We ate a nice hot breakfast in the hotel before our eight-hour drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was nice to be on I-70 again and see all of the buttes, canyons, and the San Rafael Reef. We came back into Colorado and drove through the canyon road I-70 runs along until we turned off towards Granby, Colorado. We then took the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our van made it over the pass without incident—unlike my family 20 years ago.
At the top we parked to climb a stair to the top of the tundra. It was a very breezy spot and had giant rocks for climbing which the kids took advantage of. We had a spectacular view from the top. T hopped down each step—one-by-one—all the way back to the car. We then savored the mountain top views with their snow-streaked peaks, and I remembered my fondness for Long’s Peak from all those years ago.
We went into Estes Park for dinner at a place called “You Need Pie!” where we all loved the shaved Brussel sprouts with bacon and onions. The kids loved the mac and cheese, and the professor and I were not super into our pot pie and Rueben. We had dessert first in the form of 2 huge chocolate shakes.
We rolled into the campsite a little before 8 PM and began our final tent pitching of the trip. We then got ready for bed and laid down about 10 PM with the promise of sleeping in.
Today is the last day I will talk about our camping prep and supplies. There are just a few odds and ends.
First, we made a point to travel with three one-gallon jugs of water which we refilled everywhere we slept, either campsite, hotel, or friend’s house. This was helpful for when the kids needed a water-bottle refill and gave us peace of mind when we were driving through the desert for hundreds of miles. Did I mention we each had our own water bottle in the car plus a couple of extra for hiking?
Second, we had a great hiking backpack which used to carry shared Nalgene water bottles for hikes, bug spray, sunscreen, and a first aid kit including a snake bite kit. We did not bring bear spray, but that is also a good safety option to have.
Third, permethrin. If you have been following my blog or social media accounts you might know that I got Lyme disease last summer. I did not get it on our camping trip. I got it in Minnesota off to the side of the path in a wooded, grassy park near the Mississippi River—just across the river from St. Paul. The day I got it all my family was wearing permethrin sprayed hiking shoes. My hiking boots fell apart in Rocky Mountain National Park—which is why I was not wearing them. I got bit by a tick, they did not. Permethrin is an insecticide that you spray on your clothes and shoes while you are not wearing them. Let it dry entirely. It will last for 40 days and through 6 or so wash cycles.
Be safe. Be smart. Use the bear boxes when they are provided. Keep interesting smells out of your tent. All will be well.
We woke early to break camp and get the professor and the girls ready for their cave tour of Lehman’s cave. The all enjoyed the ancient caverns with all of its stalactites and shields and cave popcorn and bacon. T and I went through the gift shop, played house in the old guest cottage, hiked a lower montane desert nature trail, and had coffee and ice cream in a café.
We then drove 13 miles up Wheeler Peak to the trail to the Bristlecone Pine Grove. The trail was nearly 2 miles up hill with rocky pathways and snow along the sides. We threw snowballs at each other the whole way up. At the top we met the Bristlecone pines—trees thousands of years old. I loved their grotesque beauty as they twisted around for millennia holding on to the rocky mountainside. Living parts coexisted with dead parts and it was hard to fathom that these trees lived before Christ became incarnate and still live now.
At the grove we met a young couple who had just become engaged and claimed that they wanted 6-7 children. I will pray for them and their future marriage. We said goodbye to the trees and then hiked back down mindful of our steps and careful of the steep drops down the hillside.
Back at the car I made lunch and we began our three-hour drive to a hotel in Richfield, Utah. The road went through a bleak, dreadful desert past the dried Sevier Salt Lake. We were on the loneliest road in America, US-50, where the professor walked on Crossroads back in college.
At length, we came to Richfield where we shopped for groceries, took showers after five days without and did all of our laundry. The kids watched Mulan as we ate chicken salad for dinner.
I asked the professor to guest post today about how he went about planning our road trip. Cue “the professor”:
In order to start planning the itinerary of a camping road trip, I need two things: a main destination (or set of destinations) and a time frame. For this trip, we began with a desire to make a pilgrimage to the Franciscan missions in California—that was the initial main destination of the trip. We’ve found from previous experience that three weeks is about our psychological limit for time spent away from home. So, I began planning this trip with that time frame in mind, though the trip ended up being a little over three weeks.
