Monday, July 23, 2018

Rocky Mt Camping 2018

I haven't been camping with my whole family since high school, but earlier this year my mom announced that she was planning on going to Rocky Mountain National Park in July and we were all invited/forced to come. (Fortunately we all enjoy camping, so it wasn't too hard to get us on board.)

we made it!
Most of the family got to camp Sunday night (Annie drove to Utah from California to pick up Sam and they drove together, and my mom, dad, and Max drove together from Nebraska) but my brother Jack ("Big Jack"), Natalie, little Jack and I drove out on Tuesday since we weren't able to stay as long. The campsite was nestled in the trees by a river that I'm pretty sure companies have recorded for white noise because it was so perfect. My mom counted and it was 185 steps from the parking lot to our site, which was brutal when we were setting up/packing up but otherwise a lovely little walk through a meadow and a bridge and past happy rocks and trees. (We stayed in Aspenglen campground, Loop A, sites C and D, if you're looking for a delightful campsite.) The moment we stepped out of the car we were rejuvenated by the pure air and glorious scenery all around. It was divine!

Natalie couldn't sleep the night before and kept coming out asking if we could leave, and they loved getting to go in to the McDonald's instead of the drive thru 

Natalie and Jack were so excited to see everyone and immediately dragged us to the river bank. Our tent was probably twenty steps from the river, if you can believe it. The water was freezing and clear, and the kids threw rocks in until we got hungry for dinner. My mom has a supreme camp kitchen, and she prepared all sorts of amazing meals for us. That night we had homemade spaghetti and meatballs, and parmesan garlic bread courtesy of Big Jack. It was the best camp food ever! I kept looking around at our crowded table, so glad that all of us made it and thinking how meaningful it was that we could all be there together. 

I took this picture on the path between our tents

same spot, other direction. my tent is the red one in the trees,
and you can see Natalie in pink by the table

the river right along our path
(super steep eroding banks, probably 12 feet tall...Natalie got too close one time and slipped all the
way down without us knowing. I was sitting at the table probably 25 feet away and thought I heard her
crying, but it was hard to tell with the noise of the river. I trusted my instincts though and ran over and sure enough,
she was crying and struggling to get back up the bank. She was smart and after she realized that she couldn't
climb up the way she fell down, she looked around to find another way and saw a tree branch that she could
hold on to as she tried to climb back up. I was able to grab her and we sat holding each other for a long time
while Natalie calmed down, poor thing. She wasn't badly hurt, but she was scared.)
We went into town so they could charge their phones and poach the free wifi in the library parking lot, and then we had some obligatory tourist ice cream and shirt-buying excursions down the Estes Park shopping street. It was almost ten when we got back to the campsite so Natalie, Jack and I said goodnight after a final trip to the bathroom (curse those 185 steps) and got cozy in our tent. The temperature was perfect: chilly enough that we wanted to be warm in our sleeping bags, but never too cold. I was worried about the kids sleeping but after some fun time with the lanterns and a bedtime story, they snuggled up and fell right asleep. I, on the other hand, had a horrible, fitful sleep. I developed a cold on the drive up and it got worse overnight, but I didn't have kleenex or medicine in my tent and wasn't about to wake the kids up so I could go get some out of my car, so I suffered in silence. Also, my sleeping pad is crap, so I threw it out of the tent and chose the ground instead. ALSO, mock me all you want, but I apparently have an intense fear of bears, and was convinced that there was a bear sniffing outside our tent all night. So I didn't sleep a wink, and when the kids woke up at 6 I was so relieved that the night was over! 

{Side note: knowing that the bathrooms were far from our campsite, I brought our little potty training Elmo potty so that Natalie had somewhere to pee in the middle of the night (she ALWAYS gets up to pee, every night) and that was maybe my best idea of the whole trip because it was right next to the tent and she was able to do her business while I shone the flashlight. And guess what: I even used the stupid Elmo potty! It was a terrifying twenty seconds that I sat out there, exposed to the bears I was sure were lurking just beyond my headlamp, but I did it and was grateful and then dove back into the tent.}

PopPop found us up by the bathrooms and we decided to go for a walk up to the bridge over the river. It was a glorious, fifty degree morning with a shiny dewy sun and sweet birdsong guiding us up the road. I'm not making this up - it literally was that picturesque. Then we headed back to the campsite where most everyone else was starting to wake up. We had french toast with strawberries and powdered sugar and sausage (go, Mom!), and then headed out to ride the Estes Tram up the mountain. 

