Tag Archives: travel

Family adventuring in the Caribbean

A few months before Christmas we warned our children that we did not want presents to be the focus of the season. We were going to think about what we wanted to give. No lengthy lists of all the items they wanted for Christmas. This season was going to be about the Savior and what we could do to be more like him. Shocking us, one of our children actually said, “I think that will help us all be happier.” Wise little souls they can be.

What we didn’t tell them was that our family Christmas present was going to be a surprise trip to Mexico, leaving the day after Christmas. On Christmas morning, they unwrapped a few little gifts they had gotten for each other and opened their stockings with treats from Santa. Then they each got one gift bag from Mom and Dad. As they looked inside and found a swimming suit, flip flops, and snorkel set, they got a little suspicious and all looked our way, waiting. We sat there and just said “Merry Christmas!” They stared. We giggled and then said, “OK, we have one more thing.” Then we gave them each an envelope with a bow. Inside the envelope, each child found a copy of a plane ticket to Cancun and a few photographs of the white sand, turquoise beaches we’d be enjoying for the next week. They jumped and screamed and Ellie even said “I knew you were going to do something like that!!” She’s very perceptive. So we packed our bags that day and took off the next morning for the Yucatan.

We had lived in Mexico when our oldest was just a year and a half and spent a month enjoying one of the most beautiful, geologically diverse places I’d ever been. Underground rivers, cenotes, tropical forests, beautiful beaches, Mayan ruins…it’s an adventure paradise. So I couldn’t wait to bring the kids back to explore. We decided to do our lodging on the cheap through Air BNB, which worked out great. Nothing fancy (as in, our place was on the fourth floor and the elevator only worked about 1 out of every 5 trips and when it stormed one day we had water leaking through window onto the bedroom floor). Still, we had a great view of the ocean from our balcony window, an infinity pool pool to enjoy, and awesome boogie boarding waves just steps away. The kids were in heaven.

Because we felt great about the money we were saving on our accommodations, we decided to splurge a bit on a couple of day-long excursions. Our first big outing took us an hour and a half south to an eco-adventure park called Xel-ha. The first thing I loved after we walked in was knowing we could go to any restaurant and eat whatever we wanted–and not have to worry about dishes. (I’m a mom cooking and cleaning for 6 daily so you see the draw.) Now we were on vacation! Zach got the biggest kick out of the soda stations where he could just stop, get a drink of whatever he wanted, leave his cup, and carry on to whatever cool activity was next on the agenda.

The park is nestled on the edge of the ocean where a giant, clear lagoon works its way to the coast from a ways inland. We rode bikes to the top of the lagoon, then snorkeled down. We floated in tubes, we zip-lined, we cliff jumped, we rode a giant waterslide down from the top of a lighthouse, and we zip biked through a rainforest (basically riding a bike in the air attached to a cable above so you can soar over cenotes, through caves, beside waterfalls). The girls and Scott even got to do a dolphin interactive experience, which they loved. We kept all our stuff in lockers so we could just walk around in swimsuits, playing, swimming, and stopping in restaurants when we got hungry. The weather was lovely, and after a short afternoon shower we even looked up to find a rainbow arching over the place. Heavenly.

We left Xel-ha wet, happy, and full of delicious Mexican food then spent the next day relaxing back at our condo. Then we were ready for another adventure. We had heard about a tour company called Alma’s LDS Tours, which offered a specific Book of Mormon emphasis to some of the Mayan ruins. We decided that sounded just right for us. The tour bus picked us up at 7 a.m. and we headed back down south to explore the ruins of Tulum and Coba. Tulum was a gorgeous civilization built between the 13th and 15th centuries right on the Caribbean coast. Our wonderful tour guide Arnie shared the history of the area and then pointed out interesting LDS tidbits, like the many carvings of what has been dubbed the “descending God,” a figure that looks like it is coming down from heaven to live among the people. Book of Mormon scholars think that the Nephite civilization could have been just south of this area so the story of a God coming down from heaven sounds a lot like 3 Nephi, when Christ comes down to heal and teach the Nephites.

In the ruins of Coba, first settled around 100 A.D., we found more Book of Mormon similarities, such as a carving of a tree with two men that looked rather unhappy and turned away from the tree, and another two men walking toward it. Lehi’s Tree of Life perhaps? Our tour guide also asked Zach to read from the Book of Mormon where we learned about raised roads that paved the way between cities (see 3 Nephi 6:8).

We read this scripture standing in an area where there is evidence of an ancient road raised off the ground (or “cast up” as it reads in the Book of Mormon). How cool is that? The Book of Mormon is a record of an ancient civilization that would have been near the ancient people of the Yucatan. I loved thinking about these histories and the way the people lived and loved and worshiped many hundreds of years ago. Plus, it’s significant to remember that Joseph Smith hadn’t been on vacation recently to the Yucatan when he was translating the plates. He just wrote down what he saw. Coba wasn’t officially discovered in modern times until 1926, 82 years after Joseph Smith died.

Our last stop was at a beautiful cenote (or pool of water in a cave fed by the underground rivers that run through the Yucatan) where my kids completely peer pressured me into jumping off the highest platform I ever have into the water below. I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Check. We drove home, first stopping to drop off another family at an all-inclusive place that we were told cost $800 per person per day. The kids asked if we could do that next time. We laughed. “Um, probably not.”

