Every Sno-Isle Library

Two months into 2019, I finally finished one of my 2018 New Year’s Resolutions.

The goal was to visit all the libraries in the Sno-Isle system. I am trying to deal with the fact that I have both wanderlust and children by embarking on a series of micro-adventures. Since I can’t visit all fifty states or every continent (right now, anyway), I am settling for visiting all 23 libraries in the Sno-Isle system.

Luckily, library branches are on islands, peninsulas, mountains, and near hiking trails. Lots of opportunities for adventures.

So, with my two kids in tow, the challenge was to make an expedition out of each library visit.

I was so anxious to get started I forgot that a resolution should take plan in one calendar year and started on December 27th of 2017. At the time, I figured that I’d be done by the time the 2018 baseball season started and I could give all my extra attention to the Mariners. I was a few months off.

I just crossed the last library off my list today, February 23rd 2019. So I was only a year off. Close enough.

Trailhead Libraries

The Darrington library is up in the northeast corner of my region, surrounded by the North Cascades. It was a library that I kept putting off. Part of the problem is that it’s closed Sundays. Initially, I figured that we’d stop here on one of our trips out of town. We passed Darrington twice last summer, once while heading to Ross Lake to go camping one rainy weekend in June and a second time on the way Winthrop. However, we never ended up stopping there on the way to our vacations, and both return trips were on Sundays when the library was closed. Therefore, summer came and went and I realized that I’d better get up to Darrington before it started snowing, since I am deathly afraid of the driving-mountains-snow trifecta of death. My delays turned out to be a good thing because the girls and I headed up to Darrington in the middle of fall when all the leaves were busy looking gorgeous.

Hiking was a total bust. I tried to take the girls up Boulder River Trail, and after four miles of driving on a gravelly pot-holed forest service road, my five-year-old pitched a total anti-hiking fit about 200 meters into the hike. So that was fun.

Sultan was better. It was one of the first libraries that we went to during the early spring of 2018, and after the rainy drive and library, we headed to Wallace Falls, which is a great kid hike. There is a less-than-a-mile loop with a waterfall early in the trail that served as motivation for my lackluster little hiker.

A train pulled through town just as we headed into the City Hall-Library combo, which is VERY exciting if you are three. We enjoyed the slow comfort of book, stuffed bears, cozy chairs and magnet building blocks before heading to Wallace Falls State Park in Gold Bar.

Wallace Falls one of my favorite kid hikes. It starts with a gravel straightaway that just begs to test out your sprinting skills. That was everyone gets the impulse to run out of the way before the real hike starts are we all need to stick closer together. Once in the woods, the trail splits off into paths of varying length and difficulty. We chose the .5 mile down to Small Falls and then did an extra little loop before heading back. 

The Granite Falls Library is also tucked in between mountains and trailheads, although we opted to visit the museum instead. It was a delightful tiny open-only-on-Sundays place that featured mostly logging lore and very enthusiastic staff of elderly volunteers who gave us candy. The library was super cozy.

The Mukilteo Library is a trailhead library, which is weird because Mukilteo is not in the mountains, but right on Puget Sound. However, the library is surrounded by the Big Gulch Trail which leads down to the beach.

The Oak Harbor Library also turned out to be a hiking destination. Even though Oak Harbor is (like Mukilteo), is right on the water, in order to get to the place, you have to drive over a very dramatic bridge. The Deception Pass Bridge connects Whidbey Island to the mainland, and the little park on the Whidbey side is a perfect place to park your car and take a walk across the bridge (unless you are scared of heights) and/or walk down to the beach.

Island Libraries

When the girls and I visited Camano Island Library, I wasn’t expecting the place to feel so island-y, since Camano Island. It’s more of a peninsula that has a couple of slough-like rivers separating it from the mainland. Yet, the minute we drove over the (not at all dramatic) bridge I got that island feeling. Everything was immediately brighter, more relaxed, slower, more fun. We stopped at a park, got ice cream by the library, took the scenic route to the beach. Total island stuff. Sorry for misjudging you, Camano Island.

The Clinton and Langley Libraries on the south end of Whidbey Island. The Clinton library is tiny and charming. We took a ferry across the sound to visit. It must have been sometime in October, because I remember the Clinton librarian taking my girls on a pumpkin-counting hunt through the library. The Langley library was fun because it was right in the middle of the tourist center of town, near a firehouse-turned-glass-blowing factory and lots of good places to eat. The library itself was bright and airy with tons of great toys. This was one of the girls’ favorites.

