This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.
Back in May of 2016, we went camping at Pershing State Park. It was named for Gen. John J. Pershing, who grew up in the area and explored it as a kid. It’s located in the north-central part of the State, so Brooke and I had visited the park back when we were in college, so we thought it’d be cool to check it out with our kids.
The campsite we stayed at was just a short walk to a small pond. Calvin and Meg weren’t particularly great at fishing, but they still had fun! If I remember right, the kids got their lines stuck in branches a few times and didn’t catch anything, but oh well – it killed some time.
The campsites were pretty flat and covered in trees. It was easy enough for them to entertain themselves around the campground. We were there in mid-May, so the temperature was pretty reasonable: chilly at night, nice during the day, not many mosquitoes yet. There was plenty of wood around to make a fire with, and that’s always entertaining to 2- and 5-year-old kids.
We didn’t do a ton of hiking, but Pershing has a pretty cool walking trail through some tall grasses. There wasn’t much wildlife aside from birds we could see, but the kids enjoyed hiding from each other, darting around corners behind brush. The boardwalk pictured above is a short loop within walking distance from the campsite. We did our best not to carry Calvin all that much, but we didn’t have much of a choice unless we wanted to sleep on the trail forever…
There was also a cool observation deck where you could watch for water fowl in the marsh. The kids took their sweet time climbing up to the top, despite the fact it wasn’t even really that tall. Remember, Calvin is among the slowest people on the planet and it was even worse when he was 2…
Overall, we had a great time! It was also a relatively short drive for us, which is always appreciated. I don’t remember there being a playground all that close to our campsite, which would have been nice, but our kids were of the age where they could “make their own fun” so it wasn’t a big deal.
We’d go back! It’s definitely worth the return trip someday!
This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.
So, I last posted about State Parks last May. For real, this time, I’m going to get a few more in the virtual can. It’s on my “Christmas Break list” and Brooke keeps reminding me to work on them.
We last visited Rock Bridge Memorial State Park near Columbia in April 2017, though Meg first visited back in 2012, before Calvin was born. As close as we live, and as often as we’re in Columbia, you’d think we’d go more often, but alas.
The park gets its name from an unusual rock formation carved out by a creek over many years. Growing up, we used to be able to actually walk through the bridge, but a few years ago, they removed the wooden walkway. To be fair, they’d have to close the walkway any time the creek flooded, so perhaps it’s for the best.
Brooke and I both went to the park growing up, actually. Mom and Dad took my sister and I and we both went on school trips relatively frequently. I never got to go down in the “Devil’s Icebox” cave, but Brooke got to back in high school. I also participated in an orienteering activity there in 8th grade, which Mom fondly remembers.
The hiking around the park can be as strenuous or as simple as you want, with many trails set up on wooden slats, and other portions being traditional dirt trails. The park is pretty big and has campsites, but I don’t remember ever camping there. My experience is mostly just the hiking around the park, but even with that, I never really went all that far.
The aforementioned Devil’s Icebox cave is somewhat popular among amateur spelunkers. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d even gone down as far as these pictures here indicate. The kids found it pretty awesome to be down in a cave by the rushing water. We didn’t get all that wet, but they did go out in the middle of the water out on some slippery rocks.
We may end up camping there at some point, but for the time being, we’ll probably just visit when we get some time in Columbia. It’s a fun and easy park to walk around in so we’ll definitely head back…but we have quite a few other parks to hit, too!
As I’ve written before, I’ve been working on running a half marathon for most of this year. Back in May, I registered for the Kansas City Half Marathon and have been putting in quite a few miles since, especially recently. I did 45 miles 3 weeks ago; 37.7 miles 2 weeks ago; 47.4 miles last week; and then scaled down for this week, “only” running 19 miles in the days leading up to today’s race (and I took off yesterday).
