December 26, 2013

Dead Horse Ranch Camping Weekend

I hope and pray that everyone had a Merry Christmas yesterday.  We had just the right amount of Christmas presents and Christmas surprises.  My parents went for the fun and sentimental by buying a slot car track for us and our kids.

I am getting "caught up" with the blogs that I have been wanting to write but limited by time.  I started this sometime in May but didn't get very far.  The pictures were taken with Eric's Nikon and I think that he is also the principle photographer.

We spent Memorial Day weekend of 2013 camping two hours north of the Phoenix-metro area at a state park called Dead Horse Ranch, which is located near the Verde River.  It is a great location to camp for an extra long weekend because it is within 30 minutes of Sedona and even closer to Jerome and Tuzigoot National Monument.
View from our campsite the first night at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.
It reminds me of that scene from Star Wars of Luke at dusk with the setting suns.

Background:  Dead Horse Ranch State Park got its name because a Minnesota family looking to buy a ranch in Arizona decided to buy the ranch that had a dead horse on its property.  They named their ranch "Dead Horse Ranch."  When they decided to sell it to the state, they made the state keep the name.  Most people think of sand, cactus and canyons when they think of Arizona, but this location, like Woods Canyon Lake and other camping areas near a river, this place is GREEN.  It has big Cottonwood trees, tall grasses around the dammed ponds, and I even heard and saw red-winged blackbirds, which is one of the birds I REALLY miss from my days in Lake County, Illinois.  And all this green is surrounded by the red rock cliffs and high desert.
This looks more like a photograph taken in
Lake County, Illinois or Minnesota
rather than Arizona.

However, expanding the scope of the picture adds
elements that you won't find in either IL or MN--cliffs

To do in Dead Horse Ranch State Park:
First of all, Memorial Day weekend was pretty hot.  This is a better place to camp at during the early spring/late fall.
*  Fishing:  There are three stocked ponds and the Verde River.  The problem with camping on Memorial Day is that it is right before they re-stock the lakes, which means that only the REALLY smart fish are there, if any.  We didn't catch anything. If fishing is your focus, check with the park to see when the best times to fish are.
*  Hiking:  There are several trails to hike around the park.  The hike we liked the most took us near the river, where the kids and I took off our shoes and walked around in places up to our knees.  Eric fished without success in a different part of the river.
*  State Junior Ranger Badge activity worksheet:  For those campers who have kids, a lot of state parks and most national parks have Junior Ranger programs where kids complete activity sheets based on the park's features in exchange for a button.
*  Facilities:  Dead Horse Ranch State Park has four camping areas.  We stayed at the Raven loop, which was set up just for tents.  It is the highest camping area in the park, which is NOT ideal for tents.  There were few, short trees around the area and therefore very little respite from the sun unless you have a sunshade, like we do.  Furthermore, while we were there, every afternoon the wind whipped up, blowing up sand.  Therefore, lounging around the tent was NOT an option in this area.  The most ideal place to camp is the Quail Loop, even though it is set up for RV campers, because it is near enough to the river that there are tall trees and grass in the tent areas, which makes the area cooler.  Note:  I have nothing against RV campers other than RVs with air conditioners make a lot of noise and create light pollution that obliterates the stars. There might be some envy, too regarding the sleeping arrangements.  All of the camping areas have free showers, which I REALLY prefer to have when camping.
Wading in the Verde River on a hot day

Because our family is not a fishing family in general and our kids tolerate only so much hiking, we took the opportunity to drive to Jerome and Tuzigoot in one day.  Jerome is a former mining ghost town and current tourist trap, a la Galena to Illinois natives, about 20 minutes of twisty roads from Dead Horse Ranch.  There is a place where you can go to look down one of the mine shafts and a state park which details the town's history.  The town is built on the sides of the mountain, so driving involves twisty roads, also similar to Galena.  We didn't really tour the whole town, so I can't give a review of it.  The state park is nice and gives kids a chance to earn a Junior Ranger badge.  We had our dog with us, so I stayed out with the dog while Eric toured with the kids and then they hung around the outside while I toured the inside.  I didn't spend a lot of time in the museum and have forgotten most of the information.  But I DID spend a lot of time looking at the surrounding area.  You can see the red and white cliffs of Sedona from Jerome.  We could have spent 1/2 a day there touring the rest of the town, but we wanted to see Tuzigoot National Monument.
A view of the closed mine that started Jerome from the State Park parking lot

A view of the red and white rocks of Sedona from Jerome

Tuzigoot National Monument is an the remains of  an old pueblo built by the Sinagua people that sits atop a hill.  What makes Tuzigoot wonderful is that you can tour the remains and actually go inside the biggest building and tour around the surrounding buildings.  There is also a wonderful view of a marsh--yes, that's right, there is a MARSH in Arizona!  The kids picked up their second Junior Ranger badges of the day, this time from the federal government.  Tuzigoot is 10 minutes from the campground.
The main building atop the hill surrounded by
the ruins of support buildings

The kids and I with the main building off to the left.
My youngest is not in the picture, but Jacques is near my feet.

