This is a post about a mystical place—one with all the workings of a fairytale: a meteor crashing to Earth, the quest for its remains, a 20-year dream to build a church on that rock...And then, a devastating flood, mud and rock slides, entire towns cut off, emergency evacuations, hundreds of miles of roads destroyed. Displacement. And yet, as the flood waters receded, up bubbled stories of hope and rebuilding.
This place, the canyon cut by the St. Vrain River, experienced historic flooding in September 2013. We found ourselves winding through this canyon a few weeks ago. It led us up to my sister’s wedding in Allenspark.
As we headed back down through the canyon after the wedding, the journalist and documentarian in me wanted to hop out of the car to take a closer look—at the debris washed up on the sides of the St. Vrain River; at the bulldozers around every other curve, trying to fix everything that was broken; at the ruined homes, sitting untouched five months after the flood. I wanted interviews! I wanted to do a follow-up story! But, of course, I had two toddlers in the back seat and a flight to catch. So on my husband drove as I snapped photos out the window with my phone.
The weather that day was strange: intense wind and snow up high in the mountains, a patch of clear blue skies halfway down followed by fog and more snow as we neared Lyons and Boulder. The landscape was tremendous and dramatic. How did these rocks so perfectly mirror both the hope and sadness settled here?
I wish I were presenting you with an in-depth follow-up on the flood. But if you spend a moment thinking of all the people whose lives were turned upside down here last September, I'll be happy. Also, check out this photo book created by the students of Lyons High School documenting the flood. What an amazing project.
Above: Let me introduce you to the Chapel on the Rock (also known as Saint Catherine of Siena Chapel at St. Malo), which I had never heard of until we passed it driving between Allenspark and Estes Park. First, here’s the enchanting history (the meteor/search party/20-year dream mentioned above). Now look closely and you’ll see Mount Meeker rising up from the fog in the background. It wasn’t the clear day I was hoping for to capture the full glory of this mountain-framed church. But let me tell you, it was hard won and I won’t forget it.
Above: It was snowing steadily and the winds were gusting up to 80 miles per hour. I was standing on the shoulder of a highway with a steep drop directly in front of me. The wind literally knocked me off my feet twice. So I took a few hurried shots and climbed back into the car, vowing to come back here to take more photos on a clear day. And I will. (I also regret not taking photos of the construction site immediately to the left, where bulldozers were removing a massive pile of debris from rock and mud slides that narrowly missed the chapel in September. A beautiful lake once sat beside the chapel. Hopefully it will again one day.)
Below: This is one of my favorite photos of the trip.
The sun breaking through to reveal debris piled up along the river.
It's difficult to believe this little river could cause so much destruction.
Isabella Bird wrote a spectacular account of her 1873 adventures in and around this canyon in A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains.
You can see damage to the right side of this house, as well as a newly constructed bridge on the left side of the photo.
The way the light and fog were hitting this little farm as we approached Lyons took my breath away.
Driving out of the canyon into Boulder in heavy fog and light snow.
Our last views of the foothills before heading into the plains.
My next post—the last in this series of wedding-related posts—will cover the actual wedding weekend. Yippee!
To view more wedding posts, click here for more Colorado trip photos, here for save-the-dates and programs, here for wedding invitations, here for engagement photos, here for bridal shower photos and here for a DIY travel journal.
This image keeps catching my eye as I scan through photos from our recent trip to Colorado. It sums up our stage of life right now: every day feels like an adventure, whether we're climbing snow drifts in the middle of the Rocky Mountains or just playing in our own living room; the girls are constantly running in different directions as I struggle to keep up; and no one listens to my pleas to be careful. But these moments of observing our children discover and fall in love with the world around them make the chaos (and their reckless jumping off tall objects) all worth it. This is joy!
As you know if you follow my blog, I've had a decade-long love affair with Colorado. (I've taken many of my favorite nature photos there, and my novel is based there.) So I was ecstatic when my sister called to tell me she was engaged and planning a winter wedding just outside Rocky Mountain National Park.
