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Nestled next to Moab, Utah, and only a few hours Southeast of Salt Lake City, Arches National Park is worth the trip even if only for a day stop-over. We drove into Moab in the early evening, dropping our things at one of many economy hotels in the town, and continued into the park for a sunset hike up to the infamous Delicate Arch. Racing the sun, we practically ran the 1.5-mile climb to the arch, laughing at our ragged breath and tired legs. The exertion was welcome after a full day’s drive from Texas. The views were impeccable, shifting with the light and shadows. If possible, prepare to stay in the park after sundown to see the night sky. We packed lunches and spent the entire following day in the park exploring and hiking. Below is a list of some favorite spots and tips from our day and a half here.


TRAILS WE ENJOYED

Delicate Arch | About three miles round trip, this iconic arch is a popular one. It often represents the park and even the state of Utah (on license plates). There are some steep sections during the ascent, so allow more time if you’re traveling with children. At the base of the trail, near the parking lot, there is a cave of petroglyphs, too. This spot is a favorite for photographers at sunrise and sunset, so be prepared for crowds, especially in the summertime. Also, consider bringing a flashlight and fleece jacket to stay and enjoy the night sky.

Landscape Arch | This arch is nestled along the Devil’s Garden trailhead and is the world’s largest arch. Spanning 290 feet, the scale is incredible and worth seeing. The trail is easy and manicured, which also means it’s heavily trafficked. Unlike some of the other arches in the park, visitors are required to view it from behind a fenced area after a large chunk of the formation broke off and fell a few years ago. Hiking enthusiasts and climbers should continue past Landscape Arch toward a primitive trail that climbs up onto a couple of towering rock formations. This was our favorite part, but would be more difficult (and dangerous) for young children. A longer, more difficult primitive loop trail also diverts from the main trail just before Delicate Arch.

Park Avenue | This trail is an easy out-and-back and perfect for geology lovers! You could see the rock textures and formations really well and the way erosion and time have created patterns in the rock. You can also park at the trailhead for a sweeping view or walk down a few steps into the canyon to get a feel of the space. Unless someone in your group is interested to study the rocks, there’s little need to walk the full mile where it connects to a different part of the main the road again. Also, because the path is in a canyon of formations, it was really hot, even early in the summer day.

Balanced Rock | This anomaly is just off the main road, so it’s possible to drive by and enjoy it from afar without stopping. For those who want a closer look, the trail is an easy quarter-mile walk from the parking lot.


GENERAL TIPS

Prepare for the Weather | This is the high desert, so temps can fluctuate with the hour. In the summertime, the day temperatures climb into the 90s and in certain spots tucked away from wind gusts, it feels like an oven. Be prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. Pack a fleece jacket to have on hand when temps drop at night, even in summer.

Plan for Stargazing | Pack headlamps or flashlights to enjoy the night sky at Delicate Arch or an easier trailhead. We missed doing this, but I hear the views are phenomenal. Also, if you have one, pack a large lens for your camera to catch the night sky.

Arrive Early in Summer |Like every national park, Arches is more crowded in the summertime. Lines begin to form at the entrance around 9 or 10am, so arrive early if you’re staying outside of the park.

Drive Instead of Hike | Not everyone enjoys or is able to hike trails, but Arches offers sweeping views to enjoy from the car windows, too. Even if you’re passing through Moab, it’s worth the time to drive through and view the arches and formations near the road. Balanced Rock, Park Avenue, the Petroglyph caves are easy spots to enjoy just off the road. Landscape Arch is a short, easy walk in.

There are over 400 national parks in the United States and a variety of ways to enjoy them. Whether you plan to visit all of them or simply select a few bucket-list spots, a national park annual pass might be a valuable resource. We used an America the Beautiful pass for our travel this summer, and here are some things I learned that might be helpful when deciding whether it’s right for you.

