Westward Vacation Wrap-up (Day 11/July 8)

(Mary Beth)

Day 11 (July 8): On the Road Again

 

Yesterday, we capped off the Canada part of our trip with a relaxing day. After enjoying a slow, big breakfast at camp, we went for a hike nearby. We enjoyed more outstanding scenery, and the weather was perfect.

 

We roasted hot dogs over the fire for lunch, then walked down to the beach where the kids swam and Craig and I read/napped.

 

I cannot say enough good things about Golden Ears. I would absolutely come back in a heartbeat!

 

At some point (Saturday night?), Craig and I realized we were both thinking the same thing — that it was time to start heading home. The kids overheard us talking about it, and they enthusiastically agreed. We have been having SUCH a good time, but we miss the dog… miss the comforts of home… and sleeping in a tent does get old! So, we decided to head home Monday instead of Tuesday. This meant skipping the whitewater rafting, but we will just save that adventure for another time!

 

Today, we got up early and were on the road by 8:00 A.M. We drove about 8 ½ hours and got to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. We got a room at the Best Western, here, and the kids are in heaven; this hotel has a swimming pool AND a restaurant! (They are so easily pleased.)

 

The rest of our trip will likely be the same — hard driving to get home with some hotel stops along the way. So, this will likely be my last blog for this trip.

 

This has been an awesome, memorable vacation. The kids, 13 and 9.5, are at good ages for traveling and adventure. Craig said the only problem with this trip is that all future vacations may pale in comparison. 😉

 

Honestly, I think I enjoyed the long-term camping and roughing it as much as I enjoyed seeing the sights at the different locations. I know that sounds weird… I doubt I can explain it convincingly. But, it was just really cool to get all that “stuff” together for camping and then to really, REALLLLLLY use it all and need it all.

 

I put a LOT of forethought into the meals we took. I tried to plan meals incorporating non-perishable type foods so they would last a long time. The kids’ favorite was the Frito Pie (they had never had that before). I also looked up lots of “camp friendly” meals, and looked for stuff I figured would be easy and include ingredients that would last a long time in the cooler. My favorite was something I found online called “Camp Hash”: potatoes cut in bite-size pieces (I pre-bake the potatoes when we camp), sliced kielbasa (turkey for us), a chopped onion, some minced garlic,  a can of corn, and a can of green chilies. You cook the onion in some oil, then add the rest of the ingredients. It was an easy and very satisfying camp meal. I actually ate the leftovers (with some shredded cheese on top — oh yeah!) the following night when the rest of the family had pancakes for dinner (in the Bisquick shake and pour container).

 

Other helpful/awesome equipment we had:

 

– Craig’s sister, Cathy, loaned us her camp kitchen. It sets up in less than 5 minutes, and allows you to keep your “kitchen” (water, wash tub, soap and hand towel, camp stove, bins, etc.) away from the eating (picnic table) area. I loved it SO much, I really don’t want to have to go camping again without the camp kitchen. 🙂

 

– The good old reliable Coleman camp stove. For this trip, Craig added a hose attachment that allowed us to use a full-size tank of propane (instead of the smaller propane canisters). It lasted the whole trip. We cooked almost everything on the camp stove.

 

– New tent — The Kelty Hula House 6. The tent worked out great. Our weather was perfect, so we got to enjoy several nights without the rainfly… amazing view of the stars!!! Wow. I know, though, from prior experience, that the tent does stay bone-dry in the pouring rain. It takes 2 people about 10 minutes to set up the tent. We are really happy with this purchase.

 

– Folding chairs that recline. These chairs are just what the doctor ordered after a long day of driving. At $50 each, they are worth every penny. We use them at home all the time, too.

 

– A snack bag and drink cooler in the car. I took lots of snacks and changed up what “appeared” in the snack bag from day to day. The kids were in heaven. We took the drink cooler with us on sightseeing days, too, and were very grateful to have access to cold water after all the walking/exploring on those sunny and hot days.

 

I’m ready for a good sleep in a real bed, so I will wrap this up… ‘til next time!

