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

Zion’s Subway – An Unexpectedly Tough Hike

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We felt fortunate to win a lottery to hike Zion’s “popular” Subway.  Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into…. most of what we read said the hike was 6 miles and would take 5-9 hours to complete.  Because we typically hike on the faster end of these ranges, we assumed we would be back for a late lunch, not knowing that the mileage was wrong, and what the “trail” entailed.  You see, the Subway starts with a quick and very steep descent down a crumbly cliff.  We thought we had surely completed the most difficult part of the hike (well, except for the trek up this tricky trail).

Once we reached the creek, we were surprised to see that there was no trail at all, just a creek that we would have to navigate back and forth to reach our destination.  We found lizards, fish, and frogs galore, so the kids were in animal heaven.

What we really didn’t expect were the difficult crossings and side trails.  There were many spots where the creek could not be navigated due to waterfalls, etc, so much of the hike is spent on the sides of the creek, navigating large boulders and trees until you can cross the creek once again.  Slow going is an understatement for this hike.

  

It is true that the many stops to check out a new critter slowed us down, but I can’t say we had a more tiring hike up to this point.  Lucky for us, the kids always seem to be unfazed.

  

  

By the time we reached the waterfalls, we had spent at least an hour thinking we had somehow missed the actual Subway!

The kids loved sliding down the slippery rocks here!

  

Finally, we reached the Subway!  While the actual structure was amazing, the kids had more fun jumping in the swimming holes than anything else.

 

  

We spent awhile playing at the Subway, knowing that the 5 mile trek in meant 5 out.  While it didn’t deter us from jumping in more swimming holes on the way out, we tried to move along.  Upon our return, yesterdays group of 14 would be increasing to a massive 28 people in Zion!

  

Travel date 6/19

Additional photo credit: Kim Hoff

 

Our Truth About Zion’s Infamous Angels Landing

It’s true.  The drop from Angels Landing is a jaw-dropping 1,488 feet from the top to the bottom.  The trail is 5 miles round trip, but the last 1/2 mile of the 2.5 mile trail up is the scary part… with chains bolted to the cliff.  The rest of the hike is steep, with drop offs right off the edge of the trail, but it is well travelled and doable for anyone in average physical condition.

Most of Zion National Park is only accessible by shuttle now, and Angels Landing starts at the Grotto Trailhead.  We arrived in Zion, knowing that my dear mom would be arriving the next day, and if we had any shot at doing Angels Landing before she got wind of it (fearing for her grandchildren’s lives), we better do it that first day.  We had heard that you should do it early in the morning to avoid crowds and sun, but our timeframe was limited, so the 14 of us headed off on a shuttle mid-afternoon with half of the group would we have starting the next morning.

We felt so fortunate that much of the trail was in shade, and there were hardly any people on the trail.  I have no idea if this was luck, or if most people don’t hike it in the evening, but for us, it was perfect!

  

  

The first two miles were lovely, and we stopped several times to check out wildlife, including lizards and two beautiful owls!

  

The switchbacks were indeed steep, but the trail is great.

As we reached the chains, I stayed down with the 5 kiddos as Chuck went up with the rest of the group to scout it out.  You can tell the squirrels are well fed here, as the stalked us while we snacked on trail mix.

Chuck went up and down relatively quickly, and we decided to send the girls down with Patti (despite them begging to go to the top), who had enough of the chains 😉  Chuck, the boys, and I headed to the top to meet the rest of the group, who were still enjoying the view from the top.

 

We instructed our kids to keep at least one hand on the chains at all times.  It looks truly terrifying from photos, but the cliff is solid, and the chains very useful.  In the moment, none of us were scared.  However, if you are afraid of heights, this is not the hike for you.  We saw plenty of folks on this trail who clearly had a fear of heights, and I’m not sure why any of them would do this to themselves.  Fortunately and unfortunately, none of our kids seemed to adopt this fear.

  

  

We took a few group shots at the top before heading down.

 

 

  

The boys were so proud to do complete what is known as one of the scariest hikes in America, and truth be told, some of the other hikes we have done were much harder with their steep, loose gravelly trails down cliffs.

 

 

The girls enjoyed their hike down with Patti and Kyle, and they look forward to the next trip to Zion so they can join us on this amazing hike!

 

Travel date 6/19

Additional photo credits to the Pienkowskis, Jill Heikilla, and Kim Hoff

Wandering Wire Pass

Wire Pass is the place that made us fall in love with Page.  Friends brought us here 5 years ago, and I was amazed with every twist and turn.  After the busy-ness of the beautiful Antelope Canyon, this was a welcome change.  Wire Pass is a ways from Page and down a dirt road (the same trailhead as the Wave, which we were not able to get permits for), but well worth the trip.  As opposed to the $40 ticket to Antelope Canyon, Buckskin Gulch via Wire Pass cost $6 per adult, kids 12 and under free.  While the walls of the canyon are not as smooth as Antelope Canyon, the seclusion makes it just as beautiful.  You have to hike in the wash for about a mile and a half before you reach the canyon, so the hike can be sunny and hot initially.

Once you reach the canyon, there is not a better way to escape the heat of the day.

 

We all looked up in wonder at the growing canyon walls.

  

 

  

 

    

The paintings on the walls were a reminder of the rich history in the area.

The kids loved catching and releasing all the multi-colored lizards too.

  

It was so fun to introduce this magical place to more family members Kimmy, Ben, and Jill.

 

 

 

It’s amazing to look up and see all the logs lodged up above from prior floods.  After being caught in a flash flood years ago, we exercise extreme caution with weather when entering canyons like Wire Pass.  Even a hint of rain far away can bring flooding to slot canyons like this.

 

 

We were disappointed when we reached a muddy clay area this year that was impassable.  We watched as several tried to navigate through it, but the mud was more than knee deep to cross.  Yuck!

 

  

We exited the pass and looked for the half gallon of water we had stashed near the entrance, only to find the container chewed up by a thirsty critter.  Thankfully, we still had plenty of water!  Dehydration is no joke in the desert!

Toad Stools is another fun stop on the way back into Page, and a short 1/2 mile hike off of the main road.

 

It was a hot hike, so with the afternoon heat, we were more than ready to head back to Lake Powell for the rest of the day!

Travel date: 6/17

Additional photo credit: Jill Heikkila and Kim Hoff

Playtime in Page

The first time friends Jim and Susan asked us to meet them in Page, Arizona, we thought, “why?  What’s there?”  After that visit 5 years ago, we couldn’t wait to come back for more.  Aside from visiting Antelope Canyon and Wire Pass, we were excited to spend more time at the national recreation area and in Page.

