After years of poking ourselves with sewing needles, bamboo skewers for kebobs, or even sharp corners of the cabinets, you would think that we would learn.
In Arizona, Nick touched the red fruit of a cactus. The fruit were smaller than a dime and looked soft, but there were still sharp needles on there! You just couldn’t see them as easily. We had just been researching about the prickly pear cactus fruit and how you have to remove the fine needles from it before eating. However, because they were smaller, I guess he thought he could poke at them.
In Texas, near the Japanese Tea Garden, Ben had a run in with a yucca plant. There were not any sidewalks from the Garden to the neighboring parking lot, so we we trying to walk in the grass area to avoid the incoming car/truck traffic. Ben got too close to a yucca plant and got stabbed by its pointy tip. We did some quick research and found that yucca’s have a toxin in them that create swelling. We keep a stocked first aid kit in the truck, so we cleaned it, put antibiotic ointment and a bandage on and gave him a Benadryl. It bled quite a bit for such a small hole. We changed the bandage that night and used Benadryl cream. It still had quite a bump for a few days and was sore.
We have definitely learned new things on this trip. For example, I had no idea yucca had a toxin and that the ends got harder as the plant got older.
There are 7 caves along the La Jolla coast. Most of them are accessible only by water, but Sunny Jim’s Cave can be walked to through The Cave Store.
The history of the Cave Store goes like this: Gustav Schultz, in 1902, hired two men to dig out a tunnel down to the cave. (It took 1.5 – 2 years to finish, depending on the information sources I read.) He then charged admission to walk down and see the cave. The original path did not have lights or stairs. The stairs were added in later. The store claims there is 145 steps; however, Will counted 142 (including the ones beginning at the store level).
The store employees said it is still the original foundation for the store, which is pretty cool! It’s a great hidden spot on the coast, so apparently smugglers also made use of the cave many years ago. There is still a charge for admission ($10/adults, $7/kids ages 3-17). You can also book your time online, as reservations are required due to COVID.
I definitely took the stairs slowly, as they were uneven, some slanted to one side, and some were wet from moisture dripping out of the rocks.
Many of you may know I am not a big water drinker. Give me coffee any day and I can (and will) drink it all day long. I’ll venture into the lands of sweet tea and flavored fizzy water, but honestly it’s mostly coffee and the occasional hot tea. I’ve been trying to do better and have been buying carbonated water to help get me to drink more. Why carbonated water? I gave up soda years ago and the carbonation makes it feel like a treat.
I must not have drunk enough yesterday after being outside and in the sun most of the day. No sunburn, as we kept applying sunscreen, but I woke up with a huge headache and was nauseous. After some salty crackers, at least 4 cups of water, and some Aleve, it finally died down to a manageable ache.
We kept it pretty low key today. We checked out the 99 Cent store that we kept seeing everywhere and then drove down to Coronado. We parked near where the ferry docks and explored the little shopping area. We finally managed to find some postcards! It’s had been hard to find postcards around San Diego.
Ben had read about California Burritos on things to try while in California, so we stopped and picked one up for dinner. It’s a burrito with french fries in it! It was delicious! I’m not entirely sure the fries added a whole lot to it, but it was very tasty.
We were getting tired of exploring the Strip and wanted an activity that didn’t have quite so many people. After an quick Google search for the top things to do in Las Vegas, we settled on going to Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock Canyon is part of BLM (Bureau of Land Management), so you either need the National Park Service annual pass or pay the daily rate ($15/car) if you pick a trail past the entrance gate. The Visitor Center was closed (COVID restrictions), but the Gift Shop was open.
We picked the Potato Knoll Loop from the All Trails app. This trail is outside of the Scenic Loop of Red Rock Canyon, so you do not need a pass. There are a few other trails outside of the entrance where you do not need to show your pass as well.
The trail was supposed to be 4.7 mile hike, but it ended up being 5.8 miles after we got turned around. The trails are not marked and have several spots where they cross over other trails, so I would definitely use an app. We started around 8:00 am and brought several water bottles.
The first part of the trail was pretty boring. The scenery was pretty, but it was very flat and not a lot of change. It was about the same view as you could see from the parking lot. After the first mile, it got more interesting! There were several types of cacti and plants. We saw small lizards, a couple of bunnies, antelope ground squirrels, and a few birds. Some of the plants we saw were: cholla cactus, ephedra, Joshua trees, prickly pear cacti, yucca, hedgehog cactus, and barrel cactus. Lots and lots of cacti, but they were really neat to see!
