On Holiday in Tenerife

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First of all, I would like to wish my lovely visitors a very Happy New Year!

May your year be filled with abundance, adventure and great joy. 

We returned from our trip to Tenerife last Wednesday evening, unpacked and recovered from our travels on Thursday and started back at school on Friday. My daughters, especially the eldest, struggled with the transition back to school. The fact that we have to get up in the dark doesn’t help!

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I thought I would write a little about Tenerife and what we did whilst on holiday.

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands. It is a popular destination with holidaymakers, who can rest assured that there is guaranteed warmth and sunshine all year round. The beaches are black sand due to previous volcanic activity on the island. In the centre is the Teide National Park, home to the towering Mount Teide and the volcano Pico Viejo. The centre of the island is arid and less hospitable compared to the fertile coastal regions. We have visited the island on four occasions in the past and have felt drawn back to explore more of it. There is a lot more to discover here than on some of the smaller islands, we have found. It is somewhere you can really imagine enjoying living.

This time we stayed fifteen minutes drive from Puerto de la Cruz which is a popular tourist destination, especially for German holidaymakers (my German mother was in her element!). It is also a popular spot for surfing.

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There is a very pleasant tree lined avenue leading down to the seafront promenade.

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We were surprised to see several apparently wild chickens scratching around the place, including this rather handsome cockerel!

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The promenade is lined with shops and restaurants in front of the larger hotel and appartment blocks

There is also an outdoor pool complex along the promenade called Lago Martianez which my husband and daughters visited one morning. There are several salt water pools in the complex, including a large pool with a ‘volcano’ that erupts periodically. It is right next to the sea, but this area isn’t great for swimming due to the crashing waves, so the pool is a better option. There is plenty of space to lounge around and it must be a great spot in the summer. Unfortunately the water was too cold to really enjoy and we found the sea a lot warmer at this time of year!

Whilst away, I had to study two hours per day to keep on top of all the work I need to do for my course. I usually studied in the morning – when I was still fresh enough to take things in! –  and my husband, children and later my mother, rested, played or spent time reading or listening to books. It rained for a couple of days  which was a bit tricky as we were all confined to the house in the mornings and it wasn’t too big, but The Famous Five adventure stories came to the rescue! 🙂 The girls were totally engrossed in those stories, kindly read to them by their Daddy! It was a shame about the rain – we have never had any whilst on holiday in the Canary Islands before – but the locals were delighted as it hadn’t rained for some time. It was unfortunate that on the five days my mother was on the island, there were only a couple of sunny days 😦

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We still managed to get out and about in the afternoons and enjoyed some time at the beach. We were staying near El Sauzal on the North Coast, but never really explored this area much as the children were keen to go to the beach (in complete contrast to last year’s trip – the swimming lessons must be doing them good!) and the waves at El Sauzal were too much for them. We visited one of the main beaches near Puerto de la Cruz which was great fun; jumping and chasing the waves for hours.

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We also visited a beach on the South Coast on the day we were picking my mother up from the Southern airport (there are two airports). We particularly like this area: It is called El Medano and is a good base for families and younger folk visiting the island. There are quite a few self- catering appartments and lots of eateries and even a vegan restaurant and a health shop 🙂

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It is a popular spot with surfers and we saw a lot of kite surfers out on the ocean, which was a glorious sight. The girls stuck with their rubber rings (purchased at one of the many tourist shops in Puerto Cruz) 🙂

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The southern beaches are open all year round and the sea is very shallow for quite some distance, making them very safe. We were disappointed to find the Northern beaches closed for some periods. We managed to enjoy the beach there on two occasions before we found it closed on our third visit 😦 We even tried a more secluded beach nearby to see if the situation was different there, but Playa de el Socorro  was also taped off.

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Supposedly they frequently do this as the undercurrents are very strong. For us, the sea looked rather tranquil and the girls were disappointed not to be able to go in for a paddle after the rainy days.

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They tried out the exercise equipment on the promenade instead, which was some consolation 🙂 and we went for coffee and cake at our favourite Service Station Cafe  with an amazing  view.

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The cakes were delicious and the thick Spanish hot chocolates (the kind you can eat!) were a real treat and so reasonable too at 12 Euros for all five of us! We found eating out quite affordable, although we mainly cooked at home. My mother is German so “Kaffee und Kuchen” is the order of the day on holiday – we didn’t complain! 😉

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We visited the Botanic Gardens on one occasion, which was a lovely treat. The tropical plants are so at home in this climate. We recognised many of them from the house plants available here in the UK. Lots of the plants were in bloom and the whole place felt lush and vibrant.

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My mother really enjoyed it, until she stumbled on a big root and fell into a bush! but she quickly recovered herself and we all found it fascinating and relaxing to be surrounded by all these exotic plants.

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There are plenty of beautiful vibrant flowers around the coastal areas of the island too: it is a feast for the eyes.

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Poinsettias grow in the wild in Tenerife – I am always delighted to spot them. When I see them growing wild like this it reminds me of the book The Legend of Poinsettia,  which we love.

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We had hoped to see the Three Kings Procession on the 5th January as we did in Fuerteventura last year, but we didn’t manage to get there in time unfortunately.

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It is typical for the ‘Kings’ to process through the streets on the day before Epiphany, waving and throwing sweets to the children. The Kings are the bringers of “Christmas” presents to Spanish children on the 6th January, when they have their family Christmas celebrations. We did manage to watch some of the procession on a TV screen in our restaurant, which was of some consolation to the girls.

It rained all day on the 6th so we just celebrated with a trip out to a cafe for tea and cake 🙂 There is a traditional Three Kings Cake that can be bought at the supermarket (or made of course!) but noone fancied it.

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We also visited the Loro Parque Zoo after enjoying our trip to the Zoo in Fuerteventura . It was also rather expensive, but there were several shows included and it was an enjoyable afternoon out.

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We particularly enjoyed the sea lion show

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and the dolphin show

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They are such bright, friendly animals – we do love them so.  We also saw an Orca show later – once my camera had run out of battery 😦 -which was very impressive – what amazing powerful animals they are. All the animals really trusted their trainers and were very affectionate with them, which was a joy to behold.

As I mentioned, my camera ran out of battery not long into our visit there, which was a shame as our highlight was most definitely the lions. There are two females that are only a year and a half old and are still very playful and a two year old male who is so handsome. They were fascinating to watch and we could see them very close up, which was a treat. Their fenced off area had plenty of interest and enough space to roam around in, I thought.

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My eldest was particularly excited to see the white Bengal tigers. She loves all wild cats.

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They also have a new inside Penguin Grotto, where they even have snow falling from the ‘sky’ and nice cold conditions for the penguins. It looks really magical.
You can stand on a slowly moving conveyor belt and watch as you move along. Quite special. There were also puffins nearby, which are a favourite of mine.

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Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of photos to show all the sights we saw and the photos aren’t that great – I do need to fix my camera but there never seems to be a good time….

We loved the jellyfish acquarium area. The inside is dimly lit but the numerous tanks, containing a vast array of jelly fish, are lit up to show off their amazing features – it was fascinating to see how they breath and move. So graceful. I could have spent a long time there and wish I had some photos to show for it. I was transfixed. Unfortunately my mother struggles to see in the dark and I was  concerned that she might trip up again, so we had to move on.

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We had planned to visit Mount Teide, but due to the weather and my mother’s mobility issues, we decided to leave it.

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There was often a thick mist over the mountain and we heard there was snow up there. We have visited before and enjoyed many a walk around the rugged landscape.

Our holiday home was well situated in a quiet area. Unfortunately, the next door neighbour was having building work done, so it ended up being far from quiet most days  ☹️ which was a pity. Since then, we have had a percentage of the price refunded to us for the inconvenience, which was a kind gesture.

The house itself is situated right in the centre of the property, with a garden surrounding the house on all sides.

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There were plenty of plants and trees and even a lovely playhouse for the children to play in, which was a bonus!

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The girls had fun playing their fantasy games in the house and up in and amongst the two avocado trees!

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We picked a few avocadoes to ripen with some bananas, but only one actually did ripen by the end of our trip. One of my good friends lived in Spain for a couple of years and had an avocado tree. I was always in awe of it. The avocadoes took a while to ripen, but they were so creamy and delicious, I thought we should try it!

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The views of the sunrises and sunsets from our terrace were stunning. We never tired of the sunsets, especially coming closer to 6pm than the early nights here in the UK.

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We mainly spent our evenings playing cards before bedtime with Oma.

