Posted on September 5, 2015
We recently spent the night in Grand Junction, Colorado on our way to Utah. We arrived early enough to get in a little family adventure at the Colorado National Monument. This part of Colorado is so beautiful, and completely different than the Rocky Mountains, where we have spent most of our time. The best way I can describe this national park is that it’s like pictures I’ve seen of the Grand Canyon.
We drove up to the visitors center and decided to do a short hike on the Canyon Rim Trail. The whole hike would end up being about 1.6 miles. The hike starts with a beautiful overlook area that is fenced, thankfully, so you don’t accidentally fall 400 feet to your death at the canyon floor. As we walk up to it I talk to the kids about not climbing the fence and not falling to their deaths. Everyone agrees to stay alive.
There we are, staring off into this gorgeous expanse of red rock, but I can’t really be taken by this moment because my two little earthly treasures are leaning on the chain link fence that separates them from sudden demise. I just can’t relax under these circumstances! I look down just in time to see Josh put his little moccasin-covered foot through the chain link. It’s like he just WANTS to step off the cliff.
As soon as I ask him to remove his foot, he does… then, quick as lightening, the moccasin slips off his little foot and tumbles down, down, down the cliff. Great. We haven’t even started the hike yet and Josh has already lost a shoe. It totally reminds me of the time he hiked the alpine tundra with only one sock on.
Of course, watching the shoe tumble down the canyon only further freaks me out about my children dying. I am trying to remain calm. I don’t want to be scare-dee-mom. So we start hiking down the trail, everyone is walking, but Josh seems intent to roam. At some places the trail is just 10 feet from the canyon edge and at this point I am on full momma-bear-adrenaline edge. I tell Caleb that we have to put Josh in the pack because I’m about to lose my mind.
Once we secure Josh, the hike becomes so much more enjoyable. Caleb taught Abby how to recognize cairns and other markers along the trail and she began leading the way. We saw tons of lizards, a few hawks and one giant hare. The hike was really easy, other than watching out for the cliff edge, and the views were amazing.
Abby hiked the whole way by herself, over a mile-and-half, which is a record for her. Toward the end she was getting tired and we talked about pushing through, like Daddy does in his races. As we neared the trailhead I told her to finish strong, we were near the finish line. She got excited and started running. We took this picture of her victory. I’m so proud of this little girl!
Posted on September 2, 2015
Sugar Loafin’ is a rustic little campground nestled in a meadow high in the mountains of Leadville. Interestingly, Caleb’s family stayed there on a family vacation 25 years ago. The log cabin style facilities definitely look at least that old, but what this campground lacks in amenities it makes up for in the breathtaking mountain views.
– Proximity. Sugar Loafin’ is three-and-a-half miles from downtown Leadville and one mile from Turqoise Lake, which boasts a 14 mile trail and sandy beaches. It’s also just a few miles from the two tallest mountains in Colorado, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. Plus, the route for the Leadville 100 goes right past the campground, which is a major bonus for those cheering on the runners.
– Feels remote. This campground feels more remote than it really is. You can walk out to the meadow, spin around, and see nothing but mountains. No corner stores, no highways. At night the stars are amazing.
– Pioneer playground. So this playground was a hit with my kids. It looks like it was built 50 years ago, mostly out of logs. There is a fort, log cabin and tree house, as well as a jungle gym and swing set.
– Campfire! This is one of the only RV parks we’ve stayed at that had a fire ring at every site and actually encouraged campfires. We love fire, so obviously we took advantage of the opportunity to light up.
– Dry and cool. If you like to wake up to freezing temperatures in August, this is the place for you. While we were there temperatures reached the mid 70’s during the heat of the day. The climate is very dry and it’s sunny 340 days a year.
– Altitude. Leadville is one of the highest towns in Colorado, at over 10,000 feet above sea level. If you are not drinking copious amounts of water, you may succumb to altitude sickness as I did. My best advice is to chug water like a maniac because, let’s face it, Leadville is basically the desert.
– Not walkable. Because Sugar Loafin’ is so remote-feeling, there isn’t really much within walking distance.
– Older campground. So part of the charm of Sugar Loafin’ is the fact that it’s old, but some might see this as a con. For instance, the bathrooms are quite dated (but clean), the sites are not concrete and can be uneven, and there are no screw caps for the sewer connection, so you have to rig it with rocks (which is how we picked up a bug-hitch-hiker… Yuck!)
For the mountain beauty and the price, Sugar Loafin’ is a great campground. It might take some convincing to bring me back, only because the chilly weather and high altitude are not my cup of tea.
