Since we had to can the staycation to The Mystery Spot, we tried to come up with fun alternatives for our trip to Utah.
We considered Lagoon but decided it was too expensive. We thought about water parks but realized that would be stupid since we were staying at a hotel with a great indoor pool and water slide that can be seen from the freeway. The water slide goes outside the building and back in. It’s so much fun! In the end we settled on Desert Star Playhouse and a hike to the Timpanogas Caves.
Heath and I have both been on that hike multiple times. We know it’s not an easy hike. We also know the caves are worth the effort. Our kids are at a great age for this hike. It would be fun. It’s an outdoor activity just like The Mystery Spot. It felt like a no brainer.
And then Heath opened his big fat mouth.
It would be a metaphor for us to look back on.
I wasn’t upset because I thought that was a cheesy way of experiencing the hike. I was upset because the hike was extremely difficult 14 years and 30 extra pounds later. The more Heath compared the hike to our move the more I wanted to cry.
Besides being completely out of shape (I used to work out!), we were not really prepared for this. We wore sturdy shoes and that’s about it. When we bought the tickets the lady asked if we had enough water. Heath and Gavin were the only ones with water bottles. We bought two more reusable water bottles at the info desk for $5 apiece. They don’t sell disposable water bottles anymore.
The lady also asked us if we brought jackets. Um, I thought about it. I honestly could not remember if I had a jacket with me in the past. I landed on no. The lady informed us that the cave is 45 degrees inside so jackets would be nice. My babies were going to freeze to death! We weren’t buying overpriced sweatshirts to go with our fancy water bottles.
About all we had going for us were vague memories of how difficult the hike is. Well, we bought the tickets so … let’s go!
We saw this sign after stopping twice. It says “Stop If you have heart or breathing difficulties or are under a doctor’s care, the trail ahead may be too strenuous. The distance to the cave is 1.5 miles, or 2.4 kilometers, with a vertical rise of 1,065 feet, or 329 meters.” In other words, turn back now if you are an out of shape Piquant Storyteller. You will most likely die on this hike.
I am often accused of being over dramatic. I speak in hyperbole. Let me assure you, the grade of the trail is perfectly vertical. Any steeper and they would be selling mountain climbing harnesses along with their water bottles. Imagine a ladder leaned against the side of a building. The trail is like that only without the convenient steps. For a mile and a half.
The distance doesn’t seem too bad. Who can’t walk a mile and a half in two hours? Walk, climb, crawl all while gasping for air. By the end, the trail practically goes upside down it’s so steep. But you keep going out of a matter of pride. You paid for this torture, time has not run out yet, and by golly, you will go through that cave if it kills you.
Every time I get to this natural arch I kind of feel like that should be it. The 1/4 way marker mocks me. The first quarter is the easiest. It only gets more lung burning from there. Somewhere I have a picture with my mom at this exact spot. I have the fakest smile on my face as I give a thumbs up with one hand and desperately clutch my water bottle with the other hand. Fear and exhaustion are behind my eyes.
I set the pace while my ducklings follow.
Heath brings up the rear and captures the beauty of Utah’s mountains. I’m glad he took these pictures because I did not enjoy the breathtaking views at the time. The mountain literally took my breath away. Every time I stopped I had a kid shoving a water bottle in my face. Sometimes I needed it sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I just needed to stop to prevent a heart attack. Because sometimes my heart would cross the line between major exertion and inevitable death. So I stopped hoping my burning lungs wouldn’t explode.
The worst sight was when I saw two rangers carrying a stretcher down the mountain. I am not even kidding. I don’t know if someone actually needed it. I tried not to think about that. Add stretchers to my list of fear inducing images – ambulances, fire trucks, and now stretchers. The more life experience you have the scarier life can be.
This sign is found at the mouth of the cave. Realize that I live almost at sea level. Traveling to Utah can be challenging. The air is bone dry and thin. My nose fills with suffocating boogers as soon as I fly over Utah. We forgot chapstick on this trip and our lips cracked immediately. I hardly needed a hair dryer since wrapping a towel around my head after my shower seemed to be enough. Dry, thin air and a hike. It is a wonder I am here to tell the tale.
