Hiking with my Herd: Mt. Timpanogos Caves

There is just something about mountains. They move me. They uplift me. They calm me. They center me.

And I don't think I realized it until I left them behind for a couple of years when we moved to Arizona.

Brown. Big. Flat. Empty. Achingly empty.

And please don't try to tell me that those few hills scattered throughout Phoenix are "mountains". In spite of the eternal sunshine and heat I found much unhappiness in Arizona. There was a plethora of reasons but one at the top of the list was the lack of great, green, rocky earth piled high in inspiring heights.

And then we moved to Nevada. (Getting warmer...)

And then we moved to Utah. Behold the Wasatch Front! *angels sing*

I look out my windows every day and bid a very fond greeting to "my" mountains. They wave cheerily back, beckoning me, and all is right in the world. Whether they be graciously green, blushingly red, or snow capped and frosty they are lovely.

We've lived here for almost 4 years, the longest we've lived anywhere in our entire marriage. Every now and then we consider moving to another job in another state and my first question always is, "Are there mountains?" quickly followed by "But are they REAL mountains?" for I have become wiser after my two year Arizona sentence in which I discovered one man's "mountain" is another man's "molehill". Now that I know how essential REAL mountains are to my happiness I know better than to distance myself from them. No salary increase is worth it. 

I wish I could spend many more hours frolicking--ahem...hiking with a sense of decorum and dignity through them, but home and hearth requires my feet to stay firmly planted here and I must settle for my ritual morning/afternoon/evening gazes full of longing.

But every so often...I get to have days such as these.

To this soul there are very few joys in this world that can compare to being with some of my favorite people in my favorite place.

I had heard from several friends with children my children's ages that Mt. Timpanogos Caves was a great hike for families. We had stopped outside of it before on one our family drives but soon discovered that you have to reserve (and pay for) tickets well in advance. Finally a date was reserved and we looked forward to it with much anticipation. My sister and her family would be joining us. Hiking PLUS caves PLUS cousins!

On Friday (September 12th) at 3:15 pm we approached the forest ranger at the beginning of the trail. She asked if there would be any more adults joining us. After a quick safety briefing we began to understand her concern. This trail is STEEP and NARROW with no guard rails and the occasional rock slide. As we started hiking up the path I worried that I had put my family in unnecessary danger and questioned the sanity of my friends.

This didn't help.

And we all laughed at this. Though it was a sweaty nervous laugh that sounded more like heavy huffing and puffing.

 Steep. Yup.

 But cool. Definitely cool.

 And sooooo beautiful. Just gorgeous.
After 1.5 miles of hiking straight up a girl could use a bathroom. Oh look! There just happens to be one up here. "Last chance!" indeed. But I can't help but ask...Who is the poor soul who has to plumb these???

The view from the Loo
 The kids did great! We made several rest stops and let the candy flow forth. While this is definitely one of the steeper hikes we've done there wasn't as much whining on this hike. I think the promise of caves at the end helped as well as the distraction and fun of cousins.

We made it! 1.5 miles and 1,092 feet of elevation.

 The entrance to the cave. Though I'm quite convinced that if you recite an incantation or two you will walk into the love nest of a lost hobbit and a rebellious dwarf instead.

Cave popcorn

Cave bacon
The heart of the cave
The caves were impressive. A knowledgeable tour guide took us through in a group of 15 (our 12 plus 3 "fortunate" others). We saw lots of formations (cave bacon and cave popcorn), learned all about the mysteries of caves, and did cave yoga where we twisted, crouched, and sucked it in to get through all the passages. Joe was particularly happy about finding the cave bacon. "I'd know you anywhere," were his tear-filled words. And I don't know why someone always feels the need to bring up earthquakes while buried deep within the ground, but someone always does. This day was no different.

On our drive to the mountains Dee told us an old Indian story about star-crossed lovers that died a tragic death together deep in the cave. Their bodies bound and formed the heart of the cave. Our guide was a young geologist and full of factual information if not a tad geeky. But he was not fond of cave legends or folk lore and refused to recite any such "offensive tales". But we did find the heart of the cave (It was huge and as heavy as an elephant. FACT.) and we'll just have to rely on Dee to satisfy our need for cave myths.
Waiting for the cave water to drop off a stalactite. We learned cave water is very pure and safe to drink.
After about an hour of cave exploration, we reentered the world, no worse for the wear. The caves were very interesting for the kids and adults alike. Definitely worth the ticket fee.

We made it through!

The family that caves together...

"And don't forget to sign the book on your way out." I couldn't resist.

Neither could my sister. Nerds.

Again with all the gorgeous!

Steeeeeeeep! Do you see how far up we are? It made you dizzy just to peek.

I'm very proud of the kids. They did really well hiking and following the rules so that we could enjoy the day. This was a great adventure for all of us.

Oh these two.
When I tried to sleep the night after our hike I couldn't relax with several mini nightmares about one of the kids or myself falling. It wasn't so scary while we were on the mountain but just thinking about how badly it could have gone afterwards was heart pounding. I'm very grateful that the day went well and no one was hurt.

What a gorgeous gorgeous place! I can't believe we've lived here as long as we have and just barely made this trip. It was beautiful and challenging and just plain fun. We saw several people hiking up and down and up and down again just for exercise. I think I'm going to have to return and do that very soon. I'm already feeling the need for some more elevation.

"What are men to rocks and mountains?" ~Jane Austen

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