I dragged Ben to see more dinosaur bones. He was thrilled. Well, not exactly since he isn’t into dinosaurs, but at least this time we could see actual bones easily.
While looking up things to see in Waco, I saw the Waco Mammoth National Monument listed. It is a relatively new part of the National Park Service, having been inducted in 2015. It was less than 10 minutes from downtown Waco, so after exploring Magnolia, we drove over. On our way to the park, we passed the suspension bridge, which we also wanted to walk across, but was currently closed.
We have the National Park pass, but you still have to pay admission to see the bones. The flyer at the desk says it is for access to the bones with a guided tour. However, there was not a guided tour, just someone monitoring the amount of people in the building. We basically paid another $20 to the city of Waco to see the site. It is a really small park with only one real walking trail and a short loop off of the main trail through the woods. Since there had been rain this week, parts of the trail were covered in water, so we didn’t get to go on the whole trail.
It was interesting, but I would not go back again, especially since we would have to pay again.
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.
On Christmas Eve day, we decided to explore the San Antonio Missions. We had already explored the Alamo. There are four in the area, at least two of which still had active parishes that we could see.
Although you could, in theory, walk between the missions, it would be a long boring walk. We drove between them as each one had a parking lot.
The buildings themselves were really neat to see. Each Mission was a little different and had their own interesting features. However, our favorite was the San Jose Mission with it’s large grounds.
We started at Mission Concepción. The grounds were open, but the buildings were closed.
Mission San Josè: There was a little library at the Visitor Center. This Mission seemed like it was the largest walled grounds of the ones we saw. Outside of the main walls was a mill. We were able to go inside the church and chapel area. We saw what looked like frescoes on one of the walls and an awesome spiral staircase that looked like it was made of wood!
Right now the timed entrance tickets are not being used. According to their website, there are some days near the holidays that the park will be using the timed tickets again, so check their website if you are going near Thanksgiving and Christmas. The website also stated that there was currently a limit to 1,000 people/day.
The Park opened at 8:00am, Cavern opened at 8:30am. We got there about 7:45am, and there was already a line to get into the Visitors Center. Because of the daily entrance limit, I would try to get there as early as you can. We were in the cave about 4.5 hours.
The Visitor Center had bathrooms, 2 gift shops, a ticket booth, and an informational booth (park map, junior ranger books). There were not any ranger tours (Covid), but you can rent an audio tour ($5). I would really recommend the audio tour, it had some great information and also could be useful for kids who don’t like to (or can’t) read the signs. The Visitor Center has some interesting information at the exhibits, as well as a model of the cave.
The Cave had both elevators and a Natural Entrance. If you can, take the Natural Entrance down into the cave. It was quite the view and experience to walk these switchbacks down into the cave.
There were no bats while we were there, as it was too late in the season, but it must be amazing to see them exit at night.
It is a little scary when think about how far down you are. Nick was listening to audio tour and pointed out a section with tiny stalactites laying on the ground. They had fallen in an earthquake. Of course, then I looked to the ceiling and prayed for no shaking or earthquakes because that would really, really hurt. (There were also emergency call buttons to reach the Rangers throughout the cave. It was paved and had guardrails throughout.)
When you finish walking the cavern, it brings you to the elevators and lunch area. They sold drinks and cold items there. We took the elevators back up (it looked like maybe it was one way). The elevator rose 754 feet to get back to the Visitors Center!
Recommendations: Bring a water bottle. (No food or gum is allowed, but plain water is.) Wear boots, or at least shoes with a really good tread (some spots are slick, some are a little steep). Bring a small flashlight: you can see some cool things, and well…what if they loose power? It is completely dark when there are no lights.
Jim White was the first known person to explore the cave (from 1898 to 1902). He saw what he thought was smoke and went to investigate what/where it was. The smoke turned out to be bats exiting the cave. How bored do you have to be to repel (because the Natural Entrance Switchbacks were not there), with a lantern into an unknown hole in the ground?! Seriously, it had to have been nerve wracking. He unfortunately, according to the Ranger Will talked to, never filed a claim on the cave/land. Miners came in to mine the guano and sold it to farmers, specifically to citrus groves. Eventually, the government came in and declared it a National Monument and then a National Park.
There were a few reasons we stayed in Arizona. One: To help break up the long, long, long, drive across the bottom of the country. (Seriously, you see it on a map, but until we were driving and there was literally nothing for a hundred+ miles, it doesn’t quite sink in just how much land this country has.) Two: To see the cacti. We went to Saguaro National Park, which was about a half hour drive from our campsite. Saguaro actually has two sections to the park: East and West. They are not connected! (See map below.) Although each side had the saguaro cactus that the park was named for, they did offer different things to see. We went to see Saguaro West, because I wanted to see the petroglyphs.
