The past week following ISTE and iPadPalooza, our family has been camping in the mountains of Colorado. While I’ve been completely offline (including Twitter) the same can’t be said for everyone in our family, since the times we drove into town for a grocery resupply or to catch the local drive-in movie (playing “Grease”) a flurry of snapchats and text messages were sent by our younger members. I think mom checked email too. We haven’t been offline together as a family for an extended period of time since 2014, which was the last summer we went camping together. Vacation time for me is now defined by a disconnection from digital technologies, and specifically from the Internet. I posted about 150 photos from our trip to a Flickr album tonight. Here are 10 of the highlights of our recent offline vacation.

1. Perspective Encouraging Mountain Vistas

Two days ago we drove up to Cottonwood Pass, which was just a few miles above our campground west of Buena Vista, Colorado. The pass is on the continental divide and is over 12,000 feet above sea level. The views were breathtaking. Moments like these encourage perspective on life and on our earth which I need and highly value.

2. Mountain Rainbows

It’s not every day we get to see a rainbow in Oklahoma, and the chance to see some Rocky Mountain rainbows this week was really special. It rained quite a bit the first few days we were in camp, but rainbows like these (seen from our campsite) made it worth it to put up with the moisture. We were also very thankful the fire danger was low enough that we could have open campfires, which wasn’t true in the Spanish Peaks area for our 2014 camping trip. Having some understanding of the physics of rainbows does not diminish in any way my wonder and awe for them!

3. Unlimited Campfire Marshmallows

We ended up bringing and buying three packs of marshmallows on this camping trip, which equated to essentially “unlimited campfire marshmallows” for our kids. Mom and dad had several too! What a dream and a blessing this was. Few things say “family camping” like marshmallows roasted over an open fire and quickly turned into a yummy s’more.

4. Memorable Games of Spades

Our family loves to play Spades. I learned to love the game while on the debate team at the US Air Force Academy from 1988-1992. Since then my wife and I have had some great spades games with friends, but we actually rarely play it anymore. This is one of the biggest benefits of an OFFLINE vacation: (almost) zero screens for entertainment and distraction! It gets dark and what do we do? After marshmallows and s’mores, it’s time for spades!

5. Fresh Fried Mountain Trout

Few things on a campout can beat the taste of freshly caught and pan fried mountain trout, especially when you were the person who caught the fish! Everyone in our family except mom caught fish on our trip this year, and it was super-yummy to enjoy these beauties (even though a few were small) as an appetizer one night and a main course another night. Many thanks to both our dads who taught us how to fish as well as clean and cook them!

6. Lots of Book Reading

I haven’t read a novel in a couple years, I’m sheepish to admit, although I’ve read and listened to many non-fiction books. This camping trip I totally enjoyed getting into “The White Plague,” which is a 1982 science fiction novel by Frank Herbert. He’s famous as the author of “Dune,” a book and series I never read but my wife enjoyed. I really enjoy novels but find myself otherwise occupied with lots of other things these days… so it was totally wonderful to have so much time to just sit and enjoy reading a novel for fun this past week. All the other members of our family spent a lot of time reading books too! Shelly’s main pick was “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert D. Putnam. Normally I am the non-fiction reading parent in our household and Shelly is the fiction reader. This week we flipped that norm. I’m sure she’ll be posting about the book and its important points in upcoming weeks on her blog. Really important ideas regarding education and our society as a whole.

7. Cloud Formation Watching

I absolutely love to watch clouds. Like novel reading, however, it’s not something I generally make much time to do. Particularly the last three days of our camping trip, however, we had classic summer mountain weather: Clear blue skies in the morning, with clouds forming by early afternoon and some showers around 3 or 4 pm. I’ve always loved weather and meteorology. It was fantastic to have both the time and the opportunity to just sit and watch these beautiful, white cumulus clouds form over our campsite situated in the Colorado Collegiate Range. This is something which will always fascinate me, I suspect, no matter how old I may become.

8. The Milky Way from 10,000′ MSL

I didn’t bring my camera to our late night stargazing outing last night, so I’m using a sunset picture instead for this highlight. Back in February I wrote the post, “Backyard Astronomy Laser and iPhone App.” We’ve used that $100 “Z-Bolt Extreme Temp Green Laser” multiple times in our backyard in Oklahoma, but nothing can compare to using it on a crystal clear Colorado night at about 10,000 feet above sea level in an open meadow. In addition to numerous constellations we saw about 4 shooting stars and one satellite. It was a nighttime stargazing memory I don’t think any of us will ever forget.

9. Family Fishing Success

Catching fish yourself is great, but that experience pales beside helping your own children catch their own fish. What a blessing it was that Alex, Sarah and Rachel all caught trout on our camping trip! We had our fishing successes this year at Cottonwood Lake in the San Isabel National Forest. The expense of all those 5 day fishing licenses was worth it!

10. Making Family Memories

The best highlight of all was just making good family memories. This closing photo was of our fourth of July celebration meal, which included steak and baked potatoes we cooked over the campfire and in our dutch oven. I am so thankful for our family and the opportunities we had this week to spend so much quality time together. The weeks and months ahead are full of transitions with two of our three children attending new schools, and lots of other life changes.

I hope this summer you are able to spend some extended periods of time OFFLINE and with family and friends. I am counting my blessings and encourage you to do the same. We don’t get any heartbeats back, and we need to cherish each moment we have together.

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