Sunday, June 25, 2017

Summer Vacay - The National Parks - Park 4

On the fourth day of our National Park loop, we drove from Zion National Park, to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. We had contemplated driving to Bryce Canyon - but due to a washed out road and a rapidly dwindling schedule - we decided that if given the choice, we'd rather spend a longer stretch (longer stretch = more than six hours) of time at one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

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Yet again, we had no reservations when we arrived.

We knew that the south rim campsites were completely booked, but there was a slim possibility we could get there early and secure one of the "first-come, first-serve" sites.  Doing a quick little statistical analysis, we determined that because we wouldn't be there at the crack of dawn, when the sites open to campers, (what with four children and all) the probability that we would be successful in finding a first-come camping site on the north rim were considerably greater, seeing as only 10% of the estimated five million tourists that visit the Grand Canyon each year, visit the north rim.

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And so it is, we headed straight to the north rim and immediately found the most epic of campsites.  Directly across the street from the little out-house which at this season in my life, is becoming more and more important.

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FYI … Quick story about that little out-house, which had some kind of vacuum / blower system in the open pit toilet, so when the children were perched, a breeze skirted their posterior regions and the way they screeched - you'd think they were in grave peril.  Truly, they thought for sure something was climbing out of the ground to get them.  It made their bathroom breaks a bit nerve-wracking for lack of a better term.  Charlie or I had to escort them - and stand guard, whilst holding their hand - in case they needed to be rescued.

After our first life-altering restroom break, we set up our little home sweet home:

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And promptly set off to see the sights.

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Now, there is nothing quite like being with someone when they see the Grand Canyon for the very first time.  The first time I ever saw it, in 1990, when I took a trip with a geology class - and hiked all the way down to the Colorado River and out again - in less than 18 hours, is etched in to my memory forever.  The second time I saw it, in the winter of 1996 as a newly married wife - when it was dusted in snow, is also etched in my memory forever.  The third time I saw it, with my mother in 1998 on the occasion of her 65th birthday, as she clung to everything: telescopes, trees, guardrails - for fear of falling in, is also is etched in my memory forever.

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The fourth time, seeing it with our four children, will also be etched in to my memory forever. Not because of their responses to seeing this magnificent landform stretched before them - but because of my gut reaction to….

GRAB THEIR HANDS TIGHTLY AND NOT LET GO.

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Oh Dear God in Heaven... what was I thinking bringing our children, here?!

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Am I having heart palpitations because of the beauty of this space?

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Or because of the total loss of control I feel that my children - who are walking on their own able feet - are perusing a path that with one misstep, would tumble them thousands of feet down a rocky ledge?!

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BOYS, LOOK WHERE YOU ARE GOING!  

STAY BACK!!



At one point, while I was trying to be artistic, by taking this picture of a pretty flower …

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Charlie took the kids out on this overlook, with NO GUARDRAILS, and it is no exaggeration that I nearly had an aneurysm.  People on the south rim might have heard my yelling, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING? ARE YOU CRAZY! GET BACK HERE!"

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You want to go to an overlook?  GO TO THIS ONE. With the nice railing.

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So, yes … it would appear I am turning in to my mother.  Which at this season in my life, is also something I am noticing more and more.  (I love you, Mom!)

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Here we are, me and my beau!

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The kids had a wonderful time, and actually took a lot of the pictures on our hiking trip.

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Like this one.

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And this one.  Followed by the gasp, "SNAAAAKE!!!!"

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And this one, when we stopped for a picnic.

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After our relatively short, 5-mile hike, we headed back to the Lodge, and decided that the next time we come to the Grand Canyon, we are going to stay at the Lodge - sit on this patio in a rocking chair - put our feet up on the guardrail and drink a cold one.  (Or three.)

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We watched a family of Native American dancers, who absolutely stole our hearts.

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Including this little tot who had everyone in the crowd saying, "Awwwww!"

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And then - in short order, the sun was rapidly setting, the temperature was dropping just as fast, and the last thing we wanted to do was cook dinner at the camp.  So we went out for what felt like our first real meal in days and this was the children's response.

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We ended our evening with a campfire …

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And an impromptu talent show.

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And then realizing that the temperature was getting colder and colder by the second, and bunny was just as chilled as the children…

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We climbed in to our sleeping bags, as the temperature settled around the high 40's.

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Snug as little bugs in a rug.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Summer Vacay: The National Parks - Park 3

That it is now the summer of 2017, and I am still posting about summer 2016 … isn't lost on me. I've lost count of how many times I've planned to sit down and update my blog and something - or more aptly, someone - has taken my attention.  Perhaps I could get up earlier.  That's definitely an option, but despite how hard I try, is never something I seem capable of pulling off.  Maybe tomorrow...

Right now, I have a quiet rainy Saturday morning, while Charlie and Henry are playing Monopoly - and we are awaiting the return of our triplets from their first ever, multi-night, sleep-away camp.  The house is quiet and I have a little bit of time for me and recollecting what I can from our vacation last summer.  

