Friday, July 31, 2015

Long time, No Update

I can't believe how long it's been since I've updated.  One thing's for sure, we've been busy.  This post will talk about Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, but since then we've also been to Antelope Canyon, Kanab, UT (home of Best Friend's Animal Sanctuary and near Zion National Park), and Moab, UT.  

Today we arrived in Grand Junction, CO, which is happy in that we have hit civilization again, but sad in that Pete heads home tomorrow very early.  We are all very very sad to see him go.  I can't believe it's been three weeks since he's joined us on the road!  The good news is that we spend the next week basically buzzing across the country so that each day brings us a little bit closer to being back home and back together again.

Back focusing on good things: Las Vegas.  Whew.  I can safely say that we are NOT Vegas people.  

I think we were equally captivated by the Bakersfield oil field.
We stayed at the Monte Carlo and, after a small parking snafu, found the resort itself pretty nice.  I had the opportunity to see a friend from HS who happens to work there, and that was lovely.  We took a tram over to the Belliago fountain, and that was pretty cool.

Paris, Las Vegas.  AKA the Eiffel Tower that Gru stole.

It was basically a rest day - we got up in the morning and hit the pool, the lazy river, and the wave pool.

We made the mistake of heading over to Circus Circus in the afternoon.  Although I had heard good things about the circus acts in the lobby (and Lea and I saw two of them, and they were quite good), let's just say that the hotel is showing its age.  I think the last time it was vacuumed was some time during the Carter administration.  Jax had a good time at the arcade though.  And we did walk through the MGM Grand, which was pretty amazing.

Candy dress, anyone?
We'll just chalk that up to a lesson learned.  We had a very yummy dinner back at the Monte Carlo and we all were ready to hit the road bright and early the next day.

We had an easy drive to the Grand Canyon and we got there and got set up in time to take a quick bike ride along the rim.  Jax especially had been looking forward to bicycling for a while, so it was a great way to see along the edge of the canyon.  I had been before, so it was super cool to hear all three of them go "woah!" as we biked over a small hill and the canyon came into view.

We went back to the canyon to see the rim at dusk, 

and then went back again the next morning to hike down a little bit into the canyon along the Bright Angel Trail.  About a hundred years ago my mom and I hiked about halfway down that trail, and it really helps to give a good sense of how massive the canyon is.  We didn't go down very far - we've learned that there's a lot more kvetching from the children on the way back up, not surprisingly.  But it was about an hour's hike round trip.

It doesn't feel nearly as steep going down as it does going up.
Look closely - those little colored dots in the middle of that doorway are Lea, Pete and Jax
We hiked down to the ben ^ d in the trail right where the carrot is
And that was pretty much it for the Grand Canyon.  We really didn't have very much time there at all.  On one hand, I think that was ok, because we weren't going to hike down and the rim hikes aren't very exciting (beautiful, but the kids tire of that pretty quickly).  On the other hand, it did feel kind of rushed for such an iconic park.  Oh well.  Everyone can say that they've seen it, and perhaps someday they'll go back.

Our next stay was Kanab, UT, but en route we stopped and did a tour of Antelope Canyon.  That will get its own post, largely because of the huge number of pictures.  If I have time I'll get those up later today.  If not, tomorrow.  We have a lot of stop and stay stops happening this next week, but nothing too exciting.  It'll be a good opportunity to catch up.  Until then, send good vibes for Pete's safe journey home, and our travels onward.  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

California Parks - Yosemite and Sequoia

It feels like it's been ages since I've posted, and we've done a fair amount of stuff.  I suspect this post will be on the long side, but I'll try to keep things short.

We left San Francisco and headed for Yosemite, which should have been a nice short drive.  And it was, except for the fact that we got a flat tire along the way.  The good news was that we literally got the flat tire in the parking lot of a Goodyear store and, while they couldn't help us, they sent us one mile up the road to a tire shop, where the guys were unbelievably incredibly nice, and had us back on the road in one hour, and charged us absolutely nothing.  If you're ever in Pleasanton, CA, buy a tire or two at Seever and Sons tire.  