I then fill in the details of the trip. This involves considering what we want to see between home and the main destination. There are lots of places out west I’ve always wanted to see, so I examined, on Google Maps, various routes that could be taken to reach the main destination and saw which of these places would be reasonable to visit en route to that main destination.
I plan trips using a Google Spreadsheet. I put various itineraries on the spreadsheet, seeing how long the drives are between potential stops, and in this way, I narrow down the list of possible stops until I arrive at the final list of places to which we will go on our road trip. Basically, I try to maximize the number of places we can visit within the give time frame, while abiding by a few criteria. The number of days spent driving more than ten hours should be minimized. At least two nights should be spent at most stops, so as to maximize the amount of time spent at each location.
On a long-term camping trip like this one, we try to spend at least every fourth night in a motel or at a friend’s house. Contacting friends and asking to stay with them and finding cities with motels that had rooms or suites large enough to accommodate our family further determined the route that this trip would take. For example, early itineraries this trip had us travel from Grand Canyon to Los Angeles, spending time in the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park along the way. But then friends in San Diego invited us to visit them; this allowed us to see more of the Franciscan missions (our main destination) than we had originally planned, which we wanted to do, but it meant cutting those stops, and taking a new route from Grand Canyon to San Diego. Getting lodging with friends in various places allowed us to discover new places to visit that we had not previously planned to see, like Muir Woods near San Francisco.
Once all these stops were determined, I began making camping reservations. For this trip, I did this mostly on the National Park Service’s website, though we also camped in state parks in South Dakota and California, so I used those state park service websites to do this. This was my family’s first major camping trip, so I tried to find campgrounds that had running water as much as possible. Once my family is more used to camping, we will probably camp more in National Forests, which are preferable to Parks because they are cheaper, have fewer people, and often have preserved the natural setting of campgrounds better than in Parks, but also often have more primitive facilities.
Some Parks require that you make reservations far in advance. For example, to reserve a campsite in Yosemite for June, I had to be on the website at a certain time on January 15. Even though I was on the site only a few seconds after that time, most sites were already booked! If you intend to camp at such parks, make sure you read the website and find out the reservation process well in advance. Other Parks, like Great Basin, are so little visited that they do allow reservations; campsites are first come, first served.
After reserving all of our lodging, I completed planning the trip by spending time on each Park’s website, looking at various activities and things to see. We didn’t make the final decisions as to what we would do at each Park until we were there, but this way we had a good idea of what to do well before we arrived. This helped us not waste time figuring things out while at each Park, and it also helped heighten our excitement to go to each place! But it’s certainly necessary to be flexible when on a trip like this and be willing to stop at things you see along the way if they seem to be worthwhile.
I got behind on these posts because we had a busy weekend celebrating a family wedding! Now we are home and I will finish up the series:
Day 18—Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Today was a sad day as we bid farewell to the fair Yosemite—loved of the sequoias and other towering pines—even the orange cone pine. The drive to Nevada took us the length of the park further into the wilderness where we were met with spectacular mountain views, lovely lakes, and John Muir’s favorite Tuolumne Meadows.
There was a stark change as soon as we crossed to the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas. The wooded magnificent domes were now rocky, shrubby mountains as we took a long road into a desolate valley filled with Lake Mono—a salty lake with volcanic rocks sticking up out of it. We then came to a road that went up and down like a roller coaster for miles and miles as we went through a red-brown mountain land. There lived wild horse which we saw grazing in the distance.
Then the land became flat and desolate. There we passed a tower surrounded by mirrors which we are pretty sure was an alien base. We got gas and Subway sandwiches in the desert town of Tonopah, Nevada and then passed through a US testing range area. After hours of desert we came to the lovely Spring Valley which gave us a view of Wheeler Peak where we would be camping.
The desert made us feel a sense of dread until we came into the gorgeous Great Basin National Park. There we nervously went through the first-come, first-serve campgrounds until we found a lovely sight bordered by a mountain stream lined with quaking aspens and pine nut trees. The kids called the stream our sound machine to give us white noise for the night—it also brought us a cool breeze. We had chili for supper which I prepared while the professor set up the tent. After supper we brushed our teeth and then had a campfire until. The sun went down. The night sky there was incredible. We were far from the nearest city and saw millions of stars—everyone was multiple shooting stars. We watched them up in the sky until the kids were way too tired and our necks hurt from looking up. Then we went to sleep to the sound of our mountain stream.
