The Toones go to Monticello and the Southwest
My wife’s parents and my second parents, Mark and Jeanine Richards, started a new tradition in 2013 when they invited their children and their families to spend a February weekend at a massive Bear Lake cabin they rented as their Christmas gift to the whole family. Despite sharing some germs, the weekend was a fun getaway. So the tradition continued in 2014, except this time they booked the Grist Mill Inn Bed and Breakfast in Monticello, Utah, from Thursday, Feb. 13, to Monday, Feb. 17. This is a summary of what happened over those four days from my perspective. Overall, it was a quality experience for the whole family.
Thursday, Feb. 13
11:45 a.m. — After Lisa and Trevin return from appointments at the eye doctor, we loaded into the van, said a prayer and departed for southern Utah. We stopped at Sam’s Club for gas and meatballs, then grabbed lunch to go at Wendy’s. Trevin was mad because we wouldn’t get him the “Baconator.” We told him to be grateful for a “Son of Baconator” or have nothing at all.
Between 12:30 and 1 p.m. — We made a quick stop in Salt Lake City to drop off our 2013 taxes with my cousin Matthew Toone.
1:30 p.m. — Less than 30 minutes later we had to make an emergency stop in Lehi. The girls were crying and needed their diapers changed, so I pulled into the parking lot at the Hampton Inn. This unexpected delay took at least 20 minutes, but anything for my girls. I would cry too if it happened to me. It would not be our last unscheduled stop.
Around 3:30 p.m. — After driving up Spanish Fork Canyon, we stopped at the city park in Price to let the kids run around while Lisa fed the baby. We changed more diapers and disposed of garbage. With true Olympic spirit, the boys took turns running to the flagpole and back. Despite a strong wind, both boys were clocked at 22 seconds.
Before leaving town, we drove around the campus of the College of Eastern Utah, also known as Utah State University-Eastern. I asked the boys if they would be interested in attending school there someday.
“I don’t want to go to a nowhere college,” Trevin said.
“Yeah, it’s in a stranded city,” Kalen added.
So I guess that’s a pretty firm “No” for both boys.
Around 4 p.m. — Once again, we didn’t get very far before I was forced to pull off the road for bottles and diapers. We parked next to some monument to asphalt rock mining in the area. When we finally got back on the road to Moab, Lisa entertained us by reading funny quotes from the boys that she had saved over the last five years. We laughed pretty hard as we re-lived those memories.
Around 6 p.m. — We stopped at a gas station to stretch legs and hit the restroom, then pressed on to Monticello, less than 50 miles away. Target acquired.
7 p.m. — We were the first of the family to arrive at the Grist Mill Inn Bed and Breakfast. This old flour mill has an Anniversary Inn feel to it, but carries an early 1900s theme and style. Because we arrived first, we had our pick of the rooms. The kids picked the “Jens Nielsen” Room for its space and number of beds. As other family members began to arrive, the kids’ excitement level spiked off the charts. After a supper of sandwiches and chips, the kids were bouncing all over the place. I knew then that it was going to be a long night.
Later that night — Usually, we change the girls into fresh diapers and pajamas with a good-night milk around 7:30 before putting them to bed at 8 p.m. That routine was broken with this trip. The girls took turns waking up and crying during the night, demanding more milk and new diapers. It was a conspiracy, man, and they were both in on it. Then our second son had a wet accident and ended up crawling into the middle of our queen-sized bed. The young diabetic also tried to sneak some candy. The bed was already uncomfortable. My prediction that it would be a long night came true.
Friday, Feb. 14
8 a.m. — Despite the night, we were motivated to get up because it was our turn to make breakfast. I flipped pancakes while Lisa cooked sausage links and scrambled eggs. I thought it all turned out pretty well.
11 a.m. — Most of the family loaded up the 4-wheelers and other all-terrain machines to go for a ride. Lisa and I left the kids to spend some time together in the Monticello Temple for the first time in a really long time.
As I was getting ready, a man walked by me and said, “Hi bishop.” When I looked up, he realized I wasn’t “the bishop.” He introduced himself and welcomed me as we shook hands. A moment later another brother came up to shake my hand. He said he was really glad to see me there, then added, “and I’m really glad I don’t have your grocery bill.” Hey, I know I’m a big guy, but I was a little caught off guard by that comment and wasn’t sure how to react, but I smiled anyway. A few minutes later he came up and apologized, saying he didn’t mean to offend. I told him not to worry. It was important to me that we share the best of feelings while in the temple.
