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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.

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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Wild Wonders animal sanctuary

We drove south a bit to Genola to go to Wild Wonders animal sanctuary with friends. Before we arrived we stopped at a park to picnic.

At the sanctuary, first we helped wash bowls and pull weeds, then we went in to visit the animals.

They have so many animals, some from accidents in wild lives and some were pets who couldn’t be kept and some were from zoos or other similar programs who were too stressed in their busy environments.

We were met out front by a cat who helped give us the tour. Mouse stayed by us the whole trip. Lilah had her in her arms in approximately two seconds after spotting her.

We saw and fed dandelions to a tortoise who’d just come out of hibernation. We learned tortoises are much better predictors of spring weather than groundhogs.

We saw pygmy pigs, a hedgehog, rats, lots of rabbits, more cats, a peacock displaying for the chickens, an emu, a chinchilla.

There were coyotes who’d been rescued and couldn’t be released.

There were foxes who might be released at some point and some who cannot be. We got to watch their enrichment which this time was a box of plastic balls for the fox to cache all around her enclosure. They have many tunnels in their spaces to hide and sleep and play in as well as things to climb on. She was so excited to open the box and was obviously ecstatic about the balls. She ran frantically from the box to her many hiding spots to bury her treasures in many places.

We got to to inside two fox enclosures and meet the foxes who love to play, sort of like dogs. They sniff and lick and climb and tug and make lots of fascinating sounds. They loved smelling the kids and one took a fancy to Gavin and kept trying to pull his arm and pull him into her den because she liked him so much. We learned that red foxes are not always red (We met two black colored Red Foxes) but you can identify them by a white patch on the tips of their tails.

There was a ringtail cat (not actually a cat, they are a relative of racoons, but look a bit like a cat) which I’d never seen before though they are native to many parts of our state. They’re nocturnal and experts at not being spotted. We’ve seen evidence of them while camping but not actually seen the animals so it was fun to see one.

A marmot came out and chirruped for cookies from the kids which she loved begging for as they held them out to her. The high-pitched noise they make is rather ear splitting.

The raccoons were showing off their climbing skills, maneuvering upside down from the tops of their space while waiting for treats from the kids. The kids held them out and the raccoons used both paws to scoop the food off of their palms and into their mouths. They have an excellent sense of touch and prefer to explore their environment that way, we learned. Our host did a great job of telling the kids why it is harmful to feed wild raccoons.

We met a cockatoo named Wallace and another named Cocoa. Many of her birds had plucked many of their feathers off due to stress from their prior homes and that’s why they are living at Wild Wonders now, where they have more space and less people in their environments all the time.

The kids got to see many animals you don’t usually see up close and learn so much about them and actually help out a bit. It was a thrill for all the kids to see coyotes and foxes up close, especially. It’s important to me that the kids know about our wildlife and learning about them through animals that need special care or are not able to be wild again for one reason or another is a valuable thing!

 

 

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Yellowstone Park

We went to Yellowstone National Park over a weekend and then, we went again the next weekend with family! It was a little crazy, being home for 3 days to do laundry and grocery runs and then head back the same place but it was so much fun to be in the park.

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We lounged in hammocks with friends and the kids played a game based on Pokemon for hours together.

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We walked up the road to the lake shore and the kids swam and kayaked and played in the sand.

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We huddled under a canopy and played games while it rained and then roasted marshmallows as it sprinkled.

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We dipped our feet in the Firehole river and picnicked with the company of jays, ravens, chipmunks, a deer.

We walked miles and miles and waited and waited to see several spectacular geysers as well as really wonderful smaller ones. We admired hot springs and fumaroles.

There are all kinds of surprises in Yellowstone, but I didn’t expect this one: a smily face out of nails in the boardwalk.

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We even got a game or two in while camping! (We LOVE games in this family!)

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We spotted bison, including two who were head butting each other. We saw elk lounging by the river and crossing streets. We saw deer and a fox. We heard Sandhill cranes in the mornings. We even spotted a swallow landing in a hole in a post on a walkway bridge. We looked inside and saw two baby swallows looking back!

The kids built a fire with minimal assistance and happily tended it while Chris and I worked to make breakfast and pack up camp.

It’s a beautiful place and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

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wheels and waves and lizards

We drove to a new friends’ house and the kids played nerf gun attacks, played in the pool and played MineCraft together. They had a great time. Gavin was super excited to ride this mini motorcycle with his friends instructions and encouragement!

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We went roller skating for the first time all summer! It was fun. The kids wanted to play in the bounce area and climbing area so I asked them to clean the living room and in return I would pay extra for them to do those things. We all skated for a bit and then the kids went to climb and bounce and I skated a bit more myself.

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Chris and the kids went bowling with their Scout group. They had a good time and Gavin had a good game of it. The last time we went (a year or so ago) he was frustrated by his gutter balls.

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We went up to Silver Lake for a picnic, walk and a climb. It was lovely and cool up there. The kids climbed this rock and looked down on us. On the other side of the lake there was frolicking.

We walked to the library and checked out some more graphic novels for the kids. Gavin knows right where books about MineCraft and Lego are and Lilah is well acquainted with the non-fiction animals shelves.