After we left Death Valley, we drove through Las Vegas en route to what is thus far, my all-time favorite National Park … Zion.   The massive red sandstone cliffs, the lush green trees, the vibrant blue sky.  It takes my breath away, every time.  

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By the time we arrived, it was shortly after noon, and because we were on an abbreviated schedule, we didn't have much time - just the afternoon, to hike around and show the children this magnificent national treasure of flora, fauna, and incredible geology.

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We hiked through the valley, stopping - more than once, to take pictures. 

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Henry, that's hilarious! You're so strong! Let me take a quick picture!

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Carolyn! William! What a beautiful little stop! Let me take a quick picture!

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Oh, triplet pose!

This will be good for your 6th grade year book picture. Let me take a quick picture!

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Oh! Awesome shot! You guys - stand there for a minute! Let me take a quick picture!

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Is that a deer?!  Wow, how tranquil and picturesque!  Let me take a quick picture!

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Gorgeous backdrop … hang on … Let me take a quick picture!

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OK! Now all four of you! Let me take a ……

Before I could finish the sentence, Elizabeth said to me "Mom! Please promise this will be the last picture?  You're taking one every two feet!"

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We then jumped off the path and started hiking up The Narrows, which is a slot canyon that has been cut by the Virgin River.  As the canyon narrows, so too does your hiking trail - which becomes the river.   Wading through quickly moving water with an uneven bottom, can be a bit precarious and unstable at times, but out-of-this world, crazy fun.

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(It helps to have a walking stick.)

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There is so much to see and do here, I could spend a week and not see it all.  Charlie has been to this park several times, and has hiked Angel's Landing - and much farther up The Narrows then we made it in our few hours.

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While on this trip, we met a couple who were hiking The Narrows with their backpacks and rock climbing gear, because in the event there is a rain storm - this area is prone to severe flash floods (particularly in the slot canyons). Water levels can rise 10's of feet, in minutes; and walls of water will wash out anything in the way.   The couple we met, were hiking with the intent that they would climb the walls of the canyon at night to sleep, or perch their sleeping cots on the rock walls.  We're not quite there yet with our camping skills.

We crawled around on sandstone shelves, and perched in little cubbies.

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And of course, I had to break my promise and have the children stand and pose for pictures, while tightly clutching my phone because if it was dropped, it would be GONE.

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OK, OK … just one more!

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Alright, FINE.  I'm a pathological liar when I enter an agreement about no more picture taking. IN THE NARROWS OF ZION!

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While I would have liked to have had more time at this park, my Nikon, and a bit better sunlight to really showcase in photos how gorgeous this landscape is, I'm so grateful we had the opportunity to make the stop - and introduce our children to this park. 

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Henry has a blue monopoly and has three houses on each property.  Last roll, Charlie landed on Park Place.  He just landed on Boardwalk.

Game over … which means, so too, is this post. 

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I'll be back early tomorrow morning.   I hope! 

But before I go … one more. :)

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Summer Vacay - The National Parks - Park 2

As we descended the Tioga Pass, our next next destination was uncertain.  But the sun was setting behind us and it would soon be dark so we needed to make a decision, soon.

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We told the children that we could drive through Death Valley - or we could shoot straight through Las Vegas and arrive in Zion National Park the following day.  If we opted for Zion - we would have the ability to also squeeze in a trip to Bryce Canyon.  If we opted for Death Valley, we could take the children to several of the stomping grounds where their parents fell madly in love during geology fields trips some 25 years ago.  Sadly, we didn't have the time to do the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce.  So we put it out to a vote.

The kids were unsure what to do, until I told them that if we opted for the Death Valley route, we could also drop by the naked hot springs just outside of the park.  They were bewildered by that prospect and unanimously asked, "The naked … WHAT?"

The naked hot springs. 

At least that's what I call them.  And I'll never forget the first time I visited them, as a 20-year old South Carolina exchange student.  It was my first semester studying in California, and my wonderfully awesome hippie class of geologists from Sonoma State University loaded in to a dilapidated van and drove the ten hours south to map the outcrops of the Tecopa Range.

Several of my conservative friends in South Carolina had warned me about moving to California - what they had dubbed "the land of fruit and nuts" in more ways than one.  But I didn't really understand what they meant … until after a full day of mapping and scaling up and down talus slopes, we drove to the small town of Tecopa and all of my classmates jumped out of the vans and quickly explained to me the protocol at the hot springs while they were shedding their clothes at warp speed.

The men and women were segregated to gender-specific pools, but clothing was not allowed on either side.  You had to shower before you entered, and tie back long hair so it didn't touch the water.  Both the men and women's springs were divided in to two smaller pools.  On one side was the "hot" pool, where there were steps leading in to an enclosed tub with a gravel lined floor.  The roof was completely open to the stars and along the wall were bars for stretching, and a bar also transversed the top of the pool so people could dangle, or do chin-ups if they so chose.

