Forming Inspiration (Day 14)

Springdale has a number of cute, boutique shops, and one particular art store drew us in more than the others.  We needed to stop there one last time before leaving on our 4-National Park day (From Zion to Bryce, then Capitol Reef, and finally landing at Arches in Moab).

The proprietor of the shop talked about growing up in Springdale and how, as kids, they would lay down in the street to see how long it would take for a car to come by.  Usually it was between one and two hours.  Now, thanks to digital photography and the internet, Springdale is hopping along with Zion, filled with car and foot traffic.

We tried out the checkmark system so that we could walk around the art store without worrying the kids would destroy something valuable.  To our shock, it worked.  Andre and Owen sat on the step outside looking through maps and booklets and destroyed nothing.

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The store was pretty busy, and we felt an internal clock ticking due to the looming drive, so we took a business card and began driving through Zion for the last time.

Our first stop was Bryce Canyon National Park.  Because of our lack of time, our objectives were:

  1. Get Andre’s Junior Ranger Badge
  2. See Inspiration Point

Katie took Andre and the Junior Ranger booklet to an outdoor tent to go through the activities.

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I largely babysat Owen, distracting him as long as I could with the Bryce Canyon video (cool for me, boring for a 3-year-old), then Visitor Center exhibits, gift shop, and finally just desperately wandering around outside the Visitor Center.  In the video, we learned that the canyon was named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon man that essentially owned the land and had this canyon in his backyard (hence “Bryce Canyon”).  When people would ask him about his immensely beautiful canyon, he would say something like “It’s a real pain to lose a cow down there.”

Andre and Katie rocked the Junior Ranger program and then, unfortunately, had to wait in line about 30 minutes before being able to talk to the ranger to earn the badge.  Finally, it happened.

Now, it was time to see the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.  We drove out to Inspiration Point (see the featured image), and gazed until the ticking internal clock struck the right cord.

Now, we were off to Capitol Reef National Park, our third National Park of the Mighty 5 of Utah.  We arrived 20 minutes before the Visitor Center was to close.  Katie had wisely downloaded the Junior Ranger booklet for Capitol Reef online in the car, and she and Andre had started what they could while Katie fought motion sickness.

As Katie and Andre ran in, Owen posed for the pic below.  That boy loves the camera.  He’s the easiest 3-year-old ever to get to smile and say cheese.

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Despite only 20 minutes until closing time when we arrived, Katie’s slick negotiation skills convinced the Ranger that it was in everyone’s best interest to slightly adjust the Junior Ranger requirements (we had no time for a Ranger led program), and Andre scored another badge for the day.

There is one thing that seems to be in common with all of these National Parks: you cannot do them justice with photographs.  The immense size of what you see is just hard to take in.  It’s like trying to conceptualize infinity.  The Grand Canyon is an obvious one, but Carlsbad Caverns’ rooms, Zion’s cliffs, Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos, and now Capitol Reef’s cliffs, are all simply impossible to measure with a photograph.  You literally have to go there to experience it, and it’s always worth it.

This is from inside our car while driving through Capitol Reef National Park.  It looks like a CGI filled scene from a yet to be made Flash Gordon II movie (come on, we all want it to happen so we can hear Queen sing that song for a half hour again).  Yet, it doesn’t do the park justice.

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From Capitol Reef, we took the scenic route to Moab, which is highway 24.  Make sure your gas tank is full because there is very little signal for most of the drive and many miles between functional gas stations.  It was one of the most impressive drives of the trip.  Pictures can’t do it justice either (maybe we just suck at photography and that’s our excuse).  There were just a lot of “how did nature form that?” moments.

We stopped in Hanksville, the first place with a gas station, and found a gem of a restaurant there called Duke’s Slickrock Grill.  John Wayne is huge in this area.

Finally, after a very long day, we arrived in Moab, then drove 25 more minutes down a picturesque road to the Red Cliff Lodge on the Colorado River.  You’ll have to wait until the next post to see the screen-saver worthy pics of that place!

 

 

 

 

Zion At Last (Days 11-13)

Day 11.  I took a little hike with Andre to see the view from above the B&B.  Unfortunately I took the keys with me so Katie couldn’t come get us at the high point, and Andre and I meandered back.

Over breakfast we talked with Bae, our truly Navajo host, about a wide range of interesting topics, like how she “owns” or has rights to this space when the Native American culture is not about owning anything, racism in all directions, family matters (she married a white guy and her family is still not pleased, even after many years and 2 children), and the shame the dam was in terms of killing micro ecosystems.

