Saturday, July 31, 2010

Petaluma, Napa, Sonoma & San Francisco

July 24 - 31


Checking out a cell on Alcatraz Island:

The girls being awarded their Alcatraz Island Junior Ranger Badges:

Scaling the Rock-Climbing Wall at Petaluma KOA:

Feeding some new friends a snack at the Petaluma KOA:

Friday, July 30, 2010

July 30th - Last Day at Petaluma KOA

This was our last day at the KOA. Jessica succeeded in climbing the rock wall and Sophia made it 1/2 way up. The girls and I baked cupcakes for Tom's Birthday and Tom took them out to feed the donkeys and cows. They took an apple which the donkey's were thrilled to eat.

Tom took the RV in for some service -- to fix the tire valves and then to Ford for a transmission light issue.

July 25th -29th - Sonoma, Napa & San Francisco

It's almost 1/2 way through our time on the road. We have so many experiences and places that we've seen. The most special thing though is to have time. Time to have a conversation, listen, cook, eat, read, think -- many of these things have been given because we're a 2-parent working family, or we rush through them and miss the joy of the moment. I hope I remember to not get so consumed by work when I get back and keep things in a more balanced perspective. I think that is my lesson to learn from the journey.

Sophia has these moments of wisdom. Yesterday she came up: "Mommy even strangers are our family. Really. It's just that we don't remember. " I talked to her about this to see where she was coming from -- if it was just some random thought. But she really meant that we were all knowing each other and connected like a family -- everyone in Canada she said -- but that we just forgot. Imagine how the world would be if we did not treat each other like strangers and recognized that we're all connected. What a wise kid. That's quite an appropriate name then that Tom and I chose for her :-)

July 29th
-- today we went to Sonoma City and had lunch at "A Taste of the Himalayas" - they had yummy dahl, naan and chicken tikka and tandoori. The girls fed the donkeys wild hay and grass , they climbed a rock climbing wall they have at the campground, they swam, they did the petting zoo and scavenger hunt and finished off the day with a movie and popcorn in bed. Whew! We're tired! ;-) Jessica's ears are still tender and the twice daily rubbing alcohol washes are not fun. Poor kid. It was fun to talk to Mom, Dad, Nav and Samantha over Skype. We miss you guys and good to see baby Cuddles! :-)

July 28th -- this was a recovery day from our day in San Francisco. We did arts and craft, rock climbing wall, petting zoo and pool. Later in the day we went to Costco and for groceries. On the day we stopped at gas station to have the car washed. Wow! This was more than a gas station. It was Matt and Jeff's Car Wash and they hand washed and vacuumed our car. There was a gift shop in back where I met Jeff and got to talking about books. There was a book shelf of books that were reviewed by Jeff and I wanted to buy every one. We settled for 4 -- buy 3 get 1 free. Tom picked 2 and I picked 2. Jeff's wife runs the gift shop and I knew it was something special just from the type of products -- the best niche ones. It felt like I was in a store with hand-picked favourites that a kindred spirit would choose. It was great talking to Jeff and finding an owner of a business who would talk to customers. How refreshing! He gave me an overview of many books and in the end I chose "Three Weeks with my Brother" by Nicholas Sparks and Micah Sparks. (Nicholas Sparks wrote "The Notebook" ). Jeff said it was appropriate because Tom and I are on a journey and so were these 2 brothers. The book is great, by they way. I don't even really like non-fiction and I can barely put it down. I think that meeting Jeff and buying this book is all part of something being set in motion. I know I'll remember him and our discussion about these wonderful books in a gift shop at a car gas station/wash of all places. Read the reviews of other people and you'll see how special a place this was.

July 27th -- our day in San Francisco! Jess got her ears pierced in Union Square. The tram cars are OK but overrated and the line up is brutal. Fisherman's Wharf was fun - we ate at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Factory. Alcatraz was cool to see but I felt creeped out just being there and claustrophobic just looking at those cells and imaging someone living there year after year.
It was a 12+ hour day and the girls both did great. We ended the day at Union Square at a Chinese restaurant and then stopped briefly at the Golden Gate Bridge.

July 26th -- We toured Napa Wineries -- Sterling & Beringer and at the best Pizza place in the world called -- Nuthin' Fancy - Just the good stuff. And it was. Sterling was fantastic - we took a tram ride up to the winery and tasted 5 wines. We left with many more than that. :-) Beringer -- beautiful landscaping and I bought 10 wines there for $100.

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 24th - Sonoma Wine Country

Jessica is riding her bike around and around our site and loving it. We went to the outlet malls this morning and got the girls some back to school clothes and Tom some new dress shirts. I got a pair of jeans from Banana Republic for $22. Then we got some bike accessories from Mike's Bike shop and lunch in downtown Petaluma. We went to one winery in Sonoma -- terriffic Cab Franc and Merlot and then hung out at the pool and played Yatzee before the kids went to bed.

I've been baking blueberry muffins as I type these last few updates. It's the first time I've used the oven in 4 summers. :-)

July 24- Driving the Redwood Highway to Petaluma, CA

Well this was a spectacular drive through more of the Redwood State parks and some curvy and hilly drives along the shore. We were so looking forward to getting to the KOA campground. It was a 6 hour drive day so we got up at 5am and left Redwood park by 5:50am. We were on track to make it to Petaluma by 1pm.

