Tuesday, August 28, 2018

July 2018, Part 1

I started to type up one big post for this month, but it was just getting WAY too big. Too many pictures to upload and get inserted where I wanted them. Instead I'm going to break things up a bit. So, without further ado, here's the first half of the month of July.

Our month started out the same way the last one ended, with our awesome camping trip spilling over into the first day of this month.  We spent a few days recovering from that adventure and trying to figure out how we made so much dirty laundry in such a short number of days. As much as I just wanted to sleep for a week though, the kids were not content to just sit around and stare at the walls. Darn it! So, we ventured out to a local park that has a nice little stream running through it. I spread out a blanket in the shade of a nice big tree and just lounged around while the kids went wading. It was a pretty awesome way to spend a day!

 Of course, this being the beginning of July there's only so much relaxation that can happen anyways because it's time for Independence Day! We weren't really sure how we wanted to spend our day, so we scoured the internet for ideas, and then set out to see what we could find to do. We started our morning at the Mormon Station State Park, site of the oldest white settlement in the state of Nevada. The state park had a ton of fun games for the kids to play, and they loved running around and checking them all out. Even Ethan and I joined in. :)

 Also at the state park there was some amazing live music. We hadn't figured there would be enough here to make us want to stay all day, but boy were we wrong. Next year we're going back to Genoa and Mormon Station prepared with picnics, chairs, and anything else we might need to just sit and enjoy the bulk of the day here. The music was spectacular, with some really great performers. Our favorite were the Sierra Silverstrings, who reminded us of a fiddling version of the the little girls on Oh Brother Where Art Thou. It was great folk/americana type music and we just ate it up. The atmosphere here was great, and we could have spent the whole day lounging on the grass soaking it all in if we had come a bit better prepared.
 From there we headed down the road to Minden to see what their town celebration had to offer. It was a lot more upbeat of a get-together, with loud music blaring over the speakers, bouncy houses, and free hots dogs and ice cream for lunch. They had blocked off all the streets around the park at the town center so kids were doing laps on their bikes and scooters while parents sat in the sparse shade and chatted. It was fun, but honestly so busy we found it to be a little overwhelming.

 That night we went into Carson City to watch the fireworks. One of the LDS church buildings happens to be just about the closest one can get to where the city launches the fireworks, and church members all gather there for an unofficial dessert potluck. They block off the end of the parking lot so kids can ride bikes and play, and everyone sets up their chairs or blankets on the lawn to socialize until the show starts. It was a pretty good show, and we all really enjoyed the time to meet new friends and get to know some people from our ward better.
 The kids had asked several times in a fairly short time period about how money is made, so when we heard that the historic coin press operates once a month at the Nevada State Museum we decided to go. The coin press was interesting, but the kids really loved the almost real underground mine and all the dead animals (taxidermy and fossils). There's also a fun ghost town, but it creeped the kids out so we didn't spend much time there.
 It was around this time that we finally broke down and turned on our A/C for the first time. It was finally starting to feel like summer around here! Despite the warmer temperatures (still WAY better than what we dealt with in AZ, or even NM) we decided to get out and hike a little trail near town that we'd heard really good things about. We're trying to convince our kids that hiking is in fact NOT torture, but can actually be fun. This trail seemed like a good candidate for this life lesson. :)
 It's a very short walk, but it is up a somewhat steep trail with a couple of switchbacks. It provided just enough of  a challenge that the kids could really feel like they'd accomplished something without being totally worn out. And the view out over the valley was pretty darn great!
 In order to really solidify the "hiking is cool" message, our trail of choice ends in a beautiful little waterfall with a pool at the bottom that is perfect for wading in (if you don't mind wading in ice cold water that is).
 The kids had a marvelous time playing in the water and climbing on the rocks, while I tried to not freak out about all the different ways they could get hurt on the edge of this steep hill.
  Our route back through town towards home led us right past the Farmer's Market, so we decided to stop in for a few minutes. The kids were pretty thrilled to find someone doing free face painting and stubbornly stood in line despite the bright sun and the rising temperatures. 
 About half-way through the month we noticed a definite change in the air, and I'm not talking about a change of season, or weather. Huge amounts of smoke from large forest fires in California and Northern Nevada were settling in our valley, making life not quite so fun as it had been. We went from some pretty great views of the mountains from our front porch to not being able to see even the small hills a mile away. 
 At one point the little town directly south of us was declared to have the worst air quality in the country, even worse than towns much closer to the fire. There were stories of people just 10 miles south of us having to wipe the ashes off their cars before they drove anywhere, and even of people getting Poison Oak burns from the oils in the ashes and smoke.
 It just seemed to get worse and worse each day, too. What should have been some prime summer adventuring time ended up being several weeks of leaving the house as little as possible, and typically only to go straight to somewhere indoors with clean filtered air. We managed to keep Erik's asthma under control, but it was a constant worry, especially on days when just breathing normally was enough to make your eyes water and your sinus's burn.
So, how did we survive the smokepocalypse? Find out in the next blog post! :)

