Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Walters Go West Part 3: DIsneyland California Adventure and Disneyland

(Sorry for the 3 month delay in posting this--better late than never!)  When we were planning our trip, the part that was up in the air until the last minute was the itinerary in the Los Angeles area.  We were initially going to explore LA one day and then pick one of the Disney parks to visit.   But, after talking to a lot of friends and getting their opinions on which one to select, we decided to just go ahead an do both Disneyland California Adventure and Disneyland.  So, we just skipped LA and went straight from Joshua Tree National Park to our hotel in Anaheim.  We stayed off of park grounds at a hotel that had a complementary shuttle to the parks and ended up saving a TON of money.  It was definitely the way to go for us.    (Y'all, we spent a total of $610.86 on all the hotels for the entire week long trip--and that includes taxes and fees and they were all nice hotels.  We needed to do that though, because the visits to the two Disney parks cost more than all of our hotel stays!)

On day one, we grabbed the first shuttle out from the hotel and headed to Disneyland California Adventure.  We visited this park first, because it happened to be early entry day at Disneyland for those staying at the Disney hotels.  Thus, we figured that California Adventure would be less busy than Disneyland this day.  We arrived at the park about 30 minutes before they opened.  We got in and waited for them to remove the ropes and decided to begin at Toy Story Mania.  We knew it would be less busy than other rides, like in Cars Land.  For $10/ticket we purchased the Max Pass--which I highly recommend.  It includes fast passes and a photo pass.  This means, from our phone app we could get in the fast pass line for whichever ride we wanted.  It also meant that anytime we saw the Disney photographers around the park, they could take our photo and we could easily download them from our phone.  This was great because we didn't want to lug our big camera into the park, and we were having so much fun that we didn't even take that many photos with our phones.  As we were running to Toy Story Mania, Drew got fast pass tickets on his phone app to the Radiator Springs Racers ride in Cars Land.  We were the first people on the Toy Story ride!  We rode some other things in the area and then headed to Radiator Springs.

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Before riding the Radiator Springs Racers, we walked around Radiator Springs.  We loved the Radiator Springs Racers!

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Ha---I was taking a video of the ride so the kids could re-live the experience later. 
Here is a video from our ride:


The kids really enjoyed spotting the Disney characters and getting photos with them.

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Mater's Junkyard Jamboree:


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We convinced Abbey to go on the Guardians of the Galaxy ride---we told her it was a lot like riding on a elevator.  It goes up and down.  Wow--it was much scarier than the Tower of Terror ride I remember.  But it was fun--for us adults anyway.  That was the only time we rode that one--for the kids' sake.  You can see Drew is looking down at Abbey in the photo they snapped on the ride.  :-)

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the Ladybug ride:

We managed to ride every single ride at Disneyland California Adventure.  Abbey's favorite ride was "soaring around the world" and Luke's favorite was "Goofy's Sky School."  It was such a fun day!  We left the park around 4pm to head to Downtown Disney and take advantage of Happy Hour prices on food.  We definitely saved money that way vs. buying the food in the park.  After dinner we went back into the park and enjoyed more rides (while everyone else was eating dinner).

Radiator Springs looked really cool all lit up at night!


The next day, we headed to Disnleyland.  The kids were so excited to see the castle.

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The Walters stormed the castle!
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We all figured out that we were not going to be crowned King as we could not remove the sword from the stone.

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We were all in line for Space Mountain.  As we were boarding Abbey decided to opt out.  So, Drew took one for the team and stayed back with her.  Space mountain was a lot faster than I remember!

We really enjoyed all of the Star Wars rides and attractions at Disneyland.  We met several of the characters, including Chewbacca and Kylo Ren.  Chewbacca was really funny.  Right before the picture, he took his big furry hands and rubbed them on my head, making my hair stick up from the static. 

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Abbey thought Kylo Ren was a little scary.  In this photo Kylo Ren was asking Abbey if she wanted him to teach her how to use the force. Her response was this blank stare. He responded in his cool and creepy Kylo Ren voice, "Yeah that's what I thought."
Abbey and Luke enjoyed meeting a lot of the characters again.  Tinkerbell was one of Abbey's favorites:

For lunch at Disneyland I highly recommend eating at either the New Orleans Cafe (there was no wait) and get the Monte Cristo.  Very indulgent--but the four of us split two of them and we all thoroughly enjoyed it!  You can also get it at the Blue Bayou Cafe inside the pirates of the Caribbean ride, but you pretty much need reservations to eat there, plus it is more expensive.  For dinner, we left the park again early (around 4) and enjoyed happy hour prices at an Italian/Pizza restaurant in Downtown Disney.  We came back into the park to enjoy more rides while everyone else was eating dinner.  Again, we managed to ride every ride in the park--many more than once.  It was an amazing day!!

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We did it!   We conquered Disney in California in two days--the perfect amount of time for us!  It wasn't stressful at all (the thought of Disneyworld right now scares me).  The weather was absolutely perfect too. 


