Garden Update: 06.24.24

As the date above implies, I took these pictures awhile back, but given that I was still working on vacation posts, I waited to put this one together. Ah well.

Overall, the garden’s looking pretty good! These pictures are taken from after we did some weeding of the middle of each plot and the edging, as well as mowing the lawn, so things were looking good at the time. Since I took these, the plants have just gotten larger!

The kale is starting to slow down, but Brooke dehydrated and powdered about a pint of it this past week. We’re still working on it, and Calvin’s going out and grabbing leaves occasionally for Barnaby. There’s quite a bit out there, yet, and as of now, it hasn’t “gone to seed,” so we probably have a few more weeks left.

It helps that we had 5″ of rain last week. I only had to water the garden a bit in mid-May, but since then, we’ve had some consistent rain that has helped maintain the leafy stuff longer than we’d normally get.

Brooke’s also been picking some green beans this past week, though we haven’t gotten a ton of them yet. If anything, it’s been rather disappointing, only a few handfuls thus far. She noted that one of the rows she planted appears to not actually be green beans, but some other kind of flat-pod variety? She’s probably going to plant some more next to the sweet potato plants, in another plot, to extend the growing season and get us some more.

The pepper and tomato plants are bigger now, though we don’t have a ton going on there as of the past few days. There are a few good-sized green “slicer” varieties, but nothing that’s been ready to pick. The cherry tomatoes look pretty close to being ready to pick, so within the next week or so, we’ll probably start working on them.

A few days ago, I had still only seen some flowers on these. Again, we probably planted too many of these in close succession, but at the time, we figured a few of them would probably die off and we wouldn’t need to worry about it. Apparently we were wrong?

This is the plot that looks the most different from the pictures taken on June 24 and what they look like today. Those zucchini plants are gigantic and flowering, so we’ll have some zucchini as soon as this week. The sweet potatoes are also quite a bit bigger than that. Just beyond them, there’s dry grass clippings trying (poorly….) to limit growth of weeds, and that’s where Brooke’s probably going to plant some more green beans.

The potatoes look pretty good! I’m still unclear on whether the carrots are doing much in these bags, but the leaves on the potatoes portend good things to come. Brooke was thinking that they’re probably close to done, already, so we may be digging those up in the next week or so, as well!

Aaaaaaaaaaand, the bees… The middle hive died, likely with the bees within not accepting the queen they were given. The northern hive looked good enough last time Brooke got in there that she added a super, and last time she looked, it seemed as though the super was getting pretty full, so we think <fingers crossed> we’re actually going to get some honey from it this summer!

The southern hive, on the other hand, still had bees, but when Brooke looked, she couldn’t find much evidence of brood. She ordered a queen (and a few “attendants”) for around $50 that were shipped via USPS to us, and she added the queen to that hive. If the existing bees “accept” her, then hopefully that hive will turn around, though given the state of it, the likelihood we’ll get much honey from that hive is minimal.

Still, if this works, it’ll give us more confidence to try similar things in the future, adding new queens to existing hives in an effort to revitalize them.

The “herb garden” is doing its thing, especially with bee balm that’s attracting mostly bumble bees. The chives continue to come back (year after year) and the basil that Brooke planted is doing its thing.

You can see a stalk of lettuce growing upwards in the background. It’s really the only plant we’ve had successfully take off this year, so that’s the one we’ve been relying on for ham and turkey sandwiches. Still, always nice to go outside and pick something fresh before adding it to lunch!

And last, but not least, Brooke’s “fresh cut” flower bed. We’re still fighting with the weeds growing in this raised bed, but it’s been a bit more manageable with the bricks we added to separate it from the rest of the yard. The zinnias are lovely and Brooke’s been getting bouquets each week. She also planted some sunflowers in the beds – they aren’t ready yet, but they’re getting taller every day.

Pretty typical of our “mid-summer” garden status, with the exception of the green beans. The weeding is in full swing because of all the rain we’ve had, but that’s a good problem to have!

Southwest Vacation – Part VI

For our last day in Utah, we visited the famed Four Corners site, where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado all meet. Brooke had been there before, so she kinda knew what to expect. It was a nice facility, with different vendors in booths a la a farmer’s market selling things ranging from shirts and magnets to hand-made jewelry, knives, and arrows.

There wasn’t much of a line, thankfully, so we got our obligatory pictures, did a little shopping, and then got a snack before heading out.

We knew we wanted to do something else that Thursday afternoon, and my vote was more hiking (since we really hadn’t done much….). The downside is that it was 108 F outside (the car said 113 F….eeeeeesh….), so we wanted to limit the mileage a bit.

We searched around for trails and came across one that was about a mile out toward a cave. We had to go off-roading a bit to get to this site, so that provided a little adventure, but at least it wasn’t the hours of “off the beaten path” we did a few days prior.

You can see the cave off in the distance, and we thought, “hey, that doesn’t look too far!” Turns out it would be harder than we thought!

We parked near the main road, unsure of what our options would be further down, so we left the car and walked down a road until it hit the trail. It started out fine, but it was pretty sandy and there wasn’t much shade, unfortunately. There were bits, but there were long stretches of none, which was pretty draining.

