Our last day in Zion, I added up our hiking mileage for the day and realized that the kids had hiked 6.6 miles. This realization of the kids’ capabilities and a new mantra to savor life (losing someone will do that to you) got our wheels turning. It was time for us to finally backpack Coyote Gulch. We’d read a blog post a few years ago about a family that took their 4 and 7-year-old and had felt inspired, but at the time our kids weren’t quite ready. Now that they could hike 6.6 miles in a day and not act like they were dying, they were ready. We planned the trip for over our Spring Break and set about being as practical as we could when you’re undertaking something so crazy. As our trip approached, the forecast was giving us a little bit of a scare and we decided to move our trip up by a day to hopefully avoid death by flash flood or paying to tow our car out of a mud pit. We were still a little nervous, but we just kept praying that if this was monumentally stupid idea we’d realize it. The trip started out with a drive through a blizzard (gotta love spring break). What should have been a 45 minute part of our drive ended up being a teeth clenching 90 minutes. We spent the night in Grand Junction and since we weren’t getting any horrible premonitions, woke up early the next morning and drove five hours to the Escalante Interagency Visitor’s Center to get our permit and poop bags (yes, poop bags). After that, we drove 36 miles on Hole in the Rock Road (a dirt road, this will be important later) to our starting spot: Chimney Rock.
Now, I should mention that the blog post that initially inspired us, also introduced to a “shortcut” that would shave off a few miles. The shortcut involved starting from Chimney Rock, navigating to Hurricane Wash, “dropping” into it, and arriving at the confluence. This would involve orienteering (reading topo maps and using a compass), but Noel is a former Scout Master so that wasn’t a worry. It all sounded easy enough. Well, lets just say it wasn’t as direct as we’d hoped. We spent a lot of time zig-zagging around hoodoos to get to our waypoints and when we arrived at the ravine that was supposed to “drop” us into the wash we had to reroute several times to avoid giant pot holes or perilously steep descents. Miraculously, everyone made it down without incident and after a few more miles, we arrived at a lovely alcove that we made our home for the next two days. According to my GPS watch, we did just over 5 miles. It probably would have been easier to hike a few extra miles, but it was an adventure.
The next day we left our heavy packs at camp to explore the gulch. We saw waterfalls, a natural bridge, and two natural arches. There was something new and beautiful around each corner. We ran into a couple of other groups, but for the most part were on our own. It was completely gorgeous and the kids had a lot of fun climbing and playing in the water. We spent one last night at our beautiful campsite – a sandy oasis where you could walk around barefoot. (Soapbox side note: Grand Staircase Escalante’s monument status is currently on the chopping block. Utah’s state legislature and congressional delegation are working hard to convince the Trump administration to have its area reduced by 70-80% to open up space for coal mining. If you live in Utah and don’t think places like this should be a strip mine, please contact your representatives to tell them not to be so short sighted. #standwithgrandstaircase)
It got really windy that night and both Noel and I kept having nightmares that the wind was actually pouring rain and that we were going to be trapped in the canyon for a few days. When we woke up, we were relived to find it actually hadn’t rained, but the clouds were looking ominous. We ate and packed quickly and then headed on our way. It began to rain lightly as we hiked and we urged the kids along, practically dragging them at some points. There was some crying that happened, but we figured a little crying was better than being stranded somewhere (or worse . . .) We’d thought climbing out of the ravine would be easier than getting into it, but it was just as convoluted and we had to be extra careful since everything was wet. They call it slick rock for a reason. Everyone was so relieved when we made it to the car.
The 36 mile drive out was both a little scary (for me) and a little fun (for Noel) as portions of the dirt road had turned into a mud bog. We were really glad we had the Subaru. (We were also really glad that the non-four-wheel-drive car that was full of single people trying to “float” across the muddy sections by driving across them at top speed did not rear-end us.) That night we camped in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park where we took showers and ate food that wasn’t freeze dried.
That night it snowed. All night. BUT, we were warm, snug, and dry in our tent. We all slept like the dead. In the morning we had a warm breakfast at the comfort of our covered picnic table and at around 9am it stopped snowing making it possible to pack everything up without getting drenched. We were staying in Grand Junction that night, but made stops at the Sunglow Motel in Bicknell (for unusual pies) and Capitol Reef (for a final red rock fix).
