Weekend Adventure: Maple Grove Hot Springs

As much as I love cramming as much hiking as possible into a short weekend trip, this weekend was a breath of fresh air for me. At first it felt a little strange, but I quickly welcomed the much-needed rest and relaxation.

A few months ago, I was looking around the internet for hot springs nearby. I know there are several in Utah but we’ve never been to any of them, and I was hoping to find out which one was the best. In my Google search, I stumbled upon Maple Grove Hot Springs.

It was a cute little hot springs in Idaho — not too far of a drive — and they had those adorable little canvas tents that always look Pinterest-perfect. They also had some tent sites (bring your own tent), cabins and yurts. But I was super bummed to find out that they weren’t open yet! They were finishing a remodel and would be open soon, so I put my email on the list to get updates and promptly forgot about it and moved on to the next thing.

A few weeks ago, I got an email that Maple Grove Hot Springs was open for business! I asked Kevin if he still wanted to go and it seemed like a great thing to do in the middle of all of our trips to the hot, hot Southern Utah. We booked a canvas tent for July 19-21 and got a great early bird deal!

We left on Friday after work — per usual — and unfortunately this was the first trip requiring us to drive north instead of south so we hit a considerable amount of traffic. We had expected this and were content to sit in traffic and listen to the End of the World podcast by Josh Clark (10/10 would recommend). After stopping for a quick dinner at Chipotle (my fav and go-to), traffic sped up a bit and we finally reached our destination.

If you’ve never been to a place before and you’re also listening to a podcast called “End of the World” as you’re driving there, you might say to your husband as he turns off the highway onto a windy dirt road that seems to be taking you into nowhere, past what looks like abandoned farmhouses with no other life in sight:

“Babe, this is totally going to be one of those places where the person running it is a serial killer and we never make it out alive.”

Kevin was not following this line of thought, and we were both pleasantly surprised to find that the windy dirt road did not in fact lead to a serial killer’s barn, but to a beautiful little meadow with canvas tents and yurts and pools, right next to the river!

A note for travelers: I think the dirt road was maybe 3-5 miles long. It is bumpy but you could definitely make it there in a car (I would have been totally confident taking my Corolla down this road). Don’t worry, there are no serial killers here and it’s a lovely little spot far away from the noise of the highway.

Although we arrived after 8:00pm, the staff members were still milling about, tidying up and chatting with visitors, and they were able to get us settled in one of the canvas tents. Although they are open for business, they are not quite yet done with their renovations. They are finishing up a small building which will have a cafĂ© and restrooms, but in the meantime they have two outhouses available (which I can attest are without a doubt the cleanest outhouses I’ve ever used).

Our tent was very cute and looked exactly like the photos on the website. We were not disappointed. It had two double beds and originally, we planned on sleeping together in one of the beds, but we were too hot so we spread out and got our own beds for the weekend! The tent had some lovely amenities — a small trash can, lots of pillows on the bed, very cozy bedding, a candle that we used both nights, two chairs on the “patio” and a small chair and some stools to sit on inside the tent. A group of 5 people came to stay in the tent next to ours on the second night (that one also had 2 double beds) and they seemed to make it work.

The pools themselves were absolutely wonderful. There were 3 with varying temperatures — I think the hottest one was 108 and the coolest was 101 — and also two swimming pools (which we did not go in but were still warm). The river was also right there so we could dip in and cool off whenever we wanted — and also take a turn using the canoe and paddle boards.

We spent the entire day reading, soaking, and relaxing. We sunbathed on the deck by the pools in the morning and found a shady spot in the grass in the afternoon — because Kevin was already sunburnt! — and I had finished my book by the time we went to bed. It was such a wonderful, relaxing day and I slept great and felt rested and recharged on Sunday morning.

Maple Grove Hot Springs gets 5/5 stars. The hot springs were wonderful and the canvas tent was clean (and the outhouses were astonishingly clean!). We loved that we could use the canoe and paddle boards in the river, and we didn’t really mind not having showers because we spent the whole weekend in the water anyway. Yes, there are bugs here. There are mosquitos in the evenings — bring some bug repellent — and we did have some of those pesky ear wig bugs in our tent (but aside from being just nasty, they don’t actually bite or sting so they are more of a nuisance than anything). If you’re expecting a luxury resort with all the accommodations, this place is not for you. If you want to have a lovely, relaxing soak in a hot springs far far away from large crowds of people — with a pool all to yourself — this is the place for you.

I’m not sure if we will go back again this summer (because the desert is calling me and I have so many more places to explore) but we will definitely come back eventually!

We left fairly early Sunday morning because we wanted to stop at Bear Lake on our way home. It seems to be the place everyone in Utah goes every summer so we were intrigued. It was really beautiful and the water was clear, but we weren’t that impressed with it and we didn’t end up staying. The North Beach was packed with people so we drove over to the East Beach and there were less people, but more garbage on the beaches and mosquitoes everywhere.

It definitely seems like the kind of lake that is amazing if you have a boat and can spend all your time out in the middle of the lake, but if you’re beach-bound it seems a bit less fun. But I think I’ve been spoiled by my summers at Lake Tahoe and growing up so close to the Oregon Coast. We were glad we checked out Bear Lake rather than booking a campsite for the weekend, because we probably won’t go back this summer. Now, if anyone has a boat and wants to invite us — that’s another story!

We drove home a different way and ended up driving through Evanston, Wyoming. Neither of us have been to Wyoming so now we can technically cross that off our list! We stopped at a decent restaurant — nothing to write home about — and a really cute coffee shop called The Caffeinated Cowboy (they also have sodas). We saw a bunch of hilarious signs at the Wyoming/Utah border, including a store called LIQUOR AND FIREWORKS (a great combination).

And now, we are gearing up for our next trip — Bryce Canyon National Park! And I think we’re bringing our bikes, so stay tuned!

Edit: Kevin got on my case about this blog post because somehow I forgot a really hilarious thing that happened during our drive home, so we’re going to insert that here.

Kevin (driving) yells something like, “Babe, help!”

I turn to look at him, trying to figure out why he just yelled help and he’s like, “Quick, get me my glasses!”

In my head I’m like, dude you are wearing your glasses (sunglasses) but he must mean his real glasses.

He’s like, “Hurry, my contact just fell out!”

At this point I’m like, “WTF dude maybe you should have led with that!” and I’m grabbing his glasses from the bag in the backseat.

He takes off his sunglasses and there’s his contact sitting on the rim of his sunglasses. Unbelievable. He takes out the other contact and puts his glasses on and all is well, and then proceeds to tell me a story about how this happened once before in the pouring rain…

Needless to say nothing bad happened, but it was pretty crazy and Kevin was really upset that I forgot about it while writing this post so there, are you happy now babe?!

Weekend Adventure: Zion National Park

Guys, we finally made it to Zion!

We changed it up this trip and opted for a hotel stay because — in case you’re not aware — it is now hot as balls in Southern Utah and a few weeks ago when we were in Canyonlands trying to sleep in the 80-degree heat, we decided that we needed a break from tent camping in these extreme temperatures.

Remember, we’re used to camping in Oregon where it gets absurdly, wonderfully cold at night, even in the summer.

We stayed at the La Quinta Inn in Springdale, right outside the entrance to the park. The hotel was reasonably priced (I think about $150 a night) and it looked like a freaking resort. Also, I have to say that after walking through the town and seeing the other hotels, you could definitely get away with staying in a motel or cheaper hotel here and it would still be nice (and have a pool).

A note to travelers driving north to south: if you want a plethora of restaurant and fast food options, stop in Cedar City. There are quite a few food options in Hurricane but not nearly as many. Also, come on Utah, bring me some more Chipotle restaurants please!

I haven’t been to all of the national parks (yet), but so far Zion appears to be the Disneyland of national parks. They have a shuttle system for the park — which we knew about — so you have to park at the visitor’s center and take the shuttle. The visitor’s center parking fills up quickly so if you don’t arrive early enough, you’ll be better off just taking a shuttle from Springdale into the park. There are several shuttle stops in the town — walking distance from any of the hotels — that take you to the park’s pedestrian entrance.

What we didn’t know was that at 7:30am the line for the shuttle would already be insanely long! We waited about 45 minutes to get on the shuttle. Alternatively, we could have walked to the museum and probably gotten on a shuttle faster at the second stop, but it really wasn’t that bad of a wait, and anyone who has been to Disneyland or Six Flags can tell you that they’ve sat through worse lines.

We decided to start with Angel’s Landing. It’s a long-ish, very strenuous and scary (for Kevin) hike and we weren’t sure if we’d want to do anything else after completing it. It was an absolutely amazing hike. 10/10 would recommend. Yes, it is very high up and there are cliffs and it’s very strenuous (we were so sore the next day!) but it is so worth it. If you have a legitimate fear of heights or you have physical limitations, this hike may not be the right one for you — but you can still go to an awesome lookout below Angel’s Landing so you should definitely at least do that! The trail up to the lookout is paved and very accessible (it’s a long ways up but not too steep).

We had lofty goals of hiking Angel’s Landing and The Narrows in the same day but Angel’s Landing took a lot more out of us than we thought (and it takes awhile to get to the top because there are so many people going up and down). We decided to hit up the museum (obviously to watch the video) before leaving the park for the day.

And it was a good thing we decided to leave because — TMI — my special lady monthly time decided to make an early appearance and I had limited supplies on-hand. We headed back to the hotel and decided to spend a few hours by the pool before dinner. Everyone else was still at the park so we had the pool to ourselves for two hours!

We had an early dinner around 4:00pm at the Zion Canyon Brewing Company. It was already super busy either with the early dinner rush or the late lunch rush, but we only had to wait a few minutes. The food was delicious and reasonably priced — we both had burgers and a hearty portion of fries — and they had chimichurri fries! Basically I have been missing out on these my whole life and I didn’t even know it! They also had some great beer selections. I haven’t been drinking recently but I decided to go for the Coffee Stout, which was delicious and totally worth it — basically an iced coffee with a side of beer.

Unfortunately, we had eaten dinner a little bit too early. After we finished eating, we realized that we were exhausted and sore from the hike but it was only 5:30pm! I tried to convince Kevin that it was still early enough to nap but no dice. We wandered around the town for awhile and spent $20 on stickers because we’ve started collecting them and sending them to my mom after every trip. In my defense, stickers are a lot smaller than the average souvenir and not nearly as mainstream as collectible shot glasses (which you can — surprisingly — still find in Utah!).

