Roseville, CA

Before we left the campground at Yosemite, we spent what has turned out to be one of my favorite kind of days on our trip. Chad had to go to the nearby town of Groveland to get caught up on work, using the internet at one of the restaurants there. So the kids and I were at Rocky all day. We did some studying, some cleaning, some reading, and general busy-keeping. Spunky Monkey designed a whole set of dollhouse furniture he later “sold” to us.


I love the “fire” in the fireplace and the dog on the laptop:






My Almost-12-Year-Old!


A Bridge = A Game of Grumpy Old Troll!


On to Roseville! I thought we should probably visit Sacramento on our way north, and was looking for somewhere that would have a church we could attend for Easter. In the usual roundabout way I come to finding campgrounds, we ended up staying at the fairgrounds in a suburb of Sacramento. The drive there was beautiful; lots of wildflowers and almond groves.



We decided our interest level in seeing Sacramento itself was not greater than the hassle that would be involved getting through the major road construction going on, so we never did make it into Sacramento. The fairgrounds turned out to be a fine place to stay:



There was a stage just behind our campsite, which always means creativity must be unleashed!


I didn’t know it at the time I was making plans, but the Fairgrounds was the site of a 40,000-Egg Easter Egg Drop and Festival the day before Easter.


It was put on by a local church, and had games, bounce houses, music, food and a helicopter that dropped lots of eggs to be “found”.


As for Easter itself, we were feeling a little lonely, as we usually have extended family to our house for dinner, but we were thrilled to find out about an outdoor service in a shopping mall parking lot, put on by Bayside Church, and featuring Francis Chan as the speaker. We had already been blessed by his teachings in the past and were glad to hear more from him. It was a gorgeous day and felt very California-ish. 


Here’s a KLOVE link to the service (although this is a video of the first service; we were at the second, and I think the message was even better at ours):

Either way, what really matters is: HE IS RISEN!! And that’s worth celebrating, wherever you are!

Afterward, we had lunch at Mimi’s and took turns getting pics:


During our stay at the Fairgrounds, we enjoyed the large areas of grass to run and play Frisbee in, sidewalks to jump rope on. We met a very friendly couple from Oregon who gave us some tips on traveling there.


Roseville has roses all over!!


Next post—celebrating turning 12!



We finally made it here!!

Originally, we had planned to head up the coast from San Francisco all the way to Seattle, then to come back down south further inland, and hit Crater Lake, Lassen National Park, and Yosemite on the way back down, then cross Nevada to Salt Lake City and head up to Yellowstone before home. But, that seemed like lots of unnecessary back & forth driving, which isn’t really advisable in a gas-guzzling motorhome!

So we decided to forego Crater Lake & Lassen for this trip (they’re still too snowy, anyway!), but would NOT have considered our trip complete if we didn’t visit Yosemite. So, we figured out how to get there before heading up to Oregon and Washington. Planning where to stay and still get internet coverage for Chad took all the planning and campground-researching skills I could muster up!! Staying in the park was out (which, after visiting, I feel must be THE best way to experience Yosemite), because our Verizon coverage is nonexistent there. I won’t bore you with all the details of how I narrowed it down, but we finally found a campground that seemed like it would work, and it was only $25/night for full hookups! (Turns out there was NO Sprint phone coverage…the campground actually had a payphone in the parking lot…and the campground’s WIFI as well as our Verizon coverage were VERY spotty; basically not useable.) Chad did the best he could, between the two and working in the nearby tiny town of Groveland.




The other tough part about getting to Yosemite in a motorhome is the roads! We went in on Highway 120 from Oakdale, and right before Groveland the road is extremely curvy and steep, with a sharp drop-off on the passenger side (which gets higher and higher as you go up!) and little shoulder. In fact, on our way out of Yosemite, heading down this pass, two twenty-something guys in a Cooper Mini decided they didn’t want to be behind a big motorhome the whole way down, so they TORE past us on one of the sharp curves, lost control, slammed their little car into the rock wall, bounced, lifted their rear tires off the ground, and thankfully came to a stop without rolling or plunging off the side. It was unsettling watching it all happen right before our eyes, but I was so thankful to see them get out of the car without a scratch. They apologized to us and sent us on our way (which was a good thing, since there was NOwhere for us to stop except right in the middle of the lane).

