Needles and a Pen » Knitting, Sewing, and Nursing School

Masthead header
Needles and a Pen bio picture
  • Welcome to my blog!

    Hi! I'm Traci. I'm a nursing student and CNA who loves quilting, knitting, cross stitch, Project Life scrapbooking, and the great outdoors. In my pre-scrubs life, I owned Real Photography, and you can still see my old wedding and portrait photography site here .

    I great big puffy heart *love* comments, so please let me know you visited! I try to always reply!

Zapata Falls Hike Review

Zapata Falls is a great adventure on your way to or from Great Sand Dunes National Park.  It is a tiny hike, at just 0.5 miles to the falls or 1 mile roundtrip with minimal elevation gain.  What makes it notable is the adventure you will have getting to the falls.  While in late summer crossing over the creek to the falls is reported to be not difficult, in May (when we like to visit the sand dunes), you’ll need to walk through ice cold water and walk on ice to see the frozen falls.  It’s tricky, and carries some risk, but we really enjoy seeing the frozen falls.  The first year we wore Keen sandals and brought along a towel and thick warm socks for after.  The second year I wore hiking boots and to keep out of anything deeper than ankle high water–the one time I went in over my boot, it was so fast (and my socks so successfully woolen) that I didn’t have wet feet–win!  Ellie has been carried in to the falls each time, but Will walked with us.  It is COLD water, so if your kids are prone to be upset by cold feet, skip this one unless you’re visiting later in the summer when the falls aren’t frozen and the creek is warmer.

zapata falls hike review

I always have the wrong lens with me to capture the falls (they are around a bend in a tight steep canyon, so you are very close to them when you finally see them), but I’ve shared the photos I do have, such as they are.  🙂

Pros:  This is a big adventure hike in the late spring, with a big reward of a ‘hidden’ frozen waterfall.

Cons:  In the spring getting to the falls requires walking on ice and quite possibly getting your feet wet.  As such it carries more risk than other hikes–slippery rocks, ice that could break, etc.  It’s loud at the falls themselves, which can be overwhelming to kiddos.  The forest service road to the trailhead is also very rough and you’ll spend a few miles on it.

Distance/difficulty:  1 mile round trip, easy were it not for the ice/cold water.


zapata falls hike

Nic is looking away from the canyon with the falls, back toward the trail area.

zapata falls hike

This is a popular destination, so you’ll see many other people going to look at the falls.


Painted Rocks Campground Review

Painted Rocks Campground is only an hour from Colorado Springs and a total gem of a campground with both reservable and first-come-first-serve campsites.  We stayed here on an informal group trip with our Cub Scout den and the campground was a big hit.  We’ll be back.

painted rocks campground review

Pros:  Painted Rocks is convenient while still feeling remote and beautiful.  The Woodland Park Walmart is less than 15 minutes away if you’ve forgotten toiletries, and home is only an hour away if you’ve forgotten…say…to pack your tent.  (That second one may or may not have actually happened to us on this trip.)  The rock formations within the campground are beautiful and a blast for the kids to play on.  It’s like camping in Garden of the Gods, but you’re able to play on the rocks!  The sites are beautifully spaced so that everyone can enjoy the outdoors without feeling on top of one another.

Cons:  It’s a standard Forest Service campground, so there are no showers, sinks, or flushing toilets.  It’s also close enough to the highway that I could hear the road noise at night.  And finally, while we were there a bear was spotted each day close to the campground and the Department of Wildlife was actively tracking him/her with the intent of shooting it with plastic bullets to discourage it from coming around the campground.  (I would make a terrible Dept of Wildlife employee.  Looking at a bear, shooting it with non-lethal bullets would not be my plan.  I’m pretty sure I’d just hand over my wallet and promise to drive it to Safeway if we could all agree to Just Keep Playing Nice.)  The maddening part of the whole thing was that there was a bear within sight of the campground…but no bear boxes.  Le sigh.  (We stored all food/toiletries/clothing we’d either fished in or had stuff frenched toast cream cheese exploded onto [more on that in a later post] in the car.  Ellie normally smells delicious, but the minute she goes camping she starts behaving like a baby elephant and throwing dirt all over herself, so I felt pretty confident not storing her in the car.)

