Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Southern Utah Road Trip


Our plan for how to celebrate our third anniversary started out simple enough.  Brandon and I wanted to visit Arches National Park together.  We planned on driving the 5 hours from Logan, Utah to Moab. We'd stay in Moab for a few days so we could visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and then we'd drive back home.  

However, that simple idea quickly turned into an epic idea.  If we were already going to see two National Parks, then why shouldn't we try to see all five National Parks that happen to be located in Utah?  And if we were doing that, then shouldn't we try to squeeze in as many State Parks and National Monuments that our route would allow?

The end result was a nine day, 1700 mile road trip around the entire state.  We stopped in all five National Parks, seven State Parks, three National Monuments, and a handful of other places of interest.   

I want to tell you about all the amazing locations we visited.  Even if you are familiar with Utah you might be surprised at some of the places Brandon and I discovered.  

Here is a list of the places we visited on that epic trip.  I've even added some places that I discovered after the 2010 road trip.  Click on the name of each place to read the post with all the details.

Day One:

Territorial Statehouse State Park



For a brief time, Fillmore, Utah was the capital city of the territory of Utah. Plans were drawn up for a large capitol building with four wings and a dome. However, only the south wing was completed before the legislature moved the capitol city back up to Salt Lake. Today the building is a museum housing artifacts from the early days of Utah's history.

Cove Fort



Cove Fort is the only LDS pioneer era fort that is still standing. And it's free to visit!

Zion National Park



The Virgin River has carved this beautiful canyon from red sandstone. The canyon is full of lush vegetation. The park has numerous hikes of varying degrees of difficulty. Even non hikers will find something to do at either the Visitor Center, the interpretive center, or Zion Lodge. A free shuttle bus connects you to everything in the canyon for most of the year.

Day Two:

Angel's Landing


One of the most adventurous hikes in Utah, Angel's Landing is not for the faint of heart. The trail takes you from long switch backs in the hot sun, to a canyon with cool breezes. From there you navigate 21 tight switchbacks known as Walter's Wiggles. This brings you to Scouts Lookout. From there you have the choice appreciate the view and then turn around, or you can continue up to the Angel's Landing Summit. The trail becomes increasingly difficult, requiring you to hold onto chains during some parts. The view and the sense of accomplishment that you receive at the top are worth it.

Red Canyon



This small canyon with red rock is relatively unheard of. But pretty much anyone who travels to Bryce Canyon will go through the two stone tunnels in this area.

Day Three:

Bryce Canyon National Park



This National Park is made up of several amphitheaters carved from sandstone. The elements have shaped the sandstone into stone pillars. You can appreciate the odd scenery from trails and overlooks along the edge of the amphitheaters or you can hike down the trains and walk among the stones and pine trees.

Day Four:

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park



Millions of years ago this area was home to many large trees. After those trees died they were turned to stone. Remnants of those stone trees are plentiful throughout this state park. A fairly easy, mile long hike will take you past many pieces of petrified wood.

Scenic Byway Utah Route 12 - between Escalante and Boulder



This 29 mile stretch of Utah Highway 12 connects the towns of Escalante and Boulder. The road runs through a rough, untamed land.

Anasazi State Park Museum



This small museum in Boulder, Utah has several artifacts from the Anasazi Indians. There are ruins of Anasazi dwellings behind the museum. There are also some life-size replicas of what the dwellings would have looked like when they were in use.

Scenic Byway Route 12 - Between Boulder and Torrey



Utah Highway 12 between Boulder, Utah to the south and Torrey, Utah to the north runs through the Fishlake National Forest is a 50 mile stretch of road that climbs to a height of over 8000 feet above sea level. As the elevation changes so does the landscape. There is also stunning scenery every way you look.

Capital Reef National Park



Highway 24 cuts though the heart of Capitol Reef National Park giving you easy access to petroglyphs, pictographs, natural bridges, pioneer era buildings, and spectacular overlooks.

