Day Twenty-Four: Tuesday, June 12th, Greetings

We never found Delaware. All those miles, and all that adventuring, and Delaware was nowhere to be see.

We did hike with a lovely woman from Delaware, so maybe that counts for something. We even threatened to follow her back to her car, but–ridiculous her–she let her Rhode Islander friend chauffeur her across the country. Tragic.

And the river-chucked phone? It’s still hanging in there, though a bit grumpy. It doesn’t appear to have survived its dip in Willis Creek completely unscathed, but a bowl of rice might be just what the doctor ordered.


We did come home to something even better than Delaware, and even better than a working phone, though

A grandbaby.

Baby Gerard Alexander, or as my mother insists on calling him, Tobias.

Life on the road is sweet, but I always love to come home. Especially when such sweet surprises are waiting for us.


And Larry?

He’s poopered. I feel ya’, man.

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Life is good,
KJ

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Day Twenty-Three: Monday, June 11th, Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jog

I spent a few years in Ames, Iowa, back in the day. Wallowed through a few years of school here, met my first husband in the vicinity, generally milled about some.

Ames happened to fall directly on top of the need for dinner tonight, so we stopped in.

While I would have liked to have taken the brood to Great Plains Sauce and Dough, they don’t know what dairy-free means, so we settled on Hickory Park, a yummy BBQ joint in an old train depot.

Well I think they’re in an old train depot. It sure feels like it, and I know they used to be. The memories are foggy.

They can seat about 800 in here, I swear. You leave the table to go to the restroom and return twenty minutes later, out of breath, and having fully worked-up your appetite.

There were some dairy-free miscommunications, but in the end, with minimal management involvement, we all had food in front of us that we could eat. Food that looked pretty delicious.

Scott settled on this one:

Burger

Because he’s got control issues.

It was the size of a plate.

In order to save him from himself, I tried a bite.IMG_20180611_174344.jpg

I had to unhinge my jaw, but it was totally worth it.

Dinner… Check.


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Rachel Anne

We’re winding down. We’ve come 10 of our 15 hours in the $900 van today.

Almost home.

And I’m sitting here, wishing I hadn’t eaten so much food, and thinking of this kid who was our reason to finally take the plunge and drive all the way to the other coast. All the way to the far coast. The kid that was brave enough to move on out there and experience life in the National Parks for a time. What a story.

Rachel’s making her way in the world, and doing in on her own terms, and we couldn’t be prouder. Way to make it happen.

Also, we’re a tad grateful she made us finally take the dream trip.

If you happen to pass through Oregon, and see the kiddo, give her a wave from Ma and Pa back in Colfax. We miss her.


We’ve only been gone for three weeks. I know we only covered a hunk of the U.S., a mere smidge of the globe, but we amassed a pretty impressive list of encounters.

Just for fun, and in no particular order, we hit:

  • The tallest Waterfall in North America (5th in the world)
  • America’s 2nd National Park
  • The tallest concrete dam (and 2nd-tallest dam, period) in the U.S.
  • The world’s tallest trees
  • The longest single arch bridge in North America
  • The largest collection of hoodoos in the world
  • The 2nd-longest suspension bridge in the U.S.
  • The largest reservoir in the U.S.
  • The most massive trees in the world
  • The world’s largest ocean
  • The highest point in the contiguous U.S. (almost)
  • The 3rd-most visited National Park
  • The coolest caves I’ve seen (disprove me!)
  • The first protected natural wonders in the U.S.
  • The deepest lake in the U.S.
  • The crookedest street in the world
  • The longest National Park tunnel
  • The nation’s deepest canyon
  • The westernmost point in the contiguous U.S.
  • The windiest point in the contiguous U.S.
  • The westernmost city in the contiguous U.S.
  • Arguably the hilliest city in the U.S.
  • The 8th-largest Monolith in the world
  • The longest stretch of public beach or coast
  • The clearest lake in the world

Not bad, eh? If only we got around to it when the Oregonian kiddo was still in the backseat. Sigh.

But alas, she’s got six months out there. She’ll have her own list. Maybe we’ll do it together someday.

Until tomorrow,
KJ


The picture at top? That’s from when Rachel and I drove out for the first time almost two months ago. A lot of water under the bridge.

Lots of miles for us, and lots of life for her.

Good times.

Day Twenty-Two: Sunday, June 10th, More Boulder Respite…

I’ve never had the experience of winding down from a vacation before actually getting home, and I don’t totally hate it. We are pretty-well wasted, which doesn’t lend itself to grand adventures with family here, but just hanging out might be even better. And maybe the vacation let-down will be a little bit less, having already had some time to dissipate in the thin mountain air of Colorado.

We did make it out to the pool today, and all the many-aged kids had a great time. It wasn’t Rocky Mountain, but let’s face it, Rocky Mountain might have killed us at this point. Besides, Sarah’s ears needed a break.

We weren’t the only wiped kiddos:


Jeff and Ang had this wild and crazy sunscreen that I can’t wait to get my hands on; it was powder! You pump on one end of the glorified mascara container, and then you use the blush brush at the other end to dust it on. WHAT? The report is that it works great, and doesn’t give the mineral sunscreen burn.