During the trip, we kept laughing about how if you just listed the facts of our trip it would probably sound like a really miserable time, but the truth was we were having a blast. Even though we were nervous about the weather, there was a part of us that didn’t want to leave Coyote Gulch. We just wanted to stay there forever exploring its beauty and being out of range of cell service. There’s a Scandinavian saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” I think it’s a great saying, perfect with just two additions: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, bad gear, and bad attitudes.
I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
Noel got three days of bereavement leave when his mom passed and we knew that we needed to use some of that time to decompress before heading back to regular life. Fortunately, Glenna’s funeral services were in close proximity to one of our favorite healing balms: red rock canyons. The day after her funeral, we crashed my brother’s singles ward (that will make you feel old) and then explored Kolob Canyon with my family. (You can see the edge of it from the Kanarraville cemetery where Glenna is buried.) The kids had a blast running around with their cousin, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. We climbed rocks, jumped over streams, and played in the sand. After our hike, we said goodbye to all of them and headed back to our hotel. That night it got really windy and icy. We were glad to be snug and warm at the Marriott.
The next day, after the roads had thawed a bit, we headed into Zion. It’s hard to explain, but there’s something about red sandstone that warms my soul. (I touch on it in the beginning of this post, but it’s only a toe-dip into my feelings on the subject.) As we hiked all over the park (Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and The Narrows), I felt myself recharging and coming back to life. (Side note: It’s been 9 1/2 years since our amazing and memorable trip through the Narrows. So much reminiscing. ♥). We finished the trip with delicious BBQ with Spencer (my brother) who is going to school at SUU in Cedar City and his fiancé Sarah. The next day we packed up our car (it was also Ellen’s birthday) and headed home. It was a short trip, but between the closure found at the funeral and the soul revitalization offered by wandering in the desert, we felt ready to face life again.
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.
At the beginning of the year, we made plans to visit Noel’s sister, Danielle, at the sweetest place on earth – Hershey, PA. We were excited to take the kids to visit their cool aunt who worked at a chocolate factory. Then, a few months ago she broke the news to us that she was looking for a new job and it was very likely that she wouldn’t be working in Global Chocolate Innovation (yes, that’s really what she did) by the time our trip rolled around. Because there were so many unknowns, we stopped all our planning, but kept the tickets (they were Southwest so we could have cancelled as late as 15 min before the flight and still banked the points) and just waited. A few weeks before our departure, things miraculously fell into place. Danielle would be in-between jobs when we visited and since her new job was in New Jersey we could check out both her new and old stomping grounds. (Go small states!) Still, the timing was a little crazy for everyone. Within two weeks, Danielle would quit her job, host us, move to a different state, and start a new job. We would finish some yard projects, end the school year, fly to PA, visit three states for both sight-seeing and moving purposes, fly home from NJ, welcome visitors of our own, and run a 12 mile trail race. It was an exhausting, fun-filled couple of weeks. This post is not going to be a literary masterpiece, but in case you want to know more about the trip, feel free to read the day by day synopsis and check out the huge gallery at the end.
Day One (Wednesday)
In the morning, Cooper graduated from kindergarten. That afternoon, we loaded up the car and began our journey. Because we have an unofficial goal to try every method of getting to the airport we rode the newly finished train to the plane. Morale was high and everything went well from our train ride to going through airport security. We arrived in Philly at midnight (10pm our time) and caught a shuttle to our hotel. Everyone was exhausted and pretty much fell asleep immediately.
Day Two (Thursday)
We stayed at a a Courtyard Airport hotel and we knew beforehand that there weren’t any great breakfast restaurants nearby, so we came prepared with shelf-stable milks, Crispix, and some freeze dried backpacking meals. It was suspicious enough that TSA felt the need to search our suitcase. After a luxurious breakfast, we lounged at the pool and waited for Danielle. She picked us up and we went into Philly to check out the Touch Museum, Liberty Bell , and the Rocky Statue.
