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…

Madeline Island 2017: Part II

This post follows a previous one that sets up the first part of the journey!

Beach time!

The next day (Tuesday), was beach day on Lake Superior.  Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island has a relatively lengthy beach to enjoy, with an expansive shallow(ish) area for kids to wade out in.  Meg was tall enough to touch for a solid distance out (30 yards?), but Calvin wasn’t quite big enough.  We had both kids’ life jackets along just in case, but Meg probably would have been fine without it.  Still, it was fun for her to float out on Lake Superior, especially when a big boat would come by to push her back toward shore.

We spent a good 5 hours or so at the beach that day, and it ended up being the nicest day for weather during the whole week.  The water was really cold, but when you’re 3 and 7, that doesn’t much matter.

One of the best pictures I’ve ever taken…

The first night’s sleep went surprisingly well.  It didn’t get all that cold that night (mid-50s, maybe?) and we were all pretty tired, so we all got a lot of rest.  We went to bed earlier than intended because of the vast number of mosquitoes swarming around.  Brooke didn’t really feel like staying up and battling them and, while I stayed up reading for a little bit, I had to turn in earlier than I intended as well.

The next morning, after breakfast, we prepped for a hike near the lake on the the boardwalk.  This is the same hike Brooke and I did 10 years ago but, due to the short legs in tow this time, we went a bit slower.  Calvin still fits in the Ergo, so we had him in there for awhile, but he wanted to get down for the last half of the trip out.  Overall, the hike is very flat and clean due to said boardwalk, but you get to see some of the local flora and fauna.

During this time, rain was heading into our general area, so we didn’t stay out there much past lunchtime.  We headed back to our campsite as clouds continue to get dark, just after noon.

Rained a bit…

That afternoon was on-and-off rain.  It got heavier at points but, at least then, the tent was doing a great job keeping the water out of the clothes, sleeping bags, etc.  We had some card games in case something like this happened and, for a time, the kids were pretty well entertained.  We enticed them with an ice cream trip to town for later in the afternoon, though that trip was really playing “double duty” for our ulterior motives…

Ice cream? Yes, please!

Our internet connection was virtually non-existent at the campsite, nor did we have any phone service, so text messages, phone calls, etc. couldn’t get to us.  Going into down, we were able to check and see whether we were going to get to go on the cave tours we had scheduled for Thursday morning.  As we couldn’t really check the weather forecast either at the campsite, we also were checking such things while we entertained the kids with ice cream.

At the time, we (and the tour company) were hopeful that things would clear up for Thursday morning, so we proceeded expecting that we’d still get to go.  We had a deposit down on the trip and hadn’t paid the rest of the bill yet, so the spots were reserved.  After the ice cream, we went back to our campsite for awhile.

Brooke’s extra special stew sounded really good in the rainy weather…

Around this time, the rain let up enough to get dinner done.  We still had the kids play in the tent while Brooke did the heavy lifting, as the site was quite muddy now and we didn’t want Calvin rolling around everywhere.

I should note that Calvin was actually really good about taking showers on this trip.  Up until now, he’d taken a few showers at our house, but any evening I wanted to go (which was every evening…), he wanted to go with me, so he and I stayed pretty clean, all things considered.

Meg and Brooke, on the other hand…

Set up a “living room,” of sorts!

We set up a “living room” in part of the tent after the rain started to pick up.  I’d also noticed that a puddle had formed near the side of the tent where the kids were sleeping, so we moved our air mattress over to the other side, so the kids could sleep on the “living room” side, just in case water started to seep in.

Ultimately, we made the right call, but for the wrong reason.  That night, it felt like the skies opened and Niagara Falls fell from the sky.  We later found out it was only, like, less than an inch that was recorded, but it sure felt like more than that on our tent (perhaps it was more on the island that was recorded in nearby Bayfield?).

Still, as it had been raining nearly all afternoon and into the evening, water began to seep in from the roof of the tent over Brooke and I (so it would have hit the kids, but we had changed places!).  It was coming in along a length of the tent, but not specifically along a seam.  My only guess is that so much rain fell, it just pooled and seeped in through the tent.