If you have been to Yosemite, you already know these pictures don’t come close to doing it justice. There is nothing like entering the Valley and seeing the HUGE granite rocks towering above on both sides. We were here at the perfect time of year to see the waterfalls, which tend to dry up later in the summer. We also avoided some of the crowds, apparently, although it seemed busy to me! The weather was perfect—70s and sunny. We spent three days exploring the Valley. We would have liked to drive to Glacier Point, but the road didn’t open until the last day we were there, at noon, and it would have been a 3+ hour trip, which would have taken the rest of our day there, plus we had a 2 hour drive back to the campground from the Valley as it was. We also missed out on seeing the big trees in the Mariposa Grove on the south side of the park, but we’ve seen big trees near Santa Cruz, and hope to still visit the trees in Northern California.

Our first day in the Valley, the kids and I attended a watercolor class taught by a visiting artist, Floy Zittin. There were seven of us in the class, and we sat outside the visitor’s center and tried to figure out how to paint leaves and branches and play with mixing colors. Floy of course made it all look so easy, but I’m sure with a little more practice we’ll all get the hang of it! Winking smile


Chad stayed behind at Rocky to work the best he could with very little internet, but the three of us enjoyed our four-hour class, our picnic lunch, and then walking to the base of Yosemite Falls.








The next day, we drove back to the park, and drove for miles through where the north rim fire was last fall.


This was just inside the north entrance gate on Highway 120.

Thankfully, the fire didn’t reach the Valley, and we had a gorgeous day to enjoy exploring!

We saw lots of these little critters on the hike to Vernal Falls:














The following day, we took a bike ride through the park, stopping to hike around Mirror Lake.





Keep growing, Little Acorn! Only 100 more years and you’ll be as tall as SOME of these others!



We came across this large area of cairns. Would be interesting to know the story here—who placed the first one?




We all picked out our favorites, and the kids gathered what little stones they could find to make their own.



Spunky Monkey’s was a “mixed media” that included sticks and leaves.







A quick trip to Ansel Adam’s studio on the way out, and then a pic at the entrance gate (we see you, Kilroy):


Goodbye, Yellowstone, I mean Yosemite!



Jelly Belly, John Muir’s Home, and getting to Yosemite…

While we were staying at the KOA in Petaluma, this was a VERY big hit with our kiddos (when they weren’t studying, of course):



They spent HOURS here, making friends with the different kids that came and went during our stay, inventing games and obstacle courses, and getting really sweaty! The pool looked very inviting, but it really wasn’t quite warm enough for swimming, and the little petting zoo was fun, too- a couple of goats, a very woolly sheep, and some chickens. This was one of the larger KOAs we’ve stayed in, and we enjoyed walking up and down and around the hills here.


I had to take a picture of this, because it is the first campfire I built completely by myself—I know, about time, huh?! Well, I was never in girl scouts, or camped as a kid, so it just took me a while to give it a try!

After a week, it was time to say good-bye to the rolling, verdant, cattle-covered hills, and head further inland, to Bethel Island. On the way, we stopped in Fairfield, at the Jelly Belly factory, where they manufacture over 100,000 pounds of candy every day!


They offer free tours of this manufacturing facility, and we love factory tours, so we jumped right in!


This jelly bean mosaic hangs right inside the entrance. Yes, each little oval is a life-size jelly bean, and someone takes the time to make many of these mosaics of famous figures. We probably saw over 30 hanging in the lobby and throughout the factory. Ronald Reagan is no surprise to have in the entrance, though, since he helped make Jelly Belly world-famous! The film shown during the factory tour (no pictures allowed, and simply involves walking on an enclosed, elevated walkway above the factory and stopping periodically to watch a video about that area, but still a fun tour. They have robots—always a hit with us!) pointed out that Reagan started eating jelly beans to kick his smoking habit, then got hooked on them. He always had a jar of them available at all meetings, and even had a special container made so they could withstand the turbulence on Air Force One. The blueberry Jelly Belly was actually created just for his inauguration!

After the tour we visited the free tasting bar, where you can sample your favorite flavor:


Take note especially of the “Bean Boozled” flavors. Since I’m not a huge jelly bean fan, I thought I would just have fun with it, and tried Baby Wipes and Pencil Shavings. Jelly Belly prides themselves on having extremely realistic flavors, and these were no exception. Bleh. Still not a jelly bean fan. Ha!