We visited the Coupeville and Freeland libraries in late February 2018. The thing I remember most of about these libraries was that my husband was there too. Most of our library adventures were just me and the girls, but in February we went to Coupeville as a family because I was running a trail race that I was not at all prepared for. Oblivious to the fact that I was about the run the worst race of my life, we spend the weekend on Whidbey visiting libraries and staying at a perfect little AirBnB.

Destination Libraries

Edmonds: With a rooftop overlooking the town and the water, this is one of those libraries that people get married in.

Monroe: This library was an unexpected wonder. A glass wall backing up to a forest, the best play area of the bunch, a fun park next door and delicious taco trucks nearby.

Snohomish: Definitely the pearl of the sno-isle system, the Snohomish library is going for that old-world charm feel, with dark wood and tall ceilings, and cozy chairs tucked around the fireplace. A perfect place to spend a dark and rainy night. Naturally, I don’t have a picture but you can see some good ones here.

Stanwood and Marysville: Okay, these libraries weren’t really the destination, but they were perfect stops on the way to the Warm Beach Lights of Christmas Festivals. We stopped at Stanwood in 2017, and Marysville in 2018.

Around Town

Lakewood/Smokey Point, Arlington, Lake Stevens, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood: Okay, when it came to these libraries I’ll have to confess that I didn’t really make an expedition out of them. There were no ferries, ice-cream stops, AirBnBs or trails. Usually the most exciting thing we did after visiting these libraries was to stop at Safeway for groceries on the way home. Not that they aren’t great libraries though.

The library in the town that is 5 minutes from my house and I have never been there

Brier is the town right next to me. In the five years I’ve lived here I had never even driven through Brier. It’s a little pocket neighborhood tucked in a triangular space between two freeways. I know that sounds horrible, but it isn’t. Because Brier is on the way to absolutely nowhere, nobody ever goes there. Unless they are on a quest to visit every library in the Sno-Isle system. We stopped in at a pizza joint in Brier where everybody knew each other, and we were clearly the out-of-towners (again. I live about five miles away from the place. Total out of towner).

Ah, the strip mall library

The Mariner library is in a strip mall between Everett and Lynnwood. It’s next to a Park n Ride and a good chunk of its patrons have questionable living situations. It is my favorite library because it is mine. It is where I rush nearly every week to pick up my holds. It is where I see my neighbors at the story time, which is tucked in a too-small room in the back. It is the library where my students go to check out laptops and use Wi-Fi and find a tiny space of quiet in their lives. It’s where the best and most patient librarians work – juggling the demands of toddlers, high school students, and an ever-increasing homeless population with grace. It may not have a fireplace or wood paneling or a view of the ocean, but this library is exactly what all libraries should be – a place where anyone, from anywhere, can find a warm welcoming space…and maybe even find themselves the perfect book.

Unobtainable Summer Goals

Now that National Boards are turned in, my classroom is packed up, and no stacks essays on Algerian colonialism are sitting on my desk, I can finally turn to my summer to-do list. It is as follows:

  1. Ensure that Seattle Mariners make it to the World Series. This basically means checking the standings every 10 minutes, even at 10am when no teams have played and nothing could have possible changed. Thanks to stupid Houston, we are 14 games back. Clearly I need to check the standing more often if this goal is ever going to be accomplished.
  2. Cheer on the Everett Aquasox in their quest to become Northwest League Champs. To accomplish this goal, I actually go to games, although my companions aren’t always the most enthusiastic fans. My dad is as legit as they come (you can’t see his scorecard, but believe me – it’s there), but my daughter needs to really step up her fandom. 
  3. Qualify for the Boston Marathon. Third time’s a qualifier, right? After a 3:55 in 2015 (that would be 15 minutes too slow) and a failure to even race in 2016, I’m back in my Brooks. I spent all of April and May getting in shape enough to start my 16 week training plan, because this is no couch-to-marathon plan. The first week of training called for a 13 miler long run. I’m currently 6 weeks in and doing okay. I even won the Aquasox 5K, also producing the fattest finish line winner’s photo ever. Check out THAT double chin! (I know, I know, the flashframe is tacky, but come on…would you buy that photo?!?) 
  4. Finish my novel. This is on every to-do list I’ve ever written.
  5. Go somewhere new every day. This week is was Orcas Island, where we spend a couple of days in a cabin on Doe Bay (“Doe Bay Cabin” = mobile home with log-wood exterior paneling), which was lovely. The Doe Bay vibe is summed up here:    We did the shortest hikes we could find, picnicked on Mt. Constitution, played in Cascade Lake, and ran around. Fun stuff. 
  6. Read all those books that the Sno-Isle Library thinks I lost and is currently charging me for.

