Not too long ago my friend and fellow photographer/dad/outdoor dude Greg Russell wrote a touching blog post titled “Little Mentors“. I encourage you to read his post but if you don’t have time, the general idea is that we as adults stand to learn much from spending time in nature with children. They needn’t be your own kids but I strongly encourage you not to randomly adopt one on the trail. Kinda creepy. At any rate, Greg’s post inspired me to write one of my own about a recent family adventure.
We spent Thanksgiving week camping, hiking and exploring in Nevada’s gorgeous Valley of Fire State Park. It had been a while since we’d gotten out as a family for more than a few hours. Work and other obligations have a way of invading our lives, conspiring to prevent us from spending time with those we love. The weather was perfect and we shared the park with only a handful of other visitors. My son, Jackson, whom we have affectionately dubbed the Adventure Tyke, is now 2 1/2 years old. He has boundless energy and I wish it was contagious. From the moment he wakes to the moment his blue eyes close he’s on the go, charging ahead at 110 MPH.
On our first full day in the park we hiked the 1.5 mile loop at White Dome. The trail passes an old movie set, climbs and descends sand dunes and passes through a short but scenic slot canyon – a highlight of the trip. Hiking a mile and a half in as scenic a place as Valley of Fire shouldn’t take more than an hour, even with multiple stops to make photographs. Being that Jackson is never short on energy we decided to let him start the hike under his own power. Two and a half hours later, we were back at the trailhead with one exhausted little hiker. He surprised us by hiking the entire loop on his own!
Of course, everything we passed was of great interest to him. He would stop and play in the sand, pick up rocks and make me carry them, point out prickly cactus and, in the slot canyon, he announced that there was a tiger just around the corner. Yes, a tiger. Must’ve been the rare Mojave tiger that lives only in colorful slot canyons and toddler’s imaginations. We did see a bighorn sheep scampering over a giant mound of slickrock, which Jackson thoroughly enjoyed.
As one who came into photography in the late 90’s from a ten year “career” in endurance sports, where the entire point is to move from point A to point B as fast as possible, it goes without saying that in the last twelve years I’ve gotten slower. Becoming a photographer caused me to slow down and look at the world differently. I learned to appreciate the small things – a play of light, tangled branches among colorful leaves or subtle reflections in a gentle creek – all things I would have rushed past several years ago. Becoming a Dad has slowed me down even more. When you’re 2 1/2 and outdoors exploring nature, everything is new and interesting and deserving of a few moments of your time. At times it can be agonizing, like when you’re running late for sunset and you’ve got to stop to thoroughly inspect the 1,000th lizard of the day. More often than not, it’s a blast. It brings me mountains of joy to see my son interacting with and enjoying nature. He wears a perpetual smile when he’s outside. As a result, I do too.
We’ve all heard the phrase “kids are sponges”. They’re also mirrors. Everything we do and say, they do and say. Jackson loves nothing more than to peer through the viewfinder of my camera and to press the shutter button, usually in rapid fire succession so it sounds like a machine gun going off. He loves it so much we bought him his own camera, which you can see in the photo above swinging from his backpack. He points that camera at anything and everything, and I’ll be darned if some of his photos aren’t pretty freakin’ good. I’ll never force him into anything but if his interest in photography (and motorcycling!) persevere I’ll be the proudest Dad on the planet. In the meantime, I plan on enjoying every last second in the great outdoors with my little Adventure Tyke.
If you’re a new (or not so new) Mom or Dad who wants to adventure outdoors with your kids, but you’re not quite sure how to start, my wife runs an awesome site called Adventure Tykes filled with tips and ideas to help motivate, inspire and teach you how to get started. Check it out!