Adventure

Incidents and Accidents: Traveling with a toddler Part 1

As I write this we are perched atop a mountain in a friends beautiful straw bale home outside of Dolores, CO very close to where Jacob was born over 12 years ago.  Here I find myself flooded with reflections and perspective.  The life stages of our children are so different right now.  One teetering on the brink of adolescents; one finding himself in the land of imagination and discovery; and the third, a wild toddling ball of wonder and spontaneity. Just today as she nearly pushed her 8 year old brother out of the shopping cart that they were sharing and howling at the top of her lungs because she wanted “privacy” a passerby said “oh, she must be two.” He was on the money!

Of all of the kids, she was the biggest unknown when considering such a big adventure.  Traveling for a year with a two year old is not your average undertaking after all.  Now, 7 months into our trip she is by far in the lead for giving us many, many moments of both comic relief and tears of near disaster. Here is a glimpse into life on the road with a toddler…

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Tools for the task:

Headlamp, tweezers, a multi-tool and of course duck tape. 

This is what’s needed to fix the tape deck (yes, you heard that correctly -we play tapes) when blueberries, barrettes and batteries are jammed into it.  It is true that the car is an extension of our home and is sometimes the best place for the Little Miss to hang out when we are breaking down or setting up camp. This said, if she is in there quietly focused on something there will surely be a price to pay.   Unfortunately now that many, many CD’s have been jammed into our CD player the tape deck must be defended at all costs!

Hand sanitizer, warm soap and water, Scissors.

Quiet and tranquil family moments are only possible when Little I is occupied.  This was true when she was quietly playing next to a tree in 2 Medicine Campgrounds of Glacier National Park.  I’m not sure why we didn’t answer to the big red flag of Ila shooing everyone away when they wondered what she was up.  Lesson learned and managed –  as long as you have all of these four tools you will be able to, with great effort, extract VERY thick tree sap out of toddler eyebrows, eyelashes and hair.  It’s actually only a 4 part process;

Step one:  Apply hand sani. very carefully trying desperately not to get in eyes

Step two:  Warm soap and water on the area helps a tiny bit

Step three: There is always the first hair cut…

Step four:  Encouraging crying rather than discouraging it over the ensuing days helps dislodge the eyelash sap…

Socks (preferably clean and not from dad); reusable swim diapers and duck tape.

That is what’s needed when backpacking in the Tetons or elsewhere for 4 days and run out of diapers on day 3 because you are traveling “light”.  Note to the wise disposable swim diapers DO NOT hold in pee.

Some other Tips and Insights:

Never shop when hungry:

When looking for the toddler at a small food coop in Montana make sure to scan the lower cereal isles for she may be snug in between the granola and the O’s ripping open a box for a snack only bare feet sticking out to give you a hint as shoes and socks where carelessly thrown off on the way….which leads us to our next subject.

Clothing Optional:

On this subject keeping clothes on the toddler at any point during the trip regardless if the weather is below freezing and everyone else in the family is wearing their down jacket and a hat is futile.  Ila is a nudist.  Regardless of her age and the temperature it is near impossible to keep her clothes on.

Narcissistic Parents at the beach:

When passerby’s look with smiles and giggles at your toddler in the stroller as you are walking down the boardwalk, do not for one moment think they are amused at her cuteness rather question to yourself what could be happening inside the stroller at that very moment…the toddler may be smearing and eating the sun block. (Side note…if you ever see a toddler in a stroller being pushed by her parents; tell the parents that she is indeed EATING the sun block please!)

Managing the inevitable:

Laundry:

When doing laundry at a laundromat in North Dakota or anywhere for that matter always keep an eye on the toddler because if you turn around for a second it is possible that when you turn back you may only see the feet of the kid sticking out of the triple dryer!

Night at the Museum:

Museum exhibits are often fascinating giving one an understanding about the area. This is especially true when reading an exhibit to the boys about the first arrowheads found in the eastern part of AZ near Apache Junction. Not all of us get a sense of place from the written word…sometimes individuals especially the 2 yr. old type develop this understanding by climbing under the fence and into the animal exhibit so that she can snuggle up nice and close to the javelina trying to avoid the prickly pair and the  lurking mountain lion.

Pet Names:

Although she grew out of her cute pet names for the boys – “Bebop” for Jacob and “Yiyis” for Elias, she grew into pet names for me…You know that you have been spending 24/7 with your daughter and the family when she starts calling you your husband’s pet names. Ila has been calling me “Honey” and “Chell” and sometimes the funny combo of “Honey Mama” for the last month!

Odds and ends:

Wipe on wipe off markers are good for car windows bad for tent flaps.

 Jumping Cholla cactuses are true to their name and are especially attracted to cute 2 year old girls.

 When staying with cousins, make sure to remove all infant suppositories from the area as they apparently taste good. (Side note have the Poison Control phone number on your cell phone and feel relieved when infant suppositories when eaten will only cause diarrhea).

Under NO circumstances let said toddler play in a pool of water in Yellowstone Park even if she is giggling…there just may be LEECHES! Ahhhhh

String wax that older children may enjoy playing with does not taste good.

And finally just like in the Movie Elf, ABC gum especially in shades of blue, found on the ground in the dessert apparently does taste good.

More to come:

Although you may be wondering at this point if Miss Toddler is intact and well,  the answer is a resounding yes! She is currently running circles around the boys, stealing their dinner, pens, pencil sharpeners and hats and squealing with delight.  She is growing quickly and hilariously. With that said, I imagine that this is only part one of her adventures!

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Side note: All photos on this page were taken by big brother Mr. E during a “photo shoot” at our campsite in southern AZ.

Categories: Adventure, adventure travel, Camping, Car camping, Family camping, Toddler development, toddlers | 9 Comments

Cochise Stronghold

It could be that there is a spirit world, a world that exists on a different frequency than we are use to acknowledging in our day to day lives.  In this place if you lie, steel, or are untrue and you don’t stick up for what you believe in or if you don’t stick to your word, than your spirit person becomes less and suffers.  This is what the Apache believe, they believe that if you are always true and unflinching and if you make the hard but right choices, than you die free and you will be soaked into the universe allowing your spirit to live forever, giving power to all.  We are told that this happened to the great Apache Chief Cochise.  During a time in American history known as the Apache Wars, Cochise was a hero for keeping his faith to his people, a champion and devotee to the truth and to his word, and in so doing honored his spirit body.  Cochise defended his lands from the bloody Mexicans to the South and the lying Americans to the North.  His physical body was and is still buried deep within his spiritual home in the Dragoon Mountains of southeast Arizona.  Cochise’s spirit was never captured and is alive and well at Cochise Stronghold.

As our loaded down minivan raced the sun’s setting light to the Stronghold, we bounced down the road quiet and calm with the jagged spine of rock mountains before us.  Would we have enough time to use the last sun rays to find the perfect camp for the next 8 days?  Yes.  We pulled into camp at the base of a protective rock barrier with a big expansive view of the setting sun.  Stepping out of the van we could feel that this place was not preserved by strict laws, or museum like encasement.  Any stories or thoughts that were previously racing through our minds of things that may or may not be happening somewhere else dissipated.  We were quietly and peacefully engulfed into the present as we set up camp that first night.  We felt safe, welcome and invited to stay there.

