Thursday, July 30, 2009

Did not meet expectations

It is sad when one builds up the memories of an amusement park too much only to have them not live up to it. I knew that there was a good chance of rain, so I expected a mostly empty park. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way. The parking lot was filling quickly as we arrived as the rain had not yet arrived. Then going in I saw that "Son of Beast" was not running. Considering that this was the ride I most wanted to do, I was semi-bummed. We went on The Beast. Good, not great. Nice moments of drama, but it seemed too slow. Definitely better than anything I have done on the west coast, but not the crusher I remembered. The Prowler is now my favorite roller coaster. And backwards racer is now forwards. Weak.

Then the rains started. Yes, this will clear out the park and shorten these ridiculous lines.

Then they stopped running all of the roller coasters. And many of the other rides. And still people weren't going anywhere. It's as though we came to a mecca of rides where everyone counted on the rain to empty the park, so no one left.

We went to the water park and the boys had a great time while I got more and more drenched. They did have a great surfing ride which the boys really enjoyed. But both cell phones were put out of commission as were the GRMS radios. Thank goodness we didn't bring cameras.

After going back to pickup the napping gals and put on dry clothes, we made the executive decision to blow off Kings Island. We'll be back someday, but now I will have lower expectations.

We're now 1/3 of the way to greenakeys farm ( for our next stop.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back home again, in Indiana...

Illinois is actually my home, but we've crossed from western Missouri to eastern Indiana in one day. Tomorrow we need to hit the road by 8a to get to Kings Island by the gate opening. Should be a real pleasure compared to hitting the road by 6a this morning...

I can drive 55

On a whim, we decided to drop our speed to 55 & see what happened to our mileage. Holy Doodle! Mileage jumped from a very consistent 8.2MPG to 10.1MPG. Or in other words, we just cut the cost of travel on this shindig by 20% at a cost in time of 30 minutes/day. Very much worth it. I just feel bad for everyone passing us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Verdant Kansas & Kansas City

I always had a mental picture of Kansas being a very dry country only suitable for range cattle (much like Eastern Colorado was), but it was really quite verdant & hilly so reminded me far more of Ohio or Southern Ontario. The drive was a long one and we stopped part of the way across in Garden City.

En route we picked up the National Parks version of Monopoly. You haven't enjoyed chaos with kids until you've tried playing Monopoly in the back of a bouncing RV as it crosses Kansas. Every time we came to a small town (of which there are many), I'd yell, "Mom's maneuvering!" and we would all grab the board and any pieces on it. I think that listening to Cheaper by the Dozen earlier this week got me in the mood for that game.

Then the next day we managed to get to WOF early enough to get in several big rides except for The Mamba. My favorite was The Prowler, a new wooden roller coaster. It was really fast for a wooden roller coaster. I can't think of anything I have been on like it. This is making me even more excited to check out Kings Island which has my all time favorite woody "The Beast." There's apparently also "The Son of Beast" now which is even better.

Rant coming - if you prefer not to read rants, skip to the next paragraph. In addition to The Prowler, they have another woodie, The Timberwolf. Also an excellent ride. Both are vastly superior to Santa Clara's very lame "Grizzly." I had been wondering if my memory of wooden roller coasters being so good was just because I was young. No, that's not it. Santa Clara's roller coasters are lame. Incredibly lame. Even the steel roller coasters are lame. Flight Deck (nearly 10 yrs old?) is crushed by the similarly designed, but vastly superior Silver Bullet (Knotts Berry Farm) and Patriot (WoF). The Mamba (WoF) was surprisingly good for such an extreme coaster. Better than Accelerator (KBF), and there is nothing to compare it with at SCGA. The best roller coaster at SCGA is Invertigo or perhaps The Demon. The fact that The Demon is one of its best says it all IMHO.

That night we were treated to a spectacular thunderstorm. Paul, Sarah, Martha and I lay on the back bedroom, watched the repeated lightning strikes and listened to the heavy rainfall. It was quite the show. James read or played lego.

Today was a perfect amusement park day. Rain, heavy at times. But no lightning, so no reason to shut down rides. There were no lines to speak of. Any ride we wanted on, we pretty much got directly on. Leveraging the RV we napped from 1-3p, except for James who hit the waterpark next door. We hit still more rides until 8p when we came back for dinner. After that, James headed to the RV park pool to get in a little more swimming. He is a fish. The pool closes in 5 more minutes at 10p. We expect to see him in a few minutes.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the last two days. On the plus side, I am now caught up!

We leave tomorrow in the wee hours to hopefully make Cincinnati, or something reasonably close. Kings Island and "The Beast" await!

