States visited: 49!

visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800

Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nathan’s 5th birthday: Sunday, April 18th

How is our 'baby' FIVE?! We can’t believe our youngest is getting ready to start Kindergarten this year and that he’s already five: we miss those baby years (not the lack of sleep though), however this trip is a lot easier with self-sufficient and somewhat independent kids! Nate has really learned to stand up for himself a lot more in the last few months; it’s awesome to see him growing up and learning so much.

He was excited to receive a little Nerf shooter and target, as well as some other outside toys, a Webkinz and a Mario DS game.

After returning from the Park, he chose the meal: chicken and chips. Chips/fries - the word is interchangeable in our family, it's that 'bi-lingual' thing, you know our kids can speak two languages - are quite the challenge in the camper but I have perfected them using our limited resources. While the chicken is baking in the oven (only enough space for one thing in there....), I par-boil potatoes cut into strips, then drain and spray the griddle with olive oil, add the potatoes, spray them with more olive oil and gently cook them for about 20 minutes - it's a bit of a hassle but gives good results, and Nate was happy, there were clean plates all around.

I had found a huge chocolate chip cookie during the previous week, iced with Happy Birthday and a big green crocodile. Our little man's most favorite lovey is Snappy the crocodile, so this cookie was the perfect birthday treat, practically made for him, I couldn't have created anything better myself (in fact, as Caitlin kindly pointed out, I could NOT have created it myself, I am apparently not a good enough artist - don't you love it when your kids point out your flaws?!).

It was a good day, he even got to play Lego Batman on the wii, which is what he would do every waking minute, given the option - thank you Jake for buying that game and so sorry that you rarely get to play it alone anymore!

From Moab, UT to Virgin, UT: Saturday, April 17th

Utah’s scenery is awe-inspiring so it was another beautiful drive today. We are staying at Zion River Resort, which is just a few miles from the entrance to Zion National Park. It is a well-kept campground but the sites are pretty tight and close together so situating the camper took longer than usual. Our site is super-close to the playground so we had some very happy kids who took off, out of the car, at speed, as soon as we arrived!

The temperatures were in the low 80’s so after our late afternoon arrival and set-up, the kids – with Becca leading the charge – were extremely eager to go and jump in the pool. The weather forecast didn’t look fantastic later in the week so we figured we should take the opportunity while we could, Dave was kind enough to go in with them; I watched!


The wonders of technology, we’re so relieved to be able to chat with our friends and family and actually see them. It makes a big difference, especially for the kids, to be able to see their friends. Dave’s sister, Debbie, calls quite often so we’ve been able to see Jasmine growing up; the girls especially love to see their little cousin. We recently discovered that Becca’s great friend, Maddie, is moving to California in a few months, so the girls have been chatting and giggling at each other on-screen a few times in the last couple of months. They really don’t have an awful lot to say to each other but somehow manage to fill almost an hour of skype time; Becca is so happy afterwards, it’s cute.

Losing Teeth!

The last time Becca lost her tooth a couple of month ago, Jake lost one the next day. This week, Jake lost another tooth – in the shower, he just managed to catch it before it disappeared down the drain! The next day, Caitlin’s fell out! Guess they’re all hitting that age again when teeth are moving about. I’m sure in a few more months, Nate will lose his first one too – these kids of ours are growing up way too fast; we are savoring every moment – the good and the bad! Every minute is a memory; love them.

Moab: Friday, April 16th

We had an easy morning of school to allow for catch-up time on some of the little things we needed to finish.

In the afternoon, we drove the Utah Scenic Byway, along Potash Road, looking for dinosaur tracks. We found the location of some three-toed allosaurus tracks in the Navajo/Kayenta sandstone interface. We needed binoculars to see them well from the road and then climbed the rocks to get a little closer. It was pretty cool to see these fossils up close.

We continued further along with road until the paving ended and the dirt road began. Dave had been waiting to drive this off-road route all week; it took us into the canyon, which was neat. We were traveling along the area we could see from above when we visited Dead Horse Point Sate Park. Unfortunately Dave was really the only one enjoying the experience. The extremely bumpy surface didn’t make for a smooth ride at all! We passed cows grazing next to the road and mountain bikers working their way along the winding track. Finally, Dave did turn around; we were all grateful!

We made a stop at Jug Handle Arch on the way back – it’s awesome that there are random arches around the area.

While I went to the grocery store, Dave and the kids spent some time at the library. Apparently Moab’s Library won the ‘Best Library in America’ Award in 2007 – who even knew that such an award existed!

We enjoyed our week here, Archview Campground was well located for the Parks. There is a church on the campground that was built specifically for the purposes of a made-for-tv movie: 'Riders of the Purple Sage', so it is unused but a cool example of an old-style western church. Archview and the surrounding area have been the set for many feature films, including 'Geronimo', several John Wayne movies, and most recently, 'Breakdown' , staring Kurt Russell. It is easy to see this as a movie location and in fact, the State Park was used for a few, Thelma and Louise is the one we remember most.

Arches National Park

Due to lay-offs on Dave’s team this week and others vacations, he was unable to take a day off. Instead, we took advantage of his east coast finishing time (he's been getting up at 6:30 to start work before the kids surface - it's a tough beginning of the day for him, he is so NOT a morning person!) and left the camper to visit Arches National Park each day, Monday – Thursday at 3:30pm.

We started off at the Visitor Center and watched an amazing movie, depicting Arches and Canyonlands, which was made by the Discovery Channel. It was certainly one of the best movies we’ve seen at a National Park, even Nate was transfixed (usually he’s a wriggle-bum!).

From the brochure: Water and ice, extreme temperatures, and underground salt movement are responsible for the sculptured rock scenery of Arches National Park. On clear, blue-sky days it is difficult to imagine such violent forces – or the 100 million years of erosion – that created this land boasting one of the world’s greatest densities of national arches. Over 2,000 catalogued arches range in size from a three-foot opening, the minimum considered an arch, to the longest, Landscape Arch, measuring 306 feet base to base.

Today new arches are being formed and old ones destroyed. Erosion and weathering work slowly but relentlessly, creating dynamic landforms that gradually change through time. Change sometimes occurs more dramatically. In 1991 a rock slab 60 feet long, 11 feet wide, and four feet thick fell from the underside of Landscape Arch, leaving behind an even thinner ribbon of rock. Delicate Arch, an isolated remnant of a bygone fin, stands on the brink of a canyon, with the dramatic La Sal Mountains as backdrop. Towering spires, pinnacles, and balanced rocks, perch atop seemingly inadequate bases – vie with the arches as scenic spectacles here.

American Indians used this area for thousands of years. The Archaic peoples, and later ancestral Puebloan, Fremont, and Ute peoples, searched the arid desert for food animals, wild plant foods, and stone for tools and weapons. They also left evidence of their passing on a few pictograph and petroglyph panels.

We popped into Moab for dinner at Eddie McStiff’s to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary – a lot has happened in 13 years; still so happy with this man of mine – love you, Dave!

On Tuesday, we completed the beginning part of the scenic route, driving out past viewpoints (and of course, stopping at) Park Avenue, La Sal Mountains, Courthouse Towers and the Petrified Dunes. At Balanced Rock, we walked the easy ½ mile loop and marveled at the way the rock was hanging on top of its post.

We then drove out to The Windows Section. We hiked out to the Double Arch, a towering conjoined arch, opening up skywards. It was so imposing, particularly looking up through its windows. Again, the drop off on the other side of one opening was quite steep, as Jake kept saying all week: “A journey to certain death!” Thanks, Jake!

We took the paved hike out to nearby South and North Windows. North Window comes into view first and also gives a good view of Turret Arch, by walking around, you see the more secluded South Window. We stopped to eat our dinner here and were surprised that very few people continue on around the loop to this side; it was very peaceful. We decided to take the primitive trail back around to the beginning of the loop – certainly the road less walked! Of course, this is the kind of rock-climbing, unpaved trail the kids like best – any excuse to get up and down rocks!

We also saw a great number of cairns, these are the little piles of rocks (man-made), used to help mark unpaved trails. We saw these all over the Park on future hikes and the kids found them really interesting. I love that they’re learning about things they wouldn’t typically read about in books or learn in a regular school day.

