Yellow Van Travels: A Family Travel Blog

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Grand Canyon Rim Trail

Going to the Grand Canyon allows you to drink in the immensity that is nature. I wrote previously about my first view of the Grand Canyon and the thirst that it inspired in me. When you first go you will likely have the same experience and one of the best ways to satisfy that is by taking the Rim Trail on the South Rim.

Grand Canyon from the Rim Trail

How to Get There:
The Grand Canyon Rim Trail extends over 10 miles of the South Rim from South Kaibab Trail Head to Hermits Rest, which means that it is easily reachable from almost every major tourist stop on the South side. We got on from Mather Point which is just a short walk from the South Rim Visitor's Center. You could get on pretty easily from any parking lot on the South Rim.

What You Will See:
Obviously you probably won't hike the entire Rim Trail. Although that would be awesome, we certainly did not. But even just a short way along it will afford you amazing and changing views of the Grand Canyon.
Two people at the Grand Canyon

The Rim Trail is a paved flat path. It is accessible for strollers and wheelchairs from several parking lots, including Mather Point. From the trail you can see the Grand Canyon well enough, but all the way along it you can walk out on outcroppings of the canyon's edge to get truly spectacular views. Many of our favorite portions of our Grand Canyon music video were shot along the rim trail.

We walked from Mather Point up to the geology museum. This is a great hike to do with a family because it is short and beautiful and the geology museum provides a nice rest point with restrooms and a chance to learn more about the geology of this wonder. It is also easier to park at the main visitor's center than at the geology museum. Along the trail itself you get a chance to touch rocks from different layers of the canyon, I tried to touch them all. The trail also attempts to help children and adults grasp the enormity of geological time by placing year markers along it, in the millions of years! It is an awesome chance to be able to place all this information in context since the Grand Canyon is right there in front of you displaying it.

yellow VW microbus at the grand canyon

Sum Up:
The Rim Trail is a great activity for any Grand Canyon visitors. It is especially great for those who cannot do a below the rim hike. I imagine that it can get pretty crowded some days, but when we were there it was pretty quite. You can find out more about it here.

Grand Canyon Rim Trail Summary card. Location: Grand Canyon Arizona, Seasons: all, Time: 1 to 3 hours, Cost: Free with park admission, Good for: everyone, Weather: Sunny and Cloudy.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

St. George Tabernacle

One of our favorite places for a quick vacation is St. George, Utah. Only 4 hours away from Salt Lake City, it is close enough to get to in a day and still have time to do things, but still far enough away to feel like a vacation.

When we go to St. George, we like to do a mix of things; Ben loves hiking while I love historical sites. One of my favorite places to go in St. George is the LDS Historical Tabernacle.

St. George Historic Tabernacle title card

How to Get There:
Located at the intersection of Main Street and Tabernacle Street, the Historic Tabernacle can't be missed. Head West on St. George Bulevard. Then head South on Main Street. There is parking located on the street as well as behind the Tabernacle.

St. George historic tabernacle from the front

What You Will See and Do: 
Sweet senior missionaries will be there to give you a tour. They will guide you around the tabernacle giving you a history of how and why it was built. It is beautiful, historic building that is so rich with history. After the tour, you are free to walk around, take pictures and somewhat explore the tabernacle. You can spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour at the tabernacle. There are stairs involved in the tour, but it can be adapted if you are unable to go up and down stairs.

Meagan in the main hall of the historic St. George tabernacle

Ben on the spiral stairs in the historic St. George tabernacle

Sum Up:
The LDS Historical Tabernacle is a fun, interesting place to visit if you are in St. George. It is free and flexible in its time commitment. It is easy to get to and is a nice change of pace from the normal hiking and other outdoor activities in St. George.

Historic St. George tabernacle from the side

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rock Climbing in Rock Canyon

I really like climbing on rocks, but I have had very little opportunity to do any actual rock climbing. The barrier to entry for rock climbing is a little high because of the equipment needed and the necessity of having an experienced person to teach you. I grew up in one of the flatest places on the planet. BYU where I went for both my undergrad and master's degrees does not have a rock climbing class so I wasn't able to learn there even though Provo is surrounded by mountains. This past weekend though I was able to go outdoor climbing for the first time in Rock Canyon in Provo.

