Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park

March 2006

“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

- Theodore Roosevelt

Words cannot describe the Grand Canyon and photos, while beautiful, also do not do the views justice. The great expanse of the canyon surely leaves first time viewers speechless and we were no different when we first caught sight of this national treasure late one afternoon in March 2006. One last cliché, everyone should go to Grand Canyon National Park at least one in their lifetime.

Kellisa visited Everglades National Park in 2004 for the first time making the Grand Canyon the second national park checked off of her life list. As of March 2018, Kellisa has visited 29 national parks.

If I can't fully write about the beauty and pictures don't accurately capture the grandeur, then the following pictures probably don't say 1,000 words each, but hopefully they say a few hundred:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Flat Tire in the Frozen Desert

Sunset Crater Volcano 
Wupatki National Monuments

March 2006

After Sedona, but before our visit to the Grand Canyon, we made the side trip to see Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments. Both are just out side Flagstaff and on the way to the Grand Canyon. Despite the winter cold and snow, we still managed to do a hike in both national monuments. This was before we kept track, so we don't remember the trail names or the distances hiked.

All I really remember is Kellisa's jog stroller getting a flat tire at Wupatki. I had to push her back to the car while lifting the back of the stroller with the wheels off the ground. I was also panicking because I didn't have a plan for a flat tire. I didn't want to go back to Flagstaff to try and figure it out, but I also wanted the stroller available for trails in Grand Canyon National Park, our next stop.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Red Rocks and Hungry Giraffes

Sedona, Arizona
March 2006

Shutterfly memories popped up in my emails to remind me that we were in Sedona, AZ exactly 12 years ago. Scrolling through the photos brought back many memories. The first thing that jumped out is Kellisa's very short hair. That's because she ended 2005 with three brain surgeries for her shunt. Next, I noticed that I could still carry Kellisa out on a trail even though she had the biggest and best baby jog stroller on the market. Lastly, while mentioned in our 2006 summary, I realized that this trip was never completely shared on the blog in words and pictures.

This was our first vacation since Kellisa was born where the purpose wasn't to visit family. In fact, the main goal of this trip was to witness and immerse ourselves in the great outdoors! Lisa and I also celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary in a cowboy themed restaurant in Sedona and the girls (Lisa and Kellisa) fed giraffes during our side trip to the Out of Africa Wildlife Park.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Shaking for Gold

Marshall Gold Discovery
State Historic Park

February 18 and March 10, 2018

Our initial visit (2/18/18) to the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park where James W. Marshall first discovered gold on the South Fork of the American River back in 1848 was a little disappointing. We wanted to start our visit with a nice little picnic before exploring the park. For a variety of reasons, we left later than planned and by the time we arrived at the park there was less than an hour remaining before the park closed.

We decided to skip the picnic so we could walk through the museum (and gift store) before they closed. Unfortunately, we missed our chance to pan for gold due to our late arrival. As the sun was fading, we did enjoy a few short trails through the little village and along the river. Everyone was a little hungry and not at our best during this visit, so we ended up having our picnic lunch at home for dinner. Thankfully, the park is less than an hour from our home.  

Almost a month passed since that visit and out of the blue, Laurel asked, "Can I have a do over? I'd like to go to that park to go shaking for gold so we can become rich"?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Trains and Sisterly Love

California State Railroad Museum
March 5, 2018

Yesterday, Laurel went on her first field trip of the year to the California State Railroad Museum. Even though it's less than 30 minutes from our house and both girls, especially Kellisa enjoy trains, we've never explored this museum. Laurel got dressed up in a special dress and had Lisa fix her hair straight for the occasion. She wore her purse to school filled with a small bottle of lotion, chap stick, and $10 of her Christmas gift money. Laurel was so excited for this trip.

When I picked her up from school, she was even more excited. I figured she had a great time with her friends while also enjoying the train exhibits. While my assumption was correct, Laurel was more excited about something else. She opened her purse to pull something out as soon as she got in the SUV. I was thinking a souvenir of some sort, but it was a brochure. She opened it up and started talking a million miles per hour. "Kellisa will love the train museum. I know she loves trains. They have so many. See? See?" as she pointed to the brochure. 

