Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 29th, the last Day and the end of the blog :(

On Tuesday, the 28th, we left Socorro with many a teary eye. We said our good byes and headed to Albuquerque around 11. We were going to ride the Tram to the top of Sandia Peak. That ride leaves a ~6000 foot base to a 10,300 feet peak. It was an excellent view of the city and a fantastic place to have lunch and take a hike. The kids met with the park ranger and got the materials to earn their Jr Ranger Badge for Sandia. In order to find all the needed answers, we took a mile nature hike around the top of the mountain. It was a gorgeous day and the temps that high up were in the mid 70's (compared to 90's at the base). We spent a few hours there and then headed back to the old town part of the city. This area has many museums, shops, galleries and restaurants. It is a really fun place to stroll around. I had told the kids that if they could solve a math problem I had given them that I would buy them a slush. They solved it so we headed for the slush maker near the rattle snake museum as soon as we parked the car. On the way, we ran into our friends the Sakamotos! They were having an ice-cream before heading over to the AAA Isotopes baseball game. It was fun to see them again.

We found a great restaurant to have dinner- the High Noon Saloon. They had really good food and excellent service. We had a great last New Mexican meal before heading to our hotel for the last night of our trip.

On Wednesday, we headed to the airport for our 10:20 flight. Due to the wonderful weather on the East Coast, we had a 1 hour delay leaving New Mexico and a 3 hour wait on the tarmac in Baltimore due to the Boston airspace being shut down. We eventually arrived home at 10:30PM. We had a fantastic trip overall. We are all ready to do it again, but are happy to be home for now. The kids seemed to converge on Carlsbad and White Sands being their favorite places. I loved Zion for the hiking and would love to go back to Carlsbad and do some of the cave crawls as well. Debs highlight was Mesa Verde. We all loved the slower pace of life and the time together as family.

We cannot wait to see all of you and catch up. God certainly blessed our adventure, showed us some of His favorite places and kept everyone healthy throughout the process. Halleluiah!

We will be in touch soon!

The Dionnes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 27th- Sandy Experience

Yesterday morning, we left the Holiday Inn and made our way over to White Sands. Before leaving the hotel, we borrowed sleds and bought some wax. First, we stopped at the visitor center to gather a little info about the dunes. Then, we drove to the dunes, waxed up our sleds, and hopped on them!
The dunes are very hard to explain. They are white as snow; and they're cold! We slid down the first hill for a while, but we found a taller dune, which we slid on for the rest of the time. All eight kids loved it, but the little girls were tired and fussy. I enjoyed rolling down the dunes and getting sand in my hair, but the sledding was fun too!
We didn't want to leave, but it was a relief to sit in the visitor center and watch the movie about White Sands. We learned that if a yucca plant is 2ft above the dune, and the dune is 30ft tall, then the yucca is probably 32ft tall! They can grow faster than the dunes can and will keep up as the dunes 'grow'.
When we got in the car to drive back to Socorro,(I scraped my leg on the car) sand was still falling off us! White Sands was one of my favorite National Monuments, even though sand is still falling off me right now!
-ed (Emma)

ps- do you know the difference between a National Monument and a National Park? We will let you know the answer when we see you at home.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 26th- Tom's B-day

Hi All,

Today is my little brothers birthday! Happy Birthday Tom!

Yesterday, we left the Inn and headed for Roswell. Yes, we thought it would be fun to see the UFO capital of America. The official museum and research center was pretty lame. We were hoping it would be sort of funny and interesting but no. The people who worked there were not friendly or nice and the whole place was tired and sort of pathetic. Oh well. Back into the car and on to Carlsbad. We reached Carlsbad in time to check into the hotel, hit the pool for an hour, grab some take-out BBQ and head to the park for a picnic dinner before the flight of the bats. The visitor center is on top of some small mountains so the view from our picnic table was fantastic. The company wasn't bad either as we had a couple of Turkey Vultures soaring pretty close.