Brooke and the kids stayed home this time, mostly because there isn’t a whole lot for kids to do for two hours between 7:00 and 9:00 am in downtown Kansas City. It also afforded me the flexibility to get down there, use public transportation to get around, and go to bed when I needed to. To that end, I left home yesterday around 2:30 and headed to Union Station where the race packets were being held. I picked up my shirt (which is really nice, btw…) and race bib, checked out a few of the “wares” from various sponsor companies, and then headed to my hotel. We had originally scheduled an Airbnb for the night, but the owner cancelled about a week ago (hmmm…wonder why…), so I ended up staying at the Marriott Downtown, closer to the convention center. In the end, this was probably best because I was a). close to the Power and Light District (for dinner options) and b). the hotel was a block away from the KC Streetcar stop I needed the next morning.
After I checked into the hotel, I went around to the corner to a sports bar called Yard House, which was packed (because Friday, ya’ll). I ate my turkey club and fries at the bar, along with a few beers from Torn Label, which were quite good.
I was done with dinner by 7:00, so I went back to the hotel and watched Netflix for a few hours before trying to fall asleep, which thankfully happened around 9:45 pm.
It was a brisk 46 F when I walked to the trolley around 5:45 am Saturday morning. Honestly, it was supposed to be worse earlier in the week, when the temperature forecast was closer to 36 F, so I was fine with this. The worst part about this aspect of the experience was that, because of the number of people running and parking being at a premium, using public transportation requires getting down there early, and when you are by yourself, there’s no one to hold a coat for you, so I just had my running gear to keep me warm (read: not really warm). Thankfully, Union Station was open, so I could hang out in there until the race was to start.
I should also note that, before leaving the hotel, I had 40 oz of water and a Cliff Bar. I took along some Scratch Labs energy chews (effectively fruit snacks with more salt than usual) to have closer to start time, and I washed it down with a 20 oz water from a vending machine in Union Station. I did not carry water with me for the race.
Note: You can “check” gear at one of the tents at the end of the race, so I could have taken a coat along with me, but having not run this race before, I wasn’t sure what that process would look like with a few thousand people being down there. If I run this again sometime, I think I can get away with doing it this way again. If it’s any colder, though…who knows…
There were a lot of people racing. Official tallies indicate 3,987 finishers for the Half Marathon; 1,263 finishers for the Full Marathon; and 1,363 finishers for the 10K. All of them started at 7:05 am, so it took a bit to get off the starting line. The 5K runners (1,272 finishers) started at 7:30 am.
My goal for this race was to do it in under 2 hrs. My understanding from perusing the internet is that 13 miles in 2 hrs is a perfectly “respectable” time (indeed, the average was 2:19:16 from those that ran it). The two times I’ve run 13 miles before, at least around Marshall, I’d done it in 1:56 (back in May), and then again at 1:51 a few weeks ago. Granted, I didn’t know the Kansas City landscape, so it was still a bit of an unknown how this route would go, but I hoped I could at least do it in close to 1:50.
Relatively early on, I noticed the pace runner in front of me maintaining an 8:00 min/mi pace, which would put runners nearby on track for a 1:45 half marathon. After I spotted him, I thought I’d try to keep up for as long as I could, thinking that would push me beyond 1:50. And for most of the run, I kept up or was in front! I didn’t stop for water (which was provided every 2 miles) or restrooms (which were also provided about as often), so that helped me keep moving. My legs didn’t really hurt all that much until I got closer to the 8 mile mark, but more on that shortly…
The organizers made a big deal of the fact that the race course was “reversed” from usual, and this is the second year they’ve done this. I guess it used to start with a giant hill to go up at the beginning, and then slower declines for much of the rest of the race. However, by virtue of reversing things, that meant there were more slow inclines for much of the race and a mile long decline at the end. Around mile 9, I definitely started feeling those slow hills…and wasn’t a fan… Still, knowing the end of the race would be on a downhill kept me going.
That last hill, though. Whoa. For comparison, I was going uphill at 8:24 min/mi for mile 11, then 8:03 min/mile for mile 12…then 7:34 min/mile for 13…
…and 6:36 min/mile for the last 0.2 miles of the race…
In the end, my official time was 1:44:06 to run the 13.1 miles, which I was very happy with. I not only beat my goal, I killedit. I placed 49 out of 286 people in my age group (35-39) and 276 out of 1773 males who ran the race. 336th place overall (out of 3,987). For my very first official Half Marathon, I thought that was pretty good!
