unschooling

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.

Standard
unschooling

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.

Standard
unschooling

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.

 

Standard
unschooling

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.

Standard
unschooling

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!

 

Standard
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.

 

Standard
unschooling

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!

 

 

Standard
unschooling

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.

IMG_1798

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

IMG_1476

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

IMG_1490

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

IMG_1493

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.

IMG_1815

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

IMG_1830

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.

IMG_1631

IMG_1506

 

 

 

Standard
unschooling

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!

IMG_1463

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.

IMG_1385

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.

IMG_1917

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.

IMG_1359

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!

IMG_1536

 

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.

IMG_1421

 

Standard
unschooling

Goblin Valley

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

IMG_0230

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.

IMG_0344

Standard