Lake Powell is amazing, and seeing how the river has carved out the area is unbelievable.  Horseshoe Bend is just out of town, and a short 1/2 mile walk.  The views are just incredible.  Of course we had to attempt recreating a picture taken there 5 years ago.

The dam visitor center is another great spot, and a perfect way to learn more about the area.

The Wahweap Campground is right on Lake Powell, with great views and access to the lake.  The campground is in the sand, with a fun beach atmosphere.  Thankfully, they have electric and non-electric sites.  We were grateful for electric this time with the warm temperatures.

The lake is within walking distance, and although cold, the kids loved taking a dip after each day in the heat.

  

Page, we will be back again!

Travel dates: 6/16-6/18

Additional photo credits:  Jill Heikkila and Kim Hoff

Amazing Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon has been on our list for a few years now, so we finally splurged on the $40/adult and $20/child over 6 ticket price while the girls are still free.  It was truly amazing!  We did lower Antelope Canyon with Ken’s Tours, although there are other outfitters also.  After visiting other remote slot canyons like Wire Pass,  it felt more like an art museum than an outdoor experience.  Water has done amazing things in Antelope Canyon.  So many photos were taken – Kimmy ended up with 500 pictures in the short one hour tour!

Ethan thought it was interesting that Native Americans hid in it when settlers came.  Gavin couldn’t imagine what it was like when flash floods came through and knocked out the stairs.  Braden said it was one of his favorite parts of the trip and felt like a different planet.

  

 

 

The tour guide was excellent and showed us many of the canyon highlights including Bruce the shark.

 

 

  

 

  

  

It’s amazing how much these rocks look like the woman with her hair in the wind after years of carving.

 

 

The kids loved the skylight view of the seahorse.

 

Here’s a great view of the “Rocky Mountains.”

  

 

  

 

Of course, here’s the belly button of the canyon.

Antelope Canyon, you did not disappoint!

Travel date: 6/16

Additional photo credits: Jill Heikkila and Kim Hoff

Beautiful Bryce

The drive from Arches to Bryce was much longer than we remembered, partially because it was more than 5 hours, and partially because the drive was windy, the roads were difficult, and some stressful hitch moments along the way. 

The kids all traveled with Jill, Ben, and Kimmy and made a fun stop at Capital Reef National Park on the way.

We had a bit of culture shock when we arrived at Ruby’s Campground after staying in the primitive Arches Devils Garden Campground.  We had electric and water at Ruby’s, in addition to a beautiful pool, hot tub, showers, shuttle trolley, and more. 

  

We drove into Bryce to watch a spectacular sunset while chuck and the kids had fun taking an extended swim.  

  

The next day, we did a figure 8 hike on the Navajo Loop,…

The first part of the trail was spectacular.

One of the loops was also a horse trail, which was highly over-rated in our opinion.

  

    

 

 

As we finished up the hike, the wind kicked up, and we were happy to take a little break in the campground for the afternoon.  Nothing is like those Utah winds!  We enjoyed one of our few fires for this part of the trip while we cooked pie iron pizzas.  We were loving the cool Bryce temperatures after the sweltering temps in Arches!

We headed back into the park for yet another amazing sunset.   I was excited to get some great shots with our new rumpl blanket 🙂

 

We ended the evening ready to head off to Zion with 28 of our favorite friends and family!

Travel dates: 6/14-6/16

Additional photo credits: Jill Heikkila and Kim Hoff

The Fiery Furnace and More at Arches NP

There is nothing like driving through 100+ degree heat through the desert, anticipating our arrival in Arches National Park, where we would proceed to spend two nights at Devils Garden Campground, at the very back of the park with no electric or services.  Despite the fear, I have been totally looking forward to camping in this amazing playground for six months, since making our reservation at the coolest campsite ever.

We pulled into Moab early afternoon, knowing full well we could not drive into the park right then.  We killed some time in Moab collecting report card freebies around town.  

A stop at the Arches Visitor confirmed we would have a great visit!  The kids were overjoyed when we arrived at our campsite, claiming it was one of the two best spots ever, tied with the Redwoods. 

Despite the heat, there were shady areas amongst the red cliffs and trees. 

We discovered that Skyline Arch was a short walk behind our campsite, and as we looked down from inside the arch at all the people at the viewing pullout along the road, we couldn’t help but think we had found the best kept secret of the park.  The kids called it “our arch.” 

After getting settled, we took the loop trail to Tapestry Arch

and Broken Arch.  We had so much fun trying to recreate our original family picture at Broken Arch from 5 years ago. 

 

It could never be as amazing as Jim David’s amazing photo, but we sure had fun trying to recreate it with our makeshift self-timed tripod. 

Wow things have changed it 5 years!

  

While there is no service in the campground, we were able to collect some messages while we were out hiking and found out Kimmy, Ben, and Jill were arriving shortly.  Kimmy and Ben had come in from India, and cousin Jill from Chicago, and we were all so excited to have them join us for the next 10 days.  After eating a quick dinner, we showed them the amazing rock playland behind our site.

We went to bed early, with plans for some early hikes before the heat of the day came.  Delicate Arch was a great 3 mile hike to kick things off with the gang. 

  

Turret Arch, the Windows, and Double Arch were up next.

 

  

Fiery Furnace was high on our list, so we raced over to the visitor center before lunch to purchase permits ($6 adults, $3 kids) for the next day.  

By then, it was so hot, we knew we couldn’t be outside for any length of time, so we discussed a couple options, Ken’s Lake, the Moab Aquatic Center, and a drive up to Canyonlands National Park.  Because our vacation buddies had never been there, we took the drive up to Canyonlands.  The air conditioned car was a nice reprieve,

and we spent some time at the visitor center, Mesa Arch,

and Grand View Point.  The photos never disappoint with this crew!

Back at the campsite, we had dinner before an evening hike out in Devils Garden to see Landscape, Navajo, and Partition Arches. What a beautiful evening hike!

  

  

  

The kids loved catching lizards and other critters along the way.

 

 

Once again, the sunset was spectacular.

The next morning, we pulled out early with the camper in tow to snag one of the few RV parking spots at the Fiery Furnace Trailhead.  This was definitely a highlight of Arches for us! 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

  

While the ranger said there were no trails, we found the arrows through the towering peaks essential to navigate through the furnace. 

While the name made it sound like the last place we would want to be, the Fiery Furnace was cool and shady with the towering peaks cloud cover overhead.  If we weren’t moving on this day, we would have loved to spend all day here!

  

  

 

 

 

We ended our time driving back through the park past balanced rock and so many other amazing rock formations in Arches

at the visitor center becoming junior rangers.

What a magical place!