Lilah’s been folding tiny origami things, mostly animals.

Gavin celebrated his 11th birthday last week with friends at a playgroup, again with friends out for miniature golf and more bowling and then the next day with family for games and love. Wow! After hanging out with grandma and grandpa and aunt and us, he chose to go out for his favorite, Thai food for dinner.

We went to the water park and enjoyed cooling off in the wave pool and lazy river and occasionally taking shady breaks to lounge in the tubes.

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We’ve been watching lizards in our front yard. There are at least two, skittering around under our plants and occasionally showing their stripey, blue tinged selves. How fun!

Gavin and Lilah made things from a tinker crate and from Gavin’s birthday loot. Gavin made a robot and Lilah made a racing car.

 

Gavin asked for a big set of colored pencils for his birthday (Anytime the kids ask for art materials I pretty much drop everything and run to the store. Haha!) and has been enjoying organizing them and examining how the pencils are organized by their numbers and trying them with some drawings.

The kids have been watching Pokemon, jump-started by playing Pokemon Go and telling me all about the Pokemon universe and its inhabitants. Lilah even decorated a balloon as Pikachu.

We’ve been enjoying the water park most weeks this summer. This week Gavin went on his first water slide with my sister who joined us. He was so excited!

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Eleven years old! We even got to talk about how “teenage” usually refers to the numbers with “teen” in them though the set between 10 and 19 obviously go together in their own space and what a “tween” is.

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Goblin Valley

We headed south to Goblin Valley for the weekend to spend time outside with Chris.

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While setting up our site, we saw a part of a sunshade or tent blowing up in the sky, probably 60 to 70 feet up, almost over the mountain behind the campground. We were happy our tent does well in wind, though it wasn’t nearly as windy as it has been on other visits.

These rocks in Goblin Valley are so much fun to climb, jump from one to another, explore and play hide and seek in. We went in a direction we hadn’t on previous trips and found a window to another valley.

We got caught in a quick rainstorm which was exciting and a little upsetting for the kids. Afterward we found a nice cave to wait out some gusty winds.

The second day we packed up camp while Gavin did some rock balancing and then invited Lilah to help him with some heavier rocks. They engineered a whole bunch of these while the car was packed up. I love to spend time balancing rocks and am so glad Gavin and Lilah enjoy it too. It’s a great way to spend a few minutes slowing down, getting your hands dirty,  practicing trial and error methods and getting creative with nature.

Then we headed to Little Wild Horse Canyon, a slot canyon very close by. We climbed up and explored and enjoyed the sun and shade, flowers and ravens and lizards and sand.

We headed back to the goblins for dinner and a few last games of hide and seek in the rocks before heading home. The kids are specks out there among the goblins.

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Kanab: animals & wildnerness

We’re just home from Kanab, Utah where we went to volunteer at Best Friends Animal Society’s Sanctuary. We went early so we could spend the weekend visiting a few of the beautiful areas nearby with Chris.

On our drive we listened to the last chapters of The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit and on the way home we began Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville.

We stopped at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes the first evening and explored. It was beautiful, though my color senses would classify the sand color as orange, not pink. Maybe right at sunrise or sunset the dunes would look pink. We saw animal tracks and wind patterns and sunk our feet into the dunes, slowly climbing to the top of the tallest dune we could find and then ran and slid down the steep sides.

The next day we went to Zion National Park and made our way up Many Pools trail where thanks to lots of snow and rain there were many, many pools.

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We spotted lizards and birds, chipmunks and frogs, tadpoles and eggs in the upper pools which was so much fun! We did a little research at home and think the frogs are Canyon Tree Frogs. There was lots of paintbrush in bloom and a few bushes with flowers the bees were enjoying.

We saw tracks of rabbits, lizards, and deer or possibly great horned sheep. There was lots of climbing rocks and playing with sand. It’s a beautiful place and I want to go spend more days there soon.

On Monday & Tuesday, Chris worked while the kids and I headed to Best Friends Sanctuary. We cleaned rabbit houses and filled their water bowls and said hello to any inquisitive rabbits on Monday morning. Gavin watered grass outside for the rabbits to play on and Lilah and I refilled the outdoor areas hay supplies. We each held a rabbit for a few minutes too.

After lunch we went to one of the cat houses, for older and special needs cats. There were forty to sixty cats in each house, split into four rooms of 10-12 each, every room with an indoor area and huge outdoor area. We visited all the cats, petting, feeding, grooming, lots of playing with and talking with them. Each one has a story and unique personality. Gavin particularly enjoyed playing with the cats with toys. We fed one bunch of older cats baby food which they loved. One of the cats jumped on my shoulder and stayed there, purring in my ear for quite a while. We took some cats for walks in cat strollers and Lilah decided we need one at home right away!

Tuesday we visited the parrot area, cleaned up the cockatiel room, scrubbing windows, tables and cages clean and putting fresh newspaper out, then scraping and sweeping the floor. The birds were interested in what we were doing and even flew down on the floor to check out the sweeping process.