Title Card: Rock Climbing in Rock Canyon, Provo, UT. Yellow Van and Rock Climber

We were fortunate to be able to go with some awesome friends, one of whom is an experienced climber and has the gear. We had an awesome time up in the canyon, and I loved being able to do real rock climbing. It is definitely something that I will want to do more of in the future.

How to Get There:
Here is how my friend told me to get to Rock Canyon: "Just drive up behind the temple and you will see two mountains coming together, where they meet is the canyon."
Turns out that simple advice is really all there is to it. If you can find the Provo Temple you can find Rock Canyon. Follow North Temple Road and head East at the four way stop behind the temple.

When you get to the entrance to the canyon there will be a parking lot. We were fortunate to find places to park when we got there at about 10 in the morning even though it was mostly full. Bear in mind that this trip was in mid-March when it was still fairly chilly in the morning and the crowds increase as the weather gets warmer. Some people were parking on the side of the road and off it in empty areas.

From the parking lot we went to an area called Layer Cake. You can find out more about it here on Mountain Project. That is where I found this picture that shows how to get to Layer Cake.

Path to the Layer Cake route

What You Will See and Do:
We climbed an easier route on the Layer Cake. It was super fun. I felt like a real rock climber wearing a chalk bag, even though that morning the rock was still quite cool so I didn't really need it.

Ben rock climbing the layer cake

Layer Cake has a number of routes along it, and there are more throughout the canyon. We only did this one, but you could do any. The canyon is a great place to hang out as well, it is very pretty and inviting, despite a bit of a hike to get up to where we were. Meagan did not climb but she enjoyed being up in the canyon. Here are some pictures of the climb.

our friend Sam rock climbing

yellow van and rock climber in Rock Canyon

In addition to climbing the route we also climbed around on the rock just across from it. This was easy to climb up without equipment and afforded us a great view of Provo City and Utah Lake. 

Ben and friends on cliff in Rock Canyon

view of Provo City from Rock Canyon

Sum Up:
We had a great time at Rock Canyon and would definitely recommend it if you like rock climbing. Although it will likely be crowded if you go during the warmer months, so I would try to get there early to beat the crowds. Of course since it is rock climbing you won't be able to do it with small children and you should be in good physical condition and have the proper equipment. We were there for about two and a half hours, but if you did multiple climbs you could spend much longer.

the whole group that went rock climbing

the yellow van on a rock cliff

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Pre-Travel Checklist

The key for me to have low-stress to stress-free travels is to be organized. Well, this is true in all aspects of my life, but especially when I'm leaving home and being out of my routine. Before every trip we go on, I go through a checklist of sorts to help prepare and organize things for our travels.

Title card: Pre-travel checklist. Yellow van in front of snow.

A Few Days Before You Leave:

  • Make/Check Travel Arrangements: This includes transportation (if you need it), hotels/campsites, making sure you have the right documents (IDs, passports, visas, etc.)
  • Activity List: I like to scour the internet for things to do in the area where we will be staying. I then make an Evernote list that has the names of the places, prices, addresses, etc. so I can easily refer to it while we are out and about.
  • Figure Out Food: Are you going to be eating out every meal? Does your hotel include breakfast? Are you picnicking every day? Decide when you're going to eat out, when you're going to eat en-route, when you're going to eat in your hotel room, etc. One of the most important things for me to be aware of (especially when I'm out of my normal schedule) is to make sure I'm still on a good eating schedule and that I'm eating relatively "normal" things that my body is used to. If your'e planning on eating out, check out deal websites like Groupon to see if there are any good deals for local restaurants. 
  • Clean Out Your Fridge: Start eating the things that will go bad before you get back from your trip. Cut up and freeze perishable foods like fruits and veggies. You can even freeze cheese and milk for when you get back!
  • Packing List: Write down your packing list and start to gather things you need that you won't need for the next day or two. Go buy any things that you might need like special snacks or travel sized liquids. 
  • Put Your Mail on Hold: Just head on over to the USPS website and schedule the dates for holding your mail. Remember that the day that you check as your ending date will be the day that they deliver your mail. 
  • Make a Travel Folder: Start collecting tickets, reservation numbers and other important documents that you need paper copies of and stick them in a folder. Then REMEMBER the folder when you leave :)
  • Call Your Bank: If traveling internationally, call your bank and let them know that you will be traveling abroad. This keeps them in the loop and they won't be freezing your cards when they see suspicious activity on the other side of the globe. 

