Petrified Forest National Park and the Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA

Petrified Forest National Park was another of those stops that was never on our original itinerary. Our next planned stop was Albuquerque, but the drive there was longer than we wanted to do in a single day. As I sat in the little room at the Grand Canyon Community Library and searched the web for a good place to stop between Grand Canyon and Albuquerque, I stumbled upon Petrified Forest National Park. Only about 20 miles off of I-40 and almost exactly the midpoint of our journey, this was the obvious choice. And as an added bonus, it was one more national park to stamp in the kids’ passports and add to our tally.

We’d passed several other opportunities to see petrified forests along our route, but always chose to prioritize other things to see and do in those areas. It’s not that we weren’t interested, just that you can’t do everything. In this part of Arizona, there weren’t too many other options, so it was time to satisfy our curiosity about petrified wood.

I’m sure there was much more available to do at the park than we had time to do. We took the walking tour of the main area, checked out the visitor center and the gift shop, then it was time to get back on the road. It’s fascinating how minerals replaced the biological material in these old logs such that they are perfectly preserved and look just like logs despite being stone. At the same time, for me it was a “seen one, seen ’em all” kind of experience. “Oh look, there’s a big one.” “Oh look, an even bigger one.” The variation in size and color wasn’t enough to excite me so much. Alas, a geologist I am not.

IMG_2740Overview of the main field that the self-guided tour loops around

IMG_2741This is one of the smaller specimen (can you call them that?) but this is a pretty good representation of how they look… Like a log, but also like a rock.

IMG_2760A more artistic angle on the end of one of the larger “logs”

It wasn’t something that held the kids’ attention for long either. At 3, Emelie is at the age where the world is still new and everything is equally remarkable. A rock that looks like a log? Okay. No big deal. Why wouldn’t there be rocks that look like trees? But the desert provides more than enough sand to keep toddlers happy, and often we were the ones that were ready to move on first. The game that got us around the self-guided tour was “find the next number”. She was then just getting good at recognizing numbers and being able to put them in sequence, so she loved showing us what she knew. “What number are we on here? 5, right. And what comes after 5? Right, can you go find the 6?” And away we go.

IMG_2745Oblivious to the geological phenomenon beside her. It’s all about the sand!

IMG_2748Or we could see what happens if we put sand on the rock log…

IMG_2755Nah, I’ll just sit by this drainage pipe and play in the sand.

IMG_2751She did a great job of following the numbers. And stopped to trace each one along the way. An educational stop, just not in the way you might think.

I’m not sure it would have been worth the trip if it hadn’t been right along our route and a perfect place for an overnight stop. But we got to stretch our legs, see something we’d never seen before, and it inspired a good theological discussion in the car about what we believe about the formation of these and other ancient geological phenomena.

The night before, arriving later in the day from the Grand Canyon, we stayed at the Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA. Here’s a little review (sorry, we didn’t take any pictures).

Campground Review: Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA

Price: $29/night. Very reasonable for a KOA.
Location: Approximately 20 miles west of Petrified Forest National Park, less than 2 miles off of I-40.
Facilities: Clean bathrooms and showers, a good playground, pool (May-September only). Wifi is available for an additional fee, but with limited range. I sat in the game room above the offices to use it.
Site-description: Gravel, some small trees.
Neighborhood: Mostly retired couples in larger RVs. In late October, this wasn’t so surprising.
Website: http://koa.com/campgrounds/holbrook/
Comments: They also offer “Cowpoke Cookouts” every night for an additional charge. Menus are provided at check-in. We chose to skip it and cook for ourselves, so I can’t comment on the quality.

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On…IMG_2728

Just not on the part of it that we saw.

Admittedly, seeing Route 66 wasn’t much of a priority for us. I confess that I don’t understand the draw. It has American cultural significance I suppose, and perhaps I am too young to quite know what that is. It’s one of those things that I’ve heard of (like in the song that inspired the title of this post) but I’m not really sure why. So we weren’t going out of our way to see it. That’s the point I’m trying to make.

But before we reached Petrified Forest National Park (our next mini-destination to break up the drive to Albuquerque) we crossed a section of it. And our geocaching app tipped us that there was a cache to be found in this particular site. We hadn’t found a cache in Arizona yet, and it seemed a shame to criss-cross the United States without seeing any of Rt 66. So it warranted a stop.

A sign talking about Route 66 (which I read, hoping it would make me more excited about seeing it… it didn’t), this rusted out shell of a car, and some telephone poles were all that this particular “monument” had to offer.

