– Ben Martens


Hiking to Sheep Lake

Other than the hiking we did in Moab, we’ve only done one hike this year! Last weekend we got up early and headed for the hike to Sheep Lake.

It’s about a two hour drive so we left the house at 6:30am. The drive in was beautiful with great views of Rainier on a very clear day. When we rolled into the trailhead, we got one of the last marked spots. It’s a popular trailhead for overnight trips so even though it was full, we had the trail mostly to ourselves. The hike parallels the highway for a bit and then heads north back into the mountains to the lake. The hike is pretty simple and we made it there in less than an hour. There was only one other group there when we arrived so we had plenty of space to ourselves and we spent about a half hour there. I had packed the drone but decided not to fly it because I didn’t want to annoy other people with the noise. As we hiked back down, we there were a lot more people coming up, and when we got in sight of the trailhead, I was shocked at how many cars were there. Granted, some of them were for the nearby Naches Peak hike, but it was still a ton of people. It made the early morning departure well worth it!

I wouldn’t put this in my list of top hikes, but it’s a good payoff for not a lot of effort. We had wonderful weather and clear skies which was a nice bonus.

Indiana Vacation

This summer we made another trip back to my parents’ house in Indiana. We spent a lot of time in the pool, playing disc golf, and eating delicious food. We also visited Indiana Dunes National Park and saw my grandpa. I put together a quick video recap of the trip and while it’s not going to win any awards, it’s a fun way to look back on the trip.

JBLM Airshow and Warrior Expo

As a child, I remember going to some big airshows, and I still have a poster on the wall in this room of the Thunderbirds. Dad stood in line with me to get it signed by all six pilots. So when I heard that Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) was bringing back its airshow after a seven year break, I really wanted to go.

We booked a hotel the night before even though it’s only 60 miles away with the thought of making our morning a little less hectic. Plus, Tyla and Elijah love hotel pools and hotel breakfasts. Elijah thinks Best Western is the most amazing hotel chain ever, and I’m not in any hurry to dissuade him! We did have a relaxing evening on Friday and then Saturday morning, we drove about 5 minutes across the interstate and onto the base. We were directed to park in a field and hopped on a shuttle quickly after that.

The airshow area was huge and there were so many static displays that we couldn’t see them all in the ~2.5 hours before the show started.

The show started off with a “joint force demonstration” since it’s a joint army and air force base. The list of planes that flew included B-17 Flying Fortress, B-25, C-17, Focke-Wulf 190, P-51 Hope, Tora Tora Tora Mitsubishi A6M “Zero”, Undaunted Air Act (Vans RV-7 and RV-8’s), and Yellow Thunder (twin AT-6 Texans). The army also had Apache, Blackhawk, and Chinook helicopters along with a Striker vehicle. I’m sure I’m missing some more!

It was the first time I remember seeing the Tora Tora Tora act. They reenacted the attack on Pearl Harbor with eight planes. Even with only a few planes, it felt like chaos because they had lots of big pyrotechnic explosions happening on the ground while the announcer talked about the attack. It’s impossible to imagine what it would have felt like with 20 times that many planes attack constantly for TWO HOURS.

Of course, the highlight of the whole show was the Thunderbirds! All the acts were fun to watch but the Thunderbirds are the pinnacle of air acts. It was beautiful to watch them with Mt. Rainier standing proudly in the background, and I was so happy to share the experience with Tyla and Elijah!

I was also really happy that we remembered to bring ear protection. It’s LOUD and sitting out there all day in the hot sun is a recipe for a headache even without the loud planes.

While I don’t know if I would have enjoyed lugging my dSLR around all day, I do wish I had it for taking pictures of the airshow. We had a beautiful view with Rainier in the background and while there are plenty of photos online, it’s always fun to snap “the shot” yourself.

We had gone extra fancy for this event and paid for reserved seating. It was really nice to have “saved seats” and not have to fight for position. We also had easy access to bathrooms and food. I’d make that same choice again.

I’ve been wanting to go to an airshow for years and I’m so thankful that it finally happened!

Ok so that’s the happy side of the day. Let’s talk about the downsides.

