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Snow Canyon

We camped in Snow Canyon this past week. It showed us an array of Southern Utah spring weather while we were there from chilly and rainy to windy to warm and sunny and finally, hot and sunny!

We did a bunch of hiking as well as some just sitting and enjoying.

We saw many lizards, bats who came out at dusk and flitted around looking for insects, a canyon tree frog, a tiny scorpion who’d been sheltering underneath our tent and who we found as we were packing up, tadpoles in pools, tent caterpillars roving around their netted homes in bushes and trees, mountain bighorn sheep, deer and we heard an owl our last night there.

 

The rock formations there are beautiful, large and sloping and white, coral, pink, red sandstone. There is some black volcanic rock there from an old volcano as well. It is a fun place to explore and near so many other great places too, like Zion and Coral Pink Sand Dunes. We played in the sand dunes for a bit one evening and enjoyed the orange sand.

There are petroglyphs nearby from Anasazi people who lived in the area long ago. They’ve found many artifacts and remnants of houses and other ancient spaces made by the Anasazi there too though the one we passed by wasn’t much to look at since it was an underground space and has been buried by years of sand and weather.

We admired many wildflowers and blooming shrubs and trees, beautiful in the rain with tiny jeweled drops perched on their leaves and petals and in the sun, glowing.

 

Now we are home and enjoying spring in our yard, opening our windows, picking flowers, reveling in the sunshine.

 

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camping in Anza Borrego & Organ Pipe

We headed down south to find some flowers and sunshine with my parents.

Our first stop was a night in Las Vegas with Chris before he had to head back home to work. We enjoyed Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere. It was beautiful and fun and funny and we had a lovely time watching it together.

Next my parents and the three of us headed further south into California to Anza Borrego, a high desert which often boasts desert superblooms early in the year. This year we were a bit early for some of the flowers but we found a few spots where the sandy desert was covered in rich colored petals and it was magical. The smells were so lovely in the windy air.

We found a slot canyon (my kids favorite natural formation type!) and that was a fun hike. It was narrow enough to have to go sideways in spots and Lilah spotted a tarantula in the wash. Wow!

Almost every morning we were there we saw rainbows.

We spotted some desert bighorn sheep traveling along the mountain above our campsite and got a good look with my parents’ spotting scope.

Up the canyon from the campsite there’s a palm oasis, such a strange change of environment from a mile lower where the world seems to be just sand and rock. There was quite a bit of water and the palms looked happy and healthy with little ones sprouting and fruits hanging from the big ones. The kids found a spot behind the dry palm leaves and the rock that was sort of like a little cave.

We heard frogs each night so one day just after dark we headed to the pond the noise was coming from with our flashlights and after some long minutes we spotted one and then two! We watched them blow up their necks and make incredibly loud songs to each other even though they were only the size of a quarter or so.

Each night we saw more stars than you can ever see at home. We looked at constellations and I saw several falling stars.

Then we moved camp to Organ Pipe National Monument. I’d never been there before. It was gorgeous with cactus everywhere in so many varieties and stages of life and death. We saw saguaro, organ pipe, senita or gray bearded, barrel, prickly pear, hedgehog, cholla. We really enjoyed watching (and listening to) all the birds in the campsite! There were so many and they liked all the cactus and bushes near camp. We identified quite a few varieties with my parents’ guidebooks. Two types I know I spotted were the Gila woodpecker which liked sitting  on the saguaro tops and the cactus wren who seemed to be interested in building a nest in a cholla, covered in spikes everywhere!

We ventured into some washes right near the US-Mexico border and saw lots of huge cactus with some wildflowers and lots of dead and decaying cactus too which was fascinating to see. Lilah particularly liked the giant cholla skeletons, full of lacy holes. The sunsets were beautiful. Lilah captured this one.

We hiked up a mountain searching for flowers. We didn’t make it all the way to the top of the trail because it was super steep and we only had an hour of daylight left but we saw plenty of beautiful views on our way.