But at 12:30pm, just 1/2 hour away, trouble struck. We had the front passenger tire blowout on Highway 101. Tom is an fantastic driver and safely got out huge vehicle over to the narrow shoulder safely. Thankfully this did not happen on curve, hill or road with no shoulder. The tire was overheated and just disintegrated. The rim was almost on the ground. It was quite dangerous where we ended up -- part of the RV was still over the white line and in on-coming traffic. Tom immediately unhooked the CRV and had me drive away with the girls to the next exit so they were safe. He stayed behind and got AAA out to help him jack up the RV to change the tire.

I waited with the girls at local coffee shop - they had their colour books and I bought them ice cream. The owners were so nice as we spread out all their stuff. It took about 2 hours. I worried the whole time until I saw Tom drive up safely into the parking lot. We didnt' know exactly where we'd meet up but I had the CRV parked prominently so Tom could see it when he drove by.

We were both frazzled after this day and glad to check into our site. The Petaluma KOA is a huge campground. We took the girls to a show they had in the evening with reptiles and wild cats. The girls enjoyed the albino snake, lemur, baby alligator and others. We saw a little dessert fox that they say may never need to drink water in its lifetime.

It was a long day and we made it.

July 23 -- Hiking Family

Today we did a 1 mile hike along the Smith River and then a 2 mile hike to Enderts Beach that went down a few hundred feet. The girls did great! We spent so much time outdoors -- river, forest, shore. It was a fantastic day. Jessica and Sophia also completed the Redwood Junior Ranger National Park program and were awarded their badges. Congratulations girls!

July 22 -- Jedidiah Smith State Park, Redwood State and National Park, California

Redwoods -- some cool facts: they can grow to 380 ft (that's over a 20 story building), be as old at 2000 years, take in 550 gallons of water a day. Their roots extend 60 feet (thats like 4 of our Honda CRVs in a row) and 'interlock' underground with each other to form a network that stabilizes them in high winds. They have bark up to a foot thick. These lifeforms are truly wonderful to behold.

Within a few mintues of the Califonia border we started seeing the majestic Redwoods. Driving into the State park was stunning and our site was carved into a spacious area under a few of these giants. I think this was the best campsite we have ever had. It felt like we were being guarded by stewards who had seen centuries go by and were now sheltering us. As we slept under these trees I thought about time and what a scale it is. Our lives and experiences are but a speck when I think of Yellowstone Volcano. It errupted 640,000 years ago and the earth's crust moved throughout its eruptions so there are calderas all along the western US. They say at somepoint as the crust shifts, Canada will end up over the Yellowstone Volcano. This kind of timespan is mind-blowing to consider. Sleeping under a tree that could be over 1000 years old or 2000 years old is a smaller scale but still mind boggling. These trees were starting their life at the time of Christ and they are still here today. Only 3% of the Redwoods remain from logging and clearing. I'm thankful even this much was saved so we can experience their grandeur.

After we got settled , we went on a Ranger talk and the girls got started on another ranger program and got their California State Junior Ranger pin. Jessica was not too excited about the giant banana slug but we got to see a couple up close and all the kids were fascinated. We then went for a drive through a road winding through the forest -- sometimes so narrow to be one lane where they "fit" the road between the trees. This was one of the best scenic drives of our trip through the Redwoods.

We got to Crescent City and got some groceries. After dinner, we went to the Ranger Campfire and slideshow about the area and animals. The girls got free hot chocolate which they loved. Sophia was tired and we left the show early. It was good Tom remembered flashlights as it was pitch black to walk back to our camper.

As we went to sleep , we've never experienced such "quiet". You could not hear cars or other noises. I tried not to think of the bats or flying squirrels that were likely out and about. :-)

July 21/22- Good-bye Oregon - Hello California

July 21st - Day 22, Charleston, OR

I started this day by going for a bike ride and went to the county park next to our camp ground. It was a massive hill that I walked my bike up partially but the views at the top were worth it. I then cycled down to the beach and found my way back to the highway which had marked cycle lanes on each side. It was great to cycle along the ocean and see the water and sand. Tom and I try to give each other an hour a day to do something just for ourselves -- to surf the net, read, bike, ..... just a little downtime.

We went to the Coos Bay farmer's market. The girls actually saw food being sold outside by the people who grew them. This is a far cry from the Metro or Loblaws shopping experience they are used to.

We bought fresh Oregon blackberries (they called them Obsidian and 2 other varieties; the guy selling them looked at me with surprise when I told him that I'd only ever known them as 'blackberries' and they came from Mexico in our supermarket back home), raspberries (delicious), blueberries (being baked into muffins as I type) , kolrabi, tomatoes, butter-leaf lettuce and so-yummy sour dough bread which we ate right out of the bag as we browsed the market. We also got cinnamon bread and a focchia /olive oil/ tomato/cheese bread (amazing).

We ate very well for days off this delicious food.

We ended this day by going for an evening walk at the beach. Sophia and Jessica loved walking at the edge of the waves --waiting for one to roll over their toes and screaming delightfully when the icy water nipped them.

