Thursday, July 31, 2008

Yellowstone, Rodeos, and yet another wildfire

Wyoming has redeemed itself. I was thoroughly unimpressed with the southern section that I-80 bisects, but northern-western Wyoming, with Yellowstone? Spectacular. This picture doesn't do it justice.

Besides the gorgeous views, Yellowstone also has the geysers. We saw Old Faithful of course (and very luckily arrived just five minutes before she blew) but our favorite was the section where you can walk out on board walks and watch the bubbling hot springs. Annie was in charge of the camera and took some fabulous pictures.

We finished the day attending the "World Famous Cody Nite Rodeo" (yes, they spell it that way.) Cute, a bit hokey, but it had enough real rodeo things (barrel racing, bull riding, bronco riding, calf roping, bulldogging) to be authentically Western. The kids loved it.

We also came close to yet another wildfire! This one was near Yellowstone, about 20 miles north of the road we took out of the park. There was no danger on our road, but the orange and yellow smoke clouds looming to our north were amazing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

85 miles from Yellowstone

We woke up this morning in California's Central Valley, and are hitting our beds in central Idaho. In between we experienced:

- The Mojave desert (we now know what 115 degrees feels like)

- A 25-minute detour off Interstate 15 to see the Las Vegas Strip (One wacky town. The pic below is of the Faux French casino, complete with mini-Eiffel Tower)

- A 30-mile slice of northwest Arizona, and though it is some 100 miles west of the actual Grand Canyon, looked awfully Grand Canyon-ish to me. Two Pics below)

Mark and I are just crazy enough that we briefly entertained the notion of somehow including a quick look at the real Grand Canyon in our long driving day today. Brennan knocked some sense into us. "We need something to look forward to on our next road trip," he sensibly remarked.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sequoias: the REALLY big trees!

We're off to Rexburg, Idaho today, which is near Yellowstone, so we have a long day of driving ahead of us. But I needed to post a few pics (no time for commentary) of our time in Sequoia National Park, where we saw the biggest trees in the world! The last picture is of a wild mule deer we saw near our car. But our biggest wildlife excitement was from seeing a young bear scamper across the road ahead of us! (Don't worry, we were safely in our car.) We didn't snap a picture, but it was quite cool.

Of Yosemite and Wildfires

We spent our last day in California yesterday in both Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, which on the map look sort of close together. But, um, they're not, really. Mostly because you have to go over mountains to get in and out of each, and that kind of takes a while. But we had a fun day, and are glad we fit them both in before heading out of the state tomorrow.

You may know that California's having a lot of wildfires this year, and a big one apparently broke out near Yosemite on Friday. In just two days it spread to 18,000 acres. They had to close the road leading to the western entrance of Yosemite, but the road to the southern entrance, which was the one we were on, was still open, and the ranger at the welcome station seemed pretty blase about the fire, some fifty miles away. So we went in, took lots of pictures, and enjoyed the park for a few hours, but we could smell the fire, and see a pall of smoke over to the west. Even last night at the hotel, hours and hours later, our clothes still smelled like a campfire. (A very large campfire) A strange experience, but I guess not too unusual for Californians. Here's some pics:

Smokey sends a message that doesn't inspire confidence in us:

BridalVeil Falls in the park. It's late in the summer, so it's not as powerful as usual.

Near El Capitan, a peak that extremely daring rock climbers attempt to summit. No one in our family volunteered.
My favorite view is below. Isn't it gorgeous?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Thank you Elena and David Heil!

Elena and David hosted us for two days, while we roamed around wine country and northern California. They opened their home, gave us comfy beds, and treated us to a delicious brunch this morning before we left for the Sequoias farther south (we're in Fresno tonight.) They added a warm and personal touch to our California wanderings. Thank you, Heils!

Annie's Thoughts (I'm back!)

Annie here again! This is going to be short. I hope. Here's another squirrel picture Mom left out. It's pretty good.
I think that Mom and Dad's favorite memory so far has been the wine place that I can't remember the name. Just another monastery. (I hope I spelled that right.) They loved it there and got a whole bunch of stuff. Look at the pictures below and you'll see why.