We settled in for the night at about 7 when we realized Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was on tv and we didn’t feel like walking around anymore. It became very apparent that we’d eaten dinner too early when we had to venture back outside to get Kevin second dinner (overpriced Subway) and then I convinced him to go to bed by 10 because I was exhausted.

We had planned on hiking The Narrows the next morning, but after oversleeping and realizing it was 9:00am we decided on a different plan. The park was even more crowded than the day before — even though it was Sunday! — and we didn’t feel like doing a 10-mile hike (I’m not kidding you, that Angel’s Landing hike was tough). We decided that, rather than force ourselves to do a long-ass hike when we weren’t feeling it, we could just come back another time!

Rather than leaving the same way we came, we decided to drive on the scenic highway through Zion up toward Bryce. On our way up the canyon, we got to unexpectedly check off one of my bucket list items! I’ve always wanted to pick up a hitchhiker but I’m either alone (unsafe) or we’re together but the car is full of stuff. But as we were driving up the windy canyon road, we spotted a family of climbers with a sign that we couldn’t read, so I asked Kevin to pull over.

Turns out they had parked below because of the crowds and the lack of parking spaces, and were just trying to get to the trailhead a few miles up the road. We threw our stuff in the back of the truck and managed to make room for all four of them! On the way, we learned that they were from Montreal, Canada and were doing a long road trip to various national parks! It was such a wonderful experience and it definitely made me want to do things like this more often.

We drove through the 1-mile-long tunnel and then dropped them off at the trailhead. You can pay $15 to be the “only one” driving through the tunnel, but you can’t even stop at the lookout spots in the middle of the tunnel, so what’s even the point? Save your $15 and just drive through with everyone else!

A friend of Kevin’s had recommended that we stop at the lookout just past the tunnel, which ended up being a 1-mile round-trip hike and not a “get out of your car and take some pictures” lookout. But it was totally worth it! Absolutely stunning views.

The entire drive on the scenic highway was absolutely beautiful and I was convinced I wanted to move there by the time we circled back to I-15. We also checked out the Kolob Canyons section of Zion. We didn’t do any hiking, but we did grab a map and we drove to the end of the road just to see what trails were out there. I think we’ll definitely do some of those hikes next time because there was practically no one there!

If you are planning a trip to Zion or wanting to go, don’t be discouraged by how crowded it is or the fact that you have to take the shuttle through the park instead of driving. We honestly had a great experience here and we were happy to know that the park is being preserved better by limiting traffic only to the shuttle, rather than building several large parking lots by each trailhead. Yes, there are a lot of people and yes, you will wait in line. But if you’ve ever been to Disneyland or Six Flags or any theme park, those places make Zion seem empty in comparison.

If you want to get a parking spot, get to the visitor’s center before 8:00am. If you’re staying in the town just outside the park and you know you won’t make it to the park that early, just take the shuttle from town to the park’s pedestrian entrance. If there is nowhere to park and you’re forced to park outside of Zion, most of the parking lots and street parking in town were like $15 for the day! Which, if you’ve ever had to work in a downtown metropolitan area, is pretty much the norm, but if you’re hoping to save a few bucks — just leave your car at the hotel and shuttle in.

It’s truly a beautiful place and as much as we would love to go on a weekday or on the offseason, it’s still completely doable to have an enjoyable trip to Zion on a weekend in the middle of tourist season. And I love the shuttles. I wish more national parks would do this!

We did not camp this time because of the heat, of course, but also because it’s really hard to get a campsite inside the park. When we drove back via the scenic highway, we found a couple of small towns with campsites and rv parks. This is a slightly farther drive from Zion but this is the area I would camp at if we decided to camp next time. But honestly, if a hotel is in your budget — this is one of the places where I feel like it’s definitely worth it. Coming home to an air conditioned hotel room after hiking in the hot weather all day is worth my money!

We are camping at Kodachrome Basin State Park in a few weeks (near Bryce Canyon National Park) so we’ll see how that goes!

Weekend Adventure: Mesa Verde National Park

Kevin and I were able to take Friday off last week so we could have an extended weekend adventure at Mesa Verde. We left Wednesday afternoon and returned Sunday. It’s a 6 hour drive (but does not feel like one) so it was nice to spend a few extra days there before having to drive all the way back home.

Day 1 – Wednesday

Ideally, we wanted to get to the park at a reasonable hour (before it got dark) and we managed to leave by 2:30pm on Wednesday afternoon. We didn’t hit any traffic and — despite stopping several times for me to pee — made it to the park before 9:00pm. We stayed inside the park at the Morefield Campground and had been able to reserve our campsite a month in advance. Although you are able to make a reservation, you do not get to reserve a specific campsite — so we had to drive through the tent camping area and find one that was open.

Already, we were having a much better camping experience than we had the week prior at The Needles. We were staying somewhere much higher in elevation than the Utah desert, so the temperature was much better for camping (about 85 during the day, cooling off significantly at night to around 45). We set up our campsite and went to bed shortly after since we’d both been up early that morning and were planning to be at the visitor’s center at 7:30 the next morning to sign up for the guided tours.

Day 2 – Thursday

We made it to the visitor’s center by 7:45am and there was already a huge line to sign up for the tours. I think we waited in line for about an hour. The morning times were already full but we weren’t stressed about it since we were going to be there until Sunday. We ended up signing up for two guided tours that afternoon, and one on Friday morning. Since we had some time before our first tour, we headed back to camp to make breakfast (Mountainhouse Breakfast Skillet is a 10/10) and get ready.

Mesa Verde is huge and everything is really spread out, so it was a 20-mile drive to the area where our tours would start. We drove over there early so we could stop at some of the viewpoints along the way and also check out the museum. Of course, the museum had a video playing so we had to sit and watch that. The museum had a lot of really cool artifacts and information about the archaeological sites. If you’re into that sort of thing, you could easily spend an hour at this museum. It’s not very big but it’s packed full of cool stuff.

We had some more time to kill so we drove along the Mesa Top Loop, where you can look at some of the early Ancestral Pueblo sites. These sites are pit houses — homes dug into the ground — and while they are super fascinating, there are a ton of them. If you’re not interested in reading the specific information at each site, you probably don’t need to stop and take a look at every single pit house.

Our first tour was Cliff Palace, one of the most popular tours. We had about 40 people in our tour group and a great ranger guide (shout out to Ranger Pete!). The tour is an hour long — and tickets for these tours are $5 a person — and it’s only about a half-mile long. Essentially, you’re walking down steep steps to the site and then walking back up. Most of the tour time is spent looking at the site and listening to the ranger tell the story of the site. It was absolutely beautiful — and amazing that it’s been preserved so well over time — and I love the feeling of being transported back in time and imagining how people lived back then and what their daily life was like.

Our second tour was Balcony House, another popular and more challenging tour. We had an hour in between tours to drive over to the next place and eat a snack. We had another amazing tour guide and again, about 40 people in the group. I think the tours are capped at 50 people, but there are early bird and evening tours that you can reserve online (for a higher price) that are smaller groups, but they were sold out online. Balcony House was really fun because it involved climbing a 32-foot ladder and crawling through an incredibly small tunnel. It also allowed us to have a more intimate look at the house, walking behind it as well as in front of it.

If you’re going to Mesa Verde, I would highly recommend doing both of these tours.

After our second tour, we finished driving around the Mesa Top Loop and headed back to camp, stopping along the way to check out the Farview Sites. Back at camp, we enjoyed free, hot showers and cooked beer brats over the fire. We also had watermelon (my fav) and chips and dip (Kevin’s fav) to complete our little 4th of July dinner.

There was a ranger talk at 9pm that Kevin really wanted to check out, so we drove over to the Amphitheater. The ranger started out his talk by making everyone sing, which was hilarious because you could tell that nobody wanted to but we all felt like we couldn’t tell him no. I was amazed that even the kids were shy — I feel like when I was a kid I would have been singing at the top of my lungs. We sang about four songs and then he began his talk, which was about the history of the national parks and what we’re leaving for the future. It was a great talk — particularly for the 4th of July — and it helped me to focus on the things that America has actually done well (i.e. preserving this land and creating National Parks and National Monuments so that future generations can enjoy them). I feel like it’s so easy to focus these days on what’s not going well or the ways in which we’re failing as a country — and it’s important to continue to work on these things and not turn a blind eye to them, but it’s also important to appreciate the things we’ve done well in the past and hopefully will continue to do. It felt so much more patriotic to me than any 4th of July I’ve ever had — plus I really don’t get the big deal with fireworks. They’re cool but I really only want to see a fireworks show every few years.

Day 3 – Friday

We had a tour at 10am, so we got to sleep in a little bit and then head out 20 miles to the other side of the park. Our last tour — long house — was probably my favorite tour. It’s a longer tour — about 2 hours — and requires hiking about 2.5 miles round-trip. It’s a much more in-depth tour and you’re able to walk throughout the house and really feel like you’re immersing yourself inside it and trying to picture what life was like when the Ancestral Puebloans lived here. We thoroughly enjoyed this tour and would highly recommend it.

One thing to note — about all 3 tours — is that they are somewhat redundant. Of course, they are 3 different archaeological sites so each site has a different story, and each ranger has their own style of storytelling, but by the time we got to our third tour — a lot of the information we were hearing we’d already heard before, especially the questions people were asking. So just keep in mind that you might hear information you’ve already heard — and it might be someone’s first tour even though it’s your third — and you can still ask your own questions and appreciate the new information you do learn on each tour.

After the tour, it was around lunchtime. We walked down to Step House, which is a self-guided hike very close to Long House, and that was a really cool site to check out but a very steep climb in and out. There are two ways you can get down to it and the option on the left is a more accessible paved trail, while the option on the right has steep stairs. Definitely a worthwhile hike, and fun to be able to explore yourself without a tour guide. The other self-guided hike, Spruce Tree House, was closed due to some rockfall hazards but you can still see it from the viewpoint. I would definitely want to do that hike if we come back.

We did stop at one of the restaurants/cafes near the Farview Lodge to see if we could get some lunch but the food was incredibly overpriced so we grabbed a scoop of ice cream and decided to head into town for lunch. We ate at a Mexican restaurant called Tequila’s, which was delicious and reasonably priced, and then we decided to drive to Four Corners since it was only an hour away and we’d never been.

