Sunday, August 28, 2011

The End

We survived our 25-day family vacation. I can't say the same for thousands of bugs.

Hitting bugs wasn't much of a problem until we came to Idaho. Specifically the road between Pocatello and Boise. Seriously. The bugs were thick. We had to stop every two hours just to clean the windshield. Of course this also coincided with Isaac's incredibly small bladder's urgent need to empty.

It's great to be home. The boys are thrilled to see their friends again. Robert still has several weeks of his sabbatical left and I'm looking forward to working with him on several home projects and maybe even taking a little vacation. Just the two of us.

Friday, August 26, 2011

23 Days

Some questions will never be answered. "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop," for example. You might think that the question, "how many days does it take a teenager to get on board with the family vacation," is another one of those that will never be answered.

But friends, I have the answer:

Twenty-three days! Today Ethan was excited, he was engaged, he actually uttered the words, "I could look at this all day," and he wasn't referring to his 3DS.

We started off Friday morning in the Madison Junior Ranger station, again. Jonah really wanted to get his badge from this station, and believe it or not, Ethan really, really wanted to help raise the flag again. And he did. (If you're wondering what it looked like, just check out the photo from yesterday).

On our way out of the ranger station, we overheard one of the rangers talking about a dead bison up the road a bit. She was worried a grizzly would come soon and that park visitors might be at risk. So we headed right up there. Because we wanted to see a dead bison and hopefully a grizzly.

So, dead bison. We didn't get out of our car because we were certain a grizzly would come at any second and rip us to shreds. Obviously other people didn't have the same fears. We didn't bother waiting around though and headed up to Artist's Paint Pots.

Artist's Paint Pots were colorful geothermal features that made me think I was on Mars, instead of Earth. There was a mud volcano with thick, greyish gloop that bubbled and plopped. This is what Ethan declared he could watch all day. I didn't get a good picture of that paint pot, so I just nabbed this one off the Internet:

On the way back towards Old Faithful Village we stopped at Gibbon Falls. 

Can I just tell you how much I was enjoying "on board" Ethan! 

But, isn't there some law of balance in the universe that keeps things even? If one kid goes from bad to good attitude, another has to go from good to bad. I didn't take a picture of Isaac, but let's just say he was ready to be done with tour-de-Nelson.

The next stop was Midway Geyser Basin which was totally cool. The piece de rĂ©sistance was the Grand Prismatic Spring. I'm guessing this photo doesn't mean a whole lot to you. It was difficult to capture the beauty and weirdness. Mostly because to see the deep blues and greens of the water, one needed to be above the pool and in my case, I was not. But here is a lovely overhead shot for you to enjoy. See the little people on the pathway? That's how huge it is.

And this is me getting all artistic on the beauty in nature. The orange was so vivid.

This was Opal Spring and you can get a better idea of the blueish green water up against the orange border. The colors are caused by thermophiles, bacteria that thrive in heat. The orange bacteria like the hotter temps while the blue and green like the cooler, but still warm temps.

We caught one more blast from Old Faithful and this time I think I got a pretty good picture. The wind was blowing the steam just right. 

It was just about time for us to leave Yellowstone and head for our stop for the night, Burley, Idaho. Ethan was sad. This made stopping at one more place a little bit easier.

Of course to the casual observer, as we walked around these geysers, springs, mud volcanoes and fumerols, it would have appeared that Isaac was on a death march. That is why he doesn't appear in the picture at Spasm Geyser. 

Yellowstone was amazing. There was so much to see and we had so little time. At times I felt like I was on the set of a sci-fi movie and was fascinated by the strangeness of the bubbling, oozing, steaming ground all around me. Hopefully we will make it back to Yellowstone some day and can explore it a little more.

In Which I find Out How Many Pictures of Bison is Too Many

Thursday morning we drove into Yellowstone and stopped at the Madison Junior Ranger Station. I thought the building would have a short little door that adults had to bend down to get through, but it was regular size. There were quite a few kid ranger programs though, so we sat in on the Animal Hats talk (a.k.a. horns and antlers--I now know the difference between the two) and the kids and Robert got started on their seventh junior ranger program.

Ranger Sharon asked Ethan if he wanted to help put up the flag and he did. This made a big impression on Ethan. (Tune in for Friday's report to find out just how big.) Jonah and Isaac also helped.

There was a display table of "please touch" horns and antlers in the station and Jonah had fun with this bison horn. I wonder what the difference between a bison and a buffalo is? 

