My AFFs (Animal Friends Forever) at the San Diego Zoo!

My AFFs (Animal Friends Forever) at the San Diego Zoo!

When we first pulled into the parking lot of the San Diego Zoo, I could hardly wait to step out of the door of the truck. I have been waiting to come here since before we even left Maine.

After we went in and got our tickets, we headed to the zoo tour bus. We decided to go on the bus first because it covered 75% of the zoo and we would know where everything is. It was a double decker bus and we got to sit on top!

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When we got off the bus we made our way over to the “big cats.” On the way there, we passed an exhibit with TONS of monkeys in it.  My favorite ones are the Capuchins. They are the cutest monkeys you could ever imagine, and they were definitely the most entertaining! They would pick the bugs out of each others fur and eat it, and the way they eat is so human-like!

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I really liked the gorillas too. The troop leader is always a male and called a silverback. The silverback of the troop we saw was sleeping the whole time with his foot pressed against the glass. I felt kind of bad for all of the gorillas, because how would you like it if millions of people came to see you all day, everyday?

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My favorite animal there was the cheetah. It would just pace along the fence watching your every move. Did you know that every cheetah at the San Diego Zoo has a dog as a companion? Well, when we were there the cheetah we saw was paired with a husky mix. River explained to me that they do this so the cheetah is more calm around people. Sadly we didn’t see the dog, but the cheetah was absolutely amazing! The tiger was also one of my favorites, but it didn’t do much except sit on top of a rock and look down on everyone. I was half expecting it to lick it’s lips thinking we would all make a great meal, but it didn’t.

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There were also two different kinds of leopards, the black leopard and snow leopard. We saw the snow leopard, but not the black one because it was inside it’s little “house” the whole time. The snow leopard was not white it was grey, and had a tail that looked almost as dangerous as the claws. It was really long and very fat at the end.

After a while we finally got to the pandas. There was a mom and a cub. The baby was a lot more active than the mom. He would roll around, climb on stuff, and run around the pen. All the mom did was sit there, eat bamboo and watch her son.

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When you think of polar bears do you think of big, white bears? Well that’s basically true except the “big” part. They are not just big, they are HUGE! Did you know that full grown polar bears can get up to 10 feet?! I don’t know how big the one we saw was but it looked pretty close to 10 feet! The way they get their food is very interesting. They’ll wait outside of a seals breathing hole for hours until a seal comes up, then they will grab it. They must be so patient! If I tried to do that I’d be getting up within 5 minutes trying to find food elsewhere.

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On the way over to the elephants we passed more monkeys. This time there was an otter in the same exhibit as the monkeys. It was funny to see an otter and a monkey living together. Just like the Capuchins he was very entertaining, and happened to be my Dad’s favorite animal there. He was super cute especially when he would float on his back down the river, and catch the food the monkeys threw him.

Then we got to the elephants. There were about 3 of them and we were watching one of them eat hay. It’s really interesting how they use their trunks to take the food then put it in their mouth. The San Diego Zoo has 2 different types of elephants, the African and Asian. Two ways to tell them apart are the shape of their ears and their tusks. African elephants have bigger ears that are the shape of the continent of Africa and both males and females have tusks. Whereas Asian elephants have much smaller ears and only the males have tusks.

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After, we went over to the giraffes. There were a few adults and a few babies. They were all so cute and a lot bigger than I thought they would be. A giraffes neck can be 6 feet long and weigh 600 pounds! Imagine having a neck that tall weighing that much!

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I thought the oddest looking animal there were the rhinoceroses. They have a protective layer of skin on the outside which looked like a huge layer of fat, it was very weird. Well I can’t say the rhino is the oddest looking animal there was, because the camels came pretty close. One of them was very old and had a lopsided hump. Through my research I found out that his hump is like that because he is old and his activity level is low, therefore he uses all his stored energy (which is in his hump) causing it to droop. He also had spit coming out of his mouth. I mean literally hanging out of his mouth, it looked like toothpaste. YUCK! The reason camels do spit is to surprise, distract, or bother whatever the camel thinks is threatening it.

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I had such a good time at the San Diego Zoo and it is definitely on my list of places to come back to.

