Large Family Traveling Logistics – Stretching the Dollar

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Trip of a lifetime!

On the final day of my family’s vacation out west we drove from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to our hotel in Las Vegas.  It was bittersweet, because it was essentially the beginning of our journey home. The long, monotonous drive lent itself well to a time of reflection.  What worked well?  What would we do differently?   Traveling with nine children (plus a babysitter) from our home in Savannah, Georgia, to Las Vegas, then traveling 1650 miles through unfamiliar territory was a logistical challenge. My husband said many times that all the family vacations that went before this felt like practice for “the big one”.  But in the end we felt that this vacation was a resounding success!

I want to share with you some of the factors that we took into account as we planned our journey, and the decisions that we made.  Few families look like my family, but I hope that you will be able to glean some advice that you can apply to your own family’s adventure. In today’s post, I am considering matters of economics.

Stretching the Dollar

1.  To fly or to drive?

For our family to drive from Savannah to Utah, tour nine days, then return, would require approximately three weeks.   During those three weeks my husband would not be earning any money, yet would be paying out large sums for gas, food, and accommodations for twelve people.  We would also have to rent a van, because our plans included using a babysitter for five young children while older children went hiking, and our passenger van only holds eleven.  For our family, it was cheaper to fly.

Eight of the eleven

2.  Airlines and their specials.

Commercial airlines are suffering financially, and seem to be making every effort to squeeze out the last dollar from paying customers.  Because of competition between carriers, specials pop up all the time; you can not predict them or rely on them.  A great buy today may be eliminated tomorrow.

My husband purchased eleven economy tickets from  Delta Airlines.  With a little research he discovered that by getting a Delta credit card, we could check up to nine pieces of luggage.  Nine pieces!  Delta currently charges $25 per ticket per bag to check luggage one-way!  So this little special saved our family $450, and made our lives much easier.  I do not know if Delta is still running that deal.  My point is that a little sleuthing can uncover savings opportunities.

Oh, and ALWAYS print off a paper copy of whatever special you are participating in.  These things pop up and disappear so quickly, and few things can be as frustrating as getting that “deer in the headlights” look from the clerk at the airline check-in counter.

3.  Hotels with complimentary  breakfasts.

It costs time and money to take twelve people to a restaurant for breakfast every morning.  As often as possible we reserved rooms in hotels that provided breakfast.  Because of the level of activity that we were undertaking each day, it was so valuable to make sure the children were well provisioned each morning.

4.  Pack a lunch.

One of our first stops after arriving in Las Vegas was to go to a grocery store and purchase staples for lunch.  Our typical mid-day meal consisted of peanut butter and nutella sandwiches, apples, pretzels, and water.  Between meals we supplemented with crackers and granola bars.  While it was a dull diet, it was filling and nutrious and allowed us to travel through remote areas, not worrying about meal times and restaurant availability.

Shopping at chain grocery stores was always more economical than small markets near the parks.  I observed that the price of items like granola bars actually tripled near park entrances.  Backpacking staples, like trail mix or tuna, were outrageous!

Remote but beautiful

5.  Sit down to satisfying supper.

At the end of the day we usually ate at a restaurant where we could sit down, enjoy a satisfying meal, recount the day’s adventures, and talk about plans for the next.  I do not feed my children fast food, which is neither satisfying nor inexpensive.  Even though the areas we traveled through were quite remote, we typically found family restaurants near our hotels.  The closest we came to fast food was eating sandwiches and salads at Subway one night.

6.  Purchase the Interagency Family Pass.

For $80 you can purchase an annual family pass for entrance into the national parks and monuments.  I would not have known about this had the man who rented the van not told me.  It is not well advertised. It is also called the “America the Beautiful” pass.

Priceless views at Zion

7.  Join a natural history association!

Each national park gift shop we visited partnered with a natural history association.  If you purchase a membership to that association, you get discounts at other gift shops that cooperate with the association.  For $35 we purchased a membership to Bryce Canyon National History Association.  We were given four posters, two mugs, some pins, and 15% off our purchases.  It did not take many t-shirts later for that membership to have paid for itself.  Furthermore, we were able to use it at Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Arches, and the Grand Canyon.  (Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park, and not part of that network.)

With my oldest son at Canyonlands

 

Our trip out west to the Grand Canyon and other national parks was not inexpensive.  It was, in so many ways, the trip of a lifetime.  My husband and I got to revel in the natural beauty with all of our children before our oldest children leave home.  And we got to see our youngest children delight in the creation.  I do not know how much they will remember, but I hope that I will never forget!

