Saturday, June 24, 2017

Brookses in the West (the one where we blew tires and the AC broke and the wheels in general came off)

And also the last post...

Day 20

Well. This day was one for the books.

We left Zion at Preston's favorite time: early. 

We went through the south/west entrance because you can't get a ranger escort through the narrow tunnel until 8 am which does not fall into the "early" time slot.

But it was fine, only added a few miles to our drive and meant we could arrive at Mesa Verde in Colorado much earlier. Again with the early.

There aren't interstates in that part of Utah or really in a lot of places we have been over the past week, and a few of the roads we travelled weren't the best. 
So we pulled into Kanab, Utah waiting to turn right at a light when the guy next to us did the universal motion for "roll your window down" (Will our kids even get what that means? I barely get it being as young as I am and all.) and goes, "Did you know you got a blow out on your trailer?"

Well, nope. 


We pulled into a car wash to assess the damage.

This isn't good.

There was a McDonald's a block away, so the girls and I walked there and got a biscuit and waited on the call that we were ready to get back on the road.

When Preston did call, it was to say he noticed a TIRE SHOP right across the street and was getting a new tire put on.

This could have happened on that horrible deserted New Mexico road from back around day 12, but it happened in a cute little town, across from a cute little tire shop, with a cute little mechanic who changed the tire in five minutes. (He might have been big and burly. I don't know. Never saw him.) Thank-you, Lord.

We got back on the road, heading for four corners where people line up to do this:

We are in Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona AT THE SAME TIME!

And remarkably it is about 111 degrees in all those states! 

So that little stop didn't last long, although there were Native American vendors set up all around since four corners is part of the Navajo nation, and we probably could have spent the day there. ("You shouldn't have spent all your souvenir money back at Day 0.5. Let this be a lesson to you! Now quit whining and get back in the car, Martha!")

We only had about fifty miles to go to get to our campground in Cortez, Colorado, easy peasy.

A truck whooshes past us.

There's also a huge gust of wind at the same moment.

I'm just gonna pull over here and check on the rubber I see flying off the camper...

Another blow out.

Now I'm not blaming the completely reckless semi-driver or the inconsiderately timed gust of wind, but actually I am. 

Preston says that's ridiculous. 

Hot bumpy roads (I saw a blurb last night about how plastic mailboxes are actually melting in the west where they are experiencing a week long almost unprecedented heat wave which we were in the middle of) and tires that had seen better days are apparently more at fault. 

And this time there was no cute little tire shop. Just a big burly man doing his thing on the side of a busy Colorado highway on roads that probably reach upwards of 120 degrees. 

I love him.

We went straight to Wal-Mart and bought three new tires, thus completing the set started back in Kanab.

We were ever so glad to get to the campground, which was a KOA, which means it's going to be nice, and have laundry, and a pool and the nice guy on the golf cart will drive around passing out glow bracelets at dusk and stop and chat about the mountain you can see that looks like a Native American who has passed away and will rise again someday, according to legend. 

Can you see it? 

So we have this great place with great hosts and the worst has passed.

Except I woke up in the middle of the night pouring sweat. And the AC was squealing. I punched Preston awake.

Everything has been so great, but in the last 24 hours THE WHEELS ARE REALLY COMING OFF HERE, MAN! (Literally) 

So at daylight he climbs onto the top of the camper and finds the AC frozen. 
We shut it down and it thawed out in about half a second. Crisis averted. For now...

Day 21

We were a few miles from the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park (which we got in for free, due to our fourth grader-it pays to have kids after all) but once you go through the entrance you are still 25 winding, vertical, car sick, I'm dying, miles from the actual cliff dwellings. 

 had to put my head between my knees so I wouldn't puke. The views are amazing but I'm not sure they are worth the drive. 

We had booked two tours, one to Cliff Palace, which was basically a short hike down some stone steps, see the dwelling, then climb some ten foot ladders out. Our ranger was great, so knowledgeable and personable, the dwellings and the technology are really unbelievable, the life of the ancestral Puebloans was hard in the 1200s and yet it is evident they thrived. I thoroughly recommend this tour for anyone. Another amazing thing is a rancher stumbled upon these dwellings one cold winter day almost two hundred years ago. Can you imagine? I probably would have freaked out.