We learned saguaro don’t put out arms until they are ninety years old. We learned there are bats who migrate from Mexico to feed on and pollinate the pipe organ cactus every year. We checked out some natural water tanks (spots in rocks that fill up with water) and an old adobe building.

We looked for elf owls who nest in holes in saguaro but never saw any. We did luck out, spotting a big horned owl nesting in a saguaro and got to look at it with the scope as well as some of us spotting it’s mate in a nearby tree on our way out.

We stopped for a night in Tucson on our way home and visited the Sonoran Desert Museum, which is a bit more like a zoo. They had great live animal exhibits. We particularly enjoyed seeing the cougars, bear, bobcats, ocelot, screech owl, burrowing owl and hummingbirds. The hummingbirds let you get very close to them which was really fun. Some were very quiet and some were very talkative. Lilah identified each of the four types in the aviary.

It was a wonderful time with my parents and in nature even if it was a bit windier than we had hoped for. I’m SO lucky to have family who love nature and camping and who I love spending lots of time with.

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Del Norte camping

We headed over to the redwoods forest and the beach in Northern California.

The salt flats of Utah are on the first leg of the trip and we got out to see for a few minutes. It looks like snow but it is all salt and it is hot out there!

Our campsite was in the redwoods. It was cool and beautiful and so, so green. We even had banana slug and millipede visitors along with sweet singing birds. After 95-100 degree days in Utah, it was lovely to have mid 60s weather there.

The beach we love nearby was closed due to landslides on the trail so we had to adjust our plans. We headed to Crescent beach for some walking and shell collecting.

We really wanted to do some tidepooling so we found a few other possible places and tried one out the next day. The area the rangers were setting up was very slippery and hard to maneuver and we couldn’t find much of interest besides the most common shallow critters like anemones and crabs so we headed to the other side of the beach and we found sandy pools that Lilah could easily get around and so many fun things to see!

There were ochre sea stars in a rainbow of colors

and leather stars

and another kind I’d never seen before except at the aquarium which some research indicates may be a blood star.

There were crabs, both hermit and bigger.

There were barnacles and limpets and mussels and anemones and snails.

There were several types of fish.

There were nudibranchs! We found lots of one type with orange tips and one of another that was beige, flat backed with dark brown polka dots.

There were baby sea stars!

And best of all, we even spotted a small live jellyfish flowing in the currents

and an otter!

I spotted the otter in the ocean looking at us and then as I yelled, “It’s an otter! Loooook!” it swam up toward the beach near us and then galumphed up, rested, then galumphed more into a pond up at the top of the beach where Gavin spotted it! We think it was a river otter.

Here’s the “I just saw an otter!” face on Lilah:

And here she is, looking at fresh otter prints.

We hiked to Hidden Beach, a beautiful walk with wildflowers, ferns, views of the ocean below, a few seals sunning themselves far out on the rocks.

The kids built forts, with Chris’ help.

We spotted more amazing animals during low tide there too. Here’s a limpet that had come off it’s rock.

A couple of things I’m still working on figuring out what they are:

these orangey red blobs, which were further down in the tidal zone, which look like they may be red ascidians (commonly called sea pork) which the nudibranchs above particularly like to eat

and this, which may be a tunicate, but I’m not certain.

We also did quite a bit of hands-on (feet on) research about which seaweed types are slippery, or good for gripping while maneuvering through wet rocks in the tide pools.

In between our beach fun, we played Hero Realms, Yahtzee and Dragon Farkle, roasted marshmallows, explored the campground and while driving we listened to The Land by Mildred Taylor, a book about race relations and a young man with a white father and a black mother finding his way in America right after slavery ended, some short stories and The Land: Founding by Aleron Kong, which is a role playing game themed series with some crude humor that I’d prefer was left out but otherwise is quite entertaining.

 

It was a wonder full week.

