15 September 2014

Wyoming Vacation Wrap Up

A lot has gone on this summer, and I haven't had as much time as I would like for blogging. So I'm hopefully going to do a few posts about the rest our summer vacation.

I realized, mid-blogging about our Texas vacation, that I never finished blogging about our wonderful trip up to Cheyenne to see my friend Maiden. :) You can view my other posts about this trip to Denver, and then on to Cheyenne, here, herehere, here and here. I was trying to go for writing a separate post about each of the places that we visited (the Cheyenne Children's Village in the Botanical Gardens, the Governor's Mansion, etc) but when you are short on time, as I seem to be, and you really want to just cover everything, than sometimes you have to do what you have to do. And that means, you get everything else in one post.

I wrote my Texas vacation posts this way, and it still covered four posts. So maybe I'm sparing you- you tell me. :) In a perfect world, each post would be written like an article you see online about a really cool family place to visit. However, I have found that I don't live in a perfect world, and I was putting too much stress on myself to write that way. So you get messy, real-life Tegan posts instead. Life is messy and that's okay.

Anyway, on with the post!

First: the Laramie County Library



Maiden really wanted to take the kids and I to the downtown library in Cheyenne. I love books, and the kids love stories, so I was all set for it. I did not expect a fantastic learning play place for the kids right in the middle of the children's section of the library! It was amazing!


I love this statue! To me, this is quintessential motherhood.
The play section included a book mobile that the kids could explore and an incredible, very large, structure of mechanical wheels and conveyer belts that moved "books" from the book return slot at the bottom up to the top and down a set of slides to another part of the exhibit. All of the kids had a lot of fun turning the wheels and watching the "books" go up the conveyer belt and then down the slides. I wish the library here in town had one (I should find out if we do . . .).








 Second: the Wyoming State Museum

Rick and Maiden were very excited to take us to the Wyoming State Museum, also located downtown. The first stop in the museum after checking in (it was free!) was the children's area. This area, in it's own room, had a miniature fort from the mid 1800's, complete with buffalo robes, an Army cot, gray wool blankets, a bugle and a very cool replica of an early flag. There was also a dress up station where kids can dress up as mid 1800's Army soldiers or early pioneers just arriving in the new opened West. Or the kids could make lunch on a chuck wagon, complete with cast iron pots and blue plates. There were dinosaurs to play with and more. The kids spent quite a bit of time in here playing, it was fantastic!

Cant' forget horses in the Wild West Frontier of Wyoming!







 After the kids spent some, but not enough, energy playing, we explored the rest of the museum, which was not fun. None of my children were being obedient and were quite full of energy. It made for a very stressful trip for me. I hate being "that mom" who can't keep her kids under control.

I did manage to catch a glimpse of the coal history of the state (Wyoming has more coal deposits than any other state), some of the old Army uniforms, lots of dinosaur fossils (there are several species of dinosaurs that were discovered in Wyoming), the Native America artifacts (very beautiful) from the area and tour the modern art exhibit (apparently there was a recent contest).




 Third: Military Appreciation Day in Cheyenne

On Saturday, we headed downtown to check out the train station (Maiden's son is also a train lover like Little Man). It turned out that the city was hosting a Military Appreciation Day. It was a carnival atmosphere, complete with military displays of robotics engineering and EOD, a miniature jet the kids could sit in, food, fun-shaped balloons for the kids and more. We spent a bit of time wandering around and exploring. I was very impressed that the city had done so much to show their support of the military, and their families.

Local news doing an interview.



The Cheyenne Depot (now a museum) in the background.
Fourth: Cheyenne Depot Museum

After spending time at the Military Appreciation festivities, we grabbed some lunch at the local brewery which was located in the old train station. The food was pretty good, although the service was fairly slow.

After lunch, we headed over to the Cheyenne Depot Museum, which the kids really enjoyed. Cheyenne was, and still is, a big train town. There are several main lines which run through the city and the city has a large rail yard. There was even an old round house; I'm not sure if it is use anymore.




 The museum had the history of the trains and how they came to Cheyenne, as well as the impact on the local economy. I didn't get to read any of this however, as the kids just wanted to walk really quickly through the museum (of course) and look at pictures. Note to self, and readers: if you want to read things in a museum, don't take small children. I knew that already, but I take my kids anyway because I want them to see museums and take in the culture, even if it's only in pictures at this point in their lives. (I really need to start making treasure hunt games out of displays.)