On Wednesday, when we returned once again, we started out in the Visitor Center so the children could get sworn in again as Junior Rangers. The last few weeks, they’ve completed a couple of programs a week, so maybe our average will get back up to one a week after our big break from programs during our long stay in Florida.

We checked out the awesome views from Panorama Point before making our way to our destination hike point: Wolfe Ranch. It’s hard to imagine a family living here in such a remote area, but they did at the turn of the 20th century! There was a salt stream nearby that they diverted and made use of. The hut they lived in remains here still, hardly what we would think of as a ranch – it was far smaller than our camper!

Delicate Arch trail which begins here is hyped to be one of the most rewarding hikes in canyon country and it did indeed live up to our expectations. We would later check out the arch from the distant viewpoint, and the picture couldn’t even begin to compare with what we experienced up close. I’m so glad we took everyone’s advice and hiked the trail.

We have been using National Geographic’s: ‘Guide to the National Parks of the United States’ (this only contains the National Parks proper, not all of the other forts, seashores, memorials etc that come under the NPS umbrella) and it gives a fantastic description of the hike:

This delightful trail gains 500 feet in elevation as it traverses 1.5 miles of slickrock as smooth and cambered as the back of a whale. It tops out, suddenly and dramatically, at the foot of Delicate Arch, a must-see.

As nature writer Edward Abbey put it in Desert Solitaire, “If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out their ruts of habit, to compel us into a re-awakened awareness of the wonderful – that which is full of wonder.”

The hike begins on the grounds of the Wolfe Ranch, which include a weathered corral and a tattered log cabin, follow the bridge across Salt Wash to the cliff, where it is believed the Ute Indians left petroglyphs (we looked at these on our way back down). The Ute, who once roamed from the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies to the canyonlands of southern Utah, perhaps camped here, probably trading with Wolfe for provisions.

The trail is ingeniously designed to hide Delicate Arch from view until your very last step. From the valley floor, the route threads by patches of cryptobiotic soil (this, we learned, is a special kind of soil that can take 250 years to regenerate if is trodden on and is a vital, living component of this area. It allows water through when the rains do come but then stops it evaporating or escaping, protecting this valuable resource from the sun and dry climate. It also holds the sands in place, minimizing erosion damage.) before reaching flat slabs of sandstone, where cairns mark the way. Juniper trees grow from cracks so small the trunks seem to emerge from solid rock. The final third of a mile is a teaser. As the path climbs, it hugs a sandstone fin, and then edges along a steep bowl that bars all view of the famous arch. The last few steps require some nerve, but you will be rewarded with a marvelous look at Delicate Arch straddling the edge of a slickrock basin.

Standing 45 feet tall at its highest point, Delicate Arch frames the La Sal Mountains some 35 miles away. Over the years other names have been attached to this famous arch – Schoolmarm’s Pants, Old Maid’s Bloomers, and Cowboy Chaps.

While we were gazing at the Arch, we were watching an Italian man complete a line drawing of this spectacle in his journal. Naturally, because we chat to everybody, we asked to look at it more closely. Caitlin was in awe, she is such a little artist, he was so gracious, told her that all it takes is practice….I think I’ll be looking for an art curriculum next year! He and his wife were on a 3 week tour of the National Parks in the area and wrote down our blog address, so if you’re reading, HELLO! We very much enjoyed chatting with you and admiring your beautiful artwork, thank you for sharing with us.

Thursday took us to the furthest point of the main scenic drive, pausing to look down into the multitude of fins at Fiery Furnace. We parked in Devils Garden and walked the mile out to Landscape Arch. We could see quite clearly where the 60 foot slab of rock had fallen off 19 years earlier. The trail no longer allows you to walk underneath the arch for fear that more of the arch may fall; it certainly looks fairly frail. As we walked up, we could hear some wonderful bagpipe music. Dave walked on a little way with the kids and they discovered a man busking in the mountains – the music was echoing around, it was beautiful.

On the hike back, we stopped to look at Pine Tree Arch – this was probably one of my favorites, simply because I could actually stand under it without fear, it was practically at ground level! On the way out, we looked through Tunnel Arch, high up in the rock.

I feel as though we really saw the majority of this Park by coming in four days, we were able to do more hikes this way and keep the children entertained, so it worked out well.

Canyonlands National Park: Sunday, April 11th

From the brochure: Canyonlands preserves a wilderness of rock at the heart of the Colorado Plateau. Water and gravity have been the prime architects of this land, cutting flat layers of sedimentary rock into hundreds of canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires. At center stage are two canyons carved by the Green and Colorado rivers. Surrounding the rivers are vast and very different regions: Island in the Sky (north); the Maze (west); and the Needles (east). The areas share a common primitive spirit and wild West atmosphere, each offering its own rewards. Few people were familiar with these remote lands and rivers when the park was established in 1964. Only Indians, cowboys, river explorers, and uranium prospectors had dared enter this rugged corner of south-eastern Utah, but few others did. To a large degree, Canyonlands remains untrammeled today. Its roads are mostly unpaved, its trails primitive, its rivers free-flowing. Bighorn sheep, coyotes, and other native animals roam its 527 square miles. Canyonlands is wild America.

We stayed in the Island in the Sky area, which is the most accessible, and made our way to Grand Views Point Overview, where we listened to the geology ranger program. From this vantage point, you can see the Needles in the distance and just about make out the confluence point where the Green and Colorado Rivers meet. We ate lunch in the somewhat windy picnic area close to Gooseberry Canyon.

We hiked the short loop trail out to Upheaval Dome; this is speculated to be the site of a meteorite landing, so was something a little different for this Park, pretty much everything else has been formed by water and erosion.

Later in the afternoon, we hiked out to Mesa Arch – we would, of course, see far more arches during the week at Arches NP, but as this was the first we saw, it was spectacular and beautiful. Actually sitting underneath it was a tad alarming as there was pretty much a sheer drop-off on the other side – yet more gray hairs and fear for poor Mama!

After being sworn in again as Junior Rangers, we stopped at a couple more overlooks for photos, learning at one about the little potholes in the rocks. When these fill up with water, animals living in these tiny bowls, complete their entire life-cycle in the short space of time they have before their habitat dries up again – it’s amazing! We were fascinated. We did learn more about this life cycle in the Visitor Center at Arches, where they also had a model you could see the different insects that survived within this brief, transient habitat.

From Colorado to Utah: Saturday, April 10th

If only every Saturday’s travel drive could be this quick: 2½ hours, barely enough time for a movie and certainly not enough time to catch up on the blog, particularly when the scenery we were driving by was so spectacular! I did manage to sew up holes in cuddly toys (a sick Snappy is no good thing: Nate’s favorite lovey), trousers and the tooth fairy pillow though – sadly, the mundane things still have to be dealt with.

As we got closer to our destination, we passed the World Famous Hole N’ The Rock Home. This is one of the go-to kitschy tourist destinations of the area. We didn’t stop, no wish to part with our money that much! Apparently it is a 5,000 sq.ft house (no longer inhabited as the owners passed away) that is fully built into a hole in the rock, complete with 14 rooms, a chimney and a bathroom tub built into the rock (and bizarrely a petting zoo!).

The drive through Moab, we were staying about 9 miles north of the city, was a bit of a shocker. It was insanely busy. Evidently this is an off-road Mecca and the go-to destination for adventurers who love to mountain bike, dirt bike, ATV, dune buggy etc, you get the idea, the list goes on! Our arrival at the campground was amidst the chaos of people getting gas, shopping the little store and checking-out. It was a tad overwhelming and quite the change of pace compared to where we’ve been staying of late.

Thankfully the people staying in our spot checked out a couple of minutes before we were ready to move in: absolutely perfect. We had plenty of time to set everything up, clean the camper, have the kids play and eat lunch before heading up to nearby Dead Horse Point State Park.

From the brochure: Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, the Park provides a breathtaking panorama of Canyonlands’ sculptured pinnacles and buttes. Dead Horse Point is situated atop a high plateau at an elevation of about 6,000 feet above sea level. From the Point, layers of geologic time may be viewed, revealing 300 million years of the earth’s geologic history. While standing on the canyon rim, 8,000 feet of geologic strata is visible looking from the peaks of the 12,000-foot high La Sal Mountains to the river below. These rock layers were deposited over the eons by oceans, fresh water and wind as well as isolated igneous events.