At the very end of the race, at the “Finishers Festival,” you are given a beer and some BBQ, which I wouldn’t normally be all about, but after burning 1,600 calories before 9:00 am, I can’t say I was eager to refuse…
People have asked if I’m going to push on for a Full Marathon next and, at this time, I’m thinking “no.” After I finished the race, took the trolley back to my hotel, and took a shower, it was around 10:00 am…and I just thought about all the Full Marathon runners still going. I’m not sure I’ll say that I’ll never do it, but it’ll be awhile. With that finishing time, I’m not really eager to do another Half for awhile, either – I’ll probably stick with 10Ks for awhile. But when I’m ready, perhaps I’ll hit up the Half Marathon in Columbia or St. Louis where I know more people and don’t have to deal with public transportation quite as much.
For now, though, I’m going to take a few days off!
Last year’s Oktoberfest went well, but attendance was down slightly from the previous year due to putting it the same weekend as Fall Break. We also consistently hear from some of the usual folks we invite that October is pretty busy because of other school-related activities. Therefore, for this year’s Oktoberfest, we pushed into September.
Of course, once you start looking at the calendar, there aren’t all that many options for later in the month because a certain someone has a birthday on September 23rd (incidentally, Calvin’s grandmother has a birthday on September 22nd, so he isn’t the only one with a birthday around then!). Soooooo, the decision was made to try and combine the two: he was turning five and had more friends to invite this year, so we could just invite everyone and try and satisfy both needs.
We spent the usual amount of time preparing for the even the week before. Thankfully, the weather was solid enough that we could get mowing done and pick up some straw bales for seating. There was a threat of rain later in the week, but a front came through on September 21st, cooling off the temperatures into the low- to mid-70s for September 22nd. Near perfect weather, really!
Mimi and Poppy, and Nana and Papa, all came in early to help with some set-up, though Brooke and I had most of it done already. Still, it was good to visit a bit during “the calm before the storm.” Calvin and I even went to the MVC Rodeo the night before, so we weren’t so behind with set-up that it was necessary for me to work through Friday night getting ready (the rodeo was fun, by the way). Before everyone arrived, Calvin opened some presents from his grandparents – we saved the rest of them for the next day.
As part of Oktoberfest, knowing that we’d have more kids than usual present, Brooke looked into getting special activities to entertain them. We tried finding mini pumpkins, but it was just a bit too early for them to be available at our local stores, so Brooke found some plastic ones to be painted at Dollar Tree.
We also set up some yard games, including a “throw the ring around the beer bottles” game and horseshoes. Honestly, I was down with the grill the whole time, so I didn’t see how the “kid games” went over, but it seemed like they were relatively entertained! Some kids got out chalk for the driveway, others used the swings, and others played cornhole. No one felt the need to go inside and turn on the TV, so I suppose this was a “win!”
The rest of the party went off without a hitch. We set up the screen-in tent down where the yucca plants used to be and put some straw underneath (it fit the theme of the party while also covering up the distinct lack of grass from that particular spot). We ran an extension cord out there for the Crock Pots and turned on our blue Christmas lights for later. We ended up with plenty of seating for the 38 visitors we had (about 10 more than last year!) and moved chairs around when necessary. It was warm enough that I didn’t light up the fire until early-evening, but once it was going, it was a welcome addition.
A brief side-note: the Nuremberg sausages we like to get from Aldi didn’t come in until that very week here in Marshall. I ended up grabbing 15 packs of them from the Aldi in Columbia when I made my run for Oktoberfest beers, just in case, but the Marshall store got theirs in just in time. Still, if we do it around the same time next year, we may have to drive a bit to stock up!
As usual, most people were leaving by 7:00, which was when the rodeo started that night. A few couples stayed later than that, one of which hung out until around 9:00. Calvin sat inside in front of the TV; the adults chatted by the fire; and Meg laid down in the straw under the blue lights.
It was a great day! Let’s hope the weather is similar next year!
Independence Day fell on a Wednesday this year, which threw scheduling into something of a tizzy. Our usual plan is to head to Hannibal for Tom Sawyer Days, but they separated events between the surrounding weekends, so we were actually home with the kids on July 4th for once. Marshall has a fireworks display and I picked up a new grill (oooooooo, it’s so nice…), so Mom and Dad came in from Columbia for some BBQ and Fourth of July festivities.