Finally, we packed up and took off for Zion, exhausted and hungry (Note: this Navajo meal was better than last one with the spoiled milk.  It was genuine Navajo food.  I don’t remember the actual name, but gray cornmeal paste in a bowl with some honey and fruit is pretty close.  I was proud of the kids for trying it.)

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Wearing our clothes from the day before, we headed to Zion National Park and our hotel, the Desert Pearl Inn.

We had grand plans of hiking and investigating Zion National Park when we arrived, but they all went by the wayside when we arrived at our hotel and the kids jumped in the pool.  We spent the rest of our time that night swimming, talking to some new people (it’s always nice to find Jayhawks on the trip), and then eating some more Mexican food.

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The Mexican restaurant we picked was called Oscar’s Cafe, and it was unbelievably good.  We would happily recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

The feel of Springdale, the town right outside of Zion where everyone stays, is one of a ski town.  The food is great, the shopping is plentiful, there is art and culture, and this one happens to be by one of the best National Parks around.  Interestingly, this place wasn’t busy at all until about 4 years ago.   (And the ice cream is scrumptious)

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We were looking forward to our next couple days in Zion.

Day 12.  We slept in a little and then prepared for our hike to Zion and the Watchman Trail.

Owen was just not having it this day.  Anytime he walked more than a few feet, he pouted and whined and cried to be carried.  I was wearing our nifty piggy-back contraption for just the occasion, but this was a bit ridiculous.

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Andre was exploring ants and anthills.  He has garnered a fascination with catching ants lately.  There are plenty on these hikes.

We made it to the top of the Watchman Trail.  Andre and Katie found a spot in the shade to complete the Junior Ranger booklet for Zion, and Owen did his best to spill Cheerios everywhere.  Luckily, one of Andre’s activities was trash clean up, so we picked them up in a jiffy.

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We had pretty good reception up there, so I FaceTimed my parents.  My dad was golfing and didn’t pick up, and so my mom was the lucky one to talk to Owen about hiking.

That night we took another dip in the pool and went to eat at the Spotted Dog, another A+ restaurant in Springdale.

Day 13.  The kids were just being little shits.  We were hitting “that point” this morning.  Katie called a family meeting and pulled a nugget of parenting brilliance from the depths.  The checkmark system.  We would award the kids with checkmarks randomly throughout the day for desirable behavior, and if they hit 10 checkmarks by the end of the day, they will have earned whatever the treat or prize is for that day.  Our kids are very motivated, like most kids, by sugar.  Day 1 of the checkmark system would be goal to get some more of that delicious ice cream.

The main objective of the day was to take a page from one of our favorite moments at the Grand Canyon and recreate it in Zion: biking with the kids in a beautiful National Park.

We found a local bike shop that let you rent essential the same contraption we had at the Grand Canyon, a drag along for Owen and a ride along for Andre.  Here was our path, from #1 at the bottom to the Riverside Walk at the top of Zion.

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We adjusted our seats, sprayed on some more sunscreen, and began our ride.  It was on our first trail, the Pa’rus Trail, when I heard Andre scream at me when going over a little bridge.

Well, Andre’s bike attachment wasn’t put on properly.  Luckily, he fell off expertly as the back-bike began to go sideways.  Minor scrapes, hugs and kisses, and it was time to investigate what happened.  It appeared an attachment wasn’t installed tight enough.  This part of the trail was still close enough to the front of the National Park so that we had phone reception.  I called the bike shop, and one of their guys biked to us in a jiffy.  He fixed up the bike connection, tightened it up, showed the rubber pieces that had been left off by his buddy at the shop which he would put on to ensure safety, told us this had never happened before and he’s sorry, and sent us along our way.

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We worked our way up the Zion National Park path, stopping at the Lodge for a quick lunch and a ton of blue Powerade, and continued on.

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The ride truly made us appreciate this beautiful National Park.  There were some incredible cliffs (and crazy climbers), a flowing river, interesting plants, and unique formations displaying the prehistoric age of the rocks.

We arrived at the end of the trail and were ready for our reward.

If we had more time, we could have walked on a river trail, literally walking in the river, for miles.  Instead, we had the kids play in the entry point, throwing rocks, climbing rapids, trying to catch minnows, and all the other things little boys with imaginations love about these environments.

Finally, it was time to head back.  Katie and I had booked an in-room couples massage at 4pm, and it was about 3:15pm at the far end of Zion (yes, the plan was that the kids could just watch TV while we were pampered – we had never tried this before).  In other words, we were going to need to hurry.

Not long into the ride back, I heard a similar scream coming from Andre, this time while going a bit faster.  I hit the brakes, his bike tumbled, then expletives from me, crying from Andre.  As I held him and Katie came to us, I looked and saw that the same problem had happened again.

