Summa Marketplace

One of the best things about Summa Academy is that they do project-based learning. Part of every school term involves a big project that all the kids work on teams to accomplish. The last one of this year was the Summa Marketplace, where teams of kids started pretend businesses.

Will’s group ran a pet-sitting business. Several families brought their dogs and paid “Summa Bucks” to have them boarded and played with for an hour or two. Lucy’s group ran a spa, with nail painting, massage, and foot rubs. There were also teaching businesses (I got a basketball lesson!), a video-game arcade, and more.

The kids and parents all loved it so much, we won’t be surprised if this becomes a permanent part of the program there. Great fun.

#69: Visit a Ghost Town

As we exited Death Valley on our way home from Las Vegas, we took a short detour to visit the the town of Rhyolite, NV, or at least where it used to be.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

Gold was discovered in the surrounding hills in 1904, and not long afterwards there were electricity plants, a red light district, a school, and everything else you’d imagine for a small town.

It didn’t last long, though. The largest mine was shut down in 1911, and the electricity turned off in 1916. The whole town existed for just 12 years. Super creepy, super fascinating, and well worth our stop.

Gridium Camp: Las Vegas

So we drove to Las Vegas, the long way round. The reason for the trip was Camp, Gridium‘s quarterly gathering. This was my fifth camp, and it followed the pattern of the others – tons of fun, lots of bonding, and high-productivity work time.

Our location this time was the fabulous Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas. I actually expected the place to be more run-down that it is, given our experience last time.

The downtown area has grown up quite a bit in 5 years, and it was a pretty pleasant place to be; lots of entertainment and food within walking distance, and tons of non-Disneyfied happenings at all hours. Our coffee kit once again saved us from terrible hotel slag for the just-woke-up jolt, and we found a really great hipstery coffee joint for brunch. We ate at Chengdu Taste, the most fabulous and spicy and authentic Chinese food I’ve ever put in my mouth. We also had tapas at Chow, stumbled into an underground techno party at the Downtown Cocktail Room late one night, rode the Fremont Street zipline at 3am, posed for a photo with a million dollars, and saw the world’s largest gold nugget.

There was also a hike! We went out to Red Rocks Canyon, a gorgeous place not far from town, and hiked up to where we could see the city again. The place doesn’t quite seem real.

This was a bittersweet experience for me. Not only was it my last Camp, it was also my last day as a Gridium employee; immediately after driving home I started at Zendesk. I’ll miss working with these brilliant people, and I can’t imagine a better way to cap off my time with them.

EtW: Martanne’s (Mexico)

In the deep southwest, along old Route 66, is a town called Flagstaff. And in this town is a place that is so perfectly from that time and place that it doesn’t quite seem real.

This is part of our Eat The World challenge. Check out the whole thing.

I’m talking about Martanne’s. They’re famous for their chilaquiles (Christmas style), but with a staggering 4½ stars on Yelp for everything else, you can’t really go wrong. The food is delicious, ideally suited for a road trip. If you’re ever in this area, definitely do yourself a favor and eat a meal or three here.

#13: Stay at a Unique Airbnb

On our way to Las Vegas, we had a chance to stay in a truly unique place: on a Navajo reservation.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

The hosts own a ranch on the Navajo reservation near Page, Arizona, and they’ve set up a series of accommodations on part of the pasture – two tents, a cabin, a hogan, and a couple of sheep carts. We managed to reserve one of the tents for a night.

The place is far enough from the city that you can actually see the stars at night. The night we stayed was unseasonably cold, and we were wearing our heaviest layers to chat with the other guests around the campfire. The night was so cold. I even hiked to the hosts’ house about a half-mile away to get extra sleeping bags, and we layered all the blankets we had, but our freezing ears kept waking us up. Becky was pretty miserable.

At 3am we made a bathroom trip, which means bundling up in all our layers and walking a hundred yards to the port-o-let. On the way we decided that we couldn’t just go back to bed, we had to take a walk and absorb some of this majesty. The stars were so bright we barely needed our flashlight. It was quiet, and peaceful, and lovely. We got back to bed about a half-hour later.

