Friday, August 19, 2011

Back into hell - according to my daughter

Hi everyone,

Sorry for the long delay since last post but reality has hit with a vengeance. Work is extremely busy, we ran up to New York City and back for a family wedding (lots of fun but lots of traffic – driving to the city is no fun anymore) and my house is once again the disaster I dread having to deal with. Mornings have been a steady stream of rushing to get out of the house while I’m screaming at the kids to hurry up and get moving.  I sooooooo miss being on vacation.  So I’m ready to delve back into our two week vacation and relay more of our wonderful adventures while I sit here lamenting the 11 months that must pass until we can “vacate” again.  I’m thinking of a month long trip next year…….

Anyway, it was with much crying and pleading that we got our daughter back into the SUV laden with our outdoor paraphernalia.  She really wanted to stay with her friend in the giant hunting lodge.  I don’t get it – who wants to stay in a big house with lots of electronics, a refrigerator, beds and indoor plumbing when you can camp in a tent with your family? 

We headed southeast to Arches National Park for our final sight and our final night of camping. Along the way I had us stop for lunch at the Westwinds Truck Stop in Green River, UT.  Why a truck stop you ask?  Because they have really amazing chicken fried steak.  Considering none of us had ever had it before, I figured we should start with the best.  And it really was the best we ever had.  We were asking the waitress some questions about the chicken fried process when a female truck driver at the next table overheard our conversation.  She was blown away by the fact that we’d never had chicken fried steak before.  She’s from Texas and chicken fried steak is like one of the state dishes there.  She was further baffled when we said we were from Virginia until I explained that we’re originally Yankees and our idea of comfort food is a lobster roll.  I bet miss Texas truck driver never had one of those.

After we were done, we tried to find the Crystal Geyser which we saw a picture of on the walls of the Westwind Truck Stop on the way to the restroom.  This geyser is very interesting because it’s not a hot spring.  It’s a soda spring.  What I mean is that the spring is powered by carbon dioxide rather than a typical hot spring which occurs near a volcanic area.  For some strange reason we couldn’t find it and we wanted to get moving.  We did stop off to buy a melon.  Apparently Green River and the surrounding areas are known for their melons. Yeah, not touching that one.  So my husband pulled into a stand and bought us a melon to have the next day at breakfast. I can’t explain it but all of a sudden our car smelled of melon farts. That Green River melon stunk to high heaven, but not in a rotting way, just in a melon farty kind of way.  Must be that dry Utah soil…..
Everytime we’d leave the car and come back in, that melon fart smell would just smack us all in the face.

We finally arrive at Arches National Park.  The entrance isn’t very noticeable – you could pass it if your GPS isn’t screaming at you to turn in 800 ft, 600 ft, 100 ft,  g-ddammit you’re passing it, dipsh*t. Sorry, I lost myself.  We pulled into the entrance and walked into the Visitor Center.  Actually we ran in because several of us had to us the restrooms immediately. After that we looked around a little and decided to move on.  We wanted to get to the campsite and set up.  The moment we opened the door to exit from the Visitor Center, a giant sandstorm blew in.  Now I know how all those people felt who were caught in the Haboob – sand everywhere. In our hair, up our noses, in our ears – it was gross.  And the grungy camp feeling definitely returned.  We tried to stop along the way to take in some of the scenery.  Each time we got out of the car to see a new arch or rock formation, the wind and the sand would drive us back in.  The sand would sting us like hundreds of little pin pricks – my children were not happy.  I was willing to keep on visiting different spots but no one else was.  Luckily the storm blew over fairly quickly and we were able to hike to a few arches and then set up camp.

Okay, we were only in civilization for a few days but when we got to the new campsite it was like we’d never camped before.  The kids and I saw these black beetles with what looked like stingers on the end.  We completely freaked out and refused to set up the tent near the bugs.  My husband was yelling at us, telling us we were ridiculous. I thought he was going to lose it.  He completely blamed me for setting the poor parental example but these bugs were scary looking.  And on top of that, the bathroom was really far away.  I knew I was going to get eaten while on my way to the middle of the night peepee trip. I was extremely close to insisting we pack up and find the nearest hotel.  However, the view from our campsite was absolutely incredible.  I took a deep breath, put my camping brain on and told the kids to get ready to set up the tent.  My daughter fixed me with a look as if to call me traitor.  In fact I think she actually called me a traitor. She was horrified by my insistence that we stay. My husband was appeased and we began to set up.  The beetles seemed to have disappeared so for now, life was calm.  We got ready and went to dinner.  We went into Moab – a decent sized town for the area – and had dinner at Buck’s Grill House. It was a decent place.  Everyone had meat – big surprise.  We had an interesting appetizer – skewers of elk, boar and buffalo sausages.  I divided them up so we could all try each of the different meats.  They were all delicious but we all had different favorites.

