More than six months ago I started planning a family trip that would have something for everyone in our family. I started with a beach cottage at Crystal Cove near Laguna Beach, California. I was on their website at the appointed time (six months in advance) and I had back up choices ready. Every single cottage was taken after ONE MINUTE. One. Um, that seems impossible to me. Rigged. No thanks, Clint Eastwood. That was pretty disappointing, but it led me to a thing I'd never heard of - renting a beach cottage from an owner. I found one in Laguna Beach within walking distance of Thousand Steps Beach (that was for Bridget mostly). Once that was secured, I reserved a campsite at Zion National Park for us to camp in a tent (Emil's dream come true) and become Junior Rangers there (Colin's favorite). I thought the kids would love to see a whale in real life, so I booked Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale-Watching Safari. Last, a day at Legoland, which I figured everyone in our family would like. Here's how it went down. :)
Day One: Camping at Watchman Campground in Zion National Park.
We borrowed the well-loved hunting tent Brian and his brothers have been using for decades. The camping stuff was all Brian. He had the tent up and a fire going so fast I almost didn't get a photo. This was a tight campground - like being in a small neighborhood with all the houses lifted off everyone. We noticed a lot of young people - single and married couples - and some adventurous seniors, but very few families with young kids like ours. Our neighbors gave us the Stink Eye and we felt like we needed to shoosh the kids. Hmmm. We're outside, right? Outside voices should be okay. As we sat around the fire and reminisced, Brian and I remembered all the camping trips we took before we had children. I'm not bad at camping, you guys. As long as there is a designated bathroom, I'm good. The first night at Zion was COLD. Brian and Bridget are almost done with the last Harry Potter book and he read in the tent that first night, which put the boys to sleep immediately. Harry Potter, Shmarry Shmotter.
The kids made s'mores when they weren't running around the campsite and the trail around the campground. We roasted hot dogs the first night. This is where Colin being a picky eater is the worst. He hates hot dogs.
Day Two: First thing in the morning we fed the kids in the van while it was running with the heat on because it was so so so cold. Then it was off to the Visitor's Center, which was across the street from us, to get Junior Ranger workbooks and catch a shuttle to one of the easiest and fanciest hikes, Weeping Rock.
They used to let cars drive to the base of the different hikes at Zion, but it got to be so congested with all those vehicles, that they implemented a shuttle system. It was great - we never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a shuttle. We missed the sign telling us to turn left for Weeping Rock, so our first hike ended up being a "difficult" climb to Overlook. When we realized our mistake, I insisted on turning around. Switchbacks and cliffs with Emil and Colin?! Don't be crazy.
We made the hike to Weeping Rock harder than it needed to be, but it was definitely my favorite sight of the day.
Can you make out the dripping water? So cool.
I tried to wait for other people to not be in our photos, but holy cow there are a lot of people at Zion! Not so much. Emil did a lot of this on that first hike:
Brian had to bribe him with getting his very own sunglasses to perk him up. Emil wanted to be EXACTLY like Daddy during this whole trip. Dad had a hat on and he'd put his sunglasses on top of the hat. Emil had the hat (thanks again for that awesome hat, Grandpa), but not the sunglasses. Intolerable!
We decided to hike around the Emerald Pools next after stopping at Zion Lodge to figure out what kind of tree is in front of it. (Cottonwood, btw.) The crowd at Weeping Rock was NOTHING compared to Emerald Pools.
Look at Bridget's crazy eyes! She was so afraid her brothers would fall or get lost. Once again I couldn't avoid another person in the picture.
We went from Emerald Pools to the Grotto. It's a long hike, but it meant being surrounded by less people. Poor Colin was so tired! As we were hiking he said, "Mom! You need to sing 'Edelweiss' to me tonight. But not right now because I'll fall asleep." It's true! That song knocks him out every time. At 3:00 we were in the Museum of Human History to watch a movie, then listen to a ranger talk about the California Condor. Oh, man. I have never struggled so much to stay awake ever in my life. Maybe the first day in the mission field. During the movie, not the ranger talk. That was riveting. (And a requirement for the Junior Ranger badge.)
The boys only had to complete two pages of the workbook, but Bridget had to do eight. Whew! Colin did extra pages for funsies. After learning about the California Condor, we took the shuttle back to the Visitor's Center and staggered over to take the Junior Ranger Pledge.
I need to figure out Photoshop if only to get people out of the background. Cute baby, though. On our second night of camping Brian made a Dutch Oven dinner for us. What a treat to eat yummy, warm food after a long day of hiking!
That night was cold again. This time we had the kids wear their hoodies over their pajamas. I read Harry Potter, then sang a few songs. Sure enough, Colin fell asleep right after I sang 'Edelweiss.' We were so cozy in the tent and tired from the day - one of my favorite moments during our trip. Followed by my least favorite moment a few hours later when Colin stood up on his sleeping bag and peed everywhere in his sleep. I found my flashlight, undressed him and put him in clean dry clothes, stole a dry blanket off Emil and put it inside the sleeping bag, then ran Colin to the bathroom so he could finish peeing in a toilet. We got to see a lot of pretty stars. :) In the morning Colin looked down at his jammies and chuckled, "I dreamed I wore my hoodie to bed." When I told him he did wear his hoodie to bed, but he peed on it, he just laughed at me because I'm crazy.