Brooke and I moved down to where the kids were, but as they were sleeping sideways relative to the rest of the tent, we were kinda “scrunched up” while the kids were stretched out.  Needless to say, without the air mattress and while in the fetal position, we didn’t sleep all that well.  It only rained until 1:00 am or so, but it was enough to make our lives difficult.

The next morning, we went to town, but it was still raining, and more was coming in.  We’d already decided that if the tour was canceled, we were just going to head on back toward home, as rain was scheduled to continue and it wasn’t going to dry out before Thursday night (you know, when we’d like to sleep on said air mattress again).

Sadly, the tour was indeed canceled.  It was canceled before we even got there, but as we didn’t have phone service, we didn’t know that until we got to town.  Still, the company refunded our money in full, so while it was disappointing we didn’t get to go, we at least got our money back.

After returning to the campsite, we left the kids in the car while Brooke and I packed up.  It took us a few hours (in the rain…) to pack as much as we could and shove the wet tent into the car-top carrier.  We were going to stay in Cedar Rapids that night and Brooke had called ahead to make sure we could just move our reservation date up a night and they said the could do it.

We made the trek to Cedar Rapids, leaving Bayfield a little after noon (after crossing on the ferry, which was more full than usual due to trucks and campers), and finally got to Cedar Rapids at 10:00 pm that night.  It shouldn’t have taken 10 hours to make that drive, but spotty rain showers and the lack of highways slowed down our progress.

Regardless, it was nice to sleep in a great bed again and take a shower…

Our old stomping ground in Iowa!

The next morning, we got up and swam in the indoor pool for a bit after breakfast before loading up the car again and heading into Swisher, IA to see the old house (it’s still there!) and visit Kava House for some coffee.  Sadly, Jazzy Chestnut wasn’t “on tap” that morning, but we brought 2 lbs back for Mom and Dad while we were there.

A little after 1:00 or so that day, we made it back to Marshall!  Though we had to cut the trip short, it ended up being nice to pick up Edie from the “doggie hotel” a bit early, we got to dry out the tent (and everything else…) really well, and we had a full Saturday and Sunday to acclimate to “the real world” before work on Monday.

We had a good time!  We’ll have to make another trip up north someday to get those cave tours done.  But next year…we have other plans…

Madeline Island 2017: Part I

The ferry to Madeline Island!

A little over a decade ago, Brooke and I went up to a wedding in Minnesota and stopped off in Wisconsin for a brief camping trip on Madeline Island, one of the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. We went to Branson earlier this Summer with the Linsenbardt side of the family (that I still haven’t posted about yet, so I need to do that…) and then had two months of school for Brooke and me, so we decided it would be nice to return to Madeline Island, this time with two youngsters in tow.

Hangin’ out in Duluth on the way up North.

Rather than making the nearly 12 hour drive in a single trip, this time we Airbnb-ed a place in Duluth, MN, about 2.5 hours from our ultimate destination.  We made a similar decision last year on our way to Colorado, and it was still a good call.

The house we stayed in was a two-story, where another couple were staying upstairs and we were staying downstairs (with direct access from the outside).  The kids slept on a futon while Brooke and I got a king-size bed.  Worked out pretty well!  We were pretty tired after hours on the road, but after briefly taking some stuff inside, we went to a local restaurant for dinner, after which, we tried getting some local beer.

FYI: Minnesota is still backwards and doesn’t sell beer (or any alcohol) after 6:00 pm on Sundays.  Apparently, they just started selling any alcohol on July 1, 2017.  Seriously, people.  What are you doing.

We’re on a boat!

After a pretty restful sleep, we hopped back on the road heading toward Bayfield, WI, where the ferry crosses over to Madeline Island.  We grabbed some groceries (bread, chips…) and local beer (because Wisconsin isn’t as backward as Minnesota…) at the store and then waited a few minutes for the ferry to take us across.  Meg and Calvin, of course, very much liked getting out of the car and walking around on a boat, so despite the necessity of going on this particular ferry, it served as something of an “event” for the kids to enjoy.

The drive from the docks to the campground is around 6 miles, so it didn’t take all that long to get over there.  Like the last time Brooke and I went, we reserved a “backwoods”-style campsite that was pretty private, but close enough that the shower houses were a brief jaunt away.  The state park was pretty crowded with quite a few pull-behind trailers, as well as tents, so separating ourselves from all the rest of the noisy families was probably a good call.

