“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

At an elevation of 8500+ feet, we discovered a mountain world above the Palm Springs desert last Friday. I had been scoping the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for several weeks when I serendipitously discovered that our charter school happened to be offering a field trip there this spring. Although I have hiked just a bit around California, I had never ascended the tramway up Chino Canyon to the Mount San Jacinto State Park. We must have been extremely close to the backside of the mountain we see from Idyllwild.

I was not even five minutes into the tram ride when I was, true to form, exclaiming that this was the coolest thing ever. The sheer cliffs transform before your very eyes, now sporting desert plants and suddenly hosting pine trees and large patches of snow. You can see the wind turbines lining the desert below, as well as the manmade oasis that is Palm Springs. Adding to the enchantment, the tramway has a charming retro feel: even the tickets have the look of something from the 1960s.

When we reached the top, the cold last-of-real-winter air had us dashing to the restroom to put on more layers. Although we had missed intercepting snow in Idyllwild this February, snow covered large patches of the forest in abundance here. We hiked through the butterscotch and vanilla scented air, weaving a trail around Jeffrey pines. We hiked every labeled trail, and then some.

I say now with all seriousness that I am never, never, never to go hiking on my own. I know fully better, yet I cannot resist straying off trail and following my heart and curiosity around from beauty to beauty. I am like Merida following the Will-O-the-Wisps in Brave, truly. I just want to reach that rock. I just want to see that tree. Let’s just go a bit higher. Thankfully my mom, who was with us, and a sense of motherly responsibility for not losing my kiddos in the mountains were the only two factors that kept me remotely grounded and sensible about staying within sight of the Adventure Station so we could get back on trail. I might need to invest in some hiking gear and learn the art a bit better and more thoroughly, so that my wanderlust is not the death of me. It is both my strength, and my weakness, to trust in the beauty of things.

But I am not at all sorry we strayed a bit. We were able to find a solitary spot on a hill, surrounded by rocks and snow in soft blankets with just enough of a sunny spot to spread out and stay warm while having our lunch and listening to nature.

Our imaginations then took hold, as they so often do when we quiet our minds and let the beauty of nature fill us up. My mom, the kiddos, and I started pretending: what if we lived right here in our spot among the rocks and pines? Where would our table be? Where would our kitchen be? Would we store our food in the snow drift right there? Where would we sleep? Where would our cooking fire be? What would we make? We played at this for quite some time, and Katie gathered materials to make a pretend dinner. We loved our secret little forest home, off the trail somewhere special in our memories. It has been almost a week since we went on our field trip, and Katie and Eric are still talking about the magic there. Eric has told me many times that he is eager to go back on the tram to our ice palace. Me, too, buddy…me, too. Nature renews, and we are reminded of how connected we are to all living things through our shared DNA, even to the pines. How amazing an event that we are even here right now in this universe.


Contentment: resting on the forest floor in the scented air, the sun warming us, my baby on my lap safe and close while I breathe in the day and close my eyes for a moment. I smile at this picture, since I could easily be a mama gorilla here, as well as a human mother. There is mirth in the connectedness of the primate order.



Climbing on the rocks in our special spot…


Honey sticks! These kiddos love hiking food as much as I do: Clif Bars, honey sticks, vegan chocolate cookie to share, trail mix, peanut butter/almond butter, fruit… healthy food tastes delicious anytime, but especially when hiking and feeling the elements around us. Here, Eric is sitting on a rock at our lunch spot.



Golden afternoon




Tram ride up the mountain at the start of the day


Katie took a break mid-hike to give us her rendition of “What Does the Fox Say?” Love my goofy girl!





With my adventurers at the desert view notch on one of the trails… How could Earth possibly be more beautiful? There is so much to explore and to appreciate! I think we found a new favorite place.