Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lake Blanche, UT

I really love backpacking. When Peter and I married, we did a couple of backpacking trips. Then when Zach came along, (naive as we were) we even entertained the idea of toting him along into the great back-country wilderness. With one of us hefting all of the gear and the other keeping baby happy... it would be a great time. Or would it? The truth is that I don't know, because we've never tried. Packing for anything overnight with a child, even in a hotel, seemed like work enough!

This year, for our anniversary, we decided to save a little money (thank you, rising cost of EVERYTHING!) and do one night backpacking and the second in a hotel. As we looked at our options locally, I was totally playing the tough girl. Like this: Well, hun. I can probably handle the long hike, but what about your ankle? It's true, and I was secretly hoping he would choose the easiest one. :o) Well, we're still 21-at-heart, or nuts, or SOMEthing. Because even after my dad described the hike to Lake Blanche as having "a couple of tough grinds," we felt overly confident and good to go.

It was about 6:30 at the trailhead, which you'll find at the stairs switchbacks up Big Cottonwood Canyon. I think it is officially called Mill B Fork. With our headlamps, mountain house meals, water filter, and itty-bitty camping stove tucked away, we were on our way. I should have paid more attention when we looked at the topo map on the computer where it gives you a graph of the incline. The first part was moderately easy and I was thinking, 'yeah! this is my kind of hike!' Then came the grind. And let me tell you, my dad's words kept repeating themselves in my head for that final S-L-O-W stretch. AND the blisters developing on my heels were not helping.

We reached the lake, which we had completely to ourselves on a Thursday night, just in time to see the sun setting. Lovely, lovely. The lake itself isn't much, but the view of Sundial Peak was fantastic. It is still spring at this elevation and we had a lovely field of wildflowers to walk through on our way to a little waterfall where we could filter water. I have given up trying to get the pictures we took to go with this post, since they were taken with hubby's phone. But here is a picture someone else took of Sundial Peak...

The distance of this hike was 2.78 miles, and the elevation gain was 2700 feet. In the end, I was really glad Peter stuck to his guns on doing this instead of two full days of lounging. Yes, it was tough. But I get a bit of a thrill and satisfaction when I push my limits. (remember that one time I ran a marathon? :o) And it feels oh-so-nice to completely get "away from the things of man... away from the things of man." (I'll make you brownies from scratch if you can name that movie!)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Troy Family Aquatic Center - Troy, MI

This has been my favorite place to discover about our new city. I have always been a pool girl whether taking lessons and hanging out with the SAHM's kids at PG Pool in Mt. Rainer, MD when I was a kid or working in the summers, so I had to find the pool here. Well, I fell in love. It is such a great place. This is the public pool. I'm sure that there are plenty of membership only pools, but this is really a gem.

One thing I love most about this city is the diversity. It is a different kind of diversity than I have been used to living in the DC area, so it has been so lovely to get to know cultures with which I have little experience. There are fairly large populations of people from China, India and the Middle East. The pool is no exception. I have met people from Iraq, Sweden, and Morocco. Jackson's swimming classes are made up of kids from all over the world, some even wearing long sleeved leotards and long pants to swim in. One woman, who the boys and I met, is from Iraq and she has such an interesting life story. (That is for another post.) She actually thought that my husband must have been from the Middle East after looking at the kids. I don't know about that, but it was a first.

If anyone is ever out here in the summer, it is a great fun way to spend the afternoon. It isn't too pricey, unless you go there often. They have a large snack bar and a great main pool with a beach entry, so it was great for my 12 month old. The children's pool is very shallow with spraying water features, a slide, and a waterfall. There are two adult slides that are similar to water slides at a large water park. Jackson took and passed the swim test to go on them. If that wasn't enough they have two enormous sand volleyball courts. We spent a lot of time at the play structure that has tons of sand around it. The kids go crazy in there making sand castles with the water that they get out of the mini waterfall. It is really cool how they all end up working together with kids they just met on some great creation.

North Beach

My great friend Mendy told me about this beach out on the Chesapeake Bay. While I've been to beaches on both sides of it, I've never tried this one.

