The tweens are huddled around a few square feet of sand, as enchanted as a pack of toddlers armed with buckets and shovels. We’re just outside Bluff, Utah, and have made it 500 feet from the car before Col, Rose and their friend, Mathew, plop down in a current of broken ancestral Puebloan artifacts.
The kids – close to the ground and deep believers in buried treasure – find painted potsherds, razor-sharp knife flakes and a sandstone mano sheared in half, each crafted by human hands approximately 1,000 years ago. They spot lizards, mossy pools and a pair of golden eagles circling under the immense power of an occasional, perfectly executed wing beat.
The kids are at home here, as indoctrinated in the expectation that we don’t step on the cryptobiotic soil, as city kids are in not running into traffic. “Because it takes a hundred years to form,” 9-year-old Rose says, by way of explanation.
We rented a one-bedroom kitchenette in Bluff reviewed as “quirky, dated, funky and not overly sanitized” but “a great price!” all of which was true. When we were awoken at 4 a.m. by a rat scrabbling through the walls, it really wasn’t too big a problem because, as Rose (owner of a pet rat herself) reasoned, we like rats. She even whispered to me, “Should we rescue it?”
We brought the kids’ friend, Mathew, along, who’s been their sidekick since a La Plata County Family Center playgroup gathering in the park when the boys were toddlers and Col, inexplicably stood up on a picnic table and began shouting, “Mathyouuuuu ... mathyouuuuuuu.” All mom-chatter stopped. Mathew wobbled over, saucer-eyed, following the compelling sound of his name being bellowed across the park. It was as if Col performed some ancient and powerful friendship ritual in which you literally call in a buddy for life.
Mathew acts as the ambassador to the United Nations of Siblings, promoting unity and peace, and keeping Col and Rose a safe distance from each other in the backseat. Plus, Mathew asks all the right questions, such as, “Should we keep hiking?”
We roam through backcountry ruins. Dan and I marveling over this living museum while hearing the kids exclaim, “Whoa!” when they discover ancient handholds chipped into the rock.
We take one of those hikes that seems to transpire about once a year in which our destination keeps moving out of sight, and no one (older than 11) wants to let it go. It seems so close, that wild sandstone ridge that rises like a jagged dinosaur spine in the distance. But the false summit, trickster of topography, keeps rearing up, cackling at us. When we can’t budge the hungry, exhausted kids another step, we stop for lunch, a breathtaking view of an entire system of soft, undulating rock laid out in front of us.
Refueled, limb-weary and fully satisfied, we head back down the sandstone. Just a quarter mile from the car the kids become enamored with the many shades of pebbles, working their edges into soft, round marbles. When they beg, “Can we stay just a little longer?” it’s easy to acquiesce, to give them time immersed in the simple work of grinding stone under the big Southwest sky, counteracting the media messages of entertainment that so often slam their vulnerable ears.
Eventually, we make it back to our fast car with our lukewarm morning coffee and easy, modern snacks and head back home to the big city of Durango.
Reach Rachel Turiel at email@example.com. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.