Day Three (Friday)
Danielle was busy with her movers, so we rented a car and drove out to Ocean City, NJ. We spent the afternoon walking the boardwalk, wading in the ocean, and burying our feet in sand. Then we drove home and laughed at the LONG line of stop and go traffic heading the opposite direction. (It was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.) We took our rental car back to the airport and then played an unintentional game called “Let’s See How Many Different Kinds of Transportation We Can Take to Get to Danielle’s New Place.” I’ll spare you the long, boring stories of why, but in the end, it took one shuttle bus, one Lyft ride, one Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Train, one New Jersey Transit train, a ride on the airport train, and finally a ride in Danielle’s Subaru, complete with dog. It was after 11 o’clock by the time we were reunited and we drove around looking for something that was open (gas station, grocery store, anything!) to find food. In retrospect, we really should have looked into a one way car rental and just driven. Danielle had spent all day stuck in traffic moving and her apartment was tetrised with boxes. We were all sandy and sweaty and in desperate need of showers. We couldn’t find any towels, so we made due with a bunch of her t-shirts. We blew up some air mattresses and wedged them in-between the stacks of boxes and fell asleep.
Day Four (Saturday)
We all slept in and rolled out of bed in time to catch a late breakfast at Morristown Pancake House. As we were parking the car we ran into a parking enforcement guy and we asked if there were any free places to park. He laughed and said, “No, this is New Jersey.” When Danielle told him she’d just moved from Hershey, PA he said, “Why?” We felt very warmly welcomed. Breakfast however, was good. Next, we hit up the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This involved lots of waiting in line and some slight panic about whether a ferry would actually pick us up and return us back to New Jersey. It was interesting to learn about the history of Ellis Island and I realized that I should learn more about our country’s immigration laws past and present. It was also really cool to see the Statue of Liberty up close. We’d read a Kid’s National Geographic that featured some National Parks and Monuments and one of them was the Statue of Liberty, so the kids were really excited to see something that they’d read about in a magazine. We grabbed dinner and headed back to Danielle’s apartment hoping we could help her get some stuff unpacked. As we pulled into her cul-de-sac, we noticed there was a truck from the power company and a lot of people outside, but it wasn’t until we went to flip on the lights in her apartment that we realized the power was out. We went to the grocery store to get some essentials hoping that by the time we came back the problem would be fixed, but it wasn’t. We went out again to buy some candles. The kids thought it was awesome, but all us adults were a little hot (no A/C) and grumpy about the situation. The power didn’t come back on until 3 or 4 in the morning.
Day Five (Sunday)
Noel went out to get some more milk since the milk we had was spoiled. We did our best to hustle and get everyone fed and dressed then drove two hours to Danielle’s old apartment in Hershey, PA. We went to church at her old ward where Ellen threw a huge fit when we left her in primary, but finally calmed down and Danielle taught a really good final lesson to the high school aged girls. After church we drove to Gettysburg. We checked out the cemetery and then had a picnic in the rain. Our luck was getting sort of comical at this point so we just laughed and sat in the rain for a decent amount of time before it became too much and we got back in the car.
Day Six (Monday, Memorial Day)
A good friend of mine moved to Pittsburgh last fall and she and her family drove to Hershey to spend the day with us. We met up for lunch. We were going to get sandwiches from a delicious local Hoagie shop, but it was closed, so we went to Subway instead. Then we were going to go to this cute park with a castle the kids could play on, but they were doing a Memorial Day Ceremony nearby and wouldn’t let us into the park or give us any indication of how long the ceremony would be. (Have you ever heard of a park being closed?) Instead, we went to a different park and caught up while the kids played. Cooper and Ellen were so excited to play with Russell again. Everyone was having a great time, but Cooper brought the fun to an end when he threw up on the swings. We took a break to clean him up then met up with Jessica and her family to go to Chocolate World. We saw a 4-D movie, went on the factory tour, and made our own chocolate bar. The kids were in heaven and Danielle of course filled us in on all sorts of insider information. We finished off the day with dinner at Houlihan’s and then said goodbye to our friends.
Day Seven (Tuesday)
We got brunch and headed to Amish country. We checked out some fun shops and then went on a buggy tour of Lancaster County. The kids got a kick out of the buggy tour. Our buggy driver was Amish and it was interesting to see his family’s land. They had solar panels which of course interested Noel. When he asked if the Amish didn’t use electricity from the grid because of self-sufficiency our guide told us it was just a tradition that they upheld because of politics, which, one person of faith to another, was sort of disappointing. Maybe that was just his opinion though. After that excursion it was time to finish up loose ends at Danielle’s old apartment. We packed the odds and ends into a trailer and cleaned everything before heading back to New Jersey for another late night dinner at a gas station.
