Tuesday, August 15, 2017

first day of school eve

'Twas the night before a new school year, and the children are all tucked in their beds … while twangs of fear and excitement, danced through their heads. (And yep, mine, too.)

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Tomorrow morning, the triplets will be starting seventh grade, and their first year in Junior High School. Henry will be starting the fourth grade at his school, but this also marks his final year in elementary school - before he moves on to middle school next year for fifth grade.  The days are indeed long, and the years far too short. 

With that in mind, I'm so grateful that Charlie and I were able to take off four weeks this summer to spend such awesome quality time with our children. Believe me: nothing brings you together quite like 22 nights in a tent. There is so much to write about - the incredible places that we visited - and the genuinely amazing people that we met at virtually every stop.  With all of the negative news and political vitriol that seems to be oozing from every outlet, it reassured our faith in humanity to take this trip and cross paths with such great people. There really are great people everywhere. Okay, so there are some crazy people, too …. but they are like the salt you add to a dish.  When handled properly, they give life wonderful flavor. 

Hopefully, unlike last year - I'll be successful in my quest to get those thoughts and pictures jotted down before our summer of 2018 vacation begins.  

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Exactly two weeks ago, we wandered from our campsite to a breathtaking glacial lake, and lamented that there wasn't a marina, so we could rent a boat.  Our lamentations didn't last long, because we met a fellow camper named Tim, who was situated elsewhere in the park, but was visiting this particular lake with his wife, and their two children, who were the same age as our kids.  And they just so happened to have multiple kayaks and a paddle board that they were more than happy to share.  

We took Tim up on his generous offer, and as I paddled out to the middle of this lake with my children, I had everyone pull their boats together and join me for a moment of silence.  There aren't enough words in our vocabulary to capture the beauty of this place, and no photographs could ever do it any justice. 

In this sacred space, I told the children that whatever highs or lows await them this year - or in life, for that matter - I want for them to remember this moment.  This moment of beauty, peace, love, magic, and exhilaration from the tips of their fingers to the tips of their toes.  I told them that they are the beloved children of Charlie and I … and also, of God.  Just like the breathtaking views all around us, they are wonderfully made and they have PURPOSE.  They are comprised of an energy that is designed to do tremendous good, and their mission is to bring great love and strength every where they go.   

(Also wet willies.) 

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Tonight, as I was tucking our pensive children in to bed, I reminded them of this kayaking moment and time we spent together at Bowman Lake within Glacier National Park.  I reminded each of them that they are a gift to this world, so as they go about their new school year - I pray that they do their best.  Keep their backs straight, shoulders and chin up, make eye contact - and smile.  Be kind to everyone, and especially keep an eye and hand out for those kids who are alone or different. Equally important to the academic education they will be receiving, is the socialization and compassion that they learn to exert for the fellow travelers on their path of life.   So at the end of each class, they must remember to always walk to the front and sincerely say goodbye and thank you to their teachers, too.  

As I concluded our bedside discussions, I told each of the triplets, and Henry, individually, that the pressure will undoubtedly be ramping up both academically and socially, so if they are ever feeling completely overwhelmed with it all,  just let me know.  I'm ready at a moment's notice to pull the plug, hit the road, and camp through the other 48 National Parks in the United States.  They know very well that I mean it, which is likely why all four of them flipped over, pulled their covers up over their heads and exclaimed, "OH NO! MOM. WE'LL BE TOTALLY FINE!"  

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Something tells me, they aren't fully recovered from our camping adventure, just yet.  

Friday, July 21, 2017

colorado rocky mountain high - we've seen it rain and fire in the sky

I'm writing this post as we drive through central Montana en route to Glacier National Park. Our rented SUV has WiFi, which is quite possibly one of the coolest things I've ever experienced.  While we don't always have reception, and our cell phone coverage has been dismal, at this moment, I have full 4G bars and can update my blog while we're driving.  Technology wonders will never cease to amaze me! 

Today marks day 11 of our 28 day adventure, and we are really having a great time.  I've tried to update various photos and captions to my Twitter account, and Instagram - which I'm still trying to figure out.  But I've provided hyperlinks to the accounts for my mom ... and anyone else so inclined to follow along! :) 

Here are some of the pictures and commentary of our trip thus far: 

We departed our house at 3:15 AM on Tuesday, July 11.  Remarkably, all of our luggage fit in to our minivan for our trip to the airport, once we added our Yakima skycap - and we were able to check it, in - uneventfully, and free of any additional baggage charge.  