We were fortunate that we had just passed some workers who were cleaning up the National Park roads.

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They had all the tools needed and fastened that contraption so tightly that it was almost buckling under the pressure.  We adjusted the seats on the bikes to allow us to switch, and Katie road back on the bike with an empty ride along while I dragged the two boys on the other bike.

Andre had “fallen well” again, so only minor scrapes.  Andre’s cousin Bennett had broken his wrist that morning falling from monkey bars, and it’s amazing Andre didn’t do the same.

Due to this additional crash, we had to pedal like crazy to make it back on time.  We arrived at 4:07pm – NOT BAD.  Luckily, one of the massueses was also late, so it all worked out.  We took quick showers to not torture our massueses, and Katie had the brilliant idea to give the kids the Kindle Fire tablets to occupy them.  My massage was one of the best of my life.  The therapist had experience working in physical therapy and chiropractor offices, and so she found everything wrong and attacked.  So good.

We closed with dinner, and we rewarded with Andre with ice scream because of how well he took to the checkmark system.  Owen, he didn’t earn it on day 1, but we saw an immediate change in behavior afterward.  I think he just needed some boundaries set, and when we followed through (which was tough), it was invaluable.

We closed the trip was some final pool time at the Desert Pearl Inn, a real jewel in Springdale and a must stay if you are venturing to Zion National Park.

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Tomorrow, we will be touching 4 National Parks in one day:  Starting in Zion, then Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and then arriving in Moab where the Arches National Park is.

 

 

Anteloping in a Blue Dress (Day 10)

On the drive to Page today, which was only about 2 1/2 hours, the kids slept the whole way.  It made sense.  They had woken up when the sun first peeked on the campsite and were doing their best to wake up all of the surrounding campers.

We had a final breakfast in the dining tent and said our goodbyes and thank you’s to Don and his wonderful team.   Then we took off to Page to see the Antelope Canyons and hang out at Powell Lake.

Page used to be nothing in terms of a civilization.  Then someone got the idea to build a dam, creating Lake Powell (and destroying a number of mini-ecosystems).  This created a number of jobs and a newly inhabitable area, so Page was born.  We were later told by our host at our new Navajo B&B that the man that came up with the dam later decided he didn’t want to do it, but others did it anyway.  It is what it is now, and so we have Lake Powell and Page.

Maybe a decade ago, Peter Lik took some amazing pictures of the Antelope Canyons in Page, then the internet found them, so, as of 4 years ago, the Antelope Canyons became a daily zoo of humans filing through.

We used “Ken’s Tours,” which seemed to be one of two, but they were great.  The tour guides would routinely take our phones and cameras and take the pictures for us to ensure they would come out right.

I don’t know who Ken is.  We didn’t meet him.  Our guess is that he is living like a king in Patagonia right now.  His business had been operating for a couple decades, making a little money I guess, giving tours of the Antelope Canyons.  Then four years ago the internet made it so that everyone wanted to see these marvels, and I’m not sure how Ken’s antiquated POS system keeps up with the constant onslaught.

You arrive and hope that your reservation was remembered by Ken’s reservation system (ours had an issue, but it all worked out), and then you work your way in.  It’s $50 cash per adult to walk through.  The kids were free.  The crowds were endless.  Ken is banking it.

Katie, thinking ahead, wore her blue dress to shoot for some nice photos.  I, on the other hand, did not.

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The Antelope Canyons were pretty fun to go through.  You’ll enjoy them too if you like taking pictures, which is 90% of the experience (10% being walking and squeezing between these formations).

We were now hot and gross (it’s the desert you know), so the next activity was taking a dip in Lake Powell.  The drive actually took us up into Utah, similarly to how Monument Valley was a couple miles into Utah (how did Utah draw these borders so well?).

Lake Powell.  It was picturesque, frigid (at least compared to the 100+ degree heat), the people there spanned every socioeconomic description, and nothing exists to block the desert wind.  That created this hybrid situation of an incredibly refreshing experience as you dipped into the cold water to escape the desert heat, all the while with sand violently blowing into your eyes.  We didn’t last too long.

Last, we went to Shone Dine B&B, a Navajo “glamping” experience.  Glamping was their term.  Don’t believe it.  We just did “glamping.”  This was staying in a small cabin with sufficient beds and nice blankets.  We decided we wouldn’t even unpack and would wear the same clothes the next day to keep things simple.  #roadtrip

Paul, the unexpected caucasian in this equation, gave us the tour of the B&B property with his wife Bae, a genuine Navajo who seemed like one of the ones that tried to break away from the Navajo life but found her way back due to life circumstances, with Paul.