Four Corners is the definition of American tourism. You have to pay like $5 a person to get in, and then stand in a long line of people waiting to take a photo of themselves (or their family) standing on all four states at one time. Yes, we got some cool photos and we can check this off our bucket list but I would not recommend this if you don’t really care about the whole “I stood in all 4 states at once” thing. The reality is you’ll spend an hour in line getting sunburnt just to take a couple of photos — and get asked to take photos for other people. I’m glad we did it but we both decided we definitely weren’t coming back with our kids in the future — they can go as adults if they want, we’ve got cooler places to see! The only cool thing about Four Corners is they do have kiosks all around the square with people selling t-shirts (of course), but also people selling unique jewelry and pottery — and I think that’s really cool and absolutely support that.

We stopped at Safeway — oh how we’ve missed it, there are no Safeways in Utah — to grab some more hot dog buns and of course, s’mores ingredients and more Coronas for Kevin. We had our 4th of July dinner spread for the second time — along with s’mores — and spent some time reading and sitting in front of the fire.

Side note: if you’re allergic to grass or pollen or trees or anything, come to Mesa Verde prepared for an allergy attack. Living in Utah, my allergies really only flare up in June and then they settle down — but I was definitely allergic to some sort of plant in this camground/area and unfortunately became that person who is constantly sneezing and blowing their nose.

Day 4 – Saturday

By this time, we’d pretty much seen everything in Mesa Verde. We’d done all the tours and stopped at the sites and view points. There are several hikes that we didn’t do — we just weren’t feeling it — but I would like to do them if we come back. We decided to drive out to the Canyons of the Ancients visitors center on Saturday and check it out. We met a very nice employee at the visitor’s center who gave us several maps of the area and told us where he recommended we go, since we had the entire day, and we set off on our journey.

We drove to Lowry Pueblo, which was really cool because you could actually walk inside it. Then, we drove to the Hovenweep National Monument area and hiked to three structures — holly, horseshoe, and hackberry — and also did a 2-mile loop hike behind the Hovenweep visitor’s center where you can see several structures up close. We also played some Pokemon Go during this hike — we haven’t played consistently since last summer but it is something fun to do when you’re exploring new places.

After all the driving and hiking, it was about 5pm and we were done for the day so we headed back to camp — after I convinced Kevin that we should just eat the food at camp and not go out to eat again. We found a little surprise back at our campsite — our cooler and one of our totes was missing!

Left behind on the picnic table was a friendly little note from the park law enforcement that our cooler and tote had been confiscated. Thus began our not-so-fun adventure of figuring out how to get our stuff back. After asking a ranger who was in the campground and being redirected to the ranger station, we were finally told that our cooler was in the back of some law enforcement person’s vehicle somewhere in the park and eventually that person would drive back around and return it to us but they had no idea when.

We had to wait an hour and a half at our camp — since we had to be there when they returned it, we couldn’t just leave and grab dinner — and it was finally returned to us along with a lovely $80 citation (not just a fine, a federal citation). We found out — after the law enforcement officer had left — that while the cooler was being driven around the park, one of the bottles inside it had broken and we had to clean up the spill and the broken glass, and some of our food was ruined.

So, a friendly PSA to anyone visiting Mesa Verde (or any other National Park in bear country) — the park law enforcement is allowed to take your personal items from your campsite, and they do not care if your food items are in a bear-proof cooler — it apparently doesn’t matter, the cooler cannot be left “unattended” and must be in your vehicle or in their bear-proof storage containers (our campsite didn’t have one of these) — and they will fine you at least $80 (we found out this is actually the lowest fine, the highest is up to $300). And apparently if the cooler had been left inside our tent (our flimsy, not bear-proof tent), that would have also been fine — but it was under our tent’s vestibule — so just make sure that if you’re going to camp in this park, you follow the rules to a T because unfortunately, the money you’ll have to pay will go to the law enforcement, not the park itself (I think if it had gone to the park directly we’d be happy to think of it as an $80 forced donation).

Obviously this was a shitty way to spend the last night of our trip. We were incredibly frustrated, since we had thought we were following the rules with our bear-proof cooler, and embarrassed because we’ve both been camping and hunting since the beginning of our existence. Also, they had literally confiscated all of our food so we were starving by the time we got it back. But, lesson learned — always double-check if you’re not sure what the specific rules are, and don’t just assume that because your cooler is bear-proof that it follows the guidelines of the park, oh and remember that if you’re camping on federal land the law enforcement can just take your stuff.

And a little note to everyone who is thinking, “Well, Sami — this is what happens when you don’t follow the rules and they’re just doing their job trying to keep the park safe.”

I am very appreciative of the rangers and law enforcement who are working hard to keep the park safe for everyone — I just wish that the efforts were more concentrated on the campsites where food was literally being left out on picnic tables, leftovers from breakfast still in the pan and food left out on plates. Also, I’m still weirded out that my stuff was driven around in a vehicle all day rather than being dropped off at a ranger station, but we’ve paid our fine and we did let them know that our things were mishandled and glass was broken in our cooler so we’ve done our due diligence there.

While we probably won’t look back on this and laugh in 50 years, Kevin did find it incredibly funny that this whole ordeal brought out my right-wing, redneck, conspiracy theorist personality that I didn’t even know existed. I spent a few hours ranting about how my rights were being infringed upon and how dare they look through my personal items and, not only that, actually take my shit and this is exactly why people don’t trust the government and won’t give up their guns. It’s possible I was a crazy doomsday prepper who lived on some land in an isolated area and shot at anyone who came within 50 feet of my house in a past life.

And now we can joke about how Kevin’s got a record because of his “unattended cooler”. So there’s that.

Day 5 – Sunday

We left pretty early on Sunday morning and got back home by about 2:00pm, with plenty of time to get everything unloaded, go to the gym (me), play Xbox (Kevin), and wash and vacuum the truck (a team effort). On the way, we stopped at an adorable coffee shop in Cortez, CO called The Silver Bean. It’s a coffee shop inside an Airstream and you can either drive-thru or go inside (we went inside, obviously). Great coffee and such a cute coffee shop — 10/10.

Although it was really fun exploring the nearby areas and visiting Four Corners, we probably could have done Mesa Verde in a shorter weekend trip. Although it was a longer drive and it was nice to have that extra time, there isn’t as much to see and do as some of the other national parks we’ve been to — and we could have easily fit all of the tours and hiking into a weekend trip. So if you’re planning on visiting Mesa Verde, give yourself about two full days and that should be enough. If you want to spread things out and take more time and relax, you absolutely can — we’re just used to packing as much as we can into each day that we forget we can also just hang out at camp and read (which we did and it was awesome).

If there’s one thing I am learning as a part-time traveler, it’s that things are never going to go exactly as planned. Sometimes you’re going to eat out more than you thought, or it’s going to be hotter or windier than you thought, or you’re going to have terrible allergies. For me, this has helped manage my anxiety so well because what triggers me is uncertainty, ambiguity, the unexpected — and what helps me deal with that is knowing that life goes on when things don’t go as planned, and I get to decide how much that affects me. Sure, I could let an $80 fine ruin my weekend or I could be mad about it for awhile and then find ways to laugh about it later.

There is nothing routine or certain about weekend travel — and I’m starting to really love that. No matter where we go or what happens, it’s always an adventure!

Weekend Adventure: The Needles

This was our fourth consecutive weekend adventure — we traveled every single weekend in June — and it was not quite the weekend we pictured. We have discovered that there is a mix of good and not-so-great moments on all these trips. When you are camping in a tent at the mercy of the elements, nothing is going to be perfect — such is life — and this weekend was a perfect example of a perfect storm.

It started out great! I had to go in to work (usually I work from home on Fridays so I can get everything packed and ready to go) for a company meeting so Kevin got home before me and packed everything into the truck. He only forgot like 3 (nonessential) items, and we still left before 4:00. We would have left earlier but Kevin had a hankering for Sodalicious so I waited in the long Friday afternoon line for our favorite Summer Lovin’ drink on my way home.

We stopped in Moab to eat at Wendy’s (trying to be frugal) and found ourselves at one of the most ratchet Wendy’s I’ve ever seen. Bathroom in complete disarray, no ice available at the fancy soda machines, and a handful of really strange people sitting in the dining room. But, we had an $8 dinner so it was a success and we forged ahead. We’ve never been to The Needles so we’ve never had a reason to drive all the way through the town of Moab — it’s a lot bigger than it seems!

The drive from Moab to The Needles was absolutely beautiful. Kevin especially liked it because there’s much more green in the scenery — the red rock is too desert-y for him. The road from the highway to The Needles was equally beautiful — and we gathered that it’s a frequent site for scenic drives as we passed several people driving solo in their nice cars with no camping equipment visible. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, but if scenic drives are your thing I highly recommend checking out that area.

We weren’t sure if there’d be a campsite available at The Needles since we couldn’t reserve one ahead of time (by the way, The Needles is part of Canyonlands National Park — there are 3 separate sections of the park), so we decided to check out Hamburger Rock campground which was a few miles before the park entrance. Hamburger Rock turned out to be this big rock with about 8 campsites around it — and the ground was pretty sloped and uneven, not great for a tent — so we kept going and crossed our fingers that a campsite would be available in the park.

Luckily (or so we thought) there were several campsites available! We picked on and started unloading our stuff. We had to stop and immediately cover ourselves in bug spray because there were mosquitos out, but they didn’t seem too bad. As soon as we got our tent out and started trying to set it up, the wind picked up. I don’t know exactly how windy it was because neither of us had cell service to check the weather, but it was huge gusts of wind. It was really frustrating at the time, but kind of comical now because the tent would not stay and it took us twice as long to get it set up.

Ironically, we had noticed these rocks sitting around the tent area (they had these little sandboxes for you to put your tent in) and we were like, what are these rocks for?

Well, they’re for securing the tent in the event of crazy wind — because as it turns out, you can’t stake the tent down in the sandbox. So, we finally got the tent up and I crawled inside it with all of our stuff to try and secure it so I could set up the sleeping pad. Meanwhile, Kevin was trying to get the vestibule set up by himself and I could hear him cursing to himself and laughing (or crying) as the wind worked against him every step of the way.

Kevin’s tent engineering skills!

Eventually, I got all the stuff set up inside the tent and Kevin had rigged up the vestibule using the rocks and it seemed to be secure. At this point, it was probably around 9:30 so we got in the tent and settled in for the night. Kevin wanted to finish his book so we read for about an hour and a half before going to bed. It was hot and the wind was still doing its thing, but at least it was quiet and there were no noisy people around.

