Four Corners Monument

 

The Four Corners Monument is a monument that is owned and run by the Navajo Nation in a spot where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet. It’s the only point in the United States where the corners of four states intersect.

Because I generally love life, and I love travel, and I get excited about the smallest of things, and I’m the nerdy friend who shamelessly adores tourist-traps, I don’t often have anything negative to say about, well, anywhere we visit. So I will say this:

If you really really really reeeeaaaally covet one of those photos with your shoes and your bae’s (seriously, how did that even become a word?) shoes in 2 different states each, or you want to let Insta or Snapchat know that you were in “in 4 states at one time!!” while you hold a pose that looks like you’re playing State Twister (left foot: Utah! Right hand, Arizona!), then, fine, go. Pay the $5 per person for the photo. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go.

I’m saying that you should be prepared to be disappointed.

Seriously, it is, in my opinion, over-hyped and under-whelming.

And in 2009 there was (is still?) a heated debate on whether or not the monument is even geographically accurate…

Which pretty much kills it for me. Inaccuracies of any kind make my neurotic eye twitch.

We made the mistake of stopping by without doing our homework first, because I am impulsive by nature. And by “stopping by,” I mean “drive an hour away from our nice, cozy KOA, and into the desert to a perfectly nondescript, unremarkable tourist trap.”

Live and learn.

Seriously, guys, I didn’t even get a photo of the little bronze medallion because after paying $10 (kids under 6 get in free) to the completely apathetic lady at the gate, trying to park in a pothole-filled half gravel/half mud “parking lot” that hasn’t seen maintenance in years, and seeing how small, and, frankly, un-ineresting this “monument” was, my heart just wasn’t into it.

And I tried. I tried to pretend like waiting in line to snap a photo with complete strangers photobombing in the background was fun. Because that’s what we are supposed to do, right?

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Zero effort put into this snapshot. And also, why is that lady smiling at the camera? The line was behind us… this was the exact angle everyone was shooting photos from… She couldn’t have chosen any of the other 50 unoccupied benches to sit at? So weird…

 

I even tried to get into the spirit by walking the perimeter, which is lined with nothing but souvenir booths, and maybe even buying an obligatory nick-nack to commemorate the trip. Because I could think of nothing else to do…

At least 70% of the souvenir booths were unoccupied, leaving only a handful of booths selling your average, run-of-the-mill dreamcatchers, turquoise jewelry, beads, and the token bone knives that you can buy at literally any powwow in the entire country or every single gift shop in the Southwest. To add insult to injury, as I tried in vain to find anything unique enough for me to willingly give them my money, not a single vendor acknowledged my presence as I shopped their booths. Most of them were on their cell phones and wouldn’t even so much as glance up. Who knows, maybe I would have parted with some cash for a beaded hair clip (that most likely would collect dust in my drawer) had a seller actually been friendly and engaging. I wanted so badly to make this trip not feel like an epic waste of my time.

Even the fry bread sign was attached to a deserted food truck that looked like it had been inoperable since the 1990’s. [Cue sad music.]

We spent maybe 20 minutes there, trying to like it. Even our photo wasn’t worth the $10 (it kind of kills the excitement for me to learn that the only reason it’s even considered geographically correct was because in 1925 Congress said, “Yeah fine, whatever. Do what you want.”)

But if the photo is what you want for your Facebook Profile, and you are happy to pay for it, and you are already in the area and have nothing better to do, then go. It’s kind of interesting to say, “yeah, we’ve been there.” But do not go with great expectations.

Maybe “Four Corners” is Navajo for “Disappointing Tourist Trap.”

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Mesa Verde National Park

During the 7th Century, while Mohammed was busy starting the Islamic religion,  the [would-be] Koreans were perfecting Tae-Kwon-Do, Europe was heading into the Dark Ages, China was hard at work making the world’s 1st books, and quill pens were the iPhones of the times, there were actually some things happening in America, too.

Who knew, right? Not me. Either I slept through every history class I’ve ever taken, or Oregon public schools simply didn’t find it very important for me to know much of what was happening to the ancient people of what would be the United States. Granted, I didn’t learn about the beginnings of Tae-Kwon-Do, either, but I couldn’t resist adding that fun fact.

In the American Southwest, in an area that is referred to as the Four Corners Region (meaning where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet), an ancient civilization was also taking off. This civilization is often referred to as the Anasazi.

The term “Anasazi” is actually no longer considered correct. Archaeologists originally used the term because it is the Navajo word for “ancient foreigners.” However, the Anasazi are believed to be descendants of several Puebloan tribes currently in the Southwest, and the Puebloan people wonder why the word for their ancestors actually means “enemy” in their language.

So they prefer for their ancestors to be referred to as “Ancestral Puebloan People.” Seems fair.

And when they left in the 1200’s, they left ruins of their civilization behind for us to find almost 700 years later (the ruins were discovered by a couple of cowboys in the late 1880’s). Mesa Verde National Park is in Southwestern Colorado just outside of Cortez.

Since I was determined to be way more prepared for this visit to Mesa Verde National Park than I was for our spontaneous stop at Petrified Forest National Park, I had read up on their website to see what all we needed to see. I saw that there were ranger-guided tours that allowed you inside the ancient cliff dwellings at the park. Um, hellooo. Yes, please! There are a few different options regarding the guided tours: you can visit the Long House, the Spruce Tree House, the Balcony House, or the Cliff Palace. Or all of them if you have the time and desire!

Because we were visiting so late in the season (October), the Cliff Palace was already closed for the winter. I researched the other tours and decided that the Long House tour would be the best fit for our little family.

I also read that the tours fill up quickly so be sure to get there early in the morning.

They were not kidding.

We arrived at the visitor center parking lot at 8:05 a.m. Five minutes after the park opened. We walked in, Kevin went straight to the line for tour tickets while I chased the toddler around the visitor center (toddlers hate standing in line), and the people ahead of us got the last tickets for the Long House tour.

Getting there at 8:05 is five minutes too late.

We asked about the other tours. The Spruce Tree House tour wasn’t available due to unstable conditions (yikes). The Cliff Palace was closed for the season. That left us with the Balcony House.

The Balcony House is listed as the most physically challenging site to get to. It involves a climb up a 36-foot primitive ladder, another 9-foot ladder, scary-steep “steps” carved into the face of the cliff, and a tunnel that you have to crawl through that is 9-feet long but only 24-inches square in some spots. Bigger people have to literally wriggle through it. There is a “practice tunnel” in the visitor center if you are worried about claustrophobia or if you simply wont fit. The Balcony House tour is not recommended for people with heart conditions, respiratory problems, joint problems, etc.

Kevin was all, “Sounds awesome, sign us all up. Can I bring my toddler?”

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Cliff Palace

We got into the very last tour of the day, scheduled for noon, so we had a few hours to kill. The ranger gave us a map and suggested that we go on a self-guided tour through the park and visit some of the other ruins until it was time for our tour.

