Friday, July 19, 2019

Sitting Bull Falls and Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Today we visited Sitting Bull Falls and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Sitting Bull Falls, in Lincoln National Forest, is a beautiful oasis in the middle of a desert. The small waterfall is fed by a spring at the top of a hill, and plunges 150 feet into the canyon below. There is no real hike to even get to the falls, just a short paved walk, and then you arrive at an inviting pool with the falls. The big girls immediately dove in, and found two friends about their age. With their two new friends, they explored the area, found a "secret" waterfall, and found (and played in) the muddiest spots in the area.

The surrounding temperature was about 103, but the falls, coming straight from the spring, were chilly. It felt great to cool off, and made a ton of sense why it is such a popular rec area for locals.
After playing at the falls, we showered off in the RV and headed to Carlsbad Cavers National Park, arriving about 2:45 in the afternoon (which turned out to be perfect.)

We headed into the Natural Entrance, with a 1.25 mile hike into the cavern (which is a total of 34 miles long.) It was like hiking into another world. The temperature dropped to about 60 degrees once you are in the cave (again, from about 103), and it is damp everywhere (while the surface is dry New Mexico heat.)

Huge stalactites and stalagmites grew in the cave, with remarkable, ancient textures. We did pretty well for about three quarters of our walk, then our three year old showed up. Oh well.

After the walk, we headed to the visitor center to eat dinner, which was (surprisingly) delicious (National Parks aren't often known for their cuisine.) The girls finished their Junior Ranger activities in time for us to then head down to the bat program, which started at 7:45 pm.

For the bat program, visitors sit at an amphitheater at the mouth of the natural entrance to the cave, and at dusk, about half a million (!) bats exit to find dinner (or breakfast, I guess.) So we sat and watched all of these bats swarm out of the mouth of the cave, thick like a cloud of smoke, but smoke with one mind, heading in the same direction. It was a remarkable sight, but we didn't get any pictures, because electronics and flashes apparently screw up the bats' sense of direction.

It was a great day, especially with tomorrow being a big driving day to Austin, to see Trulie Young!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Petrified Forest National Park

Today we departed the Grand Canyon, and drove to Petrified Forest National Park, where we stopped for the night in Holbrook, Arizona.

The morning on the Grand Canyon was beautiful, and I got a chance to go out running on the rim trail around seven, before most of the visitors were out. Then the whole family went on a ranger-led program, Walk on the Wild Side, with Ranger Ronnie. She taught us to smell trees, and to identify animal poo, and, trained as a paleontologist, she told us about the geological record of the canyon. It was just our family on the program, so Ranger Ronnie was really terrific accommodating our three girls, especially the seven-year old who has so many questions, and the three-year old, who has so, so much self control.

At the end of the ranger program, with the Grand Canyon as the backdrop, Ranger Ronnie inducted both Lillian and Maisy into the Grand Canyon junior ranger program, complete with badges. The Junior Ranger program has been a really enjoyable way for the girls to participate in the national parks. Every park we've visited has had the program, and it usually provides a little book, maybe 12-20 pages long, with activities appropriate to various ages of children. After the kids complete some number of the activities (based on their ages), they can have a park ranger check their work, and receive a badge. Our seven year old has been really into it, and has collected about seven different badges, so far, and we bought her a junior ranger vest to display all the small, wooden badges. We highly recommend it.

After a family walk along the rim trail, we packed up and got on the road to Petrified Forest National Park. Petrified Forest National Park is one that I remember visiting as a child, and it was on our way, so I thought we could visit it as well. It was only a short stop, a couple of hours, but we had enough time for a short hike to see great examples of the petrified wood. The fossils retain so much of their structure that the look very much like tree trunks (Courtney, when she saw them from a distance, first that they were just regular downed trees), but when you look closely at the cross sections, it is clear that the internal structure has been replaced by quartz. It makes for beautiful fossils, so much so that park signs warn of outgoing vehicle checks to make sure that visitors haven't taken any of the petrified wood with them.

Our seven-year old also did the junior ranger program at Petrified Forest, then we were back at the campground for swimming and grilling hamburgers and hotdogs.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Grand Canyon

(This post should have posted July 15th, because we couldn't find any wifi or cell service in the Grand Canyon. I couldn't even cancel meetings or let people know. It was great.)

Today we drove from Cedar City to the Grand Canyon! Just so that we could experience the cliche of the great American family road trip. But first, we had to actually get on the road, and two things didn't go so well.

In my defense, I was just trying to be helpful. So, so, helpful.

(Also in my defense, I should mention that because of some laundry and some writing, I only got about four hours of sleep last night. That might explain some of my issues.)

So, before we got on the road, I wanted to fix the driver's side mirror, which had come really loose on the drive, and wiggled around. I did a Wal-mart run last night, and bought a hex tool set, so I could tighten the bolt holding the mirror in place. And in the morning, after we slid in the sides of the RV, but before we set out, I got out the tool, rolled down the window, and adjusted the mirror to the right view. I got out and tightened the mirror bolt, so that Courtney and I could see the cars in the next lane. Because RVs are so big, those mirrors are super important. So see, I was being helpful.

I also decided that it would be really helpful to clean off the front of the RV, because we had hit a *lot* of bugs on the trip. The whole front of the RV is just a massive entomological graveyard. So, after unhooking the water from the RV, I took the hose, turned on the spray, and started spraying down the front of the RV. I sprayed the top overhang, and the front windshield and I sprayed the side mirror, which had so many bugs. I kept spraying that mirror, until I started hearing my kids yell at me, from inside the RV. I could hear them so well, because the driver's window was completely open, and I was apparently hosing down the driver's seat, full stream. The spray got as far back as the couch. So, we started our little trip with a fully soaked driver's seat.

