Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sledding in Sunshine at White Sands National Monument

Sledding in sunshine - now that’s a mom’s dream!  We get very little snow where we live, but it only takes one snowfall a year to remind me that I hate the process of getting kids ready to play in the snow.  You spend an hour bundling everyone up and then five minutes later they are ready to come in (well, with the exception of one December baby that could play outside all day in snow, but I’m not up for freezing all day to supervise).  If you are looking for hassle free sledding, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is your place!

About an hour from Las Cruces, NM, in the Chihuahuan Desert, White Sands National Monument preserves approximately half of the 275 square miles of gypsum dune fields.  Steady, strong southwest winds keep gypsum sand moving and pile it into dunes of various sizes and shapes.  The gypsum sand dunes absorbs moisture which glues the dunes together so they don’t blow away.

When you arrive, stop in the Visitors Center to watch a movie about the history of White Sands, get your Junior Ranger books, and fill your water containers (no water is available past this point, and you’ll need it after a few climbs up the sand dunes).  Then, you can head next door to the Gift Shop to buy your sleds.  Used sleds cost $10 and new sleds are $18.95.  The supply of used sleds is limited (we snagged the last 3).  You can turn your sleds in for a small refund at the end of the day ($3 for used sleds, $5 for new sleds), or keep them.  If we had planned ahead better, we probably would have Amazon primed us some sleds to save some money.  We got 4 sleds for the 8 of us to share, and that number worked out quite well. You’ll also need some wax, which you can purchase for about $2 at the gift shop.  

 Once you are stocked up with sleds and water it’s time to drive into the park!  With the sand plowed to the side of the road, you’ll feel like you are driving into a winter wonderland.  Approximately 6 miles past the entrance station you’ll come to a loop of picnic areas.  Find one next to a dune you like and park.  When we went in November the park was practically empty!  It seemed like the perfect time to go. It wasn’t crowded and it was a perfect 55 degrees - not hot nor cold!  

If you are traveling in an RV (or even a large van), you’ll want to leave your water bottles, snacks, diaper bag, and anything else you may need access to either on the picnic table (which we felt safe doing, but we had eyes on it and it was not busy) or just inside the door where you can reach it.  The sand is moist and sticks to shoes really well, so to keep this a hassle free day don’t track it unnneceasarily inside your vehicle.

Once the kids saw the dunes, they were off to explore and scout out the best slope!  It’s time for some fun!  Enjoy the squeals and laughter while you soak in the breathtaking views of dazzling sand and mountains.

While they are running, wax up the bottom of the sleds.  Once they decide on a spot, encourage them to go down the same route over and over again.  Each time it will get faster and you’ll sled a little bit further.  My husband and I had so much fun sledding too.  It brings back some good memories of childhood!  Remember, sled AWAY from the roads and parking areas!  There are signs posted everywhere, but still we saw people sledding right into a roadway.  Even if it is not busy, you never know when a car or large RV will drive by.

The baby had just as much fun sliding down on his belly and trying to climb back up, only to get halfway up and slide back down.  It reminded me of the video of the baby polar bear.  Never give up! 

We spent about two hours sledding before it was time for us to get back on the road. If you have some more time here you may want to check out some of the hiking trails through the park.  

For more adventure guides be sure to check out our Travel Page and follow us on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures.

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

New Mexico’s Hidden Gem - Rockhound State Park

We were traveling between Tucson and Las Cruces and looking for a fun overnight stop.  This place caught my attention. It literally has hidden gems - jasper, opal, quartz, and more - that you can hunt for and keep.  The whole trip we have been telling the kids they can’t take rocks from the parks, and this park advertises itself as a place where you can collect rocks and gems.  Sold!  To Rockhound State Park we went.

It’s located on the outskirts of Deming, NM at the base of the Little Florida Mountains.  We called ahead to see if there was any availability and were told that there were a few first come first serve sites available at the moment.  We arrived just before sunset and all of the developed sites were already taken.  The camp host told us we could dry camp at any of the pull outs near the visitor center for $8/night.  Worked for us!  

In the morning we took the mile long Thunder Egg Loop Trail that provides access to the rocky slopes overlooking the campground.  There are a few spurs off of the main trail that are also good for rock hunting.