Day Eight (Wednesday)
We were up pretty late unloading the trailer the night before so we all slept in again. We didn’t have much time left, but we decided we wanted to see a little bit of New York before heading home. We rode the train to Penn Station and checked out Times Square and Central Park. The kids loved the park at Central Park. Then we took a frightening taxi cab back to Penn Station where we got some New York Style Pizza and some treats from Magnolia Bakery. Then it was back on the train to head back to the airport. We said our goodbyes to Danielle and then went through security. We were pretty exhausted and excited to be going home, but as we dug into our cupcakes and mini cheesecakes from New York we also felt a little sad we hadn’t had more time.
In case you are still reading, bless your soul, here is a large gallery of photos.
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.
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.
I was torn from a restful sleep instantly. Whatever that was, it sounded heavy. It wasn’t someone tripping over a lantern on the way to the bathroom.
Beep! Honk! Beep! Honk! Beep! Honk!
Audrey stirred next to me looking a bit annoyed at the ruckus. We lay frozen in our sleeping bags listening to car horns blaring throughout the campground. After a few moments the car horns stopped and it was eerily silent. Outside the tent I could hear what I thought was a stick snap and some snorting noises. Oh, wait, that was Ellen snoring. Somehow she and Cooper were miraculously still asleep.
Another crash erupted nearby quickly followed by hurried footsteps and someone banging furiously on a door. Our muscles tensed and we alternated between praying and making mental plans of how we’d scare a bear away from our tent by yelling and flashing our headlamps. The chorus of Beep! Honk!s started up again and a few cars and their passengers drove away into the night. As the sound of honking horns gradually got quieter and further away, our muscles slowly relaxed.
I whispered to Audrey, “I have to pee.”
“I don’t think now is a good time.”
I pushed the Indiglo button on my watch. 3:40am. I laid there on my partially deflated REI knock off ThermaRest trying to get comfortable with a full bladder and frazzled nerves. After quite some time the pre-dawn gray began to lighten the sky and I ventured out to make a cautious trip to the bathroom.
No bears in sight. Good. The car was also still in one piece. Also good. The dumpster by the bathroom had been toppled, but the bear proof lid remained closed. This made the chipmunk jumping into our car earlier seem like no big deal. I reported back to Audrey and finally fell back asleep.
* * * *
Camping has long been the ideal vacation for us. Cheap, plenty of fresh air, and the harder things you do the less people you have to deal with. One of our favorite vacations was a backpacking trip to Escalante, UT where a flash flood chased everyone away and we slept in a cave. (Don’t worry, it was a wide canyon so our lives weren’t in danger, it was just really wet.) Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether we’re super awesome or just plain crazy.
We’ve made a point to go camping with the kids several times each year. Every time we go people tell us how brave we are to take such young kids camping, but we’re sure cultivating a love for nature in them. Camping with tiny ones can definitely be trying. Bedtime can be a nightmare and any unexpected event of nature (rain, bears, chipmunks eating food in your trunk, getting stuck in a traffic jam at the end of a very long weekend, etc) can make things quickly unravel as epic whining ensues. However, it can be fun too. I guess you can say we’re beginning to understand what it means to “Come What May and Love it.”
In spite or maybe because of all the crazy stuff that happened this weekend (and the bear was only part of it) we had some good laughs and enjoyed some of this beautiful world we live in. Photographic evidence to follow.
Being outdoorsy gets sort of complicated when you have kids. Long hikes tend to turn parents into pack animals, backpacking is impossible, and even car camping becomes increasingly difficult with all the paraphernalia kids seem to require. But, because we don’t want to take a 10-15 year hiatus from the things we love, we absolutely refuse to give up just because things get more difficult. With Noel’s sister, Danielle, in town this past weekend we decided it was the perfect time to go on a pilot camping trip as a family of four. We loaded our car and rocket box to the brim and headed to Rocky Mountain National Park. It certainly wasn’t like the weekend trips of our pre-kid days. There was considerably more crying, bedtime was a disaster, and everything took four times as long as it used to. By the time Cooper had skinned his knee tripping over a tree root and Ellen had spit up on her last outfit and leaked poop all over the car we were about ready to give up and go home. Instead, we cleaned up the best we could with diaper wipes, strapped the protesting kids to our bodies, hid the diaper behind a tree to retrieve later so our car wouldn’t stink up while we were gone, and hit the trail. We may not be able to go as far or as fast as we used to, but we still got to enjoy fresh air and beautiful views. Sometimes I feel sad when I think of all the awesome adventures we used to go on, but really I think we’ve just made it to a new level of hardcore. For now, just getting out there is impressive enough.