We did see some outcroppings with what looked as if they used to be dwellings, but they weren’t preserved, so there wasn’t a lot to see. Given the heat, and the fact there weren’t really trails heading toward spots like this, we mostly looked and then kept going.

By the time we got to our destination, we saw a relatively steep slick rock face heading up to the cave entrance, and given our potential for heat exhaustion, Brooke and Meg hung back to have some water in a shady spot while I proceeded to get a better look. This image is with the telephoto, so I didn’t get nearly this close, but it was enough to see that it looked pretty cool! There was a lot of vegetation between the slick rock and the cave, though….and it was very hot….so I took a few pictures and went back down. Calvin came part of the way up the hill with me, but by then, we were getting a bit concerned about his condition.

Brooke and Meg walked back and I hung out with Calvin in the shade a bit. He looked like he was overheating, so he cooled off a bit, drank some water, and when he was ready, we kept going. He was taking it a bit slower, but I don’t think it was anything really serious. It was hot and he’s small: simple as that.

That night, we had dinner and stayed up late to watch the sunset outside of town. We were hoping to see the Milky Way, but we probably would have had to wait a lot longer and none of us were really in the mood to stay up. It was nice to experience the stars away from pesky lights in town, though, and it was cool to be in the middle of literally nowhere!

After that, it was time to head home on Friday! We went through southern Colorado this time, so it was a different route through the Rockies. We stopped for lunch up in the mountains (Brooke made sandwiches) next to a river, which is always a lovely experience. We stopped in Garden City, KS for dinner that night at a nice Mexican restaurant, and then drove another hour-ish to Dodge City, KS for the night. Similar to our trip out west in the first place, we put in a lot of hours on that Friday so that we would get home at a reasonable time on Saturday afternoon.

In the end, we drove 3151 miles on this trip, which was a little over half what we did when we drove the Pacific Coast Highway.

We’re in an interesting “spot,” so far as our next vacation goes. Brooke and I have our 20th wedding anniversary next year, so we’ll do a trip by ourselves, but we will still need to do something with the kids (….I mean…I guess we need to??), so it may be “expensive trip” for the two of us and “shorter/cheaper trip” for the four of us. We’ll see!

Southwest Vacation – Part V

We had reservations for Mesa Verde National Park on Tuesday of our vacation, so this was kinda the one day we really had “locked in” so far as flexibility with everything else went. Brooke had been there before, but it had been many years. She knew generally what to expect, and she’d been on the main tour, Cliff Palace, previously. She really wanted to go to Square Tower house, as that was the most “exclusive,” difficult to attend, tour. The only way to do it was to secure reservations up to 2 weeks in advance, with 10 slots opening at 9:00 am CDT. Two weeks ahead, I sit at my computer, refresh the page at exactly 9:00 am, and within, no joke, 20 seconds, all 10 reservations were taken. Ug. The next day, I tried again, but this time, I actually got to the CAPTCHA verification. It put me through three rounds of verification (motorcycle, bus, crosswalk….)….and then it still didn’t give me any tickets…. Ug ug.

After that, we gave up and went with Balcony House, which wasn’t the main tour everyone does, but it wasn’t the most exclusive one, either. Alas, it would be fine.

Regardless, we made the drive from Blanding to Mesa Verde (an hour and a half-ish), taking a somewhat scenic route through reservation lands, before hitting their impressive-looking visitor center. We didn’t stay long, as we wanted lunch and we were going to do a driving tour of the area.

I should also note that the drive from the visitor center to where the towers are was kinda long? We had to drive up to the top of Mesa Verde, which wasn’t a trivial drive, taking another 30-45 minutes to complete. It was really pretty, though, and surprisingly lush up there (hence where the “verde” name comes in).

One of the neat things about the site is that there are kivas all over the place, but along the driving tour, they were laid out chronologically, so we got to see an older version of one, then a newer one, then a much more ornate one, giving us a sense of how they evolved over generations. The National Park Service also has them covered to protect them from the elements, while also providing shade for tourists like us.

Here’s the view of Cliff Palace from across the canyon, complete with a tour group checking things out. They are truly remarkable structures to see up close, let alone in the distance. One wonders how the residents of these structures got down and up all the time, as the would be farming on the top of the mesa, then returning down to the dwellings in the rock face.

The Balcony House tour took off from a parking lot above the dwelling and, while it wasn’t a strenuous trip down, it wasn’t necessarily simple, either. It took about 10 minutes to get down there, down a paved path, first, then down some metal stairs to a walkway that went alongside the mesa.

The tour guide said he has had people “freak out” due to heights while being down there, so he told everyone that it’s probably not a good idea to go if you think you’re going to run into issues. He said someone had to be airlifted out because they couldn’t be carried from the site below.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of heights, personally, but I thought this was fine. It was far from the edge and there were plenty of railings. Not a big deal. However, there was a spot later on where, if I were much bigger than I am, I would have struggled to get through.