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The Other North Coast

The Other North Coast

The air shifted and definitely became a little cooler as we drove west from the BurntwoodsStock music festival. With the music still in our ears and the fullness of heart from meeting new friends, we headed out to the Pacific coast. We had already spent the previous week around the Portland (Oregon that is… the SECOND Portland) area and had quickly become enamored with the place. Tan and I both immediately felt that it is somewhere that we could go eventually to escape the long winters yet still maintain a sense of changing seasons. It has that same feel that our own Portland area does with rolling hills, plenty of trees, a sense of culture and of course, good natured people. The only difference is the ocean is on the left. We definitely felt that we could fit in. But I’m years ahead of myself…
    As I kind of work this narrative backwards a little (sorry) I have to mention the Columbia River and the beautiful landscape around it. We initially came west that way and were mesmerized by the gorgeous views of the river as we meandered along. I love seeing hills in the distance with a scattering of windmills along their peaks. It makes me feel that at least on some level, we’re trying to do the right thing environmentally. Many folks would argue that the sight of windmills clogs up the scenery and takes away from the natural beauty, but to me it takes me to another place and time. Perhaps a simpler one where wind power was a valuable resource to the surrounding village and where the people who lived there had more time to appreciate the real things in life like love, friendship, and family. My only regret was that we didn’t stay a couple nights there along that river.

Columbia River
    So, after a brief stay in Portland and our great weekend at the music festival, we finally made it to the Pacific Ocean. Feeling a little like Lewis and Clark, our journey seemed to have reached a certain point. Not a conclusion, but something. A milestone perhaps as the Pacific Ocean was certainly a destination. But even at that moment I realized the journey is far from over.
    One of the first things we noticed about the coast is that it’s not quite as “oceany”. It just doesn’t have that aroma of salty air that is ever present on the Atlantic. Regardless though, the scenery is breathtaking with rocky crags, pebble beaches, and tons of driftwood. The sight of the tall outcroppings of rock just a little ways out into the surf add an air of mystery to the place as they come into view through the fog. While I was always under the impression that pirate activity was relegated to the Caribbean, I could understand how this rough coast with its myriad coves and hiding places was host to its own rich history of piracy.
    Another enchanting difference was the presence of seals floating in nearby waves. Resting on their backs for a bit, they would suddenly disappear into the foam to resurface a dozen or so yards away, their heads poking up to have another look around. As we ventured out across the low-tide sandbars towards the stony islands just off shore, we would come across various eddies filled with all kinds of sea life, like starfish and countless anemone of some kind or other. Gazing up at the cliffs along the shore, I couldn’t help but imagine what it might be like to live up there just through the trees always having a spectacular view into this majestic scene with the rays of distant sunshine slicing through the fog.
    Back in-land we headed for we were told that we could not dare to miss; Crater Lake, especially if we were already this close. While taking us a little further south than we expected to go on this leg, I am happy to say that I am glad we did. Being the deepest lake in America, it is also known for its clear, blue waters. Driving around the perimeter, you are rewarded with spectacular views all around the lake as it sits in its recess formed by the collapse of the volcano Mount Mazama. On such a gorgeous day we could see clear across the five or six miles easily making out the rocky formations of the mountainsides as they descend into the deep blue crater.

Crater Lake
    
    Suddenly finding ourselves with a deadline in hand, we returned north again, although this time staying a bit inland through Oregon on a course towards Seattle. We picked up a job working the sugar beet harvest so now we only had a certain amount of time before we needed to be in eastern Montana for the month of October.
    Along that way we experienced much more of the great Pacific northwest and the intense division between the fog and rain along the coast and the relative warmth and sunshine just a few miles inland. A couple nights outside of Forks, Washington made this phenomenon all the more (un)real as it is the area where the Twilight series takes place. It truly is a great setting for a tale of vampires and werewolves. Of course the town of Forks itself boasts more than a few tourist/fan traps, such as the high school and the beaches where the story takes place, as well as gift shops dealing in Twilight related finery.

Rialto Beach
    A few casino parking lots later we found a wonderful little fairgrounds RV park we could call home for a week or so. From there we could visit Mount Rainier and hopefully meet up with an old friend in Seattle. Unfortunately the hookup with the friend didn’t pan out. (An aside: I’m wondering if people along our path fear that we are expecting them to put us up, and therefore feel uncomfortable making plans. I’d like you all to know that we are entirely self sufficient and don’t expect or plan on any kind of accommodations from anyone. If you have, or know of somewhere we can park it, great. But if not, please do not feel obligated to make arrangements for us. We will find a way.) But fortunately we met some new friends who we hope to see again.
   Mt. Rainier turned out to be pleasant, though not an unexpected surprise. The drive through the park to the mountain itself wound up and up until finally reaching the base. With a few different paths to choose from to begin a hike, we picked one and began our ascent. After a half mile or so we began to distance ourselves from the denser foliage and emerged onto the inclining slopes of snow and flowers that form the lower regions of Mt. Rainier.