Here's Mom happily drinking from a barrel. (not really)

And here's Dad joyfully showing us all the barrels of wine he won. (not really)

And the hidden cove we went to that Mom told you all about, brought out Mom's inner photographer . She was amazing! Just look at this!

Wow. What a Mom. There was many others she took, that I hope Mom will show you later on.
I still can't believe her.

But that just about wraps it all up! Mom will write tomorrow!

. . . .

Oh and we found this cracker box at a shop called "Annie's cheddar bunnies" Here's a picture of Annie, holding Annie's.

Hee hee. Bye!


Schultz Cove - now with pictures!

Here are some pictures from the gorgeous hidden cove we found on the coast yesterday, near where the Russian River flows into the Pacific, about 60 miles north of San Francisco.

The only tricky thing was that it was waaaaay at the bottom of a cliff .

Here's the cliff from the beach. See the three small dots at the very tip top? The middle dot is our red minivan.

So how did we get down, you ask? Via this narrow path (below) that at some spots bordered a sheer drop down to sharp rocks, and which put me into full Mom-freak-out mode. It's a good thing the kids have Mark. Otherwise they would never do anything remotely adventurous.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Annie's Thoughts

Hey! Annie here! We Have Pictures! Yaaayyyy!!!! *giant applause sounding from nowhere* (Please ignore that. I am being goofy....again.)

We are waiting for Mom to get back to the hotel. If she doesn't show up in another hour, start finding her picture and put it on milk cartons!

(Narrator is now Cathy: yes, I got back from my trip to Barnes and Noble, and yes, I got lost in Fresno trying to find it. I went to get a couple of books on California, and while there also bought Annie a brand new Warriors book.When I finally walked into the hotel room, she took one look at the new book, yelped, and dived into it. So I'll post the pictures she wanted to post, and let her comment on them later. :)

Here's Annie at the beach in Carmel, feeding a wild squirrel by hand.

And here's the fatter squirrel climbing into Mark's lap, which startled him a bit.

We thought you'd enjoy this sign we saw at a park near Napa Valley. But never fear; we Schultzes laugh at danger! (Not really. As soon as I saw this I was ready to march back to the car. Mark, my Boy Scout hubby, persuaded us it was safe to go on.)

Here we are pretending to get drunk on a tour of a winery. We really were just pretending. Honest!

Here's Annie standing by the Carmel mission. Beautiful church, beautiful girl. :)

Schultz Cove

Just a quick little post for tonight, though without pictures. (We'll be able to use our laptop tomorrow night and will start posting our pics again.) After our vineyard tour and wine tasting today (yum!) , we went over to the coast, near a place where harbor seals were said to hang out. We never found the seals, but we did find a hidden cove that we christened Schultz Cove. Huge rocks, crashing waves, a cliff to our back, and just the five of us on a narrow little slip of a beach. Magic.

We're off to the Sequoias tomorrow, and will try to see some of Yosemite too if possible. Fun!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Annie's thoughts

Hey, Annie here again!

I hope Mom told you about the squirrels in Carmel. It all started when Brennan and Nate started throwing bread to the seagulls and little black birds. Quickly the place was swarming with birds and even a crow. Birds can get so annoying when it comes to food.

Then this giant, fat squirrel came scrambling up the root of the tree we were sitting on. It reminded us of the crazily brave squirrel we had at home who we all called, Achilles. (He stole our moldy peanuts, and would venture very close to us in search of food. He would even steal from the birdfeeder.) Anyway, the squirrel started eating the peices of bread from the sandwiches we tossed at it. Then another came, and another, and so on.

At last, Dad cried out that one of them had got so adventurous, it sat in his lap to eat. Then some more copied the idea for food and sat on us as well. Sometimes two at a time would sit on my lap. Once even three! Then I got the idea of them eating from my hand. It worked! They pressed their tiny claws against my fingers and started eating! They had a firm grip and at least a couple times they pulled the bread from my fingers. Three times they tried to nibble from my sandwich, so I had to scold them and tell them that only I could pick up the bread and give it to them. It was mine after all. Crazy squirrels. One even climbed into Mom's lap and tried to drink from the beer bottle she was holding!

