Vancouver – City of Glass and Water

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Vancouver

My husband might persuade you that there is no place worth visiting that is not a tropical paradise or a sun-drenched Mediterranean village.  I think that is because my lean, fit husband lacks personal insulation, and will don a parka when the temperature dips below 68.  So last year when I heard that my husband had a conference to attend in Vancouver, British Columbia, I was quick to declare that I and our as-yet-unborn ninth child were going with him!  Who would know when I would have another opportunity to visit that part of the world?  It certainly was not on a short list of places my husband wanted to visit, and it wasn’t exactly on the way to anywhere I am likely to go.

Vancouver is an amazing city.  The downtown area around the convention center is clean and modern, characterized by tall glass buildings that seemed to enhance the sunlight and reflect the water and sky. The climate in Vancouver is a temperate rainforest.  We visited in early November, yet it was not cold, and the vividly-colored trees still held their leaves.  While my husband attended meetings, my baby girl and I strolled for miles exploring Stanley Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.  The waterfront area had paths dedicated to walking or biking.  Even though the downtown area is densely developed, green spaces abounded.  The spaces between buildings contained beautiful gardens, ponds, and water fountains, many reflecting the Asian influences of the city’s residents.

During breaks between meetings, we loaded up in the rental car and set off to explore the mountains that border the city.  A hike up Mt. Seymour was exhilarating, offering clears views and an encounter with snow.

 

Mt. Seymour

I came prepared.  Our baby girl wore a snowsuit and was carried in a frame backpack.  We then hustled back down the mountain for a visit to a “must see” tourist destination – the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Husband and baby crossing Capilano Suspension Bridge

The bridge crosses 450 feet above the Capilano River and leads to other beautiful rainforest sites, such as Tree Adventures, a raised walk-way high in the tree canopy.

Tree Adventures

Further upstream we visited a salmon farm and walked more trails through fern-covered Pacific evergreens.  I had never before visited this part of the world, and it was a treat for the senses.  Even now I can recall the sweet, earthy smell of the moss and foliage.

On another day’s break, we visited a Chinese garden right in the middle of town. There one could find a tranquility in the midst of a hustling-bustling city.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden

After a few days of stretching our legs about the city, we were eager to try the famous Grouse Grind.  Wow.  The Grouse Grind is a steep climb up Grouse Mountain. In 1.8 miles the hike climbs 2,800 feet.  In some places the grade is 31%!  It was like climbing a steep, irregular staircase.  In fact, the climb is so steep that you are not to descend by the same path; you have to take a gondola back to the start. So I was able to push on, knowing that there was no going back.  I carried the camera, but my husband carried our six-month-old.  I exerted muscles I didn’t know I had.

Grouse Grind

The average time to climb the Grouse Grind is between 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  It took me 86 minutes.  Yeah, yeah, I know that stinks, but I live in entirely flat Savannah, Georgia.  The only hills around here are interstate ramps.  Worse, though, when I got to the top there was a chart for “Best Times” in different age and sex categories.  The record holder in my age group did it in about 35 minutes.  As I compared my time, I was discouraged to see that it ranked up there among men in their 80’s. Sigh.

View from Grouse Mountain

There were lots of things to do, besides evaporate sweat, once atop Grouse Mountain.  I love great views, and even saw a distant volcano, Mount Garibaldi.  From downtown Vancouver, I could also see Mount Baker, serving to remind me that beautiful Vancouver lies along the “Pacific Rim of Fire”.  As the sun approached the horizon, we rode the gondola to the base.  We were achy, but exhilarated.  If I had stayed a bit longer, I would liked to have done that hike again.

Descent from Grouse Mountain

Any large, modern city offers wonderful opportunities to sample the world’s cuisines. We ate at an Afghan restaurant, the best Chinese restaurant ever, and a Mongolian barbecue.  Actually, the Mongolian barbecue was so delicious, we ate there three times.  For one price you are given a bowl to fill with a variety of meats and vegetables, topped off with your favorite sauces.  You hand the bowl to a man who stir-fries it over an enormous griddle right in front of you, then hands it back to you, hot and steaming.  Amazing that something so simple could be so delicious.

A trip to Granville Island was a multicultural immersion.  Formerly an industrial site, its warehouses are now fill with arts and crafts studios and an enormous market.  I loved hearing all the accents, enjoying the colors and smells, and the challenges of identifying exotic fruits and vegetables.  Any trip to a foreign city is incomplete without a visit to where the locals shop.