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Until now, I thought that burn was just me. Certain mineral-based sunscreens go on just fine, and then I get wet, and my face feels like I developed a sudden allergy to water. But apparently I’m not the only one. Yay me.

So I looked up this miracle of modern microtech. First of all, pricey, but I was warned. It’s on track to last this Boulder family two years, though–in Boulder, where the sun always shines and the Bojars are always out in it–so not so terrible.

Second of all, the irony is thick. It appears to be some of the safest sunscreen out there. I’m a bit of a sunscreen shunner, and avoid the chemical-based products like the plague. I can’t hold my breath long enough when the hordes around me are spraying themselves cancerous. I’ve found some decent mineral screens, with minimal hormone disruptors, but they’re not always the most effective, and there’s always that burn problem. But EWG seems to think this one is a hit. Tiny ingredient list. No known issues. Nice.

The irony? It has been embraced the most heavily by those that need a sunscreen to apply over their makeup. You know, maybe these are the folks that find the safe makeups and apply sparingly. Maybe. But the bulk of those I ran across were the Tammy Fayes of the world, caking death on by the bucketful and then needing something that won’t smudge their fifth coat. Yikes.

Regardless, it’s in my Amazon cart. We’ll see how it goes. I’m really excited that it won’t mess with my paintjob.


A beauty parlor also set up shop in our neck of the basement this afternoon:

The results were fantastic. I’d show you what these hair wizards did with my flowing locks, but I forgot to take a picture.


img_20180610_191140.jpgWe had some great dinners here at Chateau de Boj, and some lovely backyard time, even if the seating was a bit unorthodox.

It was great to get a little time with the fam here on Colorado turf. How they make the drive to ‘Sconnie as often as they do–with all the kids and dogs and gear–I don’t know. But I’m glad they do.

Heck, now that we’ve broken the seal, maybe we’ll venture out thousands of miles on a more regular basis. Like crazy people.

Tomorrow, we rise before the sun and bail for home. All refreshed and ready to unpack.

Missing CO already,
KJ

Day Twenty-One: Saturday, June 9th, Chateau de Boj, Boulder, CO

Uff.

We hit the end-of-trip wall.

Started the day with big plans to go to the pool with the kids today, and then all run up to Rocky Mountain National Park tomorrow.

Ended the day with a short trip to the park across the street with the kids, and maybe a jaunt to the pool tomorrow.

Man, once you sit down to rest, it’s all over!

We did have a great day visiting with the Boj. There were bubbles to chase, water balloons with which to pelt children on the trampoline, and The Greatest Showman on the outdoor bedsheet theater. Most of all, down time, with as much quality family time squeezed in as we could muster between naptimes. Ours and theirs.

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A little Hugh Jackman time before bed

OSHA-approved Bubble-Hunting Gear:

As well as OSHA-sanctioned Bubble-Hunting Safety Officers:

If you need me, I’ll be collapsed in some much-needed R&R,
KJ

Day Twenty: Friday, June 8th, Bryce Canyon and the long road to Boulder…

Wow. Bryce Canyon. Wow.

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But already I’m ahead of myself…


The Airbnb was great. The beds were passable–let’s be honest, they felt like heaven compared to the string of second-rate Intex–and, and as previously mentioned, the place was clean and cozy.

A win. And after the refund from Utah’s finest state park, pretty modestly priced, to boot.


We couldn’t, however, quite convince ourselves to get up too early, after last night’s adventures, so I set the alarm for 7. We were out the door in Tropic by 8:30 and on our way out to Willis Creek Slot Canyon, via our homemade map. We were only a few miles from the Canyon, but most of it was on rugged dirt roads.

Never fear; we drive a Hulk. We made it in just over thirty minutes.

When we got to the trailhead we joined only two other cars, and it was already heating up. Not Zion heating up, but heating up nonetheless. We started down the trail, wondering where the creek would start to carve its way down into the sandstone.

Not far, it turns out. Just off the path, we found the place where you can still jump across and climb down into the water.

As soon as I spotted it, I did two things:

  1. I gasped. Because wow.
  2. Then I dropped my phone into the water.

No… More accurately, I threw my phone into the water. There was definite throwing action; I was attempting to recover a botched de-holstering of the phone from the pocket, and it definitely turned into more of a throw than a drop.

And into the creek it went. Via about six bounces off the canyon walls. I blame the pop-socket and an unnecessarily sticky pocket hem.

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On the way out, Sarah took it upon herself to illustrate the scene of the crime. The phone was hurled from a ways above, to the right.

I, in all my unflappable glory, stared. Mouth agape. Eyes wide. Heart paused, just for a moment.

I just stood there and watched the waters of Willis Creek roll over my beloved phone. The phone I’ve never even dropped in the grass, or the carpet before, such a good caretaker am I.