After dinner we drove farther into town to get supplies.  My husband wanted to cook for our final camp breakfast.  There is a real downtown with lots of interesting looking restaurants.  If we should ever get back to that part of the world, we would definitely check out some of them.

That’s all for now.  More later.  I’ve got photos coming soon so we can relive the fun together!

Next: on our way to Colorado and the end of our trip L

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My birthday - yay-ish

Hi everyone,

Ugh.  I’ve adjusted to being home but my brain is still out West.  Wishful thinking, I guess. So my dad came to visit this week – I basically guilted him into it because it’s been awhile since the kids have seen him.  I kept the kids home from camp so they could spend the day with him.  They planned to go to the nearby zoo and then to the town center (nice, big outdoor shopping area).  I get a call from them about 10 minutes before I was planning to leave work for the day.  They had lunch (sushi, no less) and now they can’t find the car. Oy.  I drove to the town center and picked them up.  Then we drove slowly through the garage – there are four of them, I figured they had the wrong garage – until, lo and behold, I found the car.  Yeah, dad, you’re not losing it are ya?

Anyone, when last I posted we had found the perfect pies from the perfect pie shop. The next day, after a peaceful, comfortable night of sleeping indoors with a bathroom I didn’t need a flashlight to find, I woke to the nightmare that is my birthday. I shouldn’t sound so melodramatic.  I actually like my birthday unless someone dares to ask me how old I am and then I have to figure out how many times I’ve turned 39.  We’re up to 5 times at this point.  This means 43 – most people forget to count the actual year I turned 39 when trying to calculate my age.  

I try to be on vacation when my birthday occurs.  Since it falls in August, I can usually manage to plan to be away when August 2nd rolls around. To me, nothing’s more depressing than having to work on your birthday.  So even if we can’t be away, I take the day off and do something special for myself. I highly recommend this strategy.

The reason I’m rather dreading this birthday is for two reasons.  First, I never mentioned my birthday to my hosts and I don’t want them to feel obligated to do anything special.  I try to downplay the day and verbally announce that I don’t think of the day as anything special. Second, my husband has been dying to get back at me for what I did to him on his last birthday.  We had taken him out to a very nice restaurant for his birthday dinner but he decided he’d prefer Dairy Queen for dessert.  No problem, we drove over to the nearest Dairy Queen and everyone ordered cones and blizzards, etc.  After we all had what we wanted, I decided that he needed to be sung to by everyone in the store. This meant all of three tables but it was still necessary.  I raised my voice and announced to everyone in the place that today was my husband’s birthday and would they all please join me in singing the birthday song.  I believe we sang at least two verses.  Ever since, my husband has been threatening to retaliate – even more so because as I was outside getting the car, a rather large man insisted on giving him a birthday hug. That pushed my husband over the edge and has kept me worrying about what might occur today.

We ended up going into Salt Lake City and touring the Mormon temple and the surrounding buildings.  I won’t comment on another’s religion except to say that the architecture we saw was beautiful and the history of the Mormon settlers is fascinating.  For those of you who’ve never traveled through Utah, the land is dry and very harsh.  I thought about what we drove through and couldn’t imagine attempting those miles without paved roads.  The settlers attempted to farm in arid, desert climates and had to contend with icky things like rattlesnakes and scorpions.  Those people were made of strong stuff.  I could never have done it.

On a food note, I dragged everyone to Bruge’s because we had all seen it on Man vs Food so it must be good, right?  Besides, it’s my birthday and I knew there’d be really good chocolate there.  One thing we either didn’t realize or simply forgot about was that they only sell one sandwich.  It’s called the Machine Gun and is “a hearty lamb merguez sausage served on a French baguette stuffed with our world famous fries and topped with Bruge’s favourite Andalouse sauce …. give it a shot!”  It was delicious, although spicier than I was expecting.  But that’s all they sell unless it’s dessert waffles – but I’ll get to those in a minute.  So not everyone in our group was thrilled and I apologized at least 5-6 times.  Then I sat down and enjoyed my machine gun with gusto and some lemonade soda.  I think if I ever got to go there again, I’d order just the fries, or frites as the French and Belgians call them.  There are lots of interesting sauces to try with them, including the SLC famous fry sauce.  Fry sauce is just mayonnaise and ketchup mixed together.  I’ve been making that for years but I just called it Russian dressing.

After we finished our “guns”, we shared the Torpedo waffle.  This is two layers of thin, oval Belgian waffles with two bars of melting Belgian chocolate in between. Let me just say I’m so sorry I shared this with others.  The experience was over too quickly and I wanted more, damnit. Next time I’ll know better.

My day finished nicely with a quiet dinner at home and the two heavenly pies we brought from our new favorite place, The Village Inn.  I did get sung to, but only by my family and our friends, and I got a lovely card my kids made and had everyone sign.  All in all, a lovely 5th annual 39th birthday.

Next: headed back into the wilderness

Monday, August 8, 2011

A day for pie - Pieday.