Tenerife is a wonderful island to explore. It is great for touring in the car and for a walking holiday – we did a lot more walking on our visits pre-children. The views are breathtaking and it is affordable and always warm. We did not get around as much as we usually do this visit due to rain and my mother’s mobility issues,  but we still really enjoyed our visit.

For those of you who wondered if we did any crafts on holiday, we didn’t do too much as I was either studying or we were out of the house. In the mornings, the girls made steady work on their reindeer. We didn’t manage to get going on them before our trip, but we are pleased with how they turned out. The instructions in the book said to sew them and turn them inside out. I didn’t read it properly so the girls did blanket stitch all round. As they are quite neat with their stitches, it worked out fine, except for the need to add a few extra stitches to the legs and neck once the body was stuffed. I helped them with this as I blamed myself for not reading the instructions properly and so that they weren’t discouraged. Here they are – one is Rudolph 🙂

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The girls did lots of drawing including these angel pictures.

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I always bring plenty of materials with us – paper, scissors, glue, sticky tape, yarn etc so the girls can make all the contraptions and maps that they desire!  Everything always gets lots of use by my ever creative children 😉

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Back at home the Kings are still on the Nature Table and Babuschka has finally reached Bethlehem – my girls insist she reaches baby Jesus on time – although the Legend has her searching forevermore.

I am planning to set the Nature Table up for winter very soon! It’s so mild and wet here – but we will be glad to see snowflakes and a wintry scene inside.

I have hung up the hearts, on which we wrote our favourite things in 2017, at the back door. It is so nice to have some colour at the window. 🙂

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I had better dig out those lovely window stars we made last year and perhaps make a few more since they bring us such joy.

Hope January is treating you well.

Happy New Year!

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We made it on holiday to Tenerife after all! There were a few obstacles as I mentioned last time, not least our eldest having a major panic attack in the car before taking our flight, poor dear love. It was so distressing for us all and with the pressure of getting to the airport on time and feeling exhausted, we didn’t handle it very well.  😦

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Once things had calmed down, we arrived at the airport with only 50 minutes to spare, but the Gods were with us as we moved easily through check in (we were brought to the front of the queue), breezed through security and amazingly didn’t have far to go to our gate  (it usually takes a good 15minutes walk).  The flight itself certainly wasn’t ideal. We had strong head winds so there was some mild turbulence on and off throughout, but our dear girl handled it admirably: she shut it out by closing her eyes during the stronger turbulence and otherwise distracted herself the rest of the time, by playing hangman, guess the animal and other games with us.

We also encountered several hours of turbulence on our return flight from the States which is why I imagine she went into meltdown, that being her last flying experience. I wish I had had the foresight to arrange a Fear of Flying for Children – will do so in 2018 for sure as my husband is fantasising about a journey to see the Northern Lights for his 50th…

We arrived at our villa by 8pm and were delighted to find that it has a lovely view to the sea and plenty of space around it to play and relax in.

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We are feeling very grateful. It was very bleak when we left the UK and the sunshine has cheered us up already.

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For our New Years celebration, we stopped off en route at a petrol station and bought some ‘junk foods’ like crisps and peanuts (special occasion foods for us) as the shops were all closed by the time we arrived. I tried to make the place look a little festive with bits and pieces I had on hand.

 

In the spirit of gratitude for 2017, I had cut some heart shapes out of card and we wrote down at least five things for which we were grateful in 2017. We all wrote on both sides, realising there was so much to be grateful for in the past year. We are all quite practised now at looking for things to be grateful for, I am pleased to say 🙂

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I have hung them from the ceiling using little pegs on a length of red yarn – there is literally nowhere else to hang them from, as everything is rather sleek and new here. They bring a lovely touch of colour to house 🙂

 

We also looked forward to 2018 by sending little walnut boats into a “lake” I set up. A birthday candle is placed in a walnut shell, by melting the wax into the bottom and the boat is placed in the centre of the “lake” with the candle lit. There are four corners, representing Abundance, Adventure, Healing and Love/Romance. and wherever the boat lands, is the area that will see or needs the most development in the coming year. I wrote how we did this in more detail here

Both of my daughters and I landed in the Healing Corner, where we picked up an angel card. Both my eldest and I picked up the Meditation card and my youngest picked up Spiritual Growth. This was very interesting as since Christmas Day, we have been sitting down for 10 minutes each evening together, looking at a picture of the Madonna for a short time and discussing what they would like to happen in the months ahead (each one of the twelve days of Christmas corresponds with one of the twelve months of the next year, so for example we started speaking about May on Christmas Day). We discuss what comes up for them when we think of that particular month and what their wishes are for that month in 2018.

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They come up with lots of interesting ideas. The girls then pick one of these angel cards (the messages are very suited to children) and I read what it says in the little book that accompanies them. Following this, they either draw pictures or write about what the cards ask them to do. For example my eldest daughter has drawn the “You are Special” card twice so far and we have been discussing what her strengths are. My youngest has drawn “Let go of Your Fears” and “Angel Lights” twice each and we have been looking at what she would like to let go of and she has been talking of the purple angel lights she sees, particularly at school, which I didn’t know of!

They were only asking me a couple of days ago if we could continue these meditations after the twelve nights are over, so when the “boats” landed in the area of Healing and we all picked the Meditation/Spiritual Healing cards, it felt like a sign to continue what we are doing as it is doing us good. Regular meditation and quiet contemplation are undoubtedly great healers. I have also been meditating on my own with the healing Madonna sequence each evening and am so relishing in the peaceful time spent in contemplation before bed. I have the lovely Stacey to thank for this suggestion which I found in her very informative Christmas Eve post (I love all her posts!) I am only now really discovering how special the Holy Nights are spiritually. I had some inkling of it before, but I plan to look into it further and look forward to working with them more deeply in the years to come.

My husband landed on  Adventure, with the Angel Card of “Children”, which was also interesting as he was just saying the other day that he feels he wants to work a bit less and make more time for fun, especially now he is reaching his 50’s this year.

We also wrote our wishes for 2018 on pieces of paper and wrapped them in burlap and string and piece of greenery from the garden. We set fire to them on the bbq outside, sending our wishes out to the universe. Besides this, we drew a simple ‘Wishing Circle’ and wrote these wishes down again, as we often forget what we have wished for. We all put down a dog as our wish! Let’s see…. My eldest decorated it so it looked prettier. We have taped it to the only chest of drawers in the house, next to our line of felt booties, which we peg up daily to mark the passing of the twelve days of Christmas.

One more thing we do at some point over the Christmas period, is draw around our daughters’ hands onto card/felt or whatever inspires us that year, to record how they are growing from year to year. This time they drew henna style patterns on their hands (my eldest was studying ancient India this year at school and is fascinated by everything Indian – except the food!). My youngest daughter doesn’t tolerate henna on her skin, so it was her chance to enjoy the experience 🙂

I find New Year’s Eve a very powerful time spiritually to set intentions and feel deeply into what it is I want to achieve in the coming year. I so appreciate the time and opportunity to do this together with my family.

Apart from this meaningful work, my daughters decided to make party streamers and cut up several paper napkins and used lots of cellotape and paper to create this ‘contraption’ (taped to a bucket!)  🙂 At midnight we waved them around like crazy cheerleaders and did a happy dance 🙂 followed by some time out on the terrace viewing the fireworks. We collapsed into bed at 1am exhausted, but happy!

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I shall leave you now until we return from our holiday. My mother is feeling better now and will join us on Thursday and my husband seems to be fine now too – hurrah!

Wishing you all every good wish for a joyful, peaceful and abundant 2018.

On the Road in the U.S. – Lassen Volcanic National Park

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After our stint at South Lake Tahoe, California  we drove out towards Nevada, passing through Carson City and Reno. The landscape was dry and arid again but we noticed how marshy it was by the Carson river, with the banks spilling over, despite the heat. I did not note anything else down about the journey, except that we headed into a densely forested area of evergreens as we approached our destination of the next three nights; Shingletown, California.

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Our house in Shingletown was just perfect. Set in a beautiful wooded area, it had all the amenities you could imagine (including a working can opener – that was a first for us!!)

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The outside space had a grassy area (albeit artificial grass) with a hammock to lounge on and the porch wrapped around half of the house.

