New Mexico—Alamogordo

After a little scare with a tire on the Mazda we’re towing, we made it to Alamogordo!

(On our way out of Albuquerque, along I-25, our tire pressure monitor told us one of the tires on the tow car was low. We stopped along the side of the interstate, and Chad got out to check and fill the tire. We were all praying we’d be able to get to Alamogordo without any trouble. When it looked like the pressure was holding, we started back down the road, picking up some Fix-a-Flat on the way. The pressure held well the rest of the way there! Thank you, Lord!! We drove around there for a day, when the pressure started going down again. Chad took it to the tire shop, where they found a screw in the sidewall! Aaaack. We were so thankful the pressure held, even with the screw in there. Anyway, 4 new tires and a roadside hazard guarantee later, we were good as new!)

We stayed at the White Sands Community RV Park, which we didn’t get to see much of, because it was COLD while we were there. But it seemed like a very neat, clean, and quiet park, with comfortable sites and in a good location for visiting Alamogordo. The day after we arrived, we headed straightaway for White Sands National Monument, about 15 minutes to the west. The kids picked up their junior ranger programs, we “rented” plastic sleds (actually, it’s one for $25, with a $10 buy-back offer) and headed for the dunes.

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This isn’t snow; it’s sand. Or more precisely, gypsum. Same thing sheetrock is made from—275 square miles of it! An ephemeral lake to the west of the dunes leaves the gypsum behind as it evaporates. The wind coming down off the mountains further west carries the fine sand to the dune field, where it is deposited. Parts of the dunes are moving to the east at about 30 feet per year, so the park may be in a completely different place next time we’re back! Great Sand Dunes National Monument is near home in Colorado, and I’ve been there a few times, but this is different, because you drive right out among the dunes. There, you park, walk a ways (or take an extremely bumpy primitive road to a “secret” up-close-to-the-dunes spot…that’s another story…) and then get to the dunes, which rise up much higher than these, but aren’t nearly as broad (or as white).

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The park was virtually empty, and we certainly had our choice of dunes. From the top, all we could see for miles was white sand. With the overcast skies and no other people around, it was other-worldly.

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Sumac bushes form these mounds with their roots. The gypsum hardens when it comes in contact with the moisture around the plants’ roots, and forms a rock-like structure that stays put as the drier sand around it is blown on by. These end up being great shelters for little animals who live in the desert.

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Do you know how hard it normally is to run on sand? These dunes make it easy! (Well, so does being an 8-year-old boy…) Some of the gypsum dissolves when it rains, and then hardens into a Plaster-of-paris-like surface, so your feet only sink an inch or two down into the sand when you try to run or climb!

This makes for some fun sledding, too!

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Yes, the Falling-Off-the-Edge-of-the-Earth pose never gets tiring!

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After some sledding, we suddenly realized we could still make it to the pistachio farm for the last tour of the week if we hurried, so we were off! The Heart of the Desert Pistachio Farm was about 10 minutes north of town, and we got there just in time for an excellent private tour. This family-owned farm has 12,000 trees on 85 acres, and all operations from tree to processing, to packaging and shipping, are handled right here.

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We learned all sorts of interesting information about pistachios (which we love and which happen to be very good for you!). After the pistachios lose their outer covering, the epicarp, they open while still on the tree. If they don’t open on the trees, they won’t open.

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Pistachios aren’t allowed to be sold raw, because of the risk of salmonella; they must first be roasted. The nuts are picked by shaker-machines that travel up and down the rows of trees. The male and female trees look different: (can you tell which is which? We included a couple clues for you….)

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After the trees, we got to see where the nuts are processed. The nuts pass through a series of machines that get out debris, sort them, and prepare them for roasting. These ladies and two others scan every nut the leaves the farm. This is where the bad nuts are removed (Willy Wonka, anyone?)

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After the processing, the nuts are roasted. One very helpful tip we learned is that when a pistachio is only partially opened, and you can’t quite pop it all the way open, inserting the shell of another pistachio into the gap and twisting will pop that stinker right open! Try it—it works!

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Other than the informative tour, the most enjoyable part of the visit was the sampling counter! We tried several different flavors of roasted pistachios, pistachio bark, and even pistachio wine. All of the staff were super-friendly, knowledgeable,  and proud of their products. Our favorite nuts were the green chile garlic and spicy red chile. Yum!

On Monday, this is what we woke up to!

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From what we had experienced on Friday at White Sands, we thought it would be even more fun with snow, so we bundled up as best we could with what we had, and headed back with our sleds.

The bright sunshine and blue skies made for an entirely different experience than a couple days earlier when it was overcast. We still had almost the whole park to ourselves, it seemed, until a ranger came by after a couple hours and said they were closing the park early due to missile testing nearby at the White Sands Missile Range. It was okay—by then we were just about worn out.

