Author Archives: Craig
While Colorado is most often associated with her beautiful mountains, there is a small section in southern Colorado that has enormous sand dunes. Formed millions of years ago, Great Sand Dunes National Park sits at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range where blowing sand against the mountain has created the largest sand dunes in North America. The tallest, Star Dune rises 750 feet from the creek bed. Looking from the distance, Great Sand Dunes offers an amazing juxtaposition of sand dunes landscape next to the majestic Rocky Mountains.
While Alex and I had an adventure here some 10 years earlier when we took a first place ribbon at the annual sand building competition, our purpose for this adventure was much different. We were here to get in some vertical climbing in preparation for our June trip to Mt. Rainier. As such, we decide to go with full packs on. Our course was to climb the High Dune on the east side and then walk right through the middle of the dunes over to Star Dune. We could then easily descend down to the valley floor and follow the creek bed back to our starting point.
If you’ve ever walked through dry sand, you know how much it gives way underneath you. What makes this hike so challenging is that you are sinking in while doing some major vertical climbing. Many a time it felt like one step up and two steps back. To make matters more difficult, the wind howls constantly and the higher you get the more ferocious the sand storms become. After reaching the top of High Dune, and enjoying watching the many sand boarders who ride down the dune), we headed out across the middle. After descending the back side of High, we were treated to an awe inspiring scene of nothing but sand. Every direction we looked, nothing but sand and the blue sky above. To feel like you could get lost in here is an understatement. While hundreds of tourists were at play just a quarter-mile away, it felt like Alex and I were the only two people on earth.
The climb across the dunes was extremely enjoyable. The climb up Star Dune however was a huge challenge. Between the loose footing, the steep slope, and brutal wind gusts, I was down to counting 20 steps before needing to take a rest break. When getting to the top, you quickly get to the back side of the ridge to avoid being sand blasted by the wind. Inspired at the top, we decided to go back the same way rather than going to the creek bed. While a much more difficult traverse, we couldn’t resist the temptation to play in the sand again. For me, having trained in the pool for the past three months, I finally felt I had reached a level of fitness that made it fun to pack and I was encouraged about our upcoming climb up Mt. Rainier. This memorable hike stayed with us for days as we continued to wash sand out of our hair and ears!
Six miles down a slot canyon with no possibility of going back up, we came to a creek bed junction. We knew we were making a loop back to our starting point 11 miles further on but had different concepts of which direction we should go. My intuition and brief memory of looking at the map in our hiking book said we should go clockwise and thus turn right. Alex’s memory on the other hand said to go counter-clockwise and thus take the canyon to the left. With no trail markers or foot prints to guide us, this would be the time to take out the map and find the correct trail. One problem, however, the book and map were back in the car!
Needless to say, it was some tense moments as we tried to figure out the correct course. I’ve always counted on Alex’s sense of direction but was pretty sure we needed to head down stream at this point. Alex, on the other hand, grew frustrated by my questioning his judgment. (This is a classic dynamic for fathers with young adult children. After years of your being in charge of everything, you want them to take more control. They on the other hand want to feel in control and also be respected by you. It’s an evolving relationship dance that can easily lead to toes being stepped on.) To make matters worse, we both knew that we wouldn’t know who was right for at least another 11 miles up the trail. Running low on water in the desert heat and sun made it all that much more stressful. If we did pick the wrong trail, we would have to retrace our steps the next day and then do another 11 miles to get out. And all without much water!
Needless to say, it was an anxious night’s sleep camping along the dry stream bed 5 miles up from where we hit the junction and wandering if we had made the right choice. We were all pretty exhausted from the day’s pack in and nervous about our dwindling supply of water. Starting out the next morning, it wasn’t until about 3 miles further up the trail that we saw our first signs of other beings in the area. While they appeared to be days old, seeing horse tracks and manure was encouraging. When hooking into another creek bed, we then found running water, deeper slot canyons and some spectacular water falls. Alex was right, we were on the right track. While we were able to laugh about it later, next time, we will all need to be sure that we have a map!
