If you looked on our calendar this weekend, you’d see Sunday’s slot marked adventurously with “hike to hobo cave.” But if you peered in our house Sunday afternoon you’d see Col and Rose affixed to the living room floor, bright plastic shapes blooming from their fingers like an affliction.
“You’re going to love this cave,” Dan says, reading from the script of “Enthusiastic and Persuasive Dads,” but we’re all suddenly underwater and Dan’s words bubble back to the surface while Col snaps another Lego on his helicopter in slow motion.
“You can bring flashlights,” Dan announces. The kids perk up and I find myself uttering “it’s gonna be awesome!” annoyingly, every time they shuffle closer to the front door.
Some dads discover excellent kid-friendly restaurants or half-price family day at the ski hill, and well, some suss out hobo caves. Dan tells us how the day’s last sunlight slants smack between two ponderosa pines, broadcasting onto the orange sandstone a perfect rectangle of light.
We suit up in snow-gear and drive 10 minutes before parking on a forest service road. “There it is, just a little bushwhacking and we’re there,” Dan says like a flight attendant waving away a round of turbulence. He points straight up a ridge choked with oakbrush.
The kids are good little hikers, doing the underbrush scoot and slipping easily under the limbo bar of an oak branch that pins my hair. I like this kind of hiking, where all your limbs are engaged and there’s no place for your mind to wander because whoa! prickly pear cactus fortress to your left.
We pass “skull rock” with its hollowed out eye sockets, and the kids gawk with the pleasant spookiness akin to realizing that every Scooby Doo episode follows the same storyline.
We arrive. The sun is hot on our backs. The sky is a symphony of blue, like a wildly uplifting piano note held for eternity. It’s almost comical, like the heavens are shaking out a cerulean sheet, drying it over the brushy hills.
The south-facing slope we’re on is bright and dry, while across the valley the north-facing slope is blue with icy snow: the yin yang of mountain spring. The cave is wide enough for a family of four to pass the night, and it’s clear from the six candle stubs, warped mattress springs and stack of desiccated newspapers, someone’s beaten us to it. “Indians?” Col wonders.
The kids get busy scurrying around the sandy ledge and forging into the cave with flashlights while Dan and I get busy cracking pre-sunset beers.
“You know why I bring you guys to these hobo camps?” Dan asks the kids. They turn their tender faces toward him, ready to absorb his every word. “It’s so you always know that nature is your home.” Hmm. I want to add that if the kids ever find themselves in a bind, in addition to caves, our house will also be open to them.
“I like this stone a lot. It’s good to pound,” Col pontificates while doing just that. Rose scoops some snow onto an oak leaf, “for the fairies,” and we settle in to watch the sunset.