First off, it's only an hour from my house. That's awesome. The drive went great and the weather was PERFECT. I recruited several friends to come along, which helped a LOT. Unfortunately, no one who had children any where near Sheely's age was able to come, which bummed her out quite a bit. She found a great 4 year old girl to play with, though :)

One annoying thing: since it's a municipal beach and not a regional park, you do have to pay. $5 per person. However, here are the good things: bathrooms RIGHT there, nice sand, fun pier to play on, a huge wooden pirate ship to play on, they have the beach NETTED OFF so I did not see ONE JELLYFISH the entire time. IN AUGUST! That's worth $5 a person, for my crew. Sheely's got jellyfish-phobia. The water is super shallow, although the mud/sand is pretty slimy once you get past the rocks. There are hardly any waves (which can be good or bad, depending on whatcha like).

We had a fantastic time, I'd definitely go again.

A view of the beach where we played, from out on the pier:

How Sheely spent much of our day: in time out

all the kids!!

the mommies (and an aunt)

my three sweet ones in their floaties

the mud was a big draw for my boys

there are two sides to the beach - after you pay you can go right or left of the pier. On the left is the pirate ship, so it was more crowded. We chose the less crowded right side.

see the nets keeping those jellies away??

my sand-lover

on the pirate ship

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kitty Hawk - Kill Devil Hills, NC

While in the Outer Banks, we went to Kitty Hawk. It was amazing to think that the Wright Brothers flew here in 1903...and that just wasn't that long ago. Explaining the advent of flight to the kids was more difficult than I imagined. There are two visitor areas there, one older museum and one opened in 2003 to celebrate 100 years of flight. The older museum houses a full-scale replica of the airplane that flew December 17, 1903.

Outside, markers note the distances of each of the four flights flown that historic day.

In the dunes of Kill Devil Hills above the airfield, a monument has been erected to honor the Wright Brothers. I love the inscription which reads:


View from the top of the dunes:

My Wilbur and Orville looking over the airfield:

Bodie & Hatteras Lighthouses - Outer Banks, NC

The Bodie Island Lighthouse was by far my favorite of the three we visited this trip. It was just stunning and I still get a pit of awe in my stomach when I think about it. It is currently not open for climbing, but restoration plans are in progress.

Since we were already partway to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, we decided to head down there as well. Cape Hatteras is the largest lighthouse in the US and was relocated in 1999 due to the encroaching sea. We arrived well after climbing hours, but enjoyed the setting sun. They paint the lighthouse every 5-7 years, and unfortunately, I think it is overdue!

All of the lighthouses on the Outer Banks are still functional as not all ships have GPS. The come on at dusk and turn off at dawn. We all really enjoyed watching the Bodie Island Light flash on our drive home.

Jockey's Ridge & Currituck Beach Lighthouse - Outer Banks, NC

First stop was Jockey's Ridge State Park. Jockey's Ridge is 420 acres of sand dunes, the largest natural sand dune system in the Eastern US. It rained on us pretty steadily the whole time, but that didn't stop us from having fun.

The pictures don't do the scope of these dunes justice, but we all had fun running down the dunes (most of us falling down) and we watched the hang gliders for a little bit from the hang gliding school located there.

Next stop was lunch. We ate at Bob's Grill and I still laugh every time I think of the restaurant's slogan:

Our last stop of the day was to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

I have always loved lighthouses so I was so pleased when Jonah took a hugely enthusiastic approach to the top of the lighthouse. Jonah was the first one of the group up the 214 steps and chatted with me incessantly the whole way. About halfway up, I found out that I've developed my mother's fear of heights, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the view at the top.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Detroit Michigan Zoo - Royal Oak, MI

Early in the summer, the boys and I went to the zoo as part of a playgroup activity with our church. Having just moved to the area, I didn't know who I was looking for or what they looked like, I am still amazed that I actually found the group. Upon entering the Zoo, I was highly irritated because they asked me to give them money. Money? It's a zoo, aren't they all free? Well, apparently not. I guess that is the wonderful thing about living near the nation's capitol. Go figure. After paying $20, or more I really can't remember, we entered the zoo.

I have to say that it was totally worth the money. The place is huge and they have some really neat features. Even a train that takes you from one end to the next, so that you don't have to walk your tired feet all the way back to the beginning. (Bring cash, it costs money too.) We really enjoyed the butterfly exhibit and the absolute best was the polar bear exhibit. It really was amazing.

