Monthly Archives: November 2013

Rock Star Paddling

lee hunter on the water 2

The Rio Vista whitewater park in San Marcos, Texas is AMAZING…  The water is a consistent 72f (20c), the air temps are warm all year round and they have stadium lights so you can paddle at night. WOW WOW WOW

Ben Kvanli at the Olympic Outdoor Centre generously allowed us to camp in his yard about a block away from the whitewater park and on the banks of the San Marcos river. We got there Thursday afternoon and arranged to paddle with him that night – what an experience!!!

We wandered down the trail and hit the water just after 7:3o pm. The park has 3 waves with the first one having a 6 foot slide into a wave. We have a bunch of paddling goals for the year – Hunter getting his combat role, Lee  & Hunter becoming comfortable with drops and all of us spending more time in the water and having fun. The park was a great opportunity to play on the slide and get some time in the water. Doing it all in the dark made it soooo COOL!!!

Hunter also got to experience gates and the tutelage of Ben (Olympian), which was a great gift. He gained lots of confidence and came out of the water with a huge smile on his face.

Wandering in the dark at Carlsbad Caverns

family with lanterns

Carlsbad caverns was our 3rd cave experience of the trip, after Great Basin National Park (Nevada) and Horne Lake Basin (Vancouver Island, BC).  This was definitely the biggest and the best!

In Great Basin National Park we did a ranger lead tour and learned alot about the world of caves. I thought we’d mix it up a bit this time and so we did a ranger lead tour of the Left Hand Tunnel, which is conducted by candle lantern. It was great fun and really helped give you a sense of what the original exploration environment was like.

lee hunter 750 ft underground

This national park is a great example of the changing philosophies within the National Park system. It has 2 elevator shafts and used to have a full restaurant and retail store 750 ft below ground at the base of the elevators. The logic at the time was to make the cave more accessible to the public vs the core preservation of the cave, which is what we experienced in Great Basin.

Both Tim and Hunter tackled the junior ranger program (Tim doing the 13yrs and older version) and we all had alot of fun. It really helps make for a great learning experience while you are in the park. This was definitely a great family experience. We spent about 5 hours here but could have easily spent the entire day if we hadn’t needed to continue our travels south east…


exploring the mysteries of Roswell – still not a believer

hunter lee aliens


If you’re going to drive through south eastern New Mexico, you have to go to Roswell and the UFO Museum. I’m not sure what I expected, but it was fairly small in size and a bit hokey in approach. We spent an hour reading through alot of the materials and giggling at the pictures.

The blocks around the museum have an assortment of Alien related things that can only make you smile!

Valley of Fire National Recreation Area

valley of fire landscape


After spending the night at a rest stop in Socorro, New Mexico we headed east on highway 380 towards Roswell. It was mid morning and we hadn’t had breakfast yet and needed a stop. Just around the corner we saw the sign for Valley of Fires National Recreation Area so we pulled in. What a pleasant surprise!!!

valley of fire fordo


It is a small campground and recreation area at the side of the Malpais Lava Flow. The boys enjoyed the flat asphalt with their skateboards and we took the time to do the interpretive trail as well.

Approximately 5,000 years ago, Little Black Peak erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin, filling the basin with molten rock. The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick and covers 125 square miles. The lava flow is considered to be one of the youngest lava flows in the continental United States.

From a distance, Valley of Fires appears as barren rock but when you walk through the nature trail there are many varieties of flowers, cactus, trees and bushes typical of the Chihuahuan desert. Animals include bats, roadrunners, quail, cottontails, mule deer, barberry sheep, and lizards. It’s also a virtual birdwatcher’s paradise with great horned owls, burrowing owls, turkey vultures, hawks, gnat catchers, cactus wrens, sparrows and golden eagles.

Crystal gazing at the Petrified Forest National Park

hunter arms full petrified wood


Petrified Forest National Park is another lesser visited national park located in the North East corner of Arizona as you head towards New Mexico. The Hedderman family had stopped at the park a few days before us and raved so we thought we would spend some time in this self proclaimed “science park” while on our way to New Mexico.

After the highlights of discovering Route66 I wasn’t sure if there would be the patience and focus required for this visit. With a Junior Ranger badge on the line, Hunter snapped right to it and got to work. They also had a Junior Paleontologist program so we signed Tim up so he could be part of the learning as well.

hunter tim paleontologists

We enjoyed the historic information and education on what forms petrified wood. There are some great trails there and we explored a few short ones, only because we ran out of time to catch the longer ones initially planned.

It was incredibly quiet with few people there and drastically different landscape that you see in most other places.

Hunter and Tim both successfully completed their programs and got badges. Hunter also got his first patch, which was a big hit and has sent him in search of more!

hunter petrified forest jnr ranger

Getting our kicks on Route 66

hunter route 66 sign

Thanks to all the CARS movies, Hunter has been intrigued with Route 66 for a few years. When we first mapped out our 8 months, he asked if we would be driving on Route 66. He and I looked up the historic route from Chicago to LA and I didn’t think we would end up near it. He was disappointed but we moved on.

