The Holland Family Blog » Erica Holland Photography and Family Happenings

A Desert Adventure

I’m writing this post in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. We are spending our summer in Longmont, Colorado while Brad does an HR internship for DigitalGlobe. It’s been a pretty awesome summer so far, with a few kinks. Colorado is beautiful, the weather has been perfect, and we’ve been spending every possible moment outside – at the pool, the bike park, or in the mountains. But I’m going to have to save that for a later post.

Today I’m backtracking to a trip we took to the Utah desert. After Brad got out of school and before he started his internship we drove down to Bryce Canyon National park for a couple of nights. Our girls are getting older, which makes adventures with them easier in some ways, but we are still learning a lot about hiking and camping with young kids. There were more than a few times the trip was a struggle, but in this case, the good moments certainly outweighed the difficulties. I think what I want my kids to learn most from our outdoor adventures is that just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. It is why we tell them repeatedly that they can do hard things, and why we push them to go further than they want to on hikes. Sometimes I have to remind myself as well.

Having grown up in the Northwest, where everything is wet and green, I am always surprised by how astonishingly beautiful the desert can be.


According to my girls, skirts are the wardrobe of choice for adventures. I think Lucy is rocking the look.

Brad and I go on camping trips for the hiking and the beautiful views. Our girls go camping for s’mores. I think they just put up with everything else in order to get s’mores.

But having a view like this next to your campground doesn’t hurt either.

That first night, after we (finally) got all the girls to sleep in the tent, we sat outside in the car looking at the stars and the trail maps. We’ve hiked with our girls enough now to know that a mile will take us a little over an hour, including frequent stops for snacks and the bathroom. Brad was pushing for a 6 mile loop, and I was trying to tell him that it was way too ambitious. “It’ll be fun!” (That’s what he always tells me when he wants to do something that I think is a bad idea.) In the end, I resigned, with the warning that he would probably have to carry Annika a good portion of the way, and I wasn’t going to carry two kids at once. (Carrying Lucy and Elise was already a given).

At the trailhead the next morning, the view over the canyon took my breath away. The trail down the canyon is steep, with drop-offs the whole way, so we started the twins in the backpacks, and Elise wasn’t happy. (Lucy is always happy to be carried – little lazy bum.) We zig-zagged down to the bottom, and Annika kept a surprisingly good pace. She would continue to surprise me all day. Once we made the mile-long trek to the bottom of the canyon, we hiked the peek-a-boo loop, which is a three mile loop the park rates as strenuous. We told Annika that it was long and hard, and we weren’t sure she could hike the whole thing, but we wanted her to try. She said “I can do it!” – and she did. It wasn’t easy, and there were times she was barely moving, but she hiked every step of that loop. I was so proud of her I could have burst. Not to be outdone, Lucy hiked the whole long zig-zagging mile out of the canyon, giving her parents a heart attack as she ran up the narrow trail. I know there are plenty of other 5 year olds who can hike further – what she did was not particularly remarkable in and of itself. But for her to set a goal and then see it through, despite the difficulties, was a big step for her and a very fulfilling moment for me.  One of the hard parts of parenting is that for all the effort you put into raising kids, you often don’t see the results or get any feedback until years down the road. This hike was a little bit of positive feedback for me – an indication that maybe some of the lessons we are trying to teach our girls are sinking in, that just maybe I’m doing something right as a parent.

If that hike was an indication of what we are doing right as a parents, the next morning told the story of some of the things we are doing wrong. Namely, that we are pretty terrible at giving our girls consistent and dependable schedules, and we frequently push them too far when they are too tired and get annoyed with them when they really just need a nap. I mean, we should probably just go easy on them, they’re only 3, right?

But we had another day in southern Utah, and by-golly, I didn’t want to waste it, even it it was only 30 degrees and everyone was exhausted.  The pioneers didn’t let exhaustion or cold weather stop them, right? (And really, you have no idea how many pioneer stories I’ve told Annika while we are hiking. I’m not sure it is really fair to compare her recreational hiking experience with her parents to her ancestors’ forced migration across the United States, but pain is all about perspective right? That little blister is nothing compared to bare, bleeding feet, and good stories make the time go faster.) So we loaded up and headed to Red Canyon State Park.

Sometimes Lucy does this thing where she refuses to walk by herself. At all. She would rather stand by her car door and cry for 15 minutes than walk up the 3 stairs into the house. Eventually someone will take pity on her (usually not me) and carry her in. This was one of those mornings for her. We knew everyone was tired, so we found a 1/4 mile nature walk past some fun rock formations. Annika and Elise skipped and ran and climbed up boulders. Lucy wouldn’t walk a single step. She wouldn’t even walk from the bathroom stall to the sink. I was holding back tears as we finally made it back to the car;  I was so full of frustration and guilt after asking, arguing, pleading, making deals, threatening, and then finally just giving in. I just wanted her to stretch her legs for a couple hundred feet before our car ride home. It should’t have been a big deal for either of us. Please tell me I’m not the only mom with moments like this.

