Welcome to Buffalo National River
One of the many claims to fame of the Buffalo National River area is the lack of modern development. There are no hotels or chain restaurants in the immediate area. Nature is the most important resident and for people who want to enjoy the great outdoors, this is the place to be! The trees and brush were such rich shades of green. The trees were so thick and dense that Dennis wouldn’t even send the boys into the woods to get firewood, knowing they’d return with nothing but ticks and jiggers…if they returned at all!
I thought about many ways for us to pass the time in Arkansas. We could visit this quaint little village we passed about ½ hour outside the campground. There were several hiking trails for us to explore. The boys wanted to fish ever since we missed our opportunity in Montana. Our campground neighbors told us the best fishing was just off the bridge about 5 miles down the road. I must have been really tired that morning because 5 miles seemed so far away! The fact of the matter is that neither of us really wanted to drive anywhere. I was tired of hearing that one can of baked beans hit the cabinet door with every corner. With 85% of the trip done, we had clocked an unbelievable 6500 miles but that extra 5 miles just seemed over the top. We really wanted to do absolutely nothing. So that’s what we did – nothing!
Floating on the lazy river
Our campsite was only a stone’s throw from the river’s edge. Dennis took the boys, the chairs and the fishing gear to a small beach area right around the corner. I took my time, pretending to do something productive like read or write but it was 85 degrees and humid. I’m no dummy. I put everything away, put on my bathing suit and met my men for a day of nothing. The river was calm, the sun was hot and the water was refreshing. For a while, we had the whole beach to ourselves. The kids were in their glory to break out the fishing poles one more time. After an hour of trying their luck the traditional way, the boys channeled their inner Survivorman and tried to catch fish with their hands. One guess on how that turned out!
The rest of the day was just more of the same – swimming, fishing, snacking, chatting and sunning. Repeat. By late afternoon, we were so relaxed we knew we had to move soon or we’d never have the strength to make it back to the camper. We took the traditional slow pace of the south to a whole new level. It took us at least 4 hours to shower, dress and have dinner. As we all know, the only way to top off a day like this was with a campfire, s’mores and a bottle of wine. We were nearly comatosed by 9 o’clock. When the boys went inside to play video games, the contentment level of the family had peaked. Still committed to our nothingness, Dennis and I stayed in the same spots we planted out butts after dinner. The night was so dark it was impossible to see 2 feet beyond the fire. The sounds of the tree frogs and crickets played like background music. I closed my eyes to take it all in when suddenly I heard a noise like I’ve never heard before. Now, I have not been face to face with a mountain lion or cougar or any big, ferocious, wild cat that could rip you to shreds with one swipe of a paw but trust me when I tell you the sound is unmistakable! It was loud. It was close. It was pissed off. And I was outta there! The past 12 hours of pure relaxation were erased in seconds flat as I flew off my ass and hauled to the safety of the RV.
As a teen, I was a huge fan of the slasher movies, not for the fear factor but the absurdity of them made me laugh. But for the first time in my life, I could relate to the useless victim who tripped 5 times running into the barn or the guy who couldn’t turn the car keys in the ignition before the hatchet hit. In less than 5 feet, I almost knocked over a chair with Dennis in it, hit the picnic table, tripped over the extension cord and fumbled miserably trying to open the RV door. True to the horror movie ritual of my youth, there was a least one audience member laughing their way through the whole scene. Still cracking up when I reappeared from the RV a couple minutes later, Dennis told me he had never seen me move that fast! We heard the cat roars in the distance a few more times but there was no recovering. I spent the rest of the night inside with the kids. Dennis enjoyed the fire just a bit longer before it started to rain. It rained all night and well into the morning. Packing up in the rain was no fun. Our day of nothingness was officially over and it was time to head out to Tennessee.
Posted by Mary Cardwell @ 9:36 pm
The time had come that our travels would start to take us back East, closer to home. I’m not sure what it was that changed the energy just a bit but you could sense something was different. Maybe it was that we were starting to lose an hour with each time zone we crossed instead of gaining one? Maybe it was because we had started to recognize time as days left instead of days to go. Maybe we were just too darn hot!
Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona
Our New England bodies weren’t adjusting to the 100+ degree temperatures quickly. Most likely, the energy shift was because we knew we had three days of driving in front of us with very little sightseeing and R&R along the way.
Our drive north out of Arizona was lovely. Climbing into the mountains with the red rock in the background gave us the last look over Sedona as we left the city limits. We decided we would “stop by” the South Rim of the Grand Canyon because it was only 2 hours out of our way. What’s another 120 miles between family?! Our drive by Mather’s Point brought to light two good decisions we made. First, seeing both the North and the South Rims was worth the drive. Both were very different, both beautiful in their own way. Second, I’m glad we camped in the North Rim. The number of visitors and volume of traffic in the South Rim was 10x more than we experienced in the North Rim. We had lunch on the east banks of the South Rim before we continued our journey east. It was goodbye to another treasure of the desert.
Four states at once!
Up next was the lamest tourist trap of them all and I was so excited to finally go there in person! When planning our trip, we had a few must see stops and the Four Corners was #1 on all our lists! The Four Corners is the only place in the country where the four right angles of four states, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah meet at a central point. It’s the only place in the country where one person can stand in four states at the same time. Recently it was discovered the monument about a mile off the actual spot, making it even more fabulously lame. It costs $3 per person to experience 5 minutes of vacationer paradise. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! I even got in the picture for this one-Luke in Utah, Den in Arizona, Cam in Colorado and me in New Mexico. Before the flock of wild Girls Scouts swarmed into the area, the boys and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to physically touch four states at once. Like their mother, they can now tell people they’ve been in Colorado even though it was just one foot!
The next camping stop wasn’t until Arkansas, several hundreds of miles away. Three days of driving brought us through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas before we hit the state line for the Clinton’s home state of Arkansas. Most of the drive was uneventful, long straight roads with little descriptive scenery. A few highlights were the ancient Indian ruins perched high in the hills throughout New Mexico and parts of Texas.
You can only imagine the history that lies in the doorways of the towering rock formations. In hind sight, I would have set aside time to visit and learn more about this fascinating culture. At another point, Dennis and I reminisced about the past when we passed Shiprock Pinnacle, most likely the inspiration for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, even though the real New Mexico fixture holds deep spiritual solace for the faithful believers.
Regretfully, Route 40 East passed through several poverty stricken areas and hundreds of unusable acres of Indian Reservations in New Mexico and northwest Texas. I’m sure our limited perspective isn’t indicative of the entire area but it wasn’t until eastern Texas that dry, barren fields were replaced with cattle roaming green fields and seeking shelter under a single shady tree. It was easy to say goodbye to that facet of the desert but will be hard to let go of the images.
We ran into some of the worst weather of the trip on the Oklahoma/Texas border. Driving directly into a lightning storm ahead, my imagination ran wild with thoughts of tornados throwing cows and trucks through the air! I watched “Twister”, I know what I’m talking about. Trailers and RVs are always the first to get hit! It was a rough but short lived storm and we made it through untouched. We spent the night in a skin-crawling, nasty Days Inn in Elk City Oklahoma and were up and out very early the next morning. We slept with one eye open that night but at least it gave us a chance to charge up all our electronics before our next stop.
Buffalo National River was just outside a small town called Yellville. It was only about a 5 hour drive from Oklahoma but we took a planned detour into Kansas and Missouri so I could cross them off my list of states visited! In the three days of driving, the most beautiful views came from this stretch of the trip. I never expected southern Missouri and northern Arkansas to be so clean, lush and filled with rolling hills and farmland. I guess I never really thought about it and after the desert it was a welcomed change. We made it to our campsite early evening. It should have been sooner but I gave Betty a bum steer as to the location of the campground and actually programmed in the business office three towns over! Thankfully the ranger set us straight and we arrived at a well kept, clean and spacious site alongside the Buffalo River before dark. Juicy steaks on the grill, BBQ chicken, baked potatoes and veggies never tasted so good! Four happy yet tired campers turned in for a wonderful night sleep with the promise of a sunny 85 degree day ahead of them!
Posted by Mary Cardwell @ 8:49 pm
Slide Rock National Park
There is no shortage of things to do in the Sedona Arizona area. If you love to over-indulge in your favorite guilty pleasure, Sedona is happy to be your co-dependant source. Shopaholics can choose from clothes to traditional Indian goods, jewelry to crystals and never get their fill of variety. Foodaholics will be satisfied with dishes that include Mexican, BBQ, fine dining and fast food. Chocaholics can sample fudge and other confectionaries at the many candy shops in the downtown area. Adventure junkies and backcountry hikers can tour the desert on foot or off road vehicle and flirt with the Diamondbacks. Sedona can even handle my addiction, the I-want-to-see-and-do-everything-possible-in-a-short-period-of-time-aholic, while minimizing our spend, of course.
We were up and out early on desert morning two. Granted, after 2 ½ weeks of vacation, our early mornings have been pushed back from our original 5am start to the new 8am rise and shine. Donning our bathing suits and towels, we headed about 10 miles north to Slide Rock National Park. A consistent “You’ve got to go there!” from our friends put this on the top of our stops for the day. Our campground host recommended an early start because the parking lot fills up quickly and she was right. Fascinated by the rising red rock that surrounded our every perspective, we became more and more intrigued the closer we got to the swim area. The park was clean and well marked and starting to fill up with curious families like us ready to enjoy nature’s playground.
Plotting the strategy
Finding the ideal stop near the mouth of the slide and semi-high up to see all the fun, Dennis and the boys watched, plotting their strategy. I was still on the fence about whether or not I was going to partake, but once my men hit the water, my decision was clear.
The guys worked their way to the mouth of the slide to patiently wait their turn down the rocks. Luke was the first one to hit the water, literally. Slippery rocks were not limited to the slide! Down again and again he went, each time getting up in triumph that nothing was broken! It was actually Cam who was the first one down the slide. There was a slight look of pain on his face from the extremely cold water.
Luke hits the water
Already wet from falling a couple times, Luke ventured down the slide but the water temperature still took him by surprise when he was fully immersed. Finally Dennis made his way down the slide, each new splash offered a continuous reminder of just how cold the water was against his flesh. Yeah, I didn’t go in. In hind sight I regret the decision. I was assured by the boys that the cold dissipated quickly and only the fun remained. The boys returned down the slide dozens of times, trying new angles each time – front, back, bum, belly – enjoying every inch of this unique mountain stream natural water park.
Cam’s adventurous side started to show through. He located an area where folks were cliff jumping into a deep area of the river. It was about 20 feet in the air and kids half his age and size emerged without a scratch so it must be safe.
On his third jump, he convinced Dennis to join him. Not one to back down from a challenge from his kids, Dennis jumped in perfectly straight like an old pro. The kids teased him that he flapped his arms like a bird on the way down, but that’s not how I saw it.
After a couple hours of sliding, laughing, swimming and picture taking, we headed back to the RV to change into dry clothes for a little hiking.
With a tip from our campground friend Joanie, we took the back roads to Cathedral Rock after a quick stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Cathedral Rock is a beautiful structure on the west side of Sedona. We parked only .8 miles from the heart of mountain. We geared up and grabbed the water bottles and headed up the path to climb Cathedral Rock. We were probably about .0001 miles away from the RV when it started…”It’s so hot!”, “do we really need to hike?”, “why do we have to do this? It’s 100 degrees!” It was actually 116 degrees that day and quite honestly I didn’t want to be all kinds of sweaty for the rest of our day sightseeing.
We made it up .5 miles, right before the steep climbing was required, we waved hello to Arizona and turned back around for the RV. Semi-disappointing to cut it short but in the long run, it saved us lots of unpleasant odors to deal with as we made our way to Jerome AZ for a very late lunch.
South of Sedona, Jerome was an old miners’ town that, back in its hay day in the early 1900s, sold $1,000,000 of cooper per month. It was known as the toughest town in America, filled with miners, ladies of the evening, saloons and gun shops. In the 1940s, everything changed and with only 150 residents Jerome couldn’t survive. Several decades later, local artists bought out much of the town, turning the historical buildings into galleries, restaurants and gift shops. It is widely believed that Jerome is haunted, a theory supported by most of the 400 plus residents of today. Four different people recommended the “Haunted Hamburger” for a delicious lunch with tasty beverages and it delivered. My Prickly Pear Margarita hit the spot! Perched on the highest of the mountain side roads, our outside table offered views clear across the state, ranging well into Flagstaff and beyond until our favorite black cloud rolled in again!
Jerome Ghost Town
We finished our yummy meals without any signs of the paranormal and decided to head out before the storm hit. It’s more me than Den, but being in an over-sided beast on narrow, twisty-turning mountain road in down pouring rain with thunder and lightning is not how I wanted to end my day! As always (or most of the time, at least) Dennis obliged and we headed for the comforts of our campsite.
North, south, east and west, we certainly did get a good sampling of this scenic Arizona setting in our three short days. Many people told us Sedona was the worth the stop and now we will tell you, too, Sedona is well worth the stop, no matter what type of vacation junkie you may be.
To see all our photos from Slide Rock or sightseeing in Sedona, visit Snapfish.
Posted by Mary Cardwell @ 9:28 pm
I screwed up in Sedona. It was actually in Cottonwood AZ. Up until this point of our trip, we’ve been happy with all our campsites, sightseeing and other accommodations. You never know what you are going to get when booking things online and we were reminded of that the hard way. After a very long driving day, we arrived in Cottonwood with great anticipation of this beautiful area we heard about from friends and family who had visited recently.
Creek at Rancho Sedona RV Park
Our campsite promised shady trees along the river bed, only miles from Sedona city center. I wish. When we pulled into Rio Verde RV Park in Cottonwood AZ, we kept driving through as if we made a wrong turn. The website didn’t mention the broken down vehicles on the side of the road, the unlevel sights on top of each other and the disheveled office that was supposed to welcome you to the area. I swear I could smell the bathrooms from behind the closed windows of our RV. I immediately grabbed my Blackberry and tried to find an alternative. Dennis tried to see if Betty had other suggestions. We came across Rancho Sedona RV park right in Sedona. After a quick call, we drove the 45 minutes north to get to what became our sanctuary. I can’t say enough about Rancho Sedona and it’s not just because of the Cottonwood experience. The staff was kind, helpful; the park was clean and shaded; the location was walking distance from Lucile Ball’s former home which is now owned by the Doublemint Twins (you can still see Lucy’s life-sized plastic image waving from the balcony) and downtown Sedona.
Happy to be amongst the clean, we decided not to unplug and drive for an entire day. A leisurely morning was followed by an afternoon walk to downtown for shopping and ice cream. A free shuttle brought visitors to the shops nearby. Our driver recommended a store that specialized in goods made by the local Indian tribes. We couldn’t resist, and left with our wallets a little lighter. The boys and I were attracted to a store armed with dumb humor.
I loved the welcome mat in the window “Hi. I’m Mat.” We enjoyed chatting with the store manager who obviously was pleased with our juvenile funny bones. But when she brought out the heavy artillery, a remote fart machine, we were never going to leave. Poor Dennis, the victim again but he did have a good sense of humor about it. A couple more stops for refreshments, crystals and the local UFO, we headed back to camp to get ready for another awesome adventure – 4X4 jeep in the dessert.
Our campground host Joanie, a former concierge, arranged for our jeep tour to pick us up at the campsite saving us a trip back into town. There are many jeep, hummer and sightseeing tours to choose from, all of different prices, lengths and degrees of excitement.
Homer and Marge Rocks
Buy on price and your schedule. We chose the “Day in the West” tour and were not disappointed for one minute. Our guide, Clyde, loved his job – taking innocent victims, I mean tourists, to experience the back hills of the desert. He could tell from the wide eyes of the twins, we were up for some fun and he delivered. He pointed out the traditional facts of Sedona such as it is only 5 square miles, some offbeat facts like it is the only McDonald’s in the world with green arches due to the city requirements that everything must be within a pre-determined color palette. He showed us the “Marge and Homer” rock formations, identified with the help of some local favorite tequila.
There is no possible way for me to adequately describe how awesome that night was for all of us. We laughed like school girls when I was bounced right out of my seat. Per request of the kids, Clyde delivered the bumpiest, happiest, fantastic night he could within the limits of keeping his job and not destroying his vehicle.
Happy to be alive!
The trails were long and bumpy, roller coaster-ish at some points. Many of the climbs made us feel like we were on the hind wheels only but it was the downhill thrills that gratified us the most. There was one moment of concern when we landed so hard that the vibration from the rock below us split in two and it rumbled through the entire vehicle.
Roller coaster trail
We searched for rattlesnakes but saw only bunny rabbits. He pointed out unique plant life and told us how the Indians’ use these plants to survive in the wilderness. The sun was setting on our return to camp. The rocks took on some many shades of red as the sun disappeared in the distance. It was a wonderful ending to our already wonderful day.
We decided to take it easy the rest of the night, since tomorrow’s dance card was full. We had a list a mile long of everything we wanted to do during our last day in the area. Slide Rock National Park was on the top of the list, then a little hiking at Cathedral Rock, topped off with lunch in Jerome, a ghost town about 35 minutes south. However, there was one more thrill in store for us before the night’s end. A fellow camper was walking past our RV when we stopped and stared at the ground. Dennis and I were both intrigued so we asked what critter he spotted.
Our campsite visitor
He threw us a look like “You’ve got to come see for yourself”. We were stopped dead in our tracks when our neighbor announced it was a very large tarantula spider walking in our direction. Den and I were fascinated while the kids refused to leave the RV to get a closer look. My skin crawled for a while before falling into a deep sleep, resting for another busy day.
To see all our Sedona jeep tour photos or downtown Sedona photos visit Snapfish.
Posted by Mary Cardwell @ 9:55 am
Hotel New York New York
The past two and one half weeks have brought us some of the best and most memorable experiences of our lives. However, we had reached the point that Dennis and I were having a hard time motivating the kids to be excited about another red rock or funky tree or deer on the side of the road. Las Vegas was exactly the right place at the right time to shake things up again!
Before we left for our trip, a friend of mine joked that I should take a picture of the boys before they go into Vegas because they won’t be the same after they leave! There was more truth to that statement than he realized, a truth that lied beyond the billboards of scantily clad woman and postcard sized advertisements for the nearest gentlemen’s club. The truth they experienced lied more in the realization that there is an expansive world out there filled with promise and hope, despair and loneliness. In Vegas, you see the highs of the promise of glory and wealth and the lows of poverty and homelessness. Las Vegas is without a doubt a life changing experience.
Much to my surprise, that Monday in Sin City brought out the families. Kids under the age of 15 with their extended families made up the bulk of the foot traffic on the strip. We were no exception. The casinos sang their songs of winning jackpot but many of the seats remained empty in lieu of roller coasters, ice cream and buffets, lots and lots of buffets. Strictly by accident, we discovered a delicious money saving tip that I would like to pass along. In trying to decide which buffet to enjoy, we noticed the Bellagio offered the best seafood and sushi selection which was exactly what Cam and I had hoped to find. Lunch, ended at 4:00PM was $10/head cheaper than dinner. We got there about 3:45 and found no lines, no waiting. We paid the lower price and within 15 minutes, all the glorious higher-end items like lobster ravioli and sashimi tuna were there for the taking! If you can time it right, you can eat like kings but at the price of a commoner.
Old Vegas Nostalgia
After some R&R at the hotel pool, we got dressed and headed out for the bright lights of the city after dark. Dennis and I wanted the kids to see Old Vegas. One of our trip “guidelines” was to try to experience things unique to the area we were visiting. The Fremont Street Experience fits that to a tee. You can take a taxi there for about $25 each way from the strip or feel free to hop on The Deuce, public transportation for $3 per person per way or $7 for a 24 hour pass. The kids had a field day with the name, dropping every potty joke they could think of to kill the time waiting. (For the slower crowd, deuce = 2…number 2…get it?) Most folks were heading across town with us. The buses were filled and the stops were many, but it gave us a chance to see the strip from a unique vantage point. They ran every 7 minutes, so if you can’t get a seat, hold tight and jump on the next one. After an hour plus ride, we arrived at Fremont Street.
The Fremont Street Experience aims to capture the nostalgia of Old Vegas with a modern twist. The canopy of lights overhead that runs the length of the street was dark. Most nights there is a theme or tribute created for the audiences’ viewing pleasure. Our night was a tribute to the rock band Queen. We timed it perfect. Much to our delight, within the past year the boys have discovered classic rock. AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Queen top their list of favorites so we knew when the show started, it was going to knock their socks off. We walked around; checking out the old neon signs and listening to an Elvis impersonator rock the house. At the end of his set, he told the folks dancing in the street that he’d be back shortly. Dennis and I looked at each other knowing the time had come.
The hotel lights went dark, the street lights dimmed and this huge lightning bolt complete with thunder sound effects raced from one end of the street to the other, shockingly loud. The boys eyes popped open and their jaws dropped to the floor. Perfect! Queen’s “We Will Rock You” filled the streets and the canopy of lights flooded the boulevard with everything from the British flag, to Freddy in concert to the lyrics pounding overhead. It ended too quickly; I could have watched the kids watch the lights for hours. When it was finished, Cam picked his jaw off the ground and said slowly with purpose “That…was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
The kids nabbed front row seats on the top deck of the bus ride back to the hotel. Honestly, the best view of Sin City I’ve ever seen. Although we missed the dancing fountains at Belliagio, we did see the pirate ships, the volcano, the circus tent and the New York skyline before we called it a night. I can’t exactly put my finger on it but the kids did change after that. The last remaining childhood habits and comforts were abandoned and new, more adult attitudes are starting to rear their heads. My boys are growing up.
Hoover Dam new bridge
We headed out the next morning for Sedona Arizona. As we were leaving the city limits, Dennis commented on how he had never seen the Hoover Dam, wondering if it would be that far out of our way to drive by to see it. We were resigning ourselves to the fact we’d have to catch it on the next trip when we noticed signs for Lake Mead. Our faithful companion Betty plotted our route to cross over the Hoover Dam on the way to Arizona. Since 9/11, security has been very tight at the Dam and we were required to pull over and be subjected to a minor search. We gladly obliged and within 10 minutes we were driving across this miraculous man-made tourist attraction. The new bridge across the dam was in process. Tourists lined the streets taking photos from every angle. I did my best from the window because we were informed that any vehicle over 15’ in length is not allowed to stop until they have passed over the entire structure. I’m so glad we got the opportunity to see it, again nothing else like it in the world. See, our luck in Vegas wasn’t all bad.
To see our entire Vegas or Hoover Dam photo albums, visit Snapfish.
Posted by Mary Cardwell @ 12:11 am
There were two ways to reach the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from Zion National Park. You could exit the park at Springdale and back track about an hour to the last main road junction and then take a left onto 89A or you could pay a $15 fee and take the 1920’s built 89A bridge out of the canyon and save yourself about 90 minutes of driving. With more than 2100 miles under our belt and countless hours behind the wheel, the $15 seemed like money well spent. Pardon my Boston accent but it was wicked cool! The tunnel fees covered the cost of an escort to make sure no one was coming in the opposite direction so large vehicles like our beast could drive in the middle of the road in order to fit through the tunnel. Not getting stuck in a tunnel or hit by oncoming traffic was worth the money right there but when we saw the views from yet another perspective, Zion was even more breathtaking. Just another reminder that going off the beaten trail has big rewards.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was only 3 hours away and we relished in the idea of getting to a destination by lunch time. I was so happy that I even let Dennis listen to country music again. As we cruised along, a song that quickly became his new favorite came over the radio. We had to listen carefully to make sure we heard it correctly. It was a love song from the perspective of a starry eyed man praising his new love. It was called “She was Rocking the Beer Gut.” I’m not lying.
The rest of the ride to the North Rim was mostly forest. We saw the remainder of a fire that we later learned happened about 3 years ago. It started as a lightning fire that the Park officials watched carefully but a strong wind spread the fire too quickly and 60,000 acres were lost.
North Rim Canyon
Everything about the North Rim was welcoming – friendly and informed Rangers, hot showers, General Store with cold beer and large clean campsites. Before we even unpacked, we rushed to get our first glimpse of the canyon. We had the boys cover their eyes and walked them toward the edge. On the count of three, they opened their eyes to the most famous natural phenomenon in the United States! Their reaction was priceless. After seeing nothing but rocks and trees for days we weren’t sure how they’d feel about a hole in the ground but the surprise element was just the trick!
Bright Angel Point, North Rim
We went down to the lodge and followed the path to Bright Angel Point to get the best view from the north. Den and the boys loved the adventure and the incredible views. I hugged the inside, ready to drop to my knees at any moment. Granted I don’t like heights but never did I expect my legs to wobble so much. Trying to be brave I would say “be right there” and wave. I never made it all the way out but they tell me it was amazing. A few days later, we drove to the South Rim after visiting Arizona. I wanted to see if it was much different. They were as different as my twins – you know they were created at the same time but it’s hard to find the similarities. The North view gave you more crevasses and turns where the South Rim gave you a much broader scope of the size.
Mather Point South Rim
If you have the time to see both, it’s worth the drive.
Luke and I were happy to find free WiFi at the General Store. Dennis was so kind and offered to finish the laundry so we could blog. After everything was posted, supplies and firewood loaded we settled in for the rest of our stay. A very lovely English couple stopped by to ask Den how to build a “proper fire” since it was their first time camping. They were on a 6 month world-wide tour and the States was their last stop. He helped them out and told them if it didn’t work out to join us. I was thrilled when they popped over and joined us for wine and s’mores and told us about adventures around the Globe. There was no shortage of conversation and the kids enjoyed getting to know someone from the UK. At the end of our visit, we gave them our contact information to keep in touch. Hello, Adrian and Louise. Hope you are safe!
There are moments that remind us why we fall in love with our significant others. My latest reminder came at 5:10 AM. I heard the sunrise over the canyon was not to be missed. I woke up and looked at the clock with every intention of sneaking out to greet the morning.
Sunrise at the North Rim
With one eye open, Dennis said “Are you really going to go? I’ll go with you” and without hesitation he got out of bed, put on his shoes and we were out the door. Why he indulges my crazy whims is beyond me but I’m so lucky he does. I wasn’t sure which way was east so we got to the edge of the canyon and followed the trail looking for the sun which was due to rise at 5:40. It took me a bit to figure out we were facing south and missing the sunrise but we kept walking anyway in hopes of seeing something. It was beautiful and peaceful but no sunrise. Ultimately, we took the wrong path back to camp but luckily it ended up on the east side of the canyon where the sun was just coming up. I learned the next day, my clock was set to the wrong time zone and we were actually right on time to see one incredible sunrise. I wouldn’t have wanted to share it with anyone else.
We had almost reached our threshold of rocks and trees, the timing was perfect for our next destination – VEGAS BABY!
Posted by Mary Cardwell @ 10:20 am
One of many hillside letters
The next stop on our whirlwind tour was going to bring us to the great state of Utah and Zion National Park. Leaving Yellowstone was bittersweet. We enjoyed everything about our stay in Wyoming, making us sorry to leave but with great hopes that Zion was as good if not better than we heard. The drive from Wyoming to Utah was, well, boring. Dry, flat fields were replaced by more dry flat fields for most of our travels. Part way into Utah, however, it all changed. Hello again, Rocky Mountains! Having nothing like this on the east coast, I pointed out every new and cool rock formation as well as all the hillside letters we found. (No, they are not some Government code as we first suspected. Started by proud Berkley College students in 1905, there are now more than 400 hillside letters in the US, most of them in the western states). After making it through the rush hour traffic of Salt Lake City, we had a quick stopover at our Marriott hotel in Draper UT. Relaxed from the pool and spa, our clothes were clean and we were clean with full bellies, we hit the road for Zion.
The drive became more interesting every mile closer to Zion. Before we knew it, we hit Springdale UT, a small tourist town at the gates of Utah’s first national park. I was like a kid in a candy store looking at all the shops and cool trinkets. We checked into our riverside campsite in the park first and then returned to Springdale for some dinner and window shopping. We headed for a Mexican restaurant but when we missed the driveway we landed at Pizza and Noodle Co. instead. Best mistake we made that day! Excellent food, cool atmosphere and reasonable prices – two thumbs up!
View from our camp
Then it was back to the campsite only 5 minutes away for a relaxing campfire. I thought booking a site near the river would be pretty and I love the sound of the gentle current over the rocks. I did not, however, take into account the 8 billion trillion bugs that came along with such a view. Our campfire was short lived before we retreated inside in fear of something flying up my nose.
Zion was truly a visitor-friendly park. Free shuttles ran all day and into the evening, taking hikers, riders, walkers and bikers to different points of the park saving hours of traffic jams by confused tourists. The shuttle stop was a quick walk from our campsite. Armed with a map and a plan but no hiking gear, we took the shuttle about ½ way up to the lodge to take a short, 1.3 mile hike to Emerald Pools. It was surreal being at the bottom of the canyon, with rich red rocks shaped by nature as far as you could see. About ½ way through the lower pools hike, we noticed the signs for the middle pools with a waterfall coming off the rocks. Sure, let’s keep going, we all agreed. It was only 98 degrees and no one was complaining…yet…so we continued to hike into more amazing scenery. We passed a family on the way down who told Dennis the best swimming would be found at the Upper Emerald Pool. By the time we got to the trail junction for the upper pool, we were all very hot and ready for a dip.
The sign told us our destination was only 0.3 miles away. It didn’t tell us that it was straight uphill climbing over rocks. Luke and I fell far behind, taking our time as to not keel over and die. When we finally passed the “No Swimming” sign, there it was Upper Emerald Pool filled with illiterate folks swimming, including my husband and son. They swore they never saw the sign but fate is a bitch. I’ll come back to this later.
I chose not to swim, not because of the sign but because I was too busy complaining to Dennis that I was hot and tired. It took a little coaxing to get Luke to join Cam but once they were in the water, he was never coming out again. We booked a ranger-lead tour in the evening so we were under time constraints to get back to camp and get ready to head out again.
The tour was a 2 hour ride through the park as a Ranger talked about some of the finer points of Zion. It promised to make stops unavailable on the regular shuttle. Educational, off the beaten path, scenic and all we had to do was ride around and listen, I thought this would be great and it was.
Our tour guide told us of how this dessert, like the Grand Canyon, was carved out from powerful waters millions of years ago. She talked about the animals that live in the area and what makes them unique to this area. It was at this point that Dennis’s curiosity got the best of him and he asked the Ranger why swimming wasn’t allowed in the Emerald Pools. A friend of mine once told me not to ask questions if you really don’t want the answers. She should have given Dennis that same advice. The ranger repeated the question for the benefit of everyone on the bus. “Good question” she said. First she explained about the importance of not disrupting a fragile ecosystem.
Then she said the words that will haunt Dennis the rest of his life. “The main reason is because the bottom of the pools are covered with fecal matter from the wildlife in the park.” The next minute was a bit of a blur because I was trying too hard to hold back my laughter I couldn’t focus. I looked at Dennis, who was pale at this point, mouthing the words “fecal matter” over and over again in disbelief. Being the sympathetic wife I am, I said “HA! I’m glad I didn’t swim! That will teach you to follow the signs next time” and let my laughter rip!
Enjoying the tour
It only got better when Dennis had to explain to the boys what fecal matter was. The kids didn’t seem fazed but Dennis will never forget the lesson he learned that day.Dennis showered as soon as we got back to camp. We opted to skip the fire and went to town for some supplies and ice cream. Ice cream makes everything better…except the thought of fecal matter. LOL!
To see all our photos from Zion, visit Snapfish.
Posted by Mary Cardwell @ 12:16 am
With our exhilarating morning hike behind us, we were all hungry, thirsty and pooped! There was enough time remaining in the day to continue our sightseeing but unfortunately there was little energy between us to continue walking. Dennis was a bit preoccupied with making sure we had enough propane to keep the refrigerator cold since he just stocked the fridge with cold beer. Taking all this into consideration, we decided we would drive to Fishing Bridge Village for propane and then, if time allowed, over to Old Faithful to see one of the world’s most famous guisers.
Yellowstone is comprised of 2.2 million acres so going from village to village is a feat in itself. It was more than 45 miles to go from Canyon Village to Fishing Bridge, separated mainly by Yellowstone Lake. Our first glimpse of the lake was so inviting, blue and icy waters. I’m telling you that Lake should have been classified an ocean! It went on forever. I kept expecting to see a lighthouse in the distance it was so huge. The kids were excited about fishing in the lake, especially since we were visiting Fishing Bridge. Yeah, you guessed it – no fishing at Fishing Bridge. The kids complained about the misleading name for the next 20 miles until we got to the gift shop and I bought them Huckleberry taffy…yuck. With propane tank filled to the brim, Dennis could relax again. With sugar quota met, the boys could relax as well. Me, well, I like being amused. Since Dennis was open for the ride, we decided to make one more stop at Old Faithful and save us the trip in the morning.
The Old Faithful faithful
We continued south through Yellowstone to the most visited and populated area. I told Dennis it was about 30 minutes away but it was actually 45 because I never seem to calculate properly. As we pulled into the closest parking lot, I thought I was looking at Gillette Stadium. The parking lot was about the size of a lot you would see at the stadium, with the same number of people. There were lodges, restaurants, and gift shops of course. Uncharacteristically of the park, there were no clear signs directing you to the guiser so like everyone else, we followed the crowd then instantly you knew you were at the right place. Three rows of benches surrounded a rather small hill about 50 yards away. Not sure what to do, we sat. And sat. And sat. A couple times I tried to find a “next show” clock to know how much longer we needed to wait for this world famous spectacle. I couldn’t find anything so we waited and waited. The seats started filling in and it wasn’t long until it was standing room only and we had front row seats. The anticipation was growing. Originally, none of us were jazzed about seeing this but we knew we’d regret it if we didn’t but for the first time we were actually getting excited about seeing the trusty water show.
Old Faithful erupts
Then it happened. First a little spit and steam came out of the ground. Then another spurt, this time about 20 feet higher. Finally, the ranger must have turned on the water full blast and water jumped 100 feet into the sky. It danced there for a minute and then fell back down and disappeared. Those next couple moments were very confusing. We looked at each other and those around us. Was there more? Should we applaud? People began walking to the gift shops and parking lots. “I suppose we’re through here” I said sarcastically. I don’t know if I expected the earth to open up or hear angles sing but I couldn’t believe we just drove over an hour for a minute of squirting water. Okay, maybe two minutes but the wonder of it all was lost on me and my family. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I can say I saw it but I learned the hard way the reason Old Faithful is famous has everything to do with her being predictable and not because she entertains for hours.
Back in the RV, we decided to eat dinner in the parking lot since it was a good 90 minute ride back to the campsite. We finished the loop around the west side of the park to get another perspective of the landscape. The west side of the park was very mountainous, offering more incredible views and the promise of critters. It was easy to tell if wildlife was in view. Cars would slow down to get a good view. We were forced to stop in the middle of the road at one point when we saw a buffalo strolling down the side of the road without a care in the world. It was walking toward us and right in front of our RV it stopped. This wonderfully huge and ugly creature was literally 4 feet away. He looked directly at us scrambling to grab our cameras to immortalize this moment and then crossed the street as if to say he had the right of way. I never got the shot.
Bear sighting in Yellowstone
In the morning, we packed up early and headed out for another long day of driving. My only minor disappointment with Yellowstone was that I never got to see a bear, from a far of course. I wanted to load my pictures on the computer so Cam rode shotgun. All we needed was to make ONE turn and we’d be on the correct road for the west exit. Cameron pointed the way for Dennis and off we went…in the wrong direction. Betty kept telling us to “make a legal U turn” but we thought the mountain air confused her so we just ignored her warnings. From behind the laptop, I would question if this looked familiar. Dennis would shrug his shoulders and tell me it all looked the same to him after hours and hours of being behind the wheel.
After ½ hour, I decided to take a serious look at the map and realized we were heading north, not west. Not happy about an extra 60 minutes to exit the park, we were trying to make the best of seeing new views and then, the sight that made it all worthwhile…a baby grizzly bear about 10 feet off the side of the road. After two more bear sightings, another pass through Mammoth Hot Springs and through a Bald Eagle sanctuary with 2 residents perched high in the tree, we made it down to the west exit and off to our next stop just outside Salt Lake City.
Posted by Mary Cardwell @ 12:55 am
As we packed up our Montana campsite, our host told us of a spectacular drive through the mountains to Yellowstone National Park, our next destination. He spoke of Red Lodge and winding roads up the Rockies for views unlike any other that would take us to the Northeast Entrance of the park. He did warn us to drive carefully because of the high number of deaths on that road each year.
Welcome to Yellowstone
With our adventurous ways tamed just a bit after our last excursion, we followed Betty’s advice and took the safe, boring highway to the North entrance instead. The ride to the park may have been average but all that changed once we crossed through the gates of the world’s first National Park.
Mammoth Hot Springs
I was not prepared for the scope of Yellowstone. I read a lot about the park and the many different geological areas, each offering different experiences but as we climbed through the mountains, I was in awe of the beauty of the changing landscape. The first area we drove through was Mammoth Hot Springs. Large white stone, which looked like ice caps on a mountain top, were covered with colorful hot springs, pools and waterfalls. There is nothing else like this in the park, so if you have the time, it’s worth a stop and look around. We continued our scenic drive to Canyon Campground for a two day stay.
Canyon Campground was one of the larger campsites Yellowstone had to offer. We found our spot and settled in. The boys were ready to set up the tent to sleep outdoors that night until Dennis noticed the bear claw markings on all the trees around us. It was probably nothing and the Ranger assured us bears don’t frequent that area anymore but… The kids slept in the camper that night. I mentioned how I began to relinquish my fashion standards a bit in the last blog. In Yellowstone, however, I took it to an all time low.
I did something that I never thought I would do in my entire life. Dennis and I are both early risers and in an effort to not wake the kids we decided to go for an early morning walk to get the paper and a coffee. I went for this mile walk in my pajamas! Granted, they looked similar to sweatpants but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be in public in PJ’s! Strange thing is that no one noticed or cared. More importantly, I wasn’t the only one.
Being uber relaxed, we plotted our day. A friend of ours had loaned us a book on all the day hikes in Yellowstone. I found one hike that seemed right up our ally and was only 2 miles from Canyon. After breakfast, we geared up and head out for an easy, 2-4 mile hike or so we thought.
Upper Falls - look closely for the tiny people on the right (spots of colors)
The very first leg of the hike took us from Uncle Tom’s parking area through a trail to Artisians’ Point. This was a fairly popular walk that brought you into the beginning of the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”, where you could see the Upper Falls waterfall and all the tourist on the other side of the canyon. Once you reached the parking lot at Artisians Point, most folks turned back but thanks to our trusty hike book, we went to the back parking lot and continued our hike. And oh what a hike it was!
Taking a breat at Artisians Point
I would not classify the next part of this trail as easy. We hiked up and up and up and up alongside a cliff, continuing further along the canyon. The higher we climbed, the more amazing the views. We saw Bald Eagles swooping over the rocks, canyon walls that look like watercolors dropped from the sky. Sure we were hot and tired but loving every minute of it, most of us at least. After hiking to a top elevation of 8100 feet, we saw the trail split back to Clear Lake and Lily Pad Lake where we continued our adventure. At this point, the boys regretted all the hiking gear we took. Dennis took on all the gear no one wanted to carry. Now, the jokes about how it is the jack ass that carries all the gear through the canyon are so obvious I couldn’t resist but I seriously have to say thanks to Den.
Lily Pad Lake
We came across Lily Pad Lake where the name was well suited. With my love of frogs, I moved quickly through this area, the boys on toad alert the whole way. I made it through without a sighting! At least 3 miles into the walk so far and no end in sight, we made it to Clear Lake, again properly named.
We were all so tempted to jump right in and cool off but the idea of walking back in wet shorts wasn’t so appealing.
We all reveled in how our hike brought us up a cliff and then down into the woods that opened into these inviting lakes but imagine our surprise when we rounded the corner to find yet another, completely different landscape. The next 1/8 mile was several boiling pools of mud. My skin could have used that treatment, I tell you! Some were a roaring boil, others were spurts that jumped 3 feet in the air. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We would have admired them longer but the smell of sulfur was almost unbearable! Just like the first time Cam saw the hundreds of bugs that met their fate on the front of our RV, his gag reflex kicked in and we hustled out of there very quickly!
We couldn’t believe we saw three unique geological areas on our single but tiring hike, and then we rounded the next corner to see our final change in landscape – a large open meadow with rolling grass and shady trees. Pinch me! I can’t believe this is real.
Elks roam free
As Luke’s hat almost blew off his head again, we all offered to carry it for him because it is now a sacred symbol of our adventures. As Dennis turned from joking with Luke he stopped dead in his tracks. An entire herd of Elk were grazing in the field below. Back in South Dakota, Luke learned the hard way not to yell “Look! It’s an animal!” when spotting wildlife and we all stood still and watched these beautiful creatures surrounded by nature. We could see a few Buffalo way off in the distance, thankfully posing absolutely no threat to us.