Sarah, staring at me briefly, decided upon a more constructive route. She climbed down the sandstone walls and into the pool where my phone awaited rescue, then climbed back out to return it to me. My appearance hadn’t changed a whole lot.

I feel fairly sure that had I been alone when the incident occurred, I would still be standing there.

Miracle of miracles, the phone was still on and working when it was returned to my numb hands. The case sealed most of the water out after proving itself beyond worthy in the shockproof category, and whatever agua made it into the jacks and ports has yet to do any internal damage. Whew.

After chucking hundreds of dollars at certain doom, and cheating phone death, we all, calmly, collectively, climbed down into the creek as it dropped further into the canyon of its own making.

Pretty darned cool. Kudos to the Costa Vida manager.

So Willis Creek was phenomenal. We only gave ourselves an hour there so we’d have a chance at seeing Bryce proper, but it was worth every pothole and gravel rumbleyard. It was even worth that part where the van forgot what a monster she was and tried to convince us up was no longer an option.


From Willis Creek we went to Mossy Cave, another of the Costa Vida sanctioned zones of happiness. The cave itself? Yeah, kind of like the Emerald Pools. Methinks that in the middle of the desert the advent of any sort of moss is something of a supernatural wonder. To Wisconsinites, this particular level of mossy is little more than you might find growing on the shady side of your foundation any month of the year.

IMG_20180608_110034-EFFECTS.jpgHowever, the short hike there was awesome.

Mossy Cave is within the National Park boundaries, just not via the main entrance. There’s just a pull-off parking lot and some pit potties along Highway 12 at the trailhead. Even from the highway, it was pretty, but as we trudged up and over the first rise in the trail, we saw that we were in for a real treat.

The river isn’t really a river at all, but Tropic Ditch, an irrigation ditch dug by the Mormons 130 years ago, to divert water from the Sevier River down into Water Canyon.

I don’t really care what it is; it is gorgeous.

Again, there was that opalescent quality about the water. Almost milky. Indescribable, really.

And the hoodoos! Holy cow! I had no idea what we were walking into! With the exception of the sapphire blue sky and the buttery sunshine, it felt like we might have disapparated onto Tatooine.

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Perspective-crushing panorama view from inside a bend in the river above the falls.

You could climb around down by the Tropic Ditch falls, even walk behind and under as they dropped off their dolomite cliff. We wanted to, but crowds were gathering, and you know how we react in that situation. We just kept on a’walkin.’

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Rainbow rocks and clay along the river… mesmerizing.

Sarah, of course, spent some time admiring the clay along the water, pondering how she might bring it home to use on her cob bench.

We just kept on a’walkin.’

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While we stayed mostly to the trail on the way up, we returned via the river, and kept our feet wet all the way back to the van.

Mossy Cave proper might have been but a blip on the radar, but we’ll definitely chock another win up for the guy at Costa Vida for this hike. Viva!


And finally we were pulling into Bryce, UT’s National Park shuttle stop, just in time for a quick pre-shuttle lunch. We had ten hours ahead of us on the road to Boulder, but we were so close we could taste it. And after the slots and the rivers and the hoodoos we’d already been showered with, we knew we couldn’t pass up Bryce Canyon itself.


Wow.

Wow.

Wow.

Another one of those places. I’m not even kidding when I tell you that when we disembarked the first shuttle stop along the rim, and approached the fence, I about lost it. That canyon filled my lungs and tears filled my eyes.

Wow.

I’ve got a slew of pictures, but not one of them captured even the tiniest bit of that place.

Not the color. Not the enormity. Not the brilliance. Not the awe. Not even a little bit.

Here’s one anyway. Obligatory photo.

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Bryce Canyon, through the useless lens of a camera

So we spent some time at the visitor center there, and we got off on all the stops along the amphitheater rim. And every time it was the same. Breathtaking.

And then it was three o’clock and the drive ahead loomed large.

Sigh.


As we drive away from Bryce, I am reminded how very important climate is to my well-being. It was hot there, yes, but the difference from say, Zion, was striking, and I was able to enjoy myself, not just pant and whine.

Also, Bryce and Tropic had clean water. The last week we’d spent at campgrounds with nasty chlorinated water, and we were slowly succumbing to chemical-induced dysentery.

So climate and water. Muy Importante to a happy mama.


We are all fairly sad to be leaving a day early. Had you asked us about this potential sadness yesterday, we would have thought you were crazy. We were ready to be home.

But Bryce Canyon gave us new life, and we’d love to have had one more day there, to hike down in a little, to drive the longer loop and see the rest, and to be there at night, during the ranger-led star walks. I can’t even imagine. Apparently we’ll have to come back to Utah, just for that place.


Our gas tank has been flagging for more miles than I’m comfortable with, and we’re not confident that any of the dots on the map will be able to help us more than the last. For reference, this was all we found at the last one:

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Maybe I’ve already talked about Google maps, and our growing inability to read a map in this country. You’ll have to indulge me.

We intentionally venture into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness every year, and hand our kids the topographic maps of the area with which to navigate us to our next campsite. We’re doing what we can to contribute to a map-literate youth. They may not have maps when our kids grow up, but dangnabbit, when they find one of those prehistoric relics stuffed in their walls as insulation, they’ll know how to read it.