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There was also a gas fire set in the middle of a round table; just perfect for warm evenings sitting outside toasting marshmallows 🙂 When we arrived at the cabin, we found a basket of goodies, including all the ingredients for making s’mores, so we felt it only right and proper to make some 🙂

We also toasted bread and pancake mix on skewers over the fire. We decided that Hersheys chocolate wasn’t really a treat for us, so changed to Lindt chocolate on our second session and that was a treat! We don’t really eat many sugary foods in our family, so this was quite an event for the children!

Our evenings by the fire, playing games and chatting were a highlight of our stay.

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We spent the first day at the house playing and resting. We were still feeling a bit travel weary at that point and tried to give each other space. I spent some time reading and knitting on the porch which I really appreciated.

In the afternoon, we did some tie dyeing, which I mentioned in a previous post. That was a lot of fun, if a little messy! There was certainly a lot of space around us in which to shake the bottles of dye (vigorously!) and do the dyeing process and there was a great washing machine and dryer too. Hurrah!

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The materials were really easy to use and the girls were so pleased with the effects.

They enjoyed setting up their own DIY tie-dye shop upstairs later on, tying their clothes up in rubber bands and offering tie-dye demonstrations for a good price 🙂
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On the second day, as was our rhythm on this trip, we went for an outing to the Lassen Volcanic National Park  which had been recommended to us by friends. We had no expectations about the Park and were very pleasantly surprised by what we found!

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The rocky landscape of the Park originates from centuries worth of volcanic activity. The area was made a National Park in 1916 after a local businessman, Benjamin F Lomis, took photographs of the massive explosion on Lassen Peak on May 22nd 1915. Lassen Peak is one of world’s largest plug dome volcanoes – it last erupted in 1921.

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We entered from the South side. The cost for a seven day pass is $20 in the summer months (April-December). Our first stop was the Visitor Centre where there was information about the area and plenty of photos and in depth detail about the volcanic activity in the area.

There are over 150 miles of hiking trails in the Park. Unfortunately our eldest daughter had blisters on the back of her heels, so she was unable to walk far. We would have loved to have hiked the trail to Boiling Springs Lake – it would have been great to have swum in the lake with its constant temperature of 125 F (51C), but it wasn’t to be. The trail is only a three mile round trip from the Warner Valley Campground.

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But we had fun nonetheless, especially when we found snow in the middle of summer (more than we had last winter here in the UK!) from the Kings Creek area upwards – the girls were astounded!

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We enjoyed snowball fights and the girls loved running up and down the snowy banks near the Summit Lake trailhead.

It was so special being there and we had such fun! We were totally unprepared, so we all ended up with soaking wet footwear, but it was well worth it!

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More surprises were in store of us as we drove back down. Apart from the magnificent views, the carpets of meadow flowers and the sparkling clear lakes, like Lake Helen and the aptly named Emerald Lake, we also stopped off at The Sulphur Works where we saw a boiling mudpot.

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and several smoking fumaroles (indicating that the area still has volcanic activity underground).

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It was rather smelly (think rotten eggs), but so amazing to see the bubbling cauldrons. Both of my daughters were really impressed (not an easy feat!)

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The Lassen Volcanic National Park has so many good walking trails, we really wish we could have spent more days in the area to explore it further.  It felt so peaceful  next to many of the National Parks we had visited thus far with a lot less tourists. A real find!

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We were also delighted to spot plenty of wildlife including chipmunks (which we hadn’t seen since our stay in Grand Lake, Colorado), chickarees and plenty of mother deer and their fawns

In the evening we decided to go out for a meal at the only eaterie in town Pioneer Hillside Pizza .The order took a while – we did not realise they only had one pizza oven! – but the wait was worth it as the food was very good.

Considering how small the Shingletown area was, we were delighted to find a good coffee shop there too. The Higher Ground Coffee Shop has a good selection of food and beverages and friendly owners.  I would certainly recommend a visit if you are in the area.

I will be back soon to fill you in on our next stop  Eureka, California  where we visited the Redwood National Park. Only three more travel posts to go. 🙂

 

Autumn half-term…

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I have been away from this space for a while due to my daughters’ school half term break and all the ensuing family commitments. It has been a busy and full time. Now finally I can sit down and share a few of the highlights of our past fortnight. Unfortunately my camera is playing up and quite a few of my photos are out of focus so I shall have to take it in to be fixed again 😦

DSC08110Firstly we went away for a few days to Hampshire, where we often go in the autumn half term break. My father used to take my sister and I away for a week every autumn half term to a static caravan near The New Forest. It was father-daughter time and we enjoyed the freedom of being away from the watchful (and often controlling) eye of our mother, roaming around, playing cards, TV dinners and late night movies 🙂 It was one of the only times we experienced our father as relaxed (away from the stresses of work and homelife). Often he was impatient and distant, so it was good to see him in a different light. It is probably due to this, that it feels so right to visit this area at this time of year. I do feel drawn back year after year.

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We stayed in the Marwell Hotel  near Marwell Zoo . We have visited the Zoo a couple of times in the past when staying at the hotel, but we wanted to explore the New Forest this time and our daughters were keener to swim in the heated hotel pool in the mornings and evenings – leaving just enough time for the swimsuits to dry inbetween!

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The hotel is set in the midst of a wooded area and feels very special for this reason. There are long gangways separating parts of the hotel which makes it quite unique. Our daughters can never resist running up and down them at any opportunity!

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Even the pool area is surrounded by trees and there is plenty of natural light flooding in. I would highly recommend a visit if you are in the area.

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The hotel does good rates for families, including a very generous breakfast buffet in a nice ambience and of course the use of a hotel pool. We had a lovely family room with bunk beds for the girls (not that my youngest slept in there – that was Daddy’s treat ;-) ).

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On Tuesday, after a swim (of course!), we headed to Lyndhurst to orientate ourselves and find somewhere for lunch. We found a car park and were pleased to discover The New Forest Centre there, which also has a lovely cafe with tasty and affordably priced food. After lunch, we looked at the gift shop and then wandered into the museum for a little look around. We were very impressed by the museum: There was plenty of information on the history of the New Forest and interractive ways of relating to all the activities taking place in the area.

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The girls also did a simple activity of key ring making which they enjoyed. We spent about an hour in there and were really pleased with all that was on offer. I would highly recommend a visit – very educational and above all fun!

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Entry to the The New Forest National Park is free and there are plenty of walking trails, including the well known Tall Trees Trail, which we walked last year. After our visit to the States this summer, where we saw some very tall trees (!) we decided nothing could compare, so we walked an easy trail in Bolderwood instead.

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It was a 2 mile circular trail, with the chance of seeing deer. We really enjoyed the walk through the autumnal landscape, which ended at a Deer Viewing Platform. Unfortunately there weren’t any deers around, but luckily we spotted a majestic stag by the roadside a couple of minutes drive down the road, so we weren’t disappointed after all. 🙂

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In fact we spotted numerous ponies and the wonderful sight of a mother pig and a big group of youngsters – such a delight!

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The animals are owned by Commoners (local folk). They are allowed to graze the forest and in return they keep the area from growing too wild, eating all the gorse and brambles. Pigs are mainly seen in the autumn months when they roam around eating acorns and things that would make the ponies sick,  so it is a very beneficial arrangement for all.

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After a good walk, we treated ourselves to a slice of cake at a lovely tea room near Brockenhurst that we stumbled upon quite by chance as we struggled to find a parking spot in the village. It is part of a Garden Centre and you need to walk through several long greenhouse structures to access the tearoom, but what a find!

Really quirky with delicious cake and a lovely variety of herbal teas – we felt spoilt! The Garden Centre itself was also a treasure trove of interesting items!

Apart from our trip away, we enjoyed meeting up with two sets of friends that we only every see in the school holidays. We had lots of fun, trying to catch falling leaves and running around together.

We went up to Wisley again – one of our favourite places as I mentioned in my last post – to see our favourite friends.

As soon as we arrived, we headed straight over to the girls’ favourite spot where they immediately immersed themselves in their favourite fantasy games and my dear friend and I had lots of time to catch up on each other’s lives, sitting in the autumn sunshine. Bliss!

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I cut out some strips of green card beforehand and stuck a strip of double sided sticky tape down the middle so the girls could make themselves simple autumn leaf crowns. It was a hit 🙂

We all had a lovely time as ever. Due to the shortening days, the Garden closed earlier than usual, much to everyones disappointment. Time flies with good friends!

