All posts by sthoff@hotmail.com

Lake Powell Pow Wow and More

Visiting the shores of Lake Powell over the years had us intrigued to explore the narrow canyons by water, so when the G family invited us on their houseboat for a week of fun, it was a no brainer for us! The stars aligned, and the M family was able to join us too. After months of waiting for the marina to do some necessary repairs to the houseboat, we ended up without our houseboat at the last minute. Thankfully, both families had smaller boats, so we were able to revise plans to do amazing day trips out of Bullfrog Marina.

On the way, we decided to stop for a night in Arches with the G family, and it couldn’t have been more amazing. We took a sunset hike to Delicate Arch, followed by a full moon trip back.

Early the next morning, we took a hike through Devil’s Garden to Double O Arch. The hike along a narrow fin was definitely a highlight. Evening and early morning hikes are the best times to hike the Arches heat in June, so this was a perfect stop! We stayed at Slickrock Campground in Moab, which fit our last minute needs perfectly.

On the way in to Powell, we stopped to check out the houseboat, and were still hopeful that the marina would get their act together and finish the repairs, but as it turned out, they did not.

We were just happy to be at Lake Powell with a group of friends who have become like family to us. We ended up at the Aramark run campground with an electric site to run the air conditioner in the summer heat, and were able to park 3 trucks, 1 camper, 2 boats, and 2 tents there! It was an impressive sight! The kids loved playing games on the boats, although it seemed we were only around for early breakfasts and late dinners with most of our time on the water.

Our first day on the water was a trip to Defiance House, a cliff dwelling down one of the mysterious canyons of Lake Powell. We beached the pontoon and took a short hike to see how this ancient civilization lived. Super cool!

Tubing was a definite favorite for the kids and parents alike. We tried lots of combinations – big kids, little kids, all kids, families, and more. We were all thankful for warm water temperatures in the 70s!

Some days, we took out both boats, but my favorite days were squeezing all of us on one boat and exploring the lake together. While it was cozy at times, at many points, half of us were out on the tube.

Our next day trip was over 100 miles round trip to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, which has always been on our bucket list. The bridge was massive and beautiful, and it was such a treat to get to see it at last. At one point, the bridge had lake water underneath, but the water level has been diminishing for years. With a heavy snowfall year, lake levels were going up 15 inches a day while we were there! We were also able to see a dinosaur footprint here too.

After Rainbow Bridge, we found an amazing canyon to eat lunch and play in, and the M family pulled out their giant beach ball. It was amazing to see how quickly it moved through the canyons. Ethan babysat the ball for awhile, and when it finally escaped, it took off on us! We had to chase it down by boat, and thankfully and not so thankfully, it lodged itself at the end of a canyon in a bunch of muck. Justin paddled in to get in, and it was quite the project to tow him out with the ball in hand. An epic game of water polo ensued, and we will never forget the echo of the ball as it hit the water, as well as Faith’s unhuman skills and battle cry. We may have gotten a bit carried away, as when we left, we found ourselves in quite the storm. Inside those canyons, it is very difficult to see what is happening in the sky above. Thankfully, the M family had zip up sides for the boat, so everyone stayed nice and dry as we raced back across the lake from mile marker 49 to 90. Rainbow Bridge is about halfway between Page and Bullfrog Marina, so it is quite the trek no matter where you start on the lake.

I was particularly amazed with the flushable floating bathrooms in the middle of the lake. We found ourselves at these every few hours to make pit stops, tubing adjustments, and more.

The following day was spent playing in the lake, finding a nice sandy beach to hang out on and play on the paddle boards, shore, and picnic. In addition, we took turns learning how to surf, wakeboard, ski, and more tubing of course. Surfing was a favorite by all, and we can’t wait to spend more time learning the tricks of the trade!

Our last day on the water was spent cliff jumping, diving off the boat, exploring Iceberg Canyon, and more wakeboarding, surfing, and tubing. I found it difficult to say goodbye to the lake and all the fun we had here!

We pulled out the eagle for some great tubing fun. While the wind and water was a little rough at the beginning, the eagle took flight a few times, once we got back in those canyons, we were good to go. The eagle stayed in back for a surfing companion or two to ride along.

Wakeboarding and skiing in 70 degree water was a nice change from the chilly mountain waters of Grand Lake, and I think I could have spent the whole summer here playing in this amazing rock and water wonderland.

We left Lake Powell Friday for a planned “lunch” break at Goblin Valley State Park. We have passed this amazing park many times, without a chance for the small detour, and I am so glad we finally made it a priority. What was planned for a lunch break turned into hours of fun, playing a long game of hide and seek with radios followed by many rounds of camouflage. This place was made for this game, and we could “change scenes” by simply walking a few feet in any direction. With a couple hour drive and approaching storm, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from this playground to continue to our next destination. It’s so amazing when somewhere that was to be a simple lunch stop turns into the possible highlight of the trip. We couldn’t have had more fun here, and the kids were so excited to have all the adults play along.

Our last stop with the G family was a planned late night of games in an Airbnb. We came across the coolest park in this small town of East Carbon City, and their amazing kids Katie and Justin spent hours playing there with the Hoff kids. Upon discovering camper fridge problems, we were able to move everything out into the house fridge, spending hours trying to diagnose our problem before we head off the grid for the next month and a half. The G family went above and beyond troubleshooting our problem, going out of their way to join us at an RV repair place, and adjusting plans to get us back on the road with a running fridge. We could not have been more thankful for them, and the quality time we were able to have on this stretch of the journey!

After talking to dozens of RV places and replacing parts that “may be the problem,” we finally ended up at Neill’s near Provo, UT when the owner Mike took pity on us and invited us in to take a look himself on a Saturday night at closing time. Turns out the squirrels who chewed up our gas lines before we replaced them and left home were the culprits once again. Somehow, water had gotten into the gas line, reducing the pressure from the recommended 11 down to a measly 3. Once we blew the lines out with an air compressor, we were good to go! We left Mike with hugs and a happy Hoffpack! (travel dates 6/15-6/22/19)

In Sync at Snow Mountain Ranch

Snow Mountain Ranch is our favorite launching ground for summer trips! It is civilized camping at it’s best, and our kids favorite place out of everywhere we go. This year’s group was like no other! Even though many of them were strangers when the trip started, kids and adults got along so well! Managing big groups can be tough, but this group was so agreeable and the most timely group of people we have ever seen, making it super easy to plan and fit in lots of activities. It went by so quickly, but we had so much with this group… and so many laughs 🙂

The drive out was uneventful, aside from the major flooding through the Midwest. Lots of snow days delayed our departure, but we left right after the last day of school let out, and never looked back! We made a stop at Walmart in Nebraska. Ethan can’t seem to escape waking up in a Walmart parking lot on his birthday each year.

One of our favorite hikes in the area is the East Inlet Trail past Adams Falls, and it did not disappoint. The waterfall was roaring from heavy snowmelt, and we even saw two moose on our way out to the valley. We had to take a shot of the 5 of us who had graduated from Oak Forest High School… many years ago!

Leaving Penny (our dog) at home with Grandma and Grandpa each year is really tough, but thankfully, we were able to hang out with the Snow Mountain Ranch Sled Dogs on several occasions. Hanging with the Huskies is such a treat!

The free tubing hill is another treat, and perfect for big groups like ours. This awesome activity never gets old!

This group had lots of hikes on their mind, so we were able to hit many of the local trails. The waterfall hike on Snow Mountain property was different this year, as there was lots of snow. We will never forget the snowball fight here this summer!

Each year, we have been able to see the bald eagle that hangs out by the reservoir, and this year was no different. The eagle took flight for us, and we were able to watch him do a little fishing.

The homestead is another favorite. We love seeing all the old farm tools and seeing how the families lived here long ago.

One of the highlights of our trip was taking the sled dogs for a walk at Cabin Creek with Steve and his wife Shelby. We had a blast walking six of these beautiful pups!

Afterwards, we were able to help Steve work on the dog’s park by filling in holes, setting up posts, and hanging shades. He couldn’t have been more appreciative, and we love getting a little more time with this great guy!

Another favorite hike is Nine Mile Mountain. It is a short hike, but quite steep. Because there is very little shade here, we love taking this hike at sunset and watching the light bounce off the mountains.

Perhaps the kids favorite activity is making ceramics in the craft shop. Each year, their creations get better and better, and we love using them all year back at home.

It seems like there is never enough time hanging around camp cooking by the grills, playing in the campsite, and practicing the guitar.

Our last hike was a trip around Monarch Lake, a beautiful 4 mile loop trail. The highlight here this year was building boats and setting sail at the end of our hike.

There are so many activities offered at Snow Mountain, including zip lining, archery, canoeing, biking, fishing, and our favorite, rock climbing. The kids always race up the wall to see how many times they can get up the outdoor wall.

Where can you play mini golf above 8000 feet… and for free, nonetheless? Snow Mountain Ranch of course! Through the years, the game has changed, many variations have been created. Any time we have a few extra minutes, we find ourselves racing down to the mini golf course.

The Kiva was more fun than ever this year. Everyone is getting old enough to enjoy different activities in the Kiva, so we found different groups skating, playing basketball, volleyball, and ping pong upstairs. While we have enjoyed dodgeball and Hungry Hungry Hippos before, this was the most epic game of Hungry Hungry Hippos ever, and Rich was proud to lead the kids to a win at last!

