Going Home to Shades State Park

Naturally developing gross motor skills

N. age 2.5 climbs up the creek bed at Shades State Park

Fried chicken and hiking Trail Two at Shades State Park. When my mom asked me and my siblings what we wanted to do for Memorial Day, the decision was quick and unanimous. We’ve been going to Shades as long as I can remember, and it is always a feature of any visit we make to my home state of Indiana.

I can just remember the first time we hiked this trail as a family; I was pretty young. We had gone to Shades, perused the trail map, and picked the hardest one labelled ‘Rugged/Very Rugged’. My brothers were young enough to be carried in backpacks at this point. There are a lot of steps and a steep descent to Sugar Creek, then a scramble up a stream bed, then more steps, looping back through the woods to the trail head.

We have hiked this trail in all seasons, taken photos at exactly the same spots along the way (losing a couple cameras over the years in the process thanks to people either falling in the creek or perilously perching the camera while on timer). If you put all the photos in order, something that we really should do at some point, you would be able to flip through and watch me and my siblings grow up. It’s a special place for our family, which makes me so happy to share it now with my husband and kids.

The day certainly didn’t disappoint. A lot of my extended family was able to make it, the carry-in lunch was delicious, and the trail was cool despite the humid, hot weather. The best part of the day, though, was watching toddler N. enjoy the hike.

N. (age 2.5) spent the first part of the trail hitching rides on other people’s shoulders. There are a lot of steps, so I’m not surprised. Once we got down to the stream bed, though, he quickly began to explore his environment. Thank goodness that I thought to buy him some sandals, because that boy splashed in every pool and puddle he could see, and while I gingerly tried to keep my shoes dry as we clambered up the creek, he resolutely walked in the water as much as possible.

He had a fantastic time. He waded out into Sugar Creek with my aunt, holding her hand carefully the whole time. When the rest of our group went ahead, he, Carl (with G. on his back) and I ambled up the trail at his pace. He climbed rocks, stepped in mud, rinsed his hands in the stream. We looked at plants, rocks and pools.

He held my hand, but I encouraged him to let go: ‘It’s safer if you use both of your hands to climb’. And it was true. He nimbly and carefully made his way up the steepest parts of the stream bed, over slippery rocks and logs and over unstable, changeable ground. He would test his next step before shifting his weight, he would take guidance from me and Carl about ways to climb over obstacles. He was fantastic and I am so proud.

Toddler on an expidition

We dressed N. in his swim suit and sandals for the hike. Good thing, too, since he stepped in every single puddle on the trail.

Of course, we did have a mishap. Towards Maidenhair Falls, he squatted down to put his hands in a pool. Unfortunately, the rock he was on moved, and he tumbled forward, his face into a pool of water. I picked him up one second later, but he still, understandably, found it a pretty bad surprise. He clung to me and my dad more after that, his confidence clearly a bit shaken. He walked a little more (I was hoping that ‘getting back on the horse’ quickly would be helpful), but at that point, I think that his two-year-old legs had pretty much had it, and he retired to my dad’s shoulders for the rest (and easiest) part of the hike. It was definitely a learning experience, and hopefully he’s learned a little more about how to balance and how to test uneven surfaces. Fortunately the fall didn’t ruin his day, he wasn’t hurt, and we were able to continue having a great time.

I’ve hiked this trail so many times that they blur together, but I am now finding that I am working hard to keep these memories from getting lost in the haze. I’m sure it’s because I have my own small children now, they are growing at an incredible pace, and watching them in a place that is familiar and imbued with family tradition reminds me that their connections to the natural world are just beginning and are of real significance. There’s a reason that my siblings and I all wanted to hike this trail together: it’s because it means that we are really home.

I can’t recommend enough a visit to Shades State Park. For more information and a trail map, visit the website for the Indiana DNR.

Shades State Park

Shades State Park, Waveland Indiana. Photo from Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

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