July 22, Day 23 -- Entering California

A short 2 1/2 hour drive from Coos Bay is the California Border. We did not expect to be stopped and searched -- but we were by the Deparment of Agriculture. They asked what fruit and veggies we were bringing in and they inspected our outside compartments (any wood, lawn chairs) for the Gypsy moth that is threating the trees in California. The inspector came up to our window and asked what fresh food we had on board. She made sure the avocadoes and oranges were from California. She also said we ate very healthy when she heard what else we had: tomoatoes, lettuce, spinach, nectarines, apples, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, onions, potatoes, red pepper, corn (de-husked is OK), jalapeno, cucumbers, carrots, and kolrabi. We can't carry a lot of food with us, but we have a great variety. Back home meals seemed like a chore but on this vacation it's been fun to buy the food, plan the meals and then make them. It's a lot less stressful than our usual routine of commuting home tired, picking up the kids, rushing to make and eat dinner before bedtime.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Redwood National Park - Jedediah Smith

July 22 to 24

Jessica & Sophia working on their Junior Ranger Activities:

A Banana Slug found by the kids:

Taking the Junior Ranger Oath:

Narrow road ahead!

Just a wee stump:

A hike to the tidepools on the coast:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A little cleanup...

This morning I fixed-up a few of my previous posts (below).  I tried posting via email while we were camped near Newport, OR...and for some reason, blogger stripped the photos from my emails.  We have good wireless here in Oceanside Park in Charleston, so I've added them back in.

Today is another cool day - only 57 degrees so far this morning.  Up for today is a visit to the nearby Farmer's Market, some bike riding with the girls and hopefully some time beachcoming....hopefully it warms up a bit!  We are sure ready for some hot weather in the southern USA!

July 20 - Charleston, OR - Day 21

The Oregon Dunes

Our destination today was Oceanside RV in Charleston - about 2 hours south of Seal Rocks RV Park. We left at 10:30am and stopped for lunch at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. We climed a tall and steep sand dune and Tom, Jessica and Sophia went down the other side to expolore the coastline (even steeper). I stayed put and enjoyed the miles and miles of coast visible from my vantage point. The sand was toasty warm from the sun, even though it was chilly with the winds and it felt great between my toes.
After this I made grilled cheese and we enjoyed it right there in the parking lot before heading back to our drive.

The views from the Coastal Hwy 101 were gorgeous alternating between forest and coastline. I worked with Sophia on writing her letters and I gave her a test to write each letter. She only wrote 3 of them backwards which is a great improvement from the start of the trip - way to go Sophia!

In another hour we pulled into Oceanside RV and it did not look great at first, but the park extended into the back and we got a great site just 2 min walk from a sandy flat beach. We are in a sheltered spot so don't feel the wind but we do hear the ocean waves and what sounds like a very annoying repeating horn of some kind.

Dinner tonight was yummy: bacon wrapped scallops, steak with garlic mushroom, roasted potatoes with onions and steamed broccoli. The girls also had some whole wheat pasta since they are not potato fans.

We had a fire tonight and the kids had hot chocolate by the fire and then toasted a few marshmallows. It may be our only campfire of the trip as we head into California and then hopefully hot-hot-hot weather. The days are sunny here but cool. It seems there is heat wave all around us and I want to feel some of it!

Tomorrow we are going into the Farmer's Market at Coos Bay and explore North Bend a bit. Jessica and Sophia both want to ride their bikes more and we might attempt a sand castle at the beach tomorrow.

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 18th - The Oregon Coast

What a site to see – that first view of the Pacific Ocean after over 4600km.

We left Washington State at 8 o’clock this morning and headed south into Oregon. At Route 20 we turned west and drove out to Route 101 – the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s been a long drive – but an fortunate opportunity for the four of us to spend a significant amount of time together. Our “home” lives, like most parents, is hectic to say the least. I am enjoying the time with my three girls….whether we are walking, biking, driving…or just sitting together enjoying each others company.

Sophia and Jessica have handled the driving days of this trip very well – much better than I had thought possible. Never once have either of them asked “Are we there yet” or “why are we driving again today”. We’ve only had a couple of very long days rolling – and they were at the start of this trip. Our drives now are typically under 5 hours in any one day, which is fairly easy to handle. We are trying to stay in one place a minimum of two days now – but for as long as a week at a time. We don’t want all of our memories to be about driving!!

These past few weeks have also given Sunny and I a view ahead to retirement. While this seems like a long way off, I think we both see our retirement together including some time every year in an RV. The pace would need to be a bit slower than we are doing it now, but the wandering lifestyle certainly holds some allure for us both. Sunny puts it best: “Our house may be small, but our backyard is huge!”

We are camped for the nights of July 18th and 19th at Seal Rocks RV Park, just south of Newport, OR. It is a lovely small RV park with under 40 sites, I believe. Our site is carved into the hillside and we can see the ocean from our windows. What a nice spot. We’ve done our groceries for the week (at Safeway) and have already made two trips down to the beach. There are a number of tide pools near us and we are looking forward to exploring them a bit better once the tide is out – hopefully first thing in the morning. The weather could be warmer – they daily high is only about 15 degrees Celsius. There’s no swimming here – the water is freezing. That hasn’t deterred our Jessica, of course – she’s already been in past the bottom of her skort and was sure surprised at the water temperature!!

Jessica’s joke of the day – What did the Atlantic Ocean say to the Pacific Ocean?

Nothing, it just waved!

Exploring Washington State And Mount St. Helens - July 15th - 17th

We’ve been staying at Toutle River RV Park here in Castle Rock, Washington for the past several days. It is a fabulous RV park – and suites our needs perfectly. It’s positively HUGE…and appears to be brand new. All the streets through the whole park are nicely paved and we’ve delayed leaving by a day so we could just spend the day here. The girls have spent a few hours in the pool each day – Jessica swimming tirelessly and Sophia fully decked out in snorkel gear with a pool noodle tied around her waist in a knot – for extra buoyancy. She looks soooo very cute in her mask and snorkel - she reminds me of my own childhood. I think my sister and I spent more time under water than above the surface when we were kids….often with masks and snorkels.

