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.


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!)


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…


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


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.)


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


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


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


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


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


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.  


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


Sans soles on our shoes, we arrived in Tecopa.


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.


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?!


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.


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.


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

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Summer Vacay - The National Parks - Park 1

So on our summer vacation - this past summer - we drove from Texas to California. And on the way back home to Texas, we camped in five national parks over the course of five days.

The purpose for this camp-a-thon was two-fold …

1. We spent an exorbitant amount of money on hotels and adventure parks while on the first part of our trip in southern California, so in an effort to offset the expense on the second part of our vacation, we camped because camping is virtually free.

2.  More importantly: camping is our absolute favorite past-time and I know of no better way to connect with nature, your family, and your own soul than by spending time - and sleeping - in the great outdoors.

(Moreover, Charlie and I splurged for the National Park Annual pass and passport book, and I love to justify an expense by getting my money's worth - and then some.)

Our first stop was Yosemite, National Park because we are on a quest to take our children to as many National Parks as possible.


It's been 25 years since Charlie and I have visited this park, and we never recall it being quite so crowded.


It stunned us that the crowds to get in to this park actually surpassed the crowds at Legoland and SeaWorld.  There were cars lined up along the roads and people everywhere.

As an interesting aside - the vast majority of the lovely people that we met in each of the National Parks were from countries other than the US.  Which begs the observation / question, visitors travel in from around the globe to see these magnificent attractions - why aren't more Americans out enjoying these parks in our own country?!

(Thus begins my public service announcement:  PLEASE MAKE IT A PRIORITY TO GO VISIT A NATIONAL PARK!  OR TEN! These parks are absolute treasures!)   

It was so crowded that we discovered, unless you made camping reservations a year in advance, or got lucky in a raffle - your chance of securing a campsite were slim to non. So we didn't actually camp in Yosemite National Park, but we enjoyed an amazing day there.

We found a nice spot in the Merced River where the kids got completely soaked and had a fun time moving rocks - pushing tree limbs and splashing…


They begged to stay here, all day.


Even at 12 and 9-years old … kids + water = guaranteed fun.


We hiked all over the smooth granitic faces that were worn down by glacial events.


And contemplated the people who were brave (crazy?) enough to climb Half Dome and El Capitan.


We trekked through picturesque meadows.


Where, according to the kids, I took way too many pictures. But it was breathtakingly beautiful everywhere I looked.


The view from our sunroof.  (Oh my gosh … THIS IS AMAZING! Charlie! Don't LOOK!)  




We gazed at the waterfalls and quivered at the idea of taking a misstep on a slippery rock.


And pondered the meaning of life - and how many fish lived here - while sitting alongside kettle lakes.


We marveled at the engineering feats that allowed for the construction of tunnels carved through the solid mountains of granite.


And before we left the park, we placed a small message - written on a biodegradable material (a leaf!) beneath a volcanic rock in the middle of a field by a downed tree limb.


A rock that looks like it has no business being here…name that movie!


We made a note of it's exact location and sent it to some of our Virginia friends, who would be visiting Yosemite precisely one week later.


Their quest, should they chose to accept it, was to FIND the rock and the message.  (A week later, they sent us a picture - holding the rock and the message!)


It was an epic day, and as we left the park at sunset and began our descent out of the Sierra Mountains, down the steep Tioga Pass …


We discussed where we would sleep that night.  We had absolutely no plans nor any concrete idea where we would end up … so as we often do, we just started driving.

Oddly enough, no one was worried - least of all the kids.  Whether they're learning to embrace a sense of adventure - or have simply succumbed to the reality that their mother will never be an extraordinary vacation planner - they certainly have seen firsthand that when you just take off and go - things always tend to come together, just so.


Perhaps the more you just go for it - the more confidence you have that everything will be all right.

(At least, that's what we keep telling ourselves!)

Wednesday, May 03, 2017


This picture of Henry with his chubby baby knuckles was taken yesterday.

Or so it seems.  I certainly remember it like it was yesterday.  Henry was camped out at a Pinewood Derby race - dressed up like a Tiger Cub, while William, his bona fide Cub Scout brother, was competing.  I just looked at the date of this post. It was four years ago … I am not sure how that is possible, since it feels like it was just written last week.


This was a picture taken on Monday night, when Henry - who wasn't even yet a CUB SCOUT, in the above picture and was just wearing his brother's attire because he was so excited to join the ranks … is now a first year Webelo.  Let that sink in …. my baby is a Web 1.   


Webelo is short for: We Be Loyal Scouts … and the appearance of this plaid kerchief and hat means that Cub Scouts will very soon be in the rear view mirror and Boy Scouts are just 'round the bend.


Meanwhile, William participated this past weekend in his Boy Scout Troop's Camporee.

Effectively ALL of the Boy Scout troops in the Sam Houston district showed up and flaunted their skills in lighting fires, pitching tents, shooting targets, and a host of other activities.  In the end, William's troop outperformed all of the other troops and won the Honor Troop, which is a HUGE accomplishment.  Add to that, William's Patrol - of which, he is the elected Patrol Leader - won best 2nd year Patrol out of all the second year patrols that were gathered (~20).

He even has the ribbon to prove it!


I am so incredibly proud of him.

But as he was explaining ALL that he had to do to WIN these huge awards, I told him, "Little Dude, I am so proud of you it hurts.  But I've got to tell you, THE GIG IS UP."

He gave me a confused look and said, "What do you mean, Mom?"

I pointed to the pile of camping gear that he had dumped by the door several hours earlier and said, "If you can tie a knot 20 different ways until Sunday, light a fire in the wind and rain, and throw a tomahawk so it hits a bullseye square three out of three times … you can most certainly unpack your duffel bag, put your tent away, and wash your own laundry.  So giddiup ... get to it, cowboy!" 

Hallelujah.  Amen.

And thank you, Boy Scouts of America!