We finished up our dinner and headed to the amphitheater. It is directly in front of the natural entrance to the cave where the bats fly out. We got our seats and listened to the ranger as he talked while we waited for the bats. Around 8:05 PM, the bats started coming. They fly up from about 400-500 feet down in the cave (one type of bats roosts at the very bottom, about 1100 feet down!) and they swirl up to the mouth like a whirlwind, doing one last swirl in front of the mouth of the cave and then shooting off to the right in a jet stream of bats. As they started coming out, you could smell the 'cave smell' which was a musty smell mixed with bat guano. I thought it smelled OK, the rest of the gang didn't like it much. Whenever some of the bats would stray from the stream and fly out over the amphitheater, the smell would intensify immediately. So while you may not be able to see the bats in the cave, you sure will smell them when you are getting close to their roosts. The whole thing was a spectacle well worth experiencing. We were not allowed to photograph the bat flight so we will have to show you the pictures we bought when you visit us at home. The bats poured out for about 45 minutes- well past dusk (We were told there are about 250,000-300,000 bats living in that cave). We stayed until we could not see them any longer. It was soo cool that we just did not want to leave.
But, we had a 10 am tour the next morning and found out that we had to hike an hour down into the cave to get there so we knew the next morning was going to be an early one so we finally headed out around 9.

Getting up this morning was difficult. Of course it was the morning that every one of the kids would have slept 2 hours longer! We hit the road at 8am and arrived just before 9. We got our tour tickets for the 'Kings Palace' room tour (they had some other tours where you had to crawl long distances through small tunnels but you had to be 12+ for those) and headed to the cave entrance. It was a really neat experience heading down hundreds of feet into the cave mouth, and then eventually getting to the point where natural light could no longer reach. This cave is immense. I believe there are 5 huge caverns inside and then dozens and dozens of smaller chambers- some they are still exploring. I am not sure I want to even try to describe what it looks like because it is nothing like you have ever seen before. Take a look at a few of the pictures... It looks like a whole other world down there: beautiful, unique, unreal.
We took a 1.5 hour tour of the Kings Palace and the Queens chamber. In the Queen's chamber, the ranger had all the lights turned out for a few minutes so we could see what it is really like in the caves: Dark- like absolutely no light. You cannot see your hand directly in front of your eyes. The kids got a kick out of that part.
The ranger told a story about Jim White, the 16 year old ranch hand who first explored the cave, and about how one time deep in the cave, he was down to his last 3 matches and almost couldn't re-light his lantern. Experiencing that type of darkness, there is no way you are getting out of that cave without a light.

After our tour, we went up the elevator (travels the 750 feet up in less then 1 minutes), had lunch and then went back down to explore the 'Big Room'. This room is the size of about 14 football fields with an average ceiling height of maybe 30-40 yards. We walked the 1.3 miles around this room and it took just about an hour. We could have stayed in there much longer and taken many more tours. It was really one of the highlights of our trip and tonight some of the kids were rating it their number one national park! I bought a DVD so we could share at least a glimpse of this with all of you when we get back.

The pictures: mouth of the cave, a few pictures of inside the cave, the kids just completing their Carlsbad Cavern Jr Ranger badges.

Friday, July 24, 2009

July 24th, Ruidoso

We left Socorro late this morning and headed south to Ruidoso where we planned to meet up with the Sakamoto family. They live in San Jose, CA and are in New Mexico visiting Kristina's parents. John has met our kids and I have met his, but this will be the first time we get the kids together.

On the way down, we stopped at the 'Valley of Fire' national monument to have our lunch. It is kind of a cool place. It is a valley filled with harden lava that was pushed up through volcanic vents rather than a volcanic eruption. The lava poured out of these vents and filled the valley approximately 5000 years ago. As you might be able to see from the pictures, as it cooled, it created really need tubes, bubbles, caves and other formations. This area is about 165 miles long by a few miles wide with an average depth of 65 feet.

We reached our hotel, the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino at 2:30. Just in time for Deb and Emma to get to the stable for their horseback trail ride. It ended up being just the two of them with the guide. They were out for well over an hour as they rode through the woods, valleys and across a ridge that makes up this beautiful property. Deb was a bit nervous when the guide told her that he had seen a bear cub on the 9am ride and was chased by a pack of wild dogs on the 11am ride. Aside from seeing the bones of elk, cayote and a horse along the trail, the trip was uneventful!

We met the Sakamoto family late afternoon and headed to the pool. In addition to the pool, they had a steam room, a sauna and a huge hot tub with a small waterfall feeding the water into it. The hot tub was the big hit with the kids and parents.
The picture on the top right is the view from our balcony at the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort.

