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Almost home….

I fluctuate between feelings of complete joy and utter sadness that our epic journey is coming to an end. We drove our motorhome out of our Arizona driveway exactly 6 months ago. Our family of six was full of excited anticipation for what the open road had in store for us. Our story has now been written with 13,000 miles on the RV and 44 new states visited. Home isn’t far off and I’m not sure if I want to jump for joy or ignore what I’m seeing as this has all gone way too fast.

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Tonight, we are overnighting just a couple hours from home in Tucson. I feel like I could shed tears of excited anticipation of all that arriving home means. I miss my kitchen and laundry room. I miss my girlfriends. Our church. The kids sports teams and school. I miss having quiet space around me. We miss everyone and everything that brings meaning to our normal daily lives. But, we did it! We did what we so crazily sought out to do and I couldn’t be more proud of our family.

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The familiarity of this landscape mixed with the dry, warm air feels right. It feels oh so good after spending most of November in cold weather. Let me tell you, freezing temperatures make the camping lifestyle way less desirable!  Although our family is excited and ready to return, we have been reminiscing and laughing about moments made during our cross country trip like we may forget what we’ve just experienced together once we walk out the door of our mobile home and back into reality.

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Our map on the back of Ally B is complete for now. These are the states we visited along this journey. It’s hard not to mark off California, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado and Wisconsin though, as we have spent time in all of those great states, just not in the RV. I’m still torn on whether we should put those stickers on, because North Dakota and Alaska are our only two states that we have not been to at all…. yet! Thanks for following our journey! More to come once we get settled back in!

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A personalized poem from the Big Easy!

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Walking around the French Quarter in New Orleans, Morgan was drawn to his sign- Pick a subject, get a poem. Ok. Let’s do it! We gave David the subject of our family traveling around the USA in our motorhome. He asked us to give him 15 minutes to compose something and here’s what he came up with. Simply brilliant!

Life on the road in an RV

Running from one gas station

to the next smelling oil

and tire pressure across this

America landscape where the

plains meet the cities and

the cities run into mountains

from one coast to another.

Finding friends among

strangers and culture in this

frosty New Orleans air.

Living never felt so good

when you’re an explorer

and every destination is

a chance to learn something new.

America is your classroom and

experience your teacher.

-David Blanton

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David has been creating improv poems for tips along Royal Street in Jackson Square for 2 1/2 years now! Have you ever spotted him amongst the artists, performers and tarot card readers? Seek him out the next time you visit NOLA! Happy Friday everyone!

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13 ways to celebrate turning 13 in NYC!

Plans to celebrate the triplets 13th birthday in New York City had been something we were all looking forward to during this trip around the US. Now, how do we go about doing this without spending a fortune? Five days in NYC can be very costly if you’re not careful! Here are 13 ways we chose to celebrate becoming a teenager in the Big Apple….
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1. Stay in a Fun Hotel in Times Square. This was the first and only time we planned to stay in a hotel and not our RV. Obviously, there is no way to stay in a motorhome in the city, so we decided it was easiest to park at the Newburgh KOA and train it in. It was perfect! We chose to stay at the popular Marriott Marquis with our Marriott points for all five nights! Times Square is a teens dream come true. Lights, action and shopping galore. Marriott was also running a promotion where you stay 4 nights, get the 5th free this week, so it was meant to be!  The Marquis also has large enough rooms for a family of six with two beds plus a pull out couch. Funny how after living in an RV this hotel room seemed spacious to us.

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Our view from our room at the Marriott Marquis

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2.  Get up early and get yourself on National television on The Today Show – This means be at Rockefeller Center by 6 am and have a personal handmade sign with you! Morgan and her cousin, Madison, made this fun poster in honor of the boys birthday. It got them noticed and a segment on the Show! Way to go girls!

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3. Shop until you drop! You cannot come to NYC without shopping unfortunately. The boys used their birthday money from their grandparents to customize some shoes at the Nike Store. We know you can customize Nike shoes online or at other Nike retail stores, but you need an appointment with a designer at Nike NYC for their special ordering area, making it a bit more special. The customized shoes cost about $40 extra to design them over buying a rack shoe. You can even put any number or nickname on the back heels. Pretty cool and definitely right up a 13 year old’s alley.  They’ll be shipped home to the boys mid-October when they are complete. Patience is a virtue.

