Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. John Muir
I generally try really hard to avoid the cliche of telling people how busy my life is, but this school year has been pretty crazy for us. Between Noel breaking his arm and me moonlighting as a middle school teacher (more on that later) life has been pretty bananas. Still, it was necessary, vital really, that we find time to squeeze in one last camping trip this year. Despite time constraints and the forecast predicting chilly temperatures we marched on with our plans, loading up the car with our gear and locking the door on our catastrophe of a house.
After setting up camp, Noel and I debated whether he should go to the effort of setting up an awning since there was only a 20% chance of light rain. Fortunately, we opted to go to the effort because 15 minutes later it started raining, then sleeting, and finally snowing. Morale was a little low as we huddled under the tarp cooking our hotdogs over our stove. (At one point Ellen scream-cried, “We should NEVER go camping in the snow! We should stay home!”) We knew it would be even more miserable to take the tent down though, so we turned in early and stayed warm and cozy until morning. When we woke up, everything was covered in a layer of snow that contrasted beautifully with the fall leaves.
Usually, morning is our roughest part of camping where the kids whine incessantly about how it’s cold and they’re hungry, but even though this was probably the most miserable conditions we’ve camped in (excluding Noel who has gone on several Klondikes), the kids loved it. They threw snowballs and drank hot chocolate and eventually did return to the tent to rewarm themselves, but with minimal crying. We then went on a hike (10 miles according to Cooper, 1.5 according to my GPS watch) and saw some of the most gorgeous fall colors. Up to this point, our experience had been fairly solitary (we were the only people at the campground and only ran into a few people while hiking), but as we headed back to pack up camp we ran into throngs of people. Then when we emerged from the campground we were met with a sea of cars that literally wound down the mountain for miles. (Luckily, the sea only flowed up the mountain so getting home was a breeze.) At that point we definitely felt like our hardcore camping had paid off.
At the beginning of the year we got caught up in the spirit of resolutions and decided we were going to do our first triathlon. After much thought, we decided we would do our triathlon in UT so we could visit family, have plenty of reliable babysitters, and choose from a variety of race choices that weren’t on Sunday. Eventually, we decided on a sprint triathlon in our old home, Logan, UT. It was a well thought out plan, at that moment. Then things changed as often happen in life. My mom got paid for a photo job with a free time share in Arizona the week of our triathlon. So we made a new plan that involved a lot of driving, but would hopefully be fun. Then we ended up making a quick trip to Utah and back just a week before because my grandfather wasn’t well. There was some worry about whether any of the plans we’d made would even be possible, but since you just never know what’s going to happen we moved forward with our plans knowing it was possible we might have to scrap them at the last minute. (And we would have without a second thought had he passed during that time.) During the course of the trip, we drove a little over 2700 miles through four states. (Note, this does not include the mileage driven on the previous UT trip. We joke that we’re just trying to get as much out of our car in case we decide to let VW buy it back.)
Our first leg of the trip was to New Mexico where we almost hit a coyote, perfected a recipe for dark chocolate raspberry cobbler (hopefully coming to the cooking blog soon), and camped in the rain. (This is where the kind stranger mentioned in this post built me a fire.) We’d initially planned to see some things in New Mexico, but we were short on time and there were tons of people because it was the fourth of July weekend, so we just plowed on with our driving and decided we’ll have to come back another time.
After three days Noel and I said goodbye to the kids and my parents and drove all day till we got to my grandpa’s house in Bountiful, UT. The next day we worked our way up the Wasatch front saying hello to family and friends and ended the day with a dinner date in Logan, UT at second dam. (Oh, the nostalgia!) The next morning, was race day. We ran into a few more college friends and finally put our skills to the test. We didn’t really have any goals other than just finishing in a way we felt proud of, but we both ended up placing in our age groups. (We don’t think this would have happened at a tri in CO, people seem to be insanely fit here.) Then it was time to pack up again. We had lunch in Salt Lake with Vanessa Joy and Chris (Noel’s sister and her husband) and drove down to Moab where we met my parents and the kids.
