Friday, April 27, 2012

Whirlwind Desert Southwest

Aaron slept peacefully, at a fairly normal temperature, through the night, snoozing all the way until 9am. Happily, he reported that he was feeling better and we headed on our way to Albuquerque where we checked into an old-hospital-turned-boutique-hotel for the night before heading out on a quest for the best New Mexican food in town, landing ourselves in a little diner a couple miles away that the locals boasted had the best green chiles in town. At this point in the trip I was utterly exhausted and the following morning all I wanted do was, literally, lay in bed. All day. But it looked like the weather was turning in a day or two so we opted to head to Canyon de Chelly before the cold set in, but only after we stopped for another green-chileful lunch. Canyon de Chelly is a gorgeous canyon located on the Navajo reservation where dogs, horses, and cows run free. Most of it is off-limits to outsiders since Navajo Diné still live in traditional hogans on the canyon floor, farming and raising livestock. While we were there we hiked down to the canyon floor to see the pueblo cliff-dwelling White House. Given that was all we could do without a guide, we set off again and headed through the high winds and shifting weather to Moab. We skirted the edge of Monument Valley but weren't able to see much due to the clouds of blowing sand. Unfortunately, between the call of home, the lack of bikes, a hike-excitable Aaron who really needed rest, and the weather being officially cold when we reached Moab, our stay was much shorter than anticipated. During the two and half days we were there, we hiked around Slick Rock, stuffed ourselves silly with, perhaps the yummiest sushi we have ever had (I know it sounds crazy given that it is Moab), and hiked to Delicate Arch.

Click here for photos.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

White Sands, NM

We spent Easter day driving in the hot camper van with our sick Aaron through New Mexico to White Sands. We thought about skipping it and heading straight to a hotel in Albuquerque since Aaron was sick, but the boys had really been looking forward to playing in the white-as-snow sand dunes we had been telling them about. White Sands has changed a lot since last time we were there. It is now a major sand sledding destination! We pulled into the visitor center and got in line to buy our sled. As we drove through the park, we saw families barbecuing under brightly-colored beach umbrellas in between sledding runs. We parked and the boys eagerly jumped out to partake in the action. With Aaron on my back, we headed up a blinding-white sand dune to make up for lost sledding time we missed back in Montana's almost non-existent winter. At the top, with much anticipation, Isaac diligently waxed the bottom of the sled and excitedly hopped on. We watched as he slowly oozed his way down the sandy slope. Jason tried next and looked like he was sledding through thick molasses. Aaron tried next, with his lighter weight yielding a little more success. Apparently there is a technique that we did not quite grasp. The boys had much more success rolling and hurtling themselves into the air. In an attempt to limit Aaron's activity, we spent only about an hour there before heading to a hotel room in Alamogordo for the night just in case we had another night of crucking. After a hot shower and a bowl of miso soup, Aaron snuggled under the covers and fell asleep around 7:00. At 8:30, he woke up and I could tell just by looking at him that his fever was sky-high so I ran to the camper van to grab some ibuprofen and Tylenol. Aaron has a tendency to run high fevers and I suspect he was hovering around 106. When I got back, Jason was asking Aaron how he was feeling and he would respond with nonsense. He was completely delusional, totally floppy, with eyes unfocused. While we tried to cool him with a wet wash cloth, we tried to get ibuprofen in him, but he chewed it and spit it out instead. We had more luck with the Tylenol. After about ten or ofifteen minutes I carried him to the camper van to head to Urgent Care. With the windows rolled down, the cool air brought him to his senses and he began talking normally again. By the time we pulled up to the closed, dark, crappy Urgent Care building in a sketchy neighborhood with big signs advertising that they no longer gave out narcotics, Aaron fully remembered the day and seemed to be back to himself, Thank God. After stopping at Walgreens to buy a thermometer, we headed to the room where I snuggled into bed with him for the night so I could keep an eye on him. Happily, he snoozed through the night while remaining at a fairly normal temperature. No more scaring us like that, Mr. Aaron Pants. 

Click here for photos.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hueco Tanks, TX

Seventeen years ago, Jason and I took off in his 1985 brown Subaru wagon for months of climbing adventures. Our first stop was Hueco Tanks, a world-class bouldering mecca  where we spent two months running free in this bouldering wonderland, climbing, eating horribly, and getting stronger while living as cheaply as possible in the back of "Old Brown." We loved living the dirtbag life. Understandably, Hueco Tanks holds a very special place in our hearts and memories, so naturally we wanted to share this place with the boys. Unfortunately things have drastically changed. Hueco Tanks is also a sacred place to the Native Americans whose ancestors left behind a huge collection of petroglyphs. For reasons nobody can understand some locals began spray painting over these priceless artifacts and, as a result two-thirds of the park has been closed and only seventy people at a time can enter the remaining portion. In addition you must obtain and carry a permit with you at all times. The atmosphere was oppressive and many of the rules ridiculous. Jason and Aaron got in trouble for playing on the boulders in our campsite, we all got in trouble for staying in the park after six, and we lived in fear of breaking arbitrary, unknown rules. Needless to say, we were disappointed that things had become so strict and authoritarian. When we did get our hands on a permit, we had a great time showing the boys around, visiting old climbs that we loved. In the old days, Ghetto Simulator was a climb that took months for me to complete. We would start and end our day on it, climbing it as many as ten times a day as I gave it my blood, sweat, and tears trying to complete it. During this trip, we spent an afternoon playing on it and then sunned ourselves and stretched in my favorite spot while the boys played a game in the dirt at the base of the climb.