And I thought the Indiana Sand Dunes were big!

We left the last RV park in the wee hours of the morning to breakfast at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Several hundred acres of sand dunes over 700 ft tall in spots. Naturally Martha and Paul were determined to climb it, and they did!

The rest of us were not quite so enterprising, though we did have alot of fun nevertheless. While others may have been more prepared than us with sleds and cardboard boxes to slide down the dunes. We had a laundry basket. It wasn't the smoothest ride, but everyone had fun nevertheless.

The next item on the agenda after a few hours at the Great Sand Dunes was a drive across Kansas to Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun amusement/water parks.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cool Colorado

After many hours of driving out of Arches National Park, the climate changed drastically. We drove well into Colorado, and somehow even found ourself in a fairly rain-rich area with temps in the low 70's. Quite a shift from the dry 104 of the previous day.

What was intended to be a transition RV park on the way to Great Sand Dunes National Park turned out to be a real joy. The owner's kids apparently found out that there were twin 9 year old boys and a 3 year old kid, so Landshark's arrival was greeted by its largest welcoming committee yet--at least in terms of numbers, not size. The boys enjoyed a picnic snack discussing the best Shirley Temples they have ever had (I assume the drink) as well as showing off their ability to create belches. Truly a match made in heaven.

After looking at the multitude of travel books, I realized that we drove right by the cliffside dwellings of Mesa Verde, so the next day we were back on the road to backtrack to that most excellent park. The Native Americans (total aside here, does one capitalize both? Or just Americans? Or neither? I'm baffled, but will go the safe route) built these abodes between 900 and 1200 AD. And as the video told us, more people were settled in the region at that time than are currently settled in the region. The shots you see here are of the Spruce Tree House Dwellings named by the ranchers who "found" the site and named it after the trees nearby. Despite such an awesome finding, they were poor botanists as there are no spruces for many miles. But the name stuck.

Arches was awesome

After a very hot night where the air conditioner valiantly fought to bring Landshark's temperature down to 86, we were off to another famous and wonderful sight in southern Utah. Arches. It doesn't sound like much, but they were quite striking.

The only bummer is that dad (me) was being cheap again, so we cut the fuel closely and consequently could not explore the entire park. Well, we're also pretty limited on time, so one good hike was enough for all. Paul and Martha hiked to a second arch and revelled in their achievement.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Utah has the most amazing landscape. When we first entered, it looked completely boring, but as the miles ticked off, the sites grew more and more amazing. It was also fun to be a passenger for the first time as well as score a nap during the drive!

At some point, Martha told Paul about the Richard Spindler rule to good travel photographs--getting people to raise their arms. So now Paul has taken on the habit of getting me to take a shot of him by running ahead to some senic vista, and then raising one or more arms. And of course I take a picture. The funny thing is that when I look through the pictures of the day, all the ones with him and his arms raised are the best ones! I think Richard is on to something.

These shots are of Canyonlands national park. When I get a little more time with GIMP, I'll have some shots of Arches (yesterday) and today's trip to Mesa Verde. Tomorrow we leave in the wee hours to hopefully get in both Great Sand Dunes and spend the night in Dodge City, KS. Hopefully I can get Martha to drive so I can catch up.

There were not alot of people signing up for 100+ degree weather in the desert, so the view from our campground was outstanding.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Several more photos and some details

Amazingly, people have not returned from the pool so I am revelling in a few moments of cleaning up photos with GIMP for PC and reminiscing...

Our KOA site though without a pool had a lovely view of a nearby mountain range. And it's a chance to see the green I mentioned earlier.

The caves were very cool both temperature wise (50 "in the shade") as well as looking. Despite shooting about 30 pictures of the caves, very few came out of any interest. Such is life with a basic SLR setup and lack of Kleig lights. The boys were huge fans of the thumbs up.

What I found more cool was how the down and up of stalactites and stalagmites can go sideways as can be seen here. I also learned that stalactites start out as soda straw shapes and have rings like trees. However, rather than 1 ring/year, it is more like 1 ring/epoch. Some stalactites broken 100 years ago only have 1 inch of growth, and that inch is the width of a soda straw.

On our way out of the caves, there was a small grove of apricot trees and deer loving the fruits of the trees. Unfortunately it started to rain quite hard, so we ran for Landshark.

Wildlife adventures did not end there. In a particularly back to nature moment, I was taking a shower behind Landshark in a seemingly secluded spot, when I heard a noise. I turned around sharply to see a young 6 point buck lowering his head in my direction. Oh about 10 ft away. I froze. He looked at me again, and lowered his head again. Then I noticed that the rains had caused a small stream to build up behind our campsite. He just wanted a drink. I told him it was OK. He would have gotten that drink had James not come by with his mouth loaded with carrots. Such is life with nature. I dressed and told Martha it was her turn with the shower. :)

And just one more shot of those doing the stargazing...

