unschooling

Inside Passage

We went to Alaska! It was something my parents had wanted to do with us for years and had been postponed due to my dad’s cancer and postponed due to covid travel restrictions and dangers so I sighed out a huge breath of relief and thankfulness when we stepped on board the ship.

We traveled from Juneau to Sitka, stopping to kayak and hike and ride in zodiacs. We saw glaciers up close and calving. The colors of the ice were astonishing. The sound of the ice breaking and falling was amazing.

We saw lots of wildlife: humpback whales and orcas, birds of many kinds, seals, sea lions, sea otters, bears, moose, deer, and water creatures like anemones, seastars, hermit crabs, periwinkles, sculpin as well as beautiful, intriguing and sometimes dangerous plants and fungi.

We were always busy, with morning stretch class and meals, watching whales out on the deck, going on excursions and listening to naturalist presentations. We even got to do several hikes and one very exciting bushwhack hike!

I tried using a gopro video/still handheld camera for underwater video and it was a fun first spin. I’m excited to keep at it and improve. Maybe next time I’ll try it without trying to steer a paddleboard on the ocean currents at the same time, or maybe not.

The kids got to try driving the zodiac around the big ship.

It was a beautiful, special time with family.

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A few days in Valley of Fire

We headed down last month for a long weekend. My sister and Dave met us there. We explored rainbow canyons, hoodoos, slot canyons and big slickrock domes that curve down to sandy paths between smooth and curving walls of yellow silica sandstone. It happened to be Valentines Day while we were there and a place with pink, red, orange, yellow and white rock seemed like a perfect place to celebrate love. Lilah spent some time making sand art with all the various hues of sand she found. We squeezed and climbed our way through several slot canyons. We sheltered in a little alcove from a sudden rainstorm. It was good to explore together.

We spotted desert bighorn sheep, a zebra tail lizard, some birds and tracked bees, lizards, birds and we think, a fox.

We started on the trails and then explored out and beyond which is where most of us feel the most at home. It was beautiful, all the swirling different colors of rock and the carved shapes. We chatted about which rock formations would be good for bathtubs and cat beds and where a nice hot tub spot would be. We decided that the rock colors were probably flavored. Grape, lemon, strawberry. Mmmmmm.

We ended the trip the same way we ended the last one here, deciding we should return again to explore more.

On our drive we listened to some more of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron. We’re enjoying the story. I am particularly enjoying following the story of a dragon who believes in peace, kindness and negotiations instead of fighting to the death.

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Cactus in January

Far South of home, in Organ Pipe National Monument, it is warm and the cactus are soaking up the sunshine. So, we headed down to do the same with my parents for a camping trip. It was lovely to be outside and not freezing, to be able to more easily spend time safely with my parents and to enjoy the sights and sounds of Southern Arizona.

We hiked and chatted and ate cold s’mores (because we couldn’t have a fire there).

We read and watched birds and walked miles each day to and from the bathrooms. The campground had one set of bathrooms open one day, the other the next so sometimes it was only a short walk but other days it was a bit farther and with multiple trips, we racked up the miles!

We watched the rain transform the desert and just as quickly disappear.

I took pictures of plants and used iNaturalist to identify them. I tried to take some of birds too and got a few but the funniest moment was when I got a picture of half of a birds beak with an almond in it, after the bird almost completely avoided my shutter.

We found old mines and beautiful rocks.

We joked and snacked and admired the big views and the details.

Life is good.

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out and about on our own

The kids got new bikes from the bike collective that gets used bikes, fixes them up and sells them or offers them to community outreach programs. The kids are now each the proud owner of a new-to-them Diamondback! Thanks so much to my sister for helping us narrow down the choices and for traveling out to check out the bikes with us! One has road tires and one has mountain tires and they are both so thrilled to be able to ride faster and with more ease. It’s been really fun taking them out as they enjoy it so much and we can go much farther and faster. We rode about seven miles with my sister this week.

We took a drive to Fish Springs to look for ghost town remnants and see the Wild Refuge (as it’s termed on a sign on the way there). As a bonus we got to drive past the geode beds, where Lilah dearly wants to go soon, and through some groups of wild horses which are amazing creatures to watch. Sometimes they come fairly close.

