Fort Union National Monument

We stopped at Fort Union on our way home from Oklahoma. It was an abbreviated visit since we still had to make our way home, but it was a great stop. Fort Union served as a frontier outpost. The history of the fort, which was built three different times, is quite interesting, even though it was only in operation for a short time. We had not really planned it that way, but our trip to Oklahoma turned out to be a lesson in the Santa Fe Trail!

The hospital

The jail

Autograph Rock

Autograph Rock was an important camp site along the Santa Fe Trail because of year-round water. People began carving their names in the sandstone and many of them are still there today. Autograph Rock now sits on private property so you do need permission to see it, but that is easily done, and the rock is definitely worth the stop if you ever find yourself in the Oklahoma panhandle.

A wagon train owner, F.B.Delgado carved his name on several occasions.

Our W.C.Harper was really excited to find another W.C.Harper on the rock!

Off to Oklahoma!

Rob and I usually only have one day off together each week, but with the 4th of July and Rob taking Monday off, we ended up with three! We had debated staying home since we just got back from a big trip not too long ago, but knowing this would be the longest weekend we would have together for the rest of the summer, we decided to make the most of it. So, after some deliberation, we decided on Oklahoma.

Hello Oklahoma!

I had read about Autograph Rock in Boise City, OK, as well as some dinosaur tracks preserved in sandstone just up the road in Kenton. Black Mesa State Park is also in the area, as is the highest peak in Oklahoma. If you go just a bit further, you run into a fun tri-state marker. All of these things are only about five hours away, so the panhandle of Oklahoma was our destination.

We arrived at Black Mesa State Park at about 3pm. After setting up camp, we decided to go find the dinosaur tracks. There are no markers or street signs for the tracks, so you definitely have to have an idea of where to go. Before we left home, I wrote down every hint I could find as to their location. We found the creek bed, but went the wrong direction at first. We found the tracks just down the hill from the car. Apparently when the tracks were discovered back in the 80s, there were 47 footprints. You can only see about a third of them today. What an amazing find, though.

When we left the footprints, we continued down the road towards the tri-state marker. We were on a little country road that turned to dirt, and we did not see another car the entire time we were out there. We arrived at the state line marker for Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado out in the middle of farm and ranch country. It was absolutely beautiful.

We had contemplated hiking up the Summit Trail, but it was getting too late to start the 4-hour hike, so we went back to camp for the night. There was a thunderstorm heading towards us, so we ended up hanging out in the car for a little bit while all the thunder and lightening passed.  Once it passed, the sky was amazing.

After the storm

Upon waking in the morning, we noticed that we had a flat tire. This kind of altered our plans just a little bit, but we found ourselves being extremely grateful that it was Monday and not Sunday, or the Tuesday holiday, when most repair shops would be closed. After dropping off the tire, we went to a little cafe for breakfast. Great food at a great price. Of course we were the only non-farmer/ranchers in the place, but that was fine with us. After we picked up our tire, which they only charged us $10 to fix, we were on our way again.

Our next stop was the Cimarron Heritage Center. Unfortunately they were closed. I was a little bummed because Autograph Rock is on private property and requires permission from the Heritage Center. I had the number for the manager, so Rob decided to give her a call. She was extremely sweet and even offered to have someone come open up the center so we could see the museum! We declined that offer so that everyone could enjoy their day off, but she did give us verbal permission as well as directions to Autograph Rock.

“Cimmy” at the Cimarron Heritage Center

Autograph Rock was incredible. It was a common stopping point for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. There was year-round water, so it became a well-known campsite. Over the years, people carved their names in the sandstone bluffs. The oldest known name is from 1806, but we did not find that one. F.B.Delgado is the most popular, as he was the owner of a mule and ox train that used the trail, and he carved his name several times. We were the only ones out at Autograph Rock, so we were able to take our time and enjoy the history of the area.

On Tuesday morning, we broke camp and headed for home. We stopped at Fort Union National Monument on the way back. Another quiet spot with only a few visitors. We walked around the fort for a while, then loaded back up to finish our drive home. We arrived home in time to unload our little trailer, take showers, and head back into town for the 4th of July fireworks. We were all very tired when we got back home at almost 11pm, and it felt good to sleep in out own beds.

Before we left home last Sunday, we had worried that perhaps we would not be able to get a camp site, or that things would be crowded since it was the 4th of July weekend. Our worries were quickly put to rest, though. The campground at the state park in OK was almost empty each night. There was no traffic at all. There were no people at the places we visited. Even the playground we stopped at for the kids was quiet. I guess the panhandle of Oklahoma is not a tourist hot-spot for long weekends. For us, though, it was wonderful. A quiet get-away was just what we were looking for. Not to mention we were able to add Oklahoma to our state map.

I am still organizing pictures, so I will share those over the next couple of days. For now, here are a few random pictures I came across this morning…

Catheryn took this picture of Charbie at camp.

The kids really liked the glass coke bottles…

Nathan with his “You’re seriously taking my picture again?” face on.

Liam loves to photo bomb.

Utah

After celebrating Father’s Day and my dad’s birthday up in Idaho, being able to visit with my grandma who, at 88, is just as beautiful as ever, swimming at the hotel, going out to breakfast, and just enjoying each others company, it was time for our family to head towards home. Saying good-bye is always the hardest part, but on Monday morning, that is exactly what we had to do.

