Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Great Weekend in Arches...

It's mid-October and that means a camping trip in Arches National Park. You may remember last year we had a bit of drama on our way there, but no trouble this time! We got our shopping done Wednesday night so that we could get up on Thursday morning, pack, and get our of town. The day was beautiful and very mild. We rolled into Arches around 4 pm and found our campsites. We were the first ones there so we got first dibs! Got the tent set up, kids are really getting helpful with this. Everyone else started to arrive and get their stuff set up, the kids found plenty of rocks to climb on and we ate our hamburgers for dinner.

Friday morning we had a nice breakfast and then the kids took off rick climbing and playing in the sand. I sat and read after cleaning up breakfast. Jeff and his friends played the card game they all love. At 4pm we left for a nice dinner in town. We went for BBQ at the Blu Pig. Once we got back to the campground, I could tell that things had been 'moved around'. Just as I was asking Jeff where he moved everything to, the campground hosts stopped by to inform us that we had left our garbage unattended and the ravens had a good old time going through all the garbage. We were horrified and had no idea they would do that. The park ranger apparently caught the ravens in the act, shooed them away, and picked up all of our garbage. The campground hosts told us the ranger would probably stop by tomorrow and talk about this with us, maybe give us a ticket. Great. Did I mention we were horrified?

Saturday was a day of card games for Jeff and his friends, the girls and I, went to Sand Dune Arch with two of the other wives and the other kids. The instant they got in they started digging quite the pit. It was fun to watch the kids do this, and to watch the random kid come up and start pitching in. Kids are amazing in their ability to work together.

Anyway, we stayed there about an hour and then the rest of them went off to hike The Windows, while the girls and I went to this new Moab Dinosaur park that is on the road going into town. It is fairly new and (in my opinion) mostly geared towards the 12 and younger crowd. My girls really enjoyed it. There is a nice, easy trail that takes you through different dinosaur eras, with statues of different kinds of dinosaurs. They have an information plaque at each statue. We had fun. There are also several interactive displays, and two theaters. One of the theaters we went to was a 5D walk through PALEO AQUARIUM!!!! You wear the funny glasses and walk past these "tanks" with (animated) paleo fish. Not unlike walking in the fish cave at Cabela's. The tour guide told you facts about that particular critter and you move to the next. The final "tank" was for the MEGALODON!!! The tour guide is talking about it, and all the sudden the megalodon swims right to the glass and bumps it, while at the same time the floor shakes, water sprays, and people scream. I was laughing the whole time, but Katie and Maggie had their eyes closed and missed all the fun!

Once we got back to the campsite, I learn from Jeff that the Ranger did come by, and took down Jeff's information and ran him through the NPS Database. We are now known to the NPS as rabble rousers and next time we will be ticketed for ravens in the garbage. At this point I start getting ready for dinner and between that and packing up the next day, I had to have Jeff write the rest as he was more involved with our second run-in with the law...

Early in the afternoon on Saturday, while the rest of the gang was off hiking, and Johnny, Brian and I were sitting around playing cards, an older man approached us in our campsite and said "Hi, I'm from the Czech Republic, and I'd like to set up my tent back here aways." We saw that his group was in the next camp, and I said "sure, just go back there away from us, and set up. So we saw him set up his little red pup tent, and then his whole group left for the afternoon.

It was after dark, and we were eating dinner, when Czech man came up to me directly while I was prepping my food, and said "Something has happened to my tent, I need you to see it." So I left my food to get cold, and wandered over to where his red pup tent was set up. He pointed to a six inch rip in the rainfly fabric down near the ground, and said, "Your children did this." I didn't believe him, and mentioned that he had set up his tent basically in the middle of a trail that went back and forth across the face of the rocks, and that there were people passing by all afternoon and evening, and that I seriously doubted my children did it. He told me that "adults would not do this." and that there were no other children around. Having sat there all afternoon watching a parade of people going past his tent, I basically told him that without evidence to the contrary, I wasn't going to accept his accusation. Knowing that we had trouble with the ravens trying to get our food, I asked him if there was any food in the tent, and he took a very long time to answer, and then said no. I told him if he wanted to take the matter further up some chain of authority, he should inform the campground host. And I left him to go back to my cold food. We asked the kids if they'd ripped his tent, and they all denied it utterly. We told them we wouldn't be mad if they did it by accident, and just to tell us if they had. Nobody fessed up. 

