Monday, August 3, 2009

Into the Wild... and back again!

"The core of a man's spirit is in new experiences." --Alexander Supertramp

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

National Parks

National Parks

I can’t not say enough good things about our national park system. The state and national parks in this country are truly fantastic. We have visited 15 national parks, including several of the big ones like Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower and the Grand Canyon, plus several less known places that are gems in their own right.

The effort, time, expertise, and money that go into preserving and protecting these beautiful areas while still making them safe and enjoyable for everyone, is amazing.

A big emphasis at many of the national park museums and visitor centers is on getting kids involved in nature. The book “Last Child in the Woods” is everywhere. All of the parks have regular Ranger Programs designed to educate children (and their parents) about the wild and wonderful things that exist in our world. With their natural curiosity, and the need to constantly move, touch and explore, I can’t think of a better place for kids to be than in our parks.

*The National Park Passport book is a family keepsake. We've had it stamped at every national park we have visited.

* The doll is mine! ;-)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pictures from AZ and TX!

Pictures from the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and a Texas-style roadside attraction!

New pix

Back in the Green!

We’re in Arkansas!

Once we made it east of Oklahoma City, things really started to green up. The hot, dry southwest is beautiful but it’s just, well, hot and dry. I don’t think we saw “woods” at all in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas (am I missing any?), oh, and parts of Oklahoma.

Fortunately, we have been able to spend the last few nights in some lovely state parks. With trails to hike, lakes to swim in, campfires and nature programs, it’s going to be hard to get back to the real world. Although as I am writing this, I realize that much of what I love about the parks is what I love about our neighborhood. It’s even hot and humid here! Just like home!

And speaking of green… I have not seen a recycling bin since California. You should see my car.

Friday, July 24, 2009

It was going so well....

It was going so well….

1. The morning after the Grand Canyon day started off really well. We got the camper packed and closed up; Garrett raised the hitch and I backed the truck up to the hitch. I got it lined up on the first try, by the way. But then the hitch made a funny noise. And it looked kind of awkward… was it up too high?? I checked in the office to see if anyone could help me, and the one old guy I found said he didn’t know anything about electric hitches. I called Lloyd. He said according to the manufacturer, the hitch could not be overextended. Well, had they really tested that? Like tested it with a 12 year old and his mother?

Lloyd called me back with a plan to override the electric hitch and do it manually. Of course this required tools I did not have so I did what I could with my pocket knife and finally found a couple of guys with the right tools. I soon had a team of guys helping me with the hitch and we got it working!

2. We found a very nice campground in New Mexico, got set up, had a nice dinner, and went for a swim. It had been a hot day, but the evening was beautiful. Clear, sunny and breezy. On the way back from the pool, I noticed water dripping from the back of the camper. I thought I turned the a/c off? I walked up to the camper, opened the door and the first thing I notice is that the floor was soaking wet. It took about 10 seconds to realize the camper was full of water! The bathroom shower was overflowing and the bathroom sink faucet was on and water was everywhere!

I turned off the sink, but I wasn’t sure what happened or what to do with all the water. So we grabbed towel, sheets, anything we could find to mop up the water. Then I realized that the water tanks must be full.

Note: Many campsites have electricity, water, and sewers at the site. Nicholas and I had a couple of mishaps with the sewer stuff so we usually go for a campsite with just water and electricity and use the campground dumping station for empting the holding tanks when we leave. The campsite we were at did not have sewers at the site. That would have made things much easier.

Once we got a lot of the water up, we needed to empty the holding tanks. That, of course, meant we needed to drive to the dumping station. In order to drive we had to hitch, close up the beds, bring the slide in, and unhook the water and electricity. It was 10:00 and dark. But we did it. We did it and drove to the dumping station, emptied the holding tank, drove back to the campsite and set everything back up. Then I started doing laundry. Five loads.

The kids were amazing helpers with all of this. They were excited to help, and dare I say, almost giddy. “Are you going to put this on the blog? What are you going to call it? How about sewer catastrophe? Are we going to have to get a new camper? ARE YOU GOING TO TELL DAD????”

We never really figured out how the whole thing happened. Seems “nobody” was in the bathroom before we went to the pool. We left all the fans running on full power overnight and I think that really helped. The place was pretty dry in the morning and with the hot, dry days ahead of us, I think the camper will be fine.

3. Because things happen in 3’s… The last thing is actually very minor, just “cosmetic” really. And when you are standing a few feet away from the camper, you can hardly tell.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Trip Home

The Trip Home

I have often joked that I spent so much time planning this trip, that by the time I tried to plan anything beyond CA, I was mentally done. We’ll be home when we get there. Let’s see where the road takes us. We’ll be home when we run out of money. Well I talked to Lloyd a little while ago, and he had just checked my bank account. Seems I’ll be home tomorrow.

Oh wait! Since I’m still in AZ, it might take longer. Let’s see how far that last $300 gets me…

Grand Canyon, AZ

Grand Canyon, AZ

We loved visiting one of the seven wonders of the natural world!