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Plastic saucer sleds go really fast on gypsum sand covered with a couple inches of snow!! We had the best time, and I think it kind of made up for the kids missing the snow in Monument this year. Maaaaybe.

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Even with all that sledding, the kids managed to finish their junior ranger programs just in time; in fact, we closed down the visitor center.

The next day, it was on to Arizona! Tucson, here we come!

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New Mexico—Albuquerque

The first thing I learned about Albuquerque was how to spell it! The abbreviation ABQ is awfully convenient, too.

The next thing I learned was that we couldn’t find a campground we loved. So we ended up on an Indian Reservation, at the Isleta Lakes & RV Campground. We were close to the lake, where a fishing derby was being held. The campground was quiet and very basic, but worked out just fine. They were having a stay 2 nights/get 1 night free deal so we happy about that!

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We were thrilled to have our sweet friends (minus one son whom we all missed Sad smile) take time out of their family weekend and visit us for a cookout!! We have always thought so highly of their family from the time we were in a small group with them in Texas and were thankful for the time to catch up, even though it was too short!

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We did work on establishing more of a school routine while we were in Albuquerque, but also found time to explore and have some fun!

Right across the road from the campground was a bowling alley, so we took one frigid afternoon off to go bowl! Afterward, we had a tour of the back room and saw the machines that set the pins back up and send the ball back—always love an interesting machine!

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Albuquerque’s Zoo, Botanical Gardens and Aquarium are in the same part of town and combo admission tickets are available, so we went to all three!

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We loved them all and HIGHLY recommend them if you are visiting the area. When we arrived, the weather was a bit overcast and we thought it looked like rain, so we started with the Aquarium.

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Spunky Monkey took these pictures. He took them all through glass (obviously…) and I didn’t think any of them would turn out, but apparently he is surpassing my knowledge in the camera department already. By the time we were finished in the Aquarium, the sky was looking a bit better and there was no rain in sight (Thank you, Lord!) so we walked around the Botanical Gardens a bit:

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Very fun model train village—outside!

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The Zoo was next. We all agreed this zoo has a large variety of animals we hadn’t seen at many (or any!) other zoos, and we found the display information very helpful and educational.

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I’ve loved toucans since the days of Saturday morning cartoon commercials for Froot Loops.

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Giant snapping turtle.

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I included this picture because it reminds me of how much we all laughed when this cheetah, whom I was CONVINCED only had 3 legs, got up on all 4 and walked around. Still makes me laugh. It might be one of those “you had to be there” moments….

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A tree kangaroo—had never heard of such a creature….

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Kookaburra!

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This guy just looks huggable, despite his quills, doesn’t he? We forget what he is—if you know, leave a comment!

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These two brothers were great fun. We got to watch them being fed, and the keeper had fun throwing the fish in places where the bears would do great big belly flops or slide down the rocks into the water below to find their lunch. We talked with the keeper for a while afterward and I the most interesting thing I learned is that because polar bears have hollow hair shafts, algae tends to grow inside the shafts, sometimes turning the fur green. The polar bears love the scent the algae gives off when it’s squished, so that’s why you’ll see them rolling around on their backs—they’re enjoying the scent of the squished algae!

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We got to see a 6-week old elephant baby! It doesn’t get any cuter…but wait! It might…..

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He just might be the highlight of the day for us—what a cutie. But not much to see. He kind of does this about 20 hours a day. I think he did have a funny thought, though:

(I suppose it could be a yawn…but I like to think of it as a chuckle).

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The four of us spent a day at Explora, which turned out to be one of our very favorite places on the trip so far!

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Chad, Sweet Pea and I rode the bike on a tightrope—look, ma! no hands! (Spunky Monkey wasn’t quite heavy enough yet, so couldn’t try it.) I don’t have many pictures because we were so busy there—doing hands-on testing of real scientific concepts. Lots of physics displays, light, fluids, electricity, building, etc. This place could be a homeschooler’s entire science curriculum for the year if you lived nearby!

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I took this picture for my mom—we both love pansies. It reminded me of Texas in the winter:

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We took a break in our day at Explora to run over to Petroglyph National Monument.

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Not a very big park, and it was rainy and cold, but we did get to learn about and see some petroglyphs and earn another Jr. Ranger badge!

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Saw our first roadrunner!

Then it was off to Alamogordo, in the southeastern corner of the state!

Before we left town, though, Spunky Monkey lost his first tooth! The day he turned 8 1/2!

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See you at White Sands!

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New Mexico— 1st Stop, Santa Fe

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“Red or Green?” Yes, it really is the state motto of New Mexico. They take their chiles seriously. This picture was what much of the drive to Santa Fe looked like.