We had also booked a tour of Balcony House.

Before we began the tour our ranger dutifully explained all that would be causing our imminent deaths. 

The girls' eyes were huge and kept looking to me for reassurance. I kept looking to Preston who kept refusing to meet the eyes of his family who wanted to quit.

Several people did abandon ship when they saw the 32 foot ladder. 

But not the Brookses.

The girls climbed it like champs, hustling to the top and having a chat with the ranger, who happened to be a Franklin High School Class of '93 alum, before their mother made it up. He moves back to Leiper's Fork in the off-season where he and his wife are building a house on her family's land. We didn't have a lot to talk about or anything.

Sidebar- the Rangers we have encountered along the way have all been awesome. They are passionate and knowledgeable and now our oldest wants to be one, despite the fact that we told her she'd have to travel. She would be great at it and has practiced giving us tours in the camper at night. I'm stunned at how well she has listened and can recall. Really all three of them. This is the age to do stuff like this. BOOK A TRIP if you are in these golden parenting years. Do it now.

After we climbed the ladder and listened about the kivas and saw an original 800+ year old balcony (TOTALLY ORIGINAL! I'm glad it didn't fall on their heads.) we went through an 18 inch tunnel (this is the part I was worried about seeing as my hips weren't 18 inches on March 11, 1979) and then onto a cliff face.

A cliff face.

Did you catch that? 

I really feel like this part was glossed over because we were on the edge of a Cliff. Face. 

There was a piddly little chain and we were supposed to be enthralled by using the same foot and handholds the ancestral Puebloans would have used to climb to the top of the mesas every day to farm and history and whatever but I was melting down a little. A lot. 

But we kept cheerleading, telling our small children they could do it, we were right here, no worries, you are almost there (The first time I've ever lied to them.)

Then there was one more ladder, which if it had come unbolted or if we had let go would have sent us to the bottom of Soda Canyon. 

These pictures really can't even begin to explain it.

I just know when we all got off that top ladder I was shaking and we were high-fiving each other and Preston said to me, "I would have NEVER done that when I was seven. Would you?" 

And I was like, "If I'd known the reality of what those last two minutes entailed I wouldn't have done it today!" 

But it was one of those experiences that will stick with them, and us, that built up a little courage doing something we didn't actually have to do so sometime when courage is required, they have known real fear in a dangerous situation and have pressed through. 

It was the best note to end this trip on. 

Days 22-24

We are still driving, on our third and last day of nothing but driving and reaching a campground and swimming for a few hours, sleeping and then driving some more. 

And over these last days of driving we have accidentally ripped the top of the camper by parking under a tree and the check engine light has come on and the AC froze again and we are praying for the next 500 miles and can't wait to pull into Redneck Headquarters.

And start planning for next year.

Grace and until next time,

P.S. After doing this for 24 days I feel qualified to offer some suggestions, some repeating what has already been said in a previous post, but I feel strongly about this:

1. Travel to places that will have life impacts on your kids. 

2. Research where you are going, watch documentaries, check out library books. Otherwise they have no frame of reference when you get there. 

3. Take screens and let them watch and play a lot, but also take audio books and stories. Focus of the Family (regardless of what you think of the organization) produces stellar radio theater. We have been listening to "The Chronicles of Narnia," and it's so well done. Top-notch. We have also listened to "Anne of Green Gables" and have "The Secret Garden" in the queue. You will forget you aren't watching a movie but merely listening. And you will also delight at the things you would have missed seeing had your face been buried in a screen. Writing a blog post.

4. Snacks are key to everyone's happiness. 

5. Patience is key to everyone's happiness.

6. Chat up anyone and everyone. Every single person has a story and every conversation is a chance to show Jesus. We met some awesome people. (In particular some new friends we exchanged numbers with who are originally from the Netherlands, came here in the '70s, opened a restaurant, lost it all in the '00s, bought a travel trailer and a food truck, named it "Schnitzel's and Giggles" and travel the country doing fairs and Oktoberfests. They will be coming to Nashville in October and are looking to hire some help for 48 hours. Let me know if you are interested.)