When we’d looked at places to stay for that night we checked the Devil’s Garden Campground at Arches and they had exactly one spot the night we wanted it. We didn’t expect there to be any availability (it’s one of those competitive campgrounds that fills up 6 months in advance) so we’re pretty sure it was meant to be. The campsite was possibly my favorite campsite of all time. There was plenty of red rock for the kids to climb and gorgeous views. Everyone was pretty tired so we just made frozen pizza in the dutch oven, but watched the most amazing sunset from our campsite. In the morning, we packed up and hiked Delicate Arch. We haven’t hiked Delicate Arch since before we had kids, so it was about time. It was super windy so we didn’t stay long, but we were glad to finally introduce our children to such an iconic landscape. Then it was time for the final leg of our journey. We hugged my parents goodbye and drove the final 300+ miles home. It was another jam packed adventure, but it seems to be the way we do them best.
I have a feeling last Friday morning is going to go into my Worst Parenting Moments Hall of Fame. It all started when I went to drop the kids off at the rec center daycare so I could swim some laps. Ellen was in a mood and didn’t want to wear the shirts they make all the kids wear. I finally convinced her to just hold the shirt which seemed like a fine compromise to me, but wasn’t found acceptable by the daycare. After basically wrestling her into the t-shirt I tried to leave, but she ran after me screaming and tackled me around the legs. For 30 minutes I reasoned, begged, bribed, and threatened while other parents and children came and went without incident, but every time I tried to break away I got chased down again. (I would like to note that no one made any attempts to try and keep her there.) Finally, one of the workers told me, “I just don’t think it’s going to work today.”
Before I continue, allow me to pause and say that I have never considered myself to be a terribly patient person, which has led me to be completely surprised and fairly impressed with the level of patience I’ve displayed, on average, during my parenting career. My kid gets sick and I have to cancel my plans with a friend? I get over it after some initial annoyance. My kid throws a tantrum at the grocery store? Hardly phases me. My kid wipes blueberries all over the white bathroom towels? I sigh and wash them with some oxiclean. But my kids get between me and my workout,the thing that makes most of my patience possible? I completely unravel.
After the worker read the writing on the wall that I desperately was refusing to see, I called to Cooper that we were leaving. He protested because he didn’t get to play, while I wrestled the shirts over their heads and threw them violently into the dirty shirt hamper. One of the workers meekly offered that I “just need to keep trying another time.” And with razor sharp sarcasm, I scoffed, “Right” and glared at her. Then I yanked my kids out of the room forcefully by their wrists. After slamming all the car doors, we drove home, enshrouded in a cloud of screaming (mostly me) and by the time we pulled into the garage everyone was sobbing. It took 10 minutes of sweating in the sweltering garage and a concerned phone call from Noel before I felt ready to get everyone into the house and try to face the wreckage. The rest of the day was busy, which was good, but my mind kept wandering back to how I felt like an abysmal failure not only as a mother, but a human being.
We had a mini backpacking trip planned for that night. Noel came home from work excited and optimistic, while I was morose and prepared for the worst. When we hit the trail I still was feeling down and pondering wether I needed to seek professional help. As we hiked those thoughts slowly began to recede. The kid that wouldn’t willingly stay at a place with countless toys, friends, and a playground, hiked without hardly a complaint and gave no indication that she even remembered me unleashing my rage earlier that day. She took my hand and chatted away about butterflies and how fast she could run. Once at camp, the solitude soothed my insecurities and as the kids laughed and chased each other through a field of wildflowers I started to think maybe I wasn’t a completely terrible parent. The kids didn’t fight as they explored and even dinner and bedtime went peacefully and with little complaint. By the time the kids were tucked into their sleeping bags and Noel and I were stargazing from the hammock, my outlook on life was much improved. I wasn’t a terrible parent or human being. Yes, I’d had a bad day and I’d handled it poorly, but it wasn’t the end of the world. I didn’t need therapy, I just needed a healthy dose of nature* to refocus me and remind me that life is bigger than one workout and bigger than the daycare. There are pockets of beauty, all around us reminding us that life is actually quite good. This satirical commercial, pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject.
As Nature Rx disclaims, “nature can’t solve everything, it may just help.”
I guess you could say Spring Break started early for Cooper since he didn’t go to school the last three days before the break. There’s a nasty cold that’s been going around and we all caught it. In two weeks we:
Went to our HMO’s Urgent Care twice.
Called the nurse hotline three times.
Visited the doctor’s office three times.
Treated two ear infections.
Learned you can get canker sores on your uvula.