First piece of advice for anyone wanting to visit: Make sure you top-off the fuel in your vehicle before driving through the park. Fill up in Cortez. It takes almost an entire hour of drive time from the visitor center to the “hub” of where most of the archaeological sites are. The only fuel in the park is at the campgrounds, which are near the visitor center, so not particularly helpful. Luckily, we were fine with 3/4 of a tank, but definitely don’t show up on 1/8 of a tank and expect to get there.

Mesa Verde means “green table” for those of you who chose to take French in High School instead of Spanish (like, ahem, moi). The mesa top is where the Ancestral Puebloan people farmed. Early people (like in the 550’s and 600’s) also lived on the mesa tops. Carbon dating shows that by the A.D. 1000’s, they had started to move their villages under the overhanging cliffs to take advantage of nature. So the oldest sites aren’t even cliff dwellings. They are scattered across the mesa tops and are easily accessible to visit by car.

As you are driving along, keep a lookout for a little brown sign announcing the presence of a site. There is space on the side of the road to pull over. When you see one, pull over. I cannot express enough how much you do not want to miss these.

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The National Park Service built these huge buildings over the archaeological sites to protect them from further damage from the elements. Even with the buildings, and being literally 20 yards from the main road, these are impossible to spot without the assistance of the signs.

We were very fortunate that we were there early enough, and during an “off-season” time, that we usually had these sites to ourselves to explore.

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One of the many pit houses. This one dates to 600 AD, although archaeologists and carbon-dating indicate that the pits have been remodeled and the stones re-purposed up until the 1200’s. There is a short walking loop that brings you to two others on this same path.

The Ancestral Puebloan people dug these pits in the grounds, called kivas (kee-VAH).  Like many other things in archaeology, their purpose is debated between archaeologists and generally considered to be speculation. On one hand, they could have lived in these, which would protect the people from the elements and camouflage them from the outside enemies (the original kivas had roofs and blended into the environment). On the other hand, many archaeologists believe that the kivas were used for religious ceremonies or for political meetings.

(I’m over here wondering why they couldn’t have been multi-purpose, since they had to be a royal pain to build, but I am also not an archaeologist.)

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One of the more primitive kivas, this one features the usual fire pit and sipapu.

The kivas are very traditionally laid out. The doorway tunnel faces the South. The fire pit is in the center, and towards the North is a small hole called a sipapu (see-PAH-poo).

The modern-day Hopi tell sacred stories of the sipapu as a place where humans emerged from the earth, from the 3rd World into the 4rd World. Different tribes believe their sipapus, or places of emergence into this world, are in different places, such as from the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. As such, archaeologists believe it is why the sipapu was traditionally dug into the kiva floors, as a religious symbol to never forget their origins.

The ranger read us the Hopi sacred story about the significance of the sipapu. I thought it was very charming, not unlike the story of Adam and Eve, and there is no way I can do it justice by paraphrasing, so that is something you will just have to Google.

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A larger, more-modern pit house. Also, the ruins above-ground indicate that there may have been towers built. This is part of an entire village. The different rings of the kivas intersect, also indicating a lot of remodeling happened to the kivas as the village grew.

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A more advanced kiva. The fire pit as the main feature, and now there is a stone in front of the ventilation tunnel to deflect the wind. This caused the wind to circulate around the kiva and push the smoke out of the side vents and the top without disturbing the fire itself. Next to the fire pit is where they ground their corn, and, of course, in straight alignment with the door and fire pit is the sipapu hole. Also noteworthy is the introduction of benches along the outside all for people to sit.

Not all ruins were under ground, either. The Sun Temple is a large structure across the canyon from the Cliff Palace. Again, archaeologists aren’t sure what the purpose of the Sun temple was, but they do know that it was built to last. The masonry was very advanced for the time period and it has withstood the last 700 years very well.

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Looking through a window of the Sun Temple.

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Sun Temple gutter system for water runoff.

After visiting the Sun Temple, we decided to head over to the Balcony House for our tour. We were a bit early, but seeing as how I was much more prepared this time around, I had packed us lunch, so we decided to eat before we went on our tour.

Sadly, there is no view of the Balcony House unless you are in it. I would have liked to see what it looked like from the other side of the canyon (Soda Canyon), but currently there is no access to the other side.

Our tour guide was awesome. Her name was Jan, and she had been an archaeologist for 20 years before semi-retiring to work for the National Parks system, so she was a wealth of information.

She started off the tour giving us all of the warnings: no heart problems, no joint problems, probably shouldn’t go if you are scared of heights or claustrophobic. If you get to the first ladder (which is 36 feet high) and decide that you can’t do it, that is your time to turn back, because once you go up the ladder, there is no going back down. You have to finish the tour. Altitude sickness and dehydration are also very real possibilities at an altitude of 7000 feet.

We tossed the toddler in the hiking backpack and said, “let’s do it.”

We were not the only ones on the tour with little kids, though. Someone even had an infant in one of those Kangaroo packs, so I felt better.

And now, a bombardment of photos:

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Our tour descending to the trail that will take us to the Balcony House

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Kevin and the kiddo in “the baby packer.” Caleb, fortunately, loves being in the baby packer. probably because he is up high and can see everything.

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The ladder we had to go up to get to the Balcony House. It wasn’t terrible, but I did discover that when people say, “just don’t look down,” there is a reason they say that. It’s oh so very true.

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Before we got up the ladder, we had to stop to learn about a natural phenomenon known as a Sandstone Spring. The rainwater landed on top of the mesa, watering the crops, and then seeped into the ground, was filtered by the many many layers of sandstone, and came out of little “springs” under the cliff edge. This was the Ancestral Puebloan People’s main source of fresh drinking water.

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Watch your children: there is no railing. There is floor and cliff. Even the kivas are unprotected, and 30-feet deep with a stone floor. Don’t fall in. That might hurt. Plus, I’m not sure, but I think bleeding in a federally-protected archaeological site is highly frowned-upon.

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Original timbers that used to support a balcony. Hence the name “Balcony House.”

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According to modern-day Puebloan people, they still use balconies to make important announcements or to perform special ceremonies.

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Grinding stones.

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One of the two Balcony House kivas. They estimate that about 30 people, or 2 extended families, lived in the Balcony House.

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Random people on our tour… I never got tourist-free photos of some of the features. That’s what happens when your tour group has 30 people in it.

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See where the sandstone has turned black on the walls? That is apparently what happens when the oils from human hands constantly touch the sandstone. it turns black over time. That is why the rangers ask that you not touch anything; to preserve the architectural integrity of the ruins.

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How to get out, Part 1 (Okay, the ranger asked us to hold onto that corner so we didn’t fall).

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How to get out, Part 2: You have to crawl through a tiny tunnel under that wall, and if you look closely through the “window,” you can see yet another ladder on the other side.

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Tight squeeze, but we made it out! We had to take the kiddo out of the baby packer and send him through the tunnel after Mom. He was all over it.

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How to get out, part 3: Once out of the tunnel, you scale another ladder, then scramble up the face of the cliff with these scary-ass steps that were carved into the cliff face. The National Park service had to carve them bigger than they were originally due to modern-day people’s much larger feet… No fancy camera angles, this is literally how steep it was. Hang onto the chains.