I remember when my Ohio relatives came to St. Louis for my sister’s wedding. They caravanned in a few cars and their were about 7 kids total. Their trip took several hours longer than it needed to because they stopped so many times⎼sometimes just for one person. My family drove to Cleveland every summer, and we had one rule for rest stops: everyone has to go in and use the facilities no matter what.
I have continued the tradition of efficient and quick stops on road trips. We have a system that keeps the time stopped to a minimum for every minute we save is a minute less of traveling. The goal is for everyone to go to the bathroom, refill on gas if necessary, to get out any food for eating, and to get back on the road as fast as possible. When we have a nursing baby, we add this in as well. The nursing baby stop is usually 20 minutes. The stop where we don’t get out food is 10 minutes.
This is the typical gas stop:
1) Pull up at pump.
2) Females exit the car and all go to the restroom.
3) The Professor pumps the gas then parks it. (If we have baby or toddler the diaper change happens here at the car.)
4) Ladies come back to car, the guys go to the restroom. (If there is a nursing baby—this happens here). The driver often buys caffeine.
5) I get out lunch food, prep it, and hand it out.
6) Everyone is buckled up and we go.
All other stops are variations on this. We do not normally take a long break or rest for too long unless we are taking a shorter drive. For example, if we are not getting gas we all go in quickly to the rest area together and try to get out before the guys do.
On our road trip Out West, while we made some of the stops efficient, we purposefully determined to not always make efficient stops. We took the trip for the whole experience. On days we only had a few hours to drive, we stopped at overlooks on a whim. We stopped at tourist traps occasionally. We grabbed food to go as a treat. Though on days we had 9 hours to drive we went back to our normal efficient travel schedule–sometimes stopping to blow dandelion seeds.
We woke early and cold—excited to go back to the valley of Yosemite. By the time we got there it was crowded and we spent awhile searching for a parking spot—but we did not mind as we had a great view.
We parked alongside a meadow with a trail and boardwalk that lead us through the grasses and over the Merced River—Merced means “mercy” and all the beauty we saw there was certainly a mercy.
We took a short trail to the lower Yosemite Falls which were so pretty as white water poured over the gray rock spraying our arms and faces. We sat on large rocks facing the falls and just felt the view. Then we took a trail to the visitor center and bought a new water bottle and some postcards. We ate a snack lunch of popcorn and fried chick peas and carrots before looking at the Ansel Adams gallery and purchasing a few prints to frame.
We then took the valley shuttle to the Mirror Lake trail which was a rocky, tree rooty trail through stunning scenery with Half Dome to the right and another rocky face to the left. The lake was mostly dry with Tenaya Creek running through it. We followed the example of others and all waded through the clear freezing water to the other side. T rode on the professor’s back. The girls enjoyed the cold water so much that they waded much longer than I liked to. The whole experience was fun and a bit thrilling. Once we were all dry, there was a paved easy bike path road we hiked back to the shuttle stop. While we waited to be picked up, the kids played on a giant rock that was smooth and big enough to be used as a slide.
The bus ride was long and crowded—when we got dropped off we walked back across the field to our car and then headed up the Glacier Point Road to get a view of the whole valley. The view was quite breathtaking as we could see all the sights we looked at below from above them and even more. We saw the Nevada Falls and distant peaks. I loved just sitting on a rock close to the edge and feeling the view. The kids delighted in climbing on the huge rocks at the point pretending to be mountain goats. We ate a picnic dinner out of the cooler before heading back to cap to have a fire and s’mores.
There are a number of things that I think are Very Important Parts of Childhood. One of them is the long, boring road trip where one has to make oneself happy with one’s own imagination and enjoy/annoy each other. That being said we have never, ever used the DVD player in our car to entertain our children on trips. We have also never let them use a tablet or other handheld entertaining electric device.
When our children are little we give them things like a magna-doodle to use over and over again for coloring and a few favorite stuffed animals and other toys for imaginative play. When they are older they bring a notebook or journal for drawing and coloring. They bring books to look at or read.
