Day 26: A Day Dominated By the Skies

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I heard Kenzi’s alarm three times before I turned it off for good. I could see the sun was fully up through the dark curtains, but no one was moving. I was not looking forward to starting the day as I knew Kenzi would be frustrated that she did not already get a run in. There was one more triathlon on this trip and this week of training would be taken very seriously. Forget that we are climbing up and down sand dunes two and three miles at a time. Forget that we were climbing rock faces, 1000ft elevation, and miles of walking at altitude as apparently that does not count. Maybe not do them, but the ache in my stiff neck from carrying the three water bottles, binoculars, Nikon, sunscreen and iPhone definitely disagreed. This week would require a “Tri schedule” and if we were not on schedule or they do not feel we have structured an appropriate work out, Scott and I will hear about it and it becomes a little tense. Bring on the final week.

Surprisingly though, I am not as sore as I thought I would be from yesterday, but I am wiped out. I truly have enjoyed this experience with my husband and kids, but really missing my dog, and just some solid sleep. I know I will miss this terribly as the views have been extraordinary and will make my house and life seem rather mundane when I return, but I do long for a clean car, sleeping in the same place for more than a night and not always trying to find a pool or route for the kids to do. All the extra details on top of the actual experience, have made me one tired mom.

Today’s pool was exceptional though at least from past experience. Not finding any pools or facilities that would accommodate us at first, I reached out on Facebook to a local club for some recommendations. I knew they did not really want to swim in another warm rec pool unless it was there only option. Fortunately, I had received a response sometime after falling asleep last night which directed be to Southern Utah University and lap swimming all day long. Score! Finally a collegiate pool, so hopefully the water would be cold enough for the kids to enjoy. But let’s not get too excited as Kenzi had not yet run yet the temperature was quickly rising. As expected, the questions and comments came like firing bullets. How far should we run? When should we run? How fast should we run? That is not long enough? That will not work. Ugggh, here we go. Just run and we will meet you back here or there or whatever. Regarding pace…don’t hurt yourself, but get a good work out in. Internals, tempo, fsat slow. Why is this so difficult?

Scott and I repacked up the car with vof clean We met very happy children outside the athletic center, as apparently the route was longer than expected. Yeah!!! We all have our challenges as parents as all kids behave and act differently and I am no different. My kids are so driven, competitive and disciplined in their exercise routines and it is hard sometimes to keep up. We try and provide the healthiest food, the best options for training and mentally try and help them along their journey, but are sometimes that they are just at a level I cannot relate. I love to work out and stay healthy with an appropriate amount of exercise, but I do not have the same drive that motivates them. They were eager to swim in the collegiate pool as they had already checked out the facility and were raring to go.

As the kids swam, Scott went to get an oil change and hopefully the window fixed as I was not going to be able to handle the loud slapping of vinyl fireworks sound in my ear for an extended period of time.  Also, I really did not want to get wet. Apparently ever day in July in Arizona starts off sunny with temperatures quickly rising until the early afternoon when then like clockwork the desert experiences some type of thunderstorm/shower, and today was no different. That would have been good to know yesterday but hopefully we can prevent any more mishaps.

We ate lunch at Centro, a wood fired pizzeria in downtown Cedar City while waiting for Scott. The kids were hungry and there were not many options close to the university except for fast food, which the kids really don’t eat and especially not now since we were a week out from the race. We ordered three different pizzas of various toppings like arugula and porcini, hoping to hit everyone’s taste buds. What happened to the days when kids ate pepperoni and cheese? Some may say the kids are spoiled and in some respects, we all are, but they do appreciate good food and the hands that made it. They finish their plates, with the exception of Viv from time to time, and have hopefully experienced a variety of foods and developed a lifetime of healthy eating habits, a battle many athletes and kids have alike.

Scott picked us up, and can you imagine my disappointment to see the window not fixed. Apparently, a as a motor needs to be replaced which we will attempt to do while in Denver midweek and pray for mild weather until then. If it had to happen, I am so thankful now and not when we were in Glacier and Death Valley. I am committed to not letting anything sour this experience and my energy resources are already tapped so I am not going to let this detail become all consuming.

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We left Cedar City just as the lightning and rain came dancing across the sky. It was far away and I hoped it stayed that way but odds were not in our favor. By the time the rain met us about ten minutes later it continued to dance but not the slow beautiful waltz as before. Heavy loud drops pranced, sambaed and jived their way in and around and through our line of vision and at one point we felt we might have to pull over, even more grateful for the temporary vinyl fix. It was not ideal but most helpful as the rain almost drowned out the slapping vinyl against the wet car.

 

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The weather eventually cleared to reveal a most exquisite remainder of our drive as we made our way to Moab passing numerous Indian reservations selling their wares and passing through lands that looked reminiscent of the Badlands and Death Valley. The rain might have revealed a bright blue sky but also brought back the heat nearing hundred degree temps. Wasn’t the purpose of rainstorms to cool everything down? At one stop to stretch our legs and survey the land, Kenzi and Zach became shrewd negotiators on a horse hair vase that had caught my eye and they scored me a beautiful Indian vase.

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The temperatures fluctuated as quickly as the terrain going from 101 to 83 back up to 104 during the long drive as we viewed several long trains and more scenic plateaus. One particular area that caught our attention was called the Mexican Mountain Wilderness Area, though Scott and I were surprised it was not a National Park or Forest as it exuded so much beauty. Along our route, we decided to go “glamping” outside of Moab, much to my chagrin. Moab is known for some of the best star gazing due to its pitch black skies but it was going to be 95 and hot. That’s not fun camping even if your floor was oriental, your sleeping bag converted to sheets and a down pillow, and you’re a diamond ceiling, it’s still hot, which was probably why we got a steal on the room. Outvoted, we decided to experience the upscale camping, heat and all.

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We drove into town. Moab was so cute and “I wish we would have chosen that option.” Oops, did I say that out loud? We went to the market and purchased several bags of ice and French bread and fruit to compliment once again our dinner of ramen. We added ice cream which we hoped would not melt by the time we were able to eat, but thought that would be a nice treat under the stars.