Tomorrow it is on to Carlsbad Cavern with a quick stop in Roswell to check out the aliens. We are planning to get to Carlsbad by mid afternoon, have an early dinner and then get a spot to watch the 400,000 bats fly out of the cave at dusk.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 23- Socorro

We have been enjoying a relaxing last few days in Socorro after getting back from Taos. Yesterday, we had a very lazy day overall. We played board games after a late breakfast, did a little work and ate some lunch. After lunch, we headed out to a park in town to play Frisbee, have a water gun fight and play on the swings and climbers. We then headed for home and made some black bean chipotle salsa and fajitas. All the kids loved them and ate seconds: progress on getting them to spice up their favorites!

This morning we headed into Albuquerque after breakfast. We went into old town and had a picnic lunch near the Natural History Museum. We then visited that museum. We had been in it 4 years ago when we had visited Albuquerque for Kris's wedding and really liked it. This time was even better. We spent 3+ hours there and could have easily stayed another hour or two. This museum had the right combination of information, displays, sounds and things to touch on things like dinosaurs, space, geology, animals and history. If you find yourself in Albuquerque with kids, make the time to visit this museum. It was very interesting and a lot of fun. They also had a great IMAX movie about the Grand Canyon and the Colorado river. After seeing that movie, I am recruiting to go on the 18-day white water rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. Send me an email if you are in! I think the kids were a little scared after seeing that as none of them were willing to sign up when I asked. I will have to work on them over the next few years.
After that we had a must see museum request from the boys- the rattlesnake museum. This is s small display of about 30 different types of rattlesnakes in the back of a store in old town. From the 8x10 picture on the cash register of the owner catching an 8 foot rattler a few years ago, you know it is his love. They also have displays of black widows, Gila monsters and other cool reptiles. Then there are the video's running in continuous loop of different characters talking about snakes. One such character was the 90 year old snake man. He has been bit over 150 times by a wide variety of poisonous snakes and continues to work with them daily. Years ago he started to de-sensitize himself to snake venom and gives himself a booster every week! The boys and I (the ladies found something else to do) spent almost 45 minutes in there and could have been in there another 30 minutes easily. They loved it.
For dinner tonight, we have steak with goat cheese and an Ancho Chile sauce with home-made Cascabel Onion rings on the side. Mmm.
Off to the Inn of the Mountain Gods resort tomorrow as a pit stop on our way to Carlsbad Caverns.


July 23-

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July 21- The Float

Yesterday we arrived at the visitor center on the outskirts of Taos just after noon. We were supposed to meet our rafting company in the parking lot at 12:30. We ate a quick lunch and shortly thereafter, our rafting company pulled into the lot. We signed ourselves in and followed them across the street to where we would end our rafting trip. We then piled into their van and headed upstream to our launch point. It was a hot and sunny day when we started. The guide mentioned that he would be in the water alot on a day like this. They went over the rules and safety procedures (most of which really pertained to those doing the more aggressive trip- we were doing the float which really only hit a few mild rapids). We then launched our two rafts and were on our way! The boys were in one boat with Kris and Jeff and the rest of us were in the other boat. It was not long before we were in the water cooling off. We ended up pulling up to an island in the middle of the river and having fun practicing "nose up, toes up and facing down the river " . This is the procedure you need to follow if you fall out of the raft and into the river. We all had a blast floating down and then running back up and doing it again (first picture). Even Anna loved it.
After about 15 minutes, we continued on our way. By now the clouds had moved in and it cooled off to maybe 80 degrees. The girls were cold and had to borrow the guides jacket! We floated downstream until 3:30 or so. I forgot to mention that the river we floated on was the Rio Grande and it was very pretty. We saw a few muskrats, some geese and a few birds.
At the end of our trip, the guides set up a snack for us- which the kids devoured in about 2 seconds!
We then drove into the town of Taos, checked into our hotel and hit the hot tub and pool. For dinner, the guides had recommend a restaurant called Grahams Grille. We headed downtown to try and find it. Well, we did and it was fantastic! We sat on the outside patio- adults at one table and kids at another. The food was amazing- I had mango and chicken enchiladas, the desserts were the best we have seen on this vacation and the service was impeccable. If you ever find yourself in Taos, check out this restaurant right in the center of town.
Today, we are going to see the sites in Taos and head back to Kris and Jeff's house for a few days before hooking up with our friends from San Jose- the Sakamoto family.