Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Zion and Bryce

After Death Valley, we took a little detour on over to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam.  I did not get any pictures, my energy was DOWN.  Still is, truth be told.  Constant travelling, constant sight seeing and learning and doing and going-going-going is taxing.  So I ended up sitting out the visitor's center, the Hoover Dam, and yes, even Las Vegas.  The kids and Bill had fun, though, so it was a win-win.   

We picked up the pace again and headed out for Zion.  The Watchman campground is open, though it's the only one right now.  I was worried about finding a spot.  Zion is hugely popular, and during reservation season, is almost always 100% full.  And while there are a lot of people here in the campground, we did find a space we fit into and are happy occupying.  
We got to our campsite at lunchtime, so we ate our lunch and then hit the visitor's center and toodled around.  My asthma was acting up, so we just did the driving tour.  Because it's off season, we got to drive the scenic loop instead of having to take the shuttle bus.                                      
We hit the Zion Lodge (K was sure to keep us on track with what the Jr. Ranger book required), and there were turkeys!!!!  A whole bunch of 'em, just hanging out on the front lawn!                    
We didn't get any opportunity to check out the narrows because of high waters and the serious threat of flash flooding.  The narrows were closed the entire time we were staying at Zion, though it was scheduled to open several hours after we left.  Hmmm....                  
The rock formations were just stunning.  The kids were immediately saying they were glad we made it to this park.  And even though we didn't spend a great deal of time exploring, it was nice just to be among these impressive rock formations.  
For our first full day in the area, we travelled to Bryce Canyon National Park.  Much of the park was closed due to the heavy snowfall they had recently received.  If we had been properly prepared with cross country skis or snowshoes, man, would it have been a blast!  As it was, we explored just a wee bit of the Navajo Loop and then did the drive until the road was closed, stopping at all the stops so the kids could play in the snow and Bill and I could take a look at the rocks.  We've gone to a bunch of Utah's parks now, and love to see the rocks.  I gotta say, though, my favorite is still Goblin Valley State Park.            
The snow makes the rocks really stand out with their colors against the white.  So beautiful.  And cold.  Love me some seat heaters.  The kids think it's highly unfair that only the driver and front passenger get seat heaters, but that's life on a limited budget!                                      
This is up at the top of Navajo Loop, on Sunset Point.  The hoodoos and fins were spectacular.  The trail was covered with snow, but we slipped and slid our way to see some cool stuff.  
Someone built this little guy.  He's a cutie.  We found several other small snowmen throughout the park.  Just a little winter fun.  One of the few days of late that we've been thankful for having our winter coats with us.  The day after this we spent back at Zion, though we only hiked the Pa'rus Trail.  It was almost 4 miles round trip from our campsite and back, so it was a nice little jaunt.  Utah rocks!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Death Valley

Heading to the campground, the first sight that really wowed me was Zabriskie Point.  We had the trailer still hitched up, though, so we continued on to the campground.  By the time we were unhitched and such, it was dark, so we chose to make dinner and stay inside.  The next day, however, the kids and I headed out to explore the park.  Bill had to work, so he stayed at the trailer while we played.                
NS was digging this ledge.  K wasn't happy with him going out there, but it was a pretty good place for him to explore.                                        
After Zabriskie Point, we decided to hit the lowest spot in the US, Badwater Basin.  There's a huge salt field you get to walk upon, which was totally awesome.                      
The kids spent a good amount of time checking out the salt structure, we were all fascinated with the hair-like structure.  Oh, I wish I had brought my eye lenses with me!  I normally travel with magnifying lenses, but I had taken them out for whatever poor reason, and did not have them.  So sad.                  
This is where the whining kicked in.  Death Valley has been, by far, our hottest adventure this winter.  With temperatures in the low 80s, we were reminded of how little we like to hike in the heat.  Even in July, we were in Banff with temperatures in the 60s or so.  So the 80s were sucking the fun out of us.  And the rocks on this hike were loose and found their way into our boots.  We bailed on this hike with relative speed.                                  
Before heading back to the trailer, we hit the Devil's Golf Course.  With ground so jagged, only the devil himself could play on those links, or so it's said.  There are warnings all over that talk about injury and to tread carefully.  And we did.  Notice that only four kids are in the picture.  The fifth couldn't be bothered to get his butt out of the van.  Slacker.   We finished the day with a night time visit to the Mesquite Flat Dunes.  Bill got some amazing pictures, but my camera hates night time pics.  Oh well.