We climbed a ladder to get up to the cliff dwelling, two-by-two, which again is something some folks have problems with. Not a big deal for any of us, though. Kinda neat to get to a tourist site, though!

Once we were up there (also, after kids and adults asked way too many questions, like, right before climbing the ladder! Seriously, hold up with the questions until we’re up there!), the tour guide started pointing out the various structures and some key aspects of the architecture. For example, wooden beams made differently than one another, suggesting that one structure was built first, and then they made changes before the next one. Another kid noticed that each room was labeled a bit differently. The tour guide noted that archaeologists label sites they have investigated in different ways, so it was probably one person “numbering” rooms, and another person came through and “lettered” them, instead. There were multiple architectural anecdotes like that as we continued on.

And at the end, we still see another enormous kiva, deep into the rock. How they dug into the rock face this far is unclear, though it was probably chipping away at rocks for years. This kiva was relatively deep, and it would have had a thatched roof for people to walk across on top. Couldn’t really beat the view from up there, either!

The return trip to leave went through a small tunnel. The tunnel was 18 in wide by 27 in tall, so yeah: small. And it was about 12 ft long. I had my backpack on, so it would have been easier on me if I didn’t… The kids and Brooke didn’t have any issues, but I suspect folks like my father-in-law wouldn’t be all that comfortable trying to climb through.

After that, we headed back to Blanding! Mesa Verde was pretty cool! In some ways, it was kind of like Shenandoah National Park, which we visited last year, where a lot of the trip was driving to and from the park, and driving within the park. Unlike Shenandoah, though, we got to take much longer breaks to see things like Balcony House, or the other kivas along the driving tour.

The following day was spent in Blanding, doing nothing! We had spent a lot of time driving and sightseeing, so we built in a day midweek where nothing was really planned. We watched some “Psych,” we played some cards, we read books – it was a good time to get some relaxing in before our last day before heading home!

Southwest Vacation – Part IV

The next day, we headed toward Canyonlands National Park, which is just south of Moab, UT. On the way in, we stopped at Newspaper Rock, which is a petroglyph site with drawings dating back at least 1500 years. Like many other petroglyphs and dwellings in the region, these were drawn under a rock face, which has protected the drawings for that period of time.

Other than the petroglyphs, there wasn’t much else to see, so it was a quick stop on our way into Canyonlands!

I should note, since I didn’t earlier, but Calvin happened to be done with 4th grade during this trip. The National Park Service offers the Every Kid Outdoors pass, which allows kids during their 4th grade year (and the summer after!) access to national park lands….for free! …and their families! So yeah, we got to go to Natural Bridges, Canyonlands, and Mesa Verde without having to pay an access fee. We saved at least $150 by taking advantage of it, so thanks for being the right age for this trip, Calvin!

We stopped at the visitor center first, which I’ve been to a number of times going to Utah for our Field Biology course the past few years. I am used to going on longer hikes in this particular park, but the kids weren’t really excited about it, so we opted for shorter trips. One of them was a 1 mile hike that featured flat rock hiking, a few ladders to climb, and some old timey cowboy encampments that illustrated how ranchers used to use the overhanging rocks for shelter.

It was neat to see just how far some of the overhangs went back, like the picture above. It was tall enough that putting horses in there wouldn’t have been an issue, so it’s no wonder ranchers used spaces like these for years. Above, Calvin is standing in front of a spring, where water slowly leached through from the surface above when it rained, again showing the utility of these spaces.

A lot of the hiking in this region is called “flat rock,” which is just as it sounds: walking over flat surfaces rather than on gravel or sand. Due to the Field Biology class I’ve helped out with, I’ve hit a bunch of areas like this, but in Canyonlands, flat rock hiking like this is pretty common. You end up having to find cairns, which are small piles of rocks that indicate the direction of the trail. Since there’s no soil, there’s no way to place a sign telling hikers where to go, so cairns are the norm.

The section of Canyonlands we were in was called the Needles District. There is a really good loop trail that takes you right up to the “needles,” or the rock formations behind us in this picture. That trail is over 10 miles long, though, so we didn’t push it. Next time, hopefully!

Like I said, I’ve gone to this area a few times with our Field Biology course and usually we stay on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. We camp, of course, but you can pitch a tent for free on publicly managed spaces, like those near Canyonlands.

I got the bright idea to go find one of our campsites with the family after we were done at the national park so they could see where I’ve been sleeping, out in the middle of nowhere. However, as evidenced by the picture above, there had been enough rain recently that the road was covered by water. Could the Outback have made it through the puddle? Probably. Did we really want to risk that? Uh, no. So we didn’t. Next time!

We hit Canyonlands that morning, so the plan was to visit Moab, UT for the afternoon. We took in a late lunch at Moab Brewery and picked up some beer to take back with us, including a growler. We didn’t eat until 1:30 pm that day, so given the anticipation, we were all pretty happy with it.

We walked around Moab looking for souvenirs afterwards and mostly struck out. A lot of the shirts, for example, were representing Moab itself or Arches National Park (which is practically in Moab…), which we weren’t visiting, so nothing really jumped out at us.

