We woke to the scent of freshly-brewed coffee and sizzling bacon. Uncle Larry was in the kitchen making eggs to order and serving up fresh California fruit, some from his own trees and some grown by his younger daughter, Sarah. His older daughter, Beth, and I went to pick up some fabulous cinnamon rolls from a local bakery which completed the morning’s spread. We wolfed it all down hungrily before setting out for Lassen Volcanic National Park located an hour and forty-five minutes away. Josh’s parents, Steve and Lanita, were joining for this park visit, and we all piled into the Volvo to get to Lassen by 10:30 in time for the ranger program.
|L to R - Lola, Sarah, Kinley, Beth, Uncle Larry, and Josh enjoy breakfast.|
|Aunt Nancy and Steve|
|Could these kiddos be any cuter? Roman and Addie eat their breakfast, too.|
|I give Uncle Larry a hard time because I like him!|
|Josh and Lanita serve up the cinnamon rolls.|
Josh had called ahead and learned that this park had the most complicated and time-consuming requirements of any Junior Ranger program we’d done to date. The ranger on the phone was actually sheepish about it, especially since there were only two ranger programs a day and every Junior Ranger is required to attend one. The ranger also told Josh that our favorite trail, Bumpass Hell, was closed due to snow. Evidently, crews had been working on snow removal ten hours per day, seven days a week since April, but progress was slow.
We arrived just in time, and the young ranger taught us about the geology of the area including mud pots and fumaroles that are common in the park. He even let us use his heat gun to test the temperature of the soil surrounding the mud pots! After his talk, we drove up to the Bumpass Hell trailhead to get some pictures of the remaining snow, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. Huge walls of snow lined the parking lot, and the kids and I climbed the drifts, throwing snowballs at each other and posing for pictures of the spectacle.
|This wasn't a pile of snow that had been plowed into place. It was an actual snowdrift. In July.|
|Kinley aims for Knox.|
We returned to the Visitors’ Center to pick up some lunch at the snack bar (which was fine but nothing to write a blog about), and Knox spent some time checking out the exhibits. The quality of exhibits in national parks’ visitors’ centers varies widely, so he was excited by the interactive ones at Lassen. The unfortunate side effect of this was that his sister got really annoyed with him for not working on his Junior Ranger book. At every stop, Kinley is very focused about getting the booklet done as quickly as possible, but Knox has to be reminded repeatedly to get to work. And seeing as how this was park #13, Kinley was super tired of her brother slowing down the whole process over and over because even if she finishes early, we like to let the kids go through their swearing-in ceremonies at the same time. I’m pretty sure that on this day she got so sick of waiting for him that she just told him the answers to get the whole thing over with.
The coolest thing about this particular swearing-in was that the ranger got each child a real ranger hat to wear! Kinley’s was a little small, but it was still a really cute experience we’d never had before. Badges in hand, we loaded back into the car to meet the rest of the family for a tour of the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Tour guests must be at least twelve years old, so we dropped Knox at Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry’s to swim while the rest of us met up with Josh’s cousins at the brewery.
Let me say this. I don’t like beer. I just don’t. Neither does Josh. But we really wanted to have time with the cousins, and this tour was what they wanted to do so off to the tour Josh, Kinley, Steve, and I went. Lanita stayed behind to spend time with her brothers and help out at the house. The tour was unlike anything I’d ever done before, and our tour guide was incredibly enthusiastic. The most interesting parts to me were seeing the cold storage room full of hops and learning about the founder’s tinkering at age 14 that led eventually to crafting his own beer. He was clearly a gifted child, and I found myself wondering what would have happened to him in school if he hadn’t had a mentor who encouraged his mechanical gifts and inquisitive mind. (You can take the teacher out of the classroom for the summer, but you can’t keep her from thinking about gifted kids!)
Our tour ended up being a little bit of a Willy Wonka reboot. Steve got overheated on the tour and left to go home, but the Sierra Nevada staff somehow didn’t get the memo. They were freaking out, and it felt a little like when the Augustus Gloop character in Roald Dahl’s book disappears up the chocolate pipe. Only instead of Oompa Loompas singing we had security asking us if we’d heard from him every five minutes. We eventually got in touch with him, and he was safe back at Aunt Nancy and Uncle Larry’s house.
|Just before Steve started feeling overheated, he sampled the non-alcoholic wort, part of the beer-making process.|
|Word got around that our tour guide, Matt, had lost a guest. His colleagues gave him a seriously hard time about it.|
After the tour, we had dinner together at the brewery, and then we returned to the ranch. Josh, Beth, Uncle Larry, and his brother, John, took some time to practice their barbershop quartet numbers which would debut the following evening at the anniversary party while the rest of us talked and visited. Part of the family was staying at an Airbnb property, and several of us eventually ended up there, talking, laughing, and even making s’mores until we couldn’t hold our eyes open any longer.
|L to R - Uncle John, Uncle Larry, Josh, and Beth squeeze in a barbershop quartet practice session.|
Being together made me wish for more occasions like this one, occasions where we all converge on one place and spend time remembering why we like each other. And intentionally forgetting the reasons we might get annoyed with each other. Because families are fun and annoying all at once. But mostly fun.