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Walters Go West Part 2: Joshua Tree National Park

We departed Williams, AZ early on Friday morning and headed to Joshua Tree National Park.   We entered the park from the North (in Twenty Nine Palms, CA).  But before entering, we grabbed some yummy pizza (that reminded me a bit of Homeslice Pizza in Austin) at Pie for the People.  Then, we made a stop at the Joshua Tree National Park visitor center on the way into the park and grabbed some trail maps and some Junior Ranger booklets.    We were ready to explore!

Luke was practically salivating as we drove to our first hiking destination and he saw all of the awesome boulders to climb.   After we parked near the Hidden Valley hiking loop, he pretty much sprinted to the trail and asked if he could go climb. 

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Luke wasted no time at all in finding a big boulder to climb.

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There were lots of "Look at me Mommy!" comments.
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Drew and the kids under one of the cool Joshua Trees

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Abbey found a great little spot under a Joshua Tree to complete some Junior Ranger assignments.

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When we spotted this group of boulders, we were all excited to climb.  There were amazing views at the top.

Here is a little video of the park when we were hiking in the Hidden Springs area.


And we found a great little spot for a family photo, thanks to the dslr self timer.

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These two seriously amazed me the whole trip!  No complaining or whining, just sheer joy, giggles, and excitement!  They were so proud of all the accomplished and climbed.

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"Look at me mommy!"

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There was so much cool fauna in this dessert environment.  We read that the environment actually used to be pretty lush, but with all the hiking traffic it has gradually been reduced.
At Joshua Tree National Park, we were in an environment that we had never experienced:  an area where two very distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together.  There are such cool geologic features and we experienced so much wonder in this vast wilderness!  The Hidden Valley trail was a great one for families.  There was so much to explore and climb and see, and yet it was only a little over a mile loop.  Of course, it took us a couple of hours to do this hike, because of all the fun things to climb and explore.  We were on rocks way more than we were on the trail.  :-)

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Not only were there amazing rocks to climb, but Luke also found a couple of neat trees to climb.
The kids were feeling strong and got a great workout as we hiked this amazing place!

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I found a little crevice in a huge rock.  Drew asked me to sit inside for a photo.
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So much to take in.  So much wonder!

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While the kids were exploring (in the background), Drew and I took the time to snap a quick picture of the two of us with our dslr self timer.  We don't have many pictures of us together and this year is our 10 year wedding anniversary!

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After we hiked Hidden Valley, we headed to Barker Dam to hike.  There, we saw a water tank built by early cattle ranchers.  Big horn sheep are known to roam the area as well.  The hike itself is only a mile and a half round trip, so it is a great hike for families.  This was another perfect hike if you enjoy bouldering as there are hundreds of different places you can climb and explore at every turn.

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The water was like glass here:  a mirror that reflected the gorgeous rocks.

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You can see the cool mountains in the background here.

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Joshua trees are just so cool!
On our way back, as we were near the parking lot, we found the ancient petroglyphs and pictographs mentioned on the trail map.  Long before white settlers discovered the beauty, the Cahuilla Indians inhabited the area.  The Cahuilla Indians left their mark on the land in a number of ways.   The most visible of those being petroglyphs (carved designs in rock) and pictographs (painted designs on rock). Numerous petroglyph and pictograph locations lie within Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding areas.  We were so excited to see in person something we learned about in our history curriculum, "Story of the World."  Below, Abbey is pointing to some of them.

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We absolutely love Joshua Tree National Park and are so glad we made this stop on our Western Adventure.  This area was just perfect for our family of hikers and climbers.  The landscape is unique and not like anything we had seen before.  Like the Grand Canyon, in some ways it just seemed surreal.  I highly recommend visiting if you are in the area.  Next up on our adventure--Disney!  We headed straight to Anaheim after our adventure at Joshua Tree National Park to stay the night so we would be close to Disneyland California Adventure, where we would be going the next morning.  Stay tuned for a post all about our adventures at the Disney parks.  It was our kids' first Disney experience.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Walters Go West: Part 1, Arizona

(Continued from previous post).  We knew we would be arriving in Phoenix pretty late.  Our flight was scheduled to arrive in Phoenix at 9:20pm (which would be 10:20pm Austin time).  However, it ended up being even later as the flight was delayed by 30 minutes due to construction at the Phoenix airport.  The pilot made up some time though and it wasn't that much later than we originally expected we would arrive.  Picking up our rented mini van was easy peasy and we were off on our adventure.  First stop: Sedona.  We drove that night straight to Sedona, arriving around 1am (Arizona time.)  The kids enjoyed seeing the Saguaro cacti and a landscape different from ours in Central Texas as we left the airport and headed to Sedona (yes, they could spot those Cacti and the interesting landscape all along the lit roads even though it was dark.)