There were a lot of folks in Moab, though, but we noted that a lot of them seemed like fellow travelers, or otherwise people who were “living the life of the southwest.” Brooke had been to Moab before, but she made it sound like the “Moab” of her childhood is long gone, instead replaced with a much more commercialized town made up of tourists moreso than folks who actually live there.

After we were done in Moab, we headed back to Blanding for the night! Onward to Mesa Verde the next day!

Southwest Vacation – Part III

I’ve been down in southeast Utah a few times in the past two years, and Brooke was down here for family vacations and for her 8th grade “LEAP” experience to Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. My family never ventured this far for vacations, so Brooke has a bit more of a “connection” to the region. Thus, it’s always been on the list for our own family to someday visit.

There are multiple reasons to visit this area. For one, the desert environment is pretty foreign compared to what we’re used to in Missouri. Secondly, depending on when you go, the “dry heat” effect means that 90 F is still remarkably pleasant compared to the same temperature in Missouri. This time of year, the evenings are in the high-50s/low-60s, so it cools off right as the sun goes down. Not bad!

The are also a lot of outdoor adventuring activities to consider, especially around Moab, UT, where you can rent off-road vehicles and you’ll see countless trailers and camper vans to be jealous of.

And finally, there’s the Ancestral Pueblo culture. One could argue that this is the big reason to come here, as there are only a few places in the world where sites like these are preserved for people to see.

In short, for thousands of years, Ancestral Puebloans settled in this region, likely beginning around the 12th century BCE. They inhabited the area and, again due to the climate, many artifacts have survived from that time frame all the way up through around 1300 CE, when most of the sites we visited were ultimately abandoned.

A big misconception that’s been rectified in the last few decades is that the people of this region did not “disappear” for some strange reason: instead, they simply migrated elsewhere as anyone else would. Many of them settled in areas around the Rio Grande river basin, where agriculture was a bit easier. Still, the archaeologists who study this culture have been able to trace the development of advanced pottery and architectural techniques, making for a fascinating area to explore.

That….all….being…..said…. We first stopped at Edge of the Cedars State Park, which happened to be in Blanding! They’ve got world-class research facilities and artifacts, including the room pictured above. They’ve got pottery dating back over a thousand years, and with the computer in the bottom-left, you can select an artifact and learn more about where it was discovered and what was painted on the pots, if anything. It was a pretty neat display!

Out behind the museum, they also have a ruin that can be entered. We saw many such ruins, called kivas, as we visited various sites in the region. These were the “village centers” of small communities, where the structure would be dug into the ground, then bricks stacked in a circle around, and then finally a roof thatched with timbers and clay that was strong enough to walk on. In the center of the structure, a fire could be set up, and a ladder would descend from a hole in the top that allowed smoke to come out from the fire. They Ancestral Puebloans believed that passing through the smoke was a spiritual experience.

There was also more modern art along a short trail behind the museum, including this piece that acted as a sundial. You can see the shapes cut into the piece, including antelope and dancers, and the sun would then pass through those shapes, projecting to the inside. On the summer and winter solstices, those images combine to form a line on the inside, which is probably pretty cool, though we aren’t planning on driving back in late June to find out!

After we were done at Edge of the Cedars, we headed toward “House on Fire,” which is in Mule Canyon, but on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Before we went in, we visited another ancient kiva that was preserved until a permanent shelter. Here, you can get a better sense of what a lot of these look like. Typically, they are in a circular shape like this one, however the bottom of this one has more sand in it, rather than a fire pit. You can see what looks like a tombstone on the right-hand side of the floor, and that was a “reflector,” of sorts, so the fire in the center of the kiva wouldn’t be blown out by the air vent coming in from the right side (the hole in the bottom on the direct other side of the “tombstone;” that hole went to another hole further from the kiva, coming out of the ground).

We then took the trail toward House on Fire. As this is BLM land, trails aren’t as well marked as we’d like, so we weren’t entirely sure we were going the right way for awhile! No one else was with us, though we’d eventually run into some others as we got closer to the site. The trail was up in the grass, but also down in this “wash” picture above. We moved back and forth between the two routes. I was wearing my Chacos, so I wasn’t as well-prepared as others (I didn’t know we were going to be in a sandy ditch….sue me….), but it worked out alright. The hike was less than a mile out before we reached our destination.

“House on Fire” gets its name because, well, there’s a house built under the rock face, but also because depending on the time of day and how the sun is hitting, the erosion in the rock face looks like it’s…..”on fire.” We unfortunately didn’t get to see anything so spectacular, but it was still pretty cool! There was another couple there who had been there since 9:30 and they hadn’t seen anything, either. We were told 10:00-11:00 was probably the best time of day to be there, and we arrived closer to 11:30, but again, apparently we didn’t miss much. For our first “up close” cliff dwelling, it was pretty neat!

The walk back, again, featured the same trip we’d already taken, but I wanted to point out the varied terrain. Unlike what we see in Missouri, where a trail is a trail is a trail, in Utah, you can be in a sandy “wash” like we had above, or through a more grassy soil, or on flat rock like above. We’d hit other trails later on in the vacation more like this, but I think it was interesting for the kids to experience such a difference!

