Posted in: Hiking, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: No Bats, but Still Amazing

We visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park and it was amazing. It was both breathtaking, awe inspiring, and scary.

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.)

Top right picture: small fallen stalactites.

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.

VIDEO: Walking Through Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Note: The video is a little dark, as it was in a cave, but there are some neat scenes!

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.

Posted in: School, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Walking Through Tombstone (Tombstone Part 1)

Our first big adventure in Tucson was going to see Tombstone. We drove out to the town, which was about an about an hour drive from the RV park. There was a lot of on-street parking and a few public parking lots scattered around the edges of the town. From what I saw, it looked like mostly free parking, which is always nice.

We all loved Tombstone. I enjoyed it a lot more than Deadwood. There were more historical buildings, historical markers and signs. It seemed a lot more family friendly, as there was so much to do and see (and not a casino in sight!). The Chamber of Commerce and Tombstone Visitor Center had free maps of the town.

There were a few shows and tours around town. We crammed a lot into one day, so we’re going to do a short series of Tombstone posts!

The main street of Tombstone is Allen Street. The historical main street was closed off at either end so cars could not drive down the street (although in a few spots they could cross over the main street).

There were a lot of neat shops in the area and we picked up a few things for Christmas, as well as some postcards.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. The bar and restaurant are on the main floor. In the middle of the floor, there was a really cool spiral staircase going to the basement. There was a small shop down there with souvenir type things. The food prices were a little high on some things, but not too bad considering it is a tourist stop. A lemonade (came in a Solo cup, but had a refill) was $2.50, a large beer was $8 (offered a large or the “sippy cup” size), sampler appetizer platter was $15.99.

There was so much history to learn about, it was fun for all of us. I loved that the kids were having so much fun, that they were actually reading signs and learning. (To be fair, Will always wants to read the signs.) I would definitely recommend checking out Tombstone if you are in the area. (I will say that when we were there, most things closed at 5:00pm. We could have spent a lot more time there.)

YouTube VIDEO: Walking Down The Streets Of Tombstone

Big Nose Kate’s Saloon

Posted in: Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

The USS Midway: Top Notch Naval Museum

The USS Midway is a decommissioned (retired) aircraft carrier docked in the San Diego Bay. It now serves as a top notch naval museum that is open for tours. It cost us $82 for the four of us and was well worth the money. (Ticket costs are: $26/adults 18-61, $22/seniors, $18/students 13-17, $12/youth 6-12, $10/veteran.)

As with most things these days, there are COVID restrictions: your ticket is a timed start to control total visitors on board at once, masks are required, 6 feet social distancing is encouraged and it seemed like many parts of the vessel have been removed from the tour.

The boys loved the Midway. (All of my boys.) We got to see:

Several bunkrooms – these were so cramped it is amazing they didn’t go stir crazy.

The Captain’s lower quarters – really nice, but according to a Yellow Hat (tour volunteer) the Captain only used this area while the ship was in port. The Captain slept up top by the bridge when underway.

The radio facilities control room – amazing to see how they transmitted classified information over the decades of the aircraft carriers service.

NOTE: Some of the ship was closed or roped off. I’m not sure if that was due to renovations or to COVID. (For example, the website lists the chapel and sick bay below deck, and the bridge and quarters above deck, but these weren’t open.)

There was a free audio tour available. You held the device up to the headphone symbols and a recording started. You listened by holding it up to your ear. You could also connect to the tour on your phone.

NOTE: Ben was excited to get to the tour and was worried about parking so we got to the tour at least an hour before our start time. We listened to most of these audio tracks in the truck. He was grateful we did because we did not bring headphones and it was hard to hear some of these recordings while on the deck.

The flight deck of the carrier had so many planes and helicopters displayed. Most of the aircrafts had folding wings. These were really neat to see, and of course growing up watching Top Gun, Ben and I liked seeing the F14s. The Midway Museum also had all the helicopters that have ever taken off from an United States aircraft carrier. Amazing to see the older ones.

