My childhood was full of outdoor adventure. As a young girl, I remember making mud pies, running through the sprinklers, catching turtles and sharing ice cream cones with my dog in the backyard. When I got a little older, my best friend and I traipsed through the creek behind her house and explored the neighborhood on our bikes. Vacations often meant camping and day trips usually took us an hour west to hike and picnic at Red Rock Canyon.
While the summer my kids are experiencing now isn’t what we had planned, when I look at the silver linings of what the coronavirus pandemic has forced upon us, there are hints of the slower, idyllic summers I remember in my childhood. So it seemed only fitting that I take them to the place that holds so many fond memories for me.
I told you in my post about digging for crystals at the Great Salt Plains that I’m learning to live in the moment this summer. I’ve never been more spontaneous in my life than for this Red Rock Canyon trip — as in, I suggested it to my family and an hour later we were headed west. I know — I even shocked myself.
I should probably mention that we’ve never taken our three kids hiking before. And we had no idea how they would do or how long they would last. But they were full of excitement at going to a new place and trying a new activity. Here’s what solidified this new-to-them locale as a family favorite:
- The drive into the park. Sound crazy? Hear me out. After an hour of fairly boring, flat highway, driving down the switchback road into the park is an adventure in itself. The memories of my childhood came flooding back as the red canyon walls burst into view. Our kids exclaimed in wonder from the backseat at this surprise landscape, 310 acres of steep, rugged cliffs and canyons, in the middle of our flat plains. It’s like being transported somewhere totally different within a matter of minutes. Thanks to my on-the-road research, I explained to my kids that in the days of the California Gold Rush, the canyon was a safe haven where travelers stopped to rest, and prior to that, American Indians use the canyon as a winter camp.
- The longest trail. There we were with three newbie kid-hikers (and a mom who was a little nervous about those newbie kids falling off cliffs or refusing to walk another step 12 minutes into our trek). I selected a short hike that seemed appropriate for my kids, but my husband, ever the optimist, threw caution to the wind and encouraged us to try the 4 mile Canyon Rim Trail, partially atop the actual cliffs as the name suggests and the longest trail in the park. I took a deep breath and followed my four family members scrambling up the trail.
- A halfway point exit on that longest trail. The wildflowers were absolutely incredible and my kidsloved climbing up and over rocks along the way. Short sections of the trail were moderately challenging and they traversed them like mini hiking champions. The large open sections of rock made for especially fun climbing and exploring, and even a perfect perch for enjoying our lunches with a view of the canyon below (which only caused my worried mom hands to sweat a little). But the sun was high in the sky, I could see my younger two starting to lag and when the large sign came into view declaring we could cut the hike in half, we opted to end that hike on a positive note rather than what I feared we might face 2 miles later.
- A short hike to end the day. The hike I’d originally selected on the Rough Horsetail Nature Trail was a perfect way to cap off our day. Heavily shaded through a forest and with several bridges over pretty running streams, the .6 mile loop was fairly easy (other than the time we somehow got off the trail and a bit lost up a steep incline … I’m pretty certain the boys in the front of the pack did it on purpose). The landscape on this hike was much different than the previous one, which made it a fun comparison. Because you’re in the bottom of the canyon on this hike, you get an up-close view of the height and striations of the walls of the canyon.
- The necessities. Sunscreen, insect repellant, plenty of water, sturdy shoes and lots of snacks made the day a success. We were glad to have packed lunches to enjoy along the trail. While the camp and RV sites were packed because it was a holiday weekend, the trails were not and it was easy to social distance. Hikers kindly made way for each other on the trails on the few times we encountered other people.
The Red Rock Canyon of my childhood is now under private ownership, newly named Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park. There is a $10 fee per car to enter the park for the day, which we found was worth every penny.
Our trip to Red Rock Canyon was another reminder of all the fun to be had exploring parts of our state we might not have made time for in a typical summer. I love seeing my kids experiencing new environments and conquering new activities, especially those that remind me of the simpler times of my own childhood summers. I’m hopeful when they look back, these are the times they will remember.
Erin Page is managing editor of MetroFamily Magazine, an award-winning writer, a lifelong resident of OKC, wife to Jordan and mom to Addie, Hutch and Weston. She enjoys running, cooking and hiding from her kids to eat chocolate.