Paul recommended a restaurant to us for dinner, Antelope Point.  Sounded great, we headed there.

We arrived after a 25 minute journey to the place that provided all of the evidence needed that there is a lot of money hiding out around Page.  The boats parked at the dock varied from boats you could treat as your house to badass speed boats that prompted all of the expected “Let’s get one of those!!” comments from the kids.

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We got to see how the money was to be put to use.  “Antelope Point” happened to be the host location of an American Heart Association fundraiser that night that gobbled up 85% of the restaurant.

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Our table ended up pretty close to all of the action.  Katie even bid on a trip to get the bidding going.

After sufficient overstimulation, we left and headed back to our B&B.  Problem was, our NAV system in our car, which we randomly used this time, had the wrong labeling on a pretty critical road.  This made a 25 minute drive a 1 hour and 25 minute drive with some Need For Speed driving to avoid a random truck following us and pulling into the areas where we made U-turns.  The kids slept through most of it, and we made it back unscathed, nerves rattled, ready to enjoy a beautiful night sky where you can see a million stars.

 

 

On The Edge (Day 9)

Ravens are smart, some say the smartest birds on the planet.  They will bother hunters until the hunters follow them to where their prey is walking around, knowing they will likely get some scraps.  They will place nuts on the road so that an unsuspecting future road kill will walk into a trap and get tagged by a speeding vehicle.  They are good with faces – one park employee angrily shoed a raven off of her bike seat, and from that day on all of her future bike seats were torn up, can I say, ravenously?  The special trash can lids at the Grand Canyon aren’t because of bears, they are to keep out ravens.  They used to have a design that required pushing down in four places and twisting the lid to get it off, but the ravens would form teams with one on each pressure spot and one in the middle squawking when it was time to turn.

Today, a raven woke me up early with a laughter-rich caw that sounded like a slow “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!”  Pause.  Repeat.  Pause.  Repeat.

Owen and I, being the light sleepers, started peeping across the beds at each other, making silly faces while the other two dozed unaware.

We started the day with a scrumptious breakfast in our dining tent, with waffles made from cast iron waffle makers crafted in 1910.

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Carb-loaded and hydrated, it was time for our hike into the depths of the Grand Canyon.

We loaded the kids up with sunscreen, hats, and Osprey water packs, and Don loaded us into the shuttle.

We headed to the South Kaibab trail (pronounced Kai-uh-bab, or, if you’re a local and cool, Sky-bab).  The trailhead starts with some somewhat slippery switchbacks (due to tiny pebble rocks and dirt, not wetness), and we ventured down gripping the kids’ hands to prevent their untimely demise.

We also tried out a new piggy-back contraption for Owen, and it was really cool.  You can see it in the featured image, along with this one, when Owen was “hiding.”

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After about an hour venturing down next to rocks with progressively changing in birth eras, we made it to our destination, Ooh Ahh point.

I have a physiological fear of heights.  In fact, while typing this and thinking of Ooh Ahh, my hands just started sweating.  We got the kids up with us on a boulder for a pic that shows that kids need sunglasses too.  I guess Andre’s (borrowing Don’s for the pic) weren’t helping.  Regardless, #ParentFail.

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Katie then dragged me out further onto a cliff boulder so that I could once again face my biggest fear, letting my legs freeze up as I stoically sat by Katie adjacent to our impending doom.  The neurotransmitter or adrenal fluid that was allowing me to do this ran out, so I scurried back to safety.

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After rehydrating and a sufficient break, Don and Andre led the hike back up the Canyon.  Andre, thinking this was a competition for some reason, didn’t want to take breaks and wait for the rest of the group.  He pulled Don up the Canyon, making it up in less than half the time it took to go down.

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I carried Owen with the piggy-back contraption, and that free-loader loved that, thinking the way up was SUPER easy.  By the top, my body was pretty glad we were finished.  Katie played pack-mule and carried up all of the water, so she was glad, too.

We headed back to camp for the lunch Mark prepared (Don’s wife had created this one), some amazing chili.  More 2nds.

We followed lunch with Andre’s favorite part of the Grand Canyon, biking the Hermit Trail along the rim.  Only shuttle buses and employees are allowed on this road, so it’s like taking a bike ride alongside the Grand Canyon with a road all to yourself.  Our tour guide was incredible, and, despite two flat tires, had a wonderful time.

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Don picked us up after our ride and took us to a Grand Canyon spot that is just getting discovered.  Out of respect for him, we won’t share the exact coordinates, but trust us it was worth it.  A quick hike on a forest path, and it opens up to a beautiful spot on a cliff that sticks out, giving you a near 360 degree view of the Grand Canyon.  It was early in the evening, so the shadows added that much more dimension to the view.

