

For his part, Noah didn’t want to leave.  He was disappointed when we broke camp, and he actually told his Mom that he wanted to stay camping forever.  He is already asking me when we can go again, and that makes my heart smile.  My children will never have an outdoor childhood like mine – I grew up in an area so extremely rural that it would make your head spin – but I consider it my responsibility to introduce them to the world around them and its beauty and do my best to instill in them a sense of wonder and awe and protectiveness over this, our one and only planet.  I did that with Noah, and will continue to do it.  I will also do it for Noah’s brother, when he is ready.  I even gave Noah some sense of responsibility for that – I told him we were going to become experts at camping and that, when his brother is ready, Noah will get to help me show him the way.  It makes me smile even now to think about how eagerly he accepted that task.  My little boy is growing up so fast.

For my part, I could not be more thrilled with how the weekend went.  We got perfect weather, and I was able to successfully pull off a happy first camping trip.  I also got to get out myself, and have some adventures and take some awesome pictures and spend a ton of quality 1:1 time with my son.  If I were trying to level up in a video game, I earned a lot of points in a lot of different categories.

Noah took a picture of me that, for the first time, makes me identify myself as one of the old ones.  I don’t mean, necessarily, that I’m old.  I mean that I remember how I looked up to the people that took me outside and took me camping – my father, my grandfather, my uncles.  I considered them the “old” people, sure.  But I also knew that they were the people that would guide my life.  They loved me, and I loved them.  I was never safer than I was when I was five and with my grandfather at a campsite or on a fishing boat.  I was never safer than I was when I was a child and working outside with my father.  And I’ve never been happier than I am now, realizing that I’m giving that gift to my own children.  It is an overwhelming feeling.

One of the old ones

One of the old ones

My tag line is that I live my life in a constant state of hunger.  That has a literal interpretation – which is what we mostly deal with here.  But it also has a more metaphorical interpretation.  I’m hungry for knowledge, for joy, for adventure … for a meaningful life.  This weekend I took a trip I’ll remember for the rest of my life as one that contributed to that meaning.

Take your kids outside.  Its awesome.

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