Cecilia Rosales Ph.D.

Oak Creek Canyon

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West Fork, Oak Creek Canyon. Photo by Larry Lane, Courtesy of Coconino National Forest

My two kindergartners have been learning about apples and autumn at school. They’ve asked what an apple tree looks like and why if it’s fall, none of the leaves on the trees by our house have changed colors.

Despite living just miles away from a mountain preserve, other than the pumpkins on the kitchen counter and the seasonal trinkets from Walgreens, there’s no indication of fall anywhere around us. 

Suddenly a hike along Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon became an irresistible proposition.

Hiking boots, check. Trail mix, first aid kit, check. My packing list for the weekend getaway included the staples for a three-night stay in the high country, plus the obligatory work files and battery chargers for the indispensible gadgets: cell phones, iPad, laptop, camera and the kids’ hand-held devices … just the basics.

While the sight of the neatly packed cables next to the hiking gear made me sad as I reminisced about idyllic childhood camping outings, the options before me were just two: a) Stay behind and finish the office work that needed to get done, or b) go with the flow, pack the laptop and get as much done in the car on our way to and from Sedona. I opted for plan B.

As the nation laments what best-selling author Richard Louv has termed Nature Deficit Disorder, and as politicians introduce legislation to “Leave No Child Inside,” (aimed at increasing environmental literacy and outdoor learning opportunities among K-12 students), Arizonans have a unique advantage in the natural wonders that surround us. That’s if we are disciplined enough to set time aside to experience the outdoors with our children. 

I was lucky to finish my work en route to our destination and exhilarated to be fully present once we got there. Upon setting foot in the cabin by Oak Creek, we spotted a bunny; then a squirrel, a caterpillar and then the ducks swimming in the creek. My son swears he saw a peregrine falcon, although this I can’t corroborate. The raccoons showed up early the next day. Everything around us became a learning opportunity. 

Once at West Fork, my son asked his sister, “Did you know a long time ago all this was covered by water?” As we hiked, we came across apple trees, the first they’ve ever seen. And along the way, they kept asking, “What’s this?” and “What’s that?” They also discovered their new favorite scent “in the whole wide world,” the sweet scent of dewy, morning clay. 

Best of all, not once did they ask, “Are we there yet?”  We were there; all on the same page, in awe of nature.  

Oh, the places you’ll go

Tips to get you out of the house and into nature with la familia

Plan ahead – keep it simple. Like many modern parents, I tend to overdo it when preparing to travel with the kids. Gadgetry, modern inventions and (too many) necessities can wreak havoc on last minute get-away opportunities. Increase your chances of getting away by having a backpack with a change of clothes and the must-haves for each family member. If you want to take the ponchos just in case it rains and two extra pairs of socks in case they stick their foot in a mud puddle, pack it all up and keep it in the garage. Keep a bag in the pantry with prepackaged snacks for everyone in your party. Nuts, dried fruit, cereal or protein bars are great options. When you are ready, everything else will be, too.

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