Westward Vacation Day 10 (July 7): Vancouver

(Mary Beth)

Vancouver/Golden Ears Provincial Park: Day 10 (July 7)

 

It is about 7:00 A.M., and I just stumbled out of the tent and poured my first cup of coffee. Craig has been awake for about 30 minutes, so the coffee was ready when I got up. Happiness!

 

I am sitting here at the fire ring surrounded by lush greenery — amongst 100-foot Douglas Firs reaching skyward, moss-covered stumps, ferns,  and green viney things that Tarzan would have a heyday with.

 

I have to squint to make out the vehicles and tents of our neighboring campers, and, other than the occasional cry of a toddler awakening, I barely notice they are there.

 

The temperature here near Vancouver, Canada, is PERFECT. I can’t believe it. I figured Canada would be COLD, but it’s not. Sleeping in the tent has felt great. This will be our third day in Canada, and, during the day, it has been warm (in the upper 70’s) and sunny. It gets a wee bit breezy at the beach near the lake, here at camp, (Aloutte Lake), and it was also a bit breezy, yesterday, overlooking the Burrard Inlet and Vancouver skyline from the North Vancouver shore, where we ate lunch. At night, it has only been getting down to the upper 50’s or lower 60’s. Much warmer than Yellowstone at night.

 

Yesterday, we drove “to the city” to see the sights. Our first stop was the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a must-see tourist destination. It was very, very crowded, but it was lovely. The bridge itself is whacky — a suspension bridge with metal cables and supports and a wood walkway. The whacky part is that anyone and everyone is allowed to cross the bridge simultaneously, so it is “sardines,” and extremely jiggly. People are weird, as I am sure you know, so this crowded and jiggly bridge provided for the witnessing of a real slice of humanity. In close proximity.

 

Beyond the bridge, there was a pedestrian walkway with beautiful views of the greenery and the canyon. There was just the right amount of “information” on little plaques (I have no patience for plaque reading, I must admit). My favorite part of Capilano was “Raptor Ridge” where some volunteers were giving educational talks about birds — a hawk and an owl. The owl, Lucy, was beautiful and fascinating. I got lots of photos, so I hope to be able to share those at some point, soon. We stood there watching Lucy from just a few feet away and listening to the man talk for probably 10 minutes. He talked about how the owl’s hearing and eyesight works (and a demonstration of the 360-degree head spinning), and told stories about Lucy and about how owls, in general, hunt and survive in the wild. Very cool.

 

We had wanted to do the “Canyon Walk” at Capilano — one of those “over-the-edge” half-circle walkways that make you supposedly feel like your life is in danger, I guess. But, the line for that was ridiculous, it was getting rather hot, and we were hungry. So, we skipped it and moved on.

We drove a very short way up to Grouse Mountain, another big tourist draw where there is tons to do — a skyride, ziplining, etc., etc. However, again, our tummies were crying, and this place was crowded. I anticipated another big entrance fee (it cost our family $98 to get into Capilano), more crowds, and concession-type food. I put the kibosh on Grouse Mountain in favor of heading downtown to find some good food and a “sit down”.

 

Again using the “old school” method of navigation, we were able to find a “commercial-y” area on the water in North Vancouver (and, again, overlooking the Vancouver skyline). We sat in the open air (until we got a bit cold in the breeze and moved to a more-enclosed area) and enjoyed the view and good quality Italian food.

 

Below our restaurant was a mall with an indoor/outdoor market. It was awesome! I could definitely go back there and spend more time — we really just breezed through it on our way back to the car. We did stop and buy some fresh produce — two types of cherries and some raspberries — all delicious. Mmmm.