Joshua Tree

We pulled into the campground at Joshua Tree after hours, and the roads in the campground are a little screwy louie.  After winding our way through the campground, we finally found a site we liked.  The campground was built many moons ago, without the super big vehicles that come through these days.  Like ours.  So we needed a pull through site, and fortunately there were several available.                                  
G needs to finish up another Eagle required merit badge in order to make rank, which he would like to do so that when we're in CO at the end of the month, he can get his reviews done.  He and NS are working on cooking, and they have requirements for trail meals and snacks.  We've got only a few days left of camping at parks until we're back in CO, so they're busting.  G and NS both chose to do a trail meal while we were at Joshua Tree, and I chose Barker Dam hike.  Since we were there in the winter, there was actually water in the dam, which I guess is a somewhat rare event.  Maybe uncommon is a better word.  At any rate, we loved the hike.  There were rocks, there was water, and there were Joshua Trees.  Pretty wicked.  Did I mention petroglyphs?  Yeah, they had those, too.        
We loved Jumbo Rocks.  What an amazing playground!  We were able to climb all over the place, so we took different paths, though we always seemed to be very close to each other.  Our Taylor Coach buddies had told us about the campground at Jumbo Rocks, though that was not the one stayed at, but it was amazing.  Truly, if you're looking at Joshua Tree, stay at Jumbo Rocks campground.   We enjoyed the weather there, too.  The kids even got to cook outside (ok, they had to for their merit badge stuff), though they didn't much care for the wind.            

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Desert Hikes

Staying at Hickiwan Trails has been a ton of fun.  We've gone into Ajo a few times, we've gone over to Organ Pipe Cactus National Park a few times, but we've been spending many of our days here at the RV park hiking.  We've climbed Crumplestiltskin's Castle a couple times, I've fallen down another part of the mountain (G has a name for it, but I can't remember it right now), we've explored caves, looked for painted rocks, and made friends with burros.  They let us explore the land off established trails, which is really pretty sweet.  If we hear donkeys in the distance, we can follow their tracks to find them.  We are free to find the interesting stumps that might contain the hidden painted rocks.  It has been fun.  
We have the beautiful Ajo mountains surrounding us.  I left the trailer to take pictures, and found other campers doing the same.  As I headed back to the trailer, I ran across NS, trying to escape his siblings in the trailer.  Amazing how much a 10 minute walk with your mom can calm things down.                                    
  My saguaro buddies.  The slingshot saguaro is a common shape around here, but I particularly like him paired up with the giant saguaro--David and Goliath!  Super important to pick landmarks that make sense to you as you wander off trail in the desert!  And bring plenty of water.  Plenty.  I could help but laugh when I saw the two huddled together with the one yelling at the other.  The little one looks so dejected to me.  And NB spotted the secret sharers.  The different saguaros really do bring out different thoughts and feelings.  It's been a lot of fun being around these guys.  
We enjoyed running across these guys on our hikes.  I had heard their unique chatter at night a few times, but I heard them during the day for the first time while I was out looking for painted rocks with J.  J had found his painted rock, and we were headed back to the trailer when we heard them.  We continued back to the trailer, but I immediately replenished my water and asked if anyone wanted to go donkey searching with me.  NB was the only one to volunteer, so we saddled up and headed out.  NB also wanted a painted rock, so we kept our eyes open, but our journey was more about the donkeys.  And we did find them, with NB leading the way as our head tracker.  He was so excited to see the donkeys, that it didn't even upset him to not find a painted rock.  Not that he gave up that idea, but he was cool with ending the expedition at that point without one.  That would not be true on later tries.  
Our discoveries have been many on our journeys.  This particular day, we found the jawbone of a donkey.  NB and I headed back got everyone else to see this one.  We have found many other bones, but this one was the largest.            
Bill got to go with us on this particular journey.  We decided to take a hike just to search for stones.  No one liked that hike as much as our other trips.  Finding rocks takes a bit of luck, and the desert is too vast and too hot for that to be your end goal.  As a side benefit, it's fun; sole goal, it's disheartening.  But all seven of us have rocks now.                
You would think this would be a quick lesson, but we've learned (repeatedly) that cactus spines hurt.  Oh, and watch where you walk, because cacti (especially cholla), drop their spines.  And they penetrate shoes.  Yow!              
We've all learned a lot about the different cacti we've encountered here.  I love that the kids taught me the difference between organ pipes and senita.                  
The key to a good education is reading.  Lots of exploring, lots of reading.  My kids have been learning so much from both their experiences and what they read.  I'm kinda tricksy--I buy books, and then leave them about.  I find that I hardly ever need to ask them to read a book, I just leave them out.  I brought out The Outsiders recently.  I've been wanting G to read that for a couple years, but he's balked every time I asked him.  I took it off my bookshelf and put it in the bathroom.  Sure enough, I had a kid start it in the bathroom and take it to his bed.  When he finished it, the next one picked it up.  And then the next.  It stops there, because now we're down to kids who are too young to find the story compelling.  But I've had discussions on hikes in the desert about how far-reaching our actions are.  Good food for thought.


