Friday, July 31, 2009

Finally! The video!

Sorry it took so long for us to get all this downloaded and formatted. I was able to whittle it down to an eminently watchable 12 minutes (broken into two YouTubeable parts). Check it out. This is better that us making you come over for dinner and the slide show.

Part 1: From Arches to Yellowstone

Part 2: From a hail storm in Yellowstone to home sweet home

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Last Day: Oacoma, South Dakota

Sorry to people who have been trying to post responses and having trouble. If it makes you feel any better, the entire post I wrote from Custer State Park got lost. The Blogger site has only been so-so reliable. We've covered a lot of ground since last writing, and with a big push tomorrow we should be back in Cedar Falls.

We made it to Devil's Tower and Nic and Julie hiked the base and climbed boulders. I picked up a Close Encounters of the Third Kind DVD, but within half an hour of starting it, Nic deemed it too boring. Oh well. At least everyone liked the Prairie Dog Town on the way up to the Visitor's Center.

Yes, giant Jim has a head as big as Devil's Tower

Nic, Julie and Devin went horseback riding today, which we'd been holding out in front of them like a carrot for most of the trip. We also stayed in a big cabin, which had been held out in front of Julie like a carrot. Fortunately all the horses they had were well behaved, unlike the poor girl on the trail ride who had a horse that kept trying to knock her off. Last night, we drove the Wildlife Loop and it worked: buffalo, longhorn deer, prairie dogs and semi-wild burrows that stuck their heads in the car to get fed.

Sure, Julie's comfortable with that

Pronghorn Deer

We also got to take a couple of hikes in the park, following a horse trail to a river crossing where we decided to throw rocks then turn back. Nic, Devin and Jim climbed to the top of a gorgeous bluff near the cabin we stayed in (getting down was a little trickier).

Finally, on our way out of Custer today, we got to stop for awhile in the Badlands. It's actually not that far from Cedar Falls, so we were scoping it out for a potential future visit, but when we drove by one of the mini-canyon outcropping you can climb, we had to stop and give it a shot.

That brings us to Oacoma (which only sounds like the Beach Boys song). It's in the middle of South Dakota, but with an early start we should be able to make it back tomorrow. And then we'll download our video and really overwhelm you with stuff to check out.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Yellowstone Pics part two

Rylan and Devin

Jeffrey and Nic (thanks for the pose, Nic)

Packing up the car for the last day of camping

A buffalo seen from next to our car. Buffalo don't seem to care at all about people, but we didn't get close enough to test out that theory.

Yellowstone pics part one

Getting ready to roast marshmallows

Almost perfectly timed

What can happen if you step off the path in Geyser Country

From Inspiration Point

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lake Tahoe Pics

Not that Ian needed any help, mind you.

We swam in the lake with the snow covered mountains in the background

But who needs mountains when you can build sandcastles

Check out Ian's superhero swimsuit. Pretty buff.

Yosemite pics part two

Yes, snow in July

Julie and Eileen

Devin at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Nic taking a picture of the bear on our trail

Does he look worried here?

Yosemite pics part one

Nic at Bridal Veil falls

Ian at Bridal Veil falls

Okay, we really liked these falls

Us on the rocks

Devin and Julie with Eileen

Sequoia pics

Devin hard at work

Julie trying to save Ian from a plunge

Nic and Ian hamming it up inside a giant sequoia

Big Nic, big tree

Stretch just a little more

July 6-9 Yellowstone and Montana!

We took advantage of some ranger led activities on July 7. We learned all about the Hayden expedition of 1871 that surveyed this region, the trials of the photographer (Jackson) who carried 400 huge glass negatives on a mule, and the artist hired by Scribners and the railroads to paint portraits of the area. The kids loved the ranger because he assigned roles to people in the group. Apparently, the hardest working person in the expedition was the cook, who took a lot of teasing during the tour.

In the afternoon we took a boat ride around Yellowstone Lake and learned more about the geological origins of the Caldera (basically, the old crater from the volcano that created this area and the geysers) and the role of humans in changing the ecology of the area. Ian thought it more interesting to train the binoculars on the sleeping boy behind us than to look at the coast.

Our last night camping was July 7-8 and it was a gorgeous morning for breaking camp and a game of pickle. We all hated (OK, Julie was just mildly wistful) to say bye to the tents for the last few days of our trip.

Last night we stayed at Yellowstone Inn, which had a John Wayne theme. The sign above the toilet in Sue and Craig's room read: Our toilet paper is just like John Wayne: rough, tough, and it won't take crap from anyone. (We'll forgive the jokester for the lack of parallel structure.)

