Category Archives: US South West

Organ Pipe National Monument

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Organ Pipe National Monument was our first stop heading east from the California coast. It is a few hours south east of Yuma, Arizona and about 10 minutes drive from the Mexican border. We rolled in after dark and were thrilled to discover this great big Organ Pipe Cactus right at our campsite. It was also great to be able to see the night sky and the stars again!

DSCN0999 The view the next morning was equally impressive. Big blue skies that seemed to go on forever.

DSCN0991We met a ranger shortly after pulling in and he mentioned that they had a packrat problem that they were working on – they were out on a trapping mission that night. I remember how fun the packrats were as a kid when we left out shiny things for them but having the risk of them eating at the important parts of the truck or trailer turned this from humourful to concerning. Neither Tim nor I had a great night’s sleep as we were up with any sound!

We headed out on a short morning hike before things got too hot and had lots of fun refreshing our memory on all the different versions of cactus – organ pipe, saguaro, ocotillo, chula and barrel cacti. Every vista was just beautiful…This also helped with Hunter and Tim’s ranger badges.

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We would definitely recommend this park – great campground, beautiful scenery, and good hiking!

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Weekend in Houston with friends

laser tagWe recuperated from our week in Mexico by spending the weekend with friends Kelly and Phil that live in Houston, Texas. Based on our internet research the Houston area has a plethora of things for families to do, both indoors and out. I’ll declare up front that we did almost none of them! After spending a week on the road, and most specifically the last 24 hours in motion, we were pooped!

After much discussion, and the turning down of an invitation to check out a tall ship in Galveston, we opted for a do nothing day on our first day. Somehow this lead to Hunter and Phil bonding over all things remote controlled… Hunter became the new owner of a drone and much time was spent pulling it out of trees while perfecting the flying of it. A pellet shooting tank ended up also sneaking into our duffle bag but we drew the line at the creepy crawly robot!

We finally mustered enough energy by the afternoon to head out on a neighbourhood bike ride. They live in a funky neighbourhood that is just outside the downtown loop and has a broad mix of residents, including their own flock of peacocks that roam aimlessly! Hunter was beyond thrilled to get to ride Phil’s electric bike – even though he could barely reach the pedals or stop safely.

Sunday Phil took us out to the Texas Renaissance Festival, which was quite a cultural experience! It was people watching at it’s best, with many different interpretations of the Renaissance time period. It’s neat to see people so passionate about something that they travel the country as part of these various festivals.

We enjoyed the jousting however found it frustrating that the matches were only 20 minutes long and that the competition was spread through out the day, with the intention of keeping you there longer and getting you to keep coming back to the stadium. Our favourite “show” was Oskar’s Sword Instruction – the audience selects 2 different weapons (out of about 10 that he has) and then Oskar demonstrates how to use them in battle. It was quite instructional as well as humorous. Every strategy ends with his “grab them by the crotch and throw them out the window” tactic, which Hunter found hilarious.

The Renaissance Festival runs for 8 weekends through October and November. We were all quite impressed with the permanent facilities and structure that they have in place and the sheer volume of people that they run through over the 8 weeks. We were there on the very last day and it was still jam packed!

We awoke Monday and it was pouring rain, with a forecast to continue with that theme all day. After  a flurry of internet research, we all opted to spend a lazy day around the house and then head out to the Main Event for Monday Night Madness – all in pricing for laser tag, bowling, mini golf and billiards… What more could you want in a day! It’s not a surprise that this decision was driven by the 11 year old vote but we all ended up having an evening full of giggles and fun.

We look forward to venturing back to the Houston area another time to check out the Houston Children’s Museum, Houston Museum of Natural Science,  NASA, and the Gulf Coast. A big thanks to Kelly and Phil for the wonderful hospitality (even allowing the short term corruption of chips, pop AND hotdogs in the house) and we are certainly looking forward to playing again soon!

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Adventures in life & road schooling in Mexico

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Our paddling season ended fairly abruptly in mid September when we went from warm harvest weather to cold and snow. Back in the spring when we were making our winter plans, we decided that a venture back down to Mexico to paddle in November would be a great way to bridge between fall paddling and our Ecuador Christmas Adventure.

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Our first Mexico paddling experience was earlier this year in February with Ben Kvanli of the Olympic Outdoor Centre in San Marcos, Texas. He had such a solid knowledge of the area that we decided to work with him to arrange a “reunion” trip to go to Mexico for US Thanksgiving with the new friends we met on the February trip. It was a bit of an epic journey… Whitehorse to Vancouver, Vancouver to Los Angeles and then Los Angeles to San Antonio.

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Ben’s trips are based out of San Marcos, Texas and everyone piles into a white van and drives 16 hours to the San Luis Potosi region of Mexico. The van leaves San Marcos at midnight to hit the Mexican border at first light and then make it down to Aldea Huasteca, the main lodge, by early afternoon. 16 hours in a passenger van are not the most comfortable way to start a trip and definitely caused some humming and hawing on our part – did we really want to do that again? Ben’s coaching and guiding ability tipped it over the edge for us – he did such a great job with Hunter in February and it was a safe road schooling opportunity in rural Mexico.

