Bryce and Zion…and Swimsuits

Without Bob’s help it seemed like it took twice as long to pack up this morning. I also realized that I am completely entrusted to Rebecca’s map reading skills as we do not have the GPS to direct us. (I figured this out after missing a turn and we ended up on a dead end street just out of Provo.)

Our first stop today was at a clothing store outlet where we often find things for Rebecca. We usually shop on line but since we were going so close Rebecca thought she deserved at least one shopping opportunity. We pulled up to the store three minutes before opening and found the door open so we walked on in. After a couple minutes the clerk showed up clearly startled that we were inside. I thought maybe we had the time wrong, but we didn’t. Rebecca did get to try on a few swimsuits and found one that she liked even though we never saw another clerk in the showroom…until we were ready to pay. Like many retailers today, they were very short on customer service.

We wound our way down the old road until we reached Bryce National Park. Have you been there? It is such a unique place. I always think the colorful stone pillars left from eroding winds would be the perfect setting for a movie about the planet Vulcan. It is very alien. But beautiful. There are some good looking hiking trails down into the valley making yet another ideal place to come camp for a week and explore.

Weathered rock in Bryce. What does it look like to you? Cathedrals, spires, an alien forest???

Weathered rock in Bryce. What does it look like to you? Cathedrals, spires, an alien forest???

Not far down the road is another of Utah’s national parks, Zion. Crazy rock formations and strikingly beautiful…yet completely from Bryce. The park ends in the valley of the Virgin River and has a climate similar to Phoenix…that is to say, hot. There were signs all over warning people about the heat, telling them to take shade and drink lots of water so we figured there’d be plenty of camping spots open. We figured wrong and ended up in St. George.

Sheep on the hill above us at Zion.

Sheep on the hill above us at Zion.

Before I finish for tonight I have to tell you about Matthew. A while back I picked up one of the National Park travel books for him. I have seen them before but never thought he’d be interested then when we were at the museum in Whitehorse the guide gave him a similar travel book for the Yukon Territory. It looks like a passport and you can stamp it at key locations. Matthew found this to bea great treasure and kept getting it out to review. So when we saw them at Glacier Park I talked to the ranger about getting him one and she told me how popular these were with travelers and how fastidious some were about getting them stamped and buying the stickers, etc. I didn’t really think Matthew would care so much but expected he would like to look through it. Well, I was wrong. At each visitor center he leapt out of the truck, travel book in hand, ready to be stamped. Just as he did when we got to the visitor’s center at Zion… five minutes after they closed.

Poor Matthew. What a sad, sad face he had. And the worst thing was, by then I knew the campsites were full so we weren’t coming back in the morning. I thought it was going to be a long ride until I figured out a solution. Unlike most travelers, Matthew wasn’t worried about the stamp. He just wanted it to be marked and who better than a real live forest ranger? I told the kids to jump in the truck, that I had a plan and we started looking for a ranger. The first one we found was at the entrance and he politely explained that the stamps were at the visitor’s center. I explained that I needed a really big favor and he was so willing to help it brought tears to my eyes. He took his time, wrote his name Ranger Mahoney, the date, the park, etc. All the while cars were backing up waiting to enter the park. But best of all was the look on Matthew’s face. Here, Rebecca caught him with her camera:

Truly a happy guy right here!

Truly a happy guy right here!

Thus ending our day on a very good note.zion

Tomorrow we are heading home. But…not without something exciting.

Traveling with Matthew

One of my concerns in making this voyage was how Matthew would do. He is pretty good natured and willing to go along with the plan, generally with minimal protest. But how would he do on a trip of this magnitude?

Note: after posting this it occurred to me that not everyone knows Matthew. I know, hard to believe. Matthew is well known to many. He is an adult who looks much younger than his age. He is non-verbal and has many traits on the autism spectrum, including a desire for strict routine (the mere idea of travel upsets the apple cart). But he also is engaging and compassionate and if only he would talk, might be a chatty Patty. One of Matthew’s most familiar characteristics is his way of connecting with others. He pulls a person into conversation through showing of another item. Often it is the TV Guide, sometimes it’s just what is in his pocket (and there’s always something in his pocket). He points to the item and you respond. Before you know it, you are having a conversation with Matthew…and he has never uttered a word.tw

While we haven’t made it all the way I think I can safely say Matthew has done well. He is sleeping in the tent far better than I imagined. Our decision to cook most of our meals has made this part of the routine easier. The good…and bad…part is that he gets up as soon as I move. It has made getting on the road early easier but there are times I’d like to have just a few minutes of quiet.

"Oh here, let me show you what I have in my wallet..."