Being in the temple that day, not preoccupied with schedules or concerned about kids, was so refreshing for both of us. It was like stepping into the shade of a big tree after walking a long distance in the hot sun. At the beginning of the session, I prayed that I might learn something new or be enlightened in regards to Elise, our daughter with special needs. I’ve pondered about her often in hopes that the Holy Spirit might reveal something to me about her life’s mission and what our family might learn from her. One answer came in the Celestial room when I saw an older couple enter, a man with his wife in an electric wheelchair. I felt impressed to go introduce myself, so I did. They were the Mortensens from Colorado and they were very friendly. As we visited I mentioned how much I admired Brother Mortensen for how he cared for his wife, and related that we have a daughter with special needs who requires the use of a wheelchair. The told us they also have a 34-year-old son with special needs. They spoke with the wisdom of many years of experience, so I asked if they had any advice for us. What Sister Mortensen shared next was really tender and touched our hearts. She told about when her son received his patriarchal blessing. The patriarch said it would be more for them than their son, and that was fine. During the blessing it was conveyed to them that their son was an exceptional spirit and he had performed an important work in the pre-mortal life. It was a blessing to have him in their family.
“These special spirits are all exceptional,” she said. “You just love them and take care of them.”
We already knew that Elise was special, but there was something extra powerful in hearing it from the Mortensens in that spiritual setting. We were grateful to meet them and hear their perspective.
3 p.m. — We took some photos outside the temple before returning to the Inn. A lunch of chicken tacos was waiting and we were hungry.
4:11 p.m. — Kalen carried Emma to us made us laugh by saying:
“Dad said ‘No kissing cousins!’ All the cousins are trying to kiss Emma. I made a rule that only her siblings can kiss her.”
5:23 p.m. — I happened to walk by Jake’s room and saw him and his fiancée Nicole laying together on the bed. They weren’t getting into trouble, but I tried to sneak away anyway. Then I heard Jake say, “Hi Trent.” I had to laugh. I told Jake and Nicole the tables had turned because mother-in-law Jeanine used to send Jake to make sure Lisa and I weren’t getting into trouble when we were engaged. Now I was on chastity duty. We all laughed.
6 p.m. — Right before we came south, a BYU-Idaho student named Taylor Sylvester emailed to request an interview with me. The Communication Department was preparing a series of profiles on alumni and he had my name. So we arranged to talk by phone around 4 p.m. We were home from the temple and the kids were settled, so I had nothing else to do. Sure, call me, I said. Eventually he called and we had a nice conversation. He wanted to hear about my experience at Ricks and how I got to the Deseret News. He was really interested in my sports writing background (because he wants to be sports writer) and was really intrigued by my seminary experience, a major turning point in my life. I was honored that he was interested in my career and experiences. He sent me a copy of his final draft the following Tuesday and I thought he did a good job summarizing our conversation. Thanks, Taylor.
8 p.m. — While I was wrapping up the interview, Lisa was preparing our Spaghetti dinner. She also made breadsticks (converted from Rhodes Rolls) and salad. I have to compliment Lisa for efficiency in planning and preparing two delicious meals that were both a hit with the family. In my opinion, and no disrespect intended, but they were the two best meals of the whole vacation.
Late at night — It was another uncomfortable night with more dirty diapers and hungry, crying girls. Sleep was elusive.
Saturday, Feb. 15
8:30 a.m. — Lisa had to shake me awake. When the cobwebs cleared, she informed me I’d missed a bounteous breakfast of bagels. “How disappointing,” I said. “Wait, what? Bagels? We made a big breakfast of pancakes, sausage and eggs and someone else gets away with providing bagels?” She told me to forget it and hustle into the shower because we were scheduled to leave at 9 a.m. for Mesa Verde National Park.
I really liked the Grist Mill Inn overall. We met and got to know the couple that owned it and they were cool. But I had one small complaint. There was very little water pressure in the shower, and you had to turn the nob fully left to get any warm water. Even Kalen remarked that the water “doesn’t hit him very hard.” On the bright side, it was better than a cold shower.
9:30 a.m. — After grabbing a water bottle and a leftover bagel smeared with cream cheese, our caravan moved east towards Cortez, Col. On the way out of town, Lisa saw something unique. It’s was a business with a sign that advertised repairs on Honda vehicles and LDS books. We thought that was pretty funny.
“Too bad they were closed,” Lisa said. “I was hoping to get my Honda fixed while reading the newest President Uchtdorf book.”
9:49 a.m. — We hit the 87,000-mile mark on the van’s odometer. We’re grateful the 2006 Kia Sedona has held together this long.
10:30 a.m. — We passed through Cortez, Col.