Today we drove through southern Montana and then the northeast corner of Wyoming. Words fail to capture the profound beauty of Montana. There are wide, lush valleys cut through by meandering streams, and surrounded by mountain ranges. Herds of cattle, horses, and occasionally sheep roam the area. It is such a large, lush vista that Jim dubbed it the "anti-Nevada." (We traveled through southern Nevada on the way out to CA and northern Nevada on the way up to Yellowstone and decided it was the "Place we'd least like to break down in." Imagine a stark, desert dotted here and there with neon casino signs and a few bedraggled bushes in the "oasis" areas.) As we traveled east, the trees gave way to grasslands that shimmered in the sun and the wind. The mountains became these gradual hillocks, like the place had frozen while bubbling.

July 3-6 - First few of nights at Yellowstone

Yesterday we met up with Julie's college friend Sue, her husband Craig, and kids Rylan (7) and Jeffrey (6). Our kids are thrilled to have other kids to run wild with and have paired off--Devin with her "twin" Rylan and Nic with his DS buddy Jeffrey. Ian remains his Mommy's buddy.

We arrived here on Friday, July 3 and hurried to put up our tents because of ominous clouds. We enjoyed dinner at the Lakehouse with a great view of a downpour on Yellowstone Lake. Unfortunately, the view was a little less interesting two hours later when it was packed with people similarly trying to wait out the storm. Our tents stayed dry and we warmed up by the geysers the next day. We also saw a bison really near by and Jim hopped out in a hailstorm to take his picture.

There is a funny convention here. There are so many wild animals here that you can see them from the roadside. Bison, elk, and mule deer rank high on the "must-see" list and people will suddenly pull over to photograph them. People driving by stop, hop out, and ask others "what is it and where?" Woe to the traveler stopping to pee in a bush because he'll be surrounded by a dozen photographers.

We had our coldest morning on July 5 when Julie and Ian chose to have breakfast wrapped in a sleeping bag in the car. The weather improved and we saw Biscuit Basin and the Midway Geyser Basin, where we saw all sizes, shapes and colors of geysers and mud pots. In the afternoon we had a thunderstorm but it improved again. The weather here is so changeable, moving from 36 degrees and damp to sunny and 70 degrees, to windy and 50 degrees, to thunderstorms all by about 2:00 in the afternoon.

The highlight today was Mud Volcano, an enormous bubbling mud pot (spa treatment anyone?) and dragon's grotto, a cave with "dragon's breath" wafting from it. We also saw the lower falls and the canyon floor which were spectacular.

Lava Hot Springs - July 1-3

Julie here: I've been keeping an old-fashioned log since our technology was totally inadequate for the mountains and the remote places we've been visiting. I'm going back now to type in my impressions of the last week.

The surprise of our vacation has been this little resort town about 25 miles from Pocatello in SE Idaho. We saw a brochure advertising hot springs, a water park, and rental tubes for floating down the river and thought we had stumbled into kid heaven. The first night we stayed at a cute bunkhouse "the Yellow Submarine." Each cabin was named for a Beatles song and I thought of my roommate Val, who hung a picture of "the boys" in our dorm room. I fondly thought of them as our other roommates.

Jim already described the river ride, to which I would only add that it appeared one could go for miles on the river if one was willing to hike back with the inner tube.

The second night in Lava Springs we stayed right next to the river where we got out from the tube ride and across a foot bridge from the water park. This was really convenient for lunch and Ian's nap. It was not great, however, at night. It was like the Sturgis Falls of train routes with alarmingly loud whistles every 30-60 minutes.

Yellowstone Part One

We've just left Yellowstone after five days, the last three of which we spent with Julie's friend, Sue, her husband, Craig, & their kids, Rylan & Jeffrey. Our kids were thrilled to have friends to play with (as were we), and it took notable sights to make them take interest in their surroundings. Fortunately, Yellowstone has a little of everything. Our list of animal sightings included buffalo, elk, mule deer, a bear, a coyote, pelicans, & a friendly baby mouse. We had rain & cold weather the first couple days, which made for our toughest camping, but there was some good weather we took advantage of to see geysers, mud pots, pools, lakes, mountains, and a Yellowstone that's been fundamentally reshaped by the Great Fire of 1988. Parts of the park look like a giant game of pick up sticks, with fallen trees scattered everywhere, but we came to appreciate being here at this transitional moment in the natural cycle.

