Postcards from CA

A few weeks ago we went to CA for our annual 4th of July vacation. Today I’m sharing a few postcards from the trip.

Sprinkled among our days around the lake were a few beautiful hikes, many opportunities to walk on snow, and (as always) views that took our breath away.

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Colorado Roadtrip : Pagosa to Ouray

You can find more of our Colorado adventures here, and if you like travel posts, we have a lot! We took this road trip in our *new* van (can’t wait to tell you more about it); this post gives you a little overview of what we pack in the van. And here are some of our basic tips for camping with kids.

Yesterday I shared a glimpse of our 36 hours in Great Sand Dunes, today I’m sharing from the rest of our trip as we visited Pagosa, Ouray, and the scenic highways in between!

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First up, the most breathtaking pit-stop that we made for a certain 4 y.o. that had to go. Look at those cliffs! This is somewhere east of Pagosa along US route 160. I stayed neared the van where Luc was sleeping while Alex and Calder took a short walk to stretch their legs. Can you see them in the first pic? They’re just little dots holding hands and being careful not to lose each other down the cliff.

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Colorado Roadtrip : Great Sand Dunes

You can find more of our Colorado adventures here, and if you like travel posts, we have a lot! We took this road trip in our *new* van (can’t wait to tell you more about it); this post gives you a little overview of what we pack in the van. And here are some of our basic tips for camping with kids.

Earlier this month, we went on a five-day road trip to south west Colorado. It’s a part of the state we haven’t explored, but had heard great things about. We set out excited to experience the beautiful San Juan mountain range. Let me spill the beans right now: this trip was awesome (I’m writing this about a week after the trip, and we’re still talking about it). We loved the scenery, the hot springs, and the towns we visited.

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This is going to be a two-post report. In this post I’m going to share photos and from the first bit of our trip that was spent in Great Sand Dunes National Park, and in the second post I’ll share photos from our visits to Pagosa Springs and Ouray.

We left after work on Tuesday and drove until we reached Great Sand Dunes (it was sometime after midnight). Rather than head straight to the park, we took the rocky and bUMpY 20 minute ride to Zapata Falls, camping there for the night. When we woke up in the morning, the view was breathtaking! From high on the hill, you could look down and see the sand dunes with the mountains in the background. Don’t you love waking up to a surprise like that? roadtrip2

We were so excited to get to the dunes that we had breakfast, stretched our legs, and then got back in the car and headed into the park. Sadly, we didn’t take the time to hike to the actual falls at Zapata Falls. That’ll have to wait for our next visit!

Campground

But, our timing was perfect, because we drove into the park, took a quick stop at the visitor’s center, and then took a drive through the unreserved campground and were able to snag a spot as someone was checking out! I definitely think timing was on our side, there seemed to be daily-turnover in the park midweek, but then as we were checking out Thursday morning, it seemed like everyone coming in had plans to stay through the weekend.
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The Dunes

After securing the spot, we drove straight over to the sand dunes. We knew we wanted to hike on them, and everyone warns that it’s best done either earlier in the morning or later in the evening – times when the sun isn’t shining as bright and the dunes are cooler.

As you can see in the photo above, we came early enough in the season so that the water (from snowmelt) was still flowing through the park. This creek dries up by late June, and I’m sure that would create a much different (hotter/dryer/dustier) visit. I’ll share a few more pics of our time near the water later in the post. First, we just crossed it on our way to the dunes.

And those dunes are spectacular. It’s such a mind-bending experience to see these large (largest in North America!) dunes at the base of the granite mountains. From some angles you could see the mountains, and from others you just saw sand and blue skies.

If you look closely in the photo below, you can see people hiking off in the distance, and it helps to give you some perspective of the size of the dunes. roadtrip5 roadtrip6 roadtrip7 roadtrip8

We set out on our walk not having high expectations for how far we’d get (that’s the best mindset you can have with two little guys in two)… but I secretly think that both Calder and I were hoping we’d make it to the top!

We were prepared with both a larger hiking pack to hold the big kid and the ergo to hold the smaller kid. There were times when the boys were in their packs and there were times when they were out, and step by step we made progress until we made it to the top!

It was hard work, guys. About 2 hours of hard work. Every step you took involved some sinking into the sand and sliding slightly backwards.  roadtrip9 roadtrip10 roadtrip11

As you can see in the photo above, we carried along cardboard in the hopes of sledding down the dunes. Many friends told us that this worked for them. It definitely didn’t work for us. I’m not sure what went wrong, but we had the most success just sitting on our bums and doing a slow slide down the steeper sides of the dunes.

Dune Shoes : And, as mentioned above, the dunes do get hot. I wore sneakers, while Alex and Calder both had slip-on summer shoes. I saw lots of other hikers with sandals and flipflops. Honestly, I’m not sure what kind of shoe is best. The boys had trouble with sand getting into their shoes, and so did I! I didn’t expect it with my sneakers, but sand was sneaking in through the mesh fabric of the shoes. It even got stuck between the layers of fabric, and for about a week, it would slowly weasel its way out as I wore the shoes. But the sandals and flipflops also seem like don’t offer enough protection from the hot sand. Who knows, you just have to pick your poison. roadtrip12

After our hike, we were worn out and starving, so we headed back to the campsite for an easy ramen and eggs lunch, and then naps (for everyone!).

The Water

Post naps, we headed back over to the dunes, and spent a couple of hours near the water. The boys had a great time play in the sand and wading in the water while C and I had a chance to relax and enjoy the view.

Can you spot the deer in the photo below?! roadtrip13 roadtrip14 roadtrip15

Then it was back to the campsite for marshmallows, stories, and an early bedtime.
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Just a few additional observations and hearsay about Great Sand Dunes :

  • sledding down the dunes : As I mentioned, many people told us to pack cardboard for sledding. That didn’t work at all for us. Maybe it will for you? We also saw people sledding and “surfing” on boards rented in the park. They look like fun, but you have to want to carry them up the dunes.
  • mosquitoes : We had no trouble with mosquitoes, but have heard from others that they can be overwhelming in June.
  • hiking : In addition to the dunes, there are many other hiking trails. We didn’t venture out on any, but would love to on a future visit.
  • campground store : There’s a nice little campground store that carries a wide variety of items. We stopped in one night for ice and firewood and saw that they also carried ice cream and avocados. Great store!
  • shade tents : many families brought shade tents to the water area, and that looked like a great idea if you planned to stay all day (it seemed like many people treated it like a beach day).
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A Day Trip to Cheyenne, WY

We love to travel. If you’re interested in more adventures in the Western US, check out our Colorado hikes.

If you follow us on Instagram, then you saw that we got up close and personal with some buffalo. That experience happened at the end of a day trip that we took to Cheyenne, WY on a whim. And what a great whim it was!

When leaving for the trip, we knew nothing about Cheyenne, other than that it was only an hour and a half drive from Boulder, and that it was in Wyoming. Sarah and I are always up for any adventure that takes us somewhere new, so with excitement in our hearts and two crazy kids in the backseat, we set off.

First stop, coffee and egg sandwiches for the drive. Next stop, the Cheyenne visitor center.

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Postcards from Mexico

A couple of weeks ago, we traveled to Mexico for a long weekend to celebrate my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. We spent the weekend in San Patricio, and admittedly, we did absolutely no research before leaving! … no, wait, we *tried* to do some research the night before we left, but found very little information.

It wasn’t until we returned that I realized that the problem was because I was searching for “San Patricio travel guide”, but the area is also known as Melaque. If only I would have searched Melaque, I would have found a few more results, but still the info is a bit slim. So, with this , I thought I would give some details about our vacation in the hopes that it helps others traveling to the area.

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Why Mexico? We had a few restrictions when picking a location, and Mexico was the one spot that fit the bill!

  • travel time and ease of travel : We wanted to do something special for this big birthday, but because of work schedules, time was limited and it was essential to go somewhere that didn’t require too much travel for anyone in our party (we were meeting up with Calder’s dad, his sister & her family, and his brother). Fortunately, everyone was able to book a direct flights from their respective cities to Puerto Vallarta, and from there it was about a 3.5 hour drive to San Patricio.
  • time zone change : since we were traveling with kids, not having a big time-change meant that everyone would (hopefully) sleep easier on this quick trip. In my opinion, if you’re taking off more time for a trip, then spending a day or two adjusting to time zones isn’t a big deal, but if you only have four days, then it can really put a kink in the vacation.
  • somewhere Calder’s dad would like : It was his birthday after all :-). His top choices were Hawaii, France, and Mexico, and immediately we realized that we didn’t have enough time to make the longer Hawaii and France trips.
  • expense : It’s always nice when traveling with a lot of people to pick a location where money wasn’t an issue for anyone. Then everyone can just focus on the fun! If that’s a concern for you, then traveling to this area of Mexico is a great option!

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Rainy Season?

We settled on San Patricio because Calder’s dad had been there about 10 years ago and enjoyed it. It’s a really small town right on the beach. The area is a vacation destination for Mexicans and is very popular with older Canadians and Americans who like to spend their winters somewhere warm. As a result, the area has a well defined off season which also corresponds to the area’s rainy season, which is June – October.

Traveling during the “rainy season” may deter some travelers, but it’s never bothered me. In addition to this trip, I’ve also traveled to India and Costa Rica during their rainy seasons, and in every case, I didn’t regret it and did not feel inconvenienced. On this trip, the only rain we experienced was while driving from the airport to the beach, then there was not a drop while we were in San Patricio! On my other trips, there was often one rain storm during the day, but it never lasted long and was often a good moment to be inside napping, researching our next outing, or reading.

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Accommodations

We stayed at Hotel Vista Hermosa. It was a great hotel right on the beach with a swimming pool {a key requirement for this family!}. We reserved three two-bedroom suites, and they each came with their own kitchen. Once we arrived, we realized that we definitely could have reserved smaller rooms. The suites each had 5 beds (two in one bedroom and three in another)! They were definitely designed for larger families in mind. The kitchens were detached from the main suite – they were right across the “hall” (open-air walkway) from each other. The kitchen area contained a full kitchen and all of the utensils and dishes you would need for cooking meals at home. It’s so nice having that option when traveling with kids!

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We made our reservations by calling the hotel directly. It’s helpful if you know some Spanish, because their English is a bit rusty (but so is our Spanish!). After making reservations, they sent us confirmation emails and we used email for more communication. We paid $55/night/suite. The hotel has gated off-street parking, which we used the first two nights, but our sense of the area is that it seemed really safe and our rental car didn’t stick out, so we then parked on the street for the last two nights.

We were all really happy with the place where we stayed, but if you’re going to the area, know that there are other hotels and it looks like there are a lot of personal condo and apartment rentals available through Airbnb and HomeAway.

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Food and Drinks

Having the kitchen in our suite, we bought breakfast supplies on the first morning and ate breakfast in our room every day, but ate out for lunches and dinners.

I packed some back-up foods in case we were in a situation where there was nothing appropriate for the boys to eat. In our bag was turkey jerky (a new favorite of Alex’s), Cliff bars, applesauce and fruit smoothie packs. Fortunately finding food for the boys was never an issue, but those portable snacks are still handy for the car and plane rides.

We drank only bottled water – we like to buy it in big 5-liter jugs and just refill smaller bottles for walking around. Unfortunately, I held back and didn’t drink any of the agua frescas or horchatas because I was worried about water and ice contamination. The boys would order fresh coconut water at dinner every night and loved the novelty of drinking it straight from the coconuts!