Wish me (and the Mariners!) lots of luck.

Happy Crabbing Season!

Last year my husband decided to try out crabbing. After seven minutes of YouTube videos and a trip to Cabela’s, he was a pro.

We spent the summer trying out different docks and beaches. The four of us all had different ideas of what made a good crabbing location, as this handy chart shows:

  Jason: Likelihood of crabs crawling into his crab pot Me: Scenery and seeing new places Aubrey: Playground or other source of entertainment Henley: Ice Cream
Edmonds dock Very few. But it was crowded and late in the season. Although the scenery from the actual dock isn’t anything to blog about, the town of Edmonds is adorable Yes, but about a ½ mile walk away. Bring a stroller. There is also a sandy beach between the old and new ferry docks. Yup, near the old ferry dock
Mukilteo dock Lots of little crabs, but no keepers Meh. It’s a nice view, but one you can see from basically anywhere. A brand new playground, on the beach, about a quarter mile away from the docks.

Oh yeah.Ice Cream

Illahee State Park

Tons!Crabs

Nice looking place. And extra points for the ferry ride. Nope. And the beach wasn’t that great for sandcastles either. No food anywhere.
Penrose Point State Park Tons! Remote and pretty

No, but shallow water is fun too, especially in a white dress.Low tide in a white dress

No. I brought cookies though.
Kayak Point Very few. Crowded and late in the season.Crabbing Crowds We saw whales and seals here, so bonus points. Yes!! Huge playground. Unfortunately Aubrey had skinned her knew earlier in the day and was being super dramatic about it, at times refusing to walk. None. I hear that ice cream trucks sometimes frequent the area, but no luck when we were there
Birch Bay State Park in Blaine Who knows? We booked a campsite here only to have crabbing season pushed back. Also, there is no dock. Gorgeous. The background photo of this very website was taken here. No, but turning over rocks at the beach to find sand crabs and camping was so fun, who needs a playground?Finding Sand Crabs Nada. S’mores were a hit though.

Winthrop with a Toddler and a Princess

 

I know, I know. Most people go to Winthrop to mountain bike, kayak down rivers, or cross country ski. All difficult things to do with two and three year olds. But turns out that Winthrop is still awesome with little ones. Here’s what we did:

The Shortest Hikes Possible

Methow Community Trail: We caught a portion of this trail east of Tawlks/Foster BridgeMazama, just off Goat Creek Road. It consisted of a mile long walk alongside the river to the Tawlks/Foster Suspension Bridge. This was a great little walk for kids: flat, shaded, alongside the river, with a picnic area right after the bridge. My kids switched off walking and riding in the backpack and both liked throwing rocks in the river at the turnaround point. We also ran into tons of families biking (with both toddlers in bike trailers and young kids on their own bikes).

 

 

Dripping Air conditioning please!Springs Rd: Halfway through this walk, Aubrey the princess turned to Jason and said “daddy, can we go back inside to the air conditioner?” Not a ringing endorsement for the hike. The map suggests it is along the river, but you can’t see said river and there isn’t a lot of shade. Apparently you hit the river about 45 minutes into the hike (whatever that means), but we bailed and took Aubrey’s suggestion after about a mile. Plus I’d forgotten to pack diapers.

 

Sandcastles and Swimming

Pearrygin Lake State Park:  The lake is just a few miles northeast of Winthrop. Part of the eastern side of the lake is a State Park with two campgrounds. Next to the east campground is the day use area (Discover Pass required) with a large parking lot, tons of picnic tables, and a roped off swimming area. My kids both have a sixth sense for when a playground is near, and their internal playground radars did not go off, so I’m assuming there were none in the area.

Tubing the Methow

The beach/swimming area was a bit of a bust. You could optimistically call the beach “sandy,” but no great sandcastles were constructed due to the pebbly nature of the “sand.” The rocks continued into the swimming area which didn’t really bother the kids (both of whom hate shoes and routinely run over gravel roads as if they were nicely laid paths of cotton balls) but my husband and I weren’t fans. Luckily there were a few little alcoves between the beach and the campground with superior sand, and we snagged one of them. The area was also shady and served as a good boat launch for our canoe. The lake was nice for paddling, and we could see some fish jumping. Jet skis and motor boats are allowed on the lake, but it wasn’t that busy. Patterson Lake and Twin Lakes are also nearby with similar features.

Carlton Hole: Since there is a lack of sandy beaches in the area, we took our buckets and shovels about 30 minutes east. Carlton is a tiny town a few miles east of Twisp. Right off Highway 153, just before you would take the bridge over the river, turn right onto the dirt road. The little parking lot is 20 steps from the stretch of sand.