  • It was HOT. Temps were up around 90 and since you’re on an airfield, there’s no shade. We brought water bottles and refilled them multiple times at bottle filling stations that they had cleverly hooked up to fire hydrants.
  • Traffic was bonkers. The news said that the airshow hit capacity around 1:30pm (about halfway through the air acts). Thankfully we missed it going in but it bit us leaving.
  • We had to take a shuttle back since our car was ~8 miles away. I made the tough decision to leave the show about 2/3 of the way through the Thunderbirds act because I knew the shuttles were going to be a mess. While I hated leaving early, we were able to still see most of the maneuvers as we walked back. We arrived to CHAOS. It was unclear where the busses were going to stop and which line was for which shuttle. The lines were already enormous, but thankfully the line for our shuttle was shorter. This was part of my plan by picking the shuttle on the south end because I knew the north end would be swamped with all the people from Seattle. We waited baking in the hot sun in a line of angry people for an hour. That got us on the THIRD BUS. Yes, the busses were incredibly slow because they were getting caught up in all the traffic leaving the show. I’d estimate that we were about 5-10% of the way from the front of the line and it took us an hour to leave. People must have been there for hours. Thankfully, there were quite a few military personnel there to help sort out line cutters and other squabbles.
  • They did have limited parking on base so I suppose we could have tried that, but then you’re resigning yourself to sitting in traffic for hours trying to squeeze out of the one lane gate off the base.

I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I could do this again. I think the winning move was probably parking at the closest shuttle stop (SR-512 Park and Ride) and then just walking the ~3 miles back to that shuttle stop after the show. But then again, the line for that shuttle stop was enormous in the morning because the city buses went to the wrong location to start the day!

Both our bodies and nerves were fried by the end of the day, but I was so proud of Elijah for sticking with it all day! If anyone in our family had given into a bad attitude, it would have been miserable for all of us, but we all left thankful that we saw what we saw, but also very thankful to be sitting in air conditioning and driving home. I’m not eager to go again, but I’m glad we went!

One Week in Moab

This year, we decided to visit some of the national parks in southern Utah for our family vacation. It started as an idea to hit all five, but we scaled back to spending a week in Moab, Utah for easy access to two of the parks. In the end, we were glad we simplified our plan because there was a lot to keep us busy and it was more relaxing than trying to cram in a bunch of different stops.

Moab is about 1100 miles from our house, and I’ll write a detailed post about our road trip, but in short, we took two days to drive down there and two days back. So after two long days in the car, we rolled into Moab late on Sunday afternoon.

I’m happy to promote the Airbnb that we rented. It was a duplex so we had our own garage (with a charger for our electric car) along with way more beds than we needed. It also had a private hot tub along with a full washer and dryer. There was a community pool a short walk away too. It was a great home base for our adventures.

I had tried to pre-plan as much of the trip as possible so that I wouldn’t have to be doing logistics and figuring things out while I was on vacation. Plus, Moab is an incredibly busy place and many of the things we wanted to do required reservations months in advance. Moab is a town of about 5000 people with around 2 million people who visit every year! The economy is defined by tourism which is good for business but it’s also wreaking havoc on the people who live there. They simultaneously can’t make a living without the tourists and they often can’t afford basic necessities like housing because of the tourists.


For our first full day in Moab, we started with Arches National Park which is just on the north end of town. It was about a 15 minute drive from our house. Arches is using timed entry reservations. Months in advance, I registered for entry into the park between 7am and 8am on the day we were planning to go in. We arrived right at 7am in hopes of beating the crowds a bit and also beating the heat. Our plan each day was to be mostly done with planned activities by noon to avoid the hottest part of the day and leave ~half the day open for random activities. This meant getting up early each morning on vacation, but I think we’d do it the same way if we went back.

I have seen plenty of pictures of some of the arches in the park, but I was surprised how different it felt to be there in person. A picture can’t communicate the enormity of the scenery. It feels like the opposite of a green, cool place like Seattle!

We came prepared with an itinerary for our park days thanks to For a few bucks, I purchased her guide to Arches and we followed her two day itinerary. I won’t repeat the details here since I don’t want to give a free summary of her great content, but we were very happy with the info she provided! Despite the extreme visitor load, we never found a trailhead that was full, we ate lunch in a completely empty picnic area each day, and we even had some of the arch views to ourselves!

The highlight of our first day in the park was the Devil’s Garden area. Landscape Arch is enormous and the hike from there to the Double O arch was one of our favorite hikes of the trip. It required climbing up and walking along big rock fins.


Tuesday was our first of two paid adventures: off roading! Moab is a world-renowned mecca for offroad fun and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity. We chose a 2.5 hour with the cleverly named “Moab Tourism Center” tour company. I drove the UTV/side-by-side for our family and there were a total of 5 vehicles in our group including our guide.