Travel dates: 6/12-6/14

Additional photo credits: Jill Heikkila and Kim Hoff

Getting our Groove Back as Summer 2018 Begins

With some amazing things to look forward to, we have been anticipating the summer of 2018 for a year now.  We raced out of IL immediately after running camp for a free stop at a Walmart in Gretna, Nebraska, possibly the nicest Walmart we have seen. Stays at Walmart are never the best, with lots of truck generator noise, and other unforeseen circumstances, but free is good!  (for example, just a few days later, we would find that the Glenwood Springs Walmart that we had ok’d a stay was now under construction, so we continued on to the Rifle, CO Walmart.  In the middle of the night, a “striper” woke all the campers up and said we would all need to move because they were painting the parking lot of course.  Another fun Walmart night!)

After being cooped up in the car for hours, it has become a tradition on these long travel days/Walmart stays to have a little fun once we get there.

Ethan wasn’t very excited about traveling on his birthday, but we made sure Day 2 was the shorter travel day, and he was excited to test out his new sleeping back, as well as enjoy a morning of Grandma’s crepes.  We split up all his birthday gifts, and gave him a new gift at each gas stop, which he really enjoyed,

 

After doing this trip year after year, we seem to make many of the same stops.  The girls love this gas station dino in Ogallala.

Our second stop was the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont, which doesn’t take reservations, but we were fortunate to get a camp spot.  We immediately raced off to meet some friends at Chataqua Park in Boulder.

It’s been a couple years since we met up with the G family, so it was great to catch up for a couple hours while we stretched out our travel legs!

The kids of course insist on taking pictures at every rock or tree.

 

 

I loved that Laney found this kindness rock along the way, a reminder for my “wicked strong” girl.  She carried it along for awhile before replanting it in this fence post for others to find.

Ethan enjoyed testing out some of his new gifts, including hiking socks, zip off pants, and hat.  Turning 13 is big, and I can’t believe how far he has come so fast, yet he’s still the same boy that changed our lives forever many years ago.  See the resemblance?

  

It was only a couple mile walk, but it felt so good to be back!

 

 

We enjoyed a late night stop at Pearl Street too.

 

  

The next morning, we drove the couple miles up to our first apartment when we were married.  Boy, do we miss this place!  The boys were able to get a nice run in, while I walked around the old neighborhood with the younger ones.

The kids were ecstatic about all the prairie dogs.

We spent a little too much time in our old stomping grounds, and had to check out, move our camper, and come back to our spot to finish cooking breakfast.  Disaster!

As luck would have it, the fairgrounds was hosting a dairy goat show across the street from the campground, so we had a blast checking out all the different breeds of goats.

Our next stop was the V family, who we also haven’t seen for 2 years.  It was so hot in the Denver area, so a swim in their neighborhood pool was so welcome!  It just so happened to be a neighborhood pool pizza party, which made for a perfect lunch!

  

The kids loved playing on all their fun inflatables, and look forward to seeing the V family again soon.

Our final Denver area stop was at the M family’s house, and they are definitely the queen and king of hospitality.  They were able to finish putting in a campsite in their backyard just in time for our arrival!  It was so good to see them again, and their perfect spot was equipped with electric (for some welcome AC), 2 parks, a trampoline out our door, meals included ;), and great company.

Even though it was the day after Ethan’s birthday at this point, of course, they had a little celebration for him too.  Without much warning, Laney lost her front tooth and was oh so proud!

  

We spent Sunday boating on the Cherry Creek Reservoir, and the kids couldn’t have been happier.

Ellie opted off the “crazy ride” for some practice driving the boat with Mr. Rick and some cuddle time with Dad.

After witnessing some interesting paddleboard yoga moves, Rick made his best attempt too 😉

We enjoyed meals on the deck while the kids played away with one of our favorite families while the “kids” played on slippy slidey.

Julie’s dad has an amazing hand made train set in his basement, which was even more amazing this visit now that the kids are a few years older and more appreciative of the work involved.  Unbelievable!

The girls managed to sneak into our bed a few times as they adjust back into camper life, and its always a surprise coming in to find them there.

Our last morning in Denver was spent working on a game the kids have been creating over the last several visits, complete with laminated cards.

We made an attempt to stop at Crispy Crème for some free report card donuts on our way out, but found out that was discontinued a few weeks ago.  They were a delicious treat regardless.

On our way up to Glenwood Springs, we passed a truck that had started smoking, and as we passed, the lady driving raced off as it became engulfed in flames.  The whole truck burnt, and I-70 was closed down for the rest of our day.  If we had been 5 minutes later, we would not have made it through.  We are always so appreciative of a safe day of travel, but devastated to see something like this on the way.  It was a reminder that as safe as you can try to be, you never know what could happen.  Seconds later and impossible to stop our car with camper attached, our car and camper would have also caught fire as we passed by.

We were very appreciative to make it to the beautiful Glenwood Hot Springs.  For years, we have passed by it, saying “someday.”  The kids are all decent swimmers now, and it was a perfect time to enjoy the world’s largest hot spring pool!  (Travel dates 6/7-6/11)

Instafun and Instapots at SMR

You can ask our kids what their favorite place is, and without a doubt, they will always say Snow Mountain Ranch. All of them. No matter what amazing places we bring them to, there is a magical recipe here that keeps bringing us back for more, year after year, season after season. This time around, we were able to take advantage of a buy 3 nights, get 1 free deal. Last time, the deal had brought the nicest lodge down to the price of the basic ones, but on this occasion, the cheaper ones were included in the deal. Indian Peaks was great because it had a microwave and fridge, making it easier to cook. This time, with no such amenities, we had to get creative to stay in Aspenbrook.

In addition to being at our favorite place, the recipe for fun was doubled when the Beintum family decided to join us, instafun for all of us. No matter where we are, we will always manage to have a ton of fun with these great friends! We decided to bring along our instapots to cook in the lodge. While I call a friend in alarm on almost every use, we were forced to be brave since the instapot really gave us our best shot at making meals. Some of our favorites included a chicken noodle dish,

a pepperoni pizza pasta,

meatball subs, and being able to heat up just about anything, such as cheddarwursts.

One of our favorite staff members even surprised us with a certificate for 4 large pizzas at the grill! What an awesome treat! Each night in the lodge also includes free breakfast for 2 in the Commons dining hall. Kids under 6 eat for free.

Even without much snow this year, we were able to enjoy a ton of activities! We brought cross country skis from home and spent every day on the amazing Nordic trails. The kids absolutely loved this, which was a dream to me! I could have skied all day!

  

Gavin managed to find a couple moose off in the distance too.

With hardly any snow and a closed down tubing hill,

we balanced it out with more outdoor fun,

roller skating,

  

ice skating,

  

swimming, outdoor snow Twister,

lots of games in the lodge common area,

moon gazing,

dodgeball,

and more.