Goblin Valley State Park



The landscape of Goblin Valley State Park is devoid of plant and animal life. Instead it is home to hundreds of oddly shaped rocks known as hoodoos or goblins. A visit to this place is like taking a trip to another planet.

Day Five:

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Hite Marina)



Hite is a remote location with spectacular scenery. The blue water of Lake Powell shines in stark contrast to the red sandstone cliffs. Highway 95 takes you to an overlook where you can view the landscape from high above.

Natural Bridges National Monument



This national monument is home to three majestic natural bridges that were carved from the rock by water. Overlooks connected by a scenic drive give visitors an easy way to view the bridges. For the adventurous, there are trails that lead from the top of the mesa down to the bridges.

Edge of the Cedars State Park



The museum at this state park houses one of the largest collections of Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pottery in the Four Corners Area. Outside the museum there is a ruin of a 1000 year old kiva that you can climb down inside.

Newspaper Rock Recreation Site



Hundreds of petroglyph designs are carved into the face of a sandstone cliff near Indian Creek northwest of Monticello, Utah. This area is less than a 45 minute drive from Highway 191. The rock art is very easy to view.

Ron's Pack Creek Campground in Moab, Utah



Leafy trees, green grass, and a small creek make this campground in Moab, Utah a slice of paradise.

Day Six:

Moab Main Street



Many places claim to be the center of adventure, but Moab truly is surrounded by amazing things to see and do. The city is near two unique national parks, a state park, a major river, and a mountain range. The city's Main Street is a memorable destination itself. Historic buildings and tree lined streets make this town a charming oasis. Great restaurants and many hotels mean that you don't have to travel far for comfort. And chances are, you'll find a souvenir to take home in one of the many gift shops.

Dead Horse Point State Park



This desert state park is located on a plateau that sits 2000 feet above the Colorado River. The river has slowly cut through the land exposing millions of years worth of layers of sandstone. The rock layers have eroded into pinnacles, cliffs. and plains. The view is spectacular every way you look.

Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky District)



Remote doesn't even begin to describe The Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. The area is located miles away from any cities and is accessible by only one road. Most of the area is located on top of a large mesa that rises over 1000 feet from the ground below. You can see for almost 100 miles in every direction - and yet there are few signs of civilization. The scenery is full of sandstone that has been eroded into interesting features by wind and water. Surprisingly, this is actually the most accessible area within the park.


Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky VS Dead Horse Point State Park


If you need to decide between visiting Dead Horse Point or Island in the Sky check out my post comparing and contrasting the two places.

Days Seven and Eight:

Arches National Park



As it's name suggests, Arches National Park is home to many stone arches. There are over 2000 sandstone arches in the park. World famous arches such as Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and Double Arch are found in the park. There are many hiking trails that range from easy to strenuous that will take you up close to the arches.

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (Utah Highway 128)



Utah Highway 128 is a 50 mile byway that runs from Moab, Utah to I-70. If you are travelling to or from Colorado this route is more direct than taking Highway 191 from Moab to I-70, and the scenery is much more interesting. Much of the road runs alongside the Colorado River, and is surrounded by red rock cliffs and mesas. The route passes points of interest such as the Dewey Bridge and the Fisher Towers. There are also several hidden places of interest along the route. Instead of being a shortcut - this route really could be the subject of it's very own day trip.

Alternative Trip (These are places we discovered after the 2010 trip)

The Fisher Towers Section of the Colorado River

There are many ways to enjoy the scenery in Moab, Utah. Perhaps the most refreshing way to enjoy the scenery is to take a river rafting trip on the Colorado River.

Crystal Geyser



Southern Utah is full of unexpected features, but perhaps the most unexpected feature of all is Crystal Geyser. This is a cold water geyser located on the banks of the Green River just a few miles south of the town of Green River.

Black Dragon Canyon



Black Dragon Canyon is virtually unknown compared to other features in Southern Utah. But that doesn't make it less interesting. This canyon has steep sandstone walls painted with desert varnish. A short hike up the canyon leads you to ancient rock art. There are at least two caves located in the canyon. The canyon's close proximity to I-70 makes it an easy side trip. This is a great option if you get sick of the crowds at the various state and national parks in Southern Utah.

