Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Utah - Spiral Jetty

After our visit to the Golden Spike NHS, our day wasn't over.  We had plans to see another place nearby and then eat lunch at In N Out Burger on the way back to SLC.  Time got away from us and suddenly it was 2pm and we were still at the NHS.  With no lunch.  I should know by now to always, always pack some sort of food.  Did I mention that we were out in the middle of nowhere?  Yeh, we were.  Our only option was to make do with the very limited, VERY expensive food in the gift shop.  We each had a box of National Park animal crackers,1 piece of Buffalo (I thought they were bison?) jerky, and one bite of a chocolate Golden Spike.  It was over $30 for this handful of food!  A very expensive lesson....ALWAYS take along some food, even if you don't think you'll need it.  At least we had our own water bottles with us :).

Our next destination was about 15 miles further into "nowhere".  We left the NHS, made our first turn, and the pavement immediately ended.  Now I know why google maps said it would take 50 minutes to travel 15 miles.  Fortunately, there hadn't been any rain recently, so the roads weren't too bad.  Rough and bumpy, yes.  But no big deal.

We were going to see Spiral Jetty.  Spiral Jetty is an earthwork sculpture that was built in 1970 by artist Robert Smithson.  This sculpture is located in the north arm of the lake, the saltiest part.  There is a causeway that blocks off this section of the lake causing the salinity to be 27 percent.  That's a lot of salt!  Also, the water in the north arm is pink.  There is a certain type of algae that thrives in such high salinity causing the pink color.  It was light pink when we were there, sometimes it is almost red. 

The sculpture was built during a drought, lake levels were low.  Within a few years the water levels returned to normal and Spiral Jetty was submerged.  It stayed hidden under water for 30 years!  It has just in the last decade or so been making an appearance again.  Because of its long soak in the super salty water, it is now covered in pink and white salt crystals.

A very interesting place, we were all glad for the opportunity to experience it.

***And yes, we stopped at the first restaurant we could find and had a proper meal :)

Utah - Golden Spike National Historic Site

When we are going to be in a new area, one of the first things we look into are parks and monuments that offer Junior Ranger programs for the kids.  For anyone not familiar, this usually consists of an activity book that the children complete along with hands on activities (like the sea monkey program).  When all required activities are completed, the children earn their Jr. Ranger badges (sometimes patches, sometimes both).  It is a great learning tool that really helps teach the facts and history of the place you're visiting.

some of the kids Jr. Ranger badges & patches

On the list of places offering a Jr. Ranger program in Utah is the Golden Spike National Historic Site (NHS).  I have to admit, I didn't really know what this place was about other than trains.  I am really glad it is on that list or we would have missed out on a fun day!

We drove 1 1/2 hours north of our campground to Promontory Summit, the location of the NHS.  This place is out in the middle of nowhere.  That's ok, though.  We like those kinda places :).  We had just stopped at the first information board and were reading it when we saw an explosion in the distance.  Uh oh...what in the world?  Flames and a plume of smoke shot quite high in the air.  Nothing else happened, so we got back in the car and drove the rest of the way to the visitor center (the opposite direction of the smoke).  We asked when we got there if they knew what might have happened.  Yep, they knew.  Just up the road is a place that manufactures rocket fuel.  Periodically they have to burn some of it off, thus the shooting flame we saw.  Wow, totally didn't expect that!  I guess that's the sorta place you find in the middle of nowhere, huh?

Anyway, we were just in time to watch the 2 trains coming in.  They are replicas of the steam engines the Central Pacific Jupiter and the Union Pacific No. 119.  I love the sound their whistles make, not at all harsh like trains today.  The locomotives are stopped in place just as they were on May 10, 1869 when the last spike (the Golden Spike) was driven to connect the 2 railroads and form our nation's first Transcontinental Railroad.

The light colored tie marks the spot where the Golden Spike was driven

The men operating the locomotives were very patient and answered all of the kids questions.

One of the rangers gave a detailed history of the 2 railroads and all the work that led up to the completion.  He was an excellent speaker and really brought the entire thing to life for us.  We all learned a lot.  While he was talking, I saw Trevor's face light up.  He told me that what the man was saying (and everything we were seeing) had been in his school books.  How cool is that? 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How does your garden grow?

My dear little Audrey,
How does your garden grow?