 

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Bryce Canyon

We headed down for the weekend to visit Bryce, a first visit for 3 of us, and got to camp nearby with friends.

Our friends picked a beautiful forested spot near the park where the kids could run and roam and play. There was a lot of dancing, hide and seek, battling, games of 20 Questions, and so many other things.

Lilah won hide and seek once with this hiding spot high up a pine tree near our tent:

We ventured into the park after dark the first night for the astronomy festival. They had set up a bunch of telescopes looking at different things far from light sources so you could see so many stars, the milky way and a bunch of satellites. I spotted 4 shooting stars while we were out. We looked at Jupiter, a dumbbell nebula and the Hercules star cluster through scopes.

We went for a hike into the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon with the older kids. It was gorgeous and they enjoyed spotting wildlife and seeing the rock formations.

They especially loved watching a chipmunk who was eating a watermelon candy. It was shaped like a slice of melon and it was holding it pink side up, green side down. We watched it nibble for quite a while.

The next day we all took a short hike to a mossy grotto and a waterfall. It was easy enough for the little ones and they got to play in the water which is always fun.

The world is a beautiful, fascinating place.

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a camping eclipse!

Whoa!

We headed up to Idaho, right outside of Stanley, to meet family and friends at a campground to watch the eclipse. We also got to check out lots of fun things to do while the moon was not in front of the sun. One favorite activity was learning to play Balderdash. Players make up definitions for obscure words, acronymns, movies, dates and then the made up definitions are given along with the real one, and everyone guesses which is the correct definition. It was really fun!

Chris and Gavin rafted and kayaked the Salmon River. It was Gavin’s first time rafting and he loved it! It was Chris’ first time kayaking a river and he loved it too. I didn’t go because Lilah had a negative experience recently on a rafting ride, getting too wet and cold and scared and firmly told us she didn’t want to raft. So, we listened to her wishes and hope that someday, maybe soon, she’ll be ready to brave the raft too.

We went to a nearby lake to hike, paddleboat, kayak and paddle board. There were so many fish, little and big, silver and even some red kokanee. It was our first time on paddle boards and Lilah and I had so much fun! Gavin enjoyed the kayak more and Chris preferred that too.

On one visit we took a speed boat across the lake to hike the other side. We found a lovely waterfall.

There were many natural hot springs near Stanley so we visited one at the edge of the river one evening. The spring was hot! and the river was cold! and every so often you’d find a sweet spot where the two mixed together in the right proportions, but mostly the tops of my legs were hot and my back was cold. It was fun to see how different depths and sizes of pools changed the water temperature. Gavin spent the evening on a huuuge log jam, pulling sticks out, tossing them in the river, finding treasure (fishing floats, beautiful sticks) buried in the hill of wood.

And then there was the eclipse. Incredible! Words can’t describe the experience adequately. We had breakfast and then it was time for the partial eclipse to begin. We passed out glasses and watched the moon ever so slowly cross in front of the sun from the top right edge, slowly, slowly toward the bottom left. It was warming up when the eclipse began but it started getting colder again after maybe a half hour or so and by the time the moon completely eclipsed the sun it was much colder. We checked the time and watched the progress and watched the shadows change from rounded edges to crescent shards as the eclipse got past 90%. It seemed to get murky and strange though it was still quite bright until suddenly the light was gone. It was dark enough to feel like night, though not as complete as night, similar to the darkness between twilight and full night.

We took off our glasses and saw the sun black, it’s corona red around it and surrounded by white shining light that was pointed in several directions, like we draw stars. You could see the corona moving, spitting, exploding. We could see other stars. The animals quieted. The humans did too. It was such an amazing experience it was hard to take it that it was actually happening. And then, 2 minutes and 13 seconds later, a shine, and then a burst of light out from the other side of the moon and then the crescent grew and grew into our usual round sun. The warmth returned, the usual activities of the day returned.

