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!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Campfire Stories Part 4

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 4

Next up after Glacier National Park, we headed to Sex Peak Lookout Tower in Kootenai National Forest (if you want to know more about how it got its name you can read it here). The drive to get there had a 12 mile grind at the end that was slow, treacherous driving, and even though it took an hour, it was worth it. It was by far the most spectacular place I’ve ever stayed. Three hundred sixty degree views above the tree line, beautiful sunrises and sunsets and total privacy for miles. The tower itself had two twin beds, a desk, a fireplace and some chairs for the deck. Since there wasn’t much to do there for the kids, two nights and one full day was just right. We mostly explored and made delicious meals and enjoyed the views.

We were scheduled for another lookout tower the following night, the Up Up Tower in Lolo National Forest, but after speaking to the ranger, it sounded like it was not passable in Loretta. The last crazy ride to Sex Peak was enough; so we decided add a second night at Hell’s Gate State Park in Idaho. We were right on the Snake River so we enjoyed a day at the beach and left early in the morning for Hood River as a stopping point on our way to the Oregon Coast. The Hood River visit was relatively uneventful, but we did find a place to swim and jump into the Columbia River and a decent place to stay (see my note about Motels below).

On to the Oregon Coast! The Pacific Ocean was definitely a highlight of the trip. Neither of our boys had been to the ocean before and they love the sand and water. We spent hours at the beach—one of which was hiking from and to our campsite a mile away. This photo shows how deserted the beach was. We had it mostly to ourselves!

Next up was Danville, CA where we spent five days visiting family and friends. We mostly visited with family: swimming at various pools, hanging with the cousins, playing chess with Grandpa and making treats with Grandma. It was the best family visit yet as my parents are aging and our boys are of an age where they will absolutely remember this visit.

Here are my siblings at a reunion in Danville. Our family tradition is when all five of the children are together we do a pyramid. We cannot believe how time is flying and we are now headed back to the Midwest!

Next Up: Sequoia, Death Valley, and Las Vegas

• Hotel beds have lots of pillows. Sometimes some are better than others so search for the best one to get a good night’s sleep.
• Motels can sometimes be very similar to hotels. Do your research and find a good one. They are often as comfortable and more affordable.
• Use travel websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to get reviews of local restaurants, things to do and places to stay.