The pretty significant downside, however, was the mosquitoes.  In that backwoods camp, the mosquitoes were pretty intolerable.  And resistant to Repel Lemon Eucalyptus.  And ignorant of citronella candles.  Seriously, they were bad.

A home away from home.

New for this trip, Brooke picked up a screened-in shelter from Aldi for $40 (woo!), and while that helped the bug issue, it still wasn’t perfect.  Some non-biting insects were always flying around at the top of it, but at least they left us alone for eating.  However, she’d always want to leave the doors slightly ajar when cooking for logistical reasons, so more bugs would get in.  We’re glad we have the shelter, and it definitely helped, but it wasn’t perfect.

Gotta eat something, right?

The weather early on was quite pleasant, with highs in the low 80s and lows in the upper 50s.  That first night went pretty well and the kids were just fine going to sleep around 9:00, when it was dark enough.  Brooke and I were going to stay up with a fire, but the mosquitoes also didn’t really care about smoke from a campfire, so unless we wanted to put on pants, long-sleeves, and Brooke’s bee gear, we were out of luck.

The next morning, Brooke made some pancakes on our new propane grill, which was also a big plus for this trip.  I tried cooking steaks on the open fire the previous night and, while they were edible, I couldn’t get the fire consistently hot enough to get them “medium well” as I tend to prefer it.  We picked up the steaks at the grocery store in Bayfield and they were just a bit bigger than we probably should have gone with.  Ah well.  The stove, on the other hand, worked great for the rest of our meals.  Brooke’s French Press was also a big help.

That’s probably enough for now!

Rocky Mountain Vacation: Part II

Bear Lake was looking particularly nice!
Bear Lake was looking particularly nice!

After hitting up Fort Collins on Wednesday, we began Thursday at the Alluvial Fan. We got going pretty early that day to avoid the crowds, but still had to contend with a lack of parking.  Still, Meg and I made the trip all the way up the fan and she did shockingly well.  I had to help lift her up and hold her hand as she placed her feet carefully on wet rocks.  There was definitely some slippage, but overall, I was pretty proud of her!  Calvin wanted to go too, of course, but there’s no way he could have made the trip except on one of our backs (and that wouldn’t have been the smartest choice…).  Ultimately, he hung out at the bottom of the waterfall throwing rocks in the water, while the rest of the Baumann Clan tossed rocks and enjoyed the nice weather.

Meg did a great job climbing the waterfall!
Meg did a great job climbing the waterfall!

We then took a drive around Rocky Mountain National Park via Old Fall River Road.  We’d driven past its entrance a few days before.  It’s a dirt road with countless switchbacks that ultimately makes its way up to the Alpine Visitor Center.  It was a fun drive, though a dusty and somewhat slow one.  Calvin actually fell asleep halfway up, though at the top, the kids got to play in a little snow.  We also ran across a late-model Nissan Altima whose transmission belt apparently gave out, yielding no forward motion on its part (Mark tried to help to no avail).

Most of Thursday involved driving around RMNP, seeing some marmots, elk, mule deer, and chipmunks.  The kids enjoyed getting to see the variety of environments, and a few waterfalls, though we could tell that the incessant driving had worn on them a bit.  It was good to take a break from the hiking, but all the driving didn’t really help their demeanor.  Still, at least the adults had fun. 🙂

The next day, we tried keeping things a bit light, as the 5K was scheduled for that evening and, well, we wanted to keep our ankles in shape.  Obviously, the best thing to do is to get up early and go to Bear Lake, right?

Heavy lifting...
Heavy lifting…

As the picture all the way at the top shows, the weather was absolutely gorgeous.  We ended up hiking 2.5 miles or so between Bear Lake and Nymph Lake, and ended up dealing with some cranky kids who either a). didn’t want to hike, or b). wanted to climb every rock they saw.  I can’t say that Friday morning was all that “fun” for us, but at least the weather was good, and we could keep things a bit light.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of napping and watching TV.  Calvin slept for 3 hours that day, if I remember correctly, as he was catching up for not substantially napping the previous 4 days.