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Once we'd all made it through security and boarded the flight, I was happily surprised when Charlie informed me we were all in one row, with three seats on one side, and three seats on the other of the plane. When I first booked the flight, I had recalled that we were not all together on our trip to Denver. 

So while we were awaiting take-off, I was approached by a young man who informed me that I was sitting in his seat.  Charlie - who had been holding all of our boarding passes - pulled mine out of the bundle and said, "Oh, I thought we were all in the same row.  Jen, it looks like you've been upgraded and are sitting in first class - row 1A. Oops."  

Since it was only 5:00 AM, I didn't give it much thought as I stood up and smiled at my children, while grabbing my bags to head up to the front of the plane - and the last bit of creature comforts that awaited me for the next month.  But before I could exit my row - Charlie said to the young man, "Actually, why don't you take that seat in first class? That way our whole family can stay together." 

Wait. What? Am I dreaming? Did I get bumped up to first class and my husband just gave it away - snap, like that?  As I'm standing in my row, trying to grasp reality, the woman in the row behind caught my attention as she said, "Oh, no, no, no … Mama … you take that seat and you go sit up there in first class and drink a mimosa.  Go - Go - RIGHT NOW. Don't you even think twice about it!"

But by that point, the guilt of leaving my children - and my husband - in the back of the plane, while I sat up at the front in my oversized seat with my warm towel, blanket and pillow, had taken hold and I nodded at the young man - who couldn't have been more than 25, and said, "That's fine. Go ahead. Enjoy it." 

As he gasped, "No way! Are you serious?! Sweet!" he literally skipped to the front of the plane before I could change my mind.  I settled in next to my girls who both gave me a scowl and said, "Why didn't you let ME sit up there?!" And I, in turn, looked to Charlie and gave him a scowl, to which he replied, "What? You wouldn't want to be at the front without us … would you?" 

Um…?  I think the correct response here is no?

Two and half hours later, we landed in Denver, we picked up our rented GMC 8-passenger Yukon,  loaded it with all of our gear, leaving not an inch of space to spare - and took off for Rocky Mountain National Park.  Here are the kids, fitting snuggly and brimming with excitement for our adventure. 

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And here they are 30 minutes later, when the exhaustion of being up at 2:45 AM caught up to them.  (William had actually been asleep at woke up seconds before I snapped this photo. I love the expression on his sweet face...) 

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As night began to fall, so too did the temperature and the raindrops.  We bundled up in our warmest clothes and Charlie introduced the kids to his favorite childhood game, Dungeons & Dragons - before everyone fell asleep by 8:15 PM.  

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The next morning, we were up - ate a breakfast of pancakes - and broke down camp in the drizzling rain.  In the background, that brown box? It's our bear box - which we have become very proficient at using at each campsite.  

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Before we embarked on our day of driving around Rocky Mountain National Park and heading to our next destination, we stretched and did yoga - including a lot of "OMMMMMS!" while we breathed in the luscious pine-scented air. 

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We love Colorado! 

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It was a GLORIOUS day … and a perfect way for us to spend the 200th birthday of the other Henry David (Thoreau who was born on July 12, 1817).  

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As Thoreau so famously wrote in 1851, "In wildness is the preservation of the world" and we couldn't agree more.  

Sunday, July 09, 2017

the amazing summer trip of 2017

For this next blog post, I'd planned to write about Charlie's 50th birthday celebration this past November, but I'm really limited on time, because in two days - our family is taking off on our mega summer 2017 trip.  It would seem that Charlie and I (but mostly me) have been consumed by an insatiable travel bug that is gnawing to see and do as much as we possibly can with our children because TICK TOCK they are growing up so fast and in six years, the triplets will be graduating from high school and moving away to college, and then jobs - married - children - blink - grandchildren - blink, blink - and I'm on a walker with blue hair.

The fact my littlest love, Henry, has now been on this earth for a full decade as of this past week, just reaffirms that time goes by incredibly quick and as Ferris Bueller so wisely said thirty-one years ago, (31-years ago?!) "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." 

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Shown above, Mr. Square Root of 100.