I don’t have a picture of Lucy crying, or one of me carrying her. I was too annoyed to take a picture. But here is one of Annika climbing a rock, with Lucy peeking out behind. I set her down to take a picture, and she wasn’t happy about it.

Luckily I have a husband is more patient than I am, and was wise enough to see that Lucy just needed a little break, a little snack and a little motivation. He encouraged us to try one more little hike, and promised fruit snacks at the end for anyone who gave it their best effort. Now, we really try to stay away from bribes, but there is a fine line between bribes and motivation. I’m not sure where this one fell, but it worked like a charm. Lucy and Elise and Annika ran and skipped along the trail. Elise made up a little chant that went something along the lines of “I’m a great hiker. I’m the best hiker! I’m so great!” and she kept it up the whole time. Once, when I cautioned Elise to slow down as she ran along a narrow trail with a steep drop-off she stopped and said “It’s ok Mom. We’re all going to die. Just like Jesus. We will be alive again.” And then she skipped away. For my fears, I’m the only one who came away from the hike with an injury. I stubbed my pinkie toe on the corner of a sharp rock, tearing it open. Blood pooled around my toes in my sandal. Elise said “I’m a good hiker, and Lucy’s a good hiker and Annika’s a good hiker, but you’re not a good hiker mom. You got blood.” I’m still waiting for my toenail to grow back. Maybe it is time to retire my Chacos as my hiking shoe of choice.

And then we ate fruit snacks and drove home. Exhausted, but happy. Rejuvenated after a few days in the wilderness and ready to face our new adventures.


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  • Cristine - Love this post and your family!!!! That pic of Anni with the s’more is my fave!!! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Mom - You’re a good hiker and a good mom! You’re great! (Read that in a sing-song voice please)ReplyCancel

  • Monica - Seriously? That place is beautiful!!! I’m jealous and that’s a big deal since you know where we’ve been hiking!!! You are such a great mom Erica! Don’t even think twice about that! PS Go Anni! Ryan is a trooper but she does not always hike with a happy face. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Becky - Love your honest appraisal of your girls. And you! As I would scroll down through the pictures, the portrait oriented ones particularly, they top out with magnificent views, and then I scroll down again and there is one adorable child or another at the bottom. Loved this post, miss the Hollands. Enjoy Colorado. I always remember it’s perfect climate.ReplyCancel

  • Miranda Clements - I love reading this post, Erica! I love to hear about the real life experiences of your camping and hiking. My favorite memories are camping with my family when I was younger, but I’ve been kind of dreading going with kids of my own. But this post got me excited about it again! Beautiful pictures and I love to hear about all of your girls’ different personalities! Thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel

  • Emily J - Love this post! I’m so proud of your girls and your family for going and doing hard things! Good for you for taking your girls on adventures! Since you’re in Colorado this summer, one of our favorite places to hike there is Mesa Verde. Interesting, challenging at times and beautiful! Love your family <3ReplyCancel

  • Nate - You guys are awesome. I got tired just from reading about your adventures. I am going to go eat some fruit snacks now.ReplyCancel

  • Ms. Ballard - My two grown up children go on and on about the camping and hiking we did when they were little. While I remember many rest stops and trail snacks, they remember the beauty that surrounded them. All of that hard work of living in the rough with little ones is so very worth it. I couldn’t be happier looking at your photos. Strong work, you two!ReplyCancel

  • Deja - I really, really love this post. I particularly love the dialogue. What marvelous girls. And you are, of course, an awesome mom.ReplyCancel

  • Taniel - I read this just as we were having something of a meltdown on our vacation. I loved what you said about things being worth it even if they are difficult. I think we have this idea in our minds that traveling and adventures with kids will all be glorious and problem free. I appreciate your honesty and love your sense of adventure! Can’t wait for more adventures with you!ReplyCancel

  • Evelyn - Awesome. You and Brad are so good at doing fun trips with your girls. It takes so much preparation as a parent to see those adventures through. I am thoroughly impressed. I love the pictures!ReplyCancel

  • DanYuk - I so much enjoyed the pructies of Thelma and her family. You captured the love Thelma’s family has for thier mother. Having known Thelma for very many years it is difficult to see her with this disease. Again your photos always capture the whole picture. Thank you.ReplyCancel

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