Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Twentynine Palms

After our return from Michigan on Sunday evening (see previous blog) Max and I had one day to recover, do our laundry, and prepare for our next adventure.  Now I want to chime in here.  We are really rushing this to "publish"- hopefully we'll proofread at least enough. But the Kappel's arrive tomorrow- and of course there will be Thanksgiving (and a baby baptism thrown in just for a bit more excitement)- so we are really up against a deadline.  So here goes!
This next trip involved much more extensive travel taking us to Twentynine Palms, CA which sits on the southwestern edge of the Mojave Desert.  Twentynine Palms is a town, but more than that it is home to the Marine Corps largest Base.  The desert terrain around the base provides an environment not very different from parts of Afghanistan, and consequently it provides excellent training for the Marines who deploy there.

But we didn’t go there for the dry desert air or the scenery of Joshua Tree National Park that is adjacent to the town, we went to see Clint who had just several weeks before returned from Afghanistan, and also to meet our new  granddaughter, Amelia Cole Kappel, who arrived on October 11.  Of course we can’t forget Amelia’s siblings, Reeder, Hayes and Weiler, or Marianne who has contained and nourished these children during Clint’s long deployments to the Middle East.

Twentynine Palms is not a an easy place to get to.  The closest airports are over an hour away and not on the main routes of airlines that leave from Cincinnati.  We have driven there once, but that is a 4100 mile round trip.  So our routine approach is to fly from Cincinnati to Las Vegas and then rent a car and drive  the 175 miles across the Mojave Desert to Twentynine Palms.  The road is mostly two lane and very straight with almost no traffic.  The speed limit is 55, but we usually can make the trip in about 2 hours and 15 minutes.  You can calculate how fast we drive on your own. Let's be real honest.  This is a beautiful country- and there is certainly beauty in the desert.  But by my calculation this was our 9th and 10th trips driving across the Mojave Desert.  I'm really over the desert.  I'm ready to move on. ENOUGH ALREADY!

We arrived on October 31 and our first priority was to see Amelia, as Clint was at work.

She is a beauty! Big eyes, dark hair, gorgeous olive complexion.  It was love at first sight.  And so cuddly!

And, of course, October 31 is Halloween, and on a Military base in a base officer housing neighborhood where all the residents are married with young 1 to 1+n children each, Halloween is a BIG DEAL!
I wasn't ready for Halloween on a Marine Base for families.  Now I knew from our previous trips that Marines have a lot of children.  In the United States the "average" child per family around 1.8.  But not on a Marine Base- don't think they got the memo on average family size.  Now I don't have any statistics to back this up- but I think the average is at least 3 per family.  Well I watched this parade of children on Halloween and I'm real comfortable with my numbers!

Reeder was a princes with a peacock mask

Hayes was a Ninja, Blue Man, Monster Truck Driver.  That boy is creative.

Weiler became a skeleton wearing his skeleton pj's, although somewhat grudgingly.  It was his first Halloween in which he participated, and all of this seemed a bit scary to him.  But once he figured out that people were giving you candy if you just walked up to their house, he was on board!  That boy does like candy and before long he was running up to the houses with the big kids.

Max assumed responsibility of Amelia, that is when Amelia wasn't hungry. Marianne and I sat out front- I held Amelia and Marianne passed out candy.  We started with a BIG TUB of candy.  The steady stream (sometimes you might even say a mob) of children- often accompanied by their Marine father- started the parade that continued without any pause for 2 and a half hours.  I was totally amazed.  I don't ever remember seeing that many children...

But she definitely wasn't alone in working on this duty.  Holding this 3 week old little girl was shared by many and Amelia didn't complain.

Some children are tough to photograph either because they sense the picture being taken and pose or they sense the picture and have a negative reaction.  But Weiler and Hayes seem to have this amazing relationship with my camera.  Maybe it's because I try to photograph them from a distance with a telephoto lens, but for what ever reason I love what I capture with them in front of my lens. As you can tell Don was in his photographer role for this visit!  And the pictures are wonderful!

Reeder can be tougher to capture, but when we do it is worth the number of failures.  

