Family Travel and Autism

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Danger in the National Park

Posted on February 3, 2010 at 3:41 PM Comments comments (0)

I am working on writing and posting the most traumatic event of our trip.  Life threatening is not an exageration.  In fact, the whole experience was so traumatic that I am not sure the words really reveal the danger.

So, I am going to write now about the real dangers of the national parks.  You are on your own.  Hike at your own risk.  Beware of rock falls, flash floods, wild animals and more.  Those are the warnings posted in the all the national park newspapers.  I read them.  Understood them.  But I thought that if I was careful, nothing would happen to us.  Wrong.

If something happens, think about where you are.  How will they get to you?  How will they find out?  Does anyone know where you are and when you will return?  Do you understand the nature of the weather there?  Geography?  Do you have the right gear?  Yes, these are simple questions that many tourists are asked every year and yet don't heed it.

There is danger.  Preventable danger.  Read the postings and think about them.  Often it only takes a few minutes to really understand what you about to do -- that could save your life.

Until next time.  The headline could have read -- Family of Five Dies In Flash Flood . . . Bodies Never Found

Giddy with Air

Posted on January 25, 2010 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (2)

The Grand Canyon Synopsis - South Rim - Hot, crowded, more hotel rooms, more camping spots and more to do.  North Rim - colder year round, fewer people, fewer rooms and sites and less to do.  The view is the same from either side.  There you have it in a nutshell.

We left after several days of exciting, beautiful time viewing the magnificient Grand Canyon.  Next stop, Zion National Park.  I was really looking forward to the next part.  I know that the Grand Canyon is what everyone thinks of but for me it is just too immense to contemplate.   Zion is a canyon approached from the bottom of the canyon.  The canyon also winds so that views unfold before you as travel along it.  Easier I think to process.

We slowly descended from the 8,000 foot altitude to the base of Zion at 4,000 foot.  That descent created an immense rush in all of us.  By that evening in the park, we were all, and I mean all, giggling and laughing far into the night.  After hours of this (yes, we were literally laughing at nothing) I realized that it was the altitude.  The sudden rush of oxygen was making us giddy.  What fun we had that night!

Zion camping is beautiful.  The river winds along the edge with the town just on the other side a short walk away.  The sites are level with trees shading many of the sites.  There are several hotels in town with anything from an ordinary hotel room to cottages and suites.  Be warned though, hotels are very expensive.   In fact, much of the town is expensive.  Springdale is a small artsy town catered purely to tourism.

On the plus side, transportation is a snap.  You cannot drive in the canyon itself.  There is however, buses that run from sun up to sun down through the whole summer.  The stops are frequent and rarely completely crowded.

The visitors center is beautiful and worth a stop itself.  There unique towers anchoring the corners of the building are actually designed to cool the facility.  There are educational exhibits all over the plaza which my son found fascinating.

An important tip, August and September is tarantula mating season.  Is this a real problem?  Not really but if you have a child into bugs, this is the time to go!

My son sure was fascinated!

Light Pollution

Posted on January 19, 2010 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Of course, I knew all about light  pollution.  In my arrogance, I thought I did.  That was until I experienced the North Rim  of the Grand Canyon.  We have had shooting star alerts here in NE Ohio and on many of those nights were unable to see due to the light pollution.  On several previous camping trips we had star watched in areas with little light.  That was until we reached the Grand Canyon's North Rim.

There isn't any light there.  Any.  At all.  Anywhere.

The result is a sky lit up like fireworks.  More stars than you ever imagined.  Reaching from horizon to horizon.

They were having a star party.  People with telescopes had come from all over just to view the night sky.  They set up on the terrace of the lodge.  Over 25 individuals with powerful telescopes focused on Saturn, galaxies, clusters and more.  What an incredible sight!

Like little children, we hopped from telescope viewing the fantastic sights.  The rings of Saturn!  Twisted clusters of stars!  Other galaxies!  Each individual explained what we were looking at and patiently handled all the questions Adam could ask.  They loved sharing their knowledge with the kids.

A fantastic opportunity for all!

Here is a jpg of what the earth looks like at night.  Makes you really think about the phrase "I'll leave the light on for you."

8000 Feet + One Lung = Trouble

Posted on January 15, 2010 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (0)

The North Rim is a beautiful 30 mile drive through heavily wooded country.  The one way drive ends in a scenic area with a old, beautiful lodge.  The lodge is built right on the rim with magnificent views.  Actually, the lodge is worth the visit itself.