Sediments at the 4,000-foot river level were deposited during the Pennsylvanian period, 300 million years ago. The La Sal Mountains are composed of igneous rocks from an ancient laccolith that formed during the Tertiary period. Uplifting caused by continental drift elevated the entire Colorado Plateau by more than one mile. The Colorado River was born during this regional uplift, and has been carving down through the sediments ever since. Erosion continues today as the river winds from the Continental Divide high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean at the Sea of Cortez (a distance of 1,400 miles!) sculpting ancient rock layers into this spectacular panorama.

According to one legend, the point was once used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa. Cowboys rounded up these horses, herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush, creating a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs. Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and for reasons unknown, left the other horses corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below. We also read in another version that the corral was left open and for some reason, the horses stayed where they were – this is probably the ‘nicer’ version (and the one we chose to share with the kids)!

The entrance to the State Park was on the way to Canyonlands National Park so we drove the extra few miles to take a quick look in the Visitor Center. We picked up Junior Ranger programs, watched the movie and checked out the exhibits; as usual the kids found the books in the shop and settled themselves in for a reading session. I know it’s probably not great that they treat these places as a library but I hate to deny them a chance to read a different book and they are very careful.

We had arranged to meet up with the Fine’s at Zax for dinner, as they were stopping for the night in Moab on their way back home to Park City. The restaurant had been recommended to us by a couple from Cambridge, UK, who’d we’d chatted with at Mesa Verde NP. We chat with people everywhere we go and get all sorts of advice and recommendations!

The kids were excited to see Emily and Josh again and everyone enjoyed the pizza buffet and gooey brownie and ice cream that followed. Rich and Janet invited us over to their camper for cocktails on the way back to our campground. The kids were thrilled to disappear to the playground and mini-golf, while the adults socialized: a very pleasant way to end the day.

Mesa Verde National Park: Thursday, April 8th

This campground was chosen for its proximity to Mesa Verde National Park, just a few miles along the road. Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table (my Dad, over 50 years out of school, mentioned this translation without any prompting whatsoever!), offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 1300. Today, the park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States. Mesa Verde National Park (created in 1906), designated a World Heritage Site in 1978, is one of the premier archeological sites in the world and is of paramount importance in educating people about preserving and protecting these international treasures.

Mesa Verde people grew crops and hunted game on the mesa tops. The soil was fertile and, except in drought, about as well watered as now. The vegetation is also about the same today as it was then, but with less pinyon (pine) and juniper. The people cut pinyon and juniper for building materials and firewood and to clear land for farming. They reached their fields by hand-and-toe-hold trails pecked into the canyon walls. We saw an artist's view of what this would have looked like and it seemed quite precarious, particularly as they were also carrying baskets at the same time.

We learned that the first Ancestral Puebloans settled in Mesa Verde 1,400 years ago. They were known as Basketmakers for their skill at the craft. Formerly nomadic, they were beginning to lead a more settled way of life. Farming replaced hunting and gathering as their main livelihood. They lived in pithouses clustered into small villages usually built on mesa tops but sometimes in cliff recesses. They learned to make pottery and acquired the bow and arrow, a more efficient weapon for hunting than the atlatl, a spear thrower.

From the entrance, we had to wind and zig-zag our way up the hill to the Visitor Center – another 23 miles into the Park, taking us to our highest height so far, over 8,000 feet. Clearly the views into the valley below were spectacular, though a tad unnerving! We picked up Junior Ranger booklets and completed a number of sections, thanks to the informative displays throughout the Visitor Center. It is incredibly fascinating to learn how the dwellings were built and how the people evolved. The fact that so much of what they built all those years ago remains in tact is testament to their abilities.

We walked down to Spruce Tree House and were able to see, close-up, the detail of the dwellings. This has been partially restored to allow visitors to see, and go down into, an actual kiva. Needless to say, this was a hit for the kids, climbing down into a musky, small, round room with mud on the floor – hard to imagine this being a pleasant location but kivas were an important part of the dwellings. The ceilings above would have been the floor of the courtyard – they were very good about creating multi-purpose spaces!

Kiva is a Hopi word for ceremonial room – at Mesa Verde, they are underground chambers that may be comparable to later churches. Based on modern Pueblo practice, Ancestral Puebloans may have used kivas for healing rites or to pray for rain, luck in hunting, or a good crop. Kivas were gathering places and sometimes also places to weave. Pilasters supported a beam-and-mud roof. Entry was by ladder through a hole in the center of the roof. The small hold in the floor is a sipapu, or symbolic entrance to the underworld.

We took the loop road around the Park, stopping (of course!) at multiple overlooks and cliff dwellings. The Junior Ranger program required the kids to read some of the signs to answer certain questions in their books, which was a perfect encouragement for them to get out of the car and, inadvertently, learn along the way!

As we overlooked Cliff Palace (with its spectacular square and circle towers), we tried to imagine being the cowboys who, while corralling their horses, came across these dwellings. What an amazing discovery. At first, the only way to reach the dwellings was by guided horse and cart. The journey would take 3 days in all (they were some determined tourists!) before a road was built, making it a less-arduous proposition!

We crossed paths with the Fine Family along the Cliff Palace loop. Our younger kids had been playing with Emily and Josh at the campground, so we all hiked the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail together, which afforded us wonderful views of the valley. We constantly chat with people we meet and learn of all sorts of different things to do in the places we’re going. Today we heard about a good restaurant in Moab and also where to look for fossilized dinosaur footprints. We make new friends, often thanks to the kids, Janet and Rich are one such example.

I didn’t think we’d be at the Park all day but we were! I should know by now that Dave likes to eek out his days off, filling them to the max. It was an interesting day but the interest-levels of the children were beginning to wane somewhat as the day wore on. We do love the history of these people though, just goes to show that American history doesn’t begin with the Europeans emigrating here in the 1600’s, the land was here and it was inhabited, so much to learn.

The Sleeping Ute

From the campground, we had a great view of the mountains referred to as The Sleeping Ute. We love hearing the tales of how mountains get their names:

The Sleeping Ute Mountain looms over Towaoc, on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation south of Cortez. The mountain protects the town from western winds. Legend has it that this is a Great Warrior God who had come to help fight against evil ones causing much trouble. A great battle ensued, and the Warrior God was hurt, so he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. When looking carefully at the mountain, we could see him: his head points toward the north, his arms are folded across his chest; his stomach, thighs, knees, feet (even toes) are all clearly visible. When fog or clouds settle over the sleeping Warrior God, it is a sign that he is changing his blankets for the season. A light green blanket heralds spring, the dark green brings summer. Yellow and red are fall colors and white is winter. When clouds gather on the highest peak, he is letting rain slip from his pockets. One day, the Utes believe, the Great Warrior God will rise again to help his people fight against their enemies.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cortez, Colorado

This is state number 33 out of the 48 we’re hoping to visit this year, we are blazing a trail!

One of the things we had planned to do this week was visit the Four Corner’s Monument, which is a simple plaque on the floor within the Indian Reservation (as seen in online photos), with a cross indicating the four states that meet at that point: CO, UT, AZ and NM. Unfortunately we found out that it had been closed for some months and would not be re-opening until June, so, crossed that one off the list. Jake took the news well, despite that being one of the four things he really wanted to do this year. Oh well, something else to save for another visit.

The playground remained a popular venue, for the little ones especially, throughout the week. However, their favorite was the playground at nearby Denny Park Lake. This was within easy walking distance, accessed along the Nature Trail which lead out from the back of the campground.

We went to the library a couple of times during the week as well. Children between 8 and 12 years of age were permitted to stay there alone for a maximum of 2 hours – absolutely perfect for me to hang out for a while, read stories to the younger two and then head off with them to the grocery store, while the older two (sworn to protect each other and sit next to each other at all times, a tiny bit paranoid: sure!) stayed to read…and not move!

On Tuesday, the wind really came through, demonstrating once again what amazing forces nature can produce. It was actually pretty scary; we had to bring the slides in as far as we could and still be able to move around the camper because the slide awnings were being whipped up to such a high degree, any slack was being pulled off the roller. Surviving in such cramped quarters was a bit of a challenge, thank goodness it was only for one night, it died down quite a bit the next day. This was the day that the northern Utah and Colorado ski resorts received another 3 feet of snow, ugh, tempt, tempt, we miss our skiing/boarding!

