Sunday, June 05, 2005

One National Park after another!

After I got the laundry done on Friday, we reluctantly checked out of the Best Western Canyonlands. One thing is, we definitely overpacked. Which I'm sure comes as absolutely no surprise to my dad and brothers! Growing up in a family with 5 brothers, we would go on vacations and my brothers would pack a couple shorts and t-shirts and be done. Then there was my suitcase, which was bigger than all theirs put together. After all, you never know what the weather conditions might be and you need to be prepared for anything...and everything! I made a list for each kid what to bring, knowing that we were going to be in a lot of different weather conditions. I thought I was keeping pretty tight rein on it. I planned on doing laundry once or twice during our trip. I hate doing laundry so I was in favor of more clothes, less laundry. This is vacation, after all, and who wants to spend it in a laundromat? But every hotel has had plenty of washers available and it's been so easy to throw a load in quickly. When I get the laundry done the kids just grab from that rather than digging back into their duffel bags. I know we are a little earlier in the season than the big crowds so maybe in the middle of the summer it wouldn't be as easy to find empty washers as now. We have gotten pretty good at having everyone get out what they need for the night at each hotel and taking in just one bag, which makes checking in and out pretty easy. We always like to hide one thing in the room to "stump the expert." Who could that be? He always finds it!

So on Friday, it was off to Arches National Park. The moutains are just unbelievable. So many of them look like huge castles in the distance. You can almost imagine that thousands of years ago they just may have been castles but have weathered so dramatically that you only see the form of what they once were. Some look like huge courthouses, some like ancient pyramids. As we drove through we had fun talking about what each mountain reminded us of.

Then in the midst of these red mountains are these natural arches, an amazing sight. We drove through the park and got out and hiked at various locations. At one point we hiked way back to an arch, to see it close up. This day was cold, rainy and windy, and although we were thrilled with the beauty of the park, the car was a lot more comfortable! After hiking a half mile or so back to see the arch, Alan the Hiker decided we were continuing on to the far arch to have a family picture taken. The kids were freezing and didn't want to go. I wasn't so cold as fearful of seeing a snake, as he was going off the path to see this arch. So we mutinied and headed back for the car, but Elly didn't want him to go off on his own. Plus she wanted to record his big adventure on video so she struck out with him. (She'll do anything to avoid the car!) We waited half an hour or so for their return, and finally they came back with the picture to prove that they'd made it. They were proud of themelves, and the rest of us were proud of our decision to view the beauty from the warmth of the car! Isn't it nice when we all end up happy!

By 4 PM we left Arches to head for Bryce Canyon in Southern Utah. We'd heard that the rain we experienced that day was snow at Bryce (oh goodie), and received warnings about traveling the mountainous and windy Route 12, considered one of the most scenic routes in America. Several people told us it was a 5-6 hour trip in good weather, so we dreaded the thought of what time we'd arrive at Bryce considering the poor weather conditions. I couldn't even bring myself to tell the kids the truth about how long we'd be driving, instead answering with a much safer "I'm not sure." Because of the poor driving conditions we'd heard about, Alan decided we should take the longer interstate instead. One thing we learned was that you can call Triple A while you're driving, tell them exactly where you are, and they'll give you the best directions to where you're going, considering the roadwork and conditions going on. They advised going the way Alan thought, via interstate roads. This proved to be a wonderful move as we realized we were making really good time. It was a good road with no one on it and the posted speed limit was 75. And after just 2 hours of fast driving we realized we were over halfway there! We stopped at a Wendy's and as we came out I told the kids to look out at all the snow-covered mountain peaks and remember that beauty the next time they ate at the Wendy's at home, which is on a busy highway.

We were in the town of Richfield, Utah, which our brother-in-law Wendell had told Alan was the four-wheeling capital of the world. Alan had his heart set on four-wheeling, but we had reservations at Bryce Canyon and had to push on. He wistfully pointed out all the four-wheel trails as we moved on.