Facilities:  Vault toilets, water spigots, and fire grates and picnic tables at each site.  (No specific tent pads, but a general tentish area was discernible at the sites we saw.)

Campsite recommendations:  We were at site 15, which had great shade and a fun little hill to put our tent on (and two trees perfect for my hammock).  It has a rock formation off its backside that is a little bit obscured by the hill/trees.  Site 13 has no shade but is a dream for kids–a great rock formation for playing is at the back of the site (pictured above).  One of the families from the den was staying there and left the campout early.  Within five minutes another family had scooted on over to claim it.  If it’s not too hot, this site is the winner in my opinion!  Site 16 also a small rock formation of its own with the added bonus of a small amount of shade, but it is closer to the road and a bit smaller than site 13.  As Nic pointed out, though, there were really no bad campsites at this campground.  The ones on the southeastern loop have more rock formation visibility/access and the ones on the northwestern side have more shade, but the sites are spaced far apart and you could find something nice about any of them.

Nearby activities:

  • Fishing at Manitou Lake (the $6 admission fee is waived due to your campsite fee), which has absolutely beautiful views back toward Pikes Peak
  • Centennial Trail – a paved easy bike path that runs from Woodland Park to Manitou Lake (and would be easy to ride to from the campsite)
  • From the entrance off the highway to the Red Rocks Group campground you can access a short walk (about half a mile round-trip) to even larger rock formations that have many nooks, crannies, and pass-throughs to explore.  (You take the exit off Highway 67 for the Red Rocks Group campground, then stay straight [not going into the actual campground area], park at the gap in the fence, and follow the trail/powerlines to the sandstone formations).  You’ll notice a large formation and then a second large formation.  The second large formation has the ‘secret room’ that we heard about from our campground host, but the real treat was passing through the gap between the first and second formations and then climbing back behind the second formation.  Lots of good exploring in that area of that second rock formation!
  • On the drive home we stopped at the Donut Mill in Woodland Park for giant donuts and ice cream.




The formation at the back of site 13 was a great playing spot for the kids.


(I found that awesome striped table cloth the morning we left for the camping trip at a garage sale for $0.25.  I was pretty pleased with myself.)


I put up this hammock (using these straps) for the first time and I am totally in love with it (affiliate links).  It is such a great spot to hang out at camp, whether you lay in it or sit “sofa style.”  When we got home I immediately hung it up outside in our yard.  My new favorite time is hammock-o-clock.



The formation next to our site.



The kids always learn so much while we’re camping.  Here Nic and Will were discussing length versus area and why feet versus square feet are such different units of measure.


The larger rock formations by the Red Rocks group campground were a blast to explore!




Ellie does so well keeping up with the cub scouts!


The kids were soooooo excited to go fishing for the first time.


Manitou Lake is a beautiful spot to fish!





Luckily John caught a fish so we had a ‘win’ for our two trips to the lake!



A qucik stop at The Donut Mill in Woodland Park on our way home for some big-as-Ellie’s-head donuts.



Dr Seuss Quilt A

I have been working on two Dr Seuss quilts for the Babies A and B that will be joining our family in the next month.  I finally finished the binding on this one this week!  (You can see an earlier stage in the process in this post here.)

(I chose a bizarre aperture for these photos.  Sometimes I make really weird choices after staying up all night.  Oh well.  Perils of the night shift.  Don’t ask me what Will’s excuse is for those mismatched socks, though.)


I love the back.  Such a great panel print!


All washed and ready for some adorable twin tummy time!


St Marys Falls Trail – Hiking Review

Traci’s note:  If you’re here for the crafts, thanks for bearing with me while I get the hiking/camping section of my blog up to date!  I’ve got less than half a dozen campgrounds/hikes left to review before they will go back to being occasional posts in otherwise crafty/nursing school endeavors.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ve been working on this google map with all of the posts tagged.  I’m excited to have that as a resource! 