San Rafael Swell



The San Rafael Swell rises like a giant wrinkle on the earth's surface. The swell stretches over 100 miles in a north south line. The maze-like canyons and passages through the swell have been barriers to travel for centuries. Interstate 70 became the only paved road through the swell when it was built in the 1970's. The interstate allows travelers a glimpse into the wild landscape. But for those people with time and adventurous spirits the swell has many hidden treasures located along dirt roads. The swell is one of those rare places that offer amazing beauty without crowds of tourists.

More of Day Eight:

Douglas Pass Road



On a map, Colorado State Highway 139 looks simple enough. It runs in nearly a straight line parallel to the western boarder of the state. However, straight is not a word to describe what this 70 mile road is really like. The road climbs to a height of 8000 through several switch-backs. Down hill grades of 7% are not uncommon. This simple looking road is full of adventure.

Dinosaur National Monument



One of the most famous dinosaur fossil quarries is located within Dinosaur National Monument. The Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry is known for it's wall of dinosaur bones where visitors can have a close view of fossils still inside the rock that preserved the bones. The quarry was closed for several years, but now has re-opened. A new visitor center welcomes dinosaur lovers to the monument. Away from the quarry there are several scenic drives, hikes, and even opportunities for white water rafting.

Day Nine:

Utah Field House of Natural History



The area around Vernal, Utah is known as Dinosaurland because of the many dinosaur fossils that have been found in the area. The Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum is located on Main Street in Vernal. This museum teaches visitors about the many fossils that have been found in the area. There are dinosaur skeletons on display as well many plant fossils. There is also a short movie that describes paleontology research. Outside the museum there are several large dinosaur statues on display in the Dinosaur Garden.

Fossil Butte National Monument



Described as an "Aquarium in Stone" Fossil Butte National Monument contains hundreds of fossils that formed in an ancient lake. Many of the perfectly preserved fossils are on display in the visitor center. This is a great place for anyone interested in paleontology.

* * * 

If you plan to visit any of these sites, you should know that most of them charge entrance fees.  Paying all the individual entrance fees for the parks adds up quickly.  Thankfully, there is a Federal Lands Pass that you can purchase for $80.  This will give you access to National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation sites, and so on for one year.  There is also an annual Utah State Park Pass that costs $75.  You can either order these passes online, or you can request them when you visit a park for the first time.  I recommend waiting to buy your pass until you are at the park.  That way you can have your pass for a full year after the day you first used it, instead of the day you bought it online.   

To help you plan your trip I've entered our route into Google Maps.  Click on this image to go to Google Maps.  You'll be able to zoom in on the specific roads.




I hope I can inspire you to want to visit at least some of these awe inspiring places.  We'll start with the building where Utah as a state began - the Territorial State House in Fillmore, Utah.


Want more Utah Ideas?  Check out my list of things to do in Northern Utah.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Eleven things to know before you fly with babies or toddlers

Every few weeks at least one of my Facebook friends posts a question like this one: "Anyone have any tips for flying with a baby?"  I usually write a quick comment with a few of the things I've learned.  I decided that the subject comes up enough that I probably should do a post or two about it.  In this post I'll focus on things regarding airports and airlines.

I'm lucky to have inside information on the airline side of things.  Back in 2010 my husband started working for a major airline company as a gate agent/baggage handler.  The pay was terrible, but Brandon loves everything that has to do with aviation so for a while there it was a great job.  I enjoyed hearing his work stories and learning about the ins and outs of how airlines operate.
 
I also have a little bit of first hand experience with flying with babies.  In July of 2011, when our twin girls were 8 1/2 months old, we decided to use the free flight perks that the airline offered to visit some family in Arizona.  I'd flown on an airplane twice as a teenager, but this was my first time flying with babies.  I learned a lot on the flight to Arizona and back.