Posted on September 1, 2015
This morning we left Golden for Grand Junction, our half-way point on the way to Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s our last day in Colorado, and we are going out with a bang. The drive out west on I-70 to Grand Junction is incredible. The mountains begin turning red, then crumbling into towering mesas. The forest gives way to tree speckled desert. The stories that happened today are almost as unbelievable as the landscape.
“Good, you could probably run up there and back in six miles.”
“No, I will run 66 miles!”
Caleb smiles a huge, proud grin. “YES!”
A few hours later we are about an hour from Grand Junction and everyone is hungry. We decided to stop at a rest stop and grab a block of cheese from the fridge and some crackers. We needed to get to Grand Junction before nap time, so we opted to eat in the truck. No sooner do I start sawing at the block of cheese with a paring knife (no cutting board, of course I’m using the truck’s console instead), then the road turns into a minefield of potholes and bumps. The truck is rocking like a bucking bronco and here I am, wheilding a knife. This goes on for about 15 minutes and I decide to power through because the kids are shrieking for the cheese they know I possess. Don’t worry, I managed to come through with all my appendages.
We finally made it to Junction West RV Park in Grand Junction, CO. Caleb checks in and finds out which spot is ours. The attendant had drawn a route for us to go around the park and pull through. We are driving slowly through the park, noticing the amenities, talking about what we will do with our afternoon when, SSSCREEEEEECH! Our left hand side of the RV scrapes past the dumpster as we are turning. We get out to find a three-foot, red scrape down the side, one foot of which punctured through to the insulation.
People said this would be hard on our marriage, and now I see why. Fighting about how to get backed into an RV spot should probably usurp finances as the top reason marriages fail. Don’t worry, we are still married.
As Caleb curses under his breath I walk the kids over to the playground. The brochure offered to us by the attendant says there is a splash pad. Perfect! I strip the kids down and walk over to turn it on. Another older camper walks by and says something about it being broken. Just then the water comes alive and is spraying us in the most delightful way. Kids are happy. Momma is happy. I breathe a sigh of relief, only to notice a terrible stench in the air. I look over to see if Caleb has the black tank open. Nope. I smell my clothes. Yep, it’s the water we are all dancing in. It smells like rotten eggs festering in a dirty diaper… And we are covered in it. Delicious.
Well, Colorado, you get the last laugh.
Posted on August 30, 2015
Just about the only downside to travelling a lot in our RV is the time spent packing up when we leave a place and setting up when we arrive someplace new. Before we embarked on our RV lifestyle, we had no idea how much time and effort this would involve. Here’s a few tips we’ve learned along the way.
1- Take your time. It’s easy to feel rushed when you are trying to hit the road. You are excited about getting the adventure started and eager to get going. But trust me, the best thing you can do is take your time. When you rush it’s easy to miss little things, like securing a cabinet or closing a skylight, which can end up meaning costly repairs. For us, a relaxed pack-up takes about two hours (we are also wrangling toddlers).
2- Divide and conquer. Everybody in the family has a job during pack up. Joshua’s job is to sleep (we love leaving just after his morning nap). Abigail’s job is to pack her books into boxes and help Mom. I pack up and secure the inside of the RV while Caleb takes care of everything outside. Doing the same tasks every time will help you to be more thorough and faster.
3- Check your list. It’s nice to use a list the first few times you pack up to move your rig. It’s just so easy to get flustered and forget things. I recommend this RV Departure Checklist from ChanginGears.com. But I encourage you to tweak it to your own needs and add the things specific to your home on wheels.
4- Quickly inspect. It’s a good idea to do a walk-around once you get ready to drive away to make sure everything has been done. This is a good time to lock your RV door and bins as well as test your brake lights and turn signals. I also like to check that the awning is secure and that all windows and vents are closed.
Again, my best advice is to go slow. After you’ve done it a few times, pack-up will start to get easier and faster. Caleb and I are already starting to become more efficient and we have only packed-up and moved about a dozen times. Tomorrow we will be hitting the road again! Good thing we love to practice the art of packing up our rig.
Posted on August 26, 2015
My love of Couchsurfing started about seven years ago when I lived with my sister, Kaye, and her husband, Chris: before Caleb and I married. Chris and Kaye introduced me to this wonderful practice of hosting strangers and I’ve been hooked ever since. Caleb and I have gone through seasons of open and closed couches (mainly due to children being born), but now I am happy to announce that our couch is open again!