That evening, everyone except Mallory, Meg and Calvin ran a 5K around the lake in Estes Park.  The weather stayed pretty good, though a few rain drops fell around the time Brooke was finishing up.  The race itself went pretty well for everyone, though I had some qualms with how it started with a hill on a narrow path, where a lot of people slowed down at the beginning and forced us to try and fit around them by jogging on the side of the adjacent road.  Ultimately, I did about as well as I did in Hannibal a few weeks earlier, and Brooke did about as well as she wanted to for her first 5K.  The elevation affected everyone, to a degree, but being there for a few days (and jogging and hiking…) beforehand made a difference in our performance, I’m sure.

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The next morning, Mallory ran the Half Marathon and placed fourth in her age group, so we were all very proud of her.  After the marathon, the rest of the Baumann Brigade headed out to do some last minute hiking, while the Linsenbardt side headed to the Moraine Park Discovery Center in RMNP to go on a “discovery hike” with the kids so they could complete their Junior Ranger certifications.  This took an hour and a half and, overall, was pretty fun for the kids, as other kids were also along and they finally had someone else to interact with aside from adults.

As you can see, they were pretty pleased with themselves. 🙂

Junior Rangers!
Junior Rangers!

After that, we returned to the house so Calvin could take a nap.  Again, everyone mostly hung around the house (though Meg and I briefly headed out to see a friend of mine from high school who happened to be in Estes Park that day with his family) until dinner, our one night out around the area.  We ended up at Tavern 1929, a place just outside of town that was a part of a lodge.  I’m not sure if it was the fact that we really hadn’t eaten out much that week, or whether we had all done a lot of running recently, or whether it was our last night in Estes Park, but that food was really good.  We all left positively stuffed.  No complaints, except that the restaurant couldn’t install larger stomachs in our bodies.

That night, we packed things up and prepared to leave.  We left the next morning by 8:30 am MST or so (the Baumanns left a little earlier than we did) and made it back to Marshall by 9:00 pm CST.  The kids were both shockingly well-behaved for this portion of the trip, likely because they were watching shows on their Kindles again, and because they were tired from the week behind them.

It was a great trip!  We look forward to returning to Colorado, though next time, we’ll probably try and hit the southern area of the state.  Lots of other national parks to hit up in the coming years, though!

Rocky Mountain Vacation: Part I

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Up at the Alpine Visitor Center, at 11,798 ft above sea level.

Months ago, Mallory decided to run in the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon, to be held in late July in Estes Park, CO.  One thing led to another in various discussions and the Baumann clan decided we’d all go.  It had been years since some of the girls had been to Colorado and Meg and Calvin had never seen “the mountains” before, so plans were set in motion.

We left Marshall last Monday and stayed overnight in Nebraska via Airbnb.  It was an 8 hour drive that took more like 10 hours, but we’re glad we split up the trip to Colorado into two days, giving the kids a bit more “decompression time” after being in the car for so long.  Also, we could be a bit more leisurely in our plans, allowing for longer stops and possible diversions along the way.  The kids did pretty well, really, as Brooke loaded up some thin plastic bins with activities, and I grabbed a season of a TV show for each of them to load onto their Kindle Fires.  They were very ready to be done with driving once we got there, and getting to run around the front yard of a house (as opposed to around the beds in a hotel room) was great.

We drove toward Estes Park the next day, taking a trip through Big Thompson Canyon, which contains the Big Thompson River.  It’s a pretty drive and the kids enjoyed looking up as high as they could along the rocky walls of the canyon.  Again, nothing that Brooke and I hadn’t seen before, but to them, where rocks don’t normally get that tall in Missouri, it was pretty neat.  Eastern Colorado and the drive through the canyon took more than a few hours (it always takes longer than you think…), but we ultimately reached our destination early-afternoon on Tuesday, July 23rd.

The house we stayed in was pretty cool, though it was located in a more suburban neighborhood a few miles from downtown Estes Park.  It was pretty close to everywhere we wanted to be, though, and we could get to Rocky Mountain National Park within 20 min or less, depending on traffic.  The house had 3 bedrooms and a loft on the third floor, so plenty of space for people to get away from things, as well as a large living room and a “living space” on the second floor with couches.  There were two full baths, though the hot water pressure could have been better.  Overall, it was a beautiful place to stay for a few days!

The interior of and view from the house we stayed in.
The interior of and view from the house we stayed in.