There is this beautiful tunnel that goes right through the water, so you can see the sea lions and bears swim right next to or over you.

They had a penguin exhibit and the prairie dog exhibit had tubes that the kids could poke their heads in and be right in the middle of all the frolicking prairie dogs. We liked it so much that we bought a season pass. Well, Jackson and I did, Luke will grow to like it...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Golden Spike National Historic Site, UT

This was a place I had always wanted to go and see, most especially with the SERIOUS railway enthusiast that is my first-born. He thought this was the coolest, and is already talking about going back with Dad.

We went on a Friday. I had tried to find as much information as I could on their web site, which was pretty informative. However, they gave no specific information about the engine demonstrations, because they can change without notice, so I was pretty clueless going out there. I did learn that one of their annual events, the Railroaders Festival happens every year on the second Saturday in August -- the day after our visit. But we had a birthday party to attend, so I didn't change our plans. And while we were there, I didn't ask about the festival because I didn't want to know (or have anyone hear...) what we were missing out on. :o)

The drive is every bit of 30 miles west of Brigham City. We are talking in the middle of nowhere, people. It's good that I enjoy road trips; it was kinda fun to watch the landscape unfold, looking for any sort of a facility in site. I had to laugh when we finally saw the engines from a distance and Zach in his giddy voice was saying, "I'm going to stop feeling so excited!!" This is the view he was talking about:

We arrived at 11:30 and I had packed picnic lunch so we went in to look at the offerings. I paid my seven dollars and glanced at the schedule they had written in chalk behind the counter. One of the trains arrives (from where, I have no idea!) at 10:00, the other at 10:30, so my heart sank thinking we had missed that and wouldn't be able to see them move at all. At 12:00 they had a "steam demonstration" so we hurried and watched the 20 minute video, then got our lunches to sit out at the benches where the locomotives were. Um, zero shade. But thankfully a comfortable amount of wind so the sun didn't feel too hot. They had picnic tables in other spots and there may have been some trees there.

The replicas they have made really are impressive. You can get up close to them but no touchy. First they demonstrated the 119. Zach was sitting next to me and Ben was standing in front of us when they blew the whistle before it started moving. I myself probably jumped a couple of inches, it will be funny to watch the video I was trying to make. Poor Ben about fell over. After that, Zach was nervously playing with my hair and covering his ears for much of the time. They also demonstrated the Jupiter by backing it up a couple hundred yards and then bringing it back. Nothing fancy, but it was fun to sit and enjoy our lunch while we watched. When the engines are parked, they have stairs and a platform on one side of them so you can get a good look into the cabs. The engineers are there to answer questions and we learned some new things. The 119's sandbox has a picture of Johnny Appleseed painted on one side and Daniel Boone on the other. I also didn't know that one of the trains used coal and the other wood for fuel, because of what was most available from their respective side of the country.

Oh yes, we also got to ride on this speeder. I thought it was such a treat, and it made the coolest old-fashioned putting sound. The driver told me that it is run with an engine that actually has to be turned off, and then restarted to turn the other way to return us. (No reverse gear) I'm sure that, had Peter been there, he would have caught the term for such an engine!

The remainder of our time was spent in the gift shop, where Zach decided whether or not he wanted to spend his money on things or not. He had about $11 and thought about the small wooden trains they had. What he really wanted were the HO scale Bachmann model trains, each were $75. In the bathroom before we left he was trying so hard not to cry about it. I really was so proud of him because I think he is getting a sense of how it is hard to save for the things we want most -- though I wish he had much smaller goals. He just knows the model trains are the most fun for him to watch and as close to the real thing as you get.

