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Adventures/Travel, Out West

Cross Country Journal: Heading Home

Our incredible adventure was technically over except for the long drive home looming before us.  We found ourselves in Albuquerque, NM but had to make it back to Raleigh, NC.

Three long days of driving.

Thankfully we had a few stops planned for our trip home to give us something to look forward to.

Our first one was in Oklahoma City, where we were going to crash for the night.  We took this opportunity to visit the Oklahoma City bombing memorial.

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The Memorial is done in such a way to honor those we lost and reflect the tragedy that occured.  The quiet reflecting pool is located on the site where a street formerly ran through the area.

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There is an wall on either side of the pool.

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Embedded on one wall is the time, 9:01, representing a time of peace before the tragedy struck.  (The bombing happened at 9:02)

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The wall on the opposite side shows a time of 9:03, representing the moment when the journey toward healing began.

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Empty chairs sit on the lawn, arranged in 9 rows, each representative of a floor in the building where a loved one was lost.

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Names are etched in the glass bottom of each chair.  At night, lights illuminate the chairs.

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The children’s garden displays tiles created by the children of the city.  They are displayed along the wall in the back while visiting children are invited to leave their sentiments on chalkboard tiles on the ground.

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Sidewalk chalk was available on site.

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Recorded on the wall outside of the memorial are these words:

“We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.  May all who leave here know the impact of violence.  May this Memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.

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I am so glad we took some time to visit this site before heading to bed.  It made a huge impact on my kids.  They will all remember this, even if it is a vague memory in their minds.

Note:  Visiting sites like this with kids can be tough.  They all respond differently.  My 11 year old daughter was in tears for quite some time.  That’s OK.  We let her express her pain and talk through it.  Tragedy is difficult and we all feel things to different degrees and express those emotions in different ways.  One child might cry through the pain while another might keep asking, “When are we leaving?” as they are uncomfortable with the pain (or bored because that is another response a child might experience)  

On the other hand, my 6 year old thought we were going to see an actual bombing.  He was disappointed that there wasn’t going to be a weapons display.  He kept asking us where the bomb was.  We attempted to help him understand what happened in Oklahoma City, but it is still a bit outside of his realm.

When we visit sites like this, we try to keep it short and informative.  I want my children to see how a city walks through a tragedy together and how they rise above on the other side, but I don’t want a child in tears to have to sit with that sort of pain for too long.  Don’t put expectations on your children’s reactions.  Just help them process what they feel and validate their feelings.

The next morning, we were off for a two night stay in Nashville so we IMG_8216could visit friends.  We have bunked with these friends in the past so the kids were eager for a return visit.

This friend is one of my BFF’s in 7th and 8th grade.  We kept in touch despite the distance from Maryland to Alabama while growing up.  It is such a joy to still be in touch.

Our kids have a great time together.  We spent a lot of time with her youngest child while her older two were in camp.

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But we took everyone for half price milkshakes at Sonic in the evening so the older kids could get in on the fun too!

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And additional bonus for me this trip was meeting a friend from the world of online social media.  Andi (who helps run the Nature Pal Exchange) and I met through Periscope and have continued to chat on Facebook and Instagram and other social media sites.  She took the time to drive and meet up for breakfast so we could finally chat face to face.

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The last day of driving was the hardest, despite the down home cooking IMG_8221stop at Cracker Barrel because yes ma’am I do love that place thank you very much.

 

But then Cracker Barrel was over and we only had our beds to look forward to, which was wonderful yet it also meant that our vacation was over.

And it is.

We are home safe and sound filled with wonderful memories about our time out west.

 

 

Adventures/Travel, Out West

Cross Country Journal Day 12: Mesa Verde

In second grade, my husband saw a picture of Mesa Verde in his history textbook.  The image and information intrigued him.  And that fascination never ended.  The images of the cliff dwellings stayed with him so that when he heard we were going out west, he immediately asked if we would be close to Mesa Verde.

Of course, we made it happen.

And he was able to see the textbook pictures come to life before his very eyes: Cliff Palace.

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You are not allowed into Cliff Palace (or Balcony House) unless you sign up for a Ranger-led tour.  We were eager to descend in to the Cliff Palace area, so we grabbed tickets to the earliest tour, which was noon.

There was a bit of a descent.

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And then there we were.

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There was ample opportunity to take in the scene.  It was tremendous and in amazing condition.