Mt. Rainier
    We continued on always moving uphill, with a tremendous view of the summit, and eventually decided that was good enough for us (as much as we could have gone on, we don’t always have eight hours to dedicate to long hikes that we can’t bring Daisy on) and began the gradual trek down. The geography surrounding us looking away from the mountain was almost as breathtaking as the peak behind us and I couldn’t help thinking that I was in The Sound of Music or something!
    With the aforementioned deadline to be in Sidney, Montana for the fall beet harvest, we had to head a bit east again. After a quick trip to Seattle (see Mercy’s post) we made a straight shot across the northern plains with a stop in Idaho to see some family of a friend back home. With a welcome that felt as if we already knew each other, we fell right in and extended our planned stay a couple times. River was taught how to shoot and properly maintain a variety of guns, and Mercy got to do a little horseback riding; something she had been asking to do for quite a while now.

Weippe

We couldn’t have hoped for a better and friendlier stay as we made some great new friends. I can only hope that they make their way back east so we can see them again sooner rather than later!
    Sidney proved to be quite an interesting place (see Tanya‘s previous post). A strange dichotomy where many of the residents are quite well off due to the oil richness of the Bakken, yet the town  itself is virtually devoid of culture. Suffice it to say that after a couple of weeks I was more than ready to move on despite the kindness and hospitality of the locals we met and worked with at the beat harvest.
    With just hours to spare we made our way south again trying to avoid the snow and increasingly chilly temperatures descending on the northern plains. Not entirely successful in our escape, we wound up spending a couple frosty nights in southern Montana and Wyoming on our path to northern California. With the west offering a warmer climate where we could explore the Redwoods and coastal routes that would take us down to the San Francisco Bay area, we were more than happy to finally escape the cold of the encroaching winter.
    As I finish this up in our warm and cozy home on Christmas Day, I begin to think back on the last month and the craziness that has been our life selling Christmas trees since that retail nightmare known as “Black Friday”. Still in decompression mode from those busy, exhausting (yet exhilarating) few weeks, I’m thinking of friends and family back home and hoping all have had a very merry and happy Christmas.

Mercy's tree
    Next: A Tale of Trees
 

Sugar Beet Harvesting in Montana

Sugar Beet Harvesting in Montana

I write this post for three reasons…..to admit guilt, to redeem myself and to spread awareness.

As a family of four, traveling (living) on only one income is very challenging at times, most times. Brian averages 32 hours per week working remotely.  We always seem to make ends meet as we are simple people and know where our priorities lie. That being said, there are sacrifices that I refuse to make, especially when it comes to keeping myself and my family healthy. I’m talking about food choices.  Yes, perhaps we would have a little extra in the budget if we lived solely off of processed, pesticide ridden or genetically modified foods.   Then again, perhaps that little extra would end up going to remedying the illnesses I’d expect one (or all) of us to contract from eating such foods.

It became inevitable after the first couple of months of being in areas not conducive to our eating habits that we would have to try and pick up some short-term work along the way. So, with the help of  FB, Craigslist, and RV forums, we have managed to supplement our income enough to keep our bodies (as well as our truck) fueled.

Back in June, I came across a thread on the Fulltime Families FB page, one of the on-line family travel groups I belong to.  Folks were talking about working a sugar beet harvest in Montana and how insanely lucrative it had been for them in the past. Upon doing my research, I learned that the job required little experience, the commitment was for roughly one month during September and October, the employment agency put you up in an RV park with full hook ups, and the pay was indeed desirable.  Perfect for us!  We planned on visiting Glacier in early September so we’d be in the area anyway.  Not to mention we had just spent a chunk of cash on RV and truck repairs, setting us back quite a bit. Applied. Hired. Happy.  Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure what a sugar beet was.  Nonetheless, the idea of working outside, in the fall, in the dirt was quite appealing . I bookmarked the company’s website and forgot about it.

Until…  sometime after arriving in Montana I came across information that sugar beets were amongst the top GMO foods in the country… not good!  GMOs are food products that have had their DNA altered in a lab to make them drought, herbicide and pesticide resistant.  Sometimes referred to as “Frankenfoods”, they have been altogether banned in many other countries.

Red flag went up.  I panicked. I researched. Suspicions confirmed.

I had signed us up to work for the devil…otherwise known, in this case, as Monsanto!