We made a week of it and spent the first half up at our home away from home, Summit County. Below you'll find photos from this portion of our trip (all iPhone), and I'll post the wedding weekend photos next week. May these photos be your last glimpse of snow this winter...
Below: The Front Range of the Rocky Mountains juts up from the plains on our final approach into Denver. Oh, how I love this approach.
This snowy, early morning stroll/climb around Lake Dillon was one of the highlights of the trip.
Let's talk about skiing. I grew up with an ice skating rink across the street in a neighborhood surrounded by cross-country ski trails. You won't hear me complain about the warm climate where we're raising our kids in a few weeks when it's hot and sunny, but I do regret that snow sports are foreign to them; snow was such an important part of my formative years. I really wanted to get both girls on downhill skis on this trip so they would start loving snow and have a shot at being more than mediocre skiers as adults, like their mom (I didn't actually learn to downhill ski until I was 15).
Below: Top L to R: Pre-wedding skiing with the bride and groom. Nora's first moments on skis = tears. The girls trying on their ski boots and freestyling around the shop (C was jumping off those two steps while doing kicks and spins—ahh!). Middle L to R: Ski picnic. The bride dropping in. My niece, Iris, taking after her Olympic skier grandpa. Bottom L to R: Cricket throwing snowballs in lieu of skiing. Meg and Christo with the bride. The bride and me. (Thanks to Mari, Andy and Christo for taking the photos I'm in.)
Unfortunately Cricket was under the weather on our ski days and refused—after the excitement and anticipation at the ski shop—to give it a try. Instead she busied herself throwing snowballs and building snow forts. Just watching her enjoy playing in the snow made me happy, though. Nora—after some initial tears—became enamored with skiing and riding the magic carpet. Heartbroken does not begin to describe how she felt when the lift closed for the day.
Mid-week we packed up the car, drove down from 9,600 feet to the mile high city of Denver, then headed north to the wedding in another high-altitude canyon by way of Boulder. Stay tuned for photos of the wedding weekend next week.
Below: Ranch drive-by as we headed into Boulder.
Below: Cow-speckled landscape where the mountains meet the plains.
There's nothing like a fall weekend in the mountains. Last October, we rented a house in Montreat, NC, with two of my sisters and their families. This year, we stayed at the new, woodsy, mountainside home of my Asheville sister. One highlight of the weekend—besides my brother-in-law's amazing Indian cooking—was apple picking. We chose Stepp's Hillside Orchard in Hendersonville, NC, because it sounded low-key and offered a mountain view. And it delivered. (As did the apple cider donuts we picked up at a farm stand down the road.)
The clouds hung low and rain pounded the windshield as we drove to the orchard. But while we unloaded the car, the rain stopped, the clouds began to disperse and the mountains emerged. In an instant, it became a perfect fall day—damp and cool and filled with vibrant colors.
The girls were in heaven racing through the rows of trees to find different types of apples. They'd each pick an apple, take one bite and throw it in the basket. You've got to test the goods before buying, right?
Did I mention the orchard grows grapes, too? They were quite popular with the littles.
These days we typically only make it to my hometown of Minneapolis once a year. While we're home, I'm fiercely protective of my time; I've got so many agenda items and yet all I want to do is lounge around on my parents' back deck, enjoying the trees and the breeze and conjuring up memories of childhood Minnesota style.
This visit and our last both took place in early September—the week a short but glorious summer gives way to a short but glorious fall.
Above: Storm clouds gather over the Lake Harriet Bandshell. Below: We spent a lot of time close to home, discovering the paths that wind through my parents' stunning garden (and collecting buckets of rocks along the way).
When we did stray from home, it was for good reason. We hit some of my favorite old stomping grounds this year, many of which I wrote about here last year.
