Monthly Archives: September 2016

Carlsbad Caverns



Location: New Mexico

Established: May 14, 1930

Size: 46,766 acres


“The Chihuahuan Desert, studded with spiky plants and lizards, offers little hint that what Will Rogers called the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it” waits underground. Yet, at this desert’s northern reaches, underneath the Guadalupe Mountains, lies one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever found.

Water molded this underworld four to six million years ago. Some 250 million years ago, the region lay underneath the inland arm of an ancient sea. Near the shore grew a limestone reef. By the time the sea withdrew, the reef stood hundreds of feet high, later to be buried under thousands of feet of soil. Some 15 to 20 million years ago, the ground uplifted. Naturally occurring sulfuric acid seeped into cracks in the limestone, gradually enlarging them to form a honeycomb of chambers. Millions of years passed before the cave decoration began. Then, drop by drop, limestone-laden moisture built an extraordinary variety of glistening formations—some six stories tall; others tiny and delicate.

Cave scientists have explored more than 30 miles (48 kilometers) of passageways of the main cavern of Carlsbad, and investigation continues. Visitors may tour three of these miles (five kilometers) on a paved trail. Slaughter Canyon Cave provides the hardy an opportunity to play caver, albeit with a guide. The park has more than a hundred other caves open primarily to specialists.

Some visitors think the park’s most spectacular sight is the one seen at the cave’s mouth. More than a quarter million Brazilian (Mexican) free-tailed bats summer in a section of the cave, and around sunset they spiral up from the entrance to hunt for insects. The nightly exodus led to the discovery of the cave in modern times. Around the turn of the 20th century, miners began to excavate bat guano—a potent fertilizer—for shipment to the citrus groves of southern California. One of the guano miners, James Larkin White, became the first to explore and publicize the caverns beyond Bat Cave.”

This stop was one that we were all excited for.

We are “cave people,” and I mean that in the kindest way possible…not that we are Neanderthals in our actions and manners…

well, perhaps a little bit,

but what I really mean is that our family loves touring caves.

As a family we have toured a dozen caves and never turn down the chance to explore another underground labyrinth.

Last year we had the opportunity to tour Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, the longest cave system in the world.

When we were planning our cross country trip and realized how close we would be traveling to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, we knew we needed to add this stop to our itinerary. This stop had two added benefits:

#1: We were within three hours of my brother, Travis, who lives in Midland, Texas. So we planned to combine our visit to Carlsbad with a visit with Travis.

#2: It was free to visit and take Travis with us on a cave tour with our America the Beautiful pass.

We arrived in the area on Sunday night. The plan was to meet up with Travis on Monday morning, but we drove over to Carlsbad Caverns the night before so we could catch their evening bat show. This show is a must-see event if you visit the caverns. This show that you watch at the mouth of the cave is just as spectacular as anything you will see below ground.

We arrived at 6:15 and found a seat in the open amphitheater that faces the bat cave entrance.


There we were instructed to turn off all electronics; including phones and cameras. No photography was allowed at the bat show as the lights put out by our cameras and phones can disorientate the bats in their flight and cause them to crash into vegetation.

We were also asked to sit still and quietly as we waited for the bats to emerge.

As we waited, a ranger spoke about the bats at Carlsbad Cavern, in the most interesting ranger led program we have attended on our trip. We learned that the colony of bats found at Carlsbad Caverns are Brazilian free-tail bats.

This colony is composed of 1/2 million bats, which was an incredible site to see when they began emerging from the cave, but we discovered that today’s colony of bats was a small percentage of the colony that was found there in the 1930’s. That same colony used to be  8-9 million strong.

The primary cause of the shrinking of the colony can be traced to the use of DDT in the 1970s.

Carlsbad Caverns is considered a maternity roost where the colony comes to give birth and raise pups each spring. These bats typically give birth to one pup every June or July. The pups are raised in the cave until the are old enough to join their mothers on their nightly flights beginning in September.

In October they leave Carlsbad Caverns for the winter, choosing to migrate to Mexico each year rather than hibernate like some other bat colonies do.

Around 6:45 pm the bats began to fly, beginning their flight pattern by flying in a vortex, creating a tornado of bats as they worked their way from the bottom of the cave up to the entrance.

The ranger explained that this movement is much like L.A. traffic and by flying in a spinning vortex bats are able to merge into “traffic” allowing 500,000 bats to exit the cave in a orderly way.

It was an unreal site to see 1/2 million bats leave the cave in search of the 4,500 pounds of insects the colony eats nightly in the 20 mile radius around the cave.

As the crowd sat in complete silence under a wave of passing bats, the experience was almost spiritual.

(Images taken from NPS website)



I don’t know when I have experienced something so affecting.

The only sound was the whoosh of air as they flew above our heads and moved in a dance of dips and spins.

It was one of the neatest experiences of my life.

The next morning we returned to Carlsbad Caverns to meet my brother, Travis, for the day. Since he moved to Texas, visits with Travis are a rare and treasured treat. We decided to make this his belated birthday celebration since last week was his birthday.

He arrived and the kids ran over to greet him.


Toby picked up our tickets for the tour and we began our visit in the visitor’s center, where we were able to learn a bit more about the formation of the cave, the history of the cave, and the bats that occupy the cave.


From there we moved to the elevators that would take us deep within the Caverns.

There were multiple cavern tours available from self-guided, walk through tours  to more adventurous, ranger-led tours.

We opted for the Big Room tour:

“The basic tour through Carlsbad Cavern is the Big Room route, a one-mile, self-guided underground walk around the perimeter of the largest room in the cave, the Big Room. Taking approximately 1.5 hours, this circular route passes many large and famous features including Bottomless Pit, Giant Dome, Rock of Ages, and Painted Grotto. Highly decorated and immense, the Big Room should be seen by all park visitors.

Access to the Big Room is provided by elevators located in the visitor center.

Just how BIG is the Big Room? At about 8.2 acres in size, roughly 6.2 football fields would fit into the Big Room!

It is definitely well-named as this is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America.

Other caves might be longer or deeper, but few can live up to the grandeur of the Big Room of Carlsbad Caverns”


We took the elevator down 750 feet into the heart of the cavern,  which was equivalent to over 70 stories of descent and took about a minute to go down. Rangers operate them with a pre-orientation.


