Lots of hiking and playing and hanging out with grandparents here in Prescott. It’s been fun to explore new places, be fed great meals, exercise the dogs to exhaustion, Rad and I get a little time without kiddos, and be loved on in so many ways. Yesterday we hiked in the Prescott National Forest with Pop and it reminded me of my childhood hikes near my grandparents home in Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon. We also frolicked along Granite Basin and Rue had her first full submersion experience (by being thrown in). Pop and Christina also gave Mcree a motorized boat for Christmas and he has LOVED being able to use it every chance he can get. The kids have gotten spoiled for sure!
We leave tomorrow for our next leg of our journey. We will head to Nevada to see more family and then to Utah, which will be the furthest North we will travel before heading the long drive home. There are some amazing parks we are excited to see. Here we go!
How often do we see a photo and think how amazing that moment must be without knowing the whole story? And while most of our moments have been pretty spectacular, there are days and hours that are rougher than others. There are 5 people in a small space, too much stuff in one tiny camper that we can hardly move around and not enough distance to remove yourself for some quiet time. There is a leaking roof on your bed when you are so very tired. There are long drives with little rest the night before. There is the unpacking and packing of things day in day out just to get to what you need for your day. We are learning….slowly…how to adapt to these little challenges. We are working on tweaking character (in ALL of us), on how to be kind when you are irritated and how to serve each other well. We have gotten to know our kids (and each other) even more these last few weeks. What a gift this has been.
I looked at Rad last night and asked him if he could…would keep going on this adventure. His answer was YES! There are some things we would change, and the pace at which we move from site to site would slow way down but we both agreed this has been so great!
We finally made it to Arizona. We camped a few nights at Homolovi State Park in Winslow, Arizona. It was a great stopping point to get restocked, do laundry and take it easy. The park was pretty empty however we met a Canadian couple who were overlanding (driving into remote places with a fully equipped off road vehicle). Rad and I would love to be able to experience that one day so it was a great way to strike up a conversation with them. They ended up coming over to sit around the fire and share their stories with us for hours. The guy is a boat builder and personally outfitted his truck so there was a lot to chat about. We loved the company and meeting people who share our sense of adventure.
Since we were a few hours away from where my parents live, Pop came to hang out with us for a few days. We loved getting out and about with him. We stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, “such a fine sight to see” (based on a song from the The Eagles). We also visited the Petrified Forest National Park. Archeologists claim that this highland desert park once resembled current day Costa Rica’s jungle, with massive trees and foliage. The trees fell, and were submerged under river sediment and the organic material was replaced by quartz to make massive petrified logs. THE LOGS TURNED INTO ROCKS! That blows my mind! Just another complex part of God’s creation. We had some fun sights along the way, one being the Wigwam hotel (also seen in the movie “Cars”).
A while ago, we promised the kids that we would find a hotel with a pool and let them swim. Thankfully my Dad’s hotel has a great pool so we let the kids swim their hearts out. Glad we could follow through with that wish and not personally figure out how to get 2 adults, 3 kids and 2 dogs checked into a hotel! The night before we left Winslow, Pop took us all to a restaurant that was once a 1930’s posh stop on the Santa Fe Train Line known for the “Harvey Girls” who were hostesses for weary guests and travelers in the hotel. Not only was the place full of history but we got to dine on some amazing food. It was a great experience to let the kids practice their fancy restaurant manners and it was a great treat!
On our drive to Prescott, Arizona, we stopped at Montazuma’s Well and Castle. This was a place I fondly remember going to with my grandparents. We used to sit and picnic and play in the little streams that flowed along the rocks. It was sweet to share that place with my kids. We are headed to see the grandparents for a bit. We are excited to hike and hang out with them.
We are already over half way through our journey. We have come a long way in so many ways!
There’s something about being disconnected that helps you to really focus on what is right in front of you. No phone coverage, no power in our camper for a few nights, no gps to navigate us through the treacherous mountain climb and having to stop to ask a local where we might find the Mennonite bakery. Not sure my kids have actually EVER seen me use a paper map. We are so dependent on our phones to help us move through life. But this trip is about being out of our element and these moments have surely made me feel a bit uncomfortable.
These last few days have been filled with lots of things to see. We visited the White Sands Missile Range on our way out of town. They still use this base to test missiles and on site they have a great museum with tons of rockets and military items. All the boys were in awe. We had to enter a military base (which the kids and I have never been on one) and Rad being in the Navy showed us the ropes. I never think about Rad’s early years way before me and it was fun to hear stories about him in the Navy.
We had several hours of driving to get to City of Rocks, New Mexico, where we would camp for 2 nights. We were using this site as a basecamp to visit the Gila National Monument and Cliff Dwellings. The campground was a massive field of 40 foot rocks. You could choose a water and electric site (which were all full) or camp without such luxuries (boon docking) but be tucked into the mountains of rocks. The kids LOVED climbing and hiding and throwing their airplanes from way up high. We would have loved to hang out here more but the Cliff Dwellings were calling us. It took us the better part of 2 hours to drive to over 8000 feet in elevation over huge mountain ranges and steep cliff drops (with no guardrails) to get us through the park to where the cliff dwelling hike started. When we arrived at the visitor center, the ranger said, YOU MADE IT! At first we wondered if she was expecting us, and then we realized the hard task we had just completed just getting to that location. Originally we had planned to haul the trailer up there and boondock somewhere. WOW we were glad we didn’t.
The cliff dwellings at Gila National Forest were built by the Mogollon tribe. They think there were about 50-60 people that lived here. They only lived here for one generation between 1280 AD and 1300 AD and then they left and never returned. Can you imagine the work it took to build this and then having to leave this beautiful home. It was like walking on sacred ground. We felt like we were in a sanctuary of sorts with so much history all around us. The fact that we could walk in and all around them made it really special. It was well worth the effort it took to get there.
In this area, there are many hot springs where 150 degree water bubbles out of the rocks. I (meaning mostly me) wanted to experience soaking in a hot springs pool amongst the cliffs. We had to find one where people actually wore clothes and where kids were welcome (this proved challenging!). We found one close to the dwellings and after some inspection, we decided to go for it. When we arrived there were 2 pools (“hot tubs”) open. 1 pool had a lady sleeping amongst the rocks, and another had 2 younger girls in it. We opted for the one with the lady sleeping since there was more room. I am sure she loved having us! We threatened our kids that they had to enter and remain silent while in the pool. That lasted a while until Mabry decided to start swimming under water. The pool could have been hotter and I really wanted it to be relaxing but with 3 kids and constant unspoken looks to them to be quiet, it wasn’t relaxing at all. When the other girls left we went to the other pool, which was a bit hotter. Mcree and Mabry let loose and were swimming all around, which stirred all the dirt under the little pebbles and Rad and I looked at each other and agreed it felt like we were in a dirty koi pond. The relaxation quickly came to an end.
We arrived back to City of Rocks during a beautiful sunset. The skies have been unbelievable these last few mornings and nights. We agreed that while there is a lot to see and experience, often times the kids are just happy to be at the campground. There is always so much do around the camper and campground but the moments we can just sit and chat are the most special it seems.
The next day, we drove about 7 hours through beautiful landscape (Gila National Forest) and winding roads and huge mountain ranges to get to Winslow, Arizona where we would be for a few days.
Happy New Year! I love a fresh start, a time to reflect, and a time to dream about what’s to come. We sat in our camper last night drinking sparkling apple cider and going through our memory jar (special moments, good or bad, that we wrote down throughout the year and placed in a jar). It is one of my favorite things every New Year. At one point, Mcree looked at me and said, “I don’t remember doing that.” And I wondered what it takes to sink these memories deep into my kids hearts. While we think we are providing them an experience to remember, they might only remember the most random thing. Our kids have been very flexible with our unscheduled days, our last minute changes, and wondering what the day holds for them. We hope to create kids who love to wander and wonder.
We were really excited about this next leg of our journey. We headed to Oliver Lee Campground, south of Alamogordo, on the side of Dog Canyon (an amazing mountain range). This is a sought after campground with only 7 sites out of 44 that you can reserve online (only 3 with water and electric, the rest dry camping) and the rest first come first serve. We were lucky to get a spot that came available last minute. Again, we were in awe at the campground. We are camping on what used to be Oliver Lee’s ranch and yesterday took a ranger led tour of his restored ranch house. There are lots of trails to hike, a great visitor center where the kids are working on getting another Jr. Ranger Badge, and great views right from our campsite. The days have been warm and the nights pretty cold and windy. The showers are heated using solar panels so we take showers pretty early and head into the camper to hang out.
We really came to this campground to have access to White Sands National Monument Park. This is the largest gypsum sand dunes in the world and considered very young (less than 10,000 years old) by geologists. The highlight of this park is that you can sled down the dunes. Oh and did we! Hours and hours of fun were had at this park. And the kids earned another Jr. Ranger Badge here. Among the park are yucca plants that grow their roots deep into the sand. As the dunes shift, and the sand blows away, the roots are exposed and the plant dies. It was such a beautiful reminder of how we need to be rooted in things that last. We are thankful to be rooted in God who never fades away.
On our last full day here, there was lots of hiking and learning from 4 of us in the group and this mama got to be alone for hours on end. I get recharged that way so I was thankful for that gift. The kids and Rad took a hike to Frenchie’s cabin. He was the homesteader before Oliver Lee and they also took time in the visit center to learn many things about the early indians of this area, the animals that reside here, and so much more. With that info, they competed their Jr. Ranger booklet and earned yet another badge. That makes 3 so far on this trip. Mcree proudly wears all of his EVERY DAY! Mabry asked for a nap today and since we have been depriving her not to mention she has been on the sensitive side these last few days, she rested and I got MORE alone time! Rad and the boys bravely climbed part of Dog Canyon which is a HUGE mountain at our campground. It is quite a feat to compete the whole thing. We definitely took advantage of all this campground/park had to offer. It again was one of our favorite places.
Tomorrow, we head to City of Rocks near Sliver City New Mexico which has a massive field of 40 foot tall boulders that you can camp in. We will use this as a basecamp to visit the cliff dwelling at Gilla National Park in Mexico.
This is my greatest adventure. No matter where we are or what we do…these 4 people right in front of me bring me the most joy. I’m looking forward to how God will use us in 2018! Happy New Year my friends! Hug those around you!
We love great surprises. We left one not so ideal campground and ended up at the most spectacular location we have been at yet. It was really just a stopping point and we weren’t expecting much…but wow! Three Rivers Petroglyph Site campground lies at the base of 2 mountain ranges in Tularoso New Mexico, and in between lies thousands of petroglyphs carved into the rocks and old pit houses where the Indians used to live. We were one of 2 campers. We had the place to ourselves. (The photo with the pink sunset mountains in the background is our campground). We didn’t realize we needed the warm days to reset us after too many cold days. We ended up staying 2 nights because we just couldn’t leave the views.
It took us about 7 hours (including stops) to get from Carlsbad to Three Rivers. The drive was such a welcomed surprise. There was a tunnel carved in the mountain, amazing mountain views, and a petting zoo with an array of animals that was run by an old rancher who had lots of stories to share. The kids loved feeding the animals and at one point, I looked over at Mcree (where a sign read don’t put fingers in the fence..the zebra bites) and Mcree had his whole entire arm in the zebra’s mouth. This animal lover is afraid of no animal apparently. To get to where we were going, we had to drive up to over 8000+ feet to a town called Cloudcroft. THERE WAS SNOW. Not a lot but enough for us to park and frolic for a bit. A little ways from our campground was The Valley of Fires which was a massive lava flow (that erupted from the valley floor through vents). It was quite a sight. We also found out about a little falling apart church and apparently entered the local mexican church instead. We always love unexpected finds.
There’s this struggle with wanting to explore everything around you versus wanting to enjoy the campground and what being in one place offers. The kids always love right where we are. Yesterday they all climbed a pretty big mountain 3 times while Rad and I sat and talked. Those moments are so sweet to me and a good reminder to slow down and be still. There’s always something to do, something to clean, something to move around. I find those distractions lie in my “real life” at home too and I let them steal the moments right in front of me. There is so much I am realizing about myself on this trip. So much I want to tweak, and change and let God work out in me. I know it won’t be fixed in these short 45 days but I am thankful for the time to see them magnified and realize their impact.
Today (Saturday) we head to White Sands. We plan to be there through New Year’s and will visit one more park after that before heading into Arizona. We have loved New Mexico. It is beautiful here.
We left Texas at 6am and it took us a better part of 8 hours to make it to Carlsbad, New Mexico. Rad and I hadn’t slept well the night before so it was a task to stay alert, especially in the heavy fog for the first part of the trip. I am continually amazed at how well the kids and dogs travel. Usually 30 minutes into the drive, Mabry will ask, “How much longer do we have? This is taking a long time!” And then she won’t say anything for the remainder of the trip…except that she is hungry. We drove through the miles and miles of oil fields in Texas (which was quite a sight) and once we hit the New Mexico border, the landscape changed from flat to rolling.
There aren’t many campgrounds near Carlsbad of any quality and we didn’t really want to boondock but luckily we found a spot at Washington Ranch. This ranch’s primary mission is to serve people with developmental disabilities. They also rent their facilities out for events and are situated on the most beautiful 4000+ acres. They only have 3 RV campsites and only 1 used for transient campers (the other 2 are for more long term rentals which are mostly oil field workers). We were quite lucky to get the spot. But as I have said before, not all sites are great. We have seen tons of turkeys, deer, jack rabbits, a fox and we have amazing views! The kids have tons to explore around the grounds but this campsite seems like an afterthought. 3 RV/Campers crammed together, no fire pit, sand pad, and bathrooms that are not really set up to full time people using them. Not to mention one of our neighbors who leaves for work at 4am but must play Chinese fire drill opening and closing all his car doors about 25 times. And this is why we only plan a day or two in advance. Because, when it’s time to go, you know it. We looked at this campsite as more of a basecamp and spent the better part of our days exploring.
Of course our primary reason for being here is the world famous Carlsbad Caverns. We had no idea what to expect. The drive up into the park was surrounded by rock cliffs that were massive and so stunning. We went to the visitor center to learn more and get our Jr. Ranger packets (which all three kids completed over 2 days and became Jr. Rangers). Thankfully Rad signed us up early for the private Ranger guided cavern tour because it was sold out. We also took a self guided tour of the main cave. It was so amazingly beautiful and jaw dropping. There were no words. They asked everyone to only whisper as they walked the 1.2 miles of the main cave and believe it or not, it was quiet down there. The “Big Room” can hold 8 football fields in it! It was definitely like walking on sacred ground as you felt like you were walking through MASSIVE cathedrals. The guided tour took us into a private section of the cave and the ranger provided an entertaining story of how this natural wonder came to be and how it was discovered. Seeing this cavern will go down as one of my favorite memories of our trip. Gress and I decided to hike out of the cavern (vs. taking the 800 ft elevator, which we took down into the cavern) which was 1.6 miles long, 800 of elevation and 82 switchbacks. It was intense. Gress practically sprinted up the cavern and I must have sounded like I was hyperventilating because Gress kept asking me if I was ok. Usually it takes 45 min to an hour to hike out. We did it in 27 minutes. WOW!
We also took a tour of Guadalupe National Park which was just over the border in Salt Flat, Texas. Huge cliffs and wide expanse. We were pretty tired from the day in the caverns so we didn’t get out to explore and not to mention these parks don’t allow dogs (which the dogs were pretty sad). I did take them on a walk through the ranch (it was dark when we got home) and saw tons of eyes staring at us. There were deer just wandering everywhere we would wander! Wednesday (the 17th), we found a last minute spot at the Petroglyphs park (across the mountains toward White Sands) where we will camp for the night before heading to our next location after that for a few days.
It is currently 22 degrees this morning in Carlsbad so we are looking forward to 65+ degree weather just a few hours away!