Monday, August 24, 2015

Camping Champs

Because I'm always doing this kind of thing to myself, back in May, I booked 3 nights of camping for 30 hours after returning home from the road trip.  It was just at Birch Bay, so very close to civilization and close to home in an emergency.  It was just the kids and me but Andrew came down to help us set up       .  I'd planned this trip with Tammy and her family who we know through Scouts and it was lots of fun. 

The kids rode bikes and scouters around and around the campground. We looked for shells on the beach and roasted marshmallows on Tammy's propane fire pit.  There is a total wood fire ban right now and I even read than Winthrop has been evacuated due to fires. So glad we went there earlier this summer. 

Alice and our camp nachos 

Sachs learning how to whittle 

I do think it is now official that I am not a hard core camper. We made due but by the third day I was just exhausted and we stayed until after dinner but packed up and I slept in my own bed. And until about noon the next day. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

National Park Tour Final Leg

Day 11

We left St George, Utah and headed up to Great Basin National Park in North eastern Nevada.  Great Basin is known for the Lehman Caves, Bristlecone Trees and its extreme remoteness. It is one of the few official dark sky locations left in the lower 48 states. When we got there, the cave tours were sold out for the day so we skipped those. The Bristlecone trees were a 2 mile (4 round trip) at 10,000+ feet, up a mountain. So we skipped those too. We did take a nature walk through a beautiful forest at the top of the mountain where you are supposed to be able to marvel at the sounds of true nature, undisturbed by human noise pollution.  This would have been great except the kids didn't really get that memo. The whole trip, I was waiting for them to be awed into stunned silence. That never happened. Sacha and Alice have lots to say about everything. 

I had reserved a room at the only hotel within 80 miles of the park, which looked kind of sketchy from the website but the reviews weren't too bad. But apparently I booked it when it was just me and the kids going on the trip because the rooms only had one queen or two twins. No double rooms. So we decided to press on to Ely, NV and I was disappointed that we would miss all three special things about this park because it would be too far back to drive back to see the dark skies. 

The hotel we found in Ely was excellent, called the Prospector. I wish it was closer to home because it was clean, comfortable and cheap. We ended up staying in a pet friendly room and it was so cute. They even had dog bones ready for doggy guests (and lollipops for their human guests). We had dinner in their attached Mexican restaurant where Sacha declared that he loves Salsa! 

The kids and Andrew went to lie down and watch a movie in the room and I though I would play some slot machines for a bit on our last day in Nevada. I ended up winning $200!! Very cool. 

At 11 o clock at night, I woke up everyone and we dragged the kids into the car and drove to a state park about 20 miles out of town. I'm sure I have before but it is the first time I remember being able to see the Milky Way with my bare eyes. It was also the final night of the Perseid Meteor shower and a new moon night. So we saw lots of shooting stars. It was spectacular. 

I even caught one of the meteors in this picture. 

Day 12

We started the morning hunting for garnets on Garnet Hill just out of Ely. We found a couple good ones and brought home a few rocks that need chisseling. Alice was into it but Sacha kept asking how long we had to keep doing this. 

Our quickest route home was through southern Idado, which is not my favourite drive. So when Apple maps told us to turn into a dirt road (in the middle of nowhere), I wasn't too sad to reroute through south east Oregon instead. Turns out, south east Oregon is pretty remote. We'd go hours before seeing a town with a name. I think there was an hour stretch where we didn't have slight bend in the road.  We made it to Bend, OR where we had planned on stopping for the night but we hadn't planned on the whole state also being in Bend that weekend and all the hotels were sold out or $400 per night. Apparently there was a brewfest on.  We ended up driving until 12am and spending the night just south of Portland. 

Long day!
Tired kids!

Day 13

It was a long day on Saturday. 12 and a half hours of driving but it made Sunday more pleasant.  We spent the morning at voodoo donuts and Powell books. We spent at least an hour there and never left the kids section.  I could have spent hours more (and many more dollars)  I love Powell Books!  

There were a lot of people on the road (probably all going home from Bend). We stopped for an early dinner at a Creole restaurant in Everett. I tried fried green tomatoes for the first time. They were really good. We made it home by 8:30pm and crashed. 