The best news of the day was that by 8 PM we were at Bryce, a full 3 hours earlier than anticipated. We were all lovin' on Alan for getting us there so quickly! Our motel for the next two nights was at Best Western Ruby's Inn at Bryce Canyon. Many people who'd been there said it was an attraction in inself and the place to stay at Bryce, just one mile from the park entrance. Anyone who's driven I-95 South approaching South of the Border knows what we experienced as we approached Ruby's. Whatever you wanted or needed you could find at Ruby's Inn, for the right price, of course. And their "right price" and mine were nowhere close! It was a huge place with almost 400 rooms. The rooms were very run of the mill motelish, the least nice of our trip so far. Ruby's owned the whole strip around Bryce and with the cost of things I'm sure the owners were probably vacationing in Maui while we were vacationing there. Breakfast, for example, each of us got a danish and drink and the bill was $ the supermarket! We ate our snacks for lunch and then for supper were starving, so decided to eat at the huge buffet there that everyone talked so wonderfully about. It was a very run-of-the-mill buffet with very resortish kind of prices. With few other choices, we ate there...the kids started with their favorite, mashed potatoes, and soon were full. Hate to tell you the cost of their mashed potato meal! Turned us a little sour on the whole Ruby's place. It is highly overrated in our opinion. Later in Bryce Canyon National Park, we had a chance to see the lodge and restaurant...both seemed very much nicer than Ruby's (albeit no swimming pool), and next time we'll try hard to get a room there, though there are few rooms and you'd need to reserve very early.

Saturday morning Alan still had four-wheelin' on his mind as he had seen signs even in Bryce for ATV adventures. We checked a couple of them out, and found one that was not associated with Ruby's that we decided to try. I wasn't sure I wanted to do it but knew how bad Alan wanted to so we gave it a try. We rented three four-wheelers for a three hour guided tour of Red Canyon. They first gave us a crash course (bad choice of words!) in driving the things, and told us if we wrecked 'em, we bought 'em. They also told tales of everything that could go wrong, and the number of people who had been taken out on ambulances. Then asked us to sign a release. Oh great, this was sounding more fun by the minute.

The drivers were Emily, Alan & I with the others as riders. Coleman was pretty mad that he didn't get to drive his own, but had fun riding on Alan's. Once we got going and I figured out how to shift it was an incredible adventure. We rode up and down mountain trails and through a lot of streams, getting really muddy and wet. But once we were so dirty, who cared, so we started hitting the streams even faster! The further we went the braver we got. Emily did an awesome job and rode like a pro. Elly had started out on the back of Emily's bike but in tears begged me to take her instead. So she & Caroline switched places, which still didn't help much. The experienced guide offered to take her on his bike, but she stayed with me, still very nervous. It was a blast, total fun in the most beautiful of settings! When we got to the straight part near the end we stopped and switched drivers. Caroline drove Alan, Elly drove Emily (at a top speed of 2 mph!) and Coleman drove me. The fearless kid kept telling me how to shift so we could go faster and kept telling me "OK, now we're gonna open it up!" We probably ruined the bike as I kept both hands on the brakes as he had the gas full throttle. At one point I let off a little just as we came up to a huge stream. He hit it hard & fast and absolutely soaked us. All we could do was laugh, as we wiped the red mud from our faces. We came back filthy and exhausted, but totally exhilarated. It was the high point of our trip so far, and by the end, even Elly admitted it was fun.

That night, after a long swim, we toured Bryce Canyon. This park was unlike anything we'd ever seen. It is full of what they call "hoodoos," tall columns that look like the sandcastles you make at the beach when you let the wet sand drip down between your hands. They were really impressive, and we enjoyed the beautiful light on the canyon as we watched the sun set. The nice thing about Bryce is that you can see beautiful views without hiking far off the road to see them.

One thing I didn't tell you. A couple years ago when Coleman and I were running errands I told him a long story about how his daddy was a cowboy and his mommy andIndian when we met, and the hardships involved with the melding of Cowboy & Indian families. Although I told him many times that it was only a really good story, it was too cool a story for him to not believe, and ever since then he's enjoyed telling people about it. So at Ruby's there was a giftshop with all kinds of Indian souvenirs, and a whole section of Indian portraits. Jokingly Alan found them and told Coleman that this is Mommy and her parents and brother as Indians. His eyes grew wide and he was pretty impressed. Hopefully you'll enjoy them as much as Coleman did!

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