Tag Archives: Four Photo Friday

Four Foto Friday – End of the Road

The big news this week: we’re home! Arrived back in Connecticut on Wednesday after several days of travel through upstate New York. For 22 years, I grew up in  this region, so in many ways, it was a stroll down memory lane. I really loved sharing these places with Jen and the boys, who heard plenty of old stories along the way. It was great final leg to our historic Gold Family Road Trip!

Midvale Road – Home for 20+ years!

Vestal, NY: Our first stop was in my hometown of Vestal. For Jen and I, this was our second visit since my parents moved in 1992, but for Miles and Owen it was their first. Needless to say, we attempted to squeeze in as much as possible. Food was a top priority, and we savored the fine flavors of Little Venice and Mario’s Pizza. We also caught up with a couple of old friends, including longtime next door neighbor Eric G. It was great to see him and his three girls. Touring the neighborhood, we saw the house in which I grew up, former schools, the houses of old friends, the JCC and temple, sports fields, locations of past jobs, and many other storied places from my youth. I even dragged us all through the woods in search of the old tree fort (which has gone to the ages). Overall, it was a very nostalgic visit that brought back great memories. Our tour of America just wouldn’t be complete without a stop in Vestal!

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Owen and Jackie Robinson

Cooperstown, NY: By Monday, we were on our way to Cooperstown. This quaint, lakeside town has so much to offer: scenic farms, old homes, and a vibrant arts community. Our main interest, however, was the Baseball Hall of Fame, where we enjoyed the historic glimpse into our nation’s pastime. They had good exhibits on important figures like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and many top players from each of the teams. The Hall of Records was especially interesting, seeing the different ways in which leaders of the sport have achieved their fame. We ended the day with some classic viewing: Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on First and the terrific movie, A League of Their Own. The Hall of Fame got us excited for all things baseball; hopefully we can catch a game or two this summer.

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Miles mining for Herkimer Diamonds

Clinton and Herkimer, NY: On Tuesday, we traveled to my alma mater, Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. It was great to be back again and share this part of my life with Jen and the boys. The campus looked great, with several new buildings and senior students enjoying their last week before graduation. Like Vestal, there was plenty of nostalgia at every turn; fond memories of my time on the Hill (Go Blue!).

Our last stop in New York was the town of Herkimer, which is famous for a unique rock, the Herkimer Diamond. Actually a type of quartz, the Herkimer is the so clear, hard, well-faceted, and sparkly, that it’s valued amongst jewelers and collectors. Mining for Herkimer diamonds was great fun; we attacked the rock ledges with sledge hammers and pick axes in hopes of discovering the next mother lode. The boys kept it up for about an hour, until they were exhausted and learned the simpler method of sifting through the dirt to find stones which has already been dislodged. In all, we came away with several small Herkimers and other cool pieces of crystalized rock. I found the whole experience to be a metaphor for our trip… hard work and a slog at times, but great fun, good memories, and several nice jewels to take home.

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We made it! Whoo-hoo!!

West Hartford, CT: Yes, there’s nothing better than arriving home after a long trip. As much as we loved being on the road, and there are many things we’ll miss about this year of travel and togetherness, it sure is great to be back. Our return to the neighborhood has seen a few friends and family, with more to come this holiday weekend. The RV and truck are back in the driveway, with “For Sale” signs on both coming (please send us any leads!). It’ll be hard to say goodbye to Jake Jr. (the truck) and Harvey (the RV), but they’ve served us well and gotten us home safely. For now, we’re appreciating the comforts of home: soft beds, full-sized bathrooms, free laundry, good wifi, a regular kitchen, and the space of a real house. we’ve reunited with Little Grey Kitty (thanks, David and Marna, for taking care of her!) and are happy to just sit back, relax, and declare, “mission accomplished!”.

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This may be our last Four Foto Friday, but the blogs will continue for a few more weeks. Our “school” will wrap up with a bit of reflection, final projects, more books and movies, and a trip to New York City (without the RV). Please stay tuned for more postings and photos. And, as aways, thanks for following us on this great American journey.

Four Foto Friday – Almost Home!

Well, this FFF represents our last full week on the road with the RV. Hard to believe! We have been moving at a fairly quick pace for these last few weeks. In part, because we have things to take care of before we set off on our new adventure in India but also because we are ready to stay put  in our home for a little while. This has been an amazing trip and we’ll have some interesting blog posts to write after we’ve had a chance to stop moving and reflect a bit, but for now, I think we’re each looking forward to certain aspects of being back in our (non-wheeled) home.