Well, the wind — as it turns out — was the opposite of quiet. If there had been rain accompanying the wind, our tent would have been finished. We tossed and turned for about two hours, trying to sleep in the hot as balls tent with these crazy loud and unpredictable gusts of wind threatening to blow our tent over. I tried putting tissues in my ears as makeshift earplugs — didn’t work. I tried wrapping my pillow around my head — didn’t work, too hot. Eventually, Kevin sat up and said, “I can’t do this, I’m going to the truck.”

So we got up, grabbed our pillows and blankets and climbed in the truck. We tried several sleeping arrangements. Me in the backseat, Kevin in the passenger seat — no dice, not enough room for my legs and Kevin couldn’t recline the seat all the way. Me in the driver’s seat, Kevin in the passenger seat — not comfortable and we realized we’d need to open the windows because it was still too hot. In the midst of all this shuffling, we also set off the car alarm — but if anyone nearby could hear it, they were probably still awake anyway.

Finally, Kevin gave up and resigned himself to the fact that he was too tall to fit anywhere in the truck. Our late-night frustrated conversation went like this:

Kevin: “This is the only time I wish we would have bought a Tundra.”

Me: “This is the only time I wish we would have bought an Airstream.”

Me: “Do you think we’ll look back at this in 50 years and laugh?”

Kevin: “No, I think we’ll still be pretty bitter about it.”

Kevin grabbed the sleeping pad out of the tent and set it up in the bed of the truck. I climbed back into the backseat and rolled down the windows. I found a way to set up my pillow so it wrapped around my head a little bit and blocked out the wind noise, and I had rolled down the windows just enough to have a nice breeze blowing on my face, but I could hear Kevin angrily tossing and turning in the bed of the truck and I thought, “Any minute now he’s going to come in here and just start driving.”

Thankfully, I fell asleep and Kevin did not do that. I woke up in the morning — a little stiff and sore from the awkward sleeping position — and found that Kevin was gone. After a brief five seconds of panicking that he’d gone crazy and run off into the desert, I deduced that he must have gone back into the tent. I crawled back in with him and immediately regretted that decision because the wind had completely stopped and it was still hot as balls in the tent — now with no airflow.

I retreated from the tent back to the outdoors to make myself a coffee — where I was assaulted by swarms of bugs that didn’t appear to be biting me but were definitely not pleasant. I grabbed my coffee and my book and got back in the truck. Kevin got up as I was finishing my book and I told him to climb in the truck with me to avoid the bugs, which were already irritating him.

Kevin is not a morning person. He does not function until he has been awake for at least one hour, and this morning it was even worse because he confessed to me that he had maybe gotten two hours of sleep. It was too windy, then it was too cold, then the wind stopped and the bugs descended on him and he had to retreat to the tent where it was too hot. Needless to say, he was on the struggle bus. Trying to be positive, I said we should go to the visitor’s center and get a map and do our hikes, and then figure out what to do about the sleeping situation.

We took the scenic drive road out to the end of the park, stopping at a few short “hikes” along the way. The bugs were absolutely ridiculous. I don’t think any of them were biting us except the occasional mosquito, but we were having to swat them away from our faces every five seconds. We did see a guy wearing a full on netted hat to keep the bugs out, so we wondered if this was some sort of a known thing that the bugs are just terrible here.

We drove over to the visitor’s center and checked in, showed them our national parks pass and got a map — and of course, Kevin had to watch the video. We decided we would drive up the one road that you don’t need a permit for — I think it was called the Colorado River Overlook Road — and then do the Cowboy Camp hike and be done for the day. The offroad drive was fun — not too technical, but we didn’t make it all the way to the end — and had some beautiful views. We stopped the truck at a bit of a rough spot and decided to just walk out the road a ways and take some photos.

We ate our lunch — a delicious and refreshing cold peanut noodle salad — and headed back toward the Cowboy Camp hike. It’s not really a hike — maybe half a mile — but you get to see the remnants of an old cowboy camp and some petroglyphs and it’s pretty freakin’ cool. Obviously, it would have been cooler if not for the heat and the bugs — and we probably would have done other hikes but Kevin was running on fumes at this point.

We would have tolerated the heat, but the heat + wind at night + bugs was too much, especially after barely sleeping the night before. We didn’t want to stay another night, but we didn’t want to drive all the way home and throw in the towel — so we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel in Moab. We booked a nice hotel with a pool and started driving back. On our way back into town, we drove down the road to the Needles Overlook. If you’re driving out this way, I highly recommend taking this detour. It’s about 22 miles but the road is totally fine and you can drive pretty fast — and the view is so worth it. You can see The Needles as well as a bunch of other landmarks from this amazing viewpoint. I’m so glad we did this (although there were bugs here too, damn it!) because it made the whole trip worth it.

We also stopped at the Hole in the Rock, which is a tourist attraction right outside of Moab. It’s a house that was built inside the rock, and you can actually pay to take a tour of the house. The tour prices are a little steep but they’re worth it, and I’m happy that the little souvenir shop is making some money off this place so they keep it open. It’s a very cool house and I highly recommend taking the tour if you stop by. There are lots of cool facts about the family who built the house and lived in it. The only sad thing is that they used to have a diner open there and ended up closing it, which is such a bummer because I feel like that would be the coolest thing and they’d get a lot of business if they reopened the diner — but it’s still pretty awesome and Kevin wants to build us a house in a cave now. We also saw Wilson Arch, which you can pull over and see from the road — or walk all the way up to it!

Back in Moab, we stopped at The Spoke to grab our favorite ice cream, went on a search for swimsuits (we didn’t pack any), gave up on our swimsuit search and checked into our hotel. We decided it was too late for an afternoon nap so we went swimming in shorts (and a sports bra for me). It was the perfect way to spend our afternoon — cooling off in the pool and laying out to dry in the hot sun. We spent at least an hour out there before going to dinner. Since we were already having a “treat yo’self” moment, we decided to treat ourselves to Mexican food and share a margarita. 100% worth it.

When we returned to the hotel, Kevin tragically (and hilariously) rolled his ankle while taking off his shoes and almost took out an entire dresser and tv. He collapsed onto the bed and said, “We’re not hiking tomorrow.” I tried to wait an appropriate amount of time before laughing but failed and we laughed about how silly it was for at least half an hour before falling asleep (before 10pm).

I’m not big on hotels — I prefer my own bed — but after a night of sleeping in the backseat of a truck, that hotel bed was heaven and it felt like the best night’s sleep I’d ever gotten. We set an alarm for 8:15am so we’d have time to pack up and eat the free hotel breakfast — and we slept right up until the alarm went off.

I will say this about the hotel. The Big Horn Lodge is still my go-to because it’s so affordable and clean, but we stayed at the Aarchway Inn and they had just about the best continental breakfast I ever had. They had the whole spread, including biscuits and gravy (Kevin’s fav). I was able to get a really good price online and would definitely stay here again (not sponsored in any way, just shouting out some good hotel recommendations).

Since hiking was out due to Kevin’s ankle, we decided to go on a scenic drive. I found a cave on AllTrails that looked like it could be really fun to explore, and the directions were unclear but it seemed like you could drive right to it. So we decided to go on an adventure to find this cave. We ended up on a gravel road that is very popular for 4-wheelers and side-by-sides. We saw a car attempting to tackle this road and were amazed at how far they made it before they turned around. We had no issues in the truck but it was an incredibly bumpy experience.

The “trail” ended up just being the road continuing down the hill, so we followed the slightly more technical road down to the bottom of the canyon and eventually found the cave. Although it was mostly just dead ends, it was still a really fun cave to explore. There were parts of it where we had to use our lantern because it was completely pitch black, and at one point Kevin had to crawl through a really tiny space and he made it without freaking out. Unfortunately — because it was so nice and cool — there were mosquitos in there and we had to run back to the truck and grab our bug spray.

The drive back to Moab took way less time since we knew where we were going, and we had some fun with the 4WD and crawl settings in the truck — and of course we drove up a really steep hill just to see if we could do it. I definitely prefer hiking over driving, but it is still really fun to do and I know that Kevin has a lot of fun doing it. We found a few camping spots on our drive that we might try out the next time we’re in Moab, as well as a few hiking trails that I’ve put on my list.

Despite the fact that the weekend did not go as planned, we still had a lot of fun and enjoyed pampering ourselves with a little hotel stay. And now, we leave tomorrow for our long weekend trip to Mesa Verde National Park!

Weekend Adventure: Goblin Valley

Well, it only took a few tries before we finally had (almost) our dream weekend adventure experience! We actually left at a reasonable hour on Friday and we scored a completely free campsite about five minutes away from Goblin Valley State Park! It was absolutely beautiful — exactly where I was picturing myself on all of these weekend trips (as opposed to an rv park/campground surrounded by noisy people).

We did quickly realize that there were ants all over the ground, which made the location slightly less perfect for a brief moment — but they did not bother us one bit! The temperature dropped low enough at night that we weren’t freezing to death but were able to get a good night’s sleep!

We woke up early Saturday morning and headed for Goblin Valley State Park. We decided to also buy the Utah State Parks pass for $75 since we’re planning on visiting several this year. I think we got there at about 8:00am and made our breakfast: Mountainhouse biscuits & gravy and coffee. The place was deserted and I wondered if it just wasn’t nearly as popular as the other places we visited.

We set out to “hike” the valley of goblins, which was a weird experience for me because it’s not really a hike. There are a few “trails” you can follow but there’s not really a specific endpoint or goal. The point is to explore the valley and climb on rocks and yell “parkour” every so often while trying not to roll your ankle (side-note: Kevin rolled his ankle).

I thought I would get bored pretty quickly and be “done” since I’m used to strenuous, lengthy hikes that take all day, but we ended up being out there for at least four hours and it was easily the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I felt like a kid again, running around climbing on things and scraping my elbows and knees, not caring that I was getting dirt and sand all over my clothes. I actually left Kevin at one point and went off on my own and he didn’t follow me, so I had to go all the way back and find him (sitting in the shade, sipping a martini — okay there was no martini but he wished he had a Corona in that moment).

It was so much fun and we would definitely go back. By the time we returned to the truck for lunch, the place was packed. The parking lot was full and there were people everywhere! If you’d like any sort of solitude (and you don’t love the sweltering heat), I would recommend getting there before noon.

We ate our lunch (a grown-up version of Lunchables) and decided we were pretty tired (turns out Kevin had slept like shit and hadn’t told me) so we retired to our quiet little campsite for an afternoon nap. We found a not-so-nice surprise awaiting us at camp — biting flies — who attacked us mercilessly as soon as we got out of the truck. I heard Kevin say, “Run, save yourself!” so I ran back into the truck and shut the door. He followed shortly after, and we mustered up the strength to sprint all the way into the tent (potato chips in tow because, snacks) and lock ourselves inside.