(Really Afton? A third picture from the Junior Ranger station?) 

Here are the boys in front of the Madison Junior Ranger Station. I just thought it was such a fun place, and we did spend about an hour there. It was our first introduction to Yellowstone, and the first "Junior" Ranger Station I'd ever seen. And I've seen a lot in the last 22 days.

We drove up the road a bit to the Old Faithful Village. This is where we stopped last night for dinner, but this time we came to see the geyser. It is both old and faithful, erupting every 60-90 minutes. I took plenty of pictures of the geyser erupting, and even a video, but the video is sideways (I keep forgetting--no portrait mode!) and the pictures I did take just don't do it justice. So you just get a shot of Jonah and the sign.

We lunched in the Old Faithful Inn. It is stunning to behold. Seriously. The inside is made from all this knotty pine and stone and it's just beautiful. At lunch, the waiter brought activity books for the kids and in the activity books there was a page for collecting stickers from different places around the park. Collect four out of five stickers and the kids would each get a cute stuffed bear and a coupon for a free ice cream sundae! 

The only problem was the different locations were hours away. We decided to collect the stickers anyway and it really turned out to be a good thing. As we drove from place to place (Lake Lodge, Canyon Lodge, and Roosevelt Lodge) we were able to stop and see some amazing things. 

Or sometimes we didn't even have to stop, as in the photo above. This bison just walked down the road past our car. They are so weird-looking.

Another stop was the trail at Mud Pots, or Mud Volcanoes. I can't remember exactly what it was called. I can remember that it was strange and otherworldly and that it reeked of sulphur. At first the boys complained about the smell, but we all eventually got used to it.

Except when we got to Dragon's Mouth Spring.

It was at this point that the boys started to complain about how many times we were stopping to see bison. I had to agree that it was starting to feel like "you've seen one, you've seen them all."

On the way to Canyon Lodge, we stopped at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Lower Falls. The walk to Artist's Loop was short and very well worth it. The view was inspiring. Kind of hard to see in this picture of Jonah, but Lower Falls is in the background

Here you can see both Lower Falls and the yellow stone that Robert said Yellowstone National Park got its name from. I'm thinking Christmas card with this photo.

We completed the kids sticker books and they got their stuffed animals from Roosevelt Lodge. Just as we were driving off, there was a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder and the storm continued as we drove back over the mountains. The pounding rain turned into plopping slush and then marble-sized hail.   The road between Canyon Lodge and Norris was completely covered in an inch of hail. Before we exited the park though, the sun had reappeared and the roads were clear.

What a difference a few miles can make.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How Grand: Part Two

We left Draper, Utah and headed for Jackson, Wyoming. What a fun little town. They love their bronze statues. They're everywhere. Even out in the middle of what appears to be nowhere. It really jazzes up the place.

But if you really want to jazz up the place, might I suggest about a million elk antlers? At first I thought this was a PETA nightmare, but then I found out that the antlers shed each fall, so like, no elk were harmed in the making of this antler archway.

Bronze moose at Grand Teton

After lunch (not at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar--because the Million Dollar Cowboy family-friendly Steakhouse was closed until dinner) we headed north to Grand Teton National Forest. Not as grand as the other Grand we enjoyed this month, but still, quite stunning. 

We listened to a ranger talk on moose. Did you know that moose usually stand about 7 feet tall at the shoulder, but their poop is only as big as a kalamata olive? The ranger had a lot more information on moose poop which I will not go into here.

We took a little hike/walk around Jenny Lake. The boys immediately found some rocks to skip and I felt bad for the swimmers that had to evacuate the area for their own safety. I'm sure they were just about done swimming anyway.

Ethan shows perfect rock-skipping form

Ethan was quite good at skipping rocks and often got 5 or 6 skips from each throw. Isaac is still trying to perfect his rock skipping, but I have no doubt that he'll get it one day soon.

Remember how I mentioned "glitter toes" yesterday? Well, here they are, soaking in the cool, clear water at Jenny Lake. So pretty. So sparkly. 

All four boys got their junior ranger badges. This was a first for Ethan and second for Robert. Jonah and Isaac are up to 7 badges! After the oath-taking, we hopped in the car and drove into Yellowstone. We stopped at the Old Faithful Inn and picked up some sandwiches from the deli and found some benches on the deck to watch the geyser vent steam while we ate. 

