Tonto National Forest, Arizona

She runs along the path, and my heart races. The trail is beautiful, but it’s challenging. And if you’re not careful, you’ll end up rolling down a hill… into cacti. We remind her not to run, and she listens for a while, but the joy of the desert has got a hold of her, and she finds it hard to contain her happiness. Even with my heart in my throat,  I can’t help but feel my heart bursting with love for this little girl, whose joy is unmistakable as she skips down the trail at Tonto National Forest.

A 4-year-old girl is seen from the back, skipping down a trail at Tonto National Forest. There are plants on both sides of the rail. The girl is wearing a pink shirt, black and blue pants, and pink gym shoes.

 

 

The saguaro cacti are everywhere, and I am still intrigued by these hardy plants that can survive for decades—centuries, even—in the extremes of the desert. I’m always seeing figures in these desert giants, wondering about the stories they tell and the people they could represent. Some of them look like dancers, others like soldiers, yet others like doting parents as their children play on the trail.

 

4-year-old is on the left, walking down a trail. To her right is a Saguaro cactus, and the sun is peeking behind it. To the far left there is a lake. A mountain can be seen in the distance

The desert has so much to offer—beautiful views, diverse fauna and flora, and a peace that can’t be described—it must be experienced. Especially in the winter, when fewer people are on the trails, the quietness of it all is awe-inspiring. But at the same time, the sound carries, so that the voices of your loved ones are always within reach, even if they’re far ahead on the trail.

 

A mountain as viewed from a trail at Tonto National Forest. A lake is in front of it.

 

Hiking at Tonto National Forest is not something to do in a hurry. You must take the time to stop and look at the gifts the desert offers—the mountains, the sky, and the peace of the sunset.

 

View from Tonto National Forest Trail. A lake is surrounded by mountains on three sides, and the sun is low on the sky.

 

And when your feet have tired of exploring nature’s beauty from the trails, rest them in Saguaro Lake, and watch your children delight in playing on the rocks and observing the ducks that come to visit. 

 

A 6-year-old boy, a 4-year-old girl, and a 9-year-old girl run towards Saguaro Lake in Tonto National Forest. Mountains can be seeing behind and on each side of the lake.

 

The lake’s shore is made of small pebbles, so wearing shoes is recommended for those with sensitive feet. Once you’re in the water, it’s no big deal. The kids enjoy wading and playing on the rocks, and the day is perfect for an outing. After enjoying a lovely time at Tonto National Forest, our day ends even more beautifully, as we see these gorgeous wild horses.

 

Wild horses at Tonto National Forest. 4 horses, 3 brown and 1 white, munching on grass.

 

I had visited the desert before—over 10 years ago, when Dan and I set out on our two-month Great North American Swing Road Trip. But back then we just passed through. This year, we’re getting a chance to really explore. Even when we just passed through 10 years ago, I still thought the desert was beautiful. Now that I’ve had a chance to get better acquainted, I love it even more.

Pinterest Title Image. Pink and white letters read: Hiking with kids, Tonto National Forest, www.marianamcdougall.com. Background photo by Mariana Abeid-McDougall shows the view from one of the trails: a lake, mountains, some trees, and the sunset reflecting on the water.

 

Have you ever been to the desert? What is your favourite thing about it?

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