A Grand Old Time

There’s something about the Grand Canyon that leaves even our loud family speechless.

But pictures can’t begin to explain or help you understand what you see when you look out into this enormous, beautifully terrifying rip through the Arizona landscape. 

Our last visit was 10 years ago, and the kids were much smaller–and our fourth child hadn’t been thought of yet.

Visiting the same spot with bigger kids reminds you how fast time goes by, and it was fun to see how the kids have changed, and to do things we couldn’t do before.  We hiked between the Visitor Center and El Tovar along the South Rim, and did our Junior Ranger books.   Keeping the kids from waking to close to the edge was paramount, especially after Gus jumped to a rock that could have led to serious injury.

The hike was fantastic, with stellar views of the valley, the Colorado River, and the mountains more than 80 miles in the distance.  We visited with Ranger Rick at the Watchtower and loved hearing about the different animals who make the Canyon their home.

It was so cool to stop and see the elk in the park, like this guy, who took advantage of a mud pool to cool off on the hot day.  We later saw females and babies playing in the same place.  Naturally we stopped and watched–until they started bellowing and making clear we were intruding on their space.

We were at the Canyon from morning until late afternoon, and we still had so much more we didn’t get to see. Clearly we need to go back and experience it again.  There’s just so much to see–as August realized.

 Next time, we are going to visit the North Rim, though.

Dwellings of the Ancients

The drive to the top of Mesa Verde is beautiful, with incredible views of the surrounding Colorado countryside.  Being 9,000 feet above sea level gives you a stunning perspective on the world.

But you don’t go to Mesa Verde for this view.  You go because of the ancient dwellings built between 600-1200 AD–and getting out of the car and hiking into the ruins will give you an unforgettable experience.

The last time I visited was 30 years ago, and we didn’t do much hiking.  So we made sure to give time for a tour into Cliff Palace, and bought tickets for an afternoon tour.  Because we arrived early, we had plenty of time to drive out to the less-visited mesa, Weatherill, and take a self-guided tour of Step House.

It’s an easy hike, paved all the way, but it is on the side of a cliff, so the kids were a little nervous, and we kept them walking on the inside.  But the trek down is worth it, because Step House shows two completely different time periods.

And the chance to climb into a dwelling and see petroglyphs and handprints of the ancients gives you a strange connection to the past.

After a quick lunch at the Far Views Cafe, we drove out to Cliff Palace for our guided tour.  We arrived early and got a chance to look down into the ruins we would be visiting.  Then we met Ranger Paula, who would guide us down.  She reminded us all of my grandmother.

The steps down into Cliff Palace were narrow and the ladders into the site were tall.  Some of the family and the rest of the tour group was a bit nervous as they made their way down.

Once we got in, it was worth the wait and climb.  Our family sat and listened to the bats hiding in the ruin, heard the history of the place, and soaked in the incredible vistas.  Even the little kids were quiet in the moment. 

Walking through the ruins and seeing one of the last remaining paintings, created more than 800 years ago, was something all of us agreed was unforgettable.

Every moment spent in Mesa Verde was worth it.  Driving back down the mountain, we were caught up in reliving every moment, grateful for the day of adventures.  Great conversations  with Ranger Paula and Ranger Melissa reminded us that our country is full of great people, and we all actually have much more in common than the media may want you to believe.

This is why road trips are so important.  Memories and moments you will never forget in a country full of them: just go see it.

Hike Into Arches

Arches National Park is one of our family’s favorites, but we haven’t been able to really start exploring it because our kids were too little.  During our last visit six years ago, August was still in a stroller.

This year, we got to get out and do some “easy” hikes, which got us up close and personal with the stunning landscape of sandstone and red rocks.

After a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center to get our Junior Ranger booklets, we began the drive out to Double Arch, famous from its appearance in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  With plenty of water for the hot weather, all nine of us embarked on the easy walk out to the trail.

It’s pretty amazing how close you can get, and standing under the arch really drives home how huge these structures really are.  After a quick pose for a group photo, three of us decided to climb higher.

Pretty stunning views and it looks higher and scarier from below than it did from up high.  Totally worth it, although it did freak Robyn out a bit.

We then drove out to Delicate Arch, so we could get closer than our last visit.  It’s an uphill climb and the kids got a little complainy, but it was so cool to see the landmark so much closer.

We made it to the top and were treated to a stunning view, and everyone drank a lot of water.  Austen got a bloody nose suddenly, so we hurried back down, but those few moments were glorious.

We drove through much of the rest of the park, and every curve is a treat of a view.  Returning to the Visitor Center, everyone got their Junior Ranger Badges, and we ventured out to enjoy a beautiful drive into southern Colorado.

Next time, we climb all the way out to the Arch!

City of Rocks

At the end of highway 77 in Idaho–the literal end of the road–is a pretty stunning place that was once a main stop on the California Trail.

City of Rocks National Reserve is not quite a national park, but it sure is beautiful, and worth a detour through a forgotten corner of southwest Idaho.

The road into the park isn’t paved, and if you can avoid the locals who are zipping through on their way to the rock climbing and campgrounds, a leisurely drive is the way to take it.  Our Hondas both did great on the road, in spite of the gravel and uneven spots.

The rocks are truly beautiful, once again highlighting the incredible diversity of America’s landscape.  Stop at Camp Rock and see the names of pioneers written on the stone, or look for the faces in the mountains of stone.

This one is pretty hard to find.

Take some time to stop at the lovely Visitor’s Center.  We tripled the population during our visit, and the ranger was most appreciative of our time there.

If you are ever at the end of the road in Idaho, make sure to visit.  City of Rocks was a pleasant surprise!