Now, if you are unfamiliar with the concept of Couchsurfing you may find this practice odd. Let me tell you a little more about how it works and why we love it. The Couchsurfing website works like Facebook in that everyone has a profile. Folks who need a place to stay can search profiles of open couches and message hosts they are interested in. Hosts can then read the profiles of potential surfers and either accept or decline their request to stay. Profiles of both hosts and surfers usually have reviews, which is a great way to see a track record of the person’s hospitality.
We feel like the system is very safe and have never had a bad experience in the seven years we have been a part of it. In fact, we absolutely love hosting! We have met dozens of amazing people from different walks of life. We enjoy listening to their stories and also sharing ours, often over meals together.
You might be thinking, “Where are you going to put guests in your tiny home?” Well, we have a couch and dining table that fold out into two small beds. Additionally, some RV parks will allow an extra tent set up outside, so that might be an option for some surfers. We know our home is snug, but we never want it’s size to keep us from showing hospitality.
Having people stay as guests in our home is one of the best ways we have found to build relationships with people who are different than us, learn from them, and share with them our hope in Jesus. We are looking forward to sharing this adventure with our kids too, as an opportunity for them to learn and grow as they meet new people.
We are heading to Utah next week, staying for three weeks. We are really hopeful that we will host our first couch surfer while we are there. Now that you’ve read this, don’t be shy. Come on over and stay with us!
Our profile on CouchSurfing.com is Team Simpson!
Posted on August 21, 2015
We spent nearly three weeks at Dakota Ridge, which is situated on the south side of Golden, just off Highways 6 and 70. To tell you the truth, coming here was sort of a let down for us. We had just spent a week in Estes Park and before that two weeks in Golden at Clear Creek RV Park. Both of these other parks boasted great, walkable locations and as we soon found out, Dakota Ridge isn’t really walkable to anything, which is a problem for a one-truck family. However there are some redeeming qualities of Dakota Ridge.
– Extended stay options. The entire reason we chose Dakota Ridge in the first place was because they accepted stays longer than 14 days. In fact, many residents summer here for 3-4 months at a time.
– Salt water pool. The pool is heated and is well maintained. It goes from 3 to 6 feet in depth. The steps to get in are wide enough for my little guy to play happily. There is also a hot tub that we did not partake in.
– Friendly staff. One lady in particular, Joan, was very helpful. She helped us a lot when we came in with transmission fluid gushing out of our truck, giving us a mechanic recommendation and cleaning up all the fluid in our driveway. She also chased down errant soccer balls that my kids kicked down the street and returned them to us. She is solid gold!
– Nice sites. The sites are a nice size with a yard and picnic table. Most of the sites are pull-through (which they charge $10 extra for per day). Most sites have a tree, but whether the shade will fall in your favor is a crap shoot. Ours did not and we were mostly in full sun. There are cute little bunnies that visit every morning and night. My kids loved them! I did too until the started eating my outdoor plants.
– Europeans. Apparently this park is a hot-spot for Europeans on their way home from their vacations in the American West. We have gleaned tons of stuff from these nice families as they cast off anything that won’t fit in their luggage. So far we’ve scored: a gas grill, fishing pole, soccer balls, and more food than we could eat. So if you are looking to rub elbows with some Euros, look no further!
– Nice showers. We used the bathhouse here frequently. The showers seem more private than most bathhouses I’ve been in. They were always clean and full of hot water.
– Clubhouse. There is a nice sized clubhouse with its own WiFi connection. Caleb worked here several times and said it was quiet. They have a lending library for DVDs and books. The selection is spotty, but I scored some awesome cassette tape audio books (yes, we still have a tape deck).
– Super expensive. In my opinion, Dakota Ridge is overpriced. We paid more per night here than in Estes Park, where you are paying the summer vacation premium. Yeah, it’s nice… but not worth the price.
– Curbside trash pick-up. Some people would see this as a good thing. Not me. Here’s why: I like taking my trash out in the evening, ensuring that no bugs come looking for dinner scraps and no day-old diaper smells are allowed to fester. Well, at Dakota Ridge your only option is curbside trash removal from 7am to 10am, otherwise the dumpster is locked and you may not use it.
– Poor location for walking. This is our biggest con. There is NOTHING to walk to around here. Its in a great location for getting on the highway quickly and heading to Denver or Boulder, but nothing to do nearby.
– Park WiFi is hit or miss. I got a decent signal in off-peak hours (like before 7am or after midnight). Otherwise, it’s pretty much non-existent, except in the clubhouse.
We probably won’t be staying here again, mainly because of the price and location. I suppose if you are wanting a long-term stay, have access to a vehicle and are wealthy, this would be a good spot for you. For us, not so much.
Posted on August 20, 2015
I’m pretty sure I’m suffering from altitude sickness. I’m drinking more water but nothing seems to help except sleeping it off, which is such a bummer because I want to be taking in all of this gorgeous wilderness that surrounds me.
I tried to take the kids on a hike yesterday, but the 1/2 mile approach to the trailhead left me winded and lightheaded. I had to turn back before we even made it there. I know… the irony is not lost on me: My husband runs up mountains and I get winded up a 1/2 mile hill. But before you judge me, remember I’m pushing a double stroller with about 55 pounds of kid weight.
Yeah, that makes me look better.
In other embarrassing news, everyone in Leadville is talking about the race. It’s the Leadville 100 and Caleb is pacing our friend for a portion, 36.5 miles to be exact. So anytime I strike up a conversation with anyone, it always comes around to this: “Oh, your husband runs ultras, so you must be a runner too?”
I hate this question. I end up staring down at my shoes and muttering something like, “No, I’m really into walking.”
Really into walking? Seriously? I have got to get an extreme hobby, and fast before I get kicked out of the cool kids club. I do consider keeping my kids alive an extreme sport, especially since they both seem hell-bent on dying. Abby likes to ride her bike at break-neck speed while staring up into the sky. Josh likes climbing anything wobbly or ill-equipped to handle his weight. Together, they keep me running alright.
But right now I am sitting down. It’s nap time and there is this beautiful meadow right behind our trailer. The sun is beating down from a cloudless sky, but it’s still only 68 degrees out. I can hear the wind roar through the evergreens that encircle our meadow. The sound gathers and falls, not unlike the waves of the beaches back home.
Oh, home. Sea level. How I miss you! I was not made for this mountain climate. I love being here as a visitor in this awe-inspiring place but I could never call it home. The people who live here must be made of something sturdy and unyielding. Lead, perhaps.
Posted on August 16, 2015
We spent the last week in July at the KOA in Estes Park, CO. This was a family vacation for us, meaning Caleb did not work, and it was so rejuvenating. We spent the bulk of our time romping around Rocky Mountain National Park. We loved this park for its proximity to town and all of its family-friendly amenities. Here are the pros and cons of our stay at the Estes Park KOA.
– Great location. The KOA is right across from Lake Estes, with access to the 4 mile walking trail that runs around the lake and connects to downtown. The city also provides a free shuttle which stops right out front of the KOA every half hour and takes you into downtown, where you can pick up other shuttles that can take you to other local attractions, including Rocky Mountain National Park! We loved walking and taking the shuttle and were so glad to have these two convenient options.
– Family friendly. This park goes out of their way to be family friendly. They provided fun community activities every day like marshmallow roasts, bingo, ice cream socials and our favorite, the pancake breakfast. Every evening around 7pm the staff hook up a train to their golf cart and take the kids for a ride. It was THE highlight of Abby’s day – something she still talks about.
– Estes Park is awesome. The city is beautiful. There is not a single place you can look and not see mountains. The weather is amazing, cool and crisp even in July. The town has lots of amazing local shops. Some of our favorites are: Kind Coffee, Macdonald Bookshop, Inkwell & Brew and Nepal’s Cafe.
– Helpful staff. Three retired couples live on-site in their RVs. They run the place and are super friendly and helpful. My kids loved seeing them each morning at the pancake breakfast and each evening at the train ride.
– Clean facilities. The staff works hard to keep the campground looking great. The bathrooms were always clean. There are three private showers that would be great for families wrangling little ones, and several showers in the bath house.
– Tight spaces. Boy, they really pack you in! They have the big rigs (like ours) parked close together, back-in style along one side of the road, then they put smaller pop-ups and class C motor homes parked parallel on the other side of the street. Here was no room to park our truck by our camper, so we had to use overflow parking, which was full of big trucks like ours with the same problem, I suppose.
– No grass. The entire campground is gravel, with the exception of a dog walking area and a few decorative patches here and there. It wasn’t a big deal but I like it when campgrounds have a little grass for my kids to play in.
– WiFi stinks. But really, who needs it when you are staring into the heart of the Rockies? Seriously.
All in all, we loved this campground and we hope to be back next summer!