We didn’t see rain until the last couple nights, but it was a welcome treat. It gave everyone a chance to hang out and play games. There were families in the campground, yurts, and Indian Peaks this year, and we loved spending time in each of these locations.

Our last night was spent saying goodbye to some of our favorite semi-locals, and we loved spending another evening planning for our Lake Powell trip with this crew. The R family brought back treats from different countries, and the kids loved a night of taste testing.

With house boat plans beginning to unravel for the next stretch of our trip, we picked up a portable toilet from the G families house, not quite able to imagine what this next stretch would look like.

Last but not least is the trike park. You would think these kids would get sick of riding around on tricycles, but this year was their favorite trike racing ever! Some things never get old 🙂 The traditions here have always been a highlight of our summer, and this year was no exception! (travel dates 6/8-6/15/19)

Crazy About Costa Rica Part 2 – Manuel Antonio

It was so hard to leave Arenal, but we knew that Manuel Antonio would be just as amazing in its own way. We chose the Pacific Coast for the second half of our trip due to the beautiful turquoise waters and opportunities to see wildlife. We were awestruck with both of those and more!

On the 4 hour drive from Arenal to Manuel Antonio, we took some of the craziest roads, and were so thankful for our diesel SUV. We also stopped at the croc bridge – those guys are absolutely huge! For whatever reason, the crocodiles always gather here, where the Rio Grande and Pacific meet. Thankfully, the bridge is far above them, so we had nothing to worry about.

We chose to split our time in Costa Rica at Arenal Springs Resort, and a Costa Verde bungalow. Upon arrival, the Costa Verde staff guided us to our new home, a cute 3 bedroom bungalow tucked away on a cliff above the Pacific. We loved the character of our new place, and the kids were excited to spread out a bit. We stocked up the fridge for our stay, and the Hoffpack was excited for a homecooked meal that night! Perhaps the best part of this stay was the amazing private grill area!

We woke early to the sound of howler monkeys and the boys sat outside on the patio waiting for them to pass by. When we arrived late the night before, we had no idea what an amazing view we had!

We spent the next couple hours exploring the grounds of Costa Verde. We loved all the planes converted to rooms and restaurants, reuse of glass bottles and more, and so many options! Costa Verde even offered 3 pools for guests.

Our first priority was visiting the national park, but after driving down to the entrance, we were accosted by locals asking us to pay to park in their lots. It was quite confusing, and we wanted to find out more information, so we opted to check out Biesanz beach for the day instead and save the national park for another day.

Biesanz Beach is known as a local spot with fewer tourists, although the locals have set up shop there renting chairs, kayaks, snorkel gear, and more. One guy stands out by the road asking visitors to pay him to “watch their car.” What we initially thought would be a morning swim turned out to be a full day of snorkeling, racing crabs, checking out monkeys and relaxing by the beach. There was even a local sloth who spent the whole day watching beach goers while we watched him.

By the next morning, we had done some research and had a plan for the national park. Before we left, the chaos in the canopy coaxed us outside bright and early to see what all the ruckus was about. We found that monkeys do not move alone, but where there was one, there were maybe 100 more. What a treat!

Next, we headed to the national park. Our plan was to get there early, get all of our hiking in right away before it got too hot, and spend the rest of the day on the pristine beaches of Manuel Antonio. There are lots of locals up for hire outside the park for those interested in a guide. We wanted to have our own experience, so we chose to do without. Little did we know you could not bring in snacks – sandwiches were allowed, but no granola bars, etc. We didn’t understand why, but brought all that back to the car as we were entering. Talk about culture shock as we walked through the shops outside the park entrance with monkeys jumping from one building to another and locals selling souvenirs and services!

We spent the whole morning hiking all the trails of Manuel Antonio National Park, viewing wildlife, trekking up stairs to amazing viewpoints, and getting ready to relax on the beach. As the morning progressed, the trails got hotter and hotter! The kids had decided that our Costa Rica vacation was going to be different than our typical Hoffpack adventure, and that we would be doing what normal people did on vacation – relax. All this hiking was not part of their plan, but they managed to come around to our way of thinking, mostly.

The wildlife was incredible, and as we got further out on the trails, the crowds slimmed down. We saw frogs, crabs, lizards, deer, birds, sloths, and more.

One of the beaches we checked out had the scariest lizards! The lizard above actually bit a guy on the leg while he was eating his sandwich. Apparently, he was quite jealous! Some of them definitely have an attitude problem, and we thought of them more like small alligators than the lizards we are used to in the US.

As we got closer to the beaches with all the tourists, we began seeing tons of monkeys! They put on quite a show for us, and as we continued to watch them, we saw them going through tourists bags to retrieve any unattended food. Now we understood the no snack rule.

Some seemed curious, while others had quite the anger issues.

As we played in the water, a pack of raccoons went through my camera bag and began tossing everything across the beach even though we had already eaten all our food. Thankfully, we caught them before they ruined anything!

The water here was so warm, it was almost like swimming in a bath, definitely not the Pacific we are used to up in North America.

We could never tire of watching the monkeys, but with little water left, and too much time in the sun, we decided it was time to head back to Costa Verde.

The hike out was definitely hot. In the US national parks, we are used to driving in. Here, everyone parks outside the park in private parking lots and hikes in to see the trails and beaches. There was no running water inside Manuel Antonio National Park. We couldn’t wait to get back to the bungalow for a little R&R.

Back at the hotel, we picked the pool with the most shade to spend the rest of the afternoon. On our way there, we saw the monkeys tearing through the trees once again. While we were swimming, one of the monkeys decided to come over to the pool and hit Laney on the head. You would think should we be scared (I certainly was), but this girl felt like she won the lottery that the monkey picked her to hit on the head!

While we swam, the monkeys continued to terrorize the area, and we even heard screams from the balconies above. I’d hate to know what they did to those people!

Back at the bungalow, we enjoyed a delicious barbeque, and what Laney thought was a watermelon seed ended up being a lost tooth. She was so excited to get Costa Rican money from the tooth fairy! The fruit down in Central America was absolutely delicious and we even tried a few new ones.

We spent the next couple hours watching the sun set over one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and couldn’t have felt luckier.

The next morning, we evaluated options. There are so many wonderful tour opportunities in this area, including horseback riding to waterfalls, kayaking through a mangrove forest, dolphin cruises, and more. Having done several tours in the Arenal area, we opted to spend our last full day in Manuel Antonio exploring the town, shopping for souvenirs, and spending our last afternoon and evening on the amazing beach. After checking out several area resorts, we decided we were quite pleased with our decision to stay at Costa Verde. We spent the last of our Costa Rican currency on souvenirs.

One of the families we met recommended a restaurant right off the beach for our last dinner in Manuel Antonio. We were quite pleased with the options, and what beats $10 meals of fresh ocean fish?! This was one smart lizard who decided to position himself on the roof below, waiting for hand outs.

From here, we had seen a great little hotel and outdoor restaurant right on the beach that was offering free local music. We ordered after dinner slushies here, and watched the monkeys in action once again. This time, one of them tried to throw coconuts at us from above! They can be such naughty little creatures!

On the beach, the boys went for a run (the only time they could really run with the super hot daytime temps) while the rest of us played in the water and watched the sun set in awe.

I can’t say we have seen a prettier sunset ever, and the surroundings made it that much more amazing.

The next morning, we explored one of the abandoned planes on the property, took our last swim, and said our goodbyes to the Pacific and our little bungalow. We would come back to Costa Verde in a heartbeat!

On the way back to San Jose, we stopped for a chocolate tour, and enjoyed a very thorough presentation of how chocolate is made. We learned to appreciate the process of getting just one cacao plant from mosquitoes pollinating flowers. We were the only ones on the Alajuela Chocolate Tour, so Ethan was able to crack open the cacao plant, and start the process of taste testing the precious insides. We were led through the whole process of drying out the seeds, separating and crushing the insides, and how chocolate and white chocolate came to be. The end result was the most delicious chocolate we have ever tasted. Little did we know what a small fraction of real chocolate is in a Hershey’s bar and the like.

Our last night was spent at the Terrazas de Golf Hotel. We returned our rental car, relaxed in the luxurious suite, and were able to use the local country club for a swim, workout, and dinner.

Terrazas de Gold shuttled us back to the airport, and we had the best time sampling chocolate at the airport. We checked 2 bags and carried on the rest. We ran into Julius Peppers in the airport and had great flights with Avianca into Guatemala and then back to Chicago. We loved the built in tvs/video games to pass the time.

This was such a great trip, and we can’t recommend it enough! We will definitely return!

Crazy about Costa Rica Part 1 – Arenal

For years, we have wanted to visit Costa Rica.  In November 2018, we started looking at flights for spring break 2019, and discovered that airfare to San Jose, Costa Rica was far cheaper than flying anywhere in the US.  It was literally half the price it would have been to fly to Florida during that week.  We have all had passports from a trip into Canada, so this was a no brainer for us!  A quick search of car rentals and lodging showed that rates were not too expensive, so we booked the last 7 tickets at that price.  The planning for an international trip for our family of 7 seemed overwhelming at first, but with all the blogs, trip advisor, and friends who have been there, we had a plan in no time.  Ultimately, we decided to spend our time in two locations, Arenal and Manuel Antonio. 