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This is the oldest capital city in the country—over 400 years old! ALL the buildings look like this. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but to say most of them do is not. LOTS of brown adobe buildings—homes and businesses. In fact there is a city ordinance that all architecture has to be of this style, so even Hobby Lobby and IHOP are brown adobe.  We stayed at Los Suenos de Santa Fe, which was no-frills, but comfortable and close to town, and we found a place to do our T25 workouts. (And we ended up with 3 flat tires on our bikes from all the Texas tacks we encountered!)

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One of our first stops was the famous Loretto Chapel.

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Have you heard the story? Here’s how it goes (roughly…it’s been a while): Somehow the chapel was built back in the 1800s without a way to access the choir loft. Carpenters were called in but none could design a staircase up to the exceptionally high loft that wouldn’t take up too much of the little chapel’s seating area below. So the sisters prayed to Joseph, Patron Saint of Carpenters, and on the last day of prayer, there appeared a man on a donkey who was looking for work. He designed and built this amazing structure and then vanished without a trace.

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When the sisters went to the local lumberyard, figuring he bought the wood there and so would have left some type of information, the lumberyard owner said no one had been there to purchase wood and he knew nothing about it. The sisters even placed an ad in the local paper, offering to pay the man. The staircase itself is an innovative design, as it makes two complete 360 degree turns yet doesn’t have any internal supports on the spiral. It was made to flex even though the concept of flexibility along with strength wasn’t really considered in this type of construction until much later, and studies done on the wood since that time cannot identify the species of tree it came from. On top of all that, it was built using wooden pegs without nails or glue. All this led to Joseph getting the credit and the staircase being considered miraculous.

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(Ok, how scary must it have been to walk up and down this thing, in a nun’s habit, singing and trying to look poised??!!)

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It was a very pretty little chapel with a compelling history!

It had been much too long for us without a National Park visit, so we quickly made our way to Bandelier National Monument.

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I’ve found I like posting a “typical” scene from places we’ve visited. Helps me remember the general “feel”.

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This was a super fun place to visit—maybe one of my favorites (yes, it is possible to have many, many favorites. Smile) Visiting the cliff dwellings of the Pueblo Indians from 500 years ago was thrilling—while cathedrals were being built all over Europe, Native Americans were working on their own stone structures.

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This view overlooks what used to be a circle of family “apartments” around a central courtyard area.

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This was taken from inside one of the dwellings in the rock cliff—definitely the “view-property”.

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These cozy little rooms were perfect for working on a Jr. Ranger program,

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sitting in the fire-pit to think,

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or playing hide-and-seek.

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I think this was the mail slot.

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This is a picture of a postcard that shows the overview of the Alcove House. We climbed up all those stairs (& more) to get to this dwelling. We were completely amazed at the structures in the rock, the ladders, and the  ingenuity of using the land the natives found themselves in.

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These two pictures are looking down from some of the ladders to the Alcove House.

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Another postcard of an artist’s imaginings of what the Alcove House might have once looked like.

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On the Kiva at the Alcove House—definitely another piece of prime view real estate!

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The “roof” of Alcove House.

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All that flooding in Colorado in September??! This was downhill from there. We were AMAZED at the size of some of the trees that had been washed out along the riverbed that ran through the park. The flood wiped out the campground and picnic area and there were HUGE piles of debris for a good part of our hike back to Alcove House. The drinking fountain below didn’t fare very well. The power of water….

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After our day at Bandelier, we were excited to visit our dear friends in Los Alamos, and we just happened to get in on their son’s birthday dinner and celebration! Some of their family members might be a bit geeky, like some of our family members, and his creative mom decorated an amazing circuit-board birthday cake which I have been asked to replicate for Spunky Monkey’s bday when it comes around. Smile

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(I guess I’m not very geeky—couldn’t figure out how to get this one to turn sideways…but you get the idea!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While out on our trip, we’ve become quite drawn in to the Jonathan Park CDs. The first set of radio-drama stories takes place in Santa Fe and Abiquiu, and talks about Ghost Ranch, where the New Mexico state fossil, Coelophysis, was found and where there was a dinosaur graveyard. When we realized how close to Ghost Ranch we were (an hour or so north of Santa Fe, in Georgia O’Keefe territory) we just had to see it! It is now used as a conference and retreat center, but it does have a tiny little archaeology museum and some beautiful hiking!

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Large sections of dirt were removed from the dinosaur graveyard, put into storage, and are still being excavated here.

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Coelophysis was just a little guy—super cute. Maybe he was the domestic dinosaur? Yesterday’s dog?

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Oh, he’s always the jokester, that one!!

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It was near the end of the day, but we just had to see the dinosaur graveyard, so we hiked a short ways to it.

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The Dinosaur Graveyard!! (Not much to see, because the fossils have all been removed, but still fun to be there nonetheless!)

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We made it back to the car by the light of the full moon—beautiful Southwest!

