Friday, August 16, 2013

Brynna on the Monkeybars

Ahead of starting kindergarten, B has recently acquired new skills on the playground.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Southwestern Swing: Arches Part 2, June 2013

We woke up in our beautiful campsite and immediately consulted our Arches map to plan our day. Originally we were contemplating one of the most popular hikes in the park, the walk out to Delicate Arch (the one on the Utah license plate), which is more than 3 miles round trip. However, by the time we had breakfast, broke down camp, and headed into the park, we realized that a three mile, completely sun-exposed, mid-morning hike in 95 degree weather with a four year old was probably a bad idea (See? We're not totally crazy!)

So, we scaled back our ambitions. First stop: the visitor center, where we filled up our water bottles and Brynna had a blast climbing on all of the animal statues.

Then we headed out to the Delicate Arch overlook trail. This lets you see the arch after quite a short hike (a quarter mile or so). See? There it is! (Yes, I'm sure it's much more impressive up close. Next time.)

Alex and Brynna found some shade for a few minutes of work on the Junior Ranger booklet.

B and I climbed a big rock.

Then we drove a bit farther along the main road and set off on a loop trail to Turret Arch as well as North and South window. Turret Arch turned out to be B's favorite—lots and lots of scrambling.

Then we headed over to check out the windows. We mucked about at the base of South Window for awhile, but it was not possible to climb up and in with a four year old and hiking boots. So we wandered around the back, and then eventually walked up into North Window and settled down for a break in the shade.

Some nice person snapped this family photo:

 Brynna did some serious work on her junior ranger booklet (here, she is drawing Turret Arch, her favorite place in the park).

And then there was time for some yoga (you can see Turret Arch across the way).

Brynna took this one:

Eventually, the gorp was almost gone and we headed back to the car. Across the valley, we spotted Double Arch. Brynna, who was just an incredibly good sport all day, agreed that we could walk the quarter mile plus over to it. It turned out to be worth it, as she got to do some scrambling there as well.

Family photo up in double arch:

Then it was back to the car for lunch (PB&J and some nice cool drinks that had been sitting on ice). It was getting on towards midafternoon (Brynna's usual naptime, especially when doing so much hard and hot work), and so the big question was whether we would dare one more outing. We really wanted to see Devil's Garden, and particularly Landscape Arch, which is the longest arch in the park and also the most fragile: a big piece fell off of it a few years ago, and it's probably going to be the first of the main features to go. Brynna the super-hiker said she'd give it a go, though we had back-up plans of whisking her back to the car while each of us made a quick, individual dash out to make a look (eight-tenths of a mile being no big deal for our grown-up legs). We were treated to a well-graded, gravel-paved trail, and with some encouragement, electrolyte-flavored drink, and number games, Brynna made it all the way out to Landscape Arch:

B and I then turned around and started back, while Alex stuck around to get a little closer and take some more photos. She was clearly very tired, but maintained a fairly sunny disposition, played games with me, and even found the energy for a final little scramble:

Then our Arches adventure was done. We headed back to the Visitor Center, where Brynna handed in her booklet and was sworn in as a Junior Ranger:

 Then it was off for some cold treats in Moab and a nap-filled drive back to Mesa Verde. We met Martha in Cortez for a yummy local-food dinner at The Farm Restaurant, and then back to Martha's to pack and sleep. Bright and early the next morning we headed out for the little airport in Farmington, NM, and thankfully our travel back to New Hampshire went much more smoothly than the trip out!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Southwestern Swing: First Evening at Arches, June 2013

In our last blog post, you learned about the first leg of our southwestern swing. Next comes the tale of our 24 hours or so at Arches National Park. This is part one of that story.

Mesa Verde is lovely but quite small, and we knew that we'd have a little time to check out one of the other parks in the area. It came down to Arches or Canyonlands, both several hours away. We decided on Arches, since it was the big winner on my Facebook poll and seemed like a great place to do some short hikes and scrambles with B. We'll make it to Canyonlands sometime in the future!

Martha outfitted us with a tent, mattresses, sleeping bags, a stove, and cooking equipment, so we did not have to fly west with any of our own camping gear. Once B stopped fighting sleep and relaxed into her nap, we had a lovely mid-day drive from Mesa Verde to Moab. It was fascinating to watch the geography change as we headed northwest into Utah—I have spent very little time in the southwest and was agog at the completely different terrain.

We didn't have a big head start on planning this trip, so weren't able to reserve a campground inside Arches (which go months and months in advance), but we knew that there were tons of campgrounds in the Moab area. As the trip got closer and I started doing more research, I discovered that the Bureau of Land Management has campsites along the Colorado River, which forms the southern border of the park. They are first-come, first-served and cost only $15 a night. We decided to try for one of those.

We turned onto River Road and started checking out campsites. We found an opening at a nice site less than 10 miles from the turnoff.

Can you believe this view? Best $15 we've ever spent!

It was late afternoon by this point, with several hours of daylight left. We did a quick tent set-up, and then, our claim staked, headed into the park for the evening. Alex dashed into the visitors' center to grab a Junior Ranger booklet, and then the second priority was to get out of the car and stretch our legs! Once we drove up into the park and consulted the map, we realized that there was a lovely mile-long trail called Park Place that started right in front of us. Alex and B set off together, heading gently downhill, and I drove a little farther along the main road, parked at the other end of the trailhead, and hiked back up to meet them partway.

We all marveled at the different shapes, textures, and colors of the rocks.

Here we are headed down the trail (the car was parked at the base of this huge formation).

Brynna silhouetted in front of the Three Gossips:

Lots of scrambling for our little hiker!

We all loved this dolphin-shaped arch off in the distance (the light was perfect to set it off):

This photo shows the "fins" of rock that have formed due to wind and water.

Then we drove on a little and caught Balanced Rock just around sunset. Here it is with the full moon coming up behind:

The balanced rock itself is a harder type of rock than the supporting pedestal beneath. Eventually the support will erode away, and the rock will fall.

Once the sun went down, it was time to head back to our campsite and make supper. However, we realized that we'd forgotten to do violin practice! (Yes, we brought the violin on vacation. Brynna is in the midst of a long streak of practices and is earning rewards from her violin teacher for doing it, and she didn't want to break the streak.) So here's a nighttime violin practice in the visitors' center parking lot:

Once back at the campsite, B was fascinated by the JetBoil as Alex made us some delicious lentil pilaf. The full moon was so bright that wherever in the campground it shone over the surrounding bluffs, we didn't need our headlamps.

It was B's first experience camping so it took her a few minutes in the tent to settle down for sleep, but once she did, we all had a very refreshing rest.

Coming next—the rest of the story from Arches!