Jeff and I even got to escape for a dinner date at The Bachelor Farmer, a new-ish restaurant in the Warehouse District that's been getting good press. It was fantastic. We talked about our meal the whole way home and then spent the next day blabbing about it to anyone who would listen.
Below left: Another highlight was our stop at Wild Rumpus Books, which is packed with kids' books and home to many cuddly and not-so-cuddly animals. Below right: We couldn't walk around Lake Harriet without showing the girls my mom's childhood home.
We had so much fun at Lake Harriet's Lyndale Park Rose Gardens last year that we headed back this year for more exploration. Below: I couldn't hear what Cricket was saying, but I imagine it went something like this: "Nora, I'm going to drag you around the garden at break-neck speed until you fall down and cry."
Completely unprompted and utterly intense smelling of the roses.
First yellow leaf sighting on the path around Lake Calhoun.
Below left: Cricket was thrilled to play for the first time at the park in my childhood neighborhood. (The large field behind her is transformed into a skating rink in the winter. We spent countless hours perfecting our spins and jumps at that rink back in the day.) Below right: The Minneapolis skyline from Lake Calhoun.
Ten minutes after clearing security on our recent trip home from Minneapolis, we were milling around the airport when a young woman stopped us.
"Excuse me," she said. “I just have to tell you that you are the most efficient parents I have ever seen go through security. You’re such a great team! And the kids were so cooperative."
We laughed, thanked her and casually continued on our way. But for a family who travels somewhere between fairly often and way too much, this compliment felt like winning a gold medal!
I had been thinking of writing a post about flying with young kids for a while, and my newly minted gold medal (whether deserved or not) gave me the confidence to do it. When friends ask for advice on the matter, I feel like I could actually give 35,000 pieces of advice—one for each foot of altitude. The truth is that flying with young kids is difficult and stressful and makes me want to vomit with anticipation, but I always find it worth the hassle when we touchdown with an adventure awaiting us.
Our list of preparations and carry-on items changes constantly as the girls leave one stage and enter another, but here is a boiled down list of general things to remember.
Book wisely: You don't typically have to buy a seat for a child under 2. That said, you need to decide whether you're comfortable holding a child instead of belting her in or whether that child is too squirmy to sit on your lap for five hours. We started booking an extra seat around 18 to 21 months depending on the length of the flight.
Some aircrafts only have an extra air mask for a lap child on one side of the plane. You must have an extra air mask, but you may not be able to determine when booking where that mask is located. The only person who will definitely know is the lead flight attendant. Several times we were seated without an air mask and had to move, but only because we knew to ask. (If you have one adult on each side of the aisle and plan to pass the child back and forth, be sure to ask if there is a mask on each side.)
We’ve been flying Southwest Airlines a lot lately. Southwest allows families to board between the A and B groups, so you don't have to worry about checking in exactly 24 hours in advance. Plus you can check some luggage for free.
If you have the option, sit near the front of the plane, so you can make a quick escape after landing when the kids are falling apart.
Make a list and check it twice: The moment you try to leave for the airport, everyone begins to fuss and squirm and needs to go potty and is nervous you’re going to leave without them. In our phase of life, we would never make it out the door with the things we need if we didn't make a list. Enough said.
Prove it: Bring your kids’ birth certificates. Some airlines require birth certificates for lap children to prove they’re under 2 years. For infants, you may also need to show they’re older than 5-6 weeks. Southwest always asks us for a birth certificate for a lap child; sometimes agents from other airlines just look to make sure the child isn’t obviously over 2. Either way, I’ve learned to bring birth certificates for both kids in case any questions arise.
Assume the worst: Okay, okay, you can't plan for every scenario, but you should carry on the supplies you need for several hours of delay (and possibly essentials for a night in a random place if you're connecting). Someone once told me to bring six times as many diapers as I thought we would need, and that's what I've always done. Diapers are nearly impossible to find in an airport. Bring several changes of clothes for puking and diaper blow-outs.
Bring drugs. I always carry these supplies for the kids: Tylenol, ibuprofen, thermometer, (and for my daughter with a peanut allergy: EpiPens and Benadryl). I kid you not, there is something about flying that makes viruses flourish into horrendous fevers and ears to become instantaneously infected. It’s like clockwork. On our last flight, Nora seemed healthy on take-off and was lethargic with fever by the time we landed an hour and a half later. So bring what you need to avoid an emergency landing.
Don't sedate: In our experience, young toddlers are the toughest age to travel with because they're all over the place, may not nap on the plane like an infant and don't yet have the attention span to watch movies or play games. On our last flight, one mom told me the flight attendant suggested she drug her toddler with Benadryl next time. Are you kidding me? DON'T. DO. IT. Benadryl works differently on young kids than it does on adults and can actually make them hyper, or exhausted and cranky but unable to sleep. I've seen it firsthand—not while flying, thankfully—and it's not pretty. It would be more disastrous to have a drug-hyper child on a plane than a regular-hyper one.
Plan for the awkward: One of the first hurdles at the airport is actually getting inside. Have you ever tried to carry multiple awkward car seats and a family’s-worth of luggage through miles of parking garage? It’s not fun. But have you noticed there are always guys standing around the curb and the baggage carousel with carts just waiting to help you check in or haul your luggage to the car when you land? (If they aren't there, you can go to the information desk and have them paged.) Our recent routine is for Jeff to drop me off with the girls, luggage and car seats. Either someone checks us in at curbside or a guy with a cart brings all our stuff in and helps me get checked in while Jeff parks the car. When we land, we find a guy at baggage claim to help us out to the car. Just keep some cash on you for tips.
Unless your kids are old enough to walk 50 miles and carry their own luggage, consider bringing a stroller. You can check it at the gate (even a double stroller) and it will be returned to you on the jet way when you deplane.
All (or most) airlines check car seats at no charge, so don’t feel like you need to lug them through the airport. Whether Pack ‘n Plays are free can be up to the discretion of the person checking you in. We’ve never had to pay to check one, but some agents aren’t so kind.
Organize for security: We all know the security line is a drag, but it’s not so bad if you’re organized. The rules are always changing, though one beautiful innovation occurred after Nora was born: you can go walk through security with an infant in a carrier (like an Ergo, not a car seat) without having to remove the baby and put the carrier through the x-ray machine. They’ll probably run the wand over you, but who cares? The baby stays asleep.
The stroller is another situation. Don’t pack the stroller full of essentials and expect to wheel it through, kids and all. You’ll need to remove everything from the stroller and either fold it up or, if it’s too large to fit through the x-ray machine, send it through the wheelchair gate to be poked and prodded. (You’ll have to take the kids out either way.) So clean out your stroller before you get to the airport.
You can bring bottles or cups of milk, formula or other liquids for your kids, which will be tested for explosives. It will take some extra time to get through security, but I’ve been amazed how helpful most security personnel and fellow travelers are when you’re struggling through with a baby or two, especially if you’re traveling without another adult. (And don’t forget to have your own liquids handy to pull out of your bag.)
Bribe shamelessly: No normal rules apply on the plane. Treats, books, games, toys and movies should be endless. Endless, people! We often buy a few new books and movies for the plane but read or watch them once or twice before the flight so the girls are excited about them. (Sometimes a brand new book isn’t popular until they’re familiar with it.) Don’t forget there will be at least around 15 minutes during take-off and landing when you’ll have to turn off electronic devices, so don’t just count on movies and games.
Protect the ears: Kids can have trouble equalizing their ears during take-off and landing, which leads to screaming and more screaming. Try to have them drink something on the way up and down; swallowing can help relieve the pressure.