After deciding to hit northern Arizona for the mountain biking in Sedona, we realized that we could end up driving on parts of Route 66. We were all excited and pointed out the signs as we drove by them when they coincided with the interstate. This was all we expected. Due to some construction on the Interstate next to Petrified Forest National Park, we chose to get off  the Interstate at Holbrook and drive through the park from south to north.

hunter route 66 road sign 2

For the entire trip, Hunter has been joyfully WHACKING Tim and I for every “punch buggy” that he sees. So far, California was the motherlode… We drove into Holbrook and noticed the historic Route 66 signs on all the buildings and were excited. Tim then jerked the truck over to the side of the road and started yelling out Punchbuggy colors while hitting (gently of course) Hunter… It was a VW repair shop and even had a Bug LIMO and a Bug CAMPER!hunter bug limo route 66

bug rv route 66


We got back in the truck and drove another 2 blocks and came to a halt a second time – Wig Wam Village (AKA the Cozy Cone Motel from CARS). It came complete with a Doc Hudson Flyer!!!

hunter route 66 tee pee doc hudson


Great fun in an unexpected place. Hunter was grinning from ear to ear…

Mountain Biking in Sedona, an energetic adventure

Thunder mountain 2


Sedona – land of Red Rocks, great mountain biking and energy vortexes… We unfortunately only had 24 hours to spend in town so we got up early and arrived in town by 9:30. We started our visit with the boys at Sedona Bike & Bean and they were great – walked us through all the bike trail choices with lots of info and helped us settle on the Adobe Jack trail system right in Sedona. It was a set of intermediate interconnected trails that you could make into a short, medium or long ride.

Bike & beans bus


Sedona (and area) is a very bike friendly place – bike paths alongside every road and miles and miles of trails surrounding town. They said that the best riding is after they’ve had some moisture so things worked out for us as it rained 2 days ago. I guess it tamps down the dust from the red rock trails and you have less sliding out on fast corners.  We checked into the campground – Rancho Sedona (very pricy and not worth the convenience trade off if you are staying for more than one day – go with the great state forest/BLM campgrounds) and headed off on our bikes from there.

hunter bike sign post


Sedona sits in a bowl between a bunch of small mountains and the scenery is breath taking, every where you look!

Thunder mtn tim biking

The trails were perfect for us – flowy, some challenging up hills and some really fun challenging downhills. We rode about 10km of singletrack and another 6km exploring town. The afternoon warmed up fabulously (cool crisp mornings and evenings right now) and we had a great day!

lee hunter biking sedona


Sedona is also a mecca of new age spirituality due to the Energy Vortexes that are here.

centre for new age

We did some reading before we went biking as we were intrigued. Can’t say we understand it 100% but you can definitely feel a sense of lightness (and not due to the elevation). Even Tim, our resident sceptic, said he could feel the energy… They say that the best way to see where the Energy is located is to look at the Juniper trees and those with twisted trunks represent high energy areas. This one looked quite twisty to me so I thought I’d spend some time in it!

lee in search of energy vortex

Overall we had a great visit and would definitely come back. I give the mountain biking an A+ for family friendly – 4 bike shops in town, waterproof map that covers the entire area and really well marked trail intersections. The trails are easily accessible and have good parking lots.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Cape Verde Arizona

montezuma castle

Montezuma Castle National Monument is halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff in Arizona. It was created back in 1906 when President Roosevelt celebrated the passing of the Antiquities Act by declaring the first 4 National Monuments. The 20 room high rise “apartment” represents the Sinagua culture and civilization from over 800 years ago.

montezuma castle 3

After a very long day of driving yesterday (8+ hours) we had a slow morning at the Distant Drums RV Resort and spent the afternoon just down the road at the National Monument. It is a fairly small “park” but has a great Junior Ranger program. We visited their museum, played with an interactive display that gave you 360 visuals inside the Castle and then wandered out down the paths to experience the Verde River basin and the amazing cave formations. One of the neat things we learned was they made “T” shaped doorways (look carefully in photos) to symbolize that they were a friendly and welcoming community.

hunter swearing in jnr ranger book


It was a wonderful learning opportunity about ancient civilizations, relative timelines (when this was happening in North America, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was being built and the ceiling on the sistine chapel was being finished), and how cultures rise and fall due to location, disease and amenities.