We flew Avianca, which is an airline based out of Central America.  In January, our 1am Sunday morning flight was cancelled and switched to 1am Saturday, which totally freaked us out at first.  Luckily, flying early Saturday ended up being even better, as it would allow a 10th day in Costa Rica, so we rearranged our plans a bit, and everything worked out wonderfully.  We arrived in San Jose at 8am Saturday after a stop and plane change in Gautemala City, tired but excited to have a full day to explore Costa Rica. 

Our initial search for car rentals showed rates were relatively low, but as we did more research, we read that many car rental companies did not actually have the car you reserved, were in poor shape, charged you for lots of extras and fees not disclosed, or for issues with the car after leaving the country. With 7 of us, a large suv was the only option we had, so we opted to pay the extra for the highly rated Vamos Rent A Car. We had no issues whatsoever. Additionally, we paid $5 extra per day for a GPS, which was crucial to finding our way around Costa Rica.

Arenal

Arenal Volcano created a thermal area near La Fortuna, which sounded like heaven to our family of hot spring lovers.  We aren’t afraid to cheat the hotel system here in the US, but didn’t want to get in trouble in another country, so I spent some time calling around to see who could accommodate our large family.  Many of the resorts in the area said we would need two rooms, which was not a good option for us, not to mention expensive.  Fortunately, one of our top choices, Arenal Springs Resort, said that squeezing us all into one room was not a problem for them if it wasn’t a problem for us.  We have squeezed in much smaller spaces, so it certainly didn’t bother us!  They even added an extra bed to the room, which was already equipped with two queen beds.   Upon arrival, we couldn’t have been happier with this amazing resort.  We were greeted with welcome drinks, a golf cart ride, and tour of our room.  One of the best parts of th room was the amazing bathroom. When it rained, water would run down the rocks along the shower wall. Our windows looked out over the beautiful Arenal Volcano.

The hot pools were absolute heaven! The kids did spend some time in the two cold pools, but the hot springs were the most amazing part.

Our next stop was Tabacon Hot Springs just down the road. Because of the volcanic thermal area, there are hot springs resorts everywhere! We had researched that Tabacon was the most famous hot spring in Costa Rica, and the pictures convinced us to splurge on a half day pass with lunch included. It did not disappoint!

We walked around like kids for hours! There were trails and different natural pools to explore everywhere! Underwater cameras were a huge hit here. We hung out under waterfalls, checked out underwater creatures and enjoyed a morning of pure relaxation!

They even had a waterslide into the main hot spring pool, which the kids LOVED.

The plants and attention to detail here was incredible, and someday, we will definitely be back.

The lunch buffet was like no other, including steak, pasta, fish, fresh fruits and salads, soups, and more. Of course the Hoffs favorite part was the incredible dessert!

Arenal Volcano looms overhead almost anywhere you go in the area. We decided to take a drive to check out some different views along Lake Arenal and ran into some monkeys on the way.

Perhaps the kids favorite part of the day was running into these curious coatis. When cars pulled over, they raced over to say hello.

Back at Arenal Springs, we enjoyed the rest of the day soaking in our home springs. The night was filled with live local music and exploring all the incredible little spots our own resort offered. We enjoyed volcanoes filled with candy, morning yoga, evening workouts, relaxing in the hammocks, and the best breakfast buffet we had ever had!

The next morning, we woke up to typical rainforest downpours, and packed up our rain gear for a hike in Mistico Hanging Bridges Park.

The trees were huge, and the trails well maintained, but the hanging bridges were just incredible. The girls were quite frightened by them, but the rest of us were awestruck of the amazing views above the rainforest.

On the way back, we stopped at The Springs Resort to check it out, and were once again floored by the semis going over the small one lane bridges.

The girls had opted to wear their sloth shirts on this day, and when we came across our first sloths, mom and baby, they could not have been more excited!! In fact, all of us were! What an amazing sight!

We could have stayed there watching the sloths all day, but finally succumbed to hunger and headed into Fortuna for some food. We found a cheap local grill with the freshest food, and everyone was in heaven.

The following day, we decided to check out the hot river next to Tabacon, totally free, and all to ourselves. It always pays to get up early to explore!

We followed it up with one of our favorite Costa Rican experiences, zip lining. We chose to zipline with Arenal Mundo Aventura, one of the most highly rated in the area. They could not have been better! We had 12 different zips, some of them over area waterfalls and one of them was 1/2 mile long! A canopy tour is an absolute must in Costa Rica!

In addition to zip lining, we were able to enjoy their frogs and butterfly garden.

On the way out, we were able to see art work created by the Maleku tribe, which Braden chose to purchase as his souvenir, along with a stop for more nachos from our favorite little grill.

We literally soaked up every last moment we had at Arenal Springs Resort. We couldn’t have been happier with our chose to stay here!

Arenal Mundo Aventura had their own private entrance to La Fortuna Falls, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled! What would have cost us $15 a person was free upon our return the next day! Our original plan was to take the tractor up and hike a short trail down to the waterfall, but after waiting for awhile, we decided to make the trek ourselves. The water was so refreshing!

On the way out, we stopped by a local hangout to try the rope swing. We could have spent several more days here in Arenal exploring even more! We were so sad to leave Arenal, but the coast was calling, so we headed back to the resort to check out and head 4 hours away to the Pacific Coast. Stay tuned.

Braving Bear Lake to Grand Lake

The infamous Bear Lake to Grand Lake hike has been on our list for years, but we never had the logistics in order to do it. This time, we had the 3 cars and interested parties on board to take on the hike across Rocky Mountain National Park with the Beintums and John, from near Estes Park to Grand Lake. Bear Lake is a really popular area to hike, and many people hike the 4.5 miles up to Flattop Mountain on the Continental Divide, and then back down, but whenever we have a way to do a one-way hike, we are all in. This would not be easy, as crossing this trail to the North Inlet Trail would be over 18 miles.

We left Snow Mountain early to drive to the top of Trail Ridge Road and across to the Bear Lake shuttle area. On the bus to Bear Lake, Kristin realized she left her phone in the outhouse and had to go back.

The rest of us hung at the trailhead while Kristin hitched a ride back for her phone. While it was a later start than we had hoped, we were on the trail in no time.

The first 4.5 miles was a quick ascent, but the kids flew right up the mountains.

Before we knew it, we were above treeline. Up top, we ran into mule deer, marmots, wildflowers, and snow.

We took a quick stop on top for lunch, and the kids were ready to go. The adults were definitely in worse shape than the adults, but we followed their lead.

Kristin and I had to race down to keep pace with the super six, and Chuck kept the girls out front.

After all the effort to go get Kristin’s phone, it ended up cracking on the way down anyway after a short fall. Her phone was just not meant to make it through the day!

Further down, we all regrouped at a bridge after crossing paths with a ranger taking care of a girl who had ended up with severe altitude sickness. They attempted to revive her, land a helicopter, etc, and ended up having to hike a rescue team in to take her out on a stretcher. She was on a youth group trip with total strangers, and we ran into her mom and dad back at the trailhead who were so worried about her! It is a reminder that the mountains are nothing to mess around with. We were quite fortunate to get our group up and over with few issues.

We made another quick stop at the falls on the way down while the guys attempted to get ahead. We caught them quickly with these amazing little hikers.

Our group walked right into downtown Grand Lake for ice cream while the guys drove John’s car up Trail Ridge Road to get the other two cars.

Kristin and I were amazed again with the energy of these kids on the beach while we waited for our ride.

Just as the sun set and dusk set in, the guys made it down with our rides back to the campground at Snow Mountain. Maybe an annual hike?! We shall see 😉

Social Time at Snow Mountain

For the first time ever, we met up with more friends than we ever have at SMR… with a grand total of 62! Also for the first time ever, we stayed for 3 weeks, so spreading out the visitors helped a bit, but we met most of them during our first week there. The first night, we were able to get together with the Marsiceks and Rogers, and it was so good to see them!

Only in Granby do they have a parade like this… and we were able to hang out with the Rogers for a bit, help them plant a new tree, and do a little neighborhood 4 wheeling.

The next day, we were able to connect with the Grahams on their boat. The kids loved hanging out with their pup, and learning how to wakeboard.

Of course, we had to play a few games before heading back to Snow Mountain to greet our next visitors.

We had been talking about Snow Mountain with the Cossas for years, and were so excited they were finally able to make it out. We had the most epic game of golf ever, along with hanging with the huskies, visiting the cave, and a hike to the waterfall before more friends arrived.

As more friends arrived, we took a hike up 9 Mile Mountain with the Lumings, Cossas, Rogers, and Beintums to put a few prayers in God’s mailbox.

The new addition at Snow Mountain is an amazing park complete with mini zip line, rock climbing wall, and more.

The Kiva was a great place to gather together in the evenings. By now, we had the Smiths and Maldonados, two cross country families, in addition to the Yuns, a family from Chuck’s school!

Some of our favorite Kiva activities include roller skating, basketball, human Hungry Hungry Hippos, and the loft full of games.

We played lots of mini golf too, and sometimes night golf after the Kiva closed for the day.

The summer tubing hill is a great place to gather with large groups, as each session fits 80 individuals.

Snow Mountain has always been laid back about bears visiting the dumpsters, but just a few years ago, the garbage cans in the campground were upgraded to the “bearproof” variety. Here’s what the bear thought of that this time around!

One of our favorite hikes is the Adam Falls/East Inlet Trail out to one of the most beautiful meadows.

One of the best parts of this hike is heading back to Grand Lake after for ice cream and beach time!