We have maps with us on this trip. I have been using them where we can. Did you know there are states in the Union that no longer print highway maps? Yes. There are. I shall not name names, but one of them is named after a pretty important president. Navigating by map wasn’t possible in parts of the Pacific Northwest.

And there are quite a few other states that have taken to printing useless glossy artistic representations of their state, and passing them off as highway maps. California would not have been navigable by map, unless you want to stay on one of the four highways represented.

And let’s face it, sometimes Google is easier. Even if it does contribute to mass brain atrophy.

But there is an upside, beyond convenience, to letting Google map our way for us.

This, this road with no actual towns, with no gas stations ever, is not the route I would have chosen for us.

Where Google takes us rarely is.

But thousands of miles down the road, I can see a veritable flip-book of scenes of absolute beauty and splendor that we never would have experienced were I navigating with paper maps alone. Google has expanded our road trip to include more of the local flavor than I ever would have pointed us towards.

Redemption.

Now we just need some gas,
KJ

Day Nineteen: Thursday, June 7th, Zion National Park, and more…

You know that hiking in from the highway option if you miss curfew? Turns out people use it at all hours, and the quickest way back to any site in the campground is through our site. Thankfully none of them were putting forth any effort at being stealthy, so I had no fears that they might be Purgatory inmates sneaking in to rob us blind.


The original plan was to spend two days in Zion National Park, about forty-five minutes from here, then head to Boulder, stay with family for a day, and then bust it for home.

The first revision came when the nice lady at the Mexican joint last night told us that we absolutely had to go to Bryce Canyon. Zion was beautiful, but Bryce was mandatory. When I inquired–after my chimichanga–about a cave she’d been telling us about, she pulled in her manager.

“Bryce? Bryce Canyon? Whaddayawannaknow? I grew up around Bryce. Best place on earth. What can I tell ya’?”

We left the restaurant with a new plan, including a day at Bryce and a detailed map sharpied on a napkin taking us to a hidden slot canyon outside the National Park.

So today was to be our Zion day, and tomorrow we would truck up to Bryce. Not ideal, since Bryce was a full two hours from camp, but reservations were set in stone, and we’d have to make due.

Further selling point? Bryce is over 3,000′ higher than where we are here. As previously established, this equates to considerably more reasonable temperatures. Which are absolutely worth driving way the fat out of our way for.


img_20180607_082012.jpgWe got to Zion nice and early this morning. Early enough to snatch one of the last parking spots, but not early enough to be anywhere near the front of the growing line to get on a shuttle.

Again, I wonder how things worked around here before the shuttle services were started. The line–not unusual based on the amusement park zigzag setup out by the road–was long. We sidled up to the last folks way back by the Visitor Center bathrooms. The sandwich board right next to us said the wait from this point was thirty minutes. The tortoise on the other side of us looked to be telling a more accurate tale. You’re gonna be here a loooong while.

An hour. That’s how long it took for the shuttles to come by enough times to pick little old us up and take us into the park. Sandwich Board: 0 Tortoise: 1.

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Me at the beginning of our only hike of the day. Note there is still a smile.

Did I mention it was hot? Zion does not have the benefit of greater elevation with which to shed degrees. It is but a s’muge chasm wherein the sun’s rays beat down and then wallow. Fester. Smolder.

It was atrocious.

We had determined that we–minimally–needed to take the shuttle ride all the way through the park before throwing in the towel and digging a hole somewhere to ride out the day.

The views from the buses were great, but they alone couldn’t constitute our whole visit.

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We needed one hike. I mean, can you really even say you stopped at a National Park if you never get off the shuttle?

Embarrassing request: Let’s conveniently forget that we counted Teddy Roosevelt as one of our eight National Parks this trip, riding only on memories and a five-minute roadside overlook. K?

Given our current proximity to Purgatory, it was going to be a relatively short hike. Upon consideration of the options, The Emerald Pools won out. The image Google showed me last night helped the decision along.

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The Virgin River at the trail to Emerald Pools, significantly downstream of the Narrows

We really wanted to do The Narrows, a stretch of the Virgin River that you can walk up for miles and miles.

The Virgin is not exactly a rager–we crossed it in a million places on the drive up from CA, and in many we couldn’t even locate running water–and I’m certain that you could walk right up the river pretty-much anywhere, but the draw of the Narrows has to do with geography surrounding the water–the canyon is narrow at the Narrows, and high and steep at both banks.

Feet in water. Head in shade.

It sounded lovely, but the eight hour hike-time turned us off. As well as the supposed need to rent waders or waterproof boots should you not want to lose your toes in the fifty-degree water. I think we’d have been fine in our Keens, but time was definitely not on our side. Also, Zion Narrows is the most popular hike in this, the third most popular National Park. That is far-too many people.

IMG_20180607_094027.jpgEmerald Pools it was.