Once one nibbled my thumb a bit trying to get at my sandwich. It was tiny, but it got through the skin so my Dad had to put some antibiotic on it.

At last, after a bit, they started to get... annoying. So we stopped giving them bread and the squirrels gradually left us. Brennan and Nate had a great time chasing away the seagulls, the one crow, and the little black birds.

The waves were amazing too, but it was those squirrels that we will remember forever. *sighs dreamily* When we can get the laptop working again, we'll give you the pictures we took of the squirrels and the ocean. You will love them. :)



Anyone want to lend me $5,000,000?

Anyone? Anyone? I was hoping to use it to buy a beachfront home in Carmel-by-the-Sea. I'd let everyone come and stay there with us. Promise!

We drove down the coast a bit from San Francisco, and spent the afternoon at Carmel. If you're a golfing fan, you might know it because it's right by the world-famous Pebble Beach. If you're a People magazine fan (Cathy raises her hand) you might know it as the town where Clint Eastwood used to be mayor. Either way, it's gorgeous. We bought bread and cheese and fruit and walked down to the beach, where we sat on some driftwood to eat our lunch. The seagulls quickly came over to beg some bread. Then some squirrels wandered by, and actually started feeding from our hands. Then they started climbing in our laps for food. I'm serious! One squirrel was quite obese, so I'm sure he's figured out that begging from the humans is the way to live well.

After lunch, the kids frolicked in the freezing cold waves, along with other hardy kids. (Mark and I got our toes wet, then we wimped out) Now, the Schultz kids can say they swam in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans--in the same summer!

We also made a stop at the beautiful Carmel Mission, established by Juniperro Serra in the 1770s (pic below) before heading back up north. We're staying tonight with the Heils, Matt's parents, who are incredibly generous and hospitable, and insisted we stay at their place. They live in St. Helena, in the Napa Valley, and tomorrow we plan to do a wine tasting tour. If we taste too much wine, we've told Annie she'll have to drive us back here.

The pictures I'm including here are generic internet pics (I'm using the Heil's computer, and don't have any way to upload my pictures on it.) but I'll try to include some personal pics tomorrow, especially of the greedy squirrels!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Well, it seemed like a good idea...

Hello, Cathy here! Last night while online, plotting out ideas for today, I read some raves from people who had rented bikes in SF and biked along the waterfront, and then over the Golden Gate bridge. Prices were reasonable, and Mark and the kids were excited, so we sallied forth today to do it (after a quick tour of the nearby Jelly Belly factory, to the great joy of our kids. The boys' favorite "treat" there was a box of "Bean Boozled", which features jelly beans that taste like --I kid you not--- vomit, earwax, and pencil shaving, to name just a few flavors)

Our great biking adventure wasn't quite as great as we had hoped, though. Actually in Brennan's words: "Worst decision of the trip!" Here's why:

1. Hand brakes. Our kids aren't really used to them, since their bikes have the pedal brakes instead. The place offered tandem bikes, but the boys really wanted their own bikes instead. We made them try their hand brakes a few times at the rental place and they seemed fine. But in hindsight, it was a lot to get used to, especially since...

2. San Francisco has HILLS. Big ones. and though our path mostly followed the waterfront, there were a few times it had to curve away from it, and so we invariably ended up going up and down steep hills. My kids are used to the flatness of Joliet, so it was tricky, but that still might have been okay, except for....

3. The bike path from the waterfront up to the Golden Gate bridge was under construction. So, for about a half mile, we got shunted onto a steep, curvy not-all-that-wide road that offered little room to ride or push bikes. It was a detail that somehow our cheerful Brazilian bike renters had neglected to mention. It would have been a bit stressful even with just Mark and me. Having kids on bikes made it a LOT stressful. Then to add to our frustration, we found it really hard to actually bike on the bridge itself, since the walkway was so crowded with pedestrians and other bikers. We tried, then gave it up, and Mark watched the bikes while I walked the kids out a ways to catch the views.