The eruption wasn't expected until after 9pm and we were tired and eager to get to our hotel, so we left before the show. It would have been dark by 9 anyway, so it's just as well. (Spoiler alert: we saw it erupt two times the next day.)

Such high hopes for the boys sleeping in one queen bed together

Speaking of the hotel, they didn't have a roll-away bed, so all three boys had to sleep together in a queen. In the old days this would not have been a big deal. But the boys are getting bigger, and Jonah does have a habit of swinging his leg over whomever he is sleeping next to as well as shouting or screaming in his sleep.

So about 4 am, Ethan had had it and I switched places with him. Sleeping next to Jonah was a challenge, but much easier than listening to Ethan complain that Jonah was touching him. (Of course he's touching you! There are three big kids in a queen bed you goof!)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Salt Lake and Olympic Villiage

I took this slightly crooked picture of the Salt Lake Temple on Tuesday. It was a lovely day and we enjoyed walking around Temple Square in the morning, although we felt a little gouged at the Conference Center parking garage ($10!). Still, it was a good visit.

I explained the mirror effect of this reflecting pool to the kids and Jonah and Isaac immediately wanted their pictures taken with their reflections. 

I usually had to take a few pictures to get one good one due to the punching, kicking, and shoving that went on as part of the boys having to stand next to each other for more than five seconds. In the tabernacle, Jonah leaned so far into Ethan when I asked him to scoot a little closer that Robert and Isaac nearly fell over. Isaac had to express his displeasure in this shot. 

Meanwhile, some delightful sister missionaries were teaching a group of women about the Tabernacle's history a few rows away. I almost felt their silent prayer for "those unruly children" to leave so they wouldn't ruin the reverent spirit of the building. We left.

Moments before this picture was taken, Isaac sucker-punched Ethan in the gut. One dad in the room thought it was pretty funny. 

I recalled the first time I saw this statue when I was ten years old. My dad told me that Jesus was at the top of the spiral walkway and my family reverently ascended. I knew Salt Lake was a special place and if Jesus was going to live anywhere, it would probably be at temple square. I walked with trepidation: was I ready to face my Savior? Had I lived the kind of life He would want me to live? I was overwhelmed but continued upwards. I supposed that if I hadn't done everything as I should have, it was too late to worry about it now.

And then I saw the statue and not the real Jesus. I was quite relieved. 

Guess what? Salt Lake has Rubio's so we went there for lunch. But you know what? It just wasn't the same. It was just as tasty, but I think the fact that Rubio's was such a San Diego specialty gave the food an extra special flavor. Now that I know they've got restaurants all over Utah, Rubio's is kind of "meh."

After lunch we drove towards Park City and the Olympic Village. We watched as freestyle ski jumpers took jumps and did flips into a pool as part of their summer training. There was a fun museum about the history of skiing in Utah and then each of the boys wen downhill skiing. Kind of.

I thought these pictures were hilarious!

Robert had to hold up Isaac for this one, so I didn't make him do a second shot.

I told Robert to look like he was serious about his downhill skiing. 

Finally, we took the boys over to the zip line and alpine slide. They had a blast and I remembered midway through the video that I can't tape in "portrait." Oops!

Back at Rick and Betsy's house, we had delicious pulled pork sandwiches for dinner and I got glitter toes  from her sister Stephanie later that night. I can't stop looking at them. Maybe because they are so amazingly sparkly and beautiful. Pictures of the tootsies tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Alma Mater

Monday we hit up BYU and took one of those golf cart tours around campus with the kids. I always wondered who got to take those tours, and now I know. There were several fun revelations in the alumni house. One was this portrait of my namesake. Another was seeing a former friend in a video presentation about the work BYU is doing with the Didymus Papyrus

We had lunch at the Cougar Eat, but alas, there is no more BYU Food Services there and no more Taco Salads. Instead, the boys got some Taco Bell and Robert and I shared a chicken teriyaki rice bowl. Later we hit the candy counter, then went downstairs to the bowling alley. Several years back Ethan was trés impressed with the fact that BYU had it's very own bowling alley. He declared then and there that BYU was the school for him.

We didn't bowl, but we did see this old pin on sale for $3. I thought it was cool, but would the boys?

Yes! They would! They each wanted to take turns carrying it around campus. When we got back to Rick and Betsy's house, Jonah cut up little pieces of paper to make the bowling pin a hat, bow tie, sheriff's badge and arms.

