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[ The West, Day 06 ] : Arches National Park

After an amazing night of camping… I mean glamping, we got up early… I do mean early, not just “early”, loaded up and headed to Arches National Park.  We got up early for several reasons.  One… we had been advised that Arches National Park can get crowded and that the earlier you can get out, the better.  Two…  It was going to be a hot one.  98 degrees, desert hot.

We hit the road and were in the park within 45-ish minutes of leaving the camp ground and were in complete awe of the scenery.

 

The fins and balancing rocks were spectacular.

Arches National Park is in Moab, Utah… which reminded me of the story of Ruth in the Bible.  (Her and her mother in-law traveled back from Moab, where Ruth was from, to start over in Israel after losing everything…)

So, upon entering the park we started UP the road…  literally up and curved.  I didn’t get a pic of it but I snagged this one off alamy.com…

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Yes, for real.  This wasn’t our first switchback experience, nor was it our last… and my nerves got a little shorter every time we hit a new set of them…

Anyways, we hiked several different trails including one that went around both the north and the south windows…  we drove up a bit further and did a hike to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint.  We opted to not do the hike to the Delicate Arch because the trail takes about 2.5 hrs based on the official guides but we had a 4 year old who’s legs multiple that time by a bit…  and by this time it was a smokin’ mid 90 degrees.

Here’s some of the views that we took in…

Fun fact… the little tower of rocks by Addison in the picture above is actually what they used to mark the trail.  Arches, as well as all of the national parks are incredibly accessible for all limitations.  All of the parks have well maintained paved sidewalks that allow access to a lot of the sites.  The particular trail that we hiked do the windows… well we kind of lost the trail at some point so we’re not sure we were on an official one but… we made it.

We ended our hiking for the day right around noon and found a spot for lunch.  (We boycotted the PB&Js since it was so hot and wanted air conditioning…)  So… we found a local place to eat called Moab Diner.

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After that we jumped in the car, drove two hours to our landing spot for the night… Cortez, Colorado.  We stayed in another Best Western which we got another great priceline deal on however, their pools were closed for maintenance and refurbishment.  Not cool at all when it’s hovering near 100 and you were longing for a swim.

But, the front desk came to the rescue and we found the Cortez Municipal Pool.  It was minutes from the hotel, not crowded at all and not expensive…

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After a swim we headed back to the hotel, did laundry and got ready for another early start for the day ahead.

[ T R I P T R I C K S ]

  • Arches National Park is hot.  Bring plenty of water.  We went through more water here than any other stop.
  • Moab Diner:  Here’s their link.  Great food.  Modest pricing.  http://www.moabdiner.com  Worth a stop.
  • Cortez Municipal Outdoor Pool.  I never would have thought to check on a city pool while on vacation.  However, it was a great idea.  The kids were only $2.50 to get in and adults were $5.  We will definitely keep this trick in mind if a hotel pool ends up being out of commission.
  • ***MAJOR TIP ALERT***  Suitcase Packing Tip…  Okay, so I’m a planner and prior to the trip I had plotted and planned our suitcases.  For our family of six we took 3 large suitcases plus carry ons.  We were paired up by size so Stephen shared with Addison, I shared with Charlie and then Maddie and Sophia shared.  This meant each night we were having to carry in three large suitcases along with toiletries.  However, three hotels into our trip and realizing that we would be staying in five different hotels over the next five nights, I realized I needed to pack differently.  So…  in Cortez I laid out everyone’s clothing and made sure it was in daily pairs (including socks, etc.)  Then in Suitcase One I put three outfits for each person into it along with bathing suits.  In Suitcase two I put three outfits per person.     Suitcase Three contained an outfit, church outfits and any leftover clothing.   Packing this way allowed us to take ONE big suitcase in to the hotel per night.  Once the two/three outfits were gone from suitcase one, we simply brought in suitcase two.  We kept in mind that we needed suitcase three for Saturday night for church so we made sure to save that one.  This SOOO simplified the process of packing, unpacking and loading and unloading.  So next time you travel with your family, consider packing by days, not by people!