We continued on our way, until we got to Bethel Island, and the Sugar Barge Resort. I never did quite figure this place out. It’s on an “island” surrounded by these waterways that look like rivers or canals, part of the California Delta. The island is actually below sea level and it’s rather in the middle of nowhere. The people there were very friendly, though, and we had a comfortable, no frills, grassy spot.


These gals were running around all over (or maybe it was the same one going every-which way, I don’t know…)


We had no phone service here and spotty internet, but we made it work. A highlight for us was a very friendly couple we met across the road, Marion and Terry. Marion, a retired teacher, offered to teach the kids how to juggle and they were excited to give it a try. Twenty minutes later, she had them juggling two balls fairly well, and beginning to try adding in a third. She was very encouraging and gave them some pointers for continuing to learn. We were gone the rest of that day (Costco, and then Awana…THE largest Awana we’ve ever seen. They have 300-400 kids every week (Cubbies, Sparks, and T&T). Wow!!) and were surprised when we got back that night to see Terry had left her juggling balls on our picnic table with a note that said “Happy Juggling”! That was a sweet gift to find


As obscure as this place is, the reason we ended up here is that I wanted to take the kids to the John Muir National Historic Site on our way to Yosemite. It was about an hour west of here, and is the home where John Muir lived the last 24 years of his life. I wanted us all to learn more about the man called the “Father of America’s National Parks”.


I’m not sure what this man who lived in Yosemite in the 1800s for four years, and walked one thousand miles from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico, and from San Francisco to Yosemite would think of the Valero gas station right across the street from his house, or the interstate that runs behind it, because when he lived here, his house on the hill was about the only thing around.


(The historic sidewalks are being replaced, thus the yellow tape.)

He inherited this house and surrounding orchards from his father-in-law, and it was a lovely setting for him to raise his two daughters and write his books. The upstairs right window was his “scribble den” where he could look out over the orchards and feel inspired to recall the memories of years of travel and adventure, and put them down in writing for others to enjoy.


The trees we noticed in the orchard were peach, orange, fig, pear, pomegranate, quince, and olive. A highlight for me was these cheery poppies!



We were mostly alone during our time in the house, except for a very friendly docent who was there to answer whatever questions we had, and later, a few other visitors, then a ranger who led us on a tour. We enjoyed wandering through. Most of the furnishings are only period pieces, not original to the home, but this cook stove is original.



The scribble den was filled with books, sketches, nature artifacts, a microscope, a globe, petrified wood, and pottery from his travels, beautiful paintings and his original desk. I loved the crumpled papers and sketches lying about—as if John Muir had just been here writing and stepped out for a moment.


The entire 3rd floor was this attic of every kid’s dreams (or at least those kids who have read Grandma’s Attic, or Narnia, or just imagined a big attic full of treasures to be discovered and games to be played). It even had a very intriguing and mysterious wooden chest!



And at the very top, a bell tower! (Probably used to call in the workers from the orchards.)



Investigating a tree for the Junior Ranger program—one more badge!


We had a lovely walk through the orchards to the adobe building at the back of the property, which now houses a display about the Juan Bautista de Anza trail.



These two would probably have had lots to talk about.

We really enjoyed learning more about this adventurous man who enjoyed and spent so much time in nature. Some may claim he was too ardent of an environmentalist but were it not for his early conservation advocacy, we would likely not have Yosemite National Park, and many other of the national park sites we’ve enjoyed would probably not be protected. He was a keen observer who saw evidence of design in the creation around him. He didn’t live to see the National Park Service established (he died in 1914, and it began in 1916), but is credited with setting the idea for it into place, and his travels and writings helped show what a treasure parts of our country are. His advocacy brought forth the idea that these areas should be preserved for future generations.

Speaking of Yosemite, I think John Muir must have had an easier time walking there from San Francisco than getting there in a 36-foot rolling house pulling a car, and having to find a place to stay that has internet, let alone phone! More on that next time!

Thanks for reading!


How we choose campgrounds…

We’ve found that folks ask many similar questions when we tell them what we’re up to. One of the common questions is, “How do you know/decide where to stay?”

