Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The long way home

On the way home, the rest of our family decided to go back through Santa Fe, NM to check out the Georgia O'Keeffe museum and stay in a wonderful hotel in the historic square area. We decided to go a different route so we could show Grayson an extinct volcano and camp one more night. The volcano was cool, the camping...not such a good decision.

Things started out in our favor. The usual afternoon rainclouds appeared to be rolling in just about the time we arrive at Mount Capulin National Monument. Luckily, we didn't get rained on and had enough time to explore.

Gray decked out in his Junior Park Ranger gear from Yellowstone. He insisted on wearing it when we toured both the Great Sand Dunes and Mount Capulin. 

We hiked down the short walkway into the volcano and checked out the cool lava rocks and plants along the way. 

This is the view from the rim of the volcano. You can drive to the top and then hike a mile around the rim or down into the volcano. I highly recommend a visit if you're ever nearby.

Gray got another stamp for his passport at the visitor center and also completed a short workbook to earn his Junior Ranger badge. This is a short video of the park ranger having Grayson recite the junior ranger pledge to protect our national parks and monuments.

After we were done at Mount Capulin, we drove about an hour and a half east to Clayton Lake State Park which is also in New Mexico. We got a short rain shower upon arrival but stuck it out and started setting up camp once it past. 

This is what it looked like off to the north of where we were camping. Not a good sign. 

The wind and lightening skirted us for a few hours, but then around 9:30 p.m. the rain began. By 10 p.m. our tent was taking on a considerable amount of water and we were officially experiencing a torrential downpour. 

We went ahead and decided to load up. Man, that hotel in Santa Fe sure sounded good right about then, but we pressed on and ended up driving through the night. We got home at 6 a.m., just as the sky was turning pink from the sunrise. 

Gray slept the whole way and was well-rested, but we managed to get him to sleep for a few more hours so that Michael and I could rest too. It was a long and memorable night, but it was good to be home. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Vail = Heaven

Once we arrived in Vail all our troubles melted away, just like the ice in our camping ice chest which the wonderful valet guys graciously cleaned out for us in the circle drive of the Ritz Carlton. Yes, we had arrived...camping gear and all. We were seriously spoiled in every way possible.

We got uninterrupted time with Pappa, Susu, Amy and Holten, had limitless recreational opportunities, amazing hotel service and Michael and I even managed to get away for a lovely dinner with one of my dearest friends from high school and her husband who drove over from Denver.

There were many, many highlights of the trip, but here are just a few:

The view from our balcony. 

Daddy and Gray fishing at the creek behind our hotel.

Dueling fishing poles. Must be a boy thing. 

Holt & Gray listening intently to the live musician during a 
wine tasting happy hour in our hotel lobby. Fun for the whole family!

A little friendly competition.

What are vacations for if not to eat a donut larger than your head?

The boys ready to head out for some glow bowling!

We bowled a game and had a wonderful dinner at the local bowling alley which was really cool and the perfect way to spend a rainy evening.

Daddy and Gray being silly.

We loved this cool sculpture in Vail Village.

Michael also got some mountain biking in and tried to participate in a local race, but it ended up getting cancelled due to inclement weather. 

We drove over to Breckenridge one afternoon to check out their alpine slide. I rode in the chair lift with Pappa while Gray and Michael rode a couple of chairs ahead. The seats are so open we weren't sure how Gray would handle it, but he sat still and didn't seem to get scared. 

Gray isn't quite tall enough to ride alone so we went down together and didn't even hit the brakes once. The whole way down he told me, "Thank you for bringing me here. This is so much fun! We're making memories." So cute!

Michael also snapped this pic as I'm trying to convince Pappa he needs to secure his hat before going down the slide. I think Holt had as much fun as Gray did going down the mountain. 

We had an early birthday celebration for me and Gray helped blow out the candles.

Pappa with Thing 1 and Thing 2. He was entertaining them while we waited for what ended up being one of the best breakfasts we've ever had!

Holt and Gray discovered some kind of Lego movie on Susu's iPad and commandeered it for the evening. She is a very good sport.

Family pic (sans Pappa) in Vail Village.

After five glorious days it was time to hit the road and begin our journey home.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Great Sand Dunes National Park

After we left Santa Fe, we took a scenic byway through the mountains to get to Vail. We were within 30 miles of the Great Sand Dunes National Park, so of course we had to make a quick stop along the way.