This weekend we braved The Poop Trail (Gold Camp Rd) once again to enjoy the St Marys Falls hike.  We figured that with all the rain we’ve had lately this was THE time to see the falls!  We weren’t disappointed–the amount of water following through N Cheynne Canyon Creek (which the trail follows) and flowing over the falls was awesome.  If this distance is an appropriate one for your family, I’d definitely suggest doing it soon while the falls are at their most impressive!  The way the trail sneaks up along side the falls it’s difficult to get a good photo of them (especially if you’re like me and always hike with a fixed 50mm lens), so I don’t have a good photo of the entire scope of the falls, but you can kind of piece it together from the pics below.  🙂

st marys falls hike trail review

Pros:  This was a great hike to challenge the kids, at 6.2 miles.  The first mile is along Gold Camp Rd (so relatively flat), but once you step off the road it has several steep sections that are great practice for kids.  Ellie (at 5) was wearing in some new boots and developed some hot spots on her heels midway from the hike which kept her preoccupied (in spite of the blister bandaids we put on them), but if it hadn’t been for that I don’t think we would have had any complaints from her.  Once you are off Gold Camp, the trail stays close to the creek, making it a beautiful one.  It was popular without being overly crowded.

Cons:  The first stretch of Gold Camp Rd is always a little obnoxious, with its dog poop, occassional broken glass, and people just generally exhibiting poor trail manners (letting kids blow on emergency whistles multiple times, grafitti, litter, etc).   It definitely seems to be the place where people who like nature–but have no regard preserving it for others–go to hang out.  Reviews of the hike suggest that the signage on the trail isn’t entirely accurate when it comes to distance.

Distance/difficulty:  6.2 miles (or 6.4 miles–depending on the website you check) and 1550ft – a moderate family hike.  A couple hiking down warned us about the “extremely steep” final switchback.  I got a little worried based on their description and manner, and while the switchback was quite steep it wasn’t anything horrific or unmanageable.  Based on their warning we stopped at the penultimate sign pointing to the falls (it indicates that the falls are 0.2 miles away).  There is a little spur down to the creek at that point with a beautiful cascade and nicely dappled shade.  We fueled up the kids with energy bars and water and a few minutes of rest, and I would definitely recommend that strategy.  Quick refuel before the final push to the top!

Directions:  The trailhead is the same parking lot as for Seven Bridges Falls past Helen Hunt Falls.  From I-25 take exit 140 to follow Nevada south.  Turn west onto Cheynne Blvd and follow it to the Starsmore Discovery Center, then turn right onto North Cheyenne Canyon Rd.  You will drive past Helen Hunt falls to reach the large parking lot that marks the intersection with Gold Camp Rd.  There are several hikes that begin here, so expect the parking lot to be crowded if you don’t get an early start.

Trail Teaching:

  • The way creeks and rivers have sculpted the canyons
  • Look for different types of rock (beginning with the broader igneous vs. sedimentary vs. metamorphic categories).  Let the kids bash different types of small stones against each other as you walk, exploring the relative durability of each.  (This used to be a huge distraction for Will on longer hikes!)  Talk about different situations that might have two different types of rocks coming into contact with each other.
  • How the creek might have more or less water at different times of year and in different years
  • The chipmunks at the falls are extremely used to humans and definitely see them as a source of food (to the point of being obnoxious as you sit enjoying your snack and looking at the falls).  This is a great illustration for kids of why we shouldn’t feed wildlife–it turns them into pests!



Braving The Poop Trail (Gold Camp Rd)


There are a couple of places you can walk down to enjoy the creek from Gold Camp–I highly recommend it on a hot day!  We all enjoyed the cool spray and the sheer magnitude of the water coming out of the drainage pipe right now!


As you near the end of your time on Gold Camp Rd you’ll walk up and over this old tunnel.


Very shortly after the tunnel you’ll see the trail fork into two, with a sign toward the falls.  If you go left you can drop down next to the creek (we stopped there for our first snack break).



After Gold Camp Rd it becomes a much more traditional hike.







We had been warned that after this sign the trail became steep, so we stopped here for a refueling break.


Ellie adores Luna bars.  (Particularly the Smores flavor.)  They’re a go to hiking snack for us when it’s not too hot for the chocolate to melt!


Once you reach this final sign the trail flattens out a lot–you’re over the hardest steep section!


I might have missed it had Nic not seen it, but when you reach the lower part of the falls there’s a rock path/stairs that will lead you up farther along the falls to a resting area with benches.


A memorial to Eamon Murphy at the top of the trail.


