Story by

Rochelle O'Connell

February 13th, 2018

The sun is nearly setting as we pull into a dirt parking lot located 33 miles down a dirt road and situated practically in the middle of the desert. Months of planning and small backpacking trips have led us to this moment. In the morning, we'll embark on our longest and most remote backpacking trip (with our 15-month-old son) through Coyote Gulch.

Before arriving, we were on day nine of our 18-day road trip, already racking up more than 30 miles of hiking in those days. (Oh, and have I mentioned yet that I'm nine weeks pregnant at this point? I know, talk about crazy!) It's fair to say that I was a bit nervous, as I thought to myself, "Can we actually pull this off?" Fears aside, I knew this was going to be epic!

After setting up our sleeping arrangements for the night and eating a hot meal, we went to sleep dreaming of the next day. When morning dawned, it was finally show time! We started in the exposed sun – no shade – which had us thankful for the mild temperatures. After several miles, the canyon walls started to close in on us, and our feet started to sink deeper into the sand.

Both carrying well over 30 pounds, I was starting to feel envious of my son being carried through all of this. At this point, the rewards were immediate. With every step the scenery felt as if we were in a different world. By mile five, we reached the river, and this is where things got interesting.

We were prepared to walk in water from this point on. Switching to waterproof socks and hiking sandals, every step was met with a small splash followed by a loud giggle from my son, who thought it was hilarious! The canyon walls narrowed even more as we meandered through the river.

At one point, my son made a loud noise and realizes that there was an echo. With amazement, he made louder noises and laughed when his voice returned to him. We chimed in. For many moments before making it to our campsite, this served as pure entertainment for him. Self-discovery is one of the huge reasons why we do this!

By time we made it to Jacob Hamblin Arch (mile nine), we decided to set up camp. We were surprised at how beautiful this arch was! It took our breath away. Everything about the area was just like a dream. Cascading sandstone walls bent before breaking through to form the arch while the whimsical river flowed below it. We were the only people there, so my son had free range to explore and even took a skinny dip in the river. Life was good in our little piece of paradise. The night was clear, with milder temperatures than anticipated, and the moon shone brightly. My son slept so well, practically through the night, which was a surprise as this wasn't the case on our last backpacking trip.

In the early hours of the morning, before the sun rose, with only the light of our headlamps and the moon— we made the trek to Coyote Natural Bridge. Oh, boy, were we so glad we did! Those two miles ended up being the most picturesque of the entire trail. After admiring the bridge, we took our time hiking the 11 miles back to our car. Upon returning, we were completely exhausted, but stoked to have completed the trip, a total of 22 miles! There were definitely fears coming into this experience, but I believe the greater risk would have been not going.

Life is unpredictable, who knows when we'll have this opportunity again? Of the many values I want my children to gain from exploring nature, some of the greatest are to pursue challenging goals and know they can achieve anything they put their hearts and minds to. I want them to live life to the fullest. What better way to show this than by us, their parents, pursuing what makes us happy?

My greatest hope is that I open my children's eyes to the beauty this world has to offer and that the passion I have for the outdoors becomes theirs. In the end, this was an experience that we will never forget and a testament that we can do hard things with kids. I can't wait to welcome our newest addition in June and start on a whole new adventure with two kids in tow!