So the funny thing here is that the pools are neither Emerald, nor really pools. I do believe I’ve been the victim of advertising flim-flammery and inadequate Googling.

Okay, okay… Middle and Upper Pools were pools. I guess. They were puddles anyway. Lower was just an overly excited weeping rock. A trickling waterfall.

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Ahhh…

But nowhere was there any Emerald.

What there was was a great deal of sand and heat.

I cannot tell a lie. I didn’t think I was going to make it.

But that promise of the last pool–certainly the one that held the magic–kept me going, along with some of Scott’s water once mine was sucked dry.

It was a gorgeous hike. It was. Really. There were even rocks and stairs, like a sane, respectable trail.

All of Zion is all-around stunning. But we were a little disenchanted with the Emerald Pools, and they had required our entire daily allotment of energy.

When we got back down to the lodge, we collapsed on Emerald Grass under a Pool of Shadow. This was not disappointing. All we really needed today was some cool greenery under our bodies and some cool shade above. We just didn’t find it until after the Great Emerald Pools Scandal of 2018.

Refilled water bottles and rested bodies, we rode the shuttle through the rest of the park with Zion’s finest bus driver. Unlike the first, this guy loved his job, and took it upon himself to add Official Zion Tour Guide to his name tag. He was great!

And he got us back to our van before hunger overtook us.

After a lunch of melted chocolate and toasted grapes and cherries, we did a quick tour of the Visitor Center, which is really just a disguised gift shop. It did, however, house some pretty neat cooling towers, to passively cool the building. Engineering brilliance there.

Then we hopped back in the $900 miracle, and pointed her towards the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel–the longest tunnel in a National Park at 1.1 miles–and the scenery beyond, before returning to Quail Creek for some reservoir time.


The tent was not in great shape. Despite the ranger lady assuring us that there would be very little wind, what there was was enough to inflict some damage on my brother’s Ozark Trail while we were away.

We were sweating like pigs, the tent was leaning precariously, the van needed an oil change, and we needed dinner. We enacted the following order of operations:

First, the Ottinger-Mandatory Duct Tape came out, and we made the repairs that we could on our shelter, to right the ship for another few nights. The fiberglass poles were in need of a little assistance.

Second, the water needed to be consulted for an hour or two before we could even consider tackling the rest of our evening. We swam and we swam, mingling with the underwater willows and grasses of the flooded reservoir.

And then we headed into Walmart. We would change the oil before they closed, find dinner, and come back to swim some more until we could imagine going to bed.

I didn’t even take off my swimsuit.

This was the view from the highway as we passed the campground:

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It may look innocuous, but look a little closer. That orange tent should not be nearly so… taco-shaped.
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Ummm…
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No.

Moral of the story: If you want a tunnel tent, stick with REI. Fiberglass corner-cutters don’t quite make the grade.

Also, don’t borrow a tent unless you are comfortable with buying it.


Any Northern Exposure fans out there? If you look real close, that tent bears a strong resemblance to the coffin of Maggie’s boyfriend after he was hit by the satellite. Right?


And so the evening’s agenda now included a few more items.

Scott turned the van around (in the convenient highway-side parking turnouts, for late-nighters who value their Uniroyals), and we made a bee-line for the ranger’s booth.

They were so happy to see us. Had we gotten their messages?

Umm… No.

There was a terrible mix-up, wherein they had, through some inexplicable series of miscommunications and itchy fingers, accidentally cancelled our reservations.

Well, ain’t that serendipitous.

Long story short, we just stayed our one and only night at Quail Creek for free. Now if only we had somewhere else to go…

On to Walmart, to get that oil change before they closed. While the beast was getting all lubed up, we opted for Subway, the only ‘restaurant’ nearby. So nearby, it was within. Convenient. Unfortunately, this was Utah’s slowest Subway. I saw the plaque hanging above the guy’s head as he laid out each of my onions like he was reassembling a watch.

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Just another day of camping…

This did give us plenty of time to recalculate the remainder of our trip.

Last-minute reservations were made for an Airbnb in Tropic, UT. Just outside of Bryce Canyon.

YAY!

It was only available for one night, so we would rise early, make the most of a very abridged visit to Bryce, and then make an early exodus for Colorado. Spend one more night with our unlucky family members in Boulder.

It was perfect.


We were reunited with our beloved wheels, and returned to camp–to the scene of the crime–to tear the wreckage down and pack ourselves up.

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Salvage Scott and his hearty crew of minions

Also to salvage every possible piece of usable materials from the skewered tent.

Don’t worry.

He got it all.


We got into our one-night Tropic bungalo getaway at 10:30. Without a hitch. Not too shabby, all things considered.

The drive was mostly in the dark, so we probably missed some spectacular scenery, but all we really cared about was the plummeting thermometer and the promise of beds on the horizon.

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The place is immacculate, the beds feel, upon first flop, adequately comfortable, and a load of laundry is spinning away in the gratis washer and dryer–promising no one needs to resort to desperate underwear measures before we get home.

And we are exhausted.

Well, the kids aren’t exhausted.

They’re asleep.

But I’m exhausted.