Colorful city market

The highlight of my trip was taking a sea plane to visit Victoria, on Vancouver Island.  Victoria is the provincial capitol of British Columbia, but is only accessible by plane or ferry.  Our tiny plane was filled with government-bureaucrat types, for whom the plane ride was a typical morning commute.  I actually pity the men who were more absorbed in the morning paper than the spectacular views below.  I hope my senses are never dulled to such beauty.

Sea plane transportation to Victoria

Pilot's view of Victoria, BC

Victoria is packed with charm.  It is the location of the famous “Empress Hotel”, an exquisite Edwardian hotel that appears to exemplify British Imperial decorating.

The Empress Hotel

Inside the Empress Hotel

We did not take time to stop for tea!  There was too much I wanted to see!  Victoria was settled by prospectors during the Gold Rush, and still contains many historical buildings and  a vibrant China Town.

Fan Tan Alley, China Town, Victoria, BC

Community of houseboats

When we had covered as much ground as we could by foot, we purchased tour bus tickets for a quick visit to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Totem pole

Bald eagle on top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the bus, I actually saw a few bald eagles.  Here is one sitting atop a very tall totem pole.

Friendly seals

Gobbling fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Showing off for the camera

Looking for lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendly seals populated the waterways where locals fed them daily.

Seaplane view of Vancouver

Finally after a visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum for a good dose of Inuit education, we boarded another sea plane for our return to Vancouver.  Wouldn’t that be a great daily commute?

 

Sea plane view of our hotel

Our last full day was characterized by heavy rain.  We drove through the gardens of the campus of University of British Columbia, then headed north toward Whistler.  We did not have a goal in mind, but let our curiosity lead us.  The route north along the coast is called the Sea to Sky Highway.  It was startling to see how rapidly the population diminishes north of Vancouver.  One could reside in a modern city and so quickly access rugged, awe-inspiring landscapes.

There were many things to do and see along the way.  Most notably we visited the Britannia Mining Museum, which made such an enormous impression on me that I shall save it for another post.

Finally we stopped in an old mill town called Squamish, a peculiar little town where we bought sandwiches and coffee.  We were intrigued by all these signs and billboards we saw for a grand ocean front development.  Squamish was anything but grand.  We followed the signs past lumber mills and heaps of scrap metal, and at last found the location of some visionary’s grand dream.

"Ocean Front Village" development in Squamish

I laugh to recall this sight!  It looked more like a Superfund Clean-up Site than a luxury ocean front resort.  If you are going to dream, dream big, right?

The return drive to Vancouver provided a time of pleasant reflection.  Armed with an infant, rain gear, and great walking shoes, a guide map, and a sense of adventure, we  took in Vancouver and its surroundings, its city life, culture, and climate.  Even business trips can be an opportunity for amazing adventures.

After rain comes rainbows

How much will she remember?  Not a thing, I am sure.  But I hope her curiosity will lead her to an active life of discovery.

 

 

 

 


Comments (4) Sep 08 2011

Large Family Traveling Logistics – Controlling the Chaos

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Gathering luggage – St. Croix airport, 2007

 

 

In May my husband and I succeeded in traveling to seven parks in nine days with our nine children and a babysitter.  It was no small feat, and every previous family vacation was a rehearsal for this “big one”.  How did we do it?  I hope to share a few bits of wisdom.  I wish a had more pictures to share of things we did to simplify the complications, but at those busy times, photography was the last thing on my mind.  Instead, I shall fill in the white spaces of places we have traveled with children.  Yes, it can be done!

 

 

 

 

Grand Cayman, 2007

1.  When navigating an airport, I dress my children all in matching shirts.  You would think the older children would balk, but they actually seem to possess, instead, a “team spirit”, making the whole ordeal more fun.  The shirts allow me to quickly find children who might stray from the group, but they also enable others to identify us as a group traveling together.  One of the benefits of that is having your family singled out and moved to a shorter line for quicker processing.  That has happened more than twice.

Rum Point, Grand Cayman, 2011

2.  All domestic airports require you to remove your shoes for security screening.  Allow your younger children to wear quick, slip on shoes such as Crocs.  There is nothing like tying ten shoes or needing a shoe horn to dampen your spirits and increase your stress level.  Oh, and make sure your children can walk comfortably and quickly in the shoes they wear.  Airport transfers routinely require lengthy and brisk walks.

Island hopping with son, Bonaire and Curacao, 2007

3.  For domestic flights, allow at least one hour between connections.  Even small delays can make it impossible for you to disembark from one flight and get to the next gate in time.  For international flights, allow at least two hours.

