California is a BIG state!! Here’s where we went and what we did in the Golden State….

We entered California in the southeast, coming from Las Vegas. We drove through Death Valley and spent one night there in the National Park.  I had pictured Death Valley as bleak and full of nothing…but it wasn’t like that at all.  It was beautiful with different colors painted on the foothills and sand, cool rocks and salted valleys.  On Wednesday, November 12th we took a drive to Badwater which is the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere.  It was kind of fun to be 282 feet below sea level…..although Lance’s GPS on his phone was getting pretty worried that we must be under water!

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The Salt Flats in Death Valley

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This is when we stopped at Badwater and took a walk on the salt flats.  There is a sign up on the cliff to show where sea level is, I circled it in red so it’s easier to see.

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Sam was pretty fascinated with the salt crystals


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On the drive out of Death Valley we drove past these pretty dunes

After Death Valley we drove through the mountains and stopped to see General Sherman in Sequoia National Park. General Sherman is a Sequoia tree and the largest (by volume) known living tree in the world.  Pretty amazing!  We also got to enjoy a gorgeous sunset on our way out of the park. 


Our family in front of General Sherman


A cross section of a Sequoia tree


Rose and I walking through a tunnel in one of the giant trees


The gorgeous sunset we enjoyed as we drove out of Sequoia National Park

Next we headed to Sacramento to see the state capital and then camped for a few days in Coloma which is about an hour north east of Sacramento. Some of you probably know that Lance lived in Carmichael, California for 3rd through 8th grade.  It was fun to drive around his old neighborhood and see where he went to school, his house and the park where he and his friend used a sling shot to shoot firecrackers into a softball game (his one big youthful indiscretion!!)  On Saturday we went to Apple Hill which is where Lance remembers going every year with his family to pick out a Christmas tree.  It’s an area out in the country with sprawling apple orchards and grape vines.  We all loved the cider donuts!! On that Sunday we visited the church that Lance and his family attended when they lived in Carmichael.  We had fun tagging along on Lance’s trip down memory lane…and we also had fun in and around the campground, which was right across the river from Sutter’s Mill and the first place gold was found.  Sam is our resident prospector so this was a dream come true for him!  He loved being able to put on his rain boots and head down to the river to do some gold panning.  The kids and I also went through a small museum there and learned more about the gold rush and the Indians that lived in the area during that time.


Joe, Ben, Elise, Sam and Rose are the worms in this apple!


Rose was pretty possessive of the cider we bought at the orchard


Sam panning for gold near our campground



We enjoyed the displays in the museum….especially the ones about gold panning or weapons they used!   Here’s a link to the state park and museum that we were at.


Joe and Abby checking out the teepees


Sam totally in his element!


We needed to cross this historic, one lane bridge to get back to the campground.  It was so narrow that we were pretty nervous about pulling the camper through, but we made it….barely!!

We still needed to squeeze in a visit to Nevada’s capital which is Carson City so we packed up and drove through the mountains to get there. We intended to stay the night there, but decided instead to just keep driving so after our stop at the capital and some dinner we drove back into California and ended up spending the night in Susanville (yes, yes…they named it after me!!)  The next day we drove north and west and finally arrived in Crescent City, California.


Our kids loved playing in the leaves at the Carson City capital building

The REDWOODS!!! This was one of those parts of the country that I was especially looking forward to and none of us had ever been there before.  Crescent City is right on the coast and to the east are state and national parks where the Redwood trees live.  Our first few days were spent in and around the city since Lance needed to get some work done.  Our campsite was in a beautiful spot right on the bay.  The kids had a great time exploring the beach there and playing at a huge playground not far away.  On Friday it was my birthday so I got to pick the activity!  We went to Pebble Beach, on the north side of Crescent City, and enjoyed a couple of hours there.  Pebble beach is supposed to be one of the best places to find agates on the beach….we all picked up lots of pretty stones, but since I don’t know much about agates, I don’t know if we found any of those!  After that we went out for a pizza lunch and then headed home.


Behind our campsite was this bay.  Here’s a pretty sunset and the lighthouse in the distance.


The tide was out and we had fun checking out the tide pools and looking for pretty stones and agates at Pebble Beach



This was a great place to spend a birthday!

On Saturday, November 21st we took a drive into the Redwood forest.  The gigantic trees are just amazing!  Sometimes we would all exclaim over how huge one was and then around the corner there would be one even bigger!  We drove through Jedediah Smith State Park and went for a hike on the Stout Grove Trail.  What an amazing place….you feel like an ant!  This was also the place where they filmed some of the Endor scenes from Star Wars and you can totally picture it as you walk along the path.  The kids had so much fun climbing over fallen trees, hiding behind trees and having battles with swords made out of sticks.  It was a really fun afternoon.


We tried to see how much of the tree we could encircle, but we probably only reached about halfway around



Look at how amazingly tall these trees are!


Ben is pretty impressed as well!


Look at the beautiful sunbeams coming in through the trees!  What a splendid way to end the afternoon of exploring!