The marsh near Tuzigoot from the hill.  Green surrounded by brown
is common in desert river valleys.

The day we returned home, we took the long way and visited Montezuma Castle., which is roughly 30 minutes away and not too far off of Highway 17, which brings you back into the Valley of the Sun.  It is another National Monument involving Native American ruins.  This is a spectacularly well-preserved pueblo of the cliff-dwelling Sinagua people.  One reason that it is so well preserved is that they do not let people climb in and look at the building.  Because it is built on a cliff, you only get a far-away look. However, the park museum has a video tour of the inside of the house.  It is also located off the Verde River, so the area is surrounded by lovely, tall trees.  It is hard to capture Montezuma's castle's size in photographs because it is so high and so far away from the path.  The picture did I choose was because it does show relative size.  The interesting thing is that if you look closely at the picture, you will see black spots, which are more holes carved out of the cliff.  I can't remember if these were store rooms or more rooms for families or a combination.  Regardless, the ingenuity of these people who made Tuzigoot and Montezuma's castle without the wheel or iron tools is quite impressive.

Eric and I trying to give perspective.
All in all, Dead Horse Ranch, because it is close to so many other places, would be a great place to hang out for a week.  Below are some distances to some other fun places to visit:
Sedona:  30 minutes away.  It has shops and lots of great trails with fabulous views.  Some of the trails have pueblo ruins.  There is a lot of New Age stuff there as well as countless ways to separate you from your money, just like Galena, Illinois.
Slide Rock State Park:  40 minutes away
Oak Creek Canyon:  about 60 minutes away, which is a great day hike.
Lowell Observatory:  about 1 hour.  They give a great tour and, last time we were there, they gave you an opportunity to vote on the Pluto decision.
Wupataki National Monument (more Pueblo Dwellings):  1 hr, 15 min.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Park:  1.5 hours
Note:  Lowell Observatory, Wupataki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Park are all very near Flagstaff.  You could probably do two of the three in a day and have dinner in Flagstaff for a break from camp grub.

December 13, 2013

Christmas Joy

That has been the title of the Winter recital program for Experience Arts School, which has a goal of training future dancers, singers, musicians and thespians to give God glory in their performance.  My girls take aerials there, which is dancing on a long silk fabric that you might see in the circus.  They love doing it and I see it as a way to make them strong physically and bringing beauty and daring into their lives.  One daughter has been disappointed to learn that she would not graduate to the next level as she had hoped to do in the Spring session.  After giving her some comfort, I tried to put it in perspective for her.  I asked her if she enjoyed it and she said that she did.  I asked her if she would enjoy it any less if she had to stay an extra semester at her current level and she said "no."  Then I asked her if she would rather get stronger and better prepared for the next level or flounder by being promoted too soon.  She didn't like the line of questioning at first, but later, admitted that she still enjoyed being in aerials.  And I saw joy in her performance the next day

This year, my goal was to focus on joy.  I haven't been very consistent.  This summer, I was missing my friend and her family, my kids were missing their friends and asking God why He would remove the one homeschool friend that I was content to have.  I started to take my toys and go home.  And then I was miserable because, truly, God is the best friend I could ever have.   He has given me a husband who is my earthly best friend.  He has given me four perfectly wonderful kids who bring me joy in so many unexpected and unconventional ways.  And He is my best friend ever.  He has given me a long distance family that is wonderful, including all the in-laws.  He gave me Jesus, His only Son. Am I being greedy for wanting  demanding more?  I let go and waited and tried to focus on having joy in what God gave me.  In the late summer and fall, I started seeing God answer my questions and bring new people in my life for His perfect purpose.  Joy is a choice, not a feeling, just like love, just like faith.  I can't say that I will always be happy, but I will try and find joy in God, even in unhappy situations.

Joy in running is falling short these days.  I am tired.  I haven't quite made it to being able to run a half marathon yet.  I had been trying to keep up with the "experienced runners running their first marathon", but in truth, I am not experienced.  My left hip started hurting.  I tried to make some changes.  Now my left hip, left foot and right knee hurts when I run distances.  I went to get a short PT evaluation and have exercises to do.  I am going to take a short break while I do the exercises every day and join the "couch potato to marathon runners" because I am a couch potato at heart.  I will continue to train because the Bible says that perseverance builds character and because the long runs are a time when the Holy Spirit speaks to me about my kids, my life and my walk with Him and how He is using this training for training in godliness.  And that is where my joy in running is found.

My preparations for Christmas are noticeably lacking this year except for trying to focus on Jesus.  We have the tree up and decorations out.  I haven't stepped foot in any store since before we left for Thanksgiving. We haven't watched a single Christmas movie or TV show.  Christmas cookies are non-existent.   But I am hoping to have friends over to help me make cookies and take some of them home with them.  And this is the Advent, or season of waiting, so most of my preparations might take place the last week of Christmas.  And God is blessing this Christmas season without any of my "preparation."

May God bless you and your family this Christmas season with His presence and fill you with His joy.

Tandemingtroll and family (who was photobombed by a precious and very cute nephew in their Thanskgiving family portrait)