Thankfully we have good insurance. All of the illness and related appointments made it so we weren’t able to leave for our trip as soon as expected. After we’d established that no one had anything life threatening, we decided to still go on the trip, just a day late. (This happened last year too, hopefully this won’t become a trend.) We weren’t really better, but the snowy weather was bumming us out and we figured we might as well be sick somewhere warm.
We left early Saturday morning. Despite the forecast predicting little to no accumulation of snow there was several inches on the ground and we slid through an intersection and into a curb on our way to the interstate. Luckily, the interstate was better plowed, but it still took 90 minutes to go the first 25 miles. (Ski traffic definitely didn’t help.)
As we got farther from home, the skies cleared and our spirits lifted. We stopped at a rest stop/park in Parachute and everyone shed their down coats and enjoyed the sun.
It was a long day of driving, but we made it to Capitol Reef just before dinner time. We were meeting up with the Walker clan and my parents. Hope and Joe were heading out that night so we only got to spend a few hours with them, but it was so nice to see them.
The fruit orchards were in bloom and we had fun singing a couple of rounds of “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree.” Blossoming trees and red rock are some of my favorite things, so this part of the trip did my heart good.
Hope, Joe, and Porter stayed until after dinner and we almost got to a point where Porter wasn’t completely terrified of us. At the very least, he was brave enough to take Cheetos from us.
The next day we went on a little hike with my parents to Hickman Bridge. It was good to get out, but for the first time ever Noel and I found our hiking capabilities to only be as good as the kids.’ Turns out we were more worn out than we thought.
The kids had a blast with my parents and we were all sad to say goodbye to them after a brief picnic. As for us, we headed South to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park to continue our trip. This was our first visit to Capitol Reef and we’re definitely going back to hopefully see more next time.
We set up camp in Escalante and had a delicious dinner of rice, salmon, and asparagus. After roasting some marshmallows, we all took warm showers and went to bed. We all stayed warm and were relatively comfortable, but our sleep was still restless since we were all coughing and sniffling.
The next day, we took the kids to Devil’s Garden in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The kids loved the self-direction we gave them to climb and explore and probably put in more miles than if we’d been on a trail. We played there for quite awhile before the wind picked up and blew sand in everyone’s eyes. We headed back to the State Park and let Ellen take a much needed nap in the car.
Before we left, we knew we needed to check out the petrified wood. I’d read about it on my friend’s travel blog, 51 Cent Adventures, and knew we needed to check it out. The hike (Petrified Forest Trail and Trail of Sleeping Rainbows) was supposedly only 1.75 miles, but it felt much longer. Whether that was because it actually was or because we were kind of rundown, we may never know.
It was cool to see all the petrified trees. Noel said in some ways it was better than the Petrified Forest National Park, mostly because there were lots of small pieces of petrified wood here, whereas at the National Park most anything you can lift has been taken. (In spite of the fact that you aren’t supposed to do that . . .I don’t think it has anything to do with poor management on the National Park’s part, I think just a lot less people have visited the state park.)
That was our last night camping and we were all so ready to go home, eat ice cream, chill, and sleep in our own beds. The second I woke up I started packing up sleeping bags and pads. By the time Noel woke up (he’d moved to the car because he couldn’t stop coughing when he was lying down) I’d packed everything the kids weren’t sleeping on. (We are blessed with sound sleepers.) Generally when we camp we are the last people to leave the campground, but that day we were the first to leave. Before heading home, we stopped at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, UT. When we were first married we would wake up to Utah Public Radio, and at that time Hell’s Backbone Grill was one of their sponsors. Sometimes they would read the menu items and Noel and I would salivate longingly. We really wanted to eat there when we did our backpacking trip back in 2009, but we felt pretty scraggly by the time we were done and not really restaurant appropriate. While our kids are not necessarily restaurant appropriate, really ever, we decided to risk it and gave them a nice long talk about how they needed to behave themselves and not do things like throw fits or plates around. The food was amazing and really ended the trip on a positive note. They’d only been open for the season for a day or two so the staff was getting back into the routine. They were all very welcoming though and when our breakfast took a little longer than expected they more than placated us with some free streusel-topped apple cake. When the breakfast arrived, it was indeed heavenly.
We made it home safely on sunny, clear roads. After eating soup and popsicles, we slept amazingly with all of our humidifiers going. The next day we woke up to a blizzard (18+” by the end of the day!) and were so, so glad we were already home.