Hopefully, we'll be able to get to a computer over the next few days so we can upload pix (we've filled our memory card) & give a full account. We're in Montana & heading East tomorrow.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lava Hot Springs, Idaho

After driving as quickly as possibly through the Great Salt Desert, we had some time to explore before Yellowstone. On a whim, we decided to try this tiny resort town, Lava Hot Springs. It's been a great find. We spent the first night at a quirky cottage run by a couple who used to have a PBS kids show, Tahra Time. They gave us a DVD, & we got to sing along to I'm Gonna Use The Potty at a crucial moment in Ian's toilet training (maybe more than you want to know). Our cottage was The Yellow Submarine bunkhouse, perhaps Julie's favoritenight's stop.

The town features hot spring baths, a huge aquatic center, and river tubing. Devin made it down the river 4 times and Nic ruled the water slides. We're camping tonight next to the river & it's on to Yellowstone tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Camping Life: the good, the bad, and the ugly

The good: We've met some wonderful people while camping. In Sequoia, the couple next to us confided that they were at first charmed when we drove in, a couple tent camping in a Prius with a top on the car. Then a kid got out. OK, still reasonable. Then another. Then another. They said it was like watching a dozen clowns climb out of a VW. "Where did you put all the camping gear?" they asked.

In Yosemite we pulled in late and Ian had a meltdown when Nic and Devin took off for the petting zoo without him (of course, he *said* he didn't want to go, but no matter). I started to carry him down as he cried, "No, I want Nicky. Nicky take me to the petting zoo." There was a big family reunion camped all around us and one of the men came running over with a huge bag full of bags of chips. "You want one?" Ian just cried. He ran back to the picnic table and brought over soda. "Make it complete?" Then his wife ran over with popsicles. Ian immediately fell silent and a sheepish grin broke over his face. He took a popsicle and all of us were very happy. After thanking them, I turned to Ian "Is that what you wanted, a popsicle?" "No, I wanted my brother, but I like the popsicle."

Devin also met a friend at Yosemite pines. A little girl of about 10 chatted away to us, saying she was so excited--she was having a shower that night. She explained, "I haven't had a shower in four days. We've been seeing the world!"

I'm also enjoying this control we have over the weather. Usually weather, in my experience, is a function of time, as in "It's a hot day." One endures and checks the forecast for the next day. Not so in the west. Too hot for you? Hike at a higher elevation. Rainy? Move away from the mountains. Weather is a function of place here. We've transcended time.

I also love our outdoor breakfasts when it's cool and quiet outside. I wrap Ian in a blanket and cuddle over coffee and eggs.

We have lots of time for conversation and reading (see Devin in picture above). Aside from the "Don't lay on me! She touched me!" spats we have in the car, we have some lovely moments. Ian: "Mommy your wife, Daddy? You dance with her?" (Such a romantic. Another Ian moment: "Brian my uncle? I like him. He's happy." (A very apt description of Jim's brother." Devin to our friend Brian: "I'm the funny one with my friends. Not the one who tells jokes, but the goofy one." Nic teaching me technology like the GPS and how to take advantage of others' WiFi.

The Bad: There are minor inconveniences--air mattresses and sleeping bags without sheets among them. (I can't believe these aren't supposed to be washed after every seven nights...) Staying passably clean is a real challenge. How does one explain to kids why playing in the sand is OK but digging in the dirt beside the tent is not?

Even the kids sense this challenge. We stayed in a cabin one night at Yosemite and the kids walked through it as if they'd never seen indoor plumbing before.
Ian: "A bunk bed!" Devin: "A shower and a toilet!" Nic: "TV! Dishes!" Devin: "Extra toilet paper!"

The ugly: Public showers at campgrounds. Ewww... Once a day is not enought to clean these places. And it is a bait and switch if you say showers are "available" and the only shower stall open to all of the tent campers in Zion is the single stall ten miles away at the local mountain bike rental place. (My everlasting gratitude to the guy that runs that place and hosed it out for Devin and I.)

Out of the Wild

After Southern CA we headed to Sequoia & Yosemite & immediately lost WiFi & cell phone service. Sequoia had huge trees and giant pinecones everywhere. After the drive through semi-arid irrigated farmland itbwas hard to believe there would be giant trees, but after climbing a few thousand feet, there they were. The kids loved building stone forts in the campsite & actually enjoyed the giant sequoias (usually if they can't climb it, they're not interested). Our constant shower challenge here involved trying to save quarters & get two people in one ten minute shower. Jim lost time when Ian would only rinse off while doing the hokey pokey. When Julie and Devin emerged Nic explained with a snicker that a soapy Dad sent him to the store for more quarters so he wouldn't have to traipse onto the store with a towel wrapped around his waist.

