Junior Ranger Badges on Display – Finally

The Younger Fives have been collecting junior ranger badges at national and state parks throughout the United States and Canada since 2013. They have worked hard to complete junior ranger booklets and activities while visiting the park and be sworn in as a junior ranger by park staff. For several years the badges and patches have been stuffed into suitcases and the the car glove compartment while we traveled.

However, once we were a little more settled it was our intent to display their badges in some way. At first it seemed that buying a National Park Service tee-shirt or bandanna to pin them to would be the way to go. However, after several trips to park gift shops nothing turned up that worked. Most merchandise is specific to the park that you are visiting and while we have our favorite parks we wanted something more generic.

So, the badges continued to sit in a keepsake box undisplayed. Until this past week when we finally got our act together and decided to grab out the trusty glue gun and make our own hanging wall pennant with the help of some brown felt and a few backyard sticks. The whole project took less than 15 minutes and the Younger Five’s junior ranger badges are now proudly displayed on their bedroom walls. The best part is crossing this long enduring to-do item off the never ending list that is tacked to the refrigerator ūüôā

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Climbing and Crawling into the Past at Mesa Verde

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A view of the mesa from its base

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Panoramic view from the drive up the mesa

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Spruce House, a self-guided tour

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Spruce House, with rock blackened by cooking fires

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Looking down into a kiva, which would have originally been covered

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The inside of a restored kiva at Spruce House

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Climbing out of the restored kiva

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The starting 32-foot climb of the ranger-guided Balcony House tour. All the kids did great!

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Original wooded beams from Balcony House, c. 1278

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Working toward a Junior Ranger badge at the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum

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Rafting with Kids on the Animas River

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Whitewater rafting with young children? We had always wanted to take the kids out on a rafting excursion but assumed we would have to wait a few years until High Five (age 4) and Five Ball (age 6) were a bit older. However, as we started researching our trip to several of Colorado’s national parks, we came across the Animas River’s stellar reputation as an extremely family-friendly river. We looked into the rafting companies in Durango and were thrilled to come across Mountain Waters Rafting, who had great reviews, a half-day rafting trip designed especially for families, and could accommodate any child 30 pounds or more regardless of age.

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The kids had been excitedly talking about our trip for over a week by the time the day arrived. We dressed them warmly in layers as we wanted to ensure they stayed comfortable out on the water. However, upon checking in we realized we weren’t the only ones focused on the kids’ comfort, and we were really impressed with the time the friendly staff took to make sure the kids had all the gear they needed and that it all fit properly. In the end, we only opted for the neoprene boots for the kids as they each had a rain jacket and pants to keep the rest of them dry.

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Soon our guide (and co-owner) James arrived to greet us and escort us to the van. ¬†As we were the only ones out on this particular trip, he asked if we would like one more companion in the raft, his famous rafting dog Atlas. ¬†As the Younger Fives love dogs (and can‚Äôt have one of their own due to our travel lifestyle), the response was a resounding ‚ÄúYES!‚ÄĚ We soon picked up Atlas and were on our way to the boat launch.

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The kids were excited enough just being next to the river, but getting to play with Atlas as James fitted them with their life jackets was a real treat. He¬†then engaged the kids to review all the safety procedures, and then we pushed off down the river. After a few minutes downstream, the Younger Fives eagerly asked if they could help paddle, and once they got the paddles in their hands they didn’t let go for the rest of the trip.¬†James added a wonderful dimension to our trip with his¬†extensive knowledge of the river, its history, and its wildlife, and we never went more than a few minutes without him pointing out goslings with their mother, bald eagles, mergansers, or other birds.

IMG_7118 IMG_7121 IMG_7136Soon we were getting closer to Durango’s Whitewater Park, especially engineered by the city to provide rafters and kayakers with some solid whitewater in town. James asked if we felt comfortable giving it a try and explained we were welcome to walk a short path around the rapids if we preferred. We had no hesitations about running the rapids, and they were certainly quite the thrill. They’re nothing that a seasoned paddler would find unnerving, but for us they were the perfect balance between feeling completely secure in the raft and¬†getting bounced around a little on the whitewater.

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After the excitement of the rapids we were more than ready for a snack, and James guided us onto shore for snacks and a restroom break. The kids probably couldn’t have made it the whole trip without either, so this was just what we all needed. We had a good 20 minute break on shore snacking on some complementary chips and salsa and playing with Atlas. From there, we put the life jackets back on to complete our trip down the river.

DSC09067 DSC09088 DSC09074Past the Whitewater Park the river had a more relaxed and peaceful feel, and as we floated past the city limits we had the river to ourselves. From here both Five Spice and Five String had the chance to pilot the raft and both managed to successfully avoid the obstacles in the way (though admittedly Five Spice did so with a bit more calm and composure). As we drifted past tree-covered banks and islands, some migratory swallows splashed and dove around us, and we were right in the middle of the flock for quite a while.

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When we finally reached the final landing and got back into the van, we couldn’t have been more pleased with our trip. The half-day trip was definitely designed with the whole family in mind, and the smiles on the Younger Fives’¬†faces were proof that this trip was a perfect match for our family. It’s a rare day when you get to experience and learn so many new things, and we all not only got a better hands-on feel for what makes Durango’s Animas River so special but also a better appreciation for its past, present, and future. We were thoroughly impressed with¬†the enthusiasm and commitment ¬†we found from everyone at Mountain Waters¬†(for both their customers and for the river itself), and we weren’t surprised to find out they make giving back to the community and the environment a high priority.¬†Looking back, our initial reservations about whitewater rafting as a family seem silly, and we cannot wait to take our wonderful introduction to whitewater rafting to the next level on a future rafting trip!

 

 

One of the Best for Last

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Since we started traveling as a family we have visited¬†ten of America’s National Parks. However, there¬†are so¬†many more that are still on our bucket list. Some will have to wait for another day, but one park that we all really wanted to explore before we left the U.S. was Zion National Park in Utah. A fellow blogger Kirstencan¬†had posted about her¬†family’s visit to Zion and it looked like one park not to miss. However, while in the area¬†this past November we ran into snow and had to hurry south before we had a chance to make it to Zion.

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So, when we ended up with a rental in Las Vegas for the month we were super excited to find out that Zion National Park was only about a 2 hours drive away. While Nana Five was here this past week we blocked off a few days just for visiting the park. It turns out that the wait was well worth it, and Zion National Park now ranks up there as one of our top favorite National Parks.

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While we didn’t have weeks to explore the entire park and hit all the trails we still felt like we were able to get a really good overview of Zion in just two days. Our favorite hikes¬†were the short but steep trail to Weeping Garden, the refreshingly cool River Walk, and the varied terrain and amazing vista of the¬†Canyon Overlook trail. By far the¬†kids most enjoyed¬†playing along the Virgin River. They would have happily dug in the sand all day and none of us minded taking in the beauty of the park as we dipped¬†our toes in the cold water. Another family favorite was the drive through the tunnel to the eastern section of the park where we all had a blast watching Big Horn Sheep and scrambling on the beautifully colored sandstone formations.

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We found Zion National Park to be very well organized, and even with all of the other visitors it didn’t feel crowded. The shuttle bus service through the canyon really helped alleviate traffic and it acted as a nice break for tired legs in between hikes. The windows of the shuttle bus offer exceptional views and there is a pre-recorded tour that gives great information about the parks history and features. Overall Zion National Park proved well worth the wait and we highly recommend putting it on your to-visit-list.

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Sunday Book Club

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¬†It’s no secret that we are a family of readers. Let’s just say that we quickly develop a reputation at any library we join: the family that visits every week, checks out armfuls of books at once, and needs a full-sized boat bag to lug our books to and from the library. But hey, we do spend a good chunk of each day reading, and it takes quite a mountain of books to satisfy our appetite for the printed word.

It’s hard for us to believe that the idea of a Sunday Book Club didn’t occur to us sooner than last weekend. However, once the words were spoken, we knew our Sundays would be forever changed for the better. We shared our books and asked one another lots and lots of questions. Here are our selections from the first (of many) Fives on the Fly Sunday Book Club Social.

High Five:¬†Arthur’s Chicken Pox by Marc Brown: “It’s funny!”

(Obviously High Five has never itched his way through a case of the Chicken Pox ūüôā

Five Ball: The Lightning Thief Graphic Novel by Rick Riordan:¬†“I like the part where Percy Jackson defeats the monsters that are trying to kill him.”

Five of Hearts:¬†The Serpent’s Shadow¬†by Rick Riordan:¬†“This book is romantic, funny at some parts, and really exciting. I really like Sadie Kane and I think that Setne is funny.”

Five String:¬†Your Guide to the National Parks by Michael Joseph Oswald: “This amazing books gives in-depth information on every U.S. National Park. The statistics at the beginning tell the number of visitors, busiest times of year, etc. My favorite part is the detailed maps and tables giving information on hiking (ranked easiest to hardest) and camping.”

Five Spice: Nelson Mandela “No Easy Walk to Freedom”¬†by Barry Denenberg:¬†“I really liked reading this biography because I never learned very much about Nelson Mandela or apartheid in school. I found it really interesting to compare the struggle against apartheid with the struggle against segregation in the United States.”