In high school I could run a sub six minute mile. In college, I ran two Boston qualifying marathons.* I have a box in my basement full of ribbons, medals, and trophies, but as proud as I am of those accomplishments, the miles I’m proudest of these days are much slower. They’re long lasting miles fueled by patience and full of silliness, lack of focus, and creative endeavors at motivation. They’re the miles I do with my children. These miles require calculated self-control to keep my temper in check when Ellen stops to inspect the millionth rock and an endless resilience against discouragement as senior citizens with trekking poles pass us. In some ways, running fast was easier; holding back can be so much harder than giving it all you’ve got. These miles aren’t always as instantly gratifying. There aren’t any finishing medals or prize drawings at the end. But in the midst of the trudge Cooper will announce “I like hiking!” or Ellen will engage in the most ridiculously hilarious conversation about chipmunks and I’ll get a little taste of parenting flow. When we arrive at our destination and realize that our kids are the youngest to get there on their own two feet I can’t help but puff up with pride. These aren’t even close to being my fastest personal records, but they may be some of my most important ones.
*For the record, current me is slightly flabbergasted by and jealous of those PRs.
When we initially planned this trip months ago, it started out as just a little family road trip, but then more and more fun things came up that got added on. I usually like to come up with a story to share or a thread to follow when talking about our adventures, but there is so much I want to share about the last two weeks. Forgive me for this being a little bit journal-y. I’ve highlighted each day with just one picture, but there’s a big gallery at the end if you’re interested in more.
Day One – Telluride, CO
Our big summer trip began on Father’s Day. We went to church before heading out and Cooper gave Noel the best gift: joining all the kids when they sang a medley of songs about dads. Previously, whenever the kids sing special numbers in church, no matter how much we’ve tried to prep him for it, Cooper would get really tense, refuse to go up on the stage with the other kids, and then burrow his head in the pew the rest of the meeting. This time he went right up with the other kids without a problem. Noel and I both had tears in our eyes to see him take such a big step. The rest of the day was spent driving to Telluride and setting up camp. We had extra fancy tinfoil dinners with fish and asparagus and chocolate cherry cobbler for dessert.
Day Two – Telluride, CO
We had really high expectations for Telluride, maybe too high. The town was really cute, but most of the really cool hikes were beyond the capabilities of some of our crew members. There was a 1/4 mile hike to a waterfall that was recommended as “family friendly” by someone at an info kiosk, but what the hike lacked in distance it made up for in washed out trails with steep slopes. After almost tumbling to our death a couple of times, we turned around. There also seemed to be a bit of a lack of signage in the town, but thanks to our data plans we were able to figure things out like the location of Carhenge (the giant free parking lot). The highlight of Telluride was the free gondola rides and eating Detroit Style Pizza at Brown Dog. (Our neighbor is a co-owner of Blue Pan, the sister restaurant to Brown Dog that just opened here in Denver.) We’ll probably visit Telluride again, but maybe when the kids are able to hike 5+ miles of difficult terrain.
Day Three – Mesa Verde, CO
After packing up in Telluride, we headed straight to Mesa Verde National Park. We got to explore two cliff dwellings (Spruce Tree House on a hike and Cliff Palace on a tour). The cliff dwellings were probably the coolest thing we saw on our trip. Our tour of Cliff Palace ended up being at 5pm, which wasn’t ideal, but despite the heat and it being the time of day the kids really start to be monsters everyone did really well. When we went to purchase our tour tickets the Ranger asked if we thought our kids could climb 10 foot tall ladders. We did our best not to laugh. (The tours are pretty inexpensive by the way, $4/person, and totally worth it.)
Day Four – Natural Bridges, UT
We crossed into Utah and headed to Natural Bridges National Monument. The kids were hot and tired so when we first started out on a hike to Sipapu Bridge everyone was super ornery, but once we got through the first three minutes of whining the kids gave up and decided to enjoy themselves. The trail is slightly technical (it’s steep and you climb three ladders) which was a little scary, but I think made it more exciting for the kids. A lot of the trail was in the shade which was also nice. Ellen hit another meltdown when we got back to the car (she was a wee bit sleep deprived since she was now only sleeping when the sun was down) so we just did overlooks for the rest of the trip. That night we stayed in some quirky cabins in Blanding, UT. It was a nice change of pace to sleep in a bed and have our own bathroom for a night.
