The Wonder of Ute

My children have long thought that they dislike hiking.

My observation is that they don’t actually dislike the activity itself; in fact, when we hike we usually end up having a lot of fun seeing new places, sharing new experiences, and enjoying conversation along the way. But they’re naturally inclined to dislike the idea of hiking; they think they’re going to get hot and tired and bored. And, of course, that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I work hard to counteract these misperceptions.

So I thought I’d ease them into the world of hiking possibilities at the Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. On our first free day since getting here, I picked a trail that was relatively short: the Ute Trail, just off of Trail Ridge Road. It’s an out-and-back route, which could allow us to go as long or as short as we would like. It’s an interesting drive to the trail-head, with dramatic mountain vistas and lots of opportunities for wildlife spotting. The trail itself stays relatively flat, even though it’s at a very high altitude, up above tree-line. And inch-for-inch, pound-for-pound, I can now confirm from personal experience that it’s a very high-reward / low-cost hike.

Still, old habits die hard — and the kids’ first instinct was to start with complaint. I knew better than to dwell with them in their complaint, though, and I overrode their objections with confidence. More quickly than expected, they shifted to a posture of acceptance — almost enthusiasm — and we packed up for the hike fairly quickly and cheerfully.

We had to deal with some traffic, getting into the National Park, but I probably grumbled about that more than the kids. By the time we started climbing Trail Ridge Road, all the grumbling was forgotten. We made it up above tree-line, and pretty shortly thereafter we came upon the parking lot for the Ute Trail. Within a quarter-mile of the place where we parked our minivan, we found a pile of rocks with a dramatic vista across a deep valley to a ridge of snow-capped mountains. We took a bunch of pictures — some proper portraits and some silly stuff — and then I thought we’d hike just up the next ridge to see what we could see and then assess how much further we wanted to go.

To my surprise, the kids moved to the front of our group and set a rather aggressive pace along the trail. They were talking and laughing and not complaining at all. We stopped for more pictures at a few different spots, but there never seemed to be any hint of a desire to turn around and finish the hike sooner rather than later.

At one point, I leaned over to Marci and whispered, with a sense of awe in my voice, “It almost seemed like the kids are enjoying the hike.”

We ended up doing a full two miles out and two miles back, with very minimal grumbling from the kids. The views were spectacular. The weather was lovely. And we just had a lot of fun together.

The experience made me realize that my kids really are growing up. They’re not just kids anymore; they’re youths. They’re opening up to new experiences, and it’s a wonder to behold the way they behold the world. This weekend’s experience on the Ute Trail gave me a moment to appreciate the wonder of Youth, and I’m very glad for that.

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