11 to 2:30 p.m. — We arrived at Mesa Verde National Park.
Fortunately for us, admission to the park was free because it was President’s Day weekend. From the entrance, we drove about 20 miles into the park on high, twisting mountain roads to see the cool ancient cities under the cliffs. Along the way Kalen and his cousin Nixon got car sick and Kalen left some lunch on the side of the road. They both felt better with some fresh air. As we stopped to see different things, the boys got into a little tussle that I had to break up. But it was really interesting to see the different exhibits and displays. I carried Elise on my shoulders and Lisa hauled baby Emmy-J. My favorite stop had to be a spot that overlooked a long canyon with several cliff dwellings along the opposite side. It was a great place for a panoramic photo.
We stopped at the museum/bookshop where we joined a free tour down to one of the cliff dwellings. While we waited for the tour to start, Lisa’s sister Natalie introduced us to a family she knew who happened to have a 13-year-old daughter with special needs. Her name was Rachel and she was strapped into a wheelchair. It was great to meet and visit with this family. I was carrying Elise so the girls got to meet as well. I wondered if Elise would grow to be as big as this girl in the next 5-8 years. If so, I would not be able to carry her on a hike.
Following our animated ranger tour guide, we walked down a paved trail to the pueblo ruins. Grandpa Mark has a bad hip, so he decided to stay up top and volunteered to hold Elise. So I carried Emmy instead. Always concerned about his sister, Kalen instructed me to stay as far from the edge of the trail as possible, even though I was already walking in the middle of the trail. Once the group reached the city under the rocks, we were able to move around a little, take photos and soak it all in. The boys were fascinated and climbing all over the place. It was a fun field trip.
Emma fell asleep as I carried her back up the trail. What a great dad I am. Once back up top, I took a few minutes and walked around the museum and ended up finding a book about Indian Myths and Legends that I used some birthday money to buy. For $20, I hope it has some good stories. After seeing the park, I am also interested in reading Louis L’Amour’s book, “Haunted Mesa.” There is something mysterious and fascinating about these ruins and ancient pueblo Indians.
3 p.m. — We stopped at Wendy’s in Cortez for a late lunch. Once again, Trevin demanded a Baconator. He thought it was going to be this amazing burger experience. We finally order him a single Baconator and he came away visibly disappointed. His brother also wanted a Baconator. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, we ordered him a junior bacon cheeseburger from the dollar menu. He was just as happy and we saved some money.
3:45 p.m. — After lunch, the rest of the family was ready to go back to Monticello. Lisa and I had talked about going to Four Corners and possibly onto Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods on our way back. When would we be this close again? Probably not for a long time. Four Corners was less than 50 miles away, so why not? So we decided to go and although our boys could have gone back with cousins, we insisted they come with us for some quality family time. They of course resisted and we had a showdown in the Wendy’s parking lot. Don’t you love it when your kids get all defiant and embarrass you in public? I finally had to spank Trevin to get him in the van, then he angrily kicked the inside of the van as hard as he could 5-6 times to show his frustration. Fortunately, there was no damage to the van. I started to give a stern lecture and we yelled at each other as we drove out of town. Finally Lisa told me to shut up and just ignore them. It took a good 20 miles before we all settled down.
4:30 p.m. — Did you know it costs $3 a person to see Four Corners monument? It’s true. What a rip off. But we paid it and despite major attitudes and scowls on the boys’ faces, we took some memorable photos of our adventure to Four Corners. I think I stood in New Mexico with Elise, Kalen was in Colorado, Trevin was in Arizona and Lisa and Emmy were in Utah. Some woman from California kindly took a few photos for us. We got there just before it closed at 5 p.m. The boys insisted we leave as soon as possible so they could reunite with their beloved cousins.
“Maybe we’ll just go straight home, how would you like that?!” We threatened. “Now we’re going to spend some quality time together on this vacation and you are going to like it!”
We must be the meanest parents in the world, I thought, those poor, picked on boys. We were there about 10 minutes total. As we were leaving, I overheard someone say the true Four Corners spot was located somewhere to the East of the monument. Dude, I thought, why did you have to go and spoil it for us?
As we drove through the desert toward Blanding, there were a lot of bumps in the road. This somehow put the boys to sleep and at the same time made Elise giggle repeatedly.
8:15 p.m. — A rabbit darted across the road and was crushed by the van him before I could even react. Lisa accused me of killing “Thumper,” the rabbit from the movie “Bambi.” Once again, Elise giggled.
8:28 p.m. — As we reached the outskirts of Monticello, a deer crossed the road in front of us but I was careful not to hit it.