After a few hours of napping (me) and playing Monopoly on the Switch until it died (Kevin), we ventured back out to see if the biting flies were still there. We put on some bug spray and sat outside reading for a couple of hours in the sunshine and were — thankfully — not bothered by the mean flies anymore. Kevin got to work on his tan lines and I finished my book.

We went back to Goblin Valley to watch the sunset and see the stars. It is known for having a really dark sky at nighttime — but this turned out to be pretty unnecessary since we could have seen the same starry sky from our campsite. But it was still fun watching people walk around the valley in the dark with their flashlights.

We decided that the next day we would hike Little Wildhorse Canyon. There is an 8-mile loop you can do that starts in Little Wildhorse Canyon and ends in Bell Canyon, with a 4WD road in the middle connecting both canyons. I had my heart set on hiking the loop but Kevin was less than enthused (and the biting flies had descended upon him when we were packing up the tent). I knew he would have no choice but to do the loop if we made it far enough, so that was my plan all along.

Little Wildhorse Canyon was absolutely stunning. We’ve never really hiked in a slot canyon before and it was beautiful. I can definitely see why you would not want to be in one of those during a flash flood, however — that’s basically Kevin’s worst nightmare. On the 4WD road connecting the two canyons, we saw an abandoned cabin right by the entrance to Bell Canyon and of course I had to explore it. Kevin was not excited about walking even farther than we needed to, but he only complained a little bit.

The cabin was actually really cool and had a lot of old stuff still inside it, as well as a completely wrecked car that Kevin tried to drive off in to no avail. Definitely worth checking out if you’re doing this hike and you’re into old cabins like I am.

Bell Canyon — compared to Little Wildhorse Canyon — was not as cool and exciting, but definitely more kid friendly. It’s a wider canyon with less scrambling and tight spaces involved, so it would be a great out-and-back hike, especially with kids.

The 8-mile loop as a whole was a great hike. It’s uphill for the first half and downhill for the second half. The cabin adds probably a quarter of a mile (uphill) to the hike. If you’re really just wanting the slot canyon experience, I would recommend just doing Little Wildhorse Canyon and turning around once you get to the end of the canyon. There is some climbing involved but it is very basic and could still be done with kids or pets. I think the hike took us about four or five hours.

We found a bunch of information at the trailhead explaining other hikes and attractions in the area, so we will definitely be back to explore Temple Mountain and the surrounding areas. This was definitely our cheapest trip to date since camping was free and we didn’t have to do a ton of driving.

Oh, and we did stop at a really great restaurant in Green River on Friday night called Ray’s Tavern and they had delicious, affordable burgers. If you’re looking for a quick option besides fast food, this was a really great find.

We are excited for our next adventure this weekend! We’ll be going to Canyonlands – The Needles!

Advice From A Former Lifeguard & Swim Instructor

Every summer — usually by early June — I read an article with a sad, heavy heart about a kid dying in a drowning accident. And it’s never just one kid. We’ve all read the statistics.

This post is not about statistics, or pointing fingers, or blame, or shame, or grief. I am not a parent. I am not qualified to tell people how to parent their children. And no one is qualified to blame a parent for their own kid drowning. We have no idea what that is like. We weren’t there. We cannot even begin to imagine what that experience — and the aftermath — is like.

I am, however, qualified to talk about swimming. I was a competitive swimmer for ten years. I started teaching swim lessons when I was 14 years old. I started working as a lifeguard at 15.

Drowning is a heart-wrenching topic to discuss, but I don’t think water safety has to be. I hope that this post will do more than just reinforce everything you’ve heard time and time again. I hope it will shed new light on things you’ve never considered, and I hope it will encourage you to enroll your kids in swim lessons this summer — and not out of fear or worry, because it’s something you want them to be able to enjoy for their entire lives.

Teach them to swim

The obvious first step in ensuring your kids learn about water safety and knowing they will be safe in or near water is teaching them to swim. Swim lessons are a great tool. Despite being a popular summer activity, swim lessons are actually offered year-round. In the summer, they are usually set up in two-week increments. Kids will attend lessons 4 or 5 days a week for two weeks, and then can enroll in the next session. During the rest of the year, swim lessons are usually offered one or two evenings a week. This might actually be a better alternative, particularly for working parents, as these lessons are usually in the evenings.

Check out the pools and community centers near you to find out what the options are. You don’t necessarily have to wait until summer vacation — which may be the busiest and most inopportune time — to check swim lessons off your list!

I used to think that everyone learned how to swim as a kid, and then found out that I was lucky that my parents could afford to send me to kids camp every summer where I not only learned to swim, but got to participate in so many other fun activities. It didn’t occur to me that there were people who didn’t have access to pools or couldn’t afford swim lessons until the pool I worked at decided to do a free swim lesson event.

It. Was. Packed.

The pool I worked at was in a low-income community and we had heard from many families that they would love to put their kids in lessons but the price of our lessons was too high, so we put on this event. We had to do the lessons in shifts because there were too many kids to even fit in the pool at one time! It was a hit. We started offering discounted swim lessons to low-income families after that.

Please check at your local pools or community centers to see if they offer something like this. If you are actively involved in your community, please reach out and see if you can coordinate something like this — it really makes a huge difference.

If swim lessons just aren’t in the cards right now, you can still get your kids more acquainted with water and water safety in your home. You can use the bathtub, or buy a small kiddie pool, and teach them these two things:

  1. How to put their face underwater and blow bubbles (i.e. not get water up their nose).
  2. How to float.

If you have a big enough bathtub or pool, teach them how to roll from their front to their back and float like a starfish with their arms out. If they are able to put their face underwater and blow bubbles (and not plug their nose) and they can float on their front and their back, that is a great foundation for being safe in the water and learning how to swim.

Do my kids need private swim lessons?

Absolutely not.

Private swim lessons are great if your kid is an advanced swimmer, or if they have special needs and require one-on-one attention. If your kid is just learning the basics, private swim lessons are not a necessity. Kids need breaks when learning to swim, so having a group lesson where kids swim one at a time to the instructor gives your kid a chance to take a break. In a one-on-one lesson, your kid is probably getting a little bit more swimming time than they would in a group lesson but the instructor will still need to let them take frequent breaks.

Group lessons are great for many reasons. They are usually pretty affordable and they can be really fun. Kids usually make friends really quickly in these lessons, or take lessons with their siblings or friends, so when it’s not their turn it’s pretty much free play time — which is when they are learning the most. They are also able to test their boundaries — which is harder to do in a one-on-one lesson where the instructor has their eyes on them the whole time.

Kids often step or fall off the platforms during group lessons and this is no cause for alarm. Instructors are taught never to turn their back on the kids, and to never be more than an arm length or two away so they can easily grab a kid who has fallen (or more likely jumped) off the platform. Yes, your kid might step off the platform and struggle under the water for a few seconds before being “rescued” but this is actually a helpful tool for determining your boundaries.

The instructor can only say so many times “Don’t step off the platform. You won’t be able to touch the bottom”. For most kids, this might be an abstract notion until they try it themselves and realize that they cannot touch the bottom and their swimming skills aren’t yet good enough to keep them afloat. This helps them create their own boundaries and recognize their own skill level and comfort zone.

Should I force my kids to take swim lessons?

If your kid absolutely does not want to have anything to do with swimming or swimming pools or water, that’s okay. It is okay for them to take the time they need to expand their comfort zone. Obviously, you know your kids so if forcing them to take a lesson is going to end with them having the best time of their life, then do that — but if they are absolutely paralyzed at the thought of swimming, here are some alternatives:

  1. Of course, the bathtub/kiddie pool in the backyard is still an option. Work within their comfort zone.
  2. If you have other kids who are taking lessons, ask if it would be okay for you and your frightened kid to watch the lessons from the pool deck and maybe put your feet in the water. They probably won’t want you sitting right next to your own kids (because kids are easily distracted by having their own parents nearby) but they might have a place where you can sit and dip your toes in.
  3. If you don’t have other kids who are taking lessons, ask if you can bring your kid to a group swim lesson and just watch as a spectator.
  4. If you want to enroll your kid in swim lessons but you’re not sure if they’re ready, see if the swim lesson program has a refund policy –or if they would let you reschedule for a session later in the summer if it turns out they’re just not ready yet.
  5. Find other kinds of water. Go to the beach, find a creek, go to a friend’s pool instead of the crowded community center pool. Some swim centers also have smaller pools for beginner’s lessons that might seem less intimidating.

What to look for when enrolling in swim lessons

Obviously, not all swim lessons are created equal. Bottom line: no matter where you go, you can guarantee your kid is going to be safe. Most swim lessons either have a lifeguard on duty or instructors who are also trained lifeguards (or both!). No matter where you go or how much you pay, you shouldn’t have to worry about your kid’s safety.

Take a look at your options first. Figure out which pools & community centers are closest to you and see what information they have online. If they don’t have information online, call or go in. Some swimming pools are old-school and might not have the most up-to-date websites, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an awesome swim program.

I would recommend visiting any pool that you’re considering before just enrolling online. You’ll want to see what it looks like and bring your kids so they’re familiar with it (particularly if you’re going to be dropping them off and picking them up — it’s nice to know that they know where the locker rooms are and where to go if they need a band-aid or something like that). If you have the choice between an outdoor and an indoor pool, you’ll also want to scope that out.

Outdoor pools can be really fun, but they do require sunscreen and in places like Oregon — where I grew up and taught lessons — your kids might also have to endure swim lessons in the rain. Indoor pools are often warmer and, of course, not exposed to the elements. A great option here is to take your kids to “open swim” or “rec swim” at the pool you’re considering so they can actually play in it before their lessons (and some swim lessons offer free or discounted rec swim — be sure to ask about this!).

If you have time, you might consider watching a session of swim lessons before enrolling. If you’re willing to bring your kids on this excursion, they’ll get a chance to see what they’re in for and — hopefully — get excited about it! As a side note, if you are enrolling your kids in lessons during the summer, chances are there will be lessons going on when you come in to enroll (if you don’t do it online) and you can usually ask if you can see the pool and watch the lessons for a minute or two.