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We closed the day with filets in our dining tent, a strawberry desert (did he know that was my favorite food?), and, of course, more Smores.

The Grand Canyon experience, thanks to Don and ALE, will be a hard one to beat.

Grand Expectations (Day 8)

We woke up at our Navajo cabin B&B wondering if it would be inappropriate for the kids to pee on the ground outside (there was only one bathroom inside the house remember).  While pondering, they just did it anyway.

We went inside the house for the breakfast, which was basically old cereal and spoiled milk, so we skipped that and started our journey to the Grand Canyon, snacking in the car.

Katie plugged something about the South Entrance to the Grand Canyon in her phone’s Google Maps app, which seemed fine for about an hour, and then it told us to take a right off of the highway onto a dirt road.  About a mile and a half onto the bumpiest dirt road we have ever been on, and some intense discussion, we turned around.

We found a rural desert gas station where a nice lady sent us back the right way.  We arrived at our Grand Canyon stop about 1:30 and met Don from Arizona Luxury Expeditions.

Yes, this was our splurge for the trip.  We figured, when are we going back to the Grand Canyon?  We should do this right.  Don and his crew made sure that we did.

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Don started us out by shuttling us right to a Yavapai Point where we walked around, seeing sights, and talking about how the Grand Canyon came to be.

It’s time for Ten Key Trips TRIVIA!

Q:  How old is the Grand Canyon?  (meaning, when did the Colorado River start cutting this thing up?)

A) 6 million years old

B) 60 million years old

C) 600 million years old

D) 5,000 years old, since that’s how old the earth is.

If you said D, at this point, I won’t try to change your mind, so you’re right and you are going to some version of HEAVEN!

If you said B or C, you guessed one of the ones I would have guessed originally.

The scientifically correct answer is A, 6 million years.  The rocks that you can see at the bottom though, unearthed by the Colorado River, are up to 1.8 Billion years old.

On to trying to keep our children from falling into the Canyon.

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Quick lesson, children behind glass are easier to keep from falling to 5,000 feet.

We got back in the shuttle and ventured to Maverick Helicopters for our Grand Canyon helicopter tour.  The boys had no idea we were doing this.  Even when we were standing by the helicopters, we were still selling the boys on this being a special time that they get to see the inside of a helicopter.  Eventually we spilled the beans and got in for our ride.

The helicopter tour was as incredible as you might expect, definitely worth it as a life experience, and the best part was listening to the boys chatting back and forth on the headsets.  Owen even serenaded our group with a stunning rendition of ba ba blacksheep.

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We finished with the copter and followed Don to our campsite.  Arizona Luxury Expeditions was founded by Don Stevens several years ago after he spent about a decade doing day trip tours from Phoenix to all of the Arizona hotspots (and other regional amazing sites) like the Grand Canyon, Page, Sedona, etc.  What he learned was that a day trip just doesn’t cut it for these experiences, and these trips should be treated more like a safari in Africa.

His service is glamping in an amazing place, eating food prepared by a legit chef (Mark), and the special treat of hanging with a tour guide that knows everything you may want to know about the place you are and can take you to all of the neat spots not yet discovered and destroyed by the internet.

I can’t say enough about what a great job they did and how everything was well worth it.   This post can’t possibly capture their 5-star hospitality.  Okay, back to what we did.

Owen took to the campsite cornhole like it was his calling.

Next up was our private family dinner in our special dining tent.  Mark poured the wine… generously.

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Katie said she was going to do some portion control on this trip.  Well, that was before we tasted Mark’s food.  2nd’s please.  (Mark used to be the executive chef on a cruise line and knows a thing or two about destroying well-intentioned diets.)

Mark’s assistants included Sam, Don’s 23 year-old son (one of the nicest guys you’ll meet), and Andre, our kid.  Andre’s favorite part of the trip so far was probably hanging out in the kitchen tent helping with the plating and food crafting.

I had promised the boys all the Smores they could eat that night, and man did they hold me to it.  How do you do your Smores?  We had an epic debate about whether or not to light the mallows on fire.  Andre charred those suckers.

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Finally, we ended the night in our heated tent with two Queen size beds, watching the boys’ epic light battle with their flashlights.

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A “couldn’t be more perfect” first day at the Grand Canyon.  Thanks Don!

Monumental Day (Day 7)

The night before, the kids went to sleep with Katie around 10:00 at our very standard Hampton Inn in Albuquerque, and I took off to the local laundromat to give us a fresh start in the clothing department, blogging while the clothes spun.