In the final stretch,
KJ

Day Eighteen: Wednesday, June 6th, Through the Desert to Hurricane, UT

Up at the butt-crack of dawn and eager to get moving. From furnace to fire, but there is always hope that Utah’s in for an unexpected cold front.

How was the drive? Hot. Hotter than the fourth level of hell, where the AC is most definitely broken.

Fortunate turn of events though… In a wave of desperation, I turned on our AC somewhere in the middle of the Mojave. Flesh was dripping off of my bones.

Turns out that the AC that felt like bathwater on the northern tier of our trip feels an awful lot like the cold showers of Sequoia RV Ranch when it is 104 and the sun is bludgeoning you from every direction.

I can’t say that we stopped sweating, but my skin re-adhered to my body, and I will call that a win. Life was definitely looking up.


About the same time I was triggering a Freon miracle, we passed a curious sight to the west of I-15.

Have you seen Sahara? Matthew McConoughey? Penelope Cruz? Steve Zahn?

Well, you should.

What we were looking at out there in the California desert was a real-life replica of what looked an awful lot like the fictional solar detoxification plant from Sahara. There are some key differences, but to the eyes of four Wisconsin tourists stuck in the desert, all McConoughey fans, they might have been one and the same.

Spoiler Alert. In Sahara, you have a giant farm of mirrors, out in the flats of the Sahara desert, with a solar collection tower in the center. Within the tower, all that energy is being used to incinerate toxic waste, the leftovers of which are the integral poisoning of the movie’s plot.

Wait. Did I say fictional? Remember Umatilla? All those 12% of our nation’s chemical weapons were destroyed by high-temperature incineration. Leftovers? Probably, but no one talks about that. Maybe Sahara wasn’t so fictional afterall. Hmmm…

In California, it all looks about the same–only with three towers. But what is happening here–barring any Sahara-like conspiracy theories–is all those rays are focused in on boilers, and all that super-heated water is creating some serious energy. Pretty cool, if you ask me. Even though it looks a little sci-fi.

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Can you see the wild haze around the boilers? Like umbrellas of light? Crazy stuff.

Verdict, as I crossed the border out of California? I am still not a fan. Maybe I haven’t seen the right parts. Yosemite was amazing, don’t get me wrong. But it is just not enough to make up for the waves of heat and humanity.

Also, Nevada is worse.


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Hoover Dam. There was wind.

Took a little detour out of Vegas to cross Hoover Dam. It was still a cooker, and it was windy to boot. It was a fairly quick stop.

And while we were detouring, we hopped off the I-15 to drive the Vegas Strip. Obligatory? I dunno, but we did it. And then we followed Google back to the interstate via the scenic route (Google’s specialty). We got up close and personal with the lesser known Back Alley Strip, where they do justice to the name. I’ve never seen so many pervert shops in one place in my entire life.

Fun fact: Trump tower seems to me to be situated much more firmly on the backside strip than the frontal Vegas Strip. I guess either would be appropriate for his circus, but the backside seemed even more befitting.

Arizona… I don’t want to pass hasty judgment, as we barely touched the corner, but I’m on a roll. I’m pretty sure I don’t like it there either.

The older I get, the tinier my heat tolerance gets. Every year now, there is a marked difference. Is my skin getting thinner? My blood more viscous? My dwindling hormones confusing the sun with the devil? Whatever mechanics are at work, my body is very easy to shut down these days.

Possibly in the future we will be snowbirds, Scott and I. But rather than the usual kind who maintain their three-season residence in Wisconsin, and then winter in the south, we’ll be the ones summering in Canada. Iceland, maybe. Norway?


And on to Utah. Quail Creek State Park.

Aside: Let it be known that the Utah State Parks have the worst website known to man. Very pretty. Completely non-functional.

The first thrill of the evening came upon check-in at Quail Creek, where we learned that the whole area was under fire restrictions, and no wood nor charcoal would be allowed. So much for the three nights worth of meat and veggies we picked up at the Hurricane Walmart ten minutes earlier.

Next up? Our friendly ranger lady notified us that the park is closed from 9pm to 7am. Even the campground. Don’t be late. If you happen to wander in after 9, you can park up on the highway if you like and hike down to your site.

Well that sounds fun.

Under no circumstances should you attempt to sneak in the back way, by the boat landing. You can get out there afterhours, but you will not be getting back in. For it is a one way valve at night, replete with a neat lining of tire spikes to keep out the riff-raff.

Wait.

TIRE SPIKES?

Who in the name of Joseph Smith are they trying to keep out of the Utah campgrounds?

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Camp at Quail Creek. You’ll note the BRAND NEW Intex airbed on the hood of the van. Because #1 bit it. And because Hurricane doesn’t carry Coleman anymore either. Grrr…

We’d passed plenty of signs over the past 5,000 miles warning: State Prison: Do not pick up hitchhikers.

(Not a problem actually.)

After the threat of skewered tires, I immediately began searching Google maps for nearby penitentiaries.