 

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[ The West, Day 05 ] : Moab, Utah

When we are on vacation one of our favorite things to do is to visit other churches…  What we discovered on this trip is that the west has far fewer churches per square mile than what we’re used to.  So, after doing some digging and searching and reading we found a church to visit that was downtown just a few blocks from the hotel that we stayed at…

Ekklesia Church was located on S 200 East Street in a community center  (really awesome building with tons of textures and urban type highlights.)  If you live, visit or pass through that area… stop by.  It was a very friendly group of believers that welcomed us to worship with them… http://www.ekklesiaslc.org

Addison’s highlight of her class was, she was the ONLY girl out of a dozen kids and she was a “great helper”…  if you know Addison, you know that being a great helper is one of her life’s missions.

After church we set out to our next destination… after making two stops…

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In-N-Out…  and man…  burgers, fries and shakes does NOT get any better than In-n-Out… and for our family of six we ate there really reasonably.

Then… stop two… Target.  We had to restock on some of our essentials…  more water, more fruit, more chips, more peanut butter, more jelly and more bread…  We also were headed to our one “camping destination” for the night so we stocked up on the campfire necessities… hot dogs, buns and of course… SMORES!  We splurged and grabbed a variety of candy bars to try with smores including York patties, Reece cups, Hershey Cookies and Cream bars and more!

Then we set off…  we drove about 240 miles that afternoon… another three and half hour drive.  The one thing that continued to amaze us was the beauty…

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And at times… the beauty was only found outside of our rental car…  sometimes the attitudes ran strong on the inside…

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Around 5:30 or 6 we pulled into Under Canvas in Moab… our destination for the night.  Under Canvas was a one night splurge for us and we loved every minute of it.  It was camping but with beds, toilets, floors and more…  by all definitions it was Glamping.

While there we saw jack rabbits, saw amazing sunsets and sunrises, made smores, played card games and…  live streamed the Cavs game on Stephen’s laptop.  (When the Cavs are in the play-offs you prioritize your data usage to make sure you can watch the game!)

Here are some of our views…

 

[ T R I P T R I C K S ]

  • Under Canvas was not necessarily budget friendly.  (They did provide “free” firewood, fire, coffee, hot chocolate and all the smore makings that we would need but… we all know it’s really not free.)  UnderCanvas is now in 7 different locations all near National Parks and they are amazing…  Here’s the website.  www.undercanvas.com.  You can order boxed meals, or meal ingredients to cook over the fire, etc.  They are super high on customer service and incredibly attentive to you while you are there.  For our trip, as I mentioned before, we used priceline on all of our other hotels and I bid every single one of them.  When we starting planning and booking I had a set dollar amount that I would spend on lodging.  From there I began the bidding war with our hotels.  We had decided that if I could bid the other nights down far enough to leave enough in our budget to recoup the cost of the Under Canvas experience that we would splurge on that night… which is exactly what we were able to do.  For our family of six we rented a Safari Tent with an adjacent Tipi.  Stephen and I slept in the king bed in the Safari Tent and the Tipi had 4 cots in it for the kids.
  • If you’re traveling and in doubt of where to start in looking for a church to visit you can always start with this website : http://www.acts29.com/find-churches/.  This is a directory of all the churches that have been planted through the Acts29 Network.  A network that we have found to be reliable and true to the gospel.  We have also used this website : http://www.sbc.net/churchsearch/churches-near-me.asp which contains a complete directory of SBC churches.

[ The West, Day 04 ] : Travel Day

After two jam packed days at Yellowstone and Grand Tetons we packed up the van and set course to go back toward Salt Lake City… the rest of our adventures would be further south.

The hotel we stayed at the previous few nights was the Best Western in Idaho Falls and it was great and had good breakfast options.  The staff was friendly and everything was clean.  We would definitely recommend it…

In the planning for our trip, I felt like just a plain travel day was a waste of a day so I tried to find something to do along the way to break the drive up…  and… drumroll please…

Hail the world’s largest baked potato…

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Yes, you read that right… the Idaho Potato Museum.  It wasn’t a huge museum but it was worth the stop… (I posted the pricing below…)  They had the history of potato crops, some cool facts and trends and even the worlds largest Pringle chip…

And yes… that is baked potato ice cream… is it potato or is it ice cream… or is it ice cream that has been shaped, cut and rolled to look like a baked potato!  OH! And… check out the legend/folklore about the reason why Marilyn Monroe was dressed in a potato sack… http://themindcircle.com/marilyn-monroe-and-the-potato-sack-dress/