Day Five – Canyonlands, Needles District
The last time we went to Canyonlands we took the kids to the Island in the Sky District, so this time we went to the Needles District. We hit up Newspaper rock and then headed into the park. Once again, Ellen was super ornery. She yelled and cried the whole .3 miles of the Roadside Ruin trail. (All the childless people were running the opposite direction). We let her take a nap in the car while we drove the loop to look at some of the landscape and then hiked Cave Springs. The caves were a nice respite from the heat, but we didn’t stay there too long because apparently Cooper hates caves. After having a nice picnic lunch, we headed into Moab to do some much needed laundry and grocery shopping. Somehow, we weren’t the stinkiest people at the laundromat.
Day Six – Moab, UT
The main reason we were in Moab was for a big “Dirty Thirty” bash/cousin reunion with Noel’s side of the family. Overnight a couple of siblings and cousins had arrived, so we all went to breakfast at Jailhouse Cafe. After that, we planned to hike Delicate Arch with the kids, but some plans got changed around and Ellen fell off a picnic table and cut her head. Instead, we hung out at the campsite doctoring her and monitoring her for signs of concussion. While we were doing this, Cooper was messing around in the car, fell out of the trunk and hit his head and got a nasty goose-egg. (Note: We did a lot of semi-dangerous stuff on this trip and hanging out at the campsite is when people got injured.) Morale was low; we were all very hot and annoyed. Everyone else had spent the morning at Mill Creek (or the shoot the chutes as my dad calls them) and we were a little jealous, so after some lunch we headed there ourselves. It was so hot that everyone ended up joining us even though they’d already been there. While we were all sliding down the “natural waterslides” Noel said, “If I were to name this trip I’d call it ‘Chutes and Ladders.'”That night even more family arrived and we had a big dutch oven dinner and Dirty Thirty Mud Cake (AKA Mississippi Mud Cake).
Day Seven – Moab, UT
Once upon a time, a few of the members in our group used to be river guides in Moab and the main reason we’d met up there was so we could all go down the Colorado River. When we went to pick up our boats, the rental company freaked us out about taking the kids down the section of the river we were planning on (the river is really high and fast right now) so our trusty guides refigured the trip so we’d be on a safer part. The part we rafted was so safe it was almost boring. We hopped out halfway down so all the kid-less people could enjoy the exciting stuff (also we had some more traveling to do). We think the rental company may have been a little overly cautious in their recommendations, but better safe than sorry. And really, it was pretty daring of us to take our little people rafting at all. After we had an interesting lunch of mexicones (see the gallery at the end of this post) we hugged everyone and headed to Northern Utah.
Day Eight- Brigham City, UT
The main purpose of the trip to my hometown was to hear the address my brother, Spencer, gave about the two-year-mission he just served for our church in Oregon and my brother, Mitchell, give an address about the two-year-mission he’s about to serve for our church in Belgium and the Netherlands. (As well as spend some quality time with family while we’re all in the same country.) Both brothers gave mature and touching addresses that were followed by a big lunch party at my parents house. We enjoyed multiple flavors of cheesecake and chatting with old and new friends.
Day Nine – Northern Utah
I took Noel to the airport so he could get back to work then spent the day with my sister and her toddler (what?!). We did super fancy things like shop at Target and the DI and chat with my sister-in-law, Danielle, before she flew back East. That evening I swung by my grandparents to say hello and pick up my brother, Spencer, who had helped them make it to a doctor’s appointment. The kids stayed with my parents and a had a grand time with Grandma Cindy and Grandpa Wayne. Cooper drew the picture above while I was gone. It’s Sully and Mike from Monster’s Inc. For the longest time drawing has been such a frustration to him. The only thing he would draw was the same stick figure. (I literally have 100 of them from preschool.) When he’d try to draw anything else he’d get mad that he couldn’t draw what he wanted and would yell and surround himself with piles of crumpled starts of drawings. In the last few weeks he’s suddenly blossomed in this area.
Day Ten – Brigham City, UT
During the day, my dad rigged up a waterslide in the backyard. It was pretty warm so we all joined in the fun. That night we went to the Brigham City LDS temple with all of my siblings, this was one of the things I was really looking forward to. What made it even more special is that we (along with my parents, aunts, uncle, and grandfather) were able to perform some temple sealings for my grandmother, her parents, and many other ancestors. Getting all the paperwork and foundational ordinances completed is something several of us had been working on for months, so this was a much anticipated trip. Sometimes it’s hard to explain how we “do work for the dead,” but it’s one of my favorite parts about our church – that even after death God still gives you a chance.
