Monday, August 25, 2014

Beauty in Our Own Backyard

When you think of Washington State, what main mountain do you think of? While Mt. St. Helen's might have crossed some of your minds, the answer I was looking for is actually Mount Rainier. Some fun facts about Mount Rainier:

  • It is actually an active volcano (although it's last eruption was in the 1800's) and is the highest peak of all the volcanic mountains that make up the Cascade Range. 
  • Mount Rainier has the most glaciers out of any other mountain in the United States with 26 major glaciers. And if the volcano did erupt soon, not only would we be in big trouble with the ash and lava and such, but imagine what thirty-five square miles of melting glaciers would do.
  • Mount Rainier is Washington's highest mountain, and is the 21st most prominent mountain in the world and THE most prominent in the contiguous United States.
  • When you fly into the Seattle airport, if it's not too cloudy, the spectacular view of Mount Rainier rises up to meet you as you descend. 
  • It is proudly displayed on most of the Washington license plates you see zooming around, or you can just look up and see the mountain in the distance, even though it is about a hour and a half drive away from our house.
  • Over two million people come to visit the national park per year with lots of camping, hiking, parks, and trails to capitalize on.
  • Out of the two million people that travel to visit Mount Rainier, and though my parents have lived an hour and a half away for over ten years, we had NEVER been to Mount Rainier. Not once.
That is...until a couple weeks ago. We left the kids with Grandma Busby (hooray! best kind of hiking!) and the adults -minus Brigham who had to return to work- went to enjoy some hikes and check out the popular park.

We pulled off the road to check out a small view of Mount Rainier. Another mountain was blocking the complete view. It's the white cap in the distance.
Our first hike was Grove of the Patriarchs and it led us through the beautiful forest to see some big trees. Though, we just got back from the Redwoods so the size wasn't as impressive as it should have been due to our desensitization to large trees.

We had to cross on a shaky, cable bridge at point. A sign greeted us at the start of the bridge recommending only one person cross at a time. We politely waited while another family heeded the sign and took turns crossing the river. Then we all jumped on the bridge together with Ryan purposefully swaying it from side to side and jumping up and down, creating a jumble of balance and steps to get across. We're kind of rebels like that, my family. Of course, sweet Katrina was concerned about following the rules but was met with "Do you really think those metal cables would break?" We're also sensitive folk. But we have a good time :)

The trees really were pretty giant - I was surprised at how big they were in this mountain range, and it was a nice short hike to check it out. We joked how we spent eight hours driving to get to the Redwoods, when we could have just taken short drive to our own Mount Rainier.

The next hike was called The Silver Falls Loop, and this is where we really saw some amazing sights. 

We traveled alongside the river as it carved its way down the mountain, over water falls and giant rocks. The water was a beautiful crystal blue/green color that mesmerized me.

We even got to see a spotted deer jumping from rock to rock to cross a fast-flowing section of the falls. I held my breath as it made a longer jump, nervous for it to fall into the water and get carried away, but of course, it knew what it was doing and landed safely on the other side. Watching that was the favorite part of my day; I felt like I was in some nature movie, exploring the wonders of the earth. I know it's cheesy, but I LOVED it. 

We soon abandoned the trail for a bit and made our way climbing along the rocks that line the falls.

The water comes from glacier melt-off, which is why it's so clear and SO cold.

Although the picture makes it hard to judge the depth, it is actually really deep here - and yet you can see all the way to the bottom because the water is so clear.

I kept taking picture after picture because the beauty was so picture-perfect; I couldn't get over it.

I kept imagining myself in some explorer movie, embracing untamed I happily continued on a well-maintained trail, hahaha :) My actual sense of adventure is pretty tame, but I sure can conjure some great stories.

While my dad finished the loop and walked back to the van, we continued on another trail that passed through some small natural hot springs that were pretty neat. No pictures due to the awkwardness of a lady looking suspiciously guilty, scooping water and mud up into a jug and giving us a wary gaze. We asked her what she was doing, but I don't think she spoke English. The water was steaming in the air and we only spent a couple minutes exploring.

My dad picked us up at the end of the trail and we checked out the visitor's center, ate lunch at an empty campsite picnic table pretending we were camping, and then headed home.

Honestly, these were some of my favorite hikes I've ever done! I'd say our first visit to Mount Rainier was a smashing success. We'll have to plan some more trips to go back to visit the beauty in our own backyard.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer Vacation Part II: Up The Oregon Coast

Continuing from my last post, just finishing up day three in the Redwood Forest, I will continue on with our fabulous vacationing events.