Magic Kingdom, Orlando, FL 2011

4.  When you arrive at an airport, go immediately to find your gate.  Do not buy lunch.  Do not browse for magazines.  Do not try on sunglasses.  Find your gate and check your departure time. Sometimes, for different reasons, flights are moved to a different gate.  You do not want to wait until boarding time to discover that the flight you expected to leave from A 12 is now leaving from C 28, and you will have to get a bus to transfer you there.

Edison Winter Estate, Ft. Myers, FL, 2008

5.  Pack each child’s clothing into a carry-on sized bag and specifically limit what they are to bring.  Our trip to Utah and Arizona required us to change hotels often.  We did not possess the time or space to empty and repack the contents of a suitcase each day.

Wilhemstadt, Curacao 2007

6.  Make a specific list of what children are to pack. Be specific:  9 pairs of socks, 9 pairs of underwear, 1 rain jacket, 1 warm sweater or sweatshirt, 2 pairs of pants, 1 pair of shorts, 3 short-sleeved shirts, 2 long-sleeved shirts…

Dayton, TN 2009

7.  Lay the clothes out together and make sure there are outfits that match.  Expect multiple wears out of clean clothing.

George L. Smith State Park, Metter, GA 2009

8.  You will probably want to take photographs of your children when you travel, so you may want to make sure they selected clothing that actually looks good.  My boys all seem to have favorite shirts that they want to live in and somehow the older ones seem to smuggle them into their bags.  At least I can limit the choices for the little ones.

St. Croix, 2007 (I was six months pregnant)

9.  Pack each child’s socks and underpants into individual bags and LABEL THEM.  While the 3-year-old may have no qualms about wearing the 9-year-old’s underpants, the older child will likely be unwilling to squeeze into the younger child’s size 2T Superman undies.

Brevard, NC 2008

10.  Check as many bags as you can.  We flew Delta to Las Vegas, and because we have a Delta card, we were able to check up to 9 pieces of luggage without additional charge.  That made it a lot easier to board our aircraft and to make our connection.  We didn’t have to expend the time and effort getting carry-on pieces out of the overhead bins.

Turtle Farm, Grand Cayman, 2011

11.  Because checked luggage can easily be lost or delayed, pack one outfit for each child into a backpack to be carried onto the plane.

Tybee Beach, GA 2010

12.  Make a  detailed list of your luggage and to whom it belongs:  1. Blue Samsonite – Catherine, 2. Black LL Bean – Andrew, etc.  List also what bags will be carried on, including handbags.  When you are amassing a heap of luggage at the airport, it is tough to keep a count of the bags.   And you can not expect little ones to accurately recollect that their bags have arrived or remember what they looked like.  Check that list!  Then re-use it every time you change hotels.

"King of the Mtn." on an anchor, Beaufort, SC 2010

13.  Identical ribbons or strips of fabric tied to luggage handles make bag identification simple.  Do you have any idea how many identical black bags there are on any given flight?

Ziplines, Roatan, Honduras, 2009

 

14.  Airports are designed to ease the rapid transport of large groups of people. For that reason, there are lots of signs.  Take a moment to explain to your children how to read the signs.  Engage them in actively looking for the right path, whether to the next gate, the luggage carousel, the parking lot.  This is an important skill, and will greatly reduce traveling anxiety if they should ever need to fly alone.

Scuba diving, Marathon, FL 2006

15.  You will undoubtedly encounter various clerks with a wide range of competency levels.  Sometimes you will need to “educate” them about the plan you have purchased.  Always, always bring a paper copy that spells out of terms and conditions of  your purchase.  For our 20th wedding anniversary, my husband flew us business class via KLM to go hiking in France.  The airline representative in Nice had never before seen anyone checking baby items (stroller, car seat, back pack) on business class and was quite clueless as to our allowance.  Paper-proof brought quick order to the situation.  Furthermore many airlines and hotels offer specials online, but don’t communicate what you purchased with the reservation.  I had the misfortune of having to stay in three different Courtyard by Marriot hotels in a five week time period.  In each hotel, the front desk had no record that I had purchased a breakfast buffet with my room.  Having to dig up proof each time was wearisome, to say the least.  Finally, the last hotel clerk explained to me, “We have no idea what specials they run online. No one ever tells us.”  The burden of proof may be on you.  Print it off and bring it along!

