Saturday, June 17, 2017

Kick-off the Summer SURPRISE Trip 2017

Years ago we started a super fun tradition of kicking off the summer with a SURPRISE trip.  We leave right after school gets out (this time the following day).  I make a packing list for all the kids and this serves as their first clue for the trip.  I think my favorite thing about this trip is that it is just with our family (sometimes we do have some special guest visitors) -- most of our trips throughout the year entail visiting family....don't get me wrong, we LOVE being with our extended family but it is sure special to spend some time away from our normal responsibilities in life with just our kids.  Turns out this trip we didn't even have cellular service so we truly were away from it all.

So where did we go...DRUM ROLL PLEASE

Grand Coulee, Washington

Our first stop of the trip was at the Grand Coulee Dam for a fifty minute FREE bus tour of the dam and pump house.  We were allowed to ask any dam questions we had (just had to throw that in).  We had to go through a metal detector and police security in order to go on the tour.  Coop surprised us all with an unknown fear of metal detectors -- he was pretty sure that if it beeped on him he would be immediately shot down by the police.  Tyler was the first in our family to go through and what do you know -- BEEP!!  Cooper was quite relieved when Tyler was NOT shot but just had to take off his belt.  Phew!

The pump house we were allowed into was really quite amazing.  All the water from these pumps suck out the water from the Columbia River and then pump them into what become Banks Lake.  It was interesting to learn that two days after 9/11 high security fences were erected throughout the dam area and no longer could civilians drive over the dam.

These pumps and the electrical panels were built in the 50's (I totally guessed that by the color everything was painted).  The electrical panels can still work manually but now days are run by computers.  At the time the dam was built there were 10,000 employees now there are only 500 employees.  Outside of tour guides, etc... we hardly saw a soul.

The Grand Coulee Dam is deemed one of the eight wonders of the world - I'm not usually into this kind of thing (Birch is like a doggy running around peeing his pants with excitement about things like this) but honestly it was all super interesting.  The dam created the massive Lake Roosevelt (I'm sure named after President Roosevelt and his commission to built this dam in order to provide jobs during The Great Depression, recreation, irrigation for the Columbia Basin, power production, and flood control.  

I could throw out all sorts of cool stats we learned but I think the most impressive is the amount of cement that was used to create the dam - it contains 12 million cubic yards of concrete.  It towers 550 feet above bedrock and is 500 feet wide at it's base.  This is enough concrete to built one standard 6 foot wide sidewalk around the world TWICE!!!

The museum was marginally interesting.  This diving suit was used when wire cables needed to be cut under the water.  The helmet weighs 80 pounds and the shoes each weigh 25 pound.  The suit was a beast!

So this dam creates Lake Roosevelt on the front side and the back side creates the massive Banks Lake.

All this learning left us quite hungry!  I had previously researched and found this dumpy little hole in the wall restaurant called Tee Pee.  The portions were large and we all left fat and happy.  


NEXT STOP...our home away from home
Sunbanks Lake Resort became our family home for the next two days.  The resort is kind of interesting - a wide range of tent sites, little fishing one bedroom cabins, to much larger (and expensive) five-bedroom homes.

Waters Edge Cabin is where we stayed -- the kids referred to it as "The Shelter."  Let's just saw they are spoiled.  If you can believe it there are beds for eight people, a mini fridge, microwave, ELECTRICITY, a heater, A/C unit (we certainly never needed this as the weather was chilly all weekend), and a porch with a little table and a propane grill.  It took the kids a bit to get over it's rustic nature.  The price was right at $87/night.

There were hot showers and pretty nice bathrooms not too far of a walk from our cabin.  The kids kept saying they were living like pioneers which I'm pretty sure the pioneers would have had a good belly laugh at.

We had tacos the first night.

With the weather being kind of poor our outside water activities for the afternoon got squelched.  We hit up the local bowling alley and I'm pretty sure we made his day.  The place was vacant and begging for some bowlers!! 
It's not too often we are all together in one bedroom for two days and sort of crummy weather.  The kids all love games so playing Garbage Man late into the night was a treat for them.

Alysee brought....A LOT of stuff with her.  Being a surprise trip she just couldn't decide what to bring so it turns out she brought like her whole room, including this white board.  She made sure our schedule for the day was posted each morning.

Grilled corn on the cob and BBQ chicken was night two

Chloe was the resident s'mores and grilled starburst chef.
Grand Coulee Dam is also super cool because the put on a FREE laser light show each night from Memorial Day until late September.  This is the largest laser light show in North America.  The show was different than what we all imagined -- we were thinking fireworks type stuff but in 2014 the show was re-written and it is now more of the history of the dam and the Confederate Tribe of the Colville Reservation.
It was pretty chilly so several of us watched it from the car and tuned in our radio to the sound broadcast.  We've heard that the mosquitoes are usually pretty bad but I think the windy, chilly weather kept them all away.  It was totally worth going to this 30 minute show.