Day Three: Off to Henderson, Nevada!
I tried to keep our driving "legs" to no longer than four hours if I could. After camping for two nights, knew we'd need a recovery night, so we went to a hotel with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. (Also, everyone had a 2.5 gallon Zip-lock bag to put their dirty clothes in. You can squeeze the air out of them and everything still fits in the suitcase without dirty clothes being on top of clean clothes.) It wasn't a great hotel, but the bed was awesome and we could watch Conference. Win.
Day Four: Drive to Laguna Beach, California where we stayed at a cottage two blocks from Thousand Steps Beach. The two blocks were steep, then the stairs after that (there are 230 stairs, not a thousand, but it feels like a thousand), so we definitely got our exercise. We went down to watch the sunset on the beach after we got settled in the cottage.
This is the patio next to the cottage. I'm super impressed at how Californians use their limited space. Our neighbors were CLOSE and it wasn't claustrophobic at all because of all the trees and plants between us.
Another favorite moment of our trip was watching the kids' reaction to the ocean. The boys don't remember being in North Carolina in 2012 and it's been a while for Bridget. They laughed and screamed and ran and held hands. So much joy!
I tried to stay dry since I was wearing jeans (notice Colin's in jeans too). Didn't work out. :) I really wanted to get in front of the kids for these pictures, but I was fully clothed! The walk back to the cottage was really hard. Wet and sand everywhere and all those steps.
Day Five: Captain Dave's Whale and Dolphin Watching Safari at Dana Point. I booked this months ago and didn't think for one second about anyone getting seasick. Thankfully it was mostly me and I never actually puked (although there was a terrifying moment when I thought I was going to). The boat was full of seniors and a few teenagers and us. We saw some cute sea lions before we headed out to the ocean. Captain Dave's wife finally instructed a couple of teenagers who were sprawled on a bench to move so that we could actually sit. (That wasn't great.) The first whale we spotted was a fin whale. We could hear him when he came to the surface, but we only saw a little bit of his back. We followed that whale around for a long time before moving on.
Next we got to see a humpback whale. He (she?) surfaced more often than the fin whale and we got to see the tail fin come out of the water. Colin was so delighted. He was sitting on the bench with me inside while Brian, Bridget, and Emil were standing on the deck for a great view. Pretty amazing to see an actual whale in the actual ocean. Soon after we saw the humpback whale, Colin fell asleep and almost tumbled off the bench. I held him for the rest of the safari, which was good for me because it was comforting. We didn't see any dolphins on our trip, unfortunately.
After the safari I made a lot of mistakes. It was the seasickness! My mind wouldn't work. We had to find a Target or Walmart to get the boys some swim trunks. (That's right. I forgot to pack them.) Brian and the kids stayed in the parking lot while I wandered around the store. I got food, too, but I was in there way too long. We decided to eat at Gina's Pizza, which was highly recommended and close to our cottage in Laguna Beach. Except Google Maps took us to the one in Irvine on the UC Irvine campus and it got us there using 73, which is a toll road. The worst! Seasick, hungry, mad. Thankfully the owner of the Gina's Pizza we went to was super nice. She gave the kids a ball of pizza dough to play with while we waited for our food. And it was happy hour, so free drinks! We drove home on the PCH, which was beautiful, and we went right by Crystal Cove. I didn't realize we were so close! We decided to go for a walk there the next day and see if we could find some meddling kids. We only had a few hours, but the kids got ready lickety-split and we walked down to the beach.
Have I mentioned in a while how much I love this girl? She is the most beautiful, kind, adventurous person I've ever known.
Emil wants to be like his Dad in every way. He was so excited to play in the water with Brian and popped up every time he got "tumbled" in the water. Emil can be the most exasperating child, but can also be the most fun.
Colin is my shadow. He wants to be near me and show me everything he does. He's my Sweetheart Boy.
Brian spotted some dolphins swimming. What a sight! Dolphins coming out of the water into the sunset above the sparkly ocean? Pretty amazing.
I like this one. It was a magical evening on the beach. Hardly anyone there. Ahhh. We ended the day, as always, reading Harry Potter in Bridget and Colin's room. (The cottage had two bedrooms. Brian and I were in one with a roll-away bed where Emil slept. Bridget and Colin shared the other bedroom the first two nights, then Emil and Colin switched spots for the last night.)
Day Six: Thousand Steps Beach and a walk in Crystal Cove State Park. The kids were so excited to go to the beach "all day." Thankfully that meant until 1:00pm in real life. Bridget brought her boogie board (Emil could never remember what it was called, so he called it a party board) and we brought a few buckets and shovels to make a castle. We went and explored the cave and tide pools near us, which was super cool. Except all the teenagers taking photos of each other. The girls were wearing lingerie! Not swimsuits. And the few who were wearing swimsuits had their bums hanging out, like, all the way. We can do better than this, people.
