Friday, January 8, 2016

Family Trip - 2015 (Part 8: the Grand Canyon)

Day 15: (October 29)

After viewing this beautiful sunrise right from our trailer, it was time to pack up again. Randall paid us a quick visit at the trailer before he headed off to work - and brought breakfast for everyone with him, purchased from one of his favorite local restaurants. Enormous burritos stuffed with eggs, refried beans, thick-cut bacon, and I don't know what else - but they were fantastic.

Well, I only sampled a tiny taste, since I can't eat much egg without getting stomach aches. 

Fortunately for me, Randall had also picked up a bundle of tamales from the same restaurant to take home for later and shared one with me.
Best tamale I've ever had. 

So off we headed, driving through the outskirts of LA. We did have to make a grocery stop to stock up on perishables for the last few days of the trip. 

Of course, once again, the drive was LONG. 
Our destination: Trailer Village RV Park - the only full-hook-up RV park actually inside the national park. (We were so fortunate to get a spot there - it's the perfect location for convenience and seeing the park).  
When we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park, it was around 10:00 pm and pitch black everywhere. Of course all the check-in offices were closed, so we grabbed our info packet that was taped to the door and made our way to our campsite. 

Once again, we got the delight of setting up camp in the dark (and cold) with crying children in the car. Oh, and we hadn't even stopped for dinner. Yes, we had eaten plenty of snacks along the way, but no real dinner. So once we had power, I grabbed some cans of chili to heat up on the stove and made some frito pies. Weird thing to eat at 10:30, but whatever. Most of the kids were happy with that, and frankly, so was I. 

Day 16: (October 30)

Since we were staying 2 full days at the Grand Canyon, we weren't in a huge rush to get out the door in the morning. We slept in a bit and had a relaxed breakfast before exploring our campground a little in the daylight. We were pleasantly surprised at the huge sites, generous space between campers, and our close location to the bathrooms (which were nice, but had no showers). 

We packed up backpacks full of water bottles and hearty snacks to sustain us through our hike of the day and took a short walk to the edge of the RV park to the free shuttle pick up. The shuttles take you right to the different trail heads, which is really nice.  

The trail we had decided on was the South Kaibab Trail. It's a 6-mile hike down to the bottom of the canyon, but obviously we had no desire or ability to do a 12-mile round trip hike. As the signs speckled around the park say, "Going down is Optional - coming up is Mandatory". 
We figured we'd attempt the hike to Cedar Ridge, which is about 3 miles round trip. A little ambitious, considering that half of that hike would be uphill....and our youngest two were barely 4 and almost 6 years old at the time.....but we thought it was worth a shot. 

As soon as we saw the Canyon, the kids were blown away. 

I lost count throughout the day of how many times Corban said, "Thank you soooooo much for bringing us here. This is the best day ever." 

The Ooh Ahh Point was about a mile into the hike. We briefly considered turning around here after our rest but ultimately decided to plunge ahead. 

Somebody got a little grumpy about photos. 

We encountered two mule trains while on the trail. Miranda made sure to say "Hi" to every person who rode past. 

Another perspective of the trail - near the top where you see a cluster of people near some rocks is the Ooh Ahh point (we hadn't reached it yet), and you can see the trail continuing to wind down the canyon side towards Cedar Ridge (not visible in the photo).

At the Ooh Ahh Point.

We're about to make it to Cedar Ridge here. It was a large level area with pit toilets, several cool trees, and phenomenal panoramic views into the Canyon.  

After a snack, the girls decided to rest awhile. 

As a side note, I just have to tell you about a little device that turned out to be one of the best preparations I could have made for the trip. 
The pStyle. 
Basically, it's a plastic device that allows you to pee standing up without undressing. 