With cotton balls,
A bowl full of sunshine,
And beans popping up in a row!

Audrey's school project.  A bowl full of cottonballs...with some beans tucked in.  She keeps the cotton moist and the bowl in a sunny window.  VoilĂ !  A tiny garden and a happy little girl :).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Utah - Antelope Island

We wanted to really be able to experience the Great Salt Lake, and Antelope Island State Park offered exactly that.  After looking online, we decided that Saturday would be the best day.  That's the day the park was having a Junior Ranger program about sea monkeys.  Fun!

I got the kids up and out the door early with the promise of a special breakfast.  Krispy Kreme doughnuts!  We stopped in Layton, Utah, which is on the way to Antelope Island, for our treat.  Full of sugar, we headed on over to the park.

We drove across the causeway and arrived on the island with about 30 minutes to spare before the sea monkey program.  Just enough time to check out the visitor center and get Junior Ranger books for the kids.

causeway to island

Finally, it was time to learn about the sea monkeys.  There are kits that you can buy at toy stores and raise your own sea monkeys, maybe you have seen them.  The "monkeys" are actually brine shrimp that live in super salty water, like the Great Salt Lake in Utah.  These little creatures are basically the only thing that can survive in such salty water. 

The Ranger teaching the program was very patient with the kids.  She first told them all about the sea monkeys.  Then, she gave each child a little cup and led them down to the water to wade in and catch some.  After everyone had their fill of catching them, she took a cupful back up to the pavilion and set up a microscope for the kids to get an up close look.  The kids loved it!

With the program done, we had a quick lunch and then went exploring.  We saw lots of birds, a coyote, some antelope, a snake, and bison.  (The park rangers are quick to tell you that they are NOT buffalo, they are bison :).  Um, ok.)  We have seen lots of buffalo (bison?) in Wyoming and South Dakota, but never on a beach.  It was an odd sight!

At the far end of the island is an old ranch open to park visitors, Fielding Garr Ranch.  The ranch house, built in 1848, is the oldest house in Utah that remains on its original foundation.  When you enter the ranch yard, you are given a walking tour self-guide.  With this map in hand, we explored the house, barns, livestock pens, spring house, etc.  We skipped seeing Garr Springs, the freshwater source for the ranch.  One of the rangers warned us that there was an injured bison in the vicinty, beware.  Yikes, no thanks!

It was nearing sunset, so we made our way to Bridger Bay.  We wanted to get in the water.  I would say swim, but that's not really what you do there.  You float.  The water is so super salty that you lay back and just easily float.  I hate to admit it, but I chickened out.  Remember all those sea monkeys?  Yeh, the water was full of them.  Ew.  The kids didn't care, they all floated around until they got tired of it.  I did wade out in the water with them.  I just couldn't bring myself to lay down in it!  The park has pay showers with warm water for those brave enough to float with the sea monkeys.  A handful of quarters later, the kids were all cleaned up and we were ready to go home.

Bridger Bay

We had a really fun day.  Long, but fun :).

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Work and Play

The next day, Dan had to leave for work.  He is employed in the oil industry with a schedule of several weeks on and then several weeks off.  The company he works for provides his airfare from anywhere in the US to the job location.  So, the kids and I kissed him goodbye and were on our own for the next several weeks in Utah.  (and yes, we miss him terribly when he is at work and vice versa)

The kids and I typically hang around home more when Dan is at work.  We homeschool our kids and with 5 of them ages 7-12, it takes a good portion of the day just for schooling.  When our school was done each day, we would usually go to the campground pool for an hour or two.  Our kids all love to swim, so this was a wonderful treat for them.

 The campground we stayed at was on the edge of the city and fairly large.  Because of this, it stayed pretty full.  This was actually nice, because there were always other children for ours to play with.  Quite often we would have between 8 and 10 children (ours plus friends) in our little yard.  I am laughing as I type this because I wonder what some of the other campers thought when they drove past my camper and saw all those kids. Haha!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Utah - Bonneville Salt Flats

Time for some fun!  The next morning, after she opened her gifts, Ashlyn wanted to go eat pizza.  So we looked online for a good pizza place, found one, and headed out for an early lunch.  If you are ever in the SLC area and want pizza, you should go to Rock Creek Pizza Co. in Riverton, Utah.  We got there as they were opening and they were so cheerful and friendly.  It's nice when people seem to enjoy their jobs!  Anyway, the food was amazing.  Seriously. 

birthday girl

One place that Dan wanted to visit while we were in Salt Lake was the Bonneville Salt Flats.  After our pizza lunch, we headed west towards the flats.

