Friday, July 26, 2019

Epic Summer Adventures in Idaho

We had the most amazing trip to Idaho this summer and decided that Idaho is a perfect state to get away to adventure because it's so accessible to all of Utah. We chose two places to check out one weekend and all agreed (remember, my kids range in age from 5 years old to 10 years old) that these adventures will be talked about and remembered for years and years to come! And isn't that what we want as parents? To strengthen the bonds we have as a family! So, without further ado, here are the two adventures you MUST take your family on for some epic memories! 

Biking the Hiawatha Trail has been on my bucket list for years and I am so glad we finally made it happen. We decided for convenience sake to not haul our bikes, bike trailer and gear and to rent from Lookout Pass in Wallace, ID. And boy howdy, that was the BEST decision! 

The staff and crew were so friendly and helpful and knew exactly what would be best for our family. We all got fitted for helmets and bikes (including a bike trailer and a tagalong bike). Matthew Sawyer, pictured here, shared stories about the history of the Hiawatha Trail. Like did you know the train tracks (which the trail runs on) was completed in 1909 and then the very next year a fire destroyed the entire area (we are talking 4 million acres in 36 hours!). I, especially, loved the stories he shared. But my kids especially loved the new take on fist bump...called Squid. It is something that my kids do with each other and us now! Thanks, Matthew! 

Here we are double checking that our bikes fit us just right for the 15 mile ride. Oh, and when you rent a bike, they even provide a bike rack for your car (or they'll take the bikes to the trailhead and meet you). And if you rent your bike, you know you will have powerful, working lights for your bikes which is CRUCIAL for the 10 tunnels you ride through. FYI: Every person that rides on the trail must have a permit (you can purchase it at the Lookout Pass location OR at the trailhead).

Here we go into the LONG tunnel! This tunnel is 1.66 miles and I am not going to lie: it is PITCH black dark and cold inside (we are talking 42degrees) and the road - former train tracks - is slick and muddy and gets more so as more riders ride on it throughout the day. In fact, along both edges inside the tunnel are troughs that are 1' deep and 1' wide. So be cautious, especially if you are taking children on this, to keep to the center of the path as it does slightly slope to the edges to keep water off the path. 

The tunnels are just so beautiful, so be sure to take time to look up and around as you bike through. Remember, these are MASSIVE as trains used to travel through them, so I can't imagine that anyone would feel claustrophobic biking along the trail. 

Here we are waiting for a single-file line for our little family. We double checked our lights and put our jackets on at the entrance and I am so glad we did. I led the way (with my son on the tagalong bike), followed by my three girls and then my husband and bike trailer brought up the rear of our "family train".

One really cool feature in the long tunnel was there were numbers painted on the wall every 20 feet or so that counted up from 0 to 50 and then back down to 0, so we knew how far we had come and how much farther we had to go. It was hilarious to hear my son shout out the number, and then each subsequent child to call it out until we reached the end! It made the 15 minute ride through it go by.

Right outside of the first tunnel, there was this pretty little waterfall, so we had to stop and take a pic and take off our jackets (the bike trailer was really handy for storage of snacks and water bottles and jackets). And the employees told us to take our time and stop along the way - they even estmated that it would take us close to 4 hours to complete it and I thought they were crazy as it was only 15 miles, but guess what?! They were right! There were so many places we had to stop and admire the view, or stop and hike, or stop and eat a snack and get a drink, or stop and ready the numerous historical signs that are placed along the route. 

During the ride, you ride over seven trestle bridges and they really were spectacular! One was 980' long! 

I am terrified of heights, but felt completely safe ridging on these, especially with the way the railings are designed. 

NO one is allowed to stop their bike on a bridge, but you can stop before or after the bridge and then walk onto the bridge for is much safer for everyone this way.  

Coming out of another tunnel. The first two tunnels were dark inside, the other ones were not as long, so they didn't get quite pitch black. Some riders choose to ride bottom up...hence, those guys heading in the opposite direction. 

Too many great photo ops along this route. I must say, though, that the best was the conversations I had with each child as I rode alongside them, taking turns. This may sound cheesy, but it was just magical and I am so glad I experienced it with my kids. Each one of them said they can't wait to go back! 

 On one of our stops, we saw a deer (if you look closely you can see it in this picture). We hiked up this little hill past a caved in saloon from 100 years ago and found a stream and some malachite in the ground...pretty darn cool!-- Remember to always practice Leave No Trace and leave whatever you find in place so others can enjoy it, too--

 This is the spot where we found the malachite and shiny metal in the ground...

The craftsmanship of the tunnels were just so spellbinding - it was like biking through a movie set. 

I loved hearing my children "ooh" and "ahh" over it all. At one point, my son (behind me on the tagalong bike) said, "holy cow, mom! Look how small those bikes are on that bridge! Oh, wait, those are probably ants biking." I died laughing, but from the grand scale of everything, they did look like ants, especially to a five year old! 

At the end of the Hiawatha trail, we put our bikes and trailer onto the shuttle and rested while they drove us up to the "exit" of the long tunnel, so we could bike back through it to drop off everything and get to our car.

15 miles and still smiling! THAT is a good ride!

 Even though this trip was absolutely better than my wildest expectations, there are a couple of things I will do differently in the future. Here they are in no particular order: 
- rent 2 tagalong bikes, as both boys wanted to bike; however, having a trailer was so nice to store the snacks and jackets, so if you don't have a trailer, you'll definitely want at least one backpack
- have cash on hand so at the end, we could've bought an ice cold drink or ice cream
- packed a picnic lunch, not just snacks
- packed more water/drinks
- taken a picture with us sitting on a trestle bridge with our feet hanging over

Monday, May 20, 2019

36 Hours in Escalante

It is no secret that we LOVE Southern Utah. In fact, I secretly want to move there, specifically to Escalante. There is just something special about that town...if you've been there, you know what it is, if you haven't, you need to go there! Here is our latest (and if I am being honest, the best) trip to Escalante. If you follow this plan (including the bonus side trips, I can guarantee a swell trip)!

Where to Stay
There is not a better, more relaxing place to stay in Escalante than Escalante Yurts. While you may be thinking: how the heck can staying in a yurt be relaxing?! Well, because Jan and Scott Roundy, the owners, have made sure to build these yurts anticipating your every need. These are not your typical yurts, Escalante Yurts are glamping: they have comfortable beds, bathrooms, kitchens, fire places, and air conditioning. I mean, really, they are beautiful. 

Just about two years ago, we were the very first guests to stay in the yurts and I have to say that they not only have been kept well, but if it is possible, the yurts are actually nicer now! This visit, we stayed in the Cedar Yurt. The Cedar has two bedrooms (each with a queen bed) and a loft with three twin beds. It also has a full bathroom, kitchen and dining area and living area with flat screen tv. Each yurt has a wrap around deck with chairs for you to enjoy the quiet nature of the grounds. While we were outside one morning relaxing on the deck, I saw a yellow and black small bird as well as a bright blue bird! 

The only problem with these yurts are the fights between the kids over who gets to sleep in the loft! It is hilarious; in fact, this time they sat in the loft overlooking the living room to watch tv! Ha! It was handy to keep them out of the way while I made dinner. 

I have always wanted to stay here in the summer, though because I'd love to experience the open window that are in each bedroom and listen to the nighttime sounds from the comfort of the bed...another time!

Another fun part of staying at Escalante Yurts, especially for us is how family friendly they are! They have hammocks throughout the property and a secret swing (which, I kid you not my kids spent hours on!). In the morning, the hammocks were the favorite place for my kids to sit. 

There are also these cool swings hung on a pergola that overlooks the property. Again, my kids loved them. This time around, I got to sit in one and read my book, I may or may not have fallen asleep while reading. 

Each evening, we gathered around the fire pits (there are a few located around the property) to roast marshmallows. The fire pits have everything you need for your nightly fire (except the s'more ingredients). 

What to Do

If you have ever been to Escalante, specifically Hole in the Rock Road, you know how ROUGH that road is. It is big washboard on the good parts and terrible divots on the bad parts. I feel that my poor minivan is going to rattle apart when we drive on it. So, getting some side-by-sides at High Adventure Rentals was perfect! The rental check-in and instructions was easy peasy and we were off!

The drive from the rental location to the Hole in the Rock Road was just as pretty as could be in the morning...look at the farms in peaceful!

If you don't have sunglasses, High Adventure Rentals provides goggles for everyone...which was perfect for my kids because HITR Road is DUSTY! 

