Capitol Reef – Who knew?

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Capitol Reef National Park

Who knew that stone could be sculpted by erosion into so many forms? Or that so many visual delights would await our family at Capitol Reef National Park!




Capitol Reef is a unique rock structure formed by what is called the ‘waterpocket fold”.  I had never heard of the park before my husband began planning our big family vacation.  There is a good reason why this amazing place became home to only a few Mormon pioneers, explorers, and outlaws.  It is remote!



Traveling to Capitol Reef requires many hours of driving across high Utah desert.  Such a drive might have been monotonous except that we were entertained by a symphony of cloud formations!

"For our Lord God Omnipotent Reigneth"...

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Contemplating the infinite

Symphony of clouds
















If clouds could sing, I think these would be singing the “Hallelujah Chorus”.  Can’t you just hear the words when you look at sky: For our LORD God Omnipotent reigneth.  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!

Think we took too many cloud photographs? Ha, if only you knew.


Capitol Reef possessed features that we found in other parks: cliffs, canyons, petriglyphs, hoodoos, arches.  There was something for everyone to enjoy.

Capitol Gorge

Everyone gets to hike Grand Wash

Our hometown of Savannah is entirely flat.  We also don’t have any rocks. Therefore the opportunity to climb rocks was a favorite activity of my boys.  The rock structures that we hiked on are called “slickrock”  and feel much safer than the sandstone or crushed rock we hiked on earlier.  Even my baby girl loved to hold and carry rocks. She even tried to conceal a few in her diaper.   An easy hike through the Grand Wash allowed all members of the family to enjoy the rocks and wildflowers up close.

Climbing slickrock

So many rocks! So little a girl!

An opportunity to look into the opening of an abandoned uranium mine made my boys feel virile and tough.  I was not impressed, but then again,  I practically grew up next door to Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

Abandoned uranium mines

I am rather partial to wildlife, and so I was thrilled to see these blue birds.  I could have watched them all day, but they were not inclined to sit still.

Love those blue birds!

The next morning my husband awoke early and peeked out to check the weather conditions.  He caught the last few moments of a spectacular sunrise.  When he stopped photographing for a moment to change his lens, the moment had passed.

Sunrise on Capitol Reef

The older children, my husband, and I hit the trails bright and early.  We first hiked Chimney Rock Loop.  My fifteen-year-old complained that the name of the trail was “not germane”.  You hike above the Chimney Rock and look down upon it, but you don’t get to actually climb it.  We did enjoy abundant desert wildflowers and also a  “grove” of petrified tree trunks.

Chimney Rock - see our tiny car beyond it.

Our second hike was to climb Cassidy Arch.  Legend has it that Butch Cassidy hid in that canyon.  The moment we summited the arch, there was an enormous clap of thunder and we could see a thunderstorm moving rapidly in our direction.  And here we were standing upright and alone on a dome of slickrock, as if to say, “Come and get me!”  We did not hesitate a moment to contemplate the view.  We made quick time to the trail head, passing a few fools who were continuing the upward climb, just as the clouds opened up and began to pour.  We made it to our car as pea-sized hail rained down upon us.  I am so thankful we did not pause! That was painful!

Cassidy Arch

I don’t suppose people traveling from afar would ever say that they are going to Utah to visit Capitol Reef.  It really isn’t a good destination, but it is a worthwhile side trip.  It figures very prominently on my children’s list of highlights.

The whole family squinting in the dust



Comments (0) Jun 07 2011

Return from the West

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Travel, Traveling with children.
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Utah landscape


The lush green trees of Savannah were a welcome, familiar sight to our family as our plane landed at the Savannah airport.  We had returned from our grand tour of the west, and it had been a great success.



In nine days our family of eleven visited seven parks, most of us hiked more than seventy miles, and we traveled in our rented passenger van 1650 miles through breath-taking and awe-inspiring landscapes.  It was a trip we had dreamed about for years and years.  It was a trip we had procrastinated for years, too.  There was always a good reason for delaying it, but we felt like this was the year to tackle it.  Even though our youngest children may remember little of the trip, our oldest son is almost twenty.  Already he is making plans and interviewing for internships that will prevent him from returning to our home next year during his summer break. We needed to make this trip a priority before any of our baby birds left the nest.

My "big boy"

My "baby girl"









My husband took care of the logistics.  He made the itinerary, planned the route,  and made reservations.  He felt like every other family vacation was just practice for “the big one”.  He executed his plans flawlessly.

We flew to Las Vegas, rented a fifteen-passenger van, and visited the following parks:

Zion National Park












Bryce National Park










Capital Reef National Park










Arches National Park













Canyonlands National Park










Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park










Grand Canyon National Park






















In order to facilitate hiking with the older children, we brought with us a homeschool graduate to babysit the youngest children a few hours each day.  While it may seem unfair that the little ones missed the morning hikes, they really did not mind.  Remember, my children have been raised without television, so the opportunity to stay in a hotel room and watch cartoons is a BIG DEAL to them.


Hiking with the big kids

Outings with the little ones

Easy hikes together

Enjoying the view









With some variation, our daily schedule followed this routine:

1. Older children, husband, and I rise early for a strenuous hike.  We might be at the trailhead as early as 6 a.m. and hike as far as 12 miles.  The little ones sleep in, eat breakfast at the hotel, and watch cartoons with the babysitter.

2.  We return from our hike around lunch time and eat peanut butter and nutella sandwiches with everyone together.

3.  We load everyone into the car and do a “driving tour” of the park we are currently visiting, or drive on to the next park.  Our driving tours involve getting out at points of interest in each park and taking short hikes with all of the children. Most of these hikes were easy to moderate, with distances between 1 – 3 miles.

4.  We eat supper at a restaurant.  We never eat fast food.  Our supper time is an important time as we review our memories of the day and discuss our plans for the next.