 

Some comments about “Canada”:

 

— I got embarrassed at the gas staion yesterday morning. Craig was unable, for unknown reasons, to pay at the pump, so he sent me inside to pay. I truly wasn’t thinking and asked for 10 gallons. The girl looked at me like I had 12 heads, and said, “Okay, but we don’t do gallons here.” Oh, shit. Embarrassing! Stupid American! Stupid! Stupid! This was a busy Quik-Trip like facility, and there were two people waiting in line behind me, both wanting to HELP me. Problem was, I knew Craig’s tank wasn’t empty, so it wasn’t like I needed a “fill up,” and I was so embarrassed, I couldn’t think right. I couldn’t remember the gallons-to-liters conversion (certainly!), and I really couldn’t even decide how many actual GALLONS I needed, anyway. I realized that my original request of 10 gallons was too many… People were all trying to talk to me, I couldn’t think… AHHHHH!!!!!!! A 20-something man behind me offered, “Just ask me a question. I can answer it. I swear!” (Me, to myself: “Huh? I think he wants me to tell him how many gallons, but I don’t KNOW how many gallons………!?!? $#@!&^%*!!!!!!”) Then I heard him say, “A gallon is like 4 liters; just multiply it by 4.” (I still couldn’t do THAT, though, since I couldn’t get my bearings to decide how many actual GALLONS Craig might need… UGH!!!!)

 

I decided I could figure things out if someone could tell me how much it costs to fill up THEIR car. The girl behind the counter did NOT understand my question, but, luckily, the lady behind me threw in, “It costs about $60 for a fill up.” (She and the gentleman behind me had already searched out what TYPE of car I was driving and so forth — both were REALLLLLY trying to be helpful.)

 

Finally, guessing that Craig probably needed between a quarter and half a tank, I asked for twenty dollars worth and was done with it. Whew. Crappers. I will never go in so unprepared again!

 

— Later, Craig got to enjoy some local flavor when we went off in search of beer, which they don’t sell at the grocery stores, here.

 

After much hunting and old-school navigating, we finally found a BC Liquor store. Craig went in and grabbed some beer. He was taken aback, however, when, in a thick “Bob and Doug McKenzie” voice, the cashier lady told him, “Here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna take that 12-pack back, and you’re gonna get two 8-packs. And it’s four dollars cheaper.” I wish I could get the sing-songy, up-and-down lilt just right in print, but you will just have to add it yourself.

 

The way Craig tells the story had us in hysterics last night at the campfire.

 

— Craig also encountered the famous Canadian kindness at the grocery store. (They don’t sell ice at the liquor store. LOL) The man in front of Craig had about 10 items. Seeing Craig with just his two bags of ice, he insisted that Craig go first. When Craig said, “You sure?” The man said (again, think Bob and Doug McKenzie), “It’s hot outside! You want it to stay frozen!”

 

Today’s plan is to hang around Golden Ears — maybe do some hiking, swimming, and beach sitting. *sighhhhhh* It is lovely here. 🙂

Westward Vacation Days 7-9 (July 4-6)

(Mary Beth)

From Yellowstone to Vancouver, Days 7, 8, 9: July 4, 5, 6

 

On July 4, we traveled from Missoula, MT, to Ellensburg, WA. It was a happily uneventful (and short) day of driving. We stayed in a Best Western Plus. We had planned to maybe catch the local Ellensburg fireworks display, but the appeal of the real bed won out. We all woke up refreshed and ready for the 4- to 5-hour drive to the Vancouver area on the 5th.

 

The drive from Ellensburg through Seattle and up to Canada was lovely. And, yes, I was reminded of the scenery in the Twilight movies.

 

It took about an hour to get through the line of cars waiting at the border crossing. “Certain” members of our party declared a potty emergency JUST as we hit the queue. Craig announced that no one would be exiting the vehicle and we would “just have to wait” (even though we were moving at a snail’s pace and the road was crowded with the standard “duty free” shops). Oh, and Cooper couldn’t get enough of saying “Duty Free! Duty. Heh heh heh…” But I digress.

