Posted in hikes

hiking with littles: superstition mountains – treasure loop trail

Now that our very wet winter has come to an end, the desert has burst into life with a wild spring bloom, and I’ve been trying to take the kids out to see the mountains turned green with wildflowers decorating the slopes. My mood always tends to improve as the colder and grayer season ends (can’t imagine what I’d be like if I lived elsewhere), so I’ve had the energy and motivation to hike again – and the prospect of flowers definitely adds to that motivation!

The day we chose to hike the Treasure Loop trail in the Superstition Mountains was unfortunately cloudy and rainy, so many of the flowers stayed hidden away, but it was still a beautiful hike.

Treasure Loop trail is almost 2.5 miles long and moderately difficult – the trail is broad and well-marked, but it can be steep and slippery in places. We took a few hours doing it… in out defense, we stopped to smell the flowers a time or two (and count their petals, in Limerick’s case):

We also took time to climb up some boulders near the path and pretend to be mountain lions:

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And of course we took breaks for snuggles and snacks (the bench at the overlook was really timed perfectly for the kids’ hunger):

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The cold and wind did make the hike considerably more challenging, as Aubade really dislikes being cold and getting wind in her face (we’ve had this issue on other hikes). Because the trail ended up being a lot colder than our home just 30 minutes away, Aubade wore my jacket for most of the hike, which helped and was adorable but left me rather cold as a result πŸ™‚ I guess it’s just a reminder to check the weather at the actual trailhead before deciding what to wear!

For others considering Treasure Loop, I’d say it would take much less time with just slightly older kids – we were mostly slowed down by Aubade (and our spirit of exploration!). Good footwear is important though as the trail can get quite slippery once you start coming back down the slope. This is a fairly popular trail from what I could tell, based on the number of other hikers we saw on a weekday, but it wasn’t overly crowded. It can be accessed from free parking spots by the First Water trailhead, or through the Lost Dutchman state park for a $7.00 entrance fee (as well as a shorter hike and good bathrooms, both of which were needed with my little hikers). We enjoyed it and I’m sure we’ll be back next spring πŸ™‚

How to get there from the East Valley: take the 60 to Apache Junction and exit on Idaho Road; turn right onto Apache Trail and continue until you reach the entrance to the Lost Dutchman State Park. The entrance fee is $7.00 and the ranger will give you a map of the trails and state park roads/parking lots.

Posted in family life

playing in compost

More than a year and a half after moving in, we’re finally nearing the end of the backyard project: we’re putting in the lawn!

Most lawns out here are bermuda grass in the summer, overseeded with rye in the winter, which makes for a nice grass lawn but takes a lot of effort (and water) to maintain. So since we had a blank slate to work with, I wanted to try something different, and I’ve been researching the question for the past year or so. Most lawn alternatives aren’t quite hardy enough for the summers here, but I ended up choosing a miniature clover variety, interspersed withΒ Herniaria glabra and Roman chamomile (and wildflowers for fun, in hopes of butterflies).

The exciting part for the kids, of course, was spreading compost out over the native soil (which seems like clay to me, though it once supported cotton fields). When you’re little, rolling around is soft dirt is pretty awesome, especially when the air is cool and the soil is warm enough to steam up into the air.

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And of course there’s jumping into the piles before they get raked down.

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Not to mention running all over it, soft underfoot, warm against the chill of the morning, cold air rushing in your face and lungs:

Or digging in it, rolling around in it, burrowing into it, and just generally becoming covered in it!

You could even help spread it out, if you were feeling so inclined.

It was definitely an adventure getting them all cleaned up afterwards, but the happiness of getting dirty was more than worth it. They lasted almost two hours before wanting to come in and eat breakfast, and went out again later in the morning! Now, while we’re waiting for the seeds to germinate, they are pretending it’s all lava and creeping around the completed edges of the yard instead πŸ™‚ And I’m just waiting to see if all the effort pays off and green can come out of all that brown.