We had an awesome lunch of triscuits, cheese, summer sausage, and pepperoni.  The chipmunks very much wanted to join in.



Keeping in mind that I was shooting a fixed 50mm lens–these guys came CLOSE–close enough to reach out and touch.


Will earned his whittling chip in Cub Scouts this year, so that is a new activity for him on hikes/while camping.


The view toward town from the falls.


We played with my new camera remote (which I’ll go into details about later–I’m so excited to finally have one after eight years of wanting one)!



We found what is very obviously a fairy island.


“Come on, Cougar Bait!”


We enjoyed a solid rain for the last ten minutes of our hike.  Someone lost his raincoat at school.  On Mt Herman Will had “the coat of shame” and now he has “the poncho of shame.”  It’s a theme for him I guess!

Further reading:  Nice summaries here, here, and here.


Great Sand Dunes National Park – Pinyon Flats Campground Review

To read a brief 2016 update post, see this link.

Camping at the Sand Dunes is one of my most favorite things in the universe.  It is so beautiful and interesting, I’d rather be there than a warm tropical beach.  (People generally don’t agree with me on this sentiment, so don’t expect to love it as much as I do…but try real hard.  Cause it’s the best.)  This year was our third trip, and the second trip where we took additional family members along (making good use of that extra room in our Kingdom 6 tent)!  There are some backpacking options within the park that we might try in future years, but for now we’ve stayed in the Pinyon Flats campground in the park.

great sand dunes national park campground review

Pros:  Ummm…everything?  Seriously, I just love this place so it’s hard for me to write a review because I mostly just want to draw stick figures of me in the campground with hearts around it.  The way the girl in that “I love cats” video feels about cats is how I feel about the sand dunes.  I just want to hug all of it on a rainbow.  But…in the interest of a review…here are some pros.  VIEWS FOR DAYS.  There’s the creek, the dunes, the mountains…snow, sand, water…pretty much if you like looking at a particular thing, you can find it here.  The kids can play in the creek and sled on the dunes (renting one of the $20 a day (!!!!!!) sleds at the general store near the park entrance is worth the cost–we tried sleds from home and they suck).  If you go early in the season (particularly arriving on a Friday) and use the beach access from the campground instead of the main parking lot, you can have the dunes to yourselves and it feels absolutely ridiculous to enjoy that kind of beauty all by yourself.

Cons:  (Written defensively and grudgingly.  THIS IS MY FAVORITE PLACE, PEOPLE.)  It’s a National Park campground versus a State Park campground, so the facilities aren’t as fancy as you’ll find at a State Park–no showers, for example.  The reservation campsite loop is shaded, but the sites in general don’t have the sweeping views of the first-come-first-serve loop.  These are mixed campsites, so expect plenty of RVs for neighbors.  (Paradoxically we’ve actually noticed that the better the weather and later in May we’ve visited, the more the RVs–the worse the weather, the more tent campers.)  If you’re there in the summer or later spring than we visit, expect it to be hot.  The exposed campsites get a little roasty on a nice day, which is why the ranger told me the shady loop is the reservation loop.  If you don’t like a hot tent, grab a shady site.  It’s a high altitude desert, so expect it to be chilly.  The first year we camped there the first night had a low of 17 degrees.  This year it snowed while we had breakfast.  It happens.  If you’re not really adventure people, you might not love that.  Packing is tricky because you’re packing for both warm beach and cold-as-snow-temps.  Well worth it, though!

Campsite recommendations:  The best views are in the first-come-first serve loop, so we show up early and take the best site we can find.  The last two years we’ve been lucky to stay in site 22, which juts out away from the campground for spectacular views.  They put up a fence around it this year to prevent you from putting tent/chairs into the brush surrounding the site which makes it a bit less picturesque, but it’s still a great site.  On my list of sites to stay at in the reservation loop, 53 and 54 are sheltered by trees and near some beautiful aspen (54 had a really pretty stream running next to it [though this might be unique to all the rain we had this year]), and 66 and 67 have nice views of the dunes (with my personal preference being for 67).