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4. Get sugared up at Dylan’s Candy Bar- Shop for sweet treats on three levels at Dylan’s candy shop. Shopping along 5th Avenue is lots of fun and Dylan’s is a must for kids (oops..teens). Kade surprised his little Sis by buying her this fun doughnut pillow there! Remember it is always better to give than to receive, even on your own birthday I guess!

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5. Central Park is in walking distance of Dylan’s so it’s a good time to walk off that sugar, or better yet rent bikes to cover even more ground! It is a beautiful, relaxing spot amongst all the hustle and bustle of the city!

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6. Get tickets to a show that needs you in the audience – America’s Got Talent. We had originally planned to go to a Broadway show this past week but the shows we wanted to see, Rocky and Newsies, just ended. We decided not to spend all that money for tickets to a different show, when we could go catch the semifinals of AGT while we were here for FREE. The kids loved going to Radio City Music Hall to see one of their favorite shows and it was lots of fun to see how it all happens live and in person!

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7. Make an appearance at another TV Show spot and sugar up again! The kids are fans of TLC’s Cake Boss show, so we had to stop at the Cake Boss Cafe in Times Square. They really wanted to go to Hoboken, NJ to see the original Carlo’s Bake Shop but this had to suffice this trip. We were even able to sneak in two trips for treats here!

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8. THE RIDE was a highlight of our time in NYC! THE RIDE is a fun, interactive, totally unique way to enjoy touring a bit of the city. THE RIDE features equal parts theatrical show and immersive tour from the comfort of a moving theater coach. We had lots of laughs and really enjoyed this. We also were able to score buy one-get one free tickets this week with a promotion they were having! Oh yeah!

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9. Learn to navigate the Subway system- We like for our kids to learn the ins and outs of taking public transportation whenever we are traveling in a big city. We didn’t take one single cab and rode New York’s subway system or walked everywhere we went. The kids were reading the maps, buying the tickets and telling us where to go. Learning how to travel independentally is a gift in itself!

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 10. Take the ferry from Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty- New York is full of culture and educational opportunities as well. We took a day and went to visit the beautiful Lady Liberty!

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11. Paying our respects at the Sept. 11 Museum and Memorial- It is tough to include this as part of a celebration, but it is a very important part of our time in NYC. You can read more about our visit to this area  here.

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12. Escape the Room- My parents bought us tickets for this adventure for the boys birthday. We had never heard of Escape the Room, but it seemed perfect for our family. We booked “The Home” at the midtown location and we had a ball looking for clues and trying to solve the puzzles in order to find the key that would get us out of that room! We were one step away from finding the key, but we ended up not making it out in the allotted hour! Never had so much fun being losers!

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13. Meeting up with old friends for dinner at a local hotspot- We haven’t seen these guys since our kids were babies, so it was fun to meet up with the Dazzo family for dinner at Don Antonio Pizzeria at their recommendation. It’s always great to get restaurant advice from the locals!

 Happy 13th birthday Kade, Aidan and Cole! I’m sure you’ll never forget your milestone celebration in the Big Apple!

 

 

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An Authentic Amish Adventure in Ohio!

My good friend, Judy, had spoken of her Amish friend many times to me.  She knew her when she used to live in northern Ohio before moving to Arizona. When our family was planning this trip around the US, Judy said we really should stop and meet her. She wrote Ella a letter (since they don’t believe in cell phones or computers) and asked  if we could stop by on our way through. We decided why not? It was only a little off our path from Mackinaw, Michigan to Erie, Pennsylvania. On the backroads we went to Burton, Ohio and we are so happy we took the time to do so!

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I tried to be respectful of Ella and her family members, as the Amish do not believe in taking photos of people! But, this was so cute I couldn’t help myself! She was walking us back to see her brother and all the local men and boys working on the farm. We happened to be visiting on the one day a year called Threshing Day. During threshing, neighbors gather together to help each other bring the harvested grain from the fields and mechanically separate the edible kernels from the stems and husks. Threshing oats is important, because horses provide the power for farm work all year long and they eat the oats. Straw, separated from the oats, is used as bedding for the horses, cows and other farm animals. It was really interesting, not to mention quite dirty, to watch the boys and men at work.

