As the summer rolls on, it’s becoming harder and harder to hide in my cute little office and work. There are exciting things to do, things to see, and I might be a teensy weensy bit stir crazy. When the crazies set in, it’s time for a change of scenery.
This weekend that drive to adventure took our family up Big Cottonwood Canyon to explore the Mill B area. What’s great about this spot is that the water from the river cools down the canyon floor making it a welcome break from the summer heat. There are stunning waterfalls, comfortable short hikes, and plenty of rocks for the kiddos to scramble around on.
On a recommendation from a family member, we found Hidden Falls which is marked only by a tiny sign. It’s not even a hike, but rather a climb up the side of a hidden stream that leads to a lovely isolated grotto. The kids had a great time climbing and traversing the stream on half submerged rocks like a real world “floor is lava” game, and I was thrilled to get them away from their screens for a while.
To finish up the afternoon, we hiked Mill B South which is also a short well-maintained and nearly flat trail that leads to a larger staircase waterfall at the end. It’s a perfect place to bring a picnic and get away from things.
A lot of this area is what I imagine the dramatic canyons and mountains in Stonebearer’s Betrayal to feel like. There are steep slopes and hidden gems just waiting to be found. Maybe if I go far enough, I’ll find an immense castle occupied by magical immortals.
Hey, a girl can dream.
What are your favorite outdoor activities?
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A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was surprised that my entire family was excited to watch every single hour of the extended Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. As a geek parent, these movies are part of our heritage and an important milestone to pass on to the next generation. Not only do they represent an icon in the history of fantasy, which is understandably important to me, but they also mark a turning point in movie history. Lord of the Rings, Return of the King swept the Oscars and was the first high fantasy to do so.
Just as you can’t just watch part of the Star Wars saga and call yourself a fan, you can’t just watch Lord of the Rings and not the Hobbit. The stories build off of each other and give valuable backstory to their characters.
Last week we embarked on a new adventure following Bilbo Baggins deep into the Lonely mountain and narrowly escaping the jaws of the dragon Smaug. We watched as power and riches nearly destroyed the last dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield. We saw how in the wrong hands, the ring of power corrupts its wielder. We learned that the most important power one can have is that of grit, determination, and courage, although magic is nice at times.
When Hobbit originally came out, I boycotted it. I was mad they choose to stretch a single slim novel into three fairly long movies. When this had been done with other books I liked, it always resulted in massive disappointment. I love the books of both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Even the huge success of Lord of the Rings as a movie wasn’t enough to convince me to invest my time into watching the entire Hobbit trilogy in all its extended glory.
It didn’t help that when Hobbit came out my personal situation had changed drastically from when LOTR came out. LOTR came out when I was in college. The Hobbit came out when my youngest was one. Going to movies was difficult at best. I have a whole long story of how we tried to take a nursing baby into Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull thinking he would sleep only for him to cry the whole time and then explode a diaper.
Time heals all wounds and when it came time to find the next movie to watch as a family, the Hobbit was a perfect fit. The kiddos already liked LOTR and knew the characters and at a run time of nearly 9 hours, it would take several days to finish – perfect for all those nights we were scratching for something to do while stuck at home together.
Turns out, the Hobbit is an excellent series of movies. Yes, I know that the screenwriters took lots of liberties with adding elements that didn’t originally exist in the book, but they stayed true to what we understand of Middle Earth and the world Tolkien created.
Is it a family friendly film? Sure. There’s no course language, no nudity (unless you count the extended scene where the dwarves are playing in the fountain at Rivendell, I don’t), and while there’s expected violence, there’s very little graphic injury. The same as LOTR, there are, however, several horror elements so I don’t recommend the Hobbit for young or sensitive viewers.
Heads up! My Book Cave is running a promotion featuring 51 free books and stories for anyone to download, including my short story Breath. Anyone who downloads one of these stories is registered to win a $20 gift certificate to the online book retailer of their choice. It’s a perfect time to fill up your eReader with some fantastic fantasy and sci-fi. With so many to choose from, you are guaranteed to find something you like!
Along Route 66, tucked way back by Kingman, Arizona, is what can be best described as a perfect piece of Americana. The Grand Canyon Caverns holds all the nostalgia of the type of road trips my parents and grandparents shared stories about. There is a wonderful cafe, well maintained RV park, curio shop, motel, gas station, and enough eye candy ranging from scrap metal dinosaurs to vintage vehicles, to satisfy young and old alike.
Unlike most Route 66 iconic stops, this one has a giant cavern to tour and if you wish, have a unique dining experience inside.
Our family found this little gem while traveling around the Grand Canyon area in our RV. True to Milner adventure standards, we just had to tour the cave and enjoy a meal inside. Our tour guide, David, was wonderful with our rambunctious kids and all of their questions and was friendly and knowledgeable about the cave.
A little about the cave’s history:
Like most great stories, this one happened to a fellow who was down on his luck and looking to make it big. In 1927, Walter Peck was on his way to a poker game when he stopped by a funnel shaped hole in the ground. It was raining, but the hole never filled up so he investigated it only to find a large cavern that to his eyes looked to contain diamonds and gold.
At the poker game, he told his friends about what he found and soon enough they wanted to see it for themselves. They gathered some samples with the hope that all their dreams had come true. Walter, not wanting to risk losing out on his soon to be fortune, bought up the land making what was found in the cave rightfully his.