The campgrounds are adjacent to the lodge with a scenic hike between along the canyon.  The best part of the North Rim are the reduced crowds.  As opposed to the south rim, there are very few people.  It is easy to find a quiet part of the trail and just enjoy the views.

We had a large quiet site at the edge and near the canyon overlook.  We were only a few sites from the bathhouse.  I mention this because the altitude was a real issue.  At first I didn't notice it but the first morning, I was moving very slowly.  By mid morning, I was dizzy and laying on the bed.  The mile hike to the lodge was very difficult.  My kids won't admit it but I know that they were struggling as well.

By day two, I had a trouble even making it to the bathhouse.  I spent a good part of the day taking it easy and the rest explored.  On top of the altitude, we were having trouble with the weather.  The cooler weather comes with the alittude but this was cooler than normal.  In the evening the temperature dropped to 32 degrees.  Sweatshirts, coats and mulitple layers were the norm.

Day three was much easier.  We all had acclimated and were doing much better.  So much better, my husband and daughters attempted to hike to the bottom.   Of course, it is impossible to hike to the bottom in one day.  Actually, you can reach the bottom in one day.  You just can't make it back in the same day.  They made half way down.  They left early around 6 am and returned around dinner.  The way down only took  a couple hours but the walk back was twice as long.  Keep in mind there were several miles to hike before they reached the rim.

Tip - Watch the alittude.  It can be a real problem.

Taking a Backseat

Posted on January 14, 2010 at 10:44 AM Comments comments (0)

The drive from the Petrified Forest to the North Rim was going to be a long seven or eight hours.  We left early from a nearby state park, Homolovi State Park and drove up the west side of the Navajo reservation.  The campground at Homolovi was beautiful.  Flat with open campsites and clean rest rooms.  What more could you ask for?

We opted for the north rim because A) the drive would eventually be the same if include the drive after to Zion B) less crowded C) campsites with trees and D) cooler temperatures.  That is why we made the decision and it all worked out except for the cooler temperatures.  Even in the Petrified Forest, we were still wearing jeans and sweatshirts in mid-June in Arizona.  A weird freaky cool front had settled and wasn't going anywhere.  Cold, cloudy and rainy.  Felt like home.

I was tired of riding shotgun.  My  husband was worried about the tires and didn't know the roads as well I did.  Months of map studying made me a natural navigator.  I was ready at this point to give up the reins.  Time for my daughters to learn how to read a map.  I opted to sit in the back with Adam.  We played games, read books and fiddled together with the cameras.  My middle daughter sat in the front with the maps and visited with her dad.  My oldest plugged herself into her iPod and read a book.

I tried very hard to not pay attention to the new navigator.  I focused on spending time with my son.  Every now and I then I would hear my husband throw out a question like "Where does that road go?"  She would diligently follow the tenous line on the map and answer "I don't know."  Sounds like they had a system going.

The road wound up a cliff circling back and forth as we rose several thousand feet from the desert floor.  The higher we went the greener it became.  The sky turned blue and the views were incredible

There is only one road into the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Just prior to the park entrance, there is small gas station and coffee shop with hotel.  The first gas station we had seen in a hundred miles.  And they knew it.

Jacob Lake is a monopoly.  A mormon run family establishment that has been there for centuries.  And the prices reflected it.  Of course we stoped like the other 200 people milling around.  We all looked grateful for a sign of commerce.  As if all of us wanted to sign Alleluia there is a large store.  Until you see the price tag.  Eek!

Next up, the North Rim.

A Meeting Place

Posted on January 9, 2010 at 11:26 PM Comments comments (0)

The loneliness of the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest was almost tangible.  There were few people around and very little life of any kind.  I could imagine how difficult life was for those people 1,000 years ago.

My son was even feeling the remoteness.  "Where is the water?"  "How do they go to the bathroom?"  Good questions I thought.

Newspaper rock was an incredible site.  A large set of rocks with petroglyphs.  Apparently groups of people left messages for each other.  A part of the rock was even used to mark the seasons.  When the sun hit a certain petroglph at a certain time of the year that meant it was the beginning of summer soltice.  An amazing use of marking time.  For a moment I felt connected to the people of the past and the inherent need to keep time.  This large rock marked with odd figures was their way of keeping touch with each other.  A meeting place is a barren land.  I wondered, why here?

As we drove out of the petrified forest, my son yet again became a junior forest ranger. 

There were very few petrified rocks in the park.  Large signs with serious warnings of steep fines were posted everywhere.  Of course, just outside the entrance was a gift shop with acres of piles of petrified rock.