We spent two hours of late Wednesday afternoon, swimming and playing at the Cortez Recreation Center pool. It had a decent sized lap pool, kept around 80°, that also had a spring diving board, that was open (the pool at the Community Center where we live has two but they are rarely open for play!), so the kids were thrilled. All four fearless ones spent quite a bit of time jumping off the end, Jake really flew! Nate was so cute, kind of imitating a jump but thankfully not releasing his feet!

There was also, and this was the highlight, a play pool (88° - balmy) with an enclosed double-loop water slide, which was pretty fast and forceful; Nate had no interest, too big for him yet but the rest of us thought it was a blast! To accommodate slightly smaller kids, a large, water-park style, water play area was in the middle of the pool, complete with rope climbing nets, a smaller slide (Nate loved this one but it was still just about big enough for Dave to go on), lots of different ‘fountains’, water shooters and sprayers; it was cool! For tiny kids, they offered a really small slide that had a small inflatable landing in the shallow water – it was all extremely well-designed.

The ‘piece de resistance’ though was the lazy river, SO much fun, both with and without tubes. It certainly worked well and was far from lazy, that water moved! We spent a lot of time in there, playing tag, under- and over-taking, having races and trying to walk against the water (quite the challenge indeed!). When we arrived, we pretty much had the place to ourselves but it got a bit busier as the workday drew to a close (East coast workday obviously finished 2 hours earlier, so we were able to reap the benefits of that once again). Regardless, the kids had absolutely no interest in leaving and would happily have stayed another couple of hours I’m sure!

The only downside was a bizarre rule that at ten minutes to every hour, all children had to get out of the water and were not allowed back in until ‘the hour’. Supposedly this is so that adults can enjoy the slides and river, kid-free. I truly question whether or not this is effective. Essentially while we were there, this only meant that all the families got out, used the bathroom, stayed warm in the shower and then watched the empty pool (and the clock!) for a couple of minutes until the whistle blew again to let us know we could get back in. I guess this must be effective during busy times but seemed somewhat ridiculous at the time we were there: rules!

The pool, coupled with the great library, and wonderful mountain scenery, had the kids deciding that we should move to Cortez. As Telleride (great ski resort) is about an hour away, along with a number of other great tourist locations that we did not have time to visit (we should perhaps have found time for the Durango train after we discovered the Four Corners was closed), it would be a tempting location for us too!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

From AZ, through NM to CO: Easter Sunday

The day began with a little reminder of why we celebrate Easter. We had touched on this on Friday as well; sometimes it’s tough for the kids to remember the significance of Good Friday as it is not a national holiday in the USA. Jake was quick to remind everyone of the importance of today, which I’m sure the others were relieved by – to be honest, they just wanted to dive into their Eater baskets! Everyone got a new DS game and some Cadbury’s Crème Eggs: yum, yum!

Once we’d packed up the camper and were generally ready to go, we hid lots of mini chocolate eggs and Crabby Patties all over the playground – it was a good job there were no other families around otherwise I guess we would have been doing a hunt from more than just our kids! They raced out of the camper in age order at 2 minute intervals, to give the younger ones a head start over, well, over Jake really, who naturally sped around and finished at almost the same time as the others. They were happy; love a good hunt!

Our day today took us past some beautiful rocky scenery – I know, more rocks, but honestly, they’re gorgeous! We crossed back over the border into New Mexico – back into MDT time zone – which now matches up with ‘Valentine’ time. We’ll be in the same time zone as our location for the next 3 weeks before we return to CA.

We hadn’t looked at the map too closely and too late, we realized that the couple of hours over lunchtime, we’d be driving through the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation, which was extremely barren and very much lacking in either towns or even anywhere to pull over and stop to make lunch. At one point, in the distance on the very straight road, we could see a spiraling cloud of black smoke. When we eventually got to it, we realized it was a ‘single-wide’ home that was barely recognizable as such and completely destroyed, so sad. Even as we went past, fire trucks were coming the other way; we could only imagine that they were coming from the closest town, which was miles away.

We finally stopped in Shiprock, obviously a place with large amounts of poverty. Even before Dave got out of the car, two beggars had come over needing money. It was heartbreaking to see the number of people there asking for handouts, good for the kids to be exposed to it though, we live a pretty sheltered life in our suburban neighborhood in PA.

Thankfully we were pretty close to Cortez at this point, which made for a quick arrival at the KOA. The owners were wonderful, so friendly, extremely informative and knowledgeable about the local area – we were offered plenty of ideas about how to occupy ourselves over the next few days. They had also prepared a little Easter egg hunt for the kids on the playground, which won the kids over immediately!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Meteor Crater and Petrified Forest: Saturday, April 3rd

We were all ready to leave by 8am and after a few tears and lots of hugs, we drove out of the campground, Ben and Liz peeled off to the right, heading westwards, back to Vegas, while we peeled off to the left, heading eastwards towards Holbrook: the last three days went by way too quickly.

We had a lot planned for today so I’m glad we got a good early start. Our first stop was Meteor Crater, one of the best preserved meteorite craters. We arrived in perfect time to watch the movie, giving an overview of where meteors come from, which was very educational. After a look around the interactive museum, we were in perfect time for the rim hike. Our hope was to arrive in time for the first one of the day , which ended up not running due to inclement weather (it was very windy), so everything actually ended up working out perfectly (given that we would've missed it anyway!).

From the brochure: Today, the best-preserved and first-proven meteorite impact site is nearly a mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference, and over 550 feet deep, as tall as a 60-story building! The vast floor of the Crater is large enough to accommodate 20 football games being played simultaneously as over two million fans watch from the sloping walls of the impact site! The topographical terrain of Meteor Crater so closely resembles that of the Earth's Moon and other Planets, NASA designated it as an official training site for the Apollo Astronauts, and it has been the setting for the movie "Star Man" and numerous documentaries.

We enjoyed the rim hike, despite the wind. We walked about a mile around the rim, stopping at various points to listen to descriptions about what we were seeing and what had happened at the site over the years. We were all hooked! The man whose family still owns the crater, believed that the meteorite was still somewhere buried at the crash site and spent all of his money searching for it to no avail. It likely broke up and scattered on impact.

At picture rock, we sat waiting for our turn on petrified mud (science everywhere we go!). It was an incredible place, a bit pricey but worth it.

Just over an hour further along the road, we reached the Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA, our home for just one night. On arrival, the kids spotted the awesome playground and practically jumped out of the car. They gave us a great campsite, just across from the playground in a very quiet area. The kids were rather unimpressed when we let them know we’d completed a quick set up and were ready to visit the Petrified Forest National Park.

I’d had the foresight to print off the Junior Ranger books online the day before so they had completed quite a bit of their books in the car before we even arrived – these are the greatest programs! We learn a lot from reading in advance about how the Parks are formed, who lived there etc. It was a definite advantage that we’d worked a lot during the morning as they were beginning to wilt a little by the afternoon.

We stopped in at the Rainbow Forest Museum, at the South Entrance, for a short movie about the wood in the Petrified Forest, the formation of the Painted Desert and the Pueblo people who lived here in the 1200’s. We went outside to complete the short loop walk around the Giant Logs trail. There was a huge amount of logs in this one area, including the the park’s largest log, known as “Old Faithful”. Unfortunately all of the logs have been cut through thanks to gem hunters in the early 1900’s blasting through the logs with dynamite – so sad. Regardless, the beauty of these incredible ‘trees’ is still very much in tact. They are amazing.

From the brochure: This high, dry grassland was once a vast floodplain crossed by many streams. Tall, stately conifer trees grew along the banks. Crocodile-like reptiles, giant amphibians, and small dinosaurs lived among a variety of ferns and other plants and animals known only as fossils today. The trees fell, and swollen streams washed them into adjacent floodplains. A mix of silt, mud and volcanic ash buried the logs. This sediment cut off oxygen and slowed the logs’ decay. Silica-laden groundwater seeped through the logs and replaced the original wood tissues with silica deposits. Eventually the silica crystallized into quartz, and the logs were preserved as petrified wood. Over the 225 million years since the trees lived, the continents moved to their present positions, and this region was uplifted. As a result the climate changed and the tropical environment became today’s grassland. Over time, wind and water wore away the rock layers and exposed fossilized ancient plants and animals. The hills will yield more fossils as weathering sculpts the Painted Desert’s soft sedimentary rock.