Day Eleven – Promontory, UT
On our last day, we took the kids to see some of the most notable sites near my hometown. First was the Golden Spike National Monument. The rangers there were super nice. Noel flew home with our parks pass and they kindly let me in with a scanned copy of it and my name in my checkbook since I’d left my ID at my parents’ house. (I looked super together.) Though Cooper loves trains, he was really rattled by the loud sounds the trains made during the demonstration. Both he and Ellen tried to climb my legs like a monkey climbs a tree. After a picnic, we headed out to the Spiral Jetty. I’ve only been to the jetty a handful of times, but it’s always different which is part of the allure of this earthwork. The jetty always reminds me of this braided essay I wrote in college, which in turn always gets me thinking about how I should write more.
Day Twelve – UT/WY/CO
After eleven days of fun, it was time to head home. This was the first time I’d made the trip by myself. For the most part it wasn’t too bad, but we did have several emergency potty stops, a close encounter with several busloads of pioneer trek reenactors, and the privilege of driving through a terrifying hail storm followed by a torrential downpour. (Driver of the car in front of me that drove slowly and confidently with your hazards on, I wish I could hug you for being my anchor through the storm!) When we finally arrived home we were happy to have all our traveling behind us, but sad to no longer be on vacation.
When I was a recruiter for USU, I repeatedly told students USU was “only an eight hour drive away from home and therefore the perfect distance from family.” The eight hour buffer gives you space, but you also can make if home if something important comes up. While there is some truth to the buffer theory, the eight hour drive is a lie and one I have been guilty of perpetuating. Sure Google maps will support the eight hour theory, but it’s only a reality if the weather is perfect, you are able to forgo food and bathroom breaks for the entire trip, and you manage to never encounter stop lights or traffic in the Metro area. For the average person, the drive to Utah actually takes 8 1//2 to 9 hours. For people like us whose car upholstery and mental sanity depend on frequent stops, it’s more like 10 or 11. Still, we do it several times a year so we can be part of special moments in the lives of people we love. This past weekend was one of those moments.
A few weeks ago we took the kids to Dinosaur Ridge and Noel, having done some growing up in Vernal, UT, was pretty underwhelmed. He expressed a desire to take the kids to Dinosaur National Monument some day. It occurred to us that camping there overnight on this trip would be the perfect way to break it up so we made our reservation. We rolled into our campsite pretty late Friday night thanks to a blinding downpour and heavy holiday weekend traffic only to find that the tent hadn’t actually made it into the car. We folded down the backseat of the car and the kids and I wrestled cuddled up for the night while Noel slept in his hammock that was tied between our VW and a tree.
After a terrible night’s rest we headed to the quarry exhibit hall. The quarry is pretty cool and has around 1500 dinosaur bones. (Really, it’s a mass grave, but let’s not think about that.) It definitely puts Dino Ridge to shame.
After getting our fill of dinosaurs, we got back in the car and finished the first half of our drive to meet up with family. The reason for our trip happened on Sunday when Porter was given a name and a blessing in our church. Baby blessings are such sweet moments and Porter’s was especially so since he’s my nephew.
The next morning we were able to squeeze in a tour of the Ogden temple and brunch. It was nice to end the trip with almost my entire family in such a peaceful setting. (Only my brother Spencer was missing. He’s in the middle of a two-year church mission, so he had a good excuse.) The kids were even pretty good with Ellen melting my heart when she said “I love you” right before heading into a sealing room and making me forget that she’d caused everyone to laugh irreverently when she threw a fit because we wouldn’t let her go for a swim in the baptismal font.
After that, it was back in the car for our ten hour trek back home via the badlands of Wyoming. A big thanks to all our family members who housed us, fed us, and sent us home with produce and other gifts! And of course, thank you Porter for giving us an occasion to visit!
Two years ago we went camping at Maroon Bells. It was an enjoyable experience and we’ve been wanting to go back ever since. Campsites at Maroon Bells itself are pretty hard to come by, especially on weekends, so I had a reminder in my google calendar to make a reservation the second the sites opened up for our chosen days. Months ago that Google reminder popped up and I made a reservation hoping for a nice calm getaway, completely unaware that the trip would end up being bookended by a trip to Utah and Noel going to Scout camp. Such is life.