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But now we’ve stood on part of the celebrated Rt. 66. Emelie was all too glad to get out and play, since the whole desert is just one big, glorious sandbox for her.

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And after searching entirely too long, we never did find that cache.

Camping in Grand Canyon National Park

There are a number of campgrounds and RV parks along the road as you approach Grand Canyon National Park. I’m sure they all have their advantages, but we loved the idea of being able to just park the car for a few days and get around on foot and using the shuttle bus system. There are several campground options within the national park itself, but only Trailer Village has hook-ups. So we chose Trailer Village and it worked out great!

Campground Review: Trailer Village at Grand Canyon National Park

Price: $35/night
Location: Within GCNP on the South Rim, just outside of the Market Plaza.
Facilities: Full hook-ups, bathrooms and showers. Trailer Village has its own shuttle bus stop along the blue line.
Site-description: Sand/gravel. Paved driveways. Some shade trees scattered throughout.
Neighborhood: An interesting mix of tourists and longer-term residents. It was the only campground on our trip where a school bus pulled in and dropped off a bunch of kids in the afternoons.
Website: http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/trailer-village-705.html
Comments: The Grand Canyon Visitor Center is an easy walk and sometimes a good alternative to taking the shuttle bus. Rather than turning toward the entrance and the shuttle bus stop, there is a paved path in the opposite direction, toward the “back”. You pass some of the longer-term residences on the way. Also, even in this relatively developed part of the park, it’s important to be wary of wildlife. One evening I exited the bathroom to be greeted by a large buck standing uncomfortably close to the bathroom door. I didn’t stop to count the points, but he was impressive. And he wasn’t going anywhere. I slid with my back against the wall down to a corner and went the long way around the building back to our campsite. A heart-thumping close encounter right there in the middle of “civilization”

IMG_2703We forgot to get pictures before the camper was packed up again but here’s a couple of different angles on the campsite.

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Additional Note: Free wifi at Grand Canyon National Park

This information is usually available in the park newspaper that you receive at the entrance stations, but it’s worth noting. While we didn’t mind being disconnected for a few days at Trailer Village, we also didn’t have our next destination quite figured out so we wanted to get online and do a little homework. The Park Office and Community Library offer unsecured wifi. They also have computers available to borrow if you don’t have your own. For whatever reason, the wifi signal wasn’t strong enough in the park office that day so they sent me through a courtyard to the library. In this tiny, tiny library, a very helpful librarian unlocked a private room where I could sit down (no room for chairs in the main library!) at a table and research undisturbed. I didn’t see any tourists in this area at all, and all the staff were extremely friendly and helpful.

Grand Canyon part 2: The Adventures of the Rest of Us

Please forgive the long break with no new posts. I still have every intention of sharing the remainder of the trip on this blog. I even have a bunch of follow-up posts planned. The pace and intensity of our everyday, not-on-the-road-anymore lives has picked up a bit recently, and often when I find the time to write, I’m just too tired to write it the way I want it to be. But it’s important to me to capture the memories before they fade any more than they have, and so I’m going to try to be a bit more disciplined and a bit less of a perfectionist about blogging.

In our last post, we introduced you to Lukas, who seemed to have a bit of an independent streak during our stay at the Grand Canyon and had some trouble staying with the rest of the family. But the rest of us had a great time at the Grand Canyon too! So at long last we share the adventures of the non-plastic Lindstroms.

The Grand Canyon had always been a dream vacation for me. The one that was always just out of reach. My family planned trips there on more than one occasion when I was growing up, but we just never got there. Staffan got to go once before we were married, and has fun stories to tell about helping a Boy Scout troop with car trouble and eventually getting to camp with them down in the canyon on their permit. Another story for another time (definitely a good one though!) but after his visit this place became the stuff of legend in my imagination. So you can bet I was excited to get there.

We chose to camp at the campground that’s in the national park itself (campground information and review to come in a later post). We arrived there in the early afternoon, checked in and set camp. Then we walked to the visitor center (not a very long walk, but you can also take the shuttle bus) to stamp the kids’ national park passports and get a little more information. And then finally… after all these years… we walked out to the first view point of the canyon itself. It’s hard to say exactly how I felt, but my excitement was mixed with a bit of fear. What if the real thing couldn’t live up to the legend I’d created in my mind? After all of the waiting and longing… what if I was disappointed? I looked hard at the ground and the back of the stroller all the way until I reached the fence. I took a deep breath and raised my eyes. I was not disappointed. If you’ve been there, then you know that it’s the kind of thing that can’t be captured… not with words or with a camera. If you haven’t, the only way I can describe it is that in 20 years of dreaming and imagining, with the help of photographs and paintings, I still hadn’t quite expected the grandeur that was before me. If you haven’t been there, go.