Based on what I learned from Brandon's job, and our trip with our babies, I've come up with eleven things that you need to know before you fly with a baby or toddler.  This post will help you understand policies that airlines and airports have.


As a little caveat: most of this info applies to major airlines and major airports. Smaller carriers and smaller airports sometimes have different rules.  Please verify this advice with the airline and airport you will be using.

1. Children from age 0 months to 2 years old fly for free - as long as they are on your lap
Let's start with the reason so many people are willing to fly with babies and toddlers - children can fly for free as "lap children" up until their second birthday.  Even a bad flight is quicker than how long it would take to drive the same distance.  If you don't have other children, flying with a baby is often much cheaper than driving would be.

It's legal in the US to fly with a child under the age of two on your lap.  But be aware that the FAA recommends you provide a Child Restraint System or a Child Safety Devise for your child.  Those sound kind of like torture devises.  In plain English, a Child Restraint System is a regular car seat that is approved for use in an airplane.  Most are, but just to be sure make sure that it has a sticker that says, "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft."  A Child Safety Devise is like a car seat, but it can only be used on an airplane.

Keep in mind that your child will need their own seat if you plan to use either a Child Restraint System or a Child Safety Devise.  That means you will have to either buy a ticket for your child, or bring the restraint along and hope that there will be an unoccupied seat.  If you can't use the restraint the flight attendant will help you store it in the aircraft.

For more info about using child restraints on airplanes go to http://www.airsafe.com/kidsafe/chldseat.htm

2. You can check strollers and car seats for free
You don't need to worry about renting a car seat from the car rental company or borrowing a stroller.  You can just bring the ones you already own with you.  They aren't considered part of your standard baggage so you can check them for free.  The agents at the ticket counter will put tags on them and make sure they make it onto the airplane with the other luggage.

3. Gate check your stroller 
You can check your stroller and car seat at the ticket counter if you like.  However, I highly recommend waiting to check your stroller until you board the airplane.  This is called gate checking.  That means you can keep your baby in the stroller until you reach the airplane door.  This is really nice because you will have a place to keep your baby while you wait at the ticket counter, the security check point, and the terminal gate.

You will have to send the stroller through the X-ray machine at the security check point.  It is a little annoying to take your baby out and put the stroller up on the conveyor belt, but the rest of the time it is really nice to have a stroller while you are maneuvering through the airport.

Talk to the ticket agent about getting special tags for your stroller.  You can wheel the stroller through the jet way right up to the door of the airplane.  Then you take your baby out, collapse the stroller, and leave it by the door on the jet way.  The baggage handlers know to check that area for any strollers, wheelchairs, or similar items.  They'll put the stroller on the airplane after they have loaded all the baggage.  When the plane lands at your destination the baggage handlers there will make sure the stroller is waiting for you in the hallway of the jet way.  You'll be able to push your child in the stroller as you leave the airport.  

4. Possibly gate check your car seat
Babies require a lot of gear.
In some cases it might be a good idea to gate check your baby's car seat as well.  We flew home from Arizona on a standby flight.  We weren't sure we would make it onto the flight we were initially scheduled on.  Rather than check our twins' car seats and risk them arriving in Salt Lake before we did, we opted to keep the car seats with us until we boarded the plane.  It was a little bit of a hassle to cart the seats around, but the peace of mind was worth it - especially when we were bumped off of 3 standby flights.

Planning to gate check your car seat is also a good idea if you think there might be unoccupied seats on the flight.  If there are extra seats the airline may let you put your car seat on one and let your baby sit in it for no extra cost.  Talk to the agent at the ticket counter about whether or not this will be possible on your flight.

5. Pick up checked strollers and car seats in the over-sized baggage area
If you check your stroller or car seat at the ticket counter then those things will go onto the airplane with all the other baggage.  However, depending on the way things are done at your destination, you may not be able to pick up your stroller or car seat at the regular baggage carousels.  Instead, you will have to look for a sign designating where all the over-sized baggage is dropped off.  Every airport is different, but usually the over size baggage comes in on it's own conveyor belt off to the side of the regular baggage carousels.  You can also always ask an airport employee for help finding your large items.  