There are some boulders along the trail that the kids enjoyed playing on.  You can see veins of various minerals in some of them.

Remind your children to watch out for snakes!  Thankfully we did not see any, but we were warned that there are Diamondback rattlesnakes frequently sighted in the area.  We were excited to find a Tarantula. You can pick up a brochure on Tarantulas in the Visitor’s Center, which our kids used for their Roadschooling journals.  Did you know that Tarantulas get bald on their abdomen when they get old?  They also have claws that retract like a cat!

We also sighted a Praying Mantis - quite possibly the largest one we had ever seen.  

As we crept along the trail we found some really neat rocks.  Mostly we found jasper, but some quartz, several geodes, a little bit of opal, and tiny bit of perlite.  It probably would have been good to bring some picks, hammers, chisels or other rockhounding tools. 

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of finding a hidden gem.  Discovering sparkling geodes were especially exciting.  We examined some of the larger ones and kept some smaller finds, which they will add to their Rock Collection.  You can download our free Rock Exploration Sheet on our AHG Geology Badge post.

The Visitor’s Center has a display of rocks and minerals found in the area.  I would recommend going before you go on the hike so you know what you are looking for, but they do not open until 10am and we only had the morning to spend there.  The lady working at the Visitor's Center was extremely kind and helpful.  She’s happy to help you identify your cool finds.  You can also see how the various rocks look once they are tumbled and polished.  The kids have all added a rock tumbler to their wish list.

On our way to the Visitor’s Center (the adobe building in the background) we spotted this Juvenile Red Tail Hawk which was kind enough to let me walk right up to it to take its picture.  Between the scenery, wildlife, and rocks, we sure loved this hidden gem!

For more adventures be sure to check out our Travel Page and follow us on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures.

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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Touring Tombstone with Kids

We couldn’t leave Arizona without visiting “the town too tough to die”, so we traveled back in time to 1880 for a lesson on the Wild West.

Tombstone was founded in 1879 by prospector Ed Schieffelin.  The Good Enough mine is the original silver mine in Tombstone.  It lies just a block South of the main strip on Allen Street.  They offer tours of the mine, but children must be 4 feet tall to tour. 

Word quickly spread about the silver strike and the town boomed as prospectors, surveyors, cowboys, homesteaders, lawyers, and business men headed to the area.  It quickly became home to some of the worst gangs and criminals of its time.  The town catered to the rowdy miners and cowboys looking for some fun.  Drinking, gambling, and prostitution were an important part of Tombstone’s early economy.  There were more than 100 saloons in Tombstone.

We arrived in Tombstone just before noon and started our day with lunch at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon.  Big Nose Kate, whose name was Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings, was a Hungarian born prostitute and Doc Holliday’s longtime girlfriend. It is said that the Clanton and McLaury brothers stayed at this saloon the evening before their fatal gunfight at OK Corral.  Big Nose Kate’s Saloon boasts of being “the best cowboy bar in the West with live music, great food, and never ending fun!”  We sure had a great time.  The kids enjoyed Sasparilla and Prickly Pear Soda as a treat.  There is not a kids menu, but we got a few burgers and fries and the kids all split.  While we were waiting for the food the kids dressed up and took some old time photos on the piano.  What a fun start to the day in the Wild West!

Once our bellies were full, we took a narrated stagecoach tour to acquaint ourselves with the layout and history of the town.  At $10/adult and $5/child (ages 6 and up), it is a great introduction to Tombstone.  The 18 minute tour makes a mile loop down Allen Street and past some of the homes where you’ll hear stories of the early residents.  

Next we were off to the OK Corral.  Tickets are $10/person (kids 5 and under are free).  The re-enactment of the gunfight was historically accurate and entertaining.  With need for law and order, Tombstone sought out the help of Wyatt Earp who made a name for himself by cleaning up Dodge City.  There was a fued between the Democratic prominent ranchers (like the Clanton and McLaury families) who supplemented their income by rustling cattle and the Earp brothers backed by Tombstone’s business elite.  Tensions mounted and on October 26, 1881 resulted in nearly 30 shots fired in 30 seconds between the lawmen (led by Marshall Virgil Earp, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, and their friend Doc Holliday) and the Clanton-McLaury gang.  The fight ended with Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers dead.  There are some neat exhibits in the OK Corral to tour before or after the show, and you can talk (or fued with) the actors.

