Thursday, July 26, 2007

"White" water rafting on the Colorado River

Yesterday we went white water rafting on the Colorado. Last year David and Laurie had a great time on the New River in West Virginia, but Alice was about 6 months too young to go, so she missed out. And boy was she annoyed.

However here in the west, no such silly rules such as "safe age to participate" have been put on earth to destroy one's fun, so we signed up, and Alice, Laurie and I duly reported for rafting at 7am (a bit of a challenge for all, considering the teenager type ages of the kids involved), hopped on a bus with 19 other people, and drove for an hour and a half to reach the Colorado River above Westwater Canyon - almost, but not quite, in Colorado.

By the way, there are also no silly rules about wearing helmets... So we put on our sunscreen and life jackets, filled our water bottles, and hopped in the raft.

The Colorado is not a clean river. Depending on what has been washed down by wherever the flash floods associated with the Monsoon, it can vary in color from red, to brown, with various shades of yellow in between. Yesterday, the color was hard to describe, but it was sort of yellow. The water was NOT clear, in fact it did not really resemble water. It was more like a slurry of water and lots of fine particles. if you put your hand in, it disappeared. Apparently it is clean though, which is just as well, because as we went down the white (yellow) water rapids, I and the Swiss guy beside me, who were paddling at the front, got lots of mouthfuls of it. It tastes pretty clean, just a bit gritty.

I live in hope that the white t-shirt that Alice wore, will eventually return to a slightly less yellow shade.

Moab and Monsoons

Apparently it is monsoon season in Moab. The monsoon arrived the same day we did. So for the two of the last three nights, we have enjoyed an hour or two of wind, rain, thunder and lightning, and general mayhem, at about the time we have attempted to cook dinner. The first night, we had a very late dinner, huddled in a damp shelter. The second night, our shelter blew away, and we went to the Moab brewery for dinner. (Fantastic food, and great beer, one was called "dead horse" - we explained rhyming slang to the waiter, but I don't think he got it - too much translation required. The servings were so generous that even Laurie was defeated, and left half his nachos on the plate.) The third day, (while I took Alice and Laurie white water rafting in the Colorado River - see next post) David went out and bought the MSR Storm Sail, which is guaranteed to stand up to winds of up to 105 miles per hour. Takes three people to put it up, and is a thing of beauty - many people stopped by last night to ooh and aah over it - and guess what? It is also has storm repellant properties. The night after we bought it, no rain, no wind, no thunder and no rain! David was extremely disappointed.

This afternoon however, as we were returning from Arches National Park, the clouds rolled in, the thunder sounded, and the lightning flashed across the horizon. We returned to our camp to find the MSR Storm Sail flapping in the wind -not through any failure of the Sail, but due to failure of the ropes that were supposed to be holding it down. They just do not hold in the sandy soil of the Moab Desert.

So here I am, at the campsite huddled under the MSR Storm Sail, which is now held in place by many large rocks, while David returns to "Gear Heads" the local camping store to buy some more appropriate tent pegs, and some more ropes to tie it down with. Of course, the wind has died down, and the rain is almost over - just a light pitter patter above my head, on the earstwhile Storm Sail. Gee camping is fun!

Saturday, July 21, 2007


The first event of the 77th Annual Sheridan Professional Circuit Rodeo was the Indian Relay – about 6 guys riding these incredibly beautiful ponies bareback in a no rules, no hold barred, crazy race. Once around the track on one horse, then jump off, and jump onto another. The fact that while they were jumping off, and jumping on the next one, there were another 5 crazed horses bearing down on them, and another 5 crazed guys doing the same thing, so the transition area was just an accident waiting to happen, well that is irrelevant. Laurie in particular was gob-smacked – he sat there with his mouth open, unable to believe his eyes. In fact the whole evening was like that – just constant action, beautiful horses, crazy riders. The horses were so well trained, they could go from a standing start to flat out gallop in about three strides. The first bronc rider was an Australian, from Queensland; he scored the equal highest score of the evening, much to Alice and Laurie’s patriotic delight. This of course got some conversations going between us and others in the stands – it reminded me a bit of the show at Tallangatta, but on a much bigger scale. The locals were very friendly, and “security” consisted of guys from the local baseball team, in their baseball tops, with a “Security” arm band – in other words, none was needed. People came around selling beers out of buckets of ice, and sodas out of other buckets of ice, and throwing M and M’s into the crowd – it was a great way to spend a summer’s evening. Just one more of the many memories the kids will have.