I love baking.  When we lived in a house, I would routinely buy (and quickly use up!) the 50 lb bag of flour from Costco.  Dinner rolls, coffee cakes, name it, we made it.

I got very excited to have electricity while camping, because I could use the hand mixer I brought with us for our trailer journeys.  I've been making blueberry muffins and quick breads, but I had yet to make the leap to bread.  I love kneading bread by hand, but I like room to groove.  I got no groove in the trailer.  Maybe a slight bebop, but no groove.  I tried it any way.  We do love a good homemade bread.   The kids were super psyched to have a fresh loaf with dinner.  Oh, and to melt the butter into it?  Heaven on earth.  I did re-learn, though, that my hand mixer isn't really meant for bread dough.  So I probably could have been doing loaves all along, because so much of it I did by hand, I can't imagine that the first part is any more difficult by hand.  I haven't done bread this way since before Bill and I got married--you forget details like this.  And G wants to learn to make bread, because he'd like monkey bread for his birthday.  Yum!!!

Solar Trailer

Our first longer stay at a campground was in Padre Island, where we had no electric (or any other) hookup. No problem, we've got solar panels. Know what solar panels require? Good sunlight. Know what Padre Island was missing whilst we were there? Good sunlight. We took our battery down LOW. And we were struggling to use anything at night. Even one light seemed to suck us dry. So we used our Luci lights (I LOVE those). By the time we left Padre Island, our battery was down to about 30%, and you're really not supposed to take it below 50%. Hmmm....

Since Padre Island, we've really avoided staying places without electrical hookups. Which is a shame, a lot of places are pretty expensive for the full hookup experience. It also keeps us out of a lot of national parks, especially ones with older campgrounds or that are somewhat isolated. We stayed at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in TX, but that was really only for three nights. Pretty sweet, price-wise ($8), but no hookups. We were pretty low battery-wise by the end of those three nights.

We've been sitting pretty at Hickiwan Trails for a couple weeks, so Bill decided it was time to test all our stuff and see what is really sucking our energy. Holy cow. Each lightbulb we had (incandescent) used 1.5 amps or so. Each bulb! Aside from our heater and our refrigerator's climate control, that's our biggest suck. I had ordered LEDs off Amazon, but I had sent them to my parents and we willpick them up in a few weeks when we're there for the annual ski trip. Except that from here, we want to go to Joshua Tree and Death Valley, both no hookups. Our campground managers had mentioned that you can get packages shipped here, so Bill talked to them to see what delivery times are like. We are now the proud owners and users of LEDs. Each of those bulbs uses .11 amps. That's right, we are now only using less than 10% of what we were using before. What a relief. We can now use four lights (or more) while cooking and eating, making sure we feel comfy and such, while still using less than we were struggling with before.

We've been running an experiment while we still have the hookup (and the ability to rescue ourselves), to go alone on solar. We've not been fully recharging during the days, but we went three nights and only got down to 50% on the battery. Yeah! Next step, more solar. We only have 100 watts or so of solar. I think we're going to double that before we leave my parents' house after the ski trip.