“Oh here, let me show you what I have in my wallet…”

One thing that has been good is the Canadian awareness of gluten free food.  Even in the tiniest of grocery stores we have found clearly labeled GF products. In fact, yesterday we enjoyed fresh poppy seed muffins picked up at a little store just out in the middle of nowhere.

Matthew has completely worn out all of his TV Guides so this morning when he found one at McDonald’s he was very happy. The good thing for me is this TV guide has new and different shows so he has been spending the morning just pouring over it. Luckily, he found they offer exciting programming that includes Gilligan’s Island and Stargate.

A town called Vulcan? Who knew??? (Matthew did.)

A town called Vulcan? Who knew??? (Matthew did.)

But though Matthew protests the idea of camping he has figured out his job in setting up the tent and he has done better than I expected sleeping in it. I also was very concerned that he would not use the ‘no flush’ toilets but that too has not been a problem.

Ah yes, this is the Matthew we've all come to know and love...

Ah yes, this is the Matthew we’ve all come to know and love…

Many of you who have met Matthew know of his love for maps. He loves them so much that one year my sister asked what he’d like for Christmas and I told her an atlas. Sure enough, he spent the next year pouring over it, marking the places he’d like to go, scratching off the ones he doesn’t. Don’t ask me about his rhyme or reason because I don’t know. So, on this trip at every opportunity Matthew picks up a map…or several. But they’re not meant for sharing and he only gives one up under protest.

The truth is Matthew is mostly happy but sometimes adds his two cents worth by pinching Dad or Sister when we start talking about doing something with which he disagrees. Today, for example, he spent the afternoon holding his head with a fake ‘Oh, Boo Hoo’ cry because we were talking about some glaciers we would soon see at Banff. Matthew has decided he has seen enough glaciers. Yesterday, as we were deciding whether to camp or to stay in a motel Bob made a U-turn in the road. This also was enough to set the poor boy off. It seems it is hard to head home if we keep turning around…

Drying dishes.

Drying dishes.

Traveling with someone who has any special need requires some advance planning and a realization that there will be some compromise…sometimes a lot of compromise.  But it’s doable.

The Rain, Mosquitoes and ‘No Flush’ Toilets

north to alaska 138Last night, still smug from our perfect day at the park we finally headed for bed. It wasn’t quite the record breaking temperature we’d seen the past few days but still it was warm. So warm that we left the rain cover and door to the tent tied open with only the mosquito netting between us and the outside world.

About 2:30 I woke to a strange sound. A pitter pattering on the tent and the wind rustling. Suddenly, a sprinkle hit my face and I realized what I was hearing. Clouds had rolled in after midnight and now the rain was coming down.

AHHHH!!!!

Worse, I tried to wake Bob so that he could take care of things while I stayed snug in my sleeping bag but he was snoring loudly across the tent. By the time he woke up I realized we had to work together to get our little igloo enclosed from the elements so both of us dashed outside to untie all the tethers and zip back up all the parts. Once back in the tent we remembered that everything had to be moved so that it wasn’t touching the tent wall, wicking up the rain. In the end, everyone was awake as we scurried around.

Once again our inexperience has left us wet. Though thankfully, it was only us, not all our belongings.

On the plus side, we discovered mosquitoes don’t like rain.

It’s not that I’m complaining about mosquitoes but we’ve all wondered about God’s plan when he invented these nasty, buzzing, swarming, and especially, biting pests. Poor Matthew especially hates my knee jerk reaction of swatting all mosquitoes, especially when he thinks I’m slapping him. I think I told you yesterday about how all the stores are out of OFF. Luckily, we brought several cans, including some half used ones that we’ve collected over the years (we do have a mosquito/no-see-um season though it lasts only a few weeks in Arizona). We have noticed on this trip that in the three seconds it takes to pull off the side of the road and roll down the window for a picture the mosquitoes had discovered us. Rebecca and I originally laughed at the nerdy looking people who were wearing mosquito netting but now we’re rethinking it.

Oh no, another No Flush toilet!

Oh no, another No Flush toilet!

Oh, speaking of Rebecca. I was reminded again today about her dread of the ominous no-flush toilets. I had warned her about them but this city girl has managed to avoid using outhouses until this trip. Yesterday she informed me that we have stopped at six no-flush toilets. Really? I had no idea we were keeping count. I explained to her we were lucky these outhouses all looked like toilets… with toilet seats … and had toilet paper and that it could be worse.

I don’t think she heard me.

Upcoming: Family and Friends in Anchorage.

We’re in Alaska…Already? Check Your Map!

Yesterday’s drive was long and tiring prompting some discussion about whether we should try to shorten our journey. But, after some calculating by the calculus tutor Rebecca announced it would be less than four hours difference if we took Yellowknife Yellowhead Highway to Cassiar or if we went directly north to Dawson Creek from Prince George. The benefit of taking the western route was that we had the opportunity to visit the southernmost point of Alaska. Through a democratic vote we decided to continue our plans to see Hyder, Alaska. What a great choice!