We headed over to Cougar Stadium, I mean, Lavell Edwards Stadium to see if we could get a peek inside. Jonah was serious about the authenticity of this photo and insisted on putting his hand on this lava hot cougar statue. Even Robert kept a one inch distance from the surface.

Good luck! The stadium was open, so we walked in and sat down on this lava hot blue seats and pretended to be watching a game. BYU won, of course.

Hopefully the boys had a great time at BYU and will work hard in school so they can be students here one day if they want. As for me, coming back to BYU just made me feel old and a little depressed. Mostly because I realize I could have taken advantage of so much more the school had to offer while I was a student. Sigh.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Moving On

On our last day at Grammy and Poppy's we went to church.

After church we raced around to get our car packed so we could make the trip North to Betsy's house in Draper. Grammy threw lunch together in record time and I got the kids out of their church clothes and finished packing the bags. Robert was just getting ready to load the car when I decided to check my correspondence with Betsy one more time. 

Oops. She was expecting us on Monday night, not Sunday night. I'd given her the wrong dates.

So we waited, wondering if we should spend one more night in Ivins, try and get a hotel in Utah Valley, or just hope Betsy was home when we showed up at her door. But, with the magic of cell phones and e-mail, everything worked out and here we are, one day early, at Betsy and Rick's house. Yay!

Now, if we could just figure out how to stay busy in Utah and Salt Lake Valley for a couple days.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

In Which Change Does Not Equal Rest

Some doofus once said that a change is as good as a rest. For the last three weeks we've been living out of duffel bags, off of happy meals, and sleeping in six different places. Tomorrow we are onto place number seven. It's been nothing but change, change, change and I'm exhausted.

But, it's a good exhaustion. Sort of. We've seen amazing and things, been to exciting places, and spent way too many hours with each other in the car and so far, survived. See? That's good, right?

Today we slept in and the boys played way too many hours on their DS's and watched too much Sponge Bob. We convinced them to take a break to go bowling (two games--Isaac won the second with 80 points!) and then swimming. Afterwards, we all went out to dinner at Marv's or Vern's, or something like that. It was a 50's inspired burger joint with lots of Elvis music and delicious fries. And fry sauce--a Utah creation I can very much get behind.

So we are doing laundry and packing and getting ready to say goodbye to Grammy and Poppy for a while. It's been fun. And hot. But mostly fun.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bryce is Nice

Three National Parks in five days. I'm exhausted. For today's visit to Bryce Canyon, the part of Ethan will be played by Grammy. Ethan was not in the mood for another long drive and hot walk, and Grammy had been wanting to visit Bryce Canyon ever since a family drive through when she was 12-years-old. She was so impressed with Bryce that she chose to go there for her honeymoon. However, when she and my dad arrived in April of 1967, they found that Bryce was closed, and had to turn around and go home. 

We learned that Bryce is not really a canyon at all because there is no river carving out these odd standing fins and pillars (called hoodoos). Instead, the shapes are formed in the soft limestone by water freezing and defrosting over and over until the rocks split and drop off, leaving a fascinating geography. 

Jonah and Isaac earned their sixth Junior Ranger badge and this time, were joined in the oath taking by a new Junior Ranger: their dad. Robert has enjoyed working on this program with the boys and finally decided to do it himself after seeing an adult woman earn her Junior Ranger at the Grand Canyon.

At the risk of repeating myself, these pictures just don't do Bryce Canyon justice. So beautiful, so fragile, and rapidly changing. 

Here's Grammy with Jonah and Isaac. They were happy campers until they were done with their ranger program. Then they were ready to go home. But, we drove three hours to get to Bryce and weren't going to stop with out a little hiking.

And so we did a very little hiking. Everyone was getting tired and dinner at Cafe Rio back in St. George sounded oh-so-good. So we watched (or in my case, fell asleep to) an orientation video in the Visitor's Center, then got in the car and drove home.

Well, not straight home. We stopped first at the Ruby General Store and got some liquid pick-me-up in the form of diet Dr. Pepper. Robert took a couple sips and that kept him awake to drive the whole three hour trip. I drank the rest of the bottle and that kept me awake to make sure that he stayed awake.

Then we stopped to see these fun old trucks near the north entrance of Zion's National Park. It was a quick little diversion with a trip into the gift shop where we looked at, but didn't buy $5 t-shirts, polished rocks, and beautiful Roland Lee artwork.

I'm so glad we will have a few days off before we hit another National Park. Taking in all this magnificence and beauty is tiring.