 

Posted in family life

spontaneity and snow storms

Last Wednesday I looked at the weather forecast and realized that two days of cold rain here in the valley would most likely mean two days of snow up north. I thought to myself that a day trip might be nice, on Friday or Saturday depending on the road conditions, but when I bounced the idea off of Paul and my mom (both of whom might have appreciated a day trip being scheduled when they could join me), my mom suggested that I go up before the storm and stay through it so as not to worry about the roads at all. And Paul thought that sounded like a great idea and a good reason to take a few days off of work, so I set about planning it.

Note: this idea was forged late Wednesday morning, and the storm was scheduled to hit around 9 o’clock that evening. So that left me with about six hours to find a place to stay, pack two days worth of food in case we ended up snowed in, buy or borrow snow gear for the entire family, and pack clothes, activities, and other necessary items. I definitely had some moments where I regretted ever having had the idea to play in the snow in the first place! (Like when Paul called to tell me his car battery died so I would also need to pack for him and pick him up at work on the way up, when I had been hoping for his help as the crazy late afternoon itch hit the kids…)

In the end, however, I am so glad that I didn’t let my anxiety or insecurity change my mind.

Thanks to Air BNB allowing same-day booking, we found a little house in Prescott Valley that didn’t seem likely to necessitate four wheel drive (I lost a couple hours agonizing over a different cabin that was absolutely gorgeous but whose owner was very concerned about us being stranded there), and took the kids to experience real snow – not just flurries or random patches on the ground – for the first time in their lives. And this was serious snow. Prescott Valley averages 5 inches of snow in the month of February, but this storm brought in about two feet in just two days (the official totals range from 21 to 28 inches depending on location in the city) – and we were there to watch it all come down, to feel the fluffy lightness of the new snow and the dense strength of the old, to wake up to icicles on the eaves and a world glittering like a preschool art project, to taste the ethereal coldness of snow dissolving like cotton candy in our mouths, to catch individual flakes on our jackets and marvel at their complexity, to be pelted by hard fast-falling half-melting and refreezing almost-hail flakes, to see the world turn suddenly white and new.

Rondel was a huge help preparing for the trip, because he was so excited about the chance to go up to the mountains to see snow, and so he cooperated with all the crazy last-minute packing and helped keep Aubade and Limerick happy all afternoon – and when we got there, he loved the snow just as much as he anticipated (though I think he didn’t realize just how cold it would be!). He ate the snow, he pretended to be the unstoppable boar from a Kung Fu Panda short (in other words, he knocked people over and was knocked over into the snow quite often), and he just generally relished in the opportunity to run and play in it!

Limerick had a slightly harder time with the snow – the depth made it harder for him to move around, and he got cold more quickly. But he still enjoyed it quite a bit, in his quieter way. On one of our excursions, when Rondel was chasing me around as Boar Unstoppable, I made a snowball for Limerick that just didn’t seem to break, no matter how many times he threw it at me, so we dubbed it the Indestructible Snowball of Doom. Every time Rondel would knock me over Limerick would come up with the snowball and drop it on me and the look of mischievous glee on his face was so hilarious that I could hardly push myself up out of the snow from laughing so hard.

Aubade really wanted to like the snow; she wanted to go out anytime anyone else went out; but she got cold really fast and struggled to walk through the snow as well. It didn’t help that I couldn’t find more waterproof mittens in her size and had to settle for lined fleece ones, either – the few times I put her in Limerick’s mittens she seemed to last longer despite having almost no control over her hands. She did have a lot of fun until she got cold, though, and she definitely enjoyed getting all bundled up in the snow clothes πŸ˜›

All in all, it was one of the best times we’ve had as a family (and definitely the most spontaneous!). There was so little tension and so much laughter, as all of us were able to relax into the wonder and excitement and peace of our time away. And as Rondel keeps reminding us, each time he sees the snow-capped mountains in the distance, we will definitely go back north again some day.

Posted in family life

lizard love!

We are now officially pet owners!