The drive to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from Williams was just about an hour. But it was a very pretty drive and we were all very excited about going so the time just flew by. We stopped by one of the many observation areas and decided to park there for the day and take a shuttle around the area. Our first stop was the Bright Angle trailhead. This is the hike Lloyd and I had done years ago, and I thought the kids would really enjoy it. It’s a fairly steep climb and the views of the canyon are stunning! We saw lots of people going down on mules, and when a mule passes, you have to hug the side of the rocks to give the mules room to pass. While it’s a nicely maintained trail, when a mule passes, it pretty much takes up the trail!

We hike a mile and ½ down and stopped for a snack and water. Garrett and I were up for going further, but Nicholas was afraid going back would “take too long” (what time schedule he was on is a mystery to me) so we started heading back up the canyon. Let me tell you, going up is MUCH HARDER than going down!! The weather was slightly cool and a bit overcast on the way down. On the way up, it got sunny and hot! We were dripping with sweat! And then… a thunderstorm. The temp dropped 20 degrees, we froze and got even wetter (if that’s possible). But we made it to the top and with the little energy we had left, we made our way back to the shuttle bus.

Unfortunately, we weren’t paying much attention to the stops and we got off at the wrong place. After a short 2 -mile hike along the rim, we made it back to the car for lunch. Peanut butter and jelly has never tasted so good!!

With renewed energy, we hiked back to a ranger station to attend a program about California Condors (giant, nearly-extinct vultures). The kids really enjoyed it. I think I fell asleep on a rock for most of it.

The coolest part was probably talking to the hikers who were hiking back up the Bright Angle Trail after doing the full canyon hike. It’s basically 10 miles down to the Colorado River. At the bottom is the Phantom Ranch and a walking bridge across the river. Some people had gone down on mules, some just hiked, and some went down yesterday and came back up today! That’s twenty strenuous miles in 2 days! We are soooo doing this next time!!!!

IMAX: While Lloyd was with us, we saw the IMAX Grand Canyon movie (narrated by Robert Redford with music by the Dave Matthews Band) about rafting the Colorado River and taking care of our water resources. This was the most we saw of the Colorado because we just couldn’t see it from any of the overlooks we visited. Maybe it was the cloud cover, or maybe we just didn’t hit the right place. Yet one more reason to come back here!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Williams, AZ

Gateway to the Grand Canyon!

After driving over 300 miles on Hwy. 40, in temperatures that were as high 109, it is soooooo good to be here! The campground is very nice and clean, and we have WiFi!! And it’s only in the 60’s!!! I was afraid our cool days were behind us and I was dreading long hot days in the car and stuffy evenings in the camper.

Williams is a really neat little town. Lots of “Route 66” theme shops and old fashion restaurants, and the best pie ever! I wasn’t sure if I would really find the restaurant where Lloyd and I had pie several years ago when we did the Grand Canyon trip with Highlights, but we found it! The kids LOVED it! We are going back before we leave, even if it’s for breakfast!

We are heading to the Grand Canyon as soon as the kids are up!

Sequoia Photos

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sequoia National Park, CA

Sequoia National Park, CA

We did a lot of hiking in the Sequoia National Park. The biggest difference, I think, between the Redwood Forest and Sequoia is that the Redwood Groves are very dense with Redwood Trees and giant ferns. The Sequoia forest, on the other hand, is more of a traditional forest with lots of different kinds of trees growing along with the Giant Sequoias. Both parks are equally beautiful, but in different ways.

Sequoia also has enormous mountains (more scary driving!) gorgeous wildflowers (even Garrett with his stuffy nose mentioned how nice it smelled in the woods) and several rivers and streams with great rocks for climbing and swimming.

After several long hikes (one rather strenuous), a cave tour and a several hours spent exploring the woods, we were all beat. We had planned to drive to Kings Canyon late in the day, but it was hot, and G and N both fell asleep in the car after our last hike so we called it a day. Plus, I didn’t want to be driving back to camp after dark.

Camping: We camped in a little campground about 13 miles from Sequoia. That’s 13 miles of curvy, mountainous driving, so it took about 30+ minutes to get to the park and then another 30 minutes, once inside the park, to get to the hiking trails and giant trees. While towing a camper on those mountain roads would not have been fun, it would have been nice to stay in the park. That would also have meant no electricity or water hook ups but that would have been fine. The temperatures in the foothills (at our campground) were around 105 (115 at one point) and the high temps up in the mountains were only in the low 80’s, and much cooler at night. There is just something about camping in the woods that you just don't get at a commercial campground.

Our weekend at Sequoia happened to be the National Park Service “stimulate the economy” weekend—no park entrance fees (usually $20), so the park was busy! We hadn’t planned to be here for this weekend, it just worked out that way.

China Town

San Francisco Photos

San Francisco, CA

What a wonderful day!

We arrived in San Francisco just after 8am and made our first stop (after the parking garage) the Boudin Bakery. On Thursday mornings they offer a special one-hour tour led by a master baker. While they offer several tours throughout the week (for a small fee), the Thursday morning tour is unique because it also includes a breakfast reception.