It is a long way from my parents’ house to ours, so we planned on making it in two days. Our goal on that first night was Moab, Utah. We wanted to spend some time in Arches National Park before finishing our trip home. Unfortunately they are doing road work in Arches at night so the park is closed from 7pm-7am. We got there right at 7pm…

So we went to bed and planned on being at the park right at 7am. There were many other people who had the same idea, but it did not take too long to get in. We only had a few hours to spend before we had to start our 8-hour drive home. Quite honestly, we could spend two weeks in Arches NP and it would not be enough, so a few hours did not come close. We got a nice taste of the park, though, and definitely plan to go back.

Critter prints in the sand

Landscape Arch

The kids in Partition Arch

Liam found a nice view

Catheryn found a heart in the rocks

I believe this was the Black Arch Overlook

Double O Arch

After a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center, it was time to leave. The drive home was pretty uneventful until we were almost out of Colorado. There was a black critter standing by the fence, and in the middle of cow country, one would simply assume it was a cow. But as we were passing it, I realized it was a bear. “That’s a bear! That’s a bear!” I yelled. (I get really excited about wildlife.) Just as we passed him, Rob stopped and we all watched him run across the road behind us. He was a big, beautiful bear!

Hard to see, but that’s a bear!

Just a few miles later we were back in New Mexico and on the final stretch. We made it home at about 8pm. 12 days, almost 600 pictures, four new states, and 2,700 miles later, we arrived back home to Charbie and the kitties and our little house in the canyon. As much as I wished our vacation were not over, it still felt nice to come home…

I am the restless sort, though, and my brain is already thinking about where we can go next…

Idaho

We had a really nice weekend up in Idaho. My sister and her family made the trip up from Nevada, and we all met at my parents’ house for sometime together. It usually happens every few years or so where we are all able to get together. We always try and get some updated family pictures during these visits.

Grammy and Grampy with their grand kids

My mom, sister, and me with all the kids

Trinity and Catheryn had a blast together. As a matter of fact, they were always off doing things together, so the rest of us rarely saw them! I am so glad they were able to spend the weekend together. It makes me happy that no matter how long between visits, they always seem to pick up right where they left off the last time.

These two were inseparable

All of the kids are growing up so fast. My oldest nephew is 21 already, with his brother not too far behind him at almost 17. Then comes Liam at 14, the twins are 12, and Trinity is about to turn 11.

All the cousins

My only complaint about the weekend is that it went by way too fast. I wish we had had a little more time, but then time always goes by too fast when you are having fun…

Nevada and California

Next stop on our list was Las Vegas, Nevada. We spent the night at Circus Circus and walked the strip in the evening. The next morning the kids were able to play in the Adventuredome. By noon or so, we were ready to hit the road.

Up next was California. We did not have a lot of time to drive too far into the state, but it was a state we needed on our map, so we decided on Death Valley National Park.

One of my favorite vacation pictures!

Not too hot considering it was June, but definitely hotter than we were used to!

Following Jim and Mary Beth to camp

Camping at Wildrose in Death Valley

Not sure what these are, but they were along the road in Death Valley.

Unfortunately, upon waking from camp in Death Valley, it was time for Jim and Mary Beth to head home. We had had such a wonderful time and it was hard to believe our road trip together was over. At the end of the road, they turned right, we turned left, and it was hard to see them go. We continued our way up California and found a campsite for the night in Markleeville. We were right on the river, so the kids had a great place to play and cool off.

Camp in Markleeville

Playing in the river

We entered back into Nevada, and since we were passing quite close to Reno, we decided to stop in to see my sister at work. We had been camping for a couple of days with no shower so we smelled of forest and campfire and sweat. Not exactly the freshest people around, but we figured a quick visit would be fine. She works in a doctors office, and apparently right after we left, one of the doctors came out of an exam room down the hall. He stopped right in front of my sister’s desk and asked, “What’s burning?” She laughed and said, “That’s just my sister!” We all got a kick out of that story…

Arizona

For the last several months, we had been planning a road trip vacation with Rob’s sister, Mary Beth, and her hubby, Jim. They wanted to see the southwest, and, in our attempt to get our kids to as many states as possible before they graduate, we needed to make a stop in four states. As it turned out, our goals lined up almost perfectly! Not to mention it was a great way to get to spend some time together. The first stop on our grand adventure was Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. None of us had ever been there before, so it was a great first stop. What an amazing park!

Petrified Forest National Park

The sun was perfect for a group shadow photo on the bridge!

Liam jumps pretty much everything he can find…

Jackrabbit!

After exploring Petrified Forest, we drove a little until we came to an Arizona state park where we set up camp for the night. The next morning found us on our way to Grand Canyon National Park. I wish I had words to describe its grandeur, and I wish my pictures did it justice, but neither is the case. Might I just say that if you ever have the opportunity to see it for yourself, do it. It is an experience you will not soon forget.

My pictures do not come close, you have to see it for yourself…

Ahhhhh…

Us girls left the boys at camp and went back for the sunset.

Desert View Watchtower

Inside the watchtower

Camp!

Nathan and CowCow snoozing in the hammock.

Three nights spent in Arizona, two national parks visited, and we were able to add Arizona to the states the kids have been to. (Our requirements to claim a state are that we have to see or do something special, and we have to spend at least one night.) Seeing the Grand Canyon was a bucket list item for several, and I am so glad we were all able to experience it together. Our time in Arizona had come to an end, and it was time to hit the road. Next stop: Las Vegas, Nevada.