The first thing that greeted us below was the cafe and store carved under the rocks. It was pretty amazing how they were able to carve out a small underground center here.


The other thing we noticed upon stepping out of the elevator was the temperature, which remains a steady 56 degrees year round inside the cave.


The trail around the Big Room was incredible. Pictures didn’t prepare us for the vast size and incredible beauty.


We have toured many caves, with some prettier than others, but I have never visited a cave more beautiful than Carlsbad Caverns.


I’ve often said there’s no comparison with pictures and seeing things in person. In this instance, our pictures don’t even begin to capture the beauty and size of these formations.



These decorations were all spectacular sights. We saw the Stalagmites growing from the ground and created by water falling on the floor.



Water dripping slowly from the ceiling created the Stalactites hanging down. The thinner, hollow ones are called Soda Straws.



When stalagmites and stalactites grow and meet together, they create these massive formations called Columns.


Sometimes, water gathers in the cave and form Cave Pools. This one was clear and made for some wonderful reflections.


Their imagination ran wild picturing what some of the formations looked like. Some actually had names like this one called Lion’s Tail.


It was an amazing experience and it was fun to be able to share it with Travis.


After our 1.5 hour walk around the Big Room we stopped at the underground cafeteria for Travis’ birthday lunch.


Where else in the world can you say you had your birthday lunch 750 feet below ground.


“The Underground Lunchroom came into existence in 1928, two years before the cave became a national park. At that time there was a desperate need for food and drink for tourists who were exhausted by the six hours walk required to get in and out of the cavern’s Big Room. The hike had such a reputation for making visitors hungry that the last few hundred yards were known as ”appetite hill.”


The Underground Lunchroom serves small meals such as sandwiches, salads, yogurt, parfaits, and other food that does not involve cooking in the caverns, so as to protect the delicate cave environment, although in the early years of its operation there were no prohibition on cooking. Visitors can still  eat at a personal lantern lit table.


One of the most popular activities for visitors is to write and send postcards from underground. There is a mailbox in the caverns, and you can stamp your postcard “Mailed from 750 feet below ground.”


We had a few postcards to mail out and sent them from this underground post office.


Then we took the elevators up to the surface where we headed back to the bus to give Travis a tour of our home on wheels.


There we gave him his birthday gift: a Carlsbad Caverns t-shirt and hat to remember his birthday visit to the caverns.


Travis also gave Tyler his birthday gift: a really cool mega squirt gun, that Tyler was thrilled with!


All too soon it was time to say our goodbyes. It wasn’t a lot of time, but we were thrilled to carve out some special one on one time with my Texan brother. It was a visit we will never forget!

Visiting ALIENS in Roswell, NM



According to The Mutual UFO Network  (MUFON), the largest privately funded UFO research organization in the world, there were about 500 reported sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) every month mainly in North America in 2011. But, there’s only one town in the world who is synonymous with UFOs and extraterrestrial beings – Roswell, New Mexico.

This town was thrust into international news after a mysterious incident in July 1947. Eyewitnesses claim seeing a shiny unidentified flying object crash to the ground in a ranch field northwest of Roswell. The foreman and a neighboring boy found metal chunks of what appeared to be an aircraft that exploded. Investigators from the nearby Roswell Army Field removed the debris and at first claimed it was a “crashed disk” and later retracted claiming it was a weather balloon instead.

It wasn’t until 1978 when several articles and research surfaced claiming to have interviews with witnesses, both military and civilian personnel, to the 1947 event. Through the years, these researchers believed the Roswell Incident was part of a US Government cover-up which actually recovered an aircraft that was not from this world. The Roswell stories have spun to involve recovering large debris of exotic metals and retrieving of extraterrestrial bodies. It doesn’t help that the government keeps a tight lip, with secrecy oaths and showing minimal public records leading to many unanswered questions.” -The World is a Book

With all the hype we couldn’t wait to get a taste of the alien craze with a visit to Roswell, New Mexico on our way to Carlsbad Caverns…


We just couldn’t resist!

Roswell, New Mexico has learned to embrace the alien craze in a fun, quirky way, playing up the alien angle on every front…

From alien street lamps,


to alien signage throughout the town.


I couldn’t help but laugh at the “Aliens Welcome” sign that hung in front of Arby’s, and the bank that was named: “Out of This World Credit Union.”


Even the McDonalds was uniquely shaped to look like a flying saucer.


In town there are a variety of small shops catering to the sci-fi enthusiasts and alien hunters.

There is also the  Roswell International UFO Museum and Research Center.

This museum, comprised of hundreds of newspaper clippings, photos, and testimonials from people around the world who have shared their stories of sightings,

makes Roswell a mecca for alien enthusiasts.

But we didn’t visit there..

Instead we visited the lesser known and even less credible Area 51 Museum, where we spent an hour taking photos with the REAL DEAL!.

Located in a back room of Alien Zone on main street, this run down, hokey joint gave us our money’s worth of entertainment. The cost was $3.00/adult (children were free).


I don’t know when I have ever laughed so hard!

There, hidden in the back room of a run down alien boutique, we found the elusive aliens that seekers all over the world have been looking for.

It all began when we stepped though the doors of the Area 51 museum.


There we found the transport vehicle that brought these extraterrestrials here to Earth.


It was unreal. They were living among us in the most American of ways…

One invited Molly and Rusty in to watch a little TV.


Another invited Grace over for a backyard barbeque, but only if she would grill!


I bellied up to the bar for a deep and meaningful chat with the bartender. He was such a good listener.


And Molly went on her first date at a local café.


We were surprised by her fellow. He wasn’t her normal type. We think Molly was attracted to his BIG, brown eyes.


Then Tyler and Rusty “dropped in” to visit some of the locals.


All was well, until I overheard a sinister plot. These Roswell locals were not what they seemed!


There was something creepy going on in this one horse town!


It all came to a head when Molly took one guy up on his offer for a free massage. She lay down on the massage table and discovered this was no massage! It was a ghastly experiment.


And the evil geniuses behind the experiment were these two!


