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 http://www.colemanhobson.com/). 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.

Arches pics

The magnitude of Arches was so impressive. We could seldom get both people and full landscapes in a single picture (yes, that's us in front of the big arch). The big kids loved sliding down the huge dune in the one picture. We stopped for lunch shortly afterward and Ian took off his shoe--pouring a mountain of sand on the carpet and his mother!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Into Zion

We've dropped about 4,000 feet from our campsite at the top of Bryce Canyon to our current site at the bottom of Zion Canyon. It's still the desert, though a particularly lush spot in the desert. Today we were riding a shuttle during a thunderstorm (a pretty good place to be). We saw two waterfalls that appeared out of nowhere hundreds of feet above the canyon. We also hiked to a couple of permanent falls that I think I saw when I came here as a twelve-year old. I heard there was some minor flash flooding today, but our tents held up well. Still, we decided to take the opportunity for dinner in town after visiting the one, yes one, public shower available here.

The kids have been running to climb each rock along trails and have to be forced to actually look at the scenery. Every day Ian finds a new collection of sticks and stones. At Bryce we camped next to a bunch of kids and our kids were thrilled. There were many games of baseball, frisbee, and pickle, and Devin got her first pen pal (though Nic pointed out that you have to actually write a letter to a person before she's your pen pal).

I'm happy to say we've done a pretty good job packing. We didn't bring anything that hasn't been used, though we've found a few things it would have been nice to have remembered to bring along and we've already lost half of our soap dishes. I'll send pictures when I get to a computer I can use to upload them. For the most part I'm relying on thumb typing on my IPod and taking advantage of Wi-Fi when I can find it.

We're here for one more day at Zion and then make our way to the California coast.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Arches & Bryce

Arches was beautiful but seriously remote. This is our first Wi-fit access in a while. Arches is a high desert and we camped on a Mars-like landscape with red rock outcroppings and fine red sand. The kids loved climbing the rocks & playing in the sand dunes. I don't think the sand will ever come out of their socks. They could care less about breathtaking views, so we've tried to mix it up.

We're now in Bryce, which is only about five hours south of Arches, but has a completely different topography. We're camping at the top of a canyon where there are a lot of pine trees. The canyon is a mix of yellows, browns, & reds. We're keeping a tight grip on Ian, who likes to point at hundred yard drops & ask "we go there?"

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 3: Grand Junction, CO

It was an amazing day on the road. We went from ranchland in eastern Colorado into the Rockies where it rained and snowed (!?!) and wound up on the edge of the desert. The temperature ranged from a high of 74 to a low of 37. The weather was lousy in the Rockies but we got great pictures in a canyon on I-76. We start camping in Utah tomorrow, so here's hoping we've seen the last of the rain for awhile.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day 2: Sterling, CO

We made it about 60 miles into Colorado today. There's an amazing spot where Rt. 76 crosses from Nebraska to Colorado. For 300 miles the terrain in NB is flat, green, and irrigated farmland from one horizon to the next. Then you cross into CO and within the first mile you're surrounded by brown, rolling pastures and grazing has replaced farming. The Midwest became the West in an instant.

Traveling went well except for 20 miles of "singing highway." The road surface made this odd buzzing drone that kept shifting in pitch. It was like listening to a chorus of chanting monks perform John Cage.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day 1: Lincoln, Nebraska

Packing went surprisingly well. Everything fit and we only had to tie one child to the roof.

We stopped for lunch in a park in Marshalltown, IA and got blown around next to a wind farm west of Des Moines.

And since Wally asked, even with the roof pack and some head winds, the Prius managed 41 mpg.

Tomorrow we hope to make it through Nebraska and into Colorado.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Itinerary

Packing is in full frenzy now! Do we bring dishwashing liquid or buy it on the road? Can Devin's sneakers make it for the trip? Which spices are vital to bring?

Here's our itinerary. The picture was from a much-needed trial run overnight we took. So, yes, we can start a fire and make s'mores.

Tues. 6/9 Leave Iowa
Fri. 6/12 Arrive Arches: Devil’s Garden Campground
Sun. 6/14 Leave for and arrive at Bryce: North Campground
Tues. 6/16 Leave for and arrive at Zion: Watchman Campground
Thurs. 6/18 Leave Zion
Sat. 6/20 Arrive LA: Newport Dunes
Mon. 6/22 Disney!
Wed. 6/24 Leave for and arrive Sequoia: Lodgepole
Fri. 6/26 Leave for and arrive Yosemite Pines Resort
Tues. 6/30 Leave for Yellowstone
Fri. 7/3 Arrive Yellowstone: Grant Village except 7/8-9 Mammoth Springs
Thurs. 7/9 Leave for Badlands/Custer State Park (524 mi.)
Fri. 7/10 Arrive Badlands, Custer State Park Resort (Blue Bell Lodge)
Sun. 7/12 Leave for home
Mon. 7/13 Arrive home

Saturday, June 6, 2009


The challenge is to find tiny, well designed things. Big, hard side cooler: bad. Emergency poncho that fits in a pocket: good.
Sadly, my running shoes did not make the cut, and Julie is already looking askance at my already pared down pile of books.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Can it be done?

Five people for five weeks with camping/cooking equipment all in a Prius? We're hoping it can be done. The plan is to make it to California where my sister's family lives and back, camping in National Parks along the way. The kids are good travelers (see picture below from a past summer trip)and we're thinking hard about how to minimize what we bring (i.e. don't expect any pictures of us all dressed up). Wish us luck.