Nearby activities:

  • Zapata Falls is a really fun hike that is on your drive into/out of the park, and if you visit in the beginning of the season you’ll be traveling to a see a frozen waterfall!  (Hiking review here.)
  • The alligator farm is a reasonable detour (but we’ve never been)
  • Hiking the dunes is a must.  Even if you don’t go up to the high dune and see into the larger field of dunes, just walking along one of the ridges is a unique experience!
  • Sledding on the dunes
  • Playing in the sand (don’t forget sand/water toys for the kids!)
  • Junior Ranger activities for the kids





Our campsite last year.


The same campsite, but fenced in this year.




On the right is a view of our campsite from another campsite.  🙂


Cold mornings, but worth it!






















storyboard092DSC_7796DSC_7778DSC_6421DSC_3943 (1)


Getting great speed for the first time–whether it’s the wooden sled itself or just the wax they supply for you to rub over the bottom, these things fly!


This year we saw a little tributary flowing into the creek for the first time.  It was eroding its banks as we watched–such a wonderful opportunity for the kids to really see in fast forward the things I’ve been telling them about!






Chad - Hi! Awesome pics! I backpacked at Sand Dunes last summer (2015) but this year was hoping to take the family. Obviously all of the reservable sites at this time (May) are reserved for the summer. Do you think getting there early on a Friday morning will guarantee a loop 1 site? Or is Thursday a must to get a site? Thanks!

Traci - Hi Chad! I think it really depends on how late in May you’re visiting. We were there this weekend and on Friday at 2pm there there still half a dozen spots left. (When we arrived at noon there were plenty to choose from. We were about an hour late for the spots with the best views, but I was looking for something more sheltered this year due to the wind forecast, anyway.) On Saturday there were a handful open in the morning and another handful open around 12-3 when the later departers vacated their site. The park is definitely becoming more popular each year, but we notice that it is largely used as a single night campground–a surprising number of people come in fairly late and leave fairly early versus camping out for a longer period of time. That said, we only have experience with the park on Mothers’ Day Weekend–I’ve never been later in May so I would hate to give you advice that left you without a campsite! If you get a chance, please come back and comment on how it went for you!

The Date Night Dress by April Rhodes Pattern Review

Guess what?!  I made a dress for me, that’s what!  The good news is, it’s a dress, and it more or less fits.  The bad news is, Anne Shirley would love this dress (puffy sleeves for days) and it doesn’t really do anything for my figure.  I’ll wear it a couple of times to feel like I got my money’s worth out of it, and then I’ll hopefully re-purpose the fabric for something else.  🙂

the date night dress pattern review

I bought the pattern at Fancy Tiger without researching it–just saw the pattern cover and thought it would be a fun easy first dress.  If I had done more research I probably would have skipped it due to the very low arm holes.  Lesson learned–no impulse pattern purchases!

In terms of construction and directions, it was awesome.  I made a medium and wish I had cut a small–I ended up taking off an inch on both sides and it’s still very large, even with a belt to cinch it in.  The chambray has more body than the pictured rayon, so the sleeves have more shape to them than I’d like.  Especially because the seam seam sits higher on your shoulder, it really pops out the sleeve which then needs to bend 90 degrees before coming back down (I think in general that my shoulders are wide and I should start doing a wide shoulder adjustment on patterns, but I notice that on the model the seams sit in a very similar place).

the date night dress pattern april rhodes

The only difficulty I had with the construction was with the neckline–I actually sewed it twice trying to get rid of the wavering that’s going on around the curve.  The first time I placed the bias strip toward the inside of the dress per the pattern, but I thought it looked weird so I ripped it out and sewed to to the outside, taking care to pin and avoid stretching…and the neckline still won’t lie flat.  Since it’s one of several complaints I have about this dress, I opted not to try a third time (the thin chambray doesn’t seem to handle having seams ripped out well).

the date night dress pattern april rhodes

I have opposite instincts about what to do with this pattern–whether to try it again with a more drapey fabric, a smaller size, and widen the shoulder, or whether it’s time to accept that this may just not be a dress shape for me and sell it on instagram destash.  I love the dress on the model, but she clearly eats less jelly beans than me.  It might be time to move on, anyway–this is just #2 of my 7 summer patterns!  I really enjoyed the instructions (she walks you through each French seam step by step), so I’d love to try April’s popular Staple Dress pattern some day and see if that might be a better fit for me.

Jessica - I can understand not feeling comfortable in something but I think it looks lovely on you!