Luckily, Ozzie sped onto the scene, saving the day, and rescuing us from those “friendly Roswell locals” who turned out to be…




Wow, what a town!

Next stop: Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Petroglyph National Monument


While much of our trip was planned out down to the smallest detail, we have had some impromptu adventures along the way.

There is something quite fun and exciting about veering off the beaten path for an unexpected adventure.


On our way from Mesa Verde National Park to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico we passed a sign for Petroglyph National Monument. Stumbling across this national monument was a wonderful case of serendipity.


We veered off our planned route and found ourselves at the Visitor’s Center, unsure of what we would find at this national monument. I only knew that I wanted to see (and have the kids see) some ancient petroglyphs in person after having studied them in art and history class.

Petroglyphs are rock carvings. Unlike petrographs which are drawn on or painted on rock faces, petroglyphs are images that are scratched into a dark faced rock revealing the lighter stone underneath.


Petroglyphs have been found on every continent except Antarctica and are associated with prehistoric people.


Located just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, Petroglyph National Monument is home to one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in North America. 25,000 petroglyph images can be found scratched into the dark boulders of the park.

At the visitor’s center we were given a map of the different trails in the area where we could view these ancient works of art.


At the ranger’s suggestion we opted to head to Boca Negra Canyon. She explained it was the closest, easiest to access, and most recommended for kids.

As we were leaving Ozzie took a seat outside waiting for the rest of the family to emerge from the visitor’s center when Molly whispered urgently,

“Ozzie, don’t move!”

To which Ozzie responded by jumping up with a panicked yell, “Why?!”

Across is foot slithered a snake.


Unsure of whether it was venomous or not, Ozzie jumped in the air, landing back on top of the snake.

We finally got him away from the little fellow. I think Ozzie’s and the snake’s hearts were racing a bit after that encounter. A local who was passing by informed us that it was perfectly safe and not to worry.


We then drove a couple miles away to the Boca Negra Canyon to hike and view the petroglyphs up close.


It was thrilling seeing these ancient images in person.



Carved into dark, Basalt boulders that were created by ancient volcanos, the hike became an exciting game of “I Spy” as we searched for these ancient, primitive images dating 700-3000 years old.


Some of the images were easy to interpret while other shapes and designs were more abstract.


It was fun guessing at what they could be and what they might mean, as many were grouped together as if meant to tell a story.


The meanings behind these petroglyphs are for the most part unknown but it is fun to guess at what stories they tell.


The petroglyphs we encountered included serpents, birds, horses, humans, masks, four pointed stars, spirals and even hand prints.


As we hiked we were also treated to some real animals in the form of long eared jack rabbits. You could tell we had traveled through South Dakota when Tyler asked,


“But where are their antlers?”


We had to break his heart and explain that jackalopes weren’t real. 🙂


It was a fun, unexpected stop on a long travel day. Sometimes the best memories come from the unexpected, unplanned moments of life.

Next Stop: Roswell, New Mexico

Mesa Verde



On Friday night, after our stop at Four Corners, we arrived in Cortez, Colorado. We were staying at a KOA and Tyler was beside himself with excitement. In our KOA book he read that this KOA had a fishing pond, the first KOA to offer fishing since Devil’s Tower KOA.

Toby had packed two poles and a tackle bag for just this opportunity and Tyler couldn’t wait. We made sure to get to our site before dark so that he would have a chance to fish.

When we arrived we were guided to our site by the camp manager who also gave us a little background information about the area.


It was a fascinating history lesson. Then he pointed out the mountain range in the distance and told us that the mountains we were looking at were the land of the Ute tribe and what we viewed as the mountain range was actually believed to be a fallen Ute warrior.

If you look at the mountain from left to right, the small peak at the far left side is his toe. The next peak, moving right is his knee. The highest peak is his crossed arms, and finally you see his head sloping down to his hair.

Can you see it?


The river that runs from the mountains is his spilling blood.

It was a beautiful campground!

Toby took Ozzie and Tyler fishing while the older kids helped me with our weekly laundry. This stop also allowed us to get our grocery shopping done for the week. It is such a good feeling when the cabinets are restocked with food and the drawers are filled with clean clothes.


That night we all stepped outside to witness stars unlike anything we see in the east. The Milky Way was vibrant and the number of stars visible, was astounding.

The next morning we drove to Mesa Verde National Park. I woke with mixed feelings about our visit there, excited to see this neat place again and share it with my family, but also a nervous wreck about the tour we had planned.

As a child we toured one of the cliff dwellings. I still have nightmares about climbing down the side of the cliff to walk through those ancient ruins, and I am convinced that at least a portion of the reason I am scared of heights comes from that experience.

We arrived at the visitor’s center and research facility. This visitor’s center houses a small display area that showcases some of the artifacts found on site but is comprised mainly of a ticket desk and gift shop. The main visitor’s center is found deeper in the park.


It was here we purchased tickets for a cliff dwellings tour. While our America the Beautiful pass allows us to enter any National Park for free, some parks have an additional charge for special tours or events. It you choose to tour one of the cliff dwellings in the park you must sign up for a ranger led tour which was surprisingly affordable at $4.00/person… A bargain for the amount of education and experience you get during that 60 minute tour with a ranger.

There is plenty to see and do in the park that doesn’t involve one of the cliff tours, but if you want to see these unique dwellings up close there are 3 different tours available to the public.

There is…

The Long House Tour:

“This is the most in depth tour. This two hour tour involves hiking 2.25 miles and climbing two 15 foot ladders.”

The Balcony House Tour:

This is the tour I did as a kid that was so scary.

“This is considered the most adventurous cliff dwelling tour. On this one hour, 1/4 mile tour you will climb a 32-foot ladder, crawl through an 18 inch, 12 foot long tunnel, and climb up a 60 foot, open face cliff with stone steps and two 10 foot ladders.”

The Cliff Palace Tour:

“On this one hour tour you will descend uneven stone steps and climb four ladders with an elevation change of 100 feet.”

We opted to sign up for the Cliff palace tour.

After purchasing our tour tickets for the 1:30 tour we began exploring the rest of the park. The drive from the Visitor’s Center to the ruins at the top of the mesa takes around 40 minutes. Once at the top it was easy to move from one archeological site to another.