Unfortunately, half of us suffer from motion sickness making car-reading difficult. Because of this we do a lot of audiobooks. Books are better than movies because they give our imaginations room to illustrate scenes in our minds. It has been fun to share favorite books with our kids and discover new ones. Now, the littlest kids do not always like a long audiobook, so we take breaks with music along the way as well. Our favorite books have included: all of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder read by Cherry Jones, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Tarzan and the John Carter books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and The Lord of the Rings, which we listened to on our three week trip.
We start off each drive with a driving prayer for safe travels and a family rosary. Then we either listen to music or our audiobook of choice. When we are doing music the kids all usually play and talk, but when we are doing a story, we ask them to listen quietly. We give them a snack a couple of hours into the trip and lunch out of the cooler on the road. Stops are minimal (more on that later). If we have a long day of driving, we grab a quick dinner and supplement it with cut veggies from the cooler. Otherwise we try to arrive at our destination before dinner time.
These techniques have worked for us as a family on road trips for over ten years!
Today we left the crowded west coast and turned east toward the fabled Yosemite. The central valley of California had fields and fields with rows and rows of food growing to ship all across the country. We stopped at a fruit stand and bought peaches, which were quite delicious. The whole day we talked about T’s birthday—he turned three and was happy to say so.
Our road led us up into the Sierra Nevadas along windy roads until finally we reached Yosemite. The roads were lined with various pine trees. Though in some places the trees stood empty and blackend providing us with a beautiful mountain view. We parked at the trailhead of Tuolomne Grove, ate lunch at the car, and then hiked down the Old Big Oak Flat Road to an ancient grove of sequoia trees. They stood tall, thick, and noble. They like fog and forest fires. The bark was soft and springy as we hugged and smelled their woody-pine scent. I was sad to leave the grove—but we had more things to do.
Our way to our campsite lead us through Yosemite Valley. There we had our first view of El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridal Falls, the Cathedral Spires, and Yosemite Falls from below and then from above as we oohed and ahhed over the tunnel view.
Wawona campground was pleasant as we were near a bubbling brook—it was our first encounter with bear lockers as well. We had a little fire after the macaroni and cheese birthday dinner and birthday cookies with candles for T. All in all, a great third birthday.
I bet by now you are wondering when and how we showered and did laundry. While we could have found laundromats along the way and used showers at various campgrounds, this is what we did. I agreed to this three-week vacation only if we stayed with friends or at hotels every couple of nights. The first thing we did when we got to a friend’s house or hotel was start the laundry. For the six of us with five changes of clothes, laundry took about three loads each time. Everyone would take a much-needed shower before going to bed, and then the professor and I would stay up folding the clean laundry into the suitcase. If we were staying at a place two nights, sometimes we would get to shower two days in a row!
A note about hotels and kids. I am not sure what most people do to keep their kids happy and quiet in hotel rooms, but we could not convince our kids to sit around and look at books. There are no toys, no friends or relatives, a fairly small space, and lots of bouncy furniture. This was the only time on the trip that we caved to the entertainment of screens. For some reason none of our hotels had Netflix available on their televisions so the children all squeezed around my 4-inch phone screen and watched a movie. I do not trust normal TV stations to show my children anything worthwhile or considerate of their innocence.
We went to St. Joseph Basilica; it was the feast of Corpus Christi and a first Mass of Fr. Mario. We then packed a lunch and headed across a bridge into Murin County to Muir Woods. The professor says that Muir Woods was one of his favorite places that we saw—it felt like a holy place. The Cathedral Grove was full of tall, dark, noble Redwoods and people walked around with quiet reverence. It was also a wood reminiscent of dinosaurs—dinosaur land—because of the ferns.
When we departed the woods we took a detour to the Muir Headlands—which was the furthest west we are going on our trip and our last view of the expanse of the ocean. Once we looked at a map we went back towards San Francisco and crossed the iconic Golden Gate bridge. We then went to Baker Beach for a last touch and smell and feel of the ocean and its air. We hiked up a sandy slope back to our car and met Samantha and her children at Mod Pizza where T had his birthday dinner early of a whole mini pepperoni pizza. The rest of us had modifications of the family favorite while sauce pizza with bacon adding lots of toppings and pesto drizzle. Back at the house we made ice cream sundaes and chatted a bit before we all went to bed tired.