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As with any paddling trip, there were some unexpected adventures along the way…

  • The friends that we had originally planned to go with on the trip were unable to go at the last minute, which was a real disappointment. The upside was we made 3 new friends that I’m certain we will also cross paths with in the future as we continue to adventure. Hunter’s first response was “we’re going to paddle with strangers?” and then I reminded him that our friends that we were planning on going with were strangers when we met them in February…

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  • broken valve stem on one of the tires when we tried to fill up the air just prior to crossing the border in Pharr, Texas, resulting in breakfast at a Mexican bakery and roadside shop. When you shop in a Mexican bakery, you are given a tray that is about the size of a 12 inch pizza and then you go around and select the goods from the various cases. We bought a few items we knew (croissants, danishes) and a few items we didn’t – probably 8 items in total, for a whole $3.00
  • broken belt on tire #2, discovered while driving, which resulted in us driving at half speed for the last 3 hours of the trip. The upside of this was we went into Ciudad Valles and had dinner at Tacos Richard – a favourite of Hunter’s from February. This was the beginning of him boldly ordering his own food and venturing into use of Spanish, something he was fairly unwilling to do in February.
  • big bulge in tire #3 that was discovered on day 3 during shuttling, which resulted in a long leisurely lunch in Valles at a restaurant with internet access while it was replaced. More menu decoding and ordering for Hunter

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  • Tim ended up getting moderately sick due to some Tacos at the Hotsprings and this kept him from paddling the class 4/5 Santa Maria run, which is a 7 hour paddle and has a take out where you climb up the side of the 300 foot Tamul waterfall. The flip side was we had a well needed sleep-in as a family and spent a down day laying about in the sun on the grass and playing soccer, which made Hunter really happy.

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  • We all enjoyed the patio life at the end of the Santos River at the Huasteca Secreta and ended up not getting on the road early enough to make it to Ciudad Victoria on the way back to the border. We ended up pulling off the road after driving the highway in the dark too long and wandering into the town of Llera de Canales. After driving around in circles and accidentally driving down a one way street the wrong way, which happened to be in front of the Police station, we ended up having a friendly chat with a Police Man and he found us a hotel to stay at. You get the keys by walking into a small storefront that sells clothes and tourist items and then walk around the corner and down the block to get to the hotel, which is up some stairs and on the 2nd floor of the building. There were 6 rooms in total, with 4 of them being finished. The upside is that they were relatively clean, had showers and basic wifi. The highlight of this stop was the family run taco shop that we found, and ended up sitting out in the street on plastic chairs while eating dinner. They were so excited to meet us that they asked for a group photo before we left.

Overall the paddling was good – the water was warm, we weren’t in dry suits and Hunter successfully paddled a number of drops and runs that he wasn’t comfortable paddling in February.

Upon reflection, the biggest highlights of the trip were all about Hunter:

  • The growth that was evident in his paddling skills and confidence level.
  • His continued willingness to engage with people of all ages and backgrounds – I can confidently say that he made more new friends than we did on this trip…His new buddies Jo and Cole helped to make this a special week.
  • His desire to be independent and learn how to engage in Spanish. He learned to order his own food and at one point asked for money so he could go and get himself an ice-cream, which meant heading off to another area of the large mexican grocery store we were in and managing the transaction on his own.

 

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While we didn’t get much “book learning” done during our 7 days away, this was another validation of the positive impact that Road Schooling has on kids and it continues to excite me about the possibilities as we go forward.

We’re all busy working on our Spanish and looking forward to Ecuador in three weeks!

Weekend in Sedona – let the energy flow!

hiking sedonaWe really enjoyed our very short visit in Sedona back in November so decided to catch it again on our way westward last week. We stayed at the Distant Drums RV Resort in Camp Verde and drove up to Oak Creek / Sedona on Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday we had a bit of a late start and didn’t get riding until around noon. We opted for the Bell Rock trail system in Oak Creek, which is a combination of green and blue trails. Trailhead’s are small and filled with tourist cars so we ended up parking in the main lot next to Bike & Beans – free and lots of space.

After a fun afternoon of biking in Oak Creek, we headed north into Sedona to grab some groceries and go for dinner at Picazzo’s – an organic restaurant where at least 50% of the menu options were gluten free. It was a wonderful treat for me and the boys were gracious enough to come along!

Sunday we woke up early and headed up to the Bell Rock Parkway trailhead to get a parking spot. We ventured out for a scramble/hike and made it to the top of one of the pinnacles, which was full of some stretching our comfort zone moments (more for me than the boys…).

We spent the afternoon at the Sedona Skateboard Park – it is a fabulous facility – really well made and maintained. Lots of friendly kids of all ages out. Hunter had fun with both his BMX trick bike and his skateboard while Tim and I sat in our lawn chairs and enjoyed the sunny afternoon!

I am so glad that we headed back for the weekend. The scenery is magical, to say the least. Big blue skies in the background of red red rocks as far as you can see. Takes your breath away!

Adventures in Tucson, Arizona

hunter bmx park 3We stayed in Tucson for 10 days and it was full of fun and adventure. Yet another stop where we experienced so much more than what you can find on paper…

The first part of our adventure was choosing to stay at the Voyager RV Park. It is a massive (4000 people) adult only community that is geared towards active retirees. We were wooed by the amazing number of facilities and activities and they swore that Hunter was welcomed. Having stayed with Tim’s parents in Florida at an “RV Park”, we were in for quite the surprise here – everyone was incredibly friendly and very very active, physically and socially. I did water aerobics in the pool in the morning (a good level for my side that is still in rehab), the boys spent some time with the wood carving club, Hunter and I played water volleyball most afternoons and we played tennis in the afternoon or evening each night.

We explored the local National Park – Saguaro National Park and learned a great deal about desert plants and animals.

We stopped on the way back home at Ben’s Bikes, learned about the local trails and got invited to check out the BMX track that night – another first for Hunter and so much fun!

We explored the Pima Air and Space Museum and the boneyard – airplanes as far as the eye can see…

All around – a great stop. Tucson seems like a little big city – lots of amenities but still easy to get around in and a very human feel to everything. It also helps that the weather was fabulous!!! Sunny and warm each day.