Studio711.com – Ben Martens

Family

Hardy Boys

As a child, I enjoyed visiting my cousins for many reasons, but one of them was that they had a bunch of Hardy Boys books. I don’t remember many of the stories, but I remember enjoying them. As I searched for things to read with Elijah, these came to mind. They’ve been out of print long enough that they’re all available for free download on archive.org: https://archive.org/details/hardyboys

The books have all been updated and revised to removal racial stereotypes, and the stories hold up. He loves them! We just finished book 3. I wonder how far we’ll get before I cut him loose on the rest by himself? For now I’m enjoying this as time that we spend together. Hopefully he is too.

Indiana Christmas 2022

We made it back to Indiana for Christmas this year, but it was quite a trip! It seems like every time we get together for Christmas, we try to remember which events went with which Christmas so I’ll list some of them out here.

  • As we were getting ready to fly out of Seattle, a snow storm was coming in. I spent a lot of time the night before watching weather maps and trying to figure out when it was going to hit various areas. Tyla’s dad was driving us to the airport and we wanted to make sure he was home before the roads got bad, so we ended up deciding to get to the airport about 1.5 hours earlier than we normally would. The whole time I wondered if it was a good idea or if I was worrying about nothing, but the snow did hit Don just around the time he got back home. The snow hit the airport later. We got out a little late and had to wait for deicing, but otherwise we were unaffected. Phew!
  • Our time in Indiana started off a little weird as one family member got COVID so their crew couldn’t come when they had planned.
  • A couple days after we arrived, a big winter storm hit the midwest (and much of the country.) We had temps down to -7 and an entire day where it never got above 0. Wind chills were below -30. We got about 10″ of snow in total but up north at the home of my sister’s family, they got more than two feet. That delayed them quite a bit from coming down.
  • It was cold back home in Seattle too. While Tyla’s sister was taking care of our cats, we found out that our pipes were frozen! Thankfully I was able to guess where it happened and Don was able to come over to heat them up slowly. It looks like Megan caught it just in time and there were no leaks. Phew! Thank you, Megan and Don!

Thankfully all the snow and sickness cleared up on the last day and we had a late family Christmas together, but the complications weren’t over yet.

  • Grandpa got sick so on the day that we left, Mom left a few house before us to go help him.
  • Our flight out was on a Tuesday afternoon, but after the storm cleared on Saturday, Southwest had been canceling 2/3 of their flight every day (and continued to do so through Thursday.) Midway airport was full of stranded baggage. It was very weird walking through the airport and seeing all the empty terminals. Some of the restaurants were even closed because there weren’t enough people around to justify opening it up. Thankfully our flight wasn’t canceled! Our flight was only about 70% full and we got out 2.5 hours late, but we were very thankful to make it home on our scheduled date with our bags.

So it was hard to ignore the drama of the whole trip, but despite all that, we still had a great visit! It was especially fun to see Elijah finally get to experience a real midwestern snowstorm after all the time he’s spent playing in the 4″ of slush that we get around here. The snow was perfect for sledding and we spent a lot of time perfecting a run down the driveway. In fact, the adults usually ended up staying out there longer than Elijah did. In case we forget in the future, the farthest run was 338 feet which was just to the fourth pole in the meadow.

Here’s a short montage of the trip. Hopefully the next one is just as fun but less eventful.

Christmas Card 2022

I think that next year we might write up a short family blurb. I tried to do it this year, but couldn’t figure out where the line was between sharing info and bragging. If you have any input on that, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

2022 Christmas Ornament

Every year about this time I write about how every year about this time we put up our new ornament for the year. This year’s ornament comes from our trip to Hawaii. There was a Christmas shop right on the main drag through Waikiki.

I’m not always big on traditions, but I do love this one. It’s fun to look at the tree and be reminded of lots of great family adventures! You can see our past ornaments in these posts: 2021, 20202019201820172016201520142013201220112008-2010

National Park Passport

Did you know that you can get a passport book and collect stamps at the national parks? There are various options available at americasnationalparks.org and it seems like a neat idea that we might get for Elijah.

That got me thinking about all the national parks that I’ve been to. Thanks to Mom directly helping to create this list and for scanning in lots of old slides and photos that I used as references.

  • Shenandoah National Park (1989)
  • Gateway Arch National Park (1989)
  • Mammoth Cave National Park (1992)
  • Badlands National Park (1994)
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (1996)
  • Gettysburg National Park (1998)
  • Acadia National Park (1999)
  • Everglades National Park (2003)
  • Mount Rainier National Park (Many times starting in 2006)
  • Olympic National Park (2009)
  • North Cascades National Park (2010)

I’ll also include Indiana Dunes National Park, but I was there long before it became a national park in 2019.