Our good friend Steve took us on the highlight of our trip, a dogsled adventure with his precious team. We were amazed with how long they were able to pull us all around with such speed. We will certainly remember this forever!

  

  

  

  

    

We snuck in one more trip to the East Inlet Trail.

  

After a fun hike, we were able to spend some time with the R family at their lovely home,

  

Followed by pizza at the grill.

Gavin cracked me up by setting his alarm each morning we had wifi to finish his winter school challenge. I absolutely love that no matter what obstacle is placed in his way, he attacks it with more motivation.  I wish we could all be more like him!

While we could have spent so much more time here, home was calling.

We managed to make a stop together with the Beintums at Chuck’s favorite hotel in Kearney, Nebraska, the Country Inn and Suites. More game play, swimming, an omelet bar, and fresh cookies ensued before our final stretch home.

Til next time SMR!

A Sneak Peak Over the Mountain

You know those little moments that give you a peak over the mountain standing in front of you?  You know… the ones that broaden your view and open the window wider than you knew possible?  As we head back to school and sports, the girls were practicing their gymnastics at home.  Ellie plopped herself straight into the splits, making it look easy, yet it was something she hadn’t done before.  When I asked her how she did that, she told me she didn’t know she was supposed to go all the way down.  For the last two years of ballet and gymnastics, her teachers have hovered above the ground, never demonstrating “the splits,” but their best attempt at them.  So, Ellie mimicked the attempt, instead of the real objective, even though she was capable of more.  As her parent, I never knew she hadn’t been told how to do it right, so I never thought to tell her differently.  Isn’t that the way it is for all of us?  Do we ever really know what we are capable of?  Who tells us how to do something?  If it’s a teacher or parent, do we question it?  On a bigger scale, when faced with life’s challenges, does anything really equip us for facing it?

Colorado “Winter Trip 2017-18” was an eye-opener for us this year.  Lots of obstacles in our way did not deter us, although upon leaving, we still questioned whether we should be going… yet these temps had us racing from IL.

Life feels that way a lot of the time… uncertainties fill it, and all of us just do our best to navigate, even though at times, we almost feel blind.  A record-breaking lack of snow in what we hoped would be our winter play land, sick friends, new job difficulties for others, the loss of a child for another friend we were visiting, and some crippling news en-route had us holding our breath in a place with little oxygen to begin with (as demonstrated by another friend there with the flu, and then pneumonia, who had been put on oxygen at this special spot atop the mountains at 8000 feet) .  Just breathe.

Alas, travel is not just a reward for working, but education for living. I truly believe that, and it’s always been reconfirmed with each journey we take.  There is comfort in being with those you love, continuing traditions in one of our favorite places, and gaining strength by tackling new things and times together.  If we didn’t do these things, would we ever really get these glimpses over the mountain to see what we can really do, or what life is all about?

While we stayed with our dear and generous friends, we made some wonderful memories… while lift tickets run $80+ during holiday times, we were able to fit in a beautiful evening of night skiing at Granby Ranch (near it’s more popular neighbor Winter Park) at a whopping $15 lift ticket price for skiing from 4-8pm, and aside from a bit of altitude sickness for Gav, had a glorious night.  The weather was mild, the sunset was magnificent, the slopes were not busy at all, and the girls finally mastered the slopes on their own.  Hurray!

  

  

  

Despite being ill, our host took us on an unforgettable snowmobile journey through the mountains with their family, ours, and another set of friends.  It will never cease to amaze me how well they can accommodate our big family and others.

  

(complete with hot pockets heated on the mufflers)

The kids all enjoyed another tradition of seeing a local neighbor’s annual one hour light display and show.

While there wasn’t enough snow to get a “real” snowshoeing experience, the bonus is…. we were able to walk further to see our favorite meadow on the East Inlet Trail,

  

  

  

followed by an evening of grand fireworks at Granby Ranch.  It was the first time we had experienced massive fireballs over our favorite ski mountain.

Every night was filled with games and amazing moments with a group of people we are honored to call friends.

Before leaving our gracious hosts on New Years Day, we were able to join together for a morning of tubing with the next family we would be meeting at Snow Mountain Ranch that afternoon.  Nothing can replace being surrounded by those you love for wonderful moments of fun together.

There is more to tell from this trip, but upon returning from this 10 day adventure to the mountains in Colorado, we find ourselves tackling a 2018 like no other year.  We are staring our biggest challenge in the face, with no idea how to navigate or what this next season of life will look like.  Yet, seeing Ellie do something she didn’t know she was capable of gives us that hope that the challenges of 2018 will go better than expected, and that we can all join together to find strength.  We can only hope we too will achieve a potential we don’t realize we are trying to achieve.  2018 will change us.  All we can do is hope that this “different” will be discovered through newfound wisdom that will build us into something better.  For all of us facing a new year, with new challenges… “Be brave.  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.  For the Lord, your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Copper Harbor and the Copperman

Leaving Glacier gave us yet another reminder at how finely tuned things work to operate smoothly.  At our first gas stop, we noticed that one of the bars on our towing system had become unattached. We looked down to see that one of these clips was missing, and our whole trip was on hold.  We could not travel without it, and there were no camper stores anywhere around.  After spending some time troubleshooting with locals, we decided to stop in at the local Uhaul/garage door repair shop.  As we sat in the parking lot trying to create our own clip using a screwdriver, the handiest man came out of the shop.

He offered to weld this awesome substitute together.  By the time we were done with lunch in our camper, he was knocking on our door with the replacement piece… for $5?! Talk about a blessing!

We spent that night in another Walmart parking lot after a long driving day, a free perk of having a hard sided camper.

Just across the street, we were able to turn in all our Culver’s coupons for a free dinner.

The kids looked like they had won the lottery!

After another long driving day, we parked it in the Houghton, MI Walmart lot, the home of my alma mater, MTU.

The kids enjoyed a morning at Chutes and Ladders, an amazing park on the Portage.

As we walked along the bike trail, we were able to watch the Ranger pass through on its way to Isle Royale National Park, an amazing Park our kids have yet to see.

Breakfast at the Suomi is always on the list when passing through Houghton.

By the time we arrived in Copper Harbor at Fort Wilkins State Park, the skies opened up… one of the few times on our two month trip.  Both families had to take refuge in the campers, with Grandma making an executive decision to take everyone out for dinner at the Mariner.

It was a very rainy night, which made for an especially pretty morning on Lake Fannyhoe.

What looked like a very bleak weekend outlook turned into beautiful UP camping weather with campfires,

Biking with our new $30 Trek  bike,

Exploring the fort,

Playing old fashioned games,

lots of Grandma’s fine cooking,

creek walking,

swimming,

and crayfish catching.

The cedars on the lake are perfect for hammock hanging, so of course we had to set up a triple decker.

