October Fest

One weekend in October we went to an October Fest (not the beer-drinking kind) hosted by the Essex County Environmental Center, the same place where the girls go for their Frog Pond Science Club. It was a lovely community event where all the things on offer were free — crafts, a petting zoo, a snake man, music, and even some snacks!

It was such a fun time, and so refreshing to get away from the concrete and to enjoy some great nature!

Camping in the wilds of New Jersey

The first weekend in September we went camping with Lillian and Jeremy and Shanna at High Point State Park. We didn’t really know what to expect, seeing that we had never been there before, but we were up for trying it — our very first camping trip in the U.S.! Ben took the Friday off work and we were at the campgrounds by lunchtime, which was great to set up camp and all that. What wasn’t so great was that it was predicted to rain all that weekend. We weren’t going to be deterred!

We were right next to a lake. There was the little misunderstanding about how I thought the lake in the photos would be the same one we’d be camping next to, but that was a little further up the road, a bit cleaner and swim-able. The one we were next to was definitely not a swimming lake. It was pretty, though!

It was a wonderfully relaxing weekend. I was so ready to get out of the city! It was wonderful to enjoy nature, enjoy Jeremy and Lillian’s company, enjoy camping food (barbecued meat! potato salad! marshmallows!), and to smell like sweat, smoke and insect repellent (yeah, I’m weird. I kinda like that smell. For a couple of days, anyway!).

We went for a walk around the lake. It was a very pretty walk, and we also got to see all sorts of interesting flowers and critters!

We were so blessed that the rain that was predicted to be drizzling all day really only came after dinner on Saturday night. We even got to make stick bread, one of my favourite childhood Voortrekker (scout) camping memories — bread shaped on the end of a stick, roasted over the fire. Like a marshmallow, only longer. :-) I was having so much fun, I neglected to take a photo of it, which is a shame. Well, when the rain came, it really came down something fierce. I think two storms passed over us during the night, but we were all nice and snug in the tents, and in the morning the sun rose brightly and dried off our tent in time for us to pack it up!

We did get to spend some time at the lake in the photos too where the water in the taps were also a little less brown than at the pump by our campsite, so we filled up our bottles there. On the day we left just Ben and the kids and I went back and there was some sort of community event that let people use kayaks and canoes for free. I stayed on the sidelines with a tired Laurelin, and Ben and the two older girls enjoyed the free kayaks.

We all got home very tired, but it was a good kind of tired.

Pretty little gift

Where we live now, we have no garden, which is a bit of a shame. The other day, though, we were outside and the girls were riding their bikes on the sidewalk when Esther brought these little flowers to me. Yes, they’re weeds, but they are beautiful.

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Yo’s Mite. That’s how I always thought you pronounced Yosemite (having only ever seen it written). Now I know better. Just think Yo’s Cemetery without the ‘r’ and you’re set.  :-)

One of the many things I love about the States is how varied the scenery is. Yosemite is beautiful. But so is Arches. And the Smoky Mountains. And the Adirondacks. And… I could go on. :-)

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One morning we went for a short hike to Mirror Lake.  One of the first things we saw on the hike was this bear trap. We’re not used to seeing things like that!

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The hike was a bit of a wild goose chase, because we somehow went way too far. It turned out that the little pond we passed at one point was actually the lake, so we backtracked, walked through a beautiful meadow,

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And beheld the pond. I mean, lake.

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The girls enjoyed the water (it was a hot day), nevertheless, and it was actually quite nice for them that it was so shallow!

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There was another part to the lake — apparently it was a very dry year, hence the low water levels — where there were quite a few more people.

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A little bit off topic, but I saw this car in the park and couldn’t help thinking, “What a long way to drive!” About 3120 miles, if they’re from Anchorage.

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There were so many very tall trees. We didn’t make it down to the giant sequoia forest (hey cool, the word ‘sequoia’ has all 5 vowels in it!), but still saw some big ones.

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Did I mention that we were glamping? When  I was booking our accommodation in advance for our roadtrip, the dates that we wanted to be in Yosemite were all booked out (except for the really expensive hotels) inside the park, so I found a campsite just outside the park where you could camp using all their gear and facilities. It was great! Tent already set up, beds made with nice warm sleeping bags and comfortable mattresses, hot showers, hammocks, a big fire pit, a pool, a playground, a little shop and restaurant, even little trollies for your luggage! All for the price of a nice hotel anywhere else in the country.

