Monday, March 31, 2014


Hi Y'all!

We left Texas, and the land of the world's largest roadrunner.

We were driving what should have been one of our shorter drives to our next campground, when BANG! the window next to me exploded into about a thousand pieces.  There have been more successful drives.  But, the glass repairman should be here on Wednesday, and then truck should be back to normal.

Meanwhile, we've done some exploring.  We're staying outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico so that we can see the caverns.  When we first arrived, though, there was a car show in a nearby little town, which of course Char wanted to see.  The kids required that he take this picture of the "Back to the Future" car.

After the car show, we found a big mural on a wall depicting the history of New Mexico, so we got in our history lesson for the day.

We then took the time to explore small town New Mexico life.  There were three big cowboy statues in town, which told a story of New Mexico's past of cowboys and robbers.

Did you see the western store in the background of this picture?  At the car show, we again noticed that there really are cultures in our country that our quite different from ours in northern Ohio.  Most of the men had on cowboy hats, and I wondered where you'd go to buy all your cowboy hats, cowboy boots, and mustaches around here.  Well, I guess you don't buy the mustaches.  But, we walked into the store and enjoyed seeing the tons of cowboy boots for sale and experimenting with New Mexican - style apparel.  Yee-haw!!!

After church the next day, we went to Carlsbad Caverns.  We walked down through the natural entrance to the cave, and it was amazing how far down you really go into the caverns.  The darkness inside the caves made it pretty hard for good iphone photography, but we loved seeing all there was to see!  It was amazing, and it was fun to see the kids' surprise on how big caves can be!

This is the tunnel leading into the caves.  It goes down for 1.25 miles.
At least one picture worked in the darkness!  The formations were so cool, I wish I could show more!

It was very impressive!

This week, we continue exploring New Mexico.  Simultaneously, we're trying to figure out the fall.  We had thought maybe we'd be back in Ohio for next school year, or otherwise we'd stay gone for another school year.  So, we've been looking at houses online, and made an offer on one, though it was rejected.  We're praying and trying to figure out what to do.  If we can't find a house, we'd explore New England, Hawaii and England next school year.  We'll see.  There are no bad options, but I am SO BAD at waiting and not knowing what will happen!  I really like to have a plan!

Fortunately, there are lots of other fun things to think about when you're exploring the southwest!  We hope that y'all have a good week, too!  Love from the Utter Family

Monday, March 24, 2014

Absolutely Amazing

Absolutely amazing.  I LOVE the different scenery throughout the U.S.!  I love that we're getting to see all the variety of what God created, and all the beauty!  Absolutely amazing!

We spent this weekend in Big Bend National Park.  The scenery began being amazing as we drove to the park, and mainly because of how remote the place is.  There's rural, and then there's rural.  Driving west on I10 from San Antonio, we realized that we were seeing no signs of humanity at all.  This continued throughout the drive to the park.  Not only were there no towns or businesses, but there were no houses at all.  Oftentimes, there weren't even any other cars on the interstate, and when we started timing it, we went for 20 minutes without seeing a house or a car or anything other than desert scenery.

Desert scenery is so unique and beautiful.  It made me think two things.  First, that I love having the chance to see it!!  And second, that I could never live here.  But we sure can appreciate it!

After driving through all the scenery and into the park, we walked around a bit at a really scenic picnic spot, and continued on to the Rio Grande River.

A naturalist in Big Bend checked our passports and approved this next adventure, but it's a move that my mom, as she reads this, is going to think is a bad choice (sorry, Mom!).   We found a nice Mexican man down at the Rio Grande who paddled us across the river to Mexico.

I was surprised how beautiful the Rio Grande was!  I'd pictured the border between the U.S. and Mexico to be all sandy desert, and the Rio Grande as deep and brown.  However, it was so scenic!  And very windy!

We arrived close to a small town in Mexico of about 200 people.  Like Big Bend, it was a very rural town, with lots of sand and wind, dirt roads, and a lot more donkeys and horses than vehicles.  We rode into town on burros.  The day immediately became one of the kids' favorite days of our trip.

For $5 per person, we got our two mile burro ride and also a tour of the town.  After our guide understood that we really didn't want to see the bars in town with our four kids, he took us around to see the school, the church, the houses, and the grocery store.  It was awesome.  I love seeing other countries and cultures, people and languages, and I love that our kids are having the opportunity to see it, too!