The next morning I spent some time ironing some of the clothes and re-drying others with a hairdryer after Katie, very kindly and gently, pointed out that some of the clothes weren’t up to snuff.  That gave us something to process on the drive to Monument Valley, Utah.

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We were not going to have a fridge at any of our accommodations for the next four days, so it was time to eat in the car all day and use up all of the perishable food we could.  Our Yeti cooler is fantastic for these trips, but it can’t keep the food fresh for 4 days in the desert.

We stopped at a gas station for a potty break, and Andre asked me if he could have something from the bathroom wall “Health Mart.”  I said no.

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A quick note, we passed by this restaurant multiple times, meaning it’s a chain.  Update: we still don’t know what we are missing.

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We arrived in Monument Valley around dinner time and went straight to our Navajo Bed and Breakfast, the Tear Drop Inn.  It was one of those places that didn’t really have an address and you paid in cash after the stay.  There were a couple B&B rooms in what was otherwise known as “Eileen’s home” (her home was also the location of the one bathroom), and she also had a cabin outside.  We stayed in the cabin.

Yes, that’s Katie doing her rendition from the musical “The Book of Mormon.”

Owen and Andre started playing in the dirt outside the cabin and running around.  Very quickly, they learned the lesson that you should not pick up sand and throw it into each other’s eyes.

 

After playing around at the cabin, admiring a nice view of Monument Valley (once the sand was washed out), we ventured to “The View” restaurant to eat some genuine Navajo food.  I didn’t know what to expect, except that the reviews had said something to the extent that you eat at “The View” for… the view, but we were pleasantly surprised.

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After dinner, we took a gander at Monument Valley and took some obligatory pics of the little ones before settling in for the night in our cabin.

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Needing Some Space…. (Day 6)

We woke up in our nicely air conditioned room in Roswell, ready to chow on hotel-breakfast all-you-can-eat food.  The boys must have been hungry because they pounded it down.

Our first stop was at Alien Zone Area 51, where we chilled with creatures visiting from all over the universe.  They were nice enough to let us take some pictures.

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Lunchtime arrived immediately after, and Katie found a gem in Cowboy Cafe.  Even the bathroom there made you smile.

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There was one of those “if you can eat this in 60 minutes, it’s free!” menu items.  I am to those eating contests as Katie is to escape rooms; if we find one, I’m doing it.  This was easily the biggest burger I ever attempted.

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In the end, we paid full price for that burger.  I powered through about 40% of it.  My body only needed about 10% of it.

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Successful lunch!  Time to head to Albuquerque.

Pretty smooth drive, and the landscape improved consistently along the way until we arrived.

On our last road trip west, we had to stop in Albuquerque as well, and we wanted to do the Sandia Tram up the mountain, but it had been closed.  It was our first stop this time.

Wow, way better than expected.

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The tram increased our elevation about 4k feet.  Essentially, it’s a typical ski mountain that is used for hiking and mountain biking in the summer.  The temperature dropped 20 degrees on our way up for a pleasant 75.

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We hiked around at the top, took a million pictures with our “good camera,” (sorry, those pics won’t make an appearance yet in this blog, so trust us), and then headed back down.

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Then we hit up a local putt-putt place.  This is Owen attempting a 50/50 shot.

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Finally, we capped off the night with a much better Mexican restaurant than the prior day (it was about average – VAST improvement).  The food in New Mexico makes me really appreciate the food in Oklahoma.

 

 

 

Indiana Jones and the Lost Badge (Day 5)

I started the day scrounging up what seemed like a good breakfast start for the boys, apples, strawberries, and a hard-boiled egg.  They weren’t impressed.  They no longer like hard-boiled eggs.

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On to the Carlsbad Caverns!!  They are about 30 minutes outside of Carlsbad, and we got there early, about 8:30am.  TIP:  Do that.  Don’t show up at noon because the crowds swell throughout the morning.

The first new friend we met on our way into the caverns was this Tarantula, we’ll call him Ted.

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Even though logic and knowledge told me he was harmless, I have had the ebee jebees about spiders ever since Arachnophobia, starring John Goodman and I think some other people. Here’s the broader Tarantula Ted experience if you wish (if it works for you, mine is kicking an error):

Here’s our pic in front of the Carlsbad Caverns sign (shot by a very nice volunteer photographer with depth perception issues and a large thumb).

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We picked up Junior Ranger workbooks for the boys and quickly learned that Owen was about as ready to become a Junior Ranger as I am about as ready to fly an airplane.  Andre’s got it down though.

The Caverns.  Wow.  If you have never been, please go.  They are simply incredible, and the picture won’t do any justice.