Baby girl loved sliding down rocks

Comments (1) Jul 14 2011

Grand Canyon

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South Rim of the Grand Canyon

A fervent desire to visit the Grand Canyon and to share the experience with all of my children was the impetus for undertaking our family adventure out west.  I wanted to stand beside them and gaze into the mighty gorge, and so seal that into our collective family memories.  My expectations were high, and with good reason.    I know a woman who took her children to all fifty states and to them the Grand Canyon was the favorite destination.  A few years ago a former governor of Maine loaded his family into an RV and they traveled around North America for a year.  He chronicled his experience on NPR, and I still remember him saying the Grand Canyon was the greatest;  nothing else was a close second.  Like I said, my expectations were high.

When our family arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, after a long drive from Moab, Utah, we rushed to the first available observation point to experience the sensation.  We arrived shortly before sunset, an ideal time to capture the moment.  And as we gazed out across the Grand Canyon it was… anticlimactic.

Sunset

Now don’t get me wrong!  The Grand Canyon is sensational!  But it is sort of like pursuing a big name celebrity and overlooking the genuine talent of parks like Bryce, Zion, and Canyonlands.  The Grand Canyon was not the star of the show.  Instead it was just one of the components that made our trip out west a completely satisfying experience.

Dusk

Last glimmer of sun

Traveling with many young children had its limitations.  It would have been impractical for us to hike rim to rim, to ride mules to the canyon floor, or to raft down the Colorado River.  Lord willing, I hope one day to return with those little ones for some big kid fun.   However traveling with a babysitter opened up hiking opportunities we otherwise could not have enjoyed.  Our formula for each day was similar to the other parks.  The older kids, my husband, and I would rise early and hike a strenuous trail.  The little ones would sleep in, watch cartoons, then join us for easy hikes in the afternoon.

Three oldest sons on South Rim

Water break at Skeleton Point

 

Our first morning we hiked the South Kaibob Trail.  We started at Yaki Point, descended three miles, ending at Skeleton Point.  The downhill jolting of our joints was unpleasant.

Unending switchbacks

My oldest son developed blisters and my husband was suspecting stress fractures. The uphill climb, while strenuous, felt like a relief!  That afternoon we took our children on a five mile stroll along the rim.  We were able to push the stroller, which gave the youngest ones a rest.

3-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter

Everyone enjoys the Rim Trail

The next morning was our last and biggest hike of all.  We hiked Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point.  The trail was 12.2 miles, and an elevation change of 3000 feet.  Even though we were at the trailhead at 6:00 in the morning, we had a sense of urgency as we hiked.  We needed to reconnect with the babysitter and leave the park around noon.  So this trail that usually takes 8 hours or more was hiked by us an average of 6 hours.  And it was tough!  It felt like I was climbing up irregular stairs for 4.5 miles.

Looking DOWN to Plateau Point

View from Plateau Point

Plateau Point - rest for the weary

The shadeless plateau

Everywhere you look around the Grand Canyon, there are warnings about the potential for death.  Countless signs warn about the possibility of death if you attempt to hike to the river and back in one day.  There are even photographs of people who have died  attempting that, include a fit, athletic female marathoner.  Of course we didn’t even try that, but I could see how quickly a hiker could be overtaken by the heat and exertion.  As we descended, the temperature increased steadily.  By the time we reached the last 1.5 miles to Plateau Point, it was quite warm and our trail was entirely shadeless.  Furthermore, the dry air made me require more water than I typically consume while hiking.  Bright Angel Trail has rest areas about every 1.5 miles where water supplies can usually be replenished. (Apparently the availability is seasonal, but we had no difficulty getting water.)  I drank 4 liters of water on my ascent to the top.  I can see how quickly someone could be overwhelmed by heat exhaustion if not sufficiently hydrated.

My macabre fifteen-year-old son

My fifteen-year-old son has a fascination with macabre facts.  Throughout our trip out west, he regaled us with statistics about death and injury in national parks.   It is true – wild America can be dangerous.  It would be easy to forget that as you are mesmerized by the dreamy landscapes.  Hence the constant reminders.  In fact the newspaper headlines at the Grand Canyon noted that a body found earlier that month  in one of the canyons had been identified.  When browsing through books in a gift store, we discovered the perfect pleasure read for him-  Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon.  It was a hefty tome.  No one wanted to haul it back in their luggage.  So with a few clicks through Amazon.com, the book was ordered.  It arrived at our home before we did!