6. Baggage handlers are in a rush
Be aware that due to the nature of their job, the baggage handlers aren't very careful with things.  You may want to travel with a less expensive stroller than your regular stroller.  Fold and secure the stroller before you board the plane.  It's a good idea to wrap bungee cords around the stroller so it doesn't unfold.  Don't put anything in the stroller that could fall out such as toys, food, diapers, and pacifiers.

I know baggage handlers have a bad rap, but you've got to understand their work environment.  They usually have less than an hour to bring the plane in and get it ready to fly again.  That means taking out all the baggage for people getting off, making sure they leave on the baggage for people who are staying on the flight, running the gate checked items up to the door, taking gate checked items down to the airplane, putting all the new baggage onto the plane, and many other important tasks.  If somethings falls out of your stroller, or your stroller unfolds, they don't have time to stop to pick things up or put the stroller back together.

7. There may be a separate security line for people traveling with children.
When you get in line for the security check, keep an eye out for a separate security line for people traveling with babies, young children, and medical needs.  The line is designated with a small sign with a picture of a baby bottle on it.  Usually there will also be an airport employee who will direct you to that line.

It's a much shorter line than the regular security line.  That means you'll have a shorter amount of time that you need to keep you kids happy.

Even with the shorter wait in the security line, it is a good idea to give yourself plenty of extra time to get through security.  You'll still have to take off your shoes and remove your belt - while keeping an eye on your baby.  You'll also have to collapse your stroller so it can go through the X-ray machine.

When you walk through the metal detector the TSA agents will ask you to hold your baby.

8. Breast-milk and formula can go through the security check
The first time I flew with my twins I worried about what I would do with them if they got hungry while we were waiting at the check in counter or in the security line.  I thought that the strict security regulations regarding liquids applied to all liquids.  So I didn't want to mix up the formula in their baby bottles until after we made it through security.  I spent a lot of time worrying that my babies would start to cry and I wouldn't be able to feed them right away.

On the return trip I learned that bottles with formula and breast-milk are okay to take through the security check point - in reasonable quantities.  The bottles went through the x-ray machine along with all our other items.  I also had some jars of baby food in my diaper bag. The agents took one out and put it in a special machine that verified it wasn't full of dangerous chemicals.

9. You can board ahead of the other passengers
Depending on the airline and the flight, you will probably be allowed to board ahead of most of the other passengers.  This is nice because you won't have to wait in line during the boarding process.  You'll be able to get situated on the plane before the other passengers start cramming around you.

10. There are rules about how many lap children can sit on one row
This is something I discovered when Brandon and I flew together with our twins.  When we went to sit in our assigned seats the flight attendants told us that we would not be able to sit together.  We were on a row with three seats - but only four oxygen masks.  In case of an emergency there wouldn't be enough oxygen masks for the four of us plus the other passenger on the row.  The flight attendants had me move with one of my babies to the row across the aisle.  It wasn't a big deal to find someone who was willing to trade seats. On the return flight we sat in the row in front of Brandon and our other daughter.

11. There are changing tables in the airplane's bathroom
If your baby needs a diaper change during the flight you can change her in the lavatory.  Changing a diaper on an airplane is the parent's version of the Mile High Club.  Brandon is a proud member.  He was sitting on the back row of the airplane with our daughter on his lap.  Suddenly he felt a warm, wet sensation on his leg.  He looked down to realize that he had a serious diaper blow out situation about to happen in his lap.  He got up to change her diaper just as the captain put the turbulence warning light on.  Brandon didn't want to sit back down with the impending mess so he just hurried to the bathroom.  He put our baby on the changing table, braced his leg against the wall, and went to work changing the diaper as the airplane bounced around.  He emerged victorious a few minutes later.  It's one of his favorite stories to tell.