Here are a few key things to look for before enrolling in swim lessons:

  • Group size. The maximum class size should increase based on skill level. For example, it’s perfectly reasonable to have a class of 10 advanced swimmers. For beginner classes, I’d want to see a class size of no more than 8, but probably closer to 6. Ask what the maximum class size is and make sure it’s a number you’re comfortable with. If classes are filled to capacity, ask if there are any times that are less popular and not maxed out — usually there are a few early morning or mid-afternoon classes that aren’t as popular.
  • Instructors. Swim lessons can be scary for kids and it’s important that they feel comfortable. If your child has a preference for a male or a female instructor, this is totally okay. In my experience, the ratio is slightly skewed in favor of female instructors but — particularly in the summer — this should be a fairly easy request to accommodate. In general, swim lesson instructors are going to be young. There are plenty of adults who teach swim lessons in the summer or who have made it their full-time job, but don’t be nervous or discouraged because your kid’s swimming instructor just got their driver’s license. They have been trained and certified and most likely love being around kids (I knew very few people who were forced to be swim instructors — it’s not the kind of job you get if you don’t love it).
  • Refund/cancellation policy. Kids are unpredictable. One minute they love swim lessons, one minute they hate them, maybe they get sick, or maybe the instructor just isn’t the right fit. Find out what the refund or cancellation policy is and make sure that you can at least reschedule your lessons for another session or receive credit for lessons if you have to cancel.
  • Lesson plan. Swim lessons are usually broken up into different levels and there are key skills that kids must demonstrate proficiency in to move to the next level. Ask if you can see a breakdown of the lesson plan and various levels/tiers beforehand — usually you’ll need this to determine what level your kid should be anyway. Make sure that there is a clear lesson plan with clear objectives.

How can I make sure my kids get the most out of swim lessons?

Group swim lessons are usually about 20-30 minutes long. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s perfect for the attention span of young kids (and also keeps them from being in the water so long that they get freezing cold and their lips turn blue). More advanced lessons may be 30-45 minutes. I think that having the correct expectations goes a long way in ensuring that kids get the most out of their swim lesson experience.

First, understand that there are other kids in the class. Your kid will not be working one-on-one with the instructor for the entire class and that’s okay. In a beginner class, the instructor might be working on getting the kids comfortable with putting their faces underwater and floating on their back/front. The instructor will take each kid out to work on floating individually, and might tell the other kids to practice blowing bubbles underwater until it’s their turn.

Pro-tip: Try not to actively parent your kids during their swim lessons. It takes the power and authority away from the instructor. If your kid is misbehaving or not following instructions, they’re not going to listen to the instructor if they’re trying to listen to you from the sidelines. If you find that your kid is constantly trying to talk to you or get your attention, try sitting somewhere farther away or out of sight. If your kid is misbehaving or is distracted during class and the instructor doesn’t see it, briefly mention it to them before or after class (keeping in mind that they have 4 or 5 other kids to watch also) and remind your kid (before or after class) to listen to the instructor.

Trust the instructors to do their job. If it looks like your kid is having a great time and doing absolutely nothing productive in the water, roll with it. They’re supposed to be having fun, and learning by playing is the most effective way of learning. The instructor knows what your kid needs to accomplish in order to move on to the next level, and they’ll continue to work on that each lesson — but different kids move at different paces. If your kid is stuck on a certain skill, that’s okay — they’ll get it.

Pro-tip: If your kid is not listening to the instructor and is distracted during the lesson because they already know the skills and they are bored, see if they can do a swim test at the end of the lesson and move up to the next level for their next lesson. As long as there is availability and they can pass the swim test, this is usually not a problem.

Outside of lessons, make sure that they don’t become dependent on flotation devices or goggles. Life jackets and water wings and floaties are great, but make sure they know what happens when they lose their grip on the floatie or their water wings fall off. It’s important for kids to know and understand their own boundaries. If they can touch the bottom of the pool, let them walk toward the deep end until they can no longer touch so they have a general idea of where they can play and still be able to touch the bottom of the pool.

Pro-tip: Goggles are great, but not necessary for beginner’s swim lessons. In a beginner’s lesson, kids are going to learn how to submerge themselves underwater without getting water up their nose, how to float on their back, and how to float on their front. A little chlorine never hurt anyone so if you don’t have goggles, don’t stress about it — oftentimes pools will have spare goggles or lost & found goggles that kids can use during lessons if they really need them. And if you do buy goggles, don’t buy the giant scuba mask thing that kids love because it covers their nose and they don’t learn how to keep water from going up their nose.

Pro-tip: Kick the plugging-the-nose habit. Instructors will sometimes allow kids to plug their nose the first few times they go underwater if that’s what it takes to get them comfortable, but will encourage them to “blow bubbles” instead. Plugging their nose is a habit that will become a crutch if they can’t kick it — I remember telling kids, “how are you going to swim if you can’t use one of your arms?” Practicing blowing bubbles in the bathtub is really helpful here, especially if your kid is stuck on this after a few lessons.

Overall, make sure your kids are having fun! If they have fun, they’ll want to come back and do more lessons and that’s the most important thing. Sometimes the class might be too big or the instructor might not be exactly the right fit, but as long as your kid had an overall positive experience and wants to keep swimming, that’s what counts!

Teach them about water safety

Outside of swim lessons, make sure you’re teaching your kids about water safety. Some swim lesson programs have a water safety component to them where kids learn not only the rules of the pool, but other rules as well. If you’re going somewhere that involves water — even if your kids aren’t going to be in the water — teach them how to be safe around it.

If you’re going to the beach, teach them to always face the ocean and not turn their back. Waves are strong and can knock them down easily — let them experience that with you close by so they understand.

If you’re on a boat, teach them that everyone wears a life jacket — even the adults who can swim. And if their drunk Uncle Jim doesn’t wear a life jacket, it’s a great time to teach them that just because other people don’t follow the rules doesn’t mean you don’t have to. Also a great time to tell Druncle Jim to get his act together.

If you’re by a river, teach them about river currents. Sometimes the water looks like it’s moving slow but it might be moving faster than you think, or it might be moving faster upstream. If you can’t see the bottom, you can’t tell how deep it is. Teach them that rivers, pools, and lakes might have a drop-off area where it suddenly gets deeper.

Teach them what to do if something bad does happen, like they get to a deep spot in the pool or lake and can’t touch the bottom. Regardless of their swimming level, make sure they know they can roll onto their back and float. They’ll be able to breath and even if they can’t look up and see anyone, they can call for help. Even if they can swim well, swimming a long distance might tire them out and they might need to roll on their back to rest.

I know this blurs the line of telling people how to parent their kids, but I’m not telling you how or when to do any of these things. That’s up to you. How you parent is entirely up to you. It’s important — no matter how it is done — for kids to be aware of water safety and know how to swim. And it’s okay for them to have a healthy fear of water. Water is scary. I think all of us are at least a little bit afraid of the scenario where we’re out in the middle of the ocean with no life jacket. It’s okay for your kids to realize that bad things can happen in water and that they need to be careful — it’s okay for them to know that it’s not always all fun and games and water can be dangerous.

Because it can be. It can be really dangerous. And the best way for us all to enjoy it safely is for everyone to be aware of that danger and to be as prepared as we can — and that means, first and foremost, knowing how to swim.

A note on drowning

I know you’ve heard this before, but drowning is not a big, theatrical production. Drowning is very quiet and 90% of the struggle is happening underneath the water. Many people think of drowning as a horizontal movement (i.e. someone struggling but still making forward progress) but it is usually all vertical movement (i.e. someone goes under and is struggling to get back to the surface — not making any forward movement).

A kid theatrically yelling “help” and thrashing their arms around pretending to drown does not look like a real drowning victim — though it is very distracting to the lifeguard, who will usually tell kids that it’s not a great idea to pretend to drown. A drowning victim will usually not be able to get themselves far enough out of the water to say anything, let alone cry for help.

One of the only rescues I had to make as a lifeguard was during a busy swim session. One of the elementary school classes was renting the pool for an open swim and there were at least 50, maybe 75 kids in the pool. We had two lifeguards on duty. The kid was hanging out right by the rope that marks the line between the shallow and the deep end. He was directly under my lifeguard chair so it was hard to see him. The lifeguard on the other side of the pool saw him first and brought him to my attention. He had moved under the rope and could no longer touch the bottom of the pool while keeping his head above water. He had his arms above his head and was trying to push himself off the bottom and back up. I could not jump into the pool from the lifeguard stand because there were so many kids in the pool, so I climbed down and slid into the pool and grabbed him. He had swallowed some water and was a little shocked and afraid, but other than that was completely fine and resumed playing after about fifteen minutes.

There were about ten other kids surrounding him and not one of them had a single clue he was drowning. There were a lot of kids in the pool, it was absolute chaos, and I wouldn’t expect them to notice.

The most important tips for preventing drowning are at the beginning of this post, but I am including a few final pieces of advice here:

Know where your kids are. Yes, it is the lifeguard’s job to save them if they are drowning and you can trust the lifeguard to do that — but know where they are at all times. The lifeguard is watching all of the kids in the pool and you only have to watch out for one or two or four of them.

Know their abilities and make sure they know their abilities. If they can’t go in the deep end without a life jacket, make sure they know that — even if it means letting them jump to you in the deep end and letting them struggle for a second.

Swim as a group. If you have multiple kids, encourage them to stick together. If you have multiple kids of various swimming levels, make sure they are staying where all of them are comfortable. Particularly at water parks, make sure they stay together as a group — even if they can swim just fine. Water parks are often crowded and kids can get lost easily and accidents can happen (and we haven’t even mentioned stranger danger).

Follow the rules. As an adult, please follow the pool rules. I will never forget the time I was lifeguarding for a private birthday party and a dad ran out of the locker room and dove right into the shallow end. He scraped both his elbows and his nose, and we had to corral all of the kids and go over the rules with them so that they didn’t follow suit. Make sure you and your kids know and follow the rules. Even if your kid can do a front flip off of the pool deck without getting hurt, that might encourage another kid to try the same thing.

Swim with your kids. Or ask your babysitter or your friend or your mother — whoever is taking the kids to the pool (hopefully not Druncle Jim) — to swim with the kids. Because honestly, sitting in the bleachers isn’t fun. You usually still get wet somehow — so reading is out — and it’s usually hot and loud and there are other crazy kids everywhere who you feel compelled to parent. So why not get in and swim with them? At some point, they’ll all be old enough to swim without adult supervision and you can just drop them off at the pool for the afternoon and do your grocery shopping or nap in your car — but I will tell you that as a lifeguard, the most fun that I’ve ever seen kids have is when they’re playing some silly game with their dad, or their mom, or their grandma, or their babysitter. I highly recommend trying it out as a family activity, even if swimming is not your thing.