The verdict?

This was absolutely worth the trip. I would have happily paid 5x as much as they actually charge for the tour. It was amazing.

Now we can’t wait to go back and take the other tours (see? The Bucket List rabbit-hole).

Of course, if you visit, you can’t miss stopping at the Far View Terrace for their Navajo Tacos. Soooo yummy. Fry bread as big as your head, chili, stewed seasoned chicken or pork (we both preferred the pork), and whatever toppings you want. A word of advice: one taco will easily feed two people. We each got one and couldn’t finish them. The fry bread/chili combo definitely makes the taco. Sadly, we didn’t get a photo because we were too busy stuffing our faces.

But definitely, definitely visit.

Of Camels and Buckets; The True Story of Our Failed Visit to Soapstone Prairie

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A true story, and a potentially uninteresting story. But I did get some very moody photos. I don’t know why they are moody. I didn’t mean for them to be. It just happens when the sun is playing peek-a-boo behind the clouds, I guess. Random dark and light areas.

Soapstone Prairie is a natural area in extreme Northern Colorado. Like, it’s pretty much Wyoming. It looks like Wyoming. I mean, it’s a prairie, after all.

I know, I know, I promised a couple more Arizona posts. They’re on the back burner still. But [insert whiny voice] I’m tired of writing about Arizona. We get it, your state is awesome. But now I get to see autumn, and go to the mountains to play in the snow, and drink my coffee hot, and it’s still 100-degrees there (and last I checked, the saguaro cacti don’t turn pretty shades of orange in the fall), so neener neener.

So the plan was to go to one of the 500 natural areas in Fort Collins (okay, I have no idea how many natural areas there are, but there are a lot) so I randomly picked one on a map that we had picked up. I chose Soapstone Prairie. Then, since it is on the Wyoming border, and we needed to make a Wal-Mart run, I suggested hitting up the Wal-Mart in Cheyenne rather than backtrack and go back south to the one in Fort Collins.

Mission in mind, we loaded up the kiddo and the dog (Tucker loooooves visiting the natural areas) and headed up County Road 15, the last 7 miles of which were not paved. The child cried nearly the entire drive there because we are the meanest parents in the world for not letting him drive. Mind you, he’s two years old, but pointing that out to him was pretty futile.

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Naturally, as we pulled to the entrance of the natural area, two highly inconvenient things happened. First of all, the kiddo passed out in the back seat. Because arriving at our destination was clearly the best time for him to finally fall asleep for a much-needed nap. I am NOT waking it up.

Then, we noticed the signs. No dogs allowed. Anywhere. Not even on a leash. Not even in your car. 

WHY???? Who came up with that rule??? I have a hard time liking any place that doesn’t allow dogs.

Since there was no one staffed at the entrance booth, we did what any normal dog owners would do; we told Tucker to lay down in the back and drove on in anyway.

Kevin picked up a brochure on the way in, and we learned that, in addition to a strict rule against dogs, there is also a rule against flying kites, and allowing your falcon to harass the wildlife.

Well, there goes all of our plans for the day.

I mean, I was with you for the no kite-flying rule, and mildly irritated about the no-dogs-even-in-your-personal-vehicle rule, but not allowing me to harass wildlife with a falcon??? Now you’re just being unreasonable.

We agreed that since the kiddo was sleeping and since we had contraband in the back, in the form of a dog who just could not remember to lay down and keep a low profile, we would just turn around at the parking lot and head back out.

With a few stops for me to hop out and take some photos, of course. Usually those involved me screeching at Kevin to “stop!!” and “back up!!!” and honestly, I’m amazed the kiddo slept through all of the slamming of brakes.

The prairie was super- pretty, and I would have loved to have gone on a family hike, but it just wasn’t in the stars for today.

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Plus, I’m not allowed to harass the wildlife with a falcon, so there’s that…

We hopped back on I-25 and crossed over into Wyoming. I love Wyoming. I was eagerly staring out the window looking for bison (I have an unnatural obsession with buffalo), and, of course, checking out the horses. I have never outgrown the urge to yell out “pony!” when I see a horse. Even though I own one and have been riding since I was, like, 6.

Kevin and I were in the middle of a heated debate on whether or not we needed to stop at a fireworks stand (which are apparently open year-round in Wyoming) when I spotted camels.

Camels.

Camels. 

Every single one of my mental “browser windows” (My next argument against fireworks, my shopping list for when we get to Wal-Mart, my calculations of how long the child had been asleep for, every little thing that women can keep in their minds at any given time) came to a screeching halt. My brain seriously short-circuited and I hyper-focused on the camels.

Why are there camels in Wyoming?

Does someone raise them?

It looked like they were in a pasture in front of a church. Does the church raise them?

What is the purpose of keeping camels?

Do people ride them?

Does that church use them in a living Nativity scene at Christmas?

Is that cost-effective?

How well do camels do in a Wyoming winter? Aren’t they desert animals?

Where does one even get camels from, anyway?

Just… so many questions that I couldn’t move past until we got to Cheyenne. I have only been to Cheyenne once before, but I was pleased that I could kind-of tell where we were, and my pride in my marginal navigational ability helped dispel some of the lingering camel questions.

Then, just when you thought this story would never end, the wind blew a bucket into the road and Kevin couldn’t avoid it. So we hit it, it got wedged under the car, and we had to pull into to the closest parking lot to pry it out from under the car.

We got the bucket un-stuck from the undercarriage, but it had been wedged under the exhaust. I don’t know a ton about car anatomy, but I believe that it was where the exhaust pipe meets the manifold. Since that crap gets HOT, the plastic bucket melted onto the exhaust.

It melted! There was molten plastic adhered to my car’s exhaust system. My biggest question was: how critical is it to get the melted plastic off the exhaust? Because I’ve already set one car on fire, I don’t need to repeat that whole episode. Plus, I’m pretty sure that at this point the insurance company would get suspicious.

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Charred remnants of my Mercedes after it spontaneously combusted while driving to the Oregon Coast 2 years ago.

Fortunately, I think Kevin’s dad might be the only person on Earth who would know the answer to; “Will melted bucket plastic on my exhaust system catch my car on fire if we drive home to Colorado from Wyoming?”

Kevin called his dad, and, just like I had anticipated, he did, in fact, know the answer. He had run into a similar situation involving a quad several years ago. He asked a few basic questions like, “What color was the bucket?” (white) and “where exactly on the exhaust is it?” (the manifold/exhaust pipe junction) and told us that we could either try to heat it up and scrape it off with a stick, or just drive it and eventually it will disintegrate (but we would have to deal with the annoying and possibly highly toxic smell of burning plastic while we drove).

We chose to just drive it off. Because “potentially carcinogenic” is less scary (short-term) than “molten plastic that can burn the flesh off your bones.” We’ll roll the dice that if/when we develop lung cancer, hopefully modern medicine will have treatment dialed in by then. But I’d like to keep both of my hands, and Kevin’s too, thankyouveryuch.

Really, we just should have stayed home today.