Our drive skirted the Great Salt Lake and pretty soon we passed a Morton Salt plant.  So interesting.  I don't know if the salt they had piled up outside was destined to be table salt or not. 

The ditches lining the road were obviously very salty...

Sign seen at a stop along the way.  Fortunately, we saw neither...

Surprise!  There is a tree sculpture out in the middle of the Great Salt Lake Desert.  It is called The Tree of Utah and the colorful balls are covered in rocks and minerals native to Utah.

sculpture by artist Karl Momen

Parts of the salt flats were covered in water from a rain they had the day before.

We arrived, parked the car, and the kids took off.  They ran and ran:).  It was great.

It is so vast and flat that supposedly you can see the curvature of the earth.  I dunno...maybe.

The ground was really hard.  The ridges of salt look as if you can step on them and squish them flat.  Nope.  Hard as rocks.  Or rock salt, I guess :).

When we were done running and exploring, we went back up to the parking area.  They kindly provide a "foot wash" station.  A concrete pad and water hose.  We needed it, our shoes were covered in coarse salt.

Very fun!

Just a bit further and down a side road we went to the site of the Bonneville Speedway.  This was the part that Dan wanted to see.  Many land speed records have been set there.  Speeds in excess of 500 mph.  It was covered in shallow water from the rain, so we didn't get to drive on it.  It apparently gets very boggy when it is wet.

Tristan, our youngest son, asked me a week or so later if we could go back to the salt flats.  I asked him why, and he said that he felt so free when he was running out there.  He wanted to do it again :).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Utah - Salt Lake City

We left Wyoming and continued west into Utah.  Why Utah?  Several reasons...we had never been there, there is a ton to see and do, and the temps weren't going to be below freezing during our stay.  Sounds good!

We had reservations for a campground on the north side of Salt Lake City.  To get from Rawlins to SLC, you travel west on I-80 for 300 or so miles.  It is such a strange drive, 3 out of 4 vehicles on the road are semis.  The terrain is mostly flat until you get into Utah.  You drive through Park City and on across the Wasatch Mountains.  The road is pretty steep and curvy...all those semis I mentioned?  They were going verrrry slow with their flashers on for as far as you could see.  You come down off the mountains into the valley where SLC is.  I didn't realize that the city is completely surrounded with mountains (very pretty!).  The rest of the drive to the campground was a bit scary for me.  The roads are like a bowl of spaghetti noodles...roads going over, under, right, left, curving, straight...and all on the very busy interstate with many (many!) lanes of traffic going in each direction.  Whew!  I haven't mentioned it before, but we drive 2 vehicles.  Dan pulls the camper with his truck and I follow in my suv with all the kiddos.  It would be great to all ride in the truck and only have 1 vehicle, but it doesn't seat all of us.  Oh well, this way we have my suv for sight seeing, etc...much cheaper on gas (the truck is a diesel).

We made it to the campground and got set up with no problems.
the view from our campsite...the campground clubhouse and city

 We were anxious to get out and see the city, so we drove around downtown until dark.  One of the first things we saw was the Mormon temple.  You couldn't miss it.  The kids thought it looked like Cinderella's castle at Disney World.  It kinda did.  Then we drove over to the Utah State Capitol.  The kids thought it looked like The White House.  Again, it kinda did :).

Utah State Capitol

 Everyone was hungry, so we went looking for somewhere to eat.  We found a Firehouse Subs!!!  We love that place and haven't eaten at one since we lived in Florida (4 years ago).  We didn't know it, but it was kids eat free day, so double yay!

We were all tired, so we went back to the camper so the kids could go to bed.  Dan and I stayed up to get ready to celebrate Ashlyn's birthday the next day.  He headed back to town to pick up her cake and gifts while I finished putting everything away in the camper and decorated a little bit for the birthday girl.  With that done, we called it a night.