This was such an excellent trip.  I'm looking forward to doing a similar trip in a couple years.  And visiting the close National  Parks on long weekends throughout the year, we've already more than covered the cost for our annual pass but I want to make good use of it. Cascade NP, Mt. Rainer NP, Olympic NP and Crater Lake NP are all close enough for weekend trips. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

NPT Day 10

After Vegas, we were really tired. My back was sore, we got home after midnight. We know we will be back to this area because there is so much to see and do so we thought we would sleep in and have another day by the pool. Until at 6:45am, Andrew was woken up (I totally slept through) by Sacha yelling "Alice...Alice!!" And banging on a door like a police raid. But not our door. He wanted to get something out of the car, so he'd piled a chair over and unlatched the deadbolt, gone down to the car and then forgot which floor we were on.  Not that he is allowed to leave the room by himself but he had not taken a key for the car or the room to get back in. Poor couple on the second floor getting a rude, early wake up call. 

So with the early bit of excitement, we got in the car and drove to Zion National Park.  Zion is a narrow canyon that is so popular in the Summer, the park fills up. Parking lots at the visitor centre are full by 10am and from there you have to take shuttles through the park. The first thing we did was taw the shutte all the way to the end of the line, the temple of Sinawava. From there we hiked the river walk to the start of the Narrows. It's a nice hike, not too long, most in the shade in the morning and the Narrows at the end are very cool. It would be fun to go back and go further through them but we were not as prepared as we needed to be and the risk of flash flooding was too high for me to wat to risk it with the kids. 

In the hike, we met a really nice family from LA and we hiked the whole way back with them and chatted on the shuttle to Zion Lodge where we parted ways. We got some lunch and worked on the Junior Ranger program. One of the activities was to pick up 5 pieces of litter and recycle them. So we did that and then headed to the Human History Museum to watch a ranger program about animals in the desert. 

The kids swore their junior ranger oaths and got their badges. And we headed back to the car, which was reading 42.5 degrees on its thermostat. So hot!  We drove up to the east entrance and through the Zion tunnel that is a mile long through the sandstone cliffs with cut out windows to see the view as you drive. It didn't take too long to find the bighorn sheep on the other side, which is what we were looking for at the eastern side of the park. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

NPT Continued

We've been in a home base now for 5 days in St. George, Utah. On the way here we stopped at the Grand Canyon North Rim. The approach was completely different than anything I would have expected. Grassy meadows and thick forest right up to the rim.  We saw many deer. 

We stuck mainly to the lodge which had amazing views and a ranger talk about Brighty of the Grand Canyon. We had that book when I was little but had no idea it was  based on a true story.  Andrew did a couple hikes right to the rim while I stayed with the kids. We had lunch in the lodge with a view of the whole canyon. 

We arrived in St George and had two well earned rest days by the pool. The temperatures here are close to 40• everyday. 

On Wednesday, we decided to continue to switch gears from National Parks and nature in general and popped over to Las Vegas for the day.  We had breakfast at the Bacchinal buffet at Caesar's Palace. It was decadent. I'm not sure that the kids really got their money's worth but that's ok. We waddled out of there and walked down the Strip (at high noon with little kids, not our smartest move) but we made it to the Luxor and saw the Titanic exhibit. We spent a large portion of the afternoon in the Fun Dungeon of the Excalibur, teaching the kids to gamble. In the evening, we saw Tournament of Kings and it was great. Sacha LOVED it! He happily ate the dragon's blood soup and pulled chicken off its bones with his fingers. It was a little intense for Alice. I don't know that she fully understood that it is a show. Plus there are lots of fireworks and explosions and intense sword fights. I don't know how they get the horses to be ok with it all.

After the show, we sprang for a cab and went to the Flamingo to watch flamingos. We tried to watch the Bellagio fountain but after waiting for 1/2 hour in a crowd in 36 degree heat we gave up and walked back to the car.  Alice was asleep before we left the parking garage and Sacha followed shortly after.  We did drive up to Fremont Steet just to check it out quickly. It was my first time there and we will definitely be back. It was more fun than I thought it would be. 

Alice being grumpy waiting for the show to start. 

Sacha and his plastic dagger very excited for the show. 

Old Vegas

Monday, August 10, 2015

NPT Day 6

I didn't have an excellent sleep in the tent but not because it was uncomfortable but because I was giddy like Christmas.  Despite being up most of the night, I fell asleep and slept through sunrise.  Andrew got up though so we've got some pics. 