Here are some pretty pictures that I took from the car:

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We made it back to Colorado. It didn’t stink too terribly bad. We have a road trip planned for this weekend so whatever hasn’t burned off yet likely will. Hopefully our upcoming trip works out better than our day today.

 

Why the Petrified Forest National Park Needs to be on Your Bucket List.

 

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When we were traveling from Phoenix, AZ to Loveland, CO for our next assignment, we decided that the least mountainous way to go would be to go east through New Mexico and then north to Colorado. We left Phoenix at 3 a.m. to avoid pulling the 5th wheel in 117-degree heat. Also, it allowed the kiddos to continue sleeping in the car for a good portion of our trip. Kevin drove the rig; I followed in my car with the two kids.

When we got to the Northeast corner of Arizona, it was still mid-morning (but felt like we had been driving FOREVER). I saw signs informing us that Petrified Forest National Park was coming up, and to tune into some AM radio station. I did, because I had nothing better going on in my life at that moment, and I listened to someone extolling all that The Petrified Forest National Park (PFNP from now on) had to offer. A 2-minute sound byte on repeat.

Honestly… I had never heard about it. I had no idea what was there. It sounded mildly interesting on the radio. I was tired of driving and we did have our National Park Pass that we purchased at the Grand Canyon and hadn’t used since. But I wasn’t interested enough to call Kevin to ask him if we could detour, since he had the much more stressful job of towing a 30-foot 5th wheel. I was just there for moral support, not to get in the way.

When Kevin turned on his blinker to take the exit, though, I was stoked. I love adventures! It was like he read my mind! Or he just knows me really well.

Thankfully, PFNP had a well-designed parking lot that had RV parking in the back that we easily pulled into. It was almost empty, but it was also 9:30am on a Thursday. We moved the dog from the back of my car into the trailer, gave him breakfast, water, and cracked a few windows and headed into the ranger station to see what there was to see.

The answer, in short, is a lot.

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Who knew? Not me. I mean, I didn’t learn about this place in school. It’s just not super-well known to anyone outside of the Southwest, or outside of the Paleontology world.

There is so much history here- so much significant history- that I can’t possibly go over it all. There is a 30-minute video at the visitor center that we watched, and I couldn’t even retain it all to tell you. Here are a few highlights of what I remember:

This park is historically, archaeologically, geologically, and palentologically significant:

  • Historically significant sites include The Painted Desert Inn (where we stopped and spent a good hour and a half) and the Route 66 Alignment (where I also insisted on stopping).
  • Archaeologically significant sites inside the park include: the Agate House, which was built by Ancestral Puebloan people, made entirely of petrified wood; Newspaper Rock, which is a giant rock with more than 650 petroglyphs carved into it; and Puerco Pueblo, which are partially excavated ancient ruins.
  • Geologically significant sites in the park include Blue Mesa; the Painted Desert; and Rainbow, Jasper, and Crystal Forests. We only had time to see the Painted Desert and Blue Mesa.
  • Palentologically, the park has a collection of over 300,000 specimens of fossils and prehistoric tools and pottery. It’s one of the biggest sections of Triassic-aged rock anywhere. They joke that the park should have been named “Triassic Park.” This is one of the only National Parks that is open to continued research from palentology departments of colleges and universities from across the country. Fossils are still actively being uncovered year-round in the park.
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A giant fossil- a piece of petrified wood. There used to be thousands and thousands of these throughout the park, but sadly, tourists over the last century have been taking them home as souvenirs, leaving only a handful scattered around the park. Because of this, the National Park System has started the Vanishing Treasures Initiative, making it illegal to remove items (like petrified wood) from National Parks. And they’re serious, too. We had our car checked by a ranger on out way out of the park. 

The ranger gave us a map (a very large map), and pointed out the highlights. There were like 15 “Not To Be Missed” highlights, out of 20+ Points of Interest. Because of time restraints, we had to settle on 3 or 4. Sad face.

Seriously, guys, make sure you have PLENTY of time here.

We hopped in the car and drove to the first viewpoint, Tiponi Point.

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Painted Desert from Tiponi Point.

I couldn’t help myself; I immediately started comparing PFNP to Grand Canyon National Park. Obviously, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. You can’t compare anything to the Grand Canyon because there is nothing else like it.

But, there is also nothing else like the Painted Desert.

And in terms of breathtaking views and a feeling of wonder at this vast, diverse, and beautiful country we live in?

Same.

The same feeling. The same thoughts.

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Next stop on the docket: Painted Desert Inn. In the 1920’s, it was a tourist destination. The entire inn was made of petrified wood. In the 1930’s the CCC renovated it using adobe. It is a museum now, but it is definitely worth it to stop by.

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(I really really like to photograph architecture. And for some reason WordPress wont let me caption a collage. Hence the parenthesis.)

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Handmade stained glass skylight from the 1920’s by Hopi artists. Beautiful. 

Once we had explored the Inn, we hopped back into the car and continued on to our next point, the Route 66 Alignment. This was a must-see for me, because I have a huge fascination with Route 66. I have Route 66 memorabilia and artwork that I had displayed in my house before we downsized to a 5th wheel. To me, the Mother Road is just so representative of classic Americana.

While historic Route 66 is still drive-able in some areas, there are other spots, like in PFNP, where it is nothing but clues of what used to exist:

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Evidence that there was once a road there…

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And this rusted-out shell of a Studebaker. Watch out for rattlesnakes. 😉

At this point we were running short on time and starting to get anxious to get back on the road. The goal was to make it to Albuquerque that day, so we still had a few more hours of driving ahead of us. Had I known how awesome this place was, I would have definitely made this it’s own destination for at least a full day, but probably 2 or 3.

We looked at the map and the remaining 20 points of interest we had to choose from, and we settled on Blue Mesa.

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I took this photo out of the car window as we were heading into Blue Mesa. Our first sighting of the iconic blue rock. 

The Blue Mesa badlands, as they are called, are between 220-225 million years old, and the rocks are a mix of blue, purple, gray and green mudstone. There is a paved trail that takes you down into the badlands so you can be immersed in the rock formations. This was the most visually stunning hike I have ever been on, and I tried so hard to capture it in photos, but there are some things (okay, most things) that are just better experienced in person.

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We made the mistake of not bringing the hiking backpack for Caleb. Since there were some steep cliffs, he rode most of the way on Dad’s shoulders. We didn’t anticipate hiking that day, but it was not something we were willing to miss. 

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Jaid checking out the views.

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Stunning backdrop. I don’t even know how to convey what it was like to be inside the Blue Mesa. 

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Looking down into the badlands, you can see some hikers ahead of us on the trail. 

It was like being on another planet. Definitely an “otherworldly” experience. I so badly want to go again. I want to spend a few full days exploring the entire park.

While I am a believer that the best way to experience a location is on foot, this park is very accessible by vehicle. You can drive to every single viewpoint and attraction. I would strongly recommend packing a lunch, drinks, and snacks. There were plenty of places to picnic but no restaurants that we saw.

