Garden Update: Early July

So many beans…

The garden mostly took off while we were on vacation.  We had some weeds to clear out, mostly from the pepper and tomato plots, but we have everything generally back up to spec after a week.  The corn has gotten taller, though no tassels have appeared.   I feel like they’re doing better than last year, but that’s probably because we planted them late last time around. There were flowers on the green beans when we left and they turned into full-fledged beans in that period of time.

Seriously. So many.

Brooke’s canned 9 pints so far and we’ve eaten on and given away others.  As usual, we can just toss green bean seeds into dirt and grow a ridiculous crop.  You can’t not grow green beans, folks…

Tomatoes! Takin’ off!

The tomatoes have been tied up and flowers are showing up all over.  There aren’t all that many actual tomatoes on yet, but we’ve seen some tiny ones on there, and some romas that are getting within striking distance.  The plants are looking healthy, but rain has been sparse, so we’re having to water them quite a bit.

They’re little. Gettin’ there, though…

The peppers are similar.  We’ve actually got multiple bell peppers that are nearly ready to pick, as well as some hot peppers (no idea what they are…some assortment Brooke planted) that are nearing full size, and on those plants, we’ve also got more on the way.  In the picture below, you can see the remnants of the lettuce in the background that’s getting taken over by weeds, so I need to flip it all over in the next few days.  Brooke’s thinking she’ll plant some more spinach and eventually some lettuce for the Fall crop.  One step at a time…

Mmmm. Peppers.

The pole beans and sweet potatoes are still truckin’ along.  The raspberries are still coming on a few at a time, and we had Sam’s cat sitter eat on them while we were on vacation, so I think she probably got the bulk of them.

Berries, pole beans and sweet potatoes.

The trees are another story.  The peaches are looking really, really good, but the Japanese beetles are terrorizing near everything else.  They’re really hitting the apple trees, cherry tree and almond tree and we’ve been waging war as best we can.  Brooke’s got two traps up and emptied one already, and I’ve been spraying the trees with an organic pesticide that shouldn’t affect bees or other pollinators.  Hopefully this ends quickly, but until then, it’s a headache (as it was last year…).

The Japanese beetles are the worst.

Lastly, Brooke spent some time watering the front porch plants today and pulled down a hanging fern only to find some stowaways.  🙂

And baby birds for good measure.

 

Grand Canyon 2018: Part IV

Navajo Bridge in Marble Canyon

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!

A whole lotta nuthin’…

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.

Beeeeeeeeer…

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.

That’s an old Airstream!

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.

So. Much. Root beer.

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.

A McDonald’s over I-40? Kewl.

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.

All tuckered out…

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!

Grand Canyon 2018: Part III

Well look at that happy family!

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.

Yet another pretty view

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.

Some architectural remnants of pueblo cultures.

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.

Hey, look! I made it into a picture!

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.

Not sure they could really see much through those things…but hey….they were entertaining, right?

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!

Junior Ranger Certification!

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!).

Got the obligatory souvenir shirts! These glow in the dark. 🙂

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)!

Grand Canyon 2018: Part II

Home sweet home!

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.

Buffalo!

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.

What a view…

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.

Sunsets over the North Rim. This view was from our campsite.

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.

We ate real food!

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.

Goin’ on a hike

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.

Another excellent view

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.

Big wingspan!

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.

Beautiful end to a long day!

Grand Canyon 2018: Part I

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… 🙂

And we’re off!

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.

There’s the wagon hitched up for our trek out west…

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!

Getting some learning done on this trip…

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.

The view in Colorado. Nice.

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.

Home away from home for a night.

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.

“Butte” or “Mesa”…I can never tell the difference…

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…

Garden Update: Mid-June

Cucumbers, corn, green beans

As we’re heading off on vacation soon, I figured I should put up an update on the garden, so if the Squirrel Apocalypse takes them, we remember what all our crops looked like…

Overall, everything appears to be coming up pretty well and some of the plants (notably the green beans, tomatoes and peppers) have some flowers on them.  The cucumbers are starting to vine out a bit, so by the time we get back from the Grand Canyon, I expect them to have taken over the yard…  The green beans look great as always.  I’m pretty sure we could plant those in sand and rocks and still have them grow, as we always seem to have good luck with them (despite my hard work at killing them off…).  The corn keeps on trucking, albeit inconsistently.