We found several spots of shade to take water breaks along the trail, which really helped. There were also not a lot of people on the trail. We came across a handful of other hikers. We did get passed up by a group on horseback though! According to the All Trails app, the trailhead parking lot is also called the horse parking lot.
We did ok with hiking until the end where we somehow got off our trail and ended up going away from the truck. Luckily, we were only a 1/2 mile off track, so we headed back and got on the right trail. I ended up following the horseshoe prints back to the truck. However, everyone was beat at this point. Ben ended up getting some cactus needles in his finger. Nick got some on his leg. Luckily they were easily removed.
We were pretty darn tired when we got back to the truck. We all got more water out of the cooler. The last mile or so we had run out of water and were very thirsty when we were done. No one felt like making dinner, so we picked up Raising Cane on the way home.
The boys were able to connect with their friends back home as well, which is always nice.
We were still a little sore from the Narrows hike. We decided to take another day off from hiking. There is still at least one more hike I want to do in Zion before we leave.
We cleaned the inside of the RV today, caught up on correspondences, and basically stayed within the campground. In the afternoon, we learned that family just happened to be coming into town that day to visit Zion!
We met Anne and Tim for dinner at River Rock Roastery for drinks and dinner. It was so nice to see friendly faces we knew! We managed to get a seat outside and while it was a little warm in the sun, the company was great and the food was pretty good too. 😉 Thank you guys for dinner and such a great evening!!
We are not as young as we once were. We were both stiff and sore this morning after the hike yesterday. (Really, it was just Ben and I. The boys were ready to go again.) We kept it pretty simple today to allow our muscles to recover.
We went out to breakfast at Hash House A Go Go in St. George. The chicken and waffles and the bacon mac & cheese were the best of our dishes we tried. Our other dishes were the roasted chicken hash and biscuits and gravy. I got a crazy (and good) caramel mocha coffee.
After breakfast we did some grocery shopping at Target and Costco. Will was also looking to trade in a book at a Little Library. Hurricane, where the campground is, didn’t have any registered on the website. We found two in St. George and decided to check them out as well. The boys didn’t have much luck at those two, but we found another one while driving around. Will did find a book at that one, so he was happy.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, doing laundry, and the boys got to play pool for a little bit in the campground clubhouse.
Our passes weren’t until 11:00, so we packed up some snacks and lots of water. Everyone dressed in wicking clothes so we would dry off faster. We headed towards Zion a little early because I was worried about parking. The Visitor Lot fills up really quickly and although you can park in the town of Springdale and take their shuttle to Zion, I really wanted to park inside the park. I figured that after hiking we would be tired and would want to be able to leave as soon as possible.
We picked up our hiking gear (Zion Guru) and went into the park. I would say we got there around 9:45/10:00 am and the lot was half to 3/4 full. We had already put on our socks and boots at the store. Zion’s Visitor Center was closed (COVID), but they had lots of informational signs outside. We read those for a while and then attended a Ranger Program at 10:30. It was about mountain lions and was pretty interesting. Did you know they can leap 45 feet?!
A little before 11:00 we boarded the shuttle and headed in. We were going to do the Narrows hike that does not require a permit (Bottom-Up), the one that starts at the end of Riverside Trail (stop 9 on the shuttle). It is listed as a moderate to strenuous trail; how hard the hike is depends on water depth and flow.
It was surprisingly busy. The river was pretty shallow at the entrance point here, although it is still cold. You could probably walk here with just sandals on. The farther in you go, there are sections that got up to upper thigh on me. (Later in the hike, we heard other people talking that it was chest high farther down. The man was at least 6 foot tall, so I’m glad we didn’t get that far!)
Some spots in the river were clear and you could see the rocks and judge your path. Some spots were murky, I’m not sure if it was the crowd that stirred it up or the algae, but you couldn’t see the bottom. We were so glad to have the hiking poles to test the depth in front of us.
We saw plants growing from the walls, lots of different sizes and colors of rocks, Mystery Falls (a waterfall), Wall Street (narrowest part), and the Floating Rock (boulder in the middle of the river). We made it a little past the floating rock and decided to turn around. The Narrows is an in-and-out hike, and we were already tired. Everyone, except Will, had fallen at least once.
On our way back, Nick fell several more times in a row. We stopped and made sure he ate some peanut butter crackers and drank more water. After resting a few minutes, we started back again.
Ben jarred his back when he stepped in a hole. I tripped on a rock I couldn’t see and fell face first into the water. I will say I am glad we had on the water shoes that went above the ankle. I am sure I would have twisted something if I was in gym shoes. Will was still the winner at the end of the trail and had not fallen once!
We were exhausted when we were done. The shuttle line was long, and I would say we waited 45-60 minutes. We did see some deer and wild turkey while we waited. (YouTube video of walking the line for the shuttles.)
We returned our gear and headed home to take showers.
It was a once in a lifetime experience and really neat! If you were to hike the Narrows, I would definitely recommend renting equipment. The neoprene socks helped with the cold water and not having wet cotton socks rubbing on our feet was definitely a plus. The water shoes/boots were surprisingly helpful. Even the broom handle-ish walking stick seemed better suited than our normal walking sticks.
Today we ventured into the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was about a 3 hour drive each way. The one thing this trip has taught us is not to be afraid of driving each day. We very rarely made trips longer than 1.5 hours at home. We saw a few animals in the campground this morning, which is always fun!
The park offers some hiking, a campground, the dunes, and a creek. The creek is usually dry in August, from what we were told. You can sled down the sand dunes, but the park claims you need a specialized board. Apparently snow sled and cardboard will not work well. There are a few stores to rent these boards from in the towns of Alamosa (which was not on our drive in), Hooper, and Blanca. We drove through Blanca and didn’t see any signs for board rentals. It was the 2nd closest rental to the park entrance, so we were hoping we wouldn’t miss the last store. The other rental is at a store right outside the park entrance. The store is called Oasis and it is open seasonally. They offer sand boards (stand up kind like snow boards) and sand sleds. Rental is $20/day/board and you need to return it by 6:00pm. They also provide you with a thing of wax for the bottom of your board.
There was quite a line to rent the boards. The store’s interior was closed, so everything was rented/ordered from the outdoor windows. The line moved slowly, but surely. It took awhile because there was a rental form to fill out, the deposit to sign, rental fee, and then the instructions. In the store’s parking lot, they had three portalets and a 2 pump gas station (no diesel). The store also offered ice, ice cream (cones and sandwiches), some hot food items, and convenience items (postcards, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.). There were not any picnic benches around though. (TIP: Stop and use the portalets here. The Visitor Center is closed due to COVID and there could be a long wait at the park.)
The sky, both on the drive in and at the park, was a little hazy due to smoke from wildfires. The parking lot closest to the dunes was packed! Luckily, right when we got to the end of our first lap, we found a spot. I was driving home, so I changed into my sandals since I didn’t want sand stuck in my shoe for the whole drive home (big mistake). Everyone else stayed in gym shoes and left their Crocs for later. There is about 1/4-1/2 mile walk through sand to get to the dune area. It would have been great if there was a boardwalk there. Although this might not work well since the Ute Native Americans called this area “sowapopheuveha”* or, the land that moves back and forth. With the sand blowing around it might just cover the boardwalk.
The book stated the tallest sand dune was “750 feet and 3.8 miles (one way) difficult trudge to the top.”* So, we weren’t doing that! We stayed towards the front of the dunes, the smaller ones. It is quite the work-out to climb up the dunes to slide back down. Ben and the boys tried the sand board, but I stuck to the sand sled. The boys did pretty well for their first experience on a stand up board. Everyone had a few tumbles in the sand, but had fun sledding down the dunes!
I had secured my keys and ID in a zipper pocket, but thought on my last run I could video the trip down the dune. Dumb idea. I took the biggest tumble so far and my phone got buried in the sand. Luckily I found it pretty quickly. I would recommend using some sort of cord or something that is attached to both your phone and you, if you want to have it out.
Eventually we were tired and hungry, and began our journey back to the truck. At the parking lot we rinsed off at the outdoor showers. There were two shower poles, each had nozzles at 3 different heights. We ate our picnic lunch in the truck. We were facing the dunes, so we had a nice view. There is a picnic area down the street, but not at the dunes parking lot we were in. We could also people watch. Ben stated everyone coming in looked excited and happy (think Disney world), but coming out everyone looked exhausted and were dragging. We were definitely tired, but it was a good experience.
The park cautions that the sand can get up to 150 degrees F. I don’t think it was quite that warm when we were there, but it definitely got very hot. My sandals were not the right choice, as the sand kept sliding in or covering my feet as we walked. In the beginning, the temperatures were fine. However, on the walk back, I had to take multiple breaks to keep my feet out of the sand and stood on a board. By the time we got back, the sides of my feet and under my big toes were red and I had a couple of blisters. I’m not sure if the blisters were simply from sand rubbing between my feet and sandals, or from minor burns from the hot sand. Even after the cool water from the outdoor shower and sitting in the truck without shoes on, my feet were still red. I ended up putting aloe on them before bed, but they were still sensitive the next day (and a little the day after that too). I may have lightly burned them. If you go in the summer, I would recommend wearing closed toe shoes (we saw someone wearing boots) so your gym shoes are not saturated with sand. If you really want to wear sandals, I would maybe wear socks with them (and socks with Crocs is honestly one of my biggest no-no’s…but guys, the sand burns!).
After lunch, we drove around. The park isn’t very large in terms of a road driving through it. There was a primitive road and a campground. We headed back out and stopped at Oasis to return our boards. We also bought some ice cream and postcards. We haven’t been able to find any other Great Sand Dunes postcards, so I wish I would have bought a few more.
We woke up a little early so we could drive up to Pikes Peak. I still felt dehydrated from yesterday.
Ben and Nick packed a lunch for us and we were off.
There was construction at the peak, so you can drive to mile marker 13 or 16, park and then take a shuttle up to the top.
I drove on the way up. There are some amazing views! It’s beautiful. (Ben drove on the way down so I could take pictures! 🙂 ). There is a video of the drive up on the You Tube Channel. Right now I can only post 15 minute videos, so I tried to grab the best parts of the drives up and down the mountain. (I had 2 hours of footage!) There are a few things to see besides the mountains in the video, so I have a Video Scavenger Hunt if you want to try it: Bigfoot/Sasquatch Crossing, Scariest Portalet, Tutus, Marmot Sunning, Overheated Car, Injured Biker, Race Cars, Santa.
On the way up, we saw several groups of bicyclers and also a lot of trucks with trailers. Apparently on 8/30, there is a race to the top of Pikes Peak (the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb) and the cars were doing test runs that morning. We saw all kinds of cars coming down the mountain! That must be one scary race. There were no guard rails on a lot of the edges!
We parked at mile marker 16. Parking was frustrating. The two attendants didn’t communicate very well. The one had me turn down a lane that was full. The other attendant told me to wait and then forgot about me for 10 minutes. When I finally started backing up, then he directed me to a new parking area.
We got in line for the shuttles. The upper restrooms were locked, but the lower ones were open. The line moved relatively quickly thanks to all the shuttle buses they had working.
We caught a shuttle up to the top and walked to the visitor center/gift shop. We wandered around looking at the items. Ben and Will headed out and Nick and I got in line for donuts, coffee, and hot chocolate. We all walked over to the rocky area near the end of Devil’s Playground trail (aka Crags Trail). We walked/climbed towards the middle to enjoy our treats. When we were done eating, we moved closer to the edge. The views were incredible. We saw a plane flying by and we were higher than the plane!
The normal viewing platforms were closed, as was the train. I would definitely recommend walking towards Devil’s Playground trail area for better views. It was hazy (later heard it was due to wild fire smoke from our bus driver down), and you couldn’t see much of anything besides construction equipment at the viewing area in the back of the gift shop area. It is a bit of a climb and harder to get to, but the views are definitely worth it near the rocky area.
We saw a few marmots on our drive up and back. They were sunning on the rocks. There were a few birds around as well. Unfortunately, we did not see any of the Big Horn Sheep. Our driver down said she normally sees them on her trips, but hadn’t yet today. She thought maybe the test driving scared them away this morning. She did have a tip though for spotting them, as they blend in with the rocks. Look for white moving objects. It will be their tail end, but she said it’s the easiest way to spot them. Also on the way back down, she pointed out Cheyenne Mountain and NORAD.
After getting back into our truck, we headed back down. (You need to use lower gear to drive down and Ben took advantage of the truck’s awesome exhaust brake.) We had a couple of stops on the way to the bottom. They stop you at mile 13 to do a brake temperature check. If your brakes are too warm, they make you park and let them cool off for 30-45 minutes. Our first stop was the Halfway Picnic area. We found a table in the shade with some nice views. We saw a ground squirrel sunning on a rock nearby.
It’s been a few days, maybe even a week, since an injury! Our streak came to an end when Nick decided to take a “short-cut” over a drainage ditch and didn’t quite make it. Now, it wasn’t a large dip, just very rocky. He scrapped his leg up pretty good. I didn’t have any of the really large band-aids, so used gauze instead.
After lunch and a little first aid, we continued our descent and stopped at the Crystal Reservoir. There was a wood statue of Bigfoot, a gift shop, and nice views of the reservoir.
Toward the bottom of the mountain is the North Pole. It’s a Christmas themed amusement park. Admission is free, although it does cost money to ride the rides. There were only 3 or 4 rides running when we were there (not sure if due to social distancing restrictions or not) and the wrist band costs $10. We didn’t ride any rides, but did enjoy walking around and shopping. It was a cute area with several neat little shops. We picked up a couple of things for Christmas. It’s a cute place, especially with free admission, so don’t pass it up on your way down from Pike’s Peak!
Once home, Ben made us breakfast for dinner with the new double sided cast iron griddle we bought at Cabela’s. It was the first time we had used it, but it worked amazingly with the bacon. It is the Chef Camp Reversible Cast Iron Griddle*. We found the 14″ at Cabela’s and Amazon has the 16″.
We decided to drive back to Garden of the Gods. Not for hiking, nope not ready for that again. I am still thirsty from yesterday. This time we just drove through and enjoyed the sunset. The landscape and the colors changed in the setting sun. The sunset behind the rocks was amazing. The sunset also brought out several mule deer in the park.
The boys began the morning with riding their bikes. It’s been nice and cool in the mornings, low 50’s! We even turned the fireplace on. When we bought the RV, we thought we would never use it.
Will is not used to riding on gravel yet, or switching from grass to gravel, or something, because he took a rather large fall. He scrapped off a bunch of skin from his elbow, some from his hands. It’s rather large and took awhile to stop bleeding. Second day of new bikes. Seriously?! He is healing rather well, although the largest scrape is going to take awhile.
I applied window tint to the passenger window in the truck. The goal was to do both the driver and passenger because the sun can be intense when you are driving all day. After 4 attempts and out of tint film, I only got the passenger side done. It was extremely frustrating. The wind kept blowing, the film ripped twice while I was trying to smooth it out, and I couldn’t get rid of all the air bubbles. I’m done. Not doing the other window. It took hours, and it doesn’t even look good. It will keep Ben from burning in that seat, but that’s about all the positive I can say for it. It took the whole morning.
So, after Ben was done with work, we were all ready to do something fun. Now, if you know Ben, you know he has horrible taste in movies and loves any kind of Western. (Just kidding, kind of. He really will watch almost any Western.) We decided to go see Deadwood. It was about an hour from our campsite.
I think we all had high expectations for poor Deadwood. It did not really live up to them. It was very touristy, not very kid friendly, and definitely relied on the famous names of the time to label everything. Main Street was cobblestone and there were a few historic buildings: the Franklin Hotel (great upper balcony), Salon No. 10 where Wild Bill Hickok was shot, and a few others seemed like they were older/original buildings. Most of the attractions seemed to be mini casinos and bars. There is a free gun show on Main Street daily (not Sunday) that was fun to see. The boys got a kick out of it. There is another show of the capture of Jack McCall, but you need to buy tickets for that one.
A lot of places seemed to close at 5:00pm. We missed seeing the Adams Museum, which included Potato Creek Johnny’s gold nugget that we had heard about at Buffalo Ridge 1880 Cowboy Town. There are trolley and horse drawn wagon rides as well.
One of my favorite finds in Deadwood was the Pump House. It is an old gas station that has been converted into a coffee house and glass blowing studio. The pieces on display were amazing. We arrived five minutes before closing (also 5:00pm), but they made us coffee anyway. She was extremely nice. We sat on the patio and enjoyed our drinks. I would definitely check this place out! The coffee and scone were tasty and the building is unique and adorable. I loved it and wished we could have spent more time there. It looks like you would be able to watch the glass blowing, which would be interesting to see.
There is a ton of history there, which I hope they incorporate more. Ben I think was very disappointed. He loves watching crappy Westerns and had high hopes for Deadwood. I would love for it be more historical and less cheesy/easy road. I love Gatlinburg for a lot of reasons, but Deadwood reminded me of a small Gatlinburg main street: a lot of bling, but not a lot of substance.