We invited Noel’s sister, Vanessa Joy, and her husband, Chris to come with us. After a near death experience earlier this year, we figured they could use some R&R.
Despite the insanity surrounding the trip, we did our best to relax. Not having cell phone reception at our campground greatly aided that.
We did an ambling “hike” with everyone and Noel and I went on a hike alone while Vanessa and Chris kindly watched the kids.
The kids slept worse than they ever have on a camping trip and we experienced some frustrating potty training setbacks. (It seems Cooper was terrified to poop in the vault toilets . . . )
Somehow Vanessa and Chris still thought the kids were adorable though. Phew.
And because this is us, we also ate delicious food. Keep an eye on our food blog for all the recipes!
All too quickly, we had to pack up and head our separate ways. We said our goodbyes to the beautiful scenery. When we got reception again Noel’s phone rang a million times with messages so I drove home so he could take care of scouting business.
I’ll have to add another reminder to my google calendar so we can do this again next year, only hopefully not the day before Scout camp.
It’s been a long dreary winter and now that everyone is feeling better we took an opportunity to get outside. We’ve been itching to get to the beach for a while now. Since there is no ocean of reasonable proximity camping at Great Sand Dunes seemed to be a worthy substitute. After playing an intense game of 3 dimensional Tetris, we got all our camping gear in the car and headed south and away from civilization.
Great Sand Dunes
Great Sand Dunes is pretty remote. It’s definitely not like most national parks I’ve seen. There’s no cutesy town right outside the park entrance with gift shops and restaurants. There is one small entrance station with no employee to take your money and give you the glossy map. Not that the glossy map was necessary, the road from the entrance leads up to a parking lot and then the campground. That’s it. It’s a pretty cool place, there are these big snow capped Colorado-type mountains with these Lawrence of Arabia sand dunes leading up to them. In the late spring (this time of year) they have a creek that runs around the base of the dunes making a nice beach-y area. It’s quite popular on the weekends, but we went during the week, so we avoided most of the crowds except for one school field trip bus.
Cooper and Ellen were very excited to go camping, so excited that going to sleep was an issue and there were many shenanigans. On the first morning there while Audrey and I were distracted making breakfast, Ellen found her way into a bunch of prickly pear cacti, then tripped and rolled around in them. I’m glad nobody called in the authorities from all the screaming she was doing as we extracted the needles from her. Nevertheless, she bounced right back in spite of the trauma.
After finally finishing up our now cold breakfast, cleaning up the campsite, and going through an elaborate sunblock routine we got to head down to the “beach.” It was a grand time. The kids loved making sand castles and destroying them. Cooper had this boat he would send down the creek and then chase. Ellen had fun in the water until she got cold from the wind, but she could be revived along with Audrey by sunning on the hot sand.
In the afternoon we made a foolish attempt to climb the dunes after the wind had really picked up. Ellen really didn’t care for being sand blasted–none of us did really. However, Cooper loved sliding down the sand. It was fun, but short lived.
Colorado Gators Reptile Park
On our last day we packed up and drove on out. Morbid curiosity compelled us to stop at another local attraction: the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. This is the craziest small town tourist trap I have ever seen. This place started as a tilapia farm in the desert made possible by hot springs then became a rescue mission for alligators and other sundry reptiles. Honestly, it was kind of like walking onto the set of a horror movie. Everything was dilapitated and every time I saw a fenced area or cage where I couldn’t immediately see the resident creature I’d feel a sudden panic. They had everything: giant tortioses, geckos, emus, rattlesnakes, a 40 foot python, and of course lots of alligators including an albino and the alligator from Happy Gilmore. It was totally creepy-cool.
Cooper was totally excited about seeing the animals until he realized that one big rock was really a living turtle that was 3x his size. He never warmed up to that turtle even though we told him it was like Franklin. Ellen was freaked out at first, but then really got into throwing alligator food pellets in and watching them go for it. (I’d really rather not know what the contents of the alligator food were.)
Good times were had by all. A lot of sand found its way back to our house. We will not be getting an alligator as a pet. We’re thinking next time we’re in that area we will have to stop by the other fascinating local attraction: the UFO watch tower.