Driving up Hewitt Canyon Road with three anxious kids was an exercise in patience. First there was the traffic to deal with along the first few miles, the ORVs and timid explorers, who clogged up the trail with parked vehicles; then the bumpy travel over exposed rocks on the bottom of Hewitt Canyon itself, which pushed the limits of my two-wheel drive Jeep; and then the kids, asking how much longer until camp or if we could listen to a new podcast episode or if they could have a snack. When we finally parked at the pull-out under Byous Butte, a mere two hours after leaving Gilbert, I whispered a thankful prayer and we all tumbled out, more than ready to start on camp chores.
Setting up camp with the kids is a well-practiced ritual. I set up the tent right away, with a little help from one of the boys, while the remaining two emptied the Jeep and sorted gear. Then one of them preps the sleeping bags in the tent while the others help me with 'kitchen' duties. Within twenty minutes we had the base done and I gave them a small challenge - find enough firewood in the desert environment for s'mores - while I attempted to set up my hammock using the car rack and a frail mesquite tree. That attempt failed, painfully so, and I fell back to my standard cowboy camp.
Dinner was a simple hot dog affair. As we ate the full moon rose behind us, giving us more than enough illumination to poke around camp, and I only needed to switch on a flashlight for precise actions. With that cleaned and some extra layers donned we walked over to the firepit and an impressive stack of fuel that they had collected and enjoyed dessert. The kids were starting to tire by now, the fresh air and excitement of our trip seeping in, and when the fire died they were ready for bed. We all tucked in, settled down, and in our own times, drifted to sleep.
We had a quite, yet cold, night. I was barely warm enough in my thirty-degree bag, and got up around midnight to put the rain flap on the kids' tent to trap the extra heat in. Their sleep system is a mix of mediocre sleeping bags and extra quilts and blankets, which seems to be warm enough for most outings, and this night definitely pushed the limit. As usual, I tried to get up early in the morning to have some time to myself, to make coffee and start on breakfast, and they wake up a few minutes early, no matter how quiet I tiptoe around camp. At least I brought some camp games to keep them occupied.
Oatmeal and cupcakes and coffee made for an easy breakfast. I still had to do a lot of cleaning around camp, and they were bursting with energy, so I told them to go for a hike. By themselves. My rules were simple: stay within earshot, stick together, and do not leave the two-track. The pull-out that we camped on, just off of Hewitt Canyon Road, continued up the hillside, and I could see it weave back and forth a few times on the hill above, so I figured I could easily keep an eye on them. Their little expedition gave me enough time to tear down camp and them a nice boost of confidence, even if Thomas did stray from the track a few times.
When they came back we talked over our planned hike. Right on the other side of the hill, just north of our camp, there was a wash and spring. I asked them about their little adventure and we figured that it would be easy to follow the track up the hill, cut up and over, and drop right down on top of the spring. Even if the desert was blooming and every plant was flush with water, it couldn't be that hard to walk a half-mile off-trail, right?
Fifty minutes and three hundred yards later I was regretting our decision. We had made it to the top of the hill, after leaving the nice two-track behind, and it had been a rough go. Walking along a hillside, with loose rock and clinging brush, is already a challenge, and to add three kids who refuse to push through thick vegetation (they are petrified of thorns) required a whole lot of patience. I looked down at the spring below, and it looked so close, and at the steep slope and mesquite that waited along the way, and decided it was time to change tactics. I would ferry each kid separately, either by carrying or holding hands, and break the descent into three segments, which should allow me to keep every one with vocal and visual range.
An hour later and we were snacking in the shade. I was tired from hauling them around, they were tired from the ordeal, and the soft grass, quiet trickle, and large, leafy trees mandated a longer break. The only section that really got hairy was right above the wash, where some mistletoe choked up the hillside and I had to force my way through. We rested, tossed some rocks in the water, and eventually headed out along the wash.
Walking the wash, even if some of it had trickling pools of water that forced us to rock hop or climb up the bank, was so much easier than our approach. I let all three go at their own pace, trusting Noah and Thomas to venture beyond the curves while I stayed back with Charlotte. We soon reached Hewitt Canyon Road and the last leg of our loop, and then we were back at our Jeep. I shared a victory snack with everyone and we headed out, briefly contemplating a stop at Elephant Arch, and instead choosing to let them sleep peacefully all the way back to Gilbert.