 

I figured out that our car was moving at approximately 30 feet every 20 minutes, and, feeling huge empathy for the now-wimpering child in the backseat, I had no doubts we could make it to a restroom and back before we got to the immigration booth. (Anyone in my family knows that I am an expert at finding and using restrooms in any and all uncharted areas.) So, I staged a mutiny, declaring, “Okay. Craig, switch places with me!” (I had been driving, you see.) “We’re going.” Hugely annoyed but defeated, Craig complied, and took the driver’s seat while the kids and I made a power-walk for the Duty Free shop. We weren’t able to find the restroom right away in the shop, so I played the Kid Card, “I’m so sorry, but my little girl needs to use the restroom…” I even offered to buy something. Super nice guy… he said, “It’s outside. Don’t worry; you don’t have to by anything.” Awwww. Good guy.

We got back to Craig in the car line in good time, and everyone was happy-happy again. 🙂

 

We had all been enjoying good cell service between Spokane and the Canada border. (We had had roaming-only service from the South Dakota border all the way to Spokane, other than the time we were in the hotels using wi-fi.) Well, the MINUTE we hit the border, we had ZERO service (not even roaming). UGH! And, even the Garmin GPS was lacking. It was “working,” but the roads on its map weren’t labeled properly… It was weird and, frankly, useless. This meant no phone navigation and no Garmin navigation. Holy crap! OLD SCHOOL, MUCH???  Luckily, I had written out all of the directions from Seattle to Golden Ears Provincial Park (more on Golden Ears in a moment), and I had several maps of Vancouver, one of which was decent. We actually did rather well using the old-school method, and we did make it to our destination without issue. Craig did request that I give all of the driving directions in a sexy, British-English voice.

 

Now, about the provincial park. We had not made camping reservations for Canada, since we really didn’t know exactly what day we would be arriving. Well, unfortunately, one is required to make the camping reservations at least 2 days in advance of arrival — something we weren’t able to do, as it turned out.

 

In speaking with a rep at “Discover Camping, Canada,” I was able to surmise that half of the sites at Golden Ears PP were “walk-in” sites, and, since they have more than 400 sites, I felt it was our best bet. Well, we felt enormously defeated when we reached the outskirts of the park and were met with a huge sign that said, “Sorry. Campground is Full.” UGGGGGGGHHHHHH! To be clear, my biggest concern was that if Golden Ears (our best bet) was full, we didn’t have a PRAYER of getting a site in ANY of the nearby provincial parks. Our plan was to keep driving, though, to the Golden Ears office so we could “talk to a human” and perhaps get some good advice about where we COULD go.

 

As we got closer to the campground, we were met with yet another sign declaring the campground was full. In my mind, I was already making backup plans. I knew, if all else failed, we could stay at one of the many “cheesy” RV parks in the area. (You know, the kind with the pool and the hot tub and the shuffle board? The kind the kids LOVE but the parents hate??)

 

So, you can imagine how completely elated we were when the girl at the camp booth said they had 2 sites available! YAHOOOOOOO!!!!

 

It’s funny, when we were told there were 2 sites, I was thinking we would totally be “settling” for  some skanky site. I tried not to get my hopes up as far as what this “leftover” site might look like. And, sure enough, our site was the very first one on a corner… But, ohmygosh, it was BEAUTIFUL! Stunning, gorgeous, amazing, outstanding, and any other superlative you can think of. Wow. This park is abbbbbsolutttttttttely incredible! There is not an inferior site in the campground.

 

More on that later…

 

Westward Vacation Days 3-6, Yellowstone

(Mary Beth)

Days 3, 4, 5, 6 (June 30 and July 1-3) Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

 

Our drive from Mt. Rushmore on Sunday was another long one, but we got by with fewer stops since “certain” Hope children were limited in their liquid intake. The mountain scenery from Ranchester to Cody, WY (and the East Entrance to Yellowstone), was stunning with lots of switchbacks… twisty/windy road.

 

Unfortunately, we forgot to account for the time change, so when the GPS told us we would arrive at 7:30 P.M., we were thinking of it in Central Time. Nope… in MOUNTAIN time, 7:30 P.M. meant an additional hour of driving. Uggggggh. Double ugh, actually, because the kids were stir crazy, bickering, and seriously getting on each other’s (and our) nerves.

 

Then, to add insult to injury, the address I had programmed into the GPS turned out to NOT be for our campground; it was for a location about ½ hour away from our campground. MORE DRIVING.

