The way home took us right past Four Corners. So we stopped and took some pictures. It's pretty much as you might expect; some lines on the ground to mark the borders of the four states.
It was a nice break from driving, but then it was onward to Grand Canyon National Park. We would have been driving right near the park and decided we might as well drive through and stop at some lookouts.
After we drove through the park our adventures were over and it was time to get home. From the Grand Canyon we drove to Needles, CA just inside the Arizona border. We stayed the night in Needles and the next day, Friday, September 7, we finished our driving and returned to Livermore.
The trip had a lot of driving, but we were able to see lots of friends and family and sites that would not have been possible with other forms of travel. And as a bonus we never had to stand in line waiting to be scanned or groped.
From Colorado Springs we headed southwest to Mesa Verde National Park.
My family went there when I was 9-ish and I have vague memories of that trip (mainly of Mom being scared as the kids climbed the ladders up from Balcony House [I understand why now]).
We stayed at Far View Lodge which is inside the park. Being inside the park is nice because the closest lodging outside the park is 15-30 minutes away from the park entrance and just driving from the park entrance to where Far View Lodge is takes another 20-30 minutes (and ~15-20 minutes from there to where points of interest are). So by staying at the lodge you can save a lot of travel time.
We rented a kiva room which is an upgraded room with air conditioning (but that's the only real difference). We weren't sure whether we'd need air conditioning or not at the beginning of September, but it was nice to have during Heather's afternoon nap times.
We got there late in the evening on Tuesday, September 4. After we got checked in to our room we had dinner at the Metate Room which is the nicer dinner restaurant. The place to eat all other meals (and cheaper) is the Far View Terrace Cafe (it's also open for dinner, but closed before we arrived). The food is a little pricey for what you get, but then, you are basically in the middle of nowhere so you don't have a lot of options.
If you wanted to save some money and plan ahead you could easily bring cereal and sandwich stuff (the rooms have mini-fridges).
But enough of the accommodations--on to the attractions:
It was the somewhat off-season when we were there which means you can get multiple tours on the same day. Tour tickets can be purchased only at a few places (and not in advance). One of the locations is the Visitor's Center which happens to be across the street from the Far View Lodge, so walking over when they open at 8am is a great way to make sure you get the tour times you want before they fill up.
We went on tours of two of the cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace in the morning and Balcony House in the afternoon. We had specifically bought a child-carrier backpack off of Craigslist in which to carry Heather for these adventures and it worked out great.
Compared to Balcony House getting to and from Cliff Palace is easy. You walk down from the mesa along staircases that have been built and then come back up some into the dwelling. This dwelling faces west, so we did the tour in the morning while it was in the shade.
The tour of Cliff Palace overlapped with Heather's normal nap time. She got a bit fussy, but I was able to bounce her and rock her and eventually she fell asleep on my back.
After the Cliff Palace tour we ate lunch and then went back to the room to get Heather a real nap. Then it was time for our next tour.
Balcony House is harder to get to and from than Cliff Palace. You start by taking stairs down from the top of the mesa and then you have to climb a ladder to get up into the dwelling. Once inside you have to squeeze through some fairly narrow passages. And to get out you have to climb up a few ladders and walk along a very narrow ledge. This dwelling faces east, so we did it in the afternoon when it was in the shade.
Going through the narrow passages I had to take the backpack off. For one of them I was able to carry it in front of me and maneuver it through. But for the other passage we took Heather out and I carried her in my arms while Jess shoved the backpack through in front of her. Our hands were a little full, so we don't have any pictures of that process and the pictures I took of the passages themselves aren't particularly illustrative. So here's a picture of Jess and Heather in Balcony House:
Below is the ladder system to get back up to the parking lot. Surprisingly, it was essentially what I had remembered from when I was a kid. The ladder rungs are fairly round and very smooth which makes them feel rather slippery. Then you walk up a narrow path with a short chain rail/fence and then up another ladder.
Oh, I forgot to mention that below you at this point is essentially a several hundred foot drop to the canyon floor. So I understand why Mom was nervous about this when we were kids. I was glad to have Heather 5-point harnessed into a backpack.
We also drove around to see some of the sites on the mesa top. They let you see some of the developments that led to the cliff dwellings; but the cliff dwellings are the real attraction.