We started the day with breakfast at Moab Diner, which I wish was White Rock dinner, we'd go every weekend (and I'm not even a big fan of breakfast out). Then we checked out Arches NP. The weather had cleared up just like we hoped. Arches is a big park and we will have to go back again because we only had three hours designated to checking it out before we had to press on. But we did get to see Balancing Rock, Double Arch, Delicate Arch and Andrew and Alice hiked up to Turret Arch and the North Window. Alice loved the Arches. It was a bit too hot for Sacha. It was only 29 degrees but very humid because of the rain the day before. 

Parade of Elephants (left) Double Arch (right centre).   We will be back to Moab for sure

We drove south through the Navajo nation and stopped at  Four Corners. Which was a bit of a gong show and bad planning on my part. I thought we could hit Monument Valley and Four Corners with a slight detour but it turns out that they are on to different arms of a fork. And I actually think we chose the wrong arm, despite the fact I can now tick off New Mexico on my States Visited list. 

Four Corners costs $5 per person over 6, cash only with no ATM for 5 miles. We managed to cobble $10 together, telling Sacha to shut his mouth about how old he was and when we went to pay, turns out we only had $9USD.  So we turned around and scoured the car for change and luckily with nickles, dimes and pennies we found our last dollar.  

It's a cool little monument but you have to line up in the hot sun to get about 30 seconds to get a picture on it. Sacha was having none of it. The heat, the line, the having no cash to buy anything at the vendors around the edge. So he was our official photographer, which he liked. I'm not sure the kids really get the concept of states anyway. 

Considering that we missed monument valley to go there and Mesa Verde NP was also close by but we opted to pass so the kids would have time to go swimming at the hotel, I wouldn't go back to Four Corners. 

Towns are pretty sparse in that part of the country and the towns that are around are pretty tiny. There weren't many options where to stop for the night. We were priced out of Page, AZ at about $350 per night. So we decided on Tuba City to the south. We stayed at a hotel on the Hopi Indian Reserve called Moenkopi Legacy Inn and it was fabulous. It was all decorated in the Hopi style and even had a kiva ceremonial room. I had read that they put on educational talks in the evenings but not the night we were there which was disappointing but the kids had fun swimming. 

Saturday, August 08, 2015

NPT Day 5

We started the morning off at Dinosaur National Monument that startles the Utah-Colorodo border. You take an open air shuttle from the visitor centre to the fossil quarry building where they estimate there are 500 individual skeleton fossils all bunched up together. They think there was a flash flood that washed all the dinosaurs down river like a pile of logs. 

After the quarry, the kids completed the junior ranger program, which was less involved than at Yellowstone and received their junior ranger badges. Then we went to see the petroglyphs a ways through the park. They were really cool. 

It was a long haul drive down to Moab, UT but it was through beautiful scenery and the kids were really well behaved. When we arrived, we couldn't believe it but it was raining. In the desert. In August! There are two national parks in Moab and because I was more excited to see Arches, we checked out Canyonlands first, hoping it would be sunny in the morning. Canyonlands is actually a really big park, but a lot of it is back country that needs special permits, so we stuck to the area called Islands in the Sky. It had amazing sweeping views but was not great for my very real fear of heights. I was so nervous having the kids there and every time Andrew went to photograph canyons, I made him give me the car keys, just in case.  It was kind of good that it was rainy though because there weren't many people there, except at Mesa Arch that we hiked up to. 

Moab is kind of a hub for outdoor activity in the area, which is surrounded by a whole lot of nothing for miles and miles. Hotel prices tend to reflect this, and instead of splurging on a travellodge, we booked a night a Moab Under Canvas, a glamping site right at the entrance to Canyonlands. It was so much fun. When you first arrive they drive you and your to your tent/tepee in a golf cart that goes really fast. Apparently the more excited you are to be in the cart, the faster it goes, and the kids were over the moon excited so we were going really fast. The way it works is that parents get a safari tent with a proper bed and the kids get their own tepee with camp cots and sleeping bags. 

It cleared up and stopped raining and the setting was beautiful. They lit a big bon fire and we hung out and made s'mores with a really nice family from Minneapolis. 
I was a bit nervous that the kids would be scared in their own tepee and then scared in the dark trying to get into ours but in the end they were totally fine.  I would totally recommend glamping. It was so much fun. 

Friday, August 07, 2015

NPT Day 4

We We headed south through Yellowstone and pulled into Old Faithful, only having to wait about 5 minutes for it to erupt. Alice's favourite part of the park were the geysers, so she was blown away.  She kept saying, "again, again!" after it was over but we didn't have time to hang around to wait for it to erupt again. 

