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One thing I regret as I take my daughter from national park to national park is that she won't remember any of it.

Saskia was 2 when we started, and now she's 3. She's learning a lot and having a ton of fun, and that's well worth it. She's also mastering the norms of outdoor travel: the camping, the hiking, the packing of backpacks, the pride of finishing an adventure.

But there was a moment in Moab when I was trying to get her into the car to go to Canyonlands, and instead she just wanted to play with sticks in the parking lot.

We did not need to travel to Moab to play with sticks in a parking lot.

Once inside the park, I wondered whether I had overestimated Saskia's 2-year-old notions of fun. I understood that sweeping vistas were not of great interest to her, but Canyonlands' sweeping vistas are in a class of their own. We hiked out to Mesa Arch and peeked over the purplish glow of a late-December afternoon.

Well, I peeked. Saskia sat on a rock and ate dirty snow.

Believe me, we'd come a long way from Age 1, when I'd take her to the zoo and she'd manage to ignore trumpeting elephants because she was obsessed with the decorative gravel. But at 2, she still needed something more interactive than a pretty scene.

We found that at Whale Rock the next morning, one day before Saskia's third birthday. The park intelligently bills Whale Rock as a good hike for families. Kids can spot the whale formation from the approaching road, and following cairns up to the slickrock trail is a fun project in problem solving, even for very small children.

Saskia had done a fine job hiking up to that point, but on Whale Rock, she positively lit up. She was invested in finding the way and curious about what she'd discover. After she noticed ice on the watery potholes in the rock, we hung around for a half-hour while she "ice skated." On a whale. In the desert.

She won't remember any of it.

I wanted to make a gift of these experiences, but of course a 2-year-old has no ability to anticipate looking back on something. What I can give to my daughter is a ride to the trailhead and the time for adventure. I could never plan something as great as ice skating on the back of a whale in the desert. Whatever she discovers ­— that's Saskia's gift to herself.

Remembering it is my part. Skating the Whale at Canyonlands will always be one of my favorite memories. That's her gift to me.

National park hike: Whale Rock

This is a fantastic slickrock adventure for families. It's short, it's not too steep and it ends with great views. Adults will want to make sure young hikers don't stray too close to the edge of the whale's back. Details are available in our Hike of the Week. You can see a map of the trail on Google Maps.

Previous national park trip reports

12 Months of National Parks — No. 1, Acadia: Small children love nature, but on their own level

12 Months of National Parks — No. 2, Capitol Reef: 'People shouldn't be here'

12 Months of National Parks — No. 3, Arches: Are national park rules too strict?

Twitter: @erinalberty