Camping at Houston Mesa Campground/Day at Tonto Natural Bridge

Our last camping trip was at the beautiful Houston Mesa Campground just north of Payson, AZ.



My idea of a great camping trip is one that is:

about two hours from Phoenix–look what was nearby when I tried to check in (yes, I even had cellular/internet access) that was kind of bad because then I looked at my phone.


  • secluded campsite for the boys to play freely in the woods
  • flush toilets/running water (not a dealbreaker for the boys, but I sure love it!)
  • easy access to a premier Arizona natural paradise

We traveled the weekend of March 30, on the cusp of the season. I think the timing had everything to do with why we had a great time.I bet this area is busy in warmer months. We selected campsite number 13, paid $20.00 for one night and the boys played, built forts and read.


At night it was very cold, but we expected that and packed appropriately. I could see the Big Dipper perfectly through the window in our tent. So beautiful. Payson has a dark sky ordinance. As a busy mom, I find it magical to sleep under a black night sky with sharp white stars.



Houston Mesas is a ten minute drive from Tonto Natural Bridge


After a good breakfast outside in the fresh air we packed up and drove to Tonto Natural Bridge. I barely had time to charge my phone.


This was our second visit to this spectacular park. We hiked down to the moss waterfall (super short/easy hike for kids, it’s a set of stairs (so no strollers) but an easy walk if you don’t mind stairs. 


takes less than ten minutes and at the bottom is a nifty moss covered wall with water running down it.


Even in the summer, we visited in August and the same path had the same steady trickle of water.


I was intimidated to walk the 1/2 mile to the walkway leading to the base of the natural bridge.


I was afraid I was not in shape enough to do it. I am glad I tried, it was just fine.



Not only did I hike down with the boys, but I scrambled all over the rocks and explored the area below the bridge.


I can’t speak to your fitness level but I read all the time and only move if you poke me with a stick, so I’m a little out of shape.

It was outrageously beautiful. 


travertine bridge, cool and beautiful

And Fun! By lucky coincidence, Brady and Max are all about climbing right now. When they saw the giant rocks, they were elated.


climbing like a goat

We will come back many times! I know this cool and beautiful spot must be very busy in the summer but the weekend of March 30, the weather was warm and the park was uncrowded. Have you been? What was it like for you?


If you camp at Houston Mesa, maybe our spiral will still be there at number 13. or maybe you will make your own.

Win-Win: 5 Ways to Beat the Heat at Villari’s

It’s no secret that one of my favorite Gilbert destinations is Villari’s Family Centers of Higley. Affordable places to hide from the sun are hard to find and you can only swim so much.

part of playroom for younger kids and babies, super cute!

part of playroom for younger kids and babies, super cute!

5 Ways to beat the heat at Villari’s

  • Have your friend group of 20 kids come to Villari’s and play price discount of $5.00 a child.
  • Take a class–Villari’s martial arts studio is close to home and priced competitively.
  • Summer Camp — great mix here. I trust the staff, good balance of structured and unstructured playtime, science, arts, exercise, friends, fun and did I mention this place is spotlessly clean?
  • Treat yourself–having a tough day with the kids? I was running out of gas but the boys were going full steam on Thursday. We dropped by for playtime, and stayed for 2 hours. That was easy.
  • Throw a birthday party They have a great special, $75.00 off a party. We went to one today, great time. Lots of space, the awesome staff, good food and tons of extras. Great value and the kids had fun.
Birthday party rooms can be themed out almost any way. Always cute and creative!

Birthday party rooms can be themed out almost any way. Always cute and creative!

I’ve heard you talk about it, but I don’t know where it is?

Villari’s is behind the Fresh and Easy at Higley and Ray in Gilbert.

1495 S Higley Rd
Gilbert, AZ 85296
Phone: 480-361-8410

My kids ask to go back to Villari’s because of the staff in the play place. They love the attention when they play games. I love it because it’s clean, affordable, has wifi and I can get a guilt free break!


The playroom is huge. This is one part, I love the wall art. And I love when my kids pop out of the play place for a drink they are flushed and sweaty.