I dunno. Maybe the tire spikes are some way related to the prison two miles south of our campsite. Purgatory Correctional Facility. I’m not even kidding.

We setup camp, only slightly thrown by the house arrest and inability to cook our own food, and then headed back into Hurricane for dinner. Mexican. Sans dairy. Nice.

Careful to make it back into the compound by 9, the girls and I set off for the reservoir and showers before bed. It was getting dark, but it was still oppressively hot. Scott, slightly miffed at the whole Utah experience thus far, opted out of the swim. He’d come down and shower in a while.

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Emily and Sarah in a very high water Quail Creek Reservoir

We had already seen the sign that said pay showers. That was OK. We were well-armed with quarters. The joke of a website said showers; it didn’t say free showers. We were, however, unprepared for the fact that the pay showers in question were actually just one single blue stack outside the bathrooms near the beach. You know, the kind they have to spray the sand off your feet at the upper echelon beaches? Yah. Only you pay for it. You pay a lot for it. And I suspect if you treated it like a real shower, you’d find yourself being hauled off to Purgatory Corrections.


We’re going to bed. We’re a little crabby, but we’re fed (even though our food is festering in our cooler), we’re clean (in a no-soap kind of way), and we’re tucked into bed (and hotter than purgatory itself).

Reality check, and credit where credit is due: Quail Creek is, despite its many faults, simply stunning. The reservoir is a deep aquamarine, competing with Crater Lake for kodachrome awards, and the sandstone desert around us glows with unearthly rusts and oranges. I would kill for just one tree, but the fancy shelter over our picnic table will have to do.

It’s a dry heat.

Love, from Purgatory Flats,
KJ

Day Seventeen: Tuesday, June 5th, Sequoia’s Last Stand

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Big Trees.

Indeed.

The little energy we had to expend today took up up to General Sherman, and the desperately-in-need-of-renovation Lodgepole Visitor Center.

The Giant Forest Museum further down was quite nice yesterday, but the Visitor Center up by the Lodge is stuck in the wrong century. I can only hope it’s next on the agenda!

We were running on borrowed steam today, and after lunch, we could hear our puzzle calling us from the valley below…

Mental Stimulation… Cooperative Family Time… Air Conditioning…

And down the mountains we went.

And we finished.

Not before closing time, but the nice lady at the front desk gave us a key, and we worked happily into the evening. Never fear, the solution was checked and double-checked. We nailed it.


And now for a public service announcement from Kris’s Dragon Spa:

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Yep, Baby Gerard Alexander was born late last night, our very first grandchild.

He’s pretty cute.


Tomorrow we hit the road for Utah. I can only imagine that the heat situation isn’t going to improve much, but we’ll make the best of it. If we never return, we melted somewhere in Nevada.

‘Til then,
Grandma KJ

 

Day Sixteen: Monday, June 4th, Sequoia-Kings Canyon

Obviously, up early to beat the oppressive heat. So far the Intex is withered, but still inflated. I’m not ecstatic with how very squishy it is in this climate, but I’m happy to be slightly aloft of the razor gravel, so…

The drive into Sequoia was lovely, I’m sure, but to be painfully honest, we’re getting desensitized to this particular brand of beauty. Thanks to the prehistoric yucca plants erupting out of the earth all over, we stayed awake to at least part of our gorgeous surroundings. We were just plain out of wows. Also, the steeper and windier roads did wonders to keep the driver alert. I hardly had to panic at all. 😉

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Waiting, waiting, waiting…

Those same roads, however, are falling off the mountains in places, so we spent a little bit of the morning waiting for the construction crews to pilot us through the cone zone. At least we had a nice perch with a view.


The thing about Sequoia is that there is very little mapped out for you. You could spend eternity in the backcountry, but there are only so many tourist stops. Combined with the heat, we zipped through the things we could pretty quickly.

The big thrill today was Moro Rock, a giant promontory you can climb out on to get a pretty phenomenal panoramic view of the park around you. From up there we could see the mountain that was blocking the view to Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the Continental U.S. Not quite the same as seeing Mount Whitney itself, but you take what you can get.

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A bit of the view from Moro Rock

The climb up was arduous. I wish I’d counted the stairs. They went on and on and on. Someone brilliant even carved level footholds into the non-staired ascents. They knew I was coming!

The whole I’m-up-in-the-clouds-and-I-could-die-at-any-moment thing was a slightly different experience than some of the more well-traveled areas of Yosemite. There were railings and barriers on the way up Moro, but they were more of a suggestion than anything. Truly, the knee-high rocks between me and my demise seemed almost more like a tripping hazard than a safety measure.

Nevertheless, the view was awesome, and the climb down was quick and satisfying.

And no one plunged to their death.


Speaking of death, we nearly witnessed some back in Yosemite. I was looking up the height of Yosemite Falls tonight, and what came up instead was Yosemite falls, as in folks falling at Yosemite. Which happened Saturday morning as we were driving through the Valley on the way up to Glacier Point.

We did notice all the search and rescue vehicles and rangers below El Capitan, but it all looked pretty mellow to us. Just standard rounds maybe.