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My mother also visited us at the weekend and we spent a lovely day at a privately owned garden Borde Hill in Sussex. Whenever my mother visits we try to take her somewhere nice in nature so she really enjoys her visit and it’s a relaxing break from her life in London.  We often visit Borde Hill for my Birthday in June as the roses are at their most full and fragrant at that time of year and the place is truely magical (well, that’s how this Midsummer baby sees it 🙂 ). We have never visited in the autumn before, but were not disappointed! The autumn colour was spectacular and as it has been so mild this autumn, lots of flowers were still in bloom and there were even butterflies.

Borde Hill always hosts a Hallowe’en trail in the autumn half term break and we were really impressed by how creatively and thoughtfully it was put together. Our daughters thought it was fantastic.

 

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It ends with a visit to the “Witch’s Lair”. The witch was away for a little while when we arrived there – I do think the girls were secretly relieved!! Daddy played the witch for them – far less scary!

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There are two restaurants at Borde Hill. We went to Cafe Elvira which was great. The staff were so friendly and the food was excellent – so after a tasty lunch, we couldn’t help return for cake later on! The cafe ambience is light and airy and the food is really reasonably priced. It is separate from Borde Hill Garden, so you don’t need to go in the garden to visit the cafe. I would highly recommend it.

We also made some slime using this youtube tutorial that the lovely Helen shared a couple of weeks ago. It was really fun to make. As you can see the girls were delighted by the process and the result 🙂

Unfortunately the shaving foam smell is a bit overpowering for them so they aren’t playing with it so much now, but sometimes the fun is in the making. 🙂

Apart from these highlights of our half term, I spent time finishing Birthday makings for my eldest daughter’s 11th Birthday and organising a Hallowe’en party for the same day. I shall write more on that soon. For now, I am taking a deep breath after putting the house back in order and am looking forward to a different pace now the children have returned to school. After the busyness, a moment of quiet….Breathing in, breathing out….we need both…

I do hope you are all enjoying spending time outside at this glorious time of year. 

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Because it is still so mild here in the UK, I leave you with a favourite autumn song from our early years time at school. So beautiful sung in a round. It was the only song that comforted my youngest when she was a baby, so it will always be a special song for me.

Yellow the Bracken,
Golden the leaves,
Rosy the apples,
Crimson the leaves,
Mist on the Hillside,
Clouds grey and white
Autumn good morning, summer goodnight. 

 

 

On the Road in the U.S. – Lake Tahoe

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Leaving Sugar Pine, California, we drove through the town of  Mariposa which seemed like it would be a great base for exploring Yosemite. The town sprung up during the California gold rush when people came from far and wide to pan for gold in its stream beds.

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We noticed there were two museums about the town’s mining history, which I think would be worth a visit. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to stop off.

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On our travel through Mariposa County, we saw a lot of trucks heavily laden with logs. This continued on our whole drive to the West Coast and we saw a lot of tree felling too.

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We also saw great stretches of burnt earth and trees, which were a very sorry sight. The area is susceptible to forest fires, as are all the forested areas in the country.

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We crossed the Merced river and travelled a very windy road through the mountains.

We passed through Oakdale, California, which is dubbed “The Cowboy Capital”. There were certainly many ranches with hundreds of cattle, and plenty of horse corrals.

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and once again we drove past miles of farming land with fruit and nut orchards and sugar cane and cornfields aplenty. As I mentioned in my previous posts, the scenery is so varied on our long journeys.

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In the early afternoon, we entered an area of pine forests, which led us to our destination of South Lake Tahoe, California. 

Lake Tahoe is the largest Alpine Lake in America and the second deepest at a whopping 501 metres deep at some points! South Lake Tahoe is the biggest city on Lake Tahoe and is both a summer and winter playground. This beautiful lake area is enjoyed for its watersports and hiking trails during the summer months and skiing and winter sports, in mountain resorts like Heavenly, during the winter months. There is always a lot going on and a good nightlife scene. South Lake Tahoe straddles California and Nevada.

We were staying in a residential area on the Californian side  in a very cosy cabin, with so many lovely touches, we felt at home right away 🙂

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There were fairy lights around the girl’s bedroom – so cosy.

We counted 42 bear ornaments

and 16 deers, not to mention squirrels, pinecones etc. This is just a tiny sample!

On our first day, it rained the whole morning – as was typical of our trip thus far! so we spent the morning inside playing, sewing, reading and dressing “Burford Bear” in the different accessories that were provided for him 🙂

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As you can see, the girls enjoyed dressing up too!

By the afternoon, the rain had stopped and the sun had dried away any traces of rain, so we seized the moment to walk to the lake for a swim in the crystal clear waters. Great swathes of the beach are private property, but there was a small public beach which was absolutely fine. I assume there are further beaches along the coast that we did not get to explore.

The water was a little chilly (it being an alpine lake!) but it was very refreshing 🙂  and good to be outside. There is nothing like lake swimming – so relaxing. Our daughters found it a bit too cold so didn’t stay in long enough to take a photo, but they still fancied an ice cream afterwards! 🙂

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The area is really pretty, with alpine huts and a friendly relaxed atmosphere.

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In the evening, we went back to the coast for a meal. It was lovely to sit outside and was by far the best food we had eaten on our trip so far (except at our friends house in Colorado). The area is very expensive – an ice cream cost $5, so as usual we parents did not qualify! But it had a lovely holiday feeling which we appreciated – since we were on holiday 😉

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We got talking to some ‘mature’ lady visitors at the restaurant who were delighted that we were playing cards whilst waiting for our meal. We always do this to pass the time or we play “guess the animal” (someone thinks of an animal and we ask lots of questions with yes and no answers, to find out what animal they have in mind. Requires no props so always good at any moment!) I do think from our observations, that people of our age rely more and more on gadgets to amuse their children in restaurants, so I think they found our set up familiar and refreshing 🙂

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On our second day, we had planned to visit the incredibly beautiful Emerald Bay and walk one of the trails, but unfortunately a couple of us weren’t in the mood for driving anywhere and needed another day close to home (by this time we were over half way through our trip and flagging a bit from all the moving around). My husband and our daughters went for another swim whilst I sat at home and did some knitting and reading (first time in the whole trip!)

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Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed watching the wildlife on our doorstep – chickarees (see above – so sweet!), Stellar’s jays, tree creepers and a woodpecker pecking away at a neighbouring house!

We really enjoyed being in the area and would have liked to have stayed longer to explore South Lake Tahoe further, but we had a tight schedule for our trip and needed to move on.

Next stop, one of our favourite places Shingletown, California to visit the Lassen Volcanic National Park.

 

On the Road in the U.S. – Bakersfield, Sugar Pine and Yosemite National Park, California

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As we left Las Vegas, we drove straight into the desert. The signs for attorneys and injury lawyers that I mentioned in my last post lined the road out of Vegas as well 😦 We drove past miles of sand, cacti and low growing brush, interspersed with rocky areas with yucca type planting and taller cacti,

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and as we crossed the Californian border, more of the same stretched out infront of us.

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I think we must have spent several hours driving through the vast  Mojave Desert in the 106F heat – thank goodness for airconditioned vehicles!

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We marvelled at the long freight trains making their slow transit across the country to destinations unknown,

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and the hundreds of transporter trucks waiting to cross the Californian border into Nevada.

 

I was in my element as I am just a little bit obsessed by the look and size of these trucks! They are so impressive – the lorries in the UK pale in comparison!  😉 And being someone who loves to travel, I like to imagine where these goods are travelling to and from and what kind of journey they will be taking 🙂 We so often take foods in supermarkets for granted; we don’t think of all the miles they have travelled and the people involved in growing, harvesting, packing and transporting them before we find them in the supermarket…

Our journey also took us through the Sierra Nevada mountains, which ressembled huge sand dunes, covered in dry sand-coloured grass.

 

I couldn’t resist another truck photo!! 🙂

The journey from Las Vegas to Oakhurst, California – our destination for the next three nights –  is seven and a half hours long. Since we decided never to drive longer than five hours for the sake of the children, we broke the journey up with a night in a motel on the outskirts of Bakersfield, California.

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We stayed at the Days Inn and I would certainly not recommend it! We booked from England, thinking that motels would all be of a similar quality and were attracted by the hotel pool, knowing it would be hot. But it was clearly not a great place to stay and the breakfast was just plain awful – we only drank water as there was nothing that even ressembled food there! 😦 I have since spoken with friends who travel a lot in the States and they recommend Super 8 motels and Holiday Inns as consistent, reliable motel options.

The pool was ok (except for the used diapers/nappies by the side and the tiny shards of glass that my eldest got in her feet! ….) and we all really appreciated the chance to cool off with a swim on our arrival and in the morning before we set off.

 

The Sizzler restaurant opposite was a real find as they have a generous salad bar and there was something for everyone (which certainly wasn’t our experience in most places…)

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After Bakersfield, the landscape changed to farmland on a GIANT scale: there were huge herds of cattle; in their hundreds and over fifty miles of orchards, grape vines, orange groves, fields of sweetcorn and sugar cane and acres of nut trees. The endless miles of trees and vines was staggering to us folks from a small country! (but then a much bigger population needs feeding!)

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And once again we saw the long freight trains and streams of transporter trucks ferrying goods across the country.

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We spotted industrial units for orange processing and Californian raisin plants.

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 It was certainly a hive of activity compared to our previous days drive through the desert!

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We arrived at our destination in the early afternoon. We were staying in an area called Sugar Pine in a log cabin nestled amongst pine trees with a small stream running nearby.

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We were delighted to discover wild flowers and wildlife on our doorstep.

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dear Sweet Peas – always a favourite 🙂 

A highlight for us was watching the hummingbirds visiting the feeders outside the kitchen window – it turned washing up into a real pleasure!

 

We were also visited by several Stellar’s jays who swooped down to feed on the monkey nuts we left out on the railing. Unfortunately they were always too quick to capture properly on camera – a flash of blue and they were gone!

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but we could certainly hear their noisy squawking in the trees!

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On a walk to the mill pond with my eldest daughter, we spotted some beautiful dragonflies,

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and a baby bird on the ground, peeping for his mummy who was nowhere to be seen. We had a little chat before leaving him in peace.

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The Sugar Pine area was created by the Madera Sugar Pine company to house lumberjacks and loggers from 1899-1931

 

There were lots of old photographs in the cabin of that era.

 

Our host told us the story of how one of the old log hauling trains “Arthur Hill” had come off the tracks whilst hauling hundreds of logs and how his grandfather and the other loggers had had to put the train and its load back on the tracks – what a feat that must have been!

The cabin we stayed in was cosy and rustic. It had an open plan layout, including the sleeping area (reminiscent of Little House in the Big Woods, but with modern amenities and a popcorn maker!) Despite being comfortable, we all struggled to get a good night’s sleep there. There seemed to be a funny energy about the place.

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We were told by our host that the cabin used to house the old dance hall, which initially sounded fun and romantic even. But when we thought about it, it is unlikely that women would have been in the area out of choice. We imagine the company may have brought in prostitutes to keep the loggers and lumber jacks happy and relaxed after a hard days work, with dancing and other amusements? It certainly had an air of unhappiness despite its cosy appearance….

But as always, we made the most of our stay and enjoyed our evenings sitting on the outside porch, watching bats flying overhead and listening to the thrumming of the hummingbirds’ wings as they flew back and forth between the feeders and nearby bushes. We also noticed mystery footprints on the outdoor BBQ cover and wondered if there were racoons in the area…unfortunately we never did see any….

 

We enjoyed our evening strolls by moonlight, eating blackberries, picking flowers, singing songs and playing “follow my leader” 🙂

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Sugar Pine is now a residential area with some holiday rentals. It is certainly a friendly place and a peaceful spot to spend a few days.

The nearest town Oakhurst, California has a plentiful supply of supermarkets and pharmacies (we had pinworm so we know 😦 ) and is a good base for exploring Yosemite.

So onto our day out at Yosemite National Park.  Yosemite was made a National Park in 1864 to protect and celebrate the Giant Sequoia groves, the huge granite monoliths and the beautiful valleys that were carved out by glacial activity.

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We entered the Park on the South side. The entrance fee is $30 during the summer months (valid for seven days).  We were told to arrive early if we wanted to get a parking spot at the Visitor Centre. We arrived around 8.00am, but this was clearly not early enough! There was a lot of traffic backed up to the entrance and by the time we reached the Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre car park, after a forty kilometre drive, it was full up 😦 If you are lucky enough to park there, it is a good place to orientate and inform yourself before setting off. You can also access the regular shuttle buses that can take you round the Park in a relaxing manner.

We did find a short stay parking spot near the Visitor Centre, where there is a big store which stocks everything you could need if you are staying or camping in the area, so we stocked up on a few things to eat and drink and drove on.

There are several stunning waterfalls in the Park. Our first stop was Bridal Veil Falls, which was a short easy walk from the main highway.

 

 

It was so beautiful. Unfortunately as it was August, there were a lot of tourists everywhere (like the Grand Canyon) and it didn’t feel quite as special as we had hoped for that reason. I think we had been spoilt in Colorado with such beautiful quiet spots to walk in.

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Yosemite is a great place to hike and bike. Unfortunately the main trails in the Valley were too busy for our liking so we decided to drive up to Glacier Point instead, as our host said it was the most beautiful spot in the Park.

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When we were half way up, we were redirected to a car park and told that the Glacier Point car park was full so we would have to take a shuttle bus 😦 We looked at the queue of almost a hundred people and decided against waiting!  Luckily when we explained to a ranger on our way out that we were only there for the day and we didn’t want to queue with the children, he took pity on us and waved us through. Hurrah!

On the drive up we saw deer, squirrels and a coyote!

 

Unfortunately we couldn’t take a photo of the coyote as we were in the car on the other side of the road, but it was an exciting moment for us! We stopped off for a walk in a quiet area and enjoyed the wild flowers.

 

 

 and the lovely meadows and we even discovered a “gnome home” in a tree 🙂DSC00466

We had hoped to walk a longer trail, but there were posters saying a mountain lion had been seen a few days earlier and to be extra vigilant. Not surprisingly, the children didn’t fancy it!

 

As we drove up, we noted pine beetle is attacking the pine trees here too 😦

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On arrival at Glacier Point, we found a parking spot and were glad to take a break from driving. The views over the deep valleys that had been carved out in the Ice Age were just stunning and well worth the long journey.

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We viewed the huge granite monoliths of Half Dome (5000ft above the valley floor) and El Capitan (3000ft) and wondered how anyone would want to, let alone be able to, climb the sheer face of them!

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We really enjoyed seeing the long sweeping waterfalls, the wide open meadows and the stunning scenery, but it was marred for us by all the driving and crowds. Another disappointment was that the Mariposa Grove with the giant sequoias was closed for restoration work.

I personally wouldn’t recommend visiting in the summer months if possible, as it is so crowded and busy. I would like to visit again one day outside the main season and stay in the Park for several days so as not to feel hurried. It is a huge place after all and we only saw a small sample of it. There are lots of accommodation options in the Park, including several campsites that are on the shuttle bus routes.

This has turned into a long post….It was quite a journey! I shall take a break now….

Next stop South Lake Tahoe, California

 

On the Road in the U.S – Las Vegas, Nevada

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The drive from Williams, Arizona towards Las Vegas took us through more areas of red soil and rock and a forested area, but after Kingman, Arizona, the landscape became progressively more sandy with low dry brush.

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We stopped off en route at the Hoover Dam.

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After passing through a security checkpoint, we drove over the Dam (car parking is $10, a Dam tour is $30 for 8 yrs and up or a 30 minute power plant visit is $15 for adults, $12 for children) and in so doing crossed over from Arizona to Nevada.

As our children were tired and it was very hot (104 F), we decided not to stop for long. Luckily we managed to find a free parking space where we could stop for a few minutes to view the Dam and take photos.

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When we stepped out of our airconditioned vehicle, the dry heat hit us like a wall, but we still managed to take in the impressive view and were so glad we came.

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Hoover Dam was built over a period of five years (1931-6) during the Depression, when thousands of families descended on the area in search of work, camping along the river until the Government initiative to build semi permanent housing in Boulder City, Nevada.

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This Concrete Arch-Gravity Dam measures 726.5m high and spans the Colorado river between Nevada and Arizona. The work must have been extremely gruelling with the oppressive heat and the sheer size of the project. Even before dam construction could begin, the men needed to divert the mighty Colorado river through four 50-foot-diameter tunnels, two drilled through the canyon walls on either side, with a combined length of around three miles. What an achievement in Civil Engineering terms and a testament to the American spirit of progress and “can do” attitude.

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The dam was built to irrigate the low lying desert plains, for flood control and to provide hydroelectric power to municipalities and industry.  Lake Mead Reservoir supplies millions of people and farms with water in Colorado, Arizona and Nevada, as well as being a beautiful all year round recreational area.

From here, it was only 24 miles to Las Vegas – in the heart of Nevada’s desert.

We very soon started to notice signs for casinos and also lots of signs for injury lawyers (!) all the way into Henderson and onto Las Vegas, which was rather disconcerting. The roads got busier and more disorientating as we drove into Las Vegas, where there is a five lane highway on either side! Eek!

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We were staying at the Stratosphere hotel which is quite far down on the Las Vegas Strip but from our 24th floor room (!) we could enjoy a view of the Strip lit up in the evening.

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We were mainly in Las Vegas because it was on our route, but my husband and I visited in 2003 and remember rather enjoying looking around the amazing hotels on the Strip and we thought our daughters might find it fun too, which they did. It was super hot there (106 F), so we were in and out of air conditioned hotels and spent a lot of time in the rooftop swimming pool in our hotel

The mood of Las Vegas is pure hedonism, decadence, extravagance and gluttony. There is the seedy side, which my daughters luckily did not notice (the signs for girls to your door, the gambling, the debauchery), but there is something very appealing about the place (in small doses).

Massive hotels like the The Bellaggio,  The Venetian,  Paris and Caesar’s Palace are incredible – truely they are more like cities, than hotels…

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When you enter one of these vast hotels, it as if you have entered a new dimension: the heat and crowds from the street melt away and you are immersed in something quite special. There are shops, boutiques, eateries and much more (casinos, hotel rooms, spectacular shows…). Each hotel has a theme and the hoteliers have spared no expense to recreate Italian cities or Parisian boulevards. It is really very impressive. There are blue skies with light fluffy clouds that seem to stretch to the heavens. It is all quite extraordinary and we were all quite captivated by it. One could spend all day and night in these places, not knowing what time of day it is. Crazy!

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We only really had a day and night to explore the area, but we felt we saw enough. Of course there are a lot of amazing hotels on the Strip that we didn’t see, but I think we got the impression….

We strolled down a Parisian boulevard and visited a traditional French patisserie,

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ate Italian gelato by a Venetian canal,

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saw Roman statues and took in the grandeur of Caesar’s Palace,

and  admired the artistic beauty and vibrant colour in the  Bellaggio village

and of course there were the crazy all day buffets

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Las Vegas really came alive in the evenings. Although it was still hot, it was easier to walk around and we really enjoyed seeing the Strip all lit up and spotting men dressed up as Elvis and dancing girls with all their feathers.

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The Bellaggio does a spectacular water show at 15 minute intervals throughout the evenings which we enjoyed watching, accompanied by the sweet tones of Billie Jean.

Last time we visited Las Vegas, we approached it from the other side and after a long time driving through the desert, we suddenly saw this mirage. It is so incongruous to this desert area – maybe that’s what makes it so appealing: An oasis in an otherwise barren landscape?

I have mixed feelings about the City. It provides thousands of people with jobs  and there is definitely a spirit of camaraderie between the workers but the excess, gluttony and the heavy load on the environment can be hard to stomach. But all in all it was a good experience. It’s always best to find the good in everything, I find.🙂

Next stop Yosemite National Park….back to Nature 🙂

On the Road in the U.S – Grand Canyon, Arizona

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Travelling west from Dolores, we were met with great expanses of desert and heat (thank goodness for the aircon and the cool box!). This area (which includes the Mesa Verde National Park) is known as the Four Corners region because it is the only place in the U.S. where four States meet – these being Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. There were the occasional interesting rock formations on the way

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but generally the land was quite flat and so vast.

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At one point we stopped off for gas at the only gas station around that also happened to be a historic Trading Post selling traditional American Indian wares amongst other things with wonderfully clean restrooms (it isn’t always thus and we have checked out plenty!) That was a pleasant surprise 🙂

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This area we drove through is Apache country. There was very little in the way of settlements on the drive, except for a couple of areas like the Red Mesa, Arizona (presumably called this because of the red rock in this territory)

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These couple of communities seemed to be well set up with housing, a school and a medical centre and some signs of industry. I believe the majority of the people living there are of American Indian origins. The area feels so inhospitable to someone not indigenous to the region.

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What I noticed and impressed me whilst driving through the “Wild West” was the endless pylons stretching across the deserted areas, connecting people across the country to the source and the never-ending roads built through an inhospitable and arid landscape.

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This work must have taken decades of hard graft in intense heat. It is incredible how much has been acheived in the way of connecting and taming this great vast country since the original pioneers headed West in the 1800’s. I must say I admire this indomitable spirit of progress, a true pioneering spirit and a “can do” attitude that gets things done. Of course we have only covered a small portion of the U.S but these were my impressions at this point.

The landscape changed every so often to low growing bushes and some trees and more lush vegetation, but it was still sparsely populated.

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At the Grand Canyon Junction we noticed how the clouds cast a shadow over the plains, giving the impression of a lunar landscape (difficult to capture on camera).

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By the time we arrived in Williams, it had started to rain heavily with thunder and lightning 😦

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This is a colour photo!

My eldest spent most of the time hiding under her cosy cover in the back of the car as she really hated it…such a shame there were a series of thunderstorms on our arrival at each of our destinations in the first weeks…

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We were pleased to arrive at our cosy holiday home and take refuge from the rain. It had such a homely feel, which is just what we needed. There was even a reading nook for the girls

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and plenty of cupboards to play in – very important! 🙂

Just as well as it rained the entire first day with occasional heavy thunderstorms. We were happy to stay in and catch up on our crafting. including finishing our pom pom chain. There were a lot of sweet vintage features in the house including this phone, which reminded us of the phone Ike Godsey has in The Waltons 🙂

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nostalgic – who me? 

The girls got very involved in a fantasy game of Pooh and Piglet  and made good use of all the tupperware on offer (for honey and haycorns of course!), laundry baskets (great for haycorn gathering) and the coloured paper that I brought with us 🙂

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There was a lovely porch to sit out on, where we could enjoy watching the rain when it wasn’t so heavy.

The place was full of character and we really appreciated the attention to detail. It was real home from home.

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We were staying in a residential area, only a short walk from the main street.

Williams is on the historic Route 66 a route popular with bikers and travellers.

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so there are plenty of motels and diners carrying the Route 66 plaques and shops selling memorabilia. There is also a local brewery and quite a few shops selling American jewellery, pots and artisan crafts.

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My favourite thing was the sound of the train whistling in town – it made me smile and launch into a certain Johnny Cash song several times a day 😉

There is a daily train leaving Williams at 9.30am and returning from the Grand Canyon National Park at 3.30pm. It’s a long two and a quarter hour journey compared with an hours drive, but it looked like fun. Although I fancied the experience, we didn’t want to be tied to set times.

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So on our second day in Williams, we visited the Grand Canyon National Park . The main attraction is of course the Grand Canyon itself which is a 277 mile long gorge, carved out by the Colorado River and geological activity over the past six million years. Tourists either visit the North or the South Rim, depending on where they are approaching it from. As we were coming from the South side of the Colorado river, we went to the South Rim. The Canyon is from 4 miles up to 18 miles wide and 1 mile in depth. Looking down to the river, your eyes find it hard to comprehend this depth: it really is unfathomable and quite astounding.

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The last time my husband and I visited in May 2003, we were camping near the North Rim and awoke to a snow storm! We went to the observation point hoping to catch a glimpse of this geological marvel, but couldn’t see anything at all! It was very disappointing, having journeyed all the way there, but we quickly moved down to New Mexico as the weather wasn’t set to improve.

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This time we were fortunate to have lovely weather – a little too hot for my daughters’ tastes but a nice break from the rainstorms! The altitude is 7000ft so we were a little out of breath at times, but the view made up for all that. WOW!

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The Canyon is one or the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and surely one of America’s biggest tourist attractions. There were tourists from all around the world, something we did not notice so much at any other National Park we visited. The South Rim is well served by several free shuttle buses which is helpful when you need a break. The bus drivers are really fun. One pretended he was a cowboy and there was lots of “saddle up” and “yee haw’s” that we had to join in with!

Of course you can hike the Canyon, but we were told this is not for the faint hearted. A back country permit must be purchased and a hiker would need to be prepared for every eventuality as the distances are great and there is no access to water. As we could only spend half a day at the Canyon, we stayed on the Rim and still enjoyed fantastic views and plenty of walking!

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After a brief look around the Visitor Centre, we walked over to Mather Point, which is only a 5 minute walk. It was busy, but the views were well worth it – just stunning. We then walked along the South Rim to the Yavapai Geology Museum where we had a look around. Our daughters weren’t as interested as they were at Mesa Verde as Geology is a bit too abstract for them at the moment.