I was discouraged, the kids were horrified, and Bri , well, let’s just say he’s the reason to my rhyme.   After a fairly lengthy discussion we decided to honor our commitment and show up to the job.  Yes, we were compromising our principles and going against our beliefs.  But, as Bri pointed out, it was a necessary evil. We had already counted on the money to get us to California.  And, in my defense, none of our earnings would be knowingly spent on Monsanto supported foods.   Furthermore, we could use this opportunity to spread awareness.

We pulled in to Sidney, a remote town situated in northeastern Montana with relatively low expectations.   We learned that the area was currently in the midst of an oil boom, which was clearly evident by the shoddily constructed “man camps” we observed along the way.  We had also heard that there had been a fairly recent murder in the community, which, once again, made us rethink our decision.  We decided that we would show up to the RV park (aka county fairgrounds) and if at that point things appeared overly sketchy, we’d skip town. Fortunately, that was not the case and upon our arrival we were greeted by our camp host and security guard who assured us that we had nothing to be concerned about, safety wise. Aside from the two other families there with kids, the majority of the RVers in the lot were retired couples with fancy rigs and small dogs.  If it was safe enough for them, then we had nothing to worry about in our 04 model 5th wheel guarded by our ferocious watch dog Daisy May.

Nearly half of the world’s sugar production comes from sugar beets and in Montana it is a $60 million industry.  Local farmers are contracted to grow the beets  and are paid based on yield and  sugar content.  Here is where my issue lies. The farmers are only allowed to plant approved seed varieties.  And guess what?  Ten out of the twelve approved varieties are “Roundup Ready” seeds.  Yes indeed, a Monsanto product.  I’m not quite sure about the other two varieties but that really doesn’t matter.  If some growers did plant the other varieties, and if they aren’t GMO seeds, cross pollination would contaminate those fields anyway.  So, it is my knowledgeable assumption that all of the sugar beets that Bri and I worked with were genetically modified. Very bad!

Beet field
Beet field

During the harvest, the beets were delivered by truckloads to a factory yard where they were weighed and piled and random samples were collected for testing. I was part of a 6-7 member crew who worked in the factory yard for 7 hours a day.  We kept the piler running, the area clear of all stray beets and collected the samples. From that shift, I went to work inside the factory with Bri for another 4-5 hours.  It was more or less an assembly line job where we weighed, washed and dried the samples before the pulp was extracted and sent into the lab for sugar content. Neither position was difficult but the hours were long and went by ever so slowly.

Beet factory
Beet factory

We worked with many interesting people, toting quite diverse backgrounds during our time there. Aside from our fellow RVers, we fraternized with a group of transient 20 something year olds ,a train hopper, a retired local schoolteacher (who came to our RV bearing fresh, produce from her garden), a car salesman (who brought us fresh, local eggs)  and “Cowboy John” (who provided us entertainment via song and ferrets).  I’m pretty confident in saying that I don’t believe many of these people are even aware of Monsanto and their evil ways. I do know that most are aware of my affection for kale which did prompt some words of healthy living from me. And though I do feel a bit hypocritical, I’m glad we had this experience.  Especially, if it adds more members to the Millions Against Monsanto campaign.

Piling beets
Piling beets
Weighing beets
Weighing beets
The Ups and Downs of Traveling

The Ups and Downs of Traveling

Astoria

It’s been one year since we’ve been on the road and so far we’ve been to 25 states. My favorite states we’ve been to so far are Colorado, because it was just so lush and green, and Texas, because…well, I just liked Texas. Now, my least favorite state was Alabama. (Sorry to all the people who live there.) The campground we were at was horrible, the capitol looked like it was completely abandoned, the area we were in was not a very pleasant area, and the skies were NOT so blue!  Some of my favorite attractions were Yellowstone, because the mountains, wildlife, and rivers combined were just breathtaking! Bryce Canyon, The hoodoos were so cool! Grand Canyon, it was just so massive and amazing! And, I liked Rocky Mountain for pretty much the same reason as Yellowstone, (they were a lot alike.) The cities I liked were Austin, because during SXSW it was so much fun (and I got a lot of free stuff.) Vegas, the shows we saw there were cool and the light are really colorful. Seattle, because the Pike Place Market, the EMP museum, and the Space Needle were all so awesome! New Orleans, because it was so alive, and I can’t wait ’till we go to all the cities in California!! Right now we’re in Sidney, Montana where there is next to nothing. Our parents are working the beet harvest so my mom is gone from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and my dad is gone from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.! This is the only reason we’re in Sidney, and if my mom and dad weren’t working we would most definitely not be here!! On the bright side, there have been kids here the whole time for us to hang out with, while the parents are working, although they are leaving tomorrow. That’s what I don’t like about being on the road. Whenever I meet a friend either we always have to leave or they always have to leave. I also have to share a room with my brother which is not very fun because of the limited space, and he is always yelling at me to pick up my stuff. When the harvest is done we’re heading towards California to work at a Christmas tree lot for a while. I’m excited for that because I heard that my brother and I get to work too! 