Yep, in Alaska already :)  At least for a half hour.

Yep, in Alaska already 🙂
At least for a half hour.

The Yellowknife is a beautiful road sprinkled with small towns every 50 miles or so. It was easy to drive and though more rural we felt it was well traveled.But then we turned onto the Cassiar Highway. Suddenly towns and, more especially, gas became rare. Still. The drive was amazing. The day was perfect. We drove out of Canada into the teeny town of Hyder and the temperature was a balmy 80. Of course, we were loving it but the residents thought it was a little too warm.

Hyder is the southernmost town of Alaska, making it onto the map by the teeniest margin. They boast 100 residents, and it appeared one high school graduate (they were having a town party while we were there). Students go to the Canadian town close for school and residents shop in Canada. The only place in the town that insists on US Dollars is, of course, their Post Office. We talked to one local who had been there for 18 years. He loved the place. They have no police and monitor themselves. They rely little on others and most appear to have a strong dislike for a big government. The guy we talked to was wearing a “Don’t Tread on Me” cap. I’m guessing many residents lean towards Libertarian. A very interesting little place. I loved it!

Along the way into Hyder we saw our first close up glacier!

Salmon Glacier

Salmon Glacier

We were too early in the season to see bears fishing for salmon but our day was very exciting because we saw at least seven black bears just minding their own business! They were just right along the roadway, munching on raspberry bushes. They, the bears not the raspberries, were just beautiful and looked so plump and soft. I expected they would be more scrawny and shedding.

A beautiful black bear munching on branches.

A beautiful black bear munching on branches.

The Cassiar Highway is absolutely lovely…and absolutely remote. Several times we drove a hundred miles without seeing another car. So when we reached Dease Lake and found the gas station closed we decided to stop for the night and stay in the lodge there.

Today we listened to Hatchet. It’s the story about a twelve year old boy who survives a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness. Everything from the chilly damp weather to the swarms of mosquitoes were more real as we could experience it along with the lad. This is a tween’s book that Rebecca and Bob loved and was made into a movie which you’ll like too.

This picture might make my 'Road Less Traveled' series.  No cars. No road markings. Just us...and the rain.

This picture might make my ‘Road Less Traveled’ series. No cars. No road markings. Just us…and the rain.

Fraser Lake to Dease Lake, with a short detour into Alaska.

Fraser Lake to Dease Lake, with a short detour into Alaska.

Next: Into the Yukon and Sam McGee

The Very Long Day

Eight thousand miles in less than a month means every so often you have to put in a very long day. Today was one. We were on the road by 5 AM heading north out of Seattle and to the border crossing by 8. Apparently, our old truck and perhaps less than stellar attire…or maybe it was our answers to the questions…or maybe, as Bob suggested they looked me up and discovered I am pro Tea Party and Second Amendment Rights… anyway, something, led to a search for guns by the Canadian authorities. They asked us all sorts of rapid fire questions, “Did you bring any weapons along? Where are your guns stored? Do you own any guns? Where are they? Do you have any ammunition? When was the last time you stored blasting powder in your truck?” (Yeah, I know…I liked that last one too…) But finding no evidence of GSR (gunshot residue for all you city folk) they approved us for travel into Canada.

The countryside along the border of Washington and Canada is beautiful farm country. The Canadian side is flanked to the south by a staggering mountain reaching high into the sky and filled with rushing waterfalls. The north side held the mighty Fraser River an awesome powerful glacial river. Our trip today followed the Fraser up through the mountains finally ending at the Fraser Lake. This road was originally a trail used by gold prospectors.

Look at this little church. We saw a whole bunch of these at each mining camp along the river. They're all the same vintage and look like they're still in use.

Look at this little church. We saw a whole bunch of these at each mining camp along the river. They’re all the same vintage and look like they’re still in use.

The land is so rugged that when they were building the road they used a special steam powered boat and pulled it upstream through ropes anchored into the canyon walls.

No I didn't ride the tram. Didn't even think about it.

No I didn’t ride the tram. Didn’t even think about it.

We saw our first very real wildlife at the summit of the pass. A family of mountain goats munching on grass right alongside the road.

Real live mountain goats munching on grass. Isn't the baby cute?

Real live mountain goats munching on grass. Isn’t the baby cute?

We spent the night at a Provincial Campground hosted by a friendly man who refused to charge us since we arrived late and were leaving early. I discovered that long days of driving do not make for an easy dinner time so decided I need to cook the food the night before and then all we have to do is heat through to eat and I can make the next day’s food while the gang is setting up the tent.