Can you see the leg in the background? That's a girl taking a photo of her friend's bum while the friend sits on the rock. I can't get over it! These girls are not thinking one minute into the future. Anyway...
We played hard at the beach, built and destroyed a few castles and Bridget scraped up her knees getting on and off the boogie board a million times. Time for lunch and a walk in Crystal Cove to get shakes.
Brian asked the state park employee if there was anything about Scooby-Doo at their park. She looked at us so funny! She's never been asked that question. How can that be? There is a missed opportunity here for sure. (We can always tell when Emil is too tired. Everything is the worst. Pictured above.)
Hey! There I am! I realized at this point, day six of our trip, that I wasn't in any of the photos.
Day Seven: Legoland! We packed up and loaded the van pretty fast on Thursday morning so we could be at Legoland the minute they opened. While we were on the freeway it started raining. Hmmm. I seem to remember that the last time we went to Legoland it was raining.
Flashback! Here we are in 2004. Ben, Jen, and I look exactly the same, but Weston sure has changed! Seems like we were trying to eat a breakfast before we went into the park.
And here we are last week. :) I'm smiling the whole time I'm putting this post together. It was such an amazing trip!
Lions are Colin's favorite animal. I'm not gonna lie, the rain was the worst. We were soaked and there were only a few rides open. It forced us to find indoor stuff and that meant building stations, a movie, and Bridget and Dad built a robot together.
Building a boat in the rain.
Emil's Thinking Face.
One of the few rides open. Thrillsville.
Colin and I stopped to meet Wylde Style after he'd taken a potty break.
While Brian and Bridget were building a robot, I took the boys to the Big Store for our souvenirs. Emil disappeared right when we walked in (years off my life) and Colin started picking up EVERYTHING and wanting to buy it. They both had a bag of money to spend. Colin got a Master Yoda alarm clock and a Master Yoda LED key chain. Emil got a four-wheeler (of course!) and a Darth Vader alarm clock. I got two Scooby-Doo Lego sets for the family to put together and a Christmas ornament. Now I had a backpack, umbrella, two shopping bags, and we needed to get to the van to eat food. We parked far away (what else could we do) and Emil ran his arm along every bumper, soaking himself from head to toe, while Colin darted in between the cars ahead of me. YEARS OFF MY LIFE. I was soaking wet and super bugged. I was ready to leave Legoland and never come back. Brian and Bridget came back to the van so excited about what they'd just done and anxious to go back to the park because it had stopped raining. Somehow they convinced me and the last two and a half hours of the day were AMAZING.
The boys got their driver's licenses. Colin thought it was bumper cars, but Emil took it seriously. :)
Bridget's course was a little tougher, but all the kids were able to do this "ride" three times without waiting in line. Winner!
We rode everything! Daddy was usually with Emil and I went with Colin while Bridget was alone somewhere near us.
This will make me laugh every time I see it! They had to get their fire truck from point A to point B by pumping up and down. Once they got to the fire hydrant, Brian had to hold that button down so the water would come out and the kids had to aim the hoses at the fire. I love how desperate all of them look! Serious business. President Business. :)
The last ride of the day was a merry-go-round with the whole family. Thank goodness we went back in. I'm sure we got to more rides in those last few hours than we ever would have if we'd had to wait in line on a nice day.
The boys the morning after Legoland. Fun Hangover.
Day 8: Drive from Carlsbad, California to St. George (or Saints George, as Emil calls it), Utah. This leg of the drive nearly broke all of us. We ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic in California and then again from Primm to just outside Las Vegas. It was THE WORST. Crawling along and needing to go potty. Colin even asked us to turn off the movie. We got off the freeway in Las Vegas to find a bathroom and there was NOTHING. We drove way too far into town and finally saw a 7-11. We pulled into the parking lot and there was a man passed out next to the store. Inside was The Grossest Bathroom. It has never been cleaned. You GUYS! Once we were back on the road, I read Harry Potter while Brian drove. We were in the chapter where Harry goes into the pensieve with Snape's memories. Brian and I cried like fools. :)
We played the License Plate Game and got 40 states during our trip. one more reason Nevada is the worst - they have like 25 different license plates. We'd see one from far away and get excited, then get close enough to see that it was just Nevada. Again. We finally made it to St. George and Brian took the kids to the pool for about three hours. That might have been Emil's favorite part of the whole trip. I should lower the bar, I think.
Day Nine: Home! First, I got up really early and did a session at the St. George Temple. I'd carried Mary Popple's card with me through our whole trip. :)
Then it was time to pack up and go for real. I couldn't handle another free hotel breakfast, so we ate at the Black Bear Diner.
This photo is a familiar sight. The kids love taking care of their own suitcases and backpacks on our trips. Our first night home, Colin was sad that we wouldn't all be sleeping in the same room anymore. At church yesterday they were all leaning on me and sitting on me. :) The boys may not remember much of this trip (that's why the photos and the super long post), but I know our little family is bonded closer because of it. We spent 90% of our time outside on this trip and it makes me teary at how beautiful this world is. Minus Las Vegas.