5.  We return to our rooms, just in time to put tired little bodies to bed.

My husband’s plans were well-organized, but not rigid.  We had the flexibility to add to his plan a trip through Monument Valley and a tour of the Hoover Dam.  He referred to numerous guidebooks as he planned our route, but they could not substitute for a trip to the visitor’s center to speak with a park ranger about trail conditions and recommendations.  (Park Rangers are a resource that must not be overlooked! And besides, I think they are among the nicest people on earth.)

The Three Gossips - Arches NP












To say that the rugged landscape is “vast” is an understatement.  It is really hard to describe what we encountered without overusing words such as “awesome”, “amazing”, and “splendid”.  We did take more than 1200 photographs and I hope share some of these with you, that you, too, may marvel at the mighty workings of the Lord.

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.  Psalm 65:8 ESV

Sand Dune Arch

Comments (1) May 31 2011

A Mountain Escape

Posted: under Travel, Traveling with children.
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Looking Glass Falls

When we moved to Savannah, Georgia, ten years ago, my oldest son was elated. “We live in a vacation destination!” he said. That may all be well and good, but sometimes, even when you live in Savannah, you feel like you have just GOT to get away.  Those feelings seem to strike me the strongest around the end of August, when I have sufffered through weeks of unrelenting heat and humidity.   It is true that we could pop in the car for a short drive to Tybee Beach, or a little further to Hilton Head Island and enjoy playing in the surf and sand.  But when we are seeking an ESCAPE, we dream of MOUNTAINS.


It was a wonderful thing when we identified Brevard, North Carolina, as a destination for quick summer get-aways. The distance from Savannah to Brevard is about 250 miles.  That is short enough that we can leave after work on a week day, arrive late, and get up the next morning with a full day of fun and adventure ahead of us.  We don’t lose a whole day traveling.

Brevard, the “Land of Waterfalls”, offers an abundance of wholesome, outdoor activities for a family to enjoy. A good place to “get your feet wet” is at Looking Glass Falls in the Pisgah National Forest.  Close to the parking area is an observation point for the waterfall.  A short descending stairway leads to the base. Whether intentional or accidental, the kids are going to get wet, so plan ahead. Remove shoes and bring a towel! Hopping on rocks and searching for salamanders and crawdads under creek bed rocks were beloved past times of my childhood, but unique experiences for my Savannah-born children.

Rocks to explore

River rock fun








The largest tourist attraction is Sliding Rock, and it is worthwhile. Sliding Rock is always anticipated by my family with dreadful delight.  Or is it delightful dread?  A large rock creates a natural slide, with a rushing stream to carry you along and plunge you into the icy water below.  We always go after public schools have started, and so there is never any crowd.  That means no long lines and no audience.  The rock can be rather hard on the tailbone, but the ride down is a thrill.   The sensation of plunging into 55 degree water initially takes your breath away.  Then you become acutely aware of every pore in your skin.  Then there is a warming sensation as the blood flow returns. It feels exhilarating!

Bracing for the plunge

Sliding Rock









Our family’s favorite waterfall is the Courthouse Falls.  We enjoy the pleasant drive to the trail head, and then the short hike to the base of the 45-foot waterfall.  The setting is serene: shady and cool, scented of earth, and serenaded by trickling water.  The water is cold and clear.  The older half of the family jumps in and swims to the base of the falls.  The younger half climbs rocks and wades in the shallows.  If we could visit only one waterfall, this would be my choice.



Courthouse Falls

Exploring the shallows








Racing toward the water












Dupont State Park offers other waterfalls to explore.  We enjoyed Triple Falls.  I highly recommend parking at the bottom of the falls and hiking to the summit, rather than the reverse, especially if you have children in tow.  That makes the return trip a fun, downhill dash.

Brotherly love

Rock hopping action








Good clean fun

Boys and sticks








A short drive from Brevard is Hendersonville, a major apple-growing town in North Carolina.  When we visit in late August we find an abundance of delicious apples to be purchased or, better yet, picked at “pick-your-own” apple orchards.  We pick as many apples as our car can hold.  Apple pies, apple butter, fried apples, candied apples, apples dipped in caramel… 80 pounds of apples never last long in our household!

Sampling the apples

Apple picking





Tasting the bounty

Flat Rock is also close to Brevard.  The home of the famous American poet, Carl Sandburg, is in Flat Rock.  While we have little interest in his poetry, we think his wife’s goats are terrific!  Lilian Sandburg was an amateur geneticist and a master of animal husbandry.  She bred world famous goats, and descendants of her goats still live on their estate.  There are also hiking trails on the property that lead to breath-taking views.

Mrs. Sandburg's goats

Petting the goats







Is this the rock of Flat Rock?

Breath-taking views







We have found a wonderful place to stay when we visit Brevard, and I believe it is a BEST KEPT SECRET!  We stay at Ridge Haven Conference and Retreat Center.  Ridge Haven was established by the Presbyterian Church in America.  I first learned of it when a son attended camp there.  They have all sorts of accommodations – camp sites, lodges, motel-type rooms, apartments – that anyone can rent!  They are comfortable and affordable!  And if you visit after the busy camp/retreat season, you may have Ridge Haven to yourself!  The scenic beauty is superb and the lake offers great fun for everyone!


Surf bike








Kayaking at Ridgehaven

Twice we have visited Brevard.  We have arrived late on a Wednesday night, hiked and explored for three full days, worshiped at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Brevard on Sunday morning, then returned home in time for supper on Sunday night.  We pack a lot of fun into a few days.  But each time we have returned truly refreshed and renewed.

The heat of summer will soon envelope us.  Perhaps your family needs a plan for escape.  I know where I want to go!

Ice cream break





Comments (0) May 16 2011