After we arrived back in the U.S. and cleared immigration over the telephone, we continued exploring Big Bend park.  A short hike brought us to the hot springs in the park, very close to where we'd re-entered the U.S.  We've swum in springs before, but never in a hot spring, and it was fantastic, scenic, and relaxing.  Char and I were able to jump from the hot springs into the Rio Grande and swim around in the river.  It had quite a strong current, so we weren't able to let our kids in the river, but they thoroughly enjoyed the hot springs.

It was an absolutely perfect day!

While in Big Bend, we also did some hiking.  Again, the whole area is fantastically beautiful!

We had a fun rock-throwing contest to see who could throw rocks across the river into Mexico.  Then we explored a little creek, with the area entirely to ourselves.  Big Bend is bigger than the state of Rhode Island, so it is very easy to find secluded areas in nature where our kids could run and yell and not bother anyone.

Big Bend National Park is now one of my favorite places ever, and I highly recommend going there!!  Thanks for Sheila and Kate for recommending it to us!  We hope that your week is going well, too, and that you're also able to be out in the beauty God created in this world.  We hope you have a great week!

San Antonio some more

Hi Everyone!

We hope you're all having a great week in spring!  We're feeling like we're having a great week in summer, here in Texas.  But before I write about where we are now in Texas, I should finish telling about San Antonio.

Remember the Alamo from taking an American history class at some point?  (haha!, that amused at least me.)  We were able to walk around the Alamo and the grounds, and it was neat and strange, since I remember hearing about it in school.  Hopefully our kids remember this when they study the Alamo again in school someday.

We walked to the Alamo from the San Antonio library, and amusingly, the kids preferred the library.  They were so happy to see books about Garfield and millions of other kids' books.  Some things, although they surprise me, I guess I should have predicted.  There's something better about holding an old-fashioned book than holding a book on a kindle.

While in San Antonio, we also did the Missions Trail.  Seeing all the old buildings again reminded me of American history class, but for our family, the best part was the scooter trail along the river between each of the missions.  Ideally, all historical sight-seeing should be done on scooter.

B with an aqueduct near the San Antonio river and mission trail

Monday, March 17, 2014

Expectations, Louisiana, and San Antonio

Hi Everyone!  I hope you're having a good week!  We're currently in San Antonio, which is fantastic, but as I thought about writing a blog, my mind was going back to New Orleans.

I was thinking about what I wrote last time about New Orleans, and I think it wasn't fair to Louisiana.  It's true that my first impression, while driving to the city, was that it made Akron, Ohio look scenic, but had the crowds of New York City...  but it's also true that as the week went on, I got to appreciate the New Orleans area more and more.  Ever had the experience where it takes time to appreciate something?  Or you need to learn about something more in order to appreciate it?

We went on a swamp tour.  I hadn't been planning to do this, as we'd been seeing gators and swamps a lot in our regular exploration of the south, but there's something about a good groupon that lures you in to doing things you might not have otherwise done.  :)  It's a good thing, too.  I really enjoyed hearing the guide talk about his life, which season to do your alligator hunting, how to hunt and trap various other animals, and it was just interesting.  Sometimes, I hear people talk, and their lives seem so drastically different from mine, that it seems like it must be some kind of joke.  But, this guy was serious, and it was really cool to learn about and appreciate the different life style.  Plus, the swamp really is beautiful once I took time to appreciate it!

Also, who doesn't want to hold a gator?  These blogs have been sadly lacking in gator pictures lately, and the Louisiana bayou solved that problem.

Several different days, we visited Jean LaFitte National Park.  Again, the bayou was really fun to explore and appreciate the beauty.

We also watched a movie about Cajun history and culture at the nature center, and that taught me further to enjoy New Orleans for what it is, and how different it is from what I've known.  I really liked the New Orleans area!!

Now we're in San Antonio.  While I'd expected to like New Orleans before getting there, I hadn't expected to like Texas as much.  My expectations were all wrong.  Our family is loving San Antonio!  We are camping at a ranch, south of San Antonio.  Our kids are enjoying doing this,

playing in this,

and riding through the campground-ranch like this:

After church the next day, we began our first full day of exploring on the riverwalk.  Really, really cool!