Marshall moved the fireworks display to the old Habilitation Center about a half mile from our house, so we took the wagon and set up shop for the evening. We watched the Marshall Municipal Band play a patriotic set before the fireworks were set off, so we were up there for a few hours. Not a bad way to spend the Fourth!
The rest of the week went as normal and we left for Hannibal on Friday, when the Tom Sawyer Days events were going to kick off. We watched some mud volleyball Friday night, as Rachel and Jimmy were playing again. Diana and I ran the Hannibal Cannibal the next morning and, shockingly, the temperature was 61 F on July 7th, so I ran far better than I had been for the week prior. My goal for this 15K was 1:20, as that should keep me on track for the half-marathon I’m running in October, and I beat that by a few minutes. The 15K is where the marathon runners live, so my competition was substantially greater than it was when I ran the 10K last year, but hey…whatchoo gonna do…
We spent quite a bit of time downtown for mud volleyball during the weekend, went swimming back at the house, and shot off some fireworks for good measure. It was a fun weekend, as always! The kids stayed in Hannibal with Mimi and Poppy for the week, so Brooke and I have some time here to catch up on things (read: work).
We left the North Rim on my birthday, a Wednesday this year. The kids played with the neighbor kids for awhile as Brooke and I packed things up, which was mostly uneventful. We weren’t necessarily in a rush to get out of there by a certain time, but getting on the road close to 10:00 am was certainly a goal. We planned to get to Albuquerque, NM that first night and had to contend with at least one time change on the way there. We also had a few stops planned on our way out, neither of which did we expect would take a ton of time.
The first stop was Marble Canyon, specifically the Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River. In the picture above, the one on the left is a walking bridge, while the one on the right allows passage of Highway 89A across the river. We thought the site would involve a cultural center for the Navajo reservation that we were passing through, but there wasn’t much there aside from bathrooms and a gift shop. It was nice to get out of the car after a few hours on the road, though.
Another reason to stop there was because California condors have been sighted in Marble Canyon in the past, but we didn’t get to see any. Had to try, I suppose!
Most of the drive that day was very much like you see above. Flat and desert, with the assorted mesa showing up occasionally. The kids did fine during this entire portion, as they were ready to be back in consistent air conditioning with their electronic devices, but for the grown-ups in the car, there wasn’t a whole lot to look at. I-40 made life easier once we got there (we had quite a few state highways to hit before making it south to I-40), but until that point, it was desolate reservation land and not very many places to stop. Thankfully, we didn’t really have to.
We made it into Albuquerque after 7:00 that night and before heading to our hotel, we stopped at Ponderosa Brewing Company. It was apparently “open mic night,” which wasn’t our first choice, but it was late and we were hungry and I wanted beer, so we suffered through it (it really wasn’t that bad and reminded me that I should play more mandolin…). The food and the beer were great, but the service left much to be desired. The receipt was a bit confusing, but we think they knocked some money off when we bought a growler to take back to the hotel, so that was a plus.
Now, back in Part I, I neglected to mention that we stopped at Rockslide Brewing Company in Grand Junction, CO for lunch before heading into Utah (because it’s 2018 and they don’t have real beer in Utah…). That place was great. The food was great, service was great, and It was tough to pick a beer for the growler that night.
After a restful night in the hotel in Albuquerque where the kids stayed up until around 10:00 pm (time change is difficult, people…), we hit the road. It was going to be another long one, but this time, we were stopping at the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum in Amarillo, TX. Which seems like a thing you should visit when you’re in Amarillo, TX.
It was actually pretty neat! It’s actually a retail RV lot, but if you go in and ask at the front desk, they’ll lead you back through all the new ones to a warehouse with all the old ones, each with a sign that gives you some idea what’s there. We ended up seeing a 1970s-era pop-up camper that looked quite a bit like the ones Brooke and I grew up with, and that particular camper was donated by a couple from Columbia, MO! Small world.