Even though we have technically already visited this park, Kevin and I have added a repeat visit to our Bucket List, just to see the park in it’s entirety. Visiting the Petrified Forest National Park really ought to be on everyone’s Bucket List. It’s just so freaking diverse that one area is nothing at all like another area.

Of course, Jaidyn got her Junior Ranger Badge at this park, too.

 

The Grand Canyon: What I’ll Do Differently The Next Time I Go.

What is there to say about The Grand Canyon? It’s… well, it’s humbling. That’s the best word I can come up with.

It reminds you how small and insignificant you actually are in the world.

Coming from Oregon, in the midst of the gently-rolling Willamette Valley, I actually had no understanding of how far the eyes could actually see. Yes, we went to the beach very often, but it’s just a horizon of blue, and you have nothing for perspective. The Grand Canyon is miles wide, and you can see the other side, and it looks fake.  Almost cartoonish. It’s almost like it is a struggle for your brain to comprehend what it is seeing.

It’s just something you have to experience.

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Either the date was crooked, or the horizon line. I opted for the date. I swiped this off of Kevin’s 7-year-old’s camera. 🙂 I will probably crop it out entirely some day, but I am lazy and today is not that day. 

I wanted to visit the North Rim. That is where the hardcore adventurers go. More importantly, that’s where the masses don’t go. I also wanted to hike below the rim. Did you know that something like 95% of visitors don’t even go below the rim?

What did we do? Well, we did neither of those things. We went to the overpopulated South Rim, and we didn’t step foot below the rim. Why? The answer is: kids. We have kids, and they make doing anything too wild and crazy nearly impossible.

But that’s okay, because it is more important to us that Kevin’s daughter got to go back to school in Oregon in the fall  and say, “I went to the Grand Canyon this summer” than it was for me to “go off the beaten path.” The Grand Canyon will always be there, and we will be back.

Hopefully with more pre-planning. More on that later.

The other reason why I have been putting off writing about the Grand Canyon is the sad, sad fact that, while I brought my camera, when I was checking it in the car, I discovered that it didn’t have a memory card in it. I left my memory card in the computer at home (noooooooooo). So I have been collecting and piecing together halfway decent photos from my cell phone, Kevin’s cell phone, and the kiddo’s point-and-shoot that she got for Christmas, even though we got into an argument about why she shouldn’t be shooting landscapes in “portrait mode.” (She doesn’t care, she does what she wants, and now I have a bunch of fuzzy, overexposed pictures I’m trying to salvage.)

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My pouty face when I realized that I didn’t have a functional camera at THE GRAND CANYON. D’oh!!

If you and your family are planning a trip to the Grand Canyon ever, here is my absolute best advice:

Plan ahead. Like, way ahead. If you are going in summer, you really need to figure out your lodging months in advance. We tried to find somewhere to stay a few weeks from when we wanted to go, and everything was booked.

If you want to do something really cool, like ride the mules to the floor and stay at Phantom Ranch, our tour bus driver told us it is about $600 per person and there is a 1-year waiting list. That is something I would love to do, but I would never bring young children on that excursion. I think it would be fun to do when they are teenagers.

Does that mean you can’t make an impromptu trip to the Grand Canyon if you happen to be nearby? Well, that’s pretty much what we did, and we had a great time.

We did leave Phoenix super-early to get there in the morning. It gets busy. We also went on a weekday instead of a weekend, and it was still busy by the time we left.

We arrived at the park around 8am and got a fabulous parking spot right near the visitor’s center (Parking Lot 1, which is also there the RV parking lot is, in case a motorhome is your only mode of transportation. Worry not, however; there are at least 10 parking lots, so if the first one you get to is full, just keep driving to the next one. Parking is dispersed throughout the whole park, and there are shuttle pickups spots near all of them.)

When we got out of the car, we were pressed with the decision to hit up the Visitor Center, or follow the signs to the rim.

Ummm, if you are at a crossroads to go experience one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World (50 yards away), or to go to the visitor center to learn about it, which direction do you chose?

Answer: You go see the Grand Canyon.

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First, you stare in silent reverence and awe.

You notice how creepy-quiet it is.

You take it all in.

Then, you take turns posing for family pictures.

Got it all? Great.

Now you may go to the Visitor Center.

There was a line in the Visitor Center that rivaled anything in Disneyland. We were a little mystified but stood in it anyway, because that’s what all the cool kids seemed to be doing.

I highly recommend this.

The rangers at the Visitor Center ask you what you want to do during your visit, and how much time you are planning on staying. Then they hand you a map, circle their recommendations, tell you which buses to take, and answer any questions you may have. Naturally, we also picked up a Junior Ranger workbook for the Kidlette, and the rangers recommended which talks and presentations to go listen to to earn her badge.

They had lectures all day long on everything from which animal species lived in the canyon, to the geology, to the history of the National Park, to local Native American History. We chose to listen to the one about the canyon animals for Kidlette’s Junior Ranger badge.

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Swearing in ceremony to become a Grand Canyon National Park Junior Ranger. Clearly, since Jaid is in the picture, I was probably the one taking the photo, so the crooked horizon/date is all on me. My bad. LOL. 

The next time I go…

And hopefully the first time you go, since I know you, dear reader, are more of the planner-type than I am and actually read blogs prior to visiting….

Here’s what I will do differently:

  • I would make sure the dang memory card is in the camera. I’m still mourning the loss of all the great photo opportunities.
  • If I win the lottery between now and then (or miraculously develop any kind of ability to save money), we will be staying in the El Tovar Hotel. That place is spectacular, and so full of history. Plus it’s right on the rim. Great views.
  • Otherwise, you will find us camping at Mather Campground. It’s the only campground inside the park (there are a lot of others nearby though). It’s open for camping year-round. Bonus: a shuttle bus stops right at the campground.
  • Since I plan on returning when my kiddos are teenagers, I would rather rent bicycles and use that as our mode of transportation. The shuttles are okay, but even on a weekday morning, they were jam-packed full of people. I don’t care for people enough to enjoy being squished in with them. There are tons of beautiful and scenic bike trails all over the park, and you can go places that most visitors don’t get to. Bike rentals are located near the visitor’s center.
  • I would visit the more out-of-the-way attractions, like the the Desert View Watchtower, or the Tusayan Museum and Ruins. We simply didn’t have time to go out that far, seeing as how we just went as a day trip from Phoenix, and we were on a schedule to hit the correct lectures to get the Kidlette’s Junior Ranger Badge. If we were camping for a few days, though, we would likely have plenty of time to see and do everything there is to offer.
  • I will make a point of hiking at least one of the hikes that goes below the rim. Because I just want to. I want to go IN the Grand Canyon, not just to the edge.
  • If it were just Kevin and me, or if I had adventurous adult children, I would definitely look into the mule ride, or even a kayak camping trip down the Colorado River. That would be epic. Add it to the Bucket List, I guess.

Isn’t it funny how items on your Bucket List sometimes beget more items? I call these “Rabbit Hole Items.” Where they keep going. Like, one of my Bucket List items was to see the Grand Canyon. Now that I’ve crossed it off, I added “Kayak Camping Trip on the Grand Canyon Floor.” See? It went further. Way further. Rabbit Hole.

