Saturday, July 11, 2009

Face Paintings

Today was Cognex's family day at the zoo. They had hired a professional face painter for the kids. At first when we heard there would be face painting we were thinking, you know, flowers or animals on the cheek. Oh no, this woman was fantastic. By the time we got the kids up there she had completed two Darth Maul's and they were incredible! The kids sat down and picked out what they wanted and proceeded to get painted. Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera so these pictures are after eating and wiping at their face, especially Seth. He was sooo cute, he was a little puppy, you can kind of see remnants of a red tongue :) I have a picture on my phone but we have yet to figure out how to get pics off our phones.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Yesterday we got back from a wonderful trip down to Yosemite Nat'l Park in California. This was our first major family vacation. We are looking forward to going back in the future :)
The following is a recap of our trip, it's long. It's more for me to get this recorded before I forget everything, but I hope to share some tips for anyone who ever gets a chance to go. And I hope you do!

Our trip started with a two-day drive down to the park. We left Saturday June 27th and arrived in Redding, CA that night. I do NOT recommend the Howard Johnson on Bechelli. I hate reserving rooms online and then finding out it's not the best. We walked into a room that was old and not well updated. We figured it was one night we could live with it but then Rob walked into the bathroom to find it flooded so he immediatly went down to complain. The manager was nice enough to move us and the room was actually much better. For the one night it was fine but we won't be back. We finished our drive the next day, Sunday the 28th. We had decided to take Yosemite Ave which shot off from Stockton I believe. It looked like a straight shot on the map. What we didn't do was zoom in to look at the route when we were in Google. We came up on Priest Rd, I think, and saw the worst grade ever to go up. In fact it's so bad they have a sign telling you to shut off your AC in your car so that you don't overheat your engine. That was a long, long climb, and steep! I was getting a bit nervous as the temp gauge started creeping up in the car. But our van made it just fine and we got to the top.
But then we had to keep climbing and climbing and climbing. Finally, we hit the entrance to the park. After we got through the Tioga entrance and bought our pass we continued on. Drove through the trees for a bit, then all of a sudden those drop away and you are looking straight down into one of the valleys. I figured out a long time ago I'm afraid of heights. I can handle an airplane but I can't handle looking over edges that just drop down 100's of feet. Lucky me I was on the side of the car that got to look over that edge. Throw in a narrow, windy, curvy road with another steep grade, going downhill this time, and I was a nervous wreck. I was very relieved when we finally hit the valley floor and made our turn to our hotel. During this time we were seeing all the huge walls of rock and the massive boulders. We were in total awe. This makes me laugh now since we hadn't even seen the real attractions yet. We followed the Merced River back out of the park to our hotel. We stayed in the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal. This place I would definitley recommend. It was 2 miles outside the park but the rooms were spacious with a kitchenette and we lucked out and got the room right above one of the many swimming pools :) We got unloaded and relaxed for the rest of the night.
Monday morning we woke up anxious to go explore the park. I wanted to hike every trail we possibly could and see every sight we possibly could. With four kids though I knew we were limited in what we could do. The ranger had given us a great resource, a paper they put out with all the sights to see and activities planned at various locations so we scanned that and decided we wanted to see the Mariposa Groves outside of Wawona in the southern part of the park. These groves have some of the tallest/biggest sequoia trees in the world. Rob and I love trees so we thought this would be cool to start with.
We got loaded up then started back up the river. I made Rob stop several times because the river was so beautiful to look at.
Again the massive boulders were all over the place and I had to stop to admire it all. I wanted to stop everywhere we went and take pictures of everything. I just could not get over the enormity of it all. Again, we still hadn't see the real sights so I was in for a surprise. We found the road leading to Wawona and started up it. About 1/2 way up is a view point so again I made Rob stop. Totally breathtaking. I can't even begin to describe how it felt to be standing there looking out over the valley at El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall, and the other peaks I can't remember names to. It was truly amazing and at that point I was so grateful to God and His creations and so grateful that I could stand there with my family and witness the magnifisence of it. My pictures cannot do it justice.
We arrived in Wawona and got on one of the free shuttles to the groves. Here is my first tip: Get out early. We didn't, so we were jammed in this shuttle with tons of other people and had to stand for the drive which was several miles away. We made it to the start of the groves and were amazed by the sequoias in just the parking lot! HUGE and truly beautiful. Again, my pics just cannot do them justice. We got a map with all the famous trees listed on it and their locations and started up the hill to see them. Unfortunately, it was very hot that day, close to 100 I believe. We didn't plan accordingly for Elizabeth. Not sure if it's related to the CF but she dehydrates really fast, I'm guessing cause she sweats out her salts so much faster then we do. We had plenty of water but looking back I should have had something with electrolytes in it for her. Anyway, there is a bit of an elevation gain and she just peetered out really fast. We just are not used to that kind of heat. I think we made it to four of the famous trees. The ones I really wanted to see were at the very top, so we will have to go back someday to see them. Elizabeth just could go no farther so we had to turn around. We got to see the Fallen Monarch, Giant Grizzly (HUGE and about 1800 years old), The Bachelor and the Three Graces and one you could walk through and back in the day I'm sure could drive a smaller car through. They were very impressive and it's a hike I would totally recommend, just plan for the weather better then we did. They do have an open air tram you get on and they would drive you around to all the trees. The reason we didn't take that was because it was $25 an adult and $18 a child!! Ouch. So if that is more your style plan on spending a pretty penny for the trams. All the trams around the park were that much.