Hi everyone,

First day back at work and I’m beat.  I don’t think I’ve adjusted to the two hour time difference yet ….

When last we “spoke” the fam’ was finishing our day at Capitol Reef National Park. Everyone was looking forward to the next day when we headed to our friend’s parents place in Heber City for real beds, showers and bathrooms – and to visit with our friends of course.

I wouldn’t let anyone eat breakfast this morning because I had a special place for us to go.  Amazingly no one complained.  I guess because I promised pie after breakfast, not something my kids were going to turn down.  We went to Mom’s in Salina, which was directly on our way to Heber.  Mom’s comes recommended from the god and goddess of road food – Michael and Jane Stern.  They travel the country finding the best road food and write about it, both in books and on their web site - I used this web site to find interesting places but southern Utah isn’t exactly the Mecca of great restaurants, road food or otherwise.  Most of the Stern’s Utah finds are in and around Salt Lake City, but they did have this gem of a place in Salina (sort of rhymes with saliva) called Mom’s.  We had a great breakfast there.  The eggs were done perfectly and tasted nice and buttery.  They’re also known for their scones which, quite frankly, aren’t really scones but another incarnation of fried dough.  What is it about fried dough that everyone goes so nuts for?  Once again, my daughter loved it.  I actually liked them.  Unlike their Navaho fried bread counterpart, these tasted like they were fried in butter instead of oil.  They weren’t greasy and were much lighter. So I forced myself to eat one (wink wink). My husband, trusting this restaurant was as good as the Sterns said, decided to order biscuits and gravy. Now let me say this.  We do live in the South if you can consider Northern Virginia to be the South. But my husband and I are both from the New York/Connecticut area and aren’t really familiar with such Southern treats as biscuits and gravy. In fact, I’ll never forget the first time my parents, brother and I took a trip to North Carolina to check out colleges and we excitedly ordered grits with our breakfast.  We all grabbed our spoons, took a big scoop and opened wide – only to discover that grits barely have a taste on their own.  We called over to the waitress since clearly we had done something wrong in our grits experiment. This is when we learned that you’re supposed to add something to the grits.  Grits are merely the background while additions like cheese or butter or honey play the starring role.  It’s like eating a dry bagel (an analogy a Northerner like me can relate to).

So back to the biscuits and gravy which I don’t think I’ve ever tried. They were delicious.  Best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had! Okay, the only I’ve ever had but they were really good and I think I’ll order these again sometime when I return to Virginia. But the really great part of the meal was the pie. One of their signature pies is a German chocolate so we all shared a piece.  Yum!  We were all smiling, happy campers.  The pie was creamy and chocolatey without being too sweet or rich.

We rolled out of Mom’s and continued on our way. But I’m not done with my treatise on pie yet because we were on a quest for pie.  We were supposed to show up at our friend’s parents’ house and my momma taught me that you don’t show up empty-handed.  It’s just rude.  My original plan was to buy a whole pie at Mom’s and bring that.  Wouldn’t you know it but Mom’s doesn’t sell whole pies, just slices.  If we wanted a whole pie, we should have called in an order an hour before we wanted it and then, if we were lucky, we’d have a pie to go. We didn’t have an hour to spare so we hit the road and kept our eyes peeled for bakeries with pies. It took us until we got to Provo and then the clouds parted and the sun shone down on a little slice of heaven.  In truth, the heavens did open up, and then it began to pour, with a vengeance.  Not to be discouraged, I asked at a diner if they sold whole pies.  They said no but said we should turn around and go back a quarter mile to The Village Inn.  I had seen The Village Inn a few times. It’s usually in a bright orange building and seems fairly unimpressive.  But desperate times called for desperate measures.  Back we went and out into the deluge I ran to The Village Inn.  I opened the door and stepped into pie nirvana. You know you’ve got the right place when you see glass counters filled with pies of all kinds and there’s a special pie of the month. I practically cried with relief and quickly ordered the month’s special – lemon blueberry.  Then it occurred to me that not everyone likes lemons or blueberries, I’d better get another type that would appeal to the non-fruit people like my husband.  So a French Silk pie quickly joined the lemon blueberry as I happily handed over my credit card and took my bag o’ pies to the car.  I was still a bit apprehensive.  These weren’t Mom’s pies after all.  My husband basically told me to quit my worrying and get my butt in the car, which I did.

We continued on our way and arrived at Heber Springs around 2ish.  Words cannot adequately describe the incredible house our friends’ parents have.  The term “hunting lodge” would be more accurate.  It was huge and beautiful and wooden and detailed and full of stuffed animals.  I don’t mean teddy bears.  Our host has a penchant for hunting and has done so in the US and Africa. There are various heads stuffed and mounted on walls and full animal bodies stuffed and standing on the floor. It’s quite a sight and a little daunting. The rest of the house is meticulously designed and absolutely beautiful. It’s the type of place that should be featured on HGTV.  It was such a dichotomy from our grubby camping existence.  We must have looked pretty grubby too since the first thing our host said after greeting us was to take off our shoes before we walked into the house!