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Slowing Down In Wellington.

Lately my little guy has been going through a super-fun phase of a) not eating and b) not sleeping. So instead of having Mommy Time to write blog posts during naps and after bedtime, I find myself pleading and negotiating with the toddler to take a nap, for the love of all things Holy, or, at the very least, eat a few bites of hot dog. To top it off, he also has a cold, so we have been spending long evenings in hot, steamy showers (which, by the way, is a BIG no-no in an RV but I value my sleep a LOT) and days wiping runny noses and trying to pump fluids into him.

For those of you who think that being a stay-at-home-mom and traveling in an RV full-time is a glamorous job, let me tell you… not always. I love it most of the time, but this is one of the “not” times.

I’m also going to get super real with you guys: Wellington, CO is not nearly as exciting as Phoenix. Our RV park was carved out of the middle of a cow pasture, so while it is scenic and quiet (and I’ve never seen so many stars at night), we just aren’t doing as many glamorous and exciting things. We are taking it back a notch, enjoying the simple country living, cursing all of the flies, and reveling in the beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains we have from our living room.

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The sunset, from bottom to top: Treeline, Rocky Mountains, weird cloud formation over the mountains, then sunset and clouds. Sunsets here are spectacular almost every night.

It’s a nice change of pace from the go-go-go of Phoenix, but it took some getting used to. I really had to come to terms with the fact that it is actually okay to be somewhere and not need to explore every square inch of that somewhere. It’s okay to have nothing to do for a day (er, weeks).

It’s also helpful that Kevin has already re-signed at this hospital, doubling our stay in Colorado, so I am not feeling pressed for time. Yes, I want to see Aspen, but I especially want to see Aspen in the winter. So I can wait. I bet Rocky Mountain National Park is gorgeous in the fall, but the leaves have just now started changing, so maybe we will trek up there next week to see how the fall colors are coming along.

Luckily for you, dear readers, I still have about 4 more blog posts that I need to write up from Arizona (did I mention that we were really really busy in Arizona?) so lets all send up collective prayers that this kid decides to start sleeping again. Because even as I type this, he is sitting on my lap and we are having a war over who controls the mouse.

Reader Request: How Do We Find RV Parks?

Good question.

First, let’s talk about 2 different styles of full-time RVing: Stationary and Non-Stationary (or, as I like to say, Nomadic).

There are actually RV parks that cater to both groups. We are a hybrid, meaning we are stationary for 3 months at a time, then we take a week or two to roam to the next spot, sometimes taking the scenic route.

How do we find places to park?

Stationary

Unfortunately, we tend to have a somewhat short window with which to find somewhere to live. We usually don’t get offers or make bids on the next job site until we are about 3 weeks out from the start date. So as soon as we get hired for our next job, we begin our search for RV parks, and we have to find one before Kevin starts work, usually only a couple weeks out.

I would also be lying if the availability of local, long-term RV parks didn’t affect our decision on which jobs to apply for.

For example, we were offered a chance to apply at Jackson Hole, WY for the late summer and into early fall. Doesn’t that sound just dreamy? I would LOVE to. Unfortunately, Jackson Hole had ZERO RV parking availability for the time we would have been there. We even extended our search and were looking at RV parks all the way into Idaho. We were willing to commute. Nothing. So we had to sadly pass up Jackson Hole. People reserve those spots months in advance and we simply don’t have the luxury.

For your average, long-term parking spot, though, we simply type “rv parks” into Google Maps so we can see where they are all located, since we are usually unfamiliar with the areas, and start calling them.

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Our long-term spot in Phoenix. Covered Wagon RV Park was literally the only RV park in Phoenix that had mature trees (read: shade). 

These are our standard questions:

  1. Do you have long-term spots available from [date] to [date]?
  2. Can you accommodate a rig that is ___ feet long? (“Rig” includes truck and trailer, or motorhome and tow-behind vehicle. Because when you are stationary, you will still need someplace to park your extra vehicles).
  3. What is your pet policy? We have actually declined an entire job site because the area RV parks were not particularly dog-friendly. I’m sorry, but the dog is part of our family and he comes with us. Some places (a lot of places) have breed restrictions. Some don’t allow Pitt Bulls, some have a list a mile long of “restricted breeds.” Usually it has to do with their insurance carriers.
  4. What are your long-term rates? (Usually monthly rates are less expensive than weekly rates or nightly)

Beyond those, we are not particularly picky. Our reasoning is that we wont be there forever, plus, if a park is truly unbearable, we can always hitch up our house and move it to a more pleasant location. The benefit of living in an RV is we can take it elsewhere if we want. Fortunately, we haven’t had to do that yet. We do read the online reviews and study pictures pretty closely when looking for an RV park.

Of course, your family will have different priorities for amenities. I will take an RV park with a playground for my child over a park with beautiful laundry facilities any day. Maybe you hate showering in your tiny, claustrophobic RV shower, so nice shower facilities are important. Maybe you hate kids and prefer the 55+ only parks. Regardless, list out your “dealbreakers” (ours is pet discrimination and a general “clean” feeling around the park), your “preferences” (ours is play areas for the kid and laundry facilities), and “we don’t care at all” (on-site convenience stores, for example).

One of the most surprising things I learned when we first got started was just how many RV parks there are. They are all over the place! I never paid attention before, but this is a HUGE industry, and it’s only growing with the number of people who are started to take up the Nomadic life.

On The Road

If you are one of those organized, planner types, the same method that we use above will also work for finding one or two-night stays. Most long-term RV parks also allow guests for a few nights. It’s better that the spots make money rather than sit empty! You would probably save a ton of money doing this.

Do we do it this way? No. No we do not.

When we are on the move, I personally prefer to stay at KOAs.

You could chose to stay at 1000 Trails, or Good Sam campgrounds, or even state and national parks, Casinos, etc.

I choose KOAs (Kampground of America) because I am the exact opposite of a planner. I’m like an anti-planner. And as such I find KOAs to be the most convenient. First of all, there are KOAs everywhere. Secondly, their app is great. I can find Kampgrounds, see what amenities they offer, check availability, and book a site from my cell phone.

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KOA in Grants Pass, Oregon

 

So when we are on the road, and it’s 2pm, and we decide that we are tired of driving and want to stop for the night, I just whip out my phone, open the KOA app, search nearby Kampgrounds (there is usually always one within an hour’s drive), reserve it, pay for it, and then all we have to do is drive there and check in. Done.

Yes, they’re probably a bit more spendy per night than a non-KOA park. But to me, the convenience is worth it. Plus, in order to be part of the KOA franchise, RV park owners must meet certain minimum requirements. I find that, for the most part, KOAs are clean, they all have laundry and shower facilities, and the staff are all very helpful and friendly. They are also very dog-friendly.

In addition, the app is really what sells it for me. I have the Good Sam app and it is overly-glitchy, not updated often, rarely works correctly, and will show you RV parks that are not verified or reviewed. Not interested. I like knowing what I’m getting.