The other guests there left pretty early the next morning, but we wanted to stick around for a traditional Navajo breakfast that the hosts provided. I made a fire so we could stand being out of bed, and soon we were dining on blue-corn porridge with honey, some fresh fruit, and coffee. We discovered as we started to pack up that some wild animal had chewed through the power cord of our plug-in cooler in the night. I think it was a coyote, but it could just as well have been one of the ranch dogs.

This was a unique and interesting experience. We got a tiny glimpse into the modern Navajo experience, and it was a real departure from the habits we had fallen into on our road trip. Highly recommended.

#71: Slot Canyon

There we were, driving through Nevada on our way to Las Vegas. And we saw something interesting along the side of the road.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

You can see it in the first photo, kind of a light-tan stripe in the middle of the drab-green desert. Turns out that’s a spectacular Nevada state park called Cathedral Gorge.

We stopped and explored for an hour or so, meandering through slot canyons and up the slopes to rain-excavated caves. The place was nearly deserted, we didn’t really see many people until around lunchtime when the people camping on-site came over to the canyon area for picnics.

This was one of the highlights of our trip. It was really amazing and awe-inspiring, and we’re definitely planning on bringing the kids back here. It’s a little out of the way, being near the Nevada-Utah border, but well worth the trip if you’re anywhere nearby.

#4: Road Trip with Destination (days 5, 8-10)

This trip was so epic we had to split it into two posts. Here’s part two; if you’re feeling lost check out part one.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

Day 5: Flagstaff, AZ to Las Vegas, NV (600 miles)

Today we had a deadline; the meetings I was to attend in Las Vegas were to start at 3pm. That still left plenty of time for a bit of sightseeing, however, so we strolled around the old downtown and admired some street art, then headed to Walnut Canyon for a fascinating hike.

About 700 years ago, there was a whole city in this canyon. The walls are steep, but there are layers of soft rock that would be worn or worked away, leaving large sheltered areas, that people could make into homes. They did, and the walls of this canyon are covered with the ruins of dwellings, storage areas, and the paths the people would use to get up and down. Super interesting.

Then it was time to hit the road, but there was no way we were going to just drive straight through. There’s a stretch of old Route 66 on the way, and it’s a pretty easy detour, so we made the turn. The first town we came to was Seligman, which is the birthplace of the “Historic” Route 66 movement, and the inspiration for the movie Cars. We stopped for a burger, and cruised the old highway until it joined up with the freeway again at Kingman, and from there it was a straight shot to Vegas.

We had hoped to catch a glimpse of the Hoover Dam from the freeway, and we were ready with our cameras out. We reached the bridge across the Colorado River, only to discover the 6-foot-high wind-safety barrier. We couldn’t see a thing. Sigh.

Days 6-8: Las Vegas, NV (30 or so miles)

Then passed three days in Las Vegas, not without remarkable happenings, which we will relate in a separate post. Meetings wrapped around noon on Thursday. 

Day 9: Las Vegas, NV to Hawthorn, NV (600 miles)

We had until Saturday night to get home. Naturally, we decided to drive the scenic route. First stop: Death Valley. We didn’t quite have time to completely take a look at the place, especially when you figure in a 90-minute wait for a wreck to clear. (It’s hard to see in the photos, but there’s a medevac chopper that landed in the middle of the road.) The place was beautiful, stark, and hot. If we’d come through about two weeks earlier, we would have seen the whole desert in Super Bloom, but there were still a few scattered flowering cactuses for us to appreciate.

We stopped at a giant rest stop/candy store (giant malted milk balls!) for some ice cream and a break, then made our way 200 more miles north, to a little motel on the shore of Walker Lake. We arrived long after dark, around 9pm, and awoke the next morning to a lovely view.

Day 10: Hawthorn, NV to Klamath Falls, OR (360 miles)

We strolled down to the lakeside for some photos, and made a couple of lizardy friends. We ate some snacks and hit the road. A little ways north we had a choice: stay on the pavement and be boring, or take some gravel roads and see Pyramid Lake. Pretty sure you know which one we chose.