7. Teach them to chat up other kids. The girls had a ball with kids from Connecticut, Michigan, Colorado, West Virginia, California and Utah. They were convinced the high dive wasn't scary by a six year old from Mexico in a tutu. They won't forget these experiences or the names of the kids. Especially the seven year old named Lillian, too! Isn't that weird, Mommy? And they showed Jesus, too, to some kids who live outside the buckle of the Bible Belt, and who won't forget them either. 

8. Make your kids write down what you did that day and save brochures. Ours just did simple bullet points on index cards this time. They have already started pulling out memorabilia from the early days and laughing at memories.

9. Roll with it. Whatever it is. We really only had three tense moments in 24 days of 24 hour togetherness. We have more than that in a week at home. And finally...

10. Go. Book it. Make it happen. You will not regret it. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Brookses in the West: the one where we locked the keys in the car (days 17-19)

Day 17

Cousin Eddie and family got up and left Phoenix very early on day 17 to avoid driving over the mountains in the 110 degree heat, even though it's a dry heat. 

Let me tell you, 110 is 110, dry, wet, or any other way. Never again will I say, "but it's a dry heat." That is the dumbest thing anyone can say. And I have said it lots. But no more.

The car did great over the mountains even though we have it pretty maxed out as far as towing capacity. We shut off the AC when climbing, which oh my word HOT, and the barge did her thing and got us over without exploding. Which is good because, no, I cannot drive a 3500 diesel in the carpool line, Preston, this suburban is my limit. 

We arrived at the Grand Canyon by noon and immediately saw an enormous elk drinking water from the dripping hose of an RV close by. Elk (elks? elken?) are HUGE. Picture the deer you see in your backyard and then multiply by a billion. The only bigger deer are moose (mooses? meese?) and I can only imagine they must be roughly the size of a t-Rex. 

Directly after we got to the campsite and unhooked the trailer, we discovered the barge was locked. And the keys were in the ignition. Which is supposed to be impossible. And caused the second super tense trip moment (the first being caused by a map back around day three). The guy on a golf cart patrolling the campground much like a mall cop claimed he could get in there if we had a wire hanger, which Preston actually came to me asking for. Um, WHERE WOULD I HANG THINGS? AND WHAT WOULD I HANG? MY JEANS SHORTS? DIDN'T NOBODY BRING NO FORMAL WEAR ON THE RV VACATION, MAN! 

I may have overreacted. 

But I can justify it.

We have had a bicycle tour along the rim of the canyon booked for a year and keys locked in car=we miss bike trip.

So yelling obviously could help this situation.

Preston graciously thanked the golf cart cop and sent him on his way and then calmly asked for my AAA card and had AAA there within thirty minutes and they got right into the car.

I'm glad I yelled because we only had All The Time In The World to spare before our bike tour. 

But we moved past that crazy and made it to the visitor's center in time to watch the park film and buy snacks and water and get all set up on our bikes. 
The tour guides were two guys, Jake and Sam, who work at the Grand Canyon during the summer, biking two groups a day along the rim and then hiking and rafting on their days off.

I kind of want to be Jake and Sam.

They were the best, sweet to the girls, really funny, extremely knowledgeable about everything- legends, fauna, distances, records set. A plethora of Grand Canyon trivia. 

They instructed us to hide our eyes until we got to Hopi point, which was the starting point of the trip and generally considered the best vista, with views of over 100 miles.

I cried.

I was overwhelmed. If you've been, you know. If you haven't, book your trip today. And don't look until you get to Hopi point.

That is where the rocks cry out, shouting the name of Creator God, declaring His presence with their very existence.

My words and pictures are insufficient. 

We ended the evening at the campground, grilling out and enjoying the beautiful weather. Some kids came by on bikes and asked the girls to play hide and seek. Off they scootered.

