Wednesday, September 18, 2019

36 Hours in Bluff

36 Hours in Bluff

Friends, I feel like we hit the jackpot with this location for our 36 Hours Series: Bluff, Utah. Boy howdy! This one is a hidden gem, that I HAVE to share with you because it was our very favorite trip and adventure yet! Our 36 hours here thrilled us, filled our souls and left us in awe and wanting more! I promise that you want to make this your #1 on your next place to go! Without further adieu, here are the specifics: 

Where to Stay:

We stayed at the brand spanking new resort, Bluff Dwellings Resort. Whoa! Did you read that right?! A "resort" in Bluff?? Yep! Bluff Dwellings Resort is a resort and they thought of every detail to make your stay comfortable, relaxing and unique. We stayed in one of the Family Dwelling Pueblos. It is a two story, stand alone little house nestled next to the prettiest stone cliff. The ground floor has one bedroom with a king bed and ensuite fancy bathroom. It has a walk in closet and a little nook off to the side (which I told my husband would be perfect for a pack 'n' play if we had a baby still). There is  a flat screen tv in the king bedroom (we are not a tv watching family, but it is a nice touch when vacationing).  There is also a full kitchen and living room (with a sleeper sofa). As we travel with five children, we've learned that having a kitchen to cook our own meals saves us a TON of money. I am so glad that a fully stocked kitchen is in the Family Dwelling.  Oh, and we even had our own little patio with a fireplace and grill! See, what I mean?! They thought of everything! 

Upstairs there is a room with a queen bed, a set of bunk beds and another full bathroom. My kids LOVED the bunk beds and may or may not have fought over who got to sleep on top. 

We arrived in Bluff about 8:30pm and of course had to go swimming upon arrival. The pool was unbelievable! Something so unexpected in such a small town! The pool had a beach entry, a waterslide and waterfall. I am a wimp when it comes to cold water, and this pool was perfect. Plus, there is the largest hot tub we've ever seen. The sunsets both nights took our breath away.

Nothing beats night swimming at Bluff Dwelling Resort, except perhaps swimming in the day!

After swimming for an hour, we headed back to our dwelling to hit the sack since we had the most epic day planned! 

What to do:

Wild Expeditions is on the same property as Bluff Dwelling Resort, so it was easy peasy to wake up, get our swimsuits and sunblock on and walk to the excursion office. We chose the Kayak/Hummer Expedition. Basically it is a guided 8-mile kayak trip on the San Juan River with a few stops along the way for snacks (which they provide), drinks and exploring some petroglyphs (we finally learned the difference between PETROglyphs and PICTOgraphs!) and even some floating in the river to cool off! We really scored with the BEST guides out there, Louis and Frizzle (I only can remember his nickname, sorry, Frizzle!) We jumped in a van with our kayaks towed behind and drove to the entry point for our adventure. Louis fitted all seven of us in life jackets and then gave us a brief run down on safety, how to paddle with a current - we have all kayaked before but always in a reservoir or lake, so a river with a pretty swift current is different - and how to have fun. 

Here is Louis going over some basic principles of paddling - I loved how my kids actually listened and responded well to him (even my 6 year old who is looking at me, is giving a thumbs up). 

One thing that my kids got such a kick out of (and let's be honest, so did I) was that the lifejackets had nicknames on the back of them. This guy was "Water Rat" and we have since called him that - he's always been comfortable in the water so it just fit perfectly! 

Louis made a point to show the kids how to do everything with the kayaks, so they had to pull them out and get in them just like the adults. It was cool to see my kids do hard things on this trip. (I also learned that my waterproof case is not the best for clear photos...I am now buying a GoPro)

Here are my 9 and 10 year old girls figuring out how to paddle with a current that wants to pull the "ducky" (a term we learned for inflatable kayak) close to shore. Full disclosure: there was some yelling and tears between these two; in fact, Louis suggested that maybe we should separate them, but by the time we were going to do it, they'd figured it all out! YES! 

I had my 6 year old son in my kayak and the "baby" (he's 5 years old) was with my husband. Our youngest daughter rode with Louis. 

Once all the kinks were ironed out with paddling, we were well on our way! Because the San Juan River is swift, there was not a lot of paddling, rather it was like this, "paddle, paddle, float, float, steer, float, float, paddle." Just perfect for beginners like us!

This gigantic wall is nicknamed Tiger Wall and it was mighty impressive to paddle right up to it. It reminded us all of Lake Powell which would make sense since we were only about 50 miles away. The San Juan River flows into Lake Powell and is quite warm, too. 

About half-way, we stopped on a sand bar, had some snacks and drinks and played along it. 

My son found a track in the sand, which I thought was a coyote, but it was actually a raccoon. 

We had to get a family picture...I think it will be our Christmas card picture. 

The kids even had to pull our duckies to the other side of sand bar to launch them again. 

We had so much fun floating along the river and cooling off, especially the kiddos. Louis was so patient with my family, bless his heart. 

We pulled off couple more times to check out some petroglyphs. Do you see them? These ones are etched in the patina - which makes them PETROGLYPHS and they are around 2000 years old! 

Louis walked us right up to them for a better view. He reminded my children to respect and Leave No Trace. In fact, he often reminded us of it and I LOVED that! Just because we practice it, doesn't mean that everyone does. So bravo, Wild Expeditions!

Then at our last stop, Frizzle (the other guide), was there with an amazing lunch spread waiting for us under a shady, ancient tree! We had sandwiches made with the yummiest flatbread, fresh fruit, veggies, chips and cookies! It was so lovely! (I especially love how excited my boys are in this picture to see the food!)

After filling our bellies, we loaded up into the converted military hummer for a WILD and exhilirating ride to check out some ruins. I had to snap this photo while everyone was loading up because the view. A million dollar view. 

Doesn't this set up just scream FUN! We all took rides in the high third row and I must admit, it was AWESOME!!! 

I am so glad that when we booked the tour, the guide company recommended sunglasses for everyone because they were beyond useful for the kayak portion (the sun is intense on the river), but also for the hummer portion with the dust. After all, we were exploring a desert. 

The knowledge of Louis and Frizzle was so impressive and they taught us all about the ancient civilizations and cultures that occupied the area. Here is a ceremonial kiva which was near the entrance of the only opening of Comb Ridge. 

This hill in the background is San Juan Hill and the early Mormon Pioneers climbed up it in an effort to settle Bluff. The steepness and scale is hard to capture in pictures, but let me assure you THAT effort would have made me cry. What a history!

The most impressive stop on our hummer tour was to see this majestic ruin, The River House. It was placed in the alcove perfectly to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter and the workmanship was outstanding. 

After a history lesson, Louis and Frizzle led us up close to see it and experience it - of course, without touching it. 

It was a very warm day (which is how we like it), so riding in the open air high seats at the back of the hummer was a real treat! 

I have to say that I am terrified of heights and curvy roads and yet, I felt completely safe crawling up some insane cliffs in the hummer. Full disclosure: I did close my eyes sometimes. And I am so glad that my husband snuck this picture because those smiles are real. It was the best trip EVER! 

After the kayak/hummer expedition we went right back to the pool! Look at the setting! We literally swam all day and well into the night. 

In fact, both of my boys became complete experts swimming without puddle jumpers in this pool! When it was time to leave Sunday morning (after two more hours of swimming), my kids asked if we could live in Bluff. And I told them we would try our best; if not, we are DEFINITELY coming back to Bluff Dwellings Resort and to go on a multi-day river trip with Wild Expeditions. 

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!