When we go to Twentynine Palms, we always try to get into Joshua Tree National Park and this trip was no exception.  Clint had to work, but we took the kids (all four) for a hike.  Amelia enjoyed being strapped onto to either Max or her Mom, and occasionally Weiler got a lift, but Reeder and Hayes took off for an afternoon of rock climbing.  We were at a place called Jumbo Rocks.  The name is pretty obvious once you get there.  The geology provides rocks the size of houses to small buildings that have been exposed by erosion leaving Jumbo Rocks.  Reeder and Hayes love to climb among these rocks. Now I might mention here that I'm really not that into rock climbing- hiking yes- rock climbing no!

We had a picnic lunch before starting out and soon Reeder and Hayes were out of sight as they scrambled up the rocks.  Marianne's friend and routine companion on her "interesting adventures", Jessica, arrived just after lunch and joined us with her infant son Gabe.

My 300X telephoto zoom lens certainly came in handy.  These two had no fear and climbed among the rocks like a couple of ants.

There is a trail back through the boulders, but we quickly lost it and just kept heading toward the sounds of Reeder and Hayes.  We found a narrow route and squeezed between a couple of "rocks" and finally came out into an open area where we relaxed. Have I mentioned that I really am not that into rock climbing- particularly rock climbing with a baby packed on my chest... Just saying...


The two babies slept well strapped onto Max and Jessica.

While the babies had their next meal of the day we noticed that we hadn't seen Reeder or Hayes for a while.  Eventually Reeder returned to let us know that Hayes was stranded in a spot he couldn't climb out of and needed a little help.  Reeder led me to him, and I'm not really sure how he got down there, but with a little effort and some heavy lifting I got him out.  At least he wasn't hurt, just a little scared before I got there.

Once we got back to the car Marianne wanted to visit one more spot before heading back.  There is a small patch of this desert that for what ever reason seems to be perfect for the growth of cholla cacti.  These cholla are often called Jumping Cholla or even Teddy Bear Cholla.  They got these names because they do look so cuddly, but if one gets too close they seem to jump right into your skin and stick there.  The pieces break off easily and that is one of their mechanisms of reproduction by hooking onto an animal or human and getting carried to a new spot where it comes off and eventually grows into a new plan.

Finally, on our last day (at least our last day for the next four years) we had a final lunch at the Officer's Club with Clint.  I finally confessed my insistence every visit on at least one trip to the Officers Club for lunch.  You would too- well at least all of our female readers would.  There is just something very, very, very pleasant about sitting in a large dining room filled with gorgeous- really "buff" young men.  It's not the food- it's the view- and not out any window.  And then we headed back across the Mojave towards Las Vegas for our flight home.  Twentynine Palms has some wonderful things about it (the community of Marine families and Joshua Tree National Park), but we will be very glad to have the Kappel family back in our own time zone for the next several years. Which is why we're in a bit of a rush to publish this blog- the Kappel's arrive tomorrow on their way to their next assignment.  Clint has been assigned to the Pentagon- and the Kappel family will be living in Arlington, Virginia- a days drive from Cincinnati.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

We are a little bit behind in our blogs, but we have a pretty good excuse which will be more clear once we post the next blog. Now I know maybe some folks might think a couple or three weeks is a "bit behind" but quite frankly I think we're a little early with this one.  Why it's not quite Thanksgiving and we're going to wrap up Halloween before the next big celebration starts.  Don't you agree- we're really quite early with this one?

We drove up to Rochester Hills, Michigan in late October to see Brandy, Will and Mikayla, and also joining us in Michigan were Amber and Evan.  It was typically cool in Michigan and we had a Saturday full of outdoor activities.  But to be honest, this blog isn't really about information about our trip but rather a photo album on cute pictures. Don took his camera- so let the fun begin.

First of all, Mikayla had soccer practice.  We all dressed appropriately and set out for the park where her "practice" is held.  It was windy with temperatures in the high 40's.  Now if you're thinking maybe the expression on my face is just the pleasure of watching Mikayla running up and down a soccer field you would be wrong.  I was just shivering.  I'm trying to get use to the Michigan cold!

Mikayla was also well layered and particularly enjoyed protecting the goal. Notice the intensity!

She gets great coaching from her dad as well as an occasional knee on which to rest during slow times during the "game".

But Mikayla also likes to run and can give the ball a pretty good "kick".