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Every now and then we do try to have “normal” school—this was Tuesday Teatime, with poetry, and hats, and brownies!! (Back when we were eating brownies…more on that to come…)

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We got out to visit some of the art galleries Santa Fe is famous for…

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Took an afternoon to visit the Santa Fe Children’s Museum:

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It wasn’t all that big, but the kids had a great time—there were bubbles & pulleys…

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…pendulums and maker-tables…

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…snakes being fed and kaleidoscopes to sit in…

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…light tables and rockets to build…

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…and of course—THEATRE!!!!

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Sweet Pea even found time to work on her newsletter, we biked on a lovely bike path along a dry riverbed, and we even fit in some ice skating!

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Whew!! Santa Fe was fun! On to Albuquerque…

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Taking Our Homeschool On the Road

I’m honored to be posting about our adventure this week on Heart of the Matter Online!

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Five months ago, our family of four traded our comfortable, custom-built home with all of our familiar surroundings and twelve years of memories, for a 340 square foot motorhome that rarely stays in one place for more than a week! We had been hearing from God for a while… {to read more, click here to see the article}

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Whirlwind summary of our last two months…

Ok, we are officially back on the road again after a lovely time back in Colorado (during which I did next to no blogging!), so I am going to attempt to limit my pictures in this post and still manage a summary of what we’ve been up to. Here goes…..!

First, getting from Iowa to Colorado…involves Nebraska. Not a lot to talk about there, but we do love Windmill State Recreation area, near Kearney. We’ve stayed there before and it’s becoming a favorite. We were one of only a handful of campers in the park, so it was very peaceful and quiet. We did some geocaching there, including one in a gazebo that we could NOT find. Ah well, next time…

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After bouncing around Highway 67, THE bumpiest road we’ve been on yet, we arrived back in Colorado! Spent some time in Loveland—Chad had some business meetings and we got to visit with Chad’s sweet niece and husband and our good friends, the Byers. We also had the fun surprise of camping only a few sites away from my good friend, Julie’s parents! Sweet Pea loved the crafting lessons Julie’s mom gave her.

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Oscar the Bunny—so sweet!

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We said goodbye to our trusty 20+-year-old mountain bikes and traded them for more “sensible” cruiser bikes. Are we sounding old, or what?! We just don’t fit those old mountain bikes like we used to when we were rock-hopping in Moab all those years ago. And most of our riding these days is on trails with the kids. Maybe when they start some serious mountain biking we’ll give it a go again. Maybe.

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Anyone else have a “cheese” like this to play on at their school? We had one that was half this size at my elementary school—fond memories. The campground had this one near our site; the kids had great fun making up games on it.

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One thing we noticed as soon as we arrived here is how blue, blue, blue the sky in Colorado is. And what gorgeous sky-scapes.

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We really enjoyed the Loveland area—lots of ponds and lakes, friendly people, Whole Foods nearby, and close to the foothills. We had hoped to get to Rocky Mountain National Park, but we arrived right when the epic and tragic Flood of 2013 started, and since the roads going there were washed out, we couldn’t make it.

After our business in northern Colorado was over, we headed south, to one of our favorite jaunts, Ponderosa Camp:

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Loved those days of doing school outside, riding bikes, geocaching, working out in the gym, smelling the delicious forest.

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We had lovely accommodations at Green Acres with our hosts, Barney and Andy, while their humans were out of town. We also got to see the first snow of the season!

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Did some serious, hair-swinging potato-diggin! Planted the seed potatoes at Oma & Opa’s last spring before we left, and now they’re ready to eat!

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One of our favorite things! Dreirum time on the deck with Oma & Opa and Tante Heidi. (Missed you, Uncle Arn!)

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We took our annual trip to the mountains to see the changing Aspen, to Mueller State Park.

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Spunky Monkey always finds a stick on every hike. This one was quite sizeable!

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The Camel Operator and camel rides are a favorite ongoing hiking story for several years now, although I’m not sure how long this passenger will fit on the camel!

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How is it that we can almost be the same height??!

 

We spent the rest of our time back in Colorado at the Garden of the Gods Campground, at the foot of Pikes Peak in Old Colorado City.

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One of my favorite places…ANY. WHERE.

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My brother’s first geocache!

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Working on the newsletter and Power Director video editing at one of our new favorite coffee shop finds—Jives in Old Colorado City.

Aaannd….Our main reason for coming back to Colorado during October—my niece’s wedding!

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One last visit to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, where you can get up & close with the giraffes like nowhere else…

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We miss our friends already!

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Above is our view from the motorhome when we arrive at Garden of the Gods Campground, below is the view right before we left. Got to see fall come and go…time to move south!

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Last time we left, we took these two with us!! But this time we had to say Aufweidersehen. We sure do miss our travel companions! Can’t wait to see them again.

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