I think the whole experience was really well done. We spent over 3 hours at the museum and Ben wished we had longer. We ended up closing the museum down. With the audio tour, lots of informational signs, and eager Yellow Hats ready to help, it was a great time. The kids enjoyed learning which is a solid accomplishment for any museum. I would definitely recommend it if you are in San Diego.

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Injuries, School, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave

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.

Once we entered the cave area, we saw a large sea lion resting on a rock in the cave. He had a fishing hook in his mouth. The store employees said he frequently comes in to the cave. Video: Walking Down the Tunnel to Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave

If you are in the area, I think it is definitely worth the trip to see it!

Other links about the cave/tunnel: Atlas Obscura, La Jolla.com

Posted in: Animal Sightings, School, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

La Jolla Cove: Hammocking, Sea Lions, and a Tunnel

After our swimming in the ocean and exploring the boardwalk, we still had one last mission for the day: find a hammock spot. Ben had been wanting to hammock for awhile now. The last few campgrounds did not have areas close by to hammock at, and what says relaxation more than a hammock near the beach? I found a few hammock location recommendation online: Mission Beach-we had already been there and the park itself seemed crowded, Sunset Cliffs-gorgeous but we didn’t see any trees that would work, Torrey Pines Reserve-looked neat, but would probably be better if we spent more than just hammock time there.

We finally arrived at La Jolla Cove. This was a little further north than the Children’s Pool. We lucked out and found a parking spot nearby. I’ve got to say parking in San Diego is not meant for trucks. We saw several sea lions sun bathing on the rocks as we pulled in, as well as several groups of kayakers in the water.

Ben went to scope out the trees for hammock hanging, while we hunted down the bathrooms. The center there was under construction, so they had a line of port-a-lets near the street. Once Ben was in his hammock, the boys and I walked around and explored. We saw several spots where the sea lions were resting and sleeping in sleep piles. We even got to see a few baby seals! (People still amaze me, and not in a good way. There were people going right up to the babies. There were signs at the various beaches we’ve been to saying if you scare the mothers they may abandon their pups.) We heard a few of the sea lions vocalizing to each other in the water. (VIDEO: Sea Lions)

I went into the tunnel; neither one of the boys wanted to take their gym shoes off and come in with me! There were a couple of small fish among the rocks. It was pretty neat!

We headed back to the tree area. The boys grabbed their books and climbed up in a tree to read. I was one happy momma.

Posted in: Animal Sightings, School, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Children’s Pool

One of the iconic pictures of San Diego that I see a lot is of Children’s Pool, near La Jolla. I love seeing animals and really wanted to see this beach as seals and sea lions are frequently seen here.

Although the wall was originally built to keep the beach calm for children to swim in, seals and sea lions have started congregating there too. People are still swimming there, although we did not after reading some warnings about water quality (due to the seals). (Link to sandeigo.com for more beach info.) Parking was tight and in high demand when you got closer to the beach. We lucked out and found a spot pretty close.

The water looked clear when we were there. We could see several birds and seals on the beach and surrounding rocky areas. We walked out on the retaining wall to get some better views. The wall itself is neat to stand on and look around at the different views of the beach and the ocean. You can feel the rough surface of it where the ocean has worn it down. The wall gives you several good viewing points of the rocks where the seals were laying. Nick stood at the end and ended up getting wet from an incoming wave. (Video: Walking Children’s Pool Wall)

The seals were laying in the sun taking a nap, occasionally rolling over or adjusting position. I was surprised by the variety of patterns of their skin, I guess I had always just thought they were a solid color from pictures I had seen. They were fun to watch, although they didn’t move much while we were there.

Posted in: Hotel, School, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Cabana and Pool Time, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

The boys and I still woke up early so that they could attend their “live” classes. We snacked on the donuts that we picked up yesterday from pinkbox. Everyone’s favorite was the DoughCro (a croissant/donut). Ben had taken a vacation day, so he finally got to sleep in.