This wasn’t a particularly challenging dirt road, but we were glad to be in the Jeep. It was the kind of thing that was scary in the old Subaru, but we weren’t worried at all. The lake is gorgeous, big, and mostly empty.

A ways further on we rejoined the road, and from there it was easy roads all the way to Klamath Falls. We knew we were nearing the end of our trip, and the effort of finding something more “charming” or “unique” sounded like too much. We checked Airbnb, but couldn’t decide. So we ended up staying in what was the poshest room of our entire journey, in a motel that had a real hot breakfast, and cookies after 7pm. We settled in and watched movies.

Day 11: Klamath Falls, OR to Vancouver, WA (300 miles)

Back in Oregon, and back on I-5, it truly felt like our trip was over.We made time for just one rest stop on Highway 58, and lunch in Eugene. We trucked through Salem and picked up the kids, and headed home.

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Here’s the data that our Automatic gizmo collected. Total trip distance: 2,750 miles. Eagle-eyed map readers might notice that there’s a line between Seattle to Portland in this graph – that’s because Becky and Lucy’s retreat ended on the 24th, the same day our odyssey began. So it shows up on the map, but rest assured I didn’t include it in the figure above.

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#34: Find a new school for Will

We usually keep this part of our lives private, but we just made a change so big you’ll find out about it even if we don’t say anything.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

We love our son. Immensely. And we want to give him every opportunity to grow up to be a happy, healthy adult. But he has some emotional demons standing in his way, and he needs help to get past them. More and different help than we can offer, and at different times than we can offer it.

With the help of some compassionate professionals here in Portland, we found a school that’s perfectly suited to help him with these challenges. It’s called the Sandhill Center, it’s located near Albuquerque, and he’ll be spending the next 12-18 months there, with professionals that can help him learn to overcome the obstacles in his life, and we’ll be supporting him both from afar (lots phone and video calls) and in person (we visit every six weeks).

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We spent the whole day at Sandhill yesterday, and were consistently amazed by the warmth and compassion of the staff. We spent a couple of hours being educated on their methods and philosophies, and the more time we spent there, the more right this place seemed for him. We had been expecting something like a boarding school, but the actual feel is more like a family home. Will was terrified in the car on the way there, but by the end of the day he was happy and excited, and only a little sad to see us go. He joked with us: “you can cancel my return ticket now!”

This might seem sudden to you, but it’s had a long run-up. We’ve tried three different schools, homeschooling mixed with private tutors, and two counselors, but Sandhill is head-and-shoulders above all of them in terms of their capability and level of support. This isn’t the sort of thing we would do lightly, so we ask that you please just trust us that this is exactly the right place for him to fill his emotional toolbox.

Also, prepare for lots of New Mexico posts. We’re going to be down there a lot.

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#4: Road Trip with a Destination (Days 1-4)

Usually we plan our road trips a bit more in advance, but when opportunities present themselves, sometimes you just have to take them.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2016 challenge. Here’s the full list.

We already had a trip to Las Vegas planned, because my work had a big summit there. But about halfway through getting ready to catch our flights, we realized we had a chance to turn it into a road trip. So at about 10am on a Friday we canceled our flights, rearranged our day, and got started.

Day 1: Vancouver, WA to Prineville, OR (155 miles)

I fought rush hour traffic to get the kids and dogs dropped off, then went back home and got started packing. We didn’t even begin the real trip until about 5pm.

We found a nice little gem for dinner: the Skyway Bar & Grill in Zigzag (try the truffled cheese grit cake, you’ll be transformed). Then we tried to get through as much road as possible before stopping. We made it to Prineville just after dark, and booked the very last room at the Rustlers Inn, which is super kitschy, charming, clean, and comfortable.

Day 2: Prineville, OR to Ely, NV (620 miles)

This was going to be a long day, so we got started early. We munched our leftover dinner for a quick breakfast, and made some coffee using the Blue Bottle/Timbuk2 travel hipster-pourover kit that Gridium had given me for Christmas the year before. Pretty sure it was the best cup of coffee in Prineville that day. Thanks, Gridium!