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 It is said that the great Apache war shaman Geronimo passed freely between the physical and the spirit world.  That is how Geronimo could run 100 miles carrying only a spoonful of water in his mouth for nourishment.  That’s how he was able to help the passing of the Apache people from the physical world to the Spirit world.  Squeezed between pain and suffering Geronimo was known to be captured on purpose in order to achieve other means.  It was common knowledge that if in battle you were charging Geronimo or had him surrounded, it was so because that was what he wanted, all of your actions were a consequence of his larger plan, which was to free the spirit of the Apache.  The Dragoon Mountain Range, our home for the week, is considered a direct portal between the two worlds. It is where Geronimo brought 150 Apaches from the San Carlos starvation camp.  He led them into this maze of jagged granite towers and canyons, possibly passing though our camp, where they eluded the United States Army and made a pact with the spirit world.

When we awoke that following morning we turned our attention to the 100 foot tall cliff that was part of our camp.  Jacob and Elias put up a target on a nearby mesquite tree and began working on bow and arrow shooting.  I stacked a rope at the base of one of the routes and Michelle belayed me up as Ila played in the dirt.  We climbed 1, 2 3 climbs and moved on to breakfast.  Michelle began homeschooling with Elias.  Jacob and I climbed more.  The climbing was physical, thoughtful and low on stress.  This was just one rock in an immense rocky landscape but we had no desire or need to move on.  This spot was so intriguing and engaging that we made this our rhythm for several days.  Views to the west brought the Serengeti to mind and the rest of the landscape, a fortress of rocks.  Our imaginations and actions remained in the present yet life felt timeless.

Sweet Rock camp 1

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At the time of the Apache Wars the policies of the US government towards the Apache were set forth by such sentiments as this by the bureau of Indian Affairs:

“This race is destined to a speedy and final extinction, all that can be expected from an enlightened and Christian government, such as ours, is to graduate and smooth the passway of their final exit from the state of human existence.”

During the late 19th century this region saw the highest concentration of forts and military presence in Western US history in order to fight the Apache.  It was also at this time that the small mining towns of the region boomed.  The precious metals being excavated from the hill sides were in high demand as were whiskey and whores.  The most infamous of these towns was Tombstone, Arizona.  During its peak Tombstone not only saw a military and mining presence but there was the smuggling of cattle across the US/ Mexico boarder.  This brought to the region the “cowboy”, originally not to be confused with a cattleman or rancher but a slang term to describe “the worst kind of outlaw that there is”.  Gunfights were common in Tombstone, Arizona with the most famous of all to take place at The OK Corral, between  “law men” Doc Holiday, Wyatt Erp and his brothers versus “The Cowboys”, the McLaury brothers and Bill Clanton.  Tombstone and it’s legacy was so rowdy and so intense this is where the term Wild West was coined.  That Wild West is now gone.

On the forth day at our camp we needed two things, water and clean laundry.  Excited to see some of these infamous local sights  we drove the 10 miles of dirt road to Tombstone and found Tombstone in what is considered by the US Park Service to be in a preserved state.  It is true that you can legally carry a gun down the street in the state of Arizona but in Tombstone you won’t need one.  It most certainly is dwelling on the past with reenactments of the shootout at the OK Corral and plenty of Old West tourist activities.  But the streets are clean, calm and preserved.  The Wild West is definitely gone.

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We continued on to Bisbee, Arizona and found a strange big hole in the ground of a town that once boomed during the industrial revolution and many booms and busts thereafter.   Copper is no longer being mined there but the town is still going strong on it’s own right.  Artists, musicians and bohemian types have taken over the very quaint little town with tight hilly streets, restaurants, galleries, hotels and pedestrian life.

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For the remainder of the week we settled back into our own little stronghold allowing our souls and spirits to flourish.  We took hikes deeper in the mountains, we pushed ourselves rock climbing and everyday we felt increasingly better.  The good work is to push yourself without distractions.  We spent time with our neighbors Jodi and Mike.  Both of them perhaps 25 years older than us and kick ass climbers. They showed us first hand that taking care of your spirit year after year keeps you strong….and happy.  Thank you Mike and Jodi for your hospitality, for letting me try the belay glasses, for the blue lollipops, the wine, the yummy truffles and the camp fire.

It was a bit sad packing up our tents at the end of our time. We discussed coming back sans kids in a bunch of years to climb some more, enjoy the magnificent sunsets and sit under the huge starry sky together. For now, we are bound to move on.

Thank you Cochise Stronghold!

Cochise Camp Elias and Ilaserengeti 1 Stronghold

Categories: Adventure, Apache, Bisbee, Camping, Car camping, Chihuahua Desert, Cochise, Cochise Stronghold, Family camping, Family Climbing, Geronimo, Hiking, Homeschooling, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, Tombstone | 1 Comment

E E’s Adventures

It was a Wednesday morning and I woke up. My mom and dad told me what we were going to do; we were going on a hike to the divide between the East and West Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains. That is where the Apaches used to live and later the Wild West outlaws hid out. It is close to the Mexico border and to Tombstone, Arizona.

 I got dressed wearing sweatpants, a long sleeve shirt, socks, sneakers a hat and sunscreen. I packed my backpack with, head lamp, pocket knife, flip knife (that I found around the campsite under a tree), multi-tool (it has a compass, thermometer, magnifying glass, mirror, whistle and a flashlight), gloves, a sweatshirt, a water bottle, an orange and carrots, binoculars and my animal tracking book. I felt prepared!

EE's Adventures

We drove to the trailhead and started hiking up to the pass about 1 3/4 miles. I saw different birds Yucca, Manzanita and Alligator Juniper trees. I snacked on some carrots on the way up. Dad spotted a climbers trail off of the main trail and we explored it while Mama and Ila were catching up. Then we continued on the trail when we were all together.

After what felt like 3000 miles, finally we got to the pass. I started whittling a spoon, out of a piece of wood I found, and the others started eating lunch, I hurried to eat lunch towards the end. When we finished eating lunch we repacked our backpacks and started down the trail.  I spotted the climbers trail again and we started down it together. It was rugged, narrow, steep, bumpy and slippery and ended in a very rocky, sandy wash. Daddy found distinct footprints that went towards the right side of the wash which we followed. It met up with a narrow trail that went up into slick rock. We scrambled to this little flattish rocky platform. The landscape around us looked like a Dr. Seuss world, the rocks and boulders where bubbly and bulging, lumpy and huge. When you looked at them they looked paper smooth and when you went up to them they were rough like sandpaper.  Ila wanted to explore and went off with daddy. I started whittling again while Mama and Jacob relaxed.

Cochise

After some time Daddy and Ila came back and asked if we wanted to go. We said yes, put our stuff away and we left. We hiked back down the wash, up the climbers trail and down the first trail. A little while later I figured out that I left my multi-tool at the Dr. Seuss place. I got really, really nervous. I ran up to my mom and told her and she said we will probably find it in someone’s backpack. I forgot about it and started hiking with them.