Carlton Hole

If it’s a sunny weekend day, just follow the crowd. We were there on a 90 degree Tuesday and there were a few other families there. Carlton Hole has a good sized sandbar and swimming hole (it’s a river though! Keep those kids close!). There is also a rocky area and some pretty good fishing spots, according to my husband (he didn’t catch anything, but that is probably because it was the middle of the day and we were all throwing rocks in the river). You do need a Discover Pass to park here.  This little swimming hole was totally worth the drive.

Fishing

 

 

 

The Perfect Location

We spent the week in a cabin at the River Run Inn, which I highly recommend for families.

Lawn at River Run

There is an indoor pool, huge lawn, onsite BBQ pits and fire rings, and the river is just out the back door. The place is a quick (.5 mile) walk from downtown Winthrop, and the community park and playground is even closer.  The Inn has complementary everything: charcoal, bikes, badminton sets, hammocks, DVDs. The inn also runs kayak and rafting float trips, which I unfortunately didn’t get to partake in, but my two year old loved waving to the adventurers as they set off down the Methow.

River Run Float Trips

 

Urban (and suburban) Water Parks

Hey, we can’t all live in Seattle, where Puget Sound is ten minutes off the freeway, islands are quick ferry trip away, mountain rivers are accessible after an easy hike, and camping at the seashore is an easy weekend activity. Sorry Midwesterners (oh, and we don’t have mosquitoes either. Not to rub it in). Anyways, if you don’t live on the coast or are too lazy to leave the city you’ve still got some water-based options. Since swimming pools are passé, most cities are creating splash parks, kiddie pools and fountains. Grab your plastic watering toy and head out.

DSC_0382

Splash Parks

Avoid if:

  • You have small toddlers who don’t like to be splashed or knocked over: Splash parks are a bit rambunctious. My little ones and I tend to find the smallest spout and hang out there, but even that can get over-run pretty quickly.

DSC_0186

  • You prefer to do your splashing in the morning or evening: Most parks keep afternoon hours, and some have an off period during the middle of the day.
  • You have one kid who loves water and another who loves swings: Most splash parks are part of a larger playground. This is part of the appeal for my kiddos – we start at the swings, dig in the sandbox, and then cool off at the splash pad. However one of my kids isn’t old enough to voice her opinion yet so things may be more complicated next summer.

Go if:

  • You’ve just bought your kid an arsenal of water guns.
  • You are in charge of your children and all of the friends. They’ll be somewhat contained at a splash park and you won’t have to worry about anyone drowning.

North acres

Check out:

  • Willis Tucker Park: Technically in Snohomish, but it’s north of the valley behind Silver Firs. There is also a sandbox, covered picnic tables, a playground with a rope jungle gym, trails, off leash dog park, playfields, a community center and a farmer’s market on Friday evenings in the summer.
  • North Acres: This is a good one for keeping watch over a bunch of kids because the splash park is in a little bowl and parents perch on the grassy hills above, stadium style. This park also has trails and two playgrounds – one for toddlers and one for older kids.

Small fountains

Ballard Commons

Avoid if:

  • You have older children, as these are pretty lame according to the kindergarten and above set.
  • You actually want to play in the water as well.

Go if:

  • You are headed somewhere else and you don’t want the kids to get totally soaked.

Check out:

Wading Pools

Avoid if:

  • You have a little one still crawling. The bottom is usually concrete. Plus my little one would have happily crawled in over her head if we let her.

DSC_0377

Go if:

  • You want to get in the water and cool off too, but you don’t want to wear a bathing suit.
  • You like water! I’ve seen toddlers, young kids, and pre-teens all have fun at these little wading pools.

Check out:

  • Wallingford Playfield: The pool has a shallow (think 2 inches) and “deep” (less than a foot) end. Playfields and a playground are part of the park.
  • Green Lake Wading Pool: By far my favorite place! Tons of grassy areas next to the pool are shady, so it’s great for a picnic on a hot day. It’s also great if you have a tiny baby who can snooze in the shade while the other one plays in the sun.

DSC_0383

Reasons Why Ragnar is better than a Regular Race

1. You get to run a 200+ mile race without having to run all 200 miles. You and eleven other people assign yourselves three legs and each runner covers around 9-20 miles. The race consists of 36 exchange points where you pass your 80’s style slap-bracelet onto the next runner.