The full list of “national parks” is huge because it includes landmarks, sites, trails, memorials, rivers, gardens, towers, islands, etc. I restricted the above list to anything with an official name that ends in “National Park”, but here are some other places I’ve been that don’t fall into that category:

  • Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site/Niagra Falls (1993)
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial (1994)
  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (1998)
  • I visited many different DC sites on two separate trips in 1998. One was with my school and the other was with my family.
  • Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (Many times starting in 2007)

The trips before 2006 were family trips. Those trips started off in a tent and then eventually moved to a pop up camper. The camper felt so fancy because we had a dry place to hang out as a family when it rained and there was a fridge so we could avoid dealing with ice and coolers! (Thanks to Mom for apparently taking both pictures.)

Dege Peak Hike

We signed our fourth grader up for his free National Park Pass as soon as he was eligible, and we’ve already put it to use! Last weekend we headed to Mt. Rainier for a hike up Dege Peak.

The trip almost didn’t happen though. There was a lot of smoke in the area from wildfires burning east of the Cascades, but based on the webcams at Rainier and Crystal, I thought we’d be mostly above the smoke. Then there was the wind. I was not expecting it to be so windy down there, but when we hit Enumclaw, we were greeted by ~30mph winds. And finally, anytime I visit Rainier on a weekend, I wonder what the crowds will be like. We hit the tool booth on the way up to Sunrise at 9:21 and only waited 7 minutes to get through.

As I had hoped, the smoke was thinning as we pulled into a parking spot at the visitor center. We hit the bathrooms, applied sunscreen (which was very eager to come out of the bottle with the elevation pressure change!), and set out on the hike to Dege Peak.

The trail itself isn’t anything to write home about. There’s a bit of elevation gain at the beginning and the end, but otherwise it’s a straight dusty trail along a ridge. The incredible views are what make it a winner. Heading to the peak, Rainier is at your back, but there are still magnificent views to both sides, and it would have been even better without the smoke. Coming back, Rainier is always in your face. I had to consciously pay attention to the trail because walking while staring at the mountain is a combo built for tripping.

We didn’t stay on the peak very long because the wind was so intense. Elijah was nervous he was going to get blown off, and while that’s an exaggeration, we were all holding onto our hats, and we had our snack somewhere else. There’s not a lot of room up there, but the high winds kept people from loitering too long and we got our fill of the unobstructed view.

There are so many other hikes that I’d love to do down at Rainier. It’s a wonderful gift to have that national park within a two-hour drive of our house!

Free National Park Pass For Fourth Graders

If you have a fourth grader, they are entitled to a one-year free national park pass which is an $80 value. (“Free” as in pre-paid with your federal taxes whether you use it or now.) Head over to https://everykidoutdoors.gov and fill out a quick form with them. You’ll print off a pass that you can use for free entry not just for the kid but for everyone in the car. There are of course some limits on the number of people it covers, etc but for our family, it will cover pretty much all situations that we’ll encounter. These passes are valid every year from Sept 1 through Aug 31 so now is the time to jump on this if you have a fourth grader in the house or set a reminder on your calendar if you have a younger child.

Leaping Lamb Farm Stay

Leading up to our 40th birthdays, we decided to do something a little bigger than we normally do. Mine happened in 2020 right after COVID hit so my list of ideas got wiped out, but I’m happy with my lifetime membership to an area taproom. Tyla’s birthday was this year, so she had a few more options and ended up deciding on a few nights at Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, OR.

I feel like you never really know what you’re getting with these kinds of places. How much do you get to interact with the animals? How much freedom do you have to roam? Are the people that work there nice or just busy to move on to their next task? We hit the jackpot with this place.

There are two rental houses on the property. One is a giant farmhouse (over 4000 square feet) built in the 1895 that sleeps 14. We rented the newer, smaller cottage that sleeps 6, and we were happy to see that it had recently been outfitted with a mini-split so we had air conditioning during the 90-degree days. As a bonus for us, the farmhouse reservation was canceled so we had the whole property to ourselves!

Greg and Scottie are the owners but Greg was busy with projects and Scottie was away, so we spent the whole time with farm manager Denny, and we also got to chat a bit with his wife Kate. Denny and Kate were both wonderful, and I marveled at Denny’s patience for answering our endless questions.

Denny met us at the house when we pulled up. It was around 5pm so we headed out on a tour and started our first round of “chores”. When they say chores, what they really mean is letting us participate in the best parts of the farm. Every morning at 9 and every evening at 5, we’d meet up with Denny and either let all the animals out of the barn or collect them back in the barn. We’d get hay down from the loft, feed them all, etc. We helped muck the stalls too. Denny also showed us how he moves irrigation around the farm, how to prime the pump from the natural spring after the power goes out for a while, and how to run the pump from the creek on the property.