4. Even with all that, we still were having an okay time, but on the ride back from the bridge, things went downhill (hey, look, a pun!) Brennan had a tough spill and skinned his knee. Then Nate flipped over his handlebars on a bump and hit his elbow hard. Then Annie skidded on some gravel and went down hard, twice in five minutes. A lot of tears, and vows to never ride again, and remarks to the effect of "WHY did we have to ride bikes today?!" At the end of it all, Annie had fallen twice, Brennan three times, and Nate four times. We limped back, pushing our bikes up the hill to the rental spot, only to find out that we had been gone so long that we had to pay the whole day rate. *sigh*

But, on the bright side, no one got too badly hurt, and after limping to a nearby Ben and Jerry's we were all suitably cheered up to be able to joke about it. I predict that "Let's bike the bridge!" will become a favorite expression in our house for truly awful ideas.

Here's some pics of the "adventure," We're still having fun in this one.:

Pushing the bikes uphill here. Not quite so much fun...

Things are still okay here, and the views were spectacular.

Brennan coming down a hill, though fortunately this wasn't one he fell on.
Our Ben and Jerry's therapy put us all back in a cheerful mood. In Brennan's words, "Sadness plus icecream equals happiness." Maybe we can sell that slogan to Ben and Jerry's.

We finished the day on a high note. A "Ripley's Believe it or Not" museum (the kids' choice) and then, before driving back to the hotel north of the city, Mark took us on a "roller coaster" ride of some of the San Francisco hills. Yee-haw!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Annie's Thoughts from San Francisco

Hey, Annie here. We got to California! Brennan, Nate and I celebrated by playing on the computer. (Just kidding.) Mom And Dad, (who you all know as Mark and Cathy) dragged our eyes off it for good on the way by hiding the computers somewhere at the hotel so we couldn't bring them with us. Oh well. The sights were pretty good today though. We went to a place called Muir Woods. The scenery was elegant, and the trees always brought something new. Like some unique bark, or nice formation. And then we got to something I hoped to see my whole life after a little poem-book picture of a giant tree that you could drive your car through. The Redwood forest! I was a teeny bit disappointed about that the trees weren't as wide as I thought, but the height was amazing!

Mom (Cathy. I'll keep saying this in case if you are used to Cathy and are getting confused. Giggle.) took some amazing shots with our camera. She gave it to me in the car, and I held it for a bit of the way. Then I gave it to her, and she held it for a bit. Then she gave it to me, and I gave it to her and so on and so forth. We both thought that the other would take better pictures or something. I don't know.

Anyhow, here's a good shot she took.

Ah, the golden gate bridge, how lovely, how elegant, so... short. Brennan Nate and I thought it would be longer then that. Pity. But it was still cool and unique. Quite red I say.

I bet you some of you know about this famous World War II graffiti. Well...We found Kilroy! You cannot hide from us, big nose! We shall always figure out your tricks!

The computer's bad at history. It said to me that Kilroy's not a word! Darn Computer. Be more smart! (That was fun. I always like being goofy on the internet. :)

We went on a little tour called Bay City Quackers. It was on a World War II amphibian vessel, one that can go on both land and sea. Pretty cool huh? The Tour guy (I don't know his name so I'll just use that.) was funny and joked a lot. Brennan got to drive the Bay City Quackers around in the water because the Tour Guy was letting volunteers drive. What a lucky guy. He was grinning from ear to ear when he came back and Mom (Cathy) took a lot of pictures of him.

Darn Computer again! It said that Quackers wasn't a word! Be more smart!...Again!

The last thing we saw, was the wild sea lions. The first thing Dad said about them was that they looked like big fat, dark logs sitting on the wood. That was probably the best description. They were lazing about sleeping and snoring, paying no attention the the seagulls who pecked away on their skin. Funny critters.

