Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Campfire Stories Part 6 - Coming Home

Mary Zinn is a long-time consultant for FIRE Light Group and Wisconsin Meetings and Events. She is traveling with her family this summer in an RV named Loretta and will be blogging for us from the road. She and her family will share their photos, stories, and travel tips as they adventure their way from Wisconsin to San Francisco and back on a 10 week journey.

Campfire Stories Part 6

From Zion to Wisconsin

The drive from the Grand Canyon to Zion was less than 3 hours and we only had the following day to see the area, so we picked The Narrows hike which is considered one of the premier hikes on the Colorado Plateau. The shuttles to the trailhead were overflowing and the number of people of all ages was astounding. They recommended walking sticks which we rented and I can’t imagine attempting it without one, but people did—both young and old!

It had rained the night before so the typically clear rushing water was instead murky and brown like chocolate milk. This just made it more of an adventure because you couldn’t see the rocks under the water. The hike is slow going, and we only made the first part of the hike but it still took about 2 hours.

The following day, we were on our way to Mesa Verde when our RV started having acceleration problems. Yes, yet again, we had to change our plans. Rather than making it to Mesa Verde, we literally spent the night in the desert on an Indian Reservation on Highway 160 between Red Mesa and Teec Nos Pos, AZ. on Indian Route 5043. At this point, the boys (and all of us) were great about rolling with the changes. Most of the local folks didn’t bat an eyelash at our hard-to-miss presence, but one friendly gentleman stopped to chat. He told us that “his people” would not bother us nor be bothered by our presence. It was an interesting experience that we’ll always remember and ended with a beautiful sunset as the air cooled down.

The tow truck picked us up at 5:30am and actually kept us in the RV during the hour long tow! Once we got to Cortez, CO we were told by the service station that they couldn’t handle an RV so we had to find another place (yes, we told them we had a 24ft RV before we had it towed there). Thankfully, we did find another place and rather than another tow, we took our chances and drove 1.7 slow miles to the next place where she was eventually repaired.

Again, another rental car and motel were required. We stayed at The Retro Inn which was not bad (they had a great breakfast and even shipped my glasses to me after I left them behind). While in Cortez we were able to stick with our plan to visit Mesa Verde where we did the amazing Balcony House Tour. The tour is known as  the “adventurous cliff dwelling tour” and is a one hour ranger-lead tour that involves climbing a 32 foot ladder, crawling through at 12 foot long tunnel that is only 18 inches wide, and climbing up a 60 foot open rock face with two 10 foot ladders in order to exit the site! Yes, it was adventurous and very unique.

Since we had broken down and were unable to drive through Four Corners on the way to Mesa
Verde, we took the opportunity to drive there while staying in Cortez. It was obviously super touristy—surrounded by booths selling trinkets and jewelry, but it still makes for a fun picture and a great memory!

Unfortunately, the fuel pump problem kept us in Cortez for a couple extra days and prevented us from our next stop at Dead Horse Point State Park where we planned to visit the Moab area and do a bike ride. We just had to let that go and went on a day early to Rocky Mountain National Park—our last national park stop of the journey!

After a beautiful, but long and treacherous drive all the way through the park to our campsite at Glacier Basic Campground, we settled in for dinner and a campfire. The next day, we had planned a hike, but after taking the shuttle to the trailhead, my son and I both felt ill and after trying to start the hike, thought it would be best to skip it and take the day to adjust to the altitude. So we had a quiet day at the campground and tried a new hike the following day. Success! We enjoyed a hike to Emerald Lake and on the way passed Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. It was chilly when we got to Emerald Lake but the return trip was quick as more of it was downhill.

On the way home from Colorado, we had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with cousins in Lawrence, KS. We all had a great time and when we left, we planned to head to Dubuque, IA for one last night of camping when, you guessed it; change of plans. The fuel pump was acting up (or something seemingly related) so we decided to scratch that plan and make a B-line for HOME!
We were determined to get home and made it despite horrible weather that followed us most of the way. We all felt strange walking into the house after so long. It was immaculate (the renters had left it as I had for them) and quiet (Charlie the Beagle was still on the farm). The kids were super excited to be home and had huge smiles the entire night as they walked around in awe of each room in the house.

Oh, and guess what the final surprise was? The next morning we were unable to unlock Loretta! The lock was broken and we now have to get in and out with a ladder through the emergency exit window. Sheesh! We still love her (our RV) and had a great time, but boy, I tell you…to do it again, I think I’d find new wheels!

I personally have mixed feelings about being home. Things are pretty much as they were before we left, yet nothing will ever be the same again. We all have seen and experienced and grown so much. More on that in another blog maybe! Peace

FLG Note: This wraps up Mary's Campfire Stories blog series. If you'd like to follow her blog for any more updates on Loretta, you can find her here. We hope you enjoyed her storytelling adventure as much as we did!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Campfire Stories Part 5

Mary Zinn is a long-time consultant for FIRE Light Group and Wisconsin Meetings and Events. She is traveling with her family this summer in an RV named Loretta and will be blogging for us from the road. She and her family will share their photos, stories, and travel tips as they adventure their way from Wisconsin to San Francisco and back on a 10 week journey.