(These moments are why hotels are forever ruined for me. (That and disgusting sheets and comforters and shower curtains.) Kids don't stop by your hotel room and ask you to come play. You don't loan out your tools to the people next to you and find out they are from Tuscaloosa and then discuss the obvious superiority of the SEC with the person on the other side of the connecting hotel door you keep firmly deadbolted. When you stay at the Hampton Inn you don't walk outside to check the wheel chocks one more time before sleeping and instead rush back in to rustle everyone else up because never before have you seen so many stars under such a black sky. Camping has my heart.)

That sky. 

It was amazing. I got teary again. We always feel like we can see so many stars from the darkness of our porch swing, but no. Nothing like this. We couldn't have even begun to count them. And our rising fourth grader gave us a tutorial on what we were seeing and no, our eyes weren't playing tricks but we were truly clearly seeing the twinkling of the stars. Stunning. 

Day 18

I was bummed to leave Grand Canyon and head towards Zion National Park. Surely nothing else we would see could compare.


Zion was even better. 

We came in the east entrance of the park which means we went through the famous tunnel where if you are a big rig (hello, barge) the rangers have to stop traffic for you because the mile long tunnel through the mountain is too narrow to safely pass other cars, and then you drive down into the canyon through a series of narrow switchbacks. It was so breathtaking I forgot to be nervous about the cruise ship we were in and didn't remember to nag Preston at all, (except for that one time I said, "Please stay on the road" and he goes, "I'm so glad I have you. I wouldn't have even thought of that if you hadn't said that." and then I determined to never speak to him again. For at least two minutes. 
As we drove down into the canyon we were listening to the "Sing" soundtrack and "Hallelujah" came on and everyone was quiet and it felt a little like church. One of those moments seared into my brain. Again, our pictures are terrible. You've got to come see this place. 

A small section of the Virgin River runs through the campground, so after we got set up we decided to let the AC cool the camper down and go investigate. It was awesome. People were tubing down it, swimming in the deep parts, enjoying the coolness of the water. We also saw lots of deer, a raccoon family, a snake and about a thousand squirrels seeking refuge from the heat.

Day 19

We slept until 8 am anticipating a long day of hiking and wanting everyone to be rested. But because so many people visit the park and there is very little parking the only way to get around is by the shuttles that run constantly. We were at the campground which is at one end of the shuttle system where all the rest of the world was also trying to get on a shuttle heading north into the park. So because we slept in we ended up spending an hour in line alternately playing I Spy and chatting with the family in front of us. They were both teachers and used the fact that we had driven all the way from Tennessee to lecture their children about complaining about their short ride from San Diego. Kindred spirits, we were. 

(Also, lots of the people we have met are teachers. 'Tis the season for teachers to travel, and camping is the only way to afford it. All the love for all the camping teachers. Living the dream. For real.)

We hopped off the shuttle at the first hike we chose, a short half mile stroll during which we saw a deer standing on his hind legs eating leaves and could have reaches out to pet him. Our hike ended at the park lodge where we grabbed lunch and bought some walking sticks after talking to several people about hiking the Narrows. More on that in a bit.

Our second hike was the the Lower Emerald Pools, and then we went on up to the middle. People at the middle told us not to bother going to the upper with the girls, so we just hung there for while and then made our way back down.

I had noticed a sign about half way down that said "The Grotto, 0.8 miles." I figured if we went that way we'd be one shuttle stop closer to our next hike. 
So we turned and hiked about a half mile, stopping for water and shade as needed, commenting on the drop offs (Stay to the left, girls. The LEFT! AWAY from the edge of the cliff!) admiring the extraordinary views, when we happened upon another sign: "The Grotto, 0.8 miles."

So basically we walked 0.0 miles. In fifteen minutes.

I started to be a little concerned about our water situation envisioning us getting lost in the hills, running out of slim-jims and trying to decide whom to eat first. My thighs do not bode well for me if I am ever in that situation.

But we could see our destination far below us, so we pressed on and wound our way down over another mile or so, having water to spare when we got to the filling spot.

We caught the next shuttle and rode it all the way to the end of the line and the real hike of the day: The Narrows.