Our first stop was the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum where the kids began researching and filling out their junior ranger booklets. Here at the museum we were able to view dioramas of the different dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblonians as they moved from pit houses, to pueblos, to cliff dwellings.


Here they also had a scavenger hunt of sorts. In their booklets they had puzzles about the Ancestral Pueblo people, formally known as the Anasazi people, and their lives at Mesa Verde. The kids had to work their way through the museum, reading the displays to find the answers to the puzzle.


It was fascinating to read more about this ancient people that we have studied about in history class.


Here is a little information about Mesa Verde and the people who used to call this area home:


Location: Colorado

Established: June 29, 1906

Size: 52,074 acres

“At Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table,” multistoried dwellings fill the cliff-rock alcoves that rise 2,000 feet above Montezuma Valley. Remarkably preserved, the cliff dwellings cluster in canyons that slice the mesa into narrow tablelands. Here, and on the mesa top, archaeologists have located more than 4,800 archaeological sites (including 600 cliff dwellings) dating from about A.D. 550 to 1300.

The sites, from mesa-top pithouses and multistoried dwellings to cliffside villages, document the changes in the lives of a prehistoric people once dubbed the Anasazi. They are now more accurately called the ancestral Puebloans, and modern Pueblo tribes in the Southwest consider themselves descendants of these ancestral people. Some 40 pueblos and cliff dwellings are visible from park roads and overlooks; some of these are open to the public.

Beginning about A.D. 750, the ancestral Puebloans grouped their mesa-top dwellings in pueblos, or villages. About 1200 they moved into recesses in the cliffs. So sheltered, these later villages seem to stand outside of time, aloof to the present.

In 1888 two cowboys tracking stray cattle in a snowstorm stopped on the edge of a steep-walled canyon. Through the flakes they made out traces of walls and towers of a large cliff dwelling across the canyon. Novelist Willa Cather later described the scene: “The falling snowflakes sprinkling the piñons, gave it a special kind of solemnity. It was more like sculpture than anything else … preserved … like a fly in amber.”

Climbing down a makeshift ladder, the excited cowboys explored the honeycombed network of rooms that they named Cliff Palace. Inside, they found stone tools, pottery, and other artifacts in rooms that had been uninhabited for some 600 years.

Why the Mesa Verde people eventually left their homes may never be known. Indeed, they lived in the cliff dwellings for only about the last 75 to 100 years of their occupation of Mesa Verde. Early archaeologists guessed warfare, and the evidence for this seems to concur. Archaeologists also think they may have been victims of their own success. Their productive dry farming allowed the Mesa Verde population to grow perhaps as high as 5,000. Gradually woodlands were cut, wild game hunted out, and soils depleted. Years of drought and poor crops may have been aggravated by village squabbles. By the end of the 13th century the ancestral Puebloans had left the plateau, never to return.”

The kids finished their booklets and earned their junior ranger badges. Since we still had an hour to explore before we had to meet up with the ranger for our Cliff Palace tour, we decided to drive the Mesa Top Loop and Cliff Palace Loop and explore some of the other dwellings in the park.

Our first stop was the Pit House:


It is here we find the earliest evidence of the Ancestral Puebloans, from around 600 A.D. Their first dwellings were shallow pits dug into the ground, covered with pole and mud roofs and walls, with entrance through the roofs.

This pit house is one of the best preserved anywhere.


The larger space was the living room with a fire pit in the center where cooking was done. Adjoining the larger space was a smaller room, called the antechamber, that was used for storing firewood and food.

From there we moved to the Square Tower House Overlook:


This dwelling is dated 1200-1300 A.D. and represents the move made by the Ancestral Puebloans from the top of the mesa down to cliff dwelling residences.


It is unknown why the people moved from the top of the mesa down to the cliff dwellings but some possibilities include better protection from enemies or simply needing all available land at the top of the mesa for growing crops.


The name for this cliff dwelling comes from the striking four story structure still standing against the curving wall of the alcove. About 60 of the 80 rooms still remain intact . A spring behind the dwelling provided water for the residents and hand and toe holds were carved into the cliff face for climbing in and out of the dwelling up the side of the cliff.


Look! The Rolling Gnomes bus!


From there we drove to Sun Point View.


The view at Sun Pont is one of the best in Mesa Verde. From this overlook a dozen different cliff dwellings are visible.



From here we drove to the Cliff Palace overlook where we were meeting up with our tour group. At this point I was still debating whether to tour Cliff Palace with my family or whether I should wait for them at the top.

Especially when I saw how we  would be exiting our tour. Can you see the ladder in the distance?!


I finally decided to face my fears and be brave. I am so glad I did!


800 years old, the Cliff Palace is the crown jewel of Mesa Verde National Park. The Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America.


We walked down steps carved into the rock, and up our first wooden ladder to reach our first stopping point of the tour where we were educated by the ranger on the construction of Cliff Palace.

The construction of Cliff palace was a herculean effort. The basic raw materials were abundant  and available. Many of the stones were formed by hand using harder quartzite hammer stones. Water had to be hauled down the cliff face to be mixed with sand, clay and ash to make mortar. When water was in short supply urine was used. Logs were cut and hauled down the cliffs to create roofs and support beams. In the end about 150 rooms were built.


From there we walked to the center of the Cliff Palace where we stopped again and learned more about life for the people that resided at the Cliff Palace.


It is believed that 100-120 people called Cliff Palace home. This number was determined by the 25 living room hearths found at Cliff Palace and the belief that each living room would have housed 3-4 people. It is in these living rooms that meals would have been prepared, and where families would have eaten their meals, slept and engaged in daily living.


The life span for these people would have been 30-40 years.


From there our tour moved to the far side of the Cliff Palace where we learned more about the Kivas, subterranean rooms where religious ceremonies would have been held.


We were also able to look inside one of the towers and see some of the original wood beams and ancient paintings high on the wall.


Ozzie was beside himself as we toured Cliff Palace, having just studied the Anasazi people last year in school.

It was an amazing tour!


Then it was time to climb back out. Though not as scary or challenging as the Balcony House exit, it was still an exciting climb up carved stone stairs, narrow walkways between boulders, and wooden ladders.