So isn't this the coolest thing? Lucky Matthew got a flashlight helmet to wear in the dark from his CA friend Karen.

So isn’t this the coolest thing? Lucky Matthew got a flashlight helmet to wear in the dark from his CA friend Karen.

Matthew is not so sure about this tent camping thing. He is adjusting to this routine of travel each day but he doesn’t like when we start talking about where to ‘camp’ for the night. The unknown and unfamiliar challenge all of us at times, but especially kids like Matthew. Never the less, we press on. We’re listening to his familiar Adventures in Odyssey and the friendly voices of the characters are always a comfort to Matthew.

Across the border and all the way north to Fraser Lake!

Across the border and all the way north to Fraser Lake!

Tomorrow: Travel West and then North or Travel North and then West?

Fun in Sunny, Yes Sunny Seattle

After driving all week I conned my friend Rochelle into driving us through the city for a planned lunch with one of Rebecca’s friends. Rochelle and I met through Twitter…yes, friend number two via social media. We are kindred spirits especially in our conservative ideals. But the highlight for Matthew was when Rochelle’s husband Mark joined us for the day. Mark was deployed in Afghanistan in the Army when his vehicle was hit by an IED. Due to his serious injuries he is now retired from the military and continuing to work on his recovery. He is also Matthew’s pal. A couple years ago, Mark sent Matthew his famous Army jacket and hat, which you may remember Matthew wears day in, day out, even in the heat of our Arizona summers. So our day was particularly special.

Matthew with a real SUPERHERO!

Matthew with a real SUPERHERO!

Oh, and did I mention that Matthew’s friends brought him a nearly lifesize Superman to travel along with us? How cool is that?100_1234

Is any trip to Seattle complete without lunch at Ivar’s? Rebecca and her fellow med student Laura got caught up on all things Seattle at the Ivar’s close to UW. Then, because Bob was flying up we spent the afternoon messing around at the pier enjoying the absolutely beautiful albeit somewhat rare Seattle sunshine. It is hard to imagine a better afternoon than sitting outside eating ice cream with friends.

In the company of two beautiful medical students at lunch.

In the company of two beautiful medical students Laura and Rebecca at lunch.

We were having so much fun we almost forgot to pick up Bob at the airport. But, never fear we made it in time and then all got to enjoy a great bbq dinner at Sharps Roasters’. It was such fun, and what a great way to catch our breath from all this driving.

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Yours truly, Mark, Rochelle and “Hey Look, Bob is here!”

Talked to family in AK. It’s been over 70 every day this week. Will it hold out???

North to Alaska: Mt. St. Helen’s and More

north to alaska 061

Elk dotted the hillside. We counted 10.

The kids were not all that excited to get another early start. After all, the Mount St. Helen’s visitor center didn’t open until 10. Still, I convinced them we should get on the road and boy were they glad we did. There was a drizzle most of the drive but we had the road to ourselves so could drive our own pace and we could stop in the middle of the road when good photo ops occurred. As we looked out over the view point we noticed a small herd of elk just on the ridge next to us. The elk watched us but were busy munching on branches and knew we posed no threat. Then around the corner as Rebecca needed a picture of the lava flow we spotted a giant herd. Most were lying down, waiting for the rain to let up. Then around the next corner one lone elk was just standing in the marsh eating away. We realized how fortunate we were when we drove back and did not see any of the herds.

I remembered when St. Helen’s erupted but about all I really remembered was that many people died, most from the terrible fast flooding, and that if the eruption had happened to the south, the city of Vancouver, WA would have been right in the blast zone. (A good reminder not to live in the shadow of an active volcano.) This is the closest we have been to a recent volcano and its impact on the landscape was stunning. When people talk about the human impact on our environment I think about how insignificant our actions are compared to just one volcano.100_1220

Oh, say, I wanted to remind those who qualify for the Federal Access cards, whether through disability or as a senior citizen, Matthew’s pass has gotten us in to all of the National Parks and other federally run centers. Hey, it’s your tax dollars at work. If you know someone who might be eligible be sure to tell them to sign up.

This evening we had a mini reunion with two more of my high school friends. We had great fun reminiscing and remembering our annual pumpkin pie fundraiser program we worked through the FHA. Thanks, Mrs. Wilson, for teaching us how to make yummy pies.

At dinner we all had to laugh when my friend Nikki and her husband told us their 17 y/o son didn’t want to come because there wouldn’t be any cute girls…and when they met Rebecca they instantly took her picture and sent it so Eli could see what he missed.

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Friends from Sitka High… yes, it was a few years ago.

day 6

Friday: Seattle, sun, more fun, and yea! Dad is joining us.