Thanks to the great roads, when not touring about, our focus while at this lovely park has been to help the girls get more comfortable on their bikes. Sophia on training wheels (an upgrade from a much smaller bicycle she’s outgrown) and Jessica on a 2-wheeler. Jess was riding when we left Pickering at the end of June, but she certainly couldn’t start or stop on her own….and there were accidents aplenty!

Despite the nice weather, Sunita has been dressing her in long pants and sleeves to offer some extra skin protection on the occasions when she drives “into the weeds”. She hasn’t hit anything solidly immovable lately, so things are looking good! To be honest, over the past 3 days her cycling skills have improved DRAMATICALLY – to the point that she can stop in a designated spot (a box drawn in chalk on the asphalt) and knows to keep to the side of the road. Now we can finally cycle together! Sophia is up next and might even shed her training wheels this year if I can handle a few more sessions running after her for all I'm worth!

We spent all day Friday, July 16 exploring Mount St. Helens as a family. We started the day by touring the beautiful Visitor’s Centre near our campground in Castle Rock, WA. Sophia and Jessica got their “Junior Geologist” packages to work on throughout the day. We watched a 15 min movie of the eruption in 1980 and the events during the 7 weeks leading up to it. We had a helicopter tour booked for 11am at Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Centre which is 26 miles further up highway 504, so we ended up having to rush out of the National Park Service Visitor Centre to get ourselves up to Hoffstadt Bluffs. The helicopter tour was a complete luxury and I have to say that it was completely worth it. What an amazing and awe inspiring experience for the entire family to be flown up the Toutle Valley right up to the mountain peak. The sheer volume of material that flowed down into Toutle Valley is nothing short of incredible. The valley floor was raised about 200 feet from where it was originally and Spirit Lake was completely changed – in every way. The lake was dramatically filled in – so much so that while the depth of the lake was cut in half – it’s surface area almost doubled…and the surface of the water was raised over 150 feet from where it was originally! The huge landslide also created two new lakes where none previously existed. I remember the Mount St. Helens eruption from my childhood, and the effects 30 years later are still very apparent. The power of nature is truly fantastic.

After our amazing and fun helicopter trip, we enjoyed a delicious lunch together and then made are way up the scenic highway 504 to the outlook and Visitor Centre that offers another stunning view of the mountain and crater. We listed to a Park Ranger presentation – Once he had finished, Ranger Dylan also signed Jessica and Sophia’s Jr. Geologist workbooks since attendance at a presentation was one of the requirements to earn their badges. They had been working on their workbooks all through the day – even in the car.

Once done, we made our way back to the first Visitor Centre (and thankfully arrived JUST before closing) to allow Jessica and Sophia to have their work checked by a ranger. They were awarded their badges and have now completed their 3rd Junior Ranger program. What an experience for the girls. The programs (particularly the Junior Ranger programs) by the USA National Park Service are truly second to none. They have helped make this summer a learning, not to mention a much more meaningful experience for both our girls. They have been given a better understanding of nature and the need to protect the wonders around us by picking up garbage, ensuring that animals are not disturbed or harmed, and understand the need to leave things as they are – not picking wildflowers and taking home rocks, fossils, etc. I realized this when Jessica asked me how many people visit Yellowstone every year (it’s approximately 3 million). She responded to me “if everyone took flowers, there wouldn’t be many left, would there?"

Sunday, July will be a driving day of sorts. We are leaving Washington and heading southward down the Oregon coast. We’ve changed our itinerary a bit to give us extra unplanned time which will result in a shorter stay at Redwood National Park later in the week.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

RV Living

Day 18 - July 17, 2010

I wanted to write about what it's like living in an RV -- 18 days so far. First there is the storage. We have 4 people living in the space of what is about the size of a small bedroom in our house. The shower is 2 feet by 2feet -- smaller than the doormat we have in our laundry room. The powder room is about the same size, toilet to the right, tiny sink and room for one person to stand. We have all our toiletries -- what is normally stored in 5 double-door cabinets at home in 3 separate bathrooms -- are now all stored into a tiny cupboard of 4 shelves and a small undersink cupboard. This includes all shampoos, soaps, toothbrushes, etc, shaving stuff, creams, makeup, brushes and hair accessories, bathroom cleaners, first aid supplies and toilet paper. To organize this, I have 4 baskets from the dollar store -- 1 for my stuff, 1 for Tom's, 1 for the kids to share and 1 "communal" basket for shampoos, brush, floss etc. Each basket just fits into each shelf of the bathroom cupboard and keeps things from "mixing" around during the drive.

I have 1 clothes cupboard for Tom and I. At home we have a walk-in closet, and 2 clothes chests, plus part of the spare room closet. I have another smaller cupboard for Jessica and Sophia's clothing - at home that's 2 closets and 2 chests worth of storage. There is 1 overhead storage for extra towels and sheets and 1 for swimming gear and coats/hats/mitts.

Under the bed is mostly taken by the BBQ, stand, 2 outdoor tables, life jackets, fishing gear and extra paper plates, plastic cutlery and cups.