Some KOAs allow long-term site rentals, but they are usually considerably more expensive than non-KOA parks. That’s why we usually reserve KOAs for our road trips.

Some of them are, frankly, spectacular. We stayed at one in Monterey, CA that was a bit on the pricey side, but the amenities were out of this world: Rock wall, mini golf, giant jumping pillow, mini arcade, ping pong, 2 or 3 playgrounds with a giant sand pit, bike rentals, dog park with dog wash station, nightly movie showings with popcorn, etc etc. And it was $120/ a night, which is spendy for a KOA but still less than a hotel room. It was so much fun that we ended up extending our stay for another night.

Other option is state park campgrounds. Most have hookups for RVs, and a few can even accommodate the larger rigs that most full-timers tend to have. You usually have to book in advance and be aware of the potential that they close for winter. But they are a lovely, outdoors-y option if you aren’t afraid of a little planning.

Boondocking:

A cheap or even sometimes free option is “dry camping” (no hookups, affectionally called “Boondocking” by people in the RV world). This is a fabulous option if you are only planning on staying for a few days, and if your RV has large enough holding tanks for both clean water and waste. Our RV only has batteries for power, which will operate the lights and radio for a couple days, but wont to any heavy-lifting like running the air conditioner, TV, or Microwave. If your RV is outfitted with a generator, you could run more things. We can run our refrigerator off of propane, and most RV’s run heir heat off of propane as well.

Popular places for boondocking include:

  • National Parks- My understanding (but I am currently trying to verify) is that there are spots in national parks where you can dry camp for free or cheap. How fun is that?? I need to research it more, though.
  • Casinos- Most casinos will let your park in a special “RV parking” lot for free or super cheap if you go inside and gamble a bit, or eat at the buffet, or in general patron their facilities. There usually are no hookups but if you like to gamble, this could be a really fun option for a night or two.
  • Parking Lots- There is a rumor floating around that you can park in Walmart parking lots overnight for free. I think that while this used to be true, a lot of abuse has led to certain stores putting up “No overnight parking” signs. A better option is to find a large, mostly empty lot, go inside the business and speak with a manager about parking overnight, as long as you are in “the back 50” and aren’t preventing customers from parking. Doing this late in the evening and promising to be gone early in the morning are probably safe tactics. Regardless, I think it’s straight-up proper etiquette to get permission from someone first, and then be sure to spend some money in the store. If it’s Walmart, go buy something. If it’s a restaurant, go eat a meal. It’s just nice to be considerate like that.
  • Stay with acquaintances- with social media making this easier than ever, it doesn’t hurt to throw a quick “Do I know anyone in Louisiana who would be willing to let us park in their driveway for a night on our way through?” up on Facebook. Voila. Free place to park for the night and you get to visit old friends!

For me, the biggest downside of boondocking is how much extra weight keeping our tanks full adds to our trailer. It’s crazy. You have to be very mindful of weight limits for both your trailer axles as well as your tow vehicle capacity. Also, if you have ever had to haul over a steep pass with a heavy trailer, you know what I’m talking about.

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Our pickup, Gertie, in Pueblo, Colorado. You can’t see them well because of the cloud cover, but she’s looking at the Rocky Mountains from our KOA.

I’m sure there are other options that I haven’t thought about yet. Drop me a note if you think of any that I missed! I’ll probably come back and edit this post frequently as I learn more, or things change (who knows? Maybe the Good Sam app will fix the glitches and then I will love it.)

Road Trip From Phoenix: Casa Grande

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When we gave Kevin’s daughter the option of going to Enchanted Island (in the middle of Encanto Park) or going to Casa Grande National Momument, we were fully expecting her to chose the amusement park. With rides. After spending all of breakfast weighing her options and Googling both of these places, she surprisingly chose Casa Grande.

I’m not gonna lie, in addition to being surprised and proud, we were also a little disappointed. The internet description of Casa Grande didn’t sound very awesome. Educational, yes. But was it an amusement park? No. We even tried to convince her to change her mind:

“Are you sure you don’t want to go to Enchanted Island? There’s rides.”

“Nope, Casa Grande.”

“But… why?”

“It’s history. We should go see it.”

Well, at least the 7-year-old is the responsible one in our house.

You know what? She chose right.

When you arrive at Casa Grande National Monument (not to be confused with the nearby town of Casa Grande), you must walk through the Visitor’s Center. You also do have to pay a very small fee to visit, but I don’t remember what it was. Like $10 for the family? Maybe? When we checked in at the Visitor’s Center, the ranger asked if the Kidlette wanted to do the Junior Ranger program.

Thus began Jaidyn’s love affair with National Park Junior Ranger badges.

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The kiddos exploring the touch table.

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Caleb loved the petrified… cactus? Seriously, this is what happens when I wait 3 months to write a post about a place. I can’t remember anything. What the heck does he have? Regardless, he used it as a weapon.

At the end of the Visitor’s Center, there was a short movie explaining the significance of the Casa Grande ruins. I would highly, highly recommend taking the time to watch the video before going outside and exploring the ruins. We learned so much, and it definitely added a sense of reverence when we finally got outside.

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Jaid really wanted to touch a cactus. We are from Oregon. Cacti are a novelty for us.

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Caleb wanted to touch an “owie” like his sister.

The Casa Grande ruins are a little mysterious. Archaeologists estimate that they were constructed in the early 1300’s (which, if you recall middle school history class, was well before Columbus was sailing the ocean blue) by Ancient Sonoran Desert People.

The video taught us that it is often incorrectly said to be Hohokam ruins, but Hohokam is not the name of an actual tribe. The tribes in the area are O’Odham, Zuni, and Hopi, none of which identify as Hohokam and they apparently find it offensive. They prefer Ancient Sonoran Desert People because they believe that their respective tribes can all trace their ancestry to the ruins.

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Kiddos visiting a room of the ruins. Aside from Casa Grande (the “Big House”) there was a large and complex networks of rooms and even a ball court that archaeologists have unearthed.

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Petroglyph

In the 1690’s a Spanish priest happened to stumble upon the big ruin, and named it Casa Grande, which, if you recall any middle school Spanish, means “Big House.” The Big House had already been abandoned by then, and so there are no records that even hint at what the big structure was used for.

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A peek inside. In the 1880’s, when the railroad reached the Southwest, a stagecoach line went right past the ruins. Tourists stopped and visited Casa Grande, and some even climbed inside to carve their names into the wall.

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It’s sad that the ruins were vandalized, but honestly, I thought that even the graffiti was cool. I mean, it’s 130-year-old graffiti from people who wore 6-shooters and/or corsets. In the 1890’s the government declared Casa Grande as the first “prehistoric and cultural reserve” to try to protect it from further vandalism.

In 1918 President Wilson declared Casa Grande a National Monument and in the late 1930’s, the CCC built the roof over the top to protect the building from the harsh desert sun.

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Jaidyn swearing in as a Junior Ranger. What an excellent program for kids. 

Casa Grande went from “Are you sure you don’t want to go somewhere else?” to easily one of the top 10 places I’ve visited, ever. It was that awesome.