  1. Check if you qualify for free entrance without a pass. There are several opportunities to visit national parks for free during the year and skip the pass altogether. More than half of the national parks and lands do not charge admission, so do your research before you plan your trip. Also, thanks to the Every Kid in the Park initiative, families with fourth-grade students will automatically have admittance to all national parks and government lands during their fourth-grade school year. For families with multiple children, that means multiple years of passes (or opportunities anyhow). Plus, the National Park Services offers free entrance days a few times each year. One is coming up next month on the National Park Services Day.
  2. Share the national park pass with a friend. The America the Beautiful pass can be shared by two separate people or households. As long as you are not planning to travel together in more than one car, you can split the cost and enjoy any park for almost the same cost as one of the more popular parks.
  3. Read the fine print. National Park passes cover entrance into the park for one vehicle carrying up to four adults and unlimited children. It does not cover amenities like camping, parking, permits, or special tours. If you’re planning to stay in the park, plan for extra uncovered expenses.
  4. Upgrade on the road. If you visit one park and decide to upgrade to an annual pass later, show your entrance receipt at an NPS fee site and they should credit it toward your annual pass.
  5. Purchase your pass online, but don’t lose it! If you know the parks you plan to visit, order your pass online ahead of time to save time in line at the visitor’s centers. This is particularly helpful if you are traveling in the summertime when national parks tend to be more crowded and lines can be longer. Keep in mind, online purchases through NPS may take upwards of 20 business days to arrive so allow plenty of time for it to arrive. You can also purchase passes online at LL Bean or REI locations around the country which may ship more quickly. Once you receive your pass, don’t lose it! They are not replaceable.
SUMMER ROAD TRIP on Spotify

The summer season offers us opportunities, wrapped in sunshine, beyond our normal experience. The blur of passing scapes paired with a good tune creates whimsy and a sense of adventure. Guitar chords. The changing horizon. The hum of rolling asphalt. Rhythm. Whether you are on your way to the water, the mountains, or a friend’s house this summer, I hope this playlist will feed your sense of adventure.

I Know Bayonne | Wheat Wilderado | Fool for Love Lord Huron | South Hippo Campus |We Will All Be Changed Seryn | Notice Vodi | Town & Country Bibio | Pictures of Girls Wallows |Better Views Yellow House | Down the Line Beach Fossils |Seabirds Monohans | Same Bayonne

Family travel is such a privilege and gift, and still, the process can be harrowing. As we packed for our current road trip, I realized there are a few habits I have developed over the years that help planning and packing for the road feel smoother and more approachable. I jotted down three impactful tips below for you to borrow and make your own.

1. Delegate Packing with Lists / Getting everyone properly packed and ready to go can be stressful! Regardless of age, children are often eager for travel, so several years ago, I began channeling that energy into letting them pack their own bags, even if it was just for the weekend. I would then check and edit what they packed and they were done! Now everyone packs their own bag, but to ensure we don’t leave out any of the essentials, I create a list ahead of time for all of us. It saves so much energy and tugs-of-war about what is essential. These lists are extremely helpful for me, too, as there are so many details to keep in mind. Here’s my process:

  • Create a Reproducible List | Make a family packing list in GoogleDocs (or some other program), titled with the season, location, and time period, i.e. “Two-Week Summer Road Trip / UT, WY, MT.” This will be helpful to reference and copy/paste for future travel.
  • Label Lists Clearly | Make the list easy for everyone to use. Make specific lists for each child if they are too nuanced, or label one general list for all to follow. I find numbering items of clothing is helpful, too!
  • Print + Distribute to Each Child | Print a list for each child (maybe with images for non-readers) and clip it to a clipboard. Hand each one a clipboard and have them check off as they create their piles to pack.
  • Check + Edit Piles | When they announce they are finished, use the checklist and double-check their piles. Make any necessary edits, and have them load their bag and set it aside.

2. Pack Individual Food Bags / For longer travel trips, when food stops are imperative, we tend to pack our own food and drinks to save money and make wiser food choices. This idea works whether you are flying or driving. Sometimes distributing all the food during the trip becomes a part-time job, so we make food bags for each person to enjoy during the day, including a variety of dried fruits, meats, and nuts, little treats, fresh fruit, and bars. The idea is for each of us to choose what we eat and when during the day, but also to fill our bellies with foods that won’t make us feel bad or damage our digestion while we sit for hours in one space. For this trip, I purchased everything ahead of time on Amazon or at Trader Joe’s. Although I typically avoid pre-packaged snacks, for this purpose, it’s worth it for me. The same concept could be created from bulk. Also, for day-long drives, we pack lunch in a cooler to stop at a park along the way, to play, stretch our legs, and enjoy time in the fresh air. Here’s what is in our food bags this trip:

  • New Primal Beef Thins / These are crispier than most beef jerky and made without any of the preservatives. We love them! And this package came with them pre-packaged––perfect for individual use.
  • Justin’s Cinnamon Almond Butter packets with fresh apples and banana / These nut butters are delightful, and the individual packets help us to avoid needing utensils. There are a variety of flavors to choose, too! I also like having fresh fruit available for them to eat. It’s best if the banana is eaten early on since it tends to brown
  • Rx Bars or Clif ZBars / I love Rx Bars for their whole ingredients and substance, but not everyone in my family agrees. Wink. So I also ordered a box of Clif ZBars for the kids.
  • trail mix packets / You can find these on Amazon, too, but they are less expensive at TJ’s. I choose the mix without chocolate to prevent a melty mess.
  • a cranberry-orange scone / I picked up a packet of these at TJ’s so everyone would have a breakfast treat in the car to enjoy.
  • personal water bottle / Many places in airports and travel stops have refill stations for water bottles.

3. Create a Personal SOS Bag / SOS is a little dramatic, but we all relate with needing a few things on hand for TLC when we travel. Everyone brings something to read or draw/write on in the car, but I also have a little SOS bag for random needs along the way, even if it’s just for me. Wink. Here’s what I packed this trip:

  • Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Organic hand sanitizer / This is helpful to have on hand for all obvious reasons. I even use it to spray surfaces in a pinch. It’s made with lavender oils and without any of the toxic chemicals or preservatives. Plus, it smells so good.
  • Beautycounter Face Cloths / These are wonderful for travel! I use them to refresh, first with my face and then at times my pits and feet. They’re made with safe ingredients, are oil and fragrance-free, and are compostable, too!
  • Beautycounter Melting Body Balm / My skin tends to dry out when we travel, and this luxurious body balm feels so good on my hands, feet, and elbows. For the kids’ dry patches, I prefer this unscented option. It is also wonderful for mild eczema.
  • Ningxia Nitro / A friend gifted these to me for our trip, and I love them for the afternoon slump when I tend to crave an energy boost. These are less expensive through wholesale, so if you don’t know anyone who sells YL, I can connect you!
  • Essential Oil Roller / There are SO many resources with EOs for travel to cover here, but I love having 1 or 2 on hand while we travel. Sometimes I carry my own blend or one premade. My favorite blends are Peace+Calming, Stress Away, and Valor from YL.
  • Hydrating Facial Mist / Can you tell hydration is key for us? Lol. Sometimes I don’t need to wash or clean my skin, I just need a little moisture. This facial mist is fantastic! It releases a gentle mist with just the right amount of hydration. Two sprays is often plenty, so it often lasts forever. The peony ingredient smells so lovely, and it’s safe for the whole family, too.
  • Lip Moisture / I always keep lip balm, lip conditioner, and a Twig Sheer Lipstick (if I want some light color) on hand for family moisture. Spending time in the car AC or traveling to drier climates always dries out our lips. I reach for one of these often during travel.

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Some people prefer large soirees with friends and food and gifts to celebrate monumental birthdays, and we have hosted a couple of those fun events over the years. Yet as Mark’s fortieth birthday loomed, I wanted something quieter and more restful, something that wouldn’t require us crafting a menu or rushing through home projects to enjoy. Neither of us has the energy for that sort of work in late May and early June when the school year has just ended; instead we tend more toward collapsing, preferably somewhere cool and within a day’s driving distance.

During a conversation last spring with my friend Ruth, she side-mentioned her family’s rental property in Colorado, and after hearing a few details, I was instantly smitten with the idea of Vista La Plata, their charming home on 70 acres just outside of Durango, Colorado. I booked a week for our family over Mark’s birthday weekend and began planning the trip in secret, telling Mark only the dates to block from his calendar. Tim and Kristen joined us since the house was large enough to accommodate our combined seven children. It was the perfect surprise gift, one that didn’t require an ounce of work from him until we loaded the car.