Time travel

I've either been w/o time to post for a while, or without wifi. Either way, I haven't been able to post. So, this will address a few days back...

The ride across Nevada was unsurprisingly lonely, but surprisingly green. No, I did not drop off any passengers prematurely (though the thought has crossed my mind), we drove down US-50 "The Loneliest Highway in America" The first 20 miles were plenty busy, but after that, one could look for 10 miles and not see a car. And it was quite beautiful & green. Somehow I always assumed that Nevada was a wasteland and Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City did nothing to indicate otherwise. However, once one was in the middle of the state, it was certainly greener than the mountains all around SV and anywhere in the Central Valley which is not actively irrigated.

After a fairly long day and strong levels of frustration evidenced by one and all, we stayed outside Ely, not quite hitting our target of Great Basin National Park. It was a Koa, unfortunately sans swimming pool. However, it did allow us all some time to unwind from two days on the road before sundown. Then the next day we were able to get into Great Basin NP early and boondock. We checked out Lehman Caves and at night looked at the Milky Way. I also tried picking up the guitar for the first time in about 5 years. My fingers are still aching.

On the electronics front, we've so far gone through DragonSong by Anne McCaffery, Cheaper by the Dozen by whoever wrote that and have started on The Hobbit today. We seem to be doing 2/3 of an audio book/day of travel. By the end we will cover quite alot of audio books.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We made it!

The engine went on at 3.30p and the parking brake came off at 3.40p. We were on our way. Since our plan for the day was Nevada or bust (that was back when our plan was departure at noon), we went for it anyway. 6 or so hours later w/o a break for dinner or bathroom (at least for me, your humble driver) we pulled into the Desert Rose RV park. Exhausted. Well, Martha and I were. The kids had plenty of energy. I think we managed lights out at 11.15p. And in the desert, things wake up early. It'll be a tough day, but this time we should be on the road at 10a. We'll see.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Loaded for bear

I didn't get a heck of alot of sleep last night. Too much belated research. We continue to load up Landshark including recent acquisitions from the AAA. I had forgotten (lost? egads!) my AAA card, but they hooked me up anyhow. Even with the wide angle lens it was hard to capture the shelf of AAA books. And I've got a whole bag full of maps in case the GPS gets hit by lightning.

Speaking of the GPS, I finally buckled down and bought a MS product which was not Office or an OS. A Garmin 760 w/ MSN direct, built in blue-tooth and MP3 player. The MSN direct works directly w/ the GPS so I can see traffic, and more importantly, the cheapest gas around. When one is filling 45-50 gallons, a few cents makes a huge difference. We've filled two tanks so far saving $0.10 / gallon off the cheapest price I would have found.

In other electronics news, we also have a Verizon portable hotspot. It hooks into the Verizon network and then provides wifi so my iTouch and Martha's computer are both hooked up. We'll use wifi in campgrounds, but when on the road or further off the beaten track, we're still hooked up. Awesomely convenient.

Enough procrastination. I need to get back to loading up the Shark.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tommorow, we think, is our day of departure

After seemingly endless hours of cleaning the house and readying for our trip, we believe that tomorrow is the big day for our departure. Key steps taken (IMHO) are setting up 60 hours of books on iPod including the full Lord of the Rings, the Harper series of Pern and Cheaper by the Dozen. Oh, and setting up this blog. We also have two books on homeschooling as well as our Webelos guides. Not that we're planning on homeschooling yet, but they do have lots of good activities for when on the road.

At this point our plans are pretty rough. Head east towards Kansas City where we get to our first Cedar Fair park east of Palm Springs. We have Cedar Fair Platinum passes which entitle us to get into any Cedar Fair park for free. On the agenda are 5 parks and several key roller coasters including The Beast, Son of Beast, Backwards Racer, The Behemoth and so on. We'll probably hit a few national parks like Zion, Bryce and perhaps Yellowstone. We also sprung for that annual pass.

How are we going to all these places? In our beloved LandShark. A Winnebago 31c Minnie. In a pinch it will sleep 8, which is about right for the 5 of us considering that all the kids recently have decided it is their God-given right to sleep alone in a double converted dinette. We've taken 2 one week long vacations thus far, have boondocked a couple of night (no hookups) and we're psychologically ready (soft of). The only downside is that our new "ND SHARK" license plates have not arrived. Though we do have our "I *heart* LA" bumpersticker ready to be stuck in front of the license plates when they do arrive.