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The kids took showers in the portable bathroom units which were clean and well lit and the “laundry tent” had fresh clean towels. While I set up for dinner, unbeknownst to me, Scott went down the road to the local gas station, much closer than the town and purchased beer which was really thoughtful. I had bought ice cream for the kids but really thought it might be nice to have a glass of wine under the starlit sky, and he must have had the same idea. Beer was a fantastic runner up as the gas station did not carry any wine.

The evening was not a total bust but definitely not ideal. There were quite a few stars but the bright half-moon really wanted to stake its claim in the dark sky, highlighting some magnificently shaped clouds but muting many of the hidden diamonds we came to see. A gentle breeze blew cross the arid land cooling the desert to the low 80s, so it was not quite as bad as I had planned. The recently installed mister system sprayed cool droplets into the tent also helping to alleviate the high heat. But wool carpets and water don’t mix, something they will have to reevaluate, especially when you add a pet and not ours. Falling asleep to a strong smell of dog urine, I went to bed too tired to complain but would have Scott address in the morning.

Day 26: A Day Dominated By the Skies

Day 25: Lake Powell to Zion, Where the Angels Were With Us

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I woke up around one am, three am Indiana time, as I had to find a bathroom. We have been drinking our weight in Vitamin Water Zero and Skratch to prevent dehydration and I skipped the final bathroom break the night before. Prior to falling asleep, I thought Scott had parked outside of a 24 hour Walmart, but not the case. I woke him up and shared with him that I was heading over to McDonalds. Not knowing our surroundings, he half asleep drove me over and I realized this would be an excellent time to catch up on all my postings as it was bright, clean and had free WIFI. Besides, I had my fill of “feet out the window sleep.” I was awake so I decided to take advantage of this quiet down time, as there have been few opportunities to do so.

Picking up my computer, camera bag, and wallet, I left all of the catawampus bodies strewn all over the car and spent the next four hours writing, downloading/uploading, inserting, cropping and getting caught up with pictures and the blog all while enjoy a long lost love of country music. I don’t think it has been since my college days that I had really listened to it and found myself rather enjoying the upbeat storytelling.

At some point in the morning, the early sun rose alerting me that I soon would be greeted with hungry tummies and my small uninterrupted window was coming to an end. After supporting the local McDonalds, seeing how they had filled me with hot black coffee, a clean bathroom and free WIFI for the last few hours, we headed done the road to Lake Powell where the kids could get in a morning swim. Options for swimming would be very limited the next few days so we had to take advantage of what we could get and apparently Lake Powell had some great ratings to do so. Lake Powell is an enormous manmade lake that boasts over 1900 miles of beach and takes six hours to get from one end to the other and covers AZ and UT. WE had a ¾ mile hike to the beach and we could tell it was going to be another hot one.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the beach it was littered with washed up garbage from houseboats and beach goers from the night before apparently unaware or unappreciative of the beauty that surrounded them. Compelled, I hiked back up the sandy hill, grabbed a garbage bag and proceeded to clean up the beach. How could people treat such an incredible view with such little respect? The kids thought it disgusting I would pick up others beers cans and water bottles, but it was a good life lesson- you act on what compels you. I am always picking up junk here and there and this “mess” just really struck a chord with me.

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As the kids continued to swim out to the boats and back, I continued to find garbage as more people came to the beach, mostly foreigners with equal dismay at my need to clean. Once finished, we packed up and headed towards Zion.

Zion was the one stop I had been preparing for mentally, physically and emotionally. This would be the place I needed to muster all my courage and TRUST God and my kids that they would handle the trail appropriately. All of the curvy switchbacks under midnight skies; the days of clinging to the side of the car with tunnel vision as 700ft drops invaded my blind spots; the anxiety ridden, white knuckled, short breathe, wobbly kneed travels on trailheads would soon be put to the test as I allowed my children to climb Angel’s Landing http://www.zionnational-park.com/zion-angels-landing-trail.htm

Over this journey, I have come to realize that I am not afraid of heights. Whew…I really thought I was getting old. However, I am afraid for my children around heights. I am okay if I am on the edge and in control, but if Scott is behind the wheel or the kids are too close to a cliff, my body spontaneously goes into a mini shock mode where my legs start quivering and I develop this rapid uncontrollable breathing if I don’t feel I can adequately protect them.

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We arrived at Zion and once again the most exquisite landscape, different than all the other parks. Deep canyons, wildlife, towers of twisting turning brightly hued rock faces of sandstone met us at ever bend. We journeyed through a dark one mile tunnel under the mountain of ancient clay with only a few windows of light carved into the hillside which of course brought great delight to the back of the car. This was a highlight into the beautiful canyon but only briefly until we made it through to the other side. Once again, jaw dropping beautiful, powerful, and majestic scenery enveloped our small car.IMG_1089

We immediately drove into the village to get our bearings and decided to attend a ranger talk that had just started. We have found the interesting 15-30 minute presentations to be really informative and worth the time to help set a story for each of the parks. We slid into the presentation rather discretely, unlike a group of foreigners who were being extremely loud and caused the ranger several times to stop and compose herself and the talk. We learned about the rocks and civilizations that had inhabited the land and the weapons used to survive. When she asked if anyone knew what type of rock obsidian was, quite confidently, Zach semi-raised his hand and spontaneously blurted out, “igneous.” Everyone including myself looked at him. Very proud mom moment as Kenzi under muffled breathe says “Of course.”

We finished the presentation and immediately decided not to rush our trip as we really wanted to explore Zion and stay for more than the afternoon. Besides, the kids really wanted to get more camping in as they have taken an instant liking to sleeping outdoors. We went to check out our options and again luck was on our side as there had been an early cancellation and we could set up camp near the center of all the activity, or so we thought. The heat was rising and with several of the trails we wanted to explore, we thought it best to set up camp as we would probably not be in the mood later after we were hot and tired. Within 45 minutes we were unpacked, organized, food stored properly (squirrels, not bears) and car window lightly covered. It was hot, so I drew the tent coverings to protect from the intense sun while the kids filled extra water bottles.

