Feb
11

Castle Dome and Big Eye Mine

An hour North of Yuma, Arizona lies the once bustling but now deserted area of Castle Dome.  We found another beautiful spot to camp under the towering rock formation from which Castle Dome takes its name.

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We camped in this spot for several days, exploring the area on foot and by vehicle.  In an epic trip we took the 4×4 only dirt road up in behind Castle Dome to visit one of the largest deserted mines in the area, Big Eye Mine.  The mine was only 25 miles from our campsite but it took us three hours to reach it.  My body still aches in remembrance of the bumpy, jarring but beautiful road.

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On the way up we stopped at an area that was full of mines.  We kept our children very close at hand as we explored the area as most of the mines have been abandoned without any care for the safety of others.  There were literally holes in the earth that went 150 feet straight down. If you fell in, you would not come out alive.

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Straight down into the earth.

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Once we reached the area of Big Eye Mine we made the easy climb to the base camp. There we saw the abandoned cabins the miners had used for accommodation.  We were able to peer into the mines that went into the side of the mountain and learn about the process for which they extracted the ore and sent it down the mountain to be taken by train to a smelter in Texas.

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It took us a further two hours to come down the mountain. Why is it always so much faster coming home?

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And we made it back just in time for this:

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Feb
08

Desert Camping in Quartzsite Arizona

Quartzsite, Arizona is a weird little vortex of retirees camped out in the desert, endless swap meets, and oodles of rocks and fossils for sale.  The small town comes alive in the winter as it fills with people searching for a bit of sun and a cheap cost of living. We knew about Quartzsite from my rock hound parents who love to come down and dry camp in the desert and search the markets for things they don’t need.

We camped out in a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) which is basically a place where you can dry camp in a designated area for free.  We were surprised by the number of motorhomes, fifth wheels, and trailers scattered throughout the desert. We were definitely the smallest rig on the block especially when we compared our little van to the monstrous motorhomes with triple slides. Now those are houses on wheels!

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Since many people are dry camping in the outskirts of Quartzsite many businesses in town cater to us cheap traveling folk. There are two laundromats in this tiny town (one wash for $2, dry for $1.50), oodles of propane pumps ($1.99 a gallon), dump stations for sewer ($15 for a big rig but only $2 for our little bitty porta-potty), and water stations for potable drinking water (25 cents per gallon).  One could stay in this town all winter long for very little cash.  The one down side we saw was the less than mediocre grocery store with overpriced groceries.  I assume all the long termers do their big shop in Blyth, CA about 25 miles away.

We enjoyed wandering the swap meets and discovering all the beautiful rocks and fossils on display. Our visit coincided with the annual rock and gem show so things were hopping busy.  The boys each had $40 from Grandma to spend in Quartzsite so lots of pretties were purchased by them.

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The desert surrounding Quartzsite is great for exploring. We putt-putted down dirt roads and hunted for the beautiful rocks the town is famous for. We found some pretties including some small pieces of jasper, fossils, and petrified wood!

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But our favourite part of the Quartzsite was camping out in the desert. This was the first place on our trip where we could actually take off our sweaters and put on our sandals.  Ahhhh, warm weather. It doesn’t get much better than this.

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Feb
04

514 VW Vans at Buses By The Bridge

As we were leaving Valley Of Fire we stopped to talk to the owners of some other VW Vans. This isn’t unusual for us. When you own a Volkswagen Van you become part of a not-so-secret club of van lovers.  We smile, wave, and honk when we drive by each other and we stop to chat it up when we are parked.  So it was that we found out about BBB.

Them, “Hey man, are you going to BBB?”

Us, “Um what is BBB?” Thoughts of Bed and Breakfasts and why on earth would we go to one swirling in our heads.

Them, “Awe man, you’re kidding?” Turning to their friends they exclaim,  “Hey guys! They don’t know what BBB is!!!”

They explain, “It is Buses By the Bridge, a yearly camp out for VW Vans in Lake Havasu. You HAVE to go!”

And so it was that we found ourselves heading south to Lake Havasu to take part in the Buses By The Bridge campout.  Imagine an empty field on the shores of a lake filled with 514 camping singles, couples, and families and everyone is camped out in a Volkswagen Van!