At Yosemite Julie's friends Eileen & Brian met us and adapted to our "hike 500 yards then stop to climb rocks and have snacks" pattern. They were great sports, especially when Devin talked Brian's ear off or Ian insisted Brian carry him. We had one hike interrupted by a brown bear who was eating a squirrel in the middle of the path. Yosemite had amazing waterfalls and meadows alongside plunging canyons. On our way out we actually stopped for a snowball fight even though it was almost 90 when we broke camp.

We took a little detour at the end of the day to go swimming in Lake Tahoe, which Nic insisted on calling Lake Taco. The sand glittered with pyrite, which made for an interesting clean up. Now we're in Carson City on our way to Yellowstone. Pics to follow when we can.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Southern California

It's our last day in Newport Beach with Mary, John, and Cole. After a full day at Disney we're taking it easier today. Our kids have been going through toy withdrawal and they've been glad to play with Cole's baby toys. We've taken advantage of great weather to swim and run along the bay. My brother Brian was in Los Angeles for a wedding, and he was able to drive down for the morning on Sunday. It was great to see him as well (Mary has some video of this at We head next for Sequoia.

We did Disney hard, there when the park opened and made it until the evening when a 65 minute line for Space Mountain broke me. The kids had huge energy and were happy to run from one side of the park to the next to take advantage of the Fast Passes that save time waiting in line (my job was to run around and get passes in advance). Ian was into it as well, hugging a chipmunk whom he called Alvin in a blatant case of trademark violation. Mary was great to throw herself in with us. Nic and Devin showed no fear when it came to the scarier rides. Splash Mountain was their favorite. And though Mary warned us, we went on Autopia (and dragged her along), clearly the most backward ride in Tomorrowland. Though it does duplicate in miniature the experience of Road Rage. Devin was ready to go back the next day, though we all got back to the campground and collapsed. We all forgot cameras, but Mary has a cameraphone, so hopefully there will be some shots later.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

From Desert to CA Coast

Today we drove from Las Vegas to Newport Beach, California. Now that we're here it's beautiful, but the first part of the day took us through the worst terrain we've seen yet. I can't imagine what Death Valley has over the bleak, desolate, hostile ground we covered. Maybe the name "death" was already taken, so they just went with Barstow.

Fortunately the day had a very happy ending as we went to my sister Mary's for dinner with her, her husband John, & the much beloved baby cousin Cole. There was much joy at playing with toys (Ian) & learning Guitar Hero (Nic & Devin). We're here for four days that include the Disney trip we've held before the kids like a carrot before a horse.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Zion pictures

Zion is only a couple hours from Bryce, so it was a morning hike in Bryce, an amazing drive down, down, down the canyons and through a looong tunnel, and then an afternoon hike to the Lower Emerald Pool in Zion. Why not the middle and upper Emerald Pools, you ask? The short three sentence description warned hikers have died ascending to the middle pool where there are sheer drop offs! Anyway the kids were pretty beat--as evidenced by our willingness to see beds in the canyon walls! On one of our walks--up weeping rock--Ian found a tiny feeder stream to the Virgin River. The ranger told us ahead of time that there were fish in the river. So we spent the better part of the morning playing in mud, watching fish, dragonflies, and lizards. A particularly aggressive brown and yellow bird sat on a ledge eyeing Ian's cookie and, I'm sure, would have eaten out of his hand if he didn't love his cookie so much. (Though he did say that "birdies are my friends.")

While we played in the river, Jim, Nic, and Devin hiked the Riverwalk and then actually walked through the narrows, a part of the canyon that is entirely river. Devin got wet up to her waist. Nic fell in. All had fun.

Bryce Pictures

This was our campsite at Bryce and some pictures from our last hike, which took us through some pretty waterfalls and a "dark, spooky cave" as Ian, the Scooby doo maniac called it. We have no pictures of the cave because it was pitched at a steep angle with a big drop off below. It took all of our attention to keep everyone safe! We were amazed that the most delicate flowers would grow in the most unlikely places!

Bryce Canyon was a lot cooler and a lot higher in altitude than Arches. It was at about 8500 feet above sea level and had a lot more vegetation. The trails were more defined and in many ways safer. These pictures are mostly from Sunrise Point and a walk we took along the rim of the canyon.