As we passed the original hand and toe grips that would have been used to exit Cliff palace 800 years ago, I was grateful for my wooden ladders!


What an incredible place!!


Next Stop: Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico


Four Corners



Toby ended a busy day by walking ALL THE WAY from Arizona to Colorado…Show Off!


Each of the kids began this seven week road trip with a plan as to what type of souvenirs they would be collecting. They each had a plan to collect something from the stops along the way with the money they had saved.

Grace decided to buy patches from each national park to sew onto her favorite backpack, making it a special reminder of all the places she has been.


Rusty decided to collect key chains that he could attach to his backpack.


Molly opted to collect postcards from each place we visited. She chose postcards because they were inexpensive but also a great visual reminder of all she has done.


Toby and I were collecting magnets from each stop to add to our magnet collection, as well as starting a sweet bumper sticker collection on the back of the Gnome mobile to highlight where it has been.


And we’ve been covering the ceiling of our bus with flyers and ticket stubs.


Ozzie decided to collect maps from every state we traveled through and every park we visited. This turned out to be the cheapest souvenir of all since free state maps are available at rest stops and National Parks give out park maps to guests.


His choice to collect maps wasn’t surprising. Ozzie LOVES geography. He loves reading maps and can spend hours playing around on Google Maps. An Atlas is his idea of good bedtime reading.

Being such a fan of geography and maps, you can only imagine the excitement he was feeling as we drove to Four Corners monument…the only place in the United States where you can stand in four states all at once.

I remember thinking Four Corners was such a cool place as a kid, and have a picture much like this one that we recreated, with a hand in two states and feet in two states.


The drive to Four Corners took us down poorly maintained back roads for a 40 minute drive off the highway.

Owned by the Navajo Nation this is a privately owned monument located on Navajo land in the middle of nowhere.


The cost to enter is $5.00/person, which is a bit steep when you consider all that is there is a granite disk marking the boundary where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet,

but in the end we felt the fee was worth the experience.

Here is a little info about this unique place:

“The Four Corners Monument marks the quadripoint in the Southwestern United States where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. It is the only point in the United States shared by four states, leading to this area’s being called the Four Corners region. The monument also marks the boundary between two semi-autonomous Native American governments, the Navajo Nation, which maintains the monument as a tourist attraction, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation.

The origins of the state boundaries marked by the monument occurred just prior to, and during, the American Civil War, when the United States Congress acted to form governments in the area to combat the spread of slavery to the region. When the early territories were formed, their boundaries were designated along meridian and parallel lines. Beginning in the 1860s, these lines were surveyed and marked. These early surveys included some errors, but even so, the markers placed became the legal boundaries, superseding the written descriptions of geographical meridians and parallels. This includes the Four Corners Monument, which has been legally established as the corner of the four states.

The monument where “visitors can simultaneously straddle the territory of four states” is maintained as a tourist attraction by the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department. Unlike many other attractions based on what are primarily political boundaries, such as the Berlin Wall, Four Corners Monument is an example of a political boundary that is a tourist destination in its own right. The monument consists of a granite disk embedded with a smaller bronze disk around the point, surrounded by smaller, appropriately located state seals and flags representing both the states and tribal nations of the area. Circling the point, starting from north, the disk reads with two words in each state “Here meet in freedom under God four states”. Around the monument, local Navajo and Ute artisans sell souvenirs and food. An admission fee is required to view and photograph the monument. The monument is a popular tourist attraction despite its remote and isolated location. As early as 1908, people traveled long distances to take pictures of family and friends at the monument in Twister-like poses, sitting on the disk, in a circle of friends or family around the disk, or for couples to kiss directly over the disk.” -Wikipedia

We arrived and were pleased to discover we were one of a few tourists there. This meant more of an opportunity to take multiple pictures, an opportunity that wouldn’t have been available had there been a line waiting. During busier times they ask that you limit the number of photos you take to three.


Ozzie was beside himself, gleefully calling out, “I’ll see you in a little bit, Mom. I’m headed to New Mexico!”


Tyler loved jumping the border lines with Ozzie, shouting, “Now I’m in Utah. Now I’m in Arizona. Now I’m in Colorado!”

We waited for our turn to take pictures.


The actual monument was quite pretty, surrounded by the flags of each state and local tribal nations, with a granite disk reading, “Here meet in freedom under God four states.”


We started by getting a group picture with the kids all picking the state they wanted to stand in. Grace opted to stand in the center where the four states meet.


It was crazy to say,

“At this moment all my kids are scattered across four states!” 🙂

Then some of the kids requested pictures alone on the monument.


We ended our visit with a stroll around the booths that encircle the monument where Native Americans were selling their wares.


We all enjoyed watching one artisan demonstrate how he chips away stone using deer antlers to create arrowheads.


The girls loved all the turquoise jewelry and each bought a pair of earrings.


There isn’t a lot to see or do at this stop. It is a 15 minute- 60 minute stop, but it is very cool.

It is one of those “Bucket List” stops. For where else can you go and say to your children,

“Kids, its time to go! Tyler, get out of Utah. Molly, it’s time to leave Arizona. Rusty, you need to head out of Colorado. Meet me in New Mexico at the bus. It’s time to leave.”

Very Cool!

Next Stop: Mesa Verde


Vacation Highlight Video #2


Grace has completed her second highlight video of our amazing journey, stealing snippets of time between schoolwork and touring to work on it.

This video highlights Week 3 of our trip, covering our time at Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, Salt Lake City, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Newport Beach, California and Downtown Disney.

 The next video will be of our five days at Disneyland

We hope you enjoy reliving some of the highlights of  Week 3 with us.

What a trip it has been.

It has been a marvelous journey!

Arches National Park


After spending the morning at Bryce Canyon, and driving four hours to Moab, Utah, we arrived at Arches National Park at 5:00 pm. With us we brought the same heavy rains that followed us through Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

It seemed like we are singlehandedly bringing relief to the drought strewn areas of the west with the Pennsylvania rain cloud that we were carrying with us.

In fact we were told that we were experiencing a real phenomenon in Moab. “We rarely get rains like this,” the ranger informed us.

The rain was too heavy to see very far or to take cameras out in, so we decided to head over to our campground and return in the morning for a morning hike before we began our drive to Four Corners Monument.

