TO ENJOY THE OUTDOORS AS A FAMILY, Christina Selby has advice: “Plan for the kids first.” It’s wisdom that the writer, photographer, naturalist, and mother of two boys gleaned the hard way from a Dripping Springs hiking trip in the Organ Mountains with her then-five-year-old son. “I was like, This is easy. Just a couple miles,” she recalls. But almost immediately he wanted to stop at every tree, bench, and shady spot. A serious hiker who grew up canoeing, kayaking, and camping in Wisconsin, Selby wanted to finish the trail. “It was not good,” she says of the parental struggle that ensued. For a long time afterward, she couldn’t even mention “hiking”—only coaxing him to join her on an “adventure” or to “play in a waterfall.”
Selby’s new guidebook, New Mexico Family Outdoor Adventure (University of New Mexico Press), draws on her experience as an outdoor educator and more than 10 years exploring the state with her husband, Taylor, and sons, Clayton, 13, and Oscar, 8. We asked Selby, a frequent contributor to New Mexico Magazine, for some advice on adventuring with kids.
How do you nurture a love of the outdoors in your children?
Some people say that if you want your children to be interested in music and learn musical instruments, you just need to have them around the house. It’s kind of like that with outdoor experiences. Just be outside with them as much as you can.
The book covers activities ranging from hiking to rock climbing to fly-fishing. How can parents figure out what resonates with their kids?
Just give it a try. I’m not necessarily an expert in all those things, and neither is my husband. We would enlist friends who have expertise, or you can go with an outdoor guide experienced with families and children. They can give the entire family an introduction at the same time.
You recommend putting together “adventure kits” for your kids. Where did that idea come from?
I did a lot of outdoor environmental education when I was in my twenties. We always had these kits with us because the objective was to stop, get to know nature, and have fun things to do along the way. Which is funny, because I knew that but forgot about it when I had my own kids.
What should the kits include?
Binoculars and loupes are really fun—anything so they can look up close at nature and get a more intimate experience of it. Kids are just really interested in the smaller things along the way.
What’s a great place for families to introduce their kids to the outdoors?
Go to your local nature preserves. For example, Santa Fe Canyon Preserve—they have well-marked trails, interpretive signs, and places to sit.
What about a hidden gem?
The badlands are an amazing place in northwest New Mexico. The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area recently redid the parking lot, added bathrooms, and made it nice. It’s just open space where families can roam, but there’s all kinds of caverns, slot canyons, and things that you can hide in. That was one of our most memorable places.
How has your family benefited from being in nature?
It’s time to decompress, disconnect, slow down, and not have the constant stimulus of our world. It brings some mental peace. My sons are typical boys, and they get along better after a long weekend. I’ve also noticed that when we get back, they’re more prone to go outside on their own instead of me kicking them out of the house for outdoor time.
Want to get your kids into nature? Follow these quick tips from Christina Selby, author of New Mexico Family Outdoor Adventure.
Start close to home. “I realized that if I drove too far, they would already be tired by the time we got there. Save the time for the outdoor experience.”
Keep it simple. “Wander just a quarter mile down the trail and keep it a gentle trail.” She recommends Little Tesuque Trail, near Santa Fe. “It’s mostly flat, and there’s water. Kids love to play in the water.”
Be prepared. “Bring lots of snacks, drinks, a towel, and extra clothes. They might get wet. Kids don’t like to be miserable. Come with a backpack full of extra stuff.”