Day Four:

We were up early to get packed up and on our way to our next spot on the Oregon Coast. Before we left, we stopped off at this amazing small little cheese factory we discovered in Crescent City. They had all sorts of delicious cheeses for SUPER cheap.  I've been on the hunt for cheddar goat cheese, but it's really expensive. This store had whole bricks of it for half the price it normally goes for. And bonus: it was unpasteurized! Even better. We had stopped by earlier in the week and discovered the greatness, so we made sure to swing by and stock up before we were off. We came home loaded with various cheeses and dined on them for the rest of our trip. I was so sick of goat cheese by the end of the week. However, we all talk about visiting that little Rumiano cheese shop again.

After our cheese pit-stop, we had a day of driving up the scenic 101. My dad got a ticket from the ever prevalent Oregon police, and Brigham and I just counted our lucky stars that we didn't get one too, since we were following him in our own car.

For lunch we stopped off at the Oregon Sand Dunes to eat and play.

The dunes were windy, sandy, a fantastic work-out, and loads of fun. When Ammon first saw them he exclaimed, "This is the biggest sandbox I've ever seen!" The little kids loved it, but it was hard for their little legs to make it up and down the sandy hills that have you collapsing backwards with every step you're taking up. I tried to take a picture of the how steep the hills were while Brigham and Ammon were climbing up.

We had races up the dunes, long-jump competitions down the dunes, races down the dunes, rolled down the dunes like grass hills, and at one point Ammon just collapsed on the side of the hill and we had a rescue mission. You can see the back of him with his arms across his eyes, as Kyle attempted the rescue in the right, top picture above. He just couldn't take the sand being blown into his face anymore.

Kenny and Ryan decided to bury Brigham. And then I said we should sneak away and leave Brigham stuck in the sand (and by leave, I mean run to the top of the hill and watch), so we did. And I got in big trouble. Don't leave you're husband as a joke folks, he won't like it. Sorry Brigham.

After the sand dunes we got back in the car and drove until one of my favorite places: Devil's Churn.

Devil's Churn is where a part of the mountain has been narrowly carved in by the water, and the tide brings the waves in which then crash and churn in the sliced opening of the rock.

It's loud and wild and thrilling. The water is thrashing high and low and loud right in front of you, like someone is stirring it with a giant spoon. We climbed all around the rocks, and I firmly held Ammon and Lydia, terrified of them falling into the churning water.

In the same area we checked out the Spouting Horn, tidal pools, and more crashing water.

It was majestic and awe-inspiring to get sprayed with crashing sea water and to gaze out at the endless water.

After Devil's Churn we had lots more driving to get to the next stop. I loved the scenic views, but let me tell you, Highway 101 sure is windy, slow, and long. We stopped at a burger joint (that was highly disappointing) for Kenny's seventeenth birthday, and then drove some more to finally make it to our resting point that evening.

The house was called Stairway to Heaven, and justly so because of the millions of staircases that made it feel like a maze of levels. Fun and, at times, annoying. Amazingly, each room had a balcony facing the ocean with a spectacular view. At the first house we stayed at in Crescent City, I didn't take a picture of the view but I had one of the house, and this house I only have a picture of the view, but not of the actual house. The house was built on a cliff (creepily so), and so I wasn't really able to get a picture, but enjoy the view of the ocean and greenery from Brigham's and my room.

Day Five:

We spent most of the day at the beach. It was once again cold and windy, but we still made the best of it and had a good time.

That afternoon my Aunt Sandy -who brought my grandma down and met us here- took the kids to the pool at her hotel so they could actually swim in non-freezing water, and I went window shopping with my Mom and Kyle and Katrina at Seaside. They had a shop with 150 taffy flavors. How is that many flavors even possible?

That evening my Aunt Sandy set up a fun activity where she opened a beauty salon. She was extremely prepared and creative, and had aprons that had the kids' names embroidered on them, a cash register, all her beauty supplies, an appointment book, clipboards, and even parting gifts for the customers. She made the kids managers and they had actual interviews for who they would hire in their salon. They asked us interview questions she had pre-printed and then the kids deliberated together on who would be the best fit for their company to hire.

I was privileged to be interviewed by Kayleen and then hired as the polisher: meaning I did the toenail polishing job for Aunt Sandy's pedicures. I was relieved to snag the position because I was in the running against my dad, but luckily they realized I was much more experienced, so I got the job. I told them I wasn't interested in the Waterboy position, and thank goodness because poor Russ was running water back and forth for pedicures and facials all night.

Even though I was busy as a polisher, I managed to get on the appointment books and received a clay facial myself. It felt lovely. My parting gift was a box of tic-tacs, and some anti-aging serum for my face.