All the kids were able to complete their Junior Ranger programs after learning some more and spending time outside examining the rocks; we were loving all the colors, it’s impossible to portray how incredible these were.

There is a 28 mile road through the Park, stopping at various points and taking you from South to North (or vice versa obviously!). We completed the Blue Mesa loop (views of Badlands, log falls and pedestal logs) and of course stopped to take photos at The Tepees with their distinct white layers of sandstone. Layered blues, purples and grays are created by iron, carbon, manganese, and other minerals and stand in cone-shaped formations. The cap of the Tepees is clay; dark layers caused by high carbon content; darker reds are iron-stained siltstone. Reddish bases are stained by iron oxide, which is also called hematite.

We enjoyed the Puerco Pueblo which is a partially stabilized 100-room pueblo built about 1250 and may have housed nearly 1,200 people. The short trail through the site gave us great views of multiple petroglyphs and also their solstice sundial – absolutely incredible that they figured out how to accurately mark times of the years to help them with crop planting etc.

At the Northern end of the Park is the Painted Desert, where much is designated Wilderness area. We stopped for a couple of (super windy) pics at Whipple Point before continuing around the the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark at Kachina Point. This is a Pueblo Revival-style structure with cultural history exhibits, renovated by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC: we have come across a lot of their work throughout the National Park system) in the 1930’s. It has extensive views of the Painted Desert and murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie. The detail in the furniture was wonderful; we understand it needs to be preserved but it would have been lovely to sit at the bar and enjoy a drink – the Inn is no longer in service.

We returned to the campground for more playground time before bed. We really crammed a lot of new knowledge into our day today!

Williams: Friday, April 2nd

Ben and Liz got an early start after breakfast to return to the Grand Canyon and to drive out to Desert View and the Watchtower, they also watched the IMAX movie on the way home, which we never got around to seeing. They said they would definitely recommend it – so, another thing for a return trip!

We spent a quiet day at the camper, lots of relaxing and catching up with what needed doing. Dave took the kids to the pool and hot tubs – inside was the place to be, it was chilly!

Ben and Liz took us all out to dinner when they returned – a traditional American diner (with the most enormous servings of pie ever!) on Historic Route 66 in Williams. It was tough knowing this was our last few hours with them, no idea when we’ll be seeing them again, our visits to England are getting fewer and farther between, thank goodness for Skype!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sedona area: Thursday, April 1st

Happy Birthday Chelsea! We had a slow and very relaxed morning, we don’t do much sitting around and chatting at the beginning of the day generally, we’re usually rushing off to get to the next thing. It was wonderful, absolutely brilliant to have Ben and Liz here, it really feels like a holiday week.

It had snowed overnight and there was about a half inch dusting on the ground. The little ones couldn’t wait to get outside and were already red nosed and rosy cheeked before breakfast! They collected snow from all the neighboring picnic tables and built quite a large mountain, topping it off with snow castles made with their sand buckets, they decorated it with the empty beer bottles on the table, so very resourceful!

Before lunch, we left for Montezuma Castle National Monument. Sheltered within a cave high on a limestone cliff overlooking Beaver Creek, this five-story, twenty-room pueblo was once home to prehistoric Sinagua (sin-AH-wah) people. Abandoned after A.D. 1400, this imposing cliff dwelling is now preserved by the National Park Service.

The ‘Castle’ was accessed by ladders when the Sinagua lived here, which must have been incredibly scary. We watched a little re-construction that showed some of the different things they would have done: there was a look-out; hunters; mothers watching their children (think falling off the edge!); corn grinders; weavers – it was quite the community. Until the mid-1900's visitors could actually climb the ladders, they've since been removed.

The Junior Ranger program was a little different, we had one laminated booklet between everyone that just needed various pictures checking off and little questions asked for discussion purposes. It was neat, very family-oriented. We identified an Arizona Sycamore whose bark looks as though it's designed as camouflage: really pretty. We were shown some different items that the Sinagua would have made and used – the woven sandals, both large and tiny, were interesting. They made such great use of everything they found around them and didn’t waste a thing, so tough for us to understand, we have such an easy life today!

From Montezuma, we took the scenic route along Oak Creek Canyon through Sedona. Prior to this week, anyone we met, who had visited this area, told us that Sedona was a ‘must-see’ and that we definitely shouldn’t bypass a visit if we were close enough. It truly is beautiful, nestled in Red Rock Country, it is very aptly named. There were a number of ‘scenic stops’ along the route and we pretty much stopped at all of them. Ben is as avid a photographer as Dave, which makes for a LOT of photographs!

We found a quaint little café: The Secret Garden, in Sedona in which to have a late lunch. We sat outside and made good use of the provided blankets! Thankfully we’d finished eating just as the snow/rain started to come down. We continued our drive home via the beautiful canyon gorges, passing Slide Rock and taking the switchbacks back up to the top of the mountains.

Grand Canyon National Park: Wednesday, March 31st

Back to the Grand Canyon we went (Dave no longer was left wondering why we were planning to come back to the Grand Canyon but moving campgrounds - at the KOA, there was a cabin with bathroom for Ben and Liz to stay in, while we could camp just across the pathway - perfect!). We stopped for the obligatory ‘sign’ picture on the way in. As we entered the Park, there were three or four different groups of elk grazing in the trees by the side of the road – so wonderful to see these amazing animals in the wild. Animals in National Parks tend to be fairly unconcerned by cars; they are not all threatened by people at a distance.

We thought it would be neat to do the rim hike again to Powell Point so we took the bus to Mohave Point. It was certainly quite a few degrees cooler than the couple of days before, we wore far more clothing today and really needed to bundle up, it was pretty windy. We thoroughly enjoyed the hike though, of course Ben took as many pictures as Dave and they both went far closer to the edge than I could tolerate. It had actually dried up quite a bit and was nowhere near as muddy, so we made the hike quite a bit faster this time.

After lunch, we parked up at the Visitor Center and caught the bus out towards Yaki Point. Dave and Jake had been wanting to hike down at least a little way into the Canyon, so today was the perfect opportunity as Ben and Liz were happy to join them. Caitlin also chose to go, while the two little ones were fairly emphatic in their decision to head home! I was a tad apprehensive as we’d heard from the Rangers that the top of Kaibab Trail was still quite icy, but evidently it wasn’t too bad.

The five ‘hikers’ got off the bus at the South Kaibab Trailhead, while Nate, Becca and I stayed on until Yaki Point, from there, we could see the route that the Kaibab Trail would take – there was an ‘ooh-ahh’ point about a mile down, followed by some serious zig-zagging switchbacks. They were quite glad to be above it and not on it, I think!

We drove home and they enjoyed a hot chocolate while I cooked dinner - did I mention how chilly it was?!

When the intrepid crew returned, they said it was a great hike but quite narrow in places. Apparently, I would have been more than nervous had I been present, so it certainly worked out that I wasn’t! They hiked about 3 miles total, down about 1,200 feet and took yet more pictures – they were ready for a big meal by the time they got back!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Slide Rock State Park: Tuesday, March 30th

Dave had taken this whole week off work and we let the kids have their traditional Spring Break so it was wonderful not having to worry about any kind of work for an entire week.

We were happy to be able to catch up with the Bogers' again today. They were staying closer to Phoenix but Slide Rock State Park was a mid-point between us and them. Today looked the best day of the week weather-wise so we’d both happened to plan to visit the slide rock before the temperatures dropped. The kids were so happy to meet the triplets again; they really are the nicest kids, so sweet and kind.

Unfortunately, the ‘slide’ was under far more water than it normally is, thanks to melting snow run-off. It would have been impossible to sit on the bottom and allow the water to push you down – your head would’ve been under! Despite the lack of ‘slide’, the older kids were undeterred (crazy, crazy!). Jake, along with Becka, Kimmie and Gary all went fully under, talk about brain-freeze, the water temperature was frigid, seriously my finger went numb after about 5 seconds of contact with the water! We were glad the sun was shining and they were able to dry out pretty quickly. Nate found a little spot of rocks by the water’s edge that kept him occupied, the girls commandeered Kimmie into some kind of camping/house game
(did I mention that she is unbelievably patient?!), Jake and Gary went off exploring, which left Becka and the adults chatting – it was awesome, beautiful scenery, great company. We had a very enjoyable few hours with them, maybe the next time our paths will cross is in Pennsylvania – we’re holding you to it Bogers Family!