Checking out the rail yard and old round house from the second story window.
On the second floor was a very neat HO scale model railroad layout. All the kids really enjoyed seeing the trains chugging along the tracks. I think it reminded them of GrandDad and his model railroad.


Another statue that I love, outside the train station.
 Fifth - Conclusion

The trip to Cheyenne to visit Maiden was so wonderful. It was really great to see such a great friend again. Rick also took me on a tour of some parts of the base, which was very neat. I had planned on leaving that Saturday afternoon for Denver, but there were severe storms moving through in between Cheyenne and Denver, and I decided to stay one more night. It was really nice to spend more time with Maiden - bonus time, if you will.



 Sunday morning I packed the van and got the kiddos loaded up and we drove back down to Denver to my friend Marjorie's house. We stayed the afternoon, and then went swimming with my friends from Tinker who are now relocated in Denver. It was a wonderful evening at the pool - the temperature was perfect, the kids had a great time in the kiddie pool and it was wonderful to see my friends Bibi and Virginia again and catch up.

I love, love, love that when you travel in the military, friends are usually close by and you can visit and catch up. It's a very special thing.

I left the following morning for Albuquerque. The drive was very uneventful. We drove through some amazingly beautiful fields in northeastern New Mexico. Just acres and acres of purple and pink flowers blooming on rolling green fields. I wish I could have stopped and run with the kids through them. It was all I could do to keep my eyes on the road. We had smooth and sunny weather the whole way back.

Not the afore mentioned glorious fields of flowers in northeaster New Mexico. I believe this is Pike's Peak in Colorado (but I'm not sure . . .)
At last we arrived back home. The kids were very glad to be back home and we had a wonderful reunion with Mike. And that concludes our first vacation of the summer!

14 September 2014

Vacation #4 - Trip home and visit to Cannon AFB

In my last few posts, I've been writing our trip to visit Sierra in San Antonio. You can read about those posts here, here and here. You can read Sierra's version of our vacation together here and here.

When I left off, we had said goodbye and were headed out on the open road again. Thankfully our trip back to Albuquerque wasn't as eventful as our trip down. And since I was driving through unchartered territory, in some ways, it was easier. I knew what to expect on the road and things looked a little bit familiar.

The drive from San Antonio to Lubbock was very uneventful. We stayed at the same hotel in Lubbock and had a fairly quite evening. I had bought dinner stuff to heat up in the hotel room so we wouldn't have to go out again once we had arrived. The kids didn't like it too much - oh well. (It was cheesy pasta with broccoli.)

We had the same Texas shaped waffles for breakfast, and then we headed out. Fairly soon, much sooner than I expected, we had crossed into New Mexico and had arrived in Clovis, home of Cannon Air Force Base.

I have a friend who lives on Cannon and we had planned to stop and see her. We met at the park just inside the gate and the kids had a really nice time playing together while Sarah and I chatted and caught up.



I really love that every Air Force base has a display of the type of aircraft (or other technology) at their base - here is Cannon's display.
After a fun time of playing and burning off energy, we headed over to Sarah's house where she fixed us a very nice and tasty (and healthy!) lunch. Her son, who is just a little younger than Flower, very sweetly shared his toys with my rambunctious three kiddos. It was really great to catch up with Sarah; it had been a really long time since we had seen each other.


 



It was a very nice visit and a welcome break on the trip. All too soon, we were back on the road for the final leg of our journey. Fortunately, it was just three more hours - we were almost home!

On the road again!
Sure enough, we ran into a little more weather on this part of the drive, although not as bad as the terrific downpour of rain we experienced on the way out of Albuquerque. The worst part of the drive was a summer thunderstorm (not severe). I could see the storm from dozens of miles out and was able to watch it for over an hour before we reached it. I prayed pretty hard that we would not hit any heavy rain and the Lord totally answered that prayer!

The storm in the distance, maybe 45 miles or more away.
The rain curtain literally parted for us as we drove through. There was very heavy rain on either side of us, but the rain we drove through was very light. The lightning was pretty intense; there were lightening strikes everywhere, the closest one to the van was probably one hundred yards, or less, off the passenger side of the van. I knew that we were protected in the car, and there was no where to stop to wait the storm out. The storm was slow moving and there were no towns to stop and wait the storm out at, or even any other roads, out there. Soon enough, we made it through.

The nice Wal-Mart truck that I trailed for pretty much the entire way from Clovis to I-40. He gave me a friendly wave goodbye once I was able to pass him on the interstate.