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Vista La Plata is filled with light and flowing curtains, perfect for rising with the sunlight and coffee, and also for living with the windows open. Mark brought his hammock, which nestled perfectly on the front porch next to the rockers, and we all took turns during the week finding a little refuge there. After a long drive the first day, we were happy to plant ourselves on the property for the first day or so. The kids also enjoyed the freedom of exploring the property on their own, discovering different plants and trees and even a fort.  A few times, we drove down the road to Mormon Reservoir, a quiet and hidden reserve to kayak, fish, or skip rocks after dinner. We often passed small herds of deer nibbling the grasses, unbothered by our passing.

The lowest level of the home belonged to the kids for the week, where they played board games and enjoyed rest and art time. My older boys enjoyed their cave-like sleeping quarters (their favorite sleeping arrangement) and having a cool place to tuck away when the day felt hot and tired. Although there are so many family activities in Durango area, we took the week slow, keeping with the spirit of rest. We inadvertently spent two afternoons at the Durango Mountain Resort, where we let each of the kids pick one ticket activity. The boys opted to zip-line, while the girls bungee-jumped (feet down on a trampoline), and afterward Mark and I hiked alone with our boys, while Kristen and Tim took the other kids home for rest. On this afternoon, we discovered half of a snow patrol sled and carried it to a large patch of snow for play.

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On another other day, we all took the chairlift to the top of the mountain and ate lunch together, and afterward Mark and I took all of the older children hiking. Olive and Shepherd found flags along the way and carried them with us, and later when we crossed paths with another family, they asked if we were a mountain-guided school. We laughed, and then I thought how lovely that would be if this were our daily school.

We spent Saturday in downtown Durango at the farmers market, admiring handmade goods and tasting yummy foods. The kids walked away with balloon animals, and Olive’s popped on the long straw-like grasses within two minutes. There was a car show that day as well, which we wandered through and then waded in the icy cold Animas river. For lunch, we ate on the patio at Carver Brewing Co. and then meandered through Old Colorado Vintage and of course into Cream Bean Berry for gelato and affogatos (espresso poured over vanilla gelato).

A perk of having two sets of adults on a family vacation is swapping date nights, which we did. Mark and I strolled the downtown area for a bit and then went to dinner at the Cypress Cafe, which was a treat, especially sitting on the patio at dusk. I ordered salmon wrapped in grape leaves and Letters to Elliot to drink and have been attempting to re-create it ever since.

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Mark and I recently found a postcard from the 1950s in an antique store, where someone wrote to a friend, “we made the trip and only had to change our tires once!” Sometimes I forget how far travel has come in such a short period of time, that families regularly travel internationally, let alone a few states away in a car. I’m grateful for the ways travel broadens our scope of life and experience, how it teaches us patience and the power of improvisation. On the day of our arrival, just an hour from the house, Mark discovered a nail in two of our tires. Tim shuttled Kristen and myself to the house, helped unload, and then returned to pick up Mark and my boys. It was the longest day, but still worth it for the week that came after it. Happy birthday, my dearest.

For more images of our travels: HERE

For more ideas and activities around Vista La Plata: HERE

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Deciding what is essential to pack for each family trip can feel like simplifying a complex math equation, one that includes a limited travel budget, growing children, and shifting weather. Roughly nine years ago, when I had three babies under four and all the baby things to transport [and all of the eye rolls from Mark while packing them], I began honing my packing lists––really considering what we need to travel as a family. About five years ago, I began keeping an online file of my packing lists, titled with the date and location of our travels. I’m realizing, as I type these words, this might be a little neurotic, but having a record has helped me pack well for new trips and even share the lists with others at times. They also function as a journal of sorts, revealing odd family quirks and things like diapers and blankies as they disappear from the list altogether.  

Although having a list doesn’t mean everything occurs as planned or that I never forget something, it does save money in our budget and space in the car. Travel is a beautiful gift and an additional expense to our typical budget, so when it comes to preparing for it, I want to purchase only what is necessary and use the rest of our budget on good food and special experiences together. Below are some tips for how I efficiently shop and plan vacation essentials for our longer family trips away from home.

make a list two weeks before travel /  When it’s time to plan for packing––typically a week or two before travel–– I open a new document on my computer, titled with the location and date, for example, “Colorado, June 2016.” To save time and thinking power, I often copy/paste from a previous travel list and then revise the details using these minimal packing tips. I categorize each list so it’s easy to see what the kids or I might be missing. On a side note, printing a list for everyone in the family to hold, make notes on, and cross off might be very helpful. Consider dictating a list (or printing one) for older children to pack themselves, too. My children enjoy the independence of having their own part to manage.

