Posted in Joy, Travel

Houston & The Space Center

               Last spring when the school schedule was posted for the next two years on the district website, I started researching the best places to go during each of the school breaks.  I like to plan ahead and I love to think about where in the country is the best place to visit during that time of year.  Last year we spent Columbus Day weekend in Michigan visiting family after flying into Chicago! 

This year I was determined to take my kids back to Niagara Falls for the long weekend. Since they are old enough to appreciate it more, I thought early fall would be a great time to see it! I also knew I wanted them to see the Falls from the Canadian side on our next trip back. I figured if we were lucky we might get to throw in a trip to see my sister in upstate NY too.

Even without the ability to travel to Canada this time around, we considered asking B’s mom how she felt about us flying somewhere. But with the kids in school and wanting to avoid any of them having to miss school if they get exposed to any crazy germs, we decided once again to stick a little closer to home. As hard as it was to accept, we decided to pick somewhere we could drive to since it was only a long weekend.

  We debated between Oklahoma, the Texas Hill Country and the Houston Space Center for several weeks until finally E and I asked the kids last Monday to take a vote.  Apparently they have been  watching space videos at school this past week and they all unanimously voted for the Space Center.  B had been there before, but it was still his first choice.  He reflected that he was older and could appreciate it more now then the last time.  And while I had been to the Kennedy Space Center, I had not visited the Houston one and thought it would definitely be worth a visit!

We looked into Airbnb’s for this trip, but after pricing them and watching Hurricane Delta heading towards the coastline, we decided we had better book hotel rooms that were refundable. Luckily when we checked Thursday, it looked like the hurricane was not going to hit Houston with much more than rain, so we did not have to change our plans.

I have mentioned before that we have several museum memberships that have reciprocity and the Science and Technology Centers membership includes the Houston Space Center.  This meant that the only cost for this trip would be lodging and food. So we reserved our timed tickets and after a half day of school on Friday made the short (several hour) trek to Houston to check into our hotel. 

SATURDAY

We planned to arrive at the Space Center mid-morning on Saturday so after hot breakfast at the hotel we set out. One of the perks of membership is that you get to bypass the line at most museums and science centers so we skirted past dozens of people hoping for tickets to head right in when we arrived.

We avoided the simulators (tight spaces overdosed on cleaning supplies) and let the kids explore the exhibits.

Solving puzzles
Learning facts about Space travel

They enjoyed listening to how the astronauts eat, sleep and use the bathroom in space and figuring out how much they would weigh on other planets. I, on the other hand, enjoyed the tram to see the Johnson Space Center and the Apollo Mission Control Center.

After a day of exploring at the Space Center, we ate at an amazing Ramen restaurant and headed back to the hotel for popcorn and a movie night.

SUNDAY

On Sunday morning, we once again had a leisurely start to the day, not meeting up with B and E until 10am. We decided to head to Galveston to see the beach and the gulf first. It was definitely a hot morning, so we didn’t beach walk. Instead, we just spent a few minutes taking in the view!

Afterwards, we decided to head for Kemah Boardwalk to see the Aquarium and have lunch. The kids got excited about eating beside the 200 different species of fish. None of them remembered eating at the Aquarium Restaurant in Nashville during our years living in Tennessee, so it was very entertaining.

The view from Kemah Boardwalk.

               After lunch we walked the boardwalk.  We let the kids each pick a ride to ride.  The boys decided to head for the wooden roller coaster while the girls and I took a leisurely train ride.  By the time we finished, everyone was ready to head to the car.

The wooden roller coaster (probably no one wanted to ride it more than Kinsey, but she wasn’t tall enough)

               We decided to drive into downtown Houston to see the Water Wall (which was off) and to grab dinner at a restaurant that I remembered from when we stayed in Houston a few years ago.  We had a fantastic dinner at BellaGreen and I learned that they even have a location in Dallas now! We will definitely be heading there soon!

               We ended the day with popcorn and another movie night before heading back to our rooms to get a good night’s rest!

MONDAY

Monday morning we made the trek back to Fort Worth after a hot hotel breakfast made just for us (no really, we were late and they were done, but they made us fresh waffles anyways… haha).  The kids learned some history about Sam Houston on the ride.  And I used the time in the car to catch up on grading graduate school papers.  We made it home in time for a late afternoon lunch and a walk through the neighborhood with friends to mentally prepare for another week of school! 

While I highly recommend the Houston Space Center, I don’t know if Houston really needed a full weekend. Since our goal was to have a relaxing, low stress weekend after six very full weeks of working, it was exactly what we needed. But if we make a trip back to see the lights at the Space Center this fall, we might not stay for as long as we did this trip!

Posted in Joy, Travel

Waco, Texas

               I have been a big fan of the Fixer Upper for the last few years. And I have wanted to make a trip to Waco since long before I moved to Texas.  The timing never seemed right, but it has stayed at the top of my to do list for a long time. E had been wanting us to head there for almost as long!  So Labor Day weekend and an extra day off school and work seemed like a good time to make the trip there. 