Our house these days is a buzz because what started as a tiny "what-if" idea has ballooned in to what can only be called the most awesome amazing trip, that will have us criss-crossing some of the most spectacular National Parks in North America over the next four weeks.  Here's how we're hoping it will all happen: 

After much back and forth on this, do we drive - do we take a train - do we take a plane?  We finally decided that we'll fly from Houston to Denver this coming Tuesday.  Wheels up at 5:30 AM, which means we need to be at the airport, by no later than 4:00 AM so we can check in our huge amounts of gear that we'll need on this trip.  Huge amounts of gear … because that's right:  WE'RE CAMPING THE ENTIRE TIME.   

Honestly, trying to get the kids to bed at a decent hour on Monday, so I can wake them up at 3:00 AM on Tuesday, scares me a little bit more. 

Once we land in Denver, we'll be spending a few nights at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  From there, we will drive and spend a few more nights at Dinosaur National Monument which is on the Colorado / Utah border.    Unlike last year, when we just winged it and didn't make any reservations - this year, we have reservations (nearly) every leg of our trip.  Except in those cases where campsites are only available on a first-come first-serve basis. That's when we have a back-up plan to stay in hotels outside the parks.  Or, sleep in the car.  Whatever works out.

In my mind's eye - I see us having no trouble.  But I also see me being able to sleep peacefully in a tent for 28 nights, so I think this means I'm an optimist?

We will then drive north to Wyoming and the Grand Tetons National Park, where we will camp for several nights … before we drive further north to Yellowstone National Park - and camp for several more.   Then it is on to Glacier National Park in Montana where we'll be camping. Yet again.  

Now I interrupt this recitation of our itinerary to interject that we will be in the middle of bear country, much to Elizabeth's chagrin.  From the moment our daughter heard that this plan was coming to fruition, she was immediately alarmed about the Bear Factor.  I don't even know how she knew that we were heading in to bear country - but she seemed highly educated on the habitat of the Black Bear and Grizzly populations; enough to know we'd be smack-dab in the middle of it.  I think she's been watching too many PBS specials, and reading far too many National Geographic.

But however it is that she knew about it, it got to the point that every time I'd open my computer, I'd see that she had been searching Google for ways to repel bears.  I was finding the whole thing quite amusing, and would give her my suggestions, to which she informed me: "Mom, rubbing honey behind your ears, using a salmon-scented shampoo, and blueberry deodorant are only the things to do, IF YOU WANT TO BE EATEN."  

During dinner one night, as she sat nervously chewing a carrot, she asked if she could just spray bear repellent all over herself to keep them away? And those bear lockers that the campsites are purported to have; can she, herself - along with bunny - fit in one at night to sleep??  After hearing from scores of people who have echoed Elizabeth's grave concern and have sternly inquired how we plan to keep ourselves safe from bears, I have since read up on bear safety, and have invested in bear bells, bear bags, and will be purchasing bear repellent when we land in Colorado.

I'd actually purchased several cans of it last week, but it turns out, you cannot bring bear repellent on a commercial airplane.  Charlie suggested I check - moments after I'd clicked "order" on Amazon; and was quite glad that I realized my faux pas and was able to cancel the order before it shipped. Alas, I've promised Elizabeth our first stop on this trip, will involve purchasing bear spray.

After several days in Montana, we will be driving north to Canada and visiting Lake Louise and Banff National Park.  We'll be spending - you guessed it - several days there, before driving further north to Jasper National Park.  After a few days in the Canadian Rockies, we will begin our drive back south - in to Idaho, through Coeur d'Alene, and along the western side of the Bitterroot Mountains.  All the way south to Salt Lake City, Utah we will drive - and then further south to Moab and Arches National Park.  After a few days in the Beehive state, we will head east back to Colorado, where we will depart from Denver … at 6:00 AM; four weeks to the day after our journey began.  

Four weeks we decided was the appropriate time for this trip for a multitude of reasons, including wanting to have sufficient time to enjoy each of the parks.  Also, we have five weeks of summer remaining, and we could either send our children to camp - or take them camping, and we thought the latter sounded much more pleasing.  Also (also), after a quasi-cost benefit analysis, I realized that it would actually cost us slightly less to take the children on this trip - then it would be to stay at home and put them in programs each day.  We then learned that the cost for renting a car was actually the same if you rented it for 3 versus 4 weeks. And, our flights are at this crazy early hour, because airfare was only $200 RT per person if you depart while 90% of the local population is still asleep.

To add to the cost savings awesomeness, our National Park pass from last year, doesn't expire until the end of August ... and we'll be able to enter all of the Canadian National Parks free of charge because they are celebrating their 150th anniversary.  How about that, eh??  Happy Anniversary, Canada! 

