Adventure and Daring Plans and Colorado Mountain Towns

We’ve been planning a little getaway this summer. Not a big trip, because now that we live in a cold, interior climate, we’re going to participate in that timeless American tradition that is the winter beach vacation. In other words, we’re saving hard to go to coastal Mexico or Hawaii next winter.

I mentioned Yellowstone, but we’re shelving that trip until the Sidekick grows a little older and stronger.

While she can hike up a storm, she’s only eight. I remember growing up as the weakest kid among four children, always at the back of the line on family bike rides, pedaling furiously to keep up. When we visited the Statue of Liberty, my father had to piggyback me halfway to the top because my legs gave out. I’m not the youngest, but my little brother was very strong – much stronger than me – and it took until puberty for me to catch up.

Point is, I’ve been where the Sidekick is now, and I want her to enjoy Yellowstone rather than exhaust her to the point where she’s not having any fun. At the same time, this family surpassed the preschool stage long ago. Both my girls can handle more than just short, flat hikes and playgrounds. Technically, I think my older daughter qualifies as a tween.

So I came up with a few alternatives to Yellowstone. Moab and Arches National Park, for one:

But you know, Utah’s pretty hot in June, so we shelved that plan along with Yellowstone for the moment. Plus, my side of the Rockies features plenty of red sandstone formations, as I’ve shared with you ad nauseum and most of which I can drive to in under 20 minutes. No offense, Moab. I’m sure you’re stunning, and I’ll see you one day.

While the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings in southern Colorado and the Four Corners area still loom as a possibility, they’ll probably end up on that shelf, too.

I can’t wait to go here, but an almost eight-hour drive means we’d want to stay more than a few days. And saving for the big winter vacation means this trip budget doesn’t allow for that long.

Finally, I hit on an idea I figured the girls would latch right onto. Amusement park! Kids love amusement parks! Since we can drive to Elitch Gardens in about 45 minutes, I thought it might be fun to do the staycation thing, get a room at a nice hotel with a pool nearby for a few days. That part of Denver contains lots of walkable tourist attractions, so we wouldn’t even have to drive.

They greeted that plan with silence.

Finally I said, “Okay. Where does everyone want to go then?”

My 11 year-old said, “I want to go someplace new. Like a little mountain town or something.”

The Sidekick said, “I wish for adventure and daring plans!”

Just kidding.

She actually said that a few days ago, in another context entirely, but it’s been making me laugh ever since. The Sidekick is an old soul. She has a creative, clear mind and an intensely stubborn and particular disposition, both of which mean she speaks seriously and thoughtfully all the time. In an eight year-old, that can translate into some weirdly random one-liners.

Also, it means she knows her own mind and answered my question like this:

“I want to go somewhere like Breckenridge, like last summer. I want to have a pretty view and walk around and look at cool things and take pictures of them.”

Breckenridge, July 2009

To understand how remarkable her comment is, you have to understand a couple things:

1. We took the hardest hike of the girls’ lives to date at Breckenridge’s Mohawk Lake. When I say “hard,” I mean the Sidekick was so tired by the end, I figured she’d never want to set foot in that town again.

2. Having just paid for a move halfway across the country from Florida to Colorado, when we went to Breckenridge we stayed in a very affordable, very un-luxurious, very tiny condo unit instead of one of the resorts like Keystone.

3. We hiked; we ate at restaurants on the Blue River; and we watched the Fourth of July fireworks and heard them echo off the mountain peaks; but we did not take the girls to any kid-specific activities, like mini-golf.

Every parent makes mistakes during the hard, hard work of raising kids. God knows I do, more than I’d like, but this was one of those times when I thought, “Hot damn, I am getting it right sometimes.”

I love that my 11 and 8 year-old girls want to hang out in a mountain town for their summer vacation.

Throughout their childhoods I’ve tried to make them appreciate things like beaches and mountains, fresh air, quirky downtowns, and fascinating museums, but you know how that goes. Kids will like what they like, no matter what you want for them or how you try to teach them.

So I’m ecstatic that, at this stage in their lives, those particular lessons took hold. They’re interesting people. They’re fun to hang out with, and they’re intrigued by the world around them instead of just the prepackaged, commercialized “fun” that permeates American kid culture.

Don’t get me wrong: my girls like that stuff, too, and that’s fine. They’re kids. I don’t expect them to be little adults.

But today, they’re asking for quiet, scenic beauty and quaint local color, so that’s what I’m going to give them. I’ll keep you posted where we decide to go.