The Visitor Center looked like a nice building (but had closed by the time we got there). It had some nice informational signs with desert life information. There was not a ranger booth/ticket booth like in many of the other National Parks we had been to. Instead, you paid at the Visitor Center. There was also an outside payment box if the Visitor Center was closed. ($25/car for 7 days or $45 for a Saguaro annual pass. It is $80 for the America The Beautiful pass that lets you into all National Parks, Monuments, etc.)
We drove the Bajada Loop (aka Hohokam Rd.) It was really neat to see, but I would recommend going in a truck, SUV, or a car that sits up higher. The highway and road to the Visitor Center was paved. However, the scenic loop road was not! While, the end of the road was nice and flat, there were sections along the rest of the road that were definitely bumpy and had some ruts. (See Video: Drive Through Saguaro National Park West) We only saw a few people in the whole park, maybe 10 people besides us.
There were a few spots to pull off and hike. It was a warm day, 90 degrees F, so we just stuck with easy short trails. We ended up doing 3 trails: Valley View, Signal Hill (petroglyphs), and Desert Discovery Nature Trail (paved). In total, about 2 miles of hiking, so it was a light day.
Valley View offered a great view at the end of the trail over the valley below. There were just cacti as far as the eye could see. It also offered a few interesting plant information plaques along the way. It must be amazing when the cacti are in bloom.
We only saw 1 lizard (looked like a small whiptail like we have been seeing out West) and a few birds. We did see a web on the ground that covered a good amount of space, but no spider to go with it.
Signal Hill was a short trail at the Signal Hill Picnic Area. There were several great grill areas and benches around for picnics. At the top of the trail was what looked like a pile of rocks. There were a bunch of petroglyphs on these rocks, some you can see from the bottom of the trail looking up, some you can see right next to the trail. If you enjoy petroglyphs, I would definitely take this trail (it’s only a .3 mile trail according to the park).
We ended the day with the Desert Discovery Nature Trail. It was an easy paved path. There were several informational signs around the trail. The sun was beginning to set, which gave the cacti a really neat backdrop. We saw a roadrunner running through the bushes near the parking lot. (Contrary to what TV taught me, there was no coyote chasing it. We didn’t see any ACME products either. They were fast, but didn’t say “Beep Beep”.)
Today we visited the Cabrillo National Monument. We had missed seeing it before because there is a Naval base in front of it. I thought you weren’t allowed to go through the base, but apparently you do indeed drive through part of a Navy base to get there.
It was very foggy out when we left in the afternoon. Visibility was pretty low in some areas.
We went to the tide pools first. We did get there a little after low tide, so the water had started to come back in. It was still a really neat experience. We saw small crabs, barnacles, hermit crabs, sea grass, and a few anemones! The park did a great job with signs at the top of the entrance labeling different creatures you might see.
After finding several creatures, we headed back up to the Visitor’s Center. The inside of the center was closed the day we were there. The fog had momentarily cleared and we could see the bay area and the downtown area. The Goodyear blimp was out, as well as several boats on the water. It was relaxing just to sit on the wall and watch the bay.
After awhile, we saw a Navy ship coming back into the bay. It had quite the loud horn!
The fog started rolling back in. While it was cool to see it drift down the hill towards the water, it did make visibility in the bay a lot lower. We headed up the hill to the Point Loma Lighthouse and Assistant Keepers house. The Assistant Keepers house had the glass part of the beacon showcased. It was really neat to see. The Lighthouse itself was closed.
The Lighthouse was the original lighthouse for San Diego. However, it actually sat too high and wasn’t as effective because the fog would block visibility of the light. They closed the lighthouse and made a new one at a lower elevation.
The park closed at 5:00pm, which seemed really early. I’m not sure if that is a COVID restriction or it that is the time they normally close. It was a nice park. There are several things to see and the views are amazing.
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.
For our time in Hurricane, Utah, we stayed at WillowWind RV Park. They offer mostly back-in sites, some pull-throughs, as well as a few teepees to sleep in. They offer 20/30/50 amps, WIFI, cable (if you bring your own coaxial cable), laundry, and a clubhouse. Their rates were for 2 people and you have to pay for any others over two. When we booked, they were still cheaper, even with having to pay for the kids, than other campgrounds available in the area.
It is close to grocery stores, restaurants, and the post office. They do sell ice, although they did tell me at check-in that it was cheaper at the local grocery store. There were a few times that we walked to the grocery store, Wendy’s, and the post office since they were only a couple of blocks away. There are even more options for restaurants and shopping (Target, Costco, Walmart, etc.) in St. George, which is about 15-20 minutes away.