In the nude.

The hot water flowed through a small pipe to another pool, which was at approximately 5-8 degrees cooler at around 95 degrees, was considered the "cool" pool.  After a long day of hiking, there really is nothing better than kicking off your boots and everything else - and soaking in this open aired environment which feels like it is straight from heaven.

Suffice to say, our children hesitated nary a second before they all yelled in symphony, "WE WANT TO GO TO THE NAKED HOT SPRINGS!"  

And so we did.  But first, we had to find a place to spend the night.  With our trusty AAA guide book, we found what sounded like a great camping site.  By the time we arrived it was pitch black so we had no idea what to expect.  (This photo was taken the next morning!)

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We set up our tent in the dark, and quickly climbed in and dozed off to sleep. In the morning, we awoke to the sounds of a babbling brook cutting through our campground…

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And the sight of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains.

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Oh, I so love it when things work out so much better than I could have ever planned!  (This photo is in case they ever form a quartet and produce an album.)

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Our kids love water so much - all they wanted to do was play in the brook for a few hours…

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While we served up breakfast - and ate the tomatoes from Aunt Kathy's garden that made it across the great state of California.

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We then drove along the scenic I-395 and made a stop in Bishop, California at the famous Eric Schat's bakery.

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Loading up on sheepherders jalapeƱo bread, we continued on to the base of Mt. Whitney.

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Towering at 14,505 feet above the desert floor, this is the highest point in the contiguous United States.

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A short distance later, we drove in to Death Valley National Park where the temperature never dropped below 105 degrees.  They call it Death Valley for a reason.  

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As we drove through this desolate and gorgeously exposed landscape, the feelings rushed back to me, as to WHY I had chosen to stay in California to study geology.

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There truly is no better place in the United States to learn about earth science than here - where you can see geologic processes happening - real time.

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I can't even count how many camping trips I took to this place during both my undergraduate and graduate studies, but I'd guess I've spent no less than 100 nights in a tent, in and around this national park.

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We showed the children the Castle of Clay, where Charlie and I, together - and separately - camped with Dr. Tom Anderson's class.   Sedimentary Petrology - quite possibly my all-time favorite class, despite my less than stellar moments spent on the Bonanza King.  Oy.

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We showed the children the Crow Bar, where in the fall of 1991, Charlie asked that I please consider staying in California for another semester, instead of moving to Idaho for my second semester of exchange study.  Oh, the memories that this place holds for me!

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There was the time I put $5.00 worth of quarters in to the juke box and played the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive" back-to-back.  I didn't do it to be obnoxious, I really did love that song. But after hearing it for the fourth time straight, I realized maybe I didn't love it quite that much.   You can tell by the way I use my walk - I'm not going to have many friends anymore.    Thankfully, the wonderful waitress who was working the restaurant side, when we arrived with our children, didn't recall that fateful night.  

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Instead of showing us the door,  she loaded us up with crayons and Connect Four.

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I remember sitting on this bench outside the Crow Bar - and telling Tom Anderson that I'd come to the conclusion that California was the place for me to be and I had every intention of finishing my degree at SSU.

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We drove the children past the Charlie Brown outcrop - a pyroclastic geologic feature that is unparalleled.  What we see here, are the results of volcanic explosions that resulted in layers of ash being deposited.  The black layer - is essentially obsidian (volcanic glass) - that was so hot, it melted the ash layers below it, and those ash layers which were deposited above it.

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While the kids enjoyed all the road-side stops we made (that's an absolute lie), they were most intrigued with our arrival at the naked hot springs.  But first - we had to show them Badwater, to Henry's sheer DELIGHT.

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Earlier in the day they had seen Mt. Whitney - the highest point in the US; now they were seeing Badwater - the lowest at 282 feet below sea level.

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It was 116 degrees and the ground was so hot, the soles literally MELTED off both my and Carolyn's Keens.  As we were walking across the salt flats, our soles started to flap. 

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Sans soles on our shoes, we arrived in Tecopa.

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And everyone promptly retreated to their gender specific pools and rapidly stripped down. There are no pictures of that, but if there were - you'd see kids laughing like mad and having the absolute time of their lives.  Until other people arrived and the kids suddenly became very self conscious and nearly died from embarrassment.  "MOM, STOP TRYING TO DO PULL-UPS ….. PLEASE!" they whispered through clenched teeth.

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We stayed the night at a small campsite, directly across the road from the springs.  The brook flowing through this campsite had a water temperature of 95 degrees.  How awesome is that?!

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As Charlie sipped his morning coffee, their embarrassment had worn off and the children got up and asked if they could go back to the hot springs, again.

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It turns out the only thing they like more than playing in water, is playing in water … in their birthday suits.   It's quite freeing, really.

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Yep … this is how we roll in the land of fruit and nuts!