Thursday, August 9, 2018


During the weekend that spanned the ending of June and the beginning of July we decided to go on a camping trip. Our tax return provided us with tents and a few other items we wanted in order to be able to camp comfortably, so for the first time in a couple of years we were finally all set to get out there and enjoy a few days in the great outdoors. 
We thought we had made reservations at the Silver Creek campground, across the state line in California, but when we got there we learned there'd been a mix-up with the dates and there was not an empty place in the entire campground. We debated heading down the road until we found another campground, and just crossing our fingers that there would be room for us there. With daylight fading though, we knew we needed to get camp set up sooner rather than later, so we found a little dirt road that headed off into the trees and made camp out in the middle of the forest.
With fire restrictions we couldn't have a fire outside of an official fire pit, so not only was our camp "dry" (no running water), but it was pretty cold as well. We did have a propane burner that we were able to heat water for hot cocoa though, so life wasn't too rough for us there. :) We'd eaten dinner on the drive out there, and had breakfast all pre-made for the morning, so we really didn't require a fire at all that first night.
We were camped a short walk from Silver Creek, which was tiny but pretty. Ethan took the kids for a pre-bedtime walk and of course the first thing they did was get soaking wet. When I went looking for them a few minutes later I found them all playing in the water. Erik was having a marvelous time experimenting with building/blocking different channels for the water and watching what happened. It was fun to watch him experiment with it all. That kid has such an analytical mind, and it's so fun to see what he comes up with. Sharli was having fun climbing around on the rocks and Maren was pretty obsessed with throwing "boats" (sticks) in the water to watch them float away.
That night was pretty cold, but we mostly managed to keep everyone warm enough to sleep through the night. We were all pretty excited to wrap our hands around cups of hot cocoa in the morning though! The kids were up crazy early, so we ate breakfast and then the kids went with Ethan for a hike while I struck camp. We really did like our little secluded forest glade and would gladly have spent another night there, but we were running out of water and had to move somewhere else.
After I got everything loaded in the car I went and found the rest of the crew and we wandered around the forest for a little while. The kids found this great fallen tree and spent a while climbing all over it. Erik decided it looks just like "where the bears live" and was so excited to be able to play here.

Of course we also had to go back and say our goodbyes to the creek. I think we even managed to stay mostly dry that morning, which for us is a miracle. :)
Erik is such a little hoarder, and wanted to take home every tree and rock and stick that we saw. We had to convince him that taking pictures with/of/on them was as good as it was going to get.
Sharli was not terribly interested in sticks and rocks, but she was constantly on the lookout for anything pretty. She is such a girly girl, but it's so much fun!

While we could have happily wandered the woods all day, we knew there were places we wanted to visit and things we wanted to see that day, so we finally wandered our way back to the car.
We said goodbye to our campsite, piled into our trusty Durango, and hit the road.
As we headed down CA Hwy 4, there were so many pretty places tucked away alongside the road. This little stream was so pretty that Ethan just couldn't pass it by without snapping a picture.
As we were driving we kept seeing signs for Mosquito Lake, and joking about how that was the LAST place we would ever want to stop. Why would anyone want to spend time at a lake so bug-infested that it has mosquito in the name? But then we saw it, and couldn't just drive past. It's really not more than a pond, but it was beautiful. With a cute little cabin on the far side, and lily pads floating on the surface it was spectacular.
Erik got busy throwing rocks into the water right away, but the girls were more focused on the plant life. Sharli was in love with all the wildflowers that were everywhere and wanted to pick them all to bring home with us. Again we settled for taking pictures.
Maren found this patch of super-soft moss, and was mesmerized. She sat there and petted it while the rest of us poked around the lake shore. When it was finally time to get back in the car she actually bent down and kissed the moss goodbye.
It may have only been about 9:00 in the morning at this point, but these kids had already been up since before 5 and put in a full day's hiking and exploring, so they crashed in the car for most of the rest of our drive.

