unschooling

big rock candy mountains

We got the chance to head down to Southern Utah this week to relax, hike, explore and enjoy a few degrees warmer weather than at our home. We visited Capitol Reef and Fremont Indian State Park. Big Rock Candy Mountain is an actual place that we drove through on our way around and about and when you see the colors and textures and beauty of the surroundings nearby, you can see why.

Capitol Reef is full of amazingly beautiful rock formations as well as historic Fruita, an old fruit growing town. We stopped at the Fruita school house and blacksmith shop and spotted happy deer living in the orchards and big marmots chewing grass in the picnic area near the river.

We spent a lot of our time exploring slot canyons, which I particularly love and have apparently passed my love on to our kids as they requested more and more slot canyon hikes. We also hiked some of the scenic narrow, but not slot canyon narrow washes that are easily accessible in the park. The kids are strong and energetic enough to hike about 5 to 6 miles total in a day now which lets us explore some areas that we haven’t been able to reach before. (We go fairly slowly and make a lot of stops though, to allow the kids to rest and to enjoy the scenery!) We went up Capitol Wash through the narrows, past the historic pioneer register and up to the tanks. We even happened upon an arch when we hiked a little way off trail to find a place to sit and eat our lunch.

We hiked up into Cottonwood Wash to some beautiful slots. Gavin did some photographing which is fun to witness both the process and the outcome. My favorite is the one where he had Lilah put her hat with the pink tentacles so it was just peeking out from behind the rock.

In between hiking we played Power Grid, worked on puzzles and had a few egg hunts. There was a rabbit that liked hanging out right next to the place we stayed.

 

We hiked through Grand Wash, exploring some of the offshoot canyons, spotting petroglyphs and spotting geodes left and right in the wash. The kids are fascinated by rocks, especially crystals and fossils so we were enjoying spotting geodes, both closed and some open ones lurking everywhere. They often remark on the minerals or formations of rocks while we are out, wondering if the red rock is full of iron and the purple manganese, the greenish could be lime stone. They got bracelets on the trip with mini compasses on them so they were comparing their compasses to the car’s compass as we drove and looking at which direction were were heading on trails as well as wondering if iron in the mountains was affecting their compass readings.

We have plans to do more rock hounding as it’s fun, fascinating and gets us outside and into new places. I need to find more local resources and get us some better tools. I wish we had our own rock saw so we could slice some beauties open without having to go somewhere and have someone else do it.

We spotted so many lizards, birds and this hummingbird moth.

We drove out on Burr Trail through the Waterfold Canyon and it was an amazing drive. I was drooling over all the amazing rock formations, washes and canyons to explore. We spotted deer as well as a herd of cows and their cowboy along our way. We made it out to a fairly remote spot where we had lunch up on a huge rock bench before heading out to find Headquarters slot canyon. It was a fun, pretty easy trail through a deep dark beautiful red wash up into a slot that was one of the narrowest I’ve been in. We spotted lizards galore and Lilah even saw this huge beauty, around a foot long!

I loved noticing all the dried flowers from last summer, now a beautiful gold color decorating the edges of the trail, waiting for the rains to cover them in green again.

Fremont Indian State Park is a fairly small park but is full of amazing remnants of the Fremont Indians who lived in the area long, long ago. Unlike many of the other native peoples who lived in our area, these groups lived in homes underground. They came upon a huge collection of ancient homes and artifacts when they were clearing the area to build a road through and from that discover the museum and park came to be. There are thousands of petroglyphs, right next to the road, right next to each other, utterly fascinating and awe inspiring, also lots of other artifacts and an ancient granary you can see into and an underground home you can climb down into and explore. We also visited the labyrinth, a spiral that isn’t really advertised or well marked that you have to just happen upon while wandering in the park. It’s created with the local lava rock and stumps of old trees put together oriented to the four directions and really fun to walk into and out again, contemplating the mysteries of life now and for people living thousands of years before us in ways we may never fully understand.

On this trip we ended up talking a lot about graffiti, petroglyphs, historic markings, what constitutes damage and what doesn’t since we saw all of those things plus a little girl drawing on small rocks in a remote wash as well as a grown man trying to throw a huge soccer ball sized rock into a hole in a protected canyon rock wall, near historic markings. (The impact of the girl will be small, easily erased and not seen by many. The impact of the man will be possibly quite damaging to an area which hundreds of people walk by to admire the scenery of said rock wall every day.)

As we drove through the park and there and back we listened to The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill and Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. I love exploring new books with the kids. They eat up most everything we listen to and often the stories and concepts are things they use in their imaginative collaborative story play.

 

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unschooling

ghost towns

Today we headed out on a ghost town adventure.

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I did some research and picked a few closer ghost towns, packed water, snacks, lunch and we were off. We drove out first to Mercur, Utah. It was a mining town as many Utah towns were. When we got there though, it was gated off and there was no entry. Boo! We noticed some fencing up a hill a little way our side of the gated area so we walked up to check that out. We found lots of remnants of people spending time there, a nest in the fence, lots of exciting rocks and lots of deer bones. A little further up we saw a fresh deer leg, thigh chewed off the bone. I think the big cats must have taken the rest off to eat privately. Lilah was thrilled to find some purple glass and pottery shards scattered about.

After that we headed down and found the Mercur cemetery.

There were quite a few fenced gravesites and several that were just roughly indicated by rock borders. Most of the headstones were gone or in terrible shape.

Next we headed out to find West Dip, nearby. We had much better luck there but it has been used for dumping and graffiti and lots of shooting practice unfortunately. It was still fascinating and the kids were definitely interested in the trash as well as the old town remains but I was put off by hundreds of shell casings and food and drink refuse everywhere. My favorite part there was the sage brush growing on the roof of the building remnants. We saw a few lizards and some swarming crows but we saw no one else today aside on our explorations. The kids decided it would be hot and hard to live in a place like Mercur or West Dip.

As we drove out we saw something off the road and stopped to check it out. It turned out to be a mine shaft, going down further than light would go in the afternoon. The kids were fascinated and we crawled out on the (very solid) grate to get a good look.

Then we headed toward Utah Lake to find Mosida, another ghost town. When we got there it was gone. Nothing left at all. They are farming and building condos there. It was disappointing but did teach us that ghost towns are few, precious and fleeting and that we need to find more updated resources before driving hours to find nothing left. I did manage to find a great site and I think I’ll be cross checking any other info with that from now on.

I can’t wait to head out again, but the kids want to go rockhounding and ghost town adventuring in one go, so that will be our next challenge. I’ve heard Topaz Mountain/and Topaz Internment Camp (where Japanese were taken during World War II) are still a great place to explore…

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