I love a bargain! 

Unless, of course the camping piece of this goes belly-up and we wind up sleeping in hotels for the next month - and then any potential cost savings will have vanished like the morning fog.

Here's a map of our route:

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And here is a partial shot of the bags we'll be taking.  Our kitchen (camp stove, utensils, pots and pans) is in the red plastic foot locker, the tent is in the gray bag, our sleeping bags and pads are in the two yellow bags; and all of our camping chairs and additional supplies are in the red bag. For whatever reason I'm not debating, we are allowed two check-on luggages per person.  That works out to 12 bags.  So I'm hopeful that this haul will qualify - or, won't cost us a small fortune to ship.

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Not shown, are the other six backpacks that hold our clothes, which are in the process of being packed (and then re-packed), that we'll be carrying on the plane.

Note to any potential burglars: While we are gone, we will have contractors at our house, nearly every day, doing some work that we'd held off on completing since we've moved in.  So an added bonus to all of this, is that we won't be living in a construction zone for a month.  Although some might argue, that's better than living in a tent for a month. (I'll let you know when we return.)

Until then: may God bless us and keep us safe and sane… and away from any wildlife that might be so inclined to devour us.

Amen! 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Summer Vacay - The National Parks - Park 5

Although we gave ourselves two nights to stay at the Grand Canyon, the thought of the 1,400 mile drive back to Houston was heavy on our mind, so after only one night - we felt the itch to start heading back. My motivation to pull stakes and hit the road, was also due to the dismal night sleep I'd had the night before.  While Charlie was toasty cozy in his -20 degree rating bag that I'd bought him for his birthday one year … I shivered the night away in my mere 0 degree rating bag.  In my current awake state, I'd zip my bag to his - or ask him to trade bags with me.  But when it's 2 AM and you're desperate for sleep - you just don't possess the brain power to do much more then shiver and keep hoping that you'll eventually doze off.  

Since there had been no showers at this particular campsite, before we piled in the car for the drive back - I insisted that everyone get cleaned up.  Converting the picnic table in to a salon, I boiled pots of water to wash everyone's hair - as Charlie washed their feet. 

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With squeaky clean children, we descended the Colorado plateau, and passed through Navajo Nation and across the magnificent Colorado River.  The woman in the gift shop was telling us that long ago, there were people living on opposite banks of the river, but getting across and up the embankment was virtually impossible.  

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Look at this bridge!

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It's actually the Navajo bridge…

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Kids, quick! Pose for a picture!  And William, in the midst of his face-palm is saying, "MOM, NOT AGAIN. PLEASE…. OH MY GAAAAAAAH…."  

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En route to our fifth National Park, we made a stop by Meteor Crater. Although this isn't a National Park, we took a tour around the rim of the crater, and spent several hours in the visitor center learning about what has been labeled the world's best preserved meteor impact site, on EARTH.

Here are the kids with what remains of the meteor!

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Charlie doesn't count this fifth National Park as a legitimate stop, since we just skirted the entrance and didn't take much of a hike.  But we did get a picture of the park sign!

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And a stamp and sticker in our passport book!

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And we taught the kids about how petrified wood forms, and they got to see why they call this place the "painted desert."

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A palette of beautiful colors for as far as the eye can see.  Albeit short, we had a great time, and Charlie was talking with one of the Park Rangers about career opportunities.  It turns out, several of the parks have a need for geologists, and they are on the look-out for scientists that can answer questions and lead tours.  

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This, of course, very much piqued Charlie's interest, who went online and download applications - and was in the process of filing them out, when I said, "STOP.  THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE DOING.  Do you really see us selling off everything and living in a National Park - and leading tours?"  I mean, I'm sure we'd look great in these outfits.

But …. I'm not quite there yet?

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The rest of the trip home was rather uneventful … although I might have cut the tip of my finger and promised my family in blood that I would never make them drive ALL THE WAY through west Texas again. Even I have to admit that it's a rather atrocious trek after you've already driven 4,000 miles.

In the end, we visited five parks, and have the brochures to prove it!

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Next up … I'll be writing about another amazing trip: the total surprise one I took Charlie on to celebrate his 50th birthday this past November.   And, the amazing trip that we are currently planning for this summer, which we anticipate will take us through seven national parks - including two that are in Canada.

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On that note, me thinks it's just a matter of time before Charlie and I are living in an RV, serving as campsite hosts, and writing messages like this one on our windshield. 

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.