If we let them, the Hoffs might choose to spend the whole vacation in the craft shop working on ceramics. Here are some shots of what we worked on this year.

Weekly bingo in the craft shop is always fun too.

Ethan was set on making a shelter this year for one of his scout merit badges, and the kids convinced us they should sleep in it. Most of them made it out there all night! In the morning, we went out to invite them back into the camper when we heard thunder. Crazy kids!

One of the highlights of our trip is taking the sled dogs for a hike with our friend, chaplain, and musher Steve. I think it’s safe to say this was a highlight for everyone who joined us this time!

The Beintums were so excited about bringing the truck out this year just to have everyone jump in the back to head across camp, and boy did the kids have fun with that!

The older the kids get, the more fun we have playing games with them. The library is a great place for gathering together for a puzzle or game when a summer storm comes through.

Campground life was fun as always, and the big camper makes everyone feel right at home. The kids loved taking over the camper with their crew and favorite games, but we pulled them away to play in the trike park, gaga ball, and more.

I’m sure the kids will hate me for this someday, but we always have to take an annual trip down to the homestead to dress up in the old fashioned clothes 😉

When the Marsiceks came back up, to Rick’s amusement, he was able to pull out a tooth for each twin, Laney’s at the beginning of the summer, and Ellie’s at the end.

We made one more trip to the East Inlet Trail with the Kinsellas, and hiked up well past the meadow this time. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to head to the lake as we fought for daylight.

We love seeing Hawkquest at SMR, and this year was no exception. The kids love posing with the eagle.

We were able to check out a new ranch in Grand Lake, and the kids got such a kick out of the pigs and goats.

We also snuck down to the homestead again for lollygagging with llamas. The kids are getting better at keeping these sassy guys on the right path after a few years of walking them, although the biggest attraction were the sweet golden retrievers who came with to drop off the llamas.

We took an amazing sunset hike up Nine Mile Mountain, and found the berries in prime season, so we made sure to take a partial trek up daily to retrieve more berries each day.

Rock climbing continues to be one of our favorite activities, and we were able to climb outdoors and indoors with some afternoon storms one day.

The Kinsellas, Marsiceks, and us also made a trip up Snow Mountain, but stopped at Peak 3 to avoid all the loose rocks up top.

After most of our friends left, we were fortunate to run into the Silders, who had seen info on SMR on our blog and fell in love as soon as they arrived. They were able to snag our favorite campsite, and the campground hosts had the kids painting birdhouses, rocks, and all kinds of things before they left. It was so nice to meet them!

We all went to the Fraser Rodeo one night, which was a nice change of pace.

Ethan used part of his vacation souvenir money to rent a flat tire bike for a couple hours, and was in heaven on the new course.

After everyone left, we decided to try a new hike. Robert convinced us to head up to Meadow Creek Reservoir, head down to Monarch Lake, and jump in his boat in Lake Granby. His original intention was to boat us to his car, and then shuttle us back up to Meadow Creek. However, when we got down to Monarch, we invited him to hike back up to Meadow Creek, and we dropped him off with his friends in Fraser. What’s another 12 mile hike, right?! We bribed the kids with unlimited Wendy’s, which they were more than pleased with 😉

Because our summer stay was longer at Snow Mountain than back at home, we participated in the summer reading program in Grand County. The big kids received free day passes to Winter Park…. how cool is that?! So, the last day of our stay was spent on the alpine slides and more. The little ones stopped by to take a run too.

That evening, we loved spending time with Steve back at his house. The kids went on a bone hunt, finding an astonishing number of bones in his yard, and managed to get lots of cuddle time in with the dogs.

Last but not least, we were able to film a little mission moment with Gretchen about why we love Snow Mountain so much. I don’t care for myself on video, so I won’t share the link, but good luck finding it 😉 (travel dates 7/14-8/2/18)

A Short Stop at the Sand Dunes National Park

The last time we stopped at the Great Sand Dunes National Park was quick and amazing. We left the kids begging for more… the sun was shining, the sandy shallow creek was filled with people, buckets, critters, and more, and all we wanted to do was be there. However, we had been on our way to Santa Fe with no time to relax, so off we went.

We promised the kids we would be back, and this was our big opportunity. Due to our adjusted itinerary, we would now only have one night here, which ended up being fine. It’s amazing how different a place can feel with different circumstances. The creek had dried up with the drought, do there would be no playing in the water, and the wind was howling. We spent awhile in the visitor center earning junior ranger badges before heading off into the dunes.

The crew wasn’t exactly pleased about getting pelted by sand as we began climbing the dunes, but suddenly, we ran into the Smith family! What are the chances?! Well, we knew we would be meeting up with them in a couple days at Snow Mountain a couple hours from here, but we hadn’t realized our itineraries aligned prior. Suddenly, the kids were happy again, and the boys took off on a run with Devin through the dunes, while we caught up with the rest of the crew.

We ended up not taking the big hike we had planned, but the kids had more fun jumping off the dunes anyway. Who do you think won the big air contest?

By the time we left, the sun was setting, and the wind was picking up even more. Us adults had sunglasses to block the sand, but the poor kids had to cover their eyes just to walk across the dunes. Next time, we sure hope we don’t get that wind again!

We spent the night at the Sand Dunes Recreation Springs where we were able to enjoy the hot springs for a quick dip. A thunderstorm rolled in quickly, and we were able to get a refund on our hot springs visit thankfully! One more place to revisit for more time on another trip! (travel dates 7/13-7/14/18)

Comfortable in Crested Butte

On the way to the Sand Dunes, we made a quick stop at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, yet another amazing canyon national park in the southwest. We also planned to stop for a quick dinner in Gunnison or Crested Butte to meet up with old friend Ben, but after being invited to visit him at his home in Crested Butte, we changed up our plans to spend some quality time with Ben. We had already hiked a 14er in Silverton, so we decided to bypass our plans of spending a couple days in Buena Vista this time around to get the opportunity to spend some time with Ben.

Ben told us to pull in to his parking lot, take the trail, cross the suspension bridge, and then take the next trail to his house. How can you beat that?! It was everything he described when we got there… and more!

The boys enjoyed taking runs together, we were able to spread out and evaluate some camper issues, learn how to fly fish, and spend lots of time in the creek swimming, throwing rocks, tubing, and kayaking. A quick dinner turned into 2 nights of pure relaxation with Ben and his girlfriend Anna.

The night before we left, Ben took the kids out rock climbing/bouldering at Lost Canyon, which was absolutely amazing given he guides kids climbing all the time. Thank you Ben!

After getting all our relax time in, we were ready for the last stretch of our trip before settling in at Snow Mountain in a couple days. Thank you Ben and Anna for the hospitality! (travel dates 7/11-7/13/18)

Riding Around Ridgway

We had planned to stay at Ridgway State Park for 3 nights, and use it as a base camp for some time in Ouray and Telluride, but after the mudslide, we were limited to one night there. We were able to park our camper in the Ouray Hot Springs parking lot, which was a perfect setup for us since we could eat a hot lunch right out of the camper. The hot springs, water slide, and obstacle course were great, and we thought of it as a big reward for our tough hike the day before!

Later that evening, we pulled into our campsite at Ridgway. We have loved staying here in the past, especially the great kid activities they have at the visitor center. A few years ago, the kids favorite summertime activity was dissecting owl pellets at the visitor center… you just never know what is going to leave a permanent impression on these trips!

The next morning, we ditched our camper by the Ridgway visitor center and snuck off to Telluride for a few hours. It was too quick, but so nice to return to this magical place! We have a great shot from this rock several ago… please stop growing up kids!

One of our favorite activities in Telluride is taking the gondola up to Mountain Village. The kids love climbing on the boulder up top, checking out the nature center, and walking around the shops. Next time, we will definitely allow a full day here to spend more time in town and do the waterfall hike we have done in the past (this year, unfortunately and fortunately, it was pretty dried up, so we didn’t miss much this time)! (travel dates 7/10-7/11/18)

Stuck in Silverton!

Silverton is an amazing little town, and we couldn’t wait to stop there on our way from Mesa Verde to Ouray. The rain was finally coming down after severe drought, and as it flash flooded Havasu Canyon only a week after our departure, we encountered our own natural disaster here in Silverton. We were having a blast on what was supposed to be our “quick” stop in Silverton, shopping for souvenirs, eating fudge samples, running through the rain, and drewling over funnel cakes. Finally, we headed off down the Million Dollar Highway towards Ouray.

At some point, traffic stopped, but we didn’t think a thing about it because of the road construction signs. Suddenly, all the cars ahead of us started turning around, which we knew was trouble. Even though we were within only a few miles of Ouray, you would have to go hundreds of miles to get there any other way. A woman pulled down her window and told us there was a mudslide up ahead, and that the road was washed out. We waited, debating whether to set up camp along the highway, knowing it would be very difficult to turn our big rig around on the small two lane highway with steep dropoffs on either side. Finally, some emergency workers who had been fighting fires in Durango helped us turn around and we headed back to Silverton to rethink our plans. Since it would be hundreds of miles to get to Ouray the other way, we opted to spend more time in Silverton until we had a better idea of if the road would reopen. It’s strange to have the entire summer planned out, and then find no way to get to one of the places, potentially changing the path of the rest of our trip.