On our long trip we often did not have access to showers at our campsites, but I did not want to put the kids to bed dusty. Most sites were super dusty since they were in a drought. So, our bedtime routine involved bringing soap and washcloths to the bathrooms and wiping down arms, legs, and faces of dirt. We would all use the toilet and brush our teeth. I took care of the girls and the professor took care of the boy. When everyone was clean we would go straight to the tent, take off their shoes, and the children would change into their pajamas on their side of the tent.
Once everyone was ready for bed, the professor would run the dirty laundry to the car to keep any food smells out of our tent. In campsites with bear boxes (metal containers with an anti-bear handle) we would load all food containers, any scented soaps, bug sprays, sunscreens (basically all our toiletries), and dirty laundry into the bear box. This was to prevent bears from trying to break into our car since they recognize food containers, especially the plastic tubs and coolers.
After family bedtime prayer in the tent, we tucked the kids in for the night. This was usually about an hour after their normal bedtime. The professor and I would lie down in our sleeping bags with dim flashlights and books and ready for a while until we were sleepy. It was a nice cozy way to end the day.
We broke camp right away and then took a hike on Eagle Creek trail which led us into the heart of the redwoods. We climbed into a hollowed-out redwood. The tree’s roots are very hardy—if one tree is killed in a fire, other trunks will grow out of living roots—we saw many fairy circles of redwoods around mossy stumps.
Our next step was the Santa Clara mission on the campus of the university of the same name. There was a lovely, fragrant rose garden where we overheard a student advising a friend, “If you are going to smoke, smoke a pipe.” From this we concluded that all university students are the same. In the church at a side chapel under a grotesque crucifix was buried Padre Magus Cataler O.F.M., a missionary who has a cause for canonization.
We then when to the San Josè Mission where there was a wedding—so we stayed in our car and said a quick prayer to St. Joseph—and continued to In-N-Out Burger where we guzzled lemonade while waiting for our burgers. From there we sat in an hour of traffic on the Oakland Bay bridge and made it to the San Franciscon de Asìs Mission with 15 minutes to spare before closing time. The old church was preferable to the new one. There were lots of statuts of Franciscan saints, including the professor’s friend St. Bonaventure.
From the mission we proceeded to Chinatown past classic San Francisco houses down the trolley tracks and steep streets. We had a great dinner of soup dumplings, pork and noodles with gravy, Chinese broccoli, with fried sesame balls and sesame dumplings for dessert. T ate one soup dumpling at dinner and then ate PB&J in the car. An hour later we arrived at my friend Samantha’s sweet home in Alameda in Oakland where we showered and did laundry and visited with the family.
We tried to make leaving the campsite as efficient as possible. We usually left camp around an hour after we got up.
On mornings we broke camp we all got up early. After we got dressed, we all rolled the sleeping bags and pads together and put these items and suitcases in the car. The professor swept out the the tent while I took down the clothes line. He would break down the tent on his own while the kids got water, we refilled water bottles, combed the girls’ hairs, put away the tablecloth, and folded up and packed the chairs. When the professor was ready to roll the tent up, I would sweep off the dirt and leaves while He did the rolling. When the tent was rolled we put it in its case and put the tent in the car. The professor did the finished touches of packing the car and I made sure everyone made it to the bathroom and brushed teeth. When we were ready to go, I would hand granola bars and cups of milk for breakfast. We would purchase coffee and gas on our way out of camp.
With a long journal entry today there will be no camping tips.
Day 13—Friday, June 1, 2018
We woke 10 hours late having been lulled in our dreams by the mountain brook and the fresh sea air. The old air of the Redwoods refreshed us in our sleep.
After we broke camp we walked back to the beach and climbed on the rocks in the mouth of a stream while watching the crashing waves. Jagged rocks framed each side of the dark sandy beach as the sun shone down on us from behind.
We then went back to the van and began our drive up the Big Sur Coast. Words cannot describe the beauty of the blue-green water and foaming waves crashing against the black-grey rocks of the coast. We wound our way alongside a cliff with the ocean on the right. At every pull off cars were stopped as people got out to feel the view. We stopped to feel the wind, hear the waves, and soak in the beauty. The blue-green and bright blue water crashed into white foam against the rocks as we looked down from the rocky overlook.