borrow or shop secondhand  / With growing children, it seems there are always holes in the wardrobe to fill: outgrown, stained, or seasonal clothing and shoes. I note the things we need on the same packing list in a category “THINGS TO PURCHASE OR BORROW.” This list helps me stick to what we need and not be distracted by everything else. When possible, I borrow items from friends that my kids might not use again after our trip, especially seasonal items that might not be sold right now. I also often shop secondhand to stretch our budget, although in the last year or two I’ve had less time to run out and browse our local shops for what my kids need and more often shop online, looking for the best sales. I recently learned about thredUP, an online store that sells like-new items secondhand, and was able to find almost everything we needed there for our trip and summer closet. High. Five. I found a like-new REI fleece and pair of shorts for the boys, a couple of Crewcuts sundresses for the girls (one even still had the tags on it), and a light-weight denim J.Crew top for myself. The best part? I paid a fraction of the original cost, saving $362 which was enough to purchase groceries for the week, plus send the boys down the zipline and the girls bungee jumping at the Durango Mountain Resort. My children each had a missing piece or two of their wardrobe filled, and Mark and I still had enough money set aside for the experiences we really care about.

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set a bag limit for each family member / When anyone travels by plane, the airline sets a bag limit (and size) both for fuel efficiency and the capacity of the plane. Somehow that doesn’t always transfer to car travel, and early on in our family years, I lived by the unspoken mantra, “when in doubt, throw it in the car.” But this is cumbersome and exhausting for everyone involved. It impeded travel space and sometimes also safety, when it blocked our mirrors. Our family now has an inferred bag limit for travel. Each member gets one duffel or backpack for clothing/toiletries and one small book bag to keep at their seat. This naturally forces us to pack efficiently and positively turns our attention to the experience itself, instead of feeling as though we’re preparing for a family move. Here’s some quick ways we keep packing light:

pack clothing within a similar palette / In general, I prefer to purchase clothing in similar palettes for myself and my children. That way, we can more easily mix and match pieces again and again to recreate what we wear. I stand by the same philosophy when packing for a trip. And I loved that thredUP not only allowed me to limit searches by size but also by color. I quickly browsed sundresses in the blues and purples and found one for each of my girls that worked, and also a black fleece for Burke (the color he requested).

choose clothing for more than one purpose / Packing minimally requires each piece to work harder. My rule is every piece must be able to work for more than one purpose. Pack a sundress that is loose enough for playing and hiking, but nice enough to wear to a museum or to dinner. Pack shoes or sandals you can wear anywhere, and also get wet in a river or by a pool (Saltwater sandals and Keens are family favorites, and here’s a pair on thredUP!)

be realistic about the activity bag / I notoriously overpack on books, often because I’m wanting to make too much of the time. I’m learning to really consider how I’ll spend the time away, and now encourage my children to do the same. This trip, they each packed a couple of books, a sketch pad, colored pencils, pencil, and headphones for audiobooks and music.


This post is sponsored by thredUP. Cloistered Away readers can save 40%OFF on your first order by using the code CLO40 before July 31. Thank you for supporting businesses that keep this space alive.

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Dearest children,

We are now several weeks into our school year and have been reading oodles of fables together lately, samples from the more familiar Aesop’s Fables to India’s Jataka Tales to West African Folklore, and while the characters and cultures these tales represent dramatically shift, the themes within them often do not. Each in its own manner offers a simple lesson on how one ought to live or possibly in some instances, such as the devious Anansi or other foolish characters, how one ought not live at all. Perhaps one day we will think on your childhood summers in a similar manner, unique versions of the same narrative, personal tales and images that become a tonic when life demands us to be more focused and diligent.