I had been on tender-hooks all day, knowing what was coming later, if only Dave knew why I was itching to get back to the campground! As we passed the KOA en route to the grocery, I checked for a red car: nothing. Karen called while we were in Williams to let me know that plans were running a little late, so I relaxed!

We sat down for a cup of tea when we got home and right around 4pm, there was a knock at the camper door, Dave frowned, I grabbed the camera and let BEN and LIZ in! How cool, a culmination of 7 months in the planning for Dave’s 40th. His face was such a picture of shock, he had tears in his eyes, we knew he was going to be thrilled, we weren’t wrong! Thank you B&L, you are amazing, 6,000 miles to travel is quite a commitment to your friendship. They’d just spent a couple of days in Las Vegas before driving to meet us. They didn’t even know until they got to the airport in Manchester if their flight would even bring them to the States because of the BA strikes, thankfully the strike only delayed them a few hours and they enjoyed being served by pilots, instead of crew!

Dave kept saying for the rest of the night, I can’t believe they’re here, it’s unreal, he was made up for sure and he said he’ll never trust us again, we’re apparently way too sneaky – love it!

I took the kids to the pool for an hour while they caught up and grilled some food for dinner. It was a fantastic evening. We had a fire which we haven’t had for ages, either because the weather's been too bad, or the land’s been too dry. Many places don’t allow fires at all because of the burn threat. The kids were really excited to have s’mores for dinner and Dave and Ben sat by the fire chatting a long time after the kids went to bed. This is happiness.

Hiking the South Rim: Monday, March 29th

We had to be out of the campground by midday but didn’t want the pressure of having to rush back from our hike, so decided to hitch up the camper and park it in the Backcountry Lot – this worked out perfectly and put us just a few minutes walk from the bus to Hermits Rest – the point at the western end of the Canyon that is only accessible via the National Park’s bus system.

We got off at Monument Creek Vista and hiked the two, paved and well-trodden, miles to Pima Point, along the side of the rim. We then caught the bus to the end of the line at Hermits Rest, which actually does not give the greatest views in comparison to many we’d already seen and hoped yet to see. We therefore did not spend much time there and hopped back on the bus which took us to Mohave Point.

Dave knew he wanted to get some pictures from Powell Point so we figured we could do a mile hike along the rim, via Hopi Point, to that marker. We realized that this would be an unpaved little trek but figured that would be fine, as it wasn’t very far. Well, it was indeed unpaved, and thanks to all the snow, some of which was melting, it was extremely wet and muddy in places. It also took us over some trodden paths of snow, under over-hanging rocks and very, very close to the edge of the Canyon. I am sure I have another 100 gray hairs, which sprouted after the stress of keeping them away from the edge and encouraging them to walk, not run! It was a great hike though, despite the worry.

The reward of getting to Powell Point was more than worth it for Dave. The views were indeed amazing and Jake literally dragged him away to run for the bus.

We left the National Park and drove down, just over an hour, to the nearby town of Williams where we would stay for the next few days at the Circle Pines KOA. There was great excitement when the kids discovered there was a heated indoor pool with two hot-tubs and a playground.

Grand Canyon: Sunday, March 28th

We started our day with the scenic drive along Desert View Drive, stopping at Navajo Point before continuing along to the Desert Views Area. After pictures, we went to the top of the Watchtower, which gave us incredible views of this eastern end of the Canyon. There really is no describing the feeling of looking down into the base of the Canyon, it’s incredible. It is about 1 mile straight down to the base at this point, of course to walk down, it’s more like 7 miles with all the switch-backs. The length of the Grand Canyon, based on the Colorado River’s journey through the base of the Canyon is 277 miles, so, quite long!

We stopped for more pictures at Lipan Point and then wandered around the Tusayan Ruins (more snow!). The Pueblan people lived here in the 1100’s – what a barren existence they must’ve had: so incredibly cold along the rim in the winter, scorching hot in the summer. We wondered how they ever came to be here; it’s certainly a trek to get to the top of the rim.

We stopped at Moran Point and Grandview Point on our return journey, enjoying lunch overlooking the Canyon; not a bad view really! We went to look around the Verkamp’s visitor Center in the accommodation area. It had a neat timeline history all around the room.

The kids needed to attend one ranger program to complete their badge requirements. The one recommended as suitable to hold children's interest was the Geo-Glimpse Talk at the Yavapai Observation Station at 3pm. The ranger gave a good explanation of the Canyon’s layers using ‘cake’ as equivalent examples. The older three thought it was neat and understood the fairly simplistic explanation very well, Nate did not really grasp the symbolism of the Colorado River being likened to a knife cutting through cake. He just wondered when we would be sampling this delicious sounding cake! Bless him!

The same Ranger also signed their books and swore them in. There are different cloth badges depending on age and level, the idea being, I’m sure, that you return to gain all the levels – there would certainly be enough to keep us occupied another time, we loved this Park!

Back at the campground while the kids were back playing in the snow, Nate suddenly shouted: ‘deer!’. Dave rushed out with the camera and sure enough, there were two mule deer (they look quite different from the usual deer we see, much larger ears). We also spotted a gopher digging its hole next to our camper; it really seemed to be staring at us as it threw dirt out!

Dave went back to the overlook rim much later in the evening, once the full moon was up and the kids were in bed. He got some amazing pictures without any kind of flash, the moon lit up the Canyon brilliantly; he even managed to get a couple with stars in the background; they’re gorgeous, he really is becoming quite the talent with camera in hand.

From Joshua Tree to the Grand Canyon: Saturday, March 27th

The drive to the Grand Canyon was long, but interesting. As we went through Twentynine Palms, we left civilization and headed out through the desert. We passed the salt fields: field upon field of white, the salt is harvested for use on the roads, most likely shipped northwards to other states. As Nate said, ‘it looks like snow again!’, man, these kids miss the snow!

We also passed the Amboy Volcanic Crater. In the midst of the white, is the huge black crater surrounded for some distance by left over black ash, contrasting dramatically with the salt fields. Apparently, it’s a great hike down into the crater, unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop and hike today – yet another thing to save for another time, another trip!

The town of Amboy sits close by, with the paltry population of 20 – as we went through, it was actually hard to imagine there were even 20 people living there; it truly was in the middle of nowhere – absolutely nothing else around and cell phone reception disappeared miles before – sorry Dad no call this morning!

We went on a small stretch of the historical route 66, which we then partially followed whilst traveling along the I40. Also along side much of the interstate were train tracks and once again, we saw some incredibly long trains, winding their way around the mountains.

It is hard to describe the terrain and landscape as we drive along, today’s views changed constantly from sand, desert, rocks, snow-capped rugged mountains – sometimes green, sometimes barren – the beauty is awe-inspiring. I tend to update the blog on a Saturday when we travel however, sometimes it’s tough as I can’t tear my eyes away from the window! Today we saw a lot of motorhomes and trailers, I guess it must be a busy travel day with people taking their time crossing between California and Arizona – we’re back driving eastwards for a couple of weeks before we head north into Utah.

It was with great excitement that we entered Grand Canyon National Park. Thanks to our National Parks Pass (annual cost: $80), we saved another $25.00. We stopped by the Visitor Center to ask about hiking trails and picked up Junior Ranger books. Nate immediately spotted the snow, which held far more interest for him over the next few days than the actual Canyon!

Trailer Park Village is a huge campground with full hook-ups. In our travels so far, we have never seen as many rental campers in one place; quite a lot of Europeans but many US renters on Spring Break. All the sites are supposedly pull-through but, as attested by the battle scares on the tree next to the site, pulling through was not always successful! Dave bailed on that idea and reversed it in instead – a much better idea. We’d been warned not to leave our sewer hose out and hooked up as the (HUGE) ravens like to poke through them with their beaks apparently! When we hooked up the sewer to use the washing machine, Dave created a ‘raven-resistant sewer hose cover’; he’s very inventive!

It took a while to set everything up but the little ones were perfectly content playing in the snow that was piled up at the side of our site. Nate dove straight in, wearing only shorts, T-shirt and crocs; I eventually managed to persuade him into socks, boots and an added sweater! They were thrilled to have the snow to play in, absolutely no need for any other kind of entertainment.