Yes, it may sound a little weird - but I'm telling you, it's a lifesaver. Or at least a clothes and dignity saver. If you're going to be spending any amount of time hiking or away from bathroom facilities, and you don't like dropping your pants and squatting, doing everything in your power to keep your pants and shoes dry and fervently hoping nobody sees you, you need one

There are other brands and styles of devices as well, but the pStyle is what I chose and it worked out perfectly. It's super easy to use, easy to rinse off, and if you buy a carrying case, super convenient and discreet to just clip to your camera bag or backpack and nobody will even know what it is.

It turned out even more useful for us, since my two youngest are particularly terrified of using public toilets, especially pit toilets such as are found at the Grand Canyon.   
So the pStyle was used there as well. 

See that man in the black shirt? That's Grant. :) 

Time to head back up. 

Pretty little bird near us on a water break. 

The trail was pretty rugged in places - probably due to the mule traffic. We had to avoid piles and puddles left by the mules in various places as well. 

We decided to let Miranda take the lead, since she's the smallest and theoretically, the weakest of the group. Let me just say that she set a heck of a pace. Being in the lead seemed to give her unbounded energy and determination and she would only stop very briefly for water breaks before insisting that we move on. :)  When we made it back to the top. other hikers were amazed that we had done so well with young children. 

Here's a look at the trail near the beginning - it was pretty steep. Let's just say that I was a bit "on edge" the entire day, worrying about kids getting too close to the drop-offs. 

Tired but happy kids riding the shuttle back to the Visitor Center. 

That night we got to celebrate Marissa's 10th birthday. Hurrah for cake!

Day 17: (October 31)

The next day we opted to do a slightly easier route and walk parts of the Rim Trail. 
The Rim Trail is mostly paved and extends for about 13 miles total. There are numerous look-out points where shuttles will stop to let off and pick up people, so you can walk some sections and ride between others. We chose to start near the Bright Angel Lodge and head west for a couple of miles before getting on a shuttle and riding to the other stops we wanted to see. 

Silly girls. The kids all loved riding the shuttles. 

The reddish rock extends out in the shape of an alligator's head - this was the only lookout point where you could see it properly. We also got our first look at the very muddy Colorado River. 

On our last shuttle ride back to our starting point, we saw a herd of elk crossing the road right in front of the shuttle. They didn't look like they had a care in the world and were oblivious to the people around them. This Bull Elk was really impressive!

It's always fun to end a hiking day with ice cream. :) 

At my insistence, we took another shuttle back out with hordes of other tourists to attempt to get some photos of the sunset. Unfortunately, it was a very clear sky and we were a bit underwhelmed with the experience. Especially since it was freezing and we were famished. But everyone was a good sport about it and at least we can say we did it. 

Day 18: (November 1)

We're in the home stretch. Two days of driving and we're home. I could hardly wait. My own bathroom and kitchen were what I missed the most. Besides some personal time, that is. 

As an introvert, I was struggling to be a happy person with the constant contact with everyone and precious little time to be alone and re-charge. Great character development opportunity. I've got character coming out my ears. HA. 

Elk-crossing sign. Grant had to stop and get a photo. 

We made it to Amarillo, TX that day - more than half-way so that our last day would be shorter. 
Long day, nothing too much exciting. Most of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas aren't super thrilling to just drive through. 
We did notice the distinct odor of cows in Amarillo at our campsite. Yep, we're in Texas! 

Day 19: (November 2)

Another day of driving - so excited to be headed home. 

One of the happiest moments of the day. Welcome to Arkansas! We were just 45 minutes from home! Well, we made a brief stop at my parents' house to pick up our dogs on the way. 

Home sweet home.....and the joys of unpacking the trailer and doing mountains of laundry. :) 

19 days, 11 states, 9 campgrounds/rv parks, 1 hotel, 2 national parks, 1 wedding, 2 birthdays, an ocean, mountains, deserts, farms, vineyards, plains, 80 degree weather and 29 degree weather, and nearly 5,000 miles towing a trailer. Whew! What an adventure!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Family Road Trip - 2015 (Part 7: Point Lobos and Malibu)

Day 13: (October 27)

Grant's parents met up with us at the RV park in the morning and we headed off to Point Lobos Nature Reserve. When planning the trip, I had identified several parks on the coast that looked worth visiting, but this one seemed to really be exceptional, plus it's just a short drive south from Monterey, so we could stay at the same campground.