The early evening allowed us to relax, organize the bus a bit, and let the kids play at the playground and game room while I fixed dinner.

The rains finally ended and the reward for our lost hiking time was this magnificent double rainbow that appeared above our campsite.


The next morning we were back at Arches National Park early to explore the unique rock formations and arches that have made this area famous.


Location: Utah

Established: November 12, 1971

Size: 76,359 acres

“This park contains more than 2,000 natural arches—the greatest concentration in the country. But numbers have no significance beside the grandeur of the landscape—the arches, the giant balanced rocks, spires, pinnacles, and slickrock domes against the enormous sky.

Perched high above the Colorado River, the park is part of southern Utah’s extended canyon country, carved and shaped by eons of weathering and erosion. Some 300 million years ago, inland seas covered the large basin that formed this region. The seas refilled and evaporated—29 times in all—leaving behind salt beds thousands of feet thick. Later, sand and boulders carried down by streams from the uplands eventually buried the salt beds beneath thick layers of stone. Because the salt layer is less dense than the overlying blanket of rock, it rises up through it, forming it into domes and ridges, with valleys in between.

Most of the formations at Arches are made of soft red sandstone deposited 150 million years ago. Much later, groundwater began to dissolve the underlying salt deposits. The sandstone domes collapsed and weathered into a maze of vertical rock slabs called “fins.” Sections of these slender walls eventually wore through, creating the spectacular rock sculptures that visitors to Arches see today.

The land has a timeless, indestructible look that is misleading. More than 700,000 visitors each year threaten the fragile high desert ecosystem. One concern is a dark scale called biological soil crust composed of cyanobacteria, algae, fungi, and lichens that grow in sandy areas in the park. Footprints tracked across this living community may remain visible for years. In fact, the aridity helps preserve traces of past activity for centuries. Visitors are asked to walk only on designated trails or stay on slickrock or wash bottoms.

Did You Know?

There are more than 2,000 arches in the park; to be classified as an arch, the opening must measure at least three feet across. The largest arch in the park, Landscape Arch, spans 306 feet (longer than a football field) base to base. New arches are constantly forming, while old ones occasionally collapse—most recently Wall Arch, which fell in 2008.

Arches National Park contains ephemeral pools, from a few inches to several feet in depth, that are essentially mini-ecosystems, home to tadpoles, fairy shrimp, and insects. The pools form among the sandstone basins, within potholes that collect the rare rainwater and sediment.

About 300 million years ago an inland sea covered what is now Arches National Park. The sea evaporated and re-formed more than 29 times, leaving behind salt beds thousands of feet thick.

Another unique aspect of the park is its knobby black ground cover, which is actually alive. A biological soil crust, it is composed of algae, lichens, and cyanobacteria (one of Earth’s earliest life forms), and provides a secure foundation for the desert plants.”


We began our visit with a stop at the visitor’s center where the kids picked up the Arches’ junior ranger booklets and where we watched an informative 15-minute video entitled “Windows of Time,” about the formation of the arch features in the park.


While in the visitor’s center we were informed that Delicate Arch, the most famous arch in the park, and one of the most recognizable symbols of Utah, was closed to the public due to treacherous trails as a result of unusually heavy rains the night before.


Delicate Arch


The ranger told us all the other paths were open so we looked at the map, picked the route we wanted to take, marked the trails we wanted to hike, and set out on a fun journey of discovery through a beautiful world of nature’s rock art.


Our first stop was Park Avenue Viewpoint for a view down an open canyon flanked by sandstone skyscrapers:


From there we drove over to Balanced Rock where we walked the 0.4-mile trail that loops around the base of this classic hoodoo, a strangely eroded rock spire 128 feet high:



Look how little the kids are next to it!



Just beyond we turned onto the paved road leading to The Windows.


There we took the 1-mile Window Trail that leads up to South Window, which is 105 feet wide, as well as gives amazing views of North Window and Turret Arch.


The South Window Arch



We all enjoyed the beautiful hike up to the arches.


Except maybe Toby who ran the whole way up to catch up with us after parking the bus a mile away. 🙂



The weather was perfect and we were so glad we chose to wait until the morning to see these amazing sites rather than attempt it in the rain.


The kids loved being able to climb and explore the rock formations,


And it was awesome standing beneath such monstrous, natural structures.


The North Window Arch


It makes a person feel so small…


And makes God seem so big when you stand beside a creation as large and glorious as this.


We could have spent days exploring this park.


I’d love to come back someday and hike the Delicate Arch trail, but we still had a magnificent day and saw some incredible sites…


One of my favorite days of the trip so far!


Next Stop: Four Corners Monument

Bryce Canyon National Park


Location: Utah

Established: September 15, 1928

Size: 35,835 acres


“Perhaps nowhere are the forces of natural erosion more tangible than at Bryce Canyon. Its wilderness of phantom-like rock spires, or hoodoos, attracts more than one million visitors a year. Many descend on trails that give hikers and horseback riders a close look at the fluted walls and sculptured pinnacles.

The park follows the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. On the west are heavily forested tablelands more than 9,000 feet high; on the east are the intricately carved breaks that drop 2,000 feet to the Paria Valley. Many ephemeral streams have eaten into the plateau, forming horseshoe-shaped bowls. The largest and most striking is Bryce Amphitheater. Encompassing six square miles, it is the park’s scenic heart.

For millions of years water has carved, as it continues to, Bryce’s rugged landscape. Water may split rock as it freezes and expands in cracks—a cyclic process that occurs some 200 times a year. In summer, runoff from cloudbursts etches into the softer limestones and sluices through the deep runnels. In about 50 years the present rim will be cut back another foot. But there is more here than spectacular erosion.

In the early morning you can stand for long moments on the rim, held by the amphitheater’s mysterious blend of rock and color. Warm yellows and oranges radiate from the deeply pigmented walls as scatterings of light illuminate the pale spires.

There is a sense of place here that goes beyond rocks. Some local Paiute Indians explained it with a legend. Once there lived animal-like creatures that changed themselves into people. But they were bad, so Coyote turned them into rocks of various configurations. The spellbound creatures still huddle together here with faces painted just as they were before being turned to stone.

Did You Know?