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Every trailhead or most of them has to be accessed by shuttle bus. So with maps in hand, we left our campsite and hopped the shuttle which would take us fifteen minutes up the canyon to our most desired location, Angels Landing. As we started to ascend the trail, numerous people were coming down even a few close to Viv’s age so I immediately felt better. It was five miles round trip and they said it should take approximately five hours to complete. So far, not too bad, though I knew we were going to try and complete the trail in at least half of that due to time limitations. We past a couple of groups resting in very sporadic patches of shade, which we too took advantage of from time to time, along the hot sunny trail.IMG_1092

 

One overzealous couple started sprinting up the mountain and silently I thought, we’ll pass them eventually. Well, this hike is definitely for the seasoned hiker as at one point midway we were climbing a forty five degree angle -think steps without the steps for about 50 meters or the length of an Olympic pool, but felt like twice the distance. We then entered a wildlife sanctuary where signs asked you to keep conversations to a minimal as you continued to make your way up the mountain. Upon passing, there was a carcass of a mountain goat that had attempted to make the climb, and became mangled upon landing.

 

 

This was a very difficult climb and no room for poor judgment. If we were hot, we stopped. If we were tired, we rested. As we continue to climb higher and higher, noticing the canyon below us, I was really proud of our family. We stayed relatively close together and the big kids, though a little frustrated that we were not flying up the mountain, patiently waited on Scott to catch his breath, Viv to drink water and for me to unload and unload the camera in my backpack. This is was a tough climb, with intermittent breaks of flat slow grades, but they were few and far between. We eventually reached Walter’s Wiggles, a tight switchback of 8-10 sharply ascending ramp turns.

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Next obstacle, the chain linked rope that you held onto to scale to the top. My heart dropped. Could Viv do this? Could I allow Viv to do this? We made it this far, but there was nothing underneath us but a deep tree laden canyon which a goat had already met an unfortunate demise. Viv was 100% in but Scott and I through choked back fear told EVERYONE to take it slow. Kenzi was first, then Viv, then Zach, followed by Scott and I. After the first chain, I insisted on being behind Viv, Zach to follow, as I hung with one hand on chain the other loosely wrapped around Viv.

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Kenzi was extremely good coaxing and confirming Viv’s every move. I think my heart stopped several times only to be shocked back into rhythm with Viv’s stretching and reaching to the next obstacle. Several times the links were absent and I thought, how were we going to get down? At some point on the sandy rock, my right foot slipped and immediately Zach spontaneously started shaking. “Zach are you okay?” as I reached out in calm voice. He replied that that just scared him, as he thought I was falling. This was not the kind of fear I needed to put into my kids heads. I reassured that I was fine and to be very careful on this part of the trail as it was very slippery. Unfortunately, he now had a deep understanding of the fear I felt towards them when they lean a little too far out or are in potentially dangerous situations. I felt terrible but my shoe had just slipped.

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Not sure how we did it, but we made it to Scouts Landing in a little under 45 minutes, passing that overzealous couple as I knew we would. Slow and steady wins the race, even if it has a faster clip than most.  Angels Landing was only .20 away, yeah we had almost made it. But as we snapped pictures on the high ledge, we noticed deep dark clouds moving swiftly across the sky. Kenzi looked a little worried that they were headed for us. I said that we probably had a couple of hours, and we continued taking pictures and praising Viv for her efforts. But then we learned the additional requirements to complete the trail which would require “a leap of faith” across a canyon and another steep chain link traverse. Okay, that’s not happening. I think I have done an admiral job and witnessed enough danger. That’s when mom wisdom chimed in. I know many of you are questioning if that was a bit late. Maybe when Viv was a little bigger or when I cannot personally witness the intense climb, but not today. I pulled the plug on our BIG adventure. Disappointed and emphatically stating they would be back to finish their adventure, we started making our way back down the mountain. Viv was insistent that she could do it, but there was not changing my mind. I was fine with the strenuous hike but the chains bolted into the side of the mountain on sand filled stone with the high potential of rain, was another story. And as expected, Viv struggled a little to get back to her comfortable place as the view down looks quite different from the climb up. She was a trooper though with no tears, no screams and a good attitude masked under a shaky voice.

As soon as we got through the chains, “CRACK!” a huge lightning bolt lite up the sky, followed by rolling thunder. What timing! I was so glad that I had put the kibosh on it. Though there were people still travelling the trail and about fifty Mormon girls at the top of Walter’s Wiggles which had to be evacuated, I made the right call. I can’t even imagine the panic that would have ensued if we had had to climb those metal links through lightening. We made our descent in equal time down, enjoying the rolls of lightning and thunder throughout the canyon. Zach insisted we hurry or everything was going to be soaked, but I had little left to give and moved as quickly as my tired legs would take me.

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At the bottom, the flash flood gates were opened as we crammed onto the little shuttle bus. Zach and Viv were totally upset as they knew as did I, everything at camp would be soaked and there would be little chance of camping. I wish I had put the rain tarps on, but tried to focus on their huge accomplishment. DRATS! As expected, everything was soaked as Scott and Kenzi made their way back to camp, leaving the other two and I at the village restaurant to order warm food. The temperature had dropped almost fifteen degrees as the cold rain poured into the canyon.

We enjoyed the meal, as the rain quietly settled down. We wrapped everything in trash bags and left Zion headed to Cedar City to “camp” at a hotel. We were able to complete six loads of heavy, muddy laundry before they shut the facility down for the evening. All in all, it was an incredible day filled with ups and downs and the angels were definitely with us

Day 25: Lake Powell to Zion, Where the Angels Were With Us

Day 24: Not So Grand in the Canyon

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After an interesting night filled with gusty winds, light rain and a giant moth that wanted to repeatedly snuggle with me, I woke to an overcast sunrise eager to witness whatever sun showed up over the amazing canyon. I started the propane burner to heat the water for the French press and prepared to get Kenzi and Viv up. Zach was emphatic that he wanted to sleep in and could see the canyon later. He would be missing it, but I was not going to argue as he has never been a morning person.

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Once again, the French Press has been such a wonderful asset on this trip and I owe a big thanks to our neighbors back home for planting the idea. After making quick drinks for all, hot chocolate and tea for the girls, we drove down the road to one of the several viewing points. Magnificient!!! Even with limited sun, it was amazing to watch the sun dance and move over the canyon as it highlighted different crevices and peaks. As I sat their patiently scanning the horizon, it seemed as if the landscape was transforming before my eyes. Though it was chilly and we all were a little sleepy, it was a memorable experience.