After our exhilarating time at the Potato Museum we finished up the drive to downtown Salt Lake City.  I had used Priceline to snag a downtown hotel for super cheap…  Downtown Salt Lake is clean and kind of cool…  it does have a bit of a weird vibe but…

That evening since we hadn’t had lunch really… baked potato ice cream counts, right?!?… so we did a semi-early dinner.  On vacations we like to try DDD (Diners, Drive in and Dives) restaurants that have been featured on the show with Guy Fieri.  So… we bellied up to the table at The Red Iguana.  It was a smaller-ish hole in the wall restaurant…  http://www.rediguana.com

The Red Iguana is known for their Mole sauces…  to be honest and reveal our lack of culture… we had never had Mole… they brought us a small plate with samples of all their Mole sauces.  Ummmmm….

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We are not Mole people.  We did enjoy dinner… just not the Mole.

 

[ T R I P T R I C K S ]

  • The drive from Idaho Falls to Salt Lake was just over 3 hours…  easy, highway driving with beautiful scenery… marriages of mountains, sky and greenery.
  • The Idaho Potato Museum information can be found here : http://idahopotatomuseum.com.  Admission was $18 for our entire family when we used our AAA discount.

[ The West, Day 03 ] : Grand Tetons

On Friday we dragged ourselves out of bed after our late night and hit the road for Grand Tetons National Park.    During the drive through the Idaho landscape I was able to capture one of my favorite pictures…

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The beauty of a simple barley field was simply inspiring…

From Idaho Falls it was another 2.5 hour drive to Grand Tetons Park.   While the drive was definitely not something that we were doing backflips over but… by staying a couple hours out we were able to get a nice hotel for an incredibly reasonable rate on Priceline.  The ability to stay under budget on our hotels was a huge saver for us…

As we did the day before, we stopped by the Ranger station and asked which trailhead we should tackle.  The ranger on duty recommended the Taggert Lake Trailhead.

This trail was a 3 mile round trip hike and it was gorgeous… it was actually probably our most favorite hike.  The trail led us by rushing water, over bridges, through forest, through prairie and ended at a gorgeous view of Taggert Lake.

Here’s a few glimpses of our views…

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After we finished our hike we headed toward the amazingly cute town of Jackson.  That area is referred to as Jackson Hole and is definitely a tourist location but is a definite must stop…

The town has got some great shops as well as one of the largest structures of antler sheds.  The town square actually has four arches where you can grab a photo op…

That evening we headed to the Bar J Chuckwagon Dinner and Show.  This was located just minutes from downtown Jackson and was a family-friendly event that all of us enjoyed.

When we arrived at Bar J you check in and get your seating information.  From there you can get an early drink from the canteen or simply enjoy the complementary pan biscuits that are cooked over coal and served with honey… they were delicious.

The dinner bell rings and everyone filters through a mess hall style line where you’re served a portion of meat (your choice of chicken, ribs, pulled beef, etc.), a baked potato, applesauce, ranch beans, spice cake, tea and lemonade.

After everyone gets there fill the entertainment begins…  The Bar J Chuckwagon is a family owned and operated ranch and the entertainment is full of family as well…  the music is cowboy country…   It was delightful and each of the men on the stage were fantastically talented…

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After the last song we loaded up in the van and hit the road anxious to get back to the hotel and grateful to not have to get up early in the morning.

[ T R I P T R I C K S ]

  • Make advance reservations for Bar J Chuckwagon here : http://www.barjchuckwagon.com
  • Pack a snack, small backpack and plenty of water for the hike to Taggert Lake

[ The West, Day 02 ] : Yellowstone

After a good night’s sleep at our hotel in Idaho Falls, we got up and headed north to explore Yellowstone National Park.  We had been told by just about everyone that you would need more than a day for Yellowstone… yet, there was SOOOO much that we want to see that we decided to just make it work and so we basically did one national park or place every day…

Our drive from Idaho Falls to Yellowstone was around two hours.  We choose to drive to the West Entrance at Yellowstone.  This was closest to the Tetons (which was Day 03) and it was closes to Old Faithful… and let’s face it, as awesome and vast as Yellowstone is when you have one day you’re going to hit up Old Faithful.