We decided to try out a new place that is FAR down the down (about 26 miles) to Batty Pass Caves. I was thankful that Joey, from High Adventure Rentals, told us to turn at the dirt road directly across from the Dry Fork turn off and then to follow until we found this old, rusty car. This car is a perfect landmark to search for!

Here are the Batty Pass Caves. They are found in the mountain above the car. There are three of them to explore. Honestly, they are super well preserved and even if you know nothing about the history of them, someone wrote up a bit of info on the brothers that built these caves and their grand plan. I am pretty sure that the brothers were "bat-s**t" crazy! As they were in the process of building a GIANT boat in one of them the hull is still there! Not sure how they were planning on getting the boat down and across the desert to the Colorado River??

We had a picnic lunch at the caves and just soaked in the amazing view! Gosh, Escalante is spectacular!

Then it was back in the side-by-sides to go play at Devils Garden!

We seriously had so much fun driving around and exploring and NOT beating up our car in the process! Oh, and trust me, rent for 6-hours it goes by faster that you think!

Where to Eat
Escalante Outfitters

After playing all day long, we were pretty darn starving, and knew that pizza would hit the spot and make our hungry children happy once again. I had heard about Escalante Outfitters from some friends in St. George and we decided to head there. The outside of the building looks like an awesome little outdoor store, but inside, there is also a charming rustic cafe. The food looked amazing as I walked through to the counter to place our order. 

We ordered a pepperoni pizza, a plain cheese, a Hawaiian pizza and one just for the adults called the Neon Canyon - a pesto base with veggies, including artichoke hearts! Holy smokes! It was delicious and we devoured it all quickly! (we decided to eat outside under their covered patio so we didn't disrupt the other customers - trust me, angry young children are no fun for others!)

The pepperoni pizza was a HUGE hit because the pepperonis were ginormous! 

We splurged and got some soda to go along with the pizza and this brand is seriously super yummy! I need to try to find it near our home!

Escalante surprises every time we visit it and this restaurant was world class. We will certainly return next time we come to adventure!

Monday, April 29, 2019

36 Hours in San Juan County

San Juan County has our hearts. This past "36 Hours" trip was truly something special. I know that each trip we have been on has enriched our lives and been so much fun and bonded our family in a special way; with that said, San Juan County really is something else. Perhaps it has something to do with the remoteness, or something to do with the sacredness of Bears Ears, or the friendliness of the locals, or the changing scenery, or the incredible food, or the rich history...I could go on and on, but really the only way to understand it is to visit it for yourself! We have wanted to go back to SouthEast Utah for the past 18 months, immediately after our trip to Monument Valley and our stay at Gouldings  Lodge. That trip gave us a reverence for the Navajos and their land, and so we needed to explore more.

Where to Stay:

After much research based solely on pools, I decided on a hotel with a pool/view to die for! And that is my new go-to way to do it! I know, I know, it doesn't look like much from pulling up to fact, I wondered if I had made a mistake. We checked in and the front desk employee was so kind and friendly and checked us in speedy-quick.

Our room was such a nice surprise! We had two queen beds and a refrigerator and microwave (which is a must when traveling with kids as it saves us a ton on food money). I was so surprised how quiet the room was once we closed the door...Hat Rock Inn is literally on the highway, so a room that was silent was a bonus! The owner of Hat Rock Inn, Joy, has recently updated the rooms and really they were lovely. The beds were crazy comfortable...I typically am restless the first night away from my own bed, but I didn't notice that at Hat Rock Inn...score! We had a two queen room (and three of my kiddos slept on the floor with sleeping bags) and it was just great.

The layout of the hotel premises is just amazing - the view along the cliffs and the San Juan River are truly world class!

Our first morning in Mexican Hat, we woke up and ate our breakfast along the deck overlooking the river. We ended up bird watching for over an hour! So peaceful and beautiful!

There are these cool modern leather seats along the glass railing that were perfect relax in and sight see. My kids could have sat here forever! We saw kayakers paddle past us and that was pretty darn exciting! 

I mean, really, the view. I read my book, drank my diet coke and just enjoyed the peace. My family and I are already planning another trip to Hat Rock Inn this summer to tube the San Juan River from the famous Mexican Hat to the hotel.

On Sunday, we spent 6 hours swimming and lounging fact, we ate our dinner and lunch poolside! I have decided that from now on, I am going to choose places to stay based on the pool! This was just perfection!