The kitchen -- we have made some fantastic meals here and I really have everything I need. I just forgot a soup ladle but used a teacup as substitute. The fridge is the size of our fridge freezer at home and the freezer is the size of my vegetable drawer in my fridge at home.

I have one above counter cupboard, 1 short one under the stove and 1 skinny one under the sink plus 4 drawers. In these are 3 pots, 2 frying pans, muffin tins, mixing bowls, a basket of spices, the coffee stuff, tea, sugar, crackers, canned food, oils and vinegars, wine and pop, cutlery and kitchen utensils, BBQ utensils and batteries, candles, etc.

There is one storage area under the bench seat for the toaster oven and vaccuum. There are 6 overhead cabinets for (1) cereals, pasta , (2&3), mugs & glasses and plates, (4) audio/video storage, (5) games, arts & crafts and (6) chips and snack food.

I use the microwave to store bread when I need extra counter space (I have about 5 sq. feet of counter space plus the stove when the lid folds down and 1/2 the sink when the cutting board is on top, plus a tiny "flip-up" extension next to the sink).

The kids have so many toys at home but here it's limited to what can fit into a laundry basket -- and they are not bored by any means.

We have a few books and rely a lot on our 2 computers. All the maps and guidebooks are with us as well as the 2 laptops, 2 cameras and 1 video camera. I brought 2 cookbooks but so far have not needed them. Tom BBQ's a lot or we make simple meals.

Tom has a few outside compartments for tools, RV gear and the folding chairs and pool noodles and balls. We put the bike helmets, beach toys and rubber boots/umbrellas in the CRV trunk.

In the main bedroom there is barely room to walk around the bed but we have our laundry fold-down hamper on the floor for our dirty clothes, plus the drinking water containers store on the floor.

And that's all the stuff we have with us. It could all fit into our foyer closet at home and it's all we need , and we are living really well with just a fraction of our material possessions. It's actually liberating to have so little "stuff". It is frustrating sometimes...things get messy quick and I'm spending 10 min a few times a day "tidying up" -- sometimes it feels like we are living in "mess central". But once everything is in its place then it feels roomy again. It only takes a half hour or so to vacuum and clean and we have a sparkling clean home. It takes Heather, who cleans our home, 4 hours each week to clean our house plus the in-between cleaning and tidying I do each week.

You have to put things in smart places because after the driving, things shift around and when you open the cupboard doors something could fall out onto your head or foot. Those sticky rubber mats help and opening the fridge a tiny crack first , ready to catch something is a good idea. Canned food and heavy things go on the bottom storage areas. Light things go overhead and breakable mugs, plates or glasses are stored so they are relatively secure.

This type of living does take some adjustments in attitude and compromises. Sometimes we get annoyed with each other, but that is quickly forgotten at the next scenic or fun destination or after a great dinner or trip to the pool/hot tub. We walk a lot more here, get more fresh air and spend 80% of our time outdoors. We also spend more quality time together --we have real conversations, we discover things together and it feels like each day is full of memories that will last for years to come.

Our home is small here but our backyard is constantly changing and it's always big --- sometimes there is a mountain or two in the background, sometimes a big playground for the kids, sometimes we are under 100+ year old trees, and tomorrow there will be the Pacific Ocean. For all the minor stress of not having enough room --- it's more than worth living this way.

Post-Script: We have had 17 days x 3 meals/day = 51 meals on the road. Of these, we ate out 4 dinners and 2 lunches. We made the other 45 meals ourselves. Also this is like Day 20 for me not having done any shopping of a frivolous nature. The only shopping has been at Wal-mart for necessities and the the odd souvenir. While I miss the mall and lure of department stores.....I'm doing OK without it. :-)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

F-O-R-D - Found on Road Dead (sort of) & Lava Rock Climbing into Icy Caves

Day 14, Tues. July 13 -- Arco ID to Boise ID

We were just ready to pull out of our site at Arco KOA and the RV would not start. Finally I crawled into the trunk of the CRV (the bikes were on so I went in from inside the car) and got the jumper cables and Tom boosted the engine batteries from the house batteries. I had to use my skinny arm to connect the cable to the back battery post. I did this after confirming with Tom that this would not kill me by chance. He assured me that the circuit was open and I was safe. ;-)

We decided to get ourselves to Boise Wal-Mart and new batteries but on the way out I spied a Car Quest sign and we went there for a new fuel cap and bought the batteries there and installed them right on the spot in the parking lot. I have to say that I'm impressed that Tom had every tool he needed. I helped him to get adjustable wrench, hammer, etc. The auto garage took our old batteries even. An hour or so later we were back on our way.

Just on the way out I saw a sign that said: "Arco - the first town in the world to be lit by atomic energy".

Wow !! We did not realize this when we stayed here.

Craters of the Moon -- The girls got their 2nd "Lunar" Ranger badges here. What a cool place. There are fields of lava flows here that are hardened -- the size of Rhode Island. It is so vast. Over 20 volcanoes in the park. We went up to the cone of an old (2000 yrs old) Volcano and then a .8 mile hike into these caves which we explored Beauty Cave. It was only a few feet down and we needed flashlights but surprising how cool it was - like an early winter day.

It was incredibly windy and Tom carried Sophia the last 1/2 mile out. The girls both did well hiking the path and climbing down and back out of the caves. Lava Rock is very sharp.

This is a memory I'll always keep with me as it's a place like no other on earth. In fact they trained astronauts here to prepare them for the surface of the Moon.