Our friends were very happy to see us, especially my daughter’s friend, which is how we know them in the first place. Isn’t that how we parents meet most of our friends these days, through our kids?

Heber Springs is near the skiing towns of Park City and Deer Valley. We drove over to Park City and saw the Olympic training areas that were built for the 2002 Olympics.  People were there practicing ski jumping into the pool. Very interesting.  We walked down to get a better look and then took a ski lift to get back to the top. It’s been a long time since I skied and I was a bit nervous trying to remember how to get off the lift.  I know you’re supposed to put your tips up but what if your tips are nothing more than flip flops? Luckily, we all managed to get off the lift without incident.

Next, we went into Park City itself and walked up and down the charming streets before having dinner there.

We finished our evening by crawling into real beds with real mattresses with real indoor bathrooms a mere few feet away. Life was good.

Next: A few remarks about my birthday in Salt Lake City.  Yes, I dragged everyone to Bruge’s.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Capitol Reef - Don't rain on my parade

Hi everyone,

We made it home alive and in one piece.  I’m so tired, mostly due to my Dramamine cocktail, but I can’t seem to take a nap.  The kids are dutifully playing all the video games they’ve been missing and my husband is on his computer checking out the pictures from his 30th high school reunion weekend he had to miss because I planned this trip. He insists he didn’t care because he’d rather have the trip out West, but during our trip he would tell me what activities he was missing each day. Way to make me feel like c^*p, babe.

When last I posted – about 5 minutes ago – we had finished our full day at Bryce Canyon and my love of Bryce was reaffirmed. The next day we broke camp and headed to Capitol Reef. It’s a short 2 hour 45 minute drive from Bryce to Capitol Reef but it is one of the most spectacular. We drove through Escalante State Park.  I’m sorry I didn’t know of its existence before the trip.  Perhaps we could have scheduled a day here, too.  However, the highway does allow you to see lots of beautiful views.  We stopped several times to take pictures.

Right about lunchtime we pulled into Torrey, Utah and began looking for our campground.  We’re staying in a private campground, not the park, due to the only campground at the park being first come, first serve. (you know my rule about no reservations) We did arrive fairly early and Capitol Reef isn’t the most popular national park so we probably could have gotten a spot, but I really liked our private campground.  First of all, we were the only tent campers at our campground – only one RV was there and one family was renting the 2 cabins on site – so our lovely hostess gave us the group site. Second, they had the cleanest, nicest bathrooms with the best showers we’ve seen so far. Ah the showers we all took.  We felt almost human again this evening. Third, there’s nothing like renting from people who chase the chickens away and sneak into your tent to close your “windows” when they see rain approaching. I know this sounds super creepy, but while we were at lunch, some nasty clouds were coming through.  We had opened all our “windows” so that just mesh “screens” were there, not thinking that rain was on its way.  When we returned after our visit through the Park, mysteriously all of our “windows” were zipped closed. My husband learned that our host, Duane, concerned about our sleeping bags and cots getting wet, came into the tent and zipped all the openings shut for us.  We didn’t know whether to thank him or call the police.  In the end we decided that we’d rather sleep with dry gear than worry about the tent “breaking and entering” incident.

By the way we had a lovely lunch at the Capitol Reef Inn and Café.  This place was very laid back and relaxed with a lovely native garden and signs for a kiva in back.  I’m not sure what a kiva is except I think that’s where a bunch of people died a few years back when they overheated in one on a vision quest run by some nut. But I digress again. The restaurant was empty except for us and a pretty waitress named Cameo. She looked like a Cameo if you can picture it. I really can’t remember what I had for lunch but I do remember we all ordered the lemonade which was sweetened with honey instead of sugar.  It was good but needed more honey.  My husband had the ten vegetable salad but he swears he can only count nine. My son says he had a taco.  My daughter had smoked trout on a bagel with cream cheese. I think the owners might be Jews from Brooklyn.

After lunch we drove into Capitol Reef National Park to check out the sights.  We only have the rest of the day here since we leave tomorrow for Heber and a real house. The drive down the main road through the park is perfect for seeing most of the great rock formations, our favorite being Fern’s Nipple. I’m not sure who named these things but if I were Fern I’d be feeling pretty good about myself and what others thought of my nipple – nice and perky. As for the rest of the Park, there were so many other rock formations that could have used names.  Our family created a few, none of which I can repeat here.

We drove down to the farthest end of the Scenic Drive (yes, the scenic drive is called Scenic Drive.  Except for the Nipple, Capitol Reef does suffer from a serious lack of imagination in the naming department).  We wanted to drive down the unpaved Capitol Gorge road to the trail at the end.  We were warned not to make this hike if the weather looked severe since flash-flooding could occur. But this was a fairly short trail that fit in to our afternoon and gave us a chance to see the Tanks, which are supposed to be pretty pools of water.  Starting to sound familiar to any of you who read my Zion Emerald Pools blog?