There were all manner of vans at BBB. From gorgeously restored 21 windows (worth about $100,000 US!), to beautiful old split windows, to the newer Vanagons, to Syncros that had us drooling. (If I am speaking gibberish to you it’s OK, just know there were lots of cool vans.)

We spent the weekend drooling over the extraordinary amount of coolness, chatting all things VW with other enthusiasts, and getting some great ideas on storage solutions for our own van.

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Feb
01

I Fell In To The Valley Of Fire

Hum the tune of “Burning Ring Of Fire” by Johnny Cash. This was the theme song for our family’s trip to The Valley Of Fire State Park in Nevada. We kept the tune and swapped out the words and made up an endless song continually describing our two day exploration of this alien landscape.

Valley of Fire is breathtaking. The park is full of red rock formations of all shapes and sizes. The rock is porous and easy to climb on.  The campsite in the park (there are actually two but one was closed for the winter) is absolutely stellar. We camped right beside the red rocks and breakfasted on an outcropping beside our camp.

We hiked both on trail and off, finding the most spectacular vistas.  We hunted for petroglyphs and were rewarded with the discoveries of these ancient drawings that transported us into the past.  We imagined what it must have been like for the ancient peoples living in this harsh desert environment.  We witnessed an incredibly big hawk descend upon a desert hare. The hare got away when the hawk was startled by our noisy presence and the hare ran as fast as can be into the desert brush.  We awoke each morning to the glorious rays of the sun accentuating the vibrant colours of the rock formation. We breathed in the energy of this otherworldly place.

And with the click of a button two little hands permanently deleted all of our pictures of our time at Valley of Fire. Ho Hum. We still have the memories.

Here are the only pics we have…taken on our phone.

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The Valley of Fire is about an hour drive from North Las Vegas. Entrance to the park is $10 per vehicle. Add another $10 if you would like to camp there. (Do It!!!)  The campground has potable water, flush toilets, and hot showers (a glorious find for stinky travellers!)  We camped here in the winter and it got quite chilly at night.  Bring lots of blankets and enjoy the offseason!

Jan
09

Days of Exploration at The Las Vegas Springs Preserve

110 acres of native habitat in the midst of the glitz, glamour, and grime of Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Springs Preserve has a whole lot to offer the visitor to Vegas, especially families. Within its grounds lies the Nevada State Museum, The Origin Museum, A Sustainability Gallery, a working model of an entirely environmentally friendly home DesertSol, events and classes for children, demonstration gardens, butterfly gardens (in season only), and miles of trails to walk or  bike on.

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Since the cost of entrance for out-of-state visitors was $19.95 per adult and $10.95 per child, the $60 one year family membership made much more sense for our family. For the same price as a one day admission we can now go as many times as we want while we are visiting Vegas. The membership is also on the reciprocation list for the American Horticulture Society Reciprocal Admissions Program which means we can visit 270 other gardens in America with our membership. Score!

We have already spent two full on days at the Spring Preserve and could easily do one more without getting bored.  The premise the Spring Preserve is based on is education on sustainability and environmental issues. We loved the interactive displays and enjoyed wandering the grounds. Our second day there was on a rainy Tuesday and we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. While a little rain doesn’t keep us away, it did keep out the rest of Las Vegas!

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Mike and I were enthralled with the LEED certified buildings on site. Getting LEED certification is a big deal and basically it means that the buildings used environmentally friendly building materials and technology. Think solar panels, rain water catchment, on site sewer treatment, and low-energy consumption.

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The kids loved the Nevada State Museum with its history on Nevada from the Dawn of the Dinosaurs to present day big city. The Origin Museum also had displays on the history of Nevada, focussing on the settlement of Las Vegas. There were displays on the flora and fauna of the area, displays on what Native homes used to look like, and there was even a live animal area where we could see real desert hares and desert tortoises! The traveling exhibit while we were there was on shipwrecks and pirates which of course was another huge hit with our kids.

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There is simply so much going on at The Las Vegas Springs Preserve.  If you are in the area I highly recommend getting the pass as there is simply too much to do there in one day.

Jan
08

Wetlands in Las Vegas?

We are all about taking advantage of learning opportunities when we travel. We like to go to museums, science centres, interpretive centres and art galleries.  We like to go to them even more when they are free so after a brief internet search on “Things to Do in Vegas with Kids” we thought we would check out the Clark County Wetland Preserve.  We were pretty impressed with what we found!