Turns out two master climbers were climbing El Cap’s 3,000′ granite face–one of them for the 107th time–and something went horribly wrong. The duo fell 1,000′ to their deaths. Tragedy.

Just a few weeks earlier, another man fell to his death while hiking Half-Dome.

Suddenly my nonchalance at the sketchy barriers at Moro seems careless. I’m glad we hiked it this morning.


The rest of our Sequoia day was a bit blurry with heat and exhaustion and the beginnings of vacation burnout.

I do know that we hiked Crescent Meadows, through lots of big trees. ‘Twas very pretty. Stopped at the cabin of one of John Muir’s buddies. Guy carved it right out of a fallen sequoia. Pretty cool.

I also know that we trucked over to King’s Canyon for an auto tour, out to the end of the line and back. Also very pretty. Kings River running through is almost iridescent. These high mountain rivers are otherworldly.

A pleasant surprise awaited us at the very end of the Kings Canyon road, in the final parking area. Rhode Island. Woot! Woot! If you’re keeping track, you know that means that there is only one left, and it ain’t Hawaii. Delaware (who knew?) is the remaining prey. We will stalk on.

On the way back out, we stopped for a few minutes to go numb in a calm section of river. We’ve seen so many unbelievable rivers, but haven’t dared get in a single one of them. (Let’s call the one back at camp a creek.)

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Cool Krista

We’ve been warned strongly off even approaching the wild waters, on penalty of death and dismemberment, and after hearing a few stories, we weren’t even tempted.

This river, the Kings, is everywhere else just as wild and woolly as the rest, but there was one gentle section, almost a backwaters, just calling for us.

The rivers are calling and I must go.

Lovely, and quickly, painful.

We made it maybe five minutes.


And then we were done. We’d had enough of the day, and the heat, and especially the van, and it was time to head back home, to the creek that would welcome us there.

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Home Sweet Home

And there is exciting news from back home! Just before bed, we got a message that Scott’s oldest was going into labor. There’s a baby a’comin’!

Sweet Dreams of Small Packages,
KJ

Day Fifteen: Sunday, June 3rd, Sequoia RV Ranch, Three Rivers, CA

Took the wrong road out of Big Oak Flats this morning. Just out of camp. Somehow we wound up on the steepest, snakiest beast we’ve seen thus far, and that is saying something. It was paved beautifully, probably preserved by the total lack of traffic. We burned some serious brakes, even in 1st gear the whole way.

It was insane.

I believe, if Google is right, we were on Old Priest Grade. We dropped over 15oo’ in under 1.8 miles. Needless to say, said sheep route had many, many turnouts. And in those turnouts? Gallons and gallons of water, to cool the radiators of wayward travelers who find themselves climbing this grade in heat such as today’s.

Who are these people?

After our first detour, we came promptly to our second, as the road the Old Priest dropped us onto was closed for the foreseeable future. Excellent.

In true form, we rerouted, and enjoyed the scenery.

We did not enjoy the heat.

Six hours on the road today, and the mercury just kept rising. By the time we made it to our next accommodations, we were pushing 104.

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The hoodie is protecting the right side of my body from certain incineration.

Where is the upside, you ask?

  1. Sequoia RV Ranch has lots of shade in the tent area. Without which we would have found a hotel.
  2. Sequoia RV Ranch is home to not only ice-cold showers, but an ice-cold river. With an incredible swimming hole.
  3. Sequoia RV Ranch homes their front office in what was certainly once a house. With air conditioning. They have a furnished family room. And games.

We made camp at 1pm, and then spent three hours in the office, assembling the beginnings of the world’s hardest jigsaw puzzle. There we were, just outside of Sequoia-Kings Canyon, in the shadow of the the most massive trees on the planet, putting together an indoor puzzle. We weren’t even ashamed.

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This monster is a labyrinth. All the pieces are the exact same shape, many have matching edges and could fit together any one of a million ways, but only one of those ways will build a maze that our man can successfully escape from. It is a logic puzzle within a jigsaw puzzle. We were up to the challenge, and made a good start before we were kicked out for the evening, to swim until we could even think starting a fire for dinner.

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Chicken that probably could’ve cooked without the fire

Spatchcocked chicken and sweet corn. Mmm…


We survived the day’s heat, but on our sharp gravel pad, I am wondering if our air mattress will do the same. The Intex has made a valiant effort, but in this heat, she blew up more like a balloon than a mattress. Very pliable indeed.

The hope here is not only for an airbed that makes it through to morning, but also for a cooler day tomorrow as we venture up and in. Let’s not talk about the actual forecast.

For the first time this trip, I am hovering dangerously close to truly crabby.

I. Don’t. Do. Heat.

And I don’t give a rip that it’s a dry heat, so don’t even try.


Those ice-cold showers I mentioned? You pay for them–which isn’t so surprising–but ice-cold is their only temperature. This was… unanticipated.


I may die here,
KJ

* The header above is titled, Building Fire with Wood Cut by Idiot, courtesy of site A19 back at Yosemite Pines.