Life at the beach… 10 days in Oceanside was just what we needed

sunset oceanside tim kayak
When we got to Oceanside we were all tired. Tired of driving in the truck. Tired of packing up our stuff every few days and moving on. Tired of small disappointments (snow, no water in Reno, no beach in Santa Barbara). We rolled into the campground in Oceanside in the dark, after a long drive that took us through 2 hours in rush hour traffic in Los Angeles, relieved to be there. And then the train came… the Paradise by the Sea RV Park, which is “on the beach” is also right on the Amtrack/Coaster rail line and the trains come by from 5:51am to 11:52 pm, in 15-30 minute intervals at times – ACK!!! Will we ever find our california beach to surf???

oceanside campground sprawl

A good nights sleep and an a day to settle in and we were able to find all the things right with our situation. A heated pool & hot tub, a games room with pool, shuffleboard, pingpong and Wii. A 500 meter walk to the beach down a path and through a park. Nice places for me to run in the mornings. Nice beach to surf on. Bike friendly community. A gated secure campground that made it OK for Hunter to stay on his own for short periods. All of this quickly offset the train… Hunter even got good at discerning the different train whistles for the trains in the dark and it became a game.

lee bike oceanside pier

We spent 10 days in Oceanside at the Paradise by the Sea RV Park. It was a great home base and very well run. Clean, well taken care off, very friendly staff and lots of amenities. For us to stay at a State Park on a beach is $65.00 a night with no showers, no water, no electrical, no internet, no pool etc. etc. For us to stay in Paradise, it was $55.00 per night. An easy decision to keep extending our stay and cancelling our other reservations.

oceanside lifeguard station bikes

Oceanside is a bike friendly community and you can tell that just by the volume of bike traffic and the road signs. Most roads have bike lanes on the side and some roads state that bikes can take up the whole road, just like a car. We rode our bikes down to the Oceanside Pier and checked things out. We rode our bikes to the Oceanside Streetmarket on 2 Thursday nights (a must check out experience with food from around the world, music & kids activities). Tim and I rode our bikes 32km down the San Louis Rey River trail that goes from the beach eastward to the edge of Oceanside.

day at the beach oceansideWe spent lots of time at the beach, which was just what we needed. What we did varied every day but there was always at least a kayak, a surfboard and a boogie board with us. Some days we had 2’s of things and were quite a site! We now have a beach wagon (seen above just behind Hunter) to help carry all the STUFF plus lunch etc. so we can stay longer and play more.

Hunter discovered the fun of a boogie board and had a wonderful time surfing and playing in the waves, either chasing Tim in his kayak or convincing him to come out and play as well…

I continue to have fun learning to surf. It’s a steep learning curve and could be considered frustrating but I have so much fun being out in the waves that I just take each day as it comes and celebrate the little successes along the way!

It was also wonderful to be just down the road from my sister and her family. Hunter really enjoyed some “cousin time” – both at Legoland & Zoo Safari as well as just “hanging out”. We are excited that we will be back this way in March for a broader family vacation with a beachfront house being rented and lots of cousins here to play. More surfing every day with some plans to check out the impressive skateboard park that we found on our last day.


Reflections after 2 months on the road

Family photo - ElwhaAfter 70 days living in a camper (NOT a trailer!), I polled the family to capture our thoughts and reflections so far:

Favourite places so far:

Favourite experiences so far:

Thoughts and Reflections at this juncture:

  • We have done amazingly well living in a tiny space with 3 people, especially on the rainy and cold days
  • We are learning how to balance exploring and activities with just “being” – this is recent and I’m sure will take some more work to fine tune. Hunter is pushing us on this one…
  • It is amazing how much stuff you can live without – for example, we have a small selection of clothes and do laundry every two weeks and yet even then we are only washing about half of our clothes
  • We are still growing into home school. We are on our second approach and it seems to be working better. I now lay out a weekly curriculum, similar to Montessori at home, and Hunter has to get it done that week. When, where and how are up to him. This way he knows his goals and I only have to really plan the minutia once a week.
  • The snow seemed to be chasing us for much of the first 2 months and that had a big emotional impact on all of us. The last 2 weeks in southern California have been wonderful (highs of 21c, lows of 10c) and we are hoping for more of this
  • California has alot of people and is really expensive! It’s a trade off for the fun time at the ocean…
  • You can learn so much from others – just keep talking to people you meet and be curious, ASK QUESTIONS!
  • Good, solid internet is tough to find and not to be taken for granted.
  • Clean showers with full height shower heads are not as standard as you would think or hope… Why do people install short shower heads? I can’t imagine how it is for the many people that are taller than me!
  • We are beyond thrilled that the truck has performed so well – going from a cranky, persnickety truck at home, it has started every day and driven well for over 10,500 km so far! Obviously it just wants to be used, loved and warm 🙂
  • Research, Research, Research and then go with the flow. Knowing what our choices are (especially regarding campgrounds) makes it easy to adapt on the fly and make the most of opportunities.
  • Most important – be thankful for the graciousness of strangers and enjoy creating new friendships along the way as part of the making of memories

Time is just flying by and it’s hard to believe that we’ve been gone for 2.5 months. We’re all still looking forward to the adventures still to come and the family and friends we will visit along the way.