Food allergies: If your children have severe food allergies, consider bringing all the food they'll need in case you can't find safe food at the airport. The last thing you want to do is feed them something questionable before you hop on the plane. We have a peanut allergy in our family, and airports are packed with snacks processed with nuts. I try to make a special treat I know will distract them for a few minutes. I also bring enough regular, nut-free food to get us through a long delay if need be. (And I have the EpiPens and Benadryl handy, as always.)
Southwest normally serves peanuts, but if you tell them at check-in they will serve something else and make an announcement to notify the passengers. You can also request they wipe down the seats and tray tables in case the previous passengers were eating nuts. (You should do this yourself if you they don’t offer.) Some airlines are less accommodating, but it’s always worth asking.
If you’re breastfeeding: You may not be used to breastfeeding in public, but too bad for the middle-aged businessman sitting next to you. It’s way easier to breastfeed on the plane than to carry bottles or mix formula. If you're breastfeeding, bring plenty of water since the flight attendants may not be able to provide it for you if the flight is turbulent. You'll be more thirsty than usual (did you think it was possible?), because the air is dry at altitude.
Run for it: Most flights we’ve taken with the girls have gone much better than anticipated. But if things start to go downhill, keep this in mind: You are not going to see your fellow passengers ever again. When you land, collect your kids and belongings and run for it. You made it, so don’t look back!
(iPhone photos. Top: Nevada fly-over. Bottom: Airport layover.)
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Pool time is an intense endeavor when my husband, Jeff, visits his childhood home outside Philadelphia. He spent his summers in this pool, devising crazy jumps and dives—and giving his mom constant anxiety over his antics. By now she knows to look the other way; it's become my job to keep a phone handy in case he splits his head open. Even so, I love to watch him relax in his element and introduce the girls to his old stomping grounds. (Above: A girl after her dad's heart, Nora demands to "fly!")
It's hard to put my camera down when I'm in my in-laws' garden. Aren't these flowers amazing?
Our trip this year was short, so we didn't stray far from our favorite haunts, like Terrain at Styer's (a lunch date without kids!), the Philadelphia Zoo and Linvilla Orchards (below).
Last year I posted photos of our friends' farm. This year they brought us these gorgeous sunflowers and invited us to visit their chicks.
Obviously the chicks were popular with the girls. Cricket gingerly pet them (below). Nora has not yet developed the ability to be ginger, so she happily jabbed them in the eyes.
Cricket also discovered the chickens would follow her if she ran like a mad woman around their pen.
This trip was only a month ago, but we're already hankering for just one more summer weekend to "fly" in the pool and race around the farm...
Planning your next adventure? Click here for some ideas.
My girls can come across as quite docile when they meet someone new. Let me assure you, however, they are far from calm and quiet. They're nuts! And now I have evidence.
I have to admit, I envisioned this beach photo session in Corolla, NC, with the docile, I-behave-like-this-only-when-I'm-shy version of my girls. They would be sitting together, offering up huge smiles as the sun set over the dunes. Yeah, right. I didn't get a single shot of them sitting together with both looking at the camera.
But what I did capture was much more exciting and natural: two sisters finding a deserted sandcastle, playing and jumping and tackling each other. These photos are exactly how I want to remember them—perfect in the way only two wild, curious and sweet (and disobedient) toddlers could be.
Below: Cricket in mid-air, using her full body weight to shove Nora face-first into the sand. (Yes, she succeeded before I could stop her.)
Tiny toes in the surf.
We can't keep this one out of the water; she literally runs straight into the waves.
The closest I got to traditional portrait.
A little bit of cooperation from Nora.
This photo of Cricket was one of the last frames I took that evening. She was finally exhausted enough to pause for a moment and let me take a non-action shot as the sun dipped behind the dunes.
Click here to see more of my portraits.
Help! I'm buried in content and unable to dig out before we hit the road again. Oh, well. At least I can't complain that it's ever boring around here...
While I'm trying to get my projects in order, I'll share a handful of photos from our recent trip with my in-laws to North Carolina's Outer Banks. (I recently posted about our visit to the wild horses.)
