Sunday, June 22, 2008

Totally getting John Denver now

Never having been to Colorado before, I hadn't experienced the "Rocky Mountain High," but holy cow, is it a gorgeous place. We spent two nights in Durango, which is one of those places I'd love to live in while it's summer. When the annual 40 feet of snow arrives, I may feel differently. We took the kids to a silly musical called "Forever Plaid" at the historic Henry Strater Theater one night, and stuffed ourselves at Francisco's Cantina.

The highlight of this stop, though, was a day trip on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

This steam train has been in operation for over 125 years, and the town of Silverton, which is at an elevation of 9300 feet, is a historic Victorian silver mining town. The tiny town originally had something like 40 brothels and a similar number of saloons, so it must have been a pretty rocking place back in the day. We had lunch at the Handlebar Saloon.

As picturesque as the town was, it was the scenery from the train ride that really stole the show. We were reminded several times that Colorado has 54 mountain peaks in excess of 14,000 feet, and the train tracks wound through the shadows of several of them, and parallels the Animas River for most of the journey.

Serious Rocky Mountain high. There are a few more photos on my Flickr, and next we head back to the desert and into the Native American educational portion of the trip.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wimping out in my old age

When I was 24 and living in Orlando, I traded in my very sensible 4-door Honda Civic for a brand-new red Jeep Wrangler. I loved that Jeep and had a ball with it until Ron and I got married. He hated it. Too bumpy, too much wind noise, too Jeep-y. So I traded it in on a Ford Explorer, but secretly I missed my Jeep.

Earlier this week we rented a Wrangler (but yellow) in Moab, Utah and went off-roading in Canyonlands National Park. I was really looking forward to it, but what I forgot was the 15 years between me and my last Jeeping experience. Ron took the wheel and was feeling very macho, although not macho enough to cause any damage we would have to pay for. The kids were raring to go, foolishly trusting that their parents knew what the heck they were doing.

The "trail" was completely covered with softball-sized boulders and I don't know how any of us have a tooth left in our heads. The kids were alternately laughing hysterically and screaming in fear as we bounced up the narrow ridge. We got lost veered from the recommended trail a couple of times, despite a GPS system and a map. One of our detours seriously tested the Jeep's 4WD capabilities and caused me to call on Jesus in a fervent manner over a steep patch of uphill slickrock. We were way out in the middle of nowhere and I was vividly imagining our four bleached skeletons lying beside the Jeep. At that point I was DONE, ready to head back to the hotel. But Ron and the kids wanted to hike to the Gemini Arches, while I waited in the shade, watching lizards climb up a tree. (PSA: White shirt + open Jeep + red dust = bad idea.)

After 30 minutes I began to imagine their three bleached skeletons at the bottom of the canyon, and wondered how long one should decently wait before driving back to Moab. They made it back before I left and Thomas had even discovered a baby arch.

We stuck it out and made it to Canyonlands, which was so incredibly beautiful I forgot the previous incidents and took 500 more photos. Check out these switchbacks. I have a friend back home whose family owns a guardrail company--they could truly be of use out here.

Today Mr. Macho Jeep Driver can barely walk because of his aching back, but we did see some amazing scenery.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

River Magic

When I have read on my shampoo bottle the instructions, "lather, rinse, repeat if necessary," I have occasionally wondered when it would actually be necessary. The answer is when you have done nothing but a quick rinse in 54-degree sandy river water for four days.

So. I did it. I do have enough mosquito bites to make me look like I made it to the end of Survivor, but I'm otherwise unscathed and pretty proud of myself for doing it. The kids had a blast. We ended up having just one other family of five on our trip--a father, son, and three teenage grandsons. I was not thrilled about the idea of traveling with them upon first meeting them, and I was ready to open up a can of whoop-ass when I heard them discussing flipping a coin to see who would have to ride with Annamarie. (I may have mentioned here that she can be very chatty.) I clearly misjudged them, and they were all as nice as they could be. They were actually very patient with Annamarie, who developed a bit of a crush on the 17-year-old, and Thomas got to experience some major outdoorsy male bonding.

I'm sure you're dying to know what a day in camp was like. We got up at 6:15 for coffee, took down our cots, packed up our stuff while our fabulous guides cooked us breakfast, and were on the river by 8:00. We rafted for 4-6 hours, maybe stopped for a short hike and lunch, and reached our camp in mid afternoon. The kids got several chances to row and loved the rapids. In this video, Annamarie is laughing mostly because Ron and I were getting doused regularly with freezing water.

When we reached our campsite for the evening, we unloaded the boats, set up our cots, and had a little time to relax before dinner. Or to hike to "the groover," our loo with a view.

I seriously won't miss the groover. The guides brought games, including Qoob, which the kids spent hours playing.

You'll notice they're wearing jackets. It was 40 degrees F at night, and we slept on cots under the stars. {At home we keep flannel sheets on the bed year-round, and my side of the bed has a heated mattress pad. We keep the thermostat at 72.) I slept in my jeans, a t-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, and a fleece.

Those stars we slept under made the whole trip worth it. Early in the evening the moon was nearly as bright as daylight, and after it set a million stars blinked on. Ron and I woke up at 4 one morning and lay there listening to the rapids just above our campsite and gazing up at the Milky Way. There were so many stars visible that it was hard to pick out constellations.

The meals cooked by our guides were seriously some of the best we've had since leaving home. We had french toast, eggs, bacon, fresh fruit for breakfast; steak, bbq chicken, spaghetti, for dinner--oh, and hors d'oeuvres: shrimp cocktail, crab dip, and nachos. On a camping trip! And I didn't have to cook any of it or clean the mess up, which made it that much more delicious.

If you want an outdoor vacation your family will never forget we highly recommend Western River Expeditions. I'm thrilled that I did it, and equally thrilled to be back to civilization.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Where in the world is Cyndi?

I'm not dead--just in Utah. :) We're on a three-week tour of the Southwest that Ron has been planning since he was 12. I'm only slightly exaggerating...his parents took him and his brother on a similar trip in 1961 and he started thinking about recreating it the moment Thomas arrived.

I started off the trip with a bang that included cellulitis, a sinus infection, and a really bad attitude. The sinus infection cleared up, Thomas has taken over the bad attitude responsibilities (and he is doing a bang-up job), and the cellulitis re-occured in my leg resulting in a quick trip to the hospital in Panguitch, Utah this morning.

We head down the Green River tomorrow for a 4-day raft trip. Until we return, some photos from the Zion, Grand Canyon, and Bryce portions of the trip can be seen here: my Flickr.