After speaking with some locals, we opted to camp down Mineral Road in the National Forest Service Campgrounds. There are several campgrounds down this road, and better yet, they are free! We are used to reserving sites 6 months in advance, so it was a welcome sight to pull in to Kendall Campground at dusk and find a site. The next morning, the boys went running and found more desirable campgrounds right on the river, so we hitched up and pulled the camper further down the road to Golden Horn Campground. The kids had a blast with the open space, exploring along the water. Sometimes, the best thing is a little change to the plan we have mapped out.

It was supposed to rain again, so we had decided not to try climbing a 14er, but as the morning progressed, there was not a cloud in the sky. After a visit in town talking to more locals in the adventure stores, we knew we had our window of opportunity. We raced back to the camper to grab hiking gear, and headed out of town to climb Handies Peak, our first family 14er. While we did not choose the shortest route (due to the tough four wheel road), we knew this was one of the easier 14ers to summit. That is not to say that it was easy. While this hike was “only 9 miles,” it was probably the hardest 9 mile hike we have taken. In addition, none of us had mentally prepared to do this on that day, so it was challenging (to say the least) to get everybody on board with the mission. This was one of those days that mindset became everything. We had to summit a 13er (which you will swear has to be the top), only to climb down 1500 feet only to climb back up… and beyond. Yikers!

Now, starting a 14er mid afternoon is usually not recommended, but what a treat it was under these circumstances! It was a beautiful afternoon, the trail was covered with wildflowers, and the kids were in peak shape after the Grand Canyon and Havasu. The trails were as steep as these pictures look, yet there was no time for breaks. We knew that in order for us to make it back down before dark, we needed to move quickly. These guys never cease to amaze me!

We have never had the privilege to witness a 14er sunset, but this may qualify as the most spectacular sunset we have seen.

The kids are definitely in better shape than me, and even after running that morning, Ethan carried my heavy pack so that I could keep up 😉 As we raced down, we ended up on a side trail to summit another 13er and had to back track to get down. This was a costly mistake, but this pic says it all! While it was dusk coming down, we made it back to the car just in time. What a day!

That evening, the road reopened, but we stayed down Mineral Road so we could drive the Million Dollar Highway (with million dollar views) the next morning. It’s truly amazing what these road crews can do in just a day to get these highways reopened! Mountains are nothing to mess around with. After making it through several restored mudslide areas, we were on our way to Ouray! (travel dates 7/8-7/10/18)

Moving Along At Mesa Verde

We had finally made it back to Colorado, and were so fortunate that the stars aligned once again, and the Davids would be meeting us at Mesa Verde after a business trip up to Durango. This time, we were excited we had reserved an electric site at Mesa Verde, but the site was so tight, it was the most difficult spot we have ever had to get into.

After setting up camp, we purchased tour tickets for the following day. We did Balcony House with our 7, and planned to meet up with the Davids at the visitor center for lunch, followed by a trip to Spruce Tree House and a tour of Cliff Palace.

It’s pretty amazing how close to the edge they decided to build, as hanging around for the hour tour gave me anxiety with 5 kids along! Thankfully, none of our kids have a fear of heights, and I trust them, but accidents happen all the time, so you can never be too careful! Balcony house had 40 rooms.

This tour requires visitors to descend a 100 foot stairway, climb a 32 foot ladder, crawl through a 12 foot, 18 inch tunnel, and then climb an additional 60 feet of ladders. The kids had a blast of course!

Before meeting up with the Davids, we took the car tour around the loop at the end of the road, and stood in amazement at the locations of some of these cliff dwellings. We couldn’t imagine choosing to position a home in these places!

After meeting the Davids, we took a short hike to see Spruce Tree House, which tourists are no longer allowed to enter.

Finally, we finished our sightseeing for the day by taking a tour of Cliff Palace, which has 150 rooms and 23 kivas, housing 100 people at one time.

The kids fit better through these crevasses than us, so it’s no wonder the natives were much smaller than modern day Americans.

Back at the campsite, we decided to take a little hike, and were pleasantly surprised by the amazing views.

Back at the campsite, down time is so important. Just to illustrate that the Hoffs don’t always get along, here’s a shot of Ethan and Ellie in punishment mode for a buddy hug. One of them looks happier to be hugging than the other, don’t you think?

Before leaving for our next adventure, the kids were excited to earn their next junior ranger badge. Throughout the summer, we have our kids working on bridge books, in addition to reading time in the car and junior ranger activities in the park. Travelling is such a great time to learn!

Mesa Verde, we will definitely be back! (travel dates 7/6-7/8/18)

A Nice Stop at Navajo National Monument

If you want to see some of our nation’s most amazing cliff dwellings, Navajo National Monument is a great place to do it. Our original plan was to backpack to Keet Seel here, one of the most well preserved cliff dwellings. The National Park Service allows for a certain number of permits to do this daily, and we were fortunate enough to have one, but we decided to cancel it after getting an additional night at Havasu. Because you have to hike in with all your water, we decided that the kids had earned a break after doing Havasu, so we didn’t want to push them so much by taking another backpacking trip.

We opted to spend the night in the amazing Sunset View Campground. Did I mention that it is free?! Amazingly, it was one of the nicest campgrounds we have stayed in! We pulled in well after dark, with plenty of available spots.

After a quick night of sleep, we signed in to the visitor center for the first guided tour of Betatakin (there are only 2 tours each day because it is very hot there, so we knew the first tour would be best). The tours to Betatakin are also free, and extra special because the native Navajos who share this land with the National Park Service give the tours. We learned so much about plants, nature, and their culture on this tour! It is a short 3 mile hike roundtrip. However, the trail goes down 700 feet to the bottom of the canyon floor, where Betatakin sits. Because they are trying to keep Betatakin well preserved, you are not able to walk into the dwelling, but the information on the tour was so very interesting.

Braden was amazed that they only used the area for a couple hundred years before leaving for unknown reasons. It was also interesting that they threw their bones in the area, which you can still find today, along with many pieces of pottery. Ethan found it fascinating that the plants could be used as medicine or tea, and that some plants if used in excess, could kill you. In this ancient society, they marked their territories using their tribal animal symbols.

At the end of the tour, the guide offered to let people go up at their own pace due to the difficulty and number of steps, and of course, the Hoff kids did not disappoint. They went racing up the steps, closed up the cliffside tour door, got sworn in as junior rangers, and got ready to head off to our next destination.

This was a great stop, and we will be sure to head back to backpack Keet Seel someday soon! (travel dates 7/5-7/6/18)

One More Time Through Williams

As we left Havasupai and the furthest point on our trip, we were ready to start heading east very slowly. It was the fourth of July, so we decided to spend our last night with Dave and Jess in the quaint town of Williams, the gateway to the Grand Canyon. We have taken the Grand Canyon Railway to the Grand Canyon from Williams, and the kids loved the music and train robbery on the way. This time, we decided to spend the night at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park and Hotel, which accommodated us well with our laundry and shower needs, as well as Dave and Jess with a good night of rest in the nice hotel before their plane trip home. We found a great restaurant for dinner before the 4th of July parade, as well as some zip lining through town. It is quite the town!

The fire danger was so high, there would be no fireworks anywhere nearby, which is often the norm on our travels, but the yummy restaurant, parade, and zip lining more than made up for it.

One of the benefits of staying in this Grand Canyon Railway RV Park is the use of the beautiful hotel pool and hot tub, which the kids loved.

The next morning, we headed over to the town shoot out. Ellie was so proud to be taller than the resident midget.

Since we didn’t get to spend much time on the south rim due to our car issues, we headed straight north from Williams to say our goodbyes. It was a great afternoon in the park!

The big boys and Chuck decided to take a run on the village trails while Gav, the girls, and I headed west along the rim trail to get our last views of this amazing place. We even managed to come across a resident elk on the way.

Ironically, we ate dinner at the pullout where our car had died, this time with no stress. Having a camper makes a dinner stop so easy, and we had an amazing sunset view before we continued on our way.

As we left the Grand Canyon once again, we realized what a successful trip it had been. The kids asked when we could go rim to rim to rim, which we absolutely loved! (travel dates 7/4-7/5/18)

Happiest at Havasu

From the moment I knew of Havasu, I was obsessed… I spent months researching the permit process, the best places to stay before hiking in, the drive in to the reservation, timing for hiking in, helicopters and mules, permits, the lodge, wild dogs, Supai, how to keep our food safe from the squirrels, what to bring, navigating Mooney Falls, and all 5 magnificent waterfalls.  We couldn’t believe we were able to get permits to hike the Grand Canyon and Havasu Falls in the same summer (Havasu travel dates 7/2-7/4/18)!  After visiting this magical place, nothing has changed.  If anything, I may be more obsessed and can’t wait to return someday!

After spending a night (or partial night) at the lovely Grand Canyon Caverns, we starting our drive in to the trailhead at 3 am in early July.  Our hike started shortly before 5am with our headlamps leading the way down the steepest part of the trail.

 

The sun started to rise shortly after, and while we were worried about the heat, the canyon walls did a wonderful job of keeping most of our trek in shade.  We were all sooo excited about this opportunity!

  

We were surprised at the number of mules making their way in and out, as we opted to carry in all of our own equipment.  Many of the native dogs travelled along with the mule trains.  While many groups passed us on their way out of the canyon, we did not cross paths with many headed into the canyon.  All of them confirmed they were not happy to leave this magical place.  While we were only able to get reservations for one night initially, persistence paid off, our permits were extended by Billy several months prior, and we were so grateful we would be spending two nights in paradise.  It was the perfect follow up to our rim to rim Grand Canyon hike.