The next morning we got an early start on Easter when Aaron started throwing up just after midnight. I am very thankful that we had a garbage can in our campsite and that I am very quick with our titanium pot. The easter bunny must have been very sneaky to get his job done between crucking sessions. Once the sun came up, my little Aaron's head appeared from the pop-top and let out a little, tired "Happy Easter" before climbing down to snuggle and see what the easter bunny had brought him. Then he and Isaac searched through the camper van to find the hidden eggs. Isaac discovered later that the easter bunny had also hidden eggs outside so the hunt continued after Aaron emptied himself again. With a sick Aaron, we decided that a driving day was in order so we packed up and headed to our next destination. 

Click here for photos. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Guadalupe NP, TX

Aaron is quite the hiking task-master. Spending seven slothful weeks at sea level has not been a recipe for great fitness. At Carlsbad we spent a couple of days hiking through the caverns, a nice introduction to exercise at higher elevations. When we reached the Guadalupe Mountains, we went for a four-mile hike into a cool slot canyon, but Aaron really had his heart set on Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, an eight and a half mile hike with 3,000 feet of elevation gain.The following day we had camping reservations starting at Hueco Tanks near El Paso so I was sure we wouldn't  have time to hike before we left. But it turns out that Aaron has a way of being persuasive and I have a really hard time saying no. So in the morning, we made a plan where Aaron and I would hike for two hours and then turn around whether we were at the top of the peak or not, while the more sane members of the family stayed behind to catch up on work and reading. I was positive there was no way that we would make it the top under the time limit and I was already trying to figure out how to console him when the time came. Aaron hopped and bounced and skipped and chattered and ran up the trail in his well-worn flip-flops, while I chugged along on my tired legs trying to keep up. Blazing past amazed hiker after hiker, incredibly we made it to the top of the mountain in 1 hour 45 minutes, where Aaron exclaimed that it was the best view he had ever seen. After tearing him away from his picture taking, we headed down at a slightly more sane speed, with my super-hiker eventually admitting his legs were tired towards the end of the hike. We are going to feel this one in the morning, but it was worth it. 

Click here for photos. 

Carlsbad Caverns, NM

So I tried to write a post about Carlsbad Caverns trying to tell you about our experience there and it was, well.....terrible, so I will tell you what Ansel Adams said about it instead. The caverns are, "something that should not exist in relation to human beings. Something as remote as the galaxy, as incomprehensible as a nightmare and beautiful in spite of everything." So I will leave it to Ansel's words, oddly enough, (though you should check out his amazing photographs too) and my not-as-sharp-as-I-would-like-them, handheld-at-1/15-of-a-second photos to give you a sense of what we witnessed down there.  Here are a few things that we noticed. It was very hard for our brains to make sense of the other-worldly, alien surroundings 865 feet underground. Little boys and adults alike love the alien-blob formations that the caverns hold, as well as naming them. Hiking down into what looks like a whale throat for a mile and a half is really thrilling and fun. The guano from 10,000 bats stinks really bad.

Click here for photos.

Monday, April 9, 2012

USS Alabama by Isaac

We were on the interstate going through Alabama when we saw a sign for the battleship USS Alabama. We decided to check out, so we exited the interstate and drove to the battleship. When we got there, we parked and checked out a B52 bomber that was on display. Then, we boarded the Alabama and walked aft. There was a catapult that was used for launching seaplanes. Then, when the seaplane landed in the water, a crane would pick it up and put it on deck. There were some anti-aircraft guns on the back as well. As we went forward, we saw some smaller anti-aircraft guns with words on the shields telling the man operating it to lead. There was a large 16 inch turret that we could go into; we didn't, however, as there was a line. We went into the ship and found the main exhibit. We took the yellow tour, which brought us out on deck again. We got to go into the forward two 16 inch turrets and we saw how the guns themselves were loaded. We got out and walked to the very bow of the ship. I turned around and looked back. It was certainly a formidable sight, all 680 feet of it. The tour took us back into the battleship and brought us up the command tower. We came down and got to go into a 5 inch turret. Historical note: the only damage the ship took during WWII was when when a 5 inch gun accidentally fired on another 5 inch gun. We continued down and the tour ended in the main exhibit. We then took the red tour, where we got to go into barbette no. 2. The USS Alabama is the only ship in the world that allows visitors into the barbette! After finishing the red tour, we went through a hangar like building, which had lots of planes from corsairs to blackbirds, some of them having Macy's mannequins dressed as pilots posing beside them. Then, we got on the WWII submarine USS Drum, which is rare. There are few WWII subs left and even fewer (this one included!) have there original layout and equipment. We went down the forward companion way into the forward torpedo room. We started walking aft, and soon we came the navigation room. There was a ladder leading up into the spot that the periscope was in. There was two adults and four kids up there when we got there, so we waited until they came down. We went up and looked through the periscope, where we could see the battleship. We came back down and went into the hallway leading into the galley. An Indian girl, about nine or ten, came running through and said, "Have you seen a yellow tube, that's cool, and has a voice coming out of it?" And, without waiting for an answer, she kept going. A minute later, she came running back the opposite direction. We went into the galley, and then into a bunk room. We got to the aft torpedo room and went up the companion way there. We walked back to the camper and Dad remarked, "I think we've seen enough navy ships for this trip."