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We moved to our second viewing area and upon passing a deep canyon view, I yelled stop as we over shot the picture perfect view in my opinion. So pulling the car into reverse, we backed up about 50 yards. Not sure what happened, but the front passenger window, my window, went down and would not come back up. Oh great, this was not what we needed. We continued to snap photos as Scott said he would look at it back at camp, but the wind whipping through the car was chilly and I was a little concerned with the mountain lion sign we had passed coming into the park. All the other wildlife signs have been pretty accurate on this trip and this was an animal I was happy seeing stuffed in the visitors museum.

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I think most would agree, sunrise and sunset are some of the most spectacular photo opportunities and the Grand Canyon played very nicely with the sun and shared equal bragging rights that morning. After snapping as many photos as our flash drive would allow, we headed back to camp where Scott attempted to look at the window. This was not good and if we could not fix it, it would not be until Monday in Moab before someone could potentially look at it.

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No rush to leave the park, we took a little time to break down camp and reorganize the car and trailer. Kenzi and Zach went on a run and I started breakfast. Scott continued to trouble shoot, but without cell service, he was limited in possible fixes for the problem. We finally exited camp midmorning and went to several viewpoints to snap more pictures as the canyon looked completely different just a few hours later. Personally, I thought the morning was spectacular so I was more concerned with the window than more views. Viv decided to get her Junior Ranger badge at this park, which required a little more effort than the other parks, but she seemed delighted to engage in the workbook. Scott is jest told her if she finished the entire book, which included the age bracket just above her, he would buy Zach a Junior Ranger outfit and make him wear it. Viv did not find the humor, but the rest of us got a chuckle. At some point in the morning, Kenzi and I both fell asleep in the car. Scott took the others to more viewing areas. Probably a good thing as the park was extremely busy, probably due to the holiday, but with an open window, we needed to wait until we claimed a less congested area before we all started exploring again.

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We went into town to grab a late lunch, find a ranger for Viv to listen to a presentation and then sign off her workbook, and for me to find a cell connection as I have been limited the last few days and extremely behind with my postings. The uploading of the pictures and videos has ben a most challenging process, almost to the point where I have wanted to quit several times. Once you start seeing so many rock clay structures, you forget which one belonged to which part of the day. I have been very diligent to file them almost as quickly as they are taken to free up space, but it can get overwhelming. Add to it, that I am not super technical and there are probably more efficient ways to upload/download, but with my limited cell availability, Scott driving, I feel rushed to get it posted myself. I finally hit a low point, lost it, and let the entire car experience my wrath of frustration. Not a proud moment, but after not sleeping with the large moth, I was feeling a bit on edge. Add to it, we now have a window that who knows when will get fixed. I am glad we made it through Death Valley before it decided to stop working but still we have nine days of unknown experiences and weather. Scott tried to help me understand “Kate, it’s like trying to drink 10lbs of pudding out of a straw. It’s going to take time,” which lightened my mood….. briefly.

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We left the Grand Canyon and travelled along 89 up to Page, Az. We debated going into Antelope Canyon but due to time limitations taken that off but absolutely wanted to see Horseshoe Bend just outside the city.

As we arrived at dusk, we were surprised at the numerous cars. This was definitely a happening spot on the southwest tour. We climbed up and down the half-mile red sand path to the overlook. Just once I wish I could say something different, but this view too was spectacular including the layered sand formations. We all enjoyed climbing over the rock faces. The kids at times got a little too close to the edge for my comfort and I would have to remind them to reign it in. I swear, I am surprised I have not had a heart attack as they are always pushing the boundaries, not truly understanding how it affects me. It’s one thing if I go to the edge, but quite different if they attempt a close view. Even talking about causes me to cringe and my legs to spontaneously quiver. I have become much more tolerant since the beginning of the trip, but still not entirely comfortable with their acrobatic and stealth like moves on these unknown terrains.

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We decided to stop at Walmart for the evening just a short distance from Horseshoe Bend to grab Subway and figure out what the next few days were going to look like now that we had to address the window. We also had to find swimming and biking options for the next couple of days.  I was not comfortable staying in a motel with the open window, and the kids actually voiced their opinions that if they could not camp at Lake Powell for the evening, they wanted to be in the car.  The asked if Scott would consider buying “The Lego Movie” and without hesitation Scott agreed. I think he has had enough of Frozen and Ratatouille. Well that worked out well and problem solved, until the pitter patter of light rain and swirling winds made their way into the parking lot shortly after the stop.

I am so thankful for a deluxe emergency survival kit/bag/small suitcase that my dad gave us a few years back as we have used numerous items on this trip including several fast drying rain proof ponch/blanket/travel bag all in one things. It looks like they would be put to good use again as I draped it out the window and wrapped myself up. There was no indication of hard rain just high winds, so I again would be lulled to sleep with the desert winds and pitter patter of rain. Thank goodness no moths tonight!

Day 24: Not So Grand in the Canyon

Day 23: Happy Fourth of July from Flagstaff

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According to Travel and Leisure Magazine, Flagstaff was considered the #1 place to spend Fourth of July, complete with a little road race, so we adjusted our plans and headed to the largest city in Northern Arizona.

So when I signed us up for the 1 mile race in Flagstaff, I was just trying to do so before I lost the sporadic cell signal, before the prerace registration closed. I really didn’t have time to read the fine print, so I just signed us up according to what I thought sounded about the right skill level. Ummm, Momma always said to read the fine print and I should have, but was in a rush.

So there were several age categories and abilities to choose from.   The no brainer was Viv which was a ½ mile free “Kids Run.” I chose “Citizen” for myself, as that sounded about my skill level. I chose “Elite” for the older two as I thought that would challenge them. Well, I was a little off (except Viv.) Apparently, I was considered a “Masters” as my age just missed the cut off for “Citizen.” Wow, way to make me feel old.  I did okay considering I was racing in 7000 feet elevation and had not been running. I had wanted to finish in under 7:30, but that 7000 lb elephant was sitting on my chest and I had to walk several times to catch my breathe as I felt like a fish out of water gasping for breath.

 

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And then there were kids. I chose “Elites”, not because I considered them elite, but to give them some competition. It was an annual fun run and they were giving prizes for the best costumes, this can’t possibly be that intense. And unfortunately, we did not pack a lot of costume and accessories so we made do with what we had. What I had not anticipated was that of the seventeen Elites racing, two were Olympian trials runners, two were at USTF Nationals, one ranked 10th in the US and the rest of them looked intimidating as H E double toothpicks! The male who won the race in 4:10 was a past Nationals elite and the Kenyan looking woman, complete with legs up to her armpits, also had an impressive running resume. Kids were not happy with me. Oh well, better get use to the pressure sooner or later. Now go run and have fun. For goodness sake, it’s the 4th of July and your mom dressed up like a patriotic super dingdong.

The weather was 50 degrees cooler than in Las Vegas as we woke to 65 degree temps but quickly warmed before the impending rain that was due to hit around noon. We decided to stay for the 300 float parade, as we had found premium parking with the trailer earlier.  We typically attend the Carmel parade back home so it was fun to see how Flagstaff did parades.    There were some interesting floats including an awesome Star Wars group, a local foot surgeon with a paper mache broken ankle, and some pretty llamas, but for the most part you can only enjoy so many 275 + hometown companies driving old fashion cars with kids throwing candy. I was hot from wearing the patriotic tights so I stepped away for a bit to peruse the shops while the kids enjoyed popsicles and free candy.

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I have decided that Flagstaff is unofficially the #1 most dog friendly place of earth. Every third person/couple/family had at least one if not two dogs, all as happy as their owners.  There were even several floats exclusive to pet care and Pre and Phelps scored two new treat  bags and four large dog treats.  I was missing my dogs and kitties so much.  I know they are in good hands but ten days can not come soon enough when it comes to seeing all of our critters.

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After checking out of the hotel, we went back into town to eat out one of the numerous establishments. Anything and everything ethnic was available but since it was an American holiday, we thought it only appropriate to find something more traditional so we dined at Diablo Burgers, which the locals said was every bit the wait and we definitely concurred. Scott I firmly believe in supporting locally grown foods and establishments when we have access to them. We were all pretty hungry as we had only eaten a light breakfast at the Drury Inn before the run, and my typical go to food before  I worked out of honey and English muffins were not available. but this was by far the BEST burger I have ever had regardless of how many decibels my stomach growls reached. I opted for the Senor Smoke, a concoction of 95% lean beef, Ancho grilled onions, grilled avocado, cilantro, bacon, and Sriracha mayo but the bacon, beet and blue cheese had a serious consideration. Everyone selected a burger of their choosing branded on the best English muffin I have ever eaten!!! I immediately fell in love with Flagstaff-great food, great elevation, great boutiques, and great people. They can just leave me here. I’m happy.

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We concluded the day with another attempt to connect with distance family, but could not connect. With the every present chance of rain, we decided to forego the fireworks and take our chances to camp at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on the 4th of July. Any other family might have not even consider such a wild idea, but luck has been on our side, so we thought we would take our chances.  Of course Zach and Viv, grumbled almost the entire way that there was no way we were going to find a site. I just love to prove my kids wrong. Let me say that again, “I LOVE to prove my kids wrong!”

So we got to the South Rim and enter the park and the Ranger confirmed Zach and Viv’s concerns. Scott tried two other locations close to the entrance and all were booked.  A different ranger however had stated that there were twelve sites available an hour ago at the Desert View Campsite about twenty five miles away, but she did not think it worth the trip. Well, she was not driving and did not have to worry about sleeping arrangements and the disappointments of three children. After a brief pro/con session, Scott and I collectively thought we would take the chance.  Worst case scenario, would be the campsite was full and we would turn around and see more great views back through the park and find a motel outside of the campground.

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We pulled in to the small campsite as numerous cars were driving the circular campground.  Well upon first look it looked really full. There appeared to be several cars, RV’s and camping vehicles that had the same idea we had but arrived maybe thirty minutes prior to us. Darn! But as we drove around the tight fitting campground, there was a site that had a tent on it did not have the paper receipt attached -a requirement for “claiming” the site. Scott looped around again and asked a ranger about site 41 as there was another RV also questioning its availability which he delivered the surprising news that it was available according to his checklist. No quicker that you could blink, Scott jumped out of the front seat and ran to the payment kiosk located near the bathrooms and asked me to drive. It was a scene out of bad summer RV movie. Zach in his excitement jumped out as well and followed him with lightning speed. Score! We secured the last site.

Well, we set up camp not quite as efficiently as Yosemite, but an admirable attempt as we had to navigate around the vacant tent.  The ranger and his counterpart, perhaps even his wife, stopped by several times explaining how this could have happened and should any problems arise.  A fellow European camper had a similar experience with a tent on his site, and came over to our site several times to discuss, vent or share his concerns.  We were just happy as clams to have secured a spot and would work it out with the other campers when they returned.  In all honesty, it was a bit confusing the whole “claim it” process so we were willing to share.  After a meal of French bread, campfire chili and grapes, we decided it was too late for s’mores. We cleaned up and as we made our way to the last bathroom break of the evening, Kenzi managed to locate the only cactus on the dark trail and snagged her ankle with the prickly glass like splinters.  Well that’s one way to end a memorably holiday.

Our Polish campers, two gentleman traveling the US for the next three weeks, apparently set up their tent not knowing the process and left to go eat.  They were very nice and apologized for the misunderstanding.  Scott and I chatted with them a bit, sharing our experiences and offering any helpful tips to the few common places they were headed.  I am not sure how they were going to accomplish everything on their list, but then again, I was not sure we would get everything done and we have stayed pretty true to original schedule.

Day 23 complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 23: Happy Fourth of July from Flagstaff

Day 22: Leaving Las Vegas

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We woke to the skyline of the strip with Luxor just a stone throws away. Kenzi had wanted to get up early before the heat, but I have to say I am not sure it ever really cooled off. She slept through the first two alarms so I knew she needed the rest. Finally, I got her up at 7am for I knew the heat was quickly rising as the sun was bouncing off the cars from our view. I decided to get a run in with the kids as they had planned an easy three mile and I thought I could handle the run even though it was already in the low 90’s. At this point, I was so regretting my decision to run tomorrow in Flagstaff.

We tried running around the three pools at Mandalay Bay, but quickly realized that was going to be too monotonous after the first mile so we left the property in search of shaded walkways and streets to finish. I completed a little over two miles before I put up the white flag. Though I have been swimming and biking with the kids, their 7:25 “easy pace” was my upper end and most of the time I just can’t hang with them as in my performance today. Of course, the other two completed the full run making only briefs stops at lights or to locate shade as I waited at corners trying to gasp the hot air as it was already pushing triple digits by 8:30am.

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The plan was to enjoy the pools in the morning and then go to Eat, the name of the restaurant after we checked out. So we snacked on apples, Vitamin waters and protein bars because if they stayed in the car much longer they would evaporate or melt. But this delay in filling the kids with real food was going to shortly bite us in the butt. By the time we finally checked out, loaded the car, drove to the spot, stopped to re-hitch Scott’s bike which had apparently fallen off the skewers on the road bump, it was 1:45pm. Kenzi like me, when hungry is not a pleasant person and she let us all know how displeased she was with today’s “plan.” In fact, attitudes were as hot as the dry air around us and I thought we might all combust. The food was absolutely delicious and diffused the situation for a bit, but perhaps waiting as long as we did was not the best decision for our family. It was hot, really hot and the temperatures kept climbing.

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After we Ate, and yes the inside door as we exited said “Ate,” we went to the Vegas Municipal Pool thirteen miles down the strip which I hate to say was awful. Not the pool water, but the pool facilities. First, the front desk clerk asked the kids to show her their swimsuits.  Weird??  I asked why and she said that sometimes kids come in and try and swim in their bra and underwear and that was not allowed.  Really, you think?  I guess even Vegas has some standards, though last night walking on the strip was questionable as the kids were exposed to a lot of color and we had a few questions to answer.  Anyway, the pool.  The pool was a large-50 meter by 25 meter, but the roof was only there to mute the bright sunlight as I think it was still 105 on the deck. According to a coach who approached us as the kids were swimming, apparently a number of years back someone thought it a great idea to weld the glass roof shut thus  turning the deck into a greenhouse. Apparently, this is the pool where triathletes go for training while in Vegas, probably just not in July and if only they brought their suits.

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When we left Vegas on our way to the Hoover Dam filled with trenta cups of ice from Starbucks, as the outside temperature registered 118. Our brief time in the city was an experience, but I was happy to say I was leaving Las Vegas. It had changed a lot in the last six years as everything seemed even more developed with gigantic, protruding MM’s and Coca-Cola billboards and very high end boutiques in front of the hotel/casinos.  Maybe they were there before but my spa retreat at Bellagio kept me from experiencing the strip.  What was very obvious was that the strip was divided straight down the middle.  One side catered to the high end rollers and the other was for those scraping the bottom of the barrel. It was an immediate and very obvious distinction between classes though the locals, trying to entice tourists to engage in “all things Vegas” were equal to both sides.  We are not gamblers and I detest the smell of smoke and had my fill of the ever present stench of clove cigarettes. I did have enough time to go to a spa this trip, and though it was fun to look at the beautiful and expensive labels lining the street, they were not something I would spend money on this trip.  Actually, probably never, though the clothes were as beautiful as the models wearing them.

 

We made it to the Hoover Dam for a quick 45 minute stop to look at the massive power plant.  Zach was impressed by the high security as the checked our vehicle and others thoroughly.  Kenzi was hoping to see the mountain goats climbing the dam or the Bighorn sheep in the surrounding mountains, but did not spot a single one though she gave it an honest attempt through the binoculars.  I think perhaps the heat had them in the shade while we were visiting.

 

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We might have been a bit to optimistic to make it to Flagstaff for dinner, so we stopped in Kingman, As Ristorante Italiano, a top ten rated restaurant in Arizona. What a nice surprise and after the food prices in Vegas, this was a bargain. Not really, but worth every penny.  From the piano player who greeted us when we walked in to the outstanding service, it was a treat to get out of the heat as it has been a long couple of days.  We devoured our food, right down to the last crumb in the bread basket. Kids WERE hungry and fell asleep a short time after filling their bellies.

We continued onto Flagstaff, another 2 hours away, enjoying the distant heat lightening across the landscape. It was beautiful and Kenzi and I commented numerous times how cool it was to see it so far away but Viv had her own thoughts and snuggled up tight with her stuffed black bear.  Scott strained to keep the car on the windy road.  In fact, there have been several times throughout the trip where the strong winds have been noticeable and I was thankful Scott was behind the wheel which has not come out of my mouth often this trip.  Truth be told, especially on those winding  and numerous California roads, I would have preferred to drive and be on the inside of those cliffs but I am “slowly” learning to surrender…..slowly.  Needless to say when we arrived, Scott and I unpacked the car as the kids went to bed.

 

 

Day 22: Leaving Las Vegas

Day 21: Near Death Valley Experience

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So we left late morning after the kids went for run and ride and made our way towards Mt Whitney. Nothing too spectacular to look at but as we were driving Scott mentioned a slight change to our schedule which had us in Flagstaff for Fourth of July. Immediately, before I lost cell service, I found the 3rd Annual 1 mile run before the parade in historic downtown Flagstaff and signed the kids and I up, as Scott was assigned photo and food duty.

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We finally made it to the entrance road to Mt Whitney, the highest place in the US above sea level, and it was a slow winding ten mile route to the base of the mountain. It was dry, barren land, littered with rocks of varying sizes and shapes and interesting mounds of sporadically placed rock structures, a few cactus, and dead branches and brambles decorating the landscape. It was a pretty hefty ascent from 3000-8000ft fairly quickly with “active bear zone” signs along the road. It sure did not look like bear country, but they have not been wrong thus far. As soon as we made it to the first visitors landing, the rocky ground turned into an oasis of mighty evergreens of various species and overturned trees as well a hidden stream and waterfall. I felt like I was in the middle of the bear exhibit at the zoo! No seriously, I am not sure they could made it look more real and at ever climb on a rock face or over turned log or bubbling pool, I asked the kids to stay vigilant. It looked as if at any point a cute little cub would ramble innocently over our immediate view and mother bear would be quickly behind. This was not an experience I was willing to test.

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After scaling as far as we felt comfortable near the waterfall, we decided to keep travelling. I am absolutely sure the additional 6000 foot ascent to 14,000 feet would have been worth it, but we had not the time nor energy in this rising heat to see more active bear signs. In fact, Scott spoke with some hikers that had stated that the temps drop about 25 degrees in the evening and that the bears started to “pack” according to the rangers, the night before. That did not sound good! One bear, fine. Three bears, one at a time fine, fine. A pack of bears were probably more than this Midwesterner was willing to expose her family to so with that final bit of information, we were on our way.

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At the bottom of the mountain, we picked up McDonalds swirl cones and travelled our way for another hour in the rising heat towards Death Valley. Personal comment injected…..I was not looking forward to the three hour drive across the desert terrain. We had three stops we had wanted to see, but we would play it by ear. I said a small breathe prayer that went something like this….”Please Lord keep us safe from the unknown and that they car do not die on us. We have gone 5500 miles steady and strong, with no major accidents or injuries and this would not be the day or time to decide to test this. Thank you and Amen.” I was sure that things were going to keep heating up and quickly.

I really did not know what to expect in Death Valley but since we went to the highest place above sea level, why not the lowest as they were relatively near one another. I definitely did not understand why people were wanting to spend time in this place complete with resorts, RV camping, and even a golf course? Who in there right mind would want to spend time other than to get a drink, souvenir and say you drove to the lowest place below sea level and the hottest place in the US? In fact the resort was full. Who are these people? But just before we entered the official park, which I might add was absolutely spectacular and I am not quite sure why it was not part of the official Death Valley, the first of four people were walking along the road with assist cars behind them. No offense to anyone reading this blog, but you have to be either nuts, or a complete and total badass, as there is no in between. We entered the park around 112 degrees and signs warned us throughout the journey to “Be careful next six miles high temps.” “Turn off AC next 10 miles to avoid overheating.” Are you kidding? It was now 116 and they want you to turn off your air?! The kids were asleep and Scott and I laughed again out loud. What on earth!

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We stopped a little over halfway at Stovepipe Wells Visitor Center in the only small patch of shade near the gas station we could find.   When I opened the car door, a heat I cannot even described, enveloped me. I stepped out and my arms immediately were filled with goose bumps. What a weird sensation. We went to the bathroom and even the water to wash our hands was hot, really hot. We hung out at the center for about fifteen minutes enjoying the cool air that only blew as patrons came in and out of the door, but kept the small shop cool. We left with one sticker, a glass and a stuffed scorpion that we had hoped to keep Viv distracted from the high heat as we knew we would have to turn it off from time to time, which we did.

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There were numerous dunes to see, but we stopped by Mesquite Flat Dunes, outside of Stovepipe Wells, where we saw more warning signs. This time it was regarding the sidewinder snakes. Scott was the only one to exit the vehicle as we all decided we could see the views without burning to a crisp. It would be another hour or so before we exited the park and did not need the smell of singed skin in the car to go along with the ever growing stench of Zach’s feet.  He always knew when Zach had repositioned himself, as the feet were a big detector of how far he had moved up and down his seat and placed his feet near the back of his head.

 

I will comment that there is no other place in the USA, and we have seen quite a bit, that you get so many different types of rock formations, geological layers of colorful earth, sand dunes, gravel, boulders etc in one condensed place. Though the heat was intense and I don’t think I have any plans to return at this point, it was an ultra-cool experience (funny choice of words) to see stone that varied from greens, to purples, burgundy and all sorts of warms tones. I thought Badlands was beautiful in all of its colorful splendor, but Death Valley top it from a prismatic wonder. If you can handle the heat, a definite must. I do not recommend travelling in July as the “No camping next 2 miles, 6 campers dead” are as strategically placed as the wildlife signs across our journey in the other parks.

 

 

Needless to say, with outside temps registering at 133, we opted to pass our next two stops including  Zabriskie’s Look Out which was right off the road but would require us to get out of the car and there was no shade and then to Badwater Basin, the lowest point below sea level. We were at -278 so we really did not feel the extra 4 feet was worth the 14 mile drive in the heat.

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Out of Death Valley and onward to Las Vegas for the evening. Hopefully the temps would be cooler, but I had my doubts. We secured a suite at Mandalay Bay on the south end of the strip. The price match last minute deals have really worked to our advantage. When we pulled in, we were met with another unexpected bonus…..free parking for the trailer and car in the Convention center, just south of the Four Seasons, the hotel next to us. Well, glad parking was free as I am sure that would be the last for the next 24 hours.

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After the half mile hike to our room and a quick change, we were off to dinner. There were many kid friendly options and equally as many that were not, as it was getting close to the clubs opening for the night. Kenzi and I were more tired than the rest of the crew, but rallied for dinner and a short walk on the strip then called it a night.

Day 21: Near Death Valley Experience

Day 20: Fresh, Salt or Chlorine…Got Water?

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After sleeping under the stars in Upper Pine Campsite at the base of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, we had collectively decided that we LOVE camping! I am so glad we waited to tent camp until the weather cooperated as it would have been dismal and Yosemite was every bit the wait! Forget that we did not bring our golf clubs, chaps, or fishing rods as others might have, as we never felt without. There really was a little of everything for everybody old and young alike including a bear visit in the middle of the night which a park ranger scooted off. Though I did not make eye contact with the furry fellow, I heard him banging through a locker of a nearby campsite.

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The kids got up for an early 5 mile run and apparently saw numerous deer and wildlife which they captured on the Go Pro. With the Garmin watches that Kenzi secured through the first triathlon, they were able to run through the park with confidence mapping their route as they spurred one another on. Scott and I had more “pressing” plans as we broke out the French press coffee maker. Nothing like a nice dark cup of strong and delicious coffee to follow a night on the ground. I am definitely not complaining as I can sleep anywhere and actually prefer a hard service but it is always good practice to keep the driver and purse strings happy, happy, happy, and Scott loves his coffee. Again, I’m not complaining as I am beneficiary to both a pleasant attitude and the liquid gold.

After a yummy and filling breakfast of instant steel oats with honey, brown sugar and chia seeds, tortillas warmed and lightly charred using our propane burner with jam that we have collected throughout our hotel stays, and more coffee and hot tea, we packed up almost as efficiently as we made camp. A neighboring camp commented as I was tearing down tents how impressed she was with our family last night and how we worked together. Awesome-it was not just me and the validation almost brought tears to my eyes. With a 15, 13 and now 9 year old, trying desperately keep up with her older brother and sister, harmony, bliss, unification and togetherness are not always words used to describe our family at this stage in life. I wish I could say we acted like the Duggar’s, but that would require a whole lot kids I’m NOT counting. It was a proud momma moment.

After we packed up, we were not quite ready to leave the park so we decided to go to one of the many visitor centers to learn more about the granite formations. We spent another hour walking the valley before we got back on the road for what would be a long drive on the Tioga Pass which divided Yosemite. The first part of the drive we were questioning why so many recommendations were given to the drive, as nothing spectacular was seen compared to what the past 24 hours had unveiled. But finally about half way through our travels, we landed upon a scenic overview and it did not disappoint. A park volunteer offering views of the back side of Half Dome through his high powered telescope was super friendly and knowledgeable about the park, the local trails and the climb up Half Dome where we observed the 250 permits traversing the steep incline. They looked like a tiny ant trail. We learned that it takes an eight mile hike to the base of the mountain to climb and then another four to six hours to climb up to the top and then back down before dark. At the top, it takes fifteen minutes to walk from one side to another as it is equivalent to thirteen football fields. Maybe something to add to my bucket list or for a momentous birthday, but definitely when I am well rested and well fueled. We then were off to explore and look at the view from a little higher angle.

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At the top, we got an even more spectacular view including a very blue lake exiting the park, rock formations which people had carefully created and a close up view of a yellow bellied marmot. I would say it was a pretty good stop. However, as we climbed down the loose granite, I slid and landed on my left arm trying to save our Canon zoom lens. Ouch! That was going to smart. As the kids continued to bound up the other side of the mountain chasing lizards or what not, Scott took the camera and helped me to my feet so I could address my scraped up arm. Fortunately, we were not that far from the car and fortunately I had made a med kit with ever potion, cream and bandage available. Cleaned up, we made our way down to the valley when all of a sudden a great eruption broke out as all of the kids screamed, “Look how clear the water is! Oh, please, please, please can we swim?”

So we stopped at Tenaya Lake which was crystal clear and cold, though not as cold as the Bay. Scott and the kids donned their swimsuits. Unfortunately, Scott put his on inside out (perhaps from not getting the best sleep) and had a repeat performance of his changing skills roadside. Bad news of being on the passenger side was that even though I am high up in an SUV, “some people” think they can do various forms of business roadside, keeping them private from the rest of the world. Unfortunately for me, I got a full front view of all things male. Anyway, after all that changing, Scott only got up to his knees. After a little body temp regulation, the other three were swimming in the icy clear water. They even brought the Go Pro but we quickly realized that once it goes underwater you lose your immediate connection to the smart phone for instant viewing. They were definitely having fun playing with it and I would say that one out of every five families we see traveling this summer had a GoPro.

After the swim it as more driving. Our next stop would be Mono Lake, apparently the only salt water lake in the country. It is supposedly twice as salty as the ocean and due to its alkaline properties, people swim in it. Afterwards you are completely white so we were up for the experience. Unfortunately, all the hype was definitely not worth it even if it was on the way. It was smelly and had equal amount of dead gulls as live on the beaches as well as millions of tiny flying black bugs. To get to the water you had to find one of several hard salt mounds that were surrounded by a greyish black sludge. Kids made lemonade out lemons and had fun creating videos and being totally silly with salt lake background. At least we were able to grab very expensive swirl ice cream cones before we made our way to Mammoth.

This would probably be a good time to share how we spend long drive times with little viewing opportunities. Of course, there was the occasional “She/he is on my side” but that has been less than expected. There has been the “But I was singing that song first” and “He/she is singing it wrong” conversations. Several books have been read, workbook pages completed, and a couple of dozen loops of Frozen complete with full background ensemble of the Wilson trio. Scott has several times threatened to dispose of the movie if he has to listen to it one more time. Vivian, our most passionate singer, never leaves an opportunity on the table to give it her full theatrical performance, facial expression and at. As you can imagine, this leaves lots of room for Zach and Kenzi, but mainly Zach full brotherly rights to engage. Ugggh.
After leaving INYO National Forest, actually I am not sure we ever left the forest until at some point the next day as I was still seeing signs almost to Mt Whitney. Our plans were to see Devils Postpile in Mammoth, but due to the limited access with the trailer, we were forced to take a shuttle, which we all agreed we were not thrilled with messing with due to the time of day. Besides, we have seen a lot of really cool rock formations and though it was rated high on Roadtrippers, we passed. We briefly stopped in Mammoth for a bathroom break but decided to continue on to Bishop to break up the trip the next day to Mt Whitney. Besides there was a pool the kids could get some yardage in late in the day. As we continued driving we saw our first dust devil swirl out in a field several hundred yards from the road. We also saw a huge flock of dirt cream colored sheep that looked almost like the boulders that surrounded them at the base of one of the many hills. We have seen so many things and ninety percent of the trip has just been a visual wonderland.

 

Kids arrived just in time to get a late afternoon swim completed. I think they are starting to appreciate the cold clean water of their home facility. The head coach was a former ITU triathlete and was most accommodating to the kids, even opening up another lane line during her practice for them. But the water was hot and saturated with chlorine. There are just not a lot of options in these small towns.   Then we or “I” chose a place that received high reviews for dinner even though it looked like a hole in the wall. It was definitely a hole in the wall, decorated in full Latino regale, complete with an old El Dorado parked in front. Lots of color, random pictures and plants that I am sure had meaning to the family. It was absolutely the most authentic small town Mexican restaurant I had personally ever been too. I felt like I was in someone’s home. I actually think perhaps the restaurant was secondary to the town’s tax shop in season as the file cabinets in the far back room and the conference chairs around each of the mix matched tables screamed second business. Or perhaps it was an exotic bird/reptile dealer as the three large Blue and Gold Macaws, a Citron Crested Cockatoo, five parrot fish, two Red-eared sliders and several dozen large goldfish were keeping the kids entertained before the food arrived. Kenzi was not sure it was up to code. Perhaps it was the waitress who said “I am better at taxes that I am a waitress,” though she was friendly and prompt with our incredibly delicious and authentic made with love food.

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The evening ended with Scott grumbling that we had more laundry to do, graciously took on the responsibility when we got back to the motel. Again, every day is unique and though this was on the lower end of motels, it helped keep us on budget as we knew we have a few bigger expenses coming down the road.

Day 20: Fresh, Salt or Chlorine…Got Water?