Careful as you may be in choosing Christmas gifts for your children, it’s a rare gift that won’t eventually be broken, outgrown or worn out. ‘Tis the nature of material things.
But good memories can last a lifetime, and those few days after the Christmas-morning climax, but before school resumes, offer an unparalleled opportunity to build those memories along the trails of Southern Nevada.
Because nothing ruins such memories like being cold outdoors, think first about the few basic items you’ll need to outfit every person going with you. Also think first about those because, if everyone doesn’t already have them, they’re excellent late gifts, mostly very affordable, and likely to be even more so at after-Christmas sales.
On the lower half wear comfortable yet rugged pants (with a layer of long underwear if needed,) warm socks and a pair of hiking boots or sneakers that have good tread.
On top, use a layering system, starting with a base layer such as a long-sleeved T-shirt, then add a fleece layer and finally, on the outside, a windbreaker, depending on the weather. Top it all off with warm hat and gloves. All fabrics from inside to out, should be man-made, never cotton, as it doesn’t wick away moisture and won’t keep you warm. Wool socks are an exception.
Many seasoned outdoor folks nowadays consider a water hydration pack a necessity, especially for each child they take on an outdoor excursion. These are small backpacks with inner bladders to carry a water supply, and always equipped with a drinking tube extending forward over one shoulder so the wearer doesn’t have to unpack the water supply to take a drink.
You’ll find children will drink more water, so they don’t get dehydrated as easily. Furthermore, the hands-free access is safer on rugged trails.
If your child already has a backpack, you can just buy the bladder and drinking tube separately and stow it in the existing pack. Both complete units and separate bladders and tubes are available at most local sports stores such as REI, Sports Chalet, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, or even well-stocked discount stores like Wal-Mart. With small children, encourage them to attach a favorite stuffed animal or doll to the backpack, to join in the fun.
With children it’s always best to go at their pace even though you won’t get many miles under your belt. Your goal is experience, not mileage. Take time and let them explore, climb a small boulder or check out the different colored rocks and the different species of plants, birds and wildlife you might see.
Take time to lie down together on a flat boulder, close your eyes, and listen to the natural sounds. Children usually come to the experience with the expectation of hearing nothing, and are therefore delighted at the variety and richness of the natural sounds, like auditory jewels presented on pillows of peacefulness.
Don’t forget to explain some rules of the trail and the good reasons those rules are needed. Children love to run, throw things and take shortcuts, but on the trail they can’t. Point out that if they run, an animal might think they are prey and chase them. And that if they throw things, another child, who happened to be out of sight, might be injured.
Progress to more technical rules such as the one against shortcuts, which can cause erosion that will take years to repair itself. Building on this simple knowledge, they’ll become good stewards of the land and more agreeable companions on the trail.
Most state parks, recreation, conservation areas and national parks also offer some sort of junior ranger booklets. These are great incentives for children to get on the trail and become aware of their surroundings. They not only provide fun and easy-to-swallow education, but build self-esteem when the child has filled out the workbook, brings it into the visitor center, and is awarded a Junior Ranger badge or some award and certificate specific to that particular park.
Surrounding Las Vegas there are dozens of excellent places to take any age child to show them the wonders of the outdoors. A few local places to start include Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead National Recreation Area. There are also a few excellent bird viewing places in the valley with trails such as the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve and Wetlands Park.
Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled in the book “Base Camp Las Vegas, Hiking the Southwestern States.” She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the newly released book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.