Unfortunately, when the assay report finally returned, it revealed that instead of diamonds and gold all Walter had found was iron oxides and calcium carbonate crystals – both worthless.
Not wanting to lose his investment, Walter started charging people to come explore the caves. For twenty-five cents, he’d lower them down the hole tied to a rope and let them explore. If they wanted light, they’d have to bring their own, usually a kerosene lantern. This experience came to be known by the locals as the “dope on a rope.”
Over the years there have been plenty of improvements made to the caverns, including a modern elevator installed in 1962 to lower visitors down the 210 to the cave floor. Like I said before, there is also the Grotto dining experience where you enjoy a wonderful meal inside the cave.
I’d recommend this experience to anyone who loves trying new and interesting things, is into geology, and doesn’t mind heights – or stairs. The regular guided tour of the cave covers 3/4 mile, most of which is walking up steep paved slopes and stairs or going back down them. While it’s technically handicap accessible, it would be pretty tough going for anyone on wheels.
If you aren’t comfortable with heights or enclosed spaces, this might be a bit of a rougher experience. That said, you really can’t see the 210 foot drop unless you peek down the slot of the elevator door. The whole cave is well lit so it doesn’t feel closed in and it’s dry in there so it doesn’t feel stuffy either.
My family, including all the kids, loved the tour and were able to walk through the whole thing without help. I’d recommend it for ages 6 and up, only because hauling tiny people up and down through the cave would be challenging and it’s just steep enough that a stroller would be pretty hard to manage.
As for the dining experience, the food and service was amazing. Although they were super accommodating for our family of five in the small space, I would recommend it as a couples experience and not with the whole family. Our kids thought it was awesome, but the other two cute couples there weren’t expecting to have to compete with our noise and were polite but glad when we finally headed out.
If you love fantasy and super immersive experiences, I have a place you might love. Located in Pleasant Grove, Utah, Evermore Park is a “fantasy European hamlet of imagination.” Inside the gorgeous grounds you can find adventure, quests, dragons, music, and of course, tasty treats.
My family went to explore Evermore Park last week with the hopes of embarking on an epic adventure that might mimic the quests found in popular video games like Legend of Zelda, or for me – Witcher. The park itself did not disappoint. Good money has been spent in the building and landscaping of the different beautiful buildings scattered around the grounds. Had I been going by myself, I would have spent my time wandering around just to soak up the atmosphere and maybe curl up in a cozy nook to watch and daydream.
Guests coming to the park are welcome to dress up and be part of the fantasy. I was surprised and amazed at how many visitors came dressed in elaborate European fantasy garb. The people watching was incredible.
The residents of Evermore feel as if they’ve walked out of the pages of your favorite fantasy book. They wander around carrying clues and totems to give to questing visitors. Successful quests earn visitors “gold” coins they can turn in for prizes.
I wanted to love this idea so much. As a fantasy writer, this should have been a wonderful immersive experience that would both inspire and light new creative fires. For my kids it should have been a magical place where they could pretend and play and come away feeling like they did something both different and cool.
In reality, there were lots of things that we learned the hard way. When we were admitted into the park there were no real instructions or even a vague idea of where to go or what to do to start our journey. While there were a few characters interacting with visitors in the entrance, because we weren’t sure if they were visitors or residents we didn’t know what we were supposed to do with them. It wasn’t until later when we learned that residents wear a special lighted pendant to indicate they work for the park.
When we finally found a character to talk to, she was wonderful and gracious and did her best to get us started on our way with a special quest to find a princess who had forgotten who she was. Terrific! Each of our kids received a little charm that was supposed to remind this princess about her true identity and a few clues as to where to find her.
We were on our way!
The first place we checked, she wasn’t there. We asked around and given another clue to go look somewhere on the other side of the park. Determined to find our princess, we trekked over there, getting distracted along the way to explore the eerie mausoleum filled with creepy vampires and a demonic spider thing. By the time we reached our missing princess’s new location, she had already gone. We were directed yet again to seek her over by the entrance, on yet a different corner of the park.
She wasn’t there either. See a trend? Two hours had elapsed without success in our first quest. Along the way, we talked to a few other characters to help us, doing everything we could to keep it lighthearted as the kiddos were starting to get frustrated. Finally, we learned that she had just barely moved to a new location.
We rushed to find her. My daughter was too shy to talk to her so I tried to remember what we were supposed to tell her, (remember, we had now invested over two hours) hoping that she would fill in the gaps and make this a magical moment so our experience would have a lovely pay off.
Nope. We gave her the charm that was supposed to remind her of her true identity and she just kind of took it with a shrug and said thank you. It was awkward enough that I didn’t want to pursue it further.
We did have fun learning to be rangers and hiding behind residents and what not, but it was dark, we were tired, and if the first quest took two hours of frustration, we weren’t super eager to try again on another one. We got a super yummy snack and wandered a bit more without bothering trying to interact with other characters, and then called it a day.
For our family, while the park itself is amazing, the learning curve was simply far too steep to truly enjoy the experience. And at the cost of over $100 for the five of us to participate, we didn’t feel we got our value out of it.
If you love LARPing, this would be your dream come true and I’d fully recommend it for you.
However, if you are even in the least bit uncomfortable interacting with people in costume, or are bringing children who want to complete quests to get prizes, this venue might be super frustrating.