The pool was heated and is saltwater, which as a former lifeguard/swim instructor, is the BEST! There was a beach entrance to the walled off shallow area which we used as the toy search and rescue area...I'd sit in the hot tub and toss little plastic dinosaurs while my boys would swim around and gather them. Hours were passed this way...glorious!

These are the little toys that now come with us frequently. Boys! Ha!

What to do:

I am not kidding when I tell you that the highlight of this trip was our guided hike with Wild Expeditions to House on Fire Ruins. This place filled my soul in a way that I cannot describe, but it is special!

We met at Wild Expeditions in Bluff and followed our guide, Nate, to the trailhead of House of Fire Ruins. He explained to my children the importance of Leave No Trail before we headed on the trail. The initial descent into the trail was steep and sandy, but Nate was careful to help when needed (no help was needed as we are hikers). 

There were several dips into the dry stream bed and back up the other side while hiking to the ruins...we all thought it rather fun to jump down and scurry back up. And the recent wet winter, sure provided a green landscape which was an unexpected surprise.

I enjoyed watching my children follow Nate like ducklings walking behind him. Nate was truly awesome chatting with the kids and answering and asking questions the entire way!

He also pointed out several plants and biomes native to this Bears Ears are which are being protected. 

And just before we reached the actual ruins, Nate paused and explained how the elements created this phenonenom.  It was really cool listening to him and watching my children understand the uniqueness of this rock overhang. 

And then we had a final lesson at the ruins. I mean, come on, this place is so so cool! Look at how my children were enthralled! 

My daughter brought along a bit of my mom (who passed away four months ago) with this little stuffed Steif lamb. Nate was kind enough to think of this picture and said that now, my mom was with us, too. It was a tender moment shared for all of us. THAT is the kind of great outfit that Wild Expeditions is! The extra mile really impacted our hearts! 

My kids were so careful to not touch any part of the ruins, the walls, the ceiling, and were just so reverent. It was a special trip.

We really cannot wait to go back and do another tour with Wild Expeditions and visit with our new friend, Nate!

Places to eat:

We decided to try a different approach with our meals on this trip: a dinner recommendation and also a lunch recommendation.

For dinner, we ate at this rustic steakhouse and all of us walked away full. The atmosphere is just really perfect for the wild west and the ruggedness of Bears Ears. Like most every establishment in this part of the world, Cottonwood Steakhouse is seasonal. Seasonal means it is only open March through the end of October, so be sure to head down there to try their yummy entrees! 

The steakhouse surrounds this huge, ancient cottonwood tree and all the cooking is done outside! 

The inside courtyard is a great place to dine. We were there during a really high windstorm, so we ate inside the restaurant. But I have no doubt that the outside dining is something really fun! 

We were seated right by the heart of that large fireplace and it was so cozy and welcoming! The art work around the room was mostly the history of Bluff and the Bears Ears area which was so fun to read.

Because we were there early in the season, the cottonwood tree had yet to finish blooming, but it was still stunning. (In the right of this picture is the outdoor grill).

Cottonwood Steakhouse made us the yummiest, from scratch, blue cornbread muffins. And we all gobbled them up!

My son finished off every one's salads and later, my ribs. He walked away FULL to the brim!

I had their famous ribs and the sauce had the perfect kick to it...finger lickin' good, I tell ya! And they are known for their pies miles around...I am not sure there is anything better than a warm apple pie!

For lunch, we ate at the only year-round restaurant, Twin Rocks Cafe. This restaurant and Trading Post is nestled right below the Twin Rocks. 

We were so excited to see those rock formations and more excited to eat some Navajo fry bread!

While we waited for our food - we opted to eat outside since our crew can be quite loud - we visited and played "Would you rather?"

It was hard to decide exactly what we wanted to order...everything looked and sounded so yummy, but in the end, Navajo Tacos won out!

And boy oh boy! We were glad we chose that! They were perfect for a bunch of hungry people. 

I just had to share how a rock had fallen between the Trading Post and Restaurant and has stayed there ever since...pretty nifty!

The boss-lady, Frances, was so gracious and gave us a detailed background about the area and how she has loved living, cooking and serving in Bluff at Twin Rocks Cafe. She was originally from a fancy-schmancy restaurant in Park City, but has truly come to love it in SE Utah!

We left with full tummies and full hearts! But unfortunately, we forgot to go back for some ice cream...some locals said it was the best! Dang it! Next time, it will be our first stop!