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The sheer scale of the cave entrance was ridiculously unanticipated, no matter what we read.  The size of the “rooms,” with so much utter uniqueness that the earth produced, was truly awe inspiring.  Every cliche you can think of, I want to say, and it would be worth it.

The featured image above is the cave entrance as seen from inside the cave.  We were spelunking!

Here’s some pics that won’t help.

We took a break halfway.  They have a cafeteria with sandwiches and souvenirs 750 feet below the surface.  Owen practiced making as many funny faces as he could think of for the camera.

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We then went to the “Big Room.”  No words.  Here is a tiny part of it.

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Owen fell asleep on my shoulder for the last 25%.  It was… too… much….

We finished with the caves, and Andre completed his requirements for the Junior Ranger badge and then some.  He took the oath from the Ranger, and the badge was his.  Proud moment.

We had quite a jump start on the day, so we decided to head south to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which was only about 40 minutes away, and see if we could snag Andre another badge and the family a great experience.

Here is the drive. It was… straight.

 

Vimeo… not working for me.  Working for you?

We thought it would be a good idea to hike to the Devil’s Hall, a 4.2 mile round trip.  This is getting long, so I’m going to sum up the rest of the day and night:

– Hike was hot and not well marked.

– Andre wanted to water the desert plants and used up all of his water in the first mile.

– We took a wrong turn.  + 1.5-2 miles

–  A boulder came down the mountain and tried to crush Owen and me.  Failed.  Owen and Jeff = 1, Boulder = 0.  The circling birds needed to fight for a new meal.

– Here are some pics:

– Eventually turned around after pushing it a bit too much.

– Andre realized he had lost his new Junior Ranger badge.

– Was so thankful when we made it back to our van.

On the way home, the kids had a hysterically fun time Facetiming with their good friends, Jason and Caleb Maltenfort.  Somehow I ended up with this pic from it:

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Back to that missing Junior Ranger badge.  This is where Katie and Jeff stepped in and did our thing.  That meant, I drove very fast back to the Carlsbad Caverns, and when we got there the minute they were locking the doors, Katie was able to talk the tired Ranger into going and getting a new badge for Andre.  #ParentHeroes

Understand, at this moment in time, we are exhausted and famished.  About 40 minutes later we get back to Carlsbad (the city), and Katie directs us to what became the worst Mexican food experience of our lives.  So much potential.  So bad.

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We grocery shopped a bit, then finally, yes, back at our AirB&B at about 10pm MST, ready for showers, snacks and glorious sleep.

Problem:  The air conditioner isn’t working, and it’s the desert.

Our host wasn’t responding, didn’t have her phone on her.

Katie checked, all hotels in Carlsbad were booked up by “all the oil guys.”  I guess that’s a thing.

So, we packed up, drove to Roswell, NM, and we went to sleep that night super late with the aliens.

Onward we go!

 

Operation Desert Storm (Day 4)

First things first, we wrapped up a wonderful weekend with the Littles.  This is a record setting group picture with six kids all looking at the camera simultaneously.  We can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed spending time with these guys.  And happy birthday Stella! (she’s the new 10-year-old on the right)

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At breakfast, Andre begged for coffee.  Katie ended up getting him some decaf to… you know… see.  He loved it, and recruited Owen to help him with the cream.  Ollie: “what the ____ are you drinking Andre?”

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After the yummy breakfast buffet in which the kids determined whipped cream with M&Ms, chocolate, and a strawberry or two was good for breakfast, we packed up, said goodbyes, and hit the road.

To Carlsbad, stopping in Abilene along the way, where we did nothing less than save the world.  Yes, in an escape game (trip count 3, day count 4).

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The boys were reminded by the loud voice above numerous times that the random trim they found in a hidden room was not part of the game and could be left where they found it.  But, you know, they were convinced.

We played some arcade-like games with the boys, let them fight over how much neither one of them wanted to redeem their prize ticket for a stuffed animal (we ended up with a Koala that neither will touch), and were back on the road.

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This may be the longest drive of the whole road trip, so we are experimenting with Kindle Fires.  We are a little nutty about restricting video game time on our road trips, but these we were able to limit to 100% educational stuff, so, we’re trying them.  We just hate it when Andre asks to play a game when we are out seeing amazingness, so this may be the last time they are used on the trip just to shake addiction tendencies.  All in all, it went well.  Andre did ask the next day if he could play again.  “Don’t ask us that.”

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We arrived at our AirB&B in Carlsbad around 6:30pm MST, and started to unpack.  At first glance, this was PERFECT.  Each boy got his own room.  A good room for us, kitchen, laundry… it was road trip gold.