 

By the time we finally got to our Yellowstone campsite at Grant Village, it was nearly dark, we were hungry and exhausted, and Mama was fit to be tied. I actually agreed to a quick, no-fuss dinner of MRE’s (freeze-dried lasagna; just add water), and we hit the hay.

 

The Yellowstone camping experience is highly unusual in that bears are a huge consideration. As a result, campers are not allowed to leave ANYTHING out at the camp site. Everything (food, water, stove, trash, clothing… EVERYTHING) has to be locked away in a bear-proof manner at night or when you leave camp. This makes for tricky packing and storing, and is the main reason we decided to rent a U-Haul for our trip — it is our very own bear-proof box.

 

Before we left Rapid City, SD (Mt. Rushmore area), we stopped at Cabela’s, and I was able to buy some bear spray (pepper spray to use during a bear encounter). Oddly enough, the Bass Pro in Independence, MO, normally carries bear spray, but they were sold out when I went to buy it before our trip.

 

The bear spray has been a real bone of contention between Craig and me. He thinks the possibility of running into a bear is too remote think about, and he keeps making fun of me about the bear spray. I tell Craig that as the “Mama Bear,” it is my instinct to protect my babies, and I don’t care what he says. The man who helped us at Cabela’s agreed with me. He said he used to be a guide in Alaska, and that pulling on a pair of pants also meant wearing a 44 Magnum. Absent the 44 Magnum, he highly recommended taking the bear spray.

 

That first evening in Yellowstone, I kept the bear spray glued to my hip. Bear spray is, essentially, just a gargantuan can of pepper spray. I have been pondering its potential usefulness in life outside of the wilderness. Anyway, I even practiced with the bear spray to be sure I knew how it worked. (Craig was thrilled, of course.) Our campsite was the closest one to the restrooms, a fact that might bother me in a non-bear-infested campground. In this case, I could not have been happier.

Monday, 7/1/13 was our first full day in Yellowstone. We woke up refreshed and ready to go sightseeing in the park.

 

Of course we started with Old Faithful. We spent a couple of hours there, enjoying the visitors’ center (cool interactive exhbits and a kid-friendly room with an awesome model geyser), wider geyser area, and lunch. We even got to see Old Faithful do its thing twice.

 

After Old Faithful, we drove up the road a bit to Biscuit Basin (more geysers and gurgling wonders) and Mystic Falls. It ended up being a 2-mile hike to the falls and back, and I was very, very, VERY sorry I had left my bear spray in the car!!!!!! The hike was beautiful, but there weren’t enough people to suit me. I felt like bear bait, and it was freaking me out. With Craig making fun of me the whole way, I was hollering “Let’s go, Royals! CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP” every minute or so. I figured cheering for the Royals would scare bears away for sure. (I considered cheering for the Bears, instead, but I was afraid this might have the opposite effect.)

 

As we ended our hike, I slid down a slope on some loose gravel and skinned my knee. Probably because he walks too fast AND because he was making fun of me, my falling down was most certainly Craig’s fault. Luckily, there was this sweet little creek at Biscuit Basin, and it was perfect for wading (and cleaning off wounded knees). Cooper ended up going for a bonafide swim — typical Cooper. He rode back to camp in nothing but his undies, then made a hilarious mad-dash to the tent (so as not to be seen in his underwear). Again, typical Cooper.

 

Also on Monday, Inspired by the previous evening’s crankiness, we created a kids vs. parents competition. The rules were: no cussing for the parents and no bickering (or other “annoying behaviors” as determined by Mom) for the kids. The kids won and got to choose dinner — spaghetti back at camp. Craig got so many “violations,” I actualy asked to switch teams at one point. LOL The competition really was a great idea, though; the kids were angels.

 

After dinner, we went to a Ranger Talk at our camp. It was an interesting program about how the native cutthroat trout are being pushed out by the mackinaw in Yellowstone Lake. I even got to wear a grizzly pelt as an audience participant!