The worst part is, that because I was going on so little sleep, Courtney said that she would drive the first shift to the Grand Canyon. Because I had hosed the driver's seat, I said that I would drive, but she decided that the sleep-deprived fool that would spray a hose into an RV probably shouldn't be driving said RV.

The second thing that happened on the drive was that the front panel screen wouldn't come on. It operates the rear view camera, which we keep on all the time to see cars approaching on the highway. I worried a little that we had tripped a breaker somewhere. The rearview camera is not essential, but I started playing around, and found that the tank gauges (grey water, fresh water, etc.) were also not working, nor any of the outlets. Then I started to get worried, because I didn't know if we could stay in the RV that didn't have any tank gauges, or if the AC would work when we got to the next camp site. I was just about to have Courtney turn around to an RV repair place we had passed in the last town, when I remembered that I had hit an errant switch last night, as I was coming in late from the laundry adventure. I had thought at the time that it was accidentally the awning control, right at the entrance, but then I got up and checked it, and it was a battery disconnect switch. I only had to flip that, and everything started working great.

See? So helpful.

We ended up getting into the Grand Canyon RV park around 4:30 pm, and heading over to see the rim, and to visit the visitor's center. This was the first time we stayed in an actual National Park campground, but it was pretty great, being close to the action.

Because it is our anniversary today, the kids cooked dinner for Courtney and me, in the RV. We had buttered bread, vegetables and dip, and pasta with marinara sauce. It was delicious, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate our anniversary than to have my kids feed me, and to have my wife drive me to the Grand Canyon sitting in a soaked driver's seat. Love you, honey! Here's to many more adventures together!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Zion National Park

Today we went to Zion National Park, and it was spectacular. (The most glorious sight might have been the open parking spot at the Visitor Center, but the views of the canyon were pretty good as well.)

We didn't get an early start on the day (after a late bedtime last night), so we started our first hike around noon, from the last shuttle stop, Temple of Sinawava. We hiked along the Virgin River, slowly (about at the pace of a three-year-old who found friendly and curious squirrels every 30 feet.) At the end of the walk is the Narrows, where the canyon constricts enough that you have to hike in the water in order to go any further up.

Which was a great excuse for my kids to jump in the water. The water was clear and frigid, but with 90+ degree air temperatures, it was awesome to get our feet wet. Lillian and Maisy decided that it would also be awesome to get a lot more of themselves wet, and they dove in completely, and let themselves get swept downstream a couple of times (as shown in the video. Don't worry, we got them out of the river.)

I think the best compliment for the park was from Lillian, who started looking at real estate in the area, and said that she wanted to hike up the Narrows every day. That wouldn't be such a bad life.
We also attended a ranger-led talk, where Caraway got to be a Firefighter Ranger (fingers crossed her federal service start date will be today.)

We did a couple of more small hikes, to the Nature Center and back to the Visitor Center, which allowed us to view the vibrant, multicolored mountains hemming in the slot canyon. What a beautiful place.

We finished the day at our RV site with hot dogs, hamburgers, and s'mores, and an early night. More tomorrow!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Arches National Park

Today was a drive from Dinosaur National Monument, to Cedar City, Utah. But we got a chance to stop at Arches National Park, and it was spectacular.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Dinosaur National Monument

So, to make sense of today's RV adventure, we need to start with a little bit of backstory.

149 million years ago, there was a lush river valley in what is now the Green River valley in northeast Utah. It was the big watering spot, so every dinosaur wanted to be there. A large number of dinosaurs were hanging around when a regional draught cut off the water supply, and the river ran dry. Loads of dinosaurs died around the dry river bed, and the carcasses littered the area, until a few huge rains came through, ending the draught, and washing all of their bodies downstream, to a bend in the river, where they were quickly covered with sand.

Fast forward to a little less than 149 million years (1909), when Earl Douglass, a paleontologist for Carnegie Natural History Museum, found eight dinosaur tail-bones protruding from a rock, and began excavating one of the most extraordinary treasure troves of fossils ever found. Thousands of tons of fossils were excavated from this one hill, but Douglass' eventual vision was to keep some fossils in place, so that visitors can see them "in situ", which is what has happened.

Today we visited the Carnegie Quarry in Dinosaur National Monument, and it is an extraordinary display of nearly 1400 dinosaur bones, still in the rock, covering 180 feet, with two stories of visitor viewing. The building was built around the rock face, so it is fully air conditioned and comfortable (which is great, since it was upper 90s today), and gives you ample opportunity to explore the rock face with the protruding fossils. You can see full vertebral columns in the rock, and huge femur bones. You can even touch them. We had so much fun. The girls participated in the junior ranger program, complete with badges, and learned about how dinosaurs were named.

We continued the adventure with a short hike, seeing more fossils of marine life and dinosaurs, before finishing the visit with an auto tour through more of the park.

At the end of the day we relaxed with a hop in the pool, then grilled hamburgers and hotdogs (family was making fun of my veggie dog with string cheese [thinking of you, Amanda Sinele!], mustard, relish, and Cheetos), and finished it off with s'mores. Finally, tried out some night sky photographs with the RV. I like how the Big Dipper turned out. I suppose stars are kind of cool, too. Stars and dinosaurs. Both cool.