While I sit and catch up on work or read (counts as work right?), my boys have  blast climbing, running, playing ball.

We popped by for Chinese New Year, it was awesome!! My kids got their culture on and I didn't have to craft anything amazing from Pinterest! Win!

We visited on Chinese New Year, it was awesome!! My kids got their culture on and I didn’t have to craft anything amazing from Pinterest! Win!

Autism 101: Taking A Trip on the Polar Express

We took a family trip to this winter break. The trip was wrapped around a ride on the gorgeous Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express, in Williams, Arizona.

September_iphone_2012 1418

This is our second time, the first was when the boys were very young. The adults in our family loved the magical train ride, the caroling and the visit with Santa. I wanted to go again when Max was old enough to enjoy it, but I also knew that for as much as Max would love it, it would have some elements that Brady would not like. Like most families we can’t please everyone all the time but I knew we could find a way to put together a winter break that would allow everyone to make good memories.

brady in the snow

For this post, I asked Brady to write his impressions about the trip in case an ASD kid is looking for an autistic perspective before a trip. I will leave out the details about the Polar Express as the experience is popular and well documented elsewhere. I couldn’t find much for family with an autistic family member, so I know Brady can contribute in this area. As a disclaimer, all autistic children are different and my child’s perspective is simply his. Brady is 7 1/2 and in 2nd grade. I ask him to help me write because, it helps him express himself. It validates him when people visit and comment and it develops him as an advocate, a trait he needs to live an independent life. Like some children with Asperger’s Brady has a great vocabulary, these are his words. I think when he is not stuck for words he has a talent for expressing himself. Thanks for coming on our journey with us.


Brady’s 5 Tips for an ASD person on the Polar Express

1. Bring headphones to wear. The trip is designed for neurotypical kids who love to yell all at the same time. This is very exciting for them. Most times when a big room of children are together everyone wants to yell or cheer. The headphones will help. I sat by the window and looked out the window and that helped too.

2. Bring a blanket, the trip is very long and you can hide under the blanket to get a break from the people. Some people wear pajamas. My brother wore pajamas. I did not have any that were warm enough and layering was not comfortable so I wore comfortable clothes instead. If you are comfortable you will have a better time.

3. The hardest part of the trip was 2 times. There is the “time tunnel.” This is a tunnel full of lights that acts as a magic portal to take you to the North Pole. When you go through the tunnel the first time, the lights are blue. Everyone screams very loudly. This is not fun. On the way back you know that it will happen again, and it does. The lights are red this time. Everyone will scream like crazy. There is no stopping them. This is why headphones will be helpful. I did not like the yelling at all. But then I found humor in it because it is funny how much some children love to yell at the same time. Sometimes you have to laugh at people they are so strange.

4. Your ASD kid will probably like the M compartment or maybe F to W because there is a front and back and the you don’t want to be front or  back because they blow the horn at railroad crossings. They have to do this because it is a train. It is not part of the show. If you are in a middle car it will not be so loud. (Mom note: I put this down as Brady said, but maybe when you buy tickets you can ask for a car a distance from the horn. We were in the first car. Not sure if it can be helped).

5. They say that Santa is going to give you a gift. If this concerns you, you can click this link and I will show you what it is (yours might be a different color than in the picture).  He will not talk to you for very long because he needs time for other kids. He goes down the train car in order so you can see when you will be next. He alternates sides, he does not go up one side and down the other, he stops in the middle and talks to a child on one side then a child on the other then he advances to the next row.

christmas tree

Mom Note: We built in a multi-day trip to Flagstaff around our Polar Express. We stayed at the Little America Hotel which has beautiful lighted grounds, we played in the snow and rode our sled (purchased for $20.00 at Basha’s–is a local business and always less crowded than Wal Mart) in the pine forest behind the hotel. We made a side trip to the Meteor Crater and we enjoyed some local restaurants like Brandy’s and the Galaxy Diner. It was a picture perfect family vacation. I think if you accommodate all family members, get good rest and regular meals everyone will have a great time. If you eat at Brandy’s (recommend) it is always busy, so Brady and I sat at the counter in the corner and had a peaceful meal and the rest of the family ate at big table. It worked out fine.