               We spent a good bit of time planning this trip as we wanted to make sure it was memorable after so much anticipation.  We chose to splurge and stay at a Fixer Upper house for the weekend.  After I finished teaching on Friday we drove the short two hours to Waco and checked into the house in the midst of downtown.

Fixer Upper Season 2 Episode 1

Saturday morning we decided to head to the Silos to explore. The day dawned warm and bright and we started our visit with breakfast at Magnolia Bakery. We waited in a socially distance line and made sure to take time to enjoy our meal together before we jumped in line to see the rest of the Magnolia site.

Magnolia Bakery

E decided to head to the coffee shop while the kids and I went to see the showroom. After a brief tour looking at some of the latest creations we settled back outside to wait for E to return.

We spent a leisurely morning wandering around the Magnolia grounds and then loaded back up to see some of the other sites that Waco had to offer.

Throughout our three day weekend we checked out the silos, went on a self-directed tour of some of the Fixer Upper sites, visited Baylor campus, walked the suspension and pedestrian bridges, toured the Waco Mammoth site, visited Homestead Heritage and even spent some time at our Fixer Upper house watching the season that was filmed there!

Suspension Bridge

The kids enjoyed the Mammoth site and walking the pedestrian bridge, but the warmth of the weekend made it not as appealing to be outside. Our favorite parts of the weekend were truly spent relaxing with books and watching Fixer Upper in our Fixer Upper house!

Mammoth Site

Monday we had to head back to reality, but it was definitely an adventure I would love to repeat, maybe with a few shopping purchases from Magnolia for my own house next time!

Posted in Joy, Travel

Missouri Points of Interest

              After our trip to Missouri at the end of July, I knew I wanted to make our way back up with E & B for E’s birthday and one last fun trip before the end of summer!  I did some research and decided that I wanted to visit a few places near Springfield and maybe spend a day or two in Branson, so I kept an eye out for a great Airbnb that we could rent.  We decided on one in downtown Springfield and I started planning out our drive.  I have to note, that because this was a birthday trip for E that it was our most expensive trip of the summer.  Knowing that there were several things that we knew would cost extra, we planned ahead and watched Groupon for deals on activities that were on our list (and the kids list) of possible activities.

THURSDAY

We left early on Thursday morning. The drive to Springfield was about seven hours, so we loaded down with snacks, lunch & dinner in the cooler so we could stop for fun, but we wouldn’t need to stop for meals. While all six of us had been to Oklahoma before, we hadn’t been together, so we did plan some stops through the state while we were driving.

We stopped to see the Praying Hands at Oral Roberts University and picnicked by the largest concrete totem pole (who knew that was even a thing).

Praying Hands
Largest concrete totem pole

We stopped at the intersection of Oklahoma, Kansas, & Missouri for another photo op too 😊 and then had a picnic dinner by Grand Falls in Joplin!

Intersection of Oklahoma, Kansas, & Missouri
Grand Falls in Joplin, Missouri

Our Airbnb was amazing. It reminded me of a house right off of Fixer Upper and the kids enjoyed that there were plenty of rooms for everyone to spread out (and I appreciated that I got to have my own room instead of sharing with the girls for a change 😉)!

FRIDAY

On Friday, we headed towards Branson. One of the things all of the kids agreed they wanted to do was visit the National Tiger Sanctuary. We timed it right in ordering military discounted tickets and ended up there when they were starting a feeding tour, so we got to tag along without paying the upcharge. Despite the hot morning, the hour-long tour was incredible. The kids got to see all the tigers up close and watch them eat. They heard stories of how they were rescued and how they are cared for. We got to see some lions and a few other animals they have taken in as well.

After the Tiger Sanctuary, we stopped at the Creation Experience Museum. The museum is on the small side, but free. Even though we have visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky and the ICR Discovery Center in Dallas, we still really enjoyed this stop. We got a private tour and bought a few dvds for the car ride. Our tour guide told us they are working on moving to a larger location that will allow for them to expand the exhibits that they have in the future!

The next stop was one that B requested, and all the kids agreed with. We bought tickets on Groupon for the World’s Largest Toy Museum. This was fun for all of us as we saw toys that we grew up with and that we remember seeing in our grandparents houses as well while we were growing up. The kids enjoyed seeing the massive collections of Jurassic Park toys, matchbox cars, Barbies, and pretty much every McDonald’s toy ever made.

From there we made our way to the Snowflex Park at Wolfe Mountain. While we did lots of sledding when we lived in NY, and played in lots of snow in Ohio, I had never taken the kids snow tubing. While this wasn’t exactly the same thing, it was a blast (even at 90 degrees outside) and everyone wished we could have stayed longer!

SATURDAY

Our second full day was supposed to be spent in Springfield and Sunday in Branson again, but as a last minute surprise E’s brother decided to fly out for E’s birthday and we decided to head home a day early.