"Kellisa can even go in some of the trains. Look!" as she points to the trains with a wheelchair symbol designating which trains are accessible.

Laurel went on and on about how we need to take Kellisa because she will "just love it!"

Laurel continued about how she checked everything out with Kellisa in mind and was disappointed in a few things Kellisa couldn't do in a wheelchair, but "You can just carry her dad".

I was expecting to be proud that she had a great field trip and avoided any trouble and I was, but I was more proud of how much Laurel loves Kellisa and how she is always looking out for her. I sometimes worry if Kellisa will be OK when her parents are unable to take her places, then Laurel has a way of reminding me that Kellisa will be in good hands.

I'm guessing there will be a post in the near future of a family trip to the California State Railroad Museum.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Another School Threat

Oakmont High School
Roseville, CA

March 5, 2018

Kellisa was already safely home from school when we received this message from her school district. The threats are obviously out of control and these are extremely scary times to be a student, teacher, aide, school nurse, administrator, or first responders. 

We don't have any more information, so we don't know if there was ever a real threat to Kellisa or any other people, but that doesn't make this any easier as a parent of a special needs student. 

I'm just thankful these recent threats have been taken so seriously and I don't envy the people who have to figure out if it's a student making a joke or if it's a real threat of mass murder. 

The former student was arrested less than 3 miles from Kellisa's school during school hours with an AR-15 style weapon in the suspect's vehicle. So scary! It makes me want to hug Kellisa and Laurel and head off on a trail!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Special K

Sadly, Lisa’s father passed away 5 years before Kellisa was born. That left my dad, Jeff as the only grandfather Kellisa would ever know. My dad desperately wanted to be surprised about the sex of our twins and wanted to wait until their birth. We shared the same feelings, but once the pregnancy started to go into life and death circumstances, Lisa and I decided to find out, so we could start calling our little lime sized babies by their names instead of Baby A and Baby B. Since we were faced with losing one, we wanted to call her by her name for as long as possible. It’s wasn't the first time we didn’t honor my dad’s wishes as we told him Lisa was pregnant with Kirsten and Kellisa.

   Shortly after losing Kirsten, while Kellisa was fighting for her life in the NICU, my dad started calling Kellisa his Special K. He would kiss his index and middle finger before gently touching them to some part of exposed skin on Kellisa while she lay in her incubator. He would talk softly to his Special K. When he would get updates over the phone, he always used his nickname for Kellisa. For my dad, Special K stuck, but it didn’t catch on with anyone else and that was OK.

   I believe losing the love of his life, my mom, in March 1998  made our move to Florida the following year extra hard on my dad. Kellisa was barely 6-months-old when we overloaded our Mitsubishi Eclipse and drove to the Sunshine State. I just hope he understood that we were making the best decision for Kellisa's fragile health. Looking back 18-years later, I can definitely say it worked out for the best and don't have any doubts.

   My dad even drove down from Chicago to visit us for a week during our first summer in Florida. He had a great time. We kept him busy by hiking, visiting the beach, swimming in a spring, and even surprised him with NASCAR tickets to a race at the famous Daytona International Speedway. His favorite driver, Awesome Bill Elliott was well past his prime, but led an unlikely 42 laps. I could see my dad was having fun on his vacation and was impressed with how much time he was spending just holding his Special K. What I didn’t know was my father was dying inside and he knew it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


MattyB featuring the Haschak Sisters

The Ballroom at Warehouse Live
Houston, TX

February 11, 2018

Laurel has been a huge fan of MattyB for at least 3 years. She loves watching his videos online and can spend hours dancing and singing along to all his songs. Laurel has been asking to see him in concert for a long time and I promised that if he ever came to Jacksonville (when we lived there) or Sacramento, that we would go. Unfortunately for her, he doesn't embark on long tours, probably because he's still high school age.