Day Two...
The next day we had planned on spending it on the lake but with pending rain showers and chilly weather we decided to postpone our boat day and head to Steamboat Rock Stake Park.  The huge rock behind the kids is what we ended up summiting!!!

We kept our eyes out for rattlesnakes amongst all the cool wildlife -- pretty cool little baby cactus's.

It was about a three mile hike with some moderately tricky areas of steep loose rock.

Check out the deer behind Chloe.

I'm hot, I'm cold, I'm hungry, I'm tired, I love this, I hate this, Are we almost there?

My mountain goat hubby

We made it!!!!!  

Check out Birch's cool patch from Alex that he sewed on his backpack.

Alysee loved the hike and even loved the little mouse she found hiding in the cracks of this huge boulder.

Over looking Banks Lake

The kids were all excited to use their little backpacks that Alex recently sent them from Romania.  They were just the perfect size.
Nate is such a great hiker!

Hard to beat this kid's love of life!

With our bodies all warmed up from the hike the kids decided to take the raft out for a little exploration.


Sand Dunes became the favorite spot for the afternoon.  Where am I?  First laying on a towel reading a book and then in the car hiding from all the wind reading a book.

Coop LOVED the dunes!!



A kid at heart!

Spike ball...always spike ball

Birch set the camera on a timed schedule to take some shots.  Coop started realizing when the camera was clicking and started posing.
We came home to big wind storms so my dreams of going to a Bull Riding Rodeo were cancelled.  No way was I going to torture myself to being cold when I would lay in our "shelter" being entertained by the kids and finishing a book.  The kids all made twistyloonies -- this name was patented several years ago on a Surprise trip when I brought fake cinnamon rolls (those pillsbury kind) and we wrapped them around a stick and roasted them.   

Sunbanks Resort sign all lit up!
Saturday...our final day
I can't tell you how happy we all were to wake up Saturday morning and see the blue skies, no wind, and a hint of warmth in the air.  We had planned on renting this pontoon boat the previous day but with the poor weather we were grateful we were able to delay our rental for one day.

None of us had ever partied on a pontoon boat -- I think we are all sold.  We put the sun canopy back as we were trying to soak in any rays of sunshine and took off to explore the 27 miles of Banks Lake.  It wasn't the fanciest boat but we had a great time!

We weren't thinking along the lines of tubing when we rented the boat.  Our borrowed raft worked great for a leisure stroll on the lake.

The kids all felt like a million bucks when Birch let them all have many turns driving the boat.

Captain Nate Dawg

Chloe, the dare devil

Aye Aye Mate, Alysee

Staying low to get out of the wind and soak up the heat on the benches.

We spent the next six hours looking for places to jump off of cliffs and play in the sand.  Birch, Tyler, and Nate were up for jumping off of anything.

The back of the pontoon boat had a deck on it --- perfect for Chloe to jump off of.

Cruising Banks Lake
  
Found an island with shallow water that was warm(ish) and so the spike ball set was quickly set up.

Chloe had a great time building a sand castle.



Lovin' the sun

And more sand dune jumping

Off to find another island to scamper up and jump off.

Yahoo!!!  Alysee was just about to jump in when three large fish were spotted and the wind picked up again.  She quickly decided that she would have no regrets skipping out on the cliff jumping for this trip.

I think we could all get used to this.  We enjoyed sandwiches, chips, and grapes for lunch.

Pretty windy ride back to the boat rental location.

DRIVE HOME....
This kids were all ready to head straight home but Birch and I had two more stops on our agenda.  Dry Falls - this is located in Sun Lake State Park.  It was created from the Missoula Flood back in the Ice Ages.  Can you imagine how massive that waterfall would have been behind the kids?  Crazy!!!

Our last stop was Lake Lenora Caves.  The caves were created during the Great Missoula flood as water pulled chunks of basalt from the walls of the coulee. After the waters retreated and the caves had been created, early native people used these areas as shelters. The area is still used by Native Americans as a sacred area and a gathering ground.  Here are my cavemen!!!

The hike is about a mile and half and really pretty easy.  It was a great little break in the drive home.

These girls were two peas and pod all weekend.  We ALL missed Alex as we know he would have loved this weekend as well BUT we're sure proud of him serving the Lord in Romania.
Due to the weather we had to be flexible with our plans and ended up switching activities around a bit.  We were grateful for a warm "shelter" and the sun that popped up on Saturday!!!
So another Kick-off the Summer Surprise Trip down in the books!  I love this tradition and my brain is already churning coming up with next year's ideas.

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