Turns out, the secret to a being a successful parent is to run from one cluster to another with a big grin on your face.
The first two weeks of our family adventure had some awesome highs, and some awful lows.
We stayed in Pine Valley, Utah. If you’ve seen the show Wayward Pines on Fox, Pine Valley is eerily similar to the titular town in the show. One road in, completely surrounded by mountains, only a hundred or so residents. Heck, there’s even a Matt Dillon Trail just outside town. Aside from the homes, the town has a fire station that mostly sits empty and a restaurant that’s open Friday night and all day Saturday.
And that’s it.
The house we rented was the 2nd home of a family who lived 40 miles away in St. George. It had just enough space, amenities, and yard for our family of four. The first two weeks held a lot of hustle and bustle. There are tons of parks within three hours: Pine Valley Recreation area, Snow Canyon, Zion National Park, Antelope Cnayon, Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Grand Staircase are all day trippable.
When we were there, the kids caught grasshoppers, made fairy houses, and, most memorably, got an introduction to Dungeons & Dragons.
Getting them hooked on D&D is all part of my long-term strategy to prevent teen pregnancy. Mwa ha ha! And, I guess, I knew they’d love making up stories and pretending to battle fantastic creatures. For their first adventure, I found this perfect little two-hour campaign designed for young kids. I simplified the rules to try and make it as fun as possible for them.
They took to it like dogs to water. The adventure I picked is made to illustrate how you really can do anything you dream up, not just hack and slash. Both kids figured that out quickly. Their first solution to any of the obstacles was to use their special skills or reasoning to solve the obstacle. My daughter loved taming animals, and my son kept trying to get any NPCs (non-player characters) he met to join the party. They did commit the cardinal sin of D&D, splitting up the group. But, they survived and joined back together for the final encounter.
They loved it so much, my son made up his own campaign while I was out hiking. We had a blast playing it a couple of times, and shared a lot of good laughs as a family at some of the things they dreamed up. I can’t wait to keep sharing this with them.
Our kids also went bananas over the local restaurant, The Brandin’ Iron. After our first dinner there, my daughter called it “Barnes and Noble” and the name stuck. Our server Sarah was phenomenal, and we requested her the other two times we went back.
On the three-day road trip down my daughter refused to eat anything, even if she ordered it. Tuna from Subway, deli sandwiches from Arbys, etc. etc. So when she ordered salmon from the Brandin’ Iron, we almost didn’t let her do it because we were afraid she’d waste a $25 plate of food.
Nope, she polished off almost all of it . And demanded we bring home the leftovers. And ordered it every other time we went there.
We went on two hikes in town, in the recreation area and Forsythe Canyon, which I did by myself.
The recreation area is a pretty little stroll that’s perfect for young kids, no elevation change, lots of interesting things to see and smell (the trees smell like butterscotch!), and a reservoir for fishing and wading.
I ventured up Forsythe Canyon for several miles by myself, but never really got out of the woods. Great for exercise, but this was probably the least scenic thing I did the whole trip. On the way back, I did get a huge scare from a vicious animal.
I was minding my own business on the trail when I saw a massive black shape ambling through the woods. My brain flashed to all the warnings and misgivings everyone had ever had about solo hiking. “Watch out for bears,” everyone said. I reached around to slowly grab my bear mace and…
A cow poked its head around a tree. I don’t know why a black cow was hanging out two miles from its pasture other than to troll me, but I didn’t appreciate the prank. Once it spotted me, it crashed stupidly through the woods back to its farm.
Turns out, animals have free reign in Pine Valley. At night we saw a lost calf and its mother in the middle of the road outside town. During the day, deer and a huge family of twenty (yes, twenty) turkeys were regular appearances at our house.
The Cursed Pool
Our kids love to swim, so when we heard there was a pool close to town, of course we had to go. Veyo Pool Resort seemed like a lot of fun – it’s tucked in a canyon with rock climbing, raspberry bushes everywhere, and crayfish hunting.
Unfortunately for us, it was nothing but bad luck. My son got a thorn stuck in his toe. Sandi got stung by yellowjackets. My daughter cut a slice off the tip of her toe.
And me, I got the worst. On the way to the pool the day before we were supposed to leave, three dogs ran out in front of the car, and I hit and killed two of them.
The driving conditions couldn’t have been more perfect – middle of the day, great weather, kids were quietly reading, my phone’s GPS was off, and I was slowing down heading into town. But on the right side of the road, waist high grass grew right up to the shoulder, and I didn’t see the sprinting dogs until I’d hit them already.
As soon as it happened, I knew I must have killed them. I pulled over to the side of the road, sobbing already, and the kids had no idea what was going on. They were panicked that something had happened to me. Behind us, two of the dogs were lying in the middle of the road, and the third was sniffing around.
I called 9-1-1, which probably wasn’t the right use of the number, but I had no idea who else to call. My son was crying because he thought the dogs had a shot at living, and no cars were stopping to help them. I thought for sure they were gone, but then one started moving.
The next twenty minutes (the police officer was a long way away) were spent keeping the kids safe and waving cars over so they wouldn’t hit the dogs again. Once I got up close, I knew it was only a matter of time until he passed away – I wished I could have put him out of his misery but the only thing I could have done was run him over again, which wasn’t really an option.
The police and owners showed up just as he laid his head down for the last time. The next couple of days were rough for all of us, I had trouble sleeping, and my daughter said she couldn’t stop thinking about the dogs at random moments in the car.
The one bright spot in all of this was our hosts. We had to coordinate insurance and repairs (our car needed a new radiator, condenser, and bumper), get a rental car, and find a place to stay – all without any real cell phone or internet coverage and 40 miles between us and the repair shop. But they did everything they could to help us. Drove me from the repair shop to their home. Fed me and let me stay the night. Let us stay an extra night in the Pine Valley house even though they had a new guest coming in that night. We couldn’t be thankful enough for all their help.
Once I got a rental truck the next morning, we decided to not wait around St. George. Instead, we drove up to our next destination, Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and I came back to fetch our car when it was ready.