The hike was about a mile into the rock formations.  The trail is the dried up bed of a river that forms when a storm occurs – hence the warning about the flash-flooding. There are some great spots along the way including some petroglyphs made by Native Americans from the Fremont Culture and can date anywhere from 600 – 1300 AD. We also saw pioneer graffiti.  Apparently writing your name on public property isn’t a new idea.  Pioneers who passed through Capitol Reef liked to carve their names and dates of visit on the rock walls.  Funny how when the graffiti is old enough it’s historical but when it’s from the past few decades, it’s just rude. 

We reached the end of our trail and saw the sign for the trail to go up to see The Tanks. I swear I didn’t push this hike.  I was perfectly happy to turn around and walk back to the car, especially since I saw some darker clouds starting to roll in and visions of flash flooding danced before my eyes. Either my husband or my son started walking up the trail and it wasn’t long before we completely lost our way.  Then my son noticed a stack of stones artificially standing up.  We had seen these in Bryce and thought it was some tourist’s idea of a joke, creating their own hoodoo or something. Turns out they’re trail markers.  So using them as our guides, we attempted to follow the trail.  I say attempt because we would climb a bit and then completely lose the trail.  Then, usually my son would find a trail marker in some out of the way spot that I would look at and say, out loud, “How the hell are we supposed to get there?”  At which point my son would admonish me for swearing and run up to the spot. Then the rest of us try to follow, me in the rear.  This went on for 2/10 of a mile, which on a flat surface isn’t very far.  Climbing up a cliff, however, seems endless.  We finally make it to The Tanks which turn out to be a few puddles of water.  Have we learned nothing from our hike to the Emerald pools? No, we have not.

The trip down is much easier and then we walk quickly to the car.  The clouds are rolling in and we’ve become so paranoid about being washed away in a flood that we’re practically running.  Meanwhile, perfectly sane and balanced people are calmly walking down the trail on their way into the formations. We think they’re nuts and are convinced they’re on their way to certain doom.

With a sigh of relief we reach the car and get the heck out of the park and back to the “safety” of our campsite.  After dealing with the weirdness of having our tent violated, we take nice hot showers, get dressed and go to dinner across the street.  Conveniently enough, Café Diablo, the designated restaurant for this evening, is, in fact, across the street.  However, we decide to drive there because the rain finally started and we’re still concerned about being washed away.

Café Diablo was very good and a great choice to eat good food in a relaxed atmosphere.  We tried the rattlesnake patties but we all agreed that the patties were too breaded and only tasted good when dipped in the accompanying sauce.  The rest of the dinner was much better. First, the presentation was fantastic.  I’m looking for any pictures I have of my dinner.  Dessert was the best part of the dinner.  The chocolate cake and Oreo Cheesecake we all shared were rich but not too sweet.

More tomorrow – return to civilization, sort of.

Bryce Canyon - if you hoodoo what I hoodoo

Hi everyone,

So here I am sitting in the airport waiting for my metal tube of death to arrive. I’ve run to the bathroom at least 4-5 times already and I could only choke down three bites of a muffin for breakfast.  Other than that I’m doing fine.  Luckily the kids seem to be handling everything much better than me, although we did purchase some Dramamine for all three of us.

I’ve decided to continue the blog with the daily updates as if I were still actually on vacation.  I’m doing this for two reasons.  One, I’d like to finish what I started.  Two, it’ll make me feel like I’m still on vacation instead of stuck in my stupid office doing my stupid job. I’m not really worried about my boss reading this.  All of you who read this get it from my Facebook postings and I defriended my boss months ago.

Last I left you, we were going to be spending our full day at Bryce. That morning I continued to get an earful about what hikes I would be choosing for the day. I literally had to convince the kids we were taking the easiest trail listed – the Queens Garden Trail.  Of course it does connect to the Navaho Loop which further connects to the Rim Trail, making a nice three mile hike.  That part I left as a “wait and see”.

We were a little slow moving this morning but we got to the trailhead around 11ish. Luckily, the trailhead for the Queens Garden trail is right at the General Store where they sell…….. ice cream!  Not the good scoops in a cone stuff but the cold stuff on a stick.  Either way, my kids were thrilled and I could see a fabulous carrot on a stick opportunity to get them to finish the trail.