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This is the park map.  A general “rule” would be that each of the segments of the road are an approximate 30 minute drive.   For example, from Madison Station to Old Faithful Station, it’s a 30 minute drive.  From Old Faithful to West Thumb… 30 minute.  West Thumb to Bridge Bay… 30 minutes.  You get the picture…  Some of the longer ones are actually 45 minutes, especially the roads going to and from Tower-Roosevelt…  both of those roads have hair pin turns and mountain elevations that don’t allow for very speedy travel.

We stopped at Madison Station to grab a hiking map and talk to the Rangers on what they would suggest…  the view at Madison Station was simply…  ‘Merica…

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In every park that we went to we generally stopped at a Ranger Station first, talked with a ranger and got their input on what trail to hike or what to see.  The other cool thing that we found to do in the parks was the Junior Ranger Program.  Each park was slightly different… in Yellowstone you paid $4/kid to get a workbook/brochure.  Inside it had different activities for different age levels that had to do with that specific park.  Once they finished an assigned number of activities, one of which included a Ranger led program, you stop back by a Ranger station, have a Ranger check it and then you get a badge and are sworn in as a Junior Ranger.   Our kids all really enjoyed the challenge and it gave purpose to some of the drive time…

Buffalo/Bison were everywhere in Yellowstone.  In fact, from Madison we headed toward Old Faithful.  While on the 2 lane road we got stopped in a traffic jam for over an hour because a Buffalo herd was blocking the road.   An hour… and it may have been more but I don’t want to exaggerate.

The traffic jam did afford us some time to each our official trip lunch… Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches.  

The route in between Madison and Old Faithful was beautiful.  It reminded of the Disney movies from my childhood where bears would be the rushing rivers and grabbing fish out…  we didn’t see a bear… but take a look…

We finally made it to the Old Faithful Station and… hello crowds.  At the previous ranger station we found that they had a prediction schedule listed for all of the geyser eruptions.  Because of the Buffalo Road Block we ended up arriving at Old Faithful right after it had erupted.

IMG_0904Old Faithful erupts on average every 90 minutes…  So, while we were waiting we took a paved walk around the Geyer area where there were all sorts of geological features… springs, geysers, etc. to take a peak at…

The loop we did was maybe a mile and a half long and by the time we got back it was show time!

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From Old Faithful we drove 30-45 minutes toward West Thumb.  It’s basically a piece of the lake that looks like a thumb and it’s on the west side of the lake…  We pulled off on a turn out at some point and captures this “panoramic” picture…  words and pictures can’t describe the beauty…

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(This version is a really crappy pieced together picture… I plan on photoshopping a better quality one down the road…)

From there we headed toward the Lake Village.  Just past the Lake Village we stopped in at the Mud Volcano…  the sulphur smell… talk about smelly…

We were heading into late afternoon and we made another stop at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the Lower Falls.  We found a trail marked Brink of Lower Falls Trail.  This trail included 8 to 9 switchbacks and descended over 300 feet over .25 miles…  This served as a great warm up for the rest of our hiking…  The view from the observation area at the top of the falls was beautiful, powerful, and quite a bit of scary…

After we huffed and puffed our way back up the switchback trail… which… by the way… the little legs of Addison conquered that hill like a champ!… the kids finished their Junior Ranger badges at the Canyon Village Visitor Center and then we headed up toward Tower-Roosevelt area in search of wildlife at sunset…

We did end up seeing quite a few bison, mule deer and prong horns…

Our only “mistake” was venturing out too far into the park toward dark.  The road between Canyon Village and Tower-Roosevelt is not an easy road… it’s twisty, turny, mountainous and honestly quite nerve-wracking in the dark.  We ended up having about two and a half hour drive through the park to get to the west entrance to head toward the hotel…  neither of us would recommend driving through the park after dark.  Nothing bad happened, it’s just super dark and not a straight and easy drive…

We got back to Idaho Falls the next day around 1am and we dragged ourselves to bed before heading out on our next adventure.

[ T R I P T R I C K S ]

  • Sign your kids up at the nearest ranger station for the Junior Ranger Program.  The Yellowstone program is $4/kid and includes a really nice patch when they finished
  • Purchase an annual pass for the National Parks.  We ordered this online for $80 and it’s good for a full year.  Each park averaged $30-40 per car which means in just two parks it paid for itself

[ The West, Day 01 ] : Take-Off

Our flight departed from Columbus at 7am on a Wednesday.  This was the cheapest flight option for us…  (whenever I’m look at flights I search for departures from Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus and Indianapolis.  We are centrally located between all of these and sometimes there are hundreds of dollars of difference between these departure cities…)  The only downside… leaving our house at 3am which made for a very short night of sleep.