That first day, we killed some time in RMNP with a picnic, letting Meg and Calvin run around a bit and get their feet wet (literally).  We also stocked up at Safeway, though being the only grocery store in town meant that everyone in town was there (also literally).  The rest of the Baumann clan had driven in overnight from St. Louis, so they were on the tired side of things and opted to take it easy for the rest of the day: fine by us!

The next day, Mark, Brooke, the kids and me traveled to Fort Collins to go hiking with Brooke’s cousin, Jared, and his daughter, Elle.  We went hiking on a dirt trail out in Larimer County, not within RMNP.  It was a pretty easy hike, really, though Elle and Calvin wanted to walk for part of the trip, slowing us down considerably.  This was our first real “hiking experience” in Colorado, and though the weather was actually pretty good, there wasn’t much shade, so the kids got tired, too.  We only went a few miles, but found a trickle of a waterfall at the end, so that made the trip worth it for the kids.

Meg, Jared, Elle, Brooke, Calvin and Mark.
Meg, Jared, Elle, Brooke, Calvin and Mark.

After the hike, we all went to Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewing for lunch (also joined by Jared’s wife, Andrea) in downtown Fort Collins.  The food was great, especially after a morning outside.  The flight of beer I got was also very good, though I wished I could have stayed longer to sample some more.  However, we had reservations for a tour at New Belgium Brewing Company and couldn’t stay long.

The New Belgium tour was great and, shockingly, the kids also were very well-behaved!  Maybe they were just worn out from the morning (heavy sun can do that to you…), but they actually listened pretty well when we told them what to do, and also stayed pretty quiet while the tour guide was speaking to us.  The tour itself was also good, though not necessarily informative (once you’ve been on a beer tour, you’ve seen most of what you can possibly see…).  We didn’t learn all that much over the course of the 1.5 hour tour, but we did get to taste four 6 oz volumes of different brews, including Fat Tire, Sunshine, Heavy Melon and La Folie (which is a sour beer that apparently starts out as Brooke’s favorite, 1554, but is instead aged in red wine barrels).  We filled up a growler with De Konink from their bar after the tour and took it back to the house with us.  If you’re ever visiting Fort Collins, take that growler along because they’ll fill it with their regular, all-season beers for $6.  A steal!

After that, we stopped for ice cream on the way home because the kids were so good and headed back to the house.  I think Brooke and I agree that this was probably our favorite day of the trip.  Not that the other days weren’t good, but everyone seemed to be in a good mood, it was great to see Jared, Andrea and Elle, and it was our first real day of “vacation,” so everyone was excited to see some cool new stuff.

And beer.  There’s nothing wrong with beer. 🙂

The next day, we spent a lot of time in RMNP…but that’s best saved for another post!

The Oregon Trail: Days Six and Seven

The Oregon coastline
The Oregon coastline

We left Portland on Saturday morning and, rather than take the interstate down to San Francisco, we opted for the coastline via US-101.  Is this a longer trip?  Yes.  Is it much more interesting than taking I-5?  Absolutely.  US-101 connects up with the famed Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1), so it’s effectively the Oregon leg of that roadway.  For much of the trip, we were driving along the Pacific coast, which Brooke hadn’t seen before.  We stopped off at a beach or two to check it out and, believe you me, that water was cold.  We saw multiple cars with surfboards on top as we made this trip and never saw a single surfer actually in the water.

It was two-lane highway for much of this trip, but we had intended this to be a day-long drive down toward California.  Thus, we weren’t really in a rush or anything.  We stopped off at a seafood restaurant, Mo’s, to get the “local seafood treatment” (though what I ate was just fried fish from Alaska, so not that much fresher than what I’d get at home…oh well…).

Dirty tree hugger...
Dirty tree hugger…

The coast of Oregon took a few hours, and then US-101 headed inland.  We’d return to the coastline after awhile, but first we got to drive through the Redwood Forest (which is one of the main reasons we took this route instead of I-5).

Know what?  Those trees are big.  Really big.  Your encyclopedia collection didn’t lie to you.

As you drive through, you marvel at how tall the trees are.  Granted, I’ve seen some tall trees, so in some ways, these don’t seem that tall.  But when you actually get out of the car and stand next to one of them, your perspective changes a bit.  The tree above, located near a pull-off parking area, was just some random tree: it isn’t a special “biggest tree in the forest” or anything.  It’s just that they’re all this big.  Which is crazy.