 

All the cousins were able to hang out together,

With Grandma,

and all together.  If you are looking for a place to slow things down with small agendas, this is the place!  We have returned many times since taking annual trips growing up.

Our last day was spent volunteering at the Copperman Triathlon, and we were able to watch college friend Jeff Zematis place too!

  

 

The kids enjoyed trying out Jeff’s fancy bike too.

We knew it could only be Jeff swimming by in the lake when a giant swan swam up to us.

We spent hours paddling in the lake and taking daily swims across.  The big boys joined us, a sure sign that the swim team paid off.

The campsite was filled with thimbleberries and raspberries, so the kids always had something to do at camp.

Lucy preferred to hang out with Uncle Chuck 😉

It’s always so tough to end the summer, but we were so appreciative that we were able to end it with loved ones once again.  (Travel dates 8/1-8/6/17) Until next summer!

 

Wowed by Waterton

Crossing into Canada surprises us every time with how different it is, even though we were only an hour north of the US.  Check out the line across the border where all the trees are cut.  When we crossed the park to the east side, we parked our camper at one of the most magical spots in the park, Many Glacier, and hurried off to Waterton for the day.  We were short on time, and trying to squeeze a visit in before my sister arrived the next day.  Similar to our experiences in Banff and Jasper, our trip to the visitor center wasn’t as informative as we had hoped.  Our first stop was Cameron Lake.

While beautiful, we were directed to take a hiking trail “between the  two outhouses” to an alpine lake.  It wasn’t quite what we expected (we found it odd that we were the only ones on this trail… apparently the visitor center did not recommend it to others).

Afterwards, we made a quick stop at the amazing Prince of Wales hotel.  What a magnificent place!

The next recommendation (from a fellow blogger) was our favorite!  Red Rock Canyon had easy access from the parking lot with an immediate reward.

The further you hiked into the canyon, the higher the walls became, and the more “butt slide” waterfalls we came across.

  

  

The kids had a blast walking through the water, climbing along trees,

  

and sliding on their butts down the cool waterfalls.

  

  

We would have loved to spend just a day in Red Rock Canyon, and had heard about some amazing long hikes in the park that we didn’t have time for.  On the way out, we headed to the driftwood beach across from the Prince of Wales hotel.

I was determined to get some pictures with these cool teepees!

As the sun started to set, the kids asked if they could check out some of the wood along the beach.  What unfolded next is not something I am proud of…

To my utter dismay, I looked up as they scattered along the beach, only to see a huge black bear trotting along the shore.

Ethan and Ellie were right next to me, so they crouched down low as we watched him pass us… with no time to get back to the car.

He picked up his pace as Chuck tried to go through the forest to get to the other three kids.

He was moving much too quickly for us to go ahead of him, so we were stuck behind him, reaffirming what they should do as they saw the bear.  They were not scared at all, and were more excited about  earning points for this caliber of wildlife.  On the other hand, we were petrified.  Chuck continued to head towards the kids, bear spray in hand.

Finally, the bear passed them, thankfully showing no interest at all in them.

Finally, we were all together, safe at last.  Bears are fascinating, yet so unpredictable.   A peaceful moment on the beach changed in an instant and if that bear had other things on his mind, circumstances could have been really bad.

We were so thankful to be safe, but took a moment to take a few shots of the big guys paw prints.

Before we left, more tourists arrived, with no idea what had just occurred on our private little beach.  You never know when a bear will decide to make an appearance, and this was a big wake up call for us to keep our kids much closer.

The bison paddock turned out to be a bust, although we did find one lone bison.

We were able to witness another amazing sunset on the way out,

and even more cows as we worked our way back to the US border.

The Magic of Many Glacier

There is something so magical about this little corner of Glacier National Park, and everyone knows it.  Whether you stand in line at 2am to wait for a non-reservable site, or spend days trying to get a reservable one online 6 months prior, it is always difficult.  The process to get a campsite is terrible, and I am so thankful for my small army of “site getters” who helped me manage to put together both sites we needed for this part of the trip.  My sister, Sheryl, was the first one who snagged a site online with her quick fingers, but after a little persuasion on our end, we convinced her to join us and keep the site for herself 😉  A dozen or more friends and a few days later of trying to get a site, another friend was able to grab a second site for us… as luck would have it, it was right next door!  What are the chances?!

Our first day there was spent trekking up to sister park, Watertown National Park, in Canada.  The second day, the Hoffpack hiked one of our favorite trails, the Grinnell Glacier Trail.  We saw this cute deer early on.

We met a fellow Midwest family on the trail, and spent the first 4 miles hauling.  We are grateful they were able to snap a family pic for us before parting ways.

One of the coolest parts of the trail is this waterfall, a great way to cool off on a hot day like this one!

  

Grinnell Glacier is one of the few remaining glaciers in the park, and the glacial water nearby is quite refreshing, a perfect place to stop for lunch.

By the time we headed back down, it was getting really toasty outside.  We may have gotten a little more wet this time going through the falls 😉

This guy was out foraging as we headed back.

The Dellangelo family had not arrived yet when we returned, so we decided to test out the boats in the creek.  This was probably not one of our brightest ideas, as the creek was not high enough to boat most of the way to Swiftcurrent Lake, so we  ended up dragging them most of the way.

By the time we got there, we decided my sister and family might be back at the site, so we took off portaging… the mile back to the campsite.

  

We were so excited that the Dellangelos decided to take such a big trip with their three little girls, and that they made us a part of it!  The creek was one of our favorite spots to play.

There is something so special about cousins.  They really love each other.

My sister knew that I become hiking possessed when in Glacier, so we were planning to take a separate early hike to Iceberg Lake and meet up in the afternoon, but lucky us, they decided to join us!  I don’t think her girls love hiking as much as our kids… yet 😉

We were able to see a couple more grizzlies on this mountain, with ranger led hike nearby.

Iceberg Lake is just amazing, and a great spot for lunch.  There were quite a few people jumping in on this sunny afternoon, so of course we had to join in on the fun.

Gav wanted to go all in, but we offered up this smaller iceberg for now.

On the other hand, us crazy parents had to take a swim!

  

The hike back was another scorcher.

  

The Dellangelo girls didn’t get to enjoy much of the scenery on the hike back.  They were zonked!

  

One of the best parts of this campground is the great river access, and the kids had a blast redirecting water.

Julia truly is a perfect baby.

  

I stood on in amazement at how dirty Nora managed to get in the campsite, despite any effort otherwise.  It wasn’t that long ago that we had toddlers, but I don’t remember them ever getting that dirty!

We got lucky with our other neighbors, and Braden spent every minute he could playing soccer with his new Montana buddy.