The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful. New Mexico was still blissfully green, greener than I have ever seen it before. We had some light rain on and off the rest of the way, but no other worries. We made it home right before dinner. The kids were so excited to see Mike, of course, so it was a joyful reunion.

It felt nice to be home, although I was already missing Sierra in Texas a lot and was very ready to head right back that way. We have started on some pretty extensive travel/vacation plans and I am really looking forward to seeing those plans come to fulfillment (Lord willing, and if we don't PCS)!

And that concludes our adventure to San Antonio!

13 September 2014

Vacation #4 - Part Three - Morgan's Wonderland, Natural Bridge Caverns & Lackland AFB

When I last left off, we were in Texas on vacation visiting Sierra, and had visited the Fort Sam Houston quadrangle, swam in the neighborhood pool, saw the Alamo and ate on the San Antonio Riverwalk. You can read about that here, and our interesting drive from Albuquerque to San Antonio here, and Sierra's version of the visit here and here.

To continue on in our adventure tale, on Saturday, all of us, including Ryan, loaded up the van and headed to Morgan's Wonderland - an amazing family fun amusement park on the outskirts on San Antonio. Morgan's Wonderland is a theme park that is geared towards children with special needs and people of all ages with disabilities, although anyone and everyone is welcome.


After purchasing our tickets (Butterfly and Sierra's son were free because of their special needs), and getting our very cool GPS tracking bracelets (in case anyone gets lost) (really, all theme parks should invest in this in very awesome device that guests can choose to wear), we were all set to start exploring. 

The first ride we hit up was the carousel. All the kids loved the carousel. I think we could have ridden it several more times, but Sierra has an aversion to carousel's, so we just road it once and it appeased the kids.

After that, it was on to the water table area. Sierra and I thought there would be a lot more water stuff, so we had all the kids wearing their swimsuits underneath their clothes. That really wasn't necessary . . . but it's all right. No one complained. The kids had lots of fun building little water ways; they managed to build a tower that directed the water up to the top and then down.

 
Since we arrived fairly close to lunch time, we decided to go ahead and do lunch and purchased lunch at the park. There is a wonderful covered pavilion with picnic tables and on one side it is flanked by swings of every type. After the kids were finished eating, they ventured over to the swings for a bit while the adults chatted.

The car ride, located next to the eating area, was the next adventure. Little Man and Butterfly sat up front, while Flower and I sat in the back. The car didn't really need steering, thankfully, so it was a fun trip around the track - it was a fairly good distance too, so the kids got a nice ride.

Here is another picture of Sierra and I taking a picture of each other taking a picture.
From the car, we spotted the train station, so we headed that way next. Little Man is a huge train enthusiast, and what child doesn't want to ride a train? The train did a loop around the perimeter of the park and told about different attractions and how the park got started along the way. It was a nice break for the parents.


 

These are the main theme characters - the girl is yellow with the butterfly wings is Morgan, whom the theme park is named after.
Adjacent to the train station is the super-awesome Sensory Village, which, thankfully, was located entirely indoors (hello air-conditioning!). All of the kids loved the Sensory Village. There was a car service station where the kids could use a touch screen computer to paint different car pictures; there was a car to drive in that had a video on the windshield so it looked like you were out driving around in a wooden mountain scene. The Village had a supermarket where the kids used little baskets to pick out all their favorite foods, and then ring them up on a cash register. There was a stable where the kids rode a "horse", and a weather station where they got to be on TV (Sierra's son was the only really interested in this; I think it's geared more towards older kids). Last but not least was this amazing room with different screens on each wall. A motion sensor would detect if a person was standing in front of the wall and that person could manipulate what was happening onscreen. For example, one screen was butterflies flying around, and if you stood still with your hand held out, a butterfly would come and land on your hand. Very neat!

Little Man is "painting" his car.

Flower and Butterfly are driving around.


So sweet!

Time to ring up the food!

Little Man picked lots of apples which are, incidentally, his favorite food.

Flower picked out lots of condiments, which are, of course, her favorite foods!

Butterfly loved picking out all the different kinds of vegetables and fruits.

Inside Main Street of the Sensory Village.
After a long and hot but very fulfilling day at this amazing place, we headed back home and made breakfast for dinner. Sierra and I stayed up late watching "Big Brother" (which she got me hooked on!) and talking.

Sunday was a visit to one of the churches Ryan and Sierra were considering attending; I really enjoyed the service and the kids had a good time as well. Sierra has since then said that church will be their home church. I can see why. The message was Biblically sound, the church is very involved with local and global missions and they seem to thriving and growing. After church we rested and lounged around the house a bit.