Meg and Calvin really liked seeing campers, as we’re used to staying in tents when we travel like this. We had to explain to them that the towing capacity on our Subarus isn’t really up to snuff to carry many of these campers, so they’re slowly devising a way to get us to upgrade. I don’t expect they’ll win this battle…
From Amarillo, it was another 4 hours on I-40 until we got to Oklahoma City. This time, we were going to get there a bit early, hopefully giving us time for a nice dinner and some swimming at the pool at the hotel we got. This time, I picked the restaurant: something that would satisfy the four different mouths in the car without leading to arguments about what kind of food we were getting that night. I found this place called Shorty Smalls that looked like they had a wide swath of options that we hadn’t had on the trip so far, including seafood. When we got there, they advertised an all-you-can-eat catfish deal and $0.99 Coors Lights. Sounds great, right?
Well, we sat there for 15 minutes and no waiter visited us. The kids finished their placemat activities and were already ancy and various servers had walked past us with nary a word.
So we left and went to Waffle House next to our hotel. It wasn’t my first choice, but the other three in the car were happy, so it was fine. I left them a review on Google Reviews and got a response the next day apologizing and saying they’d pass the experience on to management.
After another late night staying up (with some swimming this time), we hit the road one last time for the home stretch. This time, we were going to stop about 30 minutes outside of Oklahoma City at Pops Soda Ranch, which advertises over 600 different types of soda and other Route 66 kitsch to buy. Meg had never seen this many root beer varieties, so she was pretty excited. We didn’t stay long (and didn’t get gas there, as the price was at least $0.40/gal higher than everywhere else around there), but grabbed a six pack of different glass bottled sodas.
After another few hours, we stopped at the former “World’s Largest McDonald’s” in Vinita, OK, which runs across I-40. It’s a McDonald’s, so not much to report on that, but it was neat for the kids to have a Happy Meal while cars passed under them.
A note on Oklahoma vs Kansas driving. Kansas is a terrible, desolate state that is horrible to cross. A definite black hole between Missouri and Colorado. And while they do have toll roads, they certainly don’t milk you for everything you’re worth like Oklahoma does. I think we spent maybe $2.50 to go on I-70 in Kansas, but it was $9.00 to get from Oklahoma City back to Missouri. Ridiculous.
Finally, the heavens opened up and we crossed back into good ol’ Missouri. Granted, it was relatively far south, so we still had hours to go, but it was certainly more familiar territory as we got closer to Highway 65.
We had a fun trip! ~2800 miles covered and 25.6 mpg average overall. Gas prices really weren’t all that different than they were in Missouri, though we ran into some more expensive stations due to their isolation from other populations. We’d still like to hit the South Rim eventually, but may do that on a “Tour of the Southwest” trip when we hit Mesa Verde, Arches, and other locales in a few years. We’ve got other plans for the next few years, though, so that’ll have to wait!
Our last full day at the North Rim was designated for driving along a scenic road to take a look at various views of the canyon, including Point Imperial (the highest point on the North Rim) and Cape Royal. We got up around the same time as the day before and grabbed breakfast after a mostly restful (yet chilly) night. We weren’t quite in as much of a rush that day because we had the car with us and could take as little or as much time at each site as we wanted. While we got ready, the kids finished up their Junior Ranger booklets so we could hit up the Visitor Center later and get their badges.
I should note that the day before, the park had turned off water to the laundry and showers, so while we still had plenty of water to drink and wash dishes with, we hadn’t actually bathed in a few days. It was starting to get to me by this point (and likely no one else in our family…), but it was a “dry heat,” so it was bearable. Believe you me, had we been in Missouri without showers for that long, it would have been bad news.
Honestly, like much of the North Rim, many of the scenic views were similarly gorgeous, so I probably don’t need to recount them all here except to post a picture or two. There were a few more interesting spots to check out on this part of the trip, like a pueblo site with a self-guided tour that Meg and Brooke read through. It was nice to see the proverbial “wheels turning” in Meg’s head as she thought about lost cultures inhabiting this region, and Brooke getting to pull some anthropology knowledge out to impress her with.
Again, the views were spectacular and the kids could get a bit closer to the railing at some of these sites, which was a change from the day before. On the Widforss Trail, there were more trees and progressively shallow hills, but this section had steep rocky cliffs that were more desert-like.