After talking with friends upon our return home, many of them watched the partial eclipse, not realizing how amazing a total eclipse really is, or not realizing the difference between a 98% eclipse and 100%. It made me so glad that we were able to realize what an opportunity we had and grab it. It was utterly amazing.

We listened to much of Patricia Wrede’s Lyra series on our way to and from the campground. It’s a fun series though I wish the narrator was a little more sensitive to context and emotion in the material. We arrived home to love from the cats and the first lemon cucumbers ready for picking, some cherry tomatoes and several squash including a pink banana. I love squash and am so excited about our squash plants this year but it may be quite a challenge to figure out how to store and eat all of it.

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Snow Canyon with friends

We camped this weekend in Snow Canyon. It was beautiful, though a bit less rain would have been nice.

We hiked and explored in Snow Canyon, in red sand and petrified dunes and twisting trees.

We played card games huddled under the awnings of the trailers during the rain storms.

The kids biked and scooted and dug in the sand and played soccer and found secret hiding spots.

We ventured into nearby Zion National Park for a day and went to weeping rock and then far out to where less people and trails are, to the Many Pools area. There had been so much rain recently and the snow is still melting so the pools were bigger, more and there were streams between most of them this time. We didn’t spot any frogs or tadpoles but it was overcast so much harder to see the bottom of the pools.

It was early for wildflowers still but we saw a few paintbrush and other flowers like this desert sage blooming already. The kids were smelling the leaves of various plants and deciding if they liked the scents or not.

We also spotted ravens, cottontail rabbits, songbirds and a few lizards.

The kids saw lots of sandstone and volcanic rock and were quite interested in how it’s formed and how different the volcanic rock is, smooth, rough, bubbly, pockmarked.

We all went out to dinner one night and Gavin lost his first baby molar! He was quite surprised.

On our last afternoon a few of us stayed later and found the lava tubes and climbed down into the caverns and then back out. It was really neat! We took flashlights, lowered ourselves into the opening and then descended into the dark tunnels and caverns below. It was dark down inside the caverns. We came out of a different hole nearby when we were done exploring.

Here’s the entrance we went into:

Someone on the trip asked Gavin what his favorite part of camping was and he answered, “Going new places that I’ve never been before and exploring.” His least favorite part was, “Being away from my computer.”

I asked Lilah the same thing. Her favorite part was, “Being with our family is most of it. Also exploring and climbing on rocks.” Her least favorite part was, “Getting in freezing cold water.” She kept walking in the wet sand after the rain and checking the temperature of puddles.

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Del Norte

We drove over to the top of California to camp in the Redwoods, visit with Chris’ parents and visit the beach.

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It was so nice to play in the sand, to toss driftwood (or logs!) in the water and watch pieces go out and come back in or sometimes just keep moving out.

The kids made their own game using driftwood, rocks and shell pieces and played for hours.

We collected shells, especially lots of sand dollars.

We caught up with Chris’ parents and had lots of fun with them on the beach, at the aquarium, at Trees of Mystery. It’s always so good to see them and the kids look forward to every visit we get.

We went down the the beach early to tide pool.

As we were about to leave the beach I looked out and spotted something with a fin so we watched for a while as several dolphins, lots of pelicans and other birds and a family of sea otters were catching some fish out in the water. Lilah was particularly excited to see dolphins!

We picked wild blackberries on the trail to the beach.

We saw sea birds, sea stars, anemones, mussels, barnacles, snails, limpets, hermit crabs having a fight over a shell, other crabs, fish, a tiny sea cucumber, chitons, a nudibranch and a gumboot chiton at the beach.

At the campsite in the redwoods we saw jays, ravens, other birds I didn’t recognize, chipmunks, mushrooms and banana slugs.

There are large stumps of old, old redwoods to climb on, in and around all through the campground.

It was wonderful. It’s so much fun to go exploring in types of places we don’t have near home (and types we do)!

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