Four years ago, while my now wife and I were dating, we discussed adopting another child. We both had already parented and had kids from our previous marriages aged 32, 22 and 15. Yet, there was a mutual drive between us to adopt a young child and help parent him or her into adulthood (I was hoping for a girl as I had never had the joy of raising one). So, after getting married, we went through the home study process and waited to see if our little angel would float down from heaven. (I use to tell people that I would drive by the park every morning hoping to see if a child had come down with the rain or snow.)
After several trials and tribulations with the adoption process (http://adventuredad.org/534/reflections/king-for-a-day/), we had just about resided ourselves to early retirement, travel and golf. Then, last August, while recovering from shoulder surgery, we received a call from the agency about a 7 year old girl. Just weeks later, we were meeting with her grandfather and talking about his desire for her to have a family who could nurture and raise her. Having lost his wife years earlier, he tried his hardest to parent her but realized it wasn’t going to work out.
After months of visits to Northern Colorado, little Lily moved in with us this past December. Things were rough at first as she was coming to grips with yet another loss and transition in her young life. Yet, we hung in there with lots of love, many fun adventures, security with her new parents, and loving siblings and a faithful dog. Most excitingly for me was watching Alex welcome her into his life as he came down from college on weekends and breaks. Many a fun adventure was had with Lily and her new brother.
This past July, we are excited to report that Lily became a permanent member of our family. I will never forget looking back at her when the judge asked me if we would adopt her. She smiled at us both and then gave us a big thumbs-up!
Lily continues to flower during this new school year. Surrounded by family and friends, she is thriving. We are looking forward to many a great adventure together and it’s been a whole new experience for me learning how to be the father of a girl. Believe me, if you have ever seen my golf game, you’d understand why this was the perfect choice for finding meaning and joy in this next phase of our lives!
Are you looking for some fun outdoor gear to help your son or daughter get started in the outdoors? Check out Backyard Safari Outfitters (http://www.backyardsafari.com/) They equip young children with all sorts of field gear to get their adventure imaginations going and start them exploring. My daughter Lily loved the land and water habitat this summer. She collected and studied many bugs under her magnifying glass as well. When out on a hike, what child doesn’t love a walkie talkie!
Deep in Southern Utah’s remote desert landscape sits the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Protecting 1.8 million acres, it’s an ideal location for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. A place where one can easily find solitude as well as easily get lost in the deep slot canyon creek beds.
For our first adventure into this massive wilderness, we selected the Bull Valley Gorge loop based on the Las Vegas REI team member’s suggestion and the two days we had for accomplishing the weekend trip. Seeing a photo of the deep canyon on the cover of a Utah climbing book further increased our excitement for exploring our first slot canyon.
You sit up on a rugged, scraggly plateau as you drive south into the Grand Staircase. What you don’t realize, however, are the deep creek beds that weave throughout the landscape. When starting out with Alex and my brother John, we only had to hike a 1/8 mile down a trail to gain access to the stream bed. It wasn’t too long after that when the gorge got deeper and narrower. The site of the water worn sand walls going straight up for 50-75 feet inspires awe as well as a bit of fear. Some of the passageways were only 3-4 feet wide and the thought of a flash flood is always present. (Check the weather forecast ahead of time!) While not too terribly technical, you do need some rope and the ability to use them for lowering gear and bodies down some of the 15-20 foot drops. Fortunately, for us, Alex has developed a passion for the latest robe techniques!
As you’ll see in the video, we had a lot of laughs and a few falls weaving our way through the long, dark passageways. At 17 miles, the two day loop was a fairly strenuous trek. The second half day was particularly tiring as the creek bed opened up and exposed us to the afternoon desert heat and sun. To say, “bring plenty of water” would be an understatement as we found our jugs bone dry by the time we returned to the vehicle. Oh yes, you’ll need to bring a map with you as navigating in desert landscape and deep canyons can be very tricky. N, S, E or W has a whole new meaning when you are 100 feet down. For a unique and memorable adventure, you won’t be disappointed!