Calvin, at least, found it interesting. Meg mostly grumbled.

Our last stop of the day was Natural Bridges National Monument. Arches National Park is near Moab, UT, which makes it a very popular tourist destination. We’d already decided that we didn’t want to deal with that, so instead, we figured that the kids need to see some arches, but maybe bridges would be close enough!

The difference is that an “arch” is formed by any number of things, like erosion from seeping moisture, whereas a “bridge” is formed by erosive action of moving water. For example, water hitting a rock face and being diverted around it: over time, that water would eventually punch through the rock, creating a direct route underneath, whereas the original, diverted water would now exclusively flow in the new channel, leaving the old one dry.

There are three main bridges in the area, all of which can be seen and hiked to. Sipapu Bridge and Kachina Bridge involve relatively strenuous hikes down, so the kids weren’t all that enthusiastic about trying that (they also weren’t crazy about an 8.6 mi hike to see all three of them…).

Luckily, Owachomo Bridge was pretty easy to get to, and it’s the largest one, so that’s what we did! I mostly wanted to include this picture because it’s a good one, but….

This shot provides better scale to see just how big it is. Meg is standing in the middle of it, at the bottom. Pretty cool!

After we left Natural Bridges National Monument, the real adventure began. Brooke wanted to try an “off road” trip that wasn’t necessarily difficult, but still took up off the beaten path a bit. Leaving Natural Bridges, we noticed a dirt road that went around Bears Ears National Monument, which is one of the newest in the system. The sign said “15 miles,” though we admittedly can’t remember specifically to where it was indicating, and given where we ended up going, it may have simply meant “to the end of the road you’re getting on right now.”

This trip took us nearly 2 hours to do what we thought was 15 miles. Brooke was driving (thankfully), and we were going pretty slowly. Some stretches were fine, with some slow ups and downs, but others took us at a 4 degree angle up a one-lane cliff where I didn’t want to look over Brooke’s shoulder to the canyon below. We kept watching the mountain on our right wondering where the pass was going to cut through, and it continued to not do so.

I’m still working on my best estimate as to how far we actually went, but 45 miles is what I’ve got as of writing this (I may edit it as I plug through Google Maps to figure out which road(s) we were actually on). I know we were on Burch Canyon Road for most of the scary stuff, and then we got off onto Wooden Shoe Road for awhile before passing right by Bears Ears East. The GPS tag on the pictures I took confirm we made it at least that far. We also know we ended up on CO-95 when we finally hit pavement again, but specifically where is what I’m a bit fuzzy on. Still, it took quite a bit longer than planned and, after all that, it was time to head home so we could decompress a bit.

It’s good to have an adventure like that sometimes! Next time, maybe we’ll do it at a lower elevation!

The next day brought new challenges, though, when we hit Canyonlands National Park!

Southwest Vacation – Part II

We made it to Redstone, CO around 4:30 pm MDT on May 30th: just enough time to explore a bit before dinner. We ended up staying at Redstone Cliffs Lodge on the recommendation of my buddy and colleague, Waylon, who was in the area for his annual elk research project. Our hope was that, being the height of elf calving season, we’d be able to meet up with his research group to watch “the miracle of nature” take place and see an elk calf! Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that day, so we ended up finding other things to do.

Still, Redstone Cliffs Lodge was situated in a really neat area, one that didn’t involve all that many tourists and one that showed off a side of Colorado we don’t always get to see, especially if you stay in Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, etc.

The Lodge itself is fully featured, including a kitchen, a fold-out couch, two queen beds, heating (no need for A/C, and the Crystal River is running just behind it, so you can light a fire by the river or sit in the hot tub. It’s also two doors down from Propaganda Pie, which was awesome. Pizza is their “claim to fame,” but they’ve got pastas, salads, a solid beer selection, etc. We were there for dinner both Thursday and Friday nights, and on both nights, there were parties going on. It seems like Propaganda Pie is the only game in town for gatherings like that (literally), but also in the general region, so folks from neighboring communities also come in.

I should note that there isn’t a grocery store in Redstone, so while cooking was an option (and we did take advantage of the kitchen for leftovers!), you have to go north to Carbondale, CO if you want more amenities. As long as you come prepared, it’s a peaceful time and worth the stop! Redstone also has an ice cream shop/general store that the kids visited, and looks like it has some antique-type places (that we didn’t visit).

Since the whole “elk calving” thing didn’t work out, we found other things to do! Nearby, close to Marble, CO, we visited Beaver Lake, hoping to make it to a waterfall. We couldn’t find a way to get there without crossing private property, so we just walked around and enjoyed the beautiful day.

Actually, Marble is an interesting site in its own right. As its name implies, there’s a marble quarry there that is still active to this day. Coincidentally, marble from that quarry was used in the construction of the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Neat!