Playing all day at the beach and the pool, and then working hard at the beauty salon, left my kids exhausted and they passed out together that night.

They were holding each other's arms, and fell asleep that way. Boy does that just make my mommy heart expand with joy to walk in and find at the end of the day. These two sleeping angels were fantastic on the trip.

Day 6:

This was our final day and we spent it slowly making our way back to Washington on the same Highway 101, while stopping to see more places along the way.

The stop was Cannon Beach with Haystack Rock.

This is where they filmed The Goonies and I couldn't get "Hey you guuuuyyyyys!" out of my head while we visited.

We timed it so we would arrive right at low tide so we could check out the tide pools, and there were plenty of them with lots of crabs, starfishes, sea anemone, and more. We were able to walk all around, and sometimes through, to explore the little pools of wonder.

Brigham had specifically requested that we visit Haystack rock, and this popular tourist-trap was well worth the crowds.

Our little family enjoyed this wonderful trip together and I felt grateful for all of God's beautiful creations that we were able to see. I was grateful to be with people I love while I explored those creations, and grateful for the planning and means that made it so we could be there. Weeks like this always put in perspective the grandness of life and what's out there for us on this earth. There's so much more than the little Maple Valley town and the problems I have there, and now I'm constantly itching to escape back out into nature enjoy it as much as I can.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Vacation Part I: The Redwoods

Recently my brother and his wife came up to visit before they move to Texas for his smanchy-fancy job and we planned a fun trip down to the Redwood Forest, and then back up the Oregon Coast. We had an amazing time and saw beautiful things and I'm about to tell you all about it. I don't want the post to get too long and I want to fit in all the pictures, so today will just be about the first half of the trip to the Redwood Forest.

Day One:

Monday morning we woke up early for the eight hour drive down to California. It was long, but good. Brigham was really excited to go to California because he's never been there before. We learned that Ammon has the same motion-sickness issues as Lydia. We gave them both Dramamine, but by time we got to the extremely curvy roads that welcome you into the Redwoods that my dad likes to test speed limits on, it had worn off and he lost his lunch while Lydia curled up in a ball in her car-seat and tried to block all consciousness out. Luckily both our kids are pro pukers; Ammon just whined he didn't feel good, we handed him a bag, he did his business, handed it back, and we were on our way. Like it's an everyday thing. Cool.

Anyway, on the way to the house we stayed at, we stopped off on a short, super fun hike to get our first taste of the giant trees.

We spent a long time relaxing after the long car-ride and climbing on the giant trees. The climbing on all the giant trees is the best part of the Redwoods!

We finally made it to our house later that day in Crescent City, which is just outside the actual Redwood Forest, and my Mom did an amazing job in her pick. It was right on the beach and the views were amazing. I didn't really take any good pictures of the view, but this is a close up of what part of it looked like:

And here is a picture of our house from the beach:

After we settled in and ate dinner, we went down to explore the beach by our house.

To get out to the water was treacherous, as we had to climb over lots of slippery rocks. Lydia was wearing sandals and had a particularly hard time, so we slipped around on the rocks together. Not to mention it was actually really windy, foggy, and cold so the poor girl was freezing. But we were excited to find starfish and to enjoy the scenery. Later most of the adults went to a nearby beach that had actual sand and waves, instead of the rocky bay at our house, but it was still super windy and cold so we didn't stay long. We were just happy to let Brigham get a taste of the ocean.

Day Two:

We left early the next morning to check out southern Redwood Forest. I didn't think we would be driving long, but the curves were wicked and my kids weren't doing great again, so we had a puking in the parking-lot incident with Lydia at the Tree of Mysteries museum we went to. It was mostly her freaking out about getting the motion-sickness medicine down (it tastes REALLY really bad and makes both kids gag every time they take it) but I started to wonder if this would be an every-day occurrence on the trip.

After that ordeal, we went to check out the museum and chatted with our friends guarding entrance at the museum: Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

Brigham figured out that when you talked to Paul Bunyan he talked back! The kids really enjoyed asking him questions about everything, and gave Babe a hug before we left.

The rest of the day was spent hiking.

Everyone loved climbing in the huge-hollowed out trees and we would count to see how many people we could fit in one. The picture above looked just like Peter Pan's hideout with the Lost Boys. The Redwoods is a great place to foster the imagination.

Since we spent so much time hiking, Ammon and Lydia's little legs wore out and they would walk so slowly we had to find ways to encourage them to keep going. First we held hands with them to pick up the pace.