Then early last year, she read his announcement online that he was playing a concert in Jacksonville. Laurel was devastated and I heard, "I wish we never moved".

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Winter Ball

Oakmont High School
Roseville, CA

February 4, 2018

Kellisa attended the Winter Ball at her school on a beautiful Saturday evening. Kellisa is always excited to attend dances and this night was no different. She is treated like a queen once we arrive at the school. Kellisa is escorted not to the front of the line, but through a side door so she can skip the ticket line all together and get right out on the dance floor. Kellisa is known as "KK" at school and I'm always amazed by all the adults and students that get excited when they she her and call out, "It's KK!"

As soon as we entered the gym, KK took off wheeling as fast as she could toward the dance floor as she made her way through the sea of jumping kids to setup as close to the speakers as possible. It doesn't take long for me to lose sight of KK.

Every time I could see her, she was dancing with able bodied students. She was usually surrounded by 6-10 kids. At one time, I counted at least 7 boys dancing with her. KK had a huge smile plastered to her face the entire night. I love that she is so included with all the other kids. It made me so proud to watch KK out on her own and accepted. Many kids even bent over to talk to her at her level. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Eternal Rains Will Come

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

February 2018

As I was approaching the refuge, I reached to turn off the radio because I didn't want to scare away any of the wildlife I was hoping to observe and photograph. The excellent song, Eternal Rains Will Come by the progressive giants Opeth was playing. Even though the song has nothing to do with rain, I couldn't help but think it was ironic that this song was playing since the Sacramento Valley is in another drought. Last year at this time, Northern California was in between multiple atmospheric rivers and most of the valley was flooded and the region was nervously watching a dam in Oroville that was expected to fail.  

Since the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge is only 90 minutes from our house, I thought it was worth the time and effort to drive up in the hopes of catching some of California's natural beauty. Even though most of the wetlands were dry, several were still covered in water providing excellent opportunities to do a little birdwatching. In addition to seeing several types of birds, I enjoyed a couple of turtles on a log and many rabbits running around the dry scrub areas. The background was picturesque as always with Lassen Peak looming on the northern horizon and sweeping mountain views to the east and west beyond the refuge. I was not disappointed in my decision to visit despite the drought.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Titus Canyon Road

Death Valley National Park

January 2018

I had the opportunity to take one of my all time favorite drives back in January. I drove the rugged 27 miles that is better known as the Titus Canyon Road that starts in Nevada and ends in Death Valley National Park.

This was my second time driving the road, the first was back in November 2010 with the family. The mostly one-way road has everything from desert driving to going up and through colorful mountains, an abandoned mine, petroglyphs, wildlife, and the last three miles takes the driver through a narrow canyon barely wide enough for a vehicle. It's like driving a wide hiking trail. 

Due to the rough condition and many hazards on the road, the national park recommends 2-3 hours for the drive. Make sure you have an extra tire because a tow truck will cost close to $2,000 to help you in the middle of nowhere. Even in winter, have some food and water in case you get stuck for awhile. High clearance vehicles are recommended and 4X4s are needed when the road is wet or washed out. The canyon is prone to flash flood, so do not attempt on a rainy day! 

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Space Needle

July 2017

No visit to Seattle is complete without a visit to the top of The Space Needle. We made our pilgrimage on a Sunday, which meant driving around endlessly waiting for a parking spot to open up. I gave up on finding a disabled spot long before we were lucky enough to get a spot in a lot near the attraction. 

It was hot, record breaking heat on the day of our visit. It was actually hotter in Seattle than back home in California. The Space Needle was very crowded (and expensive), but more important to us, it was not very friendly for someone in a wheelchair. It had everything we needed, I think it was the crowds that made our visit so difficult and employees acting like they've never seen a wheelchair before. It was hard to figure our where we needed to be and the employees were just as confused as us.

Once at the top, we couldn't go to the outside viewing area until we found someone with the key to a little lift to get Kellisa down a few stairs. We waiting almost 20 minutes for this key. It was like we were the first people who needed the key in years. After enjoying our time 605 feet above Seattle, we had to wait another 20+ minutes to find the worker who had the elusive wheelchair lift key. The views were outstanding and maybe we would have had a better time if we didn't visit on a weekend day. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bremerton to Seattle Ferry

July - August 2017

We spent a week in the Seattle area for our 2017 summer vacation. We decided to stay on the western side of Puget Sound in Bremerton. Our hotel was a block from the water which has a nice walkway that lead to a park with water features and the ferry terminal. Both girls love riding ferries and no one likes sitting in Seattle's legendary traffic jams, so it made sense to commute back and forth by ferry. A couple of days drove our SUV onto to the ferry and on other days we just walked to ride as pedestrians.

Everyone enjoyed the beautiful views (Mount Rainier was even visible one day), fresh air, just sitting back and relaxing in the lounge, and eating a snack or full meals while going back and forth. We would highly recommend using the ferry for pleasure and a means to commute to and from Seattle.

Laurel enjoyed exploring on the ferry. She had a little confidence to venture a little farther away from us than usual and we let her since we knew she couldn't go very far. She was always in sight and it was cute to watch her look back, both for approval and the assurance that we were keeping our eyes on her.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Bremerton Bug Museum

August 2017

Kellisa has always loved her bugs, spiders, bats, snakes, and alligators, so there was no way we could pass up visiting the Bremerton Bug Museum in Bremerton, WA. While Kellisa was observing the exhibits, Laurel was fascinated with the gift shop where you could buy many types of bug themed candies. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018

Great American Eclipse- Metal Wall Art

We decided to take our best photograph from the Great America Eclipse and have it turned into a metal piece of artwork that we could hang in our house to always remind us of our special weekend spent together witnessing totality in Weiser, ID. Of course, this picture doesn't do the rare event justice, but we will always cherish this moment we were fortunate enough to capture in a picture.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

"Student with a Weapon"

Oakmont High School
Roseville, CA

February 6, 2017

Yesterday, I was 1,800 miles away from home in San Antonio, TX for work. We enjoy some major perks because I travel for my job, but there is always a little worry in the back of my mind that I'm so far away if something happens back at home. Thankfully, this rarely happens, but yesterday it happened.

At noon local time, I started getting texts, emails, and automated phone calls from Kellisa's school about a student with a weapon. They weren't releasing much information and the lockdown continued for just over two hours. I was relieved the school wasn't using the phrases, "Active Shooter" or "Shelter in Place", but the texts were very scary none the less. It didn't help to consider that Kellisa can't recognize danger, can't get on the floor by herself, can't crawl, can't remain quiet (I picture her giggling at all the excitement), can't jump out a window...she is 100% dependent on others for her safety and that's a chilling thought, especially when I'm not with her to be her protector. Lastly, Kellisa can't communicate like most other high school students. Therefore, we didn't get texts or calls from her telling us that she was safe.

Parents were asked not to come to the school, but if you wanted to get close, school officials and the police had a meeting place set up at a nearby park. The entire incident lasted just over two hours with little information and no confirmation that Kellisa was safe. It was hard to concentrate on work and even harder not knowing what I should do, if anything.

Eventually, an aide in Kellisa's class called to let me know that she was safe and the lockdown had ended. Another hour went by before I got a text from Lisa, "Both kids are home safe".  It was a huge relief, but I'm sure it took a few hours to get my blood pressure and heart rate down to normal levels.

The early reports indicate that one student stole a gun from a relative and brought it to school to sell to another student. The loaded gun was found in a backpack in the gym. Both students have been arrested and police officials believe there was never a plot to shoot anyone at the school. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

All 50 States Photo Wall: Exhibit A

    Indiana            Kansas         Louisiana
Pennsylvania   Rhode Island   Mississippi
                              Virginia      Washington
     Minnesota                             South Dakota

The girls completed our project of visiting and hiking a trail in all 50 states back in November 2016. Their travels are well documented on this blog and I wanted to display their accomplishment in our home as art. Partly to share our story with visitors, but mostly so we can look back at all the fun we had completing our goal.

