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Monday, September 3, 2012

A magical hike to Jenny Lake and Hidden Falls with family in Grand Teton National Park

Getting family to Hidden Falls is more
difficult than going solo - by far. But it
is also a much more magical experience.

Our 3-year-old daughter was the first one to know we were lost. Luckily, she had a map: a large thimble-berry leaf rolled up and crinkled to look as authentic as possible. Glancing at her map and then looking up the trail and down, she gave the verdict.

"The map says we need to go that way," she stated with surety, pointing the exact direction we had been traveling along the much-used horse trail stringing between Jenny Lake and Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park.

Our 4-year-old voiced his concern about her map, collecting rocks that served as indicators of trouble - sort of tea leaves for the tiny.

"Mmm," he said. "My rocks say there is trouble that way."

It turned out he was right. We soon passed into a beautiful rock garden with view rivaling the much-more visited Inspiration Point above Hidden Falls. The garden was infested with goblins, trolls and ogres.

Inscribing on the already beat-up map with a twig, I assume
to make it more legible. Didn't work, whatever the case.
The map must have been hard to read at this point, because it tried to lead our daughter down the rocky slope infested with prickly raspberry bushes and the fore-mentioned magical creatures. A guiding hand from an almost invisible parent turned the tykes back to the path at hand.

We quietly passed through the beautiful rock graveyard so none of the trouble would know we were there. Our quiet warning whispers were occasionally punctuated by a gleeful scream from our uncontrollable and easily excitable 1-year old.

Luckily no trolls seemed to take special notice of her. Maybe they knew they couldn't eat anything so cute and friendly. The 15-month-old girl had been greeting most people we passed through the day on the busy lower trail with a wave, a grin and the word "Hi." And if you haven't seen her smile, you don't know what you were missing.

Our 4-year-old son enjoys the view from
the horse trail leading from Jenny Lake to
Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park.
We soon passed out of the dangerous goblin rocks into the fairy forest, where the little critters tried to play tricks on us as we drew magical marks on the trail to try to deflect their attention. Our astute son made sure he struck first, playing tricks on the fairies first. We had to teach him his idea of tricking the fairies by throwing them to the ground so they couldn't chase us anymore wasn't very nice.

In the forest, the map wielder made sure we were still on course.

"We just need to follow this trail right through to Salt Lake City," she said, probably stemming from conversations earlier in the day about a possible visit to the city for our son's birthday party at the dinosaur museum at Thanksgiving Point. Somehow, the Nauvoo Temple stood in Salt Lake City on a big green hill, and seemed to be a landmark we needed to pass on the way to the van at the edge of the lake. Hmmm...no idea where that came from at all. Who was doing this make-believe anyway?

The best part about all this is how much they loved it despite complaining about us going hiking again. We had just gone on a hiking trip for my work, and though they also loved it, they always think it will be torture going into another place like it. But once out, their fears usually dissolve amidst the playful atmosphere we foster on the trail, munching on any in-season huckleberries, raspberries, thimble berries or currants we can find.

A couple we passed commended us for hiking with our children, saying they wished they had tried harder to get their children out before they succumbed to foot-dragging. I told them my philosophy is that you usually only have to endure the pre-hike whine and the tired last bits. Everything in the middle can become magic, plain and simple.

They agreed with me, again voicing their wish they had done things differently with their kids. I hope to be a parent that never has that kind of regret with my children. I want my children to know and love the outdoors. To crave them like I do. And I think magical hikes like this one will cement fond memories of the forest and mountains, even if I do tend to jump out of the woods and make my son scream like a girl when he's dilly dallying too much. It even worked to scare an adult hiker on his own in the woods at one point. My son thought that was so funny he suggested me trying to just scare other people. I digressed.

Barely.

In the meantime, he told every hiker we passed about it.

"Hey," he said to a random man passing us. "I want to tell you something." He then launched into his story about how his daddy scared a random hiker and himself. It took a minute for the man to even register that my munchkin was talking to him, but when he finally did, he looked amused.

"Great story," the man said and continued walking on, smiling a little more than before.

I have to think differently when I hike with children. I have to constantly remind myself its not about the speed or even the destination. It's all about the experience. I don't have much to say about our time at Hidden Falls. It was little different from other times I've been there among hordes of excited tourists. But I will remember my daughter finding a tree that seemed the perfect hangout spot for a little girl, with defensive branches forming a fort-like structure just off the busy trail. I will remember the fairies, the ogres, the trolls, the maps, the tea leaves and all those things that made our day pure gold.

But most of all I will remember the family magic.

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