Back to back hikes did not seem to faze our little hikers, so we followed up Iceberg Lake with a 17 miler over Piegan Pass.  Mark offered to drop us off at St Mary’s, so we took the shuttle up to Siyeh Bend, and then hiked back over the pass to our campsite.

Just like Ethan’s description in “The Gift of Experience,” the wildflowers were spectacular.

We hiked over the icefield and reached the top of the pass in no time again.

The kids are always so intrigued by the cool fort at the summit.

Because this hike is not easy to maneuver logistically with doing different start and end points, we hardly ran into anyone on the trail, but saw a group that had gone out and back who we asked to snap this pic for us.

The marmots at the higher elevations are always so fun to watch.

This rock was a perfect spot to take a short break.

While we were there, we spotted a mountain goat off in the distance.

The hike down is miles of switchbacks.

All that downhill was too much for Ellie’s shoes, so they met an untimely death.  Good thing this was our last big hike of the trip!

One of the most amazing parts of this hike is all of the waterfalls, many of which are unnamed.

We made it back to Grinnell Lake and Lake Josephine with no bears or trouble this time.

By the time we made it back to Many Glacier, the hotel was a welcome sight!

We spent the next morning taking a short hike to Red Rock Falls with the Dellangelo’s.

This may sound creepy, but the kids love swimming in this lake… because of all these snakes?!

Our last afternoon was as warm as all the others, which called for more paddling on the lakes.  This time, we decided to paddle Swiftcurrent and portage over to Lake Josephine, a recommendation from our new Montana native friends.

Apparently, right after we took this pic, a big bull moose moved into the scene.

Thankfully, our evening campground walk to this lake was finally successful this time.  We were able to see this big guy with an old college friend and her family!

The kids had just met, but they got along like old friends!

It was a quick visit, but so fun to reconnect for our overlapping evening in Glacier!

Gav managed to catch this frog in the lake too, which got just as much attention as the big moose.

We snuck over to the motor inn for one of our favorite traditions, huckleberry ice cream.

Its always hard to say goodbye to Glacier, but it was time to head across the country to the Upper Peninsula for a visit with more family and friends before our summer 2017 trip end! (Travel dates 7/27-8/1/17)

So Grateful to be in Glacier

It’s hard to imagine that somewhere 1500 miles away feels like home to us, but Glacier is one of those places.  After finishing a portion of 1, 2, or 3 nighters all across the Northwest (and one very hot night in the Kalispell Walmart parking lot), setting up camp in West Glacier was a welcome treat.  The familiarity is so comforting to us.  While in Kalispell, we made a quick trip into Costco to restock before hitting the park for the next week and a half.  I had always wanted a stand up paddle board, and being on all the lakes of Glacier seemed like the perfect time to get it.  We hurried over to our new site at Fish Creek Campground and headed up to one of our favorite spots, Bowman Lake.  We had made a mental note to return with boats next time, and did just that.  The double kayak and paddle board opened up so many new opportunities and we all had a blast!

The drive back to Fish Creek is tough with the one lane dirt road, but we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset.

Back at camp, the new paddle board box provided days worth of entertainment of course.

Lake McDonald is another great spot to paddle, and we were fortunate that our campground was right on the water for easy access.

We wasted no time getting out on the trails, and our second day was spent hiking the Highline with the whole Hoffpack for the first time ever.  I couldn’t wait for the girls and Chuck to experience one of my all-time favorite trails.

  

  

The sky was clear and everyone was moving along so quickly that we couldn’t resist going up the Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail.  Tackling that extends this trail to a full 16 mile day!  It was pretty impressive… even though the trail is very steep, the kids seemed to fly by other hikers like goats to their dismay (with only a couple stops for water).  It was safe to say we reached a new level!

On one of our stops, we were lucky enough to get some one on one time with this baby grouse.

The top was as clear as I’d ever seen it, and I think they were even more impressed than I was.  Here’s a great shot of Braden and Laney sharing a moment on top, looking out over the top of the world.  How your children see the world depends on what you show them.

We loved that they got up here and didn’t want to come back down.  The kids got lots of compliments from fellow hikers, which made it all that much more fun.

When we finally did head down, we ran into some big horn sheep grazing below.

The Granite Peak Chalet is one of those magical places in the middle of nowhere, and I have always vowed to stay here.  For now, we were able to make a quick lunch stop.  It’s so important to act out those dreams before they become an impossibility… the Sperry Chalet burnt down shortly after we left the park this summer sadly 🙁

The way down from the chalet is pretty spectacular,

but as you head down the loop trail, it gets hotter and hotter, and much of the forest is covered in mule poop and burnt down trees.  Despite how scenic some of these pictures may look, our feet were sore, and our legs were covered in dusty dirt and poop at this point, and we continued on as quickly as we could.

The kids couldn’t resist making a huckleberry picking stop of course.

Finally, we made it to the bridge signaling the end of the trail.

We had to wait for 3 buses to get down from the loop trailhead to Avalanche Lake.  All of the buses from Logan Pass down to Avalanche Lake are the shorter variety due to the length restrictions, limiting passengers.

By the time we made it on to a shuttle to Apgar, the kids had been rejuvenated… unlike us 😉

We spent the rest of the day getting an oil change and Domino’s for dinner.  They were pretty excited about getting their pizza, can you tell?

Three nights in Fish Creek was all we had time for this summer, so our last day was spent heading to Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake.  That trail just gets more and more popular, and it felt like a super highway at times.

It never fails, there are always Chinese tourists who are magnetized to our girls, and this year was no exception.

The kids loved exploring a little corner of the lake where water bugs were playing amongst the drift wood below.

Of course we had to make a stop at Lake McDonald Lodge to play in the lake.

Chuck took the boys for a run down from Avalanche.  Boy, that was a toasty run!  We found out later that rangers had to rescue nearly a dozen people on the Highline Trail the week we were there due to heat exhaustion.  Thankfully, we had enough water to keep us going.

Despite how cold this glacial water is, the kids seem to think nothing of it, and love playing in the lake.  Once again, we can’t wait to return soon! (travel dates 7/24-7/27/17)

Experience-Giving Gifts

Christmas gift giving is always tough.  It’s a puzzling tradition, especially knowing how much we already have.  Sometimes, it seems that our lists and desires run contrary to the real reason for the season.  Trying to keep the gifting in the spirit of the meaning of Christmas and what we believe life is all about, some friends and I have been going back and forth sharing some of our favorite gift ideas.  I like to think that many of these “things” are something I call “experience-giving” gifts, presents that enhance experiences, give access to new possibilities, encourage interaction or memory building with family and friends or allows us to participate in new activities, as well as gifts from the heart (who doesn’t love a good homemade gift?).  We have only gotten better over the years of knowing what the kids will use the most.  We’ll start with a couple specific favorites, and then move into some general categories we enjoy.