DSC_0227

2. You’ll have eleven new best friends. I signed up for my first Ragnar after begging my parent’s neighbor to find a spot for me on her team. She came through and pretty soon I was part of a facebook group of strangers, planning out who was bringing diaper wipes and bananas for our Blaine to Langley trek. On Friday morning I met that group of strangers and we headed north. We were all friends by Bellingham.

DSC_0191

DSC_0258

Van 1

Ragnar team

3. Running at different times a day. You get to run at…

…sunset…

Sunset

…sunrise…

 

…middle of the night…

Night running

…and the blazing heat of mid-day.

DSC_0234

4. Your team is responsible for you, and you them. There are (practically) no water stations so each van is responsible for keeping their runner hydrated and happy. This meant stopping every few miles and waiting for your runner so you can offer…

…laughs…

DSC_0250

…hugs…

DSC_0320

…water…

DSC_0300

…and photography skills to take that picture at the top of the gnarly hill you just conquered.

DSC_0323

5. You need a diverse skill set. It’s not enough to just be a good runner. A successful Ragnar team must have the skills to…

    • Decorate the vans.

    • Maneuver be-dazzled vans through crowded exchanges.

DSC_0261

    • Be able to fix car glitches while on the run. When our driver was running we somehow turned all the dome lights on. Despite scouring the owner’s manual we couldn’t get them off. When we met up with him in the middle of his run he barely broke his stride as he reached through the window and turned off the lights, yelling “This is the opposite of support!” as he continued on.
    • Read maps (and owner’s manuals) and give directions. U-turns are your friends.
    • Analyze and update data. You are constantly calculating pace and mileage to figure out where your van needs to be when.

DSC_0310

    •  Be a social media pro. Our data plans all felt a little shutter over the weekend. #RagnarPNW

DSC_0309

6. You do get to sleep!

DSC_0266

DSC_0268

 

7. Side games: These include keeping track of kills (runners you pass) and tagging other cars with magnets featuring your team logo.

DSC_0301

8. Running bonding moments

Kira

9. After you finish as a team, all your medals fit together. Awww…

Ragnar medals

DSC_0259

DSC_0197

Hill’s Resort at Priest Lake, ID

It’s gorgeous here.

The view from cabin 108
The view from cabin 108

But the view comes at a cost. For $3,370 you can stare at this view ALLLL week long. My family (aka my parents) forked over the payment and met us at the lake as our Christmas present. It’s the same resort they took my brother and I as kids. As soon as I started having babies I was anxious to take them there as well.

DSC_0085

And the weather was perfect, the lake was crystal clear, and we had a great time. But when it was time to re-book for next year I just shook my head at mom. The price is just too astronomical. It is the exact same price that my husband and I paid for out all-inclusive condo (food, drinks AND wedding included) in St. Lucia. For $3,370 I expect things to be perfect. There were a few imperfections:

The beach: We had our own little beach in front of our cabin, complete with a fire pit for roasting s’mores. It was about twenty steps away from our cabin, which was great. However, the staff doesn’t rake the beach regularly so our sand castles were full of little twigs and bottle caps. It wasn’t rare it find a broken piece of glass in the sand. But the main problem with the beach was the infestation of yellow jackets.

DSC_0095

The bees. They were EVERYWHERE. After one stung our baby, my husband armed himself with a flip flop and went on a seek-and-destroy mission. He killed about twenty of them, barely making a dent. Hill’s Resort has bee traps every two feet surrounding their lodge and patio, but none on the beaches. They should put some out while raking the sand.

The cabins: On one hand, it was kinda sweet that the cabins were the same ones my family stayed in thirty years ago (GOD, I’M OLD), but maybe replacing the carpets wouldn’t be a terrible thing. Or fixing the drain in the shower, siding on the bathroom walls, replacing window screens…

This place is NOT all-inclusive. It’s simply a cabin rental. Huckleberry daiquiris are not free with the wave of a drink flag. You are lugging all your own food up, and doing all your own cooking and cleaning. There is no maid service. Naturally, I got around this as my parents did most of the cooking and cleaning and my brother mixed the drinks. But still. No maid service?

DSC_0104

So will we be going to Priest Lake next year? Absolutely. But instead of paying $3,370 to fix our own burgers and sleep in sandy sheets, we’ll be staying next door at Luby Bay Campground.

DSC_0005

Steamboat Springs and Beyond: Road Tripping with a Baby

Typically if you have a 2,000 mile road trip ahead of you, I would recommend making it further than 150 mile on day one. Unless you have a baby with you and there happens to be a cute town 150 miles away and you were still packing up your house until three o’clock even though you’d planned on being done by 9am at the latest.