Michigan (Dearborn, Ann Arbor)

Edison's Menlo Park Lab

Edison’s Menlo Park Lab

Going beyond just the expected history and impact of the automobile in America (which was very interesting), Henry Ford established a  museum to house a history of innovation in America, from its revolutionary roots to a circular home of the future (which never did actually catch on). Right next door is Greenfield Village, also created by Henry Ford. In this expansive area, Ford relocated the homes or workplaces of many of America’s innovators that he had acquired over the years (including his own since Henry Ford himself was an innovator that had an impact on American history). It was just like stepping back in time to the streets of the late 1800s and being able to visit places such as Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory (where the electric light bulb was perfected), or the Ohio home and bicycle shop where the Wright Brothers earned a living and worked on their ideas for creating a “flying machine.”  Both the museum and the village are good places to visit for a fun dose of US history and innovation.

Besides these stops in Michigan, we were able to visit Ann Arbor, my birthplace, and get a quick look around the University of Michigan campus. An additional bonus: I was able to embarrass Miles yet again when we tried to find the street my parents lived on when I was just a baby and take a photo of the house we lived in. But since I didn’t know which house was the right house, I just hopped out and started taking pictures of all of them, regardless of who was watching the strange woman walking down the street, taking photos with her phone. (side note: according to Miles, I’ve been able to embarrass him many times on this trip, which I think is pretty impressive since I haven’t even been trying that hard).

Ohio (Cleveland and Akron area)

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Ohio brought rock and roll and reconnection. On our short visit in Cleveland we toured the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It has a good bit of rock and roll memorabilia to view (Michael Jackson’s outfits, Jerry Garcia’s guitars, etc) but, if you plan to visit, it is definitely a richer experience if you take the time to watch the many videos throughout the museum showing things such as the Hall of Fame inductees’ performances or American Bandstand clips from its many years on the air. On my favorites list for this museum was the audio and video clips of the Beatles commenting on their work and playing in the recording studios, and, album by album, demonstrating how they grew and changed over the years. Besides the videos, taking the time to stop at the various music stations to listen to inductee song libraries, one hit wonders, roots of rock and roll, etc. definitely made us want to add some tunes to our music library.

Besides our visit to Cleveland we were also able to get together with Eden, one of my roommates from my days in Atlanta. It was so great to catch up on life’s adventures and meet her lovely girls and the boys were quickly dashing around outside and having fun with them – happy to be around some kid energy again. (another side note: I think if there’s one thing the boys have really missed on this trip, it’s been the daily dose of kid energy that they are used to in school!)

New York (Niagara Falls)

Getting soaked at Niagara Falls

Getting soaked at Niagara Falls

We weren’t sure how full our experience here would be since we would not be able to go over to the Canadian side (our passports are in the process of getting our Indian visas) but it turned out to be better than we anticipated! To watch the  rapids pour over the edge of the American side of the falls was to watch the power of nature. Impressive. And loud. We were also able to ride the Maid of the Mist boat over to the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side and that was impressive. And wet. But a giggly sort of wet fun. Watching the crowds of people in ill-fitting blue rain ponchos try to get photos while simultaneously trying to keep their hoods from blowing off, while keeping their balance and their cameras dry was a good laugh. And to be that close to the falls was pretty cool. We went to Goat Island the next morning to stand on the point closest to Horseshoe Falls and were treated to a double rainbow over the falls. Now maybe that happens all the time, but it felt pretty darn special to me.

New York (Seneca Falls and Ithaca)

"All men and women are created equal."

“All men and women are created equal.”

Women’s Rights National Historical Park: The beginnings of the women’s rights movement in the US can be found here in Seneca Falls, NY. A smallish town for such a big undertaking but in a case of right time, right place, right people, a group of women came together, recognized that change was needed and that someone needed to do something about it, and so they drew up the Declaration of Sentiments which was presented here at the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. This podium that I am standing at is believed to be the same one that Elizabeth Cady Stanton first read the Declaration of Sentiments (based largely on the Declaration of Independence) and used the words “….where all men and women are created equal.” And while I don’t have daughters who might internalize these women’s stories on a more personal level, I do have sons whom I hope we have raised to believe the above to be true and to value the stories of this country’s amazing women, as well as its men’s. I am gratified to have had them visit this historical site and gain a deeper understanding of the fight for women’s rights in this country.