All in all, the trip was an incredible success. We got everything we were looking for: family time, warm weather, the beach, culture and history, and lots of adventure. It wasn’t easy getting on the plane and realizing that in four hours the temperature outside was going to go from 80 degrees to 20. Luckily, these sorts of experiences don’t completely get left behind with the weather. We keep them in our minds and hearts and remember them forever. I have a feeling that this December we might just give our children the same warning that we will not be honoring wish lists for toys and clothes. We want to give something more–something that last a lifetime.

Camping in Beautiful Sedona

For spring break last month we took our kids to the beautiful Arizona city of Sedona. I wasn’t sure how camping was going to go with Sam, being still so small, but we figured we’d give it a shot. When looking for our destination this year, we had three important criteria: 1) warm enough at night to camp without being miserable and 2) close to cool National parks or monuments that would give us a stamp or two in our kids’ passport books. 3) Close enough to drive to from our home in Sandy, UT. Sedona fit the bill.

IMG_1569Well, mostly. The temperature was great during the day and was supposed to only get to the 40s at night, but with a few nights stretching into the 30s it was less comfortable than I would have liked. Everyone was fine in their mummy bags except for Sam, who didn’t have one. I bundled him as much as I could but he would still wake up in the middle of the night crying (unheard of for this angel baby). That at least gave me my co-sleeping opportunity, something I’ve never really taken advantage of with any of my kids, with good reason. I mean, I just don’t sleep very well with a little person next to me. But I have to admit I did love snuggling this sweet little boy every night.

What I love about camping is getting so close to nature and so far from the typical distractions of our modern-day world. No cell phones to use, no televisions to watch, no Kindles to fight over. We literally were just IMG_1552outside all day, enjoying peace. (Until it came time to doing all the work that camping requires–then there was a little less peace. But the kids got the hang of it fairly quickly.)

I loved seeing the National monuments near Sedona. First we went to explore Montezuma Castle, an ancient cliff dwelling thousands of years old. It was fun to watch my kids think through what it might have been like to live so close to the earth (and even in the earth) every day. We also checked out a similar nearby monument that let us get a little closer to the ruins of an ancient people. Our last experience with ancient life was on the way home when we stopped at Canyon de Chelly, another site from the lives of ancient Pueblo people. First things first: we got our passport books stamped. Check! Then we did a hike down into the canyon, saw the ruins in the cliffside along with some cool wall art, and then hiked back out. This was our IMG_1556first hiking experience where all three of our older kids beat us to the finish line by a long shot. Scott and I were impressed.

Other favorites from this trip included a beautiful hike in Sedona, playing in the river by our campsite, visiting Slide Rock state park (with it’s 80-foot super cold natural waterslide) and my perennial campfire favorite: s’mores! After five nights of camping, luckily we were smart enough to check the weather and realize it was going to rain right at the time we needed to pack up our campsite. So we got on Priceline and booked a hotel in Chinle. Everyone was beyond excited to see actual beds. The kids slept for 13 hours straight, and I slept for most of that too. There’s nothing like appreciating simple pleasures after ruffing it for a few days!IMG_1625

All in all, a successful, beautiful, super fun adventure! I highly recommend this area as a wonderful trip for families.

House on wheels!

Last week our family did something we’ve wanted to do for a long time–we rented a motorhome! I was too scared to drive this 38-foot mammoth other than for one hour on the freeway, but Scott was amazing at maneuvering the thing. The kids absolutely loved having the space to play, and I loved getting to enjoy my favorite parts about camping–being outside in beautiful places–along with the comforts of home. Yay for beds, electricity, toilets, showers, and an easy place to cook! We took the kids around to Zion National Park, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and Bryce Canyon National Park. We picked up a cool Passport book for each of the kids that they get to fill up with stamps from every National Park or Monument we visit (they are so excited, I think this will be a lifelong quest to fill up the book!).

The motorhome was so fun to hang out in. For a few of the mornings, we got out of bed slowly and hung around the table, just playing Life, Monopoly, Uno, and Go Fish. Sometimes we sat for hours doing it. When in real life does anyone have time to do that? IMG_0102

The national parks were beautiful. In Zion we did the Emerald Pools hike, which I just loved for how many cool crooks and crevices the kids got to explore, including a path that went under a waterfall. IMG_0188

The Grand Canyon is jaw-dropping. I loved seeing the kids see something so, literally, grand. It’s huge! After spending a couple of days hiking around, we packed up the RV (easy!) and headed to our next adventure. A favorite day for everyone was spent just floating in our life jackets at Lake Powell (the downside of this day was getting our RV stuck in the sand at Lone Rock beach–but luckily an angel named Alan had the gear to tow us out and point us in the right direction). IMG_0151The kids loved the water and came up with a challenge for us all to swim out to the buoys and back (Sam came too in his little life jacket!). They all loved playing in the sand, building sand castles, and playing a good old fashioned game of keep away. Sam thought he might enjoy eating the sand–as he does everything–but I think soon realized this delicacy is not for him. Good learning experience.

IMG_0153We wrapped up at Bryce where hoodoos and cool rock walls juiced up our kids’ imaginations. We spent the hike out of the canyon keeping the their minds off the hard stuff. They spent the hot, hard part of the hike creating elaborate stories about any random set of objects we gave them. My little five year old probably went on for 20 minutes creating a story about a pirate, a mermaid, and an octopus, all while hiking uphill in the heat. I don’t think she even noticed. Another favorite moment was lying outside one night on a picnic table by our RV, looking up at the stars together. We pointed out the Milky Way and used an app to find cooIMG_0167l constellations. There is nothing quite like the night sky in southern Utah. All in all, an awesome and memorable trip!