Not exactly great literature...

Leaving the Grand Canyon felt bittersweet.  The trip of a lifetime had been realized.   In 9 days we visited 7 parks with our 9 children, drove 1650 miles,  hiked over 70 miles, and took 1700 photographs.  The trip had unfolded without complication. What could we possibly do next?  It was intensely satisfying when my seven-year-old son chimed up from the backseat, “Can we do this again next year?”

Seven-year-old eager traveler

 

 

 

Comments (0) Jun 28 2011

Monument Valley

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Monument Valley

It was high noon when my family arrived at Monument Valley.  That was the perfect time to enjoy this parched, sun-drenched desert land in all its blazing glory.

Mesas, buttes, and spires

Monument Valley is not part of the national park system.  It is a Navajo Tribal Park, located near Four Corners.  Originally we intended to pass by Monument Valley as we made a long driving trek from Moab, Utah, to the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  But the children wanted to stop and visit, and I am glad we did.  It was unlike the other parks we saw, and a great opportunity to get out and stretch our legs.

View from visitor's center

 

The price of admission allowed us to drive a 17-mile dirt road of erosion-sculpted mesas, buttes, and spires.  As we headed to the entrance of the scenic drive, a man offered to take us on a two and a half hour tour of the park in his open-air, four-wheel-drive vehicle for just $75 per person.  You don’t have to be a math whiz to know that that is a huge chunk of money for our party of twelve.  When my  husband declined,  the man dropped his price to $25 per person.  I could see that my husband was actually considering it, so I spoke up and firmly asserted, “No, thank you.”  The idea of holding a toddler and three-year-old for 2 1/2 hours through clouds of billowing red dust as we are jostled mercilessly along a primitive road in a shadeless tour vehicle sounded like a recipe for agony.

Yei Bi Chei and Totem Pole

 

The landscape was bare.  The sun beamed down like a laser, illuminating in stark contrast the deep blue sky and intensely red earth. It was stunning.

East Mitten

The scenic drive passes by the noteworthy buttes and mesas, which bore a variety of unlikely names, such as Elephant Butte, Camel Butte, or Totem Pole (a characteristic of Northwestern tribes and not the Navajo).  The East Mitten and West Mitten are self-explanatory.

West Mitten

The Three Sisters Spires are said to represent a Catholic nun and her novices.

Three Sisters

 

We parked the car and hiked the Wildcat Trail, which encircles the West Mitten Butte.  While fairly level and only 3.2 miles, the trail proved to be very tiring to my younger children.  The parched soil was very soft and made it difficult for them to travel without dragging their feet.  The sunshine was unrelenting.  It was warm, not hot, and I was thankful that I wore long sleeves to shield my arms.  The air was intensely dry, filling our eyes with grit and coating our smiles with pink dirt.

Hiking buddies

It was a wonderful opportunity, though, to experience a desert habitat up close, to walk amid the sparse vegetation and to see lizards scampering about.  That any tribe of people chose to make the place their home is impressive.  Perhaps they were gripped by the riveting beauty and captivating solitude.

Wildcat Trail

 

Two  hours proved to be plenty of time for us to enjoy Monument Valley.  If the photographs look familiar, it is probably because this land served as a backdrop to many westerns.  I must tell you that the entire time I was there, and even  now as I look at the photographs, the voice of Johnny Cash singing “Ghost Rider in the Sky” plays a continuous loop in my head.  Can’t you just hear it?

“Yippie yi ohhhh, Yippie yi yaaay, Ghost Riders in the Sky…”

Oldest son contemplates nomenclature

 

Comments (2) Jun 21 2011

Arches

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North Window

 

Arches National Park is like a glamorous diva:  drop dead beautiful, photogenic, and oh so moody.  One moment she would grace us  with a bright blue sky, then moments later her mood would darken, and we would hiding from rain, or worse – hail.  Then her  mood would change and we would be treated to a glorioius rainbow.

 

 

 

Pea-sized hailstones

Soothing rainbow

Another rainbow

Threatening storm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We never knew there could be so many varieties of rock formations and erosion, and Arches presented us with yet another variation.  In so many other parks we visited the layers of rock  were stacked vertically, like layers of birthday cake.  The rocks of Arches were stacked horizontally, like slices of sandwich bread. Gaps eroded between the slices of rock and  formed slot canyons.  Then the softer insides of the slices eroded away to form an arch.  Just like so many rejected sandwich crusts!