When we weren’t with Denny, we had free reign of the property to hang out with the chickens, turkey, peacock, sheep, goats, cats, donkey, and horse. Tyla loved roaming the property to find Chip (donkey) and Tater (horse). It’s good that all the animals were so friendly because Tyla spent a lot of time petting them all. We all enjoyed hanging out by the creek and walking on the trails too. Elijah loved having free roam of the property and once he knew the rules, we cut him loose to explore on his own.

It was a tough week on the farm, and we tried to stay out of the way while Denny dealt with some animal issues, but we also appreciated him sharing his thought process on how to handle the various situations. I heard someone say that “interested people are interesting” and I loved hearing Denny talk about the farm. He clearly loves it, knows a lot, and enjoys the continued learning process.

Most of the time when we go on vacation, Tyla and Elijah both ask, “Can we come back here sometime?” That happened here too, but there were more tears shed than normal when we left this place, and Tyla is already trying to book a return visit.

Thank you to Denny, Kate, and the whole crew at Leaping Lamb farm for a vacation that we won’t forget!

San Juan Campground

Last year Elijah said he wanted to go camping without anyone else around. We didn’t get to it last year, but this year we set out to make it happen! Tim knew just the place: San Juan Campground. It’s out the boonies north of Skykomish, and because of a washout on one end of the road, it involves about fifteen miles of dirt roads that are rough in some spots. While you don’t need a truck and four wheel drive, both did come in handy.

There are no reservations at the campground so we arrived around lunchtime on Friday and had our pick of the nine spots. We snagged sites 2 and 3 which had their own driveway and one of the pit toilets. By Thursday evening, all the sites were full. I suppose we didn’t meet Elijah’s wish because we could see some other campers through the woods, especially at night with the fires, but he didn’t call us out on the technicality.

The days were spent playing cornhole, eating food, having good conversations, and enjoying the river which was right next to the campsites. We built dams, threw rocks, and enjoyed the beauty. It was a fantastic spot! We had to pack in all our own water, but we were able to use the river water for our dishes.

On the way out of the campsites, we checked out a nice swimming spot on the river but we didn’t venture in. Then we did a quick hike around Troublesome Creek. It was such a short/easy hike at the end of a very long drive that we would never have done it on its own, so I wanted to get it done and cross it off the list. It was short but beautiful.

The drive home took an exceptionally long time due to the ever-present backup into Sultan. It was effectively about a 7 mile stop and go backup from the Sultan stoplight. That’s a hard way to finish the weekend, but the camping was so fun that there wasn’t much complaining.

It will be different next year since they are planning to reopen the washed-out portion of the road. That will make the campground much easier to access and it won’t require any dirt roads. It might be harder to find a site so I’m glad we got this trip in!

I posted a photo sphere to Google Maps and some additional photos are included below.

The water in this photo is 8-10 feet deep, but it’s so clear that it’s hard to tell.

Seaquest State Park Camping

In the summer of 2020, we had planned to camp with Tyla’s family at Seaquest State Park. Don had gotten stuck out of state during COVID and was still quarantining, but we did make the trip with Logan and Megan. This year we decided to try again and thankfully we were all able to make it.

We could not have asked for better weather! It was in the mid 70s during the day and mid 50s at night. There were scattered clouds both days, and on the first day, there were just enough clouds obscuring the mountain that we didn’t make the drive up to the visitor center. (We were watching the webcam.) Instead, we went to Harry Gardner Park and sat along the river for a while. I took my drone and managed to photo some kind of big hawk in flight! (It’s on the left side if the river in the center of the photo.) At the time I thought it was a bald eagle but the tail isn’t white so I guess it was something else.

On Saturday, the web cam looked great when we woke up so we ate breakfast and made the 1 hour drive up to the observatory. Getting there early was really nice as we didn’t follow a line of campers up the mountain. There were more clouds by then but we still had a great view. I’ve been there twice in 2007 and once each in 2011, 2012 (when we climbed it!), and 2020. It’s fun to see how much it has changed over the years. The dome was rebuilding for a while and the area around the mountain is slowly coming back to life. Check out these pictures comparing my view from 2007 with the view from 2022. There’s a lot more green and the dome inside the crater has grown.

Mt. St. Helens 2007
Mt. St. Helens 2022

All in all, it was a fun trip. I pitched in a couple meals but thanks to Don for taking the bulk of the work! It also makes tent camping a lot easier when your camping buddies have a camper!