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There are a couple of little grocers in the center of town where we picked up eggs (you tell them how many you want and pay by weight!), tortillas, avocados, grapefruits, milk, and cereal. For coffee, we mixed instant NESCAFEs in our room (somehow instant coffee tastes good when you’re on vacation on the beach!).

While there were plenty of restaurants to choose from, it was clear that a few were closed for the off season. For example, I walked past this cafe and it was still closed, but it looks like it’d be a great place for a morning cuppa. You can see restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor, but again, we didn’t read any of those until we got back, and I would say it was a good thing. Some of the places that are more highly reviewed seemed like they cater to tourists looking for American food. When we went out, we wanted either local seafood dishes (we saw the fisherman in the bay every morning!) or Mexican food. The town is small enough that it’s easy to walk around and find a place to eat.

For lunches we would walk into town and eat at one of the smaller places. There’s a little alley in the center of town that is only for foot traffic and has dozens of small eateries. They are mostly one-room places where the store-front is a small bar with seats (below Calder and Alex are eating on the kitchen side of one of these bars).  We liked the one below so much that we went back a second time.

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For dinner, we would walk along the beach and eat at one of the larger restaurants there. Many of them served a variety of seafood, but some are those that cater to tourists looking for burgers and Caesar salads, so it’s worth reading the menus before you commit (we decided to walk out of one after being seated – oops). The awesome thing about eating on the beach is that the boys could play in the sand while we sat at the tables and talked!

The only problem we experienced with eating out was the restaurant hours. The places in town that served lunch then closed by dinner time. And many of the ones that served dinner had kitchens that closed at 7pm! We’re assuming these are seasonal hours (at least for the larger restaurants serving dinner), but it’s something to be aware of.

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To-Do

We were going on this short trip to relax with family and enjoy the beach and pool, and that’s exactly what we did! There are many shops that sell beach toys, floats, life vests, etc. Rather than pack these bulky items, we just bought a selection of toys while we were there (it was a lot of fun for Alex to be in charge of what we selected!). All items were relatively cheap, so we were happy to leave the beach toys on the beach and the floats at the hotel pool for someone else when our vacation was over. We did end up bringing the life vest home because it fit Alex so well and it seems like we can always use an extra when we have friends visiting.

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mexico29If you’re looking for more to do, I can’t really help, but it does seem like there are some nice day-trip options in the area. The Colima volcano is not too far away!

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  • Driving : I’m sure many people would be put off by the long car ride from the airport to San Patricio. I know that we weren’t sure what to expect. BUT I’m here to tell you that it’s a piece of cake (almost – more on the pit-falls and pot-holes tomorrow!). You are on one road the whole way (rt. 200), and that road leaves directly from the airport in Puerto Vallarta so it’s impossible to get lost AND for most the way, the road is really nice quality. It starts with some twists and turns in the mountains, but then opens up to a wide, straight road.
  • Language : Perhaps this is a seasonal thing, but it seemed that a basic understanding of Spanish would be helpful. None of us are proficient (I learned my Spanish on Sesame Street, only sort of kidding), but traveling with the group helped because when someone didn’t know a word, another person did.
  • Beach : The waves on our section of the beach were particularly rough and not kid-friendly, but they were a lot of fun for bigger kids and adults. Since we had the pool nearby, this wasn’t a problem. The boys would go back and forth between the sand and the pool (showering off in between, obvs). I’ve read that the waves are more mild farther along the beach, but we didn’t check it out. The middle of the day was so hot on the beach, and we noticed that not many people would be out, but it was more crowded in the mornings and evenings, so after a day or so, that’s the beach schedule we adopted too.

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I know it’s not very specific, but that’s our 411 on San Patricio, Mexico. In summary, it was a beautiful little town on the western coast that wasn’t overcrowded with tourists in September and was a relatively affordable weekend vacation. I hope you’ll visit!

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