The Fallen Monarch
The Grizzly giant
The Bachelor and the Three Graces
California Tunnel Tree
This huge pinecone fell out of one of the trees and missed hitting Rob and Elizabeth by a few feet.
After the groves we headed back on the shuttle for Wawona and hung out there for a bit. We decided to go cross this old covered bridge Rob and had seen earlier.
I'm glad we did. I had forgotten I had read about the small town they had replicated in Wawona, it was on the other side of the bridge. They had these old log cabins set up like one of the old towns would have been.
There was even a homesteaders house that they had actually moved from another part of the park to this area. You can't go in any of them but you can look through the windows to see how they would have furnished the homes back then. Back then being late 1800's/early 1900's. We then headed back to the small river the bridge crossed to go soak our hot and tired feet in the icy water.
That felt so great after being on them all day!
Seth was totally content to sit there and throw rocks and splash the water. We hung out there for a bit then headed back down to our hotel. We all changed into swimsuites and headed to the pool to relax, after which we ate dinner then fell into bed exhausted :)
Tuesday we decided to check out the Yosemite Valley. If you are a resort type person this is the place for you. They have tons of activities at the various visitor centers, several trailheads that start here, shopping, etc. After checking out the visitors center we headed outside to look at the replica of an Indian village. They have an actual working ceremonial house, dug into the ground. As we were walking through, a man of Native American decent was telling someone else about how they still use it for ceremonial dances and other meetings. Several of the buildings were that way. We headed into the museum from there. It's small but interesting. In one corner they had a small exhibit set up with the tools women and men used to make baskets for water, food, fishing, etc. Sitting next to it was an old Native American woman we though was part of the exhibit. We weren't very close to it yet. All of a sudden she moved! Had to laugh at that. There was an elderly woman sitting there making baskets! You could ask her questions and she would gladly answer them and tell you stories. She was working on a small basket and we asked how long it took her to make one. It was cylindrical and only about 8 inches long and at it's widest maybe 6 inches. One month she had been working on it! She was using traditional tools, like a small antler from a white tail deer, to make the basket. We stood there for awhile listening to her. Jonathan was totally in awe of her. The sad story is the calvary showed up in the 1850's and wiped out 90% of the natives living in Yosemite. Those who survived have had to inter-marry so I don't think there are any left from just one tribe. I'm kicking myself now for not asking her what tribe/tribes she was from. We then decided we would do the short hike to the lower Yosemite Falls. Would have loved to go all the way to the top but it's like a 2700 ft elevation gain in 3.5 miles!! So brutal to young children, not to mention the parents :) The lower falls were pretty though and we had a nice little hike with the kids.
We even got rained on! That was very refreshing. We went back to the Village and explored around there for a bit. The Village has the best grocery store we found, I'd recommend using them for groceries. We found out about a bear walk so we hopped on the shuttle again and got off where we were supposed to meet the ranger. By this time though we were all so tired it was hard to make ourselves go. However, Jonathan was trying to complete some Jr Ranger requirements so we went to help him complete that.
We didn't stay for the whole thing but learned quite a bit about bears and how they were delt with over the years. We never did get to see a bear while we were there. Would have been cool :) Again we headed back totally exhausted and ready to chill in the pool!
Wednesday has to be everyone's favorite day there. I had bought a book the day before showing all the day hikes in Yosemite and we decided we'd do the one to Sentinal Dome and Taft's point since they started at the same point, just took off in opposite directions. We choose to head to Sentinal Dome first.
It wasn't too bad, very sunny but we had a really nice breeze going up there so that helped a lot. Elizabeth was able to complete the hike. At first you start out and can see the dome in the distance and wonder how the heck you are supposed to get to the top, it looks fairly intimidating. It is the 2nd highest point in Yosemite, Half Dome being the highest. We got going and were cruising along when I noticed I couldn't breath right. I knew I wasn't that out of shape. It was then I realized we were pretty high up and it was just hard to breath because of the elevation. Here in Aloha we are just a bit over sea level. Just ignored it and took deeper breaths and continued on. It was nice to find out that the trail actually took us to the back of the dome and up a ways already. We only had a little more to treck to get to the top.
Again, I had that queezy feeling since we were so very high up and I couldn't see the edges of the dome. Rob was totally content to walk all over with Seth on his back and that just made me sick. I finally had to stop watching him and go up farther and look at the park. The view was incredible!