IMG_2641 panorama

Next time we go I want to take another family photo on this rock.
Then maybe frame them side by side! 

IMG_2645 IMG_2656I know it can’t be captured with a camera, but we still had to try

We spent that first afternoon riding the shuttle bus loops, getting off at different viewpoints and just taking it in from some of its many angles before returning to the campground. We had dinner out that night in the Village and spent the evening planning a hiking route for the next day.

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This pose was her idea.
And people complain that I don’t post enough pictures of myself

IMG_2665 cropped

Approaching sunset

Our hiking day in the Grand Canyon proved to be slightly less idyllic than the day before. As is the risk when traveling with small children, Emelie was having a tired and cranky day. It was one of those days when it seems everything is a battle. Everything from wearing pants (it is NOT warm at the Grand Canyon in the end of October!) to not climbing up on the rocks designed to keep people from plummeting down into the canyon (slightly less trivial) seemed to cramp her style and lead to some kind of tantrum. We expected these days would come, and we managed to keep her alive and even enjoy many parts of the day. But it also seems appropriate to issue a formal apology to anyone who may have sought to gaze into the amazing beauty of Creation in silent reverence on that day. I’m sorry that your experience was punctuated, not infrequently, by the screams of a three-year-old. We did our best.

IMG_2678On the trail. Maybe hard to see, but Emelie has Lukas on her shoulders.

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Former Adventure Camp friends… know what those are?
Eating Oreos on mountain peaks is an important tradition to teach your children. Hard to say exactly where the “peak” is when the whole hike is at the top, but that just means you can stop and eat your Oreos anywhere!

We hiked our planned stretch of trail along the South Rim, awestruck again and again by the view. I itched to turn off onto one of the trails that lead down into the canyon, though I knew of course that it would be dangerous to attempt that hike with small children and no camping reservations at the bottom. We had chosen a trail that paralleled one of the shuttle bus routes, so that we could go as far as we wanted and when we were tired, just hop on the shuttle and connect back to the campground. This worked great and allowed us to adjust the length to our needs at the time.

IMG_2654Okay, so I couldn’t resist going down one of those trails just a little!

In the morning it was time to pack up and get back on the road. But not before a stop at the East Entrance visitor center and one last view from the Desert View Watchtower. We will be back, Grand Canyon. With bigger kids and camping permits.

IMG_2717Desert View Watchtower

IMG_2720It’s designed to look like an ancient structure, but it’s really from the 1930’s

IMG_2716Good bye for now, Grand Canyon. We’ll be back when we’re bigger!

Grand Canyon part 1: The adventures of Lukas

Meet Lukas. Lukas joined our family on Emelie’s first birthday and has more or less been a part of everything we’ve done since then. Although for over 2 years, Lukas didn’t have a name. Whenever anyone asked Emelie what her baby’s name was, she looked at them like they were crazy and said, “It’s a baby” or some variation of that. Lukas got her name (yes, her. Don’t let the name fool you. She is most emphatically a girl.) after our visit to San Fransisco and the Bay area. We stayed with Staffan’s cousin and his family, and their youngest son is named Lukas.

Though I don’t believe I’ve mentioned Lukas in our blog at all before, Lukas participated in just about everything we did. But it wasn’t until the Grand Canyon that Lukas had herself some real, and at times independent, adventures. So it was time for her to be featured in a post.

Grand Canyon National Park is a large park, and most of the roads are closed to private vehicles (something I think a lot of other parks could benefit from emulating). Visitors get around by using the shuttle system, which we found to be effective, efficient, and depending on your driver, even entertaining. The only part that was a little tricky was that we had to take Peter out of whatever stroller/backpack he was riding in and hold him in our laps. I’m not sure why, but rules are rules. It just made getting on and off with both kids and our stuff a less than streamlined experience. And as we shuttled from the campground to the head of the trail we planned to hike, one of us got left behind in the shuffle. “Where’s Lukas?” someone asked, beginning the conversation familiar to parents everywhere. “I thought you had her.” “No, I had my hands full with…” “Is she in the…” Double-checking everywhere when we all knew exactly where she was.

So we sat at the bus stop where we’d gotten off, one of us a bit teary eyed, and waited for about 30 minutes for that particular shuttle bus to loop around and come back. Thankfully Lukas was none the worse for the wear, and after a happy reunion and a few jokes from the funny bus driver, we were back on track.