We continued south through Grand Teton NP which is just amazingly beautiful. The rains stopped and the clouds parted as we drove through the mountain meadows with the huge Teton mountain range to the west. We stamped our a National Park Passport at the visitor centre and kept heading south through Jackson, where we stopped for lunch. 

I love Wyoming, I think it might be my most favourite state. I thought I saw some wild horses just south of Jackson which prompted me to look up exactly where wild horses hang out. I stumble across a wild horse loop that was nearly en route for us, so as we approached Rock Springs, we veered off the highway and onto a 23 mile gravel road that crossed over a scenic bluff. We did see the herd but they were pretty far off in the distance (the ones I saw, that may have been pet horses in Jackson, were much closer) but we also saw a herd of pronghorns and many jackrabbits. 

As we crossed over the Utah border, we drove through Fiery Gorge. It has interesting dinosaur facts all along the side of the road which were fun to read and the rocks started getting redder. The open range cattle grazing made driving though the state park interesting. One brown cow in particular looked like it was going to bolt onto the road right in front of us as it stated us down. 

Our final stop for the night was Vernal, Utah. It is a really pretty town. The streets are lined with huge overflowing flower planters full of petunias. We also found an amazing deal on a brand new hotel that I would have given rave reviews for even if it cost $100 more per night than it did. Definitely a step up from where we stayed in Yellowstone. 

National Park Tour 2015

Day 1

We got off on a later start to our road trip than I had planed because I had planned to leave on the 3rd but for some reason, I thought that was a Tuesday. I realized the third was Monday on Monday at 7am.  So, by noon, we were packed up and on the road. 

I hardly even count the first stretch to Spokane any more, we've driven that route so many times now and just try to get through it as fast as possible. We did stop for s really nice dinner in a restaurant that was a converted Church in Ellensburg, WA and stayed the night in Ceour D'Alene, ID. 

Day 2

Our first stop was in Missoula, MT at the Carousel and dragon playground. Alice rode it at least 4 times trying out all the options, the dragon, horses and a chariot. Sacha was more cautious, first in the chariot, then on a stationary horse and finally on one that went up and down.  This is one of the stops we made when Sacha and Mum and I went on our big trip in 2011. 

We made it to Yellowstone at sunset and saw a heard of pronghorns at the Roosevelt gate, got out and ran all around the Mammoth Hot Springs and saw some elk as well. They were work on the road so we didn't pull into West Yellowstone until well after dark. 

I'd chosen frugality over comfort when picking our hotel in Yellowstone. Our hotel still advertised the fact that it had color tvs. It was fine though, especially if you like wood paneling.

Day 3 

We headed into the park in the morning and straight to the Junior Ranger station in Madison.  They had plaster casts of all kinds of animal tracks and furs and antlers to touch. We picked up our Junior Ranger books and the kids got started on them right away. They both immediately picked out 10 things from the gift shop too but convinced them to wait until later in the day. 

We did the walk around the Fountain Paint Pot Geysers which were every steamy because it was lightly spitting with rain.  When were were about 500m away from the car, the skies opened up and a real thunder and lightening storm hit. So we raced back and decided to head to the drier East Side of the park. 

This picture is of Dragon's Breath Cave at the Mud Volcano stop.  As we drove through the Hayden Valley, there was a line of cars stretching for miles. We were thinking it was a roadwork stop, there were other rumours of a bad car accident up ahead. I got out with the kids and we walked at least a kilometre up ahead so we weren't couped up in the car for an hour straight. That was pretty cool. We mostly just stuck to the road but there was a grassy bluff area we climbed all over too as we waited for Andrew and our car to catch up with us. In the end, it was a herd of Bison on the road that caused the huge back up. We got some good pictures when it was our turn to pass by. 

We stopped at the Canyon Visitor centre and watched the All About Antlers and Horns presentation and the kids completed their program and are now officially Junior Rangers. They each earned their Geyser badges which they get to sew onto their campfire blankets (for scouts). They were both pretty excited to be junior Rangers. 

Probably the highlight of the whole day, happened just passed the Roosevelt lodge, with in 5 miles of each other we saw a Fox and then a mother bear with two babies, all right next to us! It was so cool! I've got pictures of both but on my camera, not on my phone. 

With my road trip posts, I always like to write about the day before where we actually are and since the first day barely counts and we spent two nights at Yellowstobe, this was a pretty mammoth post. But it was kind of on purpose too.