Keep an eye out for other kids. No, it’s not your job to watch or parent someone else’s kids — and you should always be able to trust that the lifeguard’s got it handled. But you can never have too many people helping out, making sure everyone is safe — it really takes a village. If you are in the pool with your kids and another kid is struggling, help them. If you see a kid struggling to swim and you’re worried, alert the lifeguard. Often these aren’t life-threatening struggles but it never hurts to be aware and to watch out for one another. Teach your kids to be aware of other kids around them as well — to make sure the coast is clear before they jump into the pool or to make sure they don’t bump into anyone while swimming.

I hope this advice from a former lifeguard was helpful, and not too redundant. I absolutely loved my job as a lifeguard and swim lesson instructor — it may have actually been my favorite job (minus the pay) — and I hope that by reading this you feel empowered to enroll your kids in swim lessons and make swimming a fun family activity, and I hope you feel less of that fear and uneasiness that comes with reading articles on drowning and drowning prevention. I love swimming so much, and I cannot wait until I have kids of my own and I can teach them to swim — and of course, a small part of me is already afraid that something could happen to them (but I’ve been told I’ll feel this way constantly throughout parenthood) — but anything can happen to anyone at anytime. We can’t control everything. We can only work within our span of control and make sure that we’re prepared and we’re preparing our kids for any scenario that could possibly go south.

In this case, our span of control is learning to swim and learning about water safety — and passing that knowledge on to our kids. Please share this if you found it helpful. And even if you don’t have kids, you can always be on the lookout — if you’re at a pool or at the beach or on vacation at the lake — we can all be part of the solution here. We can all play a part in making sure everyone’s kids are safe.

Weekend Adventure: Can You Guess How Many Times We’ll Go To Moab This Year?

We may need an intervention. We might be slightly obsessed with Moab. But where else are you going to go to test out your new truck than one of your favorite places ever?!

I love planning. I’ve pretty much planned out my entire summer at this point. But, as we all know, things don’t always go as planned. On Friday, we were supposed to have our shit together and leave even earlier than we did the week before — at like 3:30. Well, we ended up leaving at like 5:00.

We did not have a reserved campsite because we wanted to try snagging a campsite along the river. We thought, surely, there’d be at least one available.

Note to self: Moab is crowded AF all summer and also it was Father’s Day Weekend.

So we got there much later than planned and for some reason I had to pee twice on the way (yes, I’m your stereotypical road-tripping female with the small bladder). Oh, I remember. Because I told Kevin earlier that afternoon that I was no longer sacrificing my hydration for a quicker drive so I was drinking a ton of water.

We drove around for about an hour trying to find a campsite on the river and they were all full. We later found out from a friend that those campsites fill up early in the day and we pretty much will never get one. Finally, we found a campsite with a ton of open spots — this should have been a red flag — so we got out to investigate.

And immediately got eaten alive by mosquitos.

I am not exaggerating, I think we both got at least 10 mosquito bites in like literally two minutes of being out of our car. So we grabbed some abandoned firewood, threw it in the truck, and went on our way. At this point, it was getting dark and I was pissed that we didn’t have a campsite and we were both really hungry, so we called it quits and returned to the rv park/campground that we stayed in over Memorial Day Weekend.

The good news was it was 9:30 so there was no wait at Pasta Jays. We had a delicious dinner and headed back to camp to sleep.

Or at least that was the idea.

I am now officially no longer a fan of rv parks. Or at least crowded ones. There are so many people in such a small space and it can be so loud. We had these people next to us who were literally up all night. At 2am, we called the police and filed a noise complaint (this was the policy at the campground — we didn’t just like overreact and go straight to the police). I looked up “white noise” on Apple music and put my headphones in, took another Benadryl, and slept from about 2:30am-5:30am — at which point I was woken up by some very loud birds and the very same people still talking and laughing.

I’m not joking, I think they were up all night. They also had a member of their group who was clearly having the worst allergies of his life and was also the loudest nose-blower I’ve ever heard.

I told Kevin that if they were staying another night, we would not be. Thankfully, they packed up and left and we were able to actually get some quality sleep the second night.

Disclaimer: Yes, I absolutely would have preferred to just ask them to be quieter — but I did not feel comfortable walking up to a group of 8 men in the dark, in the middle of the night, so I asked Kevin to go talk to them and he decided to just call and complain. He wanted me to talk to them and I told him that a) I was not comfortable and b) if I went to talk to them, I was not going to say nice things at all.

This sounds very immature and stupid, and trust me — it absolutely was. I am the worst when I haven’t gotten enough sleep. All of my logic and reasoning goes out the window and I believe at one point I actually considered murder to be a reasonable solution to this problem.

Needless to say, we will hopefully be avoiding rv parks (or at least finding some less crowded ones) in the future. But, on to the fun stuff! I don’t know if it’s just me, but somehow when you’re camping it is easier to operate on very little sleep. It’s as if your body knows it’s not going to sleep well anyway so it just deals with it.

We were at the Arches Visitor’s Center by 7:30am and got our Fiery Furnace permits for the following day. We have been wanting to do this hike since we first came to Arches but we’ve never been able to get a permit! With nothing specific left to do that day, we decided to take the truck out to Tower Arch and the Klondike Bluffs via the 4WD road. To get there, we decided to just take the gravel road that is not a 4WD road and that was very smooth and not bothersome at all.

We got to the trailhead for Tower Arch and realized that it was going to be like a 3.5 mile hike to the arch — but if we drove over to the other side via the 4WD road, it would literally be a 0.5 mile “hike”. Since we had planned on driving back that way anyway, we decided to go for it.

Now, there are several signs in various places that say things like “TECHNICAL 4WD ROAD – DO NOT ATTEMPT WITHOUT 4WD” and “ENTER IF YOU DARE” and “THERE’S NO TURNING BACK NOW” — but Kevin and I have been camping in Eastern Oregon our whole lives, driving on roads that one should not be driving on and roads that are meant for 4-wheelers, so we were not bothered by these warnings.

In retrospect, we probably should have heeded the warnings. Obviously, everything ended up being fine and we didn’t do any damage to our brand new truck — but let me tell you, it was seriously stressful at times. And I don’t know if it was more stressful for Kevin, who actually had to maneuver the truck on these “roads” that did not even resemble roads, or me, who had to sit in the passenger seat doing absolutely nothing helpful the whole time.

We did get to a point where Kevin threw up his hands and said, “We’re done, there’s no way.” But I did not want to go back the way we came, because that seemed equally as shitty as continuing on, so I walked up to the top of the “road” and looked down to see if it got any worse than this. “It’s just sand, right down there, babe!” I said. “Look, it’s just sand after this — this is the last hard part.”

I really believed that but somehow could not see at least two more places where Kevin would say again, “We’re done, there’s no way.” But, Kevin decided to keep going, which made me immediately feel like I made the wrong decision and it was going to be my fault that we got stuck or completely wrecked our truck or Kevin had a mental breakdown.

Slowly but surely, we eventually made it to Tower Arch. And the road did pretty much turn to sand eventually, and it wasn’t so bad. We ran into a couple of other vehicles that were less equipped than we were to be on this “road” and that made us feel better about our chances. Tower Arch was really cool and I highly recommend going — but probably do the hike, not the 4WD “road”. Also, the gravel road that takes you out there is totally passable in a smaller car. We definitely could have taken the Corolla on that road.

We made it back on the 4WD road with no further incidents and I did take a video of Kevin driving on a particularly steep spot — but he’s disappointed because it doesn’t look nearly as bad as it was. It was so steep that he had to push himself off of the steering wheel (honking the horn and scaring me in the process), but videos never make anything look as intense as they really are.

It’s much steeper than it looks!!

Driving on the 4WD road was a fun and slightly anxiety-ridden experience and I think we’d both recommend it if you have a Jeep — not so much a truck, and definitely not a truck with a long bed — but it was doable.

We were so exhausted after having our heart rates up so high for several hours that we decided to head back to camp and take a nap before hiking the Grandstaff Trail. I would highly recommend this hike — particularly on the hot summer afternoons — because it’s a nice, long hike with a cool arch at the end, but it’s very shady since it’s at the bottom of the canyon so you stay cool.

After actually getting a full night’s sleep, we were ready to take on Fiery Furnace the next morning. We decided that rather than paving our own way, we would try and follow the marked arrows. We still got lost three or four times and at one point really did not think we’d be able to find the next arrow, but we made it out in less than 2.5 hours. Despite getting lost several times, the hike did not take as long as we thought and we will definitely spend more time just messing around and climbing on rocks the next time we go.

We did some pressure climbing and scrambling, which was really fun, but we didn’t know how long the hike would take so we didn’t spend as much time just exploring as we could have. I think it would also be more fun to go as a group. I know that my family would love it so hopefully we can get permits again when they come and visit us next summer! I would highly recommend this hike and I will say that the rangers definitely try and scare you a little bit prior to the hike, to make sure you’re aware that you can get lost and you will have to climb up and down things, but it was nowhere near as difficult as they made it seem.

10/10 would recommend and would do again. And next time, we will find our own way instead of following the path.

Hollow Mountain!

We finished our weekend adventure scoping out campsites near Goblin Valley State Park. We drove all the way to Hanksville to see what the town looked like and if there were any campgrounds/rv parks — and we stopped at a gas station so I could use the bathroom (of course) and this gas station convenience store was Kevin’s absolute dream. It is a store built inside the rock. Little did we know we just had to drive to a little town called Hanksville for Kevin to check this experience off his bucket list!

As a side note, if anyone has any camping recommendations in Moab that don’t fill up by Friday evening every week, we’d love to hear them! Moab is one of our favorite places and we will be back soon, despite the crazy crowds and summer heat!

Stay tuned for our next weekend adventure!

Ice cream at The Spoke – 10/10 would recommend!

How One Weekend Adventure Changed My Perspective On Traveling

I am an all-or-nothing person.

Moderation is a challenge for me. I like to take things to the extreme. When I first discovered minimalism, I wanted to get rid of everything (including our tv — at which point my husband put his foot down). I used to alternate between eating extremely healthy and eating all the foods with no restrictions whatsoever.

I like being “all in”.

I want to be “all in” in every aspect of my life, but sometimes that’s just not possible — or it’s not the best thing for me.