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The Amish communities are such a part of our American culture. I feel so blessed that Ella opened up her home to us and answered all of our questions, while we snacked on lemonade, coffee and homemade chocolate chip cookies! Travel ultimately is an avenue to open your mind and broaden your horizons. On the way here the kids were nervous about what we were about to embark on. I have to admit that Keith and I were a little too. In her own words, the Amish “freaked out” our youngest. I think any unknown group of people can feel intimidating, especially to children. It is awesome that through travel, we can learn and grow to respect a culture of people different than ourselves!

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What we learned:

– This is the neighborhood telephone that everyone uses.

– Homes have no electricity, so the Amish rely on wood stoves for heat and gas lamps for lighting.

– Children do not go to formal school after the 8th grade.

– They do not ride bicycles, but children have scooters that look similar to bikes!

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-All personal transportation is done by a horse drawn buggy.

-The Amish are allowed to ride along with anyone driving them though. They hire drivers as well as depend on their English/Yankee friends (as they call us) to get to further away destinations. They can travel for vacation by train but no airplanes!

-Church services are held in rotating homes every other week. The service and Bible are both in German.

-Their clothing is all handmade and of very simple style and colors. There are no zippers, only buttons and pins allowed!

-The women wear caps (I originally called them bonnets) all of the time.

-A black cap is worn when venturing out in public. Otherwise the Amish women wear a white one.

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These signs along the way made me smile. I guess sharing with a big motorhome is a rarity along their country roads! This man got run off the road when his horses freaked out at the sight of our big rig heading toward them. Our family had some good laughs at this poor guys expense. What a great day we had!

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Northern Montana fun!

We didn’t know that our visit to West Glacier, Montana was just a bit too early in the summer season for nice weather. Unfortunately, it rained the entire three days of late June that we were here. Our Jackson Hole, WY weather must’ve conditioned us, because we didn’t let the rain keep us down!

We headed into Glacier National Park and found out that the infamous Road to the Sun was closed as they were still trying to remove all of the snow from a recent avalanche! This meant we were only able to drive 14 miles in to Avalanche Creek and hike the Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake. It was gorgeous and just slightly drizzling on our hike in. Once we got to the lake, it down poured and continued all the way back  getting us completely soaked and muddy. What can you do but laugh and go with it?

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This is for my soccer mom friends. Thought you would enjoy seeing my Lululemon pants and Ecco boots soaked in mud. Definitely out of my league here.

Our final day in the area we spent in Whitefish. What a gorgeous area this is! We chose to spend the day at Whitefish Mountain Resort. They invited us to try the Aerial Adventure Park and the kids were stoked to try another mountain adventure. I was a bit apprehensive to do the course, but figured since I was going to write about it, I’d better join in on the fun. I was good with all of the climbing apparatus’ but it was the zip lining platforms that I had a really hard time throwing myself off of. I don’t think I ever got 100% comfortable with it but I did have a great time and am proud of myself for testing my limits. How can you not have fun amidst such beauty?

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We honestly went through all four seasons in our time on this course. It started off like fall, with cool, but pleasant temperatures. Then, it turned really hot before the weather totally took a change and we found ourselves in the middle of a rain/hail storm. All we could do was laugh. Me, zip lining through hail and rain. How in the world did I end up here?

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I had to take a picture of the hail falling on my platform as proof.

Then, the weather cleared and it was gorgeous.  We wanted to check out Whitefish’s alpine slide but it was closed due to the rain. The Whitefish Mountain Resort is awesome and offers many options for summer fun. We want to come back and try the zipline course and the alpine slide for sure. Next time we’ll come in July!

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Of course our travel day leaving West Glacier to Wallace, ID was perfectly sunny. We stopped at The Amazing Fun Center so the kids could try out their mile and a half long maze and bankshot basketball. We have never seen this basketball deal before! The kids had a blast here before the adults said enough is enough and on the road to Idaho we go!

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We’ll be back West Glacier and Whitefish. We only scratched the surface of your beauty!

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Hiking is good for the heart and soul of your family

Did you know that June is designated as Great Outdoors Month each year through a Presidential Proclamation? How perfect is this as we enjoyed Utah’s beauty last week and are now experiencing the wonders of Wyoming.