After the initial descent, the hike was fairly easy, with a flat trail all the way.

  

 

 

The 8 mile hike into Supai flew by, and before we knew it, the lush green area near the creek appeared, and we were there!  We stopped in to see the small local grocery stores and checked in to the tourist office.  All of us were given wristbands for our stay, including our twin six year old daughters, who were not required to pay since 6 and under are free.

  

The kids did amazing on the hike… Ethan carried the majority of our equipment, with the other boys carrying a good amount of weight.  As expected, they handled it better than most of us adults.  We had done several long hikes leading up to Havasu, including hiking rim to rim in the Grand Canyon the week prior.  While we live in IL, one of the flattest states in the country, we make fitness a priority, and our kids take pride in their strength and endurance while hiking.  We turned quite a few heads as we hiked in and out.

As far as equipment, we opted to bring in two tents and two hammocks for the seven of us, and it worked out well.  The girls and I slept in one tent, while Braden and Gavin slept in the other.  Chuck and Ethan set up camp over the creek in our two hammocks.  We opted to bring two sleeping pads and a few sleeping bags/down blankets, which probably could have been left behind.

We picked up postcards from the lodge, excited that we were visiting and sending them from the only town in the US where mail is still delivered by mule.

The next two miles to the campground were rewarding with views of the first falls.  Even after seeing all the vibrant photos of the falls, we were amazed with the turquoise water at Navajo and Fifty Foot Falls.  Everyone had to have photos with this amazing backdrop!  It was about 9am when the temperatures started to heat up, and we were thankful we had less than a mile to go.

Aside from the magnificence of the waterfalls, we could have spent hours along every mysterious bend in the creek.

However, we were anxious to get to Havasu campground and set up camp.

Despite all the amazing photos we had seen of this place, pictures cannot do it justice.  The kids were just as awe-struck as we were.  It is always so rewarding when they love our adventures as much as we do.  The girls were begging for a Havasu themed birthday party, and the boys planned school projects around this wonderful adventure.

  

We were concerned we might not get buckets for our food (which are provided to help prevent squirrels from stealing food), so we had purchased the expensive rat sacks as a backup.  Since it was monsoon season, the number of permits allowed is decreased in July, and we had no problems getting buckets, so we later returned our unused rat sacks.

Fern spring provided fresh drinking water in the campground near Havasu, so we filled up our collapsible jugs before finding a campsite, and only had to refill at the spring the night before our hike out.  While it is so tempting to set up camp as close to Havasu Falls and race back to this  amazing playland, we ended up camping almost all the way down to Mooney Falls, which is nearly a mile further (the campground stretches from Havasu Falls all the way to Mooney, with many of the better sites available being closer to Mooney).

We spent some time checking out what sites were available before settling on a creekside site with two picnic tables and plenty of room for our two tents and Jess & Dave’s, as well as some great hammock spots.

The handmade bridges over the creek were plentiful, and while fun to cross, also quite frightening at times with their crookedness and large gaps between boards!

We immediately unpacked our backpacks and sorted food and toiletries into our buckets (large 5 gallon paint type buckets).  We placed one bucket atop the other with large rocks and top, and still the squirrels chewed through part of the plastic bucket!  Fortunately, they didn’t make it all the way through, and our food stayed safe and sound!

There was so much to do here, the kids could have spent weeks exploring just near our campsite.  The trees provided lots of shade, and while it was warm, the water provided consistent and refreshing relief from the heat.

Like many of the places we had been in the southwest this summer, the girls loved playing with the local lizards.

 

After a quick lunch at the campsite, we finally made our way back over to Havasu Falls.

 

  

It didn’t take long to find our spot.  All of us loved jumping into the bright pools of water.

  

There were plenty of tubes and rafts left behind to play on, and I think we took pictures of every angle and pool nearby (forgive us for sharing so many).  Fortunately and unfortunately, people leave their inflatable rafts by the falls, so there is no need to hike in with them (unless you want to hike them out).  The only downside of this wonderful place is the lack of pack-in-pack-out mentality.  We found the rangers taking out people’s garbage by the wheel barrel 🙁

  

After hours of playtime, we decided to venture up to the frybread hut.  In the heat of the day, it felt like we were walking through the hottest desert to get there, but we were rewarded with amazing frybread.  The kids LOVED this, and we promised to come back for more the next day.

Headed back to the campsite, we couldn’t resist stopping for more pictures of the falls.

We found an amazing Amazon deal on Mountain House meals before the trip, and had a total blast passing around several entrees for each meal.

Our plan for the next day was to get down Mooney Falls and hike over to Beaver Falls, but we knew that if any one of us couldn’t get down, that plan would be out.  We took an evening scout trip to check things out, and Gavin was even more excited about the next day.

 

 

We let everybody sleep in til 6ish the next morning before heading off.

After descending through this cave, the ladders down Mooney are almost terrifying, as you make your way down wet rocks and metal chains, which are being consistently sprayed by the powerful 200 foot Mooney Falls.

 

The boys made it down with no problems, and Chuck and I had the girls sheltered in front of each of us.  It was terrifying, yet everyone was so brave!

 

  

You definitely don’t want to do this descent often, although the ascent back up the ladders was much easier.

  

The mist is so powerful, it is difficult to stand near the waterfall for long.

We were anxious to get to Beaver Falls early before the sun heated up the canyon too much, so we headed off down the creek.  The trail crosses back and forth along the creek, with magical spots all the way.  These deer certainly picked a great spot to call home.

There are a few ladders along the way, but nothing like Mooney Falls.  As you get closer to Beaver Falls, it is definitely recommended to follow the ladders on the right side of the creek instead of the chains part way up the canyon wall.

Each of the falls has their own identity, and Beaver Falls was no exception… another unbelievable spot in paradise.

There were only 3 other people here when we arrived, so we were thankful they were able to snap a few pictures before they left.

The boys enjoyed playing on the rope swing in the cave under the waterfall and hiking along the canyon walls.

It was sad to leave this amazing waterfall, but we didn’t want to get caught in the heat hiking back.  We had wished we could have gone to the confluence, but the long hike in the hot summer sun wasn’t a good plan for this trip.  We ran into a few hikers on the way back, as well as a ranger checking wristbands and groups.

This was the lone palm tree on the way back, very close to Beaver Falls.

  

 

All of us were amazed with the lush green colors inside the canyon, and agreed it was one of the most beautiful places we had been.  We were so thankful that the Havasupai allow tourists into their reservation.

 

As we returned to Mooney Falls, we found a spot we couldn’t resist calling our own for awhile, and stopped to take a swim.  The girls loved having their brothers piggyback them across the higher creek crossings.

Back at Mooney Falls, we ate lunch and LOVED playing on the rope swing over the smaller falls.

    

Thankfully, the way back up was much easier than the way down.

 

 

 

Back at the campsite, we decided to head back to Havasu Falls for the rest of the afternoon with Dave and Jess, who had taken the day off hiking to relax.

  

  

And of course, the afternoon had to include more frybread!  While we were there, we learned that the owners had to take the propane tanks out by horseback to the trailhead and drive them to the closest town 50 miles away to refill it… more reason to buy frybread from the locals!

  

We were so thankful to spend two nights at Havasu, but so sad to be leaving!  We took a few more pictures at the falls before heading back to the campsite for dinner.  We would not be able to see the falls on the way out since it would still be dark, so this would be our last chance to see them.

 

 

The boys opted to travel back to the campsite via river floating, and we stopped along the way to see them.

Outhouses are scattered throughout the campground, and while there was toilet paper in them when we arrived, we were so glad we brought some in for our second two days there.  The garbage left behind by campers was such a sad site, and we wondered if there might be an opportunity to help out as a service project in the future.

The kids wrote out postcards to send home to friends and family

and once again, we enjoyed passing our Mountain House meals around the table for dinner.

We woke very early before the sun came up, and came across a ringtail cat in the campsite, Ellie’s new favorite animal.

  

On the way out, we were surprised to see the number of packs lined up at the beginning of the campground, to be carried out by mule.  Only old-fashioned backpacking for the Hoffpack, as we carried all our own gear in and out.  The Helicopter is also on option to get out of town back to the trailhead,  but only on certain days of the week.  While affordable for a helicopter ride, x7 is not an affordable option for this crew, and the hike in and out was more than doable… much easier than the Grand Canyon hike.

 

The switchbacks at the end were tough, but we were pleasantly surprised that the canyon walls kept the canyon shady for almost the entire hike out, which we finished by 9am.

Less than one week after our trip, Havasu Canyon flash flooded, closing to visitors for several months afterward while the Havasupai were forced to redo trails, bridges, etc.  I can’t even imagine the heartache of these floods!We were incredibly thankful for our visit and astonished with the timing of the flood.

Havasu, you have our hearts!  We will be back! (travel dates 7/2-7/4/18)

  

The Craziest Caverns

As we came off our Grand Canyon highs and lows, the Hoffpack switched gears as we prepped for our next big challlenge- getting ready for our first family backpacking trip!  We spent one night in Flagstaff to restock on essentials and get a quick fix of civilization.  Flagstaff is a great spot in the summer with its perfect temps and has so many beautiful places nearby.

We showed our oldest Boy Scout how to use our backpacking stove,

and met up with my brother and sister-in-law, who joined us for a morning in Walnut Canyon National Monument, and would be joining us on our much anticipated trip to Havasu Falls.