After walking around the Riverwalk, we took the boat tour.  It was very fun!

At this point, we were also informed that in a few hours, the San Antonio St. Patrick's Day parade would begin.  Nothing like celebrating holidays with the locals, like we're from the town!  It was so cool to see the river water dyed green and the boats go by in the parade.  So fun to watch!

Texas also has some great scootering trails, complete with crazy switchbacks.  Our family decided that the trail near the Medina (Me-dee-nah) River had the best scootering we've found so far.

Plus, when you're on a trail and find a skull, your boys will declare Texas awesome.

Has this been interesting at all?  It sure has been interesting to see and to appreciate our country.  Absolutely amazing - all the differences and beauty everywhere!  I didn't expect any of this when we set off in December.   It's fun!  And we hope that sometime in your day, you have a chance to do something new, that blows all your expectations, too.   Love from the Utter Family!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Bayou and Beignets - Camping in Louisiana

We're in Louisiana, and when we crossed into the state, it immediately seemed to me that spring has sprung here!  The grass is green, there are buds on the trees, and I love spring!

The main reason we decided to make this stop was because we wanted to go to New Orleans.  New Orleans itself was the first and only "fail" of the trip in the minds of our kids.  As soon as they stepped foot into the city, they were ready to leave.  We are definitely more of a family that loves nature and adventure over cities.  Still there were some really good parts about the city.  The kids' favorite part were the beignets.  We walked to Cafe du Monde in Jackson Square in the French Quarter.  The cafe was mobbed.  Partially because it is probably always mobbed, and partially because a movie was being filmed there.  We walked to a different corner in Jackson Square, got great beignets there, and ate them while looking over the Mississippi River.  That was a great moment in New Orleans!

After eating our beignets, we all stuck our feet in the Mississippi, just because it seemed like a good thing to do.  It was fun.  :)

Speaking of the Mississippi River, our campground is on the east bank of the Mississippi, so we took a ferry ride across the river to New Orleans.  That was a big hit of the trip for me, as I always wanted to ride on a boat on the Mississippi River.

There were some nice Mardi Gras statues in New Orleans:

And, since our kids are used to posing to look like statues, it made Char and I laugh a lot that they saw this statue and immediately did this:

We also enjoyed some jazz music on some street corners, and our youngest really enjoyed dancing.

It really was an interesting few hours in New Orleans, even if our kids did want to leave right away.  I'm glad we did it.

The wonderful part about this week, though, is more the campground - Bayou Segnette State Park.  It's only about a half hour from the city, but it feels very "country," and is quite relaxing for a family that loves the outdoors.  From our campsite, we were able to scooter to the levee.  I remember hearing about levees failing in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, but what I'd pictured in my mind didn't look like what these levees look like in real life.  Here, the kids are standing by an opening that can be closed off in the levee.  Fortunately, there is a nice scooter path right next to the levee.

Back at the campsite, we were fortunate to find another full-time RV'ing Christian family with 4 scootering children camped across from us.  Our kids were so happy!  For the last two and a half months, we've been camping a lot with snowbird-ing senior citizens.  The adventure is still amazing, and we wouldn't trade it!, but our whole family had been missing friends.  It's very fun to make friends on the road while traveling the country!

Did you notice in the above picture that all the children in the other family are girls?  My boys were quite skeptical about playing with four girls, but this is a really great family.  I loved watching the kids all scooter at top speed together, hike, and play water balloons.  Char and I had fun with the parents in the other family, too.

After their family left today, I noticed we were all pretty cranky.  My oldest son voiced what I think we were all feeling, "It's really hard to have good friends around and then have them leave.  It makes me remember how much I miss friends."  I guess it's a reminder about life.  Adventure is fantastic, and I do think that when God organized our family, He put the love of adventure in us all!  But, life is about relationships.  If it weren't, God's top rules would probably be, "Make lots of money," and "Be a good cook," or something like that.  However, His top rules are to love God and to love other people.  Life's about relationships.  I'm loving the chance to focus so much on my relationships with my family of 6 while we're on this adventure!  At the same time, we still all miss our friends.  So to all of you, our friends and family, we miss you!  We hope you're having a great week!