Campfire Stories Part 5

Sequoia, Death Valley, Las Vegas and Sedona

After five days in the Bay Area, we headed South for Sequoia National Park. My husband and I had both been to Yosemite more than once so we decided to check out Sequoia which neither of us had seen. It was, of course, spectacular! The park has convenient, comfortable shuttles to take visitors around the park (many of the roads did not recommend vehicles as long as ours so we took advantage of the shuttles). The first day we visited Moro Rock which is a granite dome with a steep 1/4-mile staircase to the summit with a 300 foot elevation gain. At the top we had a spectacular view of the Great Western Divide and the western half of the park.

The next day, we did the Giant Forest trail hike which is known for its giant sequoia tress. We saw the HUGE General Sherman Tree and all the other “named” sequoias.

During this hike, we went off the trail a bit looking for another path and suddenly my oldest son started screaming. At the same exact moment, I experienced a sharp pain in my leg which I thought was a prickly plant. Then I felt more pain and looked down and saw a wasp on my leg. We all started running and my youngest was crying loudly. We were so surprised and had no idea what was happening at first. People we passed after the incident thought maybe we were being attacked by bears! A bit embarrassing, but between 3 of us we got eight wasp stings.

We were scheduled next for two nights in Death Valley but when we got there decided it was unbearably hot (117 degrees F) and we would instead head to Las Vegas early where we planned to stay in a hotel. While we did very little in Death Valley, we saw much of the park on our drive in and out of it. It was spectacular in a very different way from any place we’d seen. It was so barren yet beautiful due to its geologic diversity. The RV park we stayed at had a spring-fed thermal pool that we were told was 85 degrees but it had to be closer to 100. It was only refreshing for about 1 minute after you got out and let the water evaporate. Thankfully, with electricity and air conditioning we were able to cool the RV down to 75 degrees for the night. We left early the next day to beat the heat and get to Vegas (yes, Vegas was for us considered much cooler).

We tried to get an early night reservation at The Red Rock Resort where we were scheduled for the following nights, but since they were almost sold out the rate was $650 for the night. We passed on that and found a fabulous hotel (Westin Element) that had a full kitchen and refreshing pool with cabanas. We liked it so much we wanted to stay there, but on we went to the Red Rock. The room there was nice too and the hotel has a great pool for families. We had fun walking through the casino which you had to to get to anywhere. We mostly relaxed and stayed cool in the pool and went to a movie (Ant Man). One highlight for the boys was the arcade where after spending $3.00 playing one game, our youngest (with his dad’s help) won a Samsung Galaxy tablet; it almost turned our son into an arcade addict!

Our next destination was Sedona, AZ and boy were we wowed by the beauty. The drive into town on Highway 89 was amazing and gave us a good feel for the area. We got in late afternoon and settled in and had dinner. The following day, we had a tour scheduled with Pink Jeep at 8:00am. It was incredible! We did the Scenic Rim Tour which was 1.5 hrs. The boys were a bit nervous about sitting in the back and getting bounced around, but I was there immediately and eventually they joined me. We loved every minute of the tour. We had the Jeep to ourselves and a wonderful guide named John who told us about the geology and some of the native plants we were curious about: agave, juniper and prickly pear. PHOTOS I highly recommend a Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona.

After the tour, we went to a nearby restaurant called Cowboy Club and tried some local delicacies like rattlesnake, bison and prickly pear cactus fries. They were all tasty and although our youngest wouldn’t try anything, our oldest did and thought it was “okay.” We only had one full day in Sedona but on the way into town, we remembered passing Slide Rock State Park and decided to stop there on the way out. What a cool place! It was surrounded by gorgeous scenery and had slippery rocks with water flowing over them where you could just hop in and slide down. We all tried it a few times then walked upstream to enjoy another swimming hole. On the way back to the car, we stumbled on some people jumping off tall rocks into a deep pool. Mike can never resist that and eventually the boys both jumped in too.

Grand Canyon was next and I’ll be honest, it was just something I felt we had to do since none of us had ever been. I didn’t expect to be wowed for some reason, but I was! Each and every place has surpassed our expectations but I think the Grand Canyon did the most. The first views as we arrived were amazing. We visited a nearby overlook and were just overwhelmed by how vast, deep and spectacular the canyon is. To top things off, there were two huge California condors right on the other side of the railing. They eventually flew off and soared where we could watch them for a bit.

The next day, we headed out early to beat the heat and avoid the rain. We hiked down into the Canyon and while it was relatively steep, the boys did great—even on the way back up. Each and every turn gave us a new perspective on how incredible the park is. We also had a chance to chat with some other hikers and were intrigued enough to consider a future visit where we hike and camp down in the canyon. We’ll see about that!

Later that afternoon, we took a shuttle to a trail we were planning to hike but shortly after we got on (after hiking a bit to get to the shuttle) we were informed they were evacuating the South rim due to lightning storms. It was pretty crazy and the boys were nervous but it makes for quite the story. We weren’t able to get back out but we were very pleased we had managed to hike into the canyon. The following morning we left very early and Ellis and I were in the back sleeping. Unfortunately, we missed some truly unbelievable views that Mike and Owen saw and they didn’t even get photos!

• At times it got up to 100+ degrees in the RV. While I can’t say we stayed cool, we managed by putting ice into bags or bandanas and putting them around our necks and wrists. Drinking ice cold water also helps quite a bit.
• Wasps stings hurt. Stay on the trail and if you go off the trail, try to avoid stepping on a nest!
• It’s really hard to fold up a large RV mat inside the RV. Try to plan ahead before it rains so you can do it outside.

Up next: Zion, Rocky Mountains and homeward bound!