Casa Grande also taught me something very important: If you aren’t sure whether or not to go, the answer is always go. You never know what little gems like this you might possibly be missing.

 

Quick Update

 

Just a really quick update (haha, riiiight) while my toddler is taking a nap in the other room:

We have made it to Loveland, CO. We went via Albuquerque and up through Denver with stops in Raton, NM and Pueblo, CO.  We figured this was the least mountainous way to go. While I have complete faith that Gertie (our pickup) could have pulled Hoss (our 5th wheel) over the Rockies, we decided to chose the path of least resistance and save some wear and tear on our rig.

Plus I have never been to New Mexico.

Well, I have never been to Utah, either, so I guess that makes it a moot point.

So now that we are all moved, I have a backlog of destinations to write up: The Grand Canyon; Petrified Forest National Park; Jerome, AZ; our scorpion hunting adventure. The story of how we may or may not have introduced giant, roach-eating Black Widow spiders to Loveland…

Then, of course, there was the drive to Loveland. I think I might call that one: “How to Survive a 14-Hour Road Trip With a Toddler and a 7-Year-Old in the Back Seat and a No-Movies-In-The-Car Policy” (Here’s a hint: turn the radio up so you can’t hear them. Haha, I’m joking… Sort of.)

But here’s the problem:

I’m not actually in Colorado. But my computer is. So is my external hard drive where I store all of the photos I take on these adventures. I cannot, in good conscience, write a blog post about some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen without at least throwing a photo or two up.

In retrospect, I probably could have sent them up to live in “the cloud,” to be easily accessed from anywhere, but I didn’t because I have trust issues with the internet, which has been pretty un-breakable for at least a quarter of a century now. Instead, I prefer to store my most prized memories on an electronic device. And if anyone knows me even a little, you know that I have a special talent for killing electronics. If it has a power supply (including batteries) it will not last in my presence.  My former mentor seriously thinks that I have a magnetic energy field around me that causes electronic things to self-destruct.

But, glass half full: You’re welcome, Lloyd Center Macy’s, for a new, all-digital surveillance system. And you’re welcome, Willamette Valley Medical Center, for your brand new eye surgery microscope.

So to wrap up the moral of the story: I don’t have photos for blog posts because I’m illogical with my photo storage preferences.

I am in Clackamas. I came back to Oregon to bring Kevin’s daughter back to her mother, because it conveniently coincided with my annual family camping trip at the lake. I stayed for camping, and, well, that was 3 weeks ago.

You see, the pulley system that allows us to drain our black tank broke. So we are sans bathroom at the moment. Which hasn’t been a huge deal because we just used the campground bathrooms, but then we parked the RV in the hospital’s parking lot for a few days of boondocking while we searched for a more permanent solution, and I’m sorry, but I am not hiking a quarter of a mile to go to the hospital to use the restroom with a toddler in tow.

So Kevin and I decided it would be smarter for me to keep the kiddo at my parents’ house until A) he found a more permanent parking arrangement and B) we can use the toilet again.

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Because I have no photos of anything relevant, here is a cell phone pic of a flower on my mom’s deck.

Happily, Kevin found a KOA that will let us stay long-term, and we have a RV repair guy coming out on Thursday.  Now all I have to do is buy a couple plane tickets and we can return to our house on wheels. I have so much Colorado exploring to get caught up on!

And so many blog posts to get caught up on as well (she added sheepishly).

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Here is a cell phone pic of a lizard thing in Arizona (Sedona, to be exact).

A Day Trip to Tombstone

I am such a nerd. I just adore anything/everything history, and I’m a sucker for tourist traps. I mean, there’s usually a good reason why they are tourist traps, right?

If you are a history buff like me, you have a special affinity for tourist traps with tons of history.

That would be Tombstone.

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This was actually the second time we went. The first time I knew next to nothing, so I bought a few books the next day and read up. I was MUCH better prepared this time. So here are my best tips for visiting Tombstone:

  • Become familiar with the famous (notorious?) characters of Tombstone. This would include 3 of the 4 Earp brothers (Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan), Doc Holliday, Jimmy Ringo, Ed Schefflin, Big Nose Kate, and a few others that I can’t think of off the top of my head. I loved the book The Last Gunfight by Jeff Guinn. It goes in depth about the events leading up to the shootout at the O.K. Corral, including short biographies of each of the major players, based on objective research and not, say Wyatt Earp’s autobiography, which seems to be a little *ahem* inflated.

Fun fact: The gunfight was actually in an alley behind the corral on 3rd and Fremont. For a long time, it was referred to as “The Gunfight on 3rd and Freemont” but Hollywood came in and decided that wasn’t a cool enough name, so, in usual Hollywood style, they just arbitrarily changed it.

  • The first thing you should do upon arriving at Tombstone, aside from finding parking (there are a lot of free lots around town), is to hop on the trolley for a tour. The trolley is located on the corner of 4th and Toughnut St. It is well worth the $ as the tour is about 30 minutes, but they take you to all of the notable spots around Tombstone and give you a brief history, both the authentic history (such as Wyatt Earp’s house), as well as the Hollywood history (such as which hotel John Wayne usually stayed at during filming). This will help plan your day and what you would like to explore further on your own. The history given on the trolley tour is very bare-bones and quick. That’s why I recommend studying a bit prior to going.

The highlights that we saw:

  • Allen Street. When you think of “Tombtone,” the wood sidewalks and original facades of Allen street are probably what comes to mind. Yes, most of the buildings contain gift shops and restaurants now, but it’s still really cool to take a stroll up and down Allen.

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  • The O.K. Corral. I mean, how can you not?
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Doc Holliday was in the gray, I learned. The next to him were the 3 Earp brothers: Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan.

  • The courthouse museum. That was absolutely fascinating- the old gallows are still standing around back.

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  • The Birdcage Theater. This is definitely something on the “don’t miss” list. We didnt go into it on our first trip, but we heard about the history there on the trolley, so we made a point of going this last time. The story goes that when it closed down, the owner just closed the door, locked it, and walked away, leaving even the poker tables downstairs exactly as they were, cards and chips and liquor bottles frozen in time. Bullet holes are still embedded with slugs. The hand-painted french wallpaper is still there, although its in tatters. That place was awesome. Sadly, while I got photos, I do not have permission to share them on social media.

 

  • We actually started our day at Boothill Graveyard before we got all the way into town. I would recommend saving it for last on the way out, after you become familiar with some of the names. But regardless of when you can squeeze it in, do. Sadly, most of the grave markers have been destroyed from weather or vandals, so about 90% of them are recreations. Still cool.DSCF2648

 

What we missed that I wish we had gotten to see:

  • Wyatt Earp’s house is apparently sometimes open to visitors to go inside and look around. It wasn’t open when we were there.
  • The Rose Museum. Home to the largest rose bush in the world, it gets over a million blooms. Apparently it’s in the Guinness Book of Word Records. It was sent to Tombstone from Europe when the owner of the boarding house became homesick.
  • We wanted to take a mine tour, but we missed it while we were in the Birdcage Theater. Poor planning on our part. Next time.

 

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