With your ticket to the O.K. Corral gun fight, you’ll also receive tickets to the Historama Theater where actor Vincent Price narrates Tombstone’s history and how it got its nickname “the town too tough to die”.  The town of Tombstone was destroyed twice by fire in the 1880s (the first fire being caused by a barrel of whiskey that exploded), but the city rebuilt both times.  The mines also ran into trouble.  In March 1882, miners in the Grand Central mine hit water and soon their precious silver ore deposits were underwater.  A pumping plant was constructed to keep the mine dry and operational for a few more years, but the pumping plant caught fire and burned in May 1886.  A few months later the cost of silver slid and the mines were shut down.  Tombstone is now a tourist town.

Be sure to stop by The Tombstone Epitaph before leaving town to pick up your free reprint of the 1881 Epitaph with the original gunfight reports.  You can tour the shop and see how the newspaper was printed in the 1880s.  There are several other reprints of historical events in Tombstone available for purchase.

The Bird Cage Theater is the one of the only original buildings that survived the fires and a neat historical site.  Back in its day it was known as the wildest and meanest spot between New Orleans and San Francisco.  Lottie and Willian Hutchinson opened the theater in 1881 with the intentions of making it a respectable family theater.  The economics of the town didn’t support their aspirations and they had to start appealing to the rough mining crowd.  It became a center of drinking, gambling, and prostitution.  It operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from 1881 to 1889. The longest-running poker game was played in the basement of the theater, lasting 8 years, 5 months, and 3 days.  26 people were killed in the Bird Cage Theater and you can still see some of the remaining 140+ bullet holes.  The theater was shut down shortly after the mines closed, and remained closed until it was purchased in 1934.  It is incredible to even walk through a building this old.  Family admission for self guided tours is $34 and worth it!  You can see the stage with the curtains still hanging, the piano in the orchestra pit, the 14 boxes (or bird cages) on the two balconies, and the poker table.  Tables are filled with artifacts from the past.  You can take photos for personal use, but not to post.  

We ended the day at Boot Hill Cemetary.  It led to some great discussions on the consequences of immorality, drunkenness, jealousy, and greed, as the majority of those buried here were murdered and died an early death.  Of course there are also those that fell from mining accidents and disease, and some young children too.  Admission is $3/adult and you’ll get a self guided tour book detailing the names and stories behind some of those laid to rest. 

Be sure to check our Travel Page for more adventures in Arizona and across the US!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Get up Close and Personal at Reid Park Zoo

If you want to get up close and personal with some animals, Tucson's Reid Park Zoo is the zoo for you.  This 24 acre city zoo may not be the largest, nor have the most animals, but it is certainly the closest we have been to many of the animals we saw!

Children young and old will love being face to face with an Aldabra Tortoise, Rhino, African Elephant, Giraffe, Grizzly Bear, and more!  The animals are most active in the morning, so we planned our day to arrive at 9am when the zoo opened.  The zoo is open until 4pm, but you'll only need a couple of hours to visit. Admission prices are very reasonable at $10.50 for an adult and $6.50.  If you live in the Tucson area, a zoo membership may be the way to go.  Our friends have a Gold membership which allowed for them to bring four guests - a very nice treat for us!

For a memorable animal experience you can pay $3 to feed the giraffes carrot sticks.  But, these giraffes are so friendly and love so much to say hello that when our son held out a long stem, the giraffe came over and took it right from him!  It was an experience he will never forget and a highlight of his day.  

Another favorite was the aviary (Flight Connection) with birds from around the world. As you enter the aviary you can pick up a laminated field guide of the birds located inside.  The kids loved it!  It was like a scavenger hunt as they search to find all the birds.  Pictured above is a Nicobar Pigeon from Asia, but their favorite bird was the Bleeding Heart Dove.

Throughout the day you can catch Keeper Chats and animal presentations.  A schedule can be found on the activity board in the front plaza.  We just happened to catch this presentation on the python.  The kids thought it was really awesome to get to touch a snake.