However short that first day was, it set a good precedent for the rest of our Denver-San Francisco-Seattle trip. This wasn’t my first road trip with the baby, so I headed off already armed with my own traveling-solo-with-a-baby tips:

Don’t book ahead: Normally, it’s good to plan stops ahead of time. This allows you to book the best hotels online, search for fun restaurants and activities, and ensure that don’t inadvertently leave twenty hours of driving for the last day. But if you are traveling with an infant, you need some flexibility. Go ahead and make tentative plans (five hours of driving a day worked best for us) but definitely don’t book anything ahead of time. Suppose that the baby falls asleep right before you reach your planned destination for the night – you’re not going to want to waste that precious quiet time by waking up the kid to check into a hotel. Keep your foot on the accelerator and make it to the next town before nap time is over. On the flip side, be prepared to cut the driving short if that scream from the backseat isn’t going to end anytime soon.

When traveling from Denver to San Jose, I hit my intended destination about the half the time, stopping in Steamboat Springs as planned, just outside of Heber City (instead of Salt Lake City), Battle Mountain (past the intended Elko, Nevada), Reno, and then San Jose. After a week-long stop in the Bay Area, I managed to make it to Seattle in two days instead of the planned three to four, stopping for the night in Weed, CA.

Motels, not hotels: Even if you have a limitless budget (as most single parents do, you know), it is still a way better idea to stay in motels rather that hotels. If you stay at a hotel, than getting to your parked car involves traipsing down a hallway, past an office, and maybe even (heaven forbid) up or down an elevator. The genius motel design involves parking your car RIGHT OUTSIDE the door to your room. Even if you try to pack everything you and the baby will need in one bag (see tip below), you will fail at this task and be very happy that the car is right outside. I once had to wake up Aubrey so I could go get my contact solution from my car. Terrible.

In Steamboat Springs I stayed at the lovely Rabbit Ears Motel. It was much nicer than may hotels that I’ve frequented – pricier too, this being Steamboat Springs. Rabbit Ears is perfectly located, right on the edge of downtown, across from Old Town Hot Springs (the motel has discounted tickets, if you plan on going) and next to the river.

Rabbit Ears Motel
One hotel bag: It’s impossible to pack everything you’ll need for the night in one bag. Good luck.
Swimming and Fitness clubs: Stopping at every 24hour Fitness club on route was my best road-tripping discovery. I was worried about staying in shape while traveling because my jogging stroller didn’t fit in my car and even if it had I didn’t really want to take Aubrey out of her car-seat only to strap her into a stroller. So I mapped out all the 24hour fitness clubs and stopped at all of them. Since I pay for the all-month childcare (which is good nationwide), I could pull into a club and workout for two hours while Aubrey crawled around and checked out all the new toys. This was not only my key to staying in shape, but it was a perfect car break for the baby. She’d be ready for her second nap after all that playtime. Just be sure to double check the kid’s club/daycare hours. I stopped at the Salt Lake City club only to discover the daycare was closed Sundays.

Small towns are not known for having nationwide fitness clubs, but often they still have a YMCA or rec center with babysitting available. At Steamboat Springs I spent two hours swimming at the Old Town Hot Springs. I kept Aubrey with me (she loves swimming!), but there is a daycare option there during the daytime.

Old Town Hot Springs

Picnics, not restaurants: Again, crawling time is important. When you stop to eat at a restaurant your kid is subjected to being strapped into yet another seat. Pack a lunch and bring a big blanket. Most little towns have parks that are a lot nicer than rest areas.

Picnic at Hot Sulpher Springs

 

Think twice before camping: I had thrown my tent and sleeping bag in the trunk of my car more out of habit with any real plans to use them, but in the Wasatch foothills, I thought I had the perfect time to use them. We were twenty miles outside Heber City and there was no hope of reaching town with my eardrums still intact. Aubrey was DONE. I saw a camping sign with an arrow pointing to Strawberry Reservoir and made a quick left turn.

At first I thought that I had made a good decision. There were tons of families camping nearby. There was a general store selling ice cream and snacks that would work for my dinner. Aubrey loved crawling around in the tent, and nighttime temperatures for the nearby Salt Lake City were in the 60’s. However, temperatures dipped much lower in the mountains. At ten I changed Aubrey into her warmest pajamas, and at eleven I just decided to hold her for the night. Since infants aren’t supposed to sleep with blankets, camping even in slightly cold weather is tough. Also I was kind of cold but I didn’t want to go get an extra blanket in the car for fear of waking up Aubrey. To make matters worse, I felt bad when she woke up in the middle of the night crying because I’m sure all the other campers heard us. That’ll be my last camping experience for the year.