The first thing was minor, a beeping smoke detector needing batteries changed.  The owner was around in 30 minutes to fix.  No biggie.  I asked her about restaurants.  The Mexican restaurant she recommended turned out to be closed.  And lots of bars in the windows.  Starting to see some clues.

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We resorted to TripAdvisor and picked the top open place.  See featured image at the top of the kids playing with the misters (not men, but things that spray tiny water droplets in mass).  Yellow Brix would have been the perfect place to enjoy a nice evening outdoors under said misters, but no one was outside.  Low and behold, a massive thunderstorm was beginning to roll through our desert town.

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I don’t want to understate this.  It had not rained at all in Carlsbad, New Mexico since OCTOBER.  We showed up, massive thunderstorm.  I was called by “Chip,” the other host person on our AirB&B, right after we ordered food.  “Hey, there is massive hail coming your way.  Like baseball size hail.  If you want to use the garage at the place, you can.”  Me, “Do I need a garage door opener or anything?”  Chip, “No, just push it up.”

We got our food to go, I got the boys in the car with a mild drenching, and Katie eventually got our food into the car with her.

We had dinner at the place – it was very nice.

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If you care to see videos of Owen adorably trying to eat his pasta and then Andre’s (the above is what Andre didn’t finish), let me know in the comments.

The boys did the dishes.  #lifeskills

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Okay, that’s the last picture I took of the night, but the saga of our AirB&B couldn’t help but continue.

Katie had fallen asleep around 10.  I finished blogging around midnight.

A dog is barking.  It’s late.  That’s random.  I start spinning about some stuff on my mind.

Finally, I clonk out around 12:30.  The rest is hazy to me because I’m seeing Katie do this in bits and pieces while I’m trying desperately to get a little sleep.  Stupid dog, it’s 3am?  Where is your owner?

I’ll tell you where his owner was.  Across the street, the horde of people that lived in that house, and maybe a rival posse from the other side of Carlsbad, were basically set to do battle.  Some guy yelled “You better get the F*** out of here!”  As Katie stood crouched, staring out the window, she witnessed a couple people running towards a truck (they are all trucks here), and the truck alarm went off.  One of those loud honking ones.

A random truck had been sitting idle and running, with its lights on for the last few hours outside of that house.  When the alarm went off, that patient dude pulled up next to the barking truck, then people poured from the house towards yet another truck, hiding behind it.

Katie assumed a gun battle was coming.  Alas, turned out to be just middle of the night screaming and yelling.  Katie went and laid with Andre and contemplated an exit / defense strategy should violence spill into our place across the street.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow.

Blowing out Dallas (Day 3)

When the genetic cards were dealt at my birth, I was blessed with a light-sleeping seven-two off-suit.  This meant that when the third day started off like so many others do, with the children waking up and making noise, I was now up and wondering how I could keep them from waking Katie up, too.  I did what I usually do: I shushed the kids repeatedly until we all had empty enough bladders and sufficient public-appropriate clothing to get out of the hotel room and on to breakfast.

Here’s where I get off the cross and admit that I enjoy eating breakfast with the kids, especially when it’s a great all-you-can-eat buffet with an omelet bar.  Andre and Owen explored bacon omelets (no cheese for Owen this time – he’s random about meats and cheeses – the boy does not like butter – WHAT?!), and I had whatever veggie items I could stomach dumped into my omelet, with bacon, because I’m healthy.

Katie and the Littles were then up and ready to splash around in the water park.

No massive head trauma today.  Ollie Little, pictured on the right, was a real trooper, battling off blistered 2nd-degree sunburns to play with the other kids at the park.  Papa Smurf says, “You too should talk to your babysitters about adequate sunscreen.”

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The Smurfs were in full effect back at the Gaylord.  The kids rocked a Smurf scavenger hunt, and the Gittelek Clan (the 10 of us) destroyed the other Smurf-flavored escape room, I believe setting a record that may have lasted that whole day….

That night we partied with the Smurfs, and it was Smurfurific.

 

Okay, honestly, it was a disaster. The Littles had lost one of their 27 or so kids, Andre had the same fear of the big Smurfs that I did of clowns as a child, and Owen, well his finger got stepped on. Happy news, they found their kid, Owen got his finger kissed, and we found a safe distance to enjoy the Smurfs:

At least our kids got some balloons from easily the best “balloon artist” I have ever seen.  Using 33 years of balloon making experience, Christopher Lyle captured the true essence of Andre’s balloon request, “The Fart.”  The result is lovingly placed here on Owen’s head.

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That capped off quite a day and night.