If you’ve ever gone on vacation you will probably know exactly what I mean by this:  It takes more work to go on vacation than it does to stay home.  The days leading up to our trip were crazy.  My lists were at an infamous stage and I literally was working day and night on stuff for home, kids, trip, vbs, work, church, etc.  But…  when the alarm went off at 230am and we headed out the door at 3am… I was ready… prepped and walking out the door with a pretty clean to-do list.

So our flight took us through Minneapolis and then landed us in Salt Lake City around noon.  (Sidenote… that airport was nice.  Clean, easy to navigate and pretty friendly…)

Once we landed in Salt Lake City we grabbed our rental car and headed to the nearest Walmart where we stocked up on bottled water, granola/protein bars, bread, peanut butter, jelly, chips, pretzels, fruit and carrots.  This is pretty much what we ate for lunch and snacks for our time on the road.  We grabbed laundry soap pods as well which have lasted me our entire trip.

We also purchased a Booster seat for Addison.  The car rental company charged around $12/day to rent a booster but we were able to purchase one from Walmart for $14.88 which saved us tons over the course of our trip.

After that we hit… the… road.  We were amazed at the beauty in Utah… we never anticipated that.  (It reminded me quite a bit of Anchorage… the mountains seemed like they were touching the backsides of parts of the town…

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Our ultimate destination that night was Idaho Falls, Idaho but we made a fantastic pitstop along the way… Lava Hot Springs.  

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Lava Hot Springs was a super cute, small town that was apparently world famous.  It was home to two swimming facilities.  One was a very large, family aquatic center with slides and pools.  The other one, where we spent our time, was the Hot Springs.  (It just so happened that Wednesdays were discounted family days so we got to relax in the Hot Springs for a pretty discounted price…  for more info check them out here : http://www.lavahotsprings.com/hotpools.html

The Hot Springs area was made up of five hot spring pools.  The pools ranged from 102 to  110 degrees.  They were filled with beautiful, clean mineral water that didn’t smell and felt amazing… okay, if I’m being honest the 110 degree pool… it just felt like your flesh would be falling off your feet at any given moment but… they really were amazing.

After that we headed to our hotel in Idaho Falls, Idaho.  Our total drive time here was probably around 3.5 hours…

We found a really great BBQ place in Idaho Falls that we would recommend and return to… (and if you know us… you know that we like our BBQ and can be picky about it…)

PitMaster BBQ : http://www.pitmaster-bbq.com

[ T R I P T R I C K S ]

  • At Walmart we purchased a Booster seat for Addison.  The rental car company would have changed around $12/day to rent a booster… Walmart sells them for $14.88.  We ended up saving tons of money by purchasing one even though we didn’t bring it home with us.
  • All of our hotels were book through Priceline (except for two…)  I ended up doing some research on areas that surrounded each park, did multiple searches on Priceline to see which areas were more cost-effective to stay in and then finalized them by bidding on them.  My bottom line bid criteria was 2.5 stars…  for us, this was as low as we were willing to go, especially since we were bidding and couldn’t research a specific hotel prior to purchasing our stay.  Almost all of our hotels had hot breakfast with them… a couple only had continental… This alone saved us tons of money on food.

The Oregon Trail…

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The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
[ P S A L M 5 0 : 1 – 2 ] 

Okay, not really the Oregon trail but this month our family had the opportunity to pack our bags and head west for a couple of weeks.  We had been anticipating and making plans for this trip for about a year and were excited to break away and explore a part of the country that neither Stephen nor I had ever experienced.

We packed our bags strategically and carefully.  We plotted our course.  We mapped our path.  We searched out the Diner, Drive Ins and Dives that we wanted to check out and we hit the road, or rather the air, on May 31.

We have one more night away from home and at this point home seems far away and more and more desirable.

I want to try and catalog and document our trip before too much time passes and before we forget some of the details so bear with the multiple posts…  it works best for my brain to do it this way.

Pictured Above: Zion National Park at Sunset