1) Hydration and Cooling  Last year’s most useful gift was probably our Camelbaks, which were used pretty much every day on our summer trip (no more carrying water for the whole family! They carry their own, plus rain coats and snacks).  On longer hikes, the Camelbaks aren’t big enough to fit everything we need, so the bigger kids swap them out for a bigger backpack (in our family, quality backpacks are earned when they decide they are strong enough to hike with one ;)).  It’s even better when their bladders fit right in to those backpacks.  Another great gift is the new and very popular Hydroflask.  Since our kids are so active, we are always pushing water on them. Hydroflasks keep it cold for a long time and encourage them to stay hydrated.  Our kids were also given cooling towels last year as a gift, and they use them throughout the summer, as well as during all their athletic events.

2) Slack line (we set this up in so many of our campsites, and even after a hard hike, the kids never failed to race over to our little campsite playground).  We have also been able to set this up in the back yard for hours of entertainment, strengthening, and balance work.

3) Eno doublenest hammock (who couldn’t use a little time swinging in the trees, relaxing or reading a book?).  Now, if only we could find time to set it up at home too.

4) Walkie talkies (whether it was to communicate with the boys while they were on a run, occupy the girls while they were hiking, talk between two groups of hikers, or keep contact with another car when the phone lines died, these were a huge bonus).  They are so much fun yet serve so many purposes well, and you can spend between $20 for a decent kids set to several hundred, depending on the quality you are looking for.

5)  Hobbies.  They sure get expensive, so everyone can use things that will make those experiences better or easier.  For us, that includes shoes (running shoes, hiking boots, keens, etc), snowshoes, skis, snowboards, sleeping bags, tents, rollerblades, ice skates, goggles, gymnastics mats/bars, weights, cameras, binoculars, camp chairs, garmins, and more.  The kids were given joint Christmas/birthday gifts this year and got these awesome new tents!  The sleeping bags in the picture are the REI Kindercone, another favorite gift given to our kids.

Inflatable Boats have been a great addition for us too.  This year, we added an inflatable double kayak and stand up paddle board to our collection, which gave us a new way to get out and see the national parks when we needed a break from hiking.

6)  Games… Who doesn’t love a good game?  We played all of these games with others initially, and invested right away.  Many of the families we have introduced these games to have done the same.  We go in spurts playing them, but they always give our competitive family a good laugh and some great memories together.  Over the years, we have definitely developed some favorites, which include: Splendor (might be our personal favorite), Ticket to Ride, Set, Codenames, and last but definitely not least, Gubs (I must confess I have no idea how to play this one, as it is quite intimidating given how competitive our kids get when they play with each other!).

7)  Books… our kids sometimes do “book binging.”  When they find a good series, they just go!  Last summer, we found ourselves stopping at lots of Goodwill stores as Ethan raced through Percy Jackson books.  Other ideas include guide books to places we will be visiting or children’s book like Who Pooped in the Park,” how to draw books, intricate “adult” type coloring books, journals, mileage logs, or autobiographies.  Braden’s new love of running was cemented even more as we read Running for My Life by Lopez Lomong last month.  It was recommended by friends, and it has become his all-time favorite!  Reading is such a good time to spend time with the kids, or for them to have some solo time to become better readers.

8) Art Supplies… maybe it’s because dad is an art teacher, but all our kids love art.  Christmas gifts have included blank canvases, paints, markers, gel pens, any of the latest and greatest crafts, kinetic sand, play doh, clay, coloring or how to draw books as mentioned above, and even homemade art boxes with supplies from their aunt and uncle.  As I was looking for an art pic to share, I’ll take a moment to brag with a pic of Gavin and his winning yearbook cover;)

9)  Music – Whether it is music to listen to, instruments, or sheet music to play, music is an important part of the lives of many.  It keeps us moving, brings us together, helps us think, and develops skills.  In recent years, two of the boys have started playing the saxophone and trumpet, and all of them love learning to play the keyboard/piano.  Recorders, eukeleles, guitars, and wooden flutes have also been a fun outlet for them.  Here’s a shot of my bro teaching his “mini-me” to play the guitar, a highlight for me from our Thanksgiving visit.

10) Homemade Gifts – Nothing says “thinking of you” like a homemade gift.  I was so proud of our kids cross country team this year, I couldn’t help expressing it by making these brag boards as they headed off to the state meet this year, with the boys placing 5th and girls 6th in the state.  They worked so hard, I wanted to give them something to remember their effort and talent.

This list is certainly not meant to be inclusive of all gifts, but just some of the fun ones we have found in recent years.  Deals are better at some times than others, but all of these have been useful to us.  Please share with us any of your favorite gift ideas!

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The Gift of Experience

It has been a long time since we have updated the blog.  Honestly, I got caught… between the past and the present.  It’s been months since the summer travels have been done, but we have so much more to share since our return home in August.  Of course, we ended up sharing none of it!  In the heart of his first trimester of middle school, Ethan bridged that gap for me.  While we have not finished sharing the summer (actually, probably my favorite spot of the summer), Ethan wrote this essay for school about one of our favorite hikes there, Piegan Pass, his first 16 mile hike in Glacier National Park.

“Crunch, crunch, crunch… we were about to summit Piegan Pass, and all of us were panting and treading very hard.  On the top of the mountain, there I was, Ethan Hoff, looking down on the beautifully authentic Montana backcountry. This was my favorite place I have ever been.  It was better than the Grand Canyon, or the Washington Monument, anything there was.  Among this beauty, however, lurked many dangers, the grizzly bear, mountain lions, and even more than that…

Prior to the hike, I was packing my huge bag full of snacks and clothes. We took the shuttle that went from our base camp at St Mary’s Campground to Siyeh Bend, the trailhead to the hike that made knots in my stomach. My two brothers, my Mom, and I started the hike through a rough trail, some thick woods, showing evidence that this trail was not well visited.  However, despite those difficulties, we arrived in a spot covered in millions of flowers, and trees with every color of the rainbow. In an opening, I spotted the insanely large pass, and told my younger brother, who started to complain and whine about hiking. My mom started to explain how she used to backpack and go on hikes even harder than this.  I wonder why she doesn’t anymore.  We spotted an enormous glacier that we would have to eventually pass. We had already hiked about four or five miles.  We approached the glacier crossing, knowing we were at high risk being at such high elevation, and hiking on slippery ice. However, we crossed, safe and sound.