The kids thought the whole bread-making process was fascinating and they loved watching all the bakers take piles of flour and dough balls of various sizes and shape them into everything from baguettes to tiny alligators, birds, and crabs. We were also impressed by the enormous baking equipment. The mixers were like gigantic Kitchen Aids mixers and cost $250,000 a piece. The flour silo holds 16,000 pounds of flour and gets refilled weekly. The bakery makes 10,000 loaves of sour dough bread a day!

There is a San Francisco history/ sourdough history museum included with the tour. Not only did we learn that the sourdough starter used today is an “ancestor” of the starter used back in 1840, but we learned a lot about the general history of San Francisco. It was all very interesting.

And as I mentioned earlier, there was a very nice breakfast reception with the bakers. For $3 a piece for the kids and $6 for me, we had the bakery and museum tour, and had a fantastic breakfast! The reception included coffee, tea, juice and milk, and the most delicious muffins, Danish, cookies and pastries you could imagine! I am normally not a “Danish” person (they always taste stale to me) but these were loaded with fresh blueberries or chocolate and were absolutely delicious! With every bite Nicholas took (and he tried everything) he announced it was the best muffin/cookie/pastry he has ever eaten!

At one point during the reception Master Baker Ramon gave everyone a sourdough loaf in the shape of a sea creature. Then one of the other bakers brought us a bakery box to fill up with the leftover pastries!!! Did I mention that I only spent $12 on this event?!

After the bakery tour we walked around Fisherman’s Warf and I bought us each an $11 day-use transportation pass. Now we could take any mode of public transportation with the one ticket. We took four buses, two shuttles, and 2 cable cars. The cable cars (and I kept calling them trolleys) are $5 a person, each trip. The day pass was a very good deal.

The next thing we wanted to see was the Golden Gate Bridge. We took a bus. We could have taken the bus over the bridge, but I thought it would be more fun to get off on the north side and walk. So we did. We walked the Golden Gate Bridge. Two miles over and two miles back. The kids thought it was a crazy thing to do, and Garrett did ask why would we do such a thing and really, the best answer I could come up, is because we could. And we had a ball! We took a zillion pictures, looked for seals in the water, watched the boats, tried to find the city (and Alcatraz) in all the fog, worked up a sweat in 60 degree weather, and enjoyed it immensley.

We then took a shuttle around Golden Gate Park and then went back to Fisherman’s Warf. We stopped in Giradelli’s and sampled some chocolate (still full from breakfast) and wandered around a few shops. Finally worked up an appetite for lunch and found a great little pizza place. A medium pizza and 2 sodas cost $20.

We then hopped a cable car and headed downtown. Along the way we stopped in China Town and that was a blast! I loved watching the kids look in the windows of the food shops! I think Nicholas could very easily become a vegetarian!

We wrapped up our San Francisco day by taking a few last minute pictures, purchasing a few postcards, and learning how to use a credit card in the parking garage.

I suppose I shouldn’t brag so much about being so thrifty with our day. But it was really a fun challenge to spend the day exploring the city, seeing everything we wanted to see, doing stuff we have never done before, and doing it all so cheaply!

Perhaps the best part for me was exploring the city with Garrett and Nicholas in a way I would never have done with other adults. I just don’t know many people who would have wanted to spend so much time visiting Spy Shops. Or who would have, for the first time ever, broke down and sang country music songs with me with the windows down and the sunroof open as we sat thru light after light trying to get out of the city after a very full day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Resort Living

After visiting the Redwood Forest we headed south to Red Bluff, CA. Our original plan was to spend two nights in Crescent Beach, but the town and the RV park were both really run down so we found an “RV Resort” on the internet in a town close to where we wanted to be.

The Durango RV Resort is something else! It’s huge and has all the “extras” we were looking for… a swimming pool, a laundry room, high speed internet (for real!!) and nice, level pull-thru camper sites.

A guide escorts you to your spot on a golf cart. Trash gets picked up at your site each morning at 10:00. The bathrooms have corian countertops and 3 different kids of hand soap!

It was really nice to be able to get internet connection in the camper, and even out by the pool. I have been known to sit on the folding table in the laundry room of a KOA, with the computer facing the office, just to check email.

We spent lots of time by the pool, and while the days have been hot, the evenings have been really nice. Between the pool and the beautiful lodge, and hanging out by the fire pit with other campers, we have really enjoyed this place. The only downside is that it is right next to the highway and the trucks run 24/7 here. It has been a nice resort stop, but I am ready to get back to state park camping!

The Boy Scout Tree Trail

The Boy Scout Tree Trail

On our second day in the Redwood Forest, we hiked the Boy Scout Tree Trail. The drive to the trailhead was on a small, mountain road. Sometimes the redwoods were so close together that I didn't think our car would fit between them! The drive was very peaceful and beautiful. We got an early start and didn’t see another hiker until we were on our way back!

The trail is 2.8 miles long. At the trailhead, there were a few arguments about the fact that if it was 2.8 miles out, that means it would be 2.8 miles back. Someone thought it might be a loop trail, but I said if it doesn’t say “loop” it’s probably not a loop. After a bit of complaining, we all headed out and even made it past the Boy Scout Tree, all the way to the only waterfall in the Redwood Forest.

The trail would probably be considered a “moderate” hike and it was absolutely beautiful.