Pretty good donuts. The pink one is funny, but it really is just a lot of icing piped on top of a regular donut with a glaze/shell over the whole thing.

Today was pool day! We were all excited to go swimming. The pool opened at 9:00 am and was operating at 50% capacity due to COVID restrictions. Once capacity was reached, there was a waiting line to get in. If you leave the pool area and it is at capacity, you would need to wait in the line to get back in. However, if you book a cabana, then you can come and go all day long. Masks were also required in the pool area unless in the pool, eating/drinking, or going directly into/out of the pool. There were staff members at exits with disposable masks for people as well. I did see a few stop people who were just walking around or sitting on chairs and give them masks to wear.

We had reserved a cabana for the day on the Mandalay Bay Beach lazy river. Ben had always wanted to try a cabana and it definitely helped with social distancing. The boys also still had school so it gave them a place to do their school work in the morning. Although we had prepaid, you still had to check into the cabana by 11:00am or give them a call to let them know you were going to be later. We packed up, checked out of the hotel room, and headed down to the pool area a little before 9:00. We brought the boys’ computers and the hotspot so they could continue with their classes.

We chose a cabana on the end to help with even more social distancing. The cabana had a loveseat, a table and two chairs, TV, towels, 2 inner tubes, a mini fridge with included Pepsi/Diet Pepsi/water/bucket of ice, 2 lounge chairs under an umbrella, and a safe. Food and beverage service was available for an extra charge.

Tipping and charges were a little different than what I was expecting. There was the cabana charge and the cabana host tipping option (they were the ones in the blue shirts). We didn’t really interact with them much. One person showed us to our cabana and another replaced the waters in the fridge towards the end of the day. The people in red were the food and beverage servers and were a separate charge and tip. We saw our server multiple times during the day, as she checked in on us quite frequently. She was very friendly. We ordered a frozen drink (Miami Vice 22 oz, souvenir plastic cup, $28) and an order of chips and guacamole ($11, way over priced for the amount we actually got). The drink was very tasty! The guacamole was good, a little spicy, but the chips seemed a little stale.

The main pool area had a walk up food/drink service as well, but it looked like the same menu.

There were a few restrooms around the different areas, but not specifically changing rooms that I could see. There was an outdoor shower area to rinse off the sand from the beach. The entry walkway also had a beach shop, but it had very limited gear. I had not not been paying attention when I packed my swimsuit and accidentally grabbed two bottoms. I stopped in the beach shop to see if they had any bathing suit tops. It only had tiny bikini tops and small one-piece suits, no larger swim tops/shirts. (Seriously, I tried on a top and there was no way I could swim and stay in it. I ended up just using my swim skirt bottoms with my bra and top.) Video: Walking Around The Mandalay Bay Beach pool area.

The lazy river was also operating at 50% capacity. When we got there in the morning, there wasn’t a line to get in, but towards the afternoon it got crowded and you did have to wait in line. There were times it was just a sea of people floating past us, so we took a dip in the Wave Pool to avoid any crowds. NOTE: You can also bring your own inner tubes for the lazy river as long as they are round, no rafts. There is a fill up station near the lazy river entrance. Video: Traveling Along The Mandalay Bay Beach Lazy River.

The lazy river was a decent temperature. It was a little cool when you first got in, but I quickly adjusted so it wasn’t bad at all. The Wave Pool was freezing. It would have been really funny to watch everyone’s faces as they got in the water, but I’m pretty sure I had the same “Holy Cow, this is cold” look on my face.

NOTE: The walkways are very slippery if they are wet or even just walking with wet feet! Go slow. The Wave Pool also goes off every 90 seconds, I believe.

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Hiking, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

North Rim of the Grand Canyon

We made it to Arizona today! We drove to see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was about a 2.5 hour drive from our campground.

We hiked the Cape Royal/Angels Window Trails and the Bright Angel Point trail. These trails were pretty well paved. There were some nice overlooks along the way. We could even see the Colorado River on the Cape Royal/Angels Window Trails. The views were amazing, although the trails were a little crowded.