Later, Brian and I walked over to the campground host's spot and informed him of all that had happened. Then after we were done with our story, he says: "Well, you know I'm not on duty tonight, that's the other campground host."

Anyway, that's where it sat overnight. In the morning, we noticed that the older lady campground host was talking to the Czech man and then she got on her golf cart and was getting ready to leave, when I asked her about what he had said. She told me he told her this story about my kids ripping the tent, and she didn't believe him, and wasn't even going to bother me with it, until I asked her. Then somebody in his group photographed us, and our gear, and cars, and everything, and he came over with his bill, saying "I know Americans are honorable people." I took a look at it, and said "I'm not paying you a dime," as I was thinking "Yeah, we are honorable, but we're not suckers." Then after he and his party had left, the campground host brought the park rangers to talk to me and take my statement. They told me not to worry about it. I gave them the handwritten bill he had given me. 

That's about it. It kind of felt like a shakedown after all was said and done. 

Leaving on Sunday, we got out around 9:30am. We left Moab via the Colorado River route 2/3 of the way to I-70 we had to stop and wait a half hour for the marathon to finish. We spent this time throwing rocks in the river and enjoying the sunny day. I was very glad to get home and cleaned up!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Labor Day camping in City of Rocks

We spent a lovely Labor Day weekend camping at Smoky Mountain at Castle Rocks State Park. This is very near City of Rocks National Reserve. We had lovely weather. Warm but not too hot. We left on Thursday, and arrived to our destination around 5 pm. Got our camp set up and started relaxing. That was the major theme this trip, relaxation!
On Friday morning we noticed the mountain was on fire so we spent quite sometime watching the fire fighting airplanes and how they would drop the fire retardant. That was fascinating! I was talking to an old guy at the store about the fire and he says they drop the red stuff right long the ridge lines, and sure enough that is what the girls and I noticed.

Saturday we took a drive over to Castle Rock State Park, and had a closer view of where the fire had been. It was really interesting to get a more close-up view- definitely could see the burn scar and the red streaks where the retardant had been dropped. The kids and I walked around a bit, and saw some petroglyphs and guys trying to climb some rocks.

Sunday was rather cool and drizzly, so we mostly stayed in the pop-up and played games. We always bring a good selection of those.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Utah History Summer

We didn't do many field trips during the school year, so I came up with the idea of learning about Utah History through several field trips. In June we visited the Natural History Museum of Utah. We enjoyed walking through the museum and at each level I would assign the girls a couple of tasks that they would write down in their History Notebook. They were pretty good about doing this. At the end of the museum we stopped in at the special exhibit, which was all about DNA and the Human Genome. There was even a guy at a table showing the kids how to extract their DNA. This was fascinating. He had them collect the DNA/skin cells from the inside of their mouth, and then basically rinsing the cells with a little rubbing alcohol. Next thing you know, there is a white stringy thing floating in the alcohol which is the DNA strand. Seriously, the Natural History Museum of Utah is a fantastic addition to this town! If you go, tickets are $14.95 for adults and $9.95 for kids. Open from 10-5, except on Wednesday when they are open until 9pm.

The next stop was Wheeler Farm. We live rather close to Wheeler Farm but rarely go there. I wanted to take the kids and do the house tour. I remember years ago in elementary school taking the tour. We got there about 10:15am and walked around the farm until our tour at 11am. We lucked out and had a private tour. The lady giving the tour was fantastic and took plenty of time to answer our questions. The girls had their History Notebooks and wrote down interesting facts.
If you go: The farm is free to wander around, but the house tours aren't. Tours are given on the following schedule, November to April- Reservation only M-F, then May to October, everyday 11am and 1pm. $4 for adults, $2 for kids ages 3-12.

Our next stop was the Utah State Capitol Building, followed by the DUP Pioneer History Museum. We actually took the tour of the Capitol building and if you haven't done that before I highly recommend it. Our tour guide was fabulous, a former High School History teacher. We learned so many neat things about our State's Capitol building. After the tour, we had lunch next door at the Capitol Grille. They make a delicious cheeseburger, so if you go on the tour definitely stay for lunch!

Once we finished lunch, we wandered through the grounds to the Pioneer Museum. I haven't been in there since I was 13 or 14. Wow! An amazing collection of pioneer stuff, and housewares, carriages, toys, dolls (Maggie's favorite), and so many other things. There is a scavenger hunt list that you can pick up at the door- the kids really enjoyed that. By the time we finished wandering through there, we were all tired and hot. On the way home we had to stop for a frozen lemonade at Chik-Fil-A!
Katie is taking the oath to be a Pony Express Rider.

Sadly, I had many more trips to various locations planned, but somehow I woke up one day and it was September. How does that happen? We will definitely have to hit those other areas on another day.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

4 Days, 4 Corners

We decided we needed a regular hotel-staying vacation. Katie, as a 4th grader last year, qualified for a free Parks Pass. The pass was set to expire at the end of August and we wanted to put some more mileage on it before it did. We decided to hit Mesa Verde National Park and maybe a few others. We left town on Monday, July 25. Great weather and beautiful drive to Cortez, Colorado where we had a sweet hotel room to serve as a base of operations for the next several days. The kids were thrilled with the hotel room as they had their own area with TWO bunks beds so they could each have the top bunk. They also had their own TV. This was the first time in their life they actually begged to go to bed early!

DAY ONE- Tuesday
The next morning we got up early and left to go to Mesa Verde National Park. We stopped first at the Visitor Center and picked up our Jr Ranger booklets. The drive into the park is really beautiful. You basically twist and turn your way up to the top of the Mesa. Our first stop was the Park Point Lookout, which as the tallest point in the park, served as a fire lookout for many years. Great views all around. You can see mountains several miles away, but it was rather hazy that morning.

Back in the car we drove along the road to Step House. The other larger cliff dwellings required tickets which we didn't get. But Step House was a short hike and no ticket needed! We filled our water jugs and the girls and I walked down to Step House. It is a pit house/cliff dwelling combo. There was a ranger stationed there and we talked to him for a bit and asked questions. One of the pit houses has a partially built roof- what the archeologists think it would have looked like. You can still see handprints in the plaster of the pit houses! It was an interesting sight and the girls and I wondered about the people who built this and called it home.

Back up the (steep!) trail, we were glad to see the car! Back in, we drove out to Spruce Tree House. Now usually you can go in this and look around, but the Park Service has closed it due to some falling rocks. I asked a ranger nearby what the deal was. She told me that there is an arch over the house and that the middle section is coming loose, hence the rock falls. There are plans in place to assess and stabilize the loosey-goosey area, but no idea when work will be done; could be years. So in the meantime we looked at the house from above and took pics. There was another Ranger nearby showing the kids how to use an Atl-atl and both girls tried it. Katie actually got her arrow to stick into the plant, her other try and Maggie's two tries resulted in misfires! haha!
A Ranger overheard Katie state some amazing fact and insisted she made a better Ranger than him!

By this time we are getting hungry, so we cruise through the picnic area and found a nice shady spot to have lunch. Since we figured this trip was full of remote places, we packed a cooler of sandwich stuff. We finished our lunch and took a few minutes to work on our Jr Ranger badge requirements and then back on the road.

While the morning was overcast and cool, that started to change after lunch. The sun came out and it was getting hot. We continued to drive around the park, stopping at all the overlooks and pit-houses we saw. Katie was really interested in the whole idea of how these ancient peoples lived.

We finally decide we're done and started the drive back to the park entrance. More twisting, winding roads. Maggie even saw a herd of wild horses on a hillside! We got back to the Visitor's Center where Katie and Maggie were sworn in as Jr Ranger's and got their badge.

 We are all wiped out by this time. We get back to the hotel and I went across the street to pick up KFC for dinner. We make a plan of attack for the next day and go to bed.

DAY TWO- Wednesday
After a good breakfast at the hotel we are off! We decide today that we will drive out to Hovenweep National Monument and Natural Bridges National Monument. It was a beautiful morning and a fun drive to HNM. I even saw a few wild turkeys along the road. We were practically the only people on the road this morning and when we got out of the car, it was so darn quiet! We stopped in at the Visitor's Center and learned what there is to see here, and what do we need to do to get a Jr Ranger badge.

The girls and I went on the Ruins Walk while Jeff stayed at the Visitor Center. The walk was mostly on the slick-rock on the rim of a small canyon. There were several amazing ruins to see, but it was sunny and getting really hot. Every time we stopped at a ruin I had the girls drink water. I had a good time with my two little pals! We saw lots of ravens and lizards. Maggie tried to catch all the lizards, but she is going to need to get quicker hands! Once we got back to the Visitor Center we completed the Jr Ranger booklet to get another badge.

We leave HNM, and drive toward Natural Bridges National Monument. It was a beautiful day for a drive in the deserts of southern Utah. We got to Natural Bridges and talked to the Ranger and found they had a Jr Ranger program, picked up booklets and got to work. This small park displays three natural bridges that developed over the river. We started out on the loop, and saw a picnic area and decided we should stop and eat some lunch. We made more sandwiches and filled our water jugs from our big orange water jug we take camping.

We check out the bridges from above, it is really getting hot and we were getting too tired to do much hiking. We were all wilted from the heat, but make our way back to the Visitor Center to turn in our books and get our badges. The girls really enjoy doing Jr Rangers and learn a lot from this. Once back in Cortez, we went for a steak dinner!

DAY THREE- Thursday
We thought we got an early start, but not early enough to beat the tour group to breakfast. It was really crowded and we had things to do! So we did a McD's run and got on the road! Our crazy plan today was to do a drive north through the Colorado mountains. Within a few minutes of leaving Cortez, we found ourselves entering forest. And we were climbing. And we kept climbing. And I see now why John Denver wrote all about the Colorado Rocky Mountain High. Jeff and I were both amazed at the mountain peaks. We took a short detour to Telluride, cool but a lot like Park City.

We eventually ended up in Montrose to go to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Could we do it? Could we get our 4th Jr Ranger badge?! We collected our booklets and got to work. This is a rather cool canyon. Originally the water would scream through here during run off and has carved a very deep narrow canyon. But dams upstream has slowed the water rate. Jeff didn't do much walking around, but the girls and I went out to as many lookouts as we could. It was really amazing.

Back in the car and back to the Visitor Center, we finally get our badges and get sworn in! In the car and off to Montrose, got some quick lunch at Wendy's and then hey let's drive to Durango through the mountains!

While this seemed like a good idea while looking at the map, what is not evident is the fact that about 5 miles of this is a road that is so narrow and steep, there is no room for error or you are over the edge and a long way down to the bottom of the canyon. The only shoulder we had was the white stripe at the edge of the road. I couldn't look! Jeff did really good at driving, especially when we came around the corner to see a snow plow coming at us pushing rocks along. I may have screamed.

Pretty soon the road widens out and we all breathe a sigh of relief. But we're still climbing! At one point the road has a sluice built over it to help with frequent avalanches!

We finally got to Silverton (alive!) and got an ice cream cone. It was either that, or a shot of whiskey after that drive!

US-550 Ouray to Durango was an AMAZING and beautiful drive. Jeff and I both grew up here in Utah and we love our mountains. But they pale in comparison to Colorado mountains! We went over four 10,000+ ft passes by the time we got to Durango. And we passed many small mining operations that have long since closed.

Once we got to Durango, we turned right and headed back to Cortez. Wow! What a day!

DAY FOUR- Friday
When we planned this trip, we told the girls there was a spot where you could stand in four states ALL AT THE SAME TIME! So they were anxious to go to this magical place and see for themselves. We got to 4 corners about 9am and indeed stood in four states at the same time! Then we cruised the Native American crafts stands. Lots of jewelry, some paintings. There was a woman who was weaving. I talked to her for a few minutes. Fascinating process, I wished I could have sat with her the whole day and learned how to weave!

After the four corners we went off to Monument Valley. Gorgeous day, big blue sky, and occasional clouds. We paid our fee to get in to the Navajo run visitor center. There was a wonderful display on the Navajo code talkers of WWII, and also a big display on the film industry in the valley. But the highlight of this trip was the 17mi dirt road we drove! All of us loved this drive. Sure you can see Monument Valley from the highway, but to get in and drive amongst the buttes and spires is really amazing. Once we finished our drive, we stopped across the highway at the Gouldings super market and got some lunch and then drove on up towards Mexican Hat where we stopped to look at the Goosenecks of the San Juan.

Back in the car (it was 104 out there!) we made our way back to Cortez. Finally got back and went to dinner at Thai Cortez. Delicious.

Saturday we packed up and started for home. We had an uneventful drive and it was so good to be back in our own beds. The kids are now begging to get two bunkbeds- haha! We had a really wonderful time and we were sad to see it end.