So when E and I were talking about how to spend Saturday, we both decided we wanted to head back to Branson. While searching separately, we both came up with Dogwood Canyon and decided it was a sign that we should head there for the day. We had originally planned to do some hiking, caves, and an animal safari so when E found the tram ride through the Canyon we decided that it combined all the things that we were hoping to do in one and went ahead and booked it.

We packed a picnic lunch and made plans to explore and picnic before the tram ride. Dogwood Canyon is breathtaking. Pictures do not do it justice.

We spent the morning doing some hiking, exploring and then ate lunch outside of the nature center underneath the Treehouse Masters Treehouse (from Animal Planet) before boarding the tram for our tour.

The 2+ hour tour took us through the entire canyon. We stopped by waterfalls, the Wedding Chapel, Glory Hole and numerous bridges and stone crossovers.

The tram then crossed over into Arkansas entering Bison-Elk Country where we were able to see American bison, elk, whitetail deer and Texas longhorn. The animals walked right up next to the tram and the kids were able to see them up close and personal!

On the way back, the tram stopped crossing over a waterfall so that the kids could see the fish swimming right up next to us. The beautiful clear water was definitely something to see!

Upon arrival back at the Nature Center, we were able to see some animals up close and personal, like a couple of tarantulas and snakes!

We finished the evening with Hibachi Grill and packing up to head back to Texas!

SUNDAY

Our trip home was uneventful since we wanted to make it back in time to visit with family! If your travels and budget allow, I highly recommend a visit to Dogwood Canyon in Branson! Everyone agreed that while Missouri was not our most “affordable” trip of the summer, we can’t wait to go back to Branson again!

Posted in Travel

Adventures with Little House on the Prairie

               One of my fondest memories of the time Ben got to spend with the kids during his years with cancer was his nightly ritual of curling up on the couch with them and watching Little House on the Prairie.  I read them the first couple of books when they were in preschool, and they loved watching the series come to life with their dad.  He and I both loved the books.  And when Ben and I made a cross country trip a decade ago, we made a point to stop and see some of the Little House sites.  I think he might have even enjoyed those stops more than me as they were a reminder of his childhood. 

Ben at the Little House in Wisconsin, summer of 2009

               This summer the kids and I revisited the books in anticipation of a summer road trip to Kansas and Missouri to see some of those sites in July.  The kids embraced watching the series (season after season) and reminding me what was the same between the books and the movies and remarking on all the differences.  We were all excited about the opportunity to see where Laura sat to write the books, and the little house in Independence, Kansas that was like the one they lived in during their year on the prairie.

               Our first stop was at the house on Rocky Ridge and the museum in Mansfield, MO.  We went on a private tour through the historic house where we got to see the house and the furniture that has been meticulously preserved.  The kids enjoyed hearing the history of it’s numerous additions where Laura and Almanzo spent much of their married life.  After our visit to the house, we visited the Little House Museum next door.  The museum is home to a timeline of Laura’s life and written works set up to let you travel through her entire life in pictures and memorabilia.  Pa’s fiddle is even housed within the museum.  We didn’t get to see the Rock House on this trip due to arriving close to the end of the day, but the museum and historic house were worth the trip all on their own! 

Little House at Rocky Ridge
Timeline of Laura’s Life at the Museum

               We stopped to overnight in Joplin, and the next day we made a stop at the state line where Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas all come together.  While there wasn’t much to see there, the kids enjoyed standing on the spot where three states meet.

               Then we set out for Independence, Kansas.  As I remembered from my visit there in 2009, the site was difficult to find, but it was worth the search.  The site where the little house replica stands also houses an old one room schoolhouse, apothecary, post office, and several covered wagons.  As always, we made a stop in the giftshop for souvenirs before we left.  This time we chose a historical video retelling of Laura’s life that we could watch on the way home from Kansas. 

Little House on the Prairie
One room school house replica
The Little House replica
A covered wagon
The sites of the Ingalls/Wilder family travels

               Whether you are a homeschool family or just a family who loves literature, there is nothing like making history come alive for your kids through travel!  If you have traveled somewhere with your children to share pieces of history and have recommendations from literature to go along with them, I would love to hear about it!

“The real things haven’t change.  It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder

Posted in Travel

Lewis and Clark and Iowa Adventuring

               This has definitely been the summer of last minute travel plan changes, but I’m learning so much about going with the flow and embracing change!  A few weeks ago the kids and I were supposed to go to Ohio to visit family and ended up having to cancel last minute.  We were all disappointed as we had plans to visit friends on the way there and back, not to mention all the family we weren’t going to get to see.  So instead of canceling the entire trip, we decided to add on some fun stops and head north to see friends in St. Louis anyways.  Since we have been to see St Louis before, we decided to stop and see some things on the way there and the way home rather than spending all of our time in the city (and mark off states 35, 36, & 37 for the four of us together).