It’s hard to put into words what this trip was like! The vehicles were extremely capable and the terrain was incredible. We drove up steep narrow fins, down steep inclines, and over all sorts of terrain that I would never have imagined was possible.

A huge portion of Utah is “BLM land” (Bureau of Land Management) and you can do pretty much anything you want there. Our tour took us through the “Hell’s Revenge” area which had a additional rules because of the high traffic. If you’ve watched any rock crawling videos on the internet, you’ve probably seen some of the main features in this area. We stopped at “Hell’s Gate” and watched four vehicles try to climb it. Three made it up fine but the fourth flipped up and over! Everyone was fine, but it was quite a sight. All of this is just a short drive out of town so part of our tour involved a ~10 minute UTV drive on the roads to and from the business where we started. UTVs can be road legal in Moab and you see lots of them!

If I could go back for one day, I’d do another UTV trip!


We got up early again to get into Arches right at 7am since it had been working so well for us the previous two days. This day involved more highly trafficked parts of the park, but our early start gave us easy parking and ok-ish crowds. Highlights were Delicate Arch, both of The Windows, and the Double Arch. When I had been researching this trip, I saw Double Arch and immediately recognized it as from the opening scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. While the arch was covered in people, it was still neat to see the area in person. We again ate lunch at a completely empty picnic area with a great view of Balanced Rock.


Our second scheduled excursion was a half day rafting trip from Adrift Adventures. Their web presence and signup process was less polished than our other excursion, but everything went smoothly. There were three small groups like ours that got put together in one boat and then there was an enormous group of dads and sons that filled up about four or five other boats. They were pretty wild so our guides did a good job of keeping us separated from them on the river so we could have our own fun.

The trip mostly hits “bumpy water” Class 1 and 2 rapids but there was one short Class 3 section too. This felt just about right for our family. There were a couple areas where Tyla and I both jumped out of the boat to swim, and Elijah even got to row the boat for a while.

The river had about 2.5 times as much water flowing through it as it did last year so everything was moving faster than normal. We got to do the whole 12-mile stretch that they normally divide up into two different 6-mile tours.


For our last day in the parks, we drove about 50 minutes to Canyonlands National Park. This park is divided into three distinct areas and the entrances are hours apart. We chose the Island in the Sky district. The name comes from the fact that this part of the park is mostly on top of a large mesa.

The site we used for he Arches Itinerary had some guidance for Canyonlands but not a full itinerary, but our early arrival paid off again and we were able to see everything without overwhelming crowds. Our first stop was Mesa Arch and it might have been our favorite one of the trip! It’s quite a trippy experience walking up to the arch because it’s right on the edge of the mesa so there’s an enormous drop off beyond the arch. We also had the whole thing to ourselves for quite a while so we got some good pictures and enjoyed the view.

We did one longer hike out to Murphy Point and thoroughly enjoyed the view there. Again, we had the whole viewpoint to ourselves for almost the whole time!

The remaining stops were a couple that we could drive to which mean that they were much busier, and while the views were awesome, our first two private stops were much more enjoyable due to lesser crowds. We found another private picnic spot with shade and a great view for lunch.


Our plan to finish each day around 12 or 1 worked out well. We got to beat the heat and crowds, and we also had the afternoon free for relaxing and spending time in the community pool.

We saved a lot of time and money by eating breakfast and lunch at the house every day (or packing a picnic lunch.) We did go out to dinner each night and our favorite spots were the Moab Brewery, El Tapatio, Moab Food Truck Park, and Spitfire Smokehouse. Utah has some confusing liquor laws which means that good draft beer is hard to find, but I did sample quite a few new ones.

We played the license plate game on our drive and made it amazingly close to collecting them all! We ended without seeing Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Delaware, but we did get a few Canadian provinces, D.C., and two Mexican states (Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon.)


This is long post already, but we have so many memories that I haven’t touched on here like lizards, base jumpers, frisbee plates, the Tree Penguins, the filming location for Horizon, meeting people from Woodinville on our first day in Moab, Lops ice cream, and a lot more. What an amazing trip!

I did a lot of research and planning ahead of time, fully expecting to only use it as a rough guide, but almost the entire trip went flawlessly according to plan. The return trip had some hiccups mostly due to extra traffic on the weekend before the Fourth of July, but it wasn’t a big deal. I’m so thankful for the smooth adventure and the fun family memories. When’s our next road trip?! Let’s do it again!