The weather was a bit warmer that day, too, but still very nice. The clear, blue sky showed up in the pictures pretty well, and we had to keep an eye on sunburns. Speaking of which, it took us a bit to get used to the sun out in Arizona, as it was cool enough that we didn’t feel the burning sun on our skin as readily as we do in Missouri. The backs of our hands burned, which is not something we had expected.
We spent a few hours hitting the various scenic sections of the region and did lunch while we were up there. We probably spent more time at Cape Royal than anywhere else because it took a bit to walk to each point of it. Point Imperial is where we ate (they had a nice, shaded picnic area), and that was the last spot we hit. By this point, the kids were getting a little tired (and/or annoyed?) of getting in and out of the car, but they held it together remarkably well.
Part of the day involved bribing the kids with the reminder that “if we can get through this, we will go get your Junior Ranger badges and then go get ice cream,” and it worked for the most part. We stopped by the Visitor Center again and the kids turned in their books and said the oath to get their Junior Ranger badges. We’ve only got two so far (including Rocky Mountain National Park from 2016), so we’ll need to hit up some more parks in the next few years!
After we were done with that, we went back to the tent to hang out for a bit and read some books. Meg had finished the fourth “A Series of Unfortunate Events” book earlier that morning, so she was out of reading material, but Brooke had a Tony Hillerman book to read and I had fooled myself into bringing a book along, too (I actually made it about half-way through…so there!).
The evening was mostly uneventful, but we made friends with the neighboring family from Tucson that was there with their two kids for the week. Meg and Calvin played Hide and Seek for what felt like hours with them while we cleaned up dishes from dinner, then we joined them for some s’mores (on their propane stove because of the fire restrictions) and then we watched the sunset for awhile. It was nice to be neighborly with the other folks around the campsite (there was a couple from Kansas City there for a few nights, too)!
The drive to get from “desert” to “canyon” was lengthy. Some of that was distance, some of that was winding roads…little to none was traffic. We didn’t see a ton of wildlife, save for a group of buffalo in an open area near the trees. There were some pull-offs at various points for “primitive camping” or hiking, and other gravel roads just heading off into nowhere. We stopped off at a general store near the buffalo for a bathroom break and then headed further in.
The main camping area is separate from the visitor center, though it’s within walking distance (about a mile by trail). The main lodge is by the visitor center, so it’s quite populated and parking is somewhat challenging, though nowhere near as bad as Rocky Mountain National Park was a few years ago.
There are entirely “primitive” camping sites, many of which intended for tents, and others alright for campers. We saw more than a few with solar panels set up to give them some juice for the night, though most folks just went to bed when the sun went down.
Our site ended up being among the best in the area. Brooke did a great job with the reservation and had us for 3 consecutive nights with the view below.
Seriously. You can’t beat that.
There’s actually a trail near the edge, so people would walk past our campsite frequently. It wasn’t a big deal, but there’s technically “something” between us and that view. The campsite was relatively close to where we parked the car, but the designated parking spot was kinda off to the side from where I would have put it. Oh well. The bathroom building was also pretty close, as well as potable water, so while we’d have to go fill up sometimes, it wasn’t a huge deal. Meg was able to go to the bathroom by herself, even at night, but Calvin still needed some help with the door sometimes. The bathrooms were clean and well-lit, though for some crazy reason, they were cleaned every morning from 8:00 until ~8:40. It was arguably the worst time of the morning for such things, as it’s right before people are ready to go out for the day.
The general store was also close, though a bit more of a walk. They had camping gear, fruit, ice cream, beer (yay!), coffee, some toys – just about anything to keep you satisfied for a few days. They also had “WiFi,” but the speeds were horrendous after 10:00 am when more and more people showed up to use it. I tried getting some work done one afternoon and it was unbearable. We actually got halfway decent LTE service on our phones from various spots around the park, but it was still slow. At least we could send and receive messages and e-mails, if necessary.
That first day, we mostly set up the campsite and explored our surroundings. It took a few hours to get everything going and organized and the kids wanted to run around, and we were tired of driving, so we mostly just took it easy. We zipped up to the visitor center after we set up to check it out and get our Junior Ranger information for the kids. Other than that, we enjoyed the nice weather and high elevation.