At the “last chance” bathrooms (read pit toilets) I ate another package of fruit snacks while waiting for the kids to make their last pit stop. A girl and I bonded over being diabetic. She’s Type 2 while I’m Type 1. We were both grateful to be on that mountain still intact.
Our group was assembled and into the mountain we went.
Definitely worth it.
I have been to Lehman Caves and to Minnetonka Caves. Timpanogas is by far my favorite.
Even our ranger guide said that Timpanogas has unique formations not found in other caves. The whole place is beautiful. My childhood education rushed back to me. I remembered all the formations by name and wanted to share everything I knew with my kids.
The heart is iconic. Gwen liked that part. She wanted to see the wedding room but the guide never pointed it out specifically. I couldn’t remember which room was the wedding room.
It’s all amazing.
Gwen was cold. Or at least she said she was. The rest of us were fine. It felt nice after the hot hike up. That’s what I remembered about Timpanogas Caves. The cooler temperatures inside are a welcome relief after the trial of getting there in the hot sun. I rubbed Gwen’s arms for the whole hour long tour inside.
At one point they turn out the lights inside the cave to show just how black pure darkness is. I had told the kids ahead of time to expect that. They were excited to hold their hands in front of their faces and not be able to see anything. It was an anticlimactic moment when we realized that Gavin’s shirt was glowing! The guide asked if we could see anything. Parker and some other kid said, “I can see his shirt!”
The trail down has been moved. Apparently there were too many rockslides. By the way, Gavin asked, “Why don’t they just remove all the rocks so people can be safe?” I’m not sure if he was serious or not. The new trail down suspiciously goes uphill all the way around till it rejoins the original trail up to the caves.
That was where Gwen decided that even though she used the potties “one last time” she could not hold it one more second. Her options were to hold it until we had hiked all the way back down to the visitor’s center or climb back up two switch backs to the “last chance” potties. Guess who took her back up?
I lovingly hated her the whole way up. She genuinely apologized repeatedly. I told her she owed me so much Diet Coke for making me take her back up the steepest part of the trail. She told me she had $20 at home and wondered how much Diet Coke that would buy! I told her it would buy a lot. I was happy to take her up on the offer. Although I never did.
We made it up there and I saw a ranger rappelling down the side near where we had just clawed our way up with bleeding fingernails. He had a line that crossed in front of the bathrooms. Gwen didn’t care. She ducked to find relief on the other side. I just stood there waiting for her. The other rangers noticed me and asked if I needed to use the restroom. I managed to gasp out that she did. They told me they would be finished in a minute and we could get in. Ten seconds later Gwen emerged refreshed. She ducked under the line again and we were on our way.
I don’t remember ever having to stop on the downhill climb. Until this time. Man, I was stopping almost as often as I had on the way up! That second sprint up the mountain for the bathrooms did me in. I found myself encouraging every uphill hiker.
One guy was honest. He came around the corner and upon seeing us said, “This is brutal!” Why yes it is! We assured him it was all worth it. Gavin was a bit of a brat about it all. He kept being extremely impatient with his slow and tubby parents. We kept reminding him that he is 12 years old and in the best shape of his life as a runner and obsessive nightly sit upper.
We saw a guy in his early 20’s resting. He proved our point by saying that the first time he went up that mountain he was in 5th grade. He practically ran the whole way. Now he was feeling it. He was young and in shape. But he was also no longer a child. Gavin wants to go on the hike again when he is 41 to show up his dad! Go for it kid. I hope your daughter has a poodle bladder too.
My Fitbit said I had well over 10,000 steps and 116 flights of stairs. Every leaf imaginable was on that movement flower. I had lung burn for another half day afterwards. Coughing felt like my lungs were frozen and on fire at the same time. My legs were like Jell-O. Five days later I can finally go up and down the stairs without feeling like I might wind up in the hospital. I can walk normally too. The kids created their own underground spa at our hotel in Sparks. The leg massages were lovely but my muscles were still impossibly tight.
Now that we are home and in the throes of packing and cleaning, we all look back fondly on the hike. We encourage each other when it hurts. We are still eagerly anticipating the prize. Sometimes it feels out of reach. I do dread what the extra hike to the bathroom will translate into later. No matter what we know that we made it to the caves. We all did it together. This house journey will end well. It just really has its trying moments in the meantime.