Thursday, July 30, 2015

Utah Tour Part Two: Day 5 (afternoon), Capitol Reef

We were originally planning on going to Moab after stopping Grand Junction with Lynnie and Nick, but decided to try somewhere we'd never been before: Capitol Reef! I had actually never even heard of Capitol Reef before, so luckily Ryan knew of it or we would have missed out.

Because of our stop at Goblin Valley, we didn't have as much time as we planned in Capitol Reef--so we knew we needed to make good use of the time we did have! Ryan asked the rangers his standard question: "If I were going to die tomorrow, what would I want to have seen here today?" (or something like that). He got great advice and off we went!

We started off at the Hickman Natural Bridge trail. We were told that the hike was a simple, short one without much elevation change. Well, for our worn out legs (and even not with worn out legs) the first mile or so did seem to contain lots of elevation change. Oh well. We made it, without too much complaining, up the uphill, then went down the downhill, and finally found the relatively flat hike promised.

And the relatively flat hike led to an amazing "natural bridge" that we got to walk through, which was pretty exciting. We even paused to let Reed take a photo of Ryan and I that turned out quite cute, if I do say so myself.

After the hike, we headed to a log cabin that boasted ridiculously amazing pie. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the log cabin, the pie was completely sold out for the day. Fortunately, the log cabin also sold single serve ice cream cups with wooden stick spoons for utensils. I love eating ice cream off a wooden stick spoon, which I realize is oddly specific and weird. Ryan and I commented that the ice cream was very satisfying and, after a discussion of what satisfying means, the boys agreed.

The next stop on our things we needed to see tour of Capitol Reef was a scenic drive! You know how we love a scenic drive. The drive led to the beginning of the road that led to the pioneer register hike. The road that led to the pioneer register hike was seriously the most amazing and beautiful road we've ever driven on in the history of us. The road started out like any dirt road, but gradually, the canyon walls around us grew narrower until they were only 6 or so feet away from each side of the car! (I might be off in my guess here, but to me it was 6 feet. To Ryan it was probably 15 feet.) We felt like we were driving through a hike and it was SO cool! We oohed and ahhed and oohed some more.

We eventually arrived at the trail head, threw a ton of snacks in our bag, and set out! The pioneer register hike was really interesting. The amazing path we'd driven and the trail we hiked were once part of the "highway" through that part of the state. Pioneers came through in wagons and stagecoaches and many of them stopped to write or carve their names into the rock as they went! The names are mostly stagecoach/wagon seat level high and seriously so many names are carved there! There were also names graffitied on the wall later, which was not as cool.

The sun was starting to go down at this point and we knew we still had a long drive ahead of us--and we were really, really tired of walking--so we stopped at the end of the names instead of continuing down the trail and hopped back in the car. We gorged on fruit snacks while we drove back through the drive to top all drives, then got another amazing surprise when we found a group of 8-10 deer right next to the road! The kids were super impressed.

And then it was time to start our drive to Bryce Canyon, where our hotel for the night was. You'll remember our unplanned stop at Goblin Valley and how it altered our schedule for the day. Well, we did not plan on driving to Bryce quite as late as we did. We drove on scenic highway 12 and oh my gosh, when we still had light and could see the drive was beyond scenic. We wound really high up a mountainside and just had this amazing sprawling view of mountains and streams and it was gorgeous. And then full dark fell and the drive turned from gorgeous to terrifying. The road is super windy and goes up and down through the mountain range. At the scariest point of all, we could still see just enough to know that at the peak (where we were) there was literally a 100-foot drop on both sides of the road (no mountain to hug) and less than a foot of "shoulder." And though we saw less than 10 cars the entire drive, we happened to be passing a car going the opposite direction, so we couldn't even sneak into the other lane a bit. I was gripping my door handle so tight and just praying we'd be okay. We were. 

At another terrifying point, a huge elk jumped across the road only 15-20 feet down the road in front of us. If he'd jumped three seconds later, we would have slammed into him. So anyway, it was late, the road was terrifying, and eventually Ryan got sleepy. I volunteered to take over, and he had to go to sleep because my driving makes him nervous even when we're not in scary-ville. (Also, I'm not a bad driver. I'm not sure why I make Ryan nervous. Seriously.) Thankfully, Ryan got us through the worst part of the drive and I mostly just had to stay awake, focus on staying in my lane and not going off a mini-cliff (nothing compared to Ryan's cliffs) and stare down all the deer I saw and threaten them not to cross the road in front of me.