It had been raining most of the drive, but we got a brief reprieve just long enough to walk out on the dunes. It was still crazy windy there so we only tromped around for about 30 minutes or so before moving on to the visitor center.

Once we made our way out to the first dune, we asked a gentleman to take our picture. When he gave the camera back to Michael we realized he was wearing OU crocs and a baseball cap. We told him we lived in Norman and he couldn't believe it. He lives in Dennison, TX now, but is Sooner-born and Sooner-bred! 

Several folks had brought/rented sleds to slide down the dunes. Brilliant! We weren't there long enough to try that, but if you ever go it looks like a lot of fun.

Here's a video of Michael and Gray running down one of the small dunes. You may want to turn the volume down...the wind noise is ridiculous!

When we were in Yellowstone, Gray started collecting pressed pennies and stamps in his National Parks Passport. We got to add Great Sand Dunes to his collection!

Here's a shot from our drive. The clouds looked like they were spilling over the mountains ahead.

Gray liked driving through this cutout in the mountain.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Road trip adventures

Last week we had the good fortune of taking another family vacation, this time with my parents (Pappa and Susu), sister Amy and nephew Holten. We've been very blessed this summer to go on several trips and this one was a ton of fun.

Our overall destination was Vail, CO but we took our time getting there by camping two nights along the way, plus staying in a hotel in Santa Fe, NM. Most of my experiences with the Texas panhandle and New Mexico has been driving straight through it to get somewhere else, so it was nice to have several stops along the way.

Grayson was a trooper even with several days of driving...a few surprise treats may have helped. He devoured this Hershey bar in about 30 seconds. 

The first stop was Palo Duro Canyon State Park, a little south of Amarillo, TX. It was prettier than I was expecting and just about as hot as I was expecting, but luckily the canyon temps cooled off nicely in time for sleeping.

We got our tent set up, made dinner and had time for some hiking before the sun went down. We had some close encounters with a deer and wild turkeys in our campsite, plus we saw a tarantula on the hiking trail. Not exactly the wildlife of Yellowstone, but it made for some interesting experiences.

This was the view on our drive into the canyon

I was minding my own business washing my face when a young deer snuck up beside me. You can see him just to my left in the bushes. Gray loved it and tried offering him a rock to snack on. 

This guy creeped me out a bit and we made sure the tent zippers were snug that night.

A quick pic during our evening hike.

The next morning we made breakfast burritos and coffee. Our camper neighbors came out of the woodwork and everyone who walked by commented on how good our breakfast smelled. 

Here's our junior ranger exploring the visitor center a bit more before we headed on down the road. 

We stopped for lunch in Tucumcari and happened across a wind energy training center. They had a wind turbine in the parking lot and you could walk right up to it, so we had to stop and check it out. We've seen a lot of these throughout Oklahoma, but never have been able to get so close to one.

We were originally supposed to stay the night in the Santa Fe National Forest, but due to evacuations because of wildfire risks, ended up making camp at Santa Rosa Lake State Park in New Mexico. 

This picture basically sums up Santa Rosa. It's hot even in the shade and there's no reason to ever go there. The "lake" was down 50 feet or so and you could tell that even the park ranger who worked there wished he was somewhere else. Suffice it to say, it did not live up to New Mexico's state slogan, "The Land of Enchantment." The one redeeming quality was that when I woke up about 4 a.m., I looked out the tent windows and saw more stars than I'd seen in a very long time.

After fixing another yummy camp breakfast and coffee, we headed out early to explore Santa Fe. Michael and I had never been to Santa Fe before so it was really fun to see the Adobe architecture and check out the art galleries and shops.

We happened across a gallery featuring the amazing illustrator Chuck Jones who drew Bugs Bunny and many Warner Bros. characters, along with the Grinch. There were also illustrations of lots of the Dr. Seuss characters Grayson loves. Here he is by one of his favorites, the Lorax.

One of many places we'd love to call home.

A couple of nice Santa Fe police officers and their trusty steeds. The woman on the right actually picked up the horse she's riding in Pauls Valley, OK (about 45 minutes south of where we live). 
Small world. 

We met up with Pappa, Susu, Amy and Holt that evening for dinner and all stayed together at the same hotel. I must say it was nice to have a hot shower and fresh sheets on the bed, but we made lots of memories and our adventures were just beginning.