“Thanks for not killing Bambi,” Lisa said.
Once inside the Inn, we had our choice of Taco Soup or Lentils with sausage soup. I had Taco Soup because there were no tomatoes. This was followed by ice cream and cupcakes for all the February birthdays. Yeah!
Before bed, I played Madden on the Xbox with Kaden Kent and won the Super Bowl with the San Diego Chargers. It might be the only time that ever happens, although it wasn’t hard to defeat a team quarterbacked by Tim Tebow, haha. While we were playing, Trevin leaned too far back in his chair and magnificently fell over. He was fine physically but a little embarrassed.
It was another fun night but I was almost ready to go home.
Sunday, Feb. 16
8:30 a.m. — Breakfast was more filling today. French toast, bacon and eggs, courtesy of the Holmgrens.
It’s Sunday, but few came prepared to go to church. But hey, we’re spending time with family, right? That’s justified, right? It was decided that we would split into two groups. The first group would go for a ride on the machines while the other remained at the Inn, then we would switch in the afternoon. Lisa and I became part of the second group. So I spent the morning holding Elise, feeding her a bottle, changing diapers and playing Xbox. I also tried to read some of President Eyring’s biography. Lisa took a much-needed nap. Trevin went with the first group to ride the machines. We heard a cool story about him later.
2 p.m. — Lunch was delicious French dip sandwiches, provided by the Westons. Afterward our second group met up with group No. 1 about 20 miles away, somewhere between Monticello and Moab. We were surrounded by amazing scenery and beautiful red-rock country. We knew it would be a fun ride.
3:30 p.m. — We embarked on our ride. Lisa and I went together in one of the razors and we all followed “trail No. 3” around this massive red rock mountain. For the next two hours, we drove over several steep hills, rocks and terrain, almost a little too extreme for Lisa and me, but we fortunately we didn’t have a problem staying with the group.
At one point we found ourselves driving right up against the rock in a narrow trail alley. We learned that the first group had stopped there and all climbed up to a little arch to look around and take some photos. It wasn’t difficult getting up, but it was steep and scary for the kids going back down. Before getting down, Justin Holmgren, our brother-in-law, said he noticed Trevin sitting off by himself, head bowed and arms folded, saying a little prayer for courage. Trevin told us later his prayer was answered when he was able to get down without trouble. His tender experience touched our hearts.
Our group eventually got around to the backside of the rock where the trail was much more muddy. It was getting later and the wind was colder, so we parked, took some photos and turned around for the drive back to the parking lot. Lisa took pictures and videos while I drove. It really was a fun drive and we enjoyed our time alone together.
6:16 p.m. — On the drive back to Monticello, Justin gave us his review of Steve Jobs’ biography.
6:30 p.m. — Jake and Nicole prepared a baked potato bar with salad, which was terrific and satisfying. We’ve had some great food on this trip. While the kids enjoyed their last night together, playing hide-and-seek, Lisa and I made sandwiches for the long drive home and watched a few minutes of the ridiculous NBA all-star game.
The best part came later when the girls actually slept for most of the night.
Monday, Feb. 17
9 to 10 a.m. — After cold cereal for breakfast, it was easy to clean up and pack the van. All we had to do was remove the bed sheets. We filled the van with gas and drove north to Arches National Park.
11 to 1 p.m. — Once again, there was free admission for President’s Day. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see everything, but we relished the chance to drive through the majestic park, often pulling over to take photos and see the different scenery. The kids seemed to really have a good time. That was nice for a change.
We stopped to see Balanced Rock, the North and South Windows, and we hiked to a viewpoint of the Delicate Arch. The hike involved a small climb, but Elise and I made it with only a little heavy breathing. When we got back in the car, we passed out sandwiches, checked the diapers, Kalen’s sugar, got everyone situated and started on our way. Despite all that had happened over the previous days, a good feeling went with us. Lisa and I knew this activity, as well as the vacation, had been worthwhile for our family and we resolved to do similar field trips in the future.
1 to 6:30 p.m. — The ride home was fairly uneventful, thank goodness. People either slept or played electronic games while I listened to Gerald Lund’s “The Undaunted.” We stopped in Price around 3 p.m. for a diaper/feeding party and got ice cream at A&W. We didn’t stop again until we pulled into the garage of our Syracuse home. The boys even helped carry in bags, which was nice. We were tired but happy to be home. Trevin still had a book report to finish, due Tuesday morning, and a Jr. Jazz basketball at 8 p.m. It didn’t take long to return to the routine. Welcome home, Toone family.
Hopefully this account will entertain our posterity someday.