Since Mesa Verde is mostly in the middle of nowhere I thought it'd be a fun place to try taking some pictures of stars. I was able to take some shots which actually mostly turned out alright before a ranger came and yelled at me. Despite there being no rules (as far as I could tell) about being out and about at night he was apparently suspicious of my intentions outside at night with a camera on a tripod pointed at the sky (and basically told me to go away).
The picture below would be really cool if the exposure hadn't been too long. All the blurriness is from the motion of the Earth rotating (notice the horizon is nice and sharp). The lights on the horizon (as far as I could determine) are from a small town about 50 miles away. So that gives you an idea about what light pollution does when trying to look at the sky.
We stayed at Mesa Verde for two nights and then it was time to head home.
We stayed in Colorado Springs from Thursday, August 30 through Tuesday, September 4.
Jess' brother, Christopher (seen above, in, what I'm told, is a representative pose) and his wife had a new baby, Hannah. So we, and the rest of Jess' family (except Cameron who's serving a mission in the Philippines) came to visit for the baby blessing.
While we were there we went to the Garden of the Gods which is, essentially, a nature preserve. None of my pictures of the scenery there came out looking very interesting, but here's a picture of us that Jess' dad took.
A lot of time was spent hanging out in the back yard with games including croquet and cornhole.
We took Heather to a pool for the first time. She seemed to enjoy it so long as the interaction was on her terms. (I was sitting right next to her off camera; the picture was taken by Jess' dad.)
After the blessing on Sunday I got some pictures while people were still dressed up nice. I'm still learning how to effectively use my external flash, so many of the pictures using flash aren't great, but I'm getting better. The picture of Colton came out quite well.
One night involved a game of Risk which actually almost went all the way through to conclusion, but ended early once the remaining players conceded. As usual, I'm told, Christopher won.
Another evening involved a rather heated game of Scattergories. With arguments about what causes an answer to be disqualified.
Here are some more random pictures:
Heather getting acquainted with Papa (Jess' dad).
Chance's wife Rachael:
Chance and Rachael's kids, Maddox and Vivian:
On Tuesday we packed up again and headed on to Mesa Verde National Park in the southwest corner of Colorado.
This year's Dickerson Family Vacation was a road trip to Colorado to see Jess' family. Along the way we stopped in Utah and on the way back we visited Mesa Verde National Park, Four Corners, and Grand Canyon National Park.
We loaded up the car and left Livermore on Saturday morning, August 25. Loading up the car was interesting. I had to draw on my extensive Tetris skills in order to get everything to fit. But our little Civic has a surprising amount of space in it if you're careful in how you pack it.
We didn't know how Heather was going to deal with long stretches in the car so we planned on fairly short distances for each day. The goal for Saturday was to get at least to Winnemucca, NV (about 6 hours of driving) and any further if possible.
Heather did pretty well in the car. But due to exhaustion on our part (I had a 24-hour ShipIt! Day [or Hackathon] at work Thursday-Friday and Friday night was late with preparations) we only just made it to Winnemucca before giving up for the day (at about 4 pm).
On Sunday we drove to Lehi, UT and stopped to visit our friends BJ and Tianna. Here's Jess with Tianna and the kids:
We stayed with them Sunday night and on Monday continued on down to Provo to visit Erin's family.
We hung around their house and watched Will play a soccer game:
In Provo we stayed at the Springhill Suites by Marriott which were actually quite nice. The building is either new or newly renovated; either way, it's probably the nicest not-trying-to-be-fancy hotel in Provo. The rooms have a modern design with plenty of power outlets which is nice when you have a slew of gadgets to charge.
On Wednesday we packed up the car once again and headed on towards Colorado. After exactly one tank of gas we arrived in Glenwood Springs, CO which was our destination for the night.
Thursday we got up and going in order to make it to Idaho Springs and meet up with my old roommate Brady. He and his wife live in Colorado and were traveling along I-70 in the opposite direction on their way to Utah and then the Grand Canyon and it happened to work out for us to meet up along our ways for lunch.
We hit some heavy storms as we went under the Continental Divide. It had started to drizzle as we entered the Eisenhower Tunnel and when we came out the other side it was raining sheets and there was lightning on the mountains. We don't get thunderstorms in Livermore, so that was fun.
Despite the weather we made it to Idaho Springs and ate at Beau Jo's Pizza with Brady and Rachael which was quite good.
After lunch in Idaho Springs we finished our out-bound driving and arrived in Colorado Springs where Jess' brother, Christopher, and his family live.