Then we distracted them to keep their minds off their aching legs by having them collect rocks and sticks. The only problem was that Ammon wanted to walk with the biggest sticks he could find and that REALLY slowed him down. So finally I told him that if he wanted to keep a stick he couldn't fall behind, so he started running ahead of everybody down the trail just like this. I didn't tell him how he had to bring his stick, just that he couldn't get behind, and this is how he chose to carry his "stick".

People would pass us and say, "Is that your little cabin builder running down the path ahead?" "I think your little boy is proving his strength." "You're losing your little boy and his log down the trail."

He ran for a long time down the path with his log held high above his head and we could not stop laughing. He finally discarded it later down the path and started choosing smaller sticks. Then we had eye-poking-out problems, but that's just little boys, know what I mean?

As a reward for the kids hiking so well that day, we took them to the park in Crescent City that night and while they played with Uncle Ryan, Kenny and I walked out on this long jetty out into the bay.

The concept of the jetty was so strange to Kenny and I, and we talked about how they built it and it's purpose, and had a stimulating hour walk (it was really long).

The most bizarre thing at the end of the jetty were these weird cement creatures that we couldn't figure out what they would be for, why they were shaped the way the were, and why there were all piled up at the end. This picture doesn't show the weird tail things they had, and they were all number differently. I had a blast making Kenny roll his eyes at all the weird stories I made up about why they were there.

He, in turn, gave me a heart-attack by tripping over a long wire across the cement on the way back and almost falling off the jetty and bashing himself on the boulders and splashing into the water. But he caught himself in time. No more walking on the edge Kenny!

Day Three:

Wednesday was our final day in the Redwoods and we started early again with probably my favorite hike of the trip. It had some of the really big trees that we could climb all over.

We found a small path down to a creek that was dammed into a pond with branches to climb on all around it and we spent a good half hour here.

Ammon threw rock after rock into the water until the older boys came along and tried to splash each other by throwing in huge rocks. Brigham got soaked climbing over top while Kyle threw in a giant boulder.

On that same hike Brigham and I found a tree that had our initials carved into it. It was our tree!

That afternoon we spent swimming in one of the most beautiful swimming spots I've ever seen. The water was dark blue-green and you could see so deep because it was so clear. Not to mention the scenery was breath-taking.

We took turns as the adults, and left someone behind with the kids as the rest of us went swimming upstream to some cliffs and rocks we jumped off of. It was some of the most fun I've ever had.

In the above picture, Brigham is climbing up the cliff across the way. It doesn't look high in the picture, but it was! He was the only one of us to jump off it. The next picture shows his splash from jumping (I couldn't time my picture-taking quite right). It was probably a forty-foot fall. The rest of us only braved about fifteen-foot falls.

Swimming in the river was the last place we explored in the Redwoods, and we all later agreed that it was probably our favorite time. From here on out we were traveling up the coast.

The Redwoods were gorgeous, just as I remembered them, and the company was great, though we were missing a few people. Who doesn't love days filled with hiking and evenings full of games together? I sure do. Stay tuned for beaches and more fun times!

Monday, August 4, 2014

XPlore Race Adventures

Awhile back I was looking at the Amazon Local Deals for this area and I noticed an event that was 1/2 off that was similar to a one day mini Amazing Race. That being one of my favorite shows ever, I was immediately interested. Basically, you get clues and race around from place to place and complete tasks with your team. The first one to cross the finish line at the final location wins! The Amazon Local deal was for a one day mini race in Seattle. I was all in.

I called up the people that always sit around and talk Amazing Race strategy with me, and asked if they would be interested. And then from there we put together our five-member team.

Here we are the night before the race:

Our team: Me, Brigham, Aunt Sandy, Ryan, Mom

Though this is one of the most unflattering pictures ever, we were excited to get going the next day. We had been studying landmarks, printing out maps, having Google Chat sessions, figuring out the radius clues they had given us for our first clue, making shirts, and strategizing for the past couple weeks. We were ready to go!

The morning of the race we woke up early and drove to Seattle and cruised around the town for a couple hours familiarizing ourselves with the city and guessing where they would be sending us. We stopped to eat lunch and fuel up, and then waited for the first text that would send us our first clue.

Right before the race eating lunch at Taco Del Mar
The first clue sent us to find the name of the game two girls were playing in front of a cupcake shop in the radius we had to figure out from previous clues. That clue (which ended up being Go Fish) was the word that gave us access to the rest of our clues. We had nine more destinations to figure out, get to, and complete the task before we could cross the finish line.

The first clue we raced off to was a moving target that would only be around for a couple of hours. The target was close by on the map so we ran to her first and got our picture taken. We knew the person would be wearing red, and we had to say she was beautiful and then she responded with another phrase that meant she was the one.