Camping

Have AAA roadside assistance: I would never survive without AAA. They’ve given me new batteries, unlocked my car (AAA guy: “What store are you in front of?” Me: “Um…the liquor store.”), and they have come especially in handy the numerous times I’ve needed a new tire. Miraculously, I haven’t needed a new tire in six months (a record!) and the last time one went out I was with two friends, one of whom (Fix-It-Tom) could actually change a tire! However, I usually travel alone, so until the baby learns how to change a tire I’ll keep my AAA membership.

Golden – Boulder Hikes

Does this guy look like a hiker or WHAT?

Jay

That’s my brother. He should be the one living in Denver. My hikes so far have been limited to mile-long nature walks that could be done whilst several month pregnant: see Table Mountain and Mt. Falcon. I suspect this is why my brother waited until I was sufficiently back in shape before he came to visit.

So within three hours of his landing at DIA, we were making our way up Lookout Mountain in Golden (tip for those prone to altitude sickness: Going from Seattle to Denver to Golden to Lookout Mountain shouldn’t be attempted all in the same afternoon).
Taking the Chimney Gulch Trail up Lookout Mountain is one of those perfect quick hikes: Tons of great city views on one side and mountain/valley views on the other. A good three mile hike, but easy enough to run or bike up it if you are super in shape. People hang-glide off of it, there’s a big “M” on the side of it that lights up at night (M for the Colorado School of Mines), and I could see it from my driveway when I lived in Golden.

Lookout Mountain in the snow

To get to Lookout Mountain take Highway 58 from Denver to Golden and turn left onto 6th Ave. Then you’ve got some options. You can drive less than a mile and park right off 6th Ave in this makeshift parking lot…

Lookout Parking

…or you could keep driving for another minute and then turn right onto 19th street, which winds through a neighborhood and then becomes Lookout Mountain Rd (follow the signs) and park at the trailhead alongside the road, or you could just drive all the way to the top. It’s a switchback-y road that’s not very much fun to drive (unless you like that kind of thing), but it gets you to the top quicker.

View from Lookout

The next day we headed out to Eldorado Canyon State Park ($8 daily vehicle pass), which is just off Highway 93 between Golden and Boulder. My brother looked longingly at the rock climbers doting the canyon walls as I heaved the baby backpack on my shoulders and we started exploring.

Hiking with baby

There are numerous trail options at the State Park from the rim trail (which is stroller friendly) to technical boulder scrambles that lead to sheer rock faces. The hiking and scenery were great, but the best part of this park was definitely marveling at the rock climbers. I vividly remember my difficulties scaling the one and only (very, very small) cliff that I’ve ever faced, so I could only shake my head in amazement at the guys and gals dangling above me. How cool is must be to conquer something as imposing as a canyon wall.

Eldorado Canyon State Park

We were there Memorial Day weekend, so the trails were packed, as was the area near the visitor center where huge groups of families and friends were picnicking and barbequing alongside the South Boulder Creek (which looked like a full-blown river after all the snow we had last spring).

The next day we re-traced our route and this time made it all the way to Boulder. We parked the car at Chautaugua Park and set out towards the Flatirons. We walked along Bluebell road which was very boring at first. It starts out as a flat gravel trail between a grassy valley and a housing development. But once it hooked in with the Flatirons loop (briefly) and then the Royal Arch trail things got a lot more mountain-y. About half a mile away from the arch viewpoint there is a natural stopping place to sit on some rocks and eat lunch. I stopped here, opting not to go all the way to the arch because the trail got a little steep and I wasn’t comfortable doing it with a baby on my back.

The Royal Arch trail was cool, but my least favorite of the three hikes. It was just your basic hike. Nice, but nothing to blog about. The trail was super crowded and everyone kept giving my brother dirty looks because I the baby on my back and everyone assumed he was Aubrey’s dad, shirking his fatherly-hiking duties. I had to keep explaining that he was only my brother, shirking his uncle-hiking duties, which is a less grievous offense.
Oh, and there was a snake. It was big.

 

Laramie > Cheyenne

The standard milling around before the race startsLuckily yesterday’s Jackalope 5K race in Wyoming had a 10am start since the baby and I ended up leaving Denver Saturday morning instead of Friday night. And when we stopped between Cheyenne and Laramie the wind was so cold and biting that I kinda wanted to turn the car around and go to bed. We soldiered on. In my quest to run a race in all fifty states I intentionally chose a short one for Wyoming because I HATE running in the wind.  Luckily things weren’t so bad in down in Laramie, since the town is down between the Snowy Mountain range and the southern peaks of the Medicine Bow National Forest.