Picnic stop in Kansas

We drove through Oklahoma and Kansas with picnic stops for lunch and dinner along the way.  Our first overnight stop was in Nebraska.  We arrived just after dinner and checked into our hotel overlooking nonstop fields!  The view was fantastic, and other than one big rig, I don’t remember ever staying somewhere where you didn’t see cars and roads in every direction!  We woke up and grabbed breakfast on our way out of the hotel, heading for the Lewis and Clark Expedition Museum in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

This was a fantastic stop and while we only intended to spend an hour or so, we ended up spending the whole morning.  We watched a documentary explaining the Lewis & Clark Expedition and then explored the three-story museum.  There were canoes, a full size keelboat replica, and even a keelboat game that they could steer and try to keep from crashing (we failed miserably)!  After exploring the museum we hiked to the overlook so we could see the Missouri River and then made our way to see the Native American earth lodge on the other side of the property. 

A map of the Lewis and Clark expeditions
Practicing steering the boat
Hiking to the Missouri River Overlook
Inside the Native American earth lodge

We finished our visit with a picnic in the parking lot and then crossed the state line into Iowa with a visit to Waubonsie State Park.  We had the park pretty much to ourselves as we hiked the Ridge and Bridge trails from the Overlook where we could see for miles!  This park allows for hikers, horseback riders, and camping.  The kids decided we should come back in the winter when they allow snowmobiling!

Waubonsie State park
Views from the Ridge Trail
Heading back to the car, hike complete

Next time we want to explore the other half of Kansas and Nebraska.  There are several places in both we would like to visit and friends who we were close to that we missed out on seeing! More trips are definitely in our future!

Posted in Travel

Travel on a Budget

People ask all the time how we can afford to travel so much or tell me nicely 😉 they wish that they could afford to travel like we can.  So I want to tell you how we afford to travel so many places without breaking the bank!

I am blessed to still have an income coming in from Ben’s pension each month.  That income pays for most of our regular living expenses, but is NOT enough to pay for the extras like travel and fun educational and sports classes that the kids enjoy so much!  So for all these bonus expenses, I work!  I teach online classes and am a guest educator/tutor in my kid’s school district.  We budget for travel and we look for deals for wherever we want to go months in advance, even if we aren’t ready to pull the trigger on purchasing them yet! (Right now I am tracking on 4 different trips stateside that I’m price checking and waiting for the right time to take them!)

We had planned to travel internationally (to Europe) twice this year and budgeted for the trips since we moved to Texas.  Since the pandemic hit and cancelled a lot of those travel plans, we have quite a bit of money in flight credits waiting for us, and it freed up some cash that we could use to take some local trips throughout the United States in the meantime. 

I’ve mentioned before that we look for cheap lodging (but if you like camping you can definitely find lodging that is even cheaper!), and try to book things on AirBnB and other similar sites that allow us to save money overall.

Here are a few ways to save money:

  • FIND FRIENDS.  Sharing an AirBnb can eliminate half of your cost and you can split cooking as well so it still feels like a vacation. OR go visit family or friends who will let you spend a few days crashing with them for free while you sightsee in their area!
  • BRING YOUR OWN FOOD.  Pack a cooler of food, snacks, drinks and lunches so that you don’t have to eat out.  If you are in an Airbnb, plan some easy meals and pack the ingredients.  It does not have to cost anymore than eating at home does!
  • THINK FREE!  Look for state parks, national parks, and other free activities wherever you are traveling.  You don’t have to do expensive tours and excursions.  There are so many blogs and websites out there that will tell you all the free things to do in a location that will more than keep you busy!
  • ALWAYS HAVE AN EYE OPEN FOR DEALS.  If you have the ability to book last minute, it can save you a ton.  Many places will lower rates at the last minute so that they don’t have empty rooms.  I always check Groupon and other sites where we are traveling to see if I can get a good deal on an activity that we really want to do.  If you have never taken a cruise before, I highly recommend trying to book one last minute if your schedule allows it (I took a week long $300 cruise to Alaska one summer because I booked a balcony room last minute!  Cruises are one place that will drop rates incredibly low in order to fill every room… but maybe save it til the world is a healthier place😉). 

Places you can find deals:

  • Airbnb.com (if you want $35 off your first stay, ask someone to refer you! Or you can use this link: https://abnb.me/e/X9L069kq08!). Then share your link with everyone you know. If they sign up, you will get credits to use with Airbnb.com in the future too!
  • Groupon.com has deals on all sorts of activities. I always price compare to make sure the Groupon price is lower than what we would pay buying on site.
  • Museum Memberships. We have a membership to two different museums that get us into museums all around the country. These memberships cost about $180 total, but last I totaled we saved over $600 in museum visits by using the passes just last year!
  • State/National Park passes. Look up what these cost in your area. Ask for them for birthday/Christmas from family because they are the gift that keeps on giving!
  • We have booked some travel through military sites that are available to use since Ben retired military.
  • I have also heard great things about bookvip.com, but I have never used them. They are on my list to check out!