Let me just say there’s a reason Bryce Canyon is my favorite.  It’s absolutely gorgeous and fascinating and just plain cool.  We headed out on our easy trail which brought us down into the canyon.  All I kept thinking was that the trail was rather steep going down. At some point we were going to have to walk up to get out of here.  And this was the easy trail.  Oh well, no one else seemed to notice or at least no one said anything – unusual for my group. We reached the bottom where the trail diverges to the right to see the queen.  Well, we’re on her garden trail, I figured we should go visit her.  About 50 feet in, you see this great rock formation that really looks like a queen!  I think they named her Queen Victoria.  Everyone was feeling good so we continued on the trail.  The Queens Garden extends beyond the little side trip to see the queen and we were enjoying the sights.  Incredibly, no one complained.  However, this would not last.  We got to the end of the trail.  Now we had the option to either turn back and repeat what we’d done, or we could continue and do one side of the Navaho Loop which would take us up the canyon.  I almost forgot, I had spoken to a ranger before starting the hike and she suggested we take the Wall Street side of the Navaho loop going up because it was open today and it’s often closed due to rock slides, etc.  We would be lucky to take it and see that trail. Perfect – let’s take the trail that’s usually closed because of the danger. And so we did! 

The minute we started to go uphill and things got a little tough, my son decided it was time to complain that he was hungry and we should stop for lunch. Ugh!  We hiked up a little farther and then we actually found a nice shaded spot to stop and fuel up for the up hill hike ahead. I don’t know why, but I found hiking more difficult after we ate.  I guess all of my bodily resources were being reserved for digesting lunch instead of muscling up the trail.  But the energy kicked in after a while.  Thank goodness because the switchbacks started.  I don’t know who invented switchbacks but obviously someone with a sadistic streak. Switchbacks are these trails that go back and forth very steeply and seemingly without end.  Back and forth we went, up and up the side of the canyon. My kids, who normally complain about everything (see every other post), thought these switchbacks were great and proceeded to run and then yell at us for not moving fast enough. The nerve of those little brats ….

We made it to the top in record time, unbelievably. I’m thinking, but not verbalizing, that the Zion hikes whipped them into shape and made little hikers out of them whether they’re willing to admit it or not. We continued across the Rim Trail to where we originally started and to where the ice cream lay. Of course that’s what was on my kids’  minds and we dutifully obliged.  It’s now about 1:30 and I’m thinking we still have the whole afternoon ahead of us – surely another hike would be in order? The looks of disgust directed my way were frightening to behold.  Instead I reminded them that a geology festival was going on in the park this weekend and we had about 30 minutes to get to a talk about the development of the canyon. The looks were less hostile but no one was exactly jumping to go. But I dragged them anyway.  The talk was confusing but we did learn a few things.  We already knew that the funky points in Bryce are called Hoodoos but the ranger talked about how they form and how one day they’ll erode away.  Good thing we visited now instead of 20 million years from now.

After the talk we hung out at the Bryce Lodge.  They have internet there so I was able to begin posting again, much to the relief of my mother who was beginning to believe my husband’s Facebook post that I was eaten by an elk. It was a nice break and revived us enough to decide upon the dinner place about 40 minutes away. I had it on our itinerary to go to the Café Adobe in Hatch and we went for it.  Best place of our trip so far.  We had delicious chimichangas with a green chile sauce that was tdf. I was expecting the chimichangas to be greasy since they’re fried but they weren’t.  They were tasty with the right amount of crispiness. The refrieds were a great compliment but I couldn’t eat the rice because I can’t have cilantro.  I’m allergic.  I won’t die or anything but I do feel like I can’t breathe for a short period of time.  This makes me anxious and then it’s impossible to enjoy my food.  So it’s like an allergy and psychiatric condition all in one.  For dessert we all wanted to try fried ice cream.  It was weird but good.  There’s this coating of coconut and something else that covers the scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Then the whole thing sits in a yummy pool of caramel.  My husband didn’t want dessert and my son doesn’t do caramel so that left way too much for my daughter and I.  We plowed through like troopers and eventually finished.

More tomorrow – our trip to Capitol Reef and more hiking!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Heading toward Bryce - a little sore but wiser, sort of.

Hi everyone,

It’s been a long day but I wanted to get you up to date a little bit.  We’re currently in Grand Junction, CO but I left you in Zion at last posting.  I’m getting bummed about the vacation being nearly over. And the terror of the upcoming flight home is beginning to loom.  I can honestly say I could stay out here and travel around for at least another two weeks.  I’m not anxious to return to work and I’m not thrilled about getting on a plane.  I really like our SUV.  I’m wondering how many favors I’d have to offer my husband to convince him to drive the SUV to Virginia instead of Denver ….

Back to the trip. So we woke up the next morning after our hike from hell.  The kids were fine and my husband seemed fine, too.  Me, I could barely move for the first few minutes.  I gingerly got out of the cot and began stretching.  Visions of my uncle who likes to stretch in the nude came to mind. When I was about 10, I walked in on him and now he never lets me forget it.  Personally I think he’s proud that every family member and nearly all of his children’s friends have caught him this way. But that’s another blog.