Naturally, as you each grow older, life will require more diligence of you. It is the mark of maturity, the preface to adulthood. While you are young, I hope to store enough adventure and courage in your thoughts and heart so that you learn to seek it on your own someday, a tonic for the harder parts of adult living. You are children now, and while I can’t imagine it differently, you will not always be. It is the nature of every living thing to change and grow, and so it is with you. Part of this portrait project has been a catalogue of this change, a small way to bottle your childhood for all of us to enjoy when it is gone. Maybe one day, like the simple fables, you will sift through them and discover lessons tucked beneath our play, travel, and silly stories. At the very least, I hope as adults, they will remind you to leave space for frivolity, room to cast off form and simply play or explore possibilities when necessary. Wisdom and discipline require the balance of a wild, courageous heart. These too are lessons for us in how one ought to live.

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You will soon discover that some seasons in life will force you to create or make something with very little. You may feel overwhelmed by possibility and endless choices. Perhaps then you might remember the feel of our paper roadmap in your hands, not a smooth, glass computer, but paper, bound and wrinkled with use. You might recall the way you traced your small fingers over red and blue and green lines, each one overlapping and leading some place distinct. Like that map, your life also will one day freely spread across veins of unknowns. It will require courage, as doing anything new or unknown often does. I hope then you will also remember your toes in the cold Pacific Ocean or climbing the red rocks in Southern Utah or picking fresh blueberries on the mountainside of North Carolina or even random no wheres on the road in between. All paths lead to distinct, unknown places, and you will need courage and wisdom to get there. Like our own summer travels, you’ll discover in life also, the longer, harder journeys often have the sweetest rewards.

As a mother, I am learning my own lessons of sorts, the hardest being how to slowly release you. My maternal instinct naturally cringes at watching you climb or slide down boulders, walk across waterfalls, or coast down rapids, but right now we are with you and have the privilege to participate with you. It’s exhilarating to see how you come alive with accomplishment and how you manage unknowns. These moments, too, are a gift, ones I will return to when you are older and off on your own adventure without us. I am grateful it’s not time for that quite yet. Travel has been one of my favorite experiences with you all. While I know most lessons from your childhood will come through our everyday living. I expect our summer adventures will always hold a special place in each of our hearts. I’m so proud of you.

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Although the American West has my heart, this summer we traveled East, leaving Georgia and South Carolina as the only states we haven’t visited in the Southern half of the U.S. While your father and I were in Taos, you all were at grandparent camp with Nina and Papa and your cousins. They make that time so special for you with night swims, library trips, art projects, and fun excursions. You each look forward to this week all throughout the year. And of course, I don’t have a portraits of you that week since I wasn’t there. At the back end of summer we visited PoPo and JoJo, who took you to a trampoline park and introduced you to eating crab legs. Olive, I had to sit there and crack every one for you, to which you’d turn and say, “can I have some more of that white meat?” as though it were just that easy. On the other hand, Liam and Burke, you loved having a meal that required tools in order to eat.

In July, we spent a week in Asheville with good friends in a beautiful cabin generously lent to us. There the older three white-water rafted, while Olive and I enjoyed our own time together playing with friends, reading together, and picking blueberries for dinner. Blythe, Dad says you giggled the entire time on the rapids, and I can’t wait to do it again when Olive is a bit bigger. Blueberries grew right off the back porch, and each day before meals you all would take bowls and fill them. Liam, you often led the initiative knowing it might amount to blueberry pie or pancakes, which it did.  We hiked beautiful trails, although Burke, you informed me you prefer the Rocky Mountains in the West, to the dense forests of the East. I appreciated having this little inlet into your thoughts. We only briefly strolled the downtown area, visiting the general hardware store and listening to the rotating musicians play outside its doors. We also ducked into a small art gallery before it began to rain and we headed home. We rode bikes through the incredible Biltmore Estate and walked through the warm house, if you can even call it a house. On our way home, we visited Dave and Kara in Alabama, where we again hiked gorgeous green woods, played with new friends, went to the science museum and walked around large space rockets. As they prepared for work one day, Olive asked them, “you have to work during the summer?” and I realized how special this warm season really is for us. We have chosen a smaller life in effort to have time, and I don’t regret it one bit.

We went to Houston with your father, and while he attended meetings at Rice, we cruised through both the Fine Art and Natural Science Museums and swam in the hotel pool–a rare luxury.  At one point we attempted a midday walk around Hermann Park and nearly melted, and opted to go back to the room and watch episodes of Shark Week instead. When we finally returned home, you all attended a local drama camp, where you made your own costumes and participated in a small musical. Liam you sort of despised the singing and dancing parts but loved making costumes and developing the set. Burke, you were the laugh of the show playing the giant with an over-sized head. Girls, you both adore singing and dancing and felt right in your element. What a great finale to summer’s end (and a helpful way for me to get a few projects in order before the school year began). I’m so grateful for every bit of it. And for you.