Mikayla did kick the ball from time to time, but the running was what held the attraction so once the ball was kicked she could out run it anytime!

After soccer we headed to the "pumpkin patch" to pick out pumpkins for the later Jack-O-Lantern carving.  Mikayla quickly found some of the larger specimens.

Amber and Even also found their  favorites.  

Brandy and Will get quite serious about pumpkin carving.  The had purchased special tools, stencil, and pumpkin scrapers.  The dining table was set up as a work station and the four of them focused on their respective designs. Now Don and I did pick out a pumpkin and carried it home to Cincinnati- uncarved.  It now sits quite comfortably outside our kitchen window.  Tis the season.

Mikayla and Max set close by and offered constructive advice about the process and the designs.  Of course neither of them were terribly focused on the process, but mostly on enjoying the occasion.

The products were pretty amazing!  Note the one on the bottom left done by Evan, an excellent rendering of his New England Patriots emblem.

And of course the whole group had to pose on the Broadbent's deck to show off their work.  Max and I didn't really do anything except take the pictures and keep Mikayla entertained while the workers dug out the pumpkins and carved the designs.  I consider our contribution to be one of supervision and direction. Mikayla of course was in charge! You might note that there are 5 pumpkins and only 4 pumpkin carvers.  Well, Mikayla's pumpkin is the the one on the top left.  Mikayla was of course the artistic inspiration. She picked out the design and her Daddy did the work.  

And finally a mug shot with all twelve mugs in the picture.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hocking Hills

Last year after all of the festivities of Amber and Evan's wedding were over we received an unexpected wonderful gift.  The newly weds sent us a gift certificate for use in renting a cabin for a stay in Hocking Hills State Park, one of our favorite places to hike. When the kids were all home we took regular trips in the fall and the spring- to cabins in woods (Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky) or to quaint bed and breakfasts and inns (Amish country and down to Shaker Village in Kentucky).  It was the only time we had just the two of us.  Now all the kids have moved away and we have plenty- I mean plenty- of time just the two of us.  Now our trips are planned to see one "kid" or another as we've trekked about to Florida, California, Nevada, Illinois and now Michigan.  Occasionally we might tuck an "adventure" such as our recent stop over at New Orleans, but our travel was to see family and friends.  What a treat this gift was!  I'd forgotten what fun to "escape" to the quiet.  And I sometimes forget how much fun it is to hike- and how satisfying the muscle soreness is at the end of the day.  So to Amber and Evan I am so, so, so very thankful.  Besides- the amazing time I had at their wedding was gift enough. But this trip was just so very lovely I want to do it again- maybe not this same trip- but the "togetherness" we have in the middle of our "to do" lists isn't the same as when we're away and the "to do"s just melt away.  

Hocking Hills is in southwestern Ohio about a 2.5 hour drive from our house.  We made plans to use the gift certificate several times in the Spring but every time we'd think we had a date we'd look at the weather and it would be rainy and cold- not the experience we were looking for.  And we really didn't want to go in the summer- the heat does discourage hiking but even more than that it is a popular destination and we'd risk waiting in a line for hiking!  We finally decided to go in early October.  We were there for 3 nights in our log cabin, roughing it in the woods.

I suppose "roughing it" is a bit of an exaggeration.  Our cabin was well isolated at the top of a hill (importance noted later) with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room and dining table, a flat screen T.V. (well it was only a 32 inch one, certainly rough it for us) with Dish T.V., a fully equipped kitchen (but no dishwasher), a huge stone fireplace, and a porch with a porch swing and a hot tub.  All we could see out of the windows or from the porch was trees, trees that were just turning reds, yellows, and orange.  Fall is the most beautiful time in Ohio.  The trees are majestic as they begin to turn bold colors.  The air is crisp and cool.  It's worth waiting all year for!

And even better, the cabin was "pet friendly", so we also got to take Brutus with us. This was Brutus' first vacation.  I don't think he knew exactly what was happening but he quickly figured out that this was a good, good time!  

I even hauled a good supply of over sized firewood logs (too big to fit into my wood stove at home) so we had a fire every night which was perfect given the cool night air. I love Don's fires! They are amazing- and my only responsibility is to enjoy!  How's that for responsibility!