One of the things that flavors the memory of this trip was the audio book we listened to on the way. Probably most people reading this have heard of the movie The Martian, where NASA spends untold billions of dollars rescuing Matt Damon. Well, that story was a book first, and the reading done by R. C. Bray is just perfect, and a great way to keep your mind occupied on a long drive.

This was also when we fell in love with our Jeep all over again. We got the one with the diesel engine, which means it has a huge tank, and gets 25-30 miles to the gallon. We put about $50 into the tank on this day, and it was over 600 miles. The audio system is great, the cruise control can adjust speed to avoid crashing into other cars, and it’s just really comfortable.

We picked up a convenience-store lunch and ate on the road. We passed the Mailheur wildlife reserve (which had lately been in the news), and saw some fields that had been deliberately flooded to make a habitat for migrating sandhill cranes. We snapped an Instagram at the Nevada border, and instantly got a ❤️ from the casino 100 yards down the road.

We did a bit of research when we had network service, and discovered that there’s a motel in the town of Ely that is made up like a jail house. In fact, that’s its name: the Jailhouse Casino/Motel, and the rooms are cells, and the restaurant inside has booths that are behind actual bars. Not something we can really pass up. We got there around 6, and sat down for classic steakhouse fare. We went for a walk around town afterwards, and got stopped on the street by two guys with a microphone asking questions. So now our voices are on an episode of the Van Sounds podcast.

We went to bed around 9. Don’t worry, Ely is on Pacific time.

Day 3: Ely, NV to Page, AZ (360 miles)

We got up early due to noisy neighbors, and roused ourselves for the “continental” breakfast. It was pretty sad, we were the only people there under the age of 60, and it might have been called the “continence” breakfast for the other patrons’ conversational topics. At least we had good coffee.

It got cold enough overnight that the car was frosted. We went for a cold daylight walk around town, and discovered lots of murals, but also some confirmation of our impression the night before: this town is 10% sparkle, and 50% run-down and closed. We grabbed gas and some better breakfast on our way out of town.

Halfway across the state, we made one of the best stops we’ve ever made: Cathedral Gorge State Park.

We crossed into Utah, and over the Black Mountains, but didn’t have time to stop at Zion or Bryce Canyon. It was Easter weekend anyways, so those places were going to be mobbed. But someday we’ll be back, and we’ll bring the kids. Our scenery was great anyways, though.

We made it to Page around 5, stopping on our way into town to gape at the huge Glen Canyon Dam holding back Lake Powell, then found our unique lodgings (post forthcoming!) after some Mexican food and giant margaritas. We crossed time zone boundaries something like 6 times, because while Nevada is on the same time as Portland, Utah is on Mountain time, and while most of Nevada observes daylight-savings time, the Navajo reservation (where we stayed that night) doesn’t. So we never knew what time it was.

Day 4: Page, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ (210 miles)

After breakfast, we packed up and drove a bit out of the way to find this place that had been completely covered with people when we drove past it the night before: Horseshoe Bend. When you get to the cliff, there’s no guardrail, so I got sweaty watching Becky sit two feet from a thousand-foot sheer drop to the river below.

We also stopped at Waterhole Canyon, a little-known slot canyon just south of Horseshoe Bend. We had hoped for a bit of light hiking, but it was too steep for Becky to get into with her hip injury, so we settled for a couple of photos from the top and carried on.

Now that we had a bit more time, we decided to detour and see the Grand Canyon! We went straight there, stopped for a picnic lunch, saw the lookout tower, and then balked when we saw the crowds at the visitor center. We’ll bring the kids back in the off-season.

From there we headed south, out of the park, to our planned lodging for the night in Flagstaff. This was a light driving day, so we had a chance to really explore the northern, non-college, historic part of town, which was pretty nice. At this point we had finished the audiobook version of The Martian, and watched the movie in our room. It was pretty good, but the book was way better.

To be continued…