**As a reference, I recently took a 4 day trip with the kids to Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, & Kansas.  We paid for a couple of activities and spent three nights in hotels, with food, gas, lodging and entertainment I spent under $600 for the four of us! We could have saved money by staying at cheaper hotels/camping and by not doing things that cost extra money, but it was still an affordable trip!

I encourage everyone I know to travel with their families, no matter how old the kids are OR how short the trip is.  Traveling with your families makes memories that last a lifetime!

Anyone else have money saving tips they want to share?

Posted in Travel

Travel: Arizona Points & Kanab, Utah

Our trip to Utah was probably my favorite trip of the last few years, and was planned in only 24 hours! We typically spend every 4th of July in Maine with family, but this year even first class plane tickets didn’t give me a peace about flying. So, I made the decision at the last minute to spend the holiday somewhere else. The kids were prepped and ready to leave on Friday, so I started researching places we could drive to for the fourth that still had fireworks and a low amount of covid cases. I mentioned Utah to a friend, and she immediately started telling me about their trip there a few years ago. I was sold! I booked an Airbnb only 24 hours before we set out on our way and I researched what to do along the route, planning to play it by ear once we got there!

This truly was an amazing trip and I wish we could have stayed longer! We got on the road Friday morning and stopped for a picnic lunch and dinner before stopping the night in Gallup, New Mexico, just short of the Arizona border. (Due to the 14 day quarantine and state parks being closed to out of state visitors, there were not many options for things we could do in New Mexico. There were even places that would not allow us to use their restrooms due to us being from out of state).

On Saturday, we set out for Kanab, driving through part of the Petrified Forest and stopping in Winslow, AZ at the Meteor Crater. The kids enjoyed seeing the crater, but it is not something I would recommend paying the money for if it isn’t something you are really interested in. There is a small museum and you can take a tour, but it was expensive for only spending 30min to an hour there!

Meteor Crater in Arizona

We got back on the road and made our next stop in Horseshoe Bend, AZ. It was mid-day and hot (100+ degrees) when we set out on this hike, but it was so worth it. We took water and made sure everyone had sunscreen before we set out. There is a new path here that has covered benches on the pathway so we could stop for some shade on the way out and back. The walk took us about 20 min each way, but we did let the kids sit in the shade of some rocks while we took pictures of the view of the bend. The pathway takes you right to the top of the bend and depending on the time of day, the coloring of the bend can vary. Because it was mid-day we saw kayakers and rafters resting below when we got there. I can only imagine how beautiful it would be at sunrise and sunset!

Horseshoe Bend in Arizona

Our next stop was in Kanab at our Airbnb. We unloaded and settled in for a little bit, and then grabbed pizza outside at Peekaboo Canyon Wood Fired Grill. The pizza was amazing (and provided my breakfast for a couple days 😉). The neighbors at the Airbnb told us that we would be able to see the fireworks right from the house so we settled in to play a Washer Toss game and Uno Flip while we waited for them to start. We were able to see fireworks in all directions once they started, to include at the neighbors house, right next door. It was a fantastic way to enjoy the fourth! Before the kids went to bed we had them look through printouts of all the places we could go and they picked where they wanted to go on Sunday!

Fireworks from our yard!

Sunday morning our first stop was the Belly of the Dragon. The Belly of the Dragon once served as a drainage system for the highway it runs under, and we walked the full length of the tunnel to the dead end on the other side. There are points in the tunnel where you need a flashlight to see where you are walking, but the lighting varies as you travel through it which made for some fantastic pictures and videos! The path continues for another ¼- ½ mile past the tunnel and at the end there is a shaded alcove area where people had built towers of rocks. We stopped here for a snack and for the kids to build their own towers/designs before turning around to head back.

Belly of the Dragon
Belly of the Dragon
Rock creation where the trail dead ends off of Belly of the Dragon

From there we set out for the Moqui Caverns (also known as the Sand Caves) near the Moqui Cave tourist spot. For these we parked on the side of the road and made the climb up to caves in the side of the rock. This gave all the kids an opportunity to act like monkeys, and me a chance to face some fears and have a few small panic attacks. J/k. It was a lot of fun as long as you didn’t look down while you were climbing! The caves were amazing and there were several little tunnels the kids could crawl through. The sand in the caves was nice and cool and we enjoyed exploring through these. The kids read the writing on the wall and were even able to find a couple of their names already carved into the walls when we arrived. After a short stay, we scaled our way back down and back to the car!

View of the sand caves up above the trees
View from the caves after the climb

It was another picnic lunch day before we set out to drive around the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. We did not schedule a tour due to covid, but we were still allowed to drive around, hike through the property and see some of the animals. The views here were also amazing and this is where we saw the turtle rock!