The Day Before You Leave:

  • Laundry: Depending on the size of your family, you may need to start this a few days before your trip. But do your laundry so 1) you have clean things to pack and 2) so when you come home with dirty laundry, you won't already have overflowing baskets!
  • Kitchen: Make sure you've taken care of all of the perishables in the fridge. Make sure all of the dishes are done. Pull any food you are taking with you into one spot in the fridge/on your table (depending on the type of foods you're taking). Make sure the sink is clean and free from any junk that could stink up your house. 
  • Packing: Pack all of the stuff that you've been piling up near your suitcase. Double check your packing list. Don't forget PJs, underwear and a swimming suit! Make sure to lay out what you will be wearing the next day. In addition to your luggage, make sure that your personal items (purse, backpack, etc.) are packed as well. Don't forget your electronics cords!
  • Charge Devices: Before you go to bed, make sure that you have everything you need charged or charging. 
  • Take Out the Trash: Take it out from every room! It's no bueno to come home from a nice vacation to a stinky smelling house. 
  • Leave a Note: Write a note and stick it on your suitcase/purse/phone with any last minute things you need to pack before you leave the next day. 

The Day You Leave:

  • Last Minute Packing: Pack the things you couldn't the night before like phones, tooth brush and tooth paste, food, etc. 
  • Turn Off and Un-Plug: Turn off all the lights and un-plug any devices and power strips.
  • Check Your Heat/AC: Turn down your heat if you're leaving during the cooler months (but make sure it is still warm enough so pipes don't freeze). Turn off your AC if you're traveling in the warmer months. 


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Desert View Watchtower at the Grand Canyon East Rim

I will never forget my first view of the Grand Canyon.

I dreamed of going to the Grand Canyon for a long time, ever since I was a kid (I wrote a tall tale about it in school) and then more so after reading Through Painted Deserts by Don Miller. I had dreamed about it so much that when we finally were heading down to see it I was jumpy with anticipation and a little scared that it wouldn't live up to my imagination.

Something you need to understand about me is that I have an extremely robust and well exercised imagination, so it is understandable that I might have thought the Grand Canyon would underwhelm. I couldn't have been more wrong; my first view of the canyon took my breath away and each view after that continued to do so. My eyes simply could not drink it all in. My imagination had been taught a lesson: God can create wonders beyond what I can dream.

Perhaps that is why the Desert View Watchtower has a special place in my heart, because it is where I first beheld this long anticipated wonder.

How to Get There:
Once you get to the East or South rim of the Grand Canyon reaching Desert View is not difficult. We entered from the East side and Desert View Watchtower is the first large turn off, the ranger at the gate told us that we would be the best place to stop first. It is clearly marked where you should turn off and when you do there is a large parking lot. Besides the Watchtower the parking lot is one big advantage of stopping here for your first look if you come from the East side, there will be many turn offs as you drive to the South rim, but most of them have very small parking lots and your may not find a place to park, especially if you are driving an RV or hauling a trailer.

What You Will See:
From the parking lot you will head in towards the Canyon rim. you will be able to see the Watchtower on your left. You will almost immediately encounter a set of faucets that dispense the Grand Canyon spring water, piped over from the North Rim, so if you've been traveling for a while (which of course you probably have) you can refill your water bottles here.

There will be a building on your right that houses the Desert View visitors center and bookstore, but, of course the main attraction is getting to the canyon rim. I was so excited to get down to the rim that we didn't even go into the visitor center.

