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Exploring the Colorado Plateau with Kids in Tow
Exploring the Colorado Plateau with Kids in Tow

Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park


Photo by Alfredo De Simone

When my 18-year-old niece picked Utah and Colorado over Yellowstone and Montana I was secretly disappointed. I had never been to the area known as the Colorado Plateau but Yellowstone intrigued me more. While I have yet to visit America's oldest national park our trip to southeast Utah and western Colorado was hardly a disappointment. It was one of our best family vacations yet.

The variety of the landscape was one the most pleasant surprises. Each bend in the road brought us face to face with something new: natural arches, bridges, spires and pinnacles not to mention canyons, mountains and buttes. And the rockforms varied in more than shape, they varied in color. We'd never seen so many shades of red, orange and brown. Not even in the Sahara.

Arches National Park, the first stop on our circle tour, provided us with a taste of things to come. Natural arches, as spectacular as they might be, weren't the only natural phenomena to blow us away. Or maybe our early morning Fiery Furnace hike simply overloaded our senses and dulled us to the park's true wonders. Either way, both my 8-year-old daughter and 18-year-old niece are still raving about this U.S. National Park. Potholes, pinnacles and biological soil are as often recalled as natural arches and erosion.

If the number of photos establishes a favorite, Canyonlands was our preferred destination. We have pictures of every rock and vista at Island in the Sky. And my 8-year-old daughter took the most. She clicked each and every time she spotted an image she liked. A budding photographer? I can't help but think that the true source of her inspiration was the ranger-led family program we took part in early that day. Drawing pictures and playing charades helped her see beyond the surface of the scenery.

We didn't spend much time in Moab but we did hire a local outfitter, Moab Adventure Center. We went river rafting on the Colorado and traveled off-road on a hummer safari. Both were exceptional. The inclines navigated in a 4-wheel drive rivaled the thrill of a roller coaster. The professional guides made our river trip relaxing, safe and fun. But most importantly, for a full day someone else played tour guide, teacher and animator.

When I booked our stay at Mesa Verde National Park I was afraid it would be the nadir of our trip. Would this small slice of American history run adrift on two Italian educated kids? My worries were waylaid before we left the visitor center. Junior Ranger activity sheet in hand my 8-year-old was on a mission for a badge. My 18-year-old niece was fretting that we wouldn't have time to see everything. Exploring mesa top ruins and ancient cliff dwellings not only brought the Ancestral Puebloans to life it added dimension to our vacation in the U.S.

Grand Junction may not be a top travel destination but for my 8-year-old daughter this small town on the western front of Colorado was the last hurrah. The attraction? The Museum of Western Colorado's dig for a day program. Dinosaurs and dirt; two things kids find fun.

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Travel Trivia
The age of the Saguaro Cactus is determined by: