Days of Pine and Roses


The signs are many that autumn is almost upon us, and the time seems right for a summer nostalgia post. We could dwell on our many walks past Coulter pines and desert roses to the swimming hole that is now dry; or we could describe the hint of chill in the air as we take our afternoon walks; but instead we’ll just highlight some of the flowers we came across during our summer in Southern California.

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The last of the summer flowers also inspired an art project in homeschool this week. Five Spice had the excellent idea to use flowers as brushes and have everyone create pictures that incorporated petals and paint. And if we find ourselves pining for summer in the coming weeks, there’s always Coulter cone prints for an art class assignment :)

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Telescope Tales from Joshua Tree National Park


When the kids heard they would be spending several days with Pop and Nona Five just outside of Joshua Tree National Park, they had two things they couldn’t wait to share: rock-climbing and star-gazing. Joshua Tree is really two parks in one: by day, miles of rock formations perfect for bouldering; by night, clear desert skies ideal for watching the heavens.

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We got an early start to scramble on the rocks before the heat set in, The Younger Fives literally ran the entire way from the car to the nearest rock they could climb. The limitless options for exploring kept us busy for hours, and Pop Five got a hands-on feel for why this is one of our favorite national parks as he followed the kids over, around, and even under the sea of monzogranite, formed from molten rock underground that was pushed upwards through the surface.

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We definitely needed some down time during the heat of the afternoon to recover from our climb, but after dinner we were ready to venture out into the park yet again for a completely different experience. During our last visit to Joshua Tree we had an amazing experience renting from Coyote Telescope, and this time around we decided to give the digital telescope a try. The owner, Darryl, met us just outside of the park to show us how to use the telescope and ensure we had a great night out. As always, we were thoroughly impressed with his knowledge and enthusiasm for astronomy and the night sky. After walking us through how to set up the telescope, he not only gave us his tips for the best stars and planets to look for that evening, but he also provided an entertaining account of the fun facts about each one. The kids were hanging on every word :) Darryl is definitely a natural story teller, and while we wanted a chance to explore the night sky on our own for this visit, we would not hesitate to go on one of his night sky tours next time around (which includes him as the personal guide and some extra powerful telescopes for viewing the stars).




Following Darryl’s advice, we set up in the parking lot of the Boy Scout Trail, just a little ways past the Visitor’s Center and park entrance. The location was perfect, and in no time we had the base of the telescope level and the telescope itself mounted. As the sky darkened, we waited eagerly to spot three stars in different parts of the sky to calibrate the telescope. The kids shouted with glee as they started to pop out, and Pop Five entered the time and date, directed the telescope to each star and pressed the “align” button on the keypad, and we were good to go. This was all the keypad computer needed to know where everything was in the sky, and from here we just chose from the computer’s list of visible planets, stars, double stars nebulae, etc. Then the telescope automatically moved to the right position and did all the work for us.  Under the swirl of the Milky Way visible to the naked eye, we saw the rings of Saturn, the Crab Nebula where stars are born, and several double stars that separated through the lens of the telescope. It was a memorable evening to say the least :)

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After a solid evening of star gazing, the Younger Fives were more than prepared the next day to dig into their Night Explorer Junior Rangers booklet. This is an unusual booklet in that it is not based in a single park; instead, it can be completed in several different national parks with good star gazing opportunities (we originally picked them up in Great Sand Dunes National Park). They had fun working through activities such as a night sky word scramble and a make-your-own planet walk, in which Five of Hearts placed 8 rocks a certain number of steps apart to show the relative distance between the sun and the planets. They completed the booklets by the time we had to head back home, and earning their very cool Night Explorers patch was a wonderful way to end our visit. We couldn’t have asked for a better place for an action-packed visit with family!

Backyard Bouldering


Rock formations abound here in the San Bernardino National Forest. Just about anywhere we go, we see inviting outcroppings and boulders, and we’ve made it a priority during our time here to climb as many of them as possible. We’ve been eyeing one imposing formation near out rental, visible from our daily walks and trips to the swimming hole, for quite a while now. The other day we finally decided to see if we could find a path to the top.

DSC09519 DSC09507 DSC09509An old forest road led past the base of the slope, but from there the only trails were those of our own invention. The hillside and rocks themselves are covered in a layer of loose sand, gravel and sticks, which makes the climb a bit more challenging. Hand-holding definitely works well, especially for High Five, but as we gained elevation more large rocks poked through and we got better footing. A large tangle of felled trees added to the variety, and we found ourselves climbing over and under the branches to reach the next stretch of rock above.

DSC09510 DSC09515 DSC09512After a few slips and tight squeezes, we soon reached our destination and stopped to admire the view. We could see our house and the swimming hole, as well as the local fire station (the red building in the middle of the above picture) and Keller Peak rising above on the right. Everything was so peaceful and quiet, especially the ant-sized cars we saw on Route 18 that are usually a loud rumble for most of the day and night, especially on weekends.


The hike back down went smoothly, and we successfully detoured some of trickier spots we encountered on the way up. Towards the bottom the Younger Fives tired of stumbling in the loose gravel, so they wisely resorted to sliding down on their bottoms. Before we knew it we were on a marked trail yet again, and enjoyed a leisurely (and fall free) walk back home.


Arctic Bummer


A year and a half ago, we had one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of all our travels while visiting the nursery lagoons of gray whales in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Coming eye to eye and skin to skin with these magnificent creatures changed us forever, and we often think of the newborn whales we met as they travel from Mexico to Alaska and back every year. Their journey is not an easy one, filled with many natural (orcas) and human-made (ships, pollution) obstacles, and the ever-increasing challenges and dangers they face are tied to the same ones the Younger Fives will have to navigate in their own futures.

A week and a half ago, we were reminded of this interconnectedness as we watched the efforts of activists in Portland, Oregon to delay a ship carrying a key piece of equipment Shell Oil needs to start drilling in the Arctic.  The area Shell is looking to explore for oil is the Chukchi Sea, the other end of the gray whales’ epic migration from Mexico. These waters, like any waters off the coast of the United States, are managed in the public trust by the government, so only the government can weigh whether the risks of drilling are balanced by the benefits to the public. Unfortunately, the fact that the Obama administration granted Shell conditional final permits to drill is just another example of politicians neglecting their moral duty to protect the interests of all Americans and to empower people to reach their full potential.

The government is especially charged with safeguarding the future of America’s youth, providing essential services like public education, local libraries, health care for those who go without, etc. The government does not have a moral mission to subsidize oil companies and ensure the price of gasoline is artificially cheap. We as a family certainly do our fair share of traveling and like just about everyone else hate to pay more for gas, but we rarely stop to consider that we are already paying extra through our taxes, hundreds of billions of dollars worth which go to subsidizing oil exploration to ensure private profit, paying for Navy and Coast Guard protection for oil tankers, protecting operations of American oil companies abroad in places like in Iraq, etc. Not to mention the other costs we never see at the pump, like the costs of adapting to a warming planet and of cleaning up the inevitable spills.

Given the widespread damage caused by oil spills in relatively calm waters near major ports that can provide logistical support, like the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, it is hard to imagine drilling in a rough and remote place like the Chukchi Sea (which also has the added danger of sea ice) will have different effects. And the bottom line, according to the overwhelming weight of scientific study, is that the oil reserves in the ground right now need to stay there to avoid the worst-case scenarios of climate change. Therefore, every day our government and we as a people delay the critical conversations about how to move beyond fossils fuels is a day stolen from our children. Every taxpayer dollar the government puts in the hands of  private interests, focused only on profit, at the expense of its moral responsibility to provide for the public good is a dollar squandered at the expense of our children. And it’s not just the youth of America being robbed day after day, it is the young of every species on the planet.

Since the oceans, rivers, lakes, public lands, and skies are held in the public trust and belong to the people, the Younger Fives have just as much right to decide what happens to them as Shell does. So they decided to write letters to President Obama urging him not to completely finalize the permits for Shell to drill in the Arctic. Will the Obama administration listen to the concerns of three children? Probably not. What is certain, though, is that our youth should not be the only ones advocating to avoid the live-threatening consequences of decisions made by their parents and the parents that came before them.

Five Ball’s Letter:

Dear President Barack Obama,

My name is ********. I am six years old.

I am writing because I am really really upset Shell is drilling in the Arctic for two reasons. If theirs a oil spill it would kill thousands and thousands of animals, and Shell has already killed many animals in the North Sea spill in 2011.  Also, that  it’s increasing   Global  Warming.

I made a picture of polar bears, otters, and birds throwing snow balls at Shell.


“Five Ball”




Five of Heart’s Letter

Dear President Barack Obama,

I am *********, and I am eight years old.

Polar bears happen to be my favorite animal.  I even have a stuffed polar bear.  When I heard about how you gave Shell the permits to drill in the Artic I was really upset because that is where polar bears live!

My mom and dad even went to Democracy Now and read to me about how GreenPeace tried to block Shell’s ship and how Shell is trying to drill in the Arctic. There was even a video showing what GreenPeace did. They also showed me pictures of the places around where Shell is trying to drill. They looked so pretty! Then after that I made a water color picture of what I imagine the area where Shell is trying to drill looks like (which I have included with this letter).

Anyways though I am afraid that if you let Shell drill in the Artic that there will be a big oil spill and if I ever come to visit everything will have oil on it.  I know that you can be the good guy here, so I urge you President Obama to not give the final permit to drill in the Artic. If you don’t give Shell those final permits you will be my hero!

Thank you for your time.


Yours truly,

“Five of Hearts”





High Five’s Letter:

Dear  President Barack Obama,

Hi. My name  is ******. I am 4.

Please stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic. I am scared about an oil spill.

Thank you ,

“High Five”