That was our 1st day in Utah!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Wyoming - Rawlins, Independence Rock

We were ready to go somewhere new, so decided to head south and west.  We hoped to find a campsite somewhere close to the Flaming Gorge in sw Wyoming.  It just happened to be Labor Day weekend, so that didn't happen.  Instead, our destination for the next 2 nights was...Rawlins, Wy.  Yay.  Anybody that is familiar with Rawlins knows it isn't exactly a "destination".  Nothing wrong with it, just not much to do.

We left Buffalo Friday morning and that put us in Casper for lunch.  When we lived in Wy, we would occasionally drive to Casper for movies, shopping, eating, etc.  There was a Chinese restaurant that I had hoped to go to, but with a 40' 5th wheel, you pretty much just pull in where you fit.  So Arby's it was and then back on the road.

The drive from Casper to Rawlins is pretty, in my opinion.  For a ways the road follows the North Platte River.  You also get to see hills of different sizes and various rock formations.  Of course there is also lots of just open land.

About an hour west of Casper we came to Independence Rock.  So named by a party of fur trappers who camped there July 4, 1824.  This rock was a well-known landmark along the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails.  It has also been called the Great Register of the Desert because of all the names carved on it by the emigrants.

 We walked around the base of it, but didn't get to climb it.  There was a line of storm clouds quickly coming our way and the top of the rock didn't seem like a good place to be :)!

Just a few minutes driving and we passed another landmark that was used as a guide by the emigrants called Devil's Gate.  This is a notch in the rocks that is visible actually before you even come to Independence Rock.  Reading the information on these two places we learned that it took the emigrants one day to travel between the two.  An entire day for them, minutes for us...crazy.

Enough history for today :)!

We got to Rawlins that afternoon and went to our campground, RV World.  Our site was pull through and level enough that we didn't have to unhook the trailer from the truck.  Nice!  Actually, everything about the campground was really nice.  The laundry room and bathrooms were spotless, thankful for that.  The camp store had anything we could possibly need, including Ben & Jerry's ice cream (yes, that's a need).  The lady in the office was very friendly and helpful.  For a place to stay while traveling through, it was great.  Oh, and they had putt putt golf on site for the kids...they still talk about it :). 

We got to rest, catch up on laundry, and eat some good food.  There is an excellent Mexican Restaurant in nearby Sinclair called Su Casa.  Super nice people, too.

It turned out to be a great destination after all :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wyoming - Crazy Woman Canyon, Fort Phil Kearny

As a family, we enjoy exploring places that are a bit off the beaten path.  We have seen some amazing things and often we are the only ones there at the time.

We ventured back into the Big Horn Mountains for a drive into Crazy Woman Canyon.  With a name like that, how could we resist :)?  The road through the canyon is gravel/dirt and it follows Crazy Woman Creek.  Such a beautiful place...

We also enjoy visiting places that teach about our history.  The kids actually really enjoy this, too.  They take their time to read all of the signs and take it all in.

We drove through the Fort Phil Kearny area.  This fort was established in the 1860's to protect travelers on the Bozeman Trail.  We saw the site of the fort and some of the battle sites, Fetterman and Wagon Box.  Wow...

Fetterman Battle Memorial

After a day spent roaming around, we headed back to Buffalo for a good meal.  Following recommendations from a friend that lives in Wyoming, we went to the Winchester.  When someone from Wy tells you where to get "the best steak in the state", you listen :).  We did and it was.  A great ending to a great day!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wyoming - Medicine Wheel

It felt good to be back in Wyoming.  We lived in the Wind River area a couple years ago and only passed through Buffalo.  It was nice to have time to spend a few days.  That is one of the things that I am enjoying about our new lifestyle.  We have time...time to slow down and just be...time to really explore all the places we have before just glimpsed in passing.

Something that I had always wanted to see was the Medicine Wheel in the Big Horns.  It is high on a mountain, so the area is covered in snow most of the year.  Places like that are special to me because there is such a short window each year to see them completely uncovered.

We drove to the parking area and the ranger on duty greeted us with a smile and the offer of ice water.  After filling the kids water bottles, the ranger told us to have a nice hike..."it's 3 miles and up hill both ways".  Of course we laughed and headed on our way.  Uh....he wasn't kidding.  The path goes up and down, up and down...while steady climbing higher until you reach the top.  Add to that the thinner air and I was wishing I exercised more often :)!

The view at the top was beautiful.  So quiet and peaceful.

On the drive back through the mountains the kids spotted this moose.  He was fun to watch for a while...