Photos here.

Driving West

The drive, in our A/C- free van, racing the hot weather across the country has begun. After Sanibel, we blazed through the rest of Florida as the temperatures climbed into the mid-80's (keep in mind that blazing in the camper van is really not that fast, we ended up spending two more nights in Florida). We were able to make it through Alabama in one day, including a stop at the USS Alabama, a WWII battleship (more to come on this in the future....), and spent the night in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where we were happy to stumble upon a farmers market in the old part of town the following morning. After much debate, we decided to bypass New Orleans and head to the tiny Cajun town of Breaux Bridges, where we took a gorgeous walk through the swamps before devouring the best French-Cajun food ever. I had no idea that crayfish could taste so good. Watery Louisiana was really fascinating as we drove over bayou after bayou. The interstate is suspended in the air for miles over this state that just can't decide if it is land or water. And now Texas, this is what we have been dreading, huge, hot, empty spaces. We spent the next two days delirious with heat, fighting a never-ending headwind. The eastern edge of Texas is quite lovely, with bayou country hanging on a while before giving way to pastoral hill country, polka-dotted wih leafy trees and blooming with fields of blue bonnets. With temps in the 90's now, our first stop was Austin, TX where we stayed in a fancy hotel that Jason had been wanting to show us from a previous visit. I am not sure that they have ever seen clientele quite like us, as valet walked up to witness me sweating profusely in just a sports bra in the drivers seat and Jason shirt-free in the passenger seat....he didn't argue with me when I told him we wanted park the van ourselves. After showering, we ate delicious Tex-Mex food before walking down a street which was alive with music. The following morning we made a grocery run to the cavernous Whole Foods mothership next to their corporate headquarters before leaving hill country behind. We headed into the scrubby desert and pushed on to dusty, saddest-downtown-ever, Fort Stockton, home of the largest roadrunner statue in the world.

Click here for photos.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Geiger Key Kayaking by Isaac

We were camping in the Florida Keys in Gieger Key RV Park & Marina, which happened to have a kayak rental place. We naturally wanted to go kayaking. When we tried to do it, however, the rental guy informed us that the conditions were rough and we'd probably have a better time if we went next morning. We came next morning with Peeka so that she could get some exercise before we left. The rental guy started outfitting us and Dad took Peeka back to the van. She desperately wanted to come, however, and her argument was very convincing. She kept jumping out of the van naked, (Our term for when she doesn't have a collar or harness on) and running towards the kayaks. Finally, Dad put her harness on her and brought her with. So we launched our kayaks, with Peeka in Dad and I's kayak. At first, Peeka was unsure about being on a small plastic shell, but, once she knew the family was together, she was the happiest kayaking dog I know. We kayaked to the lee side of a mangrove island and then crossed a windy straight. We made it to the other side and glided into a dark mangrove channel. We glided slowly, silently down the mangrove passage, and the only time we paddled was to make course corrections. I am unhappy to say we saw no alligators or crocodiles. We emerged from the passage into a bay, were we saw that it continued to the right of were we had come out. We paddled that way, in to the wind, and passed some mangroves that sat at the mouth of a protected bay. We wandered around in the mangroves for a while when we emerged on to a straight, which was even windier than the first. We saw a kayak tour disappear into a mangrove channel, so we went up the straight a little, hugging the island, until we came to a point were we thought would account for wind drift as we crossed the straight. So across the straight we went, and as we were up above the channel we let the wind blow us. Then, we had the brilliant idea of holding our paddles out to sail and we went considerably faster. When we reached the channel, we paddled through, and made our way back to Gieger Key. We observed a seaslug on the seawall, and then went back through the pretty passage and back to the kayak rental place to give our kayaks back.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sanibel, FL

Sanibel is famous for its seashell-irrific shores. After our original campground plans didn't work out, we decided last minute to stay in a cottage by the water. We arrived just in time to watch the sunset over piles and piles of seashells on the beach. The following day, after taking a walk, gathering a few shells, playing some shuffleboard, and catching up on school and work, we rented ill-fitting, wonky, wobbly bicycles and rode around the island. My body was so happy to be back on a bike again and I felt so spoiled to be able to ride around in just a skirt and bikini top as we peddled through the Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve before parking our bikes for dinner at an outdoor restaurant created by some author based on some manly character in his Florida/International, manly marine/travel adventures, or something along those manly lines. 

Photos here.