Turtle Rock At the Best Friends Sanctuary

We called it an early evening and picked up takeout from Vermillion 45 in Kanab before having a movie night at the Airbnb. This meal was amazing and is another highly recommended restaurant if you ever find yourself in Kanab.

Monday morning we set out on what we expected to be the hardest of our ventures. We made our way to Wire Pass Slot Canyon; a part of the Paria Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area. The parking for the Wire Pass was 8 miles down an unpaved road that was slow going even with a 4wd, but we eventually made it. The Wire Pass dead ends into Buckskin Gulch which is noted to be the longest slot canyon in the world. The route to the Wire Pass from the parking was a little over a mile and was the least rewarding part of the trek, but the views were still beautiful and we enjoyed seeing wildlife along our walk. We passed quite a few people on our way to the canyon who warned us that we might not be able to make the drop down into the canyon with kids, but we were not going to give up so easily after making it that far. We waited on a couple with dogs to give up and turn around once we reached the canyon and then we jumped right in to try. Another couple recommended putting our backs against one side of the canyon and our feet on the other side to lower us down, so I started out trying that first. I ended up deciding to put one foot on either side and dropped down with no trouble! E helped all the kids over the rock and they dropped down to me with him following at the end!

One of the narrowest parts of Wire Pass
The end of Wire Pass and the start of Buckskin Gulch

The slot canyon was such a fun adventure. The temperature in the slot canyon was cool so we took our time walking through. The end of Wire Pass opened up into a nice cool large opening before joining with Buckskin Gulch. We walked part of Buckskin Gulch and then made our way back to the large opening to sit and eat our picnic lunch. We made our way back to the opening of the canyon and climbed up the 8 feet out with E and I helping the kids. The mile walk back in the heat of the day was the hardest part of the hike, and because we had had some water casualties along the way (kids dumping it over their heads, and two spilled water bottles) everyone was out of water by the time we reached the car! We grabbed drinks out of the cooler and settled in for the slow drive back out to the highway. We took it easy the rest of the afternoon, had dinner at Wild Thyme in downtown Kanab (I highly recommend the salted caramel cheesecake), took the kids souvenir shopping, and loaded the car to start home Tuesday morning!

Tuesday, we checked out of our Airbnb and headed for Lake Powell in Arizona. We spent the morning at Lone Rock. This is a fantastic beach where you can drive right down the sand to the water and can even camp out right on the beach. It was gorgeous and we could have spent a whole day tubing or floating here if we had had the time! Next trip we will definitely plan to spend more time here!

The beach we drove down to at Lone Rock

We spent the night in New Mexico again on the way home, drove past the Route 66 Auto Museum in the morning and then finished our drive home!

*** The Kanab, UT Visitors Center is fantastic. I definitely recommend stopping there if you are planning to spend anytime in Kanab. The staff are super helpful and can tell you the conditions of all of the canyons on a given day, they can also set you up with tours or guides for any of the trips that would require extra help. There are several canyons that can only be reached by ATV or canyoneering. I have already started planning our next trip back here since there is so much more we want to experience there!

Posted in Travel

Travel: A Weekend in Colorado Springs and Great Sand Dunes, CO

               As much as I would prefer well planned and well thought out vacations, I have enjoyed the ability to go on several last minute trips this summer!  The first was to Colorado.  The weekend we returned from North Carolina we found out that B’s mom was taking a last minute trip there.  We were expecting a last minute trip to somewhere, we just weren’t sure where it would be to!  Since it was within driving distance, we jumped at the opportunity to tag along. 

               We knew we would be picking B up in Breckenridge to meet E and I started messaging friends in Colorado to ask the must dos!  We settled on meeting up in Colorado Springs for the weekend so that we could catch up with friends if they were free and could do some fun things that they recommended!

It had been a long time since I had taken my three kiddos on a road trip on my own and I started looking for fun things to do along the way! We knew we needed to be in Breckenridge on Friday so we left first thing Thursday so we would have time to stop. We stopped to picnic lunch in New Mexico and at a hotel for the night near the Great Sand Dunes once we hit Colorado! Friday morning we got up and headed for the Sand Dunes. The kids had a great time playing in the sand and as much as I wanted to take the Suburban 4wheeling through the Medano Pass, I decided to save that for a trip when I wasn’t the only adult! It was a warm day, so we spent a couple hours playing in the sand and then had a picnic lunch before getting back on the road to Breckenridge!

Starting our hike at the Great Sand Dunes!

               We made it into Breckenridge mid-afternoon and explored the town by walking through the closed streets.  We took votes on where to eat dinner, and ended up eating outdoors at Downstairs at Eric’s.  The kids enjoyed watching all the tourists walking through the streets with their dogs and riding bikes while we ate.  The food was fantastic and we decided it was worth a trip back to on Sunday if there was time!  We even wrapped up some food to go because we didn’t want to leave anything behind!