Somehow, it just didn't feel the same.

Paint and Stone

Posted on December 2, 2009 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (0)

We spent the night for free at the campground in Canyon de Chelly.  I honestly did not know what to expect, but it was not what we found.  Located right next door to the hotel and just down the hill (a short walk/long drive) from the visitors center, we found a large, well kept campground.  Our site was flat and next to the bathroom.  Of course there were no showers but we had become used to the smell.

A short drive the next morning I noticed that the desert was become more - desert like.  The day grew hotter, the land flatter and the trees fewer.  By the time we entered Painted Desert National Park, the vegetation was non-existant.  Yet the hills were painted, yes, the literally looked painted, brilliant colors of pink, blue and gray.  Despite this surreal beauty, there was a real feeling of barren desolate land.

There so many programs that our head spun.  We choose a program at a nearby hotel the park had taken over.  The hotel was the home of the famous Harvey Girls.  The tour was fascinating with a peak at the old hotel rooms, kitchens and bar.  I could only marvel though at the desolate location.

During all of this, I had to be grateful for Adam's behavior.  As I always knew, when we are together as a family, his behavior is impeccable.  We are patient with him and he is calm and comfortable with us.  As we followed the Park Ranger, Adam was perfect.  For many young boys, the tour would have been boring but he stayed with us and paid marginal attention.  No behaviors. 

Thank God for little boys.

And On To The Next

Posted on October 23, 2009 at 9:07 PM Comments comments (0)

On our way out of Mesa Verde we passed through a lovely little town with a Walmart and many family style hotels.  If you don't want to camp, I am sure that you can find an accomodation to your liking.

We were heading for Four Corners only a few hours away.  The monument charges a nominal admission and is surrounded by flea market style booths.  There were food vendors and portable toilets.  The monument was a large cement slab with flags and viewing stands.  The viewing stands were perfect to take photos.  How many photos can you take of your children standing in four states at the same time.

We spent some time browsing the vendors.  The tourquose jewelry was magnificant.  And affordable.  I admit that I bought earrings for the girls.  A great deal at only five bucks apiece.

We left Four Corners and headed south for Canyon de Chelly.  We took the highway through the reservation.  My heart broke.   It felt like I was driving through Appalachia - in the desert. 

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is beautiful and spiritual.  All tours of the monument have to be arranged through Navajo guides.  They can be pricey but worth it.  We stayed in the free campgrounds.  They are beautiful and right next door to the hotel.   The visitors center is a worth a visit and even has a hogan you can view.

Early the next morning we took off south again and headed for the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park.  It finally warmed up.  A high of 88 degrees.  YEAH!

A Final Note on Mesa Verde

Posted on October 18, 2009 at 9:47 PM Comments comments (0)

Mesa Verde National Park was more than narrow roads, steep drop offs and amazing views.  When you combine the previous with the history, you are left with a draw dropping tribute to the fortitude of ancient people.

I just couldn't imagine climbing down hundreds of feet to shelter with little water or food.  You live in communities of 80 to 100 people and marry at the ripe, old age of 14.  Your front door is a community courtyard that drops off into a steep cliff.  The more we visited and learned, the more I grew to appreciate my life.  I went home to heat, mattress, stove, running water and flush toilets.  The disparity was inspiring.

We were visiting in June and the temperature dropped off to 40 degrees at night.  I lay under my blankets shivering and wondered how you kept warm in stone room that measured only 5X5.

My son wondered how the children stayed safe playing near a steep drop off.

I marveled at his perception.

What a trip.

The Tour is FUN!

Posted on October 11, 2009 at 9:57 PM Comments comments (3)

Our first tour down the ladder was unexpected and FUN!  We met at an overlook before proceeding down a long series of switchbacks.  At the bottom was a tall metal locked gate.  We proceeded through and stopped prior to entering the main ruins.  The park ranger talked a great deal about life more than 800 years ago.  That is when my daughter was married.

Yup, the park ranger married her off.  Apparently girls marry at the age of 14/15 and the husband moves in with her family.  They live in a 5x5 stone room.  Their living room is the front courtyard.  They share it with everyone.  And my daughter and her husband were examples through the whole tour.  He hunted, she ground corn.  He hunted, she carried water on her head.  Huh.

The next day we toured a remote dwelling.  We climbed down long ladders, crawled through narrow dirt 'hallways' and back up a three story ladder.  I kept looking for Indiana Jones.  In my mind I carried a whip and wore a leather hat.

Oh Harrison where were you?


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