“Hey dad, got H2O?”
Two summers ago we took a family vacation out west. Since we were planning to go to Colorado, my 18 year-old son and I threw our backpacks in the car with the thought that we might spend a night or two in the mountains away from the normal camping crowd. My wife and daughter decided they would find alternative fun sightseeing during this backpack break.
Once we arrived in Colorado, we found relentless rain. The forecast showed no mercy. Our carefully planned vacation went down the gutter (pun). Scanning the weather radar, my son found a county in Utah within 4 hours drive with no rain, so we pushed on to discover Canyonlands National Park, an amazingly beautiful area with no crowds. (Sometimes the best plans are those that unfold while on your journey.) After a couple of nights in a scenic campground, my wife and daughter headed south to see Four Corners and dropped us off at a trail head with a guide book and backpacks. They looked more than just a little bit doubtful as they pulled away.
The park ranger reminded us that in the desert we needed to carry a gallon of water per person per day. Now, we are accustomed to hiking in the cool Colorado Mountains, not the hot, desert conditions of the Canyonlands, so we probably didn't listen very well to his advice.
My son filled his water pack, and I filled my water bottles. We didn't have nearly a gallon apiece, but we had always been able to find and purify our water on the Colorado mountain trails so we weren’t too concerned.
It was a hot and challenging day of hiking, but with beautiful views. Time and again my son challenged me to leap large chasms so we could stay on the ‘trail’. He was in top physical condition and seemed to have no fear. I on the other hand was wondering who was going to carry me out when I got stuck or injured on the boulders. As we arrived exhausted at our back country camp, my son sipped the last of his water and asked me if I had more. Uh, no, it turns out I'm about empty too, son. And guess what? We're in the desert and we haven't seen water all day, in fact we’ve only seen one other person all day. We decided to tackle that problem in the morning and enjoyed the peaceful, evening, desert sky, both of us wishing we had brought our guitars to accompany the Milky Way light show.
The next morning I was surprised when my son nudged me in the tent, saying, "Dad, you need to wake up. We need to hike up this valley now because the guidebook says we might find a bit of water, and we need to get started before it gets too hot to hike back out today."
Wait a minute! This sounded uncomfortably similar to my admonition to him only a week earlier: "Son, get out of bed. You have a several yards to mow and it going to get hot today. You'd better get moving so that you can be finished before it gets too hot." If I hadn’t been so tired and thirsty I would have laughed at the irony. Look what I have to look forward to all the days of my life…..words that come back to me like a sharp boomerang.
It turns out that he was right, and before it got too hot we found a small puddle of warm dusty-looking water that we filtered and drank, and all was well. We survived our excursion into the desert and lived to hike again. We were drawn closer together and learned to trust each other more.
My advice? Pack extra water and enjoy the desert sojourns with your children, discovering new territory, gifts and strengths you didn’t know you both had. The shared time and adventure are something you will both treasure. Now, if only we could figure out how to carry those two guitars!
Duane Highley is the father of four grown children. He and his wife, Lisa, live in Little Rock, Arkansas. This post was originally written a few years ago.