My husband insisted on cooking breakfast for us.  He loves eggs, bacon, toast and coffee made over a campfire.  In this case it was over a camp stove but you get the idea. It took forever – these stoves aren’t the fastest, hottest things in the world.  Meanwhile, my daughter was hanging out with the 13 year old boy from the site next to us.  Before I realized what was happening, they were taking pictures and exchanging numbers for texting.  Love in the campgrounds.  Can I tell you – it’s been over a week since that occurred and this boy has texted my daughter over 25 times! She’s getting a little freaked out.  I think the word “stalkerish” has come out.  Stalkerish is a word my daughter invented over the course of her first year in Middle School to describe the behavior of certain boys who texted and called entirely too much.  Don’t these boys have video games to play?

After breakfast – which was really good – thanks honey – we packed up and prepared to leave for Bryce Canyon. The trip was fairly short but beautiful. We arrived at our new campsite and quickly set up our tent.  We’re really getting the hang of the whole setting up the tent, getting the cots in and putting in the sleeping bags.  We only had to yell at the kids 5 times to quit horsing around and come help, down from 12 at the last location. This new site was in the park itself and was far more woodsy and secluded. The bathroom wasn’t too far away but I kept getting turned around every time I came out and couldn’t find our tent.  I swear I never took the same path twice trying to come back from the bathroom.

By the time we finished setting up and waiting for me to return from the bathroom, it was already around 2-3 ish.  We stuck to the itinerary and visited the various viewpoints of Bryce along the shuttle road.  We decided to drive because the shuttles, unlike in Zion, didn’t come often enough.  There would be a ten minute wait between shuttles and I wanted to make sure we saw as much as we could.  Bryce is my favorite canyon, mostly because it’s so beautiful.  Everyone oohed and ahhed as we made our way to the various stops. However, there was some walking to be done to get to the tops of the scenic outlooks. Oh yes, the whining started again.  Mostly I heard how I had promised them no hiking today, and that I should be punished for forcing them to walk so soon after their last day of great struggle.  Oh please, the walks were tiny little uphill climbs that only left us mildly breathless and begging for water. If my kids had their way, they’d have their own servants carrying them on those comfy mattresses with poles through them with curtains they could close so they could nap while being whisked away to the parts they wanted to see. I was tempted to start the stories of how I had to walk to school uphill both ways when I was their age. At least everyone agreed that Bryce was breath-taking.  We got the added treat of seeing lots of wildlife including at least one Pronghorn which jumped out in front of our car.  Luckily Pronghorns are the fastest animal in North and South America and are only outdone by the cheetah in Africa and India. Otherwise, it would have been a hood ornament.

The only disappointment of the day was dinner.  The restaurant I had chosen wasn’t all the reviews had promised.  Foster’s was a mediocre restaurant at best.  We should have guessed when we went to the salad bar and all they had was – and I’m not joking – a bowl of iceberg lettuce, some whole baby carrots and sliced cucumbers, and then pineapples, cottage cheese, and a pasta salad. That’s it except for the salad dressing and some croutons, I think. Maybe I’m being snobby but I expect more from salad bars.  Things like, oh I don’t know, tomatoes, peppers, and other things that fall into the vegetable category. Foster’s is supposed to be known for its steaks, especially its prime rib, so that’s what we ordered.  It barely had any taste and there was no good roasty part – which you know is my favorite if you read a few entries ago. The kids got steak from the Children’s menu.  I always like it when restaurants have real food on their Children’s menus instead of the obligatory chicken fingers, burgers, mac and cheese, and pizza.  Unfortunately my daughter complained that the meat was tough and not very good. She barely ate hers and shared our prime rib instead.

The one shining star in this meal was the pie. I’m not sure where we got room for it, but we ordered two pieces of pie.  One was the coconut cream and the other was the mixed berry with vanilla ice cream.  I was told these pies are made on site. OMG, they were amazing.  We all wished we had just ordered the pies and had them for dinner.  Certainly we’d have all been happier despite our pancreas’ pleas for insulin shots.

More tomorrow: Our day in Bryce and a hike we liked! Plus a restaurant worth the trip.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Zion National Park - lots of fun until someone chooses the wrong path

Hi everyone,

We woke up in our private campground.  There are good and bad things about private versus public campgrounds – at least in the minimal experience I’ve had so far.  For one, we’re definitely more out in the open.  Basically we’re in a parking lot with a few trees.  Our neighbors are really close by, but so is the bathroom!  Our campground is part of a motel, RV and tent camping complex.  The absolute cool part of this is we get to use the swimming pool.  Trust me, this is a very good thing.  There are also decent laundry facilities, also a very good thing. I wouldn’t let anyone bring too many clothes.  We’re already on Day 6 and running low on clean shirts and shorts (but not underwear!).