 

The High Plains Harriers (along other local groups) have been putting on the Jackalope 5K for the past twelve years. This year the Brendon Orr, a volunteer with Black Dog Animal Rescue, served as race director and participation shot through the roof with 249 participates (114 being the previous record). More importantly, $4,920 was raised for the Rescue. Dogs were invited to run also, which seemed to bring people out. One couple I spoke to were running the race with two kids in a jogging stroller and two dogs on leashes. They usually avoid races until the weather gets warmer but were enthusiastically participating today because the Black Dog Rescue is close to their heart. They’ve fostered many rescue dogs.

Racing dogs

For me personally, the race was fairly anticlimactic. I started in the back with the other strollers and slow-looking dogs, and worked my way up to the middle of the pack when things started clearing out. I was just getting in my grove when Aubrey started wailing and protesting being in her stroller. So I ended up walking across the finish line with an empty stroller and a pink bundle in my arms at just under forty minutes. It was whatever the opposite of a PR is. Oh well. The race was nice enough – all on paved trails, along a creek, under a highway, and through a park. Since it is still winter (that groundhog apparently lied to us) it wasn’t too picturesque, save for the mountains in the background.

I skipped the post-race festivities to feed Aubrey and then headed to downtown Laramie to find some food for myself. I got distracting wandering around downtown though downtown Laramie -lots of cute little shops, even if you don’t like antiquing. I was especially taken with The Second Story, an old hotel that has been converted into a book store/coffee house. Old hotel rooms have been converted into spaces for different types of books.  The children’s shop next store was pretty cute too. There were a lot of restaurants nearby, but eventually I decided on The Crowbar and Grill. All of these places are around Iverson and 1st and 2nd streets.

Book store

Toy store

The Crowbar and Grill

I really wanted to order the first three items on the appetizer menu: Pad Thai Fries, Poutine, and Fried Avocado. But in the end, I wasn’t quite brave enough for the fries and I’m a cheese curd purist so I went with the avocado. Delicious. I didn’t have one of their burgers (beef: picked up every morning at a local butcher) because I thought I’d have fabulous burger options in Cheyenne where I was staying the night.

Fried Avacado

I was incorrect. Cheyenne kinda sucked. I should have stayed in Laramie.

I’d decided to stay in Cheyenne because I got a good deal ($74 on a Saturday) on a nice hotel. And The Historic Plains Hotel was indeed nice, with a semi-historic looking lobby and large rooms. There is an attached restaurant, spa, and gift shop. A breakfast buffet is included (pancakes, sausage, eggs, fruit, etc.). As with most great hotels, the best thing about The Historic Plains Hotel was its central location.

Historic Plains Hotel

However, centrally located in Cheyenne doesn’t mean a whole lot. There’s nothing to do in this town. And I’m the kind of person that stay entertained in Victorville, Baldwin, Minot and Groom.  (Where, you ask? Exactly.)  My problem, of course, was in expectation. Sure, Cheyenne has a few museums (I visited the Wyoming State Museum – nothing to report), a capitol building, a train station, and lots of painted cowboy boots, but I was unimpressed.

Cheyenne Capitol

Train Depot, Cheyenne

Cheyenne boot...one of many

The historic downtown was the kind of place where you could walk across major cross streets without waiting for a light to change. When I asked a local where to go for dinner she enthusiastically directed me to either Chili’s or Buffalo Wild Wings out by the mall. Not that I mind either of those establishments, but I was hoping for some a bit more local. I ended up a Two Doors Down, a burger joint frequented by high-schoolers and young families. (So I fit in, having a six month old with me). It was fine, but nothing exceptional.

So Aubrey and I had a nice evening watching the Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres from the comfort of our hotel room, which was actually quite fun.

If you have a chance to hang out in southeastern Wyoming, I definitely recommend Laramie over Cheyenne. Or better yet, go in the summer when all the ranches are open and you can stay in the mountains while learning how to rope and ride. Or if that’s not your thing, camping at the Vedauwoo Recreation Area also seems like it would be fun during the summer. This site between Laramie and Cheyenne (exit 329 off I-80) has tons of exposed rocks good for rock climbing and hiking.

Vedauwoo

Also in this area in Ames Monument, a pyramid built by the Union Pacific Railroad Company to honor the Ames brothers (they were railroad guys). I was going to check out until I realized that I’ve have to drive down nearly two miles of dirt road. I go through tires at alarming rates in the smoothest of road conditions, so I just took a picture of the sign and turned around.

Too far