Rocky Mountain Snyder Family XMAS | 06

Friends and Family:

We were walking down Bright Angel Trail into the Grand Canyon on our Thanksgiving vacation. We had already seen some red pictographs drawn by the Indians on the cliff walls, when we encountered a pack of burros.

The trail, covered in green burro guano, is exposed to the depths of the canyon. There is no fence or railing. You have to watch what you are doing or you’re going to be swimming in the Colorado River the hard way.

“We have to stay ahead of the burros,” says Rose, “because when they pee, it covers the entire trail.”

Rose knows things about burros and their bathroom habits because she grew up in Phoenix, where burros roam freely throughout the city.

The folks ahead of us have moved to the side of the trail to let the burros pass.

“Stay ahead of the burros!” Rose warns.

The kids start running up the trail, laughing and screaming.

We lean up against the cliff wall to let the dozen or so burros and their too-wimpy-to-hike passengers pass.

Sam asks the first rider, “Are you a prospector?”

He’s not, he’s a park ranger and the Snyder Family is on vacation, loving life, in the Southwest.

Twenty years earlier Rose hiked on this trail down to Plateau Point. That hike was either the greatest thing Rose ever did or the worse thing she ever did. She lost a few toenails.

We make it out alive, toenails intact, but we’re still in the danger zone as Gina, Sam and I sit on a retaining wall at the top of the trail. Sam is playing with his newly purchased plush toy, a burro we’ve named “Pinecone.”

Sam, as he does, was playing around, bugging his Dad, making Pinecone dance on ol’ Dad’s head. Then it happened, Pinecone slipped from Sam’s hand and went a tumblin’ toward the brink of the canyon … in slow motion. There was nothing we could do but watch as the burro flipped head-over-heels to certain doom, bouncing on the trail near the edge until finally, finally it landed in a heap, dust rising, inches from the rim, but safe.

We can laugh about it now, because nobody got hurt.

We walked to the burro stable and Sam introduced Pinecone, nose-to-nose, with his real-life counterpart.

Star Gazing
We ended our day star gazing at Mather Point. We sat on a big rock that jutted out into the Grand Canyon, wearing our winter coats in the 30-degree, windy weather, looking up at the Milky Way – a thousand points of light – listening to a Park Ranger as she pointed out constellations with a super-powerful green laser beam pointer.

Attending that Park Ranger class was the final piece of the puzzle for Carli, Gina and Sam to earn their Junior Ranger badges. They can now legally detain park visitors for questionable behavior within park grounds. And they can now remove as much petrified wood as they can carry in their vehicle, which is nice.

We drove through Four Corners, to the Grand Canyon, then on to Phoenix, where the burros roam free. We stayed with Nana and Grandpa Chuck. Sam was in hog heaven playing with his cousins, especially the entertaining and rubbery cousin Tony. Buster, the miniature Schnauzer, was another favorite.

Elk Dung
We spent our spring break in Boulder. We enjoyed ourselves in the Flatirons, but with a day to go, we called an audible and drove to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

We found a lodge with a spectacular view of the mountain range and drove into the park the next morning.

Ranger Rick directed us to a herd of elk. We found the herd – 500 elk strong – and parked the car. To get a closer look, we hiked across a creek on a fallen tree and trekked across a field of elk dung. The elk are just chillin’ like a villain. We got close enough to take some pictures, but not close enough to start a stampede. You’ve got to play by the elk rules when you’re running in their backyard.

The Hamill Camel
Dorothy Hamill hugged me this year. I was in Torino, Italy, for work and I had her sign a banner for an auction that I was doing. Then I told her in a voice no louder than a whisper, “You’re my favorite Olympian,” which, for me, was the equivalent of saying, “I love you Dorothy Hamill.” It was at this point that she hugged me.

Be Happy
We were worried how Carli was going to react to her move to middle school, especially with her straight A’s streak in its fourth year. Then we got her first semester report card and it only had two A’s on it … the other six grades were A plusses. Gina had her first letter-grade report card. How would she do operating in the large, looming shadow of her do-no-wrong big sister?

Straight A’s for Gina too.

Gina deals with the stressful situation in typical Gina fashion. She draws a happy face on her upper arm. One day I asked her why she kept drawing a happy face on her arm and she said, “To remind me to be happy.”

I need one of those.

Serenity Now!
Rose surprised me with an overnight date on my birthday to Las Manos Bed & Breakfast in Buena Vista. We walked around the base of Mount Princeton. It was snowing, calm and peaceful.

We felt, you know, centered.

We were feeling so serene that when we got back into town, Rose suggested that we should stop at one of the local bistros and do some shots.

I thought, “That’s my girl!”

After our time in the wilderness and the town’s corner bar, I soaked in a hot tub for a half hour, and then received a 90-minute massage. Nice.

Country Club
Rose works at a country club in Colorado Springs at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. The kids spent the whole summer at the club swimming and hanging out. We spent July 4 at the club and sat in chaise lounge chairs on the beach as the fireworks were shot out over the lake.

Renaissance Festival
Rose’s new job kept her busy on a lot of weekends, so I ended up taking the kids to a lot of places. Gina got a makeover at the Renaissance Festival with a super fancy hairdo with sparkles and little rosebuds tucked into her hair. And then she picked out a lovely gypsy outfit. Sam got dressed up like a knight complete with a sword and shield.

Then we went to the jousting arena and watched in horror as the Good Knight was vanquished by the vile Bad Knight.

Finisher Medal
I ran my first road race, the Denver Half Marathon, in October, finishing 1,323 out of 1,861 runners, beating 500 people. When I showed the kids my ‘finisher’ medal; they were impressed, Sam especially so.

He said to me, “Dad, I knew you would win.” Then he hugged me.

Sam and Gina played on their first baseball team, the Dodgers. The league was coach-pitch and I was the coach who pitched. Sam’s a switch hitter. Gina with her rocket arm played third.

You know who else had a good arm? Thomas Jefferson, that’s who, at 24, he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Then he built Monticello in Virginia. This summer I finally got a chance to go visit, while in Virginia for Paul Gaulke’s wedding. Jefferson is no longer living there, having died 50 years to the day after the original Independence Day, but it was still nice to see.

Charlie … is attempting to train for a marathon despite faulty shins; plays Madden 07 every waking hour

Rose … is still consulting with non-profits on the weekends; is hosting a ‘Women in Coaching’ seminar for swimming in ’07; enjoys Tivo’ing her favorite soap opera; owns every piece of Brighton jewelry

Carli … 11 … plays clarinet in the sixth-grade band; enjoys IMing her friends; got an email from Misty Hyman at the beginning of the swim season (Misty, an Olympic champion, shares the same birthday as Carli)

Gina … 8 … wants ‘something that explodes’ for Christmas this year; also added ‘balloons full of paint’ on her list; wants to try a new sport, maybe soccer this year; is an outstanding swimmer and hugger

Sam … 7 … enjoys using vacuum attachments as weapons despite owning dozens of swords and light sabers; is kicking butt in school and on the video game player; got the entire van rocking on the way home from Phoenix by singing, ‘Life is a Highway’

Merry Christmas!

Charlie | Rose | Carli | Gina | Sam

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