Something that I relearned about myself this trip is how much I hate taking risks. The tram was completely safe and sound, but I was still nervous. At the top of the mountain we enjoyed amazing views and fed the chipmunks (chippy boys) from bags of peanuts. There was a lot to hike around and see, and we spend an hour or two up there exploring. Jack got a stuffed chipmunk named Paul (hilarious), and we rode the tram back down. We regrouped at the campsite with sandwiches and Squirt, the preferred soda of the trip, and then it was time for horseback riding. We left Natalie and Jack with PopPop and Big Jack, who so graciously offered to stay behind and watch the kids, and headed to the Cowpoke Corral for a two hour up and down the mountain horseback ride. 

see the chippy boy?

My horse was Tucker, and I was second in line behind Annie (Hank), followed by Mom (Strawberry), Sam (Fritz), and Max, who was riding the slowest horse, Gigi. We laughed up and down the trails, making fun of each other and trying not to fall off our horses on the steep jumps. It was hard to carry on a conversation because in the middle of a sentence my horse would lurch up a steep step and make me punch my words. Lexi, our Wrangler guide (yes, that's her real title, LIT) said we were the best group she has ever led, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Two hours was a perfect time frame - long enough that we didn't feel jipped, but not so long that we were desperate to be done. 

We found happy children back at the campsite, having enjoyed a romp in the river and some good exploring in the surrounding wilderness. They coaxed us down to the river again, where they stood on the banks throwing rocks until dinner time. By this point I was so completely exhausted that I could hardly keep my head up straight. A combination of high altitude, no sleep, and an obnoxious cold made me so tired that I actually had to remind myself to keep my eyes open. After dinner (book club chicken salad, suuuuper delicious and light), one car wanted to race the sunset up the mountain but I knew I wouldn't make it, so Annie, PopPop, the kids and I went to town again for ice cream part two and a cute little river park. We goofed around at the campsite til it was fully dark, took a trip to the bathroom to get ready for bed, and then got cozy again. I asked my dad for a Priesthood blessing so that I would be able to rest that night, and it definitely worked because I had a much easier sleep and woke up feeling much much better, and wasn't tired again the whole next day. 

set up for a cozy night

We had two missions that second morning: fresh ice for the coolers, and cinnamon rolls. There's a bakery that only sells cinnamon rolls starting at 7:30 every morning, and they always sell out quickly and then close for the rest of the day. After hitting up Safeway for ice and candy and orange juice and blueberries, we got to the bakery at 7:25 and there was already a huge line, probably 40 people. We waited our turn and managed to score four huge, frosted behemoth cinnamon rolls before they ran out (it took less than half an hour for them to sell out!). They were worth the wait, although we had to scrape off four pounds of frosting. Never did I ever think I'd see the day when I had a roll with too much frosting, but Colorado did it. We ate what we could and brought the rest back for everyone else to nibble on. 

We decided to split up and then reconvene for a sloppy joe lunch at the campsite - PopPop, Mimi, and I took the kids back the Cowpoke Corral to ride ponies, and my four siblings went into town. The kids LOVED riding ponies. Definitely the highlight of the trip for them. They only had a ten-minute ride but they soaked up every second on Charlie and Diego. They were thrilled that their ponies stopped to poop and pee wherever they wanted, and by the end Jack picked up the reins without prompting and looked like a perfect cowboy. It was so cute and fun and they can't wait to do it again!

After lunch we packed up and headed to Estes Lake to rent kayaks, "swim" in the frigid water, and enjoy the mountain sunshine. Sam fell out of his kayak and had to be rescued (classic); little Jack, my mom and I rented a bike cart to ride around the lake (super hard to steer but hilarious); and Big Jack, PopPop, and Natalie rented a paddle boat. Little Jack and I took a turn on the paddle boat, which was fun but made me nervous because Little Jack kept standing up and wanting to see things but it's a small boat and the edge is completely open. No one felt like going back to the campsite for our planned chili feed (although my mom's chili is super delicious), so we looked up the best pizza place around and caravaned over there. 

the yellow kayaks hold Annie, Sam, and Max

our group by the water

Antonio's New York Pizza turned out to be an EXCELLENT choice - super fresh, delicious food. I ate in the car, letting little Jack finish his nap, and split a calzone with my dad. (Parks and Rec Ben would be so proud). Satisfied with our meal, we split up again, one car going down the mountain to finish up some shopping and the other car going into the park to see the Alluvial Fan. We hiked up this nice rocky trail which opened up suddenly to this amazing rock feature, basically a river waterfall, with huge spread out boulders and a sheer rock face that the water flew down. It was leftover from a giant flood in the 80s, and you can see all the way down the valley where the flood sent all the rocks and boulders. We had a great time exploring in the cold water (Natalie loved crossing back and forth but clung to my hand, nervous about "getting caught by the current"). Unfortunately, a visitor right before us had climbed up to the top part of the Fan and slipped and broken her leg, so we felt bad enjoying ourselves when someone else was waiting in pain for the rangers to rescue them. Hopefully it all ended well - we left right as the rangers got there but were definitely more careful in the water after that. 