Lukas got to see a lot that day. She seemed to really enjoy the Grand Canyon, and even posed for a picture along the way.

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And since Lukas really didn’t want to ride in the backpack with Peter, and Lukas’ mommy was a bit tired and grumpy that day, we found ourselves asking the “Where’s Lukas?” question a lot. She was left at several scenic overlooks, picnic stops, restroom facilities, and even got a little too close to the edge of a cliff once or twice. All in addition to her solo bus tour. It was a quite a day for little Lukas. And the poor thing had to do it all naked except for that bandaid on her arm. Life is tough when your mommy is only 3.

Kingman – Blake Ranch

Our next destination was the Grand Canyon. But the drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon was a little longer than our typical day’s drive (Google maps predicted 4 hrs and 40 min). Adding in our stop at the Hoover Dam, we decided to stop for a night in between and chose the Blake Ranch RV Park in Kingman, AZ.

Their rates were really reasonable, even after they charged us extra for the kids. It’s not unusual for a campground to say that their nightly rate only includes two people. What is unusual, though, is to charge for extra people as young as our kids are.

We didn’t see or do anything in Kingman except our laundry. So this short post is basically just a campground review.

Campground Review – Blake Ranch RV Park

Price: $22/night, + $2 each for the kids. $26 total
Location: Convenient between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. But there doesn’t seem to be too much to do in the area. Most of their guests are staying the night on their way to someplace else, rather than coming there as a destination.
Facilities: Nothing special, but adequate. They maintain an “adult park atmosphere” so there’s no playground, pool, or other family-friendly facilities. But the bathrooms and the showers are fine. Their laundry facility is a public laundromat, so the hours were a bit more restricted than we were used to, and it wasn’t only camping guests using the facility, but everything worked fine and the prices were reasonable.
Site-description: Gravel, gravel, gravel. A few small trees for shade and aesthetic value.
Neighborhood: Predominantly retired RVers.
Website: http://www.blakeranchrv.com/ 
Comments
: Electric service is only 30/50 amp and there are no ordinary outlets in the box. To use our smaller 20amp plug we needed to get an adapter. This had happened once before but then we had borrowed one. In this case we bought one. Also, the website boasts that the park is “quietly removed from nearby truck stop and restaurants”. I guess this statement is vague enough that it could technically be considered a truthful statement. The truck stop was very close but the noise wasn’t a problem.

IMG_2624We forgot to take pictures while the camper was still popped, but you can still get a feel for the site.

Hoover Dam

Heading east from Las Vegas, our first stop was the Hoover Dam. An impressive feat of engineering, to be sure. But to be honest, we were disappointed by the Hoover Dam and in the end we didn’t stay long.

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It was difficult to find information about visiting the Hoover Dam online ahead of time, and even that which we did find wasn’t completely accurate when we got there. We walked across and looked around, but it was extremely windy that day and being outside wasn’t fun or easy for any of us. It was the kind of windy day when you can’t hear what the person next to you is saying.

So we headed for the visitor center. Except the visitor center isn’t free. It costs $8 per person just to go into the visitor center. Then there’s another set of fees if you want to take a tour of the power plant, leading up to the $30 fee per person to tour the dam itself. We weren’t prepared for it to be so expensive. Children under 8 are not permitted on the Dam Tour, so that was eliminated right away, but in the end none of it seemed worth the money. We’ve been to a lot of visitor centers as we’ve crossed the country. Most of them are helpful, but none have been worth $24 (the website says 3 and under are free, but the sign on site says under 3 are free. An important distinction when you have a 3 year old). So we walked around a bit more on top of the dam, rode an elevator to the top of a parking garage and got a better view (at least the elevator was free!), ate our packed lunches on a bench, explored the gift shop for a few minutes, and then piled back in the car to continue east.

Has anyone out there taken the tour? Or paid for the visitor center? Is it worth it? What did we miss?

IMG_2601Masses of concrete, desert landscape. 

IMG_2604New bridge in the background, to divert traffic from driving over the dam. The road that crosses the dam is now closed on the one side – you have to cross the river on this bridge from either direction to get down to the dam itself.

IMG_2605There are two of these, on either side of the state border. I was looking forward to them showing different times so that we could stand with one foot in each time zone. They didn’t and I was disappointed.That was when I learned that Arizona doesn’t switch to daylight savings time. In the summer, Arizona and Nevada are in the same time zone.

IMG_2619But at least we got to stand with our feet in two different states.

IMG_2620The best family photo we could muster with so much wind in our faces.