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Our group gathered on the far side of the houses.  We had a discussion about the people who lived here and their history.

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Our tour guide, Ranger David Knighteagle, is a Native American. He also makes traditional Native American flutes. He brought one of his handmade flutes on our tour of Cliff Palace to play a song for the spirits of his ancestors. It was a beautiful tradition and we were able to be a part of his spiritual moment as the flute echoed around the Cliff Palace.


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Of course, there was a climb out of the Cliff Palace area.

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In the end, it was an amazing day and a dream fulfilled for my husband. Once our picnic lunch was over, we headed back to Albuquerque to crash for the evening.

Adventures/Travel, Out West

Cross Country Journal Days 10 and 11: Arches National Park

It was time to leave Bryce Canyon. On a last minute whim we decided to take the scenic route and check out Capitol Reef National Park.

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We ventured out on a brief hike to take in a view of the park.  This park is a geologic monocline, which is a “wrinkle” on the surface of the earth.  This “wrinkle” extends 100 miles!

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It was pretty hot so we decided to have a picnic lunch.  Our picnic area was exactly what we needed.  There was lots of shade and open grass area.

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The scenery was stunning.

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It was a welcome respite from the heat of the afternoon.   We continued our drive through Capitol Reef with a short stop at the petroglyphs.

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After a quick viewing, we continued the drive to Arches National Park in the city of Moab. Our first stop was our hotel and we enjoyed a quick swim in our hotel pool for a view of our first “arch”.

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Then we thought we would head to the actual park that evening. The rangers were not at the gates anymore, but the park remains open to the public for 24 hours a day.

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On our way to Double Arch, we stopped at Balancing Rock and attempted to push it over.

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After a bit of fun there, we enjoyed the ENORMOUS Double Arch.  The hike was a short one and well worth the experience.

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It was nearing sunset and the views were impressive.

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At this arch, you were able to scramble and climb all over the actual arch.  The view from the “hole” pictured above was lovely.

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Eventually it was time for a good night’s sleep so we could return to the arches the next day.

We began our morning with a hike to Delicate Arch.  This is an intense climb, but only 1.5 miles long.  A large section of the hike was along this rock face.  Walking on a large rock made this an intriguing and different sort of hike.

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Near the end of the climb, the pathway was created around a large rock.

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Around the bend was the view we had been waiting for: Delicate Arch.  The very arch that is on the Utah license plate.   This was the place I had been waiting to see.  The view was grand!

 

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The kids joined me to experience the arch up close and above us.  I was terrified as the drop behind the arch is deadly.  The area under it is plenty spacious, but it is still a frightning prospect.

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The wind began to pick up in an awful way, so we hiked back down the rock face.

Our next stop was Landscape Arch, which is closed off to pedestrian traffic as it has shown many signs of collapsing in the “near” future.  It is the longest spanning arch.

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Sand Dune Arch was small and hidden, but a fun site to check out.

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And then the kids BEGGED to return to Double Arch, and we were happy to entertain their choice.

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They LOVED climbing around in this arch.  It felt like rock climbing all over again to them.

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Our family fell in love with this park the same way we fell in love with Zion National Park.  But we still had one more stop, so eventually we had to begin to make the drive to Colorado.

On our way out of the area, we saw an Arch on the side of the road (not in the National Park) named, “Wilson Arch”.

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It was a perfect ending to our time in the area.

 

Adventures/Travel, Out West

Cross Country Journal Days 7 and 8: Bryce Canyon

We would have been content to remain in Springdale, near Zion National Park, on the Virgin River FORVER.  No one wanted to leave.

Alas, we knew that our check out time was approaching, but we procrastinated.  I started my procrastination with breakfast by the river with one of my favorites.

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Then we swam while soaking in the gorgeous view.

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Then it was time for more playing in the river. 
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Before we knew it, it was time to check out.

Springdale had lots of great lunch options and we filled up on a delicious meal before heading out of the National Park area.

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“Good-bye Zion.  We love you!  And we WILL be back.”

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Our next destination was Bryce Canyon and we were eager to see the hoodoos.  We spent our evening taking in various view points on the scenic drive.

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Our next morning was spent hiking among the hoodoos.  This was a fantastic experience.

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Walking behind my boys, listening to their chatter while hiking, was a fantastic moment in parenting.  IMG_7657I was able to watch their relationship grow right before my eyes, without the typical distractions of home and life.