About a mile later, we were ascending up a steep slope, and going through the pass between the two mountains. As we approached the top, it got harder and harder to breath, our footsteps got heavier and we were all panting like dogs.  At the summit, we knew  it would be about eight or nine miles down, but it would be very rewarding. We finally arrived at the summit. I looked down and… I could see the world around me. There were waterfalls in the distance. We saw the ground below covered in bright wildflowers, and the greenest of grass.  No gardener’s work could compare. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  We took some pictures, ate lunch, and descended, sad to leave that sight. We arrived in beautiful meadows surrounded by a close mountain bowl, still seeing the enormous pass.  The descent was about 2 miles straight down, very hard on our knees.  Again, we saw about three waterfalls cascading off of the mountains.

The way back was a rugged, rocky trail that was about six or seven miles. It showed the beautiful mountain scenery. The hike led us to three small lakes, each as bright as a sapphire, almost purified water, and as clear as glass.  I would always remember this.  We persevered until we came to a notable stop. There was a huge river with a raging current, and the trail was nowhere to be seen.  My mom told me to take off my shoes and venture across to find the trail, and I did, finding the trail, soaking me and my pack almost getting wet.  My mom and brothers crossed.  My youngest brother had taken about thirty minutes to put on his shoes and socks on his wet feet, while two rugged looking backpackers decided to strip down and take a swim at this very spot.  My mom hurried my brothers and I along.  We finished up the hike and made it to the Many Glacier Lodge.  We were all exhausted. Finally, the biggest challenge was getting back into the RV, and onto the couch, even though I had just hiked seventeen miles.

In the end, I learned to respect the nature that is left on the world. Despite these beauties, I also realized that powerful things roamed these places.  I gained respect for the little things, and the biggest most predatory creatures.  A glorious mountain pass made me look on the more genuine side of nature, and not the kind from the movie.”

Ethan wrote this essay about the first time he hiked Piegan Pass, and we repeated that trip this year with Chuck and the girls.  We were equally impressed with this year’s hike.  I just love hearing their perspective about these times!  We never wonder if the “gift of experience” we have been giving our kids is better than the “stuff” we could buy instead, but his smooth adjustment to what I consider the roughest school transition has only confirmed what we already believe.  Why?  Probably because in the time when uncertainty and defining identities is most prevalent, our first-born already knows who he is… through all the experiences, he knows exactly what he loves.  Through all of his experiences in his first 12 years of life,  we know he is a self-motivated, smart, observant, happy, life-loving boy and he knows he’s a camper, Boy Scout, runner, hiker, biker, swimmer, soccer player, musician, friend, and more.  One of his first projects was to bring in some objects that could tell his class who he is.  He came home stating that many of his classmates brought in video games, etc, and said his teacher thought his (which included a national park map, boy scout neckerchief, running shoe, and more) was incredibly interesting.  The shimmers of doubt over the past few years from knowing he was different from the majority have started to fade away into a confident, happy kid who we are incredibly proud of.  This picture is from the regular Friday runs he and some of his friends take after school each week.   Boys and girls start to blend together, and what better way to do this than to do something that encourages friendship, exercise, improvement, and of course, ice cream 🙂

In this holiday season of giving, I am going to diverge from the summer for one more post in the next few days.  A few friends and I have been sharing a few Christmas ideas in light of the values in the “gift of experience,” and in case anyone is still shopping, I am going to make a  quick list of “things” that I call “Experience-Giving Gifts.”  After that, I am going to attempt to finish out our summer travel blogging before Christmas.  Stay tuned!

 

2017 Hoffpack Highlight- the Hiawatha!

On our 2016 Glacier vacation, we ran into a paraplegic doctor biking one of the trails.  This particular trail was very sunny, and our kids were complaining like crazy.  After we ran into this inspiring guy, we didn’t have one more complaint, and we were all excited about the new trail he had told us about – the Hiawatha Trail.  The Hiawatha is a 15 mile rail-to-trail conversion, especially for bikers.  The trail gradually falls 1000 feet over the 15 miles, going through 9 tunnels and 7 trestle bridges through both Idaho and Montana.  The tunnels were as long as 2 miles, and the trestles over 200 feet!  We were able to camp out for free right at Lookout Pass ski area after a long day of driving so we were fully prepared to pick up our rental bikes at opening time the next morning.

This was definitely not the cheapest part of our trip, as adult permits are $10, and children over 5 are $6 each.  The bike rentals were $32/adult (luckily we had one bike with us already), and child bikes were $22.  All bikes come with helmets and much-needed lights.  Thankfully, we were able to squeeze both girls into one rental Burley ($24).  Yikes!  In addition to this, many bikers take the shuttle back to the trailhead to avoid the gradual incline- tickets for that cost $9 and $6.  We decided  to take the trail back to get more use out of our rental bikes, making it a 30 mile ride, something we had never done as a family!

We were anxious to hit the trail early, with highs in the 90s this week in sunny Idaho.  The start of the trail was well equipped with knowledgeable staff, checking for permits, lights, and answering questions.

We had been warned ahead of time that the tunnel temps were in the 40s despite the high temps along the trail.  We carried sweatshirts, especially for the 2 mile Taft Tunnel.

The kids were super comfortable riding through the dark, while Chuck ended up with vertigo and I rode slowly to avoid the troughs of water on each side.  We were again reminded just how resilient kids are!

  

  

Along the whole trail are signs explaining the history of the old rail system and trail conversion.  Our kids were so excited to ride the awesome mountain bikes, we barely got to read the signs.  Luckily, we took pictures of all of them so we could read them in entirety later!

The boys do not own bikes with gears, so when they hopped on these nice Trek bikes, they were instantly in love.  They wanted to ride all day, so our decision to ride both directions was definitely not an issue for them!

We made it to the Pearson trailhead in no time, watched every other biker load up on the shuttle, and ate lunch before our ride back.

The girls had no complaints about riding in the Burley, and enjoyed eating the many snacks we packed for the day.  We did pack lots of water, but were pleasantly surprised by all the water stops along the way.

  

While you couldn’t really see the 1-2% incline on the way back, Chuck definitely felt it with the girls in tow.  Every biker we passed pumped up his ego with praises for pulling them along.

The boys zipped ahead of us, and it took everything I had to catch them 😉  It’s amazing how speedy three little boys can be on nice bikes!

  

It was a blast to go back through all the tunnels and trestle bridges again, as we hadn’t really had enough of them on the way down.

 

By the time Chuck caught back up to the boys and me, you could see one of the trestle bridges we had crossed in the distance, and it was apparent that we had definitely been climbing!

Even though we had not biked all summer, the kids were completely unfazed by the 30 mile ride, a promising fact for trips to come!

  

The cold tunnels were a welcome break from the gradual increase in heat as the day went on.

  

  

We never really know what is going to be the family favorite on each trip, but I think it was safe to say the Hiawatha Trail topped the boys’ list!  We look forward to riding the Hiawatha again someday! (travel dates 7/22-7/23/17)

 

Time off with the Hoffs