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The Wetlands Preserve in Las Vegas is exactly what it is named for, it is a preserved wetlands.  Hard to believe there could be a marsh in Las Vegas!  The folks at the Preserve are doing some amazing things with habitat restoration and environmental education.  The interpretive centre, staffed with the most friendly volunteers, is a state of the art facility full of interactive displays for kids and adults alike.  We learned all about the negative impacts big city Las Vegas is having on the local environment (hello habitat encroachment, urban run off, coal fired plants, and pollution!)

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All of the displays were hands on.  We built our own habitats on a video game, peered into what nests look like, played a “what’s that smell game” and found out that beavers and coyotes stink, matched up mothers to eggs, and dozens of other games and explorations.

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What floored me most was that this exhibit was totally free. What a great resource for the people of Las Vegas and those of us lucky enough to find this little gem!

After our hours in the interpretive centre we filled our pockets with snacks as we had now officially skipped lunch and went for a leisurely walk through the wetlands. The park has numerous, well maintained, wide trails some of which are gravel and some of them paved.  Apparently there is even a trail from the Wetlands Preserve all the way to Lake Mead. Too bad we didn’t have bikes with us!

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If you find yourself in Vegas the Clark County Wetlands Preserve is well worth the trip!

Jan
04

Enjoying Red Rock National Park

First off, let me tell you that the best time to go to Red Rock National Park is NOT over the Christmas and New Years Holidays.  As it is just a short hop from the strip on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Red Rock is an easy destination for all the holiday makers who come in droves over the Christmas season.

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When we arrived at Red Rock to get our hike on we were greeted with a line up 100 deep just to drive into the park!  The fun continued as we and thousands of other tourists vied for parking spots at the numerous trailheads throughout the park.  The parking lots were full, the sides of the roads were full, the places with “No Parking” signs were full, and a friendly tow truck driver was continuously making the rounds to hook up to the cars that were blocking traffic.  It was a zoo!  We parked in a clearly marked “No Parking” zone and hoped for the best.

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Despite the crowded conditions we were still able to find our little slices of paradise as we explored the beautiful red rocks that the park gets its name from.  (Although my children insist the rocks are more orange than red and that someone was seriously colour blind when they named the park.)

We scrambled up and down the rock faces, peered into deep canyons, and marvelled at the beauty of the place. What an oasis of nature so close to the artificial glitz of the city.

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On one of our trails we even encountered snow and a frozen waterfall!  Brrrr!  We have been told this is the coldest winter in Vegas for years and we are definitely ill prepared for the weather!

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Now that kids are back in school and the holidays are over the park shouldn’t be so busy and we can go back to have a quieter experience.  We have purchased an annual park pass for America’s National Parks and we can now enjoy this and any other National Park at our leisure.

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Jan
03

The Coolest Park In Vegas

It looks to us like the city’s gambling revenue in Las Vegas is hard at work in funding some amazing parks!  Our eyes were alight with excitement when we explored playground after playground after playground all situated within the manicured (although brown) park boundaries of Craig Ranch Park in North Las Vegas.

Each playground had a different theme and we came up with our own names for them.

Here we have Ewok Village

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Rattlesnake Ride

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Alice In Wonderland

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Spiderweb City

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Slide Hill

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The Great Gecko

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The coolest park we had ever been to before was one we found in our wanderings in Hong Kong. This one now takes the cake.

There were numerous other playgrounds in Craig Ranch Park that were more your normal run-of-the-mill types that we didn’t take pictures of.  All of the playgrounds had rubber flooring for soft landings as well as beautiful shade clothes overhead so kids could still play in the hot summer months.

Such a great find!

 

 

Dec
27

Setting an Intention for 2016

I’m not one for New Years Resolutions. This is probably because I don’t need to be motivated by an end of another year to make a goal.  I tend to make goals all year long and my goals undoubtably change and morph into new goals as time passes.

For the past three years I have been choosing an intention to mark the New Year.  A friend of mine was my inspiration for this. I thought it was so beautiful how she would choose a word as her intention to hold in her heart for the year, so I started to do it too.

My first word two years ago was INVITE.

My intention was to invite more into my life.  I meant this on a literal level, as in inviting more people over to my home or to events…more dinners, more bon fires, more parties, more conversations over tea.  I also meant it on a spiritual level…to invite happiness, calmness, and more energy into my life.