The first night was cold. Like, down to 39 F cold. Thankfully, we prepared better this time around and wore sweatshirts and sweatpants, or in the case of the kids, wore two sets of pajamas. I can’t saw we all slept well, per se, but the kids did, so that’s what matters.
The next morning, the sun came up relatively early (like, 5:15 am early…), but it still took until the 7:00 hour for the temperature to rise above 50 F. In the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t too bad, and it heated up rapidly enough that we could get moving, get cooking, get coffee, etc.
We gave the kids the option of the “long hike” being on Day Two or our series of “short hikes and overlooks,” and they went with the long hike. If we were to do the whole thing, it would be upwards of 9 miles, but we found out that a program was being held that likely wouldn’t go that far, so we joined the hike with the other folks on Widforss Trail.
Ranger Nina did a solid job with the 17 or so of us that went along for the hike. She mostly went through the associated brochure while filling in some gaps along the way, focusing on different fossils along the trail as well as the history of the original folks who settled the area. Others on the hike were from England, Australia, and other parts of the United States, so we had a good smattering of different people to expose the kids to (not sure they’ve met people from Australia before…).
The hike was gorgeous, of course, but took a good hour and a half to go only a few miles. By the time we were done with the program, the kids had Ranger Nina sign their Junior Ranger books (they had to get a signature from one Ranger) and we continued on for a bit more. Ultimately, we only did 4.5 miles over 3 hours because we were tired and, frankly, had been out there long enough.
We returned to the campsite for a few hours that afternoon. I zipped by the general store for a few minutes to try to answer e-mails, then returned to the tent to try and nap a bit, but it was bright enough from the sun that it wasn’t happening. We ended up going to the other nature program on California Condors, which we didn’t need to do, but hey, the kids were interested. It ended up being a neat program, though we sadly didn’t get to see a real condor (there are only 446 in known existence…). The kids got to see a life-size wingspan and participate in the program a bit with the other kids.
After the program, we went back and did dinner and played some card games before bed. We stayed up pretty late that night relative to the central time zone and the kids stayed in their sleeping bags accordingly the next morning. We all slept a bit better that night, despite the cold weather again.
Brooke had wanted to return to the Grand Canyon for a few years now, but we wanted to wait until Calvin was a little older to appreciate it and to be able to deal with ridiculously long car rides. Thus, this year was the year to finally made the trip. We didn’t want to hit the South Rim, which is more “desert-like” and covered in tourists, so we focused on the North Rim, which only gets 10% of the Grand Canyon visitors per year.
Preparations began last Fall with some cursory Google searches, and one of the first things Brooke learned was that camp sites at the North Rim can be hard to get, especially for consecutive days, so you need to plan ahead and campsite reservations open on Christmas Day. Brooke reserved 3 nights after opening presents, which ended up being a good plan because, while we were there, we noticed a lot of folks coming and going and relatively few staying for more than a night.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself… 🙂
A friend of ours from St. Louis, Mike, started a travel planning business (appropriately) called Mike’s Travel Planning and he gave us a few good suggestions on where to stop on our way out and on the return trip, some of which we were able to hit, and others we didn’t end up having enough time for. We decided to take 2.5 days to get out there, stopping in Limon, CO for the first night at a hotel, then Junction, UT at an Airbnb, then get to the North Rim early-afternoon on the third day.
That first day, we didn’t stop all that often because, well, Kansas… But the kids were excited and had a box full of activities to play with, so they stayed relatively occupied. We picked up some new boxes for the hitch rack that weathered a little bit better, and we secured them much more efficiently with different straps than last year. However, we did have them just a touch too close to the exhaust pipe and melted a hole in one. Whoops.
While we were in Limon, we visited the Limon Heritage Museum and Railroad Park. The latter part of it was what piqued Brooke’s interest, but the museum associated with the park proved to be pretty interesting, with an old one-room school house, some train cars, and some other Native American exhibits and artifacts. It had been a long day driving and the kids weren’t particularly patient with us, so I didn’t get to read through many of the displays, but it seemed like a nice museum!