After we got that checked off our list, we sat down and figured out the rest of the clues and mapped the best order to complete them. Then we were off again.

We went down to the water line to get our picture taken in front of the ferris wheel. However we had to wait until the VIP cart was at the very top, so we had to time it just right and hope that someone was patient enough to wait around to take our picture when it got to the top.

It's hard to make out in this picture, but it we did it, and it's the black cart at the very top. The dumb ferris wheel kept stopping right when the cart got close to the top so it was agonizing to wait and pray that we wouldn't miss it, or that our picture-taking-person wouldn't get frustrated and run off. But we got it, and after we submitted the picture we were verified and able to move on to the next clue.

Next we searched for the gum wall and had to get our picture taken in front of it while all of us were blowing bubbles. Luckily, my aunt had some gum, but unfortunately, it was just trident which made it hard for some of us to get a bubble, let alone a good one.

Nonetheless, our pathetic little bubbles were verified and we raced to the harbor steps to count them and submit the number (107 if you were wondering.) I ran those dumb things four times and got a different number each time, but Brigham got the same number twice and one of my totals matched, so we went with that and were right on our first submission.

After the harbor steps we raced to find a fire department. Brigham was in charge of Googling the closest one and it was about twenty-minutes away. We took off running for half of the distance, and then jumped on a bus for the second half.

We had to get two strangers to hug a fire vehicle with all of our team, and someone else to take the picture in order to complete the task. Luckily there was a fire van parked outside the station and three random people were walking down the sidewalk so we were able to get it.

We knew we were by Rose Park, which has lots of pigeons, and one of the tasks required that we get a picture with as many pigeons in it as team members that we have (so five for us). We took off for the park and the pigeons. Luckily there were a bunch of bagels on the ground next to a dumpster so we were able to use those to attract the birds to come around.

At first we submitted this picture, but we soon got a response back that it wasn't correct. We could have ONLY  five pigeons in the picture, no more, no less.

We had already moved on from the park and so had to race a block back and try to get only five birds in the picture. Imagine trying to control pigeons....not easy. We also had to have a stranger stand nearby ready to take a picture the second we had the right amount of birds around (and the guy we had was getting pretty impatient and irritated. In his defense we had some pretty high demands and were taking a bit of time). Right as we almost had the right amount of birds in the pictures, a car back-fired and all the birds scattered into the air. It took time to coax them back off the rooftops and trees for a picture re-do.

We managed it! Only five pigeons in the picture. We were relieved and so was the dude stuck waiting around, taking the picture. Next we hopped on more buses to get clear to the other side of town to the International Fountain. We had to have someone video us hugging it for five seconds.

With half of us soaking, we had one clue left until the final one at the finish line. We had to search for a hidden door in an alleyway. This one was a good work out too, and pretty hard. I ran down so many alleys and finally we found the one we were looking for.

This use to be a blind tiger - or a secret bar during the prohibition time period - so no wonder it was hard to find. It was cool piece of history to learn about.

After verification, we raced to the finish line at Belltown Pub and Grill where players could relax and eat and congratulate each other.

Honestly, the finish was very anti-climatic. No one was there to cheer for you and the prizes we were supposed to get were not there. We able to talk to the creator of the race for a minute and get a drink of water, but then we just headed home....we wish they could have had food or a party or just more excitement or something. Especially with how much we paid to enter the race.

We finished 21st out of 36 teams and it took us two hours and fifty-five minutes. We couldn't believe how fast some of the other teams were finishing and we were feeling pretty bad about our time, until we learned that other teams travel from city to city to race professionally and that they have back-up teams that take care of everything for them. For example, they just send all their clues to teams waiting and those teams figure it all out and map it for them so they can just keep going. If they need any supplies (like gum) their back-up teams go and buy it and have it ready at the stop waiting for them. Their teams would tell them the number of steps at the Harbor Steps and everything. We thought that was sorta unfair and kind of cheating, and we felt better about our time since we did everything ourselves.

The one thing that we felt really silly about, is when we went to where we parked our car in the middle of the race boundaries, we noticed a fire station right across the street.  We couldn't believe it! The fire station Brigham sent us to was what took most of the time because it was so far away! If we had known about this fire station (which we should have), it would have cut about forty minutes off our time. We still are giving a Brigham a hard time about leading us astray since it was his task to find the closest station, and he still is blaming Google for not giving the best options. A fire station right across from still makes me shake my head.

Looking back, it was a really good time, a great work out, something different, and fun to do together. We all agreed that we would like to do it again next year. Now that we know what it's like we will be able to kill it next time!