Now I know I tend to exaggerate and use lots of hyperbole, but this really was the highlight. I've been looking forward to it and told the girls they better not complain because "This is Mommy's swimming with dolphins!" 

We walked a mile down a paved path that dead-ends at the Virgin River. The hike continues in the river, between the canyon walls, in the narrow part for up to ten miles. Or you can just hike as far as you want and turn back the way you came. 

We had done quite a bit of research on this as there are many conflicting opinions about The Narrows out there.

1. Don't take children. (Definitely take children. Take all the children. It is a natural playground.)

2. Wear closed-toe shoes. (We all wore our Chacos, which I made Preston get specifically for this hike. I can understand the preference for closed toe shoes, but our Chacos worked great.)

3. Rent neoprene socks and waterproof hiking boots. (No. If you don't want to wear sandals just wear some sneakers.)

4. Wear a jacket (No. When it is 108 degrees in Regular World it will still be 80 degrees in The Narrows.)

5. Take food and water (Yes. The more slim jims and peanut butter crackers the better. )

6. Take a hiking stick. (Yes. A thousand times. Two would be better. We would never have made it as far as we did without the sticks. We bought the cheap ones which I'm 99% sure were sawed off broom handles with "Zion Nat'l Park" put on the side by a twelve year old with a wood burning kit, but they worked great.)

I've been slightly nervous about The Narrows hike just because it would be incredibly easy to sprain or break an ankle, and Preston tends to do that a lot despite his plans not to. (like he's planned it the times it's actually happened) I just kept wondering how we would get home if something happened to him? 

His plan: fly the girls and I home. He stays with the camper in Utah, drinking beer and looking at the mountains. Indefinitely. 

I told him my plan: Fly my dad out to drive us home. He rides in the very back watching Barbie movies over and over and we toss a few cheetos and a water his way every now and again. 

He was extra careful. 

We ended the day back in the smaller part of the river that cuts through the campground. Re. Fresh. Ing.

Day 20 

We turned the car east for the first time in twenty days this morning, heading towards Mesa Verde National Park. I'm sad and excited. This has been an amazing trip, truly the trip of a lifetime, but Dorothy said it best. I wish I had some ruby slippers to click together, but I'll settle for 1700 miles in the barge with my four people and my memories. 


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Brookses in the West 

Days 13-16

Starting out with a pro-tip:

Make sure you travel big the year you have a kid in fourth grade. Families with a fourth grader get into national parks FOR FREE! 

Day 13

We spent the majority of day 13 driving from Albuquerque to Petrified Forest National Park and then on to Flagstaff.

The park had itineraries mapped out for if you have an hour to spend there, a half day, or a full day, which was so helpful. We were able to do almost everything. The park is 28 miles long and a road runs the length of it. Off that road are paths into the Painted Desert and short, paved hikes through beautiful crystallized fallen trees and rocks covered in petroglyphs. It was one of my favorite days so far. The fact that the Lord can turn wood into crystals...there's a sermon there somewhere. 

Also, I just couldn't stop taking pictures so scroll fast if you want. 

We camped in Flagstaff that night, and while the campsite was a small, back-in nightmare (Preston! There's a light pole! You are only a millimeter away from the garbage can! That tree is about to be in the front seat with us! I should take the girls to the playground and come back in thirty minutes? I don't see how that is helpful, but ok.) we were camping at the base of a beautiful mountain, 
the air was crisp, it was probably the best evening so far.

She was very proud of her filthy feet. I can tell you standards on nutrition and cleanliness drop dramatically while camping. 

Day 14

We got up and headed into Sedona, taking a long-way around so we didn't have to drive the camper/barge through Oak Creek Canyon and the hairpin turns and precipices of death it offers. (Even Preston has his limits.)

Sedona is breathtaking. That is really the best word for the scenery. The rocks and cliffs that surround it are indescribable. The town itself feels rather Gatlinburg-ish, but it is a tourist destination so that is the draw. We spent about four hours there and loved it.

We drove down to Phoenix where Preston has two aunts and an uncle whom we see about once a year when they come to Tennessee, but we had never visited. We were excited to spend a few days with them and they seemed excited to have our crazy.