Nineteenth-century Mormon settler Ebenezer Bryce, for whom the park is named, said it was “a hell of a place to lose a cow.” The canyon’s remarkable collection of whimsical hoodoo spires were believed by the early Paiute Indians to be people frozen in stone by the mischievous spirit Coyote. Early geologists feared the hoodoos would transform into humans.”

We awoke on Wednesday morning with grand plans to spend the day in Bryce Canyon National Park but ran into a few issues that delayed the start to our day. Freezing cold temperatures the night before made it so the bus didn’t want to start in the morning, and 7 days without medication made our boys also struggle with starting their day. We prayed for patience and divine intervention on both fronts, plugged the engine in to warm, and walked everyone over to the shower..

No need to waste this forced delay.

By the time we returned from getting everyone clean the bus was ready to start her day and we headed out on our first priority mission:

Try to get the boys’ ADHD medication scripts filled.

At this point they had been without medication for a week. We had traveled through four states looking for a state with regulations that would allow us to get the meds our boys were in such desperate need for. We were hoping for luck in Utah.

We drove 20 minutes away to the town of Panguitch, Utah. We stopped in at the local pharmacy with fingers and toes crossed. They looked over the script and then informed us that they couldn’t fill it because:

#!: It was written over 30 days ago.

#2: It had multiple medications written on one script

Both “no nos” in Utah.

In desperation and on the verge of tears I asked, “Then what can we do? We cannot go another day without meds!”

She suggested we head over to their walk in clinic, explain our dilemma, show them the scripts, and see if a local doctor could reissue the same meds on a new script for the boys.

So we drove a few blocks away to the walk in clinic. The intake nurse was confused by our reason for coming into the clinic, having never dealt with an issue like ours before, but sent us back to begin registering and handling the insurance paperwork with another employee.

It wasn’t long before the entire clinic knew the McCleerys were there. Tyler’s constant chatter, loud booming voice, and rattling and banging of every object he encountered, and constant movement all successfully plead our case for the dire need for meds.

Eager to get us out of their office they quickly called our doctor in Pennsylvania to confirm the scripts. The clinic doctor then came out with the written scripts in hand, telling us there was no need to examine the boys, she could hear the evidence ADHD from her office across the hospital.

As we walked out, filled with gratitude and relief, the intake nurse met my eye and mouthed,

“God Bless You!”


Then it was back to the pharmacy with the new scripts in hand. What a relief it was to walk out the front door with pills in hand. Immediately both boys were given their first dose of Concerta after a week without, and Toby and I did our happy dance.


Within an hour we had our sons back and could see the relief they both experienced as they were able to finally have some control over their symptoms. It was like an itch in their brains that could finally be scratched, and the relief was visible as I watched the tension and energy leave their body.

With pills in system we decided to head over to Bryce Canyon and try to salvage what we could of our day.

The path to Bryce Canyon took us along Scenic Byway 12.


What a gorgeous drive!


We pulled off for some pictures.


And so the boys could run a little. At this point the meds were kicking in and everyone was feeling better.


Along Scenic Byway 12 we had the opportunity to drive through two red rock tunnels, cut into the existing rock. They were plenty big enough for the bus to fit.


What a cool experience!


Bryce Canyon offers free shuttle service into and around their park in an effort to cut down on traffic and parking congestion. This was good news for us. We have found parking our bus at some of the National Parks challenging simply because the parking was not designed to accommodate the large number of RV visitors that now visit the parks.


We parked the bus at the shuttle station and showed our America the Beautiful pass to the cashier, who informed us that we only had an hour until the visitor center was closing. There was also unusually heavy fog…the worse in nine years according to a park ranger, that made seeing the hoodoos next to impossible, so we came up with a plan B.


We decided to go into the park for an hour and spend that time checking out the visitor’s center and then return to the park the following morning for a little hiking before we got on the road for our 4-hour drive to Moab, Utah.


There in the visitor’s center we were able to watch a 22-minute video about the history of Bryce Canyon and its unique geological rock formations called hoodoos. We also were able to learn about the wildlife found in the park, including the Utah prairie dog.

One of the things we were most upset about missing at this stop was the star gazing night hike.


Bryce Canyon is one of the darkest spots in the United States, making it one of the best spots for star gazing and seeing the Milky Way. Unfortunately, the same low lying clouds that obstructed our view of the hoodoos also covered the sky, hiding any sign of the spectacular night sky above.

The next morning, we woke at 7:00 am to the sound of heavy rain on the metal roof of the bus. With a prayer that it would blow over, given a little time, we let everyone stay in bed and catch up on their sleep.

By 9:00 am the rain had stopped and we were seeing signs that the sun might make an appearance. We headed back to the shuttle station and rode into the park, bypassing the visitor’s center and instead riding the shuttle to Inspiration Point, one of four major lookouts over Bryce Amphitheater. Bryce Lookout was closed, along with many walking trails, as a result of the heavy rain the night before which caused some cave-ins and falling rocks. So we spent our time walking between Inspiration Point, Sunrise Point and Sunset Point.


What an absolutely stunning place!


As we stepped up to the edge of Inspiration Point, and looked out over the vista of red and orange rock, sprinkled with small evergreens, it took our breath away.


The kids all agreed that although not as “grand” as the Grand Canyon, it was a lot prettier.


I remember thinking the same thing when I first visited Bryce Canyon as a kid.



As we were walking the path around the canyon we passed this sign. As Tyler ran quickly by we realized he totally missed the gist of the message when he yelled back to us: “Look! If you pay $1.00 you can feed the squirrels!” Yeah, not one bit of correct information was interpreted from that warning sign. 🙂

What a magnificent place!



Then it was “On the road again”…


Next stop: Arches National Park, Utah


The Grand Canyon



“Vast, magnificent and inarguably beautiful, the Grand Canyon is easily Arizona’s most distinguishable landmark – and a natural wonder that you simply have to see to believe. Stretching 277 miles from end to end, steep, rocky walls descend more than a mile to the canyon’s floor, where the wild Colorado River traces a swift course southwest.