Tomatoes and soup beans

Again, the tomatoes are starting to get some buds on them, so hopefully we’ll grow some sooner than usual.  We aren’t focusing on soup beans much this year (we still have some from last year and we always end up with more than we need), so they’re just planted in two of the corners of this plot.  Most of the tomatoes should end up being “paste tomatoes,” though we’ve got some “slicer” varieties planted, too.  Hopefully we won’t end up with any weird varieties, but we had to transplant a few “volunteers” from last year’s plot to fill some holes of plants that didn’t make it.  We’ll see!

Green peppers and lettuce

The green peppers have finally taken off in the past week.  We got some rain (1.5″) earlier this week and I’ve been watering them , so they’re looking better.  The lettuce is doing shockingly well still, but we expect it’ll be done by the time we get back.  We ended up getting quite a bit of lettuce this year and I think Brooke’s going to plant another round when it starts to get toward the end of the season.  She comes home from work and grabs a few leaves for her sandwich every day.  Like ya do. 🙂

…herbs?

This plot is still kinda a mess, now that the mint has almost fully taken over…  There’s lemon balm in there still, as well as a random orange flower that came back from last year that I can’t identify (and/or remember).  There are a few other flowers in the northern portion of the plot, but they’re already dying off.  A volunteer sunflower from two years ago has popped up recently, too…

Raspberries, sweet potatoes and “pole beans”

We’ve got raspberries!  Not a ton, but we ate a few last night and there are still some on now.  The pole beans are vining appropriately and the sweet potatoes are truckin’ along.

All the trees!

And the trees.  Still lots of apples and lots of peaches, but still no cherries or pears.  We didn’t expect almonds, though we did see some flowers on there over a month ago.  The peaches are looking especially good, so I hope they make it!

That’s it for now!  The harvest will be plentiful, as usual…as long as the squirrels leave it all alone…

A Memorial Day Weekend Project

Those bushes…

The bushes in front of the house have been there since, likely, the 1950s.  It’s hard to know for sure, but considering how “full” those things were, it had to be for decades.

They weren’t particularly good looking and housed wasps and ground bees from time to time, so we’d talked about removing them for the past few years.  The floorboards on the porch have gotten worse this year and needed replacement, so we were prompted to move up our timetable a bit on removal of the bushes.

We need to do some work on the porch…

We haven’t had much time this Spring so far, so Memorial Day weekend was the best option to try and get some of the work done.  Last weekend in Columbia, I picked up a new reciprocating saw and some blades; we picked up some new clippers for Brooke for her birthday; and we borrowed my Dad’s chainsaw.

We went at them with the clippers first and then employed the reciprocating saw to go closer to the stumps of the bushes.  There were two bushes in the front on each side that we were trying to remove, as well as one pine tree on each side.  The spirea bushes were also overgrown, but we wanted to keep them and our local landscaping company, Springwater, recommended trimming them back substantially and letting them grown out again.  Springwater also gave us some other landscaping ideas that we’ll employ as the Summer progresses.

Demo time!

The first two bushes went down relatively quickly and we had the next two trimmed down before lunchtime, so we made good progress before the temperature increased, though the sun got intense as the afternoon went on.

High of 93 F that day…

We took some breaks, of course.  The kids were in the backyard with the pool up and various water toys, so they were entertained while the grown ups did actual work on their Memorial Day weekend

I ended up using Dad’s chainsaw on the stumps and was able to flatten them out a bit to make it easier to cover them up.  The stumps proved a lot stronger than we’d anticipated and the chainsaw proved useful, but not enough to complete the job.  I hacked at the last stump as best I could but may need to let it rot a bit first before I can take an axe or something to it.

Done for now!

The wood under the porch floor seems to be pretty well intact, so we don’t think we’ll have to gut the whole thing and should just be able to replace the floorboards.  Obviously, that could change (because we’ve never done anything like that before…), but we’re hopeful that it should be a relatively easy project.

We’re going to wait until after vacation before we kick that one off, though!

Backpacking: Return to Bell Mountain

“I can fly!

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.

Just the two of us.

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.

Meg liked drawing in her notebook

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…

She also liked filtering water!

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.

Turns out Meg is good at Crazy Eights…

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!

A Camping Weekend at Van Meter

Meg was pretty helpful in setting up the tent!

Brooke wanted to get a test run in on the tent and camping gear before we head to the Grand Canyon later this summer.  The logistics of this trip were somewhat…”rushed”…as it was the weekend before Finals and we’d been busy for the weekends running up to it.

Meg and I went before Brooke was off work so we could get the tent set up.  The site itself was very flat (as all the sites at Van Meter are), though we had to move some leaves and sticks around.  It was pretty early in the season still on April 27th, so few people had camped in the area in 2018 before we got there.

Yay, dinner!