 Elias and Ila Elias Hiking Ila at Cochise

I figured out that we were almost at the end of the trail by remembering the landmarks and I saw a place where I rested and waited for everybody on the way up. I yelled out “yippee” and sprinted down. I only stopped once to see what Jacob was doing. He asked me if I had long nails and I asked why. He told me because he had a big splinter in his hand. I looked at my nails and realized that we clipped them the day before so I told Jacob that I couldn’t take the splinter out. So then he said “ok”.

I sprinted down the rest of the trail. Finally I got to the bigger wash and I was out of breath but I didn’t want to stop moving so I walked to the car. When I sat down at the car I felt like my legs were about to fall off, after a while my legs got tingly and a little while later they stopped getting tingly and they felt like they weren’t going to fall off.  Soon after I heard voices and everyone else appeared, we hopped into the car and drove back to camp. When we got to camp a little while after I looked on the dashboard and there was the binocular case (which I dropped on the first trail) and my multi-tool. I asked my mom where she found it and she said “in your dad’s backpack”. I said “thank you”.  That night I went to sleep listening to a book. When I shut it off I thought about the hike.

The End

Cochise Camp

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Arizona, Cochise Stronghold, Dragoon Mountains, Family camping, Hiking, Homeschooling | 5 Comments

The Warm Desert

Our first Arizona morning as we hopped out of our tents, the Catalina Mountains loomed 7,000 feet above.  The North West side of the range that we were nestled up to is heavily decorated with big granite walls and long meandering ridge lines that spread out like an octopus guarding deep mysterious ravines.  The morning was very cold, unlike the mid 40s that Tucson was promised, we were 400 feet higher in elevation and it was more like low 20s.  The camp ground we were in was in the middle of a cold air sink that drained all night from the high mountains.  Hands were cold as I prepared coffee for Michelle which we enjoyed in the tent as we did in the Chihuahua.  But we were no longer in the windy desert and we knew that once the sun popped up above the mountain it would be warm.  We were now in the Sonoran Desert, the warm desert.

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If anyone has spent quality time in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert they know that it’s not just the warm winters, or the endless panorama of mountain landscapes or the stellar sunsets that make it so alluring, granted, those are big selling points, but one of the most interesting details lie with the crazy flora and fauna.  The biggest and coolest is the Saguaro.  You’ve seen Saguaros in cartoons or in pop culture featured typically in Monument Valley landscapes (which is in the Great Basin Desert and not where they actually exist).  Usually they are portrayed with only a few Saguaros standing around with a couple of arms sticking up.  They’re not like that though, they are much crazier and a lot of the time bigger with anywhere from no arms to lots of arms sticking out in every which way.  Unlike a tree they seem to have drastically different characters from one another.  Actually all cactus are a bit like that.  The Sonoran Desert has a literal forest of different types of cactus.  Prickly Pear are everywhere of course but then there are Barrel Cactus, Hedge Hog Cactus, Organ Pipe Cactus and then Cholla.

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Cholla (pronounced choy-a) and what Ila calls “Cholla O-boya” after a few unfortunate run-ins, are constructed with a main trunk that comes up out of the ground and then branches out; each individual subspecies takes on a different way of branching out to survive in the extreme heat and lack of water.  There are the Chollas that look like a tinker toy project gone crazy, such as the Staghorn and the Buckhorn Cholla,  there are the Cholla that resemble the structure of trees a little bit more such as Chain Fruit Cholla, then there’s the skinny links and sparse needles of the Pencil Cholla, the Teddy Bear Cholla with so many needles it looks soft and fuzzy.  But the craziest Cholla of all is the Jumping Cholla.  Jacob, Elias and Ila decided to test the rumor that the links actually jump off of the main body.  At one point in camp I heard Jacob yell, “Dad help.”  And there they were, all three of them looking dumbfounded with Cholla links stuck all over them after an unfortunate soccer ball rescue.  It was almost funny but pulling it out of Ila’s foot was nasty as they are definitely barbed.  They seemed to have learned their lesson as I have not seen anyone get stuck by a cactus again.

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The desert is not just choked full of cool variations in Cactus, the plants that have adapted here to cope with the extremes are fascinating.  Agaves, Yuccas and Ocotillos are like nothing you see anywhere else.  The Yuccas and Agaves are both in the Agave family with the Yuccas usually possessing softer flexible leaves, although they still cut your skin if you don’t watch yourself.  Most Yuccas are on the ground but there’s the Soap Tree Yucca which grows tall with it’s sprout of spiky Yucca leaves at the top and a strange single branch coming out of the top.  It would look like a palm tree except for the fact it looks nothing like a palm tree.  More like a Truffula tree from the Lorax.

The Agave, with its sphere of spikes that protrude from the ground provide the desert visitor with one of the most lethal pointy sharp things out there.  Actually, not much isn’t spiked here in the warm desert including many of the trees, and there are quite a few trees.  They average 10 to 15 feet tall and they’re spread out usually just enough to remind the visitor that, yes they are in the desert.  There is the Cat Claw Acacia with its nasty spikes and the Arizona Mesquite, which makes for some great carving wood and fire wood for that matter.  Then there’s Iron Wood,  which is illegal to harvest on any scale because it is so coveted for it’s “iron” like wood.  You actually need diamond tipped blades to carve it and is suppose to last forever.  All of these trees have sharp spikes but my favorite tree of all does not.

The Palo Verde is a beautiful tree.  It grows tiny leaves so that it does not have to use water for the costly leaf building process.  Instead the branches all the way down through the trunk are a beautiful shiny green.  This green is due to a layer of chlorophyll throughout the entire tree.  This allows it to photosynthesis without traditional leaves.  On these very green trees there are curious bushes of another plant that you see occasionally growing out from its branches called Mistletoe.  I don’t know the story of how mistletoe become the fabled kissing plant but I do know that it is planted by a bird’s behind.  The Phainopepla, a smallish black perching bird with a crest above it’s head, eats the plant’s fruit.  When the bird has to poop the digested seeds cause the birds butt to itch so it lands on the branches of the Palo Verde for a much needed scratch and presto, it plants and fertilizes the seed.

Elias is the ultimate dude for noticing all of the little things the desert is up to.  In a home schooling assignment where we asked him to write about and research what he saw  in the desert near our camp site, he writes  “The Saguaro cactus had holes made by Gila Woodpeckers. Then Elf Owls and Cactus Wrens live in the holes.”  His skill has already helped keep him out of trouble in this land of prickly things.  One night as he was going to bed he called out to me nonchalantly and said “um dad, there’s a scorpion on my shoe and it’s now crawling up the side of the tent.  What should I do?”  Sure enough there was a scorpion right on the zipper.  He was the best of our 3 kids to have spotted it…he did not grab it or freak out (Ila may have grabbed it, Jacob may have freaked out). He and I shooed it away and he was off to sleep. He drew this picture and wrote a story about it to mail to his class in Bellingham.