We have been incredibly blessed by the campgrounds we’ve found to stay in during our trip. I’m trying to think of one we really did not like, and I don’t think there is one! We definitely have our favorites, but overall we have had great places to stay. Here’s the process I go through to find a place to put our wheels up (in exchange for not having to drive the 22,000 pound beast pulling a car, I get to do all the trip planning Smile):

  • We pinpoint an area we want to visit. If it’s an attraction or landmark, I find the closest decent-sized city, say Santa Cruz. We wanted to be close enough to San Jose so that Chad could drive there for some meetings, but prefer to stay in more natural/rural settings. (We’d love to stay inside national parks or on BLM land, which is often free or something like $10/night, but we must have internet for Chad’s work, so it’s usually not an option.) santa cruz map
  • I use to figure out where it is, what main roads lead to it, get the basic lay of the land, or find out what towns are nearby in case we need to branch out our search. In this case, I couldn’t find anything we liked in Santa Cruz, so we ended up at a campground in nearby Felton.
  • The next stop is usually, which has hundreds (thousands?) of RV parks listed, along with visitor ratings. rvparkreviewsantacruzFor us, all I usually look at are the most recent reviews, the rate, and whether they have big-rig access, then I do a quick glance at the hook-ups (most campgrounds that take big-rigs have some sort of hookups, and we can really do fine without any for a few nights if we need to, but we do prefer at least electric and water).


  • In new tabs, I open links to websites for all the parks that sound decent (reviews higher than 7 or so, on average).
  • I then visit each website, checking on rates, amenities, and photos (which are a huge plus, but not all RV park website have them). I also try to get a general feel for the place from their website, but I’ve found the two don’t necessarily reflect one another.


  • Once I find one I like, I go back to Google Maps and find the campground there. I make sure there isn’t anything weird around it, like a water treatment facility, big highways, stadiums, etc. scgoogle
  • If I’m debating between two or more campgrounds that are similar in price, amenities and general feel, I start searching for what is around each, using Google Maps. It’s nice to be really close to some sort of grocery store, preferably Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or Sprouts. A Costco and Chipotle nearby get a place bonus points!
  • If I can’t find anything on rvparkreviews, I head to and search there. They often have many of the same sites listed, but not all, and some new ones. They tend to list campgrounds by area, rather than specific city, which can be helpful when there are suburbs with different names, for example, that I might not be familiar with.
  • I also check the state’s website for state parks and recreation areas. Arizona had AMAZING state parks. California, not so much, at least none that we’ve been able to stay in—most are either completely full months in advance, or we are too big, or we can’t get internet at them, or they don’t have the hookups we need. (Or they might be first-come, first-serve, but I generally prefer to make reservations, if we can.)
  • I sometimes look at for federal public land, and, a recreation reservation provider.
  • Occasionally we’ll get a recommendation from someone, but even then, I check the reviews and the website. Everyone has different needs and it’s important to find a good fit.
  • So that’s the basic process, but to actually make a reservation, there are a couple more steps:
    • CHECK INTERNET!! This is a big one, since Chad’s job depends on a good internet connection. Since we have Verizon, this means a check on their coverage map.


    • Check Google Maps for the route to get there. Some roads, Rocky just can’t do. In the case of the Santa Cruz campground above, it was on a road going south through the forest that Rocky wasn’t allowed on (nor would it have wanted to, I’m sure), so we had to come in on another highway and come down from the north.
    • Check availability, either by calling, or reserve online (most campgrounds do reservations online).
    • If any of these 3 aren’t favorable for us, it’s back to the drawing board!!

It does take a bit of time, but it works for us! Next time, I’ll answer what is probably the most frequently asked question, “How/what do you cook in there?!”

Thanks for reading!


Goat Dairy Tour

This afternoon we had the treat of visiting an artisan goat cheese farm near Petaluma, CA. Knowing we wanted to visit a dairy farm, I searched online until I found McClelland Dairy, which gives what sounds like very educational tours of their organic cow dairy farm. Unfortunately, we were just a bit early in the season, and they aren’t offering tours yet, but they were kind enough to respond with suggestions for alternatives. One of those was Two Rock Valley Goat Cheese, home of 160 adorable goats and a couple who must be the kindest goat farmers out there, Bonnie and Don.



We were surprised to learn when we arrived that they are also one of 15 local farms that provide organic cow’s milk to Organic Valley, a brand we’ve purchased many products from. We spent 2 1/2 hours on a private tour, visiting the goats, learning about the cheese-making process, and tasting four different kinds of goat cheese!


Oh my goodness these girls were so sweet.




If there had been room in my purse while Chad was looking the other way, this little one would have been Colorado-bound! Just kidding, of course. Mostly.


We learned how much personality these goats have. The kids (MY kids, children, that is) and I recalled reading Heidi together last fall, in which the goats definitely have distinct personalities, and we found this to be true. One doe, Boots, likes to be tour guide, so she was let out of her pen when we came by, and she joined us for the rest of the tour.