The weather was set to be great and it largely was.  It was pretty breezy Friday evening, but we were still able to get the fire going and roast some hot dogs.  We didn’t stay up all that late, as the temperatures were falling and the wind was blowing around the smoke all annoying-like…

…and…breakfast…

The temperatures dropped to ~42 F overnight and, while the kids slept just fine, Brooke and I were not as fortunate.  I was mostly warm, but Brooke got a bit chilly (and she subsequently bought a new sleeping bag for the Grand Canyon…good thing we went on a test run, yes?).

We got up, had some breakfast, and then the kids played for a little while at the playground.  The nice thing about Van Meter is that you can see the playground from the campsite (just about all of the sites, really), so the kids could go back and forth without us having to worry (much) about their safety.  There were many other kids around that weekend, some of which Meg and Calvin recognized, others of which they met for the weekend and ran around with for a time.

Playing in the sand at the playground

We didn’t have extensive plans for Saturday except for a hike around Lake Wooldridge.  We’ve gone down to the lake before, but we’d never hiked around the entire thing because Calvin is the slowest person on the planet.  It’s a 2 mile hike and, this time of year, the vegetation and insects are more limited, making it far more pleasant than usual.

Lake Wooldridge!

Calvin started out alright, but Brooke had to carry him on and off for periods of time.  In all honesty, he did a lot better than usual for this length of a hike, but it still took us well over an hour to go the full two miles.

Going on a hike!

The weather was absolutely gorgeous that day!  The hike killed a solid amount of time that morning, but we still made it back to have lunch and rest for a little bit.  The kids went back over to the playground while I attempted to take a nap (it was a bit loud…and bright…so yeah, didn’t get very far).

Still hiking…

Early that afternoon, we went by Van Meter’s Missouri’s American Indian Cultural Center for a presentation on the Sun conducted by a gentleman from the astronomy club in Columbia.  It was a bit above the kids’ heads, but after the slide show, we went outside to use a few telescopes with filters to look at the Sun.  Again, I’m not completely sure they got much out of it, but I think they thought it was at least something special to do!

Looking at the Sun!

Later that afternoon, we had mostly “downtime” around the campground, again including playground time, as well as a nice open space to go fly kites.  You couldn’t ask for a more perfect afternoon!

“Let’s…go…fly…a kite!”

That night we had “cowboy beans,” which consisted of baked beans, peppers and pork.  The kids weren’t the biggest fans (shocker…), but it was nice and warm.  We stayed up a little bit later that night, but otherwise got to bed as we were nice and tired from a long day.

I’m an idiot.

We slept better that night, though it still got down into the low-40s.  The next morning, we opted to pack up the cars and head out before breakfast, but as I’m a complete idiot, I had been using the Forester to charge my phone because I forgot the appropriate cable to charge it from the battery backup I’d brought along.

So yeah, we spent an extra hour trying to jump the car using the new jumper cables we’d bought for Brooke’s car.  Guess what?  They didn’t work.  So, we dug out my cables from underneath all the camping gear and they worked like a charm.

Lesson learned.

It ended up being a great weekend!  We got a few pointers for our trip to the Grand Canyon and are that much more prepared for the journey ahead.

Progress

Boom.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been thinking of running a Half Marathon this October in Kansas City.  “Early bird” registration is due at the end of May, so I have been pushing it to get as much training in before the kids are out on their summer vacation so I know whether I can even meet my goals of a). running for that far without stopping, and b). doing it in under 2 hours.

Well, I did it.

Honestly, I started out the run this morning a little later than normal, on account of the weather being somewhat mild at 76 F this morning.  I grabbed a few cups of coffee, something I haven’t been doing for the last few runs.  I ran 6.25 mi yesterday and didn’t run at all over the weekend, though I put in four days of 6.2 mi runs and a 20 mi bike ride last week.

Not too bad…

I hit 8 mi and still felt pretty good, so I decided to keep on going.  Another change from last time (when I only got 10.5 mi in) was that I took along some “hydration mix” for the run rather than just water.  Did that really make much of a difference?  I dunno.  But Brooke picked up a few packs in her last Sierra Trading Post order so I could check it out and it seemed to do alright.  I’ll probably order more of it, or something similar, for the rest of the summer.

I’m nothing if not consistent…

I’ll be signing up for the Half Marathon soon enough, as I’ve proven to myself I can do it.  I’ll likely keep doing between 6 and 10 miles on runs for the rest of the summer, and hit up 13 mile runs when I get a chance (e.g. when Meg and Calvin are elsewhere).

Oh yeah, and I needed a nap this afternoon.  I had 20,000 steps after I was finished running.  :-/