We walked a part of the Bright Angel Trail, which is luckily on the Shuttle Bus route, so when the girls tired after a mile or two of walking in the heat, we were able to  take a bus to the furthest point Hermit’s Rest (where there was a snack bar and gift shop and more amazing views!) and treat ourselves to a much needed ice lolly. 🙂

As for wildlife, we spotted several Albert’s Squirrels – so sweet!

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and enjoyed watching the ravens in making the most of the big wide open spaces.

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We even spotted a blue jay much to our delight (but he was too fast to take a photo of – something I also found with Steller’s Jays later in our trip).

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I would highly recommend a visit to the Grand Canyon National Park. The Canyon is just so vast and unfathomable with incredible depth and colour – the photos don’t do it justice. I would have loved to have visited at sunrise or sunset but that will have to wait for another visit. 🙂

My daughters weren’t as awestruck as we were as they had seen pictures of the Arches National Park, Utah in a book and I think they were hoping they would be able to walk amongst the rock formations, which isn’t the case here, but I am sure they will remember thDSC00074e majesty of this natural wonder.

On our drive back, we stopped off at a gas station to use the restroom and this time the gas station doubled as a cavernous crystal shop with a Western theme outside!

Such fun! And such a beautiful shop with all that lovely crystal energy. The big amethyst geodes were just stunning (but way too heavy to fly back with!!)

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Well, that’s my round up of our time in Arizona. Next Stop Hoover Dam and Las Vegas, Nevada.

 

 

On the Road in the U.S. – Colorado Part 2

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I have a slight obsession with big American Trucks….

Our travels took us to the South West of Colorado, driving over mountain passes – as high as 10,000ft at one point, past isolated ranches with a couple of horses and a few cattle, past an alpaca farm (we fell in love on the spot!) and past endless sunflower fields.

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After being surrounded by pine trees for the first week, we really noticed when the trees suddenly disappeared and a relatively barren landscape opened up before us.

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We stopped off in Ridgway for lunch at the True Grit Cafe, named after the John Wayne film that was made in the area. It is decked out in cowboy paraphenalia with a cowboy outfitters next door. We sat out front and ordered the bean soup, which was surprisingly delicious and satisfying. I would recommend a stop there if you are in the area. The staff were super friendly too.

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As we drove further on, the scenery changed again to rocky cliffs. This is something I really noticed on our travels. A four hour journey would always take us through very varied landscapes, which made the journeys so fascinating.

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The second property we stayed at was in the small town Dolores. Colorado. I believe the area is popular for river sports and hunting and as a base for exploring the Mesa Verde National Park  (along with Cortez and Durango).

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Our animal loving, vegetarian daughters felt very at home in the property, despite the stuffed lynx with a bird its mouth on the entrance wall and all the Elk hunting magazines. There was a lot of outside space to play their fantasy games and there was even a hammock to lounge around in by the river.

Inside was also spacious, which was just as well as it rained and thundered on our arrival and the morning of our first day there (to my eldest daughters dismay). We spent the first day at home, as mentioned in my previous post, playing board games and working on crafts. By the time the weather had brightened up, the girls were fully absorbed in a game of Pippi Longstocking, having ‘devised’ a car on one of the beds,

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They continued their game outside once the weather improved. They had a fantastic time and it was lovely to see them playing so well together.

Pippi Longstocking is such a great story – it really captures childrens’ imaginations – oh how amazing it would be to be your own boss, in control of your own life, doing all kinds of unsensible things, being superstrong and independent and having so much money that you can spend it on any extravagance! A child’s fantasy! 🙂

All children love the idea of the free range childhood of days gone by, when it was safe to go out all day long without your parents knowing what you had been up to (before cars and health and safety!). I am so glad my children at least have our quiet road to roam in and the local park when they feel braver.

Anway back to Dolores!…

The girls made friends with the neighbours dog ‘Butter’- we think she is a Chihuahua- Jack Russell cross. She was delightful and came to visit us several times a day – By the end of it, I think we had all fallen in love with her sweet friendly nature.

On our first night, my husband and I just happened to go out to get something from the car and were awestruck by the night sky. The sky was ablaze with stars. As there is no light pollution in this area, the stars felt so radiant and close and there were just so many of them twinkling brightly above us. It was a special moment, one we would never experience at home. A real blessing.

Dolores has a small but exceptionally well stocked Food Market  (with plenty of organic options) and a friendly cafe The Pony Expresso (with wifi), which I would both recommend if you are in the area.

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On our second day, we travelled to the Mesa Verde National Park (20 minutes drive from Dolores), home to the ancestral Pueblan tribe from around 550AD to 1300AD. The site was re- discovered in 1889 by the rancher Richard Wetherill whilst searching for stray cattle and was made a National Park in 1906 to preserve its archeological heritage – which includes 5000 archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings.

Our first stop was the relatively new Visitor Centre (which only opened in 2012 – the last time we visited was in 2003), where you can buy tickets for tours to visit the Cliff Dwellings, see various exhibits and generally orientate yourself before entering the Park. The entrance fee to the Park in the summer months is $20 for a car and is valid for 7 days.

There are two Mesas – the Chapin and the Wetherill Mesas. I would recommend visiting the Mesas on separate days as there is a lot to see. We all wished we had stayed longer as we loved immersing ourselves in the history of the area and imagining how the Pueblans lived there.

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Our friends had suggested a tour of the Cliff Dwellings as you only get a real feel for their size and position when you are in them, but my youngest didn’t like the idea of climbing the long 10ft ladders or crawling through tunnels on her hands and knees (!), so we chose to drive the Top Loop on the Chapin Mesa instead, which was actually great. We got to see the earliest pit houses and also to view the later Cliff Dwellings from afar. It is a good option if you are only there for the day or if you have mobility issues.

It took around half an hour to get to Chapin Mesa from the Visitor Centre. Our first stop was the Archeological Museum. We really enjoyed exploring the museum and watching the short video about the ancestral Pueblan people, their life and why they eventually left the Mesa around 1300.

In short:

  • They started as “Basketmakers” around 550AD, using their weaving skills to make baskets to carry water, store grains and even to cook with. They farmed beans, squash and corn and were mainly hunter/gatherers, using stone, wood and bone to hunt with. They lived in pit houses, clustered into small villages on the mesa tops and cliff alcoves.
  • In 750AD, “The Pueblo period”, the tribe started building their homes above ground,  constructing them from poles and adobe, and building the houses one against the other in curving rows. There were still some pit houses which were later used as kivas (ceremonial rooms). With time, the ancestral Pueblans perfected the bow and arrow and became better hunters and the women became skilled pottery makers, creating all sorts of pots to store food and water in, as well as cups, bowls, ladles and cooking pots. The pottery was also traded for other items that they needed.
  • In 1000AD, stonemasonry took over from the adobe constructions: instead they built houses with thick walls two to three story high that were joined into units of 50 or so rooms. In this period the Pueblans started farming the Mesa top land.
  • By 1150 thousands of people were living on the Mesa Verde. Many lived in small villages in close proximity to each other with kivas and courtyards as an integral part of the village.  The walls of the homes were plastered and all the work had become more refined in this period including the pottery work, which typically included intricate black and white designs. These beautiful pots were used for ceremonial puposes as well as being traded.
  • In 1225, many people moved into Cliff Dwellings in the cliff alcoves. They ranged from one room houses to 150 room community centres, including Cliff House. 
  • By 1300, after 24 years of drought, the whole tribe had left the area. It is unclear why, but they are known to have moved South to New Mexico and Arizona.

After our interesting museum visit, we walked over to view Spruce Tree House, which is usually accessible on foot, but was closed due to safety issues 😦

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The Top Loop road took us to several pit houses and remnants of early villages,

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We enjoyed finding out about the underground Kivas (ceremonial places), which were entered by a ladder through a hole in the centre of the roof.

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Kivas were orientated to the south and were used for various social gatherings including ceremonies. Each had a fire pit with a ventilator and an air deflector and an entry point for the spirit world. We noticed how they became better made and larger with time to accommodate, we imagined, more villagers.

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The Top Loop also took in a vista of the Navajo Canyon

and a view of Square Tower House, one of the Cliff Dwellings, where we saw an archeologist at work.

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We were told that archeologists can only access the area using the hand and foot holds that the Ancestral Pueblans carved into the cliff face!

We also enjoyed distant views of the Cliff Palace and Balcony House,

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There was also a Sun Temple on the Loop, but that was closed to visitors.