Hiking with your kids is an experience I highly recommend.  It doesn’t matter WHERE you go hiking, though these locations out west are incredible, but just GO hiking together.

Conversation comes easy as you hike. The time spent together deepens relationships and your knowledge of one another. It is a beautiful thing.

Of course, picking out hikes that are interesting, challenging, and include scenery that is very different from home is helpful too!

Our hike out of the hoodoos was particularly memorable.  It is called the “Lombard Street” of hiking.

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Crazy, fun stuff.

Then we headed a little ways out of Bryce Canyon City and grabbed lunch. Our diner choice got an A+ in my book simply based on the HUGE mason jars that they used to serve iced tea!

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We returned to the “Wall Street” section of our morning hike again that evening. The kids wanted to walk around and explore this crazy hike a bit more.

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After a good night’s sleep, we stopped briefly at a local playground.  The kids needed some time to run and play while I picked up a few groceries for a picnic lunch.

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Then we said goodbye to Bryce Canyon, wearing all of our Zion Canyon T-shirts…

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And we buckled down for the next big drive.

Adventures/Travel, Out West

Cross Country Journal Day Seven: Zion National Park

We rose early in the morning for our Rock Climbing Adventure.

Our family had booked a half day tour to experience some rock climbing outside of the gym. This idea was inspired by two trips to our local Triangle Rock Club Homeschool Days. My kids loved rock climbing so much that we decided to make it part of our Zion experience.

It was a fantastic adventure.

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We attempted three very different climbs.

The first was more vertical, but not too high. IMGP2365-001It presented a good starting challenge to get used to the experience of climbing without positive hand holds. It’s a very different type of climbing.

Most of us made it to the top of this first one.

Meanwhile, a line was set up around the corner for a flat rock climb that had no foot or hand holds. It was a game of learning to put weight on the balls of your feet and balancing.

IMG_7199-001Of course, if you scrambled to the left a bit, you had more of a horizontalscramble for some of the rock and it was easier.

All three of the gals made it up the hard way. Go ladies!

The final climb was our most challenging. It was about 60 feet high if you made it to the top.

IMG_7242-001The start required some acrobatics, using both walls.

Once you exited the beginning slot, it was a steep climb straight up from there. Again, there weren’t a ton of positive hand holds, but that was part of the problem solving.

Once again, all three ladies made it to the very top!

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The boys stuck with reaching the top of the entrance slot, which was quite challenging on its own.

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We headed home for lunch in our room and a well deserved nap. Everyone, other than David, took a nice long nap.

Upon waking, we gathered up our energy, packed our bags, and headed into Zion National Park for some exploring.

We took the tram to the last stop and hiked the Riverside path to the entrance of “The Narrows”. As much as we wanted to hike the Narrows, we were beat from our rock climbing adventure, so we explored about 1/4 mile of the hike.

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This hike will be the adventure that we can tackle on our next trip to Zion.  We loved hiking the river!

Next, we boarded the tram and took in  the scenery at certain stops. This one included a 360 degree view of canyon walls surrounding you.

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Finally, we hiked to Weeping Rock and enjoyed the view.

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It was time to catch the tram back to our van.

The kids were dying to play in the river with their tubes again. Of course, it was after 8 PM by the time we got back and we still needed dinner.

We let them squeeze in some time while I got dinner together.  After some pizza and salad, we all crashed!

Adventures/Travel, Things I Love

Things I am Loving Right Now: Car Traveling Edition

Many of you have been following along as we travel across the US in our 12 passenger van.  We are having a great time touring places like the Grand Canyon, Zion Nation Park, and Antelope Canyon.

Inspired by our current travel here are things I am loving right now!

Things I am Loving Right Now: Car Traveling Edition

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1.Ebags.

They have changed the way I will pack forever.  I blogged about our plan to use them before our trip and we have had to modify the plan somewhat, but the ebags are the BEST thing we have ever bought for travel.  They will change our camping, family visiting, and trips for the better.

Four of us have the three piece packing cube set.  My younger two boys each have one large eBag and we are making that work.  We have one large eBag for swimsuits, goggles, and sunscreen as well.  In the future, I will purchase another 3 piece packing cube set for my boys as well!

2.  United States Sticker Map.

Although this is advertised as an RV sticker map, we attached it to the back of our van to record our cross country travels.  Each time the van enters a new state, we add the sticker.