Above: Last year I took a photo of my oldest niece with a shark tooth she found on the beach. This year her prize find was an intact clam shell.
Below left: Photo taken exactly a year ago of Cricket and Jeff at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge on the way to the Outer Banks. Below right: Cricket, Jeff and the newest walker, Nora, on this year's adventure. Life has changed quite a bit in the last year!
My sandy little beach bum.
Below top left: Jeff waiting for waves on a glassy day with a band of pelicans. Below top right: Jeff on a good wave day. Below bottom left: Yum. Below bottom right: Egret sighting during my 6 a.m. coffee run.
One of my favorite photos of the trip: my youngest nephew.
Below left: My nephew perfects his skim boarding skills. Below right: Cricket and her cousin take a break from sandcastle building to splash.
Scenes from the dunes.
Feeding turtles at the neighborhood pond is always a very serious endeavor. "Otherwise they'll be hungry!" Cricket told me. Apparently Nora was hungry, too.
The kids had a blast catching crabs.
Stay tuned for a sisterly beach photo session and highlights from a newborn session.
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There's something magical about wild horses. I'll never forget watching them gallop between islands as the sun set and the tide rushed out more than a decade ago when I studied marine biology in Beaufort, NC. (Did that really happen? It sounds like a dream...) That summer I also had the pleasure of visiting them at Shackleford Banks.
But last week was the first time I laid eyes on the wild Spanish mustangs of Corolla on the Currituck Banks. (Above: A 2-month-old colt grazes in the dunes. Image available for purchase here.) Historical records, along with plenty of shipwreck lore, indicate wild horses have lived on the Outer Banks for nearly 500 years. Development has pushed them north, and this population now resides in an 11-mile-stretch ending at the Virginia border.
I imagined we'd see the horses frolicking in the surf on the beach, but that afternoon they were back in the dunes. (I shot this photo looking west towards the ocean.)
Our guide told us the sea oats and other vegetation growing on the dunes aren't nutrient rich, so the horses need to spend 85% of their time foraging. You'll notice a common theme among these photos; the horses are eating in every single one.
They live in family groups called harems, which include a stallion, several mares and possibly a yearling colt or filly and other non-dominant "bachelor" stallions.
Despite a lack of roads at the northern end of the island, there are plenty of houses built in the dunes. The horses spend a lot of time grazing on private land (or private sand, as the case may be). The horse below is wild but taking advantage of grass growing on private property.
Have you been to the Outer Banks? The dunes are breathtaking. On our next visit, I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of the horses while they're enjoying the sea breeze from atop the dunes.
Planning your next adventure? Click here for some ideas.
When I hear lavender, I think Provence. Well it turns out there's a lavender farm just 45 minutes from our house, despite the fact that our climate in good old Zone 7 makes growing the plant a challenge. We met the owner of Sunshine Lavender Farm a few years ago at a local farmers' market and bought several lavender plants from her.
Since then we haven't been the best lavender nurturers. So when we received an invitation to attend the farm's Lavender Harvest Celebration the first weekend of June, we were eager to investigate a successful operation. Plus it sounded idyllic.
And it was just that—amazingly idyllic. The farm is a private family home open to the public just a couple days each year. My entourage enjoyed wandering the field and smelling the lavender.
Lavender hung in the barn loft to dry, while horses, dogs, chickens and kittens enjoyed the good life below.
Lavender spilled from vintage bicycle baskets and every other type of container and garden bed.
Adjacent to the lavender field sat the sweetest garden shed you'll ever lay eyes on, brimming with products like lavender honey (the bees live here, too), dried lavender for baking and fragrant soaps.
Outside the shed, vendors sold lavender ice cream from a local dairy, along with lavender lemonade and other delectable goodies.
One day my window boxes will look like this, but until then I'll just have to get my fill of them the next time we're invited to the farm.
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I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.