Aunt Donna had to get a special permit so we could park our classy camper in the street of her classy Phoenix neighborhood for two days. Her neighbors were impressed by her classy RV-driving relatives from Tennessee. Cousin Eddie has arrived, People of Phoenix! 

Seriously, these three people made us so welcome, and actually wanted us to take turns sleeping at their houses, and fed us, and treated us, and loved us so well. It was overwhelming and humbling to be shown such grace and love and hosted so well. They told us they were blessed by us, which made me cry because most days I feel like we are just a loud bunch of cartwheeling nutcases, and the fact that they wanted us and loved us overwhelmed me. We were so, so blessed to be with them. And they had full sized showers with unlimited hot water and I really could have spent two days straight in the shower. 
Aunt Pat and Uncle Larry have a little dog, and that may be barking I hear coming from our suitcases. They girls were IN LOVE.

Day 15

The first day we went to the MIM in Scottsdale, which I highly recommend whether you are interested in music or not. It was fascinating. Music is a part of every culture, across the world, and always has been. It is a wonderful museum which we all enjoyed very much. It is divided by country and showcases instruments from that region and shows videos of indigenous people and the music they play. It was another one of "eye-opening our way isn't the only way" places. We really enjoyed the Oceania hula dancers and the recycled orchestra from the landfills of Paraguay. There were also special exhibits from American performers. The girls especially enjoyed the room where they got to bang an enormous gong and show off their drum skills and where Mommy got a migraine. The MIM is definitely a two thumbs up, five star stop from all of us. (Unlike the Alamo, which makes everyone groan. Well, except Preston who thinks we should appreciate our history. Whatevs, Man.)

The next stop was a Butterfly garden where Preston made a close personal friend. Lillian desperately wanted to get him to transfer her arm, but he wouldn't leave Preston's rear. 

The butterfly garden also offered a short video about the monarch butterfly which was fascinating. The girls love nature shows and this was a highlight. 

Day 16

The next day we went on a cruise on Canyon Lake where we were able to catch glimpses of big-horn sheep and even a bald eagle (which I was never able to spot, but pretended I did so the lady next to me would quit trying to show me because it was getting awkward - like when you have to ask someone to repeat themselves four times and then by the fifth you just give a little laugh and go "sure" and you probably just agreed to move to some remote island and sacrifice yourself to their volcano). The scenery was nothing short of spectacular and I might be slightly obsessed with the prickly beauty of the desert. 

We ate lunch at Rubio's. Uncle Larry has been talking about this little restaurant since last summer when we said we were coming. It makes me cry a little that we don't have a Rubio's in stupid Franklin. They have the best fish taco I've ever eaten and the best corn tortilla in the history of corn tortillas and all other Mexican food is henceforth ruined for me. Stupid Franklin with its stupid no Rubio's. (Don't say stupid, girls.)

We had a care package waiting on us from some of our very favorite people who happen to be the family of Eva's best friend since she was two. They blessed us immeasurably with fresh magazines and a game for all the girls. Hands and feet of Jesus from Franklin to Phoenix. The Lord is so kind to us. Tears even now. 

Last night Preston and the girls went swimming while I took the car to Walmart for an oil change and one last round of groceries. 

We arrive home one week from today, and everyone is wearing a little. Because we wanted to come all the way to Phoenix we knew this trip would probably be the longest we would do, and I definitely think 2-3 weeks is more manageable than 3-4, but we are still really enjoying it. Just with a little more sleep in our eyes. 

We will see things for four more days (Grand Canyon, Zion, Mesa Verde) and then we will drive three days straight to get home. We were originally supposed to go through Kansas City, but we decided to nix that day since part of the reason we were going there was for a Lego Discovery land, and everyone has already spent all their souvenir money, so if we go there we will just have to deal with begging and weeping and gnashing of teeth, so home we go. 
Right now we are on our way to the Grand Canyon to ride bikes along the rim. This is one of the things I booked a full year ago, and we are so excited for this day! Pray we don't fall in! 

Grace for Cousin Eddie,