Monday morning we got all packed up, loaded the kids into the van, and headed out to Natural Bridge Caverns, which was about 45 minutes or so away. When we arrived, we decided to eat lunch first where there were some very convenient picnic tables adjacent to the parking lot. After lunch, we bought our tickets, quickly realizing that we should have bought our tickets before eating lunch. Oh well. We did a little exploring in our hour long or so wait for our tour of the caverns to start.



There is an amazing zip line obstacle course which looked amazing. We didn't do this, as the kids were much too young, but I have certainly put it on my list of things to do if we are ever in San Antonio when the kids are older. Sierra bought some bags of "mining dirt" and the kids got to pan for gold and other gems in a little wooden trough stream. They each had a lot of fun and it really helped to pass the time. (Thank you Sierra!!!)

William and Butterfly panning for gems.

Little Man found some treasures!

Lana panning for gems.

Lana and Flower looking at what they found.
Soon enough our tour number was called and we headed up to the waiting area to start our tour. Compared with Carlsbad Caverns (which I have yet to write about as of this posting) it was very different. This was a guided tour, and it started at the natural bridge which was responsible for the naming of the cavern. Then we descended 180 feet down through the cave. In some places, we walked through a tunnel of rock that wasn't much more than a foot or two higher than our heads. Then the passage would open up into a large cavern full of stalagmites in beautiful, towering structures. The kids were really great the whole time. It's against Texas state law to touch the stalagmites, but fortunately the kids were too tempted.

The Natural Bridge

Heading down into the cavern.



The whole tour was 3/4 of a mile long, with 100% humidity, with a temperature of about 70 degrees (F). I wore Flower in a mai-tei wrap and she actually ended up napping for the entire tour. The hardest part was ascending out of the cavern in a set of steep, wet switchbacks that was about five stories high. It was a hard enough climb, but wearing Flower made it quite challenging. We all made it to the top successfully and stopped for a few minutes to take a much-needed breather. The kids were awesome and I was very grateful to Sierra for taking on the bulk of the responsibility of child-wrangling on this part of the journey.





On our way out, we stopped for a group picture, which I bought at the end. It was definitely worth it! I keep it on my dresser and look at it quite often - such fond memories.

Then it was back home for dinner and more hanging out. We had s'mores for dessert most nights, and these were a new treat to my kids, and they loved them. Since then, we have implemented a s'more dessert treat on quite a few nights. Sierra's kids really enjoyed showing my kids how to put the s'mores together.

William is teaching my kiddos how to fix your s'more properly.

Eager anticipation of a melted marshmellow from the microwave.
Tuesday dawned bright, although our emotions were a bit over-cast by the conclusion of the stay and the necessary goodbyes that would occur the following morning. Sierra and I tried to make the most of our last day together and we headed to Lackland Air Force Base.

The old training barracks where Mike most likely had some training.
Mike graduated from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, so I thought it was really neat, and important, to share some of Daddy's history with the kids. Mike was actually on Lackland exactly nine years earlier for basic training. Sierra's husband also graduated from basic training on Lackland, before he crossed over to the Officer side of things.

We went to a covered playground and the kids had a lot of fun playing while Sierra and I just sat and enjoyed each others' company.




Best friends on the last day together.
Afterwards, after a quick detour for a bathroom stop, we went to the graduation parade ground. I was waxing nostalgic thinking of Mike marching on this grassy field surrounded by historical airplanes nine years earlier. The kids really enjoyed exploring some of the airplanes and I enjoyed taking pictures. We didn't have too much time before we had to leave, so we didn't get to explore the entire perimeter, plus is was very hot.









Soon, we were headed back to the house so Sierra could take her son to therapy. I got the suitcase packed and made sure everything was in order to head out the next morning. Later that night we got the car seats out of Sierra's van and back in my van. Reality was setting in that our vacation was coming to a close.

The following day was Flower's birthday, so on the way home from therapy Sierra stopped and got some cake mix to make cupcakes for Flower. I was very touched by her kind gesture for Flower. After dinner, we sang happy birthday to Flower and had a last fun dessert night.


Happy Birthday Flower!
The next morning, Sierra had to leave to take her daughter to a doctor's appointment, so I decided to leave at the same time. It made for shorter goodbyes - drawn out goodbyes are so hard. I really wanted to stay much longer; alas it was time to head home. I hated to say goodbye and leave, but hard things must be done.


It's not goodbye, it's until we meet again!
Soon we were on the road. I'll write about our return journey in another person, including a visit with another friend. :)