Friday, August 27, 2010

August 27, 2010 -- Home Sweet Home

We are back at home in Pickering. The last couple weeks of our trip still had some new adventures in store for us.

We left New Mexico for Amarillo, Texas and it was a good drive and very hot outside. The RV park in Amarillo was called Fort Amarillo and they had a catch and release pond. So Tom dug out the 2 fishing rods he bought months ago and surprised the girls with them. They practiced casting in the empty lot beside us (it is blazing hot). Later after swimming in the indoor pool they went fishing. Sophia caught her first fish (a little catfish) and Tom helped her land it. Jessica caught a koi but it came off before we could land it. Needless to say this was very exciting and made memories we'll all treasure. We went out for excellent Mexican food for dinner -- the best fajitas ever. The next morning we got up at 6am to try the fishing again and despite an hour of trying there were no bites. It was one of our quietest hours ever though on this trip as we explained to Jessica and Sophia that fishing is a quiet activity and they shouldn't talk. Our girls are talkers and if they are not watching a movie, playing their Leapster or sleeping it's non-stop chatter. So it was a little odd, but peaceful, to spend this time with them in the cool Texas morning quietly sitting at the pond.

We left Amarillo for Oklahoma City. The tow car lights were not working so we made a quick stop at Home Depot for sandpaper and Tom managed to fix the connection on the tow bar. One thing about a trip this long there are little things that crop up and you have to expect to reschedule as you go. As it was we were into Oklahoma City, hooked up at Twin Fountains RV Resort and decided to go to the Memorial. I like hot weather but this was ridiculous -- the humidity was insane and in about 1/2 a minute you'd be soaked in sweat being outside. Being outside, even in the shade was not even an option so it was either stay in the RV or go out somewhere. Tom and I were finishing up our last year of University and securing jobs at EDS when the bombing happened April 19, 1995. As we parked the car, getting ready to go to the Memorial we were still in vacation mode -- relaxed and happy , not thinking a sad thought. We parked beside a church and I noticed a statue of Jesus and a plaque saying "...and He wept" but didn't realize why it was there. We saw later that statue was erected for those who died. As we crossed up in the heat of the afternoon into the entrance and through the 9:03am gate we gazed into one of the most peaceful spaces I've ever seen with a long reflecting pool and the 9:01am gate of time at the other side, trees, immaculate lawn and flowers and to the right a chair for each victim -- all 168 people. At this moment we were in another space and time, no longer carefree but immersed in the tragedy that happened here and the lives lost. The chairs were heartbreaking, each with a name engraved as they seem to float above the lawn and the most tragic were the smaller chairs for the children who died. The Memorial Museum was run by the National Park Service and our NPS passports were stamped as a token to remember this day. The Museum is laid out in a timeline starting early in the morning as people got to work, and kids dropped off at daycare, then to the 9:02am bombing and chaos afterwards, news reports and newspaper clippings, rescue workers and family accounts, a funeral area with a picture of each victim and personal artifacts -- I especially found it hard to see the children and babies, and finally to the forensics evidence and arrests and building of the memorial itself. This was one of the most touching parts of our trips and won't be forgotten.

We decided it was too crazy hot in Oklahoma City and left the next morning for St. Louis. We picked a park on the Illinois side called Casino Queen and it was a great park. Lots of security, fully paved and level. St. Louis was a little bizarre in how quiet and deserted it seemed on a Monday morning but all night sirens seemed to be going so we were glad of our RV park security. The arch was cool and we went up in a little pod to the top (630ft) and the girls completed another Junior Ranger program as the Gateway Museum. The Arch is to commemorate all the people who crossed over there to settle the West after the Louisiana Purchase. St. Louis was the first site of the US Olympics and introduced the hamburger, hot dog and ice cream cone at the 1904 World Fair.

After St. Louis it was on to Birch Run, Michigan. This was our longest driving day of the trip since July 1, 2010 at 9 hours of driving time. We left at 6:00am CT and arrived at 5:00pm ET -- not bad considering 2 stops for gas. I made egg muffins for breakfast, chicken quesadilla wraps for lunch -- all while Tom was driving at 65 mph. We had breaded Tilapia fillets for dinner with green beans, peas and brown rice for dinner -- but we were camped out by that time! We're trying to use up all our food before we cross the border the next day.

We took the girls for our first family mini-golf across the street. The next morning it's hard to adjust to the time change and I took the girls for some back-to-school shopping at Birch Run Outlet Mall and then we headed back home , reaching Pickering around 6pm.