               After we met up with B and E we headed for our hotel in Colorado Springs.  We had decided on a hotel near the Air Force base since it was close to friends and the activities that we were planning to do!  We knew that B had been to Colorado Springs before, but he couldn’t remember anything he had done there so we figured whatever we chose would still be fun!  Our splurge activity for this trip was a jeep tour of Colorado Springs on Saturday morning.  We wanted to fit as many activities as we could into our 48 hours with B, so we got started first thing Saturday!    

               We did a jeep tour with Adventures Out West and our tour guide was fantastic.  We started out with a trip to Helen Hunt Falls, seeing the Broadmoor, and then driving through Cheyenne Canyon and Manitou Springs.  The highlight for the kids was off-roading through the old railroad tunnels that were a part of the original Shortline Railroad.  We ended our tour at the Garden of the Gods where they got to see the Visitors Center and pick out souvenirs from the largest trading post in Colorado.  We did a couple of short hikes to see the Balanced Rock and views of the Colorado Mountains where we were able to take some gorgeous pictures and videos.

Helen Hunt Falls
Short line Railroad Tunnels
Garden of the Gods
View from Garden of the Gods

After an outdoor lunch at the European Café we headed for Pike’s Peak. We weren’t sure if we would have to shuttle to the top, but because we had kids in boosters in the car, we were able to drive all the way to the top. There was some construction being done, but we were able to go up to the edge anyways to see the surrounding views. We stopped for the kids to play in the snow and climb rocks on our way back down the mountain! Dinner was sushi at an outdoor café before we ended our day back at the hotel!

Pikes Peak view
Some of the winding roads on the drive up to the Peak

               Sunday was a little more lowkey.  The girls and I took our time getting up in the morning while the boys played on ipads in the living room of our suite.  We grabbed breakfast to go from the hotel and headed to the Dinosaur Resource Center in Colorado Springs.  We spent an hour there (mostly in the gift shop) and then made our way to Edelweiss for another outdoor lunch.  E and I recalled childhood German learned when we lived there and the kids practiced the German words that were on the back of their menus.  Everything we tried was amazing, if you are ever in Colorado it would be worth making a trip here just for the food! 

Edelweiss Restaurant

                 After lunch we started making our way back to Breckenridge so that B would be able to make the drive back to Texas with his mom Monday morning.  We dropped him off, went to do a little sightseeing on our own and then started the drive back to TX with E helping drive this time.  We made it home on Monday and everyone determined that it was a last minute trip success!  This was the shortest weekend that B had with us this summer, and how good was God that we got to spend 48 hours in a new state without having to worry about the travel time!?  It marked the 32nd state I have taken the kids to, and the 24th that we have been to with E & B.  Another travel success and we have determined that once facemask laws are lifted we will definitely make a trip back! 😊

Posted in Travel

Travel: Franklin, NC (roadtripping through LA, AL, MS, GA, TN, & AR)

After we returned from Palo Duro, I had the itch to get out of Texas and knew we needed to find somewhere a little further away to travel to. I knew I wanted to be on the road Father’s Day weekend just like the last several years for the change of scenery and I went back and forth with a friend about meeting in the mountains or at the beach. We finally decided on a trip to the mountains of NC. We found an awesome AirBnb that we could share and loaded up to make the 14 hour drive there! Cooler loaded down and car filled up with snacks, we made the trek across the lower southeast USA.

               Since my three kiddos had not been to Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama; we planned some strategic stopping points along the way in order to mark them off of our family United States map (this trip marked states 28-30 for the kids and I, and states 19-23 that we have visited with E & B)!  We stopped to picnic in Louisiana and visited the battle grounds in Mississippi.  Our Alabama stop consisted of a short mountain hike and drive as we made our way to Rock City on the border of Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia.  There we wound our way through some twisty roads in order to see views of 7 different states at once (however, I couldn’t tell you where one begins and one ends).  The views were beautiful.

Battle grounds in Mississippi

Chickamauga National Military Park

We also made a stop at McKays Used Books in Chattanooga. If you ever find yourself passing through Tennessee, you don’t want to miss out on stopping at one of these warehouse sized bookstores. They are worth putting a mask on for and my kiddos enjoyed browsing and picking out a few new books for the road trip! It was our first trip into a store in 3 months and was worth the wait!

Since we shared an Airbnb in NC, it was by far the nicest place we have stayed to date, and happened to be located right on a small waterfall. Limited phone and internet service for the week made for some excitement, but once again we came prepared to cook our own meals and enjoy our time with friends.

We made a couple of day trips to see local waterfalls that were only a few miles from our house. Cullasaja Falls can be viewed from the road as it’s a bit of a dangerous hike. Bridal Veil is a waterfall that you used to be able to drive under, but is now blocked so you can only walk through. Dry Falls is a fantastic waterfall that you can hike down to and walk under, ducking into caves to stay out of the spray of water! Dry Falls was by far the kids favorite to visit as they loved the caves!

