The Ultimate Kids Trip: 4th graders and their families get in to the Monument for FREE.
I have the reputation as the “kids” guide at Dinosaur River Expeditions. Every time there’s a trip with someone under the age of 13, they are inevitably my favorite guest (sorry adults). I can talk for hours with a 10 year old about their favorite candy, or listen to stories about the time they rode sleeping bags down the stairs, completely captivated. This fact is the reason that when Dinosaur booked their first trip with more children than guardians, I found myself rowing the kids’ boat down the Green River.
It was a late August Gates of Lodore trip, and we had made it through all the big rapids like Hell’s Half Mile. I volunteered to take the kids’ boat the night before, assuming not all of them would want to come with me. The next thing I knew, I was rowing through Whirlpool Canyon with, no joke, a raft overrun with twelve animated children. We listened to the three Twenty One Pilot songs I happened to have downloaded on my iPod, on repeat, repeatedly. The kids’ faces were caked with seven colors of zinc sunscreen: a creative dad brought them to trick the kids into protecting their young skin from the sun. “War Paint!” They yelled every morning, excited to be decorate themselves; no one questioned what they were at war with…
They stood on the frame, and along the tubes of the boat, with the impressive balance of someone who doesn’t know they should be falling over. They danced (some with terrible kid moves you couldn’t help but love and some who should seriously consider dance as profession) with abandon. “Rapid!” I would yell, pausing the music, and 12 little bodies would suddenly sit down and hang onto “something strappy” on my command. As soon as the rapid ended, they flew back into the frenzied floating dance party.
We floated through the canyon, experiencing our own versions of perfection.
We arrive at camp and the kids scatter, digging in the sand, catching lizards, playing a kind of tag they invented.
A few minutes, later the US Fish and Wildlife Biologists stopped at our camp. They had seen our trip of kids and stopped to treat us with a few cool tidbits about the fish in Dinosaur National Monument. The kids piled onto the boat, the biologists pulled out ten fish from a cooler, and showed them each one before tossing it back into the water. The kids squealed with glee as each fish splashed into the river and swam away.
Doesn’t this sound like a kids’ paradise to you? The billion-year-old rocks aren’t fragile, they can touch everything in sight (except the petroglyphs). The kids won’t care if there is sand in every crevice of their body, about the geology, or the history of the place, but they feel its enchantment. Your family can dance, make s’mores, bury each other in the sand and make new friends. Some friendships will be a fleeting reminder of the freedom you felt on the river: like when you see a lizard you remember the one you caught named Gary. Other friendships might be the kind that last a lifetime. What can I say, the kids and I get each other. I never grew out of my kid phase: I want to touch the water, the sand, the river, breath in the hot air, and believe in magic.
National Parks Foundation seems to understand the kids too, as they started the “Every kid in a Park” initiative. Every 4th grader and their families can get into any National Park or Monument in the country for free. The magic in the National Parks is greater than Disneyland and this program allows every kid and their families to experience it.