Following our time in Seneca Falls, we drove to Ithaca to look around this college town and take in the pretty waterfalls and gorges, the college campuses, and the town center (which, I have to admit was not as quaint as usual as it is largely under construction). Overall, another nice day in New York!

So, now we have one more partial week on the road and then some time at home unpacking the RV, booking movers, and starting to tackle the boxes left in our basement from China and deciding what will be shipped to India. Following that, we’ll be off to NYC for a few last stops in our travels of this diverse country. And while Harvey might like one more hurrah, living it up in the Big Apple, he’ll be staying back at home, looking large in the driveway and trying to attract a buyer. Anyone interested?

Four Foto Friday – The Great Lakes Region

We started this week off in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and have made our way to just outside Ann Arbor, Michigan. This week has been a fast week, moving from place to place.

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Racing in the Lazy River

While we were in Wisconsin, we stopped at the water slide capital of the world, Wisconsin Dells. In Wisconsin Dells, we stayed at the Mt. Olympus Resort. We were only there for one day so we stayed for five hours. At this park all of the outdoors water slides were closed for the winter, so we went on the indoors water slides. My favorite water slide was the biggest one that was at the park. On it we went in two person tubes down it. It had two water falls and half of the slide was with a closed top and half with it open. My other favorite part was racing the rafts on the lazy river. Even though the whole park wasn’t open we still had a lot of fun on the indoor water slides. I also liked that because it was off-season and there were not many people there.

Captured German U-Boat U-505.

In Chicago we drove to see the Museum of Science and Industry. First we explored the exhibit about extreme weather and natural disasters. There we learned about tornados, tsunamis, and avalanches. After this we moved on to the Numbers in Nature exhibit where we learned about all of the mathematical formulas that can be found in patterns in nature. After, we saw the only German U-Boat to be captured in WWII, the U-505. I really liked the U-505 exhibit because we watched movies on how it was captured and then we saw it in the museum. The last thing that we did was my mom and I saw the D-Day movie and Owen and my dad went to the human body exhibit and chemistry exhibit. The D-Day movie was good because it showed what happened on every side (Nazi Germany, allied forces, and the French resistance). It also showed where the armies landed on the coast and which country they were from. Another thing about the movie that I liked was they talked specifically about certain vehicles or tools that were essential to taking the beaches at Normandy.

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Top: the Pospichals, Middle: Ms. Mack, Bottom: The Burkes.

 

Over this week we have seen many people in Minnesota and Illinois. While we were in the gopher state of Minnesota, we saw the Pospichals who used to work with my parents at ISB. Next we were in Chicago where we saw my 6th grade homeroom teacher, Ms. Mack, and went to have  stuffed pizza which I didn’t eat but everyone else liked. Then a few days ago we went to see one of my mom’s friends from UConn and her family outside of Chicago. While we were there Owen and I had lots of fun playing capture-the-flag and nukem with their kids.

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RVs through time exhibit.

On Friday we went to Elkhart, Indiana to see the RV Museum and Hall of Fame. We started out by going to see some of the modern RVs and motor homes. In the modern section they had two big 35-40 foot RVs and a few smaller ones. I liked the smaller RVs because they were old RVs that had been renovated. Next we went through the history of RVs exhibit. There they had old RVs from different time periods. I really liked this part because it was interesting to see how the RVs have changed. Compared to even the nicest old RVs ours is very nice.

We have 12 more days to go on our trip around America and still three more states till we get back to Connecticut. This will be my last Four Foto Friday for the year, although I will still write more normal blog posts.

Four Foto Friday – Black Hills and Beyond

As you may have heard, we’re trying to “Live Below the Line” this week. This is a challenge to raise money and awareness to fight global hunger, and we set out to eat on just $1.50 each per day. We’ll plan to write more this coming week on how it all went (spoiler alert: we survived!).

Despite limited food rations and lower than normal energy levels, we also managed to complete one of our most active weeks thus far! Turns out, this corner of the US has many great attractions and, with several days of sunny weather, we were able to pack in a lot.

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Owen amongst the boulders of Devil’s Tower, WY.

Montana and Wyoming: OK, I spoke too soon about the nice weather. Last weekend was pretty cold and rainy as we headed east on Route 90. Sunday found us passing over rolling hills of the high prairie with strong winds and freezing rain. We opted to make an unexpected stop in the town of Gillette and wait for better driving conditions. Despite the slowdown, we still managed to salvage the long drive with stops at the Little Bighorn Battlefield (site of “Custer’s last stand”) and Devil’s Tower National Monument. Both marked our entrance into Plains Indian territory, and it was interesting to learn the significance of these two sites to the local Sioux. A good perspective as we entered their most sacred region, the Black Hills.

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Cubs at Bear Country, USA.

Rapid City, SD: Our first full day in Rapid was a slow but enjoyable one. We explored the downtown area and discovered a really cool store called Prairie Edge, which was filled with Native American artwork, a fine arts gallery, and an extensive collection of western books and music. In the afternoon, we went to Bear Country USA, a drive-through game park that featured over 100 black bears. Normally, we try to avoid such touristy stuff, but this one was surprisingly well done. We had a great time passing through the bear pens, which also contained wolves, buffalo, big horn sheep, and many other large mammals. The highlight, however, was in the walk-through area (more like a zoo) which had a number of new bear cubs that were born this spring. We loved watching these little guys wrestle and play (not unlike a couple of active young boys we know!).

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Our American Family

The Black Hills: On Wednesday, we drove into the heart of the Black Hills with our first destination: Mount Rushmore. This seemed like an obligatory stop for our trip, but we all left highly impressed by the artistry and craftsmanship behind this audacious project. The visitor center did a great job of showing just went into creating the monument, and the spectacular viewpoints gave us many opportunities to appreciate both the sculpture and its natural setting. From Rushmore, we passed by the Crazy Horse Memorial (still in the making) and on to the National Museum of Woodcarving in the town of Custer. Owen, especially, loved visiting this place and seeing the many fine pieces of carved wood. This definitely reignited his interest in woodcarving and gave him a few more ideas for his own projects. To cap off the day, we drove back to the RV park via Wildlife Loop Drive in Custer State Park. This scenic drive through prairie lands featured many animals (buffalo, elk, pronghorn, deer, etc) as well as newly born baby buffalo, which were super cute to see.

On Thursday, we returned to the Black Hills to visit the Old West mining towns of Deadwood and Lead. Deadwood’s wild past (think outlaws, saloons, brothels, and gunfights) has largely been replaced by a modern casinos and staged performances for summer tourists. We found, however, an authentic historic record of the town in the Adams Museum. Nearby, we also visited the town of Lead, home to the largest gold mine in the western hemisphere (Homestake Mine). The good folks at Black Hills Mining Museum gave us a great tour and we left with a much better understanding of the South Dakota gold rush and the history of mining in this area.

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Climbing around the Badlands.

Badlands and Minuteman: Today, we traveled east of Rapid City and found two very different national parks. First was the Badlands, whose landscape was desolate, but beautiful. We only had a few hours here, but enough time to hike over and the through the otherworldly formations. Nearby, we also visited the Minuteman Missile Historic Site. This included a very interesting tour of the underground control station (given by a man who had actually worked at the site) as well as a look into a defunct nuclear missile silo that is inconspicuously surrounded by acres of grassland. This experience gave us a good opportunity to share with the boys what it was like to grow up during the Cold War and the nuclear age. Both both parks were interesting sites that we all enjoyed.

One last pit stop for the day was Wall Drug. Like South of the Border in the Carolinas, this store’s billboards stretch out for hundreds of miles in both directions. We appreciated the 5 cent coffee (which fit into by “Live Below the Line” budget) and the boys picked up some fudge that they’ll be able to eat tomorrow. Wall Drug is a great story a great story of persistence, luck, and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Looking ahead, our plan for this weekend is to make some progress across the plains and make it to Chicago by the middle of next week. We’re still on target for a return to CT on March 20, but have the Great Lakes and upstate New York still to come. Thanks for following along!

Four Foto Friday – Hot Springs, Ghost Towns, and More!

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Hanging out at the hot springs.