Before dinner, we went over to the Yavapai Observation Station to get our first views of the Canyon; those incredible first moments of seeing the chasm are indescribable. It was a bit cold but well worth it. Of course, Nate just wanted to get back to the snow – the natural wonder of what was before him was kind of lost on him I think!

After we had everyone settled, we disconnected the water, as advised, due to expected freezing temperatures.

Yucca Valley: Friday, March 26th

We managed 5 days of school this week, I was actually surprised, I had thought we were down to 4 days a week or less, there being so much to see and do, but we managed. As soon as the little ones were finished, they rushed outside to play with their friends. A family had been staying at the campground for the last few days with a daughter the same age as Becca but they were generally gone all day and the kids could only play at night. They were preparing to leave today so were spending the time hanging out and packing up, much to Becca and Nate’s joy.

I took the older two to the library and left them for an hour to do the week’s grocery run (gosh, I miss!), never my favorite time of the week but a necessary evil! When I returned to the library, even though it was 1:15pm, they ‘just needed to finish their chapter’, so I had to sit quietly and wait. On the way home, Jake said, “Oh, actually, I am pretty hungry!” No kidding!

We arranged to meet the Godwin's at Desert Christ Park, which features more than 40 statues and images portraying scenes of Christ’s life and teachings. These remarkable works of steel-reinforced concrete were created by artist sculptor Antone Martin a half-century ago as a world peace shrine. Some of the statues are a little worse for wear but are quite striking, especially the ones on the hillside. The Last Supper bas-relief was wonderful. In half an hour, we managed to instill a smattering of art appreciation and religion into our school day!

From there, we went to the playground where the 4 younger kids happily played while the older two went in the library and the adults chatted about schedules and routes for the coming weeks.

We hadn’t done any geocaches for ages so we checked online and found that there was one in the California Visitor Bureau on the way back to our campground. It was an easy find, so Nate was in control of the GPS. We picked up a travel bug from the cache this time, which is pretty exciting for us, we haven’t seen one before. We have Pack E. Derm (an elephant!), who has been traveling from cache to cache. We needed to register him and then place him in a new location as soon as possible. We’ll be looking for a cache near the Grand Canyon - pretty cool!

Palm Springs Villagefest: Thursday, March 24th

We learned that every Thursday evening in Palm Springs there is a street fair with hundreds of vendors, called Villagefest. Palm Springs is known as a playground for the rich and famous – we saw no-one famous but plenty of people with money! We were laughing that we’d stepped out of the WalMart zone and into the boutique zone! It was neat to see all of the little shops with all their cool, different wares. We enjoyed walking through the market, we loved all of the stalls but of course we couldn’t buy anything: no space, too heavy, not enough money!

We ate at – wait for it – CPK (California Pizza Kitchen)! It’s a chain restaurant but they have the best pear and Gorgonzola pizza with salad greens – it’s SO good and it wouldn’t be right not to eat there while we were actually in California – right?! Anyway, everyone was happy: good food and for the kids, even better desserts – can you go wrong with an M&M Haagan Daas ice cream sundae??

As we drove back home up the valley, the wind was insane! The truck was really getting buffeted, the windmills were working their magic, tumbleweed balls were flying across the road (so cool!) and we drove through a couple of sandstorms – should you use your wipers to try and see through a sand-blasted windscreen?! We were so relieved not to have the camper attached!

Desert Hot Springs: Wednesday, March 24th

We’d arranged to visit Polly and Brian at their campground to celebrate all the birthdays, the plan was to do it yesterday but the pool was in use due to an adult volleyball game – something we’d have been unwise trying to get in the middle of! A lot of these resort-type campgrounds are filled with elderly people who do not appreciate their peace and quiet being disturbed by boisterous children! It’s quite funny and we’ve met a few ‘snowbirds’ who don’t really like the bizarre environment of exclusively 55+ groups. It’s better and more realistic to have a cross-section of ages – doesn’t seem to be a feeling that's shared, RV park-wide, though!

Regardless, we headed to Desert Hot Springs and their campground today instead. The pools were well worth a visit. They are all fed by the hot springs and in fact, have to be cooled to a temperature more acceptable to human skin! The water comes in at a scorching 140 degrees and is cooled for the main pool to 88 degrees – like jumping into a bath. The hot tub was huge and was of course too hot for even my toes!

We stayed for a yummy dinner of pizza and mini birthday cakes for the 4 birthday celebrations this week – Zachary turned 11 on Thursday (and apparently woke up at 3:30am to read his new book – wow, even our bookworm, Jake, wouldn’t get up that early - I don’t think!).

Dave’s 40! Tuesday, March 23rd

We’re not quite sure how we’re getting this old – we don’t feel that we should be at this point just yet; oh well, it’s as old as we feel, we’ll continue to ignore the number. As Dave informed one of the ladies serving breakfast on Saturday, “I’m going to be 21 again!” She sweetly responded to me, “Well, if he’s only 21, you must be barely 18!” What a sweetie, loved her immediately!

The kids were a tad put out that Daddy didn’t ‘get the day off’ on his birthday (and thereby ‘getting them the day off’ too!). Thankfully, as he’s working east coast hours, he was finished early by PDT standards, so we were able to go out and do a few things.

We went to the town of Twentynine Palms, a few miles along the road, to take a tour of the murals. Since 1994, more than 20 historical morals have been painted on the city’s business walls, portraying its cultural heritage and Mojave Desert flora and fauna and inspiring an arts renaissance in the town. They were amazing, each one has a story behind it and interesting history. We saw the majority of them, the kids’ favorite was a trompe l’oeil about an unfinished mural, by an artist who fell asleep, depicting a a bull named Valentine! It was incredible, it really looked as through the scaffolding and bull were standing in front of the wall – the kids jumped out to go and touch it – until they got up really close, they didn’t believe us that it was only a painting!

One of my favorites was ‘The Sun Rises Mural’: a stunning desert landscape, featuring a colorfully illuminated pre-dawn sky, is a glorious scene depicting a panorama of three stages of sunrise at three historical Easter sunrise services from 1930 to present in Twentynine Palms. The 14-foot by 140-foot mural was painted by Los Angeles artist Richard Wyatt.

There is obviously a huge military presence in the town, thanks to the base which spans the whole valley. For this reason, there were an unusually large number of barber shops – ‘we specialize in military haircuts’, tattoo parlors – at least 5 on one street, and tailors - 'military sewing a specialty'!

On our way back to Yucca Valley, we stopped at Joshua Tree National Park’s Rattlesnake Canyon. We saw a couple of roadrunners and lizards, climbed on some of the rocks and checked out a few of the climbers, this area is a mecca for climbers. The campground (no hook-ups) was packed; we realized we’d hit Spring Break again – lots of kids around.

Caitlin’s cake

A day late but that was OK…. She was happy to be feeling better and able to enjoy the cake I made. She and Jake decorated it with oodles and oodles of chocolate icing. There was a slight dip in the middle, however looking at the finished wonder, you would never have realized – there was about an inch of gooey chocolate in the center!

Joshua Tree National Park: Sunday, March 21st

Dave took the other three with him to spend the day with the Godwin's at Joshua Tree National Park. We were camping about 10 minutes from one of the Park entrances (Joshua Tree Visitor Center), so it made sense to meet at the Visitor Center there, quite early by our weekend standards!

They spent some time climbing over the rocks in Rattlesnake Canyon, much to Dave’s disappointment though, they did not see any rattlesnakes. I found this to be rather unsurprising given the less than stealth-like footsteps of 5 children! They also drove out to Keys View to get incredible views of the Park, as well as the cities below: Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, where the Godwin’s were staying. From this vantage point, they could also clearly make out the San Andreas Fault line, which crosses between the two cities. It’s quite interesting to spot, as water flows up through the earth to provide sustenance for plant life, giving a random green line of trees and bushes in the middle of the desert-like conditions.

After that they hiked the Jumbo Rocks loop trail, which took them up to the famous Skull Rock. They weren’t sure if they’d easily be able to spot it but once they saw it, they realized there was no mistaking it! Any trail, which involves climbing rocks, is a hit as far as the kids are concerned.