Asses, burros, bison and other assorted wildlife.

Drove through the Black Hills of South Dakota the other day, in particular Custer State Park, which has nothing to do with Custer’s last stand (but we are going there in the next few days)

As we were driving on the wild life loop, we saw (as expected) lots of deer, antelope, pronghorn (they all look like deer to me!) and a herd of bison. However we were not expecting a herd of burros – they were wandering down the road, stopping traffic, and sticking their noses in the windows (should you be foolish enough to open them). They were very keen to scavenge food, and even the foals were tame and well versed at begging. They let us pat them through the windows – the kids thought that was pretty cool.

In our campground at Hill City, we saw some reddish colored animals which we were told were ground squirrels. Unlike the grey squirrels we are used to from New York these are small, and very active. Once again, they are used to humans, and were happy to investigate our tent to see if we had left any food out, and would hop up on the table even if we were still in close proximity. Julian was surprised to find that his bagel had disappeared on him by the time he went for a run with the ball and came back – the squirrel carried it off. The funniest thing was watching this little critter trying to climb a tree while holding a bagel in his front paws. He would jump up, be unable to grip and fall back. Wish I had video.

We have also seen some tiny little critters which we think are chipmunks. Not sure though, having never seen a chipmunk, except in Disney movies…

Althogether, an abundance of very cooperative wildlife...

Monday, July 9, 2007

Currently staying at the KOA in Hill City, South Dakota, 5 miles from Mount Rushmore. This place is HUGE – there is a massive Reception area as you drive in; when you go to register, you are greeted by a concierge, who assists you with your registration. Once at your site, there are many options to chose from; you could get a “multi-day, unlimited, Mega” pass, which means that all members of your family can use the giant bouncy pillow, the splash pad, the water slide, and the mini golf area, as many times as they like. To get here, we had an 11 hour trip (well, it was supposed to be 6, but we stopped off at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, (the community center of town, which is decorated annually with panels made entirely of corn) Badlands National Park, (famous in any number of cowboy movies), and the town of Wall, South Dakota, (which boasts the biggest drug store in the world). An experience not to be missed, we were told by about 5 different people).

Did I mention it was the hottest day of the year so far? When we were in the badlands, the thermometer on the car registered 44 Celsius. All around us were flagging in the heat! We thought it was great – reminded us of home, with nice dry heat, unlike that crappy humidity in New York. So we put on our hats (no-one wears hats over here – unless it is baseball caps) stocked up on water and marched around the Badlands looking at fossils, and being careful of rattle snakes, and surprising the park ranger who was hiding in the shade of the exhibition center.

So after our 11 hour drive, we headed for the on-site restaurant for dinner, preceded by a beer at the on-site pub, and followed by ice cream at the on-site ice-cream parlor. Every morning, Laurie has enjoyed his $2.50, all you can eat, pancake breakfast at the breakfast tent – so the first day, we just hung around the campground, went to the pool, played volleyball with the counselors, (yes, they have employed all these students from South Africa, England, etc to keep the kids occupied over the summer. They organize crafts, volley ball sessions, basketball games, and so on, to get kids out of the parent’s hair. I am sure there are some kids who have not left the campground since they arrived – some parents too, I am sure. Before the kids got up, david and I rode to the entrance, and had a Starbucks coffee. Then on to the laundry to catch up on a few loads, and home for a bit of breakfast. We find we are still operating on New York time, and are waking up at about 5, which is 7 at home, and feeling like we have had a full night’s sleep. But then we run out of steam about 9 at night, but have to rock on, because the kids have adjusted much more quickly than we have, and are on Mountain time already. They also seem to have adjusted to the altitude... Meanwhile, David and I are breathless from lugging wood from the forest, or riding the bikes to get coffee. But we are at 5400 feet - a bit higher than Tallangatta! Maybe having spent the last three years at sea level has diminished our lung capacity!