Lava Hot Springs, Idaho: Last weekend, we met my parent’s friends (the Meier-McKenna family) at a KOA campground. We were in our RV and they were in a cabin. On Saturday we went to a amazing indoor and outdoor pool. When we drove up we saw the outdoor pool and it was huge. They had a water slide that went over the sign and a gigantic pool, but the outdoor part was closed because it was too cold. When we went inside they had a heated pool. The pool was big and it had a diving board and a climbing wall. I think that the climbing wall was the best because I could climb to the top and then fall and not get very hurt. After that we drove a few miles to the hot springs. They had different parts where the heat was hotter or cooler than the last one, but they were all hot. The hot springs were very relaxing but we needed to drink lots of water to stay hydrated. The food that we had at the campsite was really good. We had tacos and grilled steak that were great. We also built a fire that was really warm and it was just right to roast marshmallows. We had a great time hanging out with our friends.

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Old mining equipment.

Bannock State Park, Montana: Bannock was a old mining city in the 1860’s that got turned into a ghost town. The people who used to live here were mostly miners that mined gold. The gold there was 99.5% pure and that is more pure than most gold and that is why they settled so far away from other places. I think the ghost town feels and looks like a real town that was left after people moved. The state park wants it to feel like the people left and every thing hasn’t fallen down yet. The hotel is huge and the rooms look like they would’ve been big and nice. The state park did not put replicas of furniture and other stuff so I had to imagine how other people would’ve lived. The mining equipment was really cool because I got to pick them up and play around with the carts. There was an old truck that was really interesting because I could see the engine and the other gears.

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Bison pooping.

Yellowstone National Park – wildlife: We spent the rest of our week at Yellowstone where we saw tons of wildlife like bison, bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn, and mule deer. The bison were huge and there were tons of them. On the road we got stuck because a herd of bison was walking and there was no way to get past them but finally after about 30 minutes they gave us just enough room to pass them. We saw a bighorn sheep on the side of a hill and I thought that it would feel horrible to have those heavy horns on my head. The elk that we saw were very scruffy and they had weird looking butts. We saw birds too and the coolest birds were a bald eagle, ospreys, and ravens. The ravens might not seem cool but they are huge and they look really cool when they fly. One of the ospreys that we saw was in a nest with a baby tucked under its wing.

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One of the geysers that we saw.

Yellowstone landscape: At Yellowstone the geysers were really cool. Two geysers that we saw erupt were really cool because they went really high and the went for a long amount of time. The big pools were amazing because of the colour. The colours were really bright and there were so many all in one pool. My favorite colour is the emerald green. Yellowstone also had a Grand Canyon that was really amazing and the waterfalls were over 300 feet high. I threw chunks of ice off of were we stood and they floated down (even the big heavy pieces). At the geysers, the smell from the steam was gross because it was warm and it smelled like rotten eggs. The way I blocked off the smell was by using pine needles to block the bad smell with a good one. The mud pots were places that hot water mixed with soil and made mud that bubbles and looks pretty weird. I think that Yellowstone is so far the best national park we have been to because of all the wildlife and the unique landscape.

Four Foto Friday – Canyons of Nevada and Utah

DSC_0278HOOVER DAM (NV):
On our last full day in Las Vegas we went with our friends, the Merritts, to see the Hoover Dam. First we went to see Lake Mead, the lake created by the dam. Right now, the lake has much less water than it used to and has a large white ring on mountains surrounding the lake where the water level should be. When the lake is full it has enough water to submerge the whole state of Connecticut ten feet deep in water. After the lake we went to the visitor center to learn about the use and production of the Hoover Dam. After the visitors center we went out onto the dam. The dam was gigantic, over 700 feet. If you looked down you could see where the water came out and made a new river, but looking down made me dizzy. On our way home from the dam, we drove to a trampoline park called Skyzone but it was closed. That night I was sick so it’s probably a good thing I wasn’t jumping around.

IMG_9772NARROWS TRAIL IN ZION NP (UT):
After we left Las Vegas we went back to Zion National Park for the second time. While we were in Zion we did a hike that took us through the longest slot canyon in the world. A slot canyon is a canyon that is significantly higher than it is wide. This one was about 25 feet wide and 100-150 feet high. This was my favorite hike that we have done on our trip because the hike was in the river. At the start of the day we went to a store outside of Zion and rented dry suits that looked a bit like hazmat suits. When we got to the river we started to walk on the side where it was dry, but Owen and I went in and found out that if we lay down in the water we floated. Once the water went up to our chests the suits would inflate like a ballon and it felt like an octopus sucking you into the suit. Inside the suit it was really warm but if you touched the water with your hands it was freezing! My favorite part was on the way back going down river; you could just lay back and float along down until it was to shallow. Another really fun thing that I did was go down the rapids. I really liked this because it made me go a lot faster but some time I ran into the rocks. Hiking up the canyon was also fun because I would try to walk up the rapids. We also learned that where the water was dark it was deeper. Some of the deeper parts were up to ten feet deep! I really like canyoneering in the Narrows and would love to go back again.

bryceBRYCE CANYON NP (UT):
After hiking in Zion we made a short drive Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce is not actually a canyon but a huge natural amphitheater carved out of the mountain face by erosion. At Bryce some of the coolest things are the rocks. My favorite rock formations so far have been the hoodoos, which are large but thin spires of rock that have been left after a mountain face erodes. While we were driving we saw a prairie dog crossing sign and then a few seconds later the prairie dogs. These were the endangered Utah prairie dog and they were on this patch of land right at the intersection. The cars zooming across the road didn’t stop them from running out into the road and if a car stopped they might go and walk around it and sniff it. In the park we also saw huge ravens and a herd of pronghorns. Next we took a hike at the top of the mountain at 8000 feet altitude. This was a really cool hike because it goes right to the edge of the mountain were you can see out arose the canyon/amphitheater. On this hike we saw the oldest species of tree, the Bristlecone Pine. On the way back out of Bryce we saw an amazing arch called the Natural Bridge. We still have another day in Bryce and we are going horseback riding in the canyon.

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Yesterday, we decided to go biking on a canyon trail close to Bryce National Park. We only have three bikes with us on the trip so only me, Owen and my dad went. When we got there we took a trail called the Casto Canyon Trail. This trail was really hard to go up because it went right through a dry river bed with lots of rocks and sand. On our way up we saw a hoodoo right off to the side of the trail. When we got to it, we found that hoodoos are very fragile and we could just rip off chunks of rock with our hands. Though the trail was hard to get up, going down was easy and incredibly fun. On the way down we got going really fast and the trail was a bit twisty and it was fun to go around the corners. We have done a few mountain bike rides, but this one had a unique setting with desert plants and red canyon walls.

Four Foto Friday – Death Valley to the Vegas Strip

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Miles on Devil’s Golf Course

Death Valley: We started the week in the lowest, hottest, and driest place in America… Death Valley National Park. Fortunately, the springtime temperatures kept things relatively comfortable at a dry 100 degrees. We had one day to see some of the most accessible sights: Golden Canyon (where portions of the original Star Wars was filmed), Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the valley), Artist’s Palette (a scenic drive through colorful mesas and foothills), and Furnace Creek (an oasis town that’s home to the main visitor center.). This photo was taken at Devil’s Golf Course, where the land is so parched that it forms small mounds encrusted with evaporated crystals of borax and salt. Death Valley was otherworldly (NASA testing grounds for the Mars rover, in fact) but also diverse and colorful under the shifting sun.

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Scenery of Zion Canyon

Zion NP: From Death Valley, we drove the RV straight on through to southwestern Utah. Our plan was to see Zion National Park for a couple of days before finishing out the week in Las Vegas. Our two days in Zion allowed us to see the main canyon, where the Virgin River has spectacularly cut through 3,000 feet of brilliant red sandstone. We hiked along the river and also to the seasonal Emerald Falls. We also took advantage of the warmish weather and tent camped in a nearby campground. Zion was amazing and we really just scratched the surface there. Fortunately, we’ll be heading back for more at the start of next week.

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Those tiny specks are rock climbers!

Red Rock Canyon: On Thursday, we left the RV in Utah and backtracked to Las Vegas for a little fun. The big attraction for us: seeing our ISB friends, the Merritts! Our first destination with them was Red Rock Canyon, an incredible natural formation just on the outskirts of town. The visitor center had a great display of desert ecosystems, and then we headed into the hills for an afternoon of hiking and family fun. 

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On the Strip with the Merritts

Las Vegas: Friday night, we hit the Vegas Strip. This first foray into town was a family affair, so we stuck to kid-friendly attractions like the Bellagio Fountain and Hershey’s Chocolate World. Some of our best entertainment, however, came from people-watching on the street, which was filled with costumed characters, street performers, and partygoers of all varieties. This was a different kind of “educational experience” for the boys, but one that’s uniquely American. Viva Las Vegas!

We still have another day here and are looking forward to a visit to Hoover Dam. It’s been great catching up with friends and experiencing this amazing city in the desert.