The hotel at the end of the day wasn’t spectacular, but it served its purpose. Brooke and I actually stayed in the same place under a different name when we came back on our Oregon Trail trip, and this time around, it was definitely better.
We also found a Mexican restaurant for dinner in Limon, but they didn’t do beer or margaritas. That was a disappointment…
The second day gave us quite a bit more to see out the windows, as we passed through the Rocky Mountains (literally) and toward Utah. We stopped a few more times on this leg of the journey to sight see. The kids generally paid attention more this time, as the landscape was far more interesting and we kept pointing things out to them. Meg’s old enough to have questions about how mountains form and what “elevation” is, so that occupied our time in the car to some degree.
Our destination at the end of this portion of the trip was Junction, UT, which was kinda in the middle of nowhere, but was charming in its way. We grabbed ice cream from the local general store and Brooke had food along to make dinner in the kitchen of the house we stayed in. There were 3 bedrooms at this house, so Meg and Calvin got to sleep by themselves for once. I also took this opportunity on some (very limited) WiFi to do some work for my online courses before I’d be mostly unavailable.
The next day, we got loaded up again and started heading south into Arizona. Seriously, once crossing the border to Arizona, it felt like we had entered a different world. It was flat, dry, and straight-up desert. Like, nowhere to stop, rare road intersections, no houses – just desolation.
It took about an hour of that before we started seeing the terrain change again, and that change was radical as elevation continued to increase. We saw more hills, saw more trees, saw more bodies of water – it just felt more like we were driving through parts of Colorado than the desert we had just been through. It was certainly a welcome change.
After what felt like an eternity, we were finally there! More on that later…
After last year, I wasn’t sure Meg would want to try backpacking again for awhile, but late last summer, it came up again and she seemed interested. Since then, every once and awhile, she framed it as “when we go back to Bell Mountain next year,” so it appeared that she had forgotten the serious amount of crying she did a year ago…
We had a limited window to pull this off, as I’m doing summer classes again starting in early June, and importantly, Calvin will be home for most of the summer, making it difficult to make a trip like this. Combine this with the fact that the high temp is in the low-90s for the next week, we opted to do a one-night trip down on a Tuesday when the high was 83 F and the low was 60 F.
It rained the day before, so by the time we got down there (four hour drive…), it was pretty moist along the trail.
Taking a step back, I should also note that we learned a fair bit about the trail and opted to start from a different location. Last year when we did this, we parked at the southwestern end of the loop and had to hike uphill along a rocky creek bed…and infamously, we missed the turn and went the wrong way. This time, we parked at the northeastern lot and had a much easier time. The trail in was mostly flat, though, again, somewhat muddy from the rain the day before.
We took a left first to head up to the Bell Mountain peak to get some pictures, then turned around and headed down to the creek we never found last year. When we got there, we found plenty of water to make our evening run far more smoothly than last year! We did about 5.4 mi that first day.
It was pretty easy to entertain Meg at this site. She waded across the creek with her sandals on a few times, threw some rocks, drew some sketches in her notebook, and filtered some water for me. That latter part was of particular interest, so she made us keep hydrated so she could filter more water.
The site was perfect, of course. The creek was next to a permanent fire pit and in a semi-open area that was flat and cleared for tents. Again, this is where we wanted to go last year, but never made it. I’m pretty sure Meg would have enjoyed last year quite a bit more had we actually found it…
We had macaroni and cheese (again) that night and, having the water source nearby, it was easy to do dishes with plenty of water, making the cooking experience more efficient than last year. I couldn’t get a fire going because the wood was so wet, so we ended up playing card games in the tents. Crazy Eights, Go Fish and Memory were the choices, and I’m pretty sure Meg won them all. It was pretty hot still, as it didn’t cool off into the 60s until after midnight. We stayed up until 9:00ish and fell asleep quickly after that.
The next day, we packed up quickly and made it back to the car around 10:00. It was about 3.5 mi or so and Meg didn’t start flagging until toward the end of it. The drive back was mostly uneventful and we made it back to Marshall by mid-afternoon, plenty of time to air things out and grab showers.
It was a great trip! Two nights may have been better, but one night was plenty. Perhaps next year we’ll try somewhere else!