I will say that the kids were amazing sleepers through the craziness, so that was one less stressor to worry about. Finally, we pulled up to our hotel in Bryce to find the office closed and our room key taped to the office door with the room number written on it! Thankfully no one had taken it! As we "checked in" another guest came to the door looking for office help because her key didn't work. I was nervous our key wouldn't work, either, but thankfully, the key worked fine. 

Funny story. After we had our key, we planned to take the kids in to lay them down before we got our bags. I tried to wake Reed up so he could get his shoes on and the poor boy was just so disoriented. First, he couldn't figure out where his shoes were, even though I'd set the shoes on his lap. His hands were literally touching his shoes. Then he tried to stand on top of his car seat to put the shoes on. Finally, we got the shoes on his feet and got him standing outside the car. Asher, meanwhile, is spouting off gibberish and cracking up. Finally, we had all the children. We carried/prodded them inside and laid them all on one bed. Then we went to grab our bags and the pack n play. Our hotel was quite cheap and the room was quite tiny, but thankfully it had a "closet" that was big enough to put the pack n play in. After everyone was in and situated, Ryan and I fell asleep to a show that was on one of the five channels the TV received. We certainly had an adventurous night!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Utah Tour Part Two: Day 5 (morning), Goblin Valley

We were breakfasted, dressed, and in the car bright and early the next morning. We set out on our way to Capitol Reef and were making good time until we saw the sign for Goblin Valley. We'd heard about Goblin Valley from Lynnie and Nick and they were actually surprised we weren't going there on this trip. And we weren't planning on Goblin--until the saw informed us that Goblin was only about 16 miles off our route! The decision was made: we'd spend the morning in Goblin.

Goblin Valley was perfect for the kind of hiking our kids enjoy. There were trails you could go on, but there was also a big open valley where you could just go and climb on anything and everything and make your own trail and not get lost because it would have been really hard to get lost.

Lila started in the backpack carrier. At one point, Ryan found her a "Jae Jae spot" and we let her get out to climb and roam. She loved doing her thing and being one of the big kids--and thereafter, asked us to find a Jae Jae spot every time she wanted to get out of the backpack! 

The boys started out super timid and didn't want to climb anything. We convinced them to climb a few small formations, which built their confidence enough to climb everything by the end of our morning.

The rock formations in Goblin were super interesting--kind of mushroom shaped and really unlike anything we'd seen before. At one end of the valley, we climbed a high-ish hill (at least higher than the surroundings) and could see across the whole valley of Goblins, which was super cool.

After a few hours of exploring, we were ready to go. We drove to Hanksville, where we enjoyed a crazy delicious lunch at a little dive called Blondie's and visited a convenience store that is built inside of a mountain. While driving the road less traveled through the tiny town, we found a really amazing old water wheel that had been relocated from up in the mountains to this town to preserve it. We got to walk through the building and see how the wheel would have worked to split logs, which was super impressive. In stopping to look at the waterwheel, though, Asher had to turn off his Mobigo game and was the most upset he was all trip!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Utah Tour Part Two: Day 4, Grand Junction Rest Day

We decided to take one day in the middle of our trip to rest and play in Grand Junction. This stop was the end of the trip for Lynnie and Nick, and we were so glad they had spent the first part of our trip with us!

Here is a list of what we did in Grand Junction, in no particular order:
1. The little boys each took a turn sitting on Ryan's lap and "helping" mow the lawn on the ride-on mower.

2. Ryan and Lynnie both got dental work done! The need for a dental follow-up was originally what spurred the trip idea. We knew we needed to be in Grand Junction and decided to travel there creatively!

3. A trip to Spin City! It's a huge building that has laser tag, bowling, arcade games, and a huge jungle gym area. We spent our time in the jungle gym.

4. A mid-trip car clean out. You would be shocked and probably a little bit disgusted by how much garbage we cleaned out of our car! We gathered the kids' toys that were now scattered all over the car and returned the toys to the kids' "self bags," a bag of activities they fill to use in the car. We rounded up all the dirty socks that had been shoved into hiking shoes, then fallen out in the back. We did a few loads of laundry so we'd have some clean clothes for the rest of our trip. I don't even want to think about what our car would have looked like when we got home if not for this cleanup!

5. Game night. Once we put the kids to bed, the adults settled in for a rousing game of Boh-nanza! Ryan and I both really enjoy games and we all had a fun time regular talking and trash talking.