Rocks arranged like bread slices

Slot canyon on Sand Dune Arch trail

Sand Dune Arch

Delicate Arch is the most famous and recognizable arch in the park.  It graces the Utah license plates and countless t-shirts and mugs.  Delicate Arch can be viewed from a distance from a moderate, yet short, trail.

Delicate Arch viewed from Upper Viewpoint Trail

Boy on rock - happy combination

To actually hike to the arch is a different path altogether.  Although only a three mile hike, it is considered strenuous because of the slickrock and elevation gain.  I am glad we got an early start so that we had a moment “alone” with the arch before the crush of hikers!

My big girl in the Framing Arch with Delicate Arch in the distance

Slickrock hiking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delicate Arch

Landscape Arch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A man told me that he was staying in a bed and breakfast inn owned by fifth-generation Moabites (Moab is the charming town that services Arches).  He was told that Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch were accidentally misnamed when their labels were switched many years ago.  But I also heard from another source that the “mislabeling” story was just legend.    But when I compare the arches, I am inclined to believe they were misnamed.  Add to that the fact that twenty years ago Landscape Arch dropped about 180 tons of rock from its lower edge while a handful of hikers looked on in terror.  That seems rather “delicate” to me.

In addition to the arches, there other interesting features.

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock is enormous, unusual, and unsettling.

Petrified dunes

There are breathtaking vistas of petrified dunes, with the snow-capped La Sal Mountains in the distance.

Park Avenue trail

Park Avenue, a moderately easy two-mile hike was enjoyed even by the littlest child.

Ancient petriglyphs

And also we saw petriglyphs.  But honestly, as a mother who has cleaned way too much Sharpie marker off of way too many walls, petriglyphs never impress me much.

Making his own sand dune arch.

For my three-year-old son, Arches National Park left an impression.  Making his own arches is now a hobby for him.  With one simple bite his bagel becomes an arch.  His banana is an arch.  Rip a danish in two, bite out the cheesy center and there you have it!  Another arch.  I hope that as we share our experiences together, looking at photos and recounting our memories, that we will be able to make this experience a lasting impression.

 

Even my baby girl enjoys the view from the North Window.

Comments (0) Jun 11 2011

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

Bryce Canyon – Land of the Hoodoos

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Hoodoos of Bryce

Traveling to Bryce National Park via the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is a bit of a magical experience.  Leaving behind the vibrantly-colored canyon walls of Zion, you emerge from the tunnel a mere 1.1 miles further, at a higher elevation, to find the landscape transformed.The russet-colored cliffs are replaced by sundrenched mesas and a view that seems to stretch to eternity.

 

 

 

Dixie National Forest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our journey took us through Dixie National Forest.  My southern-born sons were delighted to find piles of snow in shady parts of the woods.  In fact, the impromptu snowball fights were a highlight to them. My rough and rowdy three-year-old was eager to join in the melee, then horrified to discover that SNOW is COLD! He had never before played in snow.

Snowball fight!

Snow is cold!

The realization

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shortly before entering Bryce National Park, the road travels through Red Canyon State Park.  I did not anticipate this bonus and felt swept away by the intense beauty.  Flaming red terra cotta rocks were accented with dark green and silver-gray foliage. It was a color scheme that no camera sensor could ever capture. No photogragh satisfies me.

Red Canyon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The unique rock formations at Bryce Canyon are called “Hoodoos”.  They stand shoulder to shoulder like an army of petrified warriors.

Hoodoos

Like assembled warriors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scenic drive leads you to many observation points throughout the park where you can look down upon the Hoodoos and view landscapes beyond.

Bryce Ampitheatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To really appreciate the grandeur of the monoliths, though, I recommend hiking down into the canyon.

On the Queens/Navajo/Wall Street trail

Hiking in Bryce Canyon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early morning moonrise

What skies!

Sharing the hike with my big girl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The town of Panguitch serves the visitors of Bryce National Park.  Unlike other towns we visited, Panguitch was really a dump.  It seemed like every family possessed their own personal junk yard.  It was a marked contrast between the majestic splendor of the Hoodoos and the outright squalor of the townsfolk.  How glad I am that national parks are protected lands!