In the Grand Canyon,

” Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.” – Theodore Roosevelt


Grand Canyon National Park encompasses canyons, river tributaries, and surrounding grounds. The Grand Canyon is situated in Arizona’s northwestern quadrant. With five million visitors making the trip to the canyon each year, Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. In addition, the park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. 

The Grand Canyon had a long and arduous road to becoming a national park, beginning in the 1880’s with several failed congressional bills. After making multiple visits to the area, Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a National Monument in 1908. The bill to grant national park status to the area was passed in 1919 and signed by then-President Woodrow Wilson.
There are two public areas of Grand Canyon National Park, the North and South Rims. At 7,000 feet above sea level, the Grand Canyon South Rim is the most accessible section of the national park, with numerous places where visitors can pull over to admire the views. The Grand Canyon North Rim, 1,000 feet higher than its southern sibling, isn’t as popular because it is harder to get to, especially when harsh winter weather closes access roads. By car, the trip from one rim to the other is 220 miles. However, if traveling by foot, the distance across the canyon is 21 miles via the Kaibab Trails.”

It was a shock to our systems moving from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon.

This probably wouldn’t have been the case had we visited the South Rim but we chose to visit the North Rim so we would be in closer proximity to our next few stops. As we climbed from the desert of Vegas to 8,000 feet elevation the temperatures dropped from over 100 degrees to 58 degrees.


We also encountered our first rain of the trip since our first day in St. Louis. 


The drive in was beautiful. The drive into the Northern entrance takes you through a forest of Ponderosa Pine and yellow Aspen trees. You have no clue you are approaching the Grand Canyon until you run into the Grand Canyon Lodge, situated right on the edge of the canyon.


When we got out we were greeted with chilly temperatures, drizzly rain, and thick, pea soup fog. We were a bit disappointed by the limited visibility due to the fog but were determined to make the best of it and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience, nonetheless.


“Can you see our breath?”


Our first stop was to the Ranger Station to walk through the visitor’s center and so the kids could pick up Junior Ranger booklets to work on while we explored the park.


One of the requirements for earning a Junior Ranger patch at the Grand Canyon is to attend a Ranger led education program. We headed over to the lodge to sit in on one about condors.


After the program we stepped outside where Toby and the kids caught their first sight of this awe-inspiring view. I had visited the Grand Canyon as a kid but was still blown away by the awesome site, not fully remembering how impressive the Grand Canyon is in person.


The low laying fog prevented us from seeing the full vista, but it was still an incredible experience. We were able to walk along the rim and even step out  on a walkway that extended over the mammoth crevice.


The walk out to the end of the walkway was heart stopping for Rusty and I. Precarious under the best of circumstances, after a day of rain the muddy walkways made the climb out to the edge feel down right treacherous.


As Rusty creeped to the edge he just kept saying,

“Why are we here? Why are we doing this?!”

It definitely didn’t feel OSHA approved with its crumbling walkways and large gaps in the railing.


Rusty was shocked by the complete lack of safety measures and expressed his concern with:

“Really?!! Someone could die!”

To which a passing stranger responded with a laugh, “Only if they jump.”

Seeing the risks for two impulsive boys off their ADHD medication, Toby kept an iron grip on both boys.


The walk out was terrifying for this Momma, who is scared of heights, but the views made the risks worth it.



We opted not to hike, as originally planned. The muddy trails made hiking challenging and by the end of the day the boys were having a harder time controlling themselves. So we stuck close to the lodge and just walked around the rim of the canyon.

After an hour in the rain and cold everyone was chilled so we stopped in the lodge café for hot cocoas to warm us up while the kids finished their junior ranger booklets.


We left the Grand Canyon by 6:00pm for the long drive we still had ahead of us to reach our campsite for the night just outside Bryce Canyon.


Next Stop: Bryce Canyon National Park

Viva Las Vegas



Monday we found ourselves still stuck in Las Vegas waiting for some resolution with the boys’ medication dilemma. We decided to take advantage of the free shuttle service offered from our KOA campground to the Las Vegas strip.

Toby has wanted to visit the Las Vegas strip for years after seeing multiple documentaries about the different hotels on the strip. As someone who has worked in construction his whole life he was eager to see all the amazing architecture found in the themed hotels of Vegas.

There was a bit of concern about taking the kids downtown Vegas, but we were told that things were pretty tame during the day, and that was the case… for the most part.


It was thrilling to experience the energy and sites of Downtown Vegas as we moved from iconic hotel to iconic hotel.


Our first stop was the Venetian Hotel, known for its Italian décor and gondola rides around the hotel.



Check out this ceiling!



It really was stunning.


As we walked around the hotel we passed the wax museum and stopped for a quick picture with Nicholas Cage.


Other sites we enjoyed were the Bellagio musical fountains,


The gardens at the Flamingo,


And the iconic structures like the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower found on the strip.


I thought the neatest sites were the artists and musicians that lined the strip. We stopped and watched one artist who was creating magnificent paintings using only spray paint and a knife edge.


This is one of his finished pieces:


Our final stop, as the sun sank in the sky, was M&M World…our favorite stop of the day.


It reminded us a lot of Chocolate World in Hershey, Pa.


It was four stories of M&M merchandise,

All 22 flavors of M&Ms,


The M&M race car…Ozzie was in heaven!


And a fun, free 3-D show starring the M&M buddies.


When we left M&M World Vegas was lit up in a rainbow of colors…

and the more colorful residents of Vegas had also crawled out of their holes.

Along the strip their were all sorts of crazies dressed in sad looking Disney costumes charging money to pose with tourists. This was such a foreign concept for the kids who had just returned from Disneyland.

When Tyler wanted to run over and give a creepy looking Olaf a “warm hug” I had to explain that we don’t give warm hugs to Las Vegas Olaf, only the Disneyland Olaf.


The entire walk back was like walking through a field of visual land mines with me averting their eyes with directions like, “Look left, look right…LOOK UP!” as we moved through “Sin City.”


We were glad to make it to our shuttle bus.

Vegas was an interesting dichotomy of beauty and filth.

We are glad we had the opportunity to see all the good that Las Vegas had to offer, but I can honestly say it was a bit of a shock to the system going from the “Happiest Place on Earth” to “Sin City,”

I can now say I’ve seen it and don’t need to return. 🙂

Next Stop: The Grand Canyon