With all my heart,

Mom

TAOS_websize-18TAOS, NEW MEXICO

Take me someplace where we can be silent together.
― Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things

We left for New Mexico before the sun, my one hand in his, the other holding coffee. I’ve always struggled to speak in the early morning, and after 14 years of marriage, I love that he doesn’t require it of me. Instead, music softly wafted through the car. We floated along the highway side-by-side, grounded only by touch and with respect for the dark quiet. Our words loomed with the glowing line on the horizon, a nebulous and powerful light. Over the week, we would speak often and laugh. We would eat, drink, wander, and enjoy one another in every possible way, but we were also silent of heart and spirit. We went away to listen.

TAOS, NEW MEXICOArroyo Seco, New MexicoEarthship | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOTwo note-worthy roads lead into Taos from the South, the High Road and the Low Road to Taos. Although not originally intended, we entered by way of the Low Road after missing a turn earlier in our drive. The metaphors feel endless. Winding along the Rio Grande River, between the rising rock ledges and the cold rolling rapids, one cannot help but feel small and vulnerable, a more humble perspective of glory compared to the sweeping vistas of the high road, a path we’d take home at the end of the week. We turned off the highway at some point, onto a tiny two-lane road, a more direct route according to our map. “Are you sure this is the right way?” he would ask. I would merely shrug, looking at our moving dot on the screen, “yes, according to the map.” Eventually, this path would lead us through Orilla Verde and then up a winding dirt road through the Rio Grande Gorge. The nearby Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a common tourist stop, would have been the safer, more obvious route, providing stunning and broad views of the canyon below. But driving up the canyon wall on a single-lane dirt road held a different sort of splendor and gratitude. The low road held quiet beauty and gentle lessons.

TAOS, NEW MEXICOTAOS, NEW MEXICOEarthship | Taos, New MexicoThe Love Apple | Taos, New Mexico

We spent the week in a more remote, off-the-grid home on the Taos Mesa, running solely on rain water and solar power reserves. Nestled within the Earthship Biotecture community, this spot seemed both educational and restorative, a perfect pairing for the level of simplicity we had in mind that week. We craved something quieter and more in tune with the natural rhythms of the wild. Souls are rarely stitched back together with city lights and busy streets, certainly not our own. We yearned for creation, to rise with the morning sun and rest with the afternoon rains, to purchase local whole foods and prepare them ourselves, to somehow again become comfortable without agendas and imperatives to see and do. 

Over the week, we would read, write, dream, and pray. These routines were not rigid or forced, but organic and restful. Our conversations occurred everywhere without the formalities of deadlines or time constraints. We reflected on God’s goodness in the same breath as our casual banter and joking. The time was slow but not boring, one activity and thought rolling into the next, mixed with idle afternoons and naps, glasses of wine, and long walks. We strategized ways to carry this same spirit into our daily life at home, how in spite of busy days we would live more slowly, more intently focused this coming academic year. For two driven people, this would require practical steps.

TAOS, NEW MEXICODH Lawrence Ranch | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOTaos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoEarthship | Taos, New MexicoThe summer air in northern New Mexico is hot and arid. Cold summer rains commonly arrive in the afternoon, soaking the hot earth like tea, infusing the wind with faintest aromas of Silver Sage. Hiking guidebooks warn travelers of thunderhead clouds while in the mountains, as they drop rain quickly and can even cause hypothermia in the summertime due to the elevation. The lower areas near the river can rise quickly. We mostly hiked in the morning, just after our coffee and view of the sun cresting the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I’m convinced anyone could be excited about the early morning if they woke up to this light.

On our favorite morning, we climbed to Williams Lake in the Taos Ski area. The hike is a somewhat steep 2 mile-trek to an alpine lake through national forest and streams and snow (even in late June ). If we ever return, I’ll carry a blanket, books, and picnic lunch with us. We could have stayed all day. Around the lakeside, over the rocky perimeter and tucked behind the trees, a waterfall parades down the mountainside. We found a large piece of driftwood wedged between large boulders there, and he carried it back across the lake and down the mountain so it could rest in our home, a tangible memory.