President Obama’s past proclamation stated, “Great Outdoors Month is a time for all Americans to share in the natural splendor of which we are all proud inheritors. Whether camping, fishing, rock climbing, or playing in a neighborhood park, nature offers each of us the opportunity to get active, explore, and strengthen our bonds with family and friends. This month, let us celebrate our natural heritage by experiencing it together.”

On this trip, we are doing a lot of hiking as a family. Hiking is a challenge for our bodies and a sanctuary for our spirits. A beautiful hike through one of America’s National Parks absolutely cleanses your soul. We all can be consumed with electronic media and gadgets that sometimes we can forget to just put them aside and take the time to get out and explore. Being in a National Park reminds you what a beautiful country we live in!

What you can gain from a Family Hike…

1. Perseverance

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Hiking around the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

I am a climb to the top of the mountain kind of girl. In all areas of my life, I like having a specific goal to accomplish, so hiking is the perfect activity for me. What goes up, must come down. You have no choice in this. I love seeing my kids persevere through times when they are weary and think they can’t go on. Hiking is a perfect way to show them they can push through and make it to the top or the end of the trail, if they are determined enough!

2. Endurance

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At the top of Weeping Rock in Zion National Park

It’s always motivating to keep going when you are hot, tired or feeling weak when you see little kids and much older adults pushing through on the same hike. If they can do it, you most certainly can! I love the friendliness of fellow hikers greeting and motivating one another while enduring the same trail.

3. An appreciation for our country

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Picnicking on the lawn outside Zion’s Lodge.

There is nothing like being in nature. I wouldn’t consider myself “outdoorsy” necessarily but  since moving to Arizona I have grown to love hiking. I have seen majestic views, interesting landscapes and wildlife that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I didn’t realize how many international tourists come to our country just to see the beauty of our National Parks, that just doesn’t exist anywhere else!

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4. Affordable entertainment

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Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park

After we hiked The Narrows in Zion, our daughter said that must’ve been really expensive! She couldn’t believe that doing such an amazing thing as a family was actually free! (Or just the cost of our National Park Annual Pass of $80). We pack our lunches when we hike too, so we can stop at our convenience and enjoy a little picnic along the way. Entertaining kids during the summertime can be very costly for large families, so spending quality time in our Nation’s parks is a really inexpensive way to have fun quality time together.

5. Physical Strength 

Staying healthy and physically fit should be a priority for every family. No matter where you are there are always a variety of trails and hikes to choose from depending on what your family is up for. It’s important to keep active as a family and hiking together is a perfect way to stay physically fit. Some days you may feel like doing a leisurely path while other days you may be up for a more strenuous climb. Whatever your abilities, there is a trail for you!

6. Knowledge

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A lot of trails have signs telling about the plants and landscape surrounding you. National Parks also have visitors centers and museums that you can further learn the history of the area as well. The NPS Junior Ranger program is an excellent way to motivate kids to learn through a workbook that needs to be completed and signed off by a Park Ranger in order to get each park badge. It’s a fun and free thing for the kids to collect!

7. Quality Time Together

We have enjoyed many laughs and conversations together along the trails. Getting out in nature helps you forget about any stress and opens up opportunity for casual connecting with your loved ones! Take time this month to get outside and celebrate Great Outdoors Month with your family!

 

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A great time at Utah’s Olympic Park in Park City, Utah

Utah Olympic Park was the perfect day trip from Salt Lake City for our family. It was a beautiful 1/2 hour drive from our Salt Lake City KOA. We all had a blast, surrounded by beautiful scenery, great 90’s music piped throughout and fun active adventures all day long. Dad is a past Olympian, so of course we are a family who loves anything to do with the winter Olympics!

With our gold wristbands we were able to experience all of the fun activities as we wanted throughout the day. These unlimited, all day wristbands cost $65 for adults and $40 for kids 12 and under.  The kids weren’t quite old enough to do the bobsled run yet, as you have to be 14. There is an additional cost for it but they’ve all already put it on their teenage bucket list!  They did have a lot of fun watching the guys that were doing the bobsled run though!

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We started out at the hardest ropes adventure course in the middle of the bobsled track. I chickened out but the rest of the family had a ball accomplishing the two courses here! Very impressive! Yes, they are up on that top level!