Hiking in Provence, France 2010

16.  If you require special accommodations at a hotel, call them when you are en route to communicate that you are on your way.  Perhaps you require wheelchair accessibility or a baby crib.  My older daughter plays a harp, and so when we travel with her harp, we request ground floor rooms in hotels with stairs.  There was nothing quite like arriving in a Courtyard by Marriot a few years ago without my husband,  with 8 children and a cooler full of food and discovering upon arrival that not only had they given away the suite with a refrigerator that I had reserved, but also they had placed my children and me in rooms on separate floors!  Now I make it a habit to call:  “Hello, I have reservations, we are on our way and will be arriving after supper time.  I reserved a baby crib.  Could you make sure that a crib is saved for me?  I will have a car load of very sleepy children…”

Kauai, Hawaii 2006

17.  Traveling can be stressful. Connections can be missed, flights cancels, luggage lost.  The people we encounter across the desk spend all day dealing with anxious and angry people.  It is a tough job, and I wouldn’t want to do it.  Treat them with courtesy. A calm voice, a genuine smile, and a kind “thank you” are the right way to interact with clerks, competent or otherwise.  It is the right thing to do.

Because we are a large family, many people observe us that we do not ourselves notice.  Our behavior is a testimony of whom we serve.  It is my hope that people will see how much we love Christ by how we love others.


 

Comments (2) Aug 15 2011

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

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

Canyonlands

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Canyonlands

Canyonlands seemed  otherworldly.  I hiked up onto a sandstone dome  called Whale Rock and I turned around and around, gazing as far as my eyes could see.  Except for the small section of parking lot visible right below, I could see no other signs of human activity.  If the national park system was founded to preserve “wild America”, this was what it was all about.

The park is enormous and is separated into three distinct land districts by the juncture of the Green River and the Colorado River.  If you imagine the shape of a lower case letter “y”, the Green River flows southeast to join the Colorado River.  Each district has its own personality and you can not cross directly from one section of the park into the other.  Our family visited the section called “Island in the Sky”.  What a perfect name!  It is an enormous mesa accessible by a narrow neck of land.  The sides of the mesa are sheer, dropping about 1000 feet to a lower plateau, which then drops about 1000 feet to the river basin.

1000 feet drop separates plateaus

 

 

At one time cattle and sheep were raised upon the mesa.  Containing the livestock would certainly be easy, but feeding them would be a different matter altogether.  A ranger at the visitor’s center gave us a brief overview of edible plants of Canyonlands.  Believe me, it was very brief.  A meal might be made of pine nuts, prickly pear cactus, and juniper berries, then washed down with Mormon tea, which is a stimulant and powerful diuretic. Um, no thanks.

The Canyonlands diet

 

There are two other land districts in the park.  The Needles, which lies to the southeast, has paved roads, a visitor’s center, and established hiking trails.  Its skyline is characterized by jagged sandstone pillars, hence the name.

Monument Basin with the Needles in distant left

The other district, the Maze, is not for the faint-hearted or ill-prepared.  It is accessible only by rugged roads for four-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicles.  There are no facilities whatsoever, and the trails are primitive.  The park literature stresses that the Maze is only for those experienced and self-reliant.  “Be prepared to self rescue.”  Self rescue?! While that notion opens up a huge theological can of worms, I think the rangers have in mind a willingness to hack off your own  boulder-trapped arm with a pocket knife, so that you can rappel to the canyon floor and hike to rescue.  Hey, it’s been done.

The Maze lies beyond the Green River

 

We chose to visit Island in the Sky because it was the most accessible by car, offering many viewing areas to enjoy and short hikes for all the children.  My children were awestruck by Upheaval Dome, an unusual rock formation that may actually be a meteorite impact crater.

View from Upheaval Rock

Awesome view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Upheaval Dome

 

The family favorite, though, was the Mesa Arch Trail.  This trail can be enjoyed on so many levels.  The easy path has abundant desert wildflowers and interesting rock formations.

Mesa Arch viewed from afar

The Mesa Arch is, itself, lovely.

Mesa Arch

If you look through the arch, you see the Washer Woman Arch.  See how there appears to be a woman leaning over her wash bucket?

Washer Woman Arch

And beyond there is a breath-taking view of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains.

La Sal Mountains through Mesa Arch

Hiking companions

What climbs up must climb down...

What is noteworthy about this last picture is what is not in view.  To the left there was a tall, slender woman.  She was barefoot and dressed in yoga clothes.  She and her photographer spent an enormous amount of time composing her picture.  They would adjust the camera, test the settings, adjust the camera.  Finally she stepped in front of the camera and bent over into a back bend.  What took me by surprise was how she groaned, and moaned, and grunted!  She would check the photos, then unsatisfied with the result, she would strike the pose again, complete with grunts and groans.  I think she was trying to replicate the gentle curve  of the arch.  She looked anything but graceful.  In fact, her face was turning purple from the effort.  I dare say she is the only one who wasn’t enjoying the view.

I am ENJOYING the view!

Comments (0) Jun 16 2011

Arches

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Traveling with children.
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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