There are two laundry rooms: one by the office and one by the rear bath bathrooms/shower house. We used the laundry by the office. Both were close to us, but once the loads were started, we would go to the clubhouse and the boys could play pool. The laundry room had plenty of machines, a single use detergent vending machine, and a table for folding. The cost per load of laundry varied. They had regular sized washers for $2.00/load and the dryer $1/load. The laundry room by the office had a mega washer that could hold up to 5 loads. This washer was $4.25/load and the neighboring commercial sized dryer cost $0.25/8 minutes.
The campground was dog friendly (had a dog fenced in area by office, outdoor dog wash tub by rear bathhouse, a walking area in back). There was a small gym, a clubhouse (offered books, puzzles, a kitchen, and a pool table), community fire pits (located by the office and rear bathhouse), and a horseshoe pit in the back. Individual sites did not have picnic tables, firepits, or grills. I did see a few charcoal grills around (one by the teepees, a few by a lane of RVs). There also wasn’t a swimming pool, which in the 100+ degrees, would have been nice.
The sites were paved, had grass, and trees for shade. They did have sprinklers for the grass that went off every day. One of the sprinklers seemed to be awfully close to our electric box. Several long term residents had sprinkler guards (similar to these*) set up to protect their electric where it plugs in at the box. We used an empty plastic bin to keep the water off and it seemed to work. The campground seemed to be a mix of travelers and long term residents. Everything was well maintained. Our neighbor to the right had a large collection of outdoor plants on an amazing set of shelves. I was totally jealous of all her green. We only brought Nick’s Venus fly traps! I do miss having more plants, but we just don’t have the room for them.
There were several state parks and National Parks nearby. The three closest National Parks were Zion (25-35 minutes), Bryce (2.15 hrs), and the Grand Canyon (2.5 hrs to North Rim). Of course, our definition of close is changing the longer we are on this trip. Two hours would have been an entire day trip before, but now it’s like “well, that’s pretty close, let’s go for a few hours”!
Yesterday was a boring day at the RV. Lots of school work for the boys, work for Ben, and I worked on some outdoor maintenance on the RV.
With our time coming to an end at Zion, I still wanted to get to the Canyon Overlook Trail. After everyone’s work was done for the day, we headed off to Zion. This trail is off of the Zion-Mt. Caramel Highway, right after the tunnel, so you do not need a shuttle pass. Parking is tight. There is only a small lot (compact cars only) with a bathroom across from the trail. However, there are more parking options further up the road (a mix of parking lots and off road parking). We had to drive for a while, turn around, and then come back to find a spot. It was totally worth it though!
This trail begins with stone steps going up the side of the hill. As you walk up, you get a great view of the tunnel. Some of the spots are narrow, some are against the edge of the hillside. There are railings along some of the edges, so no worries about falling over (which if you know my klutziness and Nick, you can understand the worry). You cross a walkway/bridge and come to this great natural overhang. It provided a lot of shade and was a nice break from the sun. There were some plants growing along the back wall, which made for a really neat spot to take a break.
The trail has some really neat rock formations. There were also a few spots for the boys to climb, which is always a big hit. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife, only a lizard and a chipmunk. The chipmunks here are fast! Our chipmunks back home must be lazy, because they don’t move anywhere near as fast as these ones do.
At the end of the trail is the overlook. You can see the road leading up to the tunnel, Zion Canyon, Pine Creek Canyon, Bridge Mountain, West Temple, Alter of Sacrifice, Streaked Wall, and the Sentinel. They have a sign that points out the different views, which I really found helpful.
It was a great hike and I am glad we got it in!
On our way out of the park, we stopped at the Museum. The museum itself is closed (COVID), but you can park in the parking lot and take a trail or look at the views. There are a few informational signs around, one of which is about a natural bridge (arch) along the mountainside. I never would have noticed it without the sign, it blended in so well. We also saw a whiptail lizard along the fence line.
Every time we drive back to the campground from Zion, we pass a historical marker sign. We had never stopped before, but today I decided to see what it was. It was the coolest marker ever. The mesa on the other side of the road has a rocket sled test track! I didn’t even know such a thing existed.
I have new posts coming, I just ran a little behind!
However, I got an email this morning from the National Parks about free days coming up! Mark your calendars for 9/26 and 11/11! These are the last two days this year with entrance fees waived to the National Parks.
We have loved each of our adventures so far at the National Parks. We received our America The Beautiful annual pass as a gift before leaving on our adventure (Thanks, Mom!). Even if we had to purchase it ($80), it would have been totally been worth it. It pays for itself in about 2.5/3 visits. (For example, Yellowstone is $35 for a week pass/$70 for annual pass to just Yellowstone. Rocky Mountain is $25 for a day pass/$70 for annual pass to just Rocky Mountain. Rocky Mountain is requiring daily time reservations for entry, so they are not selling a week pass right now.)