After a stop to look at the Barker Dam area and discovering that the little ones were not in the mood for any more hikes, they all drove back to our camper. Thankfully Caitlin was feeling quite a bit better so was able to mingle a bit with the kids, who still had plenty of energy left to run around and play tag – amazing how that happens! They did however crash a couple of hours later – the wonders of exercise and fresh air.

Playing catch-up

Well, as you can imagine, this busy life-on-the-road isn't very conducive for hours in front of the computer. I really wanted to add photos to each blog post but it isn't working very well, particularly this week. For some reason, the laptop can't 'see' the main computer where the photos are stored, now things may improve but in the meantime, and because I don't want to get too far behind, I will add the posts and pics will hopefully follow....

Caitlin’s birthday: she’s NINE!

Poor Caitlin, it just isn’t fair to be sick on your birthday. Her temperature the previous day was 102, it had dropped to around 100 but she was still suffering. She managed to open her presents with a big smile but ate very little all day. It seemed quite cruel to offer her a lunch of toast and water, but it was for the best, better to get better!

On the plus side, she got to stay at home all day in a house of peace and quiet with me. Her favorite gifts: books, American Girl doll clothes, an etcha-sketch, markers, more Littlest Pet Shop, Crayola wii game. I think she actually enjoyed her day of not having to do anything at all, she spent a lot of time relaxing and reading.

Surprisingly the census workers also came to the campground. We had assumed that this year we would not be counted as part of the US census but apparently we were wrong. Our living accommodation will be noted as the camper and I guess our state of residence will be California, even though, by April 1st, we’ll be back in Arizona!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

From San Diego to Yucca Valley: Saturday, March 20th

Knowing that our journey today was only 3 hours, we stayed for breakfast at the campground, which the Lion’s Club provides once a month for a small cost. As Dad has been a loyal member of his Letchworth Lions Club for many, many years, it only seemed right that we should give our support to this one. They were all lovely and gave us a good breakfast that sustained us (with a few midday snacks) until dinnertime – perfect!

…and we’re entering the land of windmills! If this brings to mind pretty little windmills in Holland, nix that thought, I am talking about the tall windmills with 3 long ‘sails’ that, powered by the wind, provide electricity, harnessing the naturally occurring forces of nature; quite a spectacular sight. (On edit: thanks Marlene - they're wind turbine 'farms'!) As we passed them, they were going around but not nearly as much as we’d see them flying later in the week when we passed them again, thankfully without the camper in tow!

We arrived at Yucca Valley RV Park in plenty of time to set up, which is always nice but usually means a good hour of cleaning. I have to say though that I’m much happier cleaning the camper than I am my house! The camper gives a much faster sense of achievement and doesn’t take very long to vacuum or wash floors, especially as we recently picked up a vacuum cleaner on sale which does a much better job of actually picking up the dust than the the dustbuster type thing we were using – just another thing to find space for though!

Jackie and Paul are new managers at this park and were so wonderful to us throughout the week. The campground is pretty small, only around 20 sites, but is very well-maintained and clean. They gave us great information on everything in the area, made good suggestions of things we might want to do and places we should go while we were staying here. Despite the fact that the campground is right off a busy road, the traffic noise wasn’t horrible at night and its proximity to the National Park more than made up for that.

Monday, April 5, 2010

San Diego Zoo: Friday, March 19th

I was very torn as to whether we should spend the money visiting the zoo but was persuaded after reading about it online: it is the world-famous zoo after all! We saw some awesome animals throughout the day. Jake loved our first stop – the reptile house; he’s always been fascinated by snakes and there were many of them, one of them 12’ long! We took our time meandering through all of these reptiles as Dave was having a work meeting. He met back up with us in the Discovery Playground (which was well hidden but the kids had no trouble locating it – playgrounds must have some kind of child-only locate beacon!).

To get across the zoo and see some of the animals from above, we took the SkyFari Aerial Tram (Jake, Caitlin and I were assigned tram #11, which we thought was apt for this special day!), which gave us great views of the gorillas. We were able to catch a glimpse of the polar bears – their big exhibit isn’t opening until next week so strictly speaking, they’re not on display at the moment. On the way to the pandas, we passed the zebras and MR. Zebra was clearly in quite an amorous mood. Caitlin was particularly alarmed/interested to know what on earth that really long thing hanging down underneath him was: the zoo, so educational in many, many ways!

We had a short wait for the pandas but were treated to a wondrous display. The 4 year old female is apparently in heat so was a bit antsy, she was pacing about her enclosure. On the other side was the 7 month old baby panda, asleep in his hammock of recycled seat belts, while his mother sat quietly by. Pandas are solitary animals and don’t really need lots of interaction. There are 5 in the zoo but typically only 2 are out at a time. Due to the fact that the baby is such an attraction at the moment though, he is out most days with his mother.

We walked over to the hippos and managed to catch them mid-lovin’: “Mummy, why is the male hippo on top of the female?” Oh boy, spring is in the air!

By using the complex system of steps and elevators, we made our way over towards the elephants, passing the lions, jaguars and camels (including a 10-day old camel), among others. The elephants were incredible, their enclosure is huge and has been set up to encourage them to use their trunks to stretch up for food etc. We were lucky enough to find seats outside to eat lunch, looking at their enclosure, which was so cool.

We enjoyed watching the giraffes and rhinos eating their lunches and then caught the tour bus to take us closer to the gorilla area. There are a number of ways to get around the zoo but their map is incredibly difficult to follow! We came across some animals quite by accident, however, overall I think we did manage to see everything.

As we were walking, we caught the end of the cheetah show. Typically cheetahs do not enjoying being around other animals or people, however to assist with this in captivity, this cheetah was befriended by a dog from birth. The two were born around the same time, eat together, sleep together, play together and are apparently inseparable best friends. With the help from the dog, the cheetah is able to cope with people and can walk on a leash. We also watched the seal show, towards the end of the show, a wolf came out. The wolf has been similarly befriended by a dog and they spend all of their time together in captivity.

The koalas were especially adorable. Once again, we were lucky to see a mother and baby as they were just being returned to their patch of eucalyptus leaves by a zookeeper; all of the others had their heads turned away and were sleeping. The baby was adorable, stayed clinging to its mother’s back as she munched on leaves, while it also tried to reach the leaves without releasing its hold, it was quite precarious! Eventually it crawled around to the front of its mum, to nurse.

As it neared closing time, Dave said we should stop by and admire the pandas once more. There was hardly anyone there at this point and we were able to just stand and watch them, without being ‘encouraged’ to move along. The baby was still hanging out in his hammock but did wriggle around a bit, yawn, open his eyes and turn over, which clearly caused great excitement among those of us watching. The Mama ambled over to grab some bamboo and proceeded to plop down in front of us and munch on her snack while staring at us all – we were very glad we’d returned! The kids were also able to chat with the zookeeper who was quietly giving commentary about the pandas. As always, they asked some great questions and learned a lot; she was very happy to chat with them and answer their queries, which we appreciated.

We finished the day with a big ice cream and headed home for bed – long day!

Click HERE for oodles more pictures!

Jake’s birthday: he’s ELEVEN!

How did we get to this point?! I can still vividly remember his birth day, he came right on his due date and has been pretty punctual ever since! His top gifts were: wave board, mp3 player, DS games, lego and rubix cube.

I knew that it’d be unlikely we’d get back in time that evening to celebrate with cake, so suggested that we have his cake for breakfast. Clearly, this was met with a resounding ‘yes!’ I’m pretty sure everyone enjoyed their chocolate cake and banana breakfast – gave them some extra energy for walking around the zoo all day.

Mission Bay: Thursday, March 18th

Mona and her family finally made it to San Diego after being stranded in Yuma for a week. They weren’t staying for long though, so we needed to meet up with them as soon as we could, before they left the area. We figured just playing outside would entertain the children so we met by their campground in Mission Bay. After a couple of hours of running around and playing ‘capture the flag’ and the chance for Caitlin to walk one of their three dogs, we decided to go out for dinner with them. We ate at a great location: Souplantation – we’d never heard of this chain but it was perfect for us, it catered to everyone’s culinary choices AND it was buffet-style – can any kind of place be better for Jake? Needless to say, I’m quite sure too many desserts were consumed, particularly as the four older children were on their own table!

I’m not sure if we’ll manage to meet up with the family again, hope so, but they’re heading north a lot faster than we’ll be getting there.