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Afterward, the kids did the zipline which ended at the drop tower. I just love that all of my kids are adventurous and willing to try all of these challenges. They certainly didn’t get this from me!

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I did experience ziplining for the first time here though! Only Aidan weighed enough to do the extreme zipline and he really wanted a partner to go with him, so I decided to go for it. The guy working the cables promised me I would enjoy it, if I just tried it. I’m not a big fan of heights nor am I an avid thrill seeker, so I was hesitant. But, he was right, it was quite fun and I had no problem tackling the smaller lines after! I’m glad that I didn’t read that this zipline is one of the steepest in the world before I did it!

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The Alpine Slide was new for all of us and was probably our favorite activity! We rode the chairlift up the mountain several times, just to take that slide down again and again. The views were absolutely stunning!

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One of the most exciting highlights of the day was sitting and watching athletes train for their skiing events by going down these slopes and into the pool. It was so fun sitting there having our picnic lunch and watching the talent. They even have a kids camp/private lessons that our kids would love to try one day! Do you see that guy doing flips in the air on his skis? Awesome!!! The cool thing about this too, is that this is free. You can just bring lunch even and come sit and watch these guys if nothing else.

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It was so exciting knowing that we were in Olympian territory. The reminders of Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympic games were all around and we really had the best family day ever! We all highly recommend this park the next time you are in Utah!

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Utah Olympic Park generously comped our family’s day gold wristbands. Any written review is 100% my honest opinion.

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Put The Narrows Hike at Zion National Park on your bucket list!

Hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park was on my trip bucket list. It looked so gorgeous from all the pictures I had seen and I was really excited to see such beauty in person. It’s listed in National Geographic’s Top Ten Outdoor Adventures. The river hike exceeded all my expectations and I highly recommend everyone get this on their bucket list if you haven’t ever been here. It was absolutely breathtaking and really a unique experience. All of us really enjoyed it!

Kids hiking Narrows

What exactly is The Narrows Hike? The Virgin River has carved an amazing gorge in the upper reaches of Zion Canyon. The Narrows river hike is definitely an unforgettable experience with its soaring walls, sandstone grottos and hanging gardens. You access the river hike by taking the Zion National Park shuttle from the Visitor Center to the last stop The Temple of Sinawava. From there you follow the signs for the River Walk and hike one mile down on the paved path until it ends at the Narrows and wade on in! We had the kids wear their regular tennis shoes to hike the  River Walk and then change into their water shoes once they got there. We just left our tennis shoes and socks up on the banks while we were in the river. The kids were very happy to have dry shoes and socks to put on at the end. Keith and I hadn’t brought a change of footwear and wished we would’ve.

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What can you expect on the hike?

The Narrows isn’t necessarily easy by any means, but it can be as leisurely or strenuous as you want to make it. The majority of the time is spent wading, walking and sometimes swimming in the cold river. There is no maintained trail because the route is the river! How awesome is that? When we first all stepped into the water, we were freezing and wondering how we would ever make it. Perseverance pays off for sure and you get acclimated to all of the elements quickly! Hike up as far as you want to go and then turn around and retrace your steps. The round trip hike is 5 miles if you go all the way to Orderville Canyon and Wall Street, but really there is not a formal destination. It gets pretty strenuous fighting the currents and slippery rocks toward the end. We spent about 5 hours doing this hike. We took sandwiches, energy bars and lots of water in our backpacks to picnic on the banks here and there.

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What should you wear to do The Narrows?

There are several companies in town that you can rent proper gear from, entailing walking sticks and special shoes. I don’t even know what it costs to rent these, but we saw a lot of people who did that. We feel it’s important for the kids (and us as well) to make do with what they have and learn to be uncomfortable at times. (Life lesson teaching: Life isn’t always going to be full of perfect comfort. It’s good to learn to work through some discomfort and see that you are just fine in the end. Off my parenting soapbox now and back to the hike….) The kids just wore their water shoes, while I wore my waterproof hiking boots, as that was what was recommended footwear. I’m not sure if that was the best idea though as I felt like I had ankle weights on a majority of the time. The boots did provide good support and had ideal tread on the bottom, where the kids definitely were able to feel the rocks through their thin water shoes. The rocks underfoot can definitely be very slippery as well but you will slip around no matter what shoes you are wearing! We saw people doing the hike barefoot too, even though you really should have some type of closed toe shoe on.