(just realized I didn't take any pictures of the actual Fan, so google it! these pictures are at the base of the waterfall)

We met back up at the campsite, cleaning out our cars in preparation for the drive home the next day, and then playing Scattergories by the lantern light. Scattergories is a great game, but we're a competitive family and there was a certain *misunderstanding* of the rules that got us pretty riled up, so we only managed three rounds before we had to put it away. Typical Plumbs...we've never been big board game people. We hung out in the big tent until ten o clock, the kids watching Annie play an app on her phone called "Cooking Mama" (yes it's as dumb as it sounds) and the rest of us lounging on the air mattresses. We gathered the kids up for bed time, gearing up for our last night in the tent and checking the surrounding forest for any potential bear activity. My dad was nice and always walked us to our tent at night, knowing it was safer and that I don't like to be alone in the dark. We got cozy, said our prayers, and had another pretty good night of sleep (although I think my hip is going to be bruised for the next two weeks...I need to invest in a better sleeping pad). 


grateful for good, clean bathrooms!

all of the flashlights almost look like a campfire from afar

The drive home was uneventful except we had Chipotle AND Qdoba in the same five-hour period, so we had to recover from that, and there was a spot of super annoying slow construction outside Kearney that slowed us down, but otherwise it was a really easy drive. Jack drove most of the time, bless him, and the kids did SO SO SO WELL in the car, like SO well. I had their backpacks all packed for the drive up with books and activities etc, but they got all disheveled and unorganized during the trip so on the way back they didn't really have anything to keep themselves entertained, but they did a super good job. They took turns playing on my phone, taking naps, listening to music and audiobooks, playing with pipe cleaners, and snacking on pretzel goldfish. I am so proud of them. 

It was so fun to see Austin when we got home - Stockton was asleep, so we had to wait til morning to see him, but the kids showed Austin all the stuff they got and told him all about their various adventures while I threw everything from the car onto the driveway. Coming home always feels so good! 

The trip was so refreshing and lovely. It felt so nourishing to be in such a beautiful, natural place and especially to watch my children soak it all in. They loved talking about climbing mountains and crossing rivers, and we tried to let them explore unaided as much as possible. I knew that bringing the kids meant a less relaxing trip for me, or at least a differently paced trip, but it was so worth it to give them the opportunity to see something new and feel the vastness of mountain ranges and have these amazing outdoor experiences. I couldn't have done it without my family - they all stepped in to help make the trip fun for the kids and less stressful for me, and I'm so grateful. We passed a burger place in town one night that had the most amazing smelling fries, and my brother Jack knew that I wanted them and the next night when he went to town while I was with the kids he got some for me and brought them back to the campsite. Just one of many examples of how I was taken care of. 

We felt like it would be too hard to bring Stockton on this trip and decided to let him have a fun stay-cation at home with Austin, which was definitely the right choice. He had an awesome time going to the mall (six times in three days!), Hy-Vee, lots of different parks, the lake, and enjoying rare one-on-one time with Daddy. It would have taken so much energy to keep Stockton safe and close to us on a camping trip so far away, so we decided to go camping much closer in Nebraska in September so he can still get the flavor of camping, with the bailout option to just go home if need be. I'm grateful that Austin had such a good attitude about staying home and could tell that he really enjoyed his time with Stockty while we were gone. 

One downside to the trip, if there was one, was that we weren't able to have any campfires due to a fire ban in the area. The conditions were too dangerous to have open fires, so we had to camp without our cozy campfire. Originally I thought it would be super dreadful to camp without a fire, but I was surprised at how little it affected our time there. Guess we'll just have to go again and hope there won't be a fire ban next time! 

I'll leave you with the beautiful pictures various family members shared with me from different hikes and views that I didn't see:

1 comment:

  1. What a fun family trip! I agree, there is something so wonderful about spending time outside with people you love. Those views are beautiful! One of these years I think it would be so fun to go friend-camping with your family, my family, and the Snows. The thought of a pack of our kids running carefree and joyful through the woods makes me smile. I'm so glad you had a good trip! PS: my favorite wedding gift out of the like 3 gifts we were given was camping gear: fancy camping gear. We have 2 gorgeous North Face mummy sleeping bags and two Thermarest pads and they ha e served us well endlessly over the past 11 years. We even used them full time before we bought our first bed! I sympathize with your bruised hip!