After 3 hours and 6+ miles, we spotted our last show stopping site – the parking lot where we started. We could see the finish line. I was a little disappointed I didn’t see any bear, from a far of course, but our time in Yellowstone wasn’t done yet.
To see our entire photo album, visit Snapfish.
Posted by Mary Cardwell @ 1:39 am
Our second morning in Fort Smith Montana greeted us with a beautiful sunrise and the promise of a wonderful day ahead.
Sunrise in Montana
Bighorn Lake was a mere 20 minutes away which seemed like a stone’s throw after all the traveling we’ve done thus far. A relaxing day at the lake was exactly what these travelers needed. Our campground host told us of a place near the marina where we could rent a boat by the hour and get the most fabulous view of the canyons. Sold! With fishing gear, picnic lunch and sunscreen in hand, we headed up through a local Indian reservation to the marina.
Indian Reservation drive
At the risk of repeating myself and sounding trite, the landscape was incredible at every turn. Mountains, fields, cliffs, colorful and vibrant met us around every corner. Just when we thought we almost touched the heavens, the next turn presented the peaceful and tranquil lake that sat at the base of glorious red cliffs as far as the eye could see.
First view of the marina
Being the Monday after the long weekend, there weren’t a lot of people around us. We glowed with anticipation of cruising this magnificent canyon, the third largest in North America with the Grand Canyon being the largest of course.
Cliffs from the boat
Dennis, now affectionately known as “The Skipper”, came back from the rental office to let us know he booked a pontoon boat for a three hour tour. We loaded our gear on the boat. We were like giddy school girls unable to hold back our excitement. After short instructions, Dennis got behind the wheel and away we went. The boys and I took in the fresh air and hung our heads over the sides like dogs sticking their heads out the window of a car. I’m not sure but our tongues may have been wagging just a bit! The sun, the water, the views…perfection, sheer perfection!! Each cliff was like a work of art hand painted by God, one more exquisite than the next. The boys each took a turn driving the boat. Their smiles were brighter than the sun.
It was about this time that the black cloud that followed us from NY to South Dakota managed to find us yet again. We noticed it way off in the distance and the folks at the marina ensured us the storm would arrive well after we returned from our three hour tour. We decided to pick up the pace a bit, just in case. As we continued to cruise, we hit a nice breeze and then it hit – Luke’s favorite hat he bought when we were in Toronto went flying off his head and into the waters. The current was pretty strong and it floated away quickly. “Save Canada! Save Canada!” we joked as Dennis turned the boat around to grab it. I picked up the fishing net our neighbor had loaned us and leaned over the boat in an effort to save the day but I couldn’t catch it! I had it trapped but couldn’t get underneath to scoop it. Dennis came over to help and we crossed signals and both let go of the net which quickly floated away next to the sinking hat.
In true Cardwell fashion, we refused to let it go and went to plan B. Cameron quickly dumped his shirt and shoes and dove over the side of the boat to rescue the missing goods. It was 35% heroic, 35% stupid and 30% excuse to go in the water. He quickly reached the net and hats but had to grab his glasses, forgetting to take them off before hitting the water. His hands were full and the current was strong, rendering him unable to swim.
Cliffs up ahead
I could see panic starting to set in, he was helpless as he started to drift further and further from the boat. I think in a panic I started hitting Dennis, telling him to go in after Cameron. He was already preparing to dive over the side and in a second flat, Dennis dove over the edge to calm Cam and save the day. Luke kept an eye on the action and guided me as I brought the boat to them. Safe on the boat, Cam said he was never so excited and scared at the same time. My hero, the Skipper!
We drove just a little further when we noticed the clouds coming toward us. We had enough adventure for the day and decided to turn around and head back to shore just in case. We were told by the guides and our host not to miss Black Canyon on our tour. Since the clouds were still in the distance, we decided to stop there for a few moments to eat our lunch once our stomachs had settled a bit. The boys wanted to cast their fishing lines but sadly time was not on our side. I think we were in Black Canyon less than 5 minutes when the storm was coming up quickly.
Here come the black clouds!
Dennis started the boat while the boys and I packed up everything and put it under the covering. Full steam ahead, Skipper! I sat in the front of the boat to help identify driftwood that was being tossed by the storm. The waters became very rough and the boat ride wasn’t so glorious anymore. It was impossible not to sing the Gilligan’s theme song in your head … “the weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed, if not for the courage of the fearless crew the Minow would be lost, the Minow would be lost…” Then it got worse. Here comes the rain! Thunder and lightning were over head. We could see the bolts of lightning in the near distance. The rain was slapping me in the face, I could barely see but it didn’t matter. We just needed to get in as quickly as possible. This is where I wish my kids weren’t so smart. They began to recite the laws of science and remind us that metal and water are conductors of electricity and we were sitting ducks! We tried to calm the kids, telling them there was nothing to worry about but when I turned around and Dennis made that “HOLY CRAP” face to me, I got really nervous.
We pulled out our old standby “it’s just around the corner”,
Just around the corner
trying to keep our minds off of the life threatening situation we were experiencing. Then, right around the corner, we saw the marina. I wanted to cry I was so happy! Three crew members were calling us in, frantically waving their hands “over here! Over here!” As soon as we touched the dock, they rushed us off the boat and told us to run to the safety of the office. There was another woman who seemed as panicked as us, yelling “Up here! Get up here!” We grabbed everything we could and ran up the stairs to the office like we were teenagers with a case of beer being chased by the cops! Once we were safely inside, we exchanged a few hugs and a whole bunch of high fives, happy to be alive. We were all so jazzed with excitement and relief that we just experienced one of the greatest adventures of our middle class lives. Thankfully our three hour tour didn’t end the same as Gilligan’s but it was certainly exciting!
To see all our photos, visit Snapfish
Posted by Mary Cardwell @ 8:15 pm