Rondel had been asking us for months when we would get an animal of our own (seemingly taking it for granted that someday we would), and slowly things fell into place for us to be able to buy a pair of green anole lizards. Rondel and I talked about different types of animals and researched how to take care of them; Paul took him to pet stores to see the animals in person; and so we settled on lizards as an acceptable option. Paul found a tank and lamp at Savers; Rondel made a hide from a wooden puzzle box; I watched YouTube videos with Rondel about setting up the tank so the lizards could be comfortable and safe.

And finally, after days of Rondel asking us when, when,Β when? – we finally brought them home.

Aubade and Rondel were immediately entranced with them, pulling up chairs by the bookshelf and watching them explore their new home (it looks a bit bare in these first few pictures, but we’ve since added more vines and climbing sticks).

After a few days of helping them to adjust, and the addition of twenty little crickets to the tank (buying those at the pet store was definitely a new experience for me… the employee just reached into this big bin of crickets and started shaking them into a bag and they were hopping everywhere!), Rondel was able to hold them, one at a time, to his great delight. While the lizards were not sure about being handled at first, they seem to have become a lot more comfortable with Rondel, and he is definitely comfortable with them. He asks if he can take them out at least 3-4 times every day, and plays with them longer and longer each time. At this point he is able to gently lift one from the tank (I remove and replace the cover), remain calm and gentle while letting it climb all over him (he’s getting good at directing where they climb, also, though they both still try to get to the center of his upper back when they can), retrieve it if it hops off of him onto the floor, and gently return it to the tank when he is done.

I am greatly impressed.

He also keeps an eye on the temperature and humidity gauges, and knows how to mist the tank through the cover if the humidity is below the recommended range.

In short, especially for a five year old, he is showing himself to be quite responsible and very natural with the lizards… and he has already started asking when we will get more animals! If things go his way we will end up living in a zoo – and he would be such a happy little person, so I suppose more animals will be inevitable at some point. But for now we will just enjoy these two green additions to our home.

Posted in family life

aubade’s second birthday

It’s hard to lose the habit of calling one’s youngest child “baby”, I think. The older siblings protest as they grow, and the name passes on to the younger ones – but it holds on more tightly when there is no one to take up the mantle.

Still, now that Aubade is two, we don’t really have any babies in the family anymore, no matter how much we still call her our baby.

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At two, Aubade is hitting a verbal growth spurt, leaping from the occasional echoed two-word phrase to consistent spontaneous three and four word phrases – linking words are still a challenge, but her vocabulary is expanding exponentially. She has always been adept at communicating her thoughts, and it is so fun (and often amusing) to watch her incorporate language into that communication more and more.

Far more than either of the boys, Aubade has developed an attachment to certain toys (a few stuffed animals and a few hard rubber animals, alternating depending on her mood and the demands of the situation) and an affinity for choosing her own clothes. To be honest, she’s enjoyed selecting her own outfits for at least a year now – but at this point she likes clothes enough that she considers them birthday presents worth getting excited about. She even has a hierarchy of favorite pajamas… as she was telling me when I asked her what she wanted to wear, “bear jammies dirty… food on it. puppy jammies dirty… food on it. firetruck jammies!” (She did not have food on her dirty pajamas, but that is her current understanding of why clothes need to be washed. Wearing something for two consecutive days and nights apparently doesn’t count if you haven’t covered it in food…)

She loves to be held but she also loves to climb on your head and flip upside down in your arms; she pulls her brothers all around the house but also loves to find herself snuggled up with them, and never goes to bed without making sure to give them both a goodnight hug.

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She wants to do everything her brothers can do, and do it all by herself, and she has perfected the sideways glare, the downwards pout, and the backwards flop to use when she isn’t allowed to do something she wants. Also the persistent requesting of the thing desired, with perfect confidence, until you start to wonder why you aren’t just doing what she wants after all πŸ™‚

She loves fiercely and plays fiercely and fights fiercely, all over tooth and claw and growls and pouncing possession of all things good and desirable as hers.