We’d like to return here someday to do some camping and hiking.  We just didn’t have the time on this trip to spend very long, but we’re really glad we passed through the Redwood Forest.  It’s one of those things you can look at in pictures, but can’t truly experience until you stand next to one.

Vineyards through the car window.
Vineyards through the car window.

US-101 weaved back to the coast for a bit, and then continued inland toward San Francisco.  We stopped in Redwood Valley, CA for the night at an Airbnb house.  This was our first experience using Airbnb and we were pleased with the results.  The house we stayed in had a separate apartment area with a mini-fridge, its own bathroom, a queen-size bed, a table and chair, and had its own access out of the house.  I’m quite sure this was a dice roll that could have turned out poorly, but based on the reviews for the woman we stayed with, and the location, we went with it and were pleasantly surprised.  I think we’d definitely recommend Airbnb again as an option for a place to crash for the night, but just make sure you look at the reviews and make sure you’re fine with the accommodations being offered (i.e. if you don’t want to stay in some grandma’s basement on her couch, don’t do it…because those places are on there and the experience will be just as they describe).

Redwood Valley, CA is less than 2 hrs from San Francisco, so we still had a little driving to take care of the next morning.  It’s also about 70 mi from Napa Valley, so there are tons of vineyards along the route.  And when I say “tons,” I say “you know how much corn we grow in Iowa?  Well, imagine an Iowa cornfield of grapes and that’s what you’ll see.”  Seriously, the vineyards in Missouri near Hermann simply can’t compare, just in sheer volume.

One thing we noticed as we made this leg of the trip through northern California was the lack of water.  California is going through a pretty serious drought this year and it was evident almost as soon as we left the Redwood Forest.  You can see in the picture above some healthy vineyards, but the dry grass underneath.  Among the trees in the background, you can also see dry fields of grass.  An errant match could pretty easily take up all those grapes in minutes.

A beautiful morning near Golden Gate Bridge.
A beautiful morning near Golden Gate Bridge.

After a few short hours, we crossed into San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was a lot bigger than I expected!  US-101 is what crosses it, so it wasn’t exactly hard to find.  It’s 6 lanes wide with some walking/biking in the middle.  Due to some construction, it took us a few minutes to figure out how to get this picture, but we eventually got to the grounds of the Presidio to take a look around.

Once the requisite pictures were taken, we found a place to park (for far cheaper than in Portland…) so we could walk toward Alcatraz.  As I’m a big fan of “The Rock,” I actually kinda wanted to check out the site, but it would have taken hours to take the ferry to the island and then take the tour.  In some ways, thankfully, the decision was made for us, as tours were all booked through mid-August by the time we checked in mid-June.

The Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts

So, instead we walked toward the Bay so we could at least see it from the shoreline (it’s visible from the Golden Gate Bridge, too).  On the way, we accidentally walked through another site from “The Rock,” the Palace of Fine Arts.  We didn’t really know what these buildings were even there for (apparently they were built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, so it’s kinda like their equivalent of St. Louis’ Forest Park and the 1904 Worlds Fair exhibits).  I think I was a bit more impressed than Brooke was, but the buildings were all pretty cool and the grounds were beautiful.

"Welcome to The Rock."
“Welcome to The Rock.”

Eventually, we cut through the multitude of tourists on bicycles and got to the coastline where I could get a picture of Alcatraz Island.  Here is my picture of Alcatraz Island.  I’ve been close enough to “The Rock” to take a picture.

I’m satisfied.

"Everywhere you look..."
“Everywhere you look…”

Speaking of “being close enough to take a picture,” we also saw the “Full House” house.  Not much to say here except yeah, we totally drove by it.

The Mission district.
The Mission district.

The last thing we did in San Francisco was check out The Mission district, which is where much of their Hispanic community calls home.  They also have quite a few restaurants and “Mission-style burritos,” where they were obviously invented and appropriated by the likes of Chipotle and Qdoba.  This area of town felt a bit “seedier” than where we were taking pictures of Danny Tanner’s fictional house, which was great because it also felt less touristy than what we’d already seen.