Each time we add a sticker, we record the fun:

This sticker could be kept at home, on the car, or on a piece of posterboard. It is pretty versitile and we LOVE it!

3.  National Geographic Guide to Naitonal Parks of the United States. (8th Edition).

I got tired of returning this to the library and requesting it again. I also wanted to write in it. So I finally gave in and purchased it.

It has been handy during our trip.  I might be old fashion, but something about having paper to take notes, underline, and write on works best for me. I can look up the park a day or two before we get there and make some notes about what to do if we have a few hours, a full day, or a few days. This guide has been really helpful.

NOTE:  This was SO helpful when we went into a park after hours when the visitor center and gate were closed and we couldn’t get a map.  This book has updated route maps so you can still get around to overlooks and trails.

4.  Sabrent 10 port family USB charger.

Yes. We are a modern family. This is the charging port we have in our charging station at home, and when we travel we make sure to bring it.

I love that it sits flat and the ports are on the top, not the side. It works well for overnight charging in hotel rooms. Currently we charge 2 phones, 2 iPods, 2 Kindles, and 2 iPads each night. Every morning the devices are charged and ready to go.

We also use it in the car, keeping it plugged in to my next item…

5. Car Power Inverter Strip.

This strip has 2 outlets for standard plugs and 2 USB ports. We keep our USB Charger plugged in to this while driving so our kids can keep their devices charged while we are travelling.

Once plugged in, the kids keep the USB charger toward the rear of the car for their devices so the extra USB ports on this main outlet are handy for the adult phones in the front seat.

Note:  I travel for long trips with my kids frequently.  We visit family in both Maryland and Florida and we love to take trips around the US.  There is NO reward at the end of the trip for keeping your kids off screens, so we don’t limit their use at all.  We still listen to audio books, play games, enjoy scenery, and have pleasant conversation, but this all happens naturally as we travel.  It is rare that I force “no devices” though it does happen sometimes.  Therefore, #4 and #5 are some of my favorite additions to our travel supplies.

6. Rand McNally 2017 Midsize Road Atlas

(spiral bound preferred for me).

We lost our modern day GPS through Waze and Google Maps quite a bit while traveling around Utah.  My daughter had this atlas in the car and it was SO handy to double check our route.

It was also handy to print pages for the kids so they could follow our trip.

7. Next Exit

This amazing guide crossed my path AFTER our big road trip.  In it you will find the most amazing comprehesive directory for interstate highway exits.  The gas, food, camping, shopping, and lodging available is listed next to every single interestate highway exit.

This could totally change the way you plan to stop for lunch or bathrooms because now you know what is around the corner at the NEXT EXIT!

What are your favorite Cross Country Travel Items?

(NotBefore7 is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com)

Adventures/Travel, Out West

Cross Country Journal – Day 6 Antelope Canyon

Breakfast this morning was lacking any hot food, but we made it work and then headed out early to Antelope Canyon.

You can’t tour the canyon on your own, so you have to book a tour.  Our tour was reserved for 10:20 AM, but we walked up at 8:50 AM to see if they could work us in early. They were able to send us off on the 9 AM tour time.

You can hardly see the slot canyon on the landscape until you are upon it.

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Then suddenly you are in it.  And you will go camera happy.

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And if you are lucky, your tour guide (or the one from the group behind you) will set your DSLR to all of the right settings for the canyon!

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The iPhone simply needs the “chrome” filter to pick up the beautiful reds and colors.

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You feel like you are in Wonderland.

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It is very other world-like.

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“I like this better than the Grand Canyon, Mom!”

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Not much more to say. It is a very cool slot canyon. Eerie. Beautiful.

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Kid Warning: There are several steep staircases.

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And before you know it, it is time to exit the Canyon.

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We snuck around the corner for a scenic view of Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River.

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Then we were off on the road again!

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We arrived in Zion National Park that evening.

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We purposefully designed this stop to be our “vacation in the vacation”. We splurged on two nights in a quaint IMG_7209lodge on the Virgin River. We knew we’d be ready for an upgrade from the Super 8 Motel the night before and the Best Westerns of the previous nights.

But we had NO idea how magical our location would be.

The lodge was in a beautiful setting and we immediately felt the magic of Zion National Park.  It captured our entire family.

We spent the evening playing on the Virgin River in tubes we picked up at the local store.

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No one wanted the night to end, but we had VERY early morning adventure ahead of us so we had to get some sleep!