We didn’t see any of the old houses in the area so we’ll have to check again. We did see several blue herons, egrets, lots of redwing blackbirds and yellow headed blackbirds as well as ducks and swallows. It was a fun place to bird watch! We did spot fish in the pools as well.

We drove down to Chicken Rock. I’m not sure why it’s called that because it certainly didn’t look chicken-like. You can see it off in the background here, a bunch of tall rock pieces jumbled together.

But we went to find some abandoned farm buildings and we certainly did. One was still mostly standing though it was more of a trapezoid shape than a rectangle.  Gavin and I had a conversation about whether or not it used to be straight angles and how a building shape could change over time.

Nearby there were some huge old willows overlooking a pond. There were so many birds and we even spotted six big frogs. I used my telephoto lens to get a close up of a few guys or gals. I think they were northern leopard frogs. We found some yellow flowered violets (I’ve only ever seen white or purple) on our travels as well as some old and decrepit cattle enclosures and some big feathers.

On the way home we listened to our audiobooks, stopped to check out a few tempting spots and saw a big hawk dive straight into a juniper tree and emerge a second or two later chased by two ravens. The kids guessed the hawk was after the raven’s nest in the tree.

We are making plans to go hunt some fossils and some geodes and possibly obsidian in the near future. We are enjoying making the most out of our free days and the spring weather to go places we’ve never ventured out to before as well as enjoying time at home, gardening, reading, playing online with friends, watching the spring flowers bloom.

 

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things we do while keeping our distance

We’ve been baking and reading. We’ve made about 6 batches of cookies since we’ve been keeping ourselves to ourselves. So far: peanut butter cookies with chocolate tops, spicy hot chocolate cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cranberry chocolate cookies, macaroons. Mmmmmm.

We’ve been playing badminton in the yard

Looking for early flowers and signs of spring

We’ve been visiting our sit spots from our cancelled nature classes and walking and visiting our sit spots in our own yard.

Gavin started some new chemistry experiments which I’ll write about separately soon.

Lilah has been drawing and making videos and working on her doodle crate projects. Here are a lantern and a finger knitted dragon.

They’ve been telling collaborative stories.

Gavin and Chris printed a mask. It got a little warped so they are planning to try again.

We started a family D&D night.

Chris started an adult D&D game by message service.

We’ve been doing some yoga, hula hooping and Just Dance on the wii, trying to stay active.

The kids and I have been practicing our fox walking skills and tracking skills. One afternoon at the cemetery we fox walked carefully enough to get within about twenty feet of a bunch of deer.

We’ve been visiting some of our most secret wild spots and trails so we can enjoy sun and birds and fresh air but not with virus risks.

We looked up on our walk and saw this nest! A hawk flew from it right overhead and it was beautiful. The nest was probably about 3-4 feet across. Huge!

We even found some pretty neat fossils on one excursion!

We have had video calls with my parents and sister and chatted for a couple of hours. Those were really great, not as great as actually hanging out in the same room but still fun.

I’ve been taking my tea out to the porch or deck to enjoy the birds and sun and spring air. I’ve been using iNaturalist and guide books and internet sites to identify plants and animals on our adventures. I’m still finding things to admire wherever I am.

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owls, bison and ghost towns

We’ve been heading further out lately to enjoy the fall weather and look for wildlife and ghost town remains and beautiful views.

Antelope Island is an amazing place to see bison, antelope, birds of all kinds. We found an owl but missed the burrowing owls and plan to go back soon and look again. We had fun looking at the old farm machinery and buildings and spotting so, so many animals.

We drove south to see if we could find the ghost town remains we’ve heard rumors about. It took us two separate trips to find what we were searching for but we got lucky and found a great spot with old mining town remnants. Most of the structures we found were collapsed but Lilah found some pottery, we found some old metal mining cable, and this that was still upright.

I love ghost towns. I love the mystery and romance of them and knowing that what I see today may be gone by next year, or not. I love watching nature regain her territory, root and branches, wind and snow and time.

I love exploring and I love watching my kids enjoy exploring. This Earth is such a beauty filled place!

 

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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.