  

The kids enjoyed climbing around in the cliff dwellings,

and Gavin  completed yet another junior ranger badge by racing up the 240 stairs to finish his book before we had to head off before our Flagstaff checkout time.

  

With much anxiety, we had planned on abandoning our home-on-wheels at a never before seen location while we left all of our essentials behind on our first family backcountry camping trip.  We researched every option in the area, and with Grand Canyon Caverns policy of allowing you to leave your camper parked in a camping site for free, we decided this was our best option.

Upon arrival, we were pleasantly surprised.  The campground was tucked away in the back of the  property, and while almost every site was unoccupied, it was very nice.  When the security guard drove through, he even told us to feel free to leave our camper plugged in while we were gone so we didn’t have to use up propane on the fridge.

This place had so much to offer!  An old café where they served free breakfast (to those not taking off on a crazy hike at 3am before breakfast),

an eclectic collection of old cars and fire trucks,

a nice pool,

and more.

The campsite was a great launching spot to get all of our geared switched over to backpacking mode

while the kids were able to literally “hang out.”

  

  

The strangest part of all was the actual caverns.  Not only could you tour the caverns, you could eat dinner down there, sleep down there, or even take a paranormal tour.

  

The giant sloth was one of the craziest parts, having been well preserved down under for so long.  The actual sloth has been moved to a museum, but the replica was quite interesting.

Not only were the caverns a restaurant and hotel, but a fallout shelter!

Dave and Jess slept in the back of their rental pickup, while the Hoffpack enjoyed a short last night in the camper before our next big challenge!  We had a 3am wakeup call to head into Havasupai!  (travel dates 7/1-7/2/18)

Sunny in Sedona

After having our vehicle trouble and being re-routed to Flagstaff without the boys, we were overjoyed to be reunited with the boys and the Hamilton’s… and have our wheels again.  The Hamiltons had taken the boys to Slide Rock with the Mattsons before saying goodbye to them as the headed back east,

then continued on to Sedona.  They spent the next day taking a couple hikes, one to Chapel of the Holy Cross,

  

and the other to Soldier Pass, a 4-5 mile hike.

     

Even though the boys were invited into the Hamilton abode, they chose to pitch their tent out back in the Hamilton campsite.

After our car was finally fixed, we arrived at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in the heat of the day – a major shock to the system after the cool Flagstaff climate.  We were thankful for electric sites, and wonderful bathrooms with showers.  There were hardly any sites taken here, so we had the place almost to ourselves.

We cooked dinner under our canopies and waited anxiously to meet up with the David family, who would be joining us the next day.

The only company we had were several skunks, who must have been lonely, as they spent most of the evening hanging out under our chairs or picnic table!

 

The next morning, we hiked Cathedral Rock.  While we didn’t start nearly as early as the Grand Canyon, the earlier you hike in the summer, the better.  It was HOT!

  

  

At the summit, Chuck happened to run into fellow North Central alum Tyler…. of all the places!

  

The way down is always harder than the way up, as witnessed here as we slid down the rocks to get back to our car!

We did one more short trail before throwing in the towel and deciding it was too hot to continue hiking.

From there, we knew a swim was the only way to pass the day in the hot Arizona heat, so we headed over to Grasshopper Point to cool off.  Our second tow truck driver recommended it as a favorite of the locals.  While the parking lot was full, we waited just a few minutes and were granted entrance.  Yay!

We started out with the lower cliff, and the boys quickly moved on to the higher one.

  

While the rest of the crew was either cliff jumping or watching, Brian found the most comfortable bed of rocks in all the land.

  

One of the best parts at Dead Horse State Park was the amazing park.  I think the dads enjoyed the zip line even more than the kids!

Our final day in Sedona was spent at Red Rock Crossing, a great park with lots of waterfront picnic sites… with one of the best views of Cathedral Rock.

The kids loved finding critters,

Hanging out in the creek,

jumping into the cool water,

or throwing in others.

For the last time, our twin cars would be sharing parking spots as we said our goodbyes.

Everyone exchanged hugs before heading off in different directions.  See you soon Hamiltons! (travel dates 6/27-6/29/18)

  

Things Gone South at the South Rim

It wouldn’t be a normal Hoffpack summer without car trouble, and the summer of 2018 was no exception.  We were just thankful we made it to the North Rim for our rim to rim trek!  After our big hike, we spent the night at Maswik Lodge while Chuck and Brian took the shuttle back to the North Rim to retrieve our cars.

We spent our first night back up top eating large and celebrating our successes.

I thought I had it rough when Gavin threw up all over the bathroom and en route to the bathroom… all.over.the.carpet!  I spent a good part of the night cleaning up the room to the best of my ability while the kids slept.

The next morning, we did some souvenir shopping and said our goodbyes to Grandma.

Little did we know how short of a stick the shuttle was for the poor guys!

The shuttle itself was an adventure, and thankfully, they made it ALMOST all the way back to Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim before calling to let us know the Hoff Suburban was dying out on the way through the entrance.  Ugh!

After some debate, it was decided that cousin John and I would take his minivan to the overlook 30 miles outside the village where Brian and Chuck were left stranded.  Jeanne and Dave would stay with all THIRTEEN kids while we tried to work out the next steps with the car/camper situation.  Jeanne and Dave were troopers and shuttled the kids all over the south rim.

While there was speculation that maybe bad gas had been put into the suburban, a call to Chevy confirmed that we probably needed a new fuel pump.  Having been in this situation before, we asked Chevy if our extended warranty covered towing, and they said it did, so they sent a tow truck to get the car.  In the meantime, we called AAA and asked them to tow our camper, preferably the next day so that we could sleep in it that night.  Our plan was to have the Hamiltons suburban (yes, it looks just like ours) tow our camper to the campground, and have John’s minivan tow the Hamilton’s popup to the campground.

I would like to say this is the first time we had called in favors to these great families, but both John and Brian have been with us during other breakdowns and literally carried us across the country.  We could not ask for better friends or relatives, and are so thankful that they still travel with us despite our lack of luck in the automobile department!!!

Unfortunately, AAA told us that they would not be able to tow our camper without also towing our car.  What?!  In reality, we were saving AAA money by having someone else tow the car, but they were insistent, so we ended up calling Chevy to put their tow guy on hold while we figured out what to do.  We went back and forth quite a bit before a reasonable rep agreed to make an exception.  Being disconnected and losing battery on our phones quick made this situation even more difficult.  Trying to reconnect to the same agent proved almost impossible, but with some major luck, we figured out who she was and how to get reconnected.  While the view was not bad, the entire day was occupied waiting for Chevy to tow the vehicle and holding Brian and John hostage while we figured out if the tow truck driver would be able to drive Chuck and I back to the campground area while our car was being transported to Flagstaff.

We had gone back and forth with shuttling back on the one bike we had versus asking the driver to go back through the village.

When we were finally reunited that evening, we couldn’t have been happier to sleep in our cozy camper, awaiting our future the next day, pending car diagnosis.

I woke up early the next morning and called AAA to determine when our camper would be towed, and how many of us would fit in the cab of the tow truck.  The Mattsons would be leaving us that day, while the Hamiltons and Hoffs were to continue on to Sedona.  It turned out AAA was able to secure the only quad cab in the Flagstaff area, which allowed us to keep the girls with Chuck and I, and the boys continued on to Sedona with the Hamiltons until our car repairs were completed.

  

It’s hard to say you are lucky when your car breaks down almost every year, but we felt so fortunate that this happened when it did, within towing distance to a big town like Flagstaff.  After having gone through this before, we knew how to function within our AAA coverage, and we learn more each time.  AAA was only allowed to drop our camper at the repair shop, and we were told they had RV parking.  When we arrived, this is what “RV parking” meant.

Uh oh!  We were right on the highway!  We had hoped it would be a quick one day fix, but the part would have to be overnighted, so we then spent the day at the car repair place, trying to figure out how to have our camper towed to a campground.  Finally, an employee took pitty on us, and handed over the keys to his truck to drive our camper over.  We stayed at a campground with an attached restaurant (Black Bart’s RV Park), and knew from the last time that AAA would cover meals, so we were able to experience a group of singing college students running a steakhouse along with a couple other meals out.

It’s the little things that get you through the tough times.  The next day, we were so excited to be back on the road to be reunited with the boys and the Hamiltons! (travel dates 6/26-6/28)

Rim to Rim in 2018

The most anticipated day of the year had finally arrived! After lots of research and discussions with the ranger, we opted to hit the trail from the north rim at 4am, while it was still dark. 

  

Day 1 would take us 14 miles down a 6000 foot elevation drop on the North Kaibab trail to Phantom Ranch, with an additional 1 mile detour to see Ribbon Falls.  While we were sad to miss the views for the first couple miles, we were so glad we hit the trail when we did.  June temperatures in the canyon are no joke.  While we were freezing up top early on without our long sleeves, we knew the discomfort would be worth it in the end because for the next 48 hours, we would not think about sweatshirts again.  The Hoffpack and Hamiltons, equipped with headlamps and small backpacks (mainly loaded up with water) steadily made our descent down the canyon. 

It was everything we had hoped for, with beautiful orange rock walls  and gradually declining, well maintained trails and bridges. 

We stopped to take several pictures, refill water and take as needed bathroom breaks at Roaring Springs and Cottonwood,

but were conscious of an effort to keep moving with time as our enemy. 