Anyhow, that wraps it up. Hope that you liked it. I had a great time writing to you,not to mention that it was night, way past my bedtime. Mom has been pestering me about what I'm writing, and about going to bed (I hope she doesn't read that.) and correcting my bad grammar, but it has been fun.



Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mark's memo

The children feign death, hoping to end their parents' instructive monologues:

We've developed some useful road protocols. The kids are allowed to play their laptop computer games and watch DVDs most of the time on the road. In return, whenever we say "Eyes right!" they pause their electronic devices and look right. They've figured out that we (and ultimately, they) are happier if they exclaim over the beauty of the mountain, rainbow, cowboy, or bit of tumbleweed we are pointing out and oooh and aaah over the bits of fascinating trivia we pass on to them. Once or twice, I look back just to make sure they aren't faking us out. They actually are looking. Only if the mountains are particularly wonderful do we have them turn off the machines. Maybe we're being overly indulgent. The truth is, Cathy and I are indulging ourselves with peace and quiet to talk, gaze at the beauty around us, and listen to CD snippets of Confederates in the Attic (pretty funny stuff). When Cathy drives, she comes up with fun mental games to play. (Try for example, listing, in order, the ten largest and smallest states by population.)

What I've liked so far: the muted-toned fields of wild (yellow) mustard, with patches of blue, purple, and orange in Nebraska and Wyoming. The surprise of driving through the mountain range north and east of Salt Lake City, and emerging through the pass, high above the city, seeing it open up below us. (It is a charming city/town. It's about 500,000 pop, three times the size of Joliet and Crest Hill. Interesting eclectic mix of old brick buildings from the turn of the century, new Chicago style skyscrapers, and that Temple. It's like a Catholic gothic cathedral, just stripped down of almost all imagery and art. So you see the iconophobic evangelical roots of Mormonism. I didn't mind the prosteletizing as much as Cathy did. I figured it was a Mormon dream come true. Imagine! All these potential converts knocking on their door! And the flowers were lovely everywhere. Neat and orderly, as you might imagine. It was the omnipresent panhandlers that got under my skin. Not so skilled and courteous as the missionary/tour guides.

We saw a wild pronghorn antelope in Nevada. It's the second fastest animal in the world. The kids really liked it. It just stood across a fenceline from us, watching us with those huge black eyes, then bounded off like a kangaroo, with all four feet off the ground at the same time.
All for now!


Do you know these guys?

When I was a kid, I LOVED the TV show, Bonanza. I mean, loved it. Every day after school I would excitedly sit down and watch the exploits of the Cartwrights: Pa, Hoss, Adam, and Little Joe, on the Ponderosa, their ginormous ranch near Virginia City, Nevada. Gunslingers, cattle rustlers, gold seekers, and lots of cowboy love affairs. What more could you want from a TV show?

So, in honor of my love affair with the Cartwrights, we decided to spend a night and most of a day in Virginia City. What I never knew was that, while in actual miles it wasn't that far from Interstate 80, it actually is in the middle of the mountains, and so takes a while to get there. No, strike that, it hangs from the side of a mountain, and the only way to get there is by driving a road with hairpin pins, and ever more alarming drops just on the other side of a skinny guard rail. My children, Illinois plains kids all, were suitably alarmed.

But once we got there we loved it. Virginia City was once a wild and whoolly city flush with wealth (and all the vices that go with it) from both gold and silver strikes. The Comstock Lode, the richest vein of silver ever discovered in America, was here. Now it's a charming Old West throwback; population: 1600; main industry: tourism. There's wooden boardwalks, and Old-Timey shops (the kids' favorite is below) and a chugga-chugga-choo-choo steam train that takes you out to where the strikes were, on a rail that hugs the mountain side and offers incredible views. Here's some pics of the day:

Annie and Brennan on the "stagecoach."

The kids on the train:

A pretty hokey Wild West show we took in, which the kids loved. Mark and I are trying to balance things we love to do and see , with things like this which the kids are thrilled by. Like, for instance, we'll take them to a cool historical museum, and then in return, we'll let them take us to the Jelly Belly factory. :)

More later!