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After a few days of hiking and rock climbing in the Catalinas and at Mt Lemmon as well as taking advantage of the close proximity to Tucson for laundry and the things that are boring to talk about but feel so good when you finally get them done, we picked up camp and moved to another campground next to the Sonoran Desert Museum.  Here we could finally sooth our overwhelming curiosities over our new environment.  We were met with one of the most fun and enriching learning environments I’ve experienced from any museum.  We held pieces of rock from asteroids, watched Harris Hawks duke it out together and hunt for food and learned about the desert around us on a deeper level than we expected.  Jacob and Elias learned to identify the difference in skull structure between the Javalina, Coyote and Cougar and what identifies one as a carnivore or omnivore and not as an herbivore.  We learned how the world’s lushest desert, with only 10 inches of rain a year has developed so many fascinating plants that are able to make the most out of every drop of water that falls which in turn allows for life to flourish beyond what most deserts would allow.

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Here in the Sonoran Desert the wildlife is abundant and especially well, wild.  The animals are rambunctious.  I know coyotes live everywhere but did you know that they will not attack people?   We need to remind ourselves of this when we hear them going crazy every night, all night, crazier than you think they can get.  A few nights ago a bunch of them traveled right through our camp.  You could hear them on either side of our tent. There are more than just coyotes roaming around. Big cats are at their best in the USA down here in this cactus jungle.  Bobcats for sure and Mountain Lions….the lion just may eat you by the way.  But the beautiful and shy Occilot lives here as well and the biggest secret of all is the Jaguar who lives in southern Arizona…..they’ll eat you for sure.

Every dusk the desert landscape hands the show over to a heaven full of stars.  Brilliant skies.  When we “learn” we think of storing information between our ears, here all the input easily and quickly travels down our spines and into our solar plexus allowing the world to be relevant on a more personal level.  The mixing of the desert and the stars, learning and living has made every day a constant flow of contextual and experiential learning. What we learn next just may blow our mind all over again.  Our neighbor and campground host invited us one night to watch the Universe through one of his powerful telescopes.  We saw Orion’s Nebula, the most heavily studied and scrutinized nebula in the sky which is an intense sea of celestial matter making up Orion’s Scabbard just below Orion’s Belt.  We saw Jupiter and it’s four moons:  Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto.  We looked at the moon and all of it’s craters for a long time. Even Ila got a peak. We walked back to our tent, all of us quiet and in wonder…

The following day in Saguaro National Park Jacob wrote a Saguaro inspired Haiku as part of his main lesson work:

In Blistering Heat

The Sonoran Sentinel

Desert Mastery

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, Cactus, Camping, Car camping, Catalina Mountains, Family camping, Family Climbing, Harris Halk, Hiking, Homeschooling, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, Saguaro National Park, Sonoran Desert, Tucson | 11 Comments

Chihuahua

Beaumont, a city in East Texas, close to the boarder of Louisiana is among the wetter cities in our country.  With an average annual precip of close to 70 inches a year and surrounded by lake and bayou country, it is amazing that it shares a state with El Paso.  El Paso, one of the driest cities in the country receives on average 9 inches of rain a year.  What happens in the 830 miles between these two cities is the product of this fairly abrupt transition in climates:  Severe thunderstorms with dangerously big hail and a high frequency of tornadoes.  In fact the highest number of tornadoes of any region in the country is found in Texas.  So it really should come as no surprise that when a mountain range is pushed up in the western part of this meteorological shear zone there is a high likelihood of wind, especially on the leeward side of a range where the dry winter air mass sinks and descends rapidly back down the mountain range to the other side, pulled eastward towards the humid Gulf air.  It was such a mountain that we were headed to.

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On January 2nd we drove southwest across the border into Texas and about 45 minutes away to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  The mountains that make up this park were visible the whole time we were at the Whites campground.  It looked like an abrupt mountain range flanked by what seemed to be almost thousand foot tall lime stone cliffs.  We set up our camp nestled at about 5,500 feet elevation at a very cool campground at the mouth of one of the ranges intriguing valleys.  Once camp was set we were off to hike up and into the mountains.

Everyone was quite pleased to be walking.  Having spent a bit of time in the flattest landscapes of our country the towering walls that guarded the valley while we were hiking up was like medicine.  Jacob remarked that he enjoyed the hiking because it gave him time to think. Funny because we were in the car for days but it is the movement of our bodies, coupled with the openness that seems to let the thinking happen.

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There are the flat dreadfully barren expanses of landscape that appear in perhaps everyone’s subconscious when the word desert is used and then there is what happens to the desert when the landscape is not flat.  This desert mountain range acts like an expert water catcher and the strange and interesting plants that are able to make the most efficient use of this water are the norm here.  The mountain range acts like a sponge mostly because any moisture that does sneak into this area is pushed upwards by the landscape into to higher and thinner air until the air can’t hold that water anymore and it condenses.  Even though the Guadalupe’s are essentially in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert the highest elevations are completely forested.  Much of the high country is sloped northward which keeps the sun from beating down on it just that much more.  We didn’t make it that high on our hike though.  We made it up into the upper Chihuahuan life zones where plants were abundant and especially those designed to catch any water that fell.  Yuccas and cactus were all over. As we hiked higher we began reaching Junipers and Madrones which were cool to see because they are all over the place on the coast of Western Washington.  But there the Madrones are always on some south facing hill right on the coast poised to get the sunniest driest places in Western Washington.  Here they’re seeking out shade, small drainage bottoms, sort of showing a sign that more moisture is present here and not less.

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The following day we were reminded that we had gotten lucky, our hike had been warm and there was no wind at all.  That morning was very windy and cold. I made coffee and oatmeal on the little whisper light stove on the ground near some rocks instead of using our double burner Coleman stove on the comfortably arranged table. The kids and Michelle snuggled in the tent as long as they could before they needed to emerge into the wind blasts. We had to hold onto Ila! As we were packing up the wind grabbed the top of the roof rack out of my hand and flung it back aggressively.  Crack! The roof rack split and I yelled some colorful language.  That was when everyone knew I was not happy because we are one of those old school families that don’t cuss.  Somehow I put it back together and we got out of there.  Well, that was the expected norm there… wind.

We didn’t end up stopping at Hueco Tanks State Park like we had planned.  I have heard about this famous bouldering area for years and we made reservations to camp there.  When I got there I felt like it was just all wrong.  It was like if you were really craving vanilla ice cream, perhaps this has never happened to you, but you just want vanilla ice cream.  When it comes out it wasn’t ice cream at all it was like one of those weird Indian deserts…..sweet meats.  Ever try sweet meats?  Terrible.  If they bring out chocolate ice cream than it’s like, OK, that sucks, but I’ll eat it any way.  But no chocolate, it was like Indian sweet meats.  I hate that stuff.  I wanted my vanilla ice cream! Well, not only were you suppose to have reservations for camping, we were suppose to have reservations for bouldering and we were suppose to have a guide….for bouldering!  Just like I have never understood why I would ever want to eat sweet meats we weren’t even close to understanding why we would want to stay and deal with how convoluted and not relaxing the whole thing felt….so we left.

We drove on, almost directly North to a spectacular state Park called Oliver Lee State Park, which was nestled at the base of the San Andreas Mountains across the valley from the famous White Sand Dunes in New Mexico.  Here we had arrived exactly where we wanted to be and we never knew we wanted to be there.  We loved Oliver Lee State Park, we stayed there the next day and night and hiked up the fossil filled limestone canyon.  It was just us, it was great, it was better than ice cream.

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On January 5th we got up on another chilly morning and went to the largest expanse of white sand dunes on earth.  Two hundred and seventy some odd expansive square miles of desert are all made of grains of white gypsum that comes from several thousand feet higher in the mountain range directly west of the dunes.  It’s a case of the right geology and the right dry and windy climate that come together to create this very cool place.  Fortunately much of it is protected within a national monument because an enormous amount of the land between these two desert mountain ranges belongs to the US Airforce, warnings of missile testing north and south of the Monument is everywhere.

The Dunes were a sublime experience and Elias wrote about them in his Main Lesson book:

“White Sands was huge.  We went to White Sands, N.M.  It was totally not what I expected.  I thought there would be little mounds of sand, but there were huge sand dunes.  The dunes were very soft, cold, and about 60 to 100 feet tall.  When we left New Mexico we went to Arizona but that’s just another story.”

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After the sand dunes and many days of literally freezing mornings, I promised everyone we were headed to warmer places.  We kept lucking out with a warm day here and there in this windy desert but the weather was about to get quite a bit colder.  The last mission in Chihuahuan Desert was to go find an authentic Mexican restaurant in Las Cruces.  On the drive in we settled on a brew pub that looked like it would take care of business.  When we shuffled in to find our seats all of the locals were starring hard especially as Michelle attempted to nurse Ila.  Most of them looked like they had never smiled in their lives.  No way.  I got everyone up and even though everyone was getting hungry and cranky we piled back in the car and resorted back to plan A:  authentic Mexican.  Since it was Sunday in Las Cruces it took awhile but we found it and it was sooooo good – the real deal.   Back in the car and off seeking the sun.

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Camping, Car camping, Chihuahua Desert, Family camping, Family Climbing, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, Hiking, Homeschooling, Hueco Tanks State Park, Oliver Lee State Park, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, San Andreas Mountains, White Sands New Mexico | Leave a comment

Caves

We promised Elias that we would take him to visit a cave for his birthday.  When we made that promise we had no idea how easy it would be to keep and that we would be able to visit two cave systems instead of just one.  The morning of the 28th of December we drove into swampy east Texas and onward, through humid Houston, the 4th largest city in the country and onward into rolling Texas ranch country watching the deciduous forests slowly widen and prickly pear start appearing.  We drove into San Antonio where we stopped for groceries; here the forests were made up of 15 – 20 foot tall Pinion Pine, Gambles Oak, Juniper, and some sort of short Cedar.

During the drive Michelle found a wonderful camp ground only 40 minutes beyond San Antonio called Cascade Caverns Campground.  When we arrived we stepped out of the car, set up our tents and quickly signed up for 2 nights instead of one. The kids tramped out of the car after 2 days of driving and quick as a wink geared up with bow and arrows, backpacks, pocket knives and trowel heading like the lost boys (and lost girl) of Neverland into the woods for adventure.

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 It turns out that just beyond San Antonio there lies the remains of ancient reef systems.  The sea receded leaving the limestone remains of what’s called the Texas Hill Country.  These hills harbor a very high concentration of caverns.  One such cavern was located right under our tent at the campground that we decided to call home for the next several nights.  We signed up for a tour the next morning which Jacob has taken the time to explain here:

Elias, Dad and I walked to the meeting place.  There were about 10 people.  The guide came and we all started to walk.  The guide started to tell us about the caves and this is what he told us:  “The caves were created by water 140 million years ago.  All of the land was under water and the silt and dead life was made into limestone.  Limestone has a slow dissolving point in water.  When the water receded and the land was uplifted, all of the rain water went to the lowest point.  So when that water sat on the stone it started to dissolve creating the caves.” 

An interesting thing is that in most cave systems the stalactites and the stalagmites grow and inch every 80 years or so, but in these caves the stalactites grow an inch every year.  But here, every few years the caves would flood and knock down the cave formations. 

Also because of the very wet nature of this cave there are two animals that live here, Bats and the Cascade Caverns Salamander which is endemic to this particular cave system.

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On December 30th we loaded up the car and once again headed west.  This time we drove 6 and half hours through landscapes becoming consistently less vegetated.  Slowly the trees where outnumbered by prickly pear.  Cat Claw Acacia, Creosote, and a few other very shrubby plants took over and finally a complete lack of moisture gave way to barren expanses of rock, dirt, sand and oil rigs.  The lofty rigs and big aggressive oil trucks were the only things we saw through the flat landscape until we crossed the border into New Mexico.  With  only 30 minutes of our drive remaining the view became hillier with soap tree yucca and prickly pear, while desert grasses became numerous and a grand desert mountain range loomed ahead with Carlsbad Caverns tucked somewhere in the landscape.  We drifted into White’s City Campground at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains.  We were the only tent campers there with the entire desert to ourselves.  This may be due to freezing evening and early morning temperatures in the 20’s…

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On December 31st we hopped in to the car and drove the several miles up the hill to the entrance of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Carlsbad was huge.  The immensity of the Cavern chambers was not what any of us expected.  Our birthday boy, Elias explains the caverns as “fun….very fun”.  Elias goes on to explain.

“The Stalactites and the stalagmites going together were awesome, I loved them.  It was VERY big.  It felt like a different planet.  I’m still not believing it was real. I really liked the underground ponds and the curtains.  Like when you put your flashlight up to them it shined through them and you can see red.” 

We all learned the quick way to remember the difference between the cave formations from our guide, she said the stalactites hold “tight” to the ceiling and you need to be careful of the stalagmites as you “might” trip over them as you walk.

The enthusiasm Elias was showing made it all worthwhile for me.  I am not a cave person; my favorite parts of the caves are the entrances where all of the living things are found.  In Carlsbad Caverns for example the entrance is huge and hosts one of the coolest natural shows on earth.  Every sunset for half the year thousands of bats pour out of the entrance to this cave creating what looks like a sunset plume of smoke for miles in every direction.  Unfortunately we were not there for the show, but we were there for Elias’s birthday and he was very happy about that.  The actual birthday was on the first of the year and our plan for that day was to take it easy around camp, open presents and enjoy the day slowly.  The big party, the big birthday bash that Elias would remember forever was going to all of those cool caves.

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To end the day Elias and I hiked a trail from the visitor center about three miles all the way to our camp.  A great walk marked by a desert landscape he was just being introduced to.  We celebrated the New Year of 2014 around 8:30 pm which was about an hour past our family bedtime. We usually go into our tents when it gets dark and rise after dawn. This night we sat around a fire, watched the stars, reminisced about our crazy year to date, shared gratitude for our life, our family and friends and thought about the year to come.