Four Foto Friday: Spectacular Sierras

Our final week in California was filled with great scenery, warm weather, and loads of fun at two incredible national parks. Here are the details:

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Reflections on Mirror Lake

 

Yosemite: Saturday was our last day in Yosemite National Park. With plenty of sunshine, it was a beautiful day for hiking in the valley. Our morning destination was Mirror Lake, a seasonal pond that forms at the base of Half Dome. The reflection of a few thousand feet of granite towering above was truly impressive. After a picnic lunch and a quick trip to the visitor center for Junior Ranger badges, we set out for Vernal Fall (a fitting destination for this first day of spring). The hike was another steep one, but the view of this thundering waterfall was a great reward. Yosemite is a magical place — our favorite national park thus far — and we hope to return here again.

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The biggest living organism in the world.

Sequoias: A few hours south of Yosemite, Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park is another highlight of the Sierra Nevada mountains. With names like General Sherman, Sentinal, and President, it’s trees that are the rock stars here. Giant Sequoias are the largest living organisms on the planet. They can reach heights of 300 feet and form a base circumference of over 100 feet (that’s 36 feet in diameter — large enough to park our RV on!). Walking through the Giant Forest is like walking back in time; some of these trees are 2,500 years old. Giant Sequoias can only be found at 6,000-8,000 feet in elevation. Our campsite was in the valley at 800 feet, so the drive back and forth to the groves was an adventure in and of itself.

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High Sierra view from Morro Rock

 

Other Sights in Sequoia: Along the way (a.k.a. straight up the mountain) we made a variety of stops: a picnic lunch near river rapids, a hike through an alpine meadow, a visit to the tree museum, etc. One of our favorite side trips was Morro Rock, a granite outcrop which afforded great views of the High Sierra peaks, as well as the San Joaquin Valley below. What made this most special, however, was our first bear sighting. We spotted the mama bear and her three cubs on a hillside not far from the trailhead. Downwind and quietly, we watched for about 20 minutes as they foraged through the brush and fallen trees. Eventually, they cuddle up together for a snooze (we were told they were still groggy from the light winter and a short hibernation). Altogether, Sequoia was another incredible national park.

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Enjoying the campfire and stream.

 

Camping: Rounding out the rest of our week, we slowed down a bit and enjoyed some good old-fashioned camping. Our campground sat in the foothills just outside the park and was surrounded by orchards and horse ranches. Our actual campsite sided up against a pretty stream, providing lots of privacy and the relaxing sounds of nature. The weather was warm enough to be outside in the early mornings and late evenings. Jen enjoyed her cup of tea by the gentle stream and the boys loved making campfires each night. This campsite was one of our favorites thus far, a good place to take a deep breath, enjoy a slower pace, and reflect on our many good fortunes.

We’ve seen a lot of California this month: deserts, coastline, cities, mountains and forests. It’s been a terrific adventure and we’re sad to say goodbye, but it’s time to start heading back East. Nevada and Utah are coming up next, and both look just as promising. Stay tuned!

Four Foto Friday – NorCal Coast to Mountains

We started this week between Santa Cruz and San Francisco on the California coast watching sea lions and surfers.  Then we headed to the  Sierra Nevada mountains and ended in beautiful Yosemite National Park hiking up giant mountains and to gorgeous waterfalls.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 9.05.42 PMAlcatraz Island:
When we were in San Francisco we went to Alcatraz Island. I really liked the audio tour that was narrated by the prison guards and former prisoners. Some of the most fascinating things they talked about were the one successful escape from Alcatraz and the privileges that the prisoners got. It was an ingenious escape and the people were never found again; they just disappeared.The privileges that the prisoners got, other than basic food, water and shelter, had to be earned. Also they had some prison cells furnished so we saw what a typical cell would have looked like. Last, we saw an art exhibit by Ai Wei Wei, an artist from China. He had three pieces of art; the one that I found most interesting was the one about political prisoners.

IMG_6964Mountain Biking:
While we were staying near San Francisco we went biking in Big Basin Redwoods State Park near the ocean. I really liked biking here because there were so many cool trees and plants, like coast redwoods. During our bike ride we stopped near a river and saw a newt! The newt was swimming in the water and looked exactly like a salamander. It was a really muddy trail, about wide enough for two people to walk on, with steep drop-offs where you could fall right off the side, which I almost did.