I've wanted to copy our kindred spirits at Explore All 50 ever since I read their post about having a photo wall with a picture from each of the United States.  

I've struggled for a couple of years (I started planning our photo wall before we finished) on the format, layout, design, shape, and size of the photos to use. I even struggle picking which is the best picture from each state. Some are obvious, some are impossible to choose, while a few states lack really good pictures.

After a few failed attempts to get this project off the ground (and on our walls), I finally found our layout. We will have five 20X30 canvas art collages with 10 pictures each.  This is our first collage and we love the way it turned out after many, many hours of picking the pictures and then reshaping and arranging the pictures. As excited as I am to have a clear direction, I also know this project will probably take several months to complete. We will order additional collages one at a time as we finish them and share them on the blog. Once we have all five hung on our "All 50 States Photo Wall", we will share a picture of our completed collection.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Interpretive Loop Trail

Miners Ravine Nature Reserve
Bird and Wildlife Preserve
Placer County Parks

January 2018

We just finished the short North Trail Loop and decided that we would check out the other 1/2 mile loop trail at the opposite end of the parking lot. 

Despite the very real warning of rattlesnakes living around the trail, we didn't see or hear any as we explored this wooded preserve on the first day of 2018. Since we didn't see any snakes, the highlight of this loop would be the bedrock mortars created by a prehistoric people who spent time gathered on the rocks grinding grain, acorns, and other local resources into a food product. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

North Trail Loop

Miners Ravine Nature Reserve
Bird and Wildlife Preserve
Placer County Parks

January 2018

After our hike on the Mountain Quarry Railroad Trail, we wanted to do a little more exploring. In between Auburn State Recreation Area and our home, we remembered driving by the Miners Ravine Nature Preserve several months ago and seeing the suburban park had a short trail system. It seemed like the perfect destination to continue our first day of the new year hiking plans.

We started on the North Loop Trail because it was closer to where I parked our SUV. The path did not disappoint. We had the trail to ourselves, it was wide and even provided a short rock scramble for Kellisa. She loved the effort it took to get her to the top where she could enjoy the views. Kellisa asked for "more" after we made it back down, but I was done rock pushing for the day.

In the end, the North Loop Trail was exactly half a mile in length. Short, but very sweet.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mountain Quarry Railroad Trail

Auburn State Recreation Area
January 1, 2018

This is how Kellisa rolls into the new year while Laurel was at the park and movies with mom. It doesn't matter how much research we do on a trail in advance, we are always surprised. For the most part, the Mountain Quarry Railroad Trail is a Rails to Trail which means it is now a hiking trail on a former railroad path. This usually means wide and mostly obstacle free for Kellisa's mobility chair. Several trestles have been removed and a rough trail has been blazed to connect the rail trail around these gaps. The first couple weren't too bad to navigate, but as you can see in the picture to the right, the trail around the missing trestle over the Black Hole of Calcutta Falls is anything but accessible. But, I've jumped ahead to the crux of our first day of the year hike.

It was a beautiful and sunny afternoon when we arrived at the trailhead. Every parking spot was taken and vehicles were parked on the shoulder of the road in all directions. This trailhead didn't have any disabled parking and even if did, I'm sure those would have also been taken. We drove back and forth hoping to find a spot. After many U-turns, a spot only a few cars from the trailhead opened. This was fortunate since we had to negotiate around all the parked cars by walking (pushing) out into a lane of fast approaching cars.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I Hate Irresponsibe Dog Owners!

Mountain Quarry Railroad Trail
Auburn State Recreation Area

January 1, 2018

I really do hate irresponsible dog owners while out on the trail. Read that first sentence again before sending any messages or leaving comments. I hate irresponsible dog owners. I don't hate all dog owners or dogs, just irresponsible dog owners. Read on to see how I define irresponsible.

Most, if not all trails that allow dogs require them to be under control and on a leash. I know there are dog parks that allow dogs to run wild, so you have places to let your dog be free and a trail which requires a leash is not the place for many reasons.