Near the front entrance there is a carousel.  $3 per child to ride.  What a fun ending to a fun day at the zoo!  A big thanks to our friends for taking us.  We are glad we went!  

The older kids picked one animal to research more on and write about in their road schooling journals, but check out our Homeschooling at the Zoo post for your free "I Spy" and "Monkey Observation" printables.  

If you are in the Tuscon area and looking for additional learning opportunities, check out the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum or take a drive up Mt. Lemmon to experience and study several life zones.  

Friday, November 2, 2018

Mount Lemmon’s Top Rated Hike

We knew we wanted to check out Mount Lemmon’s top rated Marshall Gulch and Aspen Loop trail, but being that it is top rated it is also heavily trafficked.  We have a big ole RV and there is limited parking at the trailheads.  Finally, the perfect opportunity came!  He had a weekday off of work, so we boondocked on Mount Lemmon the night before (you can dry camp free off of Bigelow Road!) and hit the trail early in the morning.  It is always 20-30 degrees cooler on Mount Lemmon than in downtown Tucson, which made for a crisp fall hike.  

To get there you drive straight through the town of Summerhaven.  The road narrows and becomes a little windy, but about 1/2 mile past town it will dead end at the Marshall Gulch picnic area and trailhead.  This is a fee area, so be sure to purchase a pass at the trailhead or display your America the Beautiful pass.

We started out on Marshall Gulch trail (to the right of the bathrooms) and then returned via Aspen Trail.  There is poison ivy at the start of the trail.  Don’t be like the lady that started before us and reach over to touch it and then ask what it is (I hope she’s not super allergic!).  Leaves of three - let it be!  Fuzzy vine - not a friend of mine!  

The trail begins at 7,445 feet with a narrow climb and then follows a seasonal creek (which was flowing).  There were a few creek crossings with a little bit of water, but nothing too deep or difficult for us to cross without getting wet.  The trail climbs about 500 feet over 1.3 miles, but it was never too steep of a climb.  Still, us lowlanders from Arkansas were not acclimated to the higher elevations and found ourselves a little out of breath on some of the climbs.

There are a lot of downed trees the kids can play on when you need a bit of a rest (or just need to bring some fun back into the hike).

We have been focusing on the Life Zones in our roadschooling journals and this hike is a perfect example for the Canadian zone (see Soldier Hike or Soldier Canyon for examples of the Lower and Upper Sonoran zones).  We referenced our Arizona Field Guide several times and identified various oak, fir, and spruce trees.  The leaves on the deciduous trees were turning and absolutely spectacular.

The kids were so excited that the glitter fairy visited the night before.  Flakes of mica and quartz make the trail super sparkly. 

While our girls liked looking down at the sparkles, this boy liked looking up.  This hike is a bird watchers paradise.  

Somewhere around the 1.3 mile mark (although my phone had us at 1.6 miles), you’ll come to an intersection of trails on Marshall Saddle.  I was nervous that we may have missed the intersection, but it is pretty noticeable.  At this point we took Aspen Trail to loop back to the parking lot.  

The Aspen Trail portion of the trail is approximately 2.6 miles.  You’ll continue to climb uphill for a ways, but like on Marshall Gulch, it is a slow and steady climb and nothing too difficult. The high point of the trail is just over 8,150 feet.

You’ll be able to notice the devastation from the 2003 Aspen Fire that burned more than 85,000 acres in 21 days. 

The trails winds through young pine forests and areas that are dense with ferns and wildflowers.

We enjoyed the picturesque views of the surrounding mountains and Tucson as we hiked along the ridge.

From the ridge the trail is all downhill with quite a few switchbacks.  The steep descent is likely why people recommended to us that we start on Marshall Gulch, which really did make for a fairly easy hike.

It was magical entering back into the land of deciduous trees and their brilliant fall colors.  You don’t really see many Aspen trees until you are almost done with the trail, but boy are they beautiful.  Shiny quartz and mica also glitter the trail once again.  Magnificent!!!

This trail felt more like we were hiking in Colorado than Arizona, and I can see why it is the top rated trail in Tucson.  It was definitely a favorite of ours and we would love to return here.  

While on Mount Lemmon, be sure to explore Soldier Canyon.  Visit our travel page for more fun adventures and follow us on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures.