Our trip to Jamaica consisted of five of the most magical days of my life- sometimes as I go about my day in Fort Worth I have trouble even believing they happened, and they were worth every penny to celebrate our 10th anniversary with each other and with the kids, but for good old fashioned Lag Liv family entertainment, nothing beats a few days at a state park. And this week, it was Robber's Cave State Park in Wilburton, Oklahoma.
You might be like me and have no reason to think you'd ever want to vacation in Oklahoma. I've driven through the state many times on our way to Wisconsin or Colorado and my blurry memories were of a flat, dull place with the occasional gas station. But no, the northeast corner is lovely! You're basically in Arkansas, so it's Ozark-like hills, trees, lakes, and streams. I subscribe to the state park newsletters of Texas and all its bordering states and a few months ago Oklahoma's featured a picture of a family on top of a giant flat rock in this park I'd never heard of that involved the word "cave" and I was like bam, we're going there this fall. What do we love more than climbing on giant rocks and exploring caves?!
I knew we were planning to stay in Fort Worth for Thanksgiving this year, so I made a reservation for a 2-bedroom cabin on their website (way easier to use than Texas's, I must say) for the first part of week and we were all set. We're planning to hike our way through 4 National Parks in Utah over Spring Break, so we needed to get our kids back in hiking shape! Our last real hiking trip was Palo Duro Canyon in August 2014 and I was concerned Claire might forget her legs can work for extended periods or that Cora would refuse the hiking backpack.
(She did in fact temporarily refuse the hiking backpack. You might not be able to tell, but she's sobbing in that picture. Luckily she came around and I was able to capture her expression of pure JOY every time James threw her up onto his back once she realized it was awesome.)
We packed up Monday morning and headed northeasterly for four hours to an Oklahoma town so tiny I didn't get cell service and my weather app refused to acknowledge it. There was a single stoplight and the nearest Starbucks was 65 miles away. We found the cabin office and checked in.
The kids were thrilled with their new temporary home, and even as a more discerning adult I'd highly recommend it. Two big bedrooms with queen beds, a nice living area, kitchen (stocked with pots, pans, dishes, utensils, towels, linens, and a few basics like soap and sponges, plus full size appliances), and huge wrap-around deck. This is how we camp. It's cheating, but it's all the feeling of nature with the comforts of walls, plumbing, and central heat and air. Also, for me it doesn't count as a vacation if I'm sharing a room with my children and luckily most state parks have 2-bedroom cabins that are very affordable. It's perfect, and because you can bring/make your meals, our whole 3-day trip came in at less than $300.
After we unloaded the food, taking great care with the homemade lasagna I'd lovingly prepared the day before, we headed out to climb on some rocks!
And climb we did!
I just love state parks. I love the wooden signs, the trail maps that looked like they were created on a type writer (and probably were), the friendly rangers and workers... every one we've visited has always been so charming. And this one had so many boulders and crevices and caves, it was hard to decide which way to go next!
At one point, Cora decided she needed to do her own hiking. She was so enthusiastic about it. There was a lot of hopping.
Landon always had lots of ideas for shortcuts, that were really never shorter, though he was always pleased with them. At one point when he was suggested another such short cut to Claire, she yelled back, exasperated, "Landon, I take the short cuts AND the hard cuts!". It was my favorite exchange of the trip.
There was another moment, when James leaped from one rock to another over a very deep chasm, and Landon went to follow, I had to hold myself back from shouting, "no!", but then he did it, and he was so proud and I remembered that James was right there and he wouldn't have let Landon jump if he didn't think he could make it and giving your kids room to test themselves in a (mostly) safe space is one of the most important things we're supposed to be doing as parents. For us, our hiking adventures area big part of that. And when Claire climbed up a tall rock and yelled "I MADE IT!" at the top of her lungs with a huge grin, I was reminded yet again. I have so many memories of getting to push myself on hiking and exploring adventures growing up with my parents, and those trips are some of my brightest memories from my childhood.
We finished Day 1 with the lasagna, sides, and s'mores. The kids were in bed and asleep by 8 and at 8:35 James looked at me and said, I think I might go to bed too. Since we rarely go to bed before midnight, I found this rather shocking, but without internet or TV, I shrugged and figured why not. Off to bed we went (though of course I read my new book till 11 after he went to sleep - LOVING the Edge series by Ilona Andrews; I need more!).
Day 2 dawned with breakfast and plans to do the "big" Rough Canyon Loop Trail. It was 2.75 miles, so, figuring we could do that in an hour, I didn't pack any snacks except water, and, figuring the trail would be marked, I didn't bother to bring the trail guide along with us. Oops all around.
But it was a fabulous hike. Beautiful, full of fall leaves and rocks and a wonderful canyon we immediately went off trail to climb down and use as our personal playground for an hour.
We jumped over rocks, used trees as balance beams, and generally had a great time.
I made James take my camera and decided to walk across a tree, only to realize the tree was WAY skinnier than I thought, and higher, and it was all water underneath instead of rocks and I really didn't want to get wet, so I only made it a third of the way across before deciding to backtrack. But I'm in a picture! That's a victory right there.
We pressed, following the blue dots sporadically painted on trees. I enjoyed the extremely "natural" approach to wandering in the woods that Robbers Cave takes for its official hikes, but there were many, MANY moments you'd start thinking, huh, I haven't seen a blue circle in a really long time... I'm really just walking in the woods of an 8400 acre park and the blue dots could be in a totally different direction and then, victory! a blue dotted tree would appear before you. It's like they knew juuuust how long to stretch it before you'd really start to doubt yourself and turn around.
Claire decided her legs were tired and though I insisted she was perfectly capable of walking, as did Cora (and Landon, silently), James is sentimental and way nicer than me, and countered, "but I won't be able to hold my baby girl for much longer."
Somewhere, about 90 minutes in, after 2 off-trail experiences, I started wondering if we'd followed the wrong path. Our dots were now a different shade of blue and it really felt like we'd walked our 2.75 miles. Of course we had, we just hadn't done it all on the trail, and jumping around canyons doesn't count. Luckily we came upon another family of five with a functioning GPS who assured us we were on track and had 2 miles done. That little bit of verification enabled me to enjoy the last part of the hike instead of being distracted by that niggling doubt of holy crap, I really hope this isn't the wrong way because we don't have any food. Yay for other families hiking on the Monday before Thanksgiving! They were the only people we saw pretty much all day.
We got to the car about 2.5 hours after we left (so much for my 1 hour estimate), totally ready for the delicious hot dog and PBJ lunch we had waiting back at the cabin a mile away, only to find our car battery totally dead. Again, snacks would have been good. Luckily a nice park ranger jumped us and we were back at our cabin in a jiffy, assuming we'd left something turned on in the car and ignoring potentially car troubles.
After lunch Cora napped, so James took the kids to a park (we counted 5 playgrounds sprinkled around the park) and the nature center and animal rescue house, and then I took them to the riding stables, petting zoo, and yet another playground. Seriously the best, most low key awesome state park ever.
At the petting zoo I met a donkey (?) and we became best friends. I named him Snowflake. There were other animals (mostly tiny goats) and the kids pet and brushed and loved them all.
When Cora woke up, we headed into town ("town") to the one restaurant with a rating on tripadvisor- a super cute Mexican place that was very good, very fast, and fed all of us all the food for $40. We finished up a great meal, got to our car, and boom. Despite working fine and driving us all around the park all afternoon during our naptime adventures, the battery was dead again. Our waiter (and cashier, and possibly the cook?) ran out and jumped us from his car and we were off again, now quite concerned about our car and its ability to drive us home. But! Ahead! Literally one of two stores between Main Street and the State Park was an auto parts store and an extremely nice man tested our battery and alternator and pronounced our battery dead. We got a bargain on a new one, he installed it while James paid, and in 10 minutes we were back on the road home again. It was a whole slew of feel good small town moments and the whole thing made my heart happy. And now we have a new battery and can start our car whenever we want all by ourselves!
Today we woke up, packed up, and went on one last hike- a more modest 2 mile loop down a different side of the park, around another lake, a dam, and up a rocky ravine. This time we actually did go the wrong way for a little while (there were red dots going in two directions and we chose poorly), but we figured it out and made our way back. We checked out and were on our way back to the Fort, getting hung up in various bouts of Thanksgiving traffic, but still home in time for me to do our Thanksgiving shopping and James to go to swim practice (and our chimney/fire place to get checked out by a professional chimney sweep; this year is the year of on-time Christmas decorations and our first ever in-house Fort Worth fire!)
It was the perfect way to kick of our Thanksgiving week and I really can't recommend Robbers Cave highly enough. The cabin was clean and perfect, the park was huge and varied, the rocks were glorious and the biggest mess of them is right off the Cave parking lot (i.e., you don't have to hike and follow the blue/red dots), there are a bunch of playgrounds and horses, a great nature center, a cabin office that sells wine openers if you forget yours, and a white donkey named Snowflake!
We loved it all and now I'm back to researching which state park to head to next!
Your Afternoon Man: Terry Crews
2 hours ago