Tuesday, August 7, 2012

July [a whirlwind of travel, fun and adventure]

August is already here. It's hard to believe that school will be starting soon and that our summer adventures will be coming to a close very, very soon (read two days ago). We took full advantage of July, visiting three National Park sites and six different states. We visited with friends in Nebraska and Wyoming. Went to a rodeo (thanks again Julie and Rob!). Did a little shopping and enjoyed some cool (very cold at times) mountain air.

Here's a peek into our July:

El Morro National Monument, 
Ramah, NM

El Morro is located about an hour south of our new home. We had talked about making a trip out there and then it spontaneously happened one morning after a run. We had almost a full tank of gas, no other plans for the day and a dirt road that seamed to be heading in the right direction ahead of us. We drove past the "WARNING: PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. ROAD NOT MAINTAINED BEYOND THIS POINT" sign and made it to Ramah without incident. Granted, we'll take the paved road in the future, but sometimes the best adventures are unplanned.

This historic landmark was a place of relief for travelers making their way west. From the early Americans to Spanish conquistadors El Morro was the place to stop for a break from the desert sun and a drink of cool water. Passersby marked their presence by carving their names and stories into the smooth stone walls. We happened to talk to a park ranger who actually had ancestors who had carved their names into the rock. We crossed paths on the trail and he happily pointed the names out to us! Just another reason to love our National Park Rangers!

Petrified Forest National Park, 
Apache, AZ

Petrified Forest is another pretty awesome location located an hour away from our lovely new home in Gallup. This time we had to travel west into our lovely neighboring state of Arizona. This adventure was planned with an annual National Parks pass in hand and a longing to be reunited with our tent after too many years without it.

The petrified forest is not a forest (just wanted to point that out - a ranger told us of a disappointed visitor that demanded his money back after a drive through the park because he did not see a forest anywhere nearby). In some ways it is much cooler than a forest. Billions of years ago the earth looked much different. What is now desert in the southwest was once a tropical forest. Then things changed. The earth's plates shifted, mountains formed, and those tropical forests were quickly covered up. After an unknown period of time in the right conditions (pressure, minerals... think about the formation of diamonds) the lovely trees of said forests became stone (or petrified). The National Park protects the remaining bits of petrified wood to the best of its ability. Unfortunately visitors still carry about one ton of this precious material out of the park each year. Instead of leaving it behind for future generations to enjoy they want free souvenirs or to make a profit by tumbling the stone and selling the beautiful end product. 

One of added benefits to visiting Petrified Forest (aside from seeing science at work, taking in the painted desert, and listening to fun ranger talks) was that we were able to camp for free in the back country! The requirements are simple - register and then hike at least a mile away from your designated parking location to a place where you cannot be viewed from the road. No problem! We had a lovely afternoon exploring the parts of the park that most visitors do not see and had a peaceful sunset tucked in a little canyon.

Rocky Mountain National Park, 
Estes Park, CO

Rocky Mountain National Park is a national treasure indeed. It is a place that we have visited twice, yet have not yet had ample time to explore. There are an abundance of hiking trails that are calling our names, yet we have hiked few. In a lot of places that would drive us crazy. However, even from a car this National Park can steal your heart. The landscape is incredible. The animals are amazing. And, while we didn't talk to any of them this time around the park rangers are full of interesting information that makes you excited about learning new things.

This trip we were able to drive along Old Fall River Road with Chris' parents. Along the way we spotted several marmots out sunning themselves (and seemingly posing for photos), some young fawns, gorgeous wild flowers, and determined bicyclists. Once at the top we checked out the views and then headed back into Estes Park for the most important event of the day...

Sarah and James Get Married, 
Estes Park, CO

After our lovely drive through Rocky Mountain National Park we spent the afternoon and evening welcoming James into the Hall family. Sarah and James chose an amazing location on the outskirts of the park and had one of the most beautiful backgrounds that you could imagine. The event was made complete with the mooing of cows in the pasture between the ceremony and the mountains and a coyote catching rabbits (which Sarah saw at the beginning of the ceremony). 

We were so glad to be able to join in the celebration of their marriage and to continue celebrating with them the following Saturday in Ogallala.

The Reception, 
Haythorn Ranch, Arthur, NE

The reception was beautiful and was held at the Haythorn Ranch (which was established in 1884!) in the sand hills of Nebraska. It was an opportunity for friends and family alike to eat delicious home cooked food, dance as much as they wanted, and to enjoy wonderful cake (of course!). 

Henry Doorly Zoo,
Omaha, NE

For us the party continued at Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. We are agreed that it is one of the most amazing zoos on earth. With the aquarium, desert dome, rainforest, butterfly garden, swamp, gorilla house, Madagascar center, and sky tram it is more than anyone could ask for. Notice how I didn't mention the big cats, lemurs, and other amazing displays that they also have? That's because everything is so intriguing that you lose track of time and before you know it the day is done and the zoo is closing. (We also didn't get there until lunchtime, but we still wouldn't have had enough time to do it all. Our advice, plan two days!)

We decided to hop on the sky tram on this trip because it would provide a little bit of shade, be a new adventure, and give us a different perspective of the zoo. We were able to spot leopards that were hiding in the shade and out of other visitor's line of vision, flew over the heads of giraffes and ostriches, and had a bird's eye view of the rhinos. It was a real treat! (You should go, really!)

After the zoo we were able to spend the evening with our friends Jeremy and Kim who have just relocated to Omaha. We went out for delicious food and then made some delightful chocolate cherry almond chocolate chunk ice cream. You can have fun ice cream flavors like that with a little elbow grease. It's worth it, I promise!

The next day we continued our journey in eastern Nebraska to meet...

Baby Alice Hall, July 24, 2012
Blair, NE

Our newest niece (and the first Hall niece) was born in the wee hours of July 24. We received a call on our drive to the zoo that Heather was in labor and we awaited news all the day long to see if Alice had joined us in this world. We went to bed that night without a new family member, but had texts awaiting us in the morning when we woke up. 

We were excited to be in the area to meet this precious one since we have missed the births of our last three nieces and weren't sure when we would be able to make it to eastern Nebraska again. We spent a couple of hours cuddling this little beauty before we had to head back west for the next adventure.

Speedgoat 50k,
Snowbird, UT

Our final adventure for the month had us in Utah where Chris ran his first stateside ultra marathon. He chose a doozy of a race, one that the race director himself calls a nightmare. It is also called "a real mountain race" and that it is. I joyfully enjoyed this race from the top of Hidden Peak, watching runners as they pushed off of their knees for added momentum during climbs. 

Chris completed the 50k in about eight and a half hours, but I'll let him tell you more about that when he has time. It was an adventure that is not to be forgotten any time i the near future.


It makes me tired just thinking about our last two weeks in July. That's right. All of the above adventures took place in just two weeks. Talk about getting the biggest bang for your buck!

School starts Monday, so stay tuned for A WHOLE NEW ADVENTURE. This time in teaching!