We also said hello to the parrots, macaws and cockatoos there and heard about how they care for them from a caretaker.

One of the wildlife caretakers took us on a walk to visit all the wild animals who are permanently living on the grounds and showed us a barn owl’s warning dance and turkey mating dance tracks in the sand. It was fun to see the animals there and even more exciting to hear about the wild animals in the clinic who they are caring for and hoping to release back into the wild when they are ready: a baby hummingbird, four baby cottontails, a pygmy owl, a screech owl. Most of the animals permanently at the sanctuary were there due to human interference; either wild animals as pets gone wrong or car accidents.

In the afternoon we headed to a different cat building and met more cats, mainly healthy cats in this one. Lilah made friends with a shy tortie while Gavin played with many cats very excited to enjoy toys to chase and jump at. I visited with some of the shyer ones and petted any who were interested. There was a beautiful cat who jumped on my lap and stayed there for the next 45 minutes until I had to go. Lilah asked about a kitty who wobbled all over the place and we learned she has a neurological condition that makes her balance off.

It was an amazing experience and we are already planning to go back! It was fun and interesting and the kids were able to help readily and didn’t complain or bystand at all (which I’d been a little worried about, having no first-hand experience with what tasks we might be given.) It made a big impression on all of us and I felt that we were making a difference for the animals and the caretakers both. One of the cat caretakers told me that they are often so busy taking care of all of the animals immediate needs; food, water, cleaning, medications, etc. that they don’t get much time to interact otherwise, but that volunteers doing just that makes the cats more adoptable by increasing and extending their comfort and experience with people and therefore helps find animals homes.

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Arizona

We spent last week in Tucson, Arizona. It was such a change in temperature from home, going from jacket, hat and glove weather to shorts and t-shirts weather.

The drive was long but beautiful and we finished the very very long audiobook we had been working through, the third in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. We stopped in Phoenix to eat and Gavin spotted something in the sky he wanted to investigate so we walked over and found it was a huge suspended glowing sculpture.

Chris worked and the kids and I adventured during work hours and then we all headed out in the evenings together.

We saw our favorite soccer team, Real Salt Lake at two training matches while we were there. Lilah spent most of the first game watching bats catch moths in the stadium lights and she enjoyed that very much.

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The three of us visited both sides of Saguaro National Park, East and West. We saw so many different kinds of cacti, and quite a bit of wildlife. The saguaro were fascinating – I’d never seen them before – and the rest of the cactus were as well.

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The kids were offered a Junior Ranger program opportunity, an activity where they are given a bunch of activities/research to do in the park and when they finish a ranger goes over it with them and swears them in as a Junior Ranger. Honestly, I wished they hadn’t done it because they spent most of our first hike trying to fill out their papers instead of looking, listening and enjoying but they wanted to do it and both felt great finishing. If I’d somehow worked out a way for them to do the research, writing back at the hotel during down time that would have been perfect.

We saw jojoba, mesquite, hedgehog cactus, pincushion cactus, teddy bear cholla, pencil cholla, barrel cactus, saguaro, prickly pear, and various other plants on our explorations. There were many jokes about hugging the teddy bear cholla.

We saw cactus wrens, flickers, hawks, silky tailed flycatchers, lizards, bats, squirrels, rabbits, butterflies, wasps, moths.

The kids were so, so excited to see all the differing cactus types, some of them fruiting. None of them were blooming but it was so warm that I don’t know we’d want to go later in the year to see them blooming anyway.

I tried my hand at a new photography technique, shooting through my binoculars. It was tricky, but fun. Here are three of those shots, you have to have about four hands and have the lenses lined up *exactly* right or you get strange effects. I was trying to get a look at the nest in the hole in that saguaro.

The four of us took picnic dinner into the park and visited some petroglyphs and watched the sun set. Lilah took a picture of two different cactus together, saying “Those two look like best friends.”

We swam in the hotel pool.

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Lilah worked on reading her Warriors by Erin Hunter, about cat warriors. Gavin finished the 2nd Warriors book, and several more of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell in between other things and while driving.

We drove past an airplane museum so I asked the kids if they were interested. They were so we headed there one morning. It was huge, which was a bit of a struggle since we didn’t have time to see it all and that is frustrating for Gavin. He really enjoyed it though and immediately started making plans to create new models of airplanes and ships in Legos at home. He asked questions about different parts of the models, especially the landing gear.

 

One evening we all went for a quick visit at San Xavier del Bac, a Spanish mission that is still active, though it was built in the 1700s. They are restoring the paintings inside as well as the sculpture and relief on the outer walls. It’s a beautiful building.

The three of us went to Colossal Caves for a tour. It was the first cave adventure for both kids. I hope we can go see our nearest local cave this year up at Mount Timpanogus. The rocks are still actively growing there with water moving through the minerals and rock. Colossal Caves are dry due to the hot, dry weather in Arizona but still had plenty of fascinating features and was a pretty easy, short walk; good for a first cave experience. While we waited for our tour to begin, the kids tried their hand at sluicing for gems.

It was a great trip, seeing new places and things and enjoying some warm weather and clear air when it’s cold and polluted at home.

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