From there, we tried going on an adventure to Crested Butte, CO, but tried to get there via CO-12 by crossing Kebler Pass. It’s closed in the winter and, apparently, May 31st still counts as winter, so we couldn’t go that way. We had our lunches with us, though, so we continued on that road to Erickson Spring Campgrounds, which is managed by the National Park Service. After eating our sandwiches by a creek, we hiked down Dark Canyon Trail for just under a mile, before things started getting really muddy and difficult. It was an easy little hike and a beautiful day to be outside!

That evening, we hit up Propaganda Pie once more, and Waylon joined us for one more outing before we were to take off the next morning. He usually stays in that region of Colorado through June, and is then off all over the place for July and most of August, so we probably won’t see him again until school starts. Regardless, thanks for the recommendations, man!

The next morning, we were heading toward our ultimate destination for the trip: Blanding, UT. If we went north to I-70 and took the “normal” (boring) way, it’s a 5 hour trip, so instead, we went south through a more interesting route that would take more like 5 hours…..and 9 minutes. So yeah, it was a pretty easy decision!

The trip was mostly uneventful. We stopped in Montrose, CO to pick up some groceries prior to heading into Utah as, again, our options were probably going to be limited for the next few days. There’s a grocery store in Blanding, but’s somewhat limited in options.

(Spoilers: The grocery store there is pretty good, honestly. Some things are the same price that you’d find at the Aldi in Marshall, whereas things like avocados, bananas, and cheese were pretty pricey. In general, things that spoil are a bit more expensive!)

We arrived at the house around 4:20 pm MDT on June 1st, which was a Saturday. This is good in that it gave us a chance to check out the grocery store in town to make sure we were good to go. Also, so that we would know that the grocery store is closed on Sundays (because Utah), so we grabbed a few extra things just in case!

We booked the house through Airbnb months ago and the hosts were pretty flexible with us, even shifting the dates around after we decided to add in the Redstone leg. There are 3 bedrooms, one full bathroom, and the kitchen/dining/living room section is all pretty “open concept.”

Whereas our internet speeds in Redstone left…..much….to be desired, the signal there is pretty solid. It still isn’t anywhere near speeds we normally get at home, but at least streaming content is doable. This was going to be a struggle with the kids, and thankfully, it wasn’t…

The house was our home-away-from home for 6 nights, from June 1 to June 6. Brooke found this location because it was centrally located to a bunch of sites in southeastern Utah, but far enough away from more tourist-y places like Moab, UT to keep the cost to below $1000, which we thought was pretty reasonable. For a home base, not bad!

There were a few “quirks” to the house, though. The kids’ bedrooms were pretty close to one another, and their doors didn’t close very well…or at all… The electrical in Meg’s room was limited, with some lights not working…at all… The kitchen area was pretty nice, though there weren’t hand towels, there was a weird assortment of glassware, no mixing bowls…just kind of odd. Most of the necessities were there, though, and part of the fun of Airbnb is not necessarily being sure what you’re going to get when you arrive!

Brooke’s got it on her list to make sure she brings more aluminum foil next time we stay in a place for that long, though.

Next up: exploring southeastern Utah!

Southwest Vacation – Part I

It’s that time of year again! Thankfully, this time we left a little earlier this year so I’d be less stressed out with the next school year looming. Like last year, however, we left in the early afternoon so that Brooke could put in a few hours of work and the rest of us could get the car loaded. We left a little later than Brooke wanted to, on account of me not being quite ready yet, but we were out the door around 12:30ish.

Of course, we made it past the Marshall Junction and I asked whether the new tablet holder (mounted on the passenger seat head rest above) worked, so Calvin was going to try it out…..only to find that he’d left his tablet on the counter at home…

Thus, we turned around, grabbed it, and left closer to a little after 1:00…..

The goal was to make it as far as we could, and if we were lucky, we’d hit Hays, KS. Luckily, we didn’t really hit any traffic in Kansas City, nor construction anywhere else. And Kansas is Kansas, so there isn’t much to see… We ended up pushing it all the way to Limon, CO, which would only leave us around 4.5 hours to reach our destination for the next few days!

We rolled into Limon after 9:00 pm MDT (which is 10:00 CDT….so the rest of the family was rather tired…), so we slept in a bit the next morning. After we grabbed breakfast, we headed toward Denver, looking for something to pass the time before hitting our destination for the night in Redstone, CO, which is on the other side of the Rocky Mountains.

My buddy, Waylon, works out in Colorado in the early summers, and given that Utah, doesn’t have the best beer selection, he recommended getting some on the other side of Denver. Near there, we found the Colorado Railroad Museum, which ended up being a pleasant surprise!

They have quite a few functional engines, as well as some that are being refurbished. The tours are run mostly by volunteers, all of whom seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. The gentleman pictured above was enthusiastic talking to the kids (and the adults……) about the differences between North American Morse Code and International Morse Code (there’s a difference?!), the history of those differences, and how the codes are mostly obsolete, but still used to this day by intelligence forces as they listen in on communications overseas.

There were quite a few things to see, some of which included relatively modern dining cars, or older refrigeration cars, or postal service cars. The engine pictured above featured a series of levers that had been attached to a sound simulation system (that used to cost $0.25, but the lady said they don’t charge anymore because no one carries change!). She gave direction on how to increase and decrease speed, ring the bell, and so forth. It was pretty neat!

