Southwest U.S. Road Trip

So, you live in Denver (or maybe not), and you already have a trip planned to Hawaii later in the year, but you don’t want to stay home for Spring Break. What are your options?

Road Trip!

Four Corners Area Road Trip

After last year’s successful road trip up to Mount Rushmore, (including right before they close nighttime arrival) we’ve decided that another road tip may be in order. Turns out at ages 10 and 7, both kiddos are ready and willing to take a long car ride to somewhere cool, and as it turns out, there is a lot of cool stuff around the Four Corners area of America.

mount rushmore photo road trip

By stopping at a few cool attractions and national monuments along the way, we avoid a too many super long drives all in the car. Turns out we’ll not only be too early for peak season (yea!), some stuff may actually still be closed. But, that means we can hit it fast and furious. If we see anything we love, we can always come back. This is a road trip, baby, not a flight half-way around the world.

What A Four Corners Road Trip Looks Like

There are, of course, a lot of ways to build a Southwest United States type of road trip. You could include some of the cities in Arizona or New Mexico. We considered Lake Powell, and Salt Lake, but in the end, this is what fit the time we wanted to work with.

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Day 1 – Colorado to Durango, Colorado

I love Durango. There isn’t any one thing you can point at and say, “This! This is the reason to come to Durango,” but, it’s one of those fun, comfy, quaint mountain towns that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s the kind of place where if I was a single Colorado freelance writer, instead of part of a family of four, I’d seriously consider getting a small house near town and just live online when I wasn’t out in the fresh mountain air.

Most importantly, Durango is a regular size town with some decent grub, and nice, cheap hotels for an overnight stay after a 6+ hour drive from Denver. From here, we get setup for an easy Day 2.

Day 2 – Mesa Verde, Four Corners and Grand Canyon

It takes less than an hour to get to Mesa Verde from Durango. Now, most people will tell you that you need more time to see Mesa Verde. At the risk of being a heretic, I think that really depends on how into it you are, and what you want to do.




If you just want to look at the cool, carved into the mountain, dwellings of the area, a day is more than enough time. Heck, a few hours lets you see them all from your car. Now, if you want to hike down to them, and go into a kiva, you’ll need a whole day. But, here’s the catch. Spring Break is too early for all of Mesa Verde to be open, and the coolest thing you can get to in the off-season, Spruce Tree House, is currently closed because of unstable rock.

That means, a few hours, and we are off. If my kids are mesmerized, we’ll be back.

Then, we’re off to Four Corners, which is another sub-hour drive away.

Four Corners is something you really have to want to make it worth while. There is really nothing there other than a circle in the ground and some painted lines on some concrete. Seriously, it’s nothing. But, when you grow up in Colorado, the idea of the four corners (the only place in the United States where four states come together in one place) is kind of cool.

I definitely, wouldn’t go out of my way to visit Four Corners, but it’s barely off the path between Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon, so let’s do it while we’re already here.

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The drive from Four Corners to the Grand Canyon is a solid 3+ hours. Chances are we’ll be arriving pretty late, but if they’re still open, we’ll pop in to check it out. Grand Canyon National Park is one of those parks where you pay once per car and can come back as many times as you want in the next five days. Plus, we might just grab an annual National Parks Pass. After all, we love going down to the Sand Dunes in the fall, and Rocky Mountain National Park is RIGHT THERE from Denver.

great sand dunes national park colorado

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Day 3 – Grand Canyon

We’ll spend a whole day at the Grand Canyon. Actually, we’ll be staying in Flagstaff. It’s just a half hour away, and a lot cheaper, especially if you didn’t plan this trip out six months in advance. Thank goodness we don’t want to ride any burros. (Well, we did, but one of is only 7, and the only ride that allows them that young is on the North Rim, and the North Rim is closed until Memorial Day.)

I predict a return trip when 7 is a little older and we can ride burros down into the canyon. I’ll be sure to get on those reservations a year in advance. (Seriously, who plans a year ahead to visit the Grand Canyon? I mean, it’s not Alaska.)

Day 4 – Arches National Park / Moab

We’ll wake up in Flagstaff, AZ. If we’ve got any Grand Canyon desire left, we’ll head on up, but I’m guessing that the kids and us adults will be read to move on. And, move on we shall.

Up the road, in Utah, is Arches National Park, and the city of Moab, which you might know more for it’s mountain biking fame. Moab is a cute, if underwhelming little town (or at least it was a decade and a half ago), but it serves as a great home base for visiting Arches National Park.

While some of the arches take a multi-hour hike to get to, you can do a lot of cool stuff right off the road. We might even go out on a Jeep ride.

Day 5 – Glenwood Springs, Colorado

I haven’t been up to Glenwood Springs in a long time, but I understand it has grown out of just being the big Glenwood Spring swimming pool. Now there is another section with some hot springs, and some amusement park-style rides. We’ll skip those this round, but I’m sure we’ll pick up some information.

This time around, it’s all about swimming in the hot springs. We’ll get in late in the day and be sure to hit them at night. The next day, we’ll make it out there in the morning before the haul back to Denver, on a very reasonable 2 and half hour drive home.

That’s it. 5 Days in the Four Corners area. I’ll come back with pictures and updates when we get back home.

 

 

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Parenting and Horror Movies

One of the things that no one ever tells you about parenting is that your kids can actually be pretty darn scary in the right circumstances.

The part of your brain that goes, “Oh, no! There is something WAY bigger than the dog in the dark hallway. It’s coming right for us. We’re going to die!” is way faster than the part of your brain that goes, “Oh, hey. Look the precious, sweet four-year old is coming down the hallway.”

Another big scare tactic your average two- or three-year old pulls off is the silent stare while you sleep. It works like this: You are sleeping, often because you are exhausted, and you fell asleep on the couch. Your toddler has noticed you, and has now come over, and is staring directly into your face, right at their eye level. When you away, someone is staring at you, and that fast part of your brain freaks out.

The worst part, is that when you get startled and recoil, that usually scares them. Now, not only do you have to calm yourself down, you have to calm them down too.

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It doesn’t help that horror movies use kids to cripplingly scary effect. Remember the twin girls in the Shining. That was creepy when you were 17. It’s freaking terrifying when you see a similar look on your own 9-year old’s face while they stand motionless in the hallway. To be fair, they are probably thinking about cookies, but there is no way for you to know for SURE that they aren’t wondering why there are no axes in your house.

scary kids say scary things

The girl from The Exorcist, Damien from the Omen, all the kids in Children of the Corn, that girl in the TV in Poltergeist, about half the kids in Sixth Sense, and worst of all, the girl from The Ring, give your brain plenty of head start on seeing something terrifying, whether it is actually there or not.

Kids Say the Scariest Things

Of course, then there are the things children say. Sure some of them are really cute.

One kiddo once told me about the “sun petals” (the rays of sunlight that filter in above the curtains) that grow bigger as morning gets closer. Awwww.

Of course, there was also the time about the “funny sounds the shadow people make.” Wha-?!

The worst is during the phase where they get curious about death.

“Do I really get ALL of your stuff when you die?” Um…

“How do they know if someone killed you? You can’t tell them what happened if you’re dead.”

And so on.

The reality, of course, is that kids almost never intend to be scary. It’s all just your imagination filling in details from your own fears.

In fact, when kids actually do try to be scary it’s usually pretty funny instead. From obvious lumps hiding under the sheets, to the thunking footsteps echoing through the whole house as they desperately scramble into place behind a corner, you spend a lot more time as a parent pretending to be scared than actually being scared.

Still, when they get you, it can be enough to give you a heart attack.

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3D Printing For Kids

My daughter first got the idea into her head about a 3D Printer a couple years ago. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but when a friend of hers brought a little plastic character that his dad had printed, had to have been close. For the last two years, she’s lamented the fact that she didn’t have enough money, nor enough ways to earn money, to purchase her own 3D Printer. All of that changed this Christmas.

3D Printers for Kids

I’m a computer guy. These days I do web development and other programming, and a decade ago, I was a pretty high-end systems administrator. There aren’t many computer things that I can’t get working. So, it was with some confidence that me and 10 dove into the world of 3D printing. But, it’s tougher than it looks. It took eight tries just to get the Z-level right, and we didn’t even know what a Z-level was when we started.

xyz jr 3d printer

Just started printing a 3D Dalek. That blue stuff is the bottom layer.

We watched a couple Youtube videos (that helps more than you might think), read the pathetically small instructions, set the Z-height, loaded some filament, and after a few false starts, we were off to 3D printing. That afternoon she started making her own models using software we just downloaded a few minutes earlier. Turns out Dad isn’t the only one who is good at computers 🙂

By the time Christmas Break was over, she had 3D printed gifts for all of her friends.

What Is 3D Printing Like

I’m going to crank out a small manual or series of articles about 3D printing and how it works because there isn’t much out there aimed at parents of kids who are into 3D printing.

First, thing is first. 3D Printing is NOT like regular printing. These are not nearly the error-free laser printer type machines that plug and play on your desk and can be expected to crank out hundreds of copies without a paper jam or other issue. In fact, as you research actual 3D Printing sources, you’ll come to find out that a 3D printer is much more of a workshop device. A tool that you have to work with, calibrate and understand. Even then, there are going to be errors.

This is good news, because while we had some early success with the XYZ Jr. 3D Printer that she got, we had plenty of errors too. Just enough to worry that maybe this was a mistake, and maybe $300-level 3D Printers just weren’t worth it. Turns out that people with $3,000 3D printers have the same issues, from prints that don’t stick properly to the printing bed, to clogged extruders.

I can’t say which 3D printer is best for kids, because this one that Santa brought is the only one I’ve ever used, but so far, I’d have to say it has been up to the task. It’s important to remember that this isn’t about printing flawless artifacts that can be sold in New York boutiques, but rather about cranking out a plastic model of whatever your heart desires. When you focus on custom, anything goes, and less on flawless production, your experiences will be much better.

To 3D print something, you load a string (for lack of a better word) of plastic into a feeder. The printer heats up and melts that plastic as it comes out a tiny tube. Then, the print bed moves back and forth, while the print head moves side to side. Think of laying down tiny strings of plastic over and over to build up the shape, and that’s something of the idea.

To make this work, you need a digital 3D model which you can create in different software. Then, you need to “slice” that model using software that matches your 3D printer. Then, you copy that file to the memory card, and then use the buttons to select what you want to print. You can also connect it to your computer, but that doesn’t save you much effort.

So, far, my daughter has figured out the basic software, downloaded basic models, and constructed her own. She’s also run into the first of what I’m sure will be many tricky problems such as why certain things get “fixed” and the left off of printouts, and why we seems to be stuck at a certain height before errors occur.

I’ll write up some more details as I figure them out, and get the chance. In the meantime,  the most important thing out of all of this is that what we really ended up with is a fun, technical challenge that presents real world problems, troubleshooting, and rewards. This thing sitting on her desk is probably worth a year of so-called STEM education.

If you have the means, and an interested child, I highly recommend it.

 

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Halloween Candy

Halloween is one of those holidays where parenting styles really differ. Some parents worry about safety and maybe morality issues. Other parents are fine with the holiday itself, but aren’t so keen on things like costumes and candy. For us, our holiday is colored by the knowledge that, unlike some other holidays, this one comes with a pretty short life span.

From birth to around Age 4, you pick your kid’s costume, and any trick or treating is pretty limited. A little bag or bucket and just a few stops is the whole thing. We did our early trick or treating at a day time event at the Denver Zoo called Boo at the Zoo. They have little trick or treat stations as you walk around the zoo. It’s safe, easy, and it comes with a visit to the zoo.

halloween-fun-parenting

Marry Poppins, a football, the Deathly Hallows, and an owl.

Fast forward, and realize that many kids stop trick or treating with their parents in their early teens. Add it all up, and that means that, as a parent, you will get 10 total Halloweens with your children. After that, they’ll want to trick or treat with their friends, or go to a costume party at someone’s house, or whatever. Either way, it won’t necessarily include you.

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I don’t know about you, but with that limitation, I’m going to go ahead and do it up a bit. We get costumes, go to a few trick or treating places, and carve up pumpkins with our kids. You can worry about them getting a costume they will never wear again, but if you look at it from the perspective of, you get to buy them 10 costumes their whole life, that changes the math a bit.

Halloween Costumes for Kids

Asking your kid what they want to be for Halloween is a good start, but many of them don’t know what the options are. Obviously, if your kiddo loves Curious George and wants to go as Curious George, then done and done.

But, if your child seems to be having trouble deciding what they want, they may not be able to conjure up a full vision of choices. Looking online is one option, but that can lead to unrealistic, or very expensive, choices. I prefer a quick stop into either a Party City, or one of those temporary Halloween shops that pop up each year. We do pretty well at Halloween City, and there always seems to be a 20% off coupon you can get on your phone, or print off. With that discount, the costumes there cost just about what they cost online, and your kiddo gets the joy of walking out of the store with the costume in hand.

This year, our kids went in different directions. 7 decided to go as a football player. He chose that costume only half because he really wanted to be a football player, but he most definitely, 100% wanted a football helmet. Fun is fun, No matter how you get there.

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Our older one with with a cool costume from the video game Assassins Creed. Although none of us have ever played, or really seen, the game, a cool costume of belts and cloaks and hoods, is a cool costume of belts and cloaks and hoods. Through in a cool, plastic, assassin weapon, and you’ve got a sweet Halloween costume.

Halloween Candy

In our neighborhood, we don’t get too many trick or treaters. In part, it’s because we go out trick or treating during prime hours ourselves, but our street is also a side street off of a long, well lit, street with limited participation from neighbors. Whatever the case, we end up with plenty of left over candy.

halloween-candy-parents

If you’re the same, consider buying everyone’s favorites for your own candy bowl. That way, your leftovers can be your Halloween treat, and you won’t have to resort to stealing, or “taxing”, you little one’s hard earned candy.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

 

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Do It Yourself Harry Potter Birthday

So, we just recently pulled off a pretty stellar Harry Potter birthday for our 10-year old that was praised several times by her friends, including a comment I overheard, “This is the most awesome party ever.” The best part is that we didn’t end up buying a bunch of overpriced junk to make it work either.

A Homemade Harry Potter Birthday Theme

The trick to a great do it yourself Harry Potter birthday party is knowing what parts of the movies and books to use for your party theme. Obviously, it would be really cool if you could have flying brooms, and if you pull that off, please let me know how. But, since flying and spells are pretty tricky for us Muggles, there are other things that work out great.

Harry Potter Music

This one is easy. Grab the Harry Potter soundtrack on DVD, or plug your Phone in somewhere. Set the music to background volume. It just gives a nice Harry Potter feel to your party.

Harry Potter Lights

Floating candles like in the Great Dining Hall at Hogwarts would be awesome. I’ve seem something rigged up with thin wire so it looks like they are floating, but we found that stringing up small strings of Christmas style white lights made a really nice Great Hall effect for our birthday party.

Harry Potter Chocolate Frogs

I think you can actually buy these if you can find them. But, if not, what you can buy a chocolate frog mold. The mold is just a piece of plastic with frog-shaped wells. You fill the wells with chocolate and Bam! chocolate frogs.

chocolate frogs

One tip, don’t screw around when it comes to the chocolate. Get the special melting chocolate. It not only melts easy, but it solidifies easy and without cracking or getting fragile. Incidentally, chocolate frogs come in various colors, so you can get clever. Our 10-year old wanted some blue ones.

You can put these on the side of the cake, or as a topper on cupcakes or whatever matches your birthday party.

harry potter chocolate frog cupcakes

Harry Potter Wands

Instead of a goodie bag, how about sending each kiddo home with their very own Harry Potter (style) wand. They sell Harry Potter wands, but they are probably a bit much to be giving out to each child that attends your kid’s Harry Potter theme birthday.

Up on Etsy we found this shop that sells unique Harry Pottery style wands. They come sanded but unpainted. Voila! Instant birthday craft. We setup a painting station and each kiddo got a wand and the chance to paint.

Harry Potter Cards

They appear only briefly in the movie, but there are Harry Potter wizard trading cards that come with the cards. You can buy them online, or take pictures and print the kids on their own wizard trading cards. Each kiddo gets to pick a house and then you print some info on the back.

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Harry Potter Jewelry

Believe it or not, you can get 9 different Harry Potter necklaces for less than $15. Divvy them out one each and that plus a freshly painted wand makes for a pretty decent birthday attendee gift.

Harry Potter Movie

Pick your kiddo’s favorite movie from the Harry Potter series and throw in on after cake. Watch them all sit there holding their wands and wearing their necklaces while they watch the movie.

All in all, it wasn’t really that much work, and the kids had lots of fun without a bunch of cheesy cardboard Harry Potter stuff.

 

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