 

Back at camp, we taught the kids how to make their first-ever pudgy pies. Mmmm.

 

The best thing about Tuesday (July 2) was horseback riding in the Yellowstone backcountry. The boys had a good time, but Emmie and I both lovvved it. Obviously, the scenery was incredible, including a crazy edge-of-the-world dropoff at one point. Our warning from the wrangler was, “Okay, is ANYONE afraid of heights????”

 

There is so much to see, do, and explore in Yellowstone… Lots of “gurgly bits” and wildlife.

 

The pro’s of camping (beautiful setting, modern facilities, amazing showers, clean everything, huge laundry facility) definitely outweighed the con’s (having to lock everything away from the bears and sites being a bit too close together).

 

I am glad I never encountered a bear on the trail, but I was disappointed we never saw one at all in the park. I would have loved to have seen a bear, but it also would have been nice to prove Craig wrong. (He had declared, early on, that we wouldn’t even SEE a bear in Yellowstone. I HATE when he is right!!!)

 

Today (Wednesday, 7/3), we enjoyed a few more sights before leaving the park. Gibbon Falls was most notable — beautiful. We drove about 4 hours outside of Yellowstone to Missoula, MT, and stopped at a hotel. We decided to “treat” ourselves to an indoor pool, wi-fi, and a real bed for one night.

 

We have not decided, yet, where, exactly, we are heading tomorrow. Mount St. Helens, Seattle, and Vancouver (our ultimate destination) have all been mentioned. At dinner, we left it open-ended and decided to see how we feel in the morning. The kids, though, have already asked if we can stay at the hotel and swim all morning. 🙂

I did some reading about Vancouver, today, and it looks like there is a TON to do, there. My big hope is that we can go whitewater rafting. We’ll see!

Westward Vacation Day 2 (cont’d) and Early Day 3

(Mary Beth)

6/30/13

Day 2 (continued) and Early Day 3

 

Yesterday evening after I posted the first blog, the owner of the Echo Valley Campground, Gary Worth, dropped by our camp in his golf cart. He insisted that we all join him for a quick tour of “the rest” of his property. Gary was accompanied by Ruby Doo, his beloved black chihuahua.

 

Gary, an older gentleman with snow-white hair and mustache, was a real character. He was SUPER friendly, but definitely a character. First of all, saying he loves his dog is an understatement. At one point, he let Emmie hold Ruby. Talking “to the dog” in a baby-talk voice (but really to us), Gary said, “Don’t worry, Ruby. She’ll take good care of you, ‘cause she knows I love you more than anything else in the whole world.” Gary said that he takes Ruby on this drive to “Ruby’s place” to play every day.

 

The land really was beautiful. Essentially, it was the entire valley (hence the name “Echo Valley”) stretching for about 3.5 miles below the Crazy Horse Memorial. Gary has dammed up a “crick” on the property to create several ponds that are stocked with trout or bass. He explained to us that all of his land was given to him by a real nice fellow named Henry Lowe. Gary said he thanks God every day for the blessing of this land and all that he has been given. Gary explained that the property was originally acquired under a Homestead Act, so anyone who built a home and agreed to live on and off of the land could claim it. The old homestead was there, but it looked newly refurbished to us. So, the adjacent wooded land on either side of Echo Valley is federal land. Fascinating.

 

Riding around with Gary and Ruby on the golf cart was a real pleasure, and the land was lovely. I truly wish I had taken my camera with me! 😦

 

Interestingly, in the middle of the night (day 2 to day 3), we heard a coyote down in the valley. The loud howling and yelping must have gone on for two or more minutes, and hearing that eerie sound echoing through the valley under the moon and stars was an absolute highlight of our stay at Echo Valley. Right in the middle of this coyote concert, Miss Emmie decided she needed to get up and go potty wilderness style. I can’t decide if she is foolish or brave or both, but I just LOVE that she didn’t hesitate to go squat behind a tree while a coyote was hooting and howling nearby. I asked her about it this morning, and she told me, “Well, I knew it wasn’t going to EAT me! They’re just like puppies, Mom. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.”