After a minor issue getting parked near the grandparents and a lengthy trip to the bathrooms (getting a crowd this size through the bathrooms is surprisingly challenging), we finally got to start a hike. Oh, and we got a quick lesson on poison oak - after a park ranger happened to stroll by and saw Ellia playing with a couple of sticks. Apparently poison oak loses its leaves and is just this scraggly stick-looking bush, lining the trails everywhere. So of course, that's exactly what Ellia was playing with. Grant hustled her off for a thorough hand washing and fortunately all was well.

Our first trail led to the sea lion lookout.

Binoculars were very helpful in spotting wildlife.

Gulls were easy to see. :)

See all the lumps covering those rocks? Those are sea lions. They were just lying around all together, probably a couple hundred of them, the park ranger told us. Really cool. It was much easier to watch them through the telescope they had on the trail. 

In some little coves, the water looked emerald green. Beautiful!

Those are some happy grandparents! Yep, and happy kids, too. 

We drove to a different part of the park for a picnic lunch and more trails.

The kids talked us into going down this steep staircase to a little beach area. The call of the water was irresistible. 

Despite the knowledge that they would have to put their socks and shoes back onto sandy, wet feet to finish our hike, they wasted no time in rushing for the water. 

On our way back to the car, we spotted some harbor seals resting on rocks near the shore.  We watched them for quite awhile. Cool!

Grandpa and Grandma did a fantastic job keeping up with us - we're so glad they're willing and able to join us on fun adventures like this!

One of the highlights of the day for the kids was looking for little sea creatures in the rocks next to this boat launch. They found a couple of varieties of crabs and were begging to bring some home with us. Not a chance. 

One of the most awesome trees ever. A Monterey Cypress next to the Whaler's Cove, where you can see whale bones from years past. This area is rich in history and had a little museum explaining the lives of the people who survived here in the whaling industry. 

A rare moment of sweetness between these two required documentation. 

A not-so-rare moment of sassiness/silliness from Annika. :) 

The Whaler's Museum.

After such a long and beautiful day, we were ready to head back to the trailer. We had another one of my slow cooker soups awaiting us, which really hit the spot on a chilly evening. We said our good-byes to grandparents and prepared for the next day's journey. 

Day 14: (October 28)

Happy Birthday to Marissa! Our girl turned 10 today - and we were on the road to visit Grant's Uncle Randall and his family in Malibu. 

Randall is 21 years younger than Grant's dad - and he has two children. Twins Alexandria and Julian are nearly 15, so they're much closer in age to our kids than they are to their first cousin, Grant. 

Our RV park was just across from the Pacific. You can't see the highway down below, separating us from the ocean, so we weren't on the beach, but it was close enough. 

When the traffic slowed down at night, we heard the waves crashing throughout the evening. 

Alex spent several hours playing with us - such a great girl and my kids were delighted to get to know her. 

Their dog Luna was nervous about us at first - but she quickly warmed up to Corban. Ha!

She drove us down to the beach area for their community -  well, Ellia, Miranda, and I got a full ride; the rest of the family had to walk part of the way until she dropped us off at the beach and went back to get them. 

The sun set too quickly for us - but we got a little snippet of play. The kids and Alex were looking for crabs among the rocks. 

Meanwhile, Randall was cooking up a feast for us. Lobster (which he had caught and frozen a couple of weeks prior), steak, homemade meatballs and pasta, roasted brussel sprouts, and butternut squash. Wow!
It was an amazing dinner spent with lovely people. We were so grateful for a special visit with Randall and his family. 

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