Additional Websites
I hope this list will help ease some of your concerns about flying with babies and toddlers.  If you have any further questions about policies regarding flying with children you can check with the airlines or go to http://www.tsa.gov/tsa-kids/parents-page.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Homemade Trail Mix Recipe

Trail Mix is one of my favorite things to eat when I'm on vacation.  It's good to eat in lots of different situations.  My husband and I love to munch on it while we are driving in the car during our long road trips.  And we always bring some to eat when we get out of the car to go exploring.

Trail mix is really easy to make.  The hardest thing about this recipe is tracking down all the ingredients.  I feel like every ingredient is located on a different aisle in the store.

Homemade Trail Mix Recipe:

Basic ingredients

Mixed Nuts           15 oz container
Peanuts*              16 oz container
Raisins                 20 oz container
Craisins                 5 oz package
M&M's**             12 oz bag

Add-ins

Sunflower seeds     2 oz bag
Granola                 12 oz bag
Dried Bananas        5 oz bought in bulk
Prunes                     5 oz bought in bulk
Chocolate chips     12 oz bag

**Consider buying unsalted peanuts.  There will be plenty of salt in the mixed nuts to make up for the missing peanut salt.

*I like to use mini M&M's because they seem to add the right amount of sweetness.  However, regular size ones work just fine.

Mix everything together in a large bowl.  You can put the mix back into the containers that the ingredients came from.  It's so easy even 2 year olds can do it.   (Add the M&M's last if you are making this with two year olds.)

For pricing purposes I've made a list of how much each of these ingredients costs.  This is based on the regular price at my local HEB Grocery store.  Prices may differ where you shop.

Prices
Mixed Nuts           15 oz container      $6.48
Peanuts                 16 oz container      $3.50
Raisins                  20 oz container      $2.98
Craisins                   5 oz package       $1.88
Mini M&M's          12 oz bag              $2.88
Sunflower seeds       2 oz bag              $1.50 (This is an estimate.  I couldn't find a package.)
Granola                   12 oz bag              $3.27
Dried Fruit             10 oz in bulk         $5.00 (Another estimate - HEB doesn't have bulk foods)
Chocolate chips      12 oz bag              $2.48

Totals                    104 oz                  $29.97

All these things add up, but the price per ounce is only $0.28.  Compare that to an 8 oz bag of store bought trail mix that costs a whopping $3.98 - or $0.49 per ounce.  Making your own trail mix is a great way to save money.

Spending $30.00 on a snack food is something that I reserve just for our annual road trip vacations.  Eating the trail mix helps make the road trips that much more special.

P.S. This will probably be the only recipe I ever post on this blog.  Food is not my passion.  However, if you are interested in more camping food ideas (and recipes in general) you should check out The Dirty Dish Club.  My friends Audrey and Noel will be doing a whole Camp Kitchen Series this summer.  Their first post is Camp Kitchen 101.  It is full tips for how to eat well when you are camping.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Cameron Park Zoo - Waco, Texas

The slogan for the Cameron Park Zoo is that it's the Happiest Surprise in Texas.  And that is certainly true.  This zoo is the perfect size. It's big enough that it has all the animals you expect to see in a zoo, but it's small enough that you can walk around it in just a few hours. It's also shady which means that even on hot summer days this is an enjoyable place to visit. Go see it for yourself - you won't be sorry. 

Location: 1701 North 4th Street  Waco, Texas 76707

Cost: Adults are $9.00, Senior Citizens are $8.00, Children from ages 4-12 are $6.00, Children 3 and under are free. There is a military discount available.  

Operating Seasons and Hours: Open 9:00-5:00 Monday through Saturday and 11:00-5:00 on Sunday.  Open every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years Day.

Official Website: http://www.cameronparkzoo.com/

Dates of Visits: Friday July 5, 2013, Monday November 11, 2013, and Monday May 26, 2014

Recommendation: The perfect zoo to enjoy seeing lots of animals instead of seeing lots of people.

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