The newest "Lunar" Rangers:

In Beauty Cave:
Sophia climbing out:

We pulled into Boise and went out for a great dinner which included Alaskan King Crab -- yummy!

We are just heading in for some sleep. By tomorrow we'll be in Oregon and in Pacific Time.

Stealing Power, "Mommy, I don't like White Bread" and the real Windy City

Day 13 -Mon. July 12th - Yellowstone NP, WY to Arco, ID

This was our last day at Yellowstone :-(. It is always sad to leave this place. We had our rig all hooked up and just pulling out of the Loop A when we hit a 5th Wheel and pickup truck blocking the way for the foreseeable future. He had trouble with his slideouts. What a pain. We had to unhook the car, backup, hook up again and drive the wrong way out of the loop.
This was 4 nights of going without electricity and we were in the "non-generator" loop so we couldn't start that up. We were so careful with using the house batteries until last night Tom found out from our neighbour that the power worked! We covertly plugged in for 1 night and noticed in the morning that another camper did the same thing.

We drove out through the West Entrance for the first time and there was so much construction. It wasn't bad for us exiting the park but those entering were delayed hours at least.

Finally we said good-bye to Yellowstone and drove from Wyoming, through a tiny part of Montana and into Idaho.

At the gas stop [where later Tom discovered he left behind his lockable fuel cap] I bought some bread to make sandwiches, but they just had white bread at the convenience store ($3.29 for a loaf!). I made cheese sandwiches for the girls and was shocked to hear Sophia tell me that she doesn't like white bread. I realized then that this child has really never been exposed to a sandwich on white bread -- only ever Rye or Whole Wheat. Well...that made us feel like good parents. :-)

Idaho has the most wilderness of any of the lower 48 states. We drove miles without seeing signs of life. Our Road Atlas is from Wal-mart and has a directory of all Wal-Mart stores. We decided to stop at Idaho Falls to get groceries before getting to Arco. This we realized was a great decision after we saw how little Arco was. The wind was so high in Idaho --we could barely walk the parking lot, and it was difficult to drive in. Tom went 10 miles slower than he would normally and he said the RV kept gearing down. This made for a strenuous drive -- I know Tom drove safely in it though, but we were ready to stop for the day. We saw a motorcyclist in front of us just blowing around on the road and we passed a pickup & trailer that were obviously having trouble due to the high wind.

Finally we pulled into Arco and were scared on sight about what kind of place we picked. It was tiny -- maybe 4km by 3km of populated houses , mostly small and a little run down in spots. We decided to shorten our stay to 1 night instead of 2 and "get the heck out of Dodge".

To our surprise the KOA was well kept, clean and there could not be more friendly people. We got each a warm, fresh baked chocolate chip cookie on check in.

The girls and Tom went to "The Market" and got me a coconut cake and we had a mini-celebration /Happy Birthday for me back at the camper.

Hey -- this is the most "west" any of us has every been.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 9,10,11,12 -- We have Junior Rangers!

Day 12, July 11th, Yellowstone NP, WY

Jessica and Sophia completed their Junior Ranger Program Activity books and were awarded their "Bear Patch" at the Visitor Centre by a Ranger today. They are so proud!!

In the morning we did our first family hike at Storm Point. We went with a group for this as I did not relish meeting any bison or bears in the woods on our own. Again we learned so much from the Ranger and had the security to know we were headed the right way as we walked 3.2 km through forest, field and beach. The best part was seeing the yellow bellied marmots. Jessica did this hike well and Tom had to carry Sophia the last kilometer or so.

We all took a nap in the afternoon and then went on another Yellow Bus evening tour. The first stop was to look for Beaver at Fishing Bridge and we saw him for about 20 min! He was munching his own dinner and then swam under the bridge (Sophie and I saw him swimming under the water) and then he stopped off to gather up some grasses to take back to the lodge. We saw our grizzly again, pelican, osprey, otter?, elk, deer and more.

Day 11, July 10th , Yellowstone NP, WY

Today we did a boat cruise of the Lake - the highest in North America which is the crater from a past volcanic eruption. We learned about the trout in the lake and many geology points including that the lake is tilting a few inches as the land "breathes" and rises /falls due to the lava flow just a few miles below the surface. Visitors have been coming hear for the last hundred years via stagecoach and a hotel room was $4 a night including all meals and electricity!

So far we've seen Grizzly, Pelican, Marmot, Bison, Elk, Mule Dear, the Violet-Green Swallow (which I think is so beautiful), Osprey, Swan, Canada Geese, Mallard Duck, ducks, and many types of wildflowers.

This night we went for dinner at Lake Hotel. The hotel is over 100 years old and the dining room was beautiful and food was delicious. Tom had Bison Prime Rib with Lobster and Truffles; I had the Hawaiian Sword Fish with Risotto and the kids had mac and cheese. We had a great bottle of Merlot from Napa Valley and my 2 favourite desserts combined into the Creme Brulee Cheesecake. Our waiter was excellent and again the girls behaved so well in this setting.

As we were leaving we saw they had music and stopped to listen . It was the Lake String Quartet. They played pieces from Sound of Music to Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven. We bought their CD and at intermission met them. The one gentleman there said he noticed our 2 beautiful daughters and he was married to one of the ladies in the band and they had 2 girls as well. One of the ladies showed Jessica the difference between a violin and a viola. We've enjoyed listening to their CD in the car including their rendition of "Kashmir", which Sophia loves.