The next day we left Crescent City.  Part of the drive was along the Pacific ocean coastline and part of it was through the redwood forests…it was a gorgeous drive.  The part that is through the forest is a stretch of road called “Avenue of the Giants” because you are passing giant tree after giant tree.  I loved it!  We stopped to see the Eternal Tree which is a Redwood tree that has survived a flood, fire and being struck by lightning and it’s still alive!  Our campground was just off of the Avenue of the Giants.

On Monday morning we went to see the Shrine drive-thru tree in Myers Flat, California. Lance gave it everything he’s got, but the Excursion is just too big so he had to back out before getting stuck in the tree.  There were also some super cute tree houses (literally!) that you could go into.  They had little doors and windows, bookshelves and tables and even an upstairs.  The girls began playing house almost immediately and Ben just kept going in and out….I think he especially liked that they were houses more kid-sized.  After that fun stop it was time to drive south and leave the Redwoods behind.  I really enjoyed our week there and would love to go back someday to explore even more.


That’s about as far as Lance could get the Excursion into the drive-thru tree


They also had this drive-on tree so that’s Lance up there



The cute tree houses, completely carved from Redwood trees


We were headed to San Francisco next and got there mid-afternoon. We were really looking forward to meeting up with my cousin, John and his wife, Tiffany.  We met them at Musee Mecanique which is a super cool arcade that had current arcade games and also antique ones that were 100 years old, but still worked.  We all had fun playing there for a while and then walked to an Italian restaurant for dinner.  We really enjoyed catching up with John and Tiffany and the kids loved them!  It was interesting to learn about their jobs, apartment, cats and life in general living in San Francisco.  We must have worn out the kids with such a busy day though because Elise and Ben both fell asleep at the table before the food even arrived!


Elise, Sam and Abby with the festive Fisherman’s Wharf sign


Ben watching the dancing men in this really old arcade game


Elise making Peppy the clown dance


Who do you think won???


Our family with John and Tiffany….you can’t see Ben because he’s already sleeping with his head down on the table!

Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge was pretty neat….walking/running over it was even better and that’s how Abby, Joe and I started out the next day. Then we all went into the city to see some of the sights.  We visited Pier 39 and watched the sea lions, Lance and Joe had clam chowder for lunch and we drove down Lombard Street.  We saw the cable cars too, but ran out of time to go for a ride.


Joe has been running every morning since mid summer and Abby and I decided to start doing some regular running ourselves.  Even though it was windy and rainy, this morning was especially cool because we got to run/walk across the Golden Gate Bridge


The sea lions


Lance enjoyed his bread bowl of clam chowder

That evening we went to visit Lance’s roommate from college and his family. Ben and Tricia were very welcoming and we were able to relax and talk with them while Ben (our Ben) played with their little girl and her toys and the older kids thoroughly enjoyed Ben’s Legos from when he was a kid.

The next part of our trip is what I would like to call “Visiting Every Chiropractor We Drive Past”!! Lance’s back had been feeling a little worse each day for a while and all of a sudden it just went out.  He was in extreme pain and was unable to move around much.  Joe was a huge blessing to us as he stepped up to help with the setup and take down of the camper and I learned a few new things from him along the way.  I also got to experience driving while pulling the camper on the crazy busy California highway and also a very curvy, narrow road to the next campground.  As Lance took it easy and visited chiropractors in almost every city we stopped in he gradually felt better and better.  We are very thankful that he’s back to normal now! (as normal as Lance usually is!!!)

We spent Thanksgiving at a KOA near Santa Cruz. Being from Michigan we are not used to camping around Thanksgiving and we also always have family to visit on that day so this was pretty unique for us.  It turns out that some people in California bring their family…and turkey…camping!  We saw many large groups camping together and saw one family cooking their turkey in a garbage can.  It looked like a pretty fun way to spend the weekend when you have nice weather like they usually do in southern California.  Most of the time our kids only have each other to play with, since school started there aren’t many other families camping so our kids had a blast for the few days we were there.  They made some great new friends and also loved all of the special activities that the campground had planned.  We had our turkey dinner at a restaurant in Santa Cruz and enjoyed going around the table with everyone telling what they are most thankful for.  I know that I’m thankful that we are able to spend so much time together on this trip, for safety while traveling, and that we continually see God’s protection, greatness and love in our many different experiences and stops.


Our Thanksgiving Day dinner

Our next stop would be Santa Barbara, but getting there was half the fun….we drove along the coast on Highway 1 and it was beautiful! Sometimes you are curving back and forth with the beach off to the right, sometimes you are curving back and forth through the woods and sometimes you are curving back and forth with a steep cliff right off the road and the ocean down below…..whatever the landscape, the curving back and forth is pretty constant throughout!  We stopped at one beach turnout area and let everyone get out to stretch their legs for a while.  As we walked a little bit down the path we came upon some Elephant Seals lying on the beach.  It was fun to watch them blubber around and bark at us.