Bonnie takes loving care of the goats , and Don makes the cheese, following methods his Swiss ancestors used years ago. We weren’t able to see inside the cheese-making room, but did see where the cheese is stored in one of two refrigerators.


I have to admit I wasn’t a big fan of goat cheese previously, but we got to try four different kinds of cheese made here, and they were ALL very delicious! They were much more mild than I expected, and although I’m no cheese expert, I don’t think I would have known they weren’t made from cow’s milk. In fact, I thought they were some of the tastiest cheeses I’ve had.  I was hoping to try fresh goat milk, but it isn’t legal to sell raw in California.


While we were learning about cheese with Don, Bonnie found out that one of the does had birthed two kids during the night, so we just had to go meet them!





We got to peek in at the cows being milked (800 cows, takes 6 hours to milk, twice a day = lots of work!)




It is so beautifully green around here. Lots of orange California poppies growing in and around the gray rocks jutting out of the green hills with the black and white Holsteins peacefully munching nearby is very charming. We so enjoyed our time on the farm and very much appreciated all the time our sweet hosts spent with us.


Muir Woods & Muir Beach


This entrance to the boardwalk makes it look like no one else was here today. The opposite was true—it was packed! Reality is that I sat in front of the entrance long enough, helping the kids with their Junior Ranger programs, that I jumped up when I saw a chance to get a photo without anyone in it. This was the second time we *tried* to visit. The first was on a Saturday a couple weeks ago, while we were staying at the Marin RV Park in Greenbrae. The kids and I drove down, thinking we’d spend the day here. Uh, no. NO parking in the main parking lot, NO parking in the overflow lot, and NO parking for MILES down the road. I finally gave up after driving around a few times and we headed for Marin Headlands, but ended up back at Rocky after the car-sickness bug bit Sweet Pea in a major way. (The road to and from Muir Woods is VERY windy, steep, and narrow… bad combination for her.) Anyway, this is one popular place! The ranger today told me that in the summer, weekdays are like that Saturday was for us, and that weekends are impossible to visit here without riding the shuttle bus. I’ve wanted to visit here from the first moment I heard about it, and was so thankful it worked out today!


The main boardwalk path takes visitors through a peaceful, lush, green valley filled with Coastal Redwoods (the TALL old giants, as opposed to their cousins, the Giant Sequoias, which are shorter and thicker and grow further inland), wildflowers, ferns, chirping birds, babbling brooks….aaahh! It’s a naturalist’s dream!






We first met these ancient giants while we were staying in Santa Cruz (at Henry Cowell State Park) but we were happy to visit their relatives and learn even more about the fascinating way they were designed. One thing I very quickly learned is that it is impossible (at least with my skills and camera) to take a picture of an entire tree in one shot! The tallest tree at Muir Woods is 248 feet. Growing in one of the last remaining Old Growth Forests in the country, the trees here average 600-800 years old, with the oldest being 1200 years old! I enjoyed seeing the Bicentennial Tree—named so in 1976 because it was dated to be 200 years old at that time (and it was one of the smaller ones!).

We learned that the trees are red because of tannic acid in their bark, which also makes them pest- and fire-resistant. They have small pinecones, about the size of a grape, and reproduce either from seeds in these cones, or from their root system. New trees can sprout from the parent tree’s root, or from a dormant bud in a “burl”—a gnarled structure at the base of the trunk of the parent tree. We saw several “family circles” where a “mother” tree had lived in the center and sent out genetically identical shoots before she died, so the offspring grow in a circle around where the mother tree had been living.








One very memorable fact we learned about the trees is that although their roots spread out wide, they don’t go very deep, so to increase their stability, they intertwine their roots with those of the other family trees—keeps them from falling over! (A life lesson from the tree?)




Walking through this forest can make one feel pretty small! Until you look down and realize there are a FEW things smaller than you….








I can see why so many people come here—it’s hard to imagine when you are here in this very peaceful, quiet, still forest, that you are within an hour’s drive of one of the largest cities in the country, in the most populous state. The Kent family purchased 611 acres of this land in 1905 for $45,000. In 1906, the big earthquake and fire in San Francisco happened, in which 3000 people died and 80% of the city was destroyed. In 1908, a utilities company involved with rebuilding San Francisco decided they wanted to take the land by eminent domain, build a dam and log the trees. The owners of the land felt it was special and it needed to be preserved, so they gave it to the federal government on the condition it be made into a national monument, which it was. They also wanted it to be named after their friend, naturalist John Muir, and that’s how this gem came to be the public land that it is today.