If you are thinking about slot canyons and hiking in Southern Utah, check out Favorite Hikes In & Around Zion National Park by Tanya Milligan and Bo Beck. It’s loaded with great photos and easy to understand directions and maps. They also cover hikes for every age and ability level. Perfect for planning your next adventure no matter what age kids you have. We picked up our copy at REI.
The Social Brain Is Here!!
Craig Knippenberg has successfully combined his years of experience from working with children, teens and adolescents with an extensive knowledge of the brain to create a series of promotional videos for his upcoming book, Will You Be My Friend? Understanding Your Child’s Social Brain Through Childhood. This set of five vignettes details the contents of his future book, as well as works to explain his mission in educating parents and teachers on their children’s brains.
Will You Be My Friend? Understanding Your Child’s Social Brain Videos:
For additional information: Will You Be My Friend flyer.
In his narrative to ten-year-old Connor, caring father and adventurer Tommy Maloney opens his heart to reflect on the trials of his life as a single father, and as a son with divorced parents. His piece was published in Every Little Thing! Birth and Beyond 360, a magazine dedicated to celebrating life. Tommy is also the author of the book “25 Tips for Divorced Dads: How to create special memories and grow your bonds with your children.” As a prominent member of Colorado society, Tommy has grown his reputation as a father and mentor on the subject of family divorces.
Fruita, CO is located in the western region of the state, bordering the Colorado River and Uncompahgre Plateau. It is minutes outside of Grand Junction but has a culture all its own. The hot desert climate beckons tourism in the spring and early summer, and May is the best time to visit, without a doubt. Not only is the snow gone but the weather is perfect for outdoors activities.
The city’s nickname is “Home of Mike the Headless Chicken,” and in may you can find out why. The Mike the Headless Chicken festival takes place in late May annually and celebrates the life of Mike, the headless chicken. The concept is self-explanatory: there was a chicken, Mike, and his head was chopped off yet he lived. To find out why, how, and how long, as well as for information on the festival, visit www.miketheheadlesschicken.org. The festival takes place on the streets of Fruita; this is not an event to be missed.
A year-round attraction in Fruita is the Dinosaur Journey museum. This region of Western Colorado is renowned for its excellent paleontology, including the discovery of the Fruitaden, the smallest plant eating dinosaur. The Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway is an excellent way to see what lies within the hills of the Western Slope. If driving is out of the question, stick to the indoor museum; www.museumofwesternco.com/visit/dinosaur-journey.
On the outdoorsy beat, visit the Colorado National Monument. Located just west of Fruita, the mountain escape offers a beautiful geologic view of Colorado. Run by the National Park Service, the monument has all of the amenities of another park or preserve. Vacationers can camp, hike, backpack, or simply drive. For more information visit the NPS web page; www.nps.gov/colm. This park is truly one of Colorado’s hidden gems that many miss due to its off-the-beaten-path location and seemingly mundane setting.
When it comes to dealing with the loss of a loved one, a teens grieving process can be long and complicated, but the non-profit educational organization Outward Bound’s local Rocky Mountain School has found a way to change this. Heroic Journey is a unique program designed to help grieving teens cope with the loss of a loved one. A strong base curriculum perfected by Outward Bound is combined with powerful grief work activities and the stunning beauty of nature to create a transformational adventure. Outward Bound Heroic Journey provides these often struggling teens with the opportunity to discover their inner strength to face and overcome challenges that they have, and will face. Heroic Journey offers adventures such as week-long Colorado backpacking trips, multi-day sailing excursions, and Eastern-United States canoe floats. The rugged expeditions require participants to find their hidden strength and leave them with a new-found confidence that will last the rest of their lives. Thanks to the New York Life Foundation, all participants will receive tuition scholarships based on need. To learn more about this program and Outward Bound’s mission view a brochure, here, or visit their website at http://www.outwardbound.org/programs/group-programs/heroic-journey/