But all in all we are having a bit more of relaxing time here, more tomorrow – we will tell you about the burros…

The Veals.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Ol' Man Miss

Unexpectedly (well, we didn't really look at rivers while planning, only roads) we got to dabble our toes in the Mississippi River yesterday. Even right up north in southern Wisconsin, crossing over to Minnesota, it is pretty impressive - as big and wide as we expected. I have a little rock from its shores - wonder if David will let me pack it!

Spent last night in a campground off the I90 (which we have been following for quite a few days now) - very pretty little rural community. Went for a bike ride first thing this morning, and found a little cemetary, with stones dating back to the early 1800's. Squirrels darting about, the odd rabbit, the sun coming up over the cornfields. We are in Little House on the Priarie country - there is a turnoff to Walnut Grove about 80 miles up the road, which I am going to try to persuade David to take.

Next stop Sioux Falls, where we actually get to stay for three days. Time to catch up with downloading some photos, and working out how to get them on this site.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Chicago, Chicago...

It's my kinda town -

Well, we are in Chicago - actually about 30 miles north west of there. Yesterday we went into town on the train - very cheap because of the "Taste of Chicago" festival, and the fireworks. Actually, our $5 a head got us a 2 day return pass from the closest station, which is at Crystal Lake. Once we got into town, (1 and a half hours!) there were free trolleys to take us all around the city to any of the many tourist sites there. So, general consensus, Chicago is lovely in summer, but would suck in winter!

We had a quick visit to Navy Peir, and wandered to the end before heading back to the top for lunch at Bubba Gumps. I would have liked to go on the tall ship tour of the harbour, but David rightly reminded me that julian would be just as likely to jump over board, so what looked like it could be a relaxing trip could turn into a nightmare!

Next stop (via the trolley) was Hard Rock - this is our 18th Hard Rock around the world, and subsequently, Alice's 18th Hard Rock teddy bear, Laurie's 18th Hard Rock t-shirt (his uniform for school) and my 18th Hard Rock pin. David has only 12 Hard Rock drum sticks, because we did not start collecting until we got to Philadelphia for the second time.

Then off to Millenium Park where we saw this amazing sculpture which the locals call "the Bean." Julian was captivated by the reflections from this and we got some great photos. Also caught some street theatre (always a favorite with the kids, although we got so spoiled last summer in Canada!) and then fought the crowds coming in for the fire works (remember this is 4th of July - we keep forgetting) to get home again.

Today, a lazy day. Rained last night, so we had some drying off to do, and tomorrow we head off for a 2 day drive to Souix Falls. So, tomorrow, pack up, and drive (4 hours) then set up our tents again.

More to come...

The Veals

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Buckeye Fever

Our first stop on the trip - Ohio. We were very impressive, got away by 6 (we had hoped for 5) and had to turn back only once. 8 hours on the road is a real challenge for us - the kids start chewing each other out after about 4, so we just kept throwing food at them in the back seat, but we were releived to get here just after 2. Didn't get lost either!

It was great to see Bill and Anna, our friends from Columbus, again, and it was a very social time! I think we have both put on about 5 pounds! Alice enjoyed her time with Mary, although they suddenly realized there was going to be an endpoint of their time together. But we refuse to say goodbye, it was more a case of "see you soon." I think both the Costellos and the Veals will be putting their pennies in the jar to get those plane tickets to Australia...

Ohio-an mosquitos love Australians - and give us an interesting reaction. I still have big welts on my legs from them. They didn't bite the others though - just me...

Next stop Chicago.