We had our own food, but couldn’t cook there because it attracts bears. We were warned not to leave any of our food in our tents because bears come after it, and the campsite provided bear-proof boxes for food that were away from the tents a bit. Well, the first night we slept without any problems, but on the second night we woke up to the sounds of a bear banging on the nearby food boxes and rubbish bin. It turns out some clever person left some food out on top of the bins and that attracted the bear. We then lay there in the tent petrified, hearing the bear move around the campsite. The scary thing was that not so long before I had gone out to the car to get some medicine for Esther who was getting sick — sticky, sweet tylenol syrup. All Ben could think was that the bear would smell that and try to get into our tent! All I could think about was had I gone out a bit later I would have met the creature out there in the dark! In the end the bear moved off and we went back to sleep — a very light kind of sleep.

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At our campsite, there were big tall trees with lots of cool-looking moss or lichen growing on them. This next photo makes me feel dizzy.

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Between a couple of these mossy trees there was this cool swing, which we all enjoyed.

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On our last morning, the morning after the Night Of The Bear, we went on a little walk (“We’re going on a Bear Hunt“) before our drive to San Francisco. There was a brave “we’re not scared” veneer over some distinct nervousness over meeting a bear! And no, the bear of  the previous night was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully.

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Roadtrip: Mono Lake

I’m determined to finish the posts of our roadtrip, despite it now being almost exactly a year since we’ve been back in New Zealand.

After our stop in Lone Pine, we drove north to Yosemite National Park. Just near the entrance to the park is Mono Lake, where we stopped for a couple of hours before going on to Yosemite.

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Mono Lake is a very saline lake with no outlet to the ocean, making it more than two times saltier than the sea.

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On the edge of the water there’s a strip of about half a meter that’s black and buzzing. Alkali flies!

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I thought the little flies were a bit gross buzzing around your feet, but the birds liked them, and apparently the early Native Americans in the area ate the fly larvae. Bleh.

All those little black dots in the photo below are the little flies. If I recall correctly they’re only about half a centimeter long.

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An interesting feature of Mono Lake is its Tufa formations. They’re made of limestone, and they’re fun to photograph.

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Ben and Marica had a swim.  Ben said it almost felt difficult to swim because he felt like he was bobbing on the water!

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My very own James Bond. Only better, and without the freaky blue speedo. :-)

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Afterwards when they had air-dried, the two of them were left with salt streaks on their legs. I think Marica licked it and confirmed that it was indeed salty!

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The lake is too salty for fish, but is famous for the Mono Lake brine shrimp, only found in Mono Lake. The kids had fun catching them with little pitchers provided by the park rangers.

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Next time, Yosemite!

The Grand Canyon

No tourist’s visit to the west of the U.S. is complete without a stop at the Grand Canyon, and we were no exception. We stayed in a little village (consisting mostly of the motel and gift shop) called Cameron for a couple of nights. From there it was only about an hour’s drive west to the Grand Canyon.

On our second night there, there was a spectacular sunset, with a storm brewing on the horizon. Ben had been wishing for a great big thunder/lightning storm during our trip, and this was the night it happened! We were able to sit on our balcony outside and witness the most amazing natural lights show either of us had ever seen on the plains behind the motel. The lightning just went on and on for about 2 hours, with lots of spectacular fork lightning too!

As we visited the Grand Canyon on a Sunday, we drove in early and attended a little Baptist church there in the Grand Canyon Village before heading off and doing a bit of sight-seeing. We were there with two little ones, so the possibility of any hikes down into the Canyon were (thankfully) non-possibilities, so we did some of the Rim Trail and took photos.

The Grand Canyon is named that because it is really grand. Huge. Amazing. Awe-inspiring. And simply too big for me to really be able to take in and comprehend. So big and amazing that after about an hour of looking at it, you’ve got brain frizz and just have to leave. I expect you get a better idea of it if you hike down into it, or do some rafting on the river, or even take a plane or helicopter ride over it, but as it was, it was “too lofty for me to attain.”

Of course, there had to be a few close-calls, didn’t there? What really struck me was that there were only a couple of viewing points that had any kind of safety barrier. For the rest of the trail, you could just walk off the trail, and jump off the cliff if you wanted to! That’s so different from New Zealand — there would be safety barriers everywhere and if not, oodles of warnings to stay away from the edge!