It was pretty and had more trees than I was expecting. We saw some lizards, a couple of hawks, maybe a turkey vulture, some wild turkeys, and even a snake in the parking lot.

We have definitely seen more snakes on our trip than we usually do at home. We did our research before we left and learned identifying marks of poisonous snakes (at least for the US/North America). Poisonous snakes will have cat eyes (elongated pupil). They will have thicker bodies and broader triangular heads. Rattlesnakes will have the rattle sound, but some other snakes apparently will also mimic this noise by moving their tails against the ground/leaves. Poisonous snakes also have a heat pit on their face/nose, but I don’t think you can see that one from far away! The exception to these rules is the coral snake who has round pupils, but you can tell it’s poisonous by it’s coloring (red and yellow a dangerous fellow, red and black poison lack). This website was really helpful when it came time to teach the kids what to look out for. Of course, we still try to maintain all the distance we can!

Posted in: Hiking, School, Sightseeing

School Problems and Hiking

The day started a little rough. The school had done an update to the software and students and teachers were having a hard time accessing their accounts. The boys couldn’t log on at first, then their “live” session links were missing, and once those showed up, their assignments disappeared. Some of their classes were cancelled because of the issues. Hopefully, it all gets resolved for tomorrow!

Once school and work were finished for the day, I wanted to go see some of the dinosaur bones and petroglyphs in the area. It was much cooler today, so it was perfect for hiking. The morning was in the 50’s and the high forecast for 82!

Our first stop was at Mill Canyon. It is right off of 191. The drive starts off going through private land and ends up on BLM land. Mill Canyon is a dirt/gravel road until you reach the Track Site. You might be able to use a car on this road to reach the dinosaur track site, but they do recommend 4-wheel drive. If you want to get to the dinosaur bone trail, you definitely need 4-wheel drive and probably a vehicle that sits higher up (SUV/truck/Jeep). It was the first time we had tried a more challenging terrain or used 4-wheel drive in the truck. We did alright and didn’t get stuck in the deep sand.

The bone trail is left open to the elements. There are informational signs at each stop, but it was really hard to see the bones in most of the locations. We had the information pamphlet and the plaques to help guide us, but other than look “four feet to the left” or look for purplish spots in the rock, there wasn’t anything to really guide you to find the bones. It would have been super helpful to have a simple diagram of the rock or something.

At the end of the bone trail, you can see the remains of a copper mill. It looks like the back wall and corners of a stone foundation.

(NOTE🙂 I have a lot of pictures from the trails. I only put the a couple above, but if you scroll to the end of this post I have a few more pictures as well.)

We went back to the truck and headed back toward the dinosaur track site. There is also a path for the Halfway Station, an old railway station. However, that sandy path looked even rougher than the one we had just gone on and we didn’t want to risk it.

At the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite, there is a gravel parking lot, a campsite, and a bathroom. There is a short trail down to the dino prints. The site is fenced off and once through the gate, you walk on a wooden boardwalk in a loop around the footprints. There are informational plaques around the trail/boardwalk. Some prints are easier to see than others, but you can definitely see some.

I think this is where we lost Ben.

I think my expectations were a little too high. Will and I still enjoyed it, but I think Ben and Nick were not very impressed. Ben especially started loosing interest when the dinosaur track plaque stated they didn’t know what kind of dinosaur made the track and then showed what they thought it would look like. There are a few other dinosaur sites near Moab, but it seems that they all require off-roading or 4-wheel drive.

After Mill Canyon, we went to Poison Spider Trail. Poison Spider has two slabs with dinosaur tracks and some petroglyphs. The trail information I read beforehand claimed you could see them from the parking lot. I guess technically you can, but you would need to know exactly where they are and probably need binoculars to really see the tracks and petroglyphs. We took the trail and saw one slab with tracks. These tracks were a little easier to see. We didn’t see the petroglyphs until we were almost back to the parking lot. I turned around for one last look and just happened to see them.