At noon we stopped to take a short trail to the overlook of a waterfall. It fell from 50 feet up gracefully onto the sandy beach oblivious to the craggy ocean rocks beside it. The trees crowded up to the edge of the cliff, and little black birds with a white marking on each wing played in the water below. With great effort we pulled the professor from the scenc.
The road curved to the “town” of Big Sur where we stopped at Fiffer-Big-Sur State Park and hiked amongst the Redwood trees. They towered up into the sky with their rich woody-pine smell below. We later passed the Point Sur Lighthouse which sits out on a cliff of its own on a round hill with a road winding up it. We stopped down the coast from the lighthouse to look at the rocky shore again, and prayed together the canticle from Daniel:
Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever.
You heavens, bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever.
All you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever.
All you hosts of the Lord, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Sun and moon, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Stars of heaven, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Every shower and dew, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
All you winds, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Fire and heat, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Cold and chill, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Dew and rain, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.]
Frost and chill, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Ice and snow, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Nights and days, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Light and darkness, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Lightnings and clouds, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Let the earth bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever.
Mountains and hills, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Everything growing from the earth, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
You springs, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
Seas and rivers, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
You dolphins and all water creatures, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
All you birds of the air, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
As we reached Carmel we stopped at Point Lobos and looked out over the ocean. Seals and sea lions were sunning themselves and barking as waves crashed about them against the rocks they were laying on.
We then met my friend Bobbie at the Carmel Mission where St. Juniper Serrra is buried. We lit a candle—F lit it—to Our Lady of Perpetual Help for our family. There was a side chapel to Our Lady of Bethlehem that Pope St. John Paul II visited in 1987 with an inscription from the address he gave:
“Much to be envied are those who can give their lives for something greater than themselves in loving service to others. This, more than words and deeds along, is what draws people to Christ.”
The courtyard there was particularly beautiful. The kids really liked the museum which shared the living and dining quarters of St. Juniper Serra. We camped that night at Henry Cowell Redwoods outside Santa Cruz.
We woke up early to say goodbye to our friends. We then headed north stopping at missions along the way.
We arrived first at Santa Barbara Mission. It was packed with tourists, so we just slipped into the back of the church behind the barrier to pray. We renewed our Marian consecration in the back of the dark church to the sound of the tour guide in the front. The chapel for adoration was locked, though there was a beautiful view of the California landscape out the front door.
Our second mission of the day was Santa Inès—Saint Agnes—where my friend Gina met us with her two little boys. We prayed for our home parish, and the kids enjoyed the cemetery and the fountain. There was a remnant of the first seminary of the missions there as well.
We then drove quickly north to get to our campsite before dark. We slowed down to see the San Miguel Mission and then stopped to get gas and ice in the town. It was an old crumbly looking mission from the outside and was situated in the middle of a dry, golden valley. We headed further into the wilderness of central California. The San Antonio de Padua Mission was situated beside Ft. Hunter Liggett in the middle of a dry field. We drove up and took a quick look at the mission which was closed. From there we took a 13-mile winding road over a mountain. The road was narrow and super curvy going first through a dry savanna and then into a forest. It was 6 miles up and then the landscape suddenly changed from forest to dry, wavy grass with the endless sea at the base of the mountains. The drive down was terrifyingly beautiful as we navigated around sharp rocky curves with oncoming traffic. At the bottom we found the Big Sur Coast of steep cliffs ending in a cerulean blue ocean.
At last we arrived at Limekiln State Park where we drove into our campsite beneath the timeless Redwoods. The professor put up the tent while I made a supper of macaroni and cheese with summer sausage and salad. When we had things washed up, we walked down to the beach for the sunset. The repetition of the waves on the jagged rocks was peaceful and lovely. After a roaring campfire, we all when to sleep to the sound of a bubbling brook.
By the end of our trip, the professor had the campsite set up down to a science. The first order of business was planning where the tent would go. Some campsites had a designated tent spot, raised with fine rocks underneath—others left us up to our own judgment. When we picked a large enough, level enough spot the children would clear away any sticks, pinecones, and/or rocks. We then gave them the job of setting up chairs around the fire pit and staying out of the way. We usually had one of the girls keeping the toddler boy out of trouble while we worked.