6. Lila's sleep reign of terror. Lila was an AWFUL sleeper for our entire trip--both the St. George part and the road trip part. The night in Grand Junction was her worst yet! She didn't end up really falling asleep until 11:30 ish, and was in our bed the whole night. She was up at about 6:30 a.m. Yikes!

7. Secret missions. The little boys were all over the house getting into all sorts of hijinks.

8. Match match. Lila and Maliya accidentally wore matching outfits during the day and purposely wore matching pajamas (sewn by Grandma Lexie) for bed. They were so excited to match that when they gave each other a hug they fell onto the ground! hahaha.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Utah Tour Part Two: Day 3 (afternoon), Dinosaur National Monument

Our next stop was Dinosaur National Monument. All I knew about Dinosaur going in was that Ryan's parents had been to Dinosaur, thought it was awesome and that we would like it, and that there were a lot of dinosaur bones to see.

The first thing we saw, though, was not a dinosaur bone--it was a snake! The three little boys and I were walking around a dinosaur statue outside while everyone else went ahead. We were all quite surprised when a decent-sized snake slithered right in front of us to cross the path! I am afraid of everything, so we immediately turned around and walked quickly away. I don't think the snake even noticed us.

The second thing we saw were a tall pole and a medium sized pole that Lila was enamored with. She ran over and said, "Mommy baby! Awwwwwwwww!"

Asher's face is awesome. Why is he making that face? No one knows.

And then we were in the visitor's center! We got the info we needed, grabbed junior ranger booklets for the kids, then boarded a tram that was filled almost completely by us. The tram took us to a large building. As soon as we walked in, we were all in awe because right before us was a preserved hillside filled with piles and piles of dinosaur bones.

We learned that when the bones were originally excavated, the man who found the site petitioned to leave some of the bones in their original spot and create a place where people could come see dinosaur bones where they'd actually been found. And that is exactly what happened! Paleontologists chipped away the top layers of sand and rock to expose the bones, then left the bones in place. Because the bones were left in their natural environment, scientists today have been able to learn so much more than scientists at the time of the discovery could have learned--information using the pollen samples and dirt samples and rock samples that were still with the bones!

We also learned that this display has the largest number of different dinosaur species in one area anywhere in the world. Apparently, finding one or two species is common--but here there are 13 species of dinosaurs represented!
It's always MY kids. Pull it together, guys!

We were also happy to find that we could touch a few of the dinosaur bones in the lowest level! Hooray for touching. We happened to visit just in time for a junior ranger class about relative age dating. The kids listened to the ranger and helped him do relative age dating for life events, then filled out their packets and earned their first junior ranger badge! (Unfortunately, we didn't think about junior ranger badges at Mt. Timp and in Flaming Gorge. Oh well!)

After we were done inside the building, we had a little waiting to do for the tram. Unfortunately, Cole found a rather large muddy section to get muddy in while we waited! Mud was a common thread throughout this trip.

Lynnie and Nick decided to start the drive back to Grand Junction while our little family decided to buy the $1 self-guided tour map and drive another scenic loop. I am so glad we made this decision, because the drive was amazing! We got to get up close--like touching close--to the Green River, which was especially fun because we crossed that very river several times on our trip. We got to explore a cabin built by an amazing lady who sounds like she was super tough and who lived alone in the cabin for many years. We got to see the "elephant toes" and "turtle rock" formations. And, best of all, we got to hike to the most gigantic petroglyph we have ever seen! The petroglyph is a lizard and is a few feet long. Our handy guidebook taught us that the petroglyph would have likely taken a few months to complete and was interesting in that it showed that the people who lived there weren't only concerned with survival--they had time to create, too!

After our scenic drive, we decided it was time to press on to Grand Junction. Lynnie and Nick had texted us warning us that there was hardly anywhere to stop and eat and that they ran into some construction traffic--and that the road was super twisty, so to have a vomit catching receptacle ready for Lila. Following their advice, we stopped at a tiny little town called Rangely. There were only two restaurant options, and we wanted to be kind of fast, so we were just going to stop at the grocery store. Then we saw the prices at the grocery store (which were ridiculous) and that the whole deli/bakery was closed that day. Scratch that plan. We decided to try a restaurant--and proceeded to eat the best pizza of our lives. The pizza was Hawaiian and oh my gosh was it good!

With full bellies, we hopped into the car again. The drive was beautiful--the road ran through mountains and canyons with little streams and a few distant cabins. Everything was lovely until the sun went down and we got into the real twists and turns. Then the drive was kind of scary. Thankfully, though, Ryan is cool under pressure and got us to Grand Junction without incident.