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Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Camping, Car camping, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Cascade Caverns, Family camping, Homeschooling | 4 Comments

New Orleans

As we packed our car that warm balmy morning we were very excited about the westward adventure that lay ahead.  Things had gotten slow and easy down there in south Florida.  The weather always warm and humid makes you slow down a bit.

We bumped off from Grammy’s house and sped NW up the peninsula making one important road side stop for a huge bushel of Florida oranges and grapefruits.  Onward we pressed through Orlando where the temperature was still as much as 80 degrees.  About an hour North of Orlando I stopped for gas and received a chill.  Now down in the 50s we had driven into the more temperate winter air mass that had sunken as far South as North Florida.

That night we found a convenient camp ground right off of the highway only a few miles before the border of the central time zone.  The panhandle of Florida was forested, not what I expected – pine forests with not much undergrowth.  I had always pictured rolling farm country here but it looked more like the forests around Flagstaff, Arizona.

Our plan from here was fairly loose.  We wanted to get to Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico by Elias’s birthday on the 1st of January.  We very much wanted to spend time in New Orleans on the way out but we didn’t have an exact schedule for that.   We woke up that morning in the Panhandle.  I rushed everyone out of bed packed up and we were on our way by 7:30.  That was a record for the trip so far.  Towards the beginning, back in Montana it would take us hours to break down camp.  11am at first.  Slowly we pushed it down to 10am.  If the boys were motivated we’d bring it down to 9:30.  By the way, this is with me getting up before dawn and getting coffee going for Michelle and I, before taking on breakfast duties and so on and so forth.  But today we had to leave early and everyone was on task.

The following day, the 28th of December was calling for up to 2 inches of rain in New Orleans.   New Orleans was about 5 and half hours from where we camped.  The job at hand was to make the most of the great weather.  We didn’t want to have anything to do with that much rain.  So that’s what we had to work with:  Make the most of the iconic city for an afternoon and an evening and then move on.

Driving into the city you can’t help to have a reaction to the state of things.  So many neighborhoods with people clearly still living  in disarray.  Roofs ripped off with weeds comfortably growing out of them unchecked.  Unkempt neighborhoods, buildings run down to the ground, people living in desperate shambles.  This was everywhere.  The interstate ran above and you could look down in to these people’s lives like it was on display.  Were these places forgotten?  When did hurricane Katrina happen?  2005?  Up in Long Beach, New York we took morning strolls on this brand new and beautiful boardwalk.  Neighborhoods were in good standing there with only sandy roads a mile inland to remind everyone that the sea did try to claim that land just last year.  Why is New Orleans being forgotten?

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Once we parked we quickly found the perfect restaurant right on Bourbon Street.  A nice place with authentic Cajun dinning but also comfortable enough for the kids to squirm a bit.  Po Boys, Gumbo, Alligator Sausage, and all kinds of proper, authentic New Orleans food and adult drinks, we were having so much fun.  From there we picked up and walked the town.  If you are going to walk any neighborhood just for fun, than this is the one.  Your eyes are constantly being entertained and taunted.  The smells make you think of older places than the USA.  Voodoo is everywhere.  On the surface it’s for the tourists, but also around corners and in people’s  eye’s.

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My favorite part was the music.  The Jazz was not coming from restaurants, bars and clubs like I had thought it would.  It was all over the streets.  The Jazz bands were made up of all of the brass wind instruments you can think of…they were just jamming kids and adults alike.  High energy fun music that made everyone wanna move, and accompanied by drums so that you had to move.  Everyone danced whether they were walking by on their way to something else or you were like us, just there to soak it up.  The beats made everyone happy.

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As the sun began to set we made our way back to the car, but not directly.  We meandered because the little neighborhoods fill you with wonder and pull you in.  Weaving back to the car was fun, until it was too dark…then we hurried.

As we pulled onto the interstate and began driving west again we were filled up and agreed to come back and live it up more  probably with the kids once they were quite a bit older.  They loved the energy but it’s not really the place for kids.  For now we head west beyond the reach of the storm rolling in.  That night we made it to the border of Louisiana and Texas.  The following morning we only received a trickle of rain while New Orleans got well over an inch of rain.

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Categories: Adventure, cajun food, Car camping, family, Family camping, Florida Panhandle, jazz, New Orleans | Leave a comment

Asheville

About 12 years ago after Jacob was born, Sunder was still a puppy and the world was feeling the reverberations from 9/11, we moved from Durango, CO to Asheville, NC a magnificent place smack dab in the middle of the Appalachian mountains.  We moved to be closer to family and specifically to my brother Simon and sister-in-law Susan.  Jacob was 2 months old and life was so fragile.  We didn’t know what the world would bring next.  In those days we hardly knew what it meant to be adults and marriage was its own adventure.  We moved in with Simon and Susan and their 2 dogs Pascha and Chelsea for almost half a year before finding our own place. Thank goodness for their wide open arms.  By the time we left two and a half years later we had emerged from the amazing chrysalis Asheville had provided and moved to Bellingham.  But there are still roots there…. roots and memories.

When we were considering moving out west our criteria was to live near the ocean for me, near big mountains for Joseph and close to large airports to see our families. Bellingham took the cake on all fronts but this is the thing, visiting family a few times a year just doesn’t cut it. After years of living out west, we needed to be immersed in the family soup for a while, we needed to set the itinerary for plenty of family time on this adventure, New York, Virginia and now North Carolina.

We arrived in Asheville November 1st and moved in again with Simon and Susan for three weeks. This time we were down 3 dogs but up 6 kids, our 3 and their 3, Arielle (age 9), Noah (age 6) and Iya (age 1 ½). The first week and a half Joseph was taking his WFR course so we were also down a dad.

Uncle Simon helped us unwind from this crazy journey adjusting us at his Network Chiropractic office. We then spent evenings and nights with him catching up, downloading endless amounts of books and music on the boys’ respective machines, watching movies and reconnecting.  Each day was an adventure, we drove the Blue Ridge Parkway and went hiking, we went to Rumbling Bald for rock climbing and visited The Western North Carolina Nature Center (which has some of the last surviving Red Wolves).  Elias, Jacob and Noah went to evening classes at our friend Michael’s new Tae Kwon Do school. One of my favorite trips was to the Arboretum, which is affiliated with University of North Carolina, Asheville with Nana Carole and Papa William, Susan’s mother and step father. The gardens and grounds were scattered with installations created by a Lego sculptor. After visiting Noah’s Lego entry in the city wide contest we saw real sized Lego bison, super sized fox and a hare, hummingbirds, flowers and butterflies.  Susan and I set an active itinerary for the trip but really we only needed to be together and hang out to feel fulfilled – kids and adults alike.

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Every morning for three weeks, Elias and Noah woke up at the crack of dawn to scurry downstairs to the crazy play room. They literally had toy “worlds” throughout the entire room (which was the length of the house) and in every corner incorporating Uncle Simon’s stacks of books and tools…Legos, trains, matchbox cars, hero factory guys, more Legos. Upstairs, the little girls woke up searching for each other.  Ila and Iya – two kin spirits ready to play with their babies, Arielle’s toys and books.  Jacob and Arielle, the big cousins played on the periphery of the young ones.

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Funny how cousins work, no matter how long it has been between visits or how young they are, they reconnect – just fit together, some crazy cellular DNA connection.  Elias and Noah were seriously connected at the hip – no fights, no fusses just 2 peas in a pod. Same with the little girls to each other and to Arielle their bond seems to reach beyond the short time they have been on the Earth.

While on the family topic, there is something to be said about co-parenting.  Most of our days with the kids incorporated 2 mommy/aunts and much of the time included one kick ass nanny “Ninja nanny” (as Jacob named Alyssa). Parenting, cooking, playing and homeschooling seems so managable with 2 moms on duty! Our time moved quickly and alas Jacob was reunited with Lily Mae.

Alaya and Michael and baby Lily Mae are dear friends whom we spent most of our time with 12 years ago. As young mothers Alaya and I were inseparable for 2 ½ years and likewise the babies were together all of the time. Now a decade later (and 12 years old) Lilly and Jacob reconnected and were immediately great friends.

Right across the street from Alaya and Michael lives Jill.  Jill is my oldest friend on the earth.  We grew up down the block from each other in Oceanside, New York.  Our mom’s were friends while pregnant and we have known each other ever since… -play groups, nursery schools, elementary and so on. She moved to Asheville when we lived there to be close to us. We moved and she stayed. We haven’t spent enough time together in the last few years and she has been dearly missed. The time hiking, cooking and hanging out was so sweet and too short.

It was strange and sweet dropping back into a place and a life that we left 10 years ago to see how everyone’s lives, careers and families have unfolded.  This trip so far seems to be just that. We are reweaving the early threads of our life into a more complete tapestry, less space between the threads, more connections and sharing it all with the kids.  I think that is the gift of being older and intentionally touching down on places, moments and people, this time working out the kinks and knots with open hearts and the wisdom that comes from a clearer vision of what it’s all about.

It was difficult to leave Jill, Alaya, Michael, Simon, Susan and their families at the end of the visit. Maybe they too will visit us somewhere out west or back in Bellingham.  Pulling away from Asheville, Ila did her normal role call,

“Mama?”

“Here Ila”

“Dada?”

“Hi Ila”

“Bebop?” (Jacob)

“Hi Ila”

“Yiyis?” (Elias)

“Yes Ila”

But this time she included her extended family, “Susu? Uncle? Arielle? Noah? Iya” I tell you if anything pulls at the heart strings this is it! Thankfully we would see the cousins in Florida at the end of December so parting from them was a bit easier, such a sweet visit.

Now on to run with the wild horses, Cumberland Island bound…

Categories: Adventure, Asheville, Blue Ridge Parkway | 1 Comment

October

On October 1st we tackled the 10 hour drive south to central Virginia

We had a lot of plans for Charlottesville.  Of course one was to experience the leaves change.  When we arrived we re-wound the seasonal clock two weeks.  Surprisingly we were greeted by the South East’s last heat wave of 2013. I quickly remembered  why  I never come to the east in the summer anymore.  The hot soupy humid air hung thick with bloated mosquitoes for what seemed like eternity although I think it only lasted for 3 or 4 days.

We came to Charlottesville to be with my family.  My parents live, literally a stone’s throw from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s famous home on a hill above town.  My brother Frederic and sister Adriana live here as well with families.  My brother’s son Julian is Ila’s age and is small and adorable with a dark complexion to match his Costa Rican mother.  He is fully committed to trucks.  My sister has Auguste, age 3 with electric blue eyes and a blonde head that matches a young Elias  and perhaps me when I was his age.   And Zora my sister’s very big and happy baby daughter.

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Choosing to live far from them has limited the opportunities to keep growing and sharing our lives.  I’ve been getting glimpses of the idea that our kids could grow up not knowing each other.  Just getting together for holidays is too fake.  I wanted us all to hang out for a small cross section of normal life.  See what the work week looks like for them.  See how they get along.

We came here because a year is a very long time to travel for a small family.  We came to be grounded in familiar places and feel what it was to be at a proverbial home.  I love coming to my parent’s house.  When you grow up and leave, even after almost two decades it is like coming home.  My mother’s cooking, our extremely comfortable routine of being together, our ability to laugh enthusiastically at the exact same things.  So many things about being with family are entirely taken for granted until you’re out there in the big wide world for too many years and not enough people are laughing at your jokes.

Jacob and Elias love coming here as well.  It’s a level of mystery and excitement they don’t get anywhere else.  They LOVE going to my parent’s art studio and diving whole heartily into projects.  Growing up we would always take Halloween costumes very seriously and I have always wanted my kids to enjoy that with my dad.  Jacob took on the task of designing and constructing the battle armor of a dead Trojan Warrior while Elias, also preparing for battle built his far more glamorous a knight in shining armor.

The second week we were there the hot humid weather turned to a constant torrential rain as a tropical depression that had crawled up the east coast stalled just off of the coast of Virginia beach and lifted buckets after buckets of water out of the Atlantic inland to the Blue Ridge.  As the rain came down Michelle and I dropped the eager boys off at their grand parents work aka art studio and we hunkered down to get some much needed work done.  After all, just because we’re traveling for the year doesn’t mean we don’t have jobs.

The third week the crisp cool autumn air returned as scheduled, bringing an occasional Maple to turn completely yellowish red or a an Oak to turn yellow orange.  We visited our friends on White Oak Lake in Madison county very close to where I was born and we proved that not everyone catches fish on White Oak Lake.

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From here we moved to my brother’s house for the remainder of the stay.  My brother lives on this 100 acre picture perfect horse farm in rolling pasture hills cozied up to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Here I had one of my favorite bouldering rocks about 3 minutes away and was very eager to bring that into our daily routine with our usual home schooling and work related tasks.  We prepped for Ila and Jacob’s birthdays (which took place through the last week of our stay) and we prepared for the rock climbing courses I scheduled to teach in Northern Virginia throughout our visit.

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As the boys came closer to the finishing touches on their costumes single trees turned into groups of trees lighting up on the hill sides:  The Ash, Walnuts, Poplars and Elms turning the panorama yellows and oranges.  We traveled to Northern Virginia to run rock climbing courses and visit the capitol city.  Actually it was just Jacob and Elias that helped, and they did a great job of it too.  Still young enough where I need to watch everything they do it was very cool to watch these adult students give Jacob all of their confidence while he explained a skill and watched them shake their head in surrender while watching Elias scamper around the rocks like a spider.  The climbing here was actually fun considering I was expecting nothing special.  It is also located right on the Great Falls of the Patomic River which is a big symphony of Cascading rapids on this fairly large river that head waters several hundred miles up in the mountains of West Virginia.

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Here we camped for the first time since camping on the Missouri River in central south Dakota.  We returned to the basics of our little adventure while remembering the rythm that we had established as travelers during the first month of our journey.  Following one of the day’s rock climbing courses we went to the Washington Mall where one can find all of the most notable sites of the District of Columbia including the White House and the Washington Monument.  Our main goal was the Museum of Natural History which is part of the Smithsonian Museum, the largest collection of museums on the planet and they are all free.

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Back in the Blue Ridge the forests were erupting with yellow, red, purple and orange – extraordinary yet so ordinary.  Ila’s Birthday was quiet and humble as it should be for a two year old. We visited her “horsey friends” many times that day, played with her stroller and her brothers and ate fruit.  We saved the 27th, Jacob’s Birthday for the Ila and Jacob party.  It took place at my brother’s farm house.  We made Sushi, played soccer and walked the farm checking out the horses.

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Now with only a few days left we had many things to accomplish.  I had a few bouldering problems that I had to finish.  We had a few more hikes in the hills, a few more dinners with my sister, my brother and their family.  Frederic, my brother, and I sipped more whiskey and then of course one last important job to do:  Trick or Treating.

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We hit the road after trick or treating to make the five hour drive down to Asheville, North Carolina where Michelle’s brother lives.  I had a Wilderness First Responder course I had to make on the 2nd of November and hoped for a day of rest in between.  As we drove away from my parents house we traveled south through Appalachia and were rocked by the winds tossing the car around with an oncoming storm.  In the evening dark there were now more leaves blowing in the wind than there were on the trees.

Now three hours into the drive, full of treats from Halloween,  we finally received a trick.  Our car began coughing and studdering – it was clear we needed to stop.  We checked into a hotel and awoke in the morning in Christiansburg, Virginia.  This turned out to be a good thing since this region is where stock cars were invented to run moonshine back in the 20s and 30s.  Still being very much a part of local pride and culture we found some very nice Nascar mechanics to make a few “adjustments” to the car before heading on to Asheville. November 1st…the adventure continues…

Categories: Adventure, Blue Ridge Mountains, Camping, Halloween, Monticello, VA, Washington D.C. | Leave a comment

Mt Rushmore

On the morning of September 11th we drove to Mt Rushmore without expectations.  Mostly I think we were answering to a routine tourist call as Mt Rushmore is one of the most iconic tourist destinations in the United States.  What we found when we arrived surprised me.  The original sculpture was proposed in 1927 to promote tourism to the area.  Originally it was proposed to feature both native and non native western heroes but gained more nationwide support and interest upon the idea of featuring the four presidents.  The symbolism of these presidents have led to not only what has made this country strong and innovative but what has allowed the United States to be one of the most significant single influences in the world through the 19th and 20th centuries.

To begin with both Thomas Jefferson’s and George Washington’s time of influence straddled the precarious time of our country’s birth.  It could be argued that the US was lucky that it came into being during a time when these defining characters existed  although I think that the US came to be because of the strength of character and clarity of these individuals.

On July 4th 1776 Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence signed by congress featuring this most notable of all quotes:

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

This document and every word that was carefully crafted in it was so essential in galvanizing the faith and identity of the new nation that when General George Washington read the Declaration to his troops in New York City on July 9, with thousands of British troops on ships in the harbor, crowds began tearing down and destroying signs or statues representing royal authority. This strengthened sentiment spread quickly through the new nation leading to an equestrian statue of King George in New York City to be pulled down and the lead used to make musket balls.  By November of 1776 circulation of the document spread through Western Europe which inspired popular support in France leading to them becoming a key ally in defeating the British.

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After leading the country to officially defeating the British in 1783 by 1889 George Washington received 100% of the electoral vote as the first president.  Leading with clear sights toward the common good and impeccable example that transcended into our foundational principles, Washington knew more than anyone the importance of his every decision which included putting the Constitution of the United States into practice.  He would eventually step down after two terms in office in order to set the precedent as a leader of civil servitude, staunchly opposing dictatorship and tirelessly warning against partisanship in government.  Washington’s commitment to “the common good” lead him to free all of his slaves upon his death.

As a president of a new nation our third president Thomas Jefferson knew the importance of establishing our geographic boundaries.  Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory for 15 million dollars from Napoleon which kept the US out of the raging European wars of the day, but kept us in favor with its biggest power and potential threat, Napoleon.  Jefferson knew that the current boarders were only a piece of what would later identify our borders. With this in mind he personally trained Meriwether Lewis in preparation to lead the Lewis and Clark expedition and explore what lay beyond the known Frontier.

Jefferson’s Legacy did not stop after his presidency though.  Thomas Jefferson became almost exclusively devoted to education, believing that all children of a great nation should have access to free quality education.  Jefferson helped spearhead the separation of religion and science in education by creating the University of Virginia at the base of his home Monticello.  This signaled the beginning of a state run University System founded on these principles.

Abraham Lincoln was the tipping point that allowed the country’s greatest moral crisis to explode.  The Civil War happened because the nation was sitting on “a volcano” of yet unchecked ethical dilemma and he was the uncompromising hand that was needed.  It was Lincoln that defined the birth of the country as July 4th 1776 based on the nation’s realization that we were conceived on the understanding that “all men are created equal”. 

For Lincoln both slavery and the fragmenting of the nation were unacceptable and that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.   In April of 1865 while campaigning for voting rights for African Americans Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, almost instantly turning him into a martyr of almost god like proportions.

Theodore Roosevelt devoted to the traditional definition of our national identity in stating,  “It is unwise to depart from the old American tradition and discriminate for or against any man who desires to come here and become a citizen, save on the ground of that man’s fitness for citizenship…” Roosevelt was celebrated for tackling a culture of corruption in the government stating that,  ““behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” 

He pushed forward and popularized the importance of countless issues including women’s rights and perhaps his most popular and renowned legacy was his leadership towards branding the United States as a place where wilderness and the environment was an essential part of the American heritage, stating that “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources…..It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people are awakening.” With that said Roosevelt wasted no time doubling the size of the National Park system and setting a precedent towards a popular movement of conservation which to this day is a key part of in American identity.

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As we drove east from Mt Rushmore and settled into the vast grassy landscape Jacob and Elias’s curiosity was spiked with countless questions on what it meant to be part of this country.  I think the young minds were mostly inspired by the magnitude of individuals chosen for this iconic monument.  It occurred to me that these individuals were not ahead of their time but instead they have helped define the time.  What they stood for and accomplished was and will always be relevant on a timeless scale.  Upon Mt Rushmore’s completion in 1941 the principles it represented would help guide not only America during the trial of worldwide virtue through World War II,  but it supported in putting us at center stage while the world looked to us for guidance in our quickly changing world into the 21st century.

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That night we settled down at a wonderful camp mid way through South Dakota on the Missouri River.  As we watched the sunset  and imagined Lewis and Clark pushing up river for the first time I looked across at the increase in deciduous trees and was excited about our next stage of our journey spending time with our friends in Wisconsin.

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Categories: 9/11, Abraham Lincoln, Adventure, Camping, Constitution of the United States, Declaration of Independence, family, Founding Fathers, George Washington, Lewis and Clark, Missouri River, Mt. Rushmore, September 11, South Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson | Leave a comment

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