Paved paths lead all the way down to the Watchtower. At the towers base the rim juts out and there is a completely accessible lookout area. This is where I first saw the Grand Canyon and started snapping photos.

From the lookout area, which is similar to other outcroppings around the Grand Canyon, you enter the watchtower which is a unique experience allowing you to view the canyon vistas from 70 feet above the rim. You enter at the ground level (the stairs and ladders on the outside are just for show). There is a small gift shop on the first floor and from there you climb up narrow stairs to the first tower level. This area opens up and there are murals on the walls and ceiling with windows around the edge. From here you can enter onto another main lookout area that is over the gift shop. You can also continue up to the higher levels of the tower.

Looking through plexiglass windows isn't my favorite way to see the Grand Canyon, but it is cool to see it from up high.

Sum Up:
I would say that Desert View Watchtower is close to a must stop for visiting the South rim of the Grand Canyon. If you come in the East entrance then it makes perfect sense to stop here first, and if you come in on the South it is not very far away (about 30 minutes) and gives you a completely different view of the Canyon.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Our Top 5 Money Saving Travel Websites

Title Card: Top 5 money saving websites for travel. Yellow van in front of bridge

I am always on the lookout for a good deal. This is especially true when it comes to travel. We have traveled quite a bit considering our very meager travel budget for our first few year of marriage, and I owe it all to the fact that we took the time to research our vacations and really look for the best deals possible. I have rounded up my 5 favorite websites that have helped us save tons of money.

We have used from the very first time we traveled together. I love it because you can get awesome prices for hotels, they have very reliable reviews and you can set your own budget. My other favorite part is that by booking through them, you earn rewards towards free nights at hotels through their sight. Most hotels you book qualify. Just sign up for their rewards program and start earning your free night! 

Pinterest logo

While Pinterest has very little to do with shopping, it is probably my go-to source for finding activities to do at our destinations. There are lots of articles out there with lists of free or cheap things to do wherever you are traveling to. I also use Pinterest to find money saving tips for travel. Finally, I use Pinterest to find cheap, easy recipes for yummy snacks and meals we can take and eat during our travels. Make sure to follow us on Pinterest where you will find lots of pins on different destinations, travel tips, and other money saving travel ideas. 

When we were looking at international flights for our trip this summer (stay tuned for more info!), the first place I went was Google Flights. You can put in your dates of travel and they give you the best prices they can find as well as better prices on days that are near your preferred travel dates. The way I was able to find fairly cheap tickets was to book one-way tickets instead of round trip. 
For flights within the U.S. I love Air Fare Watchdog. You can set your departure and arrival cities and they will send you alerts for when airline prices are a good deal. You can also further specify with dates and get the best deals for those dates that you plan on traveling. logo

5: Amazon
When it comes to random travel things that we need, I usually look to Amazon first. While I don't always buy things straight from Amazon, they generally have the best deals on lots of things. I also use the prices on Amazon as reference points for if I'm getting a good deal on an item in a regular store. Currently some things on my traveling wish list from Amazon are these and this

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

How to Get a Passport

I have never had the opportunity or made an opportunity for myself to travel outside the continental United States. I thought maybe I would leave the country when I went on my LDS mission, but I went to Pennsylvania which is now one of my favorite places in the world. I also did not go on a study abroad experience during college, I went to Washington D.C. for an internship instead. Consequently I have never possessed a U.S. Passport or gone through the process of getting one. That was until recently.

Why get a Passport?
I had never applied for a passport before because I had no reason to. I wasn't leaving the country so I didn't need one. For me the reason to finally get one was because of a special trip we are going on this summer (watch the blog for more on that). It isn't cheap to get a passport so I don't know that you should rush out and get one without a reason, but it can also take a while to receive your passport. So if you need to be able to travel quickly for business or some other reason you should probably start early.

What You Need:
I was applying for a new adult passport (an adult is 16 or older). For that you need to have filled out the proper application form(DS-11), have your driver's license or ID card, and your birth certificate. Note that you do not have to bring your social security card, but you will need to provide the number on the form. You will also need to have a 2 in. by 2 in. photo of yourself, although this picture can be taken at the time you apply if the location you apply at has the facilities.