Last year my word was ACCEPT.

Again I chose a word that had a few meanings for me.  I wanted to say “yes” to more.  Being that I am a home body (and so are the other members of my family) it is always easiest to just curl up at home. I found by embracing the word Accept I would say yes to more invites to go out and have fun!  I also chose this word to remember to accept things that would happen to me, my family, my community. To understand that all things happen for a reason.  To accept the curveballs with grace and keep on moving on. To accept myself and the people in my  life for exactly who they are and know that we are all as we are meant to be in this moment.

This year my word is TRUST.

I am working on my courage this year. I want to gently squash the fear that comes up in me all too frequently. As I get older I seem to be more apprehensive at trying new things, at breaking out of my comfort zone, at going to new places.  Fear is quickly becoming more and more of a problem in our society as we are spoon fed fear on every media front.   This year I want to practice trust in the world.  To trust that for the most part people are good. That the world can be a safe place. That humanity is on the brink of serious change for the better.  And to trust in myself, in the choices that I make for my family, and in our choice to unschool our children.

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Dec
18

The Journey South

It took us three days to drive from our home in Southern British Columbia to Las Vegas, Nevada.  Google Maps said the drive would take us 22 hours but it actually took us closer to 26.  While our VW Van is faster than most thanks to our Turbo Diesel Jetta Engine we still could not keep up to any of the new cars on the road.

Our American border crossing was a breeze. Truthfully, I was expecting a bit of a hassle since we are driving in a hippy van and spending three months in America.  We have been thoroughly searched at this border crossing before and I wasn’t expecting anything different.  The border guard was quite stern in his approach to us, asking us all sorts of questions about our intentions in the US, if we would be working, and how we would be supporting ourselves.  After the questions he took a brief look in the back of our van and then waved us through.  And on we went.

 

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We spent the first day traveling in good sunny weather.  Since we did not want to drive at night we pulled over at 5pm for the night at a rest stop along the highway.  After a fitful sleep we were up at 4:30am (yuck!) and on the road again just before 7.  We drove on with apprehension as we made our way through our first snow storm.  Our van does not do well in high winds…it is like driving a giant box down the highway!

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Another 9 hours of driving brought us to the high deserts of Nevada. Although we wanted to push on we were faced with another snow storm and uber high winds.  When I got out of the van in Wells, Nevada to pump some diesel my body revolted in pain from the freezing cold temperatures and icy wind ripping through my inadequate spring weather clothing (we don’t have room for winter gear!)  We decided to play it safe and spend the night there, hoping for fairer weather in the morning.  We pulled in beside some RVs in an empty lot, made a simple pasta dinner, and then hit the hay.

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By the morning the nasty wind of the previous night had abated and we were able to carry on South.  The high desert country of Nevada seemed endless as we trucked along the straight stretches of shrub and sagebrush. The highlight of our morning for the boys was seeing desert hares on the side of the road…unfortunately they had been smushed by passing motorists.

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The weather in Nevada doesn’t change to warm until a few hours North of Las Vegas and we were so happy for the change.  We started to see little cactus dot the sagebrush landscape and as we drove the cactus got bigger and bigger.  When we saw our first palm tree we knew we were close!

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Las Vegas isn’t a destination I would normally be too excited about.  It was exciting the first time I was here when I was 18 and Mike and I were road tripping down to Mexico but now it’s just another big city to me.  The reason why we are staying put here for a bit is that we have family who live and work in the city and we are being graciously hosted in their lovely home in the suburbs.  We will be using our time here for visiting, seeing the museums, taking in a show or two, and exploring the State Parks for some excellent hiking opportunities.

What did it cost to drive here?

It was surprisingly reasonable to drive down here. We had no cost for accommodation as we just camped wherever we found ourselves.  The cost of diesel for our van topped out at $105 US ($140 CAD).  Our total cost for food was $60 US ($20 for some nasty fast food that we thought was a good idea at the time and then soon regretted, and $40 for groceries).  We also had to stop at an auto part store to buy some new hose clamps and tools to put them on for a total of $20 US.  Let me just add in here a shout out to my husband who continually amazes me with his mechanical abilities!

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So our grand total from getting from British Columbia to Las Vegas was $185 US.  Not too bad to transport a family of four!!!

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