Rio Grande Gorge | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOWilliams Lake | Taos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoTaos, New Mexico

The town of Taos is casual and varied, as are the people. Like many small and beautiful places, artists flock, earning money by selling their wares in tourist markets near the Rio Grande Gorge bridge or in one of the local shops of Arroyo Seco or Old Taos. My favorite stop was Weaving Southwest, a minimal shop full of hand-dyed yarns, locally woven tapestries and apparel. At the back of the store, one of the shop-owners was giving a private weaving lesson to a beginner. I wished to join them and decided again to learn weaving with our children this year.

We traveled one afternoon to DH Lawrence’s Ranch, now owned and kept by the University of New Mexico. As we drove through the rolling outskirts of Arroyo Hondo, it is not hard to imagine why this British writer might have chosen this sunny place to begin a utopian society. There, Georgia O’Keefe painted his famous tree. The bench and the tree still remain just behind the main house, a tribute to legendary artists and ideas.

On one morning, we visited a public hot spring nearby in Arroyo Hondo. We traveled down single lane dirt roads and bridges and along the grassy riverbanks searching for two naturally-occurring warm pools. Instead we discovered only the higher pool–the lower temporarily swallowed by the river–and four nude strangers already bathing in it. We stayed for almost an hour (swimsuits on) carrying awkward conversations out of politeness. When the sun and two more travelers arrived, we gladly exited the tiny pool and clumsy talk. We changed into our clothes and went out for coffee, where we laughed at ourselves.

Earthship | Taos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoEarthship | Taos, New MexicoTaos, New MexicoThe Love Apple | Taos, New MexicoTAOS, NEW MEXICOTaos, New Mexico

Before arriving, we had stopped in Santa Fe to pick up fair-trade coffee beans, wine, fresh bread, and other foods that might make the 2 hour ride north. In Taos, we’d discover Cid’s Market, not too far from where we were staying, and stock up on leafy greens, berries, and locally sourced cheeses and sprouts. We had decided ahead of time to make food on our own, both for economy and simplicity, with the exception of one evening where we would eat at The Love Apple, a quaint local eatery recommended by a neighbor, serving delicious organic foods sourced in and around the Taos area.

It rained that night, leaving the air too cool for my causal sundress, too wet for delicate sandals. I had opted to wash clothes earlier in the afternoon, when the outdoor line was dry and hot, just before the rain came. When it was time to leave, my denim still laid strewn about the studio, damp and waiting for sun. I wore what was dry: a random skirt, a mis-matched tank top, fleece jacket, and my Chacos. Again, I would find opportunity to laugh at myself, to get over myself, as no one else seemed to even notice.

The Love AppleEarthship | Taos, New MexicoLake Williams | Taos, New MexicoEarthship | Taos, New Mexico

Something foundational shifted in us that week in Taos. It often does when one rests. Over the last few weeks at home, we have been quietly re-ordering our home life, cleaning out unnecessary things both spiritually and physically, simplifying goals and roles, preparing for another academic year and homeschooling. More defined boundaries between work and rest will be a large part of our routine, one I’m sure will trickle out into this space over time.

Although Taos is a small town, with a few obvious musts, below I listed our favorite spots in the area, in the event you ever find yourself wandering there.

 

 

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Last weekend our family traveled several hours west to spend a few days with friends near the Frio River.  I always love visiting that place. Tucked away from cell phone service and internet access, it is a gift of quiet connection in our increasingly noisy, constantly attached world.  Each of our hearts and bodies wander and breathe more slowly, more deeply again, and we connect again in the simplest manners: conversations around a fire, simple meals, difficult hikes and refreshing play near the water, with sand or rocks. We are together and untethered at once, a rare gift for modern families.

On one morning, while hiking alone with my boys, we stopped to take in the view, to rest and appreciate our moment, our smallness. Liam turned to me and asked, “mom, can I take your picture with your hands to the sky? You’re always so free up here.” For all we hope to learn and notice about our children as parents, it is always the most humbling that they see us, too.

Although often brief and simple, I’m grateful for these small adventures with our children, the way they remind us to slow down and enjoy one another right now, to pause and welcome a new season.