I never got sick of looking out the window while we drove down Highway 1 along the California coast



Sam and Elise looking for shells and other treasures when we stopped for a little bit


Abby and Rosemary on a sunny day


The lazy looking Elephant Seals


Another beautiful sunset to end another fun day

We camped in Santa Barbara for a couple of nights and were able to visit with Lance’s childhood friend and his family while there. Lance and Paul were best friends while Lance lived in Carmichael, California and they were the mischievous pair that launched those firecrackers into a softball game!  Paul and Shelley were great and our kids had a lot of fun with their four kids.  Joe and Sam were even able to have a sleepover with their boys at their house.  Our visit also overlapped with a visit they were having from Paul’s parents.  Lance has many great memories of hanging out at their house with Paul and I enjoyed hearing stories of Lance as a middle schooler.  It was a great weekend, they are a beautiful family.


Lance and Paul

Our next stop was Los Angeles. We camped in a city campground that is right on the beach so the Pacific Ocean was literally in our backyard.  We had a great time on the beach for a few days.  Native SoCal people were not swimming, but the Michiganders don’t mind some cooler water temps!  The kids had a blast jumping the giant waves and playing in the sand.  While in L.A. we also went to see the Hollywood sign and took a drive through Beverly Hills.  (FYI….the Goodwill in Beverly Hills is NOT like the Goodwill in Holland, Michigan…a little pricier for the designer clothes!!)


Our “backyard” while we camped in Los Angeles.  It was so cool to watch the big waves build higher and higher before they crashed!



Elise LOVES the water!

While in L.A. we were able to meet up with my cousin, Alison. We had dinner together at a fun BBQ joint where you eat at indoor picnic tables and use sheets of paper for plates.  We had a great time learning more about Alison’s life in the L.A. area, her boyfriend and how they met and her job as an animal trainer for movies and commercials.  She has some pretty interesting stories!  Thanks for taking the time to hang out with us Alison, we loved seeing you!  Unfortunately, we forgot to snap a pic when we were with her.

Also while in L.A. we surprised Joe with his Christmas/Birthday gift which was a trip back to Michigan for six days. He has been missing his friends quite a bit so this was the perfect gift for him.  We told him the night before he would be leaving, along with Ben, Rose and me.  We had a good flight, and with a two year old and an almost one year old that was a huge concern of mine!  While in Michigan we stayed with my mom and dad, it was so great to see them since we hadn’t seen them since the beginning of September.  We also had very nice visits with both sets of my grandparents, Lance’s parents and some good friends.  But, I think a highlight was when Joe surprised his two best friends!  The other parents and Lance and I had been bursting with excitement to see these three boys reunited and their level of unbelief and shock didn’t disappoint!!!  Soon after our plane landed Joe jumped out at his buddies at one of their houses and after the screaming, laughing and hugging stopped the three of them were almost inseparable until we left!  Joe was also able to participate in a couple days of school and loved that.  The teachers and principal at Cityside were amazing at making this special for Joe, but none more so than the band director….Mr. Good.  This man is one of those teachers that has made a great impact on Joe’s life and I know Joe will always remember and love Mr. Good, along with have very fond memories of his middle school band years playing the tuba.  Mr. Good arranged for Joe to be in the Christmas concert while we were home and even had his name in the program….that evening meant the world to Joe and I loved being there to see it.  We had a great trip back!


Joe with his best friends….Isaac and Josh


Rose and Grandpa building towers


Ben even got to help decorate my Mom and Dad’s Christmas tree


Enjoying a visit with my Grandpa and Grandma Haveman


Hanging out at Grandpa and Grandma Kornoelje’s house


Rose cuddling with her Great Grandma Wolters and Ben showing his Great Grandpa Wolters what he can draw


Joe and Mr. Good after the band concert


At the airport…..time to say good bye


Ben did pretty well on the flight home too….he got to meet the pilot and then filled his time with playing with trucks, reading the safety brochure, and reading books with Rose.

I have truly realized what it means to say that home is not a certain place, but rather, wherever the people you love most are. As we flew back to California it felt like I was going back home, even though I knew the location would be changing the next day and a few days after that and a few days after that!

Well, enough sappy stuff!!! After L.A. we spent a few days in San Diego.  The weather was beautiful so we played at a park and took a drive by Midway and to Coronado.  One evening we got to meet up with another one of my cousins, Samantha.  (Just realizing how many friends and family we got to visit in California….it was fabulous!)  She had picked out a fun Mexican restaurant for us to have dinner at.  It was delicious and so fun being able to eat outside on a December evening.  She is a helicopter pilot for the Navy and after dinner she took us out to Coronado to see the helicopters that she flies.  It was amazing!  Wow…the amount of buttons and dials seemed overwhelming and we were all VERY impressed that she does that every day!  Thanks Sam!  We loved getting to see you and hang out with you and going to see where you work was just icing on the cake!


Our dinner with my cousin, Sam


Checking out the helicopter Sam flies….so cool!

Well, I think that about sums up our month in California! It’s a beautiful state with so many amazing things to see.  We loved the Redwoods, the mountains, the beach and all of the friends and family we were able to catch up with while there.