Too many times we've encountered dogs not on a leash and they come running up aggressively. Sometimes the dogs are face level or even higher than the kids which scares them...and me. The most common response from these owners is laughter, "Oh, they're harmless" or "They're part of the family". The owners need to know their laughter doesn't help us feel any better or safer. Keep your dogs under control!

Another pet peeve about irresponsible dog owners- at the trailhead to our recent hike of the Mountain Quarry Railroad Trail, there was a nice little box with baggies (Top right picture) for dog owners to use for their dog's waste. A large boulder (Top left picture) not far from the trailhead seems to double as an open air trash can for the whole world to see and smell while out trying to enjoy nature. 

To make matters even worse, not all owners cleanup after their dogs leaving a mushy mess on the trail. Unfortunately, with all the leaf debris covering the trail, we wheeled (Bottom center picture) through a well camouflaged pile of dog waste. This is impossible to thoroughly clean from the tire treads while out on a trail which means we need to load the smelly tires in the car for the ride home. Once home, I need to use the hose to spray the disgusting mess from the tires. 

Our only silver lining is Kellisa doesn't have to use her bare hands on her soiled tires to propel herself. Not every wheelchair user is that fortunate. Think about that for a minute.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Black Hole of Calcutta Falls

Mountain Quarry Railroad Trail
Auburn State Recreation Area

January 1, 2018

You will find the Black Hole of Calcutta Falls only 1.1 miles from gate 150 off of Highway 49 just south of Auburn, CA. While not the biggest falls in the world, it is a nice goal for families that want to be rewarded with a waterfall that flows all year. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

No Hands Bridge

Mountain Quarry Railroad Trail 
Auburn State Recreation Area

January 1, 2018

Our New Year's Day hike started and finished near the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge, a.k.a. the No Hands Bridge, so named by locals for the years the bridge didn't have hand rail protection. Completed in 1912, it was the largest bridge constructed with reinforced concrete. It survived the Hell Hole Dam collapse 53 years ago when many other bridges in the canyon were demolished by the rush of water. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Crux of our Hike

Mountain Quarry Railroad Trail

Auburn State Recreation Area

January 1, 2018

We planned to start the new year with a 4.2 hike on the Mountain Quarry Railroad Trail. The parking area off of Highway 49 just south of Auburn was jam packed with cars for at least a half mile in both directions. Unfortunately, there wasn't any spots for disabled parking. Most of the cars were sticking at least a little into the paved shoulder. We drove back and forth several times before we got lucky to be in the right place as the 5th car from the trailhead was leaving. The trail we had chosen was in a mountain canyon with steep drop-offs, but by far the most dangerous part of the entire hike would be going from the car to the trailhead and back after our hike. The only way to get Kellisa around the parked cars was to enter the roadway. You had to time your walk around the fast approaching cars from around the bends in the highway. I was thankful to only have a few cars to circumnavigate.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

SAC 106 - DEN 98

Sacramento Kings 106 
Denver Nuggets 98

Golden 1 Center
Sacramento, CA

January 6, 2018

Lisa was able to get 4 tickets to the Kings - Nuggets game in Sacramento from the Center for Land Based Learning. Thank you!

Since none of us owned any Kings shirts, Lisa pulled off a small miracle by purchasing shirts for all of us and they were delivered on Saturday to our house a few hours before the game. 

This was Lisa and Laurel's second NBA game (they attended a Kings game in early 2016) and the first for Kellisa and Chris. We don't follow basketball and weren't sure what to expect. We found a parking spot in advance across the street from the Golden 1 Center that had ample disabled parking. We walked across the street and entered through the VIP doors since we didn't know any better. They let us in with everyone entering for the suites. We guess the wheelchair had something to do with it, but everyone was very nice as we were guided to elevators that would take us to our seats. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year's Day 2018

January 1, 2018

Kellisa and Laurel both had a pretty good day to start the new year. Laurel went to a local park to play with a friend from school and then went to the movies with mom. Meanwhile, Kellisa spent the day out on a couple of local trails with dad. We're all hoping this is the start to the best year ever!