Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In The Grasslands

We have been immersing ourselves in the busy ways of our former family life, before life on the road. Each of the kids are in some sort of sport/activity and they seem to run in all different directions at one time. It can be a challenge keeping track of them. Savannah has been playing indoor soccer, Shane has been playing baseball while Sophia has been training for her future as a princess through ballet lessons. The neighborhood has a few kids who play with our kids. Shane has a new buddy around the corner who he has been spending days with. When he is not with his new friend he is talking about when he will get to play with him again. Shane's new friend has a younger sister who plays well with Sophia. Savannah has crossed the teen thresh hold requiring her to be surrounded by her peers (for some reason I feel obligated to address them as peers now) often in the context of a shopping trip.
Traci has begun the journey toward radiology tech through training at the local community college. She will have two years of full time classes, labs and clinical experiences during this journey requiring her to be otherwise occupied. We have been calling in all the support of our friends and family to help cover care of the children. Savannah has always taken great care of her siblings. We hope to not abuse her services too much and give her time with her peers.

We have recently taken a few trips separately. Traci and Sophia went to a town north of us to visit a high school friend of Traci's. She has two girls who played well with Sophia. Traci took our foster dog Moxie/Murray/Jack. We have settled on Jack as the name and confused the poor pup in the process. He now answers to several names. The puppy behaved well and we are considering assuming the full burden of care for this guy, making him a permanent member of the family. He seems to follow commands well and listens to Traci without having to bite every foot he sees(see the story on Smokey).

Traci dropped Savannah off in the small town where her Uncle, Aunt, and cousins reside. She talked about how much she enjoyed being with her cousins.

Shane and I accompanied our friend Jeff, his daughter and his girlfriend to Colorado for a backpacking trip. Our plans were to hit some mountain trails and spend a week near an alpine lake. The trails to the mountains were all snowed in so we opted for a trip through the grasslands in south eastern Colorado. The scenery would not be as dramatic without the snow capped mountains and crystal clear alpine lakes but the area boasted a few attractions promising to hold the attention and interests of our young adventurers.

The area we chose dropped into a canyon. The trail wandered past an old Spanish mission and cemetery, the largest collection of dinosaur tracks in North America and an old ranch house with stables and stock yards. The area had a small river coursing through following most of the trail. We had to drive through a few fields full of cattle and nearly ran into a prong horn antelope as it loped across the gravel road we traveled on. We arrived late the first night, set up tents and slept in preparation for the task ahead of us.

The next morning we woke, strapped the packs on our backs loaded with essential gear and started down into the canyon. The high temperature promised to be in the upper eighties. It was a dry heat so we suffered much less than we would have in the mid west. The trail was edged with tall grasses and grass hoppers jumped at our feet with every step. It was disorienting at first giving the appearance the ground was flying up to your ankles. The grasses eventually opened up and we hiked along the two track gravel road with less activity from the insects until the heat drove us to the river for a little swim and water filtering expedition. Shane states his favorite part of the trip was swimming in the river.
Our first point of interest was the Dolores mission where some Spanish settlers set up a catholic mission and established a cemetery. The headstones dated to the late 1800's to early 1900's. We were unaware of the petroglyphs located behind the mission and we failed to see them while we rested from the heat. The adults dozed through the hotter hours of the day while the kids played with the dirt, sticks, cactus and lizards in the immediate area. The shade thrown by the scrubby trees was sparse but welcomed.

We hoisted our packs and trudged forth toward the dinosaur tracks, the culmination of our anticipation to see something left from animals over 150,000 years before we were to be there. They did not disappoint.
We came across several allosaurus tracks before crossing the river and finding the giant steps of the apatosaurus in paired rows. They were deep and large enough for the kids to sit in. We all took turns making the sounds we imagined of the giant beasts lumbering through the shallow mud of the lake while pantomiming the slow heavy stride with our arms swung out and feet slowly crashing into the ground.
We camped for the night and decided in the morning to hike to the ranch with the kids taking enough supplies so they would not have to carry packs. The kids were happy and had a much easier hike.

The abandoned ranch was an old adobe structure with several outbuildings. It had been in use until 1971 when the property was turned over to the forest service. I spoke with a woman from La Junta about the details of the transition and she was unsure if the land was given over or somehow other acquired. She gave me the impression some deal of malfeasance propagated the transfer of land.
We took a side trip out to the river near the ranch. This little side trip turned into a mini adventure as we crossed through the tall grasses and found several places where we had to pick through stands of prickly pear cactus. Shane stepped into a few cactus with several needles finding their way into his calves. Finding the river was a reward as we all took a while to cool off and splash in the water.
We made our way back to camp and settled in for the night.
The next morning we strapped on our gear and made the trek back to the car. The kids had become fatigued and walked slowly, complaining louder on the way back. We had stopped every half hour on the way in and let the kids rest for ten minutes for each half hour they hiked. We modified the plan on the way out to help the kids we carried their packs after twenty minutes, walked another ten minutes then rested for ten minutes. The hike took a while and the kids worked hard but it was tolerable for them.
Our hike crossed the path of a young rattlesnake. Shane was impressed as Jeff poked at the snake with a trekking pole inciting a strike from the terrified little creature. We all stepped around the snake and went on with our hike.
Shane had one time where he nearly lost all of his will to go on. He complained his feet and ankles hurt, he couldn't make it even one more step. He had this look on his face of defeat and resolution, the fatigue bringing him to a full stop on the brink of tears. I lifted his pack off his back as he stood in the middle of the trail crying in pain and fear he would be stranded in the grasslands forever. We rested for a few minutes and his ability to push forward on the trail returned. He later took his pack again and made most of the hike back. The end of the trail was a steep climb out of the canyon and we took the kids' packs for them and, supressing verbal curses we walked out of the canyon to the car.
It was Shane's first long backpacking trip. He did well and my hope was he was not soured on the activity. We'll wait long enough for him to forget the pain and remember the fun and we'll try it again.