There are other ways to prove your identity if you don't have your driver's license and/or birth certificate, but they are complicated. My favorite is bringing someone else who has proper ID to swear that you are the person you say you are.

I found the wiki how article to be very helpful in figuring everything out.

Where to Go:
There are only a few places you can go to get a passport. You can find locations in your area by using this website. One thing you want to look for is if the location also takes pictures, although this will incur an additional cost it is worth it to know it is done right and won't be rejected. In my area only the post office did pictures so that is where I went.

The post office I went to did have the DS-11 forms on hand and some people were filling them out there, but I would not suggest this since you need a lot of information and it is easier to just print the form out and fill it out at home where you can easily gather the information.

How Long Does it Take?
There are two parts to the how long does it take question. The first part is, how long do I have to stand in line to submit my application? and the second part is, how long will it take my passport to arrive?

Unfortunately neither of these questions are easy to answer. Meagan and I stood in line at the post office for about an hour, there were about 5 or 6 people in line ahead of us when we arrived. Many more people showed up after us, probably about 10 or so. Part way into our time there the man behind the counter asked us to close the door to that part of the post office because he would have to go on lunch break soon. 3 or 4 more people tried to come in after that but were told to come back in the afternoon. A few of the people in line behind us gave up waiting and left, saying they would come back another time. I imagine that the experience differs widely by location and timing, but I would say always give yourself a couple of hours at least and don't expect it to be fast.

As far as waiting for my passport to arrive it only took a couple weeks for the passport to arrive and my birth certificate came back shortly thereafter. Meagan's renewal and name change took about a week longer. They told us to expect it to take about 6 weeks, so don't push it too close to your trip unless you want to pay extra for an expedited passport.

Sum Up:
In the end getting a U.S. passport was not as painful a process as I had anticipated, but that was mostly because Meagan filled out all the forms for me and helped me know where to go and what to do. Just make sure to give yourself plenty of time both when you apply and while you are waiting.

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and represents my personal experience. It should not take the place of checking with the proper government websites and agencies yourself.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Utah's Olympic Oval

In 2002, the Winter Olympic Games were held in Salt Lake City. I was lucky enough to be living in the area as a girl and I remeber all of the excitement of those games. Our school held special programs. My family and I went to lots of the venues and activities around the Salt Lake and Utah valleys. It was really an amazing experience.

While those Olympics have long since passed, there are still lots of Olympic venues that are now open for public use. While my family was in town a few weeks ago, we went up to Utah Olympic Oval where the long track speed skating events were held.

With a 1/4 mile long track that is claimed to be the fastest ice on earth, the Utah Olympic Oval is a fun place to ice skate. The track is easy to get on and off of; there is no stepping down/up like a traditional ice rink. There is also lots of space. Even if there are lots of people skating, you have plenty of room to not run into anyone.

In addition to the skating rink, there are two smaller ice rinks in the middle. One is used for youth hockey games and the other is used for figure skating practice. We loved watching the figure skaters practice, especially with a special harness for them to practice their jumps without falling down. Also, for the non-skaters, there is an indoor track that goes around the length of the ice skating rink as well.

Only 25 minutes southwest from Salt Lake City, the Utah Olympic Oval is a fun, inexpensive entertainment option for families where everyone can find something fun to do.

To see the most current public skate times see their calendar here.
For rates, look here.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Tusayan Ruin at the Grand Canyon

Located on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon on the road between the Desert View Watchtower and the Grand Canyon Village is a small piece of ancient history, the Tusayan Ruin.

How to get there:
The ruin is not hard to find since it is located between the the Village and the Watchtower and there are signs showing where it is. We passed it on our way West to the Village from the Watchtower, but we were in a hurry to get to our campsite and hike so we decided to stop later on our way out. Either direction it is not hard to get to and has it own parking lot. 