We stayed at a KOA west of Yosemite, and the site was lovely.  And there was a big pool the kids were psyched about.  And it was about 30 minutes east of the Western entrance to the park, which is close to all the cool stuff - El Capitan, Half Dome, etc.  The bummer was that the night before we were heading to the park, there was a massive rainstorm that resulted in a mudslide that resulted in the road being closed between our campground and the West Entrance.  Our only other option was to head for the South Entrance, which would be between a 1-2 hour drive.  We hemmed and hawed and finally decided to give it a shot.  Thankfully, the drive itself was short.  Unfortunately, the southern entrance leaves one pretty much near nothing of interest, and there was no way in heck we were schlepping another 1.5 hours up to the cool part of the park only to see it and do 2.5 hours all the way back to the campground.  

So, long story short, we walked the "Meadow Loop" in the southern part of the park, and the kids basically kvetched the whole way.  

At the beginning, before he was about to keel over because I made him walk a whole.three.miles
It was lovely...
but not necessarily something I would have driven three hours and camped two nights to see
About two minutes after this was taken, Jax fell between these rocks.  Thankfully he was fine, but the cut that's on his face in all the following pictures is from that adventure.
At the end of it, they got their Junior Ranger badges and we headed back.  Yosemite was basically a bust for us.  We left Yosemite pretty bummed out.  That said, the kids and I had been on the road for three weeks at this point, and that this was our only really "meh" experience means that something(s) have been going right, right?

The drive to Sequoia was also pretty short, but so depressing.  California is in the middle of a major drought, and we were driving through what should have been farmland but was all just so brown.  Trees were producing fruit, but they were looking in rough shape.  

We were staying at Sequoia RV Ranch in Three Rivers, CA, and weren't quite sure what to expect.  When we got there everyone was super friendly, and the kids were psyched to take a break from the heat and hit the swimming hole.

My cute little fish.
Not a bad place to take a dip.
We had a really nice night just hanging out, and we had a great fire and had s'mores and broke out the glow bracelets.

Bustin' a move.  Of course. 
I didn't realize until this minute that we were all color coordinated.

The next morning we headed up to Sequoia.  We weren't exactly sure what we were going to do, so we stopped at the ranger station to get some tips.  We decided to go as far into the park as the General Sherman Tree (the biggest tree in the world), then make our way back out via a slightly different road for a bit and hike a short loop around the Crescent Meadow Trail, which he assured us was an easy one mile loop with lots of big trees.

The road up the mountain was twisty.  Really seriously twisty.  

A little more than halfway.  We ended up hiking nearish to that huge rock (Moro Rock)
We finally made it up and over the mountain and to the General Sherman Tree.

For a sense of perspective, those teeny, tiny colored dots at the bottom of the tree are full sized human beings.
It was cool to see, but it was really crowded.  I was itching to get to the part of the park that wasn't so paved and so full of people.  We ate some lunch and hopped back in the car and started working our way back out.

We drove through a tree.

Yes, actually our car.  I got our for the photo.
We saw so many huge and amazing trees.  Pictures literally cannot do them justice.  There's no way to capture the scale unless you're standing under them feeling Lilliputian.  

Teeny us.

I tried laying down and shooting up, but all I succeed in doing was squishing the plum I was carrying for a snack. 
Jax, about to be squashed by the feet of giant Ents.

Later in the hike - the roots of an overturned tree.

And when we started our hike we realized that it would be perfect for us.  Even terrain, cool stuff right next to the path and easy to get to, etc.  So we're hiking along, Jax in front and me right behind, and all of a sudden, he says "Bear!"  I thought he was kidding, so I rounded the corner and yup, right there, probably twenty yards away from him is a mama bear with her cub.  

No zoom lens.  This was how far we were from a bear.  It might look far-ish here, but I assure you it did not feel far-ish in reality.
After she and her baby got into the meadow and gained some space, we kept walking, although our hearts were racing.  How often do you stumble upon a bear?

Baby bear, posing in the meadow.
We barely (ha!) had time to recover when Lea noticed a massive dear up on the hill right next to us.  It was gorgeous.

Without zoom.
What it actually looked like to us.
After snapping a few pictures, we continued on, me reassuring Lea that the odds that we were going to run into one bear were extremely low, so the odds of running into another were even lower.  