Seattle Gum wall
Seattle Gum wall

 

 

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Have you ever experienced the majesty of Glacier National Park in Montana? I have, but my plan for the first day we were there did NOT include throwing up outside the visitor center, the Ranger telling me to move into the grass, and spending the whole day sprawled across the back seat reminding my family every 5 minutes that I didn’t feel good. Besides all that, Glacier was amazing! The second day there we planned to do a hike, but the one we wanted to do was along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which we already went on, so it would be the same view. (Not to mention it was really windy!) The Going-to-the-Sun Road is the most famous road in Glacier. It runs from the west to the east entrances. On that road we saw 2 mountain goats and 2 bighorn sheep.They were so cute!!!

Big Horns
Big Horns

So that day we just drove around the park and stopped to take pictures and admire the views. Scientists predict that all the glaciers will be gone by the year 2030. They are all melting faster than they normally would, because of Global Warming. One of the glaciers we saw was called Jackson Glacier, it was absolutely breathtaking!

Jackson Glacier
Jackson Glacier

There were also unbelievably clear lakes. My favorite was called Lake McDonald, which is the largest lake in Glacier. It was formed during the last ice age ten thousand years ago. Huge glaciers slowly pushed down the mountain taking rock, dirt and other debris with it, when the ice melted it became Lake McDonald.

Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald

The last day we were there we finally did a hike. It was called Avalanche trail because it leads to Avalanche Lake. The hike was 4.8 miles round trip and it was very cool. When we come off the trail we saw a big lake surrounded by mountains and one of the mountains had a massive waterfall flowing off of it. On our way back down, the people in front of us said there was a bear that had just crossed the trail 4 minutes ago. I guess we were too late because we didn’t see it.

Avalanche
Avalanche

On all 3 days we were there we went on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  The weather there was nice, but I would’ve liked it a lot better if it wasn’t so windy. 

Going to the Sun
Going to the Sun
Experience Music Project

Experience Music Project

EMP museum

Being in the Northwest, we  decided to visit Seattle, Washington. One of the main reasons being that Mercy wanted to go to the Space Needle. While we were there we went to the EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum. Most of the exhibits were based on musicians from Seattle, but some were not. We managed to get a home school discount which saved us about fifty dollars. The museum has exhibits mostly on music and film. The first exhibit we went to was about Nirvana. It featured in-depth explanations of how Nirvana basically revolutionized punk rock. There were copies of fan letters, some of the band members’ personal belongings and even the remnants of a guitar smashed by Kurt Cobain.

Nirvana

I do have to say, my favorite music exhibit was the one about AC/DC. It has photos, posters, instruments, and even some of Angus Young’s costumes like his school uniform and ‘Super Ang’ costume. We also went into the Sound Lab. It is an area filled with instruments in sound proof rooms that allow people to take a virtual lesson on that particular instrument, or just jam with other people. There was also a guitar gallery which displayed all kinds of guitars from the late 1700’s to the present. I was amazed by what some of them looked like. There was also an exhibit about Jimi Hendrix, but I didn’t go in because I’m don’t really know enough about him to really be interested.

 Angus

My favorite part of the whole museum was the exhibit about the movie Avatar. If you have seen the movie you should know what everything I’m talking about is. I was amazed by the 3D models of structures and even a 13 foot tall model of an AMP Suit used by the soldiers in the movie. They also had examples of the clothing size worn by Jake Sully’s Avatar. There was a station where you could learn phrases from the Na’vi language, and an area where you could act out a scene from the movie using motion capture. You would stand in a small area and follow the prompts that showed up on the floor as the computer tracked your movements.

Avatar

Aside from Avatar, there was a whole other area filled with science fiction movie exhibits. They had the hilt of Darth Vader’s lightsaber from The Empire strikes back, a few of the guns used in Men In Black, and even the costume worn by Christopher Reeve in one of the Superman movies. They also had an area with exhibits on horror movies, which I didn’t spend that much time in. This museum was what I enjoyed most about Seattle and I would recommend it to anyone who is spending time there.

Vader's Lightsaber Superman