All that driving was for the sole purpose of visiting Calaveras Big Trees State Park. And they aren't exaggerating with that title in the least! We had no idea, until we start researching ideas for our camping trip, that some of California's giant sequoias were just a couple hours' drive from our house. Seeing these trees has always been a "bucket-list" item for both Ethan and I, so we knew that as long as we were going to be half-way there on our trip we might as well go the rest of the way and check them out.
When you pull into the state park the forest actually looks totally normal. You can't tell that there's anything special growing here. In fact as we fought the crowds for a parking space we were feeling pretty disappointed. Here we'd driven all this way, paid to get into the park, and it was just another forest. We stuck around because a) we'd already paid to get into the place, and b) everyone was starving and we needed a place to eat our picnic lunch. As we were eating lunch we caught our first glimpse through the trees of the Discovery Tree Stump. We finished our meal, got it all packed away again, and hit the trail with renewed enthusiasm for our visit.
This tree stump was mind-blowing! Apparently over the years it has been used as a dance floor, a school house, and even a bowling alley. The majority of the tree remnants are still laying nearby so you can really get a feel for not only how big around it was, but also just how incredibly tall too. I mean, just look at the size of the knot holes there by Erik and Sharli sitting on the log!
We wandered down the trail in complete awe of the trees around us. Some of them you could walk right up to, and some they had blocked off to prevent damage to the root systems (which are just barely under the surface, contrary to what one would think with trees of this size).
We kept snapping picture after picture. One of us would be taking pictures like crazy, then the other would grab the camera and take a million pictures. We would laugh at ourselves, knowing that nobody in the world would ever want to sit and look at a hundred pictures of a bunch of trees, but still unable to stop ourselves. I really did try to pick only a few of the very best ones to share here, but it was rather hard to narrow it down.
I loved that even the kids appreciated the awesomeness of these trees. They were really suitably impressed.

There were a couple places where the huge trees had fallen and the hollow logs were still laying on the ground. This one was fairly small, but there was one that was so big it almost felt like you were walking into a cave instead of a tree.

Our hike through the trees ended up back at the Discovery Tree, where we sat to snap a few more pictures, because why not?
We also love all the amazingly huge pine cons that grow around here. They are as big as the kids' heads!
After we finished our hike we headed back up Hwy 4 towards home. We didn't have a plan for where to sleep that night, all we knew was we needed running water and a legal fire pit. The plan was to just stop at every campground we passed until we found one that looked like it had an empty spot, but all the ones right by state park were PACKED. We didn't even bother pulling in to check anywhere out until we got back to Mosquito Lake. Unfortunately it was full, but we didn't have to go too much farther before we found a nice little place that was mostly empty.
Pacific Valley Campground was a really nice little place. We were on the edge of a pretty little meadow with a little stream running through it. The ground was level and the grass was soft, which made for nice sleeping (if there is such a thing in a tent). Ethan took the kids for a walk to swim in the creek, with the intention to give me a chance to take a beak. I'm not so good at that though, so I got camp all set up while they were out splashing around.
This little campground was really a pretty great little spot, except for one thing. The mosquitoes! They were horrible!!!
We had a weenie roast and dutch-oven cobbler for dinner, and it was SO yummy! The kids crashed hard after the busy day, and Ethan and I sat by the fire and had a contest to see who could smash the greatest number of mosquitoes. I won! :)
The kids were up with the sun again in the morning, especially Erik who has always been an early riser. We had pancakes and sausage for breakfast, then struck camp for the last time.
Our campsite happened to be right by the hand-pump that supplied water to about half the campsite. The kids loved getting to help pump the water not just for us, but for any other obliging campers who consenting to letting the kids help them out.
The kids wanted to go back to the creek, so after we had everything all packed up we went back for a little walk so I could see the creek. They were so excited to show me where they'd been swimming the day before.

We headed back towards home along Hwy 4, which is the craziest state hwy I may have been on. It's quite narrow, with most of it being too narrow for two cars to pass one another. That doesn't stop anyone from driving crazy fast along here, and we were nearly run off the road a couple times be people who didn't even slow down before whizzing around us. And of course this is all happening on twisty mountain roads, often with pretty major drop-offs on one side.
There are so many pretty little places along this road though. This little glade was clear full of ferns and Columbine flowers. It was really pretty!

Our main destination along our way home was Highland's Lakes. It was a pretty rough drive on a rocky dirt road, but it was so beautiful once we got up to the lakes. There were a few other people up there, but not very many. It was almost like we had the place all to ourselves. The water was shockingly cold, but that didn't stop us at all!
The kids were pretty willing to spend all day wading in the water, but Ethan and I wimped out after a while. That water was so darn cold it hurt! We had spotted something just up the hill that we wanted to take a closer look at, so we got everyone dressed in warm dry clothes and went for a walk.
The wildflowers in the meadow by the lake were amazing! They were everywhere, and in every color you could want.

We wandered up the hillside and found our objective; this snow bank that was still lingering after the winter.
Maren wasn't real impressed with this weird cold stuff. She was mostly happy to just watch. The other kids (and Ethan) though jumped right in (literally) and had a blast!

We were really enjoying the snow, but the mosquitoes were pretty terrible up on the hillside so we headed back down. By this point we were all pretty worn out and ready to head for home. We had to stop for a while on the way down the mountain due to a motorcyclist who ran off the road. They had to stop traffic to get the life-flight helicopter in there to pull him out. It was pretty crazy to have had that all happen just ahead of us on the road, and we were pretty grateful to get off the mountain in one piece.
After a pit-stop at Dairy Queen, we made it home and were glad to be there! This was such a fun weekend and we hope to get to go camping again before it gets too cold this fall.