DSC_0656Yosemite Water Falls:
Yosemite National Park is one of my favorite parks so far in America and, while there, we did lots of activities. Some of my favorites were going to see the water falls. On our first day, we did a moderately strenuous hike to see the Upper Yosemite Falls, one of the highest on earth (2,425 ft). On our second day, we did some easier hikes to the Lower Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls. All of them were pretty, but you can only see them in the spring because they dry up during summer.

DSC_0672Yosemite Hike:
We did several hikes to get from place to place in Yosemite. All of them were in Yosemite Valley, which is a huge place and, even still, it’s less than 5% of the total national park. Besides the waterfall hikes, we did a ranger guided tree walk. This was very informative, but the ranger leading the walk kept getting distracted and talking about birds or animals and a lot of things that didn’t have to do with trees. This was OK because we learned about a variety of things, but not as much about the actual trees. We saw many black oaks, incense cedars, ponderosa pines, and my favorite, giant sequoias.

We still have one more day in Yosemite and so far it has been really great. Next we will be going to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park.

Four Foto Friday – Cali Capers Continue

It’s Friday again! We’ve just arrived at a KOA south of San Francisco and we’re still finding lots to enjoy about California. Here’s a little glimpse of the past week…

Auto Tour and Santa Monica Pier
As we left the San Diego area, we decided to do a bit of a driving tour of some well-known spots on our way back to pick up Harvey (the RV) near LA. We saw the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theater (which is now renamed TCL Theater and oddly enough, had a Jack Sparrow look-a-like and a Micky and Minnie walking around out front), got a glimpse of the iconic Hollywood sign, and drove down the palm tree-lined streets of Beverly Hills and Rodeo drive. Our driving tour ended at the Santa Monica Pier, which also happens to be the end of the old Route 66 and was crowded with people enjoying a warm evening at the beach.

This photo was taken at Pacific Park, a mini-amusement park that sits right on the pier. The boys used a bit of their “fun money” (saved last spring from selling some of their things at the ISB car boot sale as we were getting ready to pack out of Beijing) to enjoy the rides and games.

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Monterey Bay area
After a brief stop in Oceano (near Pismo Beach) that included time at a pool with water slides and a hot spring mineral bath, we got on the road to the Monterey area. A big highlight for us here was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Aquarium sits near the old Cannery Row (for you Steinbeck fans), which has now been converted into a touristy, but pleasant, walking area. The aquarium did a great job of combining the animal exhibits (puffins, tentacles, jellies, touch pools were some favorites) with raising awareness about conservation and research being done to support these aquatic animal populations. Of particular interest to me was the sea otter exhibit (I just love those little creatures!).

If you happen to like sea otters, too, you might be want to watch an older movie called Ring of Bright Water – it is a good film, but I’m giving you a warning now so that if you watch it, you aren’t taken by surprise like I was (yes, MKS, I’m lookin’ at you!)…the otter star of the movie meets his demise during the film.

In other sea otter news, there was a wild otter that visited the boat basin behind our RV park each day, and I enjoyed just watching him floating around, grooming himself, and just being otterish. Ahhh, the simple pleasures.

Sea otter cuteness at Monterey Aquarium

Sea otter cuteness at Monterey Aquarium

Big Sur
This week, we’ve frequently said that we understand why so many people love California. It has beautiful shoreline, green mountains, lots to do, nice weather, and friendly people. As we drove along Highway 1 through the Big Sur area, we were constantly oohing and ahhing. We stopped in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and had a picnic lunch in view of a waterfall that falls into the ocean and then made our way to Pfeiffer Beach where a gorgeous, beachy cove appears at the end of a long, bumpy road, and a short walk through a tree-lined path. While here, he boys enjoyed skim boarding in the freezing water. We ended the day in the quaint town of Carmel-by-the-Sea where we had dinner and were able to catch the sunset on a beach that is backed by some of the most unique beach homes we’ve seen. We even got a view of an interesting Frank Lloyd Wright house that is shaped like the prow of a boat and sits on an outcropping of rocks on the beach.

Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach

Driving
This week saw us in the car a lot but luckily, many of these drives were beautiful and so the miles seemed to pass by quickly. Take a look here at a gorgeous section of Highway 1.

Highway 1, California

Bixby Bridge, Highway 1, California

And from here, we continue North and look forward to some time in San Francisco!