 

Bryce Canyon Airport

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (0) Jun 05 2011

Zion- Our Journey Begins

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Zion National Park

 

 

Perhaps it is because my sons are fascinated  with the Guinness Book of World Records and the Top Ten List of Everything that they feel like every experience must be rated and ranked.  But sometimes I just can not do that.

 

 

We have returned from a trip out west where we visited seven parks and saw wondrous and glorious sights.  I can describe them.  I can even compare them.:

At Zion Canyon,  you stand at the bottom and look up.

At the Grand Canyon, you stand at the top and look down.

But I can not rank them.  Each park had features that made it special.  Each park was a treasure to be discovered.

We began our journey in Las Vegas, where we rented a passenger van.  We traveled many miles by van, and I found the landscape to be mesmerizing, like gazing into a fireplace.

Utah landscape

Don't see that in Georgia!

Or that either!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first stop was Zion National Park.  The Virgin River flows through the Zion Canyon, and in the spring it appeared lush with countless green cottonwood trees.  The rock formations at Zion are fascinating swirls of color and texture.  I had never  before seen anything like them.

Zion Canyon

Zion Canyon

Feast for the eyes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of spring flooding, we were unable to hike “the Narrows”.  It is the most popular hike at Zion, through a slot canyon. For our first hike we chose Observation Point.  It is a strenuous eight mile hike, climbing almost 2200 feet. The view was spectacular!

View from Observation Point Summit

Nine-year-old at summit

Elevation 6508 feet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the summit we were harrassed  by aggressive chipmunks.  We joked about them possibly jumping on us and wrestling us to the ground.  While that was unlikely, we did find them unnerving.  When my oldest unzipped his backpack to change out a camera lens, a chipmunk jumped in his bag and stole an apple. So while the views were stunning, we always felt distracted by the chipmunks, who seemed to be sneaking up on us, waiting to pounce.

Chipmonsters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our morning hike we collected the other children and toured the park.  Zion NP runs a shuttle bus to transport visitors to the various trailheads.  It reduces the traffic while providing an excellent tour of the park.  We suffered intermittent rain, yet on the shuttle my children were able to see the park and have noteworthy peaks identified for them.

Together we enjoyed some short hikes:  Riverside Walk (2.2 miles), Lower Emerald Pool Trail (1.2 miles), and Upper Emerald Pool Trail (1.0 mile)  The splashing water was so refreshing.  The children enjoyed scampering about the rocks.

Sharing the load

Emerald Pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second morning, though achy and sore, we set out to hike Angel’s Landing.  Though not as far or as steep an ascent as our previous hike, Angel’s Landing is downright dangerous.  If you stumble, you do not tumble down 20 feet.  Instead you fall 1000 feet to certain death.  At least five people have fallen to their deaths. (My macabre fifteen-year-old enjoyed regaling us with these statistics at every peak we summited.)

 

The last 1/2 mile to Angel’s Landing is over a narrow sandstone ridge. Each side of the ridge drops off over 1000 feet.  The sides are sheer and the footholds irregular.

Path to Angel's Landing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I arrived at the beginning of this last stretch, my older children had already ascended the first ridge.  If I had seen how treacherous the conditions were, there is no way I would have allowed them to climb.

Now please note:  I am not afraid of heights.  In fact, I find them exhilarating.  I loved climbing trees as a child, riding roller coasters as a teen, working as a stage electrician up on the cat walks in theatre as a college student.  But when I get my kids near heights, my anxiety meter goes through the roof.  I could not finish the climb.  I felt that I had to stay at the base and hold on to my nine-year-old.

Anchoring my son

No, you may not go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My husband decided to climb after my teens.  He returned after crossing the first ridge.  The strain of the exertion combined with anxiety  from the height was too much.  My teens were on their own.  We waited and waited.  They were gone for over an hour.  We saw dozens of hikers begin the climb and turn back.   I confess – when a big, burly mountain man came down and said that was the scariest thing he had ever done, I covered my face and wept.

What was it like to see my children return?  Indescribable JOY!

My adventurous teens

If you look over their shoulders in this photograph, you will see tiny people climbing the ridge.

In retrospect I should have climbed after my teens and allowed my husband to stay behind and sit on my eager nine-year-old.  How I wish that we had more photographs to document that awesome climb!

 

With verdant valleys, sheer cliffs, and  awesome vistas, Zion National Park was a great starting point for a great vacation.  Besides, after that everything else looked easy.

Beautiful Zion

 

Comments (1) Jun 04 2011

Return from the West

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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