What you will see:
At the site there is a small building that it is best to visit first. There is a small museum inside and there you will find out when the next ranger tour of the ruins is beginning. The museum is of artifacts related to the people who lived in the pueblo. The museum is interesting but the main event is to see the ruin. We went on a ranger tour to learn about it and that is what we would recommend doing to get the best experience, but you can just go wander on your own. A path encircles the entire site.

Low portions of the building walls are still in tack and have been excavated so you can get a feel for the size of the pueblo. There are three buildings, the main u-shaped living and storage building and two round kivas, thought to be for religious meetings. The ranger tour will help you to think about what life would have been like for the people who lived here and teach what archeologists best guesses are.

The tour takes about half an hour. On the other side of the museum building you can also see a garden  that shows how and what the people who lived here would have farmed.

Sum Up:
This site is a fun change of pace from the normal hiking in the Canyon. It is also a great educational experience, especially if you have children. The ranger we had was very friendly and engaging. It is definitely worth the time to check it out.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Our Favorite Products From the Big Outdoors Expo

Last weekend, Ben and I went to the 2nd annual Big Outdoors Expo held in Provo. We had a lot of fun seeing all sorts of exhibits and vendors with lots of super cool products for outdoors enthusiasts.

We came up with a list of our top 5 products from the expo. All of these items are definitely on our purchasing list for our future travels and adventures.

AtlasWare Waterbottles:
My absolute favorite product we saw at the Big Outdoors Expo were the AtlasWare Water Bottles. I am a complete water bottle snob. To find an insulated water bottle, at a reasonable price and in such fun colors and options made me super happy. The design of these bottles is amazing. They stay cold for at least 24 hours and hot for at least 18 hours. I am super in love with these water bottles. Look for a review coming soon!

Outdoor Vitals Sleeping Bags:
We really loved these down filled sleeping bags. Brightly colored, these sleeping bags pack up nice and compact, making them perfect for backpacking or your normal travel. I'm loving one of their newest bags that lets you zip two sleeping bags together. With 4 1/2 star ratings on Amazon, you can tell they sell quality products. My other favorite part about these sleeping bags are the prices!

Klymit Sleeping Mats:
When I camp, I still like to be comfortable. And the key to comfort for me is my pillow and a good sleeping mat or air mattress. I loved how Klymit provided comfortable sleeping mats that were able to be compacted and take up so little space!

Light-It-Forward Flashlights:
I fell in love with these amazing flashlights. Imagine a flashlight that gets charged in the sun, can hold a charge for 7 years, is super bright and water proof. Did I mention that this flashlight can also charge your phone?! With a unique light weight design, these flashlights are solar chargeable and you can charge your various devices with them too! But probably one of my favorite benefits of this product is that 50% of your purchase goes towards education in Africa. Light-It-Forward Flashlights are a great product that also help to provide a greater good.

Sure-Start Fire Tool:
While I am not a pyro-enthusiast, I was quite impressed with this handy, dandy gadget. This is a fire starter tool. With a African hardwood handle, this tool has an attached striker/blade and a post that is flint on one side and magnesium on the other. You are able to go the traditional flint and steel route to starting a fire but if that isn't working, try shaving off some magnesium to help start your fire. Or, you can shave off parts of the handle as well! This is such a neat tool that any backpacker, camper, or fire lover would want.

Honorable Mentions:
Here are two other products that we loved a lot, but they didn't quite make the cut for our must-have-in-the-near-future list.

Lume Cube
The Lume Cube is a little cube you can attach to your phone, camera, tripod or whatever you want that has a standard screw base on it. It provides a nice even light for photography or you can use it as a light when you're camping. It is super bright and provides great light. Eventually we'd like to get one so we can play with our night time photography.

MIG Trailer
After going to the RV show last weekend, I got bit by the RV bug. This trailer is a great entry into the RV world. A super light pop up trailer that sleeps 4 adults plus stores all of their gear. It is the one of the smallest trailers we have seen. And the best part, because it is so small and light, it can be towed by almost any car, even a 4-wheeler can pull it! Definitely not on our to-buy list now, but when we are ready for a trailer this will definitely be on our radar.