Our hotel was in Sedona, among all the beautiful red rock formations.  So when we awoke the next morning, there were many oooooo's and ahhhhhh's coming from all of our mouths as we opened the curtain at our hotel room.  It was gorgeous and we just couldn't wait to hike among all of this glorious creation!  Sedona was our kind of place--tons of health food stores and foodies are there, which means we had absolutely no problem finding food.  As mentioned in the last post, I had all the meals figured out beforehand, and knew we would be grabbing breakfast at Whole Foods this first day. (And we would also go ahead and grab it for the following morning as well, because there were limited healthful and delicious options in Williams, Arizona, where we would be staying that night.)  After grabbing breakfast for that day and the next, as well as tons of fruit and snacks for our road trip for the rest of the week, we were off on our first long hike.  Sedona is full of so many hikes and you could easily spend a week there and still not cover all of the great hikes.   We had to choose one that wouldn't take too long, but would give us the biggest bang for our buck, if you will (since we only were there for the morning).  We chose to hike "Teacup Trail." This hike is close to town, does not require an annoying drive down a dirt road to get to the trail-head, and offers some stunning scenery without steep climbing required. The hike was only 2 miles roundtrip (although somehow we hiked longer than two miles). There is a lot of unique scenery on this trail.
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(The sun was so bright and the weather absolutely perfect.   But because of the bright, bright sun, good pictures were somewhat difficult to get.  I managed to get some with my phone and a few with our dslr.)

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Along this fabulous trail, we got to take in so many of Sedona’s stunning rock formations, all of which are named after the shape they resemble. This hike gave us the best views of Coffeepot Rock. You also have the option of connecting this trail with the Sugarloaf Summit trail, where you can climb a steep, yet short 0.2 mile climb up to an amazing overlook with more breathtaking 360 degree red rock vistas in every direction.


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It was fun to be amidst all of the big red rock formations, yet also be hiking through a forest.  It was a fun hiking experience for all of us.  Luke, our climber, found so many things to climb as well.


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Abbey, taking a little rest and taking it all in.
Here is a little video from part of our hike.


 

Along our hike, we came upon Devil's Kitchen Sinkhole.



A sinkhole is a hole in the ground caused by various factors, most commonly by the collapse of caves in the limestone bedrock. Devils’ Kitchen is the most active Sedona sinkhole, having collapsed many times (1880s, 1989, and 1995). This sinkhole is about 50 feet deep with a 150 by 90 foot opening.  Here is a video from our hike and our viewing of it:


We finished our hike and after a quick grab of delicious food to go at Wildflower Bread, we were on our way to the Grand Canyon.  I have been to the Grand Canyon several times, and each time it literally takes my breath away.  But, neither Drew nor the kids had ever visited.  I was so excited to see their reactions the first time they saw the enormous canyon.
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There is just so much to take in.  And as the sun changes position, the colors in the canyon change as well.  We spent from about 1pm until after sunset hiking along the South rim and then down into Bright Angel Trail going down into the canyon.  On our way into the park, we grabbed a couple of the Junior Ranger program booklets for the kids to complete.  We like to do this at every state and national park we visit.  The kids learn quite a bit from completing the programs, plus it is always great to earn the junior ranger badge that you can display proudly.

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What an amazing place to earn a Junior Ranger badge, right?  We all just kept saying, the canyon just doesn't even look real.  It totally just looks like a photo backdrop.   While the kids took some time in this beautiful spot to complete an assignment, I took the opportunity to take a video:



Luke found some trees to climb there at the Grand Canyon.

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Abbey was fine with just resting her arm against the tree for a photo.

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There were gorgeous views everywhere we looked!

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I couldn't stop taking photos and videos from my phone and dslr!  So much beauty that I wanted to be able to look back on and remember!  But, honestly, photos and videos just can't capture the beauty. 
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Abbey, taking in all of the gorgeous views and fresh air.
After several hikes, completion of their booklets and listening to this ranger give a talk about the geology of the canyon, the kids were able to get their book signed off on by the ranger and then take a Junior Ranger Pledge.  Not a bad place to take a Junior Ranger Pledge, right?  They were excited to receive their Grand Canyon National Park Junior Ranger badge.

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Taking it all in after earning their badge (see the gold badge proudly displayed on their backpacks?)

One of their Junior Ranger assignments was to record a short 30 second video that describes their experience at the Grand Canyon.  Here is Abbey's short video:



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After finishing up with their Junior Ranger program, it was time for us to hit the Bright Angel Trail.  There was a lot of mule dung to dodge, along with some ice and snow to step around.  The temperature felt amazing and it was absolutely perfect hiking weather, yet there was quite a bit of snow on the trail.  We made it as far down as we could before we had to turn around as sunset was quickly approaching and we didn't want to get stuck in the dark on the snowy, icy trails along the edge of the deep canyon.

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After our hike on Bright Angel Trail, we hopped into our car and drove to a lookout point (Powell Point) that was recommended to view the sunset.


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As the sun continued to set, the colors of the canyon changed from pinks and light purples, to deep blues and purples.

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Here is one of the videos I took at sunset, with a word from Drew, Luke and Abbey to describe their first Grand Canyon experience:


And to finish off the post, here is a photo that Luke took with my phone of me and Drew, sitting on a ledge at sunset:


Arizona brought many special memories and amazing scenery for the first day of our Great Western adventure.  The hikes were absolutely perfect.  We ended up hiking almost 8 miles that first day.  We headed into Williams after sunset and a yummy meal and were looking forward to our hiking and exploration at Joshua Tree National Park in California the following day.  Stay tuned for that blog post!