Day 10 - July 9th, Yellowstone NP, WY

Yellowstone National Park resonates somehow with both Tom and I. We feel like we're in a special place and somehow just being here feels like "home". We both said we will be back a few more times and like to spend a couple weeks here when we're retired. Because this was our 2nd trip we didn't rush around to see Old Faithful, the hot springs and even the bison were just common sights to us. We learned a lot about the geology, forest ecology and the animals from the Forest Rangers who led our tours.
Friday was an early morning photography tour with Doug Hilborn a professional photographer. What a great tour! We got up at 4:45am and boarded the Yellow bus at 5:45am and we saw Grizzly, took pictures of wildflowers, reflection shots of the Tetons, landscape photos in Hayden Valley and Lake Butte overlook. We learned so much about our digital cameras - Tom on the EOS and me on the PowerShot. The girls were fantastic and Doug commented that they each had their Fisher Price Camera too! This was a 6 hour tour returning at 12:00pm . The girls behaved so well. They enjoyed the hot chocolate at breakfast and taking their own wildflower photos.

We went to talk about weasels in the evening and the Ranger brought some pelts which we could feel. Weasels are cool little animals, they help keep the rodent population down; the ermine is used for royalty wear in Europe and the badger and wolverine are also weasels. The Ranger took the kids into a nearby field to spot Weasel holes -- it was fun for them and us too!

Day 9 - July 8th Cody, WY to Yellowstone National Park, WY

We left Cody and headed west, driving through the mountains in a tunnel. Just after the tunnel was Buffalo Bill Dam. We stopped off for a look and it was built by a family to irrigate the land and make it farmable. The engineering here was so good this Dam is still working and it was built by hand mostly in the early 1900's . This is actually the model the Hoover Dam followed.
Pictures of the DAM.

We entered Yellowstone on the East Entrance Road and it was only an hour to our RV park. We stopped off at a pullout to make lunch. On our left was a small waterfall above a valley of wildflowers and on our right was spectacular mountains and valleys. As we ate our lunch in the RV Tom pointed out this Gigantic bug on our screen door that I then made him get up and go outside to shoo away before it somehow crawled in -- it was 2" long at least with 4" antennae and Tom said it flew! Yikes.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 5 (Custer, SD) & Day 6,7,8 ( Cody, WY)

It's 10:49pm on Wed. July 7 and we've been both too exhausted to write anything to the blog the last few days. Tomorrow we're heading into Yellowstone and will be without internet until July 13 so I wanted to write a "catch-up" for July 4-7th.

Day 8 - July 7th, Cody, WY

Today Sophia and I jogged! She had to try out that new sweater. We jogged all the way from our camper to the main house where they served free pancakes each morning (about a 2 minute walk) and Sophia ate 2 of the pancakes! I brought her back and then went for a real jog around the camp - 3 times. It's the first time this trip we had energy to exercise. The first week has been just about catching up on sleep. Tom went for a bike ride around the airport and back.
We went to a Trading Post with miniature village and many relics of the Indians and early settlers. It was fun to see and the kids could press buttons to make the model trains go. They were both in awe of a scene where the Indians chased the buffalo up a cliff and over so they fell to their deaths. The miniature scene was as large as a small swimming pool and had many dramatic reenactments.

We found Wal-mart , shopped, has a great lunch of BBQ chicken & shrimp fajitas that Tom and I made and then went to the pool.

Tonight was the Cody Nite Rodeo -- our first Rodeo! They had the kids go down ( about 100 of them) and try to catch ribbons from a calf's tail . It was pretty safe and the kids had a great time! Jessica is disappointed she didn't win but those calves were fast! The bull riders were amazing, as well as the bare back riding on the bucking wild horses, the calf roping (Sophia cheered for the calf to win) and the barrel races which Jessica loved.

Day 7 - July 6th, Cody, WY

It was a cold and dreary day in Cody today. Pickering was 32 degrees and here was 14! Well we needed a down day to recuperate from all this driving so we hung out in the camper....played cards and taught Jessica to play Crazy Eights. Sophia did games on the computer. Later in the day though - it warmed up and we spent the afternoon at the jumping pillow and pool. Later we had a great dinner at the Irma Cafe -- a prime rib buffet where the kids were free! Sophia loved the fettuccine Alfredo and asked me to make it since then. The girls behaved so well at dinner - Tom and I are so proud of them. Cody is a very picturesque town and stores are nice to browse through. We got Sophia a new sweater as the one I brought her has the sleeves ending at her elbows -- she's grown so fast I can't keep up. She's very proud of her new sweater!

Day 6 - July 5th, Custer, SD to Cody, WY

This was magnificent drive with a mountain pass at just over 9600 ft. We literally drove through the clouds. I will let the pictures speak for themselves when Tom posts them.