Half Dome was completely visible, you could see Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and way way down in to the valley. We found a marker in the stone that said we were at 8,117 ft elevation. Probably the highest I've ever been without being in a plane. No wonder it was so hard to breath :) My pictures aren't the greatest, I forgot to mention there was a lightening strike the week before that started a fire. They let the fires burn there, just keeping an eye on it until it burns out. Sadly it created a lot of smokey haze so was not a good time to get pictures of things in the distance. Just another reason to go back :) Just a side note, we saw a map of lightening strikes in Yosemite over the course of one year. A little yellow dot was used to mark the spot. There were so many it looked like Yosemite was all lit up. Also they say if you are on Half Dome and you see a thunder storm rolling in you are to get the heck out of there. Lightening always strikes the top of Half Dome! Anyway, we sat up there for awhile taking in the beauty around us. Again the feelings of appreciation for God's creations and the chance I had to sit there and be a part of it. I have seen some very beautiful places but so far nothing compares to what we saw in Yosemite. We grudgingly got up and headed back down the dome and back to the start of the trail. After grabbing some lunch back in the van we we went back to the trail and headed in the opposite direction from Sentinal Dome. This trail took us to Taft's Point. This side was nicer to walk through as it was more forested so more shaded.
Very pretty. A short ways in on the right is a pretty big pile of qaurtz. More boulders hidden in the trees. There was one spot where if you closed your eyes a bit you could totally imagine it as the spot where Bilbo Baggins met up with those trolls and Gandolf turned them to stone :) We got to a marshy area that at first we stopped to admire all the green until we realized we were in a mosquito nesting ground. Ug, walked out with quite a few bites. We ran through that area on the way back! The forest ends and you come out on some pretty rocky ground where the fissures are. At first we couldn't see them, until I almost walked into one! That freaked me out a bit. So this is where I got totally weak kneed and queezy. There were signs saying to keep total control of your children if you headed that way with them and the reason is the sheer drop offs and fissures. Down, down, down, 100's and 100's of feet to the valley floor. As we walked down we saw people sitting with their legs over the edge or crawling on their bellies to look over. That sight alone made me sick. Funny thing is I got up to the edge and I wanted to look over! I slowly scooted my feet over to it and for once freaked Rob out. All those times of him scarring me to death and I finally got him :) I had gotten up to about 6 inches from the edge to look over and I heard him suck in his breath and then he told me that was far enough. HA! We walked up to one overhang that had a small rail set up in the rock so you could look over all the way and get the full effect of looking down in the valley.
I think I would have handled it better if I didn't have to worry about my kids. They did fine but it's hard not to freak out about them doing something not so smart. We let each of them go up and look over then told them to go sit down a ways back and not to move. This is not a place for toddlers on the loose. I was so grateful Seth was in a backpack and totally content to be there. It was another amazing view. My knees were completely weak and I really did feel sick but I had to look. And as much as it scared me I want to go back and sit with my legs over the edge! We headed back totally wiped out but so amazed at what we saw. The kids loved it and they agree that that was their favorite hike! I'm so glad they enjoyed themselves. On our way back we continued up the road to Glacier Point. There is another overlook there. More crowded as it is a safer place to look over the edge down into the valley. A nice rock wall you can lean against and look over :)
Thursday was a more relaxed day. There was still so much we wanted to see but we were tired from the day before. We decided we'd go hike around Mirror Lake in the Valley. There are a few places I wish I could have seen back in the early 1900's and this was one of them. The lake is actually shrinking away and being renamed as Mirror Meadows.
There were signs around the area that showed the lake back in it's day with a boat house and even a dance floor built out over the lake for entertainment. No way you could take a boat out there now. We found out part of the loop trail was blocked off due to a rock fall that happened back in March. We took the longer part of it hoping to go see the rock slide. We made it most of the way in before we had to turn back. It was so humid under the trees and the mosquitos were too intense. We were being eaten alive and the kids were freaking out. We all received some pretty nasty bites. We went back to the lake and hung out there for a bit. View of Half Dome from the flat side.
Jonathan managed to get a butterfly to hang out on his finger for a bit. He couldn't stop talking about that experience :)
We headed back into the Village and stopped at the Ranger desk so that Joanthan could earn his Jr Ranger badge. He had to tell the Ranger what activities he completed in his book then recite the Jr Ranger oath.
He was pretty proud of himself :) After that we drove up to Bridalveil Fall as we hadn't seen that one yet up close. After a short but steep hike up to the base we all just kinda looked at it and thought "yeah, that's cool, let's go". Haha! After all the magnificent things we had seen this was just ok. Something to see :) We headed out and drove past El Capitan one last time, it's even more impressive from the ground,
and headed back to our hotel for the rest of the evening to pack and relax. I was sad that our time was over. There is so much left to be explored, four days was just not long enough. I'd like to go back for longer and take more time to do things. We felt like we had to cram as much as we could into each day and it just takes so long to get from one place to another. There was a whole other area of the park we didn't even get to touch as it was a good drive up north then east. We definitley want to go back, the kids are saying in five years :) We want to explore some other areas in the states first then come back to Yosemite.