Family Fun Center Review

We don’t have birthday parties for Elijah with his friends every year, but we told him he could do one this year. As he went through various ideas, we’d talk about how many people he could invite to that kind of party based on how much it costs. At some point, the idea of the Family Fun Center in Tukwilla came up and we said that if it was just the three of us, we could all get unlimited wristbands and do everything. He was excited by that idea and we were excited not to have to try to plan something for a bunch of kids.

We’ve driving by the Family Fun Center a hundred times, but none of us have ever been inside. As a one-line summary I’d compare it to a souped-up Chuck E. Cheese with a bit of low-end amusement park thrown in.

Elijah loved it! He thought it was amazing being able to do things repeatedly with no limits. He was able to pick from bumper cars, bumper boats (with spray guns… but not enough to soak you), two mini golf courses, go karts (he had to ride with me), a ride where you go up and down to feel like you’re weightless (like an extra fast elevator), a “4d” theater (3d glasses plus a seat that moves), and… laser tag. He did them all and many of them he did multiple times, but he did laser tag the most. We also bought some tokens to play arcade games, but mostly he just wanted to play laser tag. We stayed there for seven hours, and I think he would have stayed longer if Tyla and I weren’t wiped out and ready to go home.

Elijah declared it one of the best days of his life which made me happy, but I sure hope we don’t do it again soon. Here’s the rest of the story…

We showed up right at opening time on a Friday and were greeted by a dozen buses in the parking lot. Numerous schools were having field trips that day and they got in early. From what we picked up, it seemed like all the classes were 8th graders so take a minute to imagine the noise generated by ~800 8th graders running around in an arcade with limited supervision. It was unbelievably loud, and we spent our time waiting in the line getting run into by kids. Thankfully, I spotted an employee schedule and saw that they would be gone by 1-2pm. At that point, the tenor of the day switched to something more reasonable. The lines were short/non-existent for all the rides and the place was full of mostly well-behaved families. By that point I had quite a headache though and it never went away. In the pictures you’ll see that we did end up wearing masks as we thought about being around hundreds of kids. We figured it was worth the masks to try to avoid getting sick right before our big stretch of summer fun.

Overall, I would say that the unlimited wrist band is a good deal if you’re going to stay there for more than a couple of hours and if you’re more interested in rides/activities than in arcade games. It’s not worth going on a rainy day since many of the activities are outdoors.

But the important thing for that day is that Elijah loved it. He was worn out at the end, and he had a blast.

Grayland Beach State Park Camping

Nine months ago, we booked a camping trip to Grayland Beach State Park with Tyla’s family. Booking in mid-June is generally a bit risky in this area, but thankfully we have had a wonderfully dry and warm spring. Even though we were on the coast, we had highs in the low 60s and lows around 50.

Don and the crew brought their camper as usual, but instead of staying in a tent, Tyla, Elijah and I stayed in a yurt! It was the first time we’d rented one and it was convenient. Aside from the benefit of not having to set up or take down a tent, there’s also a lot more space to move around, get dressed, etc. There was also a small electric heater which we used a little bit.

The walk to the beach is quite long (about 2/3 of a mile to the high tide point or over a mile if it’s low tide.) Most of that is over dunes and if you’re carrying some chairs and shovels, it’s a hike. So after doing the hike a time or two, I decided it was time to drive the truck onto the beach. It’s legal in this area, but of course it’s your own fault if you end up getting stuck. We’ve done it once before but the access road I used before was pretty sketchy. Thankfully, this time I found a better access point about a mile down the road and we ended up using that a couple times.

We also took a couple trips about 20 minutes north to the town of Westport. They have a very long jetty up there and we also stopped in shops for ice cream and candy. Our time at the campsite was filled with digging on the beach, cornhole, reading books, and lots of delicious food.

Considering that the whole trip could easily have been rainy and 40 degrees, I’m very thankful for the easy, fun weekend!

Cedar Butte Hike

After record-breaking cold and wet March and April, May has been incredible with temperatures in the 70s and lots of dry weather. A mid-May hike would normally be “early season” conditions, but this one felt like planning for a summer hike.

The trick to hiking this time of year is that everyone is crammed onto the same hikes. Everything in the mountains is still buried in feet of snow. Any popular hike (Rattlesnake Ledge, Tiger Mountain, Mount Si, etc) is a madhouse. I searched around for a bit and found the Cedar Butte hike.