Another badge! This one was special—it was made from recycled redwood!


Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.—John Muir

After we finished at Muir Woods, we drove to nearby Muir Beach. This is a small beach where the Redwood Creek which runs through Muir Woods, joins the ocean—an estuary. Coho salmon and Steelhead Trout spawn in this creek, but if you see one, don’t bother it—it’s a $25,000 fine if you do! We climbed to the top of one of the nearby hills, where we could see miles out over the ocean and watched ships coming into the Golden Gate strait. A very steep and muddy climb, but oh, so worth it!
















The city of San Francisco in the background, across the Golden Gate Bridge (would be to the far left in the picture…can’t quite see it) and on the very last rock jutting out into the coast, Point Bonita Lighthouse we visited earlier, at Marin Headlands.






The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent—Psalm 104:2


This will probably be our last look at the California coast on this trip—so thankful for one more glance.



A couple pictures from the drive home…


Note to self for future trips: DO NOT TAKE ROCKY ON HWY 1 NORTH OF SAN FRANCISCO!! (Thankfully someone told us this beforehand and we took other routes, but we’ve driven on it a few times in the car, and it’s been tough on Sweet Pea! THE curviest road I’ve been on!) Oh, and do you notice what the GPS thinks the speed limit is on this road?!? WHAT?? I don’t think so. 20mph feels like the car is going to go careening off the cliff into the rock-studded valley…anyway…(I could write an entire blog post about the times the GPS has led us astray.…)

I’ve always liked rows of mailboxes, and found a surprisingly long one! This was only half of it. Hmmm…I wonder why the mailman doesn’t like to drive to each house?! (Hint…this was taken after we came down Scary Curvy road.)


This last one is along Highway 101 (or THE 101, as they say here) north of San Francisco. The rolling green hills with sweet dairy cows grazing on them are lovely enough on their own, but this rainbow just puts them over the top in my book!



Where Have We Been??!

Where are the McAllisters??!! We are still out roaming around and doing fine, just taking an unplanned break from the blogosphere…

Since leaving Colorado again in November (I should probably say “fleeing,” as we were urgently in search of warmer temperatures), we got to know New Mexico a bit, then headed to Arizona, where we’ve been immersed in the desert ever since! It’s hard to remember it’s not sunny and warm everywhere. We completely GET the snowbirding lifestyle, as we’re in the midst of it in this part of the country at this time of year. We also get why the year-round residents might not like all the snowbirds invading their territory, but we’re not above joining their ranks one day.

It’s been an interesting winter—working through some of the difficulties of four of us living in close proximity out of our normal comfort zone, missing family and home at the holidays, trying to homeschool amidst changing surroundings, and making dietary and lifestyle changes and but remembering God is good all the time! He’s teaching us and guiding us and we’re thanking Him for this opportunity He’s given us.

So, I have so much to catch you up on! Thanks to those of you who have checked in, inspired me to start writing again (you know who you are), kept up with Sweet Pea’s newsletters, and generally inquired as to our well-being!

Rather than make one loooooong post to catch you up, I’ve written a series of smaller ones that I’ll be posting daily. I’ll post links to them here, too, until I get caught up!

Here we go!

New Mexico—1st Stop, Santa Fe

New Mexico–Albuquerque

New Mexico–Alamogordo


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.



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).


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.



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.


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!



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


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.


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.


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….)


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?)


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!


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!


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.



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.





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!



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!



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!


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!


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!


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.


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:



Very fun model train village—outside!


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.


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


Giant snapping turtle.


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….


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




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


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!


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


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).


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!


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!


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


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


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!


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!




See you at White Sands!


New Mexico— 1st Stop, Santa Fe


“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.


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!)



One of our first stops was the famous Loretto Chapel.


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.


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.


(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??!!)


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.


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




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.


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


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


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


sitting in the fire-pit to think,


or playing hide-and-seek.


I think this was the mail slot.



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.


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



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


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


The “roof” of Alcove House.


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….


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


(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!


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



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


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


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.


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




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




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…)



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


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


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


…pendulums and maker-tables…


…snakes being fed and kaleidoscopes to sit in…


…light tables and rockets to build…


…and of course—THEATRE!!!!




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!


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