There was a saving feature to our adventure today, one that everyone loved: Utah Highway 279. We passed this turn-off (toward Potash) every time we drive back towards Moab. This time we took the road to get to the Poison Spider Trail. We saw people rock climbing along this stretch of highway and there was the Colorado River near the road as well. The main attraction (for us) were the petroglyphs along the cliff walls. Some were faded, but most of them were easily visible. There is a small sign stating “Petroglyphs” by a small pull-out, so look for it as you drive by. There were so many of them, it was amazing. Ben claimed everything was worth it just to see them.

The top row is the pictures as I took them. The sun was shining off the cliff faces, so some of them were hard to see in the pictures. Others were faded by time. The bottom row, I added a filter and darkened it to make them easier to see.

(Side Note: At the corner of 191 and the turn-off to 279, there is an UMTRA Energy Project. The area is fenced off with an electric fence and there were radioactive symbols around. I looked it up later and they are removing uranium tailings. I guess there used to be a uranium processing plant there.)

Non-dinosaur information at Mill Canyon Bone Trail
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Hiking, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Arches National Park, Stop 1

Our first adventures in Moab were in Arches National Park. We missed the beginning of the sun rise because we were all lagging and dragging, but at least caught the tail end.

We brought lots of water and sunscreen with us in our day bags and in the truck. We wore our boots since Utah has several varieties of rattlesnakes.

The colors are amazing! When I think of dessert, I picture brown. However, there are reds, browns, whites, and greens here. The minerals in the earth make a lovely canvas across the land.

Our first hike in the park was to Delicate Arch. This is the arch you see on the license plates. It was listed as a moderate hike, about 3.5 miles (there and back). There is a trail in the beginning, and then you hike up a large slab of slickrock and follow a few signs and other people around a ledge to finally see the arch.

The views are amazing once you get there. It was a little crowded, and so far the people in the parks in Utah are not as good at wearing masks in outdoor crowds as in Montana or even Colorado.

You are not allowed to climb on the arches (you would think this is obvious, but we have seen people climb them despite the signs), but there are other rocky areas to climb. The boys love stretching their legs and testing their climbing skills. Of course, the “look where you put your hands and feet” is cautioned before they attempt anything. Within minutes, they came running back yelling about a snake. Will almost ran into a snake…again. Luckily Nick saw it and they ran away.

Ben and I walked over to see what they saw, and it was a small snake curled up on the rocks. It looked like it could have fit (while curled up) in the palm of your hand. I had my zoom lens with me, so I zoomed in for a picture and Will asked a Ranger later. She seemed very surprised and said it looked like one of their smaller rattlesnakes that live in the park. We think it may have been a midget faded rattler. Luckily they are usually nocturnal and he didn’t wake up from the boys climbing right near him. So…the boys were done climbing. We also saw a small lizard and a blister beetle.

After that excitement, we walked back along the trail to stop at Wolfe Ranch. It is a small pioneering type of cabin from the late 1800’s. Mr. Wolfe was originally from Ohio! There were also petroglyphs in the area that we walked to see.

As part of the boys’ online school, we are allowed supplemental hours. We wanted to incorporate learning into a lot our daily fun/activities. When we got home, they researched what kind of snake we saw, blister beetles, and petroglyphs vs pictographs. We learned that if you see lizards out, the snakes are probably going to be active as well. Some adult snakes can control how much venom they inject during a bite. Petroglyphs are etchings/carvings in rocks, while pictographs are paintings.

After the boys were done with their research, they went with Ben to the pool while I worked on the laundry.

In the evening, we went into town and explored. Moab is a cute town! Lots of things to see. They have a Food Truck Park, which is super cool. Unfortunately, there have only been a few of the trucks open each time we have gone. We got a shaved ice to share and then went to The Spoke for dinner. It is a cute building with interior brick walls and it looks like original wood floors. We were on the second floor by a window, which is always nice. They have really good burgers and Brussels Sprouts.

It was a pretty good day, although I think we were all ready for bed by the end.