It was very nice to come back home again, the girls were excited to see their rooms and toys and play dress-up. We have a really nice home and being away a little makes us appreciate even more.

This was an amazing trip --we did so many "firsts" as a family -- hiking trip in Wyoming, biking trip in California, helicopter ride in Washington, raft ride in Neveda, fishing in Texas, mini-golf in Michigan and I'm sure I'm forgetting something. We crossed 16 states. The girls did 11 Junior Ranger Programs. Our favourite family road trip songs include now Take It Easy (now we've stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona) and Margaritaville (as we've eaten dinner there and seen the girl slide into the giant blender). Besides being fun and relaxing I felt like we took a University course to learn about the world we live in -- but first hand. We learned about nature, forestry, geology, so many animals from birds to land to ocean and river and history. John Muir is now one of my favourite historical figures.

Well it's back to reality now -- cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry and back to work next week. I'll have lots of memories to treasure.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Aug. 19, 2010 -- Later in the Evening

This is supposed to be the winding down of our long vacation as we make our way back home. I thought it would be somewhat more restful. But today has been go/go/go and back to back with what we did yesterday it seems a little crazy. We started the day off with the Sandia Tram. What an experience. I didn't know what to expect. That tram went up from 6500 feet to 10,300 in about 10 min and the views were spectacular and so expansive. Then Sandia mountain was gorgoeous at the top. We did a bit of the Crest Trail -- it was rocky going and found beautiful wildflowers, mushrooms, fossils and again the views all around were just breathtaking. The girls did yet another junior ranger program and got badges and we had lunch at the High Finance restaurant at the top. After this we went to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. Yet again, we didn't know what to expect but once inside both Tom and I were fascinated - they had a B52 Bomber outside and replica's of Fat Man and Little Boy inside. Even the hallway was cool as it was tiled as the periodic table. They had a picture of Hiroshima before and after and it was sobering to see a full city one minute and then a picture of just flat land where that used to be. I'm still thinking about this even now. We saw pieces of the Berlin Wall and then some of the ways nuclear energy and medicine are being used. Yes we are geeks and we acknowledge it! The giftstore was fun too and we got some funny T-shirts for Jessica and me. By this time it's 4:30pm and we still get to Walmart for shopping , to Camping World where we toured a luxurious Monaco bus for fun (Sophia and Jess were disappointed that we weren't buying this) and then came back and made dinner, did laundry, played pool while waiting for laundry, got the girls showered and to bed, did dishes , and Tom and I managed to sit outside for 20 min and saw a shooting star. It was a great day, but I think tomorrow we're going to have to have a nap!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Aug 19, 2010 - Albuquerque, New Mexico

Today we are just west of Albequerque, New Mexico at Enchanted Trails RV Park which is on historic Route 66. We are waiting for the CRV Battery to charge as it was dead this morning from the key being left in all night. We came in late last night in the dark and in the flurry to find a spot, register and hook up we forgot about removing the key. It should be done charging though in about 5 minutes and we'll be on our way today.

Today's Agenda:
- Sandia Tram -- the longest aerial tram in the world at 2.3 miles up from 6000 ft to 10,000+ feet at the top of Sandia Mountain which is east of Albequerque.
- a Visit to the Nuclear National Museum
- a trip to Walmart for supplies
- a stop at Camping World (which is just next door -- I already walked there early this morning)

Yesterday was a long day as we travelled from Williams, Arizona to New Mexico. It's a 7 1/2 hour drive and we left at 7:30am but we didn't get here until 8pm. We made a few stops along the way and each was fun:

-at 9am we stopped at Meteor Crater. It's awesome to think a 150 ft meteor created a 4000 ft wide / 500 ft deep hole in the ground. We all touched a piece of this meteor which they think came from the Jupiter/Mars asteroid belt. As Sophie says "I touched a rock from outer space!".
-at 11am we stopped at Winslow, Arizona. There really was a girl in a flat bed Ford and we all took pictures on the corner. We had lunch there at Bojo's Diner -- great food!
-at 1pm we stopped at Petrified Forest National Park. Petrified wood comes from the Triassic Period -- 250 million years ago! It is formed as logs decayed in swamps , covered by silt and ash and the cellulose is replaced cell by cell by quartz crystals. As the continent was upheaved from sea level to current 5000+ ft altitude and erosion occurred , the wood was revealed for us to see.