Day 5 - July 4th, Custer, SD

We went to Mount Rushmore in the morning. It was raining and chilly but we said we had to see this sight. This is when packing organization paid off -- with 2 golf umbrellas (Costco) and rain boots, and umbrellas for each girl, we were the best outfitted people in the park. We spent less than 30 minutes there --- walked in , saw the monument, which is worth seeing, got a family picture and then left as it started pouring rain. In the afternoon we went to Jewel Cave National Monument -- the 2nd largest cave system in the world (Kentucky has the longest). They have 1/2 mile of the 151 mile cave open to the public and we went down 240 feet in an elevator to a cave chamber to start our tour. This tour takes you through 723 stairs and another 100 feet lower in total through many rooms. It was like another world. Ranger Adrianne lead us and noticed right away that Sophia (who is somehow 1st down the stairs in the group of 30) is quite nervous in this setting -- it's about 9 degrees and the metal railings are cold and wet. She put Sophia at ease saying she was her helper and leader and by the end Sophia had no problem , even when my heart was stopping on some of the steeper sets of stairs or walk ways over the big open areas that overlooked deep caverns. We saw some cave formations called "popcorn", "draperies", "boxwork" and even the "fried eggs" and "big bacon" which truly looked like a huge piece of bacon or ribbon extending down from the roof of the cave in delicate curves. Wow.
So after a tour of Rushmore in the morning , followed by 1 hour cave tour involving 723 steps the small children should be exhausted.....right? No. We went back to camp for a couple hours at the water slide and pool -- rain, cool weather and all. Kids -- they don't let much deter them from fun.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

July 3, 2010

Day 4, Custer City, South Dakota

South Dakota is fantastic! On the way into Rapid City (it was 6 hour drive across the state), I happened to see a small highway (Hwy 240) from exit 131 to 110 and asked Tom if he felt up to a 40 minute detour to potentially see something more interesting than the grasslands along the I-90. It was into a National Park called the "Badlands". Well -- that was one of the best decisions we made. The park was so desolate and beautiful at the same time, a formerly vast inland sea millions of years ago that gave way to sub-tropical forests and then layered with volcanic ash from prehistoric explosions, and multiple river floodings which somehow left us with what looks like God's sandcastles and carvings. It was stunning. We rolled into Rapid City exhausted but rewarded with a great dinner (and wine) at the Olive Garden.

On this day (July 2nd) which was likely the longest driving day of our trip, not once did our kids ask when we'll get there or are we there yet. They are fantastic children. We made origami animals (a snake, seal, ladybug, Ninja star and fortune teller) and they did watch movies to their hearts' contents but they were excellent right through to dinner and bedtime which was around 11pm EST (we are now in Moutain time so 2 hours earlier).

Today (July 3) was amazing as well. It seems we never know what the day will unfold. We started with a tour of the Air and Space Museum in Ellsworth Airforce Base just east of Rapid City, SD. I knew about the Cold War and the missile launchers in the farmers field but never did I really give it a lot of thought. We went right into the ground (kids in tow) of a missile launcher which is now inactive. But just to think that squadron had 50, there are 4 squadrons in this area and each of these 200 missiles had120 times the desruction power of the A-Bomb droped on Hiroshima. It was a sobering and awesome moment to think the US had this much power at the touch of button for so many years -- -and thank goodness it never came to requiring the use of them.

The rest of the day was spent at the camp waterslide and pool where Sophia had no fear of going down the huge waterslide. It was so intimidating that Jessica didn't even want to go first but Sophia just jumped in and off she went (like 20 times). They will be sleeping well tonight and so will we! Tomorrow...Rushmore and Jewel Cave -- the 2nd largest Cave system in the World ...and it's just 10 miles down the road.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Boondocking at Cabela's

As I write this tonight, we are parked overnight in Cabela's in Rapid City, South Dakota...just off the I-90.  Not much point in a campground, since we'll be moving on first thing in the morning.

We spent the day on I-90 really...not mountainous by any means, but still very hilly terrain with fields and grasslands to the horizon. The RV worked hard today hauling us up so many hills. It is incredibly windy here as well - we drove portions of the trip today below 90km/h...any faster and I felt like I was weaving all over the road. Thankfully it calmed down a bit later in the day, but now that we're parked, the wind is shaking the RV around a surprising amount.  The speed limit is high here - 75 mph or 120 km/h...lots of cars and even transports flying by us.

We left Louis and Clark State Park this morning at a fairly lazy 9:00AM today and have pretty well crossed the entire state. We had a great night's sleep there thanks to the A/C cooling things down. This morning we stopped for an hour in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to see the falls, of course! Thankfully we were able to squeeze into their parking lot...consuming 6 regular parking spots in the process! I keep forgetting how long this RV/CRV combination really is. Thankfully it was early enough in the day (and a weekday) so we didn't cause anyone too much of a problem.

As you can see from the photos below, the Sioux Falls are more like rapids falling over the reddish rocks that is seems to be common in the area. Even the asphalt roads here have a red tinge to them. We sure kept a good grip on the girls here to avoid anyone taking an unplanned dip in the river! There was a 5-story observation tower on the grounds that we climbed for a better view.

While driving westbound along the I-90 this afternoon, Sunny asked if I was still up for a side-trip....and thankfully I was! We left I-90 at exit 131 to pass through the Badlands National Park - rejoining I-90 at exit 110. What an incredible the photos show.  The first photo is out our windshield - a typical view of I-90. 

Up next is a visit to the South Dakota Air & Space Museum, followed by Mt. Rushmore...and perhaps one of the many caves here...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Longest Drive

We drove from Lansing, Michigan to Onawa, Iowa today, which is just outside Sioux City...just shy of 1100km...whew! This will be the longest single drive of our vacation (I hope!). We managed to find an overnight RV site with electric for $16 at the Lois & Clark State Park in Onawa. It's a fantastic little park on the bank of the Missouri River. After a quick BBQ dinner, Sunita took the girls for a walk to see a few of the sites....I really didn't budge after dinner...I'm toast after all that driving...time for sleep...