They also have a “roundhouse” that puts engines under a roof for repair, and can then bring them out as needed (you know, like in Thomas the Tank Engine). They don’t actively pull trains out of it, but it was set up so that the kids could push the turntable around with a big, wooden lever. Calvin struggled a bit, but with a little help from the volunteer, they got the job done!

The park is geared toward children, but there were cool activities for the adults. There was a train ride that takes a trip around the grounds 3 times where passengers can ride in a late-1800s passenger car. They also had a series of miniatures, one of which was outside (with an example of the aforementioned Thomas the Tank Engine, naturally…). The model was cool, and featured some of the same buildings that were around the museum.

Down in the basement, they had a classic HO scale train set that was pretty intricate. There wasn’t a lot of interaction from the outside, but there was a ladder that could be slid along so kids could get a better view. It was pretty impressive, and reminded me of yet another hobby from my childhood (and before) that’s slowly disappearing.

After that adventure, it was time to cross the Rockies! Rather than taking the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70, which we have taken quite a few times over the years, we decided to go the scenic route and take Loveland Pass. It wasn’t a particularly difficult journey or anything, though the two-lane roads following large trucks can be annoying. Really, it was the “uphill” that took longer, and after we’d stopped at the pass for a few pictures and starting heading down, we made good time.

As always, it’s fun to see so much snow when it’s late-May and you’re from Missouri! It may not look like it in this picture, but it was pretty chilly up there, which made us question the shorts-and-t-shirt wardrobe we’d chosen. We weren’t out there for very long, though!

We looked for a few abandoned gold mines to tour, as that’s the kind of activity both Brooke and I enjoyed from our childhoods, but the railroad museum had to suffice: the gold mine tours we found looked pretty “tourist-y” and not all that cheap for what would be an hour or two of time to kill. Next time, perhaps!

Onward to Redstone, CO!

Garden Update: 05.27.24

I wanted to get a Garden Update in before heading out on vacation in a few days, as the yard looks good and the garden is mostly void of weeds (though there absolutely are some…). It’s in pretty good shape so far, and hopefully we keep getting rain while we’re gone!

Speaking of which, in the past few weeks, we’ve had at least 15″ of rain, I’d hazard to guess? We had about 8″ a few weeks ago, but each week since, we’ve had a steady 1-2″ fall here and there, usually in at least 0.5″ increments. This is a far cry from last year, where we barely had any rain to speak of. I did water the garden late last week, but even while we were gone over this past weekend, we had 1.5″ fall randomly. Off to a good start!

Brooke planted kale and spinach over a month ago, and obviously the kale is doing well. The spinach has come in and is doing fine, but only a few of the seeds actually sprouted, yielding a somewhat random looking row. Still, we should have plenty by the time we return from our vacation.

The bean plants are mostly up, as well. A mix of green beans and black beans, we usually end up with a pretty solid number of pods, so we expect those plants to be quite a bit larger by the time we return.

Our family friend, Rich, yet again came through and supplied us with tomato plants, most of which came up looking great. One or two unfortunately didn’t make it, so Brooke “borrowed” a few plants from a co-worker who didn’t need them and supplemented our supply. We still have a few jugs covering the plants, but most of them have been removed because they’re plenty big.

The pepper plants all look great, too! We expect a few of those to die off, as we tend to have “hit or miss” luck with bell peppers. They’re pretty tightly packed in there right now, so if they all survive, I’m curious as to how they’ll handle the proximity to one another. Usually, we separate them out quite a bit. Not this time! Living dangerously.

Aunt Marie also came through with a ton of sweet potato plants, pictured in the upper right portion. The mounds in the foreground are a mix of zucchini and cucumbers. The zucchini seem like they always produce, but the cucumbers are more “hit and miss,” so again, curious to see how that will go.

This plot also features corn and soup beans around the edges, but those were planted relatively recently and aren’t up yet. We haven’t planted sweet corn since……Iowa? Maybe? It’s been a long time! The goal is to train the soup beans to coil around the cornstalks, but we’ll see if we even get that far.

Brooke planted carrots and potatoes in the above ground bags, but only the potatoes are doing anything. There are a few, solitary, carrots growing in there, but frankly, those are cheap enough that I’m not going to be all that broken hearted if we don’t get anything. We haven’t tried growing legit potatoes in a long time, either, so we’re intrigued to see how that turns out!

The strawberry yield this year has been…..fine? As in, we’ve gotten bowls like that shown below, but they came in quite a bit earlier than usual (on account of spring starting in, like, late-February this year?), and many of them were smaller, and somewhat “mushier” than we’ve had in the past. Whether that’s the weather or the age of the plants, who can say.

Still, we definitely got some solid bowl-fuls of them like this one. If I were going to guess, I’d say we got at least 4 or 5 of these amounts during their main productive period? Brooke made some strawberry ice cream with one batch of them that turned out really well! Apparently getting strawberries in the right consistency for ice cream isn’t a trivial matter, but you’ll have to ask Brooke about how she did it. I just ate it, and it was good. 🙂

Lastly, the cherries. Ahhhhhh, the cherry tree. The tree itself looks good! (…unlike the almond, peach, and pear trees….all of which are gone now…) We had a lot of flowers on there earlier, but there was a pretty good frost around that same time, so we think a lot of the cherries were taken out back then, leaving us only a handful to make it to now.

Luckily, the remaining cherries were ready to pick just before heading out for vacation. Here’s our sad little bucket of them, but bear in mind that we actually had twice this amount on the tree: it’s just that Brooke and Calvin ate the other half as they were picking them!

It’s Brooke’s birthday, though, so it’s cool. She earned it. 🙂

State Park #26: Edmund Babler State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Dr. Edmund Babler State Park was an interesting visit, similar in some ways to Route 66 State Park. Babler State Park was established in the 1930s after 88 acres were donated to the State in honor of a respected doctor in the St. Louis area. 800 more acres were added in the following years. Dr. Babler was an early supporter of the State Park system, so his family’s support and the era they found themselves in help improve the infrastructure beyond what we see at a lot of other parks.

In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was actively fighting against The Great Depression. The CCC ended up building shelters and other infrastructure at multiple state parks (pictured below), so there are some similarities here compared with other sites we’ve visited.

The Visitor Center was pretty neat, though very obviously geared toward school groups coming from all over the St. Louis region. There were some insects, snakes, and amphibians available for viewing, so we killed some time before going on a very brief hike. It’s a neat space, though, and we had a nice conversation with some of the park hosts behind the desk.

Babler has more going on than Castlewood State Park did, which we visited earlier that morning. Babler features the aforementioned Visitor Center, some hiking, camping, open spaces for throwing frisbees, and basketball and tennis courts. Unlike Castlewood, we could actually kill some time at a place like this!

As I mentioned earlier, in some ways, Babler proved to be as interesting as Route 66, but mostly that’s because this park, apparently, was heavily segregated. African Americans weren’t allowed in the park for many years, and camping wasn’t originally allowed, so the State of Missouri had to buy additional land that wasn’t originally donated by the family in order to allow people to stay within the park overnight. Interesting history!

The hike we went on was a 1.6 mile loop that only took 38 minutes. Given the amount of time we spent at Castlewood, the kids weren’t interested in doing much more. The weather had warmed up a bit, and there were no leaves on the trees yet, so it got a bit toasty for late March when we were there.

Still, hiking in late March or early April is pretty good because there aren’t any bugs and you don’t have to deal with overgrown plants along the trails. It could be worse!

After the hike, we drove around the park to find a place to picnic. We noticed quite a few walkers and bikers along the road, as it has some decent rolling hills, but nothing too strenuous. Compared to Castlewood, the hiking and biking here was a revelation: if we lived around there, we would absolutely pick Babler over Castlewood, and those to parks are only a few minutes apart from one another. Castlewood has longer trails if an extended hike is desired, but heck, I’d rather just do the same loop multiple times at Babler so I didn’t have to deal with the crowds…

We finished off our State Park Extravaganza throwing a frisbee after lunch, using an open space near the basketball courts. There was also a large tent set up for an Easter Sunrise Service that was scheduled for the next day.

Babler was a good visit! It was a nice one to end the trip with!

State Park #25: Castlewood State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

We stayed in Arnold between state park visits, so we were able to hit Castlewood State Park relatively early in the morning. I knew Castlewood was a pretty popular park given its proximity to St. Louis, but oh boy was it busy that day. We found a parking spot, but had to pass a series of cars parked on the side of the road on the way there from regular Saturday morning walking/running/hiking groups.

We started on the Riverscene Trail, but a lot of the trails at Castlewood intersect, so we think we shifted onto another trail at some point during the morning. The trails are generally nice and maintained, mostly because it receives such high traffic from the locals. This particular trail, as the name suggests, runs along the Meramec River for the first portion of it, but then it goes up the hill using wooden steps and a railing. Once you’re at the top, it shifts back to a light gravel.

There were some good rest spots along the way, especially those overlooking the river. It really was a beautiful morning and the temperatures were warming, but it was pretty comfortable at the time.

The biggest issue was all the people! A lot of young families with small kids and large dogs on lengthy leashes. Usually the mom would be trying to get her 3 kids, all of which under 5, to keep moving while the dad would have two labs or German shepherds or huskies on 6 ft leashes getting wrapped around trees. There were multiple sets of these people!

Look, we get that it’s good to get your kids outdoors and go for a family walk, but is a narrow trail with a whole lot of other people trying to hike the best place to go? Gotta be a better option…

Eventually, things thinned out a bit and we were able to escape all the young families. We ultimately ended up hiking 2.4 miles in a little over an hour. I think the kids weren’t all that happy to be hiking that far that early in the morning, but alas, they survived.

Hiking is really all Castlewood has to offer, to be honest. There’s some fishing and picnic options, but no camping available. It’s nice to have it there, so close to St. Louis for people to enjoy the outdoors, but it’s pretty busy on a Saturday morning!

….there was a nice view, though. 🙂