What an amazing day. We touched a rock that came from outer space and we touched wood that is 250 million years old.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Photos

Posting photos here has become a bit time consuming so I have posted about 70 new photos onto my Facebook album here:

We are currently in Williams, Arizona, departing for Albuquerque, New Mexico first thing in the morning.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

July 31st - Aug 5 - Yosemite National Park

We started this day with icing cupcakes and had a very sweet breakfast. Soon we were on the way into Yosemite. It's some 5000 ft up and we had a very curvy road. There was a sign to "turn off air conditioning" and there were bottles on the side of the road labelled "H2O". This was a grand entrance into Yosemite. We spent the first 2 nights tucked into a tiny spot in Hodgen Meadows and then moved into the Valley for 3 nights at North Pines campground.

There are so many great memories of these 5 days but I'm too exhausted to write too much. Here are the highlights:

  • July 31st -- after a long drive we just took it easy and hung out at the site. The girls got their Junior Ranger worksheet.
  • Aug 1st -- went on a hike to the Tuolloume Sequoia Grove. We did not realize how difficult this hike would be. Thank goodness we brought water and started off. It was 1 mile in and 1 mile back but with an elevation change of over 400ft! Out little Sophia did it and it was tough but worth it. We had our first experience with the huge sequoia trees. One was so big a passage had been cut through the centre for wagons to pass through. Another was on the ground and decayed enough that the kids could walk through the middle of it.
  • Noticed how loud and obnoxious some campers are. Some people don't respect the quiet hours or the hours to stop using a generator. There are people here from everywhere -- Europe, Japan, etc. It's a very different atmosphere than Yellowstone. At Yosemite it seems like it's about people first and people are more pushy and loud. At Yellowstone it was about the animals first.
  • Aug. 2nd - we moved campsite to the valley. The drive was over 2000 ft elevation change. When we came into the valley it was stunning. First we saw El Capitan and then Half Dome. The valley is surrounded by rock that is cut beautifully and soars up thousands of feet. The valley is so lush -- green meadows and tall pine trees in the forest. With a blue sky overhead we quickly understood the fame of Yosemite Valley. Our site was very tight and we had to squeeze in the wrong way because our neighbour's slideout was on our site preventing us to open our awning. Luckily the people on the other side had a huge spot and didn't mind our "reverse" setup. We went to Yosemite Lodge to get on the internet and did some shopping at the gift store -- a sweater for Jess and a T-shirt for Sophia. Our site was only steps from a sandy beach onto the Merced River which was a couple feet high with a rock bottom. The girls actually crossed this river - about 40 feet or so , Sophia being the leader! I went on a bike ride to Mirror Lake and got a beautiful picture of Half Dome reflected below.
  • Aug. 3rd - We did a hike to Lower Yosemite Falls -- just about 1 mile round trip and much easier than our previous hike! Later in the evening we went to see a show about John Muir. What an amazing man! He was a mountaineer and naturalist. His love for nature was brought to life by Lee Stetson. I really enjoyed hearing the passion and love this man had for the park. The kids were so tired they fell asleep almost and we were in the front row -- about 10 feet from the actor! But later he said he didn't mind and signed the book we bought to Jessica and Sophia. We also bought a CD and enjoyed hearing the same actor recount adventure tales of John Muir. Later this night we woke up to banging noises -- people were hitting pots and yelling trying to deter a bear about 60 feet from our camp site. They set off their car alarms and this went on for about an hour as the bear kept being persistent. Tom and I didn't see the Bear but people were up all around us and we saw some people lock up into their car -- we would too if were in a tent!
  • Aug. 4th - we drove to Glacier Point -- to the top of the south side of the rim. The view was spectacular. We could tell even the kids were impressed. Later this day we did a family bike ride from our camp to Yosemite Village. This was our first family bike ride -- all 4 of us and it was 2 miles round trip. Sophia did absolutely great. The girls finished their junior ranger programs and got their badges awarded. Later we had a campfire. What a great day!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

July 31st - My Birthday on the Road!

This year, I celebrated my birthday on the road with my girls.  We started the day in Petaluma and finished it at Hodgdon Meadows Campground at Yellowstone National Park.  We did a bit of driving, but what a fantastic day! 

Don't you love my cupcake birthday cake?!

It was a very long climb into Yosemite - the RV worked pretty hard getting us up these steep, tight, winding roads:

Dinner time!  What a great campsite!