We ate breakfast and caught the shuttle into the National park.  There’s a town shuttle that brings you to the edge of the park.  You get off and walk along a path which brings you to the Visitor Center and the entrance gate – where you must pay to enter, unless you’re clever like us and have already purchased your Annual pass.  Once you walk through, you catch Zion’s internal shuttle buses.  The buses run every few minutes and take you to all the stops within the park.  The system is relatively new and works like a charm.  On the way in, there’s a recording throughout the shuttle bus telling you what to look at and what stop with what trailhead is coming next.  We went to the opposite end of the park and got off for the Riverwalk trail. Loved it.  The walk was easy and there were a lot of shaded parts of the trail.  It ended where the Narrows trail begins.  The Narrows is a more difficult trail with a lot of hiking done through water.  On hindsight, I wish we would have done a little of that trail.  It’s really pretty and interesting. Instead we caught the shuttle a few stops back and took the Weeping Rock trail.  It’s very short but all uphill and it brings you to a lovely little overhang of rock where the water gently comes down and gets you wet.  This would be positively wonderful except for the sign which warns you not to drink the water because it could be infected with a bacteria called Giardia.  Fabulous.  There we were admiring the scenery and I’m a nervous wreck thinking the kids are going to swallow some of it.  “Wipe it away from your mouth” I’m practically screaming at the kids.  The other tourists were looking at me like I’m nuts while I’m pointing to the sign to prove I’m not and if they were decent parents they’d be doing the same thing as me.  Okay, none of that actually happened except in my mind because I decided to panic internally and closely watch my children for possible ingestion.  I wanted to shout out but I really was worried about embarrassing myself and the family.  I knew if I took it too far they’d start pretending not to know me and run away.

After our nice two trail hikes, we had lunch under the trees – basically because there were no tables left in the outdoor eating area.  Hundreds of people come to visit everyday and they have like ten tables outside the cafeteria.  Who planned this?

Okay, we’ve hiked about 3 miles total and had a nice lunch.  That would make a good day with lots of happy memories, right? Nope, mommy had one more hike planned.  I had the Lower Emerald Pools, Upper Emerald Pools, Kayenta  Loop on the itinerary.  Everyone eagerly agreed and we headed off to the trail which started right outside the cafeteria. How convenient.  We continued on and after a while we made it to the Lower Emerald Pools.  We were expecting more than three greenish large puddles of water.  Emerald was not the color name I would have used to describe these “pools”.  More like puke green or scum green or even ugly toad green, but emerald, not so much.  Not to be daunted, I insisted we continue on to the Upper Emerald Pools.  Surely they are much more “emeraldy” and interesting.  Oy.  The trail was all uphill with lots of rocks and things to climb over.  I had to stop every few minutes for water and my kids were screaming to turn around.  However, this was no longer a hike, it was a quest.  We had to make it to the top.  We kept asking hikers who were coming down and they all assured us we were almost there.  That was a load of c^*p. Finally my husband insisted I stop and that we should all turn around.  For some unfathomable reason, my son threw a fit and insisted we continue to the end. He ran on ahead so my husband and daughter went with him, leaving me in a fit of heat exhaustion.  But from somewhere deep inside I pulled together all my strength and rose from the ashes – or the rock I was sitting on – and began climbing. Bit by bit I climbed, willing myself to go on. Finally, just shy of hallucinations and heat stroke, I made it to the Upper Pools.  They weren’t emerald either but at this point they could have been Technicolor and I wouldn’t have cared.  I found the nearest unoccupied rock and threw myself down, thanking G-d and praying I wouldn’t faint since I was really dizzy.  The kids were thrilled to see me – yay kids.  My husband was mad that I forced myself up – boo husband. We hung out there for awhile – it was shaded and eventually I noticed how pretty it looked.  Eventually we began the climb down.  It took us 1/10 of the time to go down as up and the whole way all I heard from everyone was how we can never do trails like this again and what was I thinking.  I was thinking that they should all shut up and finish the damn hike.  We made it to the bottom and then to the end of the Lower Pools trail and to the Lodge where the cafeteria was.  We collapsed onto some chairs and vowed to never move again – except to get up and buy the ice cream calling our names from the cafeteria.

We were truly exhausted so we made our way back to our campsite and went in the pool.  That helped a lot.  My husband and I practically passed out but the kids got their second wind and splashed around.  We got out, got dressed and looked for dinner.  However, I insisted we stop for a bottle of Ibuprofen and quickly took two pills to stave off paralysis the next morning.  I decided we’d go to the restaurant that was actually slated for the next morning.  The Park House Café is a great local joint and a perfect choice for four tired hikers.  The menu isn’t unusual – burgers and sandwiches for the most part – but everything was delicious.  My husband and I had Buffalo burgers with avocado which were juicy and tender.  The kids had grilled chicken sandwiches with bacon which they ate right up.  An excellent casual choice.

After dinner we bought supplies for my husband to cook breakfast and then we tumbled into bed.  Oh, actually the kids tumbled into bed. My husband and I did laundry and then tumbled into bed.  A great but exhausting day.

Next: Cooking at the campsite and our arrival at Bryce Canyon.