By Wednesday the fire had made it's way down to one of the roads.

On Friday we managed to make it to Medford, Or before stopping for the night. Rob wanted to get home but we had just spent the last three hours listening to Seth cry and cry and I was done. That was his only melt down for the entire trip!! All the kids did so well, they all got along great and except for the groves hike very little complaining was heard from them. I think they have walked away with some great memories and I hope it's something they want to do with their families in the future.

So I kept a running list of tips in my head I wanted to share incase anyone reading wanted to go with their families too. I hope it helps!

Definitely reserve a family suite with a kitchenette if you aren't camping. I'm not a camper.The restaurants in the park are way over priced. The Valley grocery store was the best place for shopping. Prices weren't too atrocious, but it's only the best place to shop if you are staying in the Valley.

Expect to pay more for gas.

As I mentioned earlier, start your day as early as possible. You get the best parking and hardly anyone is out on the trails before noon. That and the heat, of course, is worse in the afternoon.

Plan your days around the shuttles if you can. Each area has it's own shuttle with maps of the stops.

For younger families the Valley was a great place as they had activities planned all day long every day with many of them geared towards kids and parents. But be warned during the peak season times there are a lot of people in the Valley. We much preferred being out on the trails farther out as we didn't run into too many people.

Next time I would try and get a room in the Valley. I loved were we stayed but it was outside the park and we put a ton of miles on the van driving in and out every day. Not to mention the lost time in driving around. The Valley is pretty central and staying there would make it easier to get around. They have a couple lodges and plenty of camping but reserve it as soon as possible. We reserved ours back in November and the Valley lodges were already full. Most of the campgrounds are by reservation only.

Carry hand sanitizer. I think only one bathroom we went in had soap :)

The trams that took you on tours of different areas of the parks would have been great. But we didn't know to plan the expense. I would recommend them for families with young kids as you get to see so much with little walking around. They get to go where cars aren't allowed. Just be sure to budget the high cost of them.

Getting a book with the day hikes in it was great. I'd buy one before even going though and decide beforehand which ones you wanted to do. You might be able to do a search on google for free maps, I don't know, haven't tried.

Provide journals for you kids. My dad gave the kids each a small journal to write in and they actually did :)

Use lots of sunscreen. We got burned even after lathering eveyrone in it because we didn't reapply. I guess we had sweated it off during the hike.

And finally, if going in late spring, early summer load up on mosquito repellent!! Not used to dealing with those little blood suckers so we didn't carry any. We paid for it :)