We arrived at about 8:50am after driving past an already maxed out overflow parking area for Rattlesnake Ledge. Parking at our trailhead was only about a third full. On the way up we only saw two other groups and on the way down we saw about eight. It was great to be able to enjoy the peacefulness of the hike.

The first half of the hike is very flat as it follows the old railroad grade John Wayne Trail. There’s a sign for Cedar Butte that shoots you steeply uphill. It only took us about an hour to reach the peak, so we were back in the car by around 11am. The parking lot was jammed full at that point.

For you history buffs, read about the Boxley Burst which happened right in this area. After trying to create a dam, part of the hillside blew out and wiped a town away in the middle of the night. Thanks to a vigilant watchman, everyone got away to safety just in time, but literally all they had left were the clothes on their back.

We have a busy summer ahead but I’m looking forward to squeezing in more hikes!

Eureka Filming Site Visit

I’ve been burning through the Eureka (2006-2012) TV show episodes on Amazon Prime. I’m a Stargate fan and this was recommended to me as something with a similar vibe (and a lot of crossover actors.) Like Stargate, a lot of the filming happened in the Vancouver, BC area.

I was curious where the downtown Eureka scenes were filmed so over many episodes, I carefully looked for clues and searched and searched and searched around on Google Street View until I finally found a couple blocks on Wellington Ave in Chilliwack, BC which looked similar. (Shortly after that, I found this website which lists out all the filming locations for many different shows. Derp.) That’s only a couple hours from our house and it seemed like it could be a fun family adventure day so I looked up a few other possible activities and we set off.

Our first stop was the filming location and even though it has been 10 years, I was happy to see how much it felt like walking through Eureka. It wasn’t quite the same vibe I had walking through Radiator Springs at Disneyland, but it was similar.

With my own nerdery satisfied, we set off to find some food at Cookies Grill. I don’t remember how I stumbled on this place (Yelp?) but I suspected it would be a winner since Tyla and Elijah love breakfast and Cookies serves breakfast for lunch. It lived up to their expectations and they honestly talk about driving all the way back there to eat again some time.

While we were walking around Eureka, there were a few other people there looking in the shops, etc. One of the couples seemed like maybe they were Eureka fans too but that seemed unlikely and I wasn’t about to start that weird conversation. When we drove ~10 minutes to get to Cookies Grill in a random strip mall area, we got out of the car and the same couple was in the parking lot! Weird things happen in Eureka.

It was still raining but we went for a hike anyway to see Bridal Veil Falls. The path is almost smooth enough for a wheelchair (except for a couple stairs) and it’s only ~5-10 minutes long, but it’s steep. The falls are beautiful though and the length of the tiny hike was about perfect for our day.

From there we stopped for ~10 minutes at the Chilliwack Supercharger on Luckakuck Road and then continued our journey via Lickman Road. As we giggled about the street names, we drove to Chilliwack River Valley Honey where we picked up a few jars of delicious honey. (Before we left home, I verified that we could get back across the border with it.)

Our border entry into Canada had been quick and while the internet said the return trip would be quick, the line of about a dozen cars was moving very slowly. They were carefully inspecting everyone, searching a lot of cars, and even pulling some cars off to the side for additional inspections. As we approached the booth, I was prepared for a lot of questions, but apparently we are super boring and we were almost waved right on through.

Despite what the border guard must have thought of our story, we loved it! It was a lot of driving for one day, but Elijah had fun going to Canada for the first time that he can remember, and we all enjoyed the random sites. There were quite a few other attractions in Chilliwack that looked interesting (water parks, giant lakes/parks, disc golf, etc.) so who knows, maybe we’ll be back!

LeMay Car Museum Review

I’ve seen the car museum off to the north side of I-5 in Tacoma many times, but I’ve never been inside… until recently. When my parents came for a visit, we decided to check it out. A review on the internet said that a non-car geek could make it through in about two hours. I couldn’t understand how that would be possible. The place doesn’t look that big.

As we walked around, we saw signs that said Harold LeMay owned a refuse company in Tacoma and built up one of the largest private car collections in the world. And while there were a lot of cool cars in sight, it sure didn’t seem that large. But then we turned the corner, went down the ramp, and I caught sight of a building map. There are four floors and each one is packed full of cars! If you follow the arrows, you’ll wind your way all the way to the bottom and then work your way back up to the top.

We spent too much time on the way down and had to walk up a bit quicker than we would have liked since we were on a schedule, but wow, this place was huge! There were so many cars to look at. It kept our family easily entertained for a couple hours, and I think we could have spent a bit more time there.