All told, it was a worthwhile day. I thought we would do the Big Fill, which is a 1.5 mile walking trail to see unfinished trestles, I think. They had a display of the trestle with model trains that was interesting enough for Zach. I was told the path was do-able with a stroller, but it was best that we passed, because the kids were so tired and it was a sunny day. (No shade there, either)

I hope that this visit gave Zach a better appreciation for the history behind these trains. He kept asking, 'but mom, why are they just parked there?' I tried to explain that it is simply so people can come learn about this important event that happened a very long time ago. I think the timing with this outing was good too, because we had just happened to recently have borrowed Peanuts Building of the Transcontinental Railroad video from the library. Other fun related books are Coolies and Iron Horses.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Little Bighorn National Monument

On our way to Spokane, my husband noticed that we drove right by the Little Bighorn National Monument, so on our way back through Montana (which is a LARGE state, by the way), he decided that we needed to stop there. Never mind that we got a horrid night's sleep the night before, that we'd been on the road for 7 hours already (as I said, Montana is HUGE) and that we still had about four hours left to go before we got to where we were going for the night. We stopped and paid our $10 to the Park Service to see the graves:

More graves:

And Native American Art:

The girls wondered why...

and were actually kind of glad to get back to the car.

(For the record: both Russell and I thought it was "interesting" and "educational". The girls did like the gift shop.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Park City Moutain Resort, UT

There is lots of family fun to be had up here, but for this new adventure, we were trying out the downhill mountain biking. Each all day lift pass was $18, one ride up I think costs $11, and the two lifts available to ride are the Payday (the main one at the base of the resort) and Town (right from downtown Park City). Payday lift was S-L-O-W. I never checked my watch but I bet it took at least 30 minutes to get to the top. On the way up we tried to decipher the map and match it to the biking trails we were seeing beneath us, and it was already feeling rather confusing.

We chose Trestle trail. Had it not been for the huge roots and mini boulders, it may have been a fair ride. There were even fallen trees at head level that could have totally knocked me out if I hadn't been paying attention! Pretty disappointing, so I let out some grumblings and almost tears and then tried to make a positive experience of it. I will say it was cool to see the occasional old rusty trestle hidden in the trees, from mining days I guess.

When the trail would split, there were no signs to guide us so we consulted the map -- which was SO not helpful. Um, yeah, pretty much we were lost and I was feeling a little bugged that they call this a fun place for mountain biking. Eventually (and don't ask me how) we were on a really nice trail, one where I could stay on my bike for a few minutes at a time, until the tricky switchbacks. That trail was taking us south-east and it dropped us on a road up above Park City, so we had a nice speedy ride on the pavement to downtown. It turns out that the only nice part of the ride wasn't even on the property of the resort!

I'll be honest, I was SO done, but hubby wanted to give it another go, so we rode the Town lift up. This one was a lot quicker and dropped us at the same starting point. I don't know what the deal was, but our only other option to get down was on the dusty service road, and even for that we had to beg passage because they were moving cement by helicopter above our heads. A pretty unusual day at the resort, but with the trails they offered I don't think I would choose to go again.

What I DID love from this adventure was dinner at Boua Thai Restaurant, located right at the resort. I love it when you have a waiter/waitress that is not putting on a show of kindness or being a pleasant person. She just was naturally hospitable and at ease. The food was superb. I was so excited to have some leftovers to take home! She told us how her dad was waiting for her downtown as they were getting things ready for their booth at the Arts Festival the next day. I was not surprised to find it was a family business. Doesn't it seem like those are always the best?

We tried to take a leisure ride up on the lift after dinner, but they won't allow going all the way up to the turnaround (to ride down) after 8 pm.

For treats we stopped at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Honestly, how do you choose just one thing?! We didn't even try to resist. :o)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Rich Person's Adventure

As part of my husband's family reunion, his older brother rented three boats -- two pontoons and a speedboat -- and five families headed out to Cour d'Alene lake in northern Idaho to go boating.

It wasn't a great day -- windy, so the lake was choppy, and not terribly warm, so the lake was cold. But that didn't stop us from having fun!

Hubby got to drive a boat (for the first time):

The ride out was nice -- C and a cousin chilled on the seats --

But once we got to a little cove, the fun began. M dove off the side of the speedboat:

And her uncle let her have a turn driving the boats.

C was one of the brave souls that went tubing... (it was REALLY cold!)

A wanted a turn in the water, so Hubby swam with her (well, carried her, practically) from one boat to the next -- if you look closely, she's freezing and clinging to his neck!

But settled for a speedboat ride instead.

K and I were "smart" and never got in.

But we really liked riding on the little speedboat. Especially when we went fast!!

We've been to Cour d'Alene lake many times, but we'd never been out on boats before (it being a fairly expensive thing...). I'm glad, though, that we have relatives with deep pockets! It sure was fun!