Just as the canyon shade started to disappear around 8am, we made a stop at the not to be missed hidden oasis in the desert, the 100 foot Ribbon Falls.  Moss covered and rich in minerals, Ribbon Falls is a dream come true… there is truly nothing like it! 

 

The kids were thrilled to discover the cave under the refreshing waterfall, and loved adventuring behind and above the mystical falls. 

  

Our dip in the ice cold water was a crucial cool-down break before entering the most grueling part of the hike inside the infamous scorching box.  Thankfully, much of the last portion of the trail was along the Bright Angel Creek, so as you heat up, you can quickly cool your body temperatures down with a dip in the creek. 

 

As the day time temperatures continued to rise, we forged ahead, arriving at last at Phantom Ranch around 11am.  We were so thankful to be off the trail and into the welcoming air conditioned canteen after 7 hours on the trail.  

  

Thankfully, our 4 man cabins were available upon arrival, so the first thing we did was take off our boots and relax inside our wonderfully air-conditioned cabins.  This is a luxury we don’t often afford ourselves, but because we were taking our 5 children (ages 6 through 13) on this difficult trail during one of the hottest months in the canyon, we pulled out any stop we could to make it easier.  We opted to spend 2 nights down at Phantom Ranch to allow for a quick recovery day for all the kids.  Breakfast and dinners would be spent eating like kings… steak and stew for dinner, and delicious pancakes and eggs in the morning.

As soon as we cooled our bodies down enough to brave the blistering heat, we trudged across the Ranch grounds to the Bright Angel campground, where my cousins had reportedly parked it after spending the morning helping a volunteer ranger dismantle a dam.  

We found them in the only inhabitable place in the campground- the Bright Angel Creek.  At last, the 19 of us were all together.  We never thought it would all come together, but it did in an amazing way!  We spent hours just sitting in the creek, which is really the only thing to do without being inside the canteen or air conditioned cabins in June at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. 

The shade thermometer measured 118, while the sun temps topped out the thermometer at 140.

 

 

Once we had finally cooled off, we took a walk over to the Colorado River. 

Just this short walk mid-day was difficult in the stifling heat.  After another dip in the creek, we headed back to Phantom Ranch to get ready for dinner, another luxury we weren’t accustomed to… steak dinner at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  I’m not sure steak ever tasted so delicious.  Our group was split for dinner,

as steak is served at a different time than steak, but we all recollected after dinner for games, stories, and more fun together on our only overlapping night in the canyon.  

Once again, we were struck by how great these kids are, and were so proud of accomplishing this great feat together.  These memories would surely last a lifetime.

The Mattsons didn’t get much sleep that night, and left early for their trip half way up Bright Angel to Indian Garden.  We “slept in” until our “late” breakfast at 6:30am.  Afterwards, the staff let the kids feed all the resident mules.

 

From there, we walked out to the tunnel off the South Kaibab Trail to greet hikers as they arrived.

  

 

Some were quite surprised to arrive to a big group of kids singing the Macarena and welcoming them with a human tunnel.  A guided group asked if we were a youth camp!

 

After another swim in the Colorado,

we headed back to the canteen for an afternoon of games, post card writing, and games.

It was so hot by late morning, we baked leftover potatoes on the picnic table.

After an afternoon dip in the creek,

we were able to take showers in the bathhouse, a luxury we don’t often have in most campgrounds, let alone at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  The ranger at Phantom Ranch is amazing, and we all sat at the edge of our seats as during his talk about the most dangerous creatures in the Grand Canyon.

Our stew dinner was delicious,

and we continued our evening with the energetic ranger, earning Jr Ranger badges from Phantom Ranch,

hearing about the biggest human mistakes within the GC, and then taking a wild scorpion walk with black lights.  We never would have guessed how many scorpions reside at the ranch!

We went to bet early in preparation for our big hike out of the canyon the next morning.

We attempted to cancel our 5am breakfast, but were too late to get a refund, but the hike out was less of a concern temperature-wise than the way down.  As we went up the canyon, the temperatures would continue to drop (or at least stay steady with the rising sun).

We were fortunate to see several bighorn sheep along the river.

The kids were thrilled to see our mule friends heading down as we were heading up.

We can never escape the college antics from Brian and Chuck.

The kids were once again totally impressive.  Ethan carried the majority of our gear.

The girls were so proud to have done it, and continue to announce to friends that hiking the Grand Canyon was the highlight of the summer.

We were some of the lucky ones, and were able to watch the California condors at one of our water stops.

The way up was very difficult for the last couple miles, but the 9.3 mile Bright Angel Trail was pleasant and quick, taking only 5 hours with plenty or rest stops.  The crew was relieved to make it to the top and so very proud of our big accomplishment! (travel dates 6/23-6/25)

A Breath of Fresh Air on the North Rim (GCNP)

The most anticipated part of the summer had finally arrived.  After over a year of planning, we were finally at the Grand Canyon, about to start a never experienced journey.  The logistics – 2 nights on the north rim, 2 nights on the bottom, crossing over to the south rim, ending with 2 nights there.  Our camper was parked on the north rim, with Mom and Marilyn holding down the fort.  World travelers Kimmy and Ben wanted to see the Grand Canyon, so they spent a night with us before heading back to the Midwest.  My cousins, the Mattsons, and their kids left one night in… the Hamiltons and us would be meeting them on the bottom at Phantom Ranch one day later.

The north rim is a throwback to old-time national parks- herds of buffalo driving in, the campground right on the rim of the Grand Canyon, no crowds, a beautiful lodge, and a laid back picture perfect camp store.

Upon arriving, we were so excited to be at a higher elevation with cool temperatures and shady campsites.  The kids set up a little hammock land and helped Grandma with her tent.

The trees were gigantic, and we were excited to relax before embarking on our biggest camping challenge ever.

 

 

We said our goodbyes to Kimmy and Ben with a  secluded sunset over the Grand Canyon.  Amazing!

 

The Mattsons began their hike down into the canyon, and would spend the first night at Cottonwood while we prepared for our hike down the next morning.

Mom was able to sit back and relax while the rest of us anticipated the big day.  She and Marilyn had hiked down several years prior, so we were excited to hear their stories.

The kids were able to add the North Rim Grand Canyon junior ranger badges to their collection.

We enjoyed the overlook trails at the north rim, and were amazed with the view of the North Kaibab trail we would be taking the next day.

The rangers here were amazing, and we loved learning more about California condors and the differences between them and turkey vultures.  Little did we know that the white part of their wings were on the top instead of the bottom like turkey vultures.

Our big day had finally arrived, and we were all soooo excited to experience the entire Grand Canyon by foot (travel dates 6/21-6/23)!

Additional photo credits to the Hamiltons, the Mattsons, and Kim Strever

We Filled a Bus to the Narrows of Zion!

One of the greatest honors (not to mention amazing memories) is having friends and family join us on our adventures.  Most of these friends visit us at Snow Mountain, but this year, the trip lined up to have 28 of us exploring Zion National Park together.  Many of them were pushing their limits and trying out new things for the first time, and none of them knew each other.  In fact, my own mom had just finished her chemo therapy treatments the week before and was already exploring Zion with a long lost friend who had moved to Phoenix.  Another friend had recently had foot surgery on not one, but both feet!  Talk about a daring crew!  Within 24 hours, the group was laughing and playing together like old friends.  The thing that struck me more than anything here was the awesome group of kids we had… 5 different families with kids, most of whom didn’t know each other.  One angsty teen could have made this big group difficult for all, but their openness to make new friends and enjoy this beautiful place together made it even more magical for us adults.  What were the chances that we could pull together 15 kids… and all of them could be this amazing?!  Our campsite was right on the river, so after each long hike, we loved soaking away our soreness.

The last day we were in Zion, we all walked down from Watchman Campground to the park shuttle, ready to take on the Narrows.  I was so awe-struck that we filled that darn bus with friends and family, 1400 miles from home!  Nothing floored me quite like this… having 28 people trust us enough to meet us in the middle of Utah for a few days of fun.  Life is incredibly busy for all of them, yet we made this happen.

 

Kimmy had loaded up the camera in its waterproof casing, ready to get wet.  We love having photographers along 😉

   

The first 3/4 mile is a paved path in the canyon along the water, which was a perfect first hike back for mom.  You see, the Narrows is  perfect place to escape a hot summer day.  Talk about refreshing!

  

After stepping into the cold, rocky river, mom made a quick decision to head back with Marilyn, so we captured some group shots right away before they headed back.  That’s one of the greatest things about the Narrows… you can hike through the river as long as you like, and turn around when you are ready to be done.

The beginning of the Narrows is always quite busy, but the further you go, the less people you will see.

 

  

We got shots of everything… adult pictures, family pictures, kid pictures, you name it.

 

While there was always a way around the deep crossings, I love that many of us chose to walk straight through it all!  We had packed up everything in dry bags, zip locks, and waterproof casings, so you might as well!

  

 

Of course, the first set of rocks that provided some good cliff jumping was a must stop for all!

 

 

When we finally reached a destination that we had all to ourselves, we decided to make this our final stop before turning back.

 

The girls spent much of the day walking with Annie and Sally… talking their ears off I’m sure!  Thank God for distant cousins 😉

 

  

This pic is not the whole crew, but it sure does exude the feelings we all shared that day!  We could never recreate this time again, but I will remember and treasure it always!  Party on, Zion! 🙂

Additional photo credits to the Hamiltons, Jill Heikkila, the Mattsons, the Pienkowskis, and Kim Strever