The TV allowed us to watch our Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs against San Francisco.  They had lots of chances to win, but just couldn't seem to score runs when they had the chance, but that didn't spoil our experience.  We'll still watch next year.  Now our allegiance is firmly with the Reds!  But that said I did leave a bit of my heart in San Francisco- so if the Reds can't go to the Series then I'm all for cheering San Francisco on!

We even took Max's new electronic key board so she wouldn't miss out on practicing her piano.  I'm just glad she didn't want to take the real piano. We took the keyboard up to the loft (well I took it up- Don took it down) and set it up next to the window.  This room was the only "bright" spot in the cabin with not only the floor to ceiling window but also a big sky light.  What a treat to play in this room!

And finally, because our log cabin was at the top of a hill, we actually had cell phone access.  Sometimes I had to hold the phone up above my head, but we have a signal. We didn't want to totally leave our technology behind!

But Hocking Hills is about hiking.  We planned a fairly long loop hike of 6.5 miles (I just asked Don again if he was sure it was only 6.5 miles- I would swear it was more like 12!) for our first day and it was wonderful.  The park sits on a 150 feet thick layer of sandstone that was deposited in three layers.  The center layer is soft, crumbly and very erodible that makes up the interesting geological parts of the park.  With less erodible layers on top and on bottom, the center layer erodes from water and weather to form large overhangs of rock.  Old Man's Cave is one of these where the overhang extends over the gorge for about 100 feet and it is rumored that an Old Man who was a hermit lived there for a number of year.

Occasionally the overhang gets too heavy and gravity takes over.  Our trail had to detour this large slab that lost to gravity.

The trails meandered along stream beds and above on the gorge rims giving us beautiful views and occasional climbs or descents when the trail switched between the stream bed and the gorge.

The trees in the park are mostly mixed hardwoods with lots of hemlocks. It was here in Hocking Hills that I first fell in love with a tree!  I fell head over heels in love with the Hemlock tree.  It is so delicate- almost like lace.  I'd never see it before- they don't grow in the south- they like cooler weather- And for me it was love at first sight.  Now by this time- after living with Don for over 18 years I have an affection for many trees- and can now name more than a dozen without hints- but you never forget your first love- And walking in Hocking Hills is an overdose of love! Just look at how delicate the leaves are!

In fact the largest hemlock in Ohio is in the park.  It is about 160 tall.  These trees look like they grow right out of the rock with the roots clinging to the stone. But for me it's not the size- or the roots- it's the delicacy of the leaves...

The geology of this area has been sculptured mostly by water, but this year has been exceptionally dry. Our longest hike started at the upper falls of the Old Man's Cave gorge, followed the gorge rim and then eventually crossed the stream on an earthen dam that formed a lake and then changed to a new stream that took us to Cedar Falls.  The lake is in the pictures below.

Max found this little Aster with a small bug in it.  It was too good a picture to pass up.

 From Cedar Falls  we followed the stream beds back to the lower falls of Old Man's Cave.  Unfortunately the falls were trickles at best and just wet rock at the worst.  Here is the trickle at Cedar Falls.  The plaque at Cedar Falls indicates it was so named because the early settlers of the area didn't know the difference between cedar trees and hemlocks.  There is not a cedar tree anywhere near this area.

And here are the falls at Old Man's Cave

 As I said, we did go up and down a lot on our hikes.  Some of the transitions were gentle, but most were either carved out of the rock or built out of wood.

Our second day got a later start since we were awaiting word on the arrival of our newest grand daughter, Amelia Cole Kappel.  Yes- you heard it right- we have a beautiful new granddaughter.  Marianne was scheduled for a c-section so we had a pretty good idea when Clint might call- but having a pretty good idea isn't knowing.  So we waited- and held our breath- and the call came.  We have a beautiful granddaughter.  Now you're going to see her picture soon because we'll be off to California next week- so for now you're just going to have to take our work for it.  She's a beauty!

We decided to hike a new area on the north edge of the park called Cantwell Cliffs.  This was much the same geology with even more climbing up to the gorge rim and back down again.

As you might guess, we were pretty tired after our days of hiking.  I have to admit the hot tub felt good at night.

What a wonderful time!  Thanks again Amber and Evan!