Bridal Veil Falls
Dry Falls

We even took the kids gem mining at a local shop just down the road from where we were staying. And one day we drove into Bryson City to do the train museum scavenger hunt and have lunch outdoors in the little town. The middle of the week we took all the kids on their first white water rafting trip and they got to experience one Class 3 rapid which made for a lot of excitement!

On our last day we drove to Black Rock Mountain State Park in Georgia to do some hiking and see the waterfall there! This waterfall was down about 20 flights in elevation and was not nearly as exciting to see as the others we had visited, but the exercise was good for everyone!

The view from Black Rock Mountain State Park

The rest of the time we spent playing games in the house and enjoying the waterfall.  The kids enjoyed skipping stones and jumping rocks around the fire pit almost every day of our trip!

Our trip home consisted of a stop in Nashville to have another picnic with friends who are stationed at Fort Campbell and then a stop in Arkansas for dinner! I love getting the opportunity to travel with friends and family and having friends living all around the country who we can stop and see along the way is a huge bonus to traveling! With family in NC this is definitely a trip we will making again in the future with new stopping places along the way!

Posted in Travel

Travel: A Weekend at Palo Duro Canyon

               I love taking the time to plan out a trip, and research the best things to do with kids to both make it memorable, and affordable.  Because of the pandemic, our plans have changed so much this summer, that I have just been learning to go with the flow.  And in many ways that has turned out to our benefit.  During the Texas lockdown, I had lots of time to research and make lists of all the places I wanted to visit!  We have a goal to hit all 50 states before the kids are in high school and we are well on our way.  But Texas is a BIG state and there are so many places I have wanted to explore that are good weekend destinations… so I started making plans and booking refundable trips and praying that at least some of them would work out!

The first trip of this summer was to Palo Duro Canyon. Now, I have been to the Grand Canyon and it is for sure a sight to behold, but in light of the pandemic and this being our first trip away, I decided to stick closer to home this time around! Palo Duro is only about 4.5 hours from Fort Worth, and perfect for a short trip when you don’t want to do any stopping with kids!

Because the canyon was still closed (with no published reopening date) when I started planning, I was able to get an awesome deal on an AirBnb that was located right on the canyon! We knew we wanted a kitchen for this trip and since we had friends traveling with us, an AirBnb was more cost effective than staying at a hotel. Since we already have state park passes for Texas, all we had to do was reserve a spot in the park when reservations reopened (added bonus, when the park opened up they were only letting in a limited number of people, so less people on a holiday weekend at the end of May was a huge bonus).

We drove down on a Friday and stayed thru Monday evening. We spent the first night at the AirBnb on the deck watching the wildlife climbing through the canyon. The good thing about staying at an AirBnb with a kitchen is that we could load a cooler down with food and snacks for the whole trip and cook our meals just like we are at home. So once we checked in, we could stay put for the afternoon/evening.

Sunset views from our AirBnb

Whenever we make plans to travel, the first thing I do is make a list of all the things we would like to do while we are there that would cost extra money and determine what our budget for the trip can handle. Whenever possible, I like to find free activities and plug in one “bonus” thing to do that we think is reasonable to spend the money on! Because we had several out of the country trips for the spring/summer rescheduled ☹, our travel budget for the summer allowed for us to do two splurge things on this trip! The first, which was my favorite, was horseback riding in the canyon on Saturday morning. I love horseback riding and other than riding a pony at the state fair, my kids had never ridden and I thought it would be a fantastic way to get a glimpse of the canyon for the first time! We got there early and met our guides and the kids got to meet their horses for the morning. We loaded up and went on our first adventure through the canyon.

Riding through the canyon

When we finished riding we went back to the AirBnb for lunch and then loaded back up for our second adventure which was ziplining over the canyon! Not going to lie, I was a little nervous about this one, but luckily we had enough adults to outnumber the kids who would need to zip tandem and most of them were braver than I was! 😉 Ziplining required us to climb a steep ramp while tethered to each other and the railing and then after ziplining, crossing a swinging bridge back across the canyon!

The climb up to the zip line

This was the kids favorite part of the trip, and while it was quite exhilarating, I was not as ready as they were to jump back on again. It was definitely worth the money we spent on it and everyone agreed the views were amazing!

Coming off the zip line

We grilled out Saturday evening and Sunday morning we hiked several miles through the canyon. Being the end of May in Texas, we didn’t go as far as we would have liked to, but fun was still had by everyone. We celebrated with snowcones and did some souvenir shopping before heading back to the AirBnb for dinner and smores over the firepit!

This is definitely a recommended trip, even if you only do free activities and camp out in the canyon! We would definitely go back, as there are quite a few things we didn’t get to do because of the pandemic! And while it isn’t the Grand Canyon, there is so much more accessible to you here, and the smaller crowds can’t be beat!

If you have ever been and have recommendations for future visits, we would love if you would share them in the comments!