Posted on August 12, 2015
We had the privledge of spending our day in Boulder, mainly to visit the Justin’s headquarters. If you haven’t heard of Justin’s, they are a delicious brand of nut butters, peanut butter cups and other yummy snacks. Our family loves their products. Caleb has met Justin several times at various natural foods expos and looks to him as a role model entrepreneur.
The Justin’s offices are on Pearl street, just west of the mall area. When we arrived we were greeted with a smorgasbord of treats. The kids loved this and had chocolate smeared all over their hands and faces in no time. Next came the tour. This part was a bit stressful for me as I tried to keep my choco-monsters from touching everything in the office.
The nice receptionist was explaining to us the history of the building, which used to be a parts and service depot, then the headquarters for local home brewers association.. but I barely caught any of the interesting details because Josh was busy eating out of a dog food bowl and emptying a nice lady’s wastebasket.
The employees were very kind and did not seem to judge me or my little choco-monsters, though I am certain everyone breathed a sigh of relief when we left. Before that however, we were able to visit with Justin a bit on their upstairs patio. The kids terrorized his Great Dane, Moby, while we chatted a bit about business and family. Turns out he has two kids about the same age as ours. I breathed a sigh of relief, remembering the chocolate finger prints we left on his coffee table.
Once out the door we meandered down the Pearl Street Mall. It’s about four blocks worth of shops and restaurants with a brick courtyard running all the way down what would have been the street. The kids loved all the sculptures and flower beds all along the way. We were barely able to walk half of the mall for all the stopping we did for flower-sniffing and boulder-climbing.
We did stop and eat at The Kitchen Next Door. It was yummy and the service was great. This pleased me greatly as my choco-monsters had started to come down from their sugar high and were getting cranky. The kids menu options were awesome too. Gourmet grilled cheese sand which with kale chips? Yes, please!
After lunch we walked back to the truck and headed home. The kids fell asleep in the car and we had a gloriously quiet ride back to Golden. The best part was we were loaded up with some yummy freebies from Justin’s. Now if I can just find a place in the RV to hide all this chocolate from the kids.
Posted on August 4, 2015
We are back from our week-long vacation in Estes Park. It was a beautiful, refreshing week! Now we are back to normal life here in Golden, wherein Caleb is away much of the time either working or training for his upcoming ultra-marathon. But I am doing surprisingly well here this time around.
As I said in an earlier post, I experienced quite a bit of lonliness at the beginning of our travels. I think it hit me so hard because I didn’t see it coming. But things have really improved the past couple of weeks. For one, I have been using my time to pray more, which has helped me see this strange season as God’s best for me. It is hard for me to put this all into words, it still feels largely mysterious to me. I guess I can say that the more I resign myself to my circumstances (in other words, not wishing things were different), the more joy I find.
So all this talk of inner peace and joy would not be complete without some serious stressors, right? Well, you got it! On our way down from Estes Park our transmission went out on our truck (we have affectionately named him Beast). Thankfully, we made it all the way back to Golden before we noticed that transmission fluid was POURING out. We were able to get Beast to the shop right away and now, after $5,000 that we really don’t have, Beast has a newly rebuilt transmission. Yay! We had to put the repair on our credit card and will be working like crazy to pay it off by the end of the year. So much for being debt free (insert sad face).
I see more free time in my future now as we try to conserve in all areas of our budget. I will choose to see this as a good thing.
I’ve been using a lot of this “free time” to write, read and listen to podcasts. I have come to quite enjoy these little pockets of time. It seems as though I am supposed to take advantage of this season… as an exhale of sorts. It’s a time to refresh and rest, to lean into the lonley and find God there. Of course, it’s not all spa days and naps by the pool – It’s my real life, which is largely filled with these two little people.
By the way, can I just say that I love them SO MUCH! I love watching them discover the world. This new RV park we are at has bunnies, dozens of bunnies! Every morning we watch the bunnies come up to our little lawn and bounce around nibbling grass. Abby likes to pretend to be a bunny right along with them. She doesn’t realize she is scaring them away.
Josh, my baby, just started playing peek-a-boo with us. He likes to lay on our bed, completely still, fully covered in blankets, and wait for just the right moment to spring up and make this adorable cackle-laugh. Of course the boy-version of peek-a-boo would have a slightly scary element of surprise. He thinks this is hilarious.
Speaking of my ridiculously cute kiddos, they are waking up from nap time so I must go let them out to enjoy the next four hours of fun before sleep reclaims them. Caleb won’t be home until after 11pm tonight so I’m on duty alone this evening. We might just have pancakes for dinner.