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She gets very enthusiastic about something for a short time, then moves on to the next thing – she doesn’t have the deep and lasting interests that the boys had even at this age, but rather roams widely over a variety of objects and activities. Limerick, for example, was happy to sit still on a three hour airplane flight with a magnet board drawing letters before he was even two years old; Rondel could spend hours talking about cars; but Aubade needs to be able to move, mostly, and to have a range of toys (or other medium-sized things) to move around with her. I think that means she is a typically developing two-year-old and that we have nothing to be concerned about!

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When she gets excited about something, she wiggles side to side in a manner slightly reminiscent of a satisfied feline. She will pretend to cough or laugh just to make other people laugh at her, and she has a smile that is almost a smirk that she flashes just for the answering attention of a smile in return. Far more so than the boys, she is tuned in to the people around her, seeking out eye contact and thriving on back-and-forth interactions, copying social behaviors and imitating types of play.

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But more than anything else? She is light and laughter, the flashing energy pulse of our family, the multiplier of our love – her very own self, just beginning to take on her own unique shape and form, unfolding in bright bold colors like a sudden grin or the brilliant burst of a firework.

Posted in family life

the rainy remnants of rosa

The Phoenix area was hit by the remnants of Hurricane Rosa, a category 4 hurricane, this week. My dad, who is from Miami, was going around humorously asking everyone if they were ready for the hurricane, but of course by the time it got to us it was just a big rainstorm. Still! A big rainstorm in October isn’t common, and this storm actually gave us the rainiest October day in Arizona recorded history (which goes back, in terms of weather records, to 1895). Even crazier, of the top ten wettest days in Arizona, this was number eight and was the only one that my kids have been alive for (except for Rondel, who was just over one year old when we had the wettest recorded day in Arizona history).

 

So what do you do when there is more rain coming down than you have ever seen in one day in your entire life?

You drop everything else and immerse yourself in it, of course!

My two adventurers were out in their pajamas by 7am (I mean, why get dressed only to get immediately soaked and need to change?), and must have stayed out for at least an hour before they decided they needed to eat breakfast. And after breakfast they were right back out in it, with Limerick this time (but in their underwear, so no publicly shareable pictures unfortunately). Limerick found the big hole in the yard that was completely submerged and hidden, pulled the toy car out of it, and measured how deep it was on his legs (almost to his knees); Rondel pushed Aubade around the yard in the rescued car until it got stuck in the mud.

I learned that one of my children likes to get extremely muddy, one likes to get extremely wet and can handle the mud along with it, and the third somehow manages to stay almost clean even in a mud puddle and prefers to remain at least somewhat dry.

Aubade is, obviously, my mudlover… she is completely in her element when she is outside getting dirty, and I hope she never loses that. Limerick gets cold so easily that he preferred to sit just inside the house or under the patio overhang, learning how to multiply two-digit numbers with my mom while I hung out with the mud babies πŸ˜› But we all loved it – and there is rain in the forecast again next week so maybe we will get a repeat!

Is rain a normal occurrence or a special event where you live? Do you love it or tolerate it?

 

Posted in hikes

hiking with littles: horton creek

When I worked full-time, I would seasonally find myself walking back to my car at dusk past a row of orange trees in bloom. If you have never had the privilege of smelling orange blossoms, I feel sorry for you; sweet and sensual with a sharp almost spicy bite underneath, their perfume would flood the evening air, overshadowing the smells of asphalt and car fumes and cooking dinners in the nearby apartments. There aren’t many other plants whose scent is quite so powerful and intense (I believe lilacs are, though I haven’t lived in a place where they grow since I was very young).

Here in Arizona, one of the only other such plants that I can think of is the ponderosa pine. While there are many different species of pine, including several native to northern Arizona, the ponderosa has a very distinct scent: like honey and vanilla, with a whiff of hazelnut, sweet and heavy and warm, with only that faint nuttiness in the background in place of any other bitterness or spice. When the trees are healthy and hydrated, the sun’s warmth seems to pull the odors out into the air (or maybe keep them from blowing away), giving the whole forest a unique character. If orange blossoms make me think of a tower room with sunset-colored hangings, blowing in the breeze of an open window, where a couple is about to share in each other’s mysteries, then the smell of the ponderosa bark lingering in the air reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s description of Perelandra, where the outside air among the trees has a warmth and golden richness that our crisp cool world is lacking.