About a year ago, I found out — via Instagram — that people living in little vans and RVs and airstreams and traveling full-time was a thing. I was already obsessed with the idea of tiny homes, so this was the next best thing. A tiny home that went wherever you wanted it to go!

My husband and I love camping and hunting and being outdoors, so this seemed like an awesome idea. Being “all in”, I immediately did all the research and figured out how much it would cost and what we would have to do to make it work.

We’ve had countless conversations over the past year about wanting to travel full-time — at least for a little while — and how we can make this happen. A few months ago, we arrived at the idea that we really do not need a van, or a motorhome, or an RV, or an Airstream that is completely perfect and built out to our exact specifications.

We have so much camping equipment. We have two different tents, we have sleeping bags, we have a sleeping pad, we have a camp stove, we have backpacking gear, we honestly have it all. As amazing as it would be to have an adorable little airstream perfectly built out exactly the way we want, we really don’t need it.

All we need is a vehicle (hello, new truck!) and the camping equipment we already have.

So I started planning this amazing road trip. I thought, what if we could each take 4-6 months off work and try to travel around the United States in that amount of time. I spent about a month planning this road trip in detail to try and get a better idea of how long it would take and how much it would cost and where we wanted to go. And then I finished planning and I was immediately depressed because the soonest we’d be able to go on this trip is 2021.

I spent a few weeks whining and complaining about how I had this great trip planned and I wished we could just pack up and go, and then I realized that I was looking at this the wrong way. I had an all-or-nothing approach — either we could do this big road trip or do nothing.

I had also started listening to a couple of great podcasts. Before Breakfast, which is a short, daily podcast with productivity tips to start your morning. She talks a lot about time and time management, and how we really do have so much more time than we think every day and every week. I was also listening to She Explores and Women on the Road at the same time, and found a few podcast episodes about women who are part-time travelers.

After our weekend camping trip in Moab over Memorial Day Weekend, I asked my husband what he thought about doing more weekend trips and he was like, “hell yeah!” so we decided to go to Capitol Reef a few weeks later (last weekend) — and it was amazing!

It was about a 3 hour drive. We left by 4:00pm on Friday, spent about an hour looking for a campsite, and still had everything all set up by 8:30pm — and it was still light out! We still did a full day of hiking on Sunday and left at around 4:00pm, made it home by 7:00pm and unpacked the car, started the laundry etc. and still had time to eat dinner, relax and watch tv.

We had planned on trying to do a trip every other weekend, but I asked Kevin what he thought about going somewhere every weekend. Again, he gave me the “hell yeah!” — so we will be driving to Moab again this weekend!

My heart is so full and I am so happy.

For so long, I have been feeling like I don’t “do” enough on the weekend. Either I’m not productive enough or I don’t rest enough. I always end up dissatisfied with how I chose to spend my weekend come Sunday night. But as we were driving back home from Capitol Reef, I kept thinking about how much we got done. We hiked like 20 miles in two days! We saw so many beautiful places. We drove through some really cute tiny towns. We had time to relax and read a book.

There is so much more time during the weekend than we think. Weekend travel might not be for everyone — we are certainly enjoying the ability to pack up and leave without having to worry about kids or pets — but it’s something that has really changed my perspective on traveling. I think we have found a sustainable way to be part-time travelers with full-time jobs. At some point, I would definitely still like to have a chance to travel full-time, but for now this is a great balance for us.

I used to think I needed to take the entire weekend to rest and recharge to prepare for the next work week. This was probably old programming from my swimming days when I was in school all day and also swimming like 20 hours a week. That was the equivalent of a 60+ hour work week. Now — working 40 hours — I definitely do not need to use the weekend to “recover”. I felt more rested and recharged after camping all weekend than I normally do after I do nothing all weekend!

So, if there’s anything in your life that you’ve been wanting to do but you can’t find the time, you might want to take another look at your weekends. And if your job is so exhausting and draining that you need the entire weekend to recover from it and prepare for another week of work, maybe it’s time to find a new job.

I’m sure at some point we will want to spend a weekend at home — relaxing — but for now, we are going to go until we burn ourselves out! I’m going to wait until we’ve gone on a few more trips to do a post on our budget and how we’re making this work money-wise — but it is affordable, it is doable, it doesn’t have to cost a ton of money.

We are so fortunate and privileged to be able to travel, even just on the weekends to places 3-5 hours away. We are so lucky to live in Utah where there are so many amazing places to visit. We have amazing full-time jobs that provide us with enough money to live in a great apartment, pay our bills, and go on these weekend adventures. I am so excited to share these weekend adventures with you all — and I want to thank each and every one of you for your love and support. Our home isn’t just wherever we are — it’s who we have around us — and we have such a great community of family and friends supporting us and cheering us on as we embark on new adventures.

This past weekend was a great reminder to myself that we don’t always have to be all-in. Our dream life might not look exactly like we pictured it, but we can still figure out creative ways to do everything that we want without having to wait for the next phase of our lives when everything will magically be possible.

I hope you all find a way to take one step closer to living your dream life today.

Weekend Adventure: Capitol Reef National Park

As I mentioned in a few earlier posts, we are going to make the most of our weekends this summer! We started planning a long road trip for sometime in 2021 and thought it would be impossible to do a lot of traveling until then since we both work full-time.

But wait, we have all weekend! And there are so many beautiful places just a few hours away!

So we organized our camping gear and made it easily accessible so that Friday afternoon we can just throw everything in the car and get going! This past weekend, we headed down to Capitol Reef!

We’ve never been to Capitol Reef and we wanted to camp instead of hotel, because camping is way more fun and way cheaper. So, I had written down a few campsites outside of the park for us to check out. We didn’t make any reservations ahead of time, so by the time we got to the first campsite on Friday night it was already full.

Our home for the weekend!

On to the next one we went. And at that point, I decided that we might as well check out all 3 so that we knew which one we preferred for next time. We settled on Pleasant Creek campground, which is in the Dixie National Forest just a short drive from Capitol Reef. Camp was set up by 8:30 and we decided to venture back to the small town of Torrey, Utah where we found the absolute best steak ever (easily in the top 5 best steaks I’ve ever had) at the Broken Spur Restaurant.

We didn’t quite have the peaceful night’s sleep we were hoping for, and had to try and fall asleep to the soothing sound of raging winds and pine needles falling from the trees and hitting the tent. But, we were up early the next morning and made it to Capitol Reef by 8:30. It is not the same as Arches or Canyonlands where there is an entrance with a pay station. You can pay at the visitor’s center or use a self pay station inside the park. Since we have the annual national parks pass, we were good to go!

We hiked three trails in the Fruita area on Saturday: Capitol Gorge (2 miles), Golden Throne (4 miles), and Hickman Bridge (2 miles). We started with Capitol Gorge and made the mistake of hiking way too far and eventually hitting a fence and deciding to turn around, turning our 2 mile round trip hike into a 6 mile hike. Capitol Gorge was a really beautiful hike and I would highly recommend it. The trail follows a dry creek bed through the bottom of the canyon (that I imagine would be filled with water during flash floods). You can walk up to The Tanks, which are these huge pools of water with tadpoles living in them. There is also the Pioneer registry, which we have dubbed “ancient graffiti” and Kevin was convinced it was all fake because the dates beside the names are so old. Parts of an old telephone line can be found on the canyon walls, which we also thought was pretty cool.

After our hike took a slightly longer turn, we decided to eat some lunch before tackling our next hike — Golden Throne — which was going to be much steeper with a large elevation climb. We had planned on eating sandwiches, but found out that our loaf of bread was moldy (never a dull moment) so we set up the jet boil and made some Mountain House Breakfast Skillet instead (10/10). Golden Throne was a difficult hike and I have to say, the journey was so much better than the destination. I would still recommend this hike for the stunning views along the way, just don’t get too excited about “getting to the top”.

By this point, it was almost 3:00pm and getting to be the hottest point of the day (and it’s only June so it’s not even “that” hot yet!) so we headed down to the visitor’s center so Kevin could watch the cheesy video (every time), and then we finished by hiking to Hickman Bridge. I think we were pretty exhausted at this point so it may have been better to do this hike earlier in the day, as the beginning is pretty steep, but if you’ve been to Arches you could probably skip this one. Although it’s called a bridge, you cannot actually walk across it — you walk under it. There were a ton of people there when we went so we decided to just take a look at it from afar and call it good.

On our way back to camp, we stopped at a few amazing viewpoints!

And of course, we had to stop at the gas station to buy bread for lunch and Benadryl for allergies & sleeping, and we ended up also buying some beverages and chips and candy! How can you not?

The previous campers had let behind some firewood so we made a nice fire, read our books, ate some delicious freeze dried food (and chips and candy) and then retired back to our tent to play Monopoly on Kevin’s Nintendo Switch. We lucked out with no wind the second night, but the temperature dropped much lower than we expected and we both had to layer up in the middle of the night and sleep practically on top of each other in order to stay warm. Kevin finally warmed up by morning and I literally had to pull the blankets off him one by one and fold them up while I was packing up camp before he finally got up and got dressed.

Because it was so cold, my phone died in the middle of the night and my alarm didn’t go off — so we got a slightly later start to our Sunday hike. We had to stop at the coffee shop by the gas station — I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s literally got to be one of the only coffee shops in Torrey — and I ordered a Chai Charger (chai + espresso shot) and it was literally the most delicious drink I’ve ever had. I’ve had dirty chais before but only iced and I’ve never liked them, but it was so good that Kevin kept trying to steal my drink, so that was a nice start to our morning!

We started at the Cohab Canyon trailhead from the highway and hiked Frying Pan all the way to Cassidy Arch, and then back. It was about 10 miles total and we absolutely loved it (aside from the part where Kevin almost fell off a cliff and twisted his ankle, but he was fine). It was a great full-day hike to end our trip!

We finished our hike at about 3:00pm, headed over to the Gifford House to eat a homemade Strawberry Rhubarb pie with our lunch, and headed home! We made it home by 7:00pm and had enough time to get everything unpacked, eat dinner, and enjoy our evening!

We both got a little sunburnt, we have some blisters on our feet, my allergies were pretty terrible all weekend, and we didn’t get a ton of sleep, but I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful weekend at Capitol Reef. We will definitely be going back sometime soon! We hiked 13.1 miles on Saturday, 9.7 miles on Sunday, and total we climbed 2,700 feet in elevation over the course of the weekend.

Stay tuned for our next weekend adventure! We’re thinking of going back to Moab this weekend to finally hike Fiery Furnace!