We always stored the tent at the bottom of the trunk with suitcases above them and the lighter bedding on top. He would throw all of the pillows and sleeping bags into the back seat, stick suitcases on the picnic table. Then he would lay the tarp on the tent site and begin to set up the tent. When the tent was up, he asked a child or two to help him carry sleeping bags, pillows, and pads into the tent and lay them out in the right spots. We also brought our suitcases into the tent since we had a lot of space. He then used his Eagle Scout knot skills to hang a rope line between trees for wet towels and rags.
If we were eating a meal at the campsite, we would get out the materials I needed and I would work on the table and dinner while the professor pitched the tent. For the table I always clipped on our vinyl tablecloth on the whole table except for about 18 inches at the end where we used the propane stove. If it was buggy out, we would light a citronella candle to keep the bugs away from our meal prep. I often had the girls help me set the table, heat up food, and fetch water for dinner. After we ate, we would boil water on the stove and wash the dishes in soapy water in one tub and rinse them in the next. We put the kids in charge of the rinsing and drying. Then we could relax and and enjoy the campgrounds!
Today is our errand day. We got an oil change and groceries for the cooler. The car said that the vintage Vavoline oil was delicious. Then we spent a quiet hour at the San Buenventura Mission where the professor and I took turns praying. The professor talked to St. Bonaventure about philosophy while the kids romped in the garden. I prayed with the intense, bloody crucifix about our recent loss and received new courage to carry it with joy. We lit a candle for our family and writing before the crucifix.
We lunched at the car by the Ventura pier which used to be wharf. Walking out on the thick wood boards was exciting, yet scary when we peered through the cracks to the ocean below. Several fishermen were standing at the end with their fishing rods. Two of them had lowered a jug leaking blood into the water—they said that it was to attract sharks. The professor may have seen a dolphin out in the ocean. All I saw were dozens of surfers out at the point. We stood there digging them from afar and hoped the sharks would stay away. I liked watching the waves from the side. We could stand on the pier right where the waves crashed before they hit the shore.
In the afternoon we met our friends we are staying with at a playground in Libby Park. Back at the house, we got ready to go on a date. The kids got to have delicious organic hotdogs and play with our friends’ chickens. The professor and I went to the Nest in Ojai with a chef from LA as its founder. The professor drank “The Ventura Fog,” an Earl Grey infused gin with egg whites and rosemary and lavender sprinkled on top. I had “The Cuban,” which was plantation rum with coconut, lime, pineapple juice, and garnished with mint. He ate fancy anchovy pizza and a giant salad with bleu cheese while I had a brisket on a baguette with cheese and chimichurri sauce with a side salad with fresh berries. After dinner we walked through the downtown to a cute little bookstore. We found a children’s book by Graham Greene, several books on art, and a paperback by Nathaniel Hawthorne. For dessert we went to a vegan restaurant and got wine and vegan “cheese” cake. It was a nice way to celebrate our anniversary a few weeks early.
We tried to make the dinners on our camping trip easy, but more interesting than the lunches. Our goal was foods that were portable with non-perishable storage (meaning no raw meats) and easy to cook.
Here is a list of things we did at the campsites:
Canned chili topped with cheese and yogurt and served with tortilla chips and bagged kale and brussel sprouts salad
Hot dogs over the fire, chips, and bagged salad
Boxed macaroni and cheese and summer sausage (from the ¼ cow we purchase every year) and bagged salad
A just add water Indian lentil dish from Trader Joe’s and bagged salad
Tortilla pizzas with a tortilla on top and bottom, canned pizza sauce, mozzerella, and pepperoni plus bagged salad
When we stayed at hotels we tried to have food that required no cooking:
Chicken salad wraps with grapes, mayo, and dill
Our last night we ordered pizza
Other nights we just grabbed food on the road for dinner. We often did this on nights we were coming into campsites close to dark or after dinner time. We did not want to have to deal with washing up. Though there were a few campsites where we arrived and the professor pitched the tent while I made dinner. Having a quick and easy meal option made things a lot simpler and saved us money since we did not have to eat out a lot.