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The wrong cave, indeed.

In the fashion typical of our trip planning capabilities over the past year, we decided at the last minute to spend at least one day during my week off doing something that would allow us to take pictures and have evidence that we didn't stick our kids in front of the TV for 9 days straight while we did laundry and shopped for storage ottomans to fill the space where the desk used to be in the master bedroom. Knowing we would only have time for a day trip, we scoured the state travel magazines until we found a destination that appeared to be the perfect blend of proximity to our city, opportunity for "enrichment," potential for tiring out the tasmanian devil children we'd be bringing along, and low cost. We prepped the kids for at least a good seven minutes before we got on the road: "No getting upset today! No yelling! No whining! No fighting!" Between Bryce's mean streak of late and Quinn's ever-ready arsenal of toddler-like screaming (and by the way, he's FIVE), within 10 minutes of our 2 1/2 hour drive, these ingenious parenting methods once again shockingly proved ineffective, and we pulled the car over on the side of the road and falsely threatened to turn around and go home. Basically it was all downhill from there.

First of all, let me say what a good job our state has done with marketing its state parks. I'm not saying the state parks aren't beautiful, and I'm not saying the state park marketing materials are actually publishing falsehoods, per se, but I AM saying that "family fun adventure" must mean something different to me than it does to whoever is approving said state park marketing materials. We chose a park with a supposed 19th century hideout cave as its main attraction, but as we discovered when we got there, no documentation of any outlaws using said cave actually exists. Huh, no problem - we don't have to mention that to the kids, it's still an amazing rock formation. Since it was a blazing hot July day and we were going to be walking to this cave with two small kids, we chose the "easy" path, supposedly marked with pleasing yellow tree dots. The "hard" trail was red. Let's stay away from red. Red bad. We no like red. John took the lead, and the kids with their boundless damned energy darted around the trail in front of me while I fought off images of their tiny heads bashed on the sharp boulders we all kept tripping over. I only frustrated them and their attempt at glee with my constant reminders to be careful and not die. Bryce, while tripping: "YOU KNOW I'M A GOOD CLIMBER, MOM!" Quinn, red-faced and picking himself up after a fall: "I'M FINE! STOP SAYING ARE YOU OKAY!"

She can't bother both of us at the same time. Let's split up.

Pretty soon in my out of shape flab-covered, osteo-arthritic left knee cracking misery, I started to wonder why this "easy" path was so flipping difficult. At one point we found ourselves up high enough that the kids were walking along edges. Are these god-forsaken cliffs? Where's the damned cave, anyway? Bryce was constantly asking, "Dad, are you sure we're going the right way?" until finally John started saying, "No." because this was his way of verbally admitting we were no longer on the yellow path, or maybe any path at all. I wanted to sink into pits of despair and start screaming for help, but something startled me out of my frustration: a 50-pound black vulture flying from under whatever John was standing on to a tree branch right in front of us. A VULTURE. Um, hi. We're just a couple of fat white people with some tender veal here, and in just a few more minutes on this baking shelf of a cliff, you can help yourself. Can you tell us where the hell the yellow path is, though? Red bad. Vultures bad.

Creepy flying vulture picture taken during the heart attacks of a couple of unnamed adults.

After another 45 minutes, and with several more heart-exploding experiences watching the kids' lives flash before my eyes while they defiantly jumped from one boulder or cliff to the next, we came around a bend in the "path" to catch a glimpse of the entrance, which means we had circled the entire area and never. Found. The cave.

We brought flashlights to use in the cave, but apparently we won't need them for that; what else are they good for? Periscope? No. Microphone? Maybe.

We spent some time letting the kids explore back at the entrance, which was where the majority of the biggest rock formations were, and I would have been satisfied to leave this state park telling myself THAT was the famous cave, and we had simply, STUPIDLY walked all around it for no reason.

See how much fun they're having exploring? We don't need no stinkin' outlaw cave.

But no. John had to go and re-read the state park literature posted next to the parking lot and confirm that we had not only walked all around part of the formation, but ALSO had not found the "famous" (and yet not) outlaw cave. We can't come all this way and not see the cave. But we did see the cave! We apparently stood on TOP of the cave and I was fine with that because we lived through it and didn't get eaten by huge vultures! No, we have to go back. Let's get some water and go back. On our second attempt at the "yellow" path, we ran into some kind of crazy rock climbing enthusiasts who cheerfully greeted us, and when we told them we were looking for the cave entrance, they pointed up the sharpest, steepest incline marked with red everywhere. Red bad. No red. Bad, bad red. We tried to go around and stick to the yellow, the elusive yellow, the cruel joke of a path the yellow dots turned out to be. Soon we were climbing, or should I say, BRYCE was climbing sharp rocks and ignoring our cries to wait for us and let us go ahead of him so as to make sure he would live to see the next second. My head practically exploded a few times and I saw red dots everywhere, now unsure if the dots were truly painted on the trees or just some horrible premonition of doom only I was seeing.

Note red dot. Bad.

Finally admitting we were officially on the red path, John, Bryce, and Quinn scaled - stumbled - spelunked their way up, and then down to the famous cave entrance while I half crawled, half scraped my way behind them. Victory was ours! Despite the poorly marked trails and the vultures and the near death of my small children, here we were at our final destination. Ah, what a lesson for the kids: we had a goal and we met it, we didn't give up, and we conquered the most difficult path of all!

As soon as Quinn had a clear view of it, he screamed, "THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT CAVE!" We tried to convince him, to point out the clever, clever identifying sign painted in yellow of all cursed colors at the top of the entrance, but he was adamant. "THERE WAS NO SIGN IN THE PICTURE! THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT CAVE." I know what he means. In fact, this is basically how I wanted to respond to the entire experience. THIS IS THE WRONG STATE PARK. THERE WERE NO VULTURES OR RED DOTS IN THE PICTURES.