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image is of a ponderosa pine, looking up the trunk toward the sun-illuminated branches. They are very tall trees.

If my feeble attempts at describing their aroma have managed to convince you that you need to immerse yourself in the ponderosas at least once in your life, then Horton Creek Trailhead should be on your shortlist. Ponderosas are scattered all over northern Arizona, but they must be particularly concentrated here because their scent nearly overpowered me when I stepped out of the car, in contrast to Ellison Creek and Tonto Natural Bridge State ParkΒ (which have more of the typical clear, clean feeling in the air).

Parking for the trail is a short walk away from the actual trailhead, and two small creeks actually run near each other (and eventually join up, I believe) near the parking area, which led to some confusion on our part. So at first, instead of heading down the actual Horton Creek trailhead, we wandered up Tonto Creek along an elk trail and through the water. The grass was consistently up to Aubade’s chest and in some places was higher than Limerick; the creek meandered through level ground in places instead of the typical steep canyon; and blackberry bushes threatened to overtake the entire western side of the creek.

All that to say, it was wild and overgrown and absolutely beautiful.

A short ways up the creek (short by the road; long by way of elk trails with an 18 month old who won’t walk because the grass is too tall) there is a short waterfall with a small pool at the bottom; just to the west of the falls is a path up to the road, and at the base of the falls below that trail is one of the largest blackberry thickets I have ever seen. We were a bit late for blackberries – I found about 10 ripe ones within reach – but I’m thinking that sometime in early September the bushes should just be covered with berries.

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Being just a bit too late for the blackberries also meant that we were just a bit too early for the fall colors; only the sumac and a few other isolated leaves were beginning to deepen into red. Coming from the low desert, we still got quite excited about it, and we’ll probably be going up north more often over the next month or so to catch more of the changing autumn colors.

After we reached the waterfall, my mom hiked a bit further with the boys while Aubade nursed (teething plus the long grass had made her miserable – I was so glad to have another adult with me!), and we found an open area near the creek to play for a while.

After that, we went downstream to the waterfall again and up to the road and back to the parking area for lunch. At that point, my mom wanted to find out where an actual trail was; she had hiked here before and was confused as to why the creek seemed so different than she remembered. So she explored a bit further down the road and discovered that we had actually been on Tonto Creek and never made it to the Horton Creek trailhead – where there was a very well-kept and walkable trail.

Since the boys still had enough energy, we decided to check out the real trail as well! It turned out to be wide and sandy, leading up the high ground between Tonto Creek and Horton Creek. Horton Creek was mostly dry at the beginning of the hike, unlike Tonto, although other hikers told us there was running water a mile or so down the trail; it was still incredibly green and lush, however. Aubade had a much better time on this trail since she didn’t have to push her way through the grass πŸ™‚

If we go back to Horton Creek, I would try to do the designated trail first, while everyone has energy and the temperature is lower, and then play in Tonto Creek after lunch. And I do think this is a spot worth going back to – there is a lot left unexplored, and I have the feeling that things change a lot here seasonally, with berries, changing leaves, and fluctuating water levels. Without another adult I would be loathe to attempt more than the well-marked Horton Creek trail, however! It was a challenge getting everyone through the undergrowth around Tonto, though worth it for the hidden beauty.

To reach Horton Creek Trailhead from the East Valley: Take the 87 north to the center of Payson and turn right onto AZ-260 E at the McDonalds; about 16 miles later turn left on Nf-289. The parking area for the trail is on the left just after a one-lane bridge; it is marked and has a vault toilet and picnic tables. To get to the trail, walk back down the road across the bridge and up towards the Horton Creek Campground. The trailhead is at the base of the campground and is well marked.

When to go: For maximum water flow, go in spring after the snow melt or during the monsoons. For blackberries, go anytime from late August through mid-September. For fall colors, go in October. And I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’m guessing that April or May would be best for wildflowers πŸ™‚