We did not take walking sticks with us, although a lot of people had them and were voicing to me that I really should have one as I tried to get my footing in the beginning. It’s all in your preference and families abilities. I don’t mind a challenge so I went without.  It is definitely cooler in the Narrows compared to other areas in Zion, so you may want to have a long sleeve shirt with you too.

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Have you ever hiked The Narrows? What was your experience?

 

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Majestic Lower Antelope Canyon

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Our guide pointed out various rock formations throughout the canyon.
Can you see the eagle from a postage stamp?

Lower Antelope Canyon was the highlight of our two day trip to the Lake Powell area in northern Arizona. Our kids just loved this, as did we! It’s always nice to find a beauty that the entire family can enjoy together! The slot canyon, located on Navajo Nation land, was named for the herds of pronghorn antelope that once roamed the area long ago.

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There are two options you can tour- Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons. They are actually across the street from one another but are quite different. We chose to do Lower Antelope because it is longer, less crowded and cheaper in comparison. In order to go through the canyon, you must book a tour but you can do so by just driving to the parking lot and signing up. We did this and easily got on the next tour and were on our way within 10 minutes of arriving around 11 am. Our guide was a student at the University of Arizona, who is a native of the area. Our kids were quick to follow her and led our group of 12 the entire way!

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We paid $28 for each adult (13 and older) and the kids were $20 which includes a $8 Navajo Park Permit; Kids 6 and under are free. You can only pay by cash (or travelers checks). Tours start at 8:30 AM and end at 4 PM and are scheduled every 20 minutes. They usually last about an hour but can also depend on your guide and group. Ours definitely went longer! The canyon is a photographer’s paradise and our entire group was constantly snapping photos. Lower Antelope Canyon is open seven days a week year round. Be aware that they will close Antelope Canyon for any rain forecast around Page due to possible flash floods risk.

family lower antelope

The upper canyon is an easier walk because it is more spacious at the base, but the lower one we did requires a little more effort with it’s ladders and tight quarters at times, which actually adds to the adventure. Our whole family was in awe and highly recommend doing Lower Antelope if you come to Page, Arizona.

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Have you visited  Antelope Canyon? What did you think?

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One way to intentionally get outdoors!

I’m a sucker for any National Awareness Day or cause. As a big believer in intentionality, these Days simply bring attention to something to be mindful of. I like the thought of people everywhere banding together to do something positive across the nation. Last month we celebrated Earth Day, Giving Day and Donate Life Day.

May is Bike Month

 

May is National Bike Month and today specifically National Ride Your Bike to School Day! I excitedly mentioned to the kids that today was going to be National Ride Your Bike to School Day. I pictured us up early, having a healthy breakfast and then riding the boys a couple of miles to the middle school on a beautiful Arizona morning.

Instead, the boys looked at me blankly with a “Really? Do we have to?” OK maybe it sounded cuter than the reality would be. They do have trouble getting up at 6:15 to get everything done and head out the door to the bus stop at 7ish. I do make them wear helmets when they ride, so I guess that wouldn’t be good for the hairdo either. Our school district isn’t actually honoring the day, so I guess I’ll let them off the hook.

Daughter Morgan on the other hand was really into the idea, most likely because she walks across the street every day anyway. Riding her bike would be an easy novelty, so looks like she’ll represent.

Bike and Roll Chicago

We actually just rented bikes in downtown Chicago right after Easter. The kids were so excited to ride along the waterfront paths of Lake Michigan, but bummed that they couldn’t actually pedal down Michigan Avenue!

Millineum Park bike rentals

Bike and Roll rentals is located at the northern tip of Millennium Park. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to ride through the Park, so you are limited to head east to the lake paths. This really is easy and way less stressful than having to navigate city traffic for sure. Just being on a bike brings a sense of freedom to children no matter where you are!

Riding Along Lake Michigan

Riding Bikes in Chicago

In honor of National Bike Month, maybe we can be more intentional in dusting the cobwebs off the spokes, pumping up the tires and heading out when it really is a good time for us! I know we’re going to get a lot of bike time when we head off on this camping adventure for sure.

Are any of you celebrating National Bike to School Day today?