Well, nothing says fun like proving mom wrong, and we went around another bend and there was a black bear and two tiny cubs.  Once again, we waited for them to get into the meadow, and we continued on, amazed at having seen them.

Mama bear #2.
Just before we ended our loop, there was another bear sighting, although this one was already in the meadow, rather than standing right on the path before us.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing experience and a great day.  

We went back down the twisty, turny road and back into town and stopped along the way for some completely amazing ice cream that couldn't have hit the spot more.  A little more swimming, some dinner, and another fire rounded out the day.

The second half of our California National Parks experience more than made up for the first half.  I think the kids will be talking about the trees and the bears and the deer for a long time to come.

It was up and out early this morning for the long drive to Las Vegas.  

Insert Ocean's Eleven joke here, along with everyone else.
Tomorrow is a pool and hangout day before we head off to the Grand Canyon.  We have Pete with us for one more week, and we're going to pack a lot of good stuff in there.  Stay tuned!

for more pictures of Yosemite and Sequoia, click here

Monday, July 20, 2015

San Francisco

There are a lot of people in this city.  A lot.  And Sunday, our first day here, was 85 degrees and sunny, and every single one of those people was outside.  It was quite the greeting.  But once we got used to, you know, being around other human beings again, we had a great time here.

We stayed at an Airbnb place and we totally lucked out.  It's the ground floor apartment of a single family home in the Outer Sunset district, one block up from the beach and two blocks over from a main streetcar line.  It was a great little space and we found on-street parking for both the camper and the car, which would have been unheard of in other parts of the city.  Pete and I even got our own room, while the kids split an oversized sofa in the living room.  What a luxury!  

While we had to fight through traffic on the Bay Bridge and Pete basically white-knuckled it through town, we got here exactly when Google Maps said we would, which was perfect timing to meet up with friends.  We took a little detour from our planned destination across town to stop on the beach.

Pacific Ocean!

Our plan had been to try to hit Golden Gate Park, but we didn't realize how long it would take to get from where we were staying to the place we had dinner reservations, so instead we went to Dolores Park in the Mission (with the other half of San Francisco) and the kids had some playground time.

Sadly, we're missing the wedding of dear friends in a couple of weeks, so we took them to dinner at Delfina, which was super delicious.  And then we got ice cream at Bi Rite Creamery.  Looking at the line I wasn't convinced that it would be worth it, but a few bites of my creme brulee ice cream convinced me otherwise.

Goofing it up in line.
We returned home and got a good night sleep and basically hung around for a bit in the morning, which was a good way to spend the morning.  

Then it was back across town to tourist things up.  We were heading to Fisherman's Wharf to ferry over to Alcatraz.  The last time I was in San Francisco (a million years ago) we had wanted to go to Alcatraz but the tickets had been sold out.  So this time I bought them well in advance, which was good, because when we got there the sign indicated that the next available ferry was on August 18 (!)

The ferry ride over gave some lovely shots of San Francisco, the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz itself.

San Francisco and the Coit Tower


Golden Gate Bridge

It was cold and windy and fun on the ferry.
Alcatraz itself was really interesting, although I admit it did leave me wanting to work for prison reform.  

Regular cell.

My jailbirds.

Prisoners are still treated like this today.  Not ok.  
View from the exercise yard.

Prison baseball.

So beautiful and so horrible.
We didn't spend as much time as we would have liked because we wanted to get back in time to get the kids over to Ghiradelli Park.  

After a little break for some chocolate, we headed back outbound to meet up with friends again for some West Coast Chinese food that was absolutely delicious.  We all ate our weight, I think.

Jax tried kimchi.  It was spicy.
And then back on the streetcar to the end, for one last look at the Pacific Ocean before we point ourselves Eastward.

West coast sand dunes.
We only really explored a tiny fraction of the city, but I'm so glad we came.  Like we've said about many places, we'll just have to come back.

Tomorrow we head off to Yosemite and then a couple days later, Sequoia.  It will be a real change of pace, yet again, but another adventure I'm sure.

for more San Francisco pictures, click here