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The Top Loop is 6 miles long, so is very manageable in an afternoon. There is plenty of information on the history of the area and we felt that we got a real feel for how the Ancestral Pueblans would have lived.  I highly recommend a visit as it is such an fascinating place. I would love to enter the Cliff Dwellings next time. 🙂

I will stop now as these travel posts are rather lengthy. Next stop is Williams, Arizona and a visit to the Grand Canyon 🙂

On the Road in the U.S. – Colorado Part 1

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I am finally getting round to writing about our travels. It will no doubt be a several-part affair as our weeks were full and there are tales to tell 🙂  Yes, it’s going to take me a little while, but I am really looking forward to revisiting our trip now we are back home in the UK.

For the most part, we really enjoyed the trip, but there were certainly challenges with changing accommodation every three days (I would recommend a minimum of 4 days per location if possible) and the long (4-6 hour) drives. We invested in a dual in-car DVD player  before our trip, which took the edge off the long journeys for the children. They enjoyed watching a couple of DVD’s from our own selection on each journey and it helped pass the time. Our children rarely watch films, so they were rather pleased with this arrangement 😉 We could think of no better alternative, so we set the car up accordingly and they were happier for it. As there were no car seats, we bought a couple of cheap cushions from Walmart for the girls to sit on and they had their blankets (and cuddly toys) to cuddle up with in the back.

By the end of the five week trip, I do think they might have been tired of watching the same DVD’s again….yet another repeat episode of the Waltons, Bewitched, Pollyanna, Calamity Jane, High Society, Winnie the Pooh…!

As an incentive for the girls to stay positive on the long journeys (ie no bickering, complaining etc) – and because we wanted to reward them for their patience – we gave them a $1 each per successful long journey. By the end of the trip, they had managed to earn a nice couple treats, which they appreciated 🙂

The car journeys were the only time my husband and I really got to talk freely, without the children listening in or interrupting (we all went to sleep at the same time, which was always rather late and slept in separate rooms, each alternating sleeping with one of our two daughters as they were having fears and it was all so unfamiliar to them). I really appreciated the long drives for this opportunity to talk with my husband, discuss life and share our thoughts and dreams and of course for the time to knit and to stare with wonder at the endless yet varied scenery.  I do love to drive in the States – the distances, the expanses of land, the differing scenery- it is all so awe-inspiring (for this girl from a small island!).

We hired a very comfortable car to help make the journeying easy and it was a good base in-between accommodation 🙂

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Anyway back to the beginning….

The flight went really well  – after my eldest daughter’s months of anxiety about the flight, it was a real relief to actually be on the flight! We upgraded to Premium Economy to make it a more comfortable experience and it was well worth the extra money. We had really good service, spacious leg room, room to move around and a better rapport with the flight attendants. Both my daughters delighted in discovering the ‘goodie’ bag on their seat before the flight (ear plugs, sleep mask, headphones, small cushion, blanket, toothbrush, toothpaste…) 

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For the flight, I packed a couple of soft fleecy blankets that my daughters use for camping, so they had something cosy and familiar to snuggle into. I also packed each of them a drawstring bag of ‘tricks’.

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These included their favorite snacks, writing materials, stationery, activity books, a few small toys and some soft cuddly socks. 

They were delighted to discover these new treats. I would definitely recommend packing something similar for long haul flights to keep your children entertained. 

It took us almost a week to fully acclimatize to being in the US: to the different foods (it was incredibly tricky to find good vegetarian options that the children would eat  –  they are creatures of habit. On travel days we often let them have ice cream, crisps or a muffin for lunch as there was nothing else they would eat!!! Eek!);  the higher prices; the different currency; getting used to tipping; the bigger cars and roads and even the language differences (you say tomato I say tomato….). The jet lag and a change in altitude to over 8,300ft (when we live at sea level!) didn’t help : we were waking and sleeping early for the first week and were often light headed and out of breath and my eldest felt quite nauseated by the change in altitude with daily nosebleeds 😦 , but we still tried to make the most of where we were (since we were only ever anywhere for a maximum of four nights) and the scenery is just so stunning. 

Our first stop was Grand Lake, Colorado, a summer and winter playground.

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We stayed in an A-frame house in the midst of a pine forest (booked through VRBO) .

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It was situated a short walk from  tranquil Columbine Lake

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and was a lovely cosy start to our holiday.

We spent the first couple of days taking in our surroundings, exploring the area a little and enjoyed a daily ritual of a morning coffee and snack at the Blue Water Bakery. For old times sake, we visited Lemmon Lodge, where my youngest was conceived – she’s an American girl :-).

It has a sweet waterfront beach area and jetty, where we spent some time playing, splashing and enjoying the view.

What we were particularly looking forward to on our trip was seeing the different wildlife and even in those first few days, we weren’t disappointed. On our arrival at our holiday home,  we came face to face with two lady moose wandering about our property 🙂

And on our second day, we also spotted a large male moose down our road with huge beautiful velvety antlers (when I didn’t have my camera with me – sob!).

We ooh-ed and aah-ed over the tiny cute chipmunks scampering around the area 

and about the town. 

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and coo-ed over the delicate little hummingbirds paying an evening visit to the many feeders hanging up in the town. They are so so tiny, graceful and just so perfect. 🙂

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We enjoyed discovering many new beautiful wild flowers including these pretty Columbines 🙂

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As I explained in my previous post, we settled into a rhythm of sorts, spending our first day in a new property (and location) finding our feet and staying close to home. On our second day we typically went exploring.

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On our second day in Grand Lake, we visited the Rocky Mountain National Park. The entry fee for a car is $20 (valid for seven days). Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side and by the time we reached the top of Trail Ridge Road on the west side, we were in the middle of a thunderstorm! We later realised we should have left earlier in the day, as the thunderstorms tend to be in the afternoon. We did spot an extended family of deer and enjoyed the staggeringly beautiful scenery on our drive up, but as my eldest is petrified of thunderstorms, we did not do any exploring.

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Yes it was pretty cold up there!! The road is only open from May-October.

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here my youngest is comforting my eldest during the storm – it made her smile! 

We took shelter in the Alpine Visitor Centre and were delighted to spot a solitary marmot at 11,796 ft.

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When we drove down again, the weather had improved, so we went for a short walk along a trail. 

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and took these photos.

We visited the Rocky Mountain National Park with my eldest in 2008 and took a very sweet photo of her with a Michaelmas daisy when she was just a year and a half old – it is such a precious innocent photo. We tried to recreate it – the daisy looks so much smaller with our now ten year old! Her sister also wanted a photo of her own 🙂

We noticed a lot of the pine trees were stripped bare and looked a very sorry sight. We were informed that pine beetle was doing all the damage and there was an aerial spraying campaign to eradicate the beetle and protect the trees. We found the same problem across the country. Those beautiful trees looked such a sorry sight 😦

Back on the road…..

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Our next stop was staying with my friend Katharine and her two teenage children  in Carbondale, Colorado. We have visited twice before and really love the liberal vibe of the town. Everything is easily accessible and it is a very friendly place. The main street has plenty of cafe’s, thrift shops, a couple of small brewery pubs and the whole area is very bikeable.
On our first dayy there, we spent quite a bit of time ducking in and out of cafe’s, playing cards, as our friend was working from home and it was thundering outside again. 😦

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here we are playing one of our current favourite card games Sleeping Queens

On Saturday we went for a hike with our friends up the Avalanche Creek Trail which we all really enjoyed. We had to ford a river on our way there (thank goodness for our sturdy car) and hop across another on our hike (my youngest got very wet feet!). 

We discovered a wild raspberry patch much to everyone’s delight.

and enjoyed spotting the native flowers, including wild rudbeckia (a very popular garden plant back in the UK).

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Just because…. 🙂

At the end of our hike we had a very refreshing (icy!) dip in the mountain stream.

The views and the scenery were breathtaking and it was so great to get moving physically after feeling so out of breath for a while.

We also visited a yoga/wellness centre near town with my friend Katharine

where we walked a great reflexology path and a meditative maze.

I must say it was so good to spend those four days with friends and to fully acclimatize to being away in a cosy home environment. Our friend Katharine also gave us a big cool box to use for our journeying, which was such a great gift (we had planned to buy one anyway). It meant we could transport things from one property to another without spoiling.

I will stop writing now as I feel this post is long enough today! Next stop Dolores, Colorado where we visited the fascinating Mesa Verde National Park. 🙂