After that, we took off!  It was early-afternoon and we didn’t have anything else we really wanted to commit to for the next few hours, so we headed east, back home.  That night, we stayed at a KOA in Winnemucca, NV (after stopping off at our first In-n-Out Burger in Reno, NV), and then continued for a really long 14 hr day to Limon, CO.  The next day, we had an 8 hr drive home and that was it!  Though taking the interstate was far more boring than the initial trip out, it was good to “book it” home, as we were both in the mood for our own bed and consistent Wifi access.

It was a great trip!  Lots of memorable moments and cool things to see along the way.  We aren’t sure we’d change much about it, but I think we’d both like to hit up the Pacific Northwest again someday, perhaps when the kids are old enough to go hiking with us in the Redwood Forest, or have a beer in Portland.

Now.  What do do for our 15th Anniversary…hmmmmm

The Oregon Trail: Day Five

Portlandia
Portlandia

Yeah, I know: we already did a “Day Five” post…but it didn’t really address Portland.  Part of the genius of this Oregon Trail adventure of ours was that it would take us out to the Pacific coast, allowing us to see Portland, the Redwood Forest, and San Francisco before returning home via boring interstate highways.

We stayed at a Ramada in Portland for a few nights, getting much needed rest in actual beds with actual Wifi access (i.e. things we hadn’t really experienced for the previous 4 days…).  On Friday, July 10th, we explored Portland (and visited Oregon City in the morning).

Parking was something of an issue.  We tried heading up from Oregon City directly into Portland (15 min drive?), but quickly discovered that parking in downtown Portland on a Friday after 10:00 am is all but impossible for a reasonable price (or really, at all, for any price).  So, we drove around a bit before deciding to head back to the hotel, where we could leave the car and hop on their light-rail system to hit downtown.  Yes, it was backtracking and, yes, it took 45 min to take the train to get downtown.  But, once we were there, our lives were much easier.

Brewer's Choice sampler at Deschutes Brewery
Brewer’s Choice sampler at Deschutes Brewery

It appears that you can’t throw a rock without hitting a brewery in Portland and, while I would have loved to spend the day just hitting every brewery we could, that would have limited our ability to do other things (we’ll have to go back!).  Thus, we stopped by Deschutes Brewery for some appetizers and a few beers.  They’re a national brewery, at this point, but the stuff we tried isn’t bottled and is more limited to the Portland region.  It felt a lot like Schlafly Bottleworks, though I’m sure Schlafly modeled themselves after northwestern breweries when they formed decades ago.

Powell's City of Books
Powell’s City of Books

Near the brewery, we also stopped at Powell’s City of Books.  Yes, it’s “just” a bookstore, but it’s a really big one that takes up a full city block and is a few stories tall.  Just about any book you could imagine was here.  We picked up a few books for the kids as souvenirs (parents of the year!), but were really just in awe of how many books you could cram into this space.  Definitely worth a stop if you’re in town.

Stumptown Coffee
Stumptown Coffee

As we were in Portland, we also had to partake in local coffee wares.  Much like beer, the options for coffee in Portland are almost limitless, but it sounded like Stumptown Coffee Roasters are perhaps best-known and end up providing a lot of their beans to the other coffee houses in town.  In the end, it was really just a regular ol’ coffee shop, but at least we can say we had fresh coffee in Portland, right?

Pioneer Square
Pioneer Square

We walked by Pioneer Square on our way to dinner.  I guess this is their equivalent of Jackson Square in New Orleans, a location where you may hear live music, where there are local street vendors with food and souvenirs, and just a general gathering place for tourists.  Really, we just walked on by after seeing it…

Luc Lac Vietnamese Restaurant
Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen

The last thing we did was eat dinner.  Believe you me, the options in Portland are wide and ranging, but considering we’d had fast food, American-style food, Italian food (Brooke did, at least…) and knew we’d have Mexican down in San Francisco, we figured something more Asian would be a good idea for a change.  Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen had a lot of great reviews on the intertubes and we had a recommendation from a Portlander, so we gave it a go.  The place was packed, and it only got worse after we got our table…and we were there around 4:30 or 5:00 pm.  We got a smattering of different dishes (the small plates above were $2 each) for exposure to a lot of options.  Good stuff!

After that, we went back to the hotel.  By this point, we were ready to just chill for the rest of the night, as we’d be hitting the road again toward San Francisco shortly…