North Cascades, June 2017

Ten days visiting North Cascades National Park! The drive in was great.  From Denver, we made quick stops at Bozeman, MT and Newport, WA, both of which were enjoyable.  The drive into the park was stunning, it was one of the only days clear enough to see all the high views, which was great for us!

  We wound our way through high peaks covered in snow and ice and passed a many beautiful lakes along the way. The park is aptly named because around almost every corner, there are Cascades making their way quickly into lakes and rivers. There are quite a few glaciers in the park, we hope to hike to them next time.

We camped at Alpine RV Park, in Marblemount, WA. I was a bit worried after reading some of the reviews, but thankfully, they were unfounded. It is an older RV park, in slight disrepair, but quite nice otherwise. Also, it was affordable ! $25 a night with full hookups! Sweet!

 There was an unused dog walking path I braved and enjoyed.  I was quickly reminded of what stinging nettle looks and feels like.  I also managed to make new friends, see slug.  

A good amount of days were rainy, but it was fun.  We couldn’t do a lot of hiking, most trails were too long or snowed in.  We made us of our extra time by home improvements (new hooks in our bedroom), playing in the rain, and making new doggie friends.  

People came and went, the girls got to play with a few of the kids passing through, and some of our fellow campers had great taste in camp ornaments!  Overall, it was a pretty sweet campground.

We managed four rewarding hikes during our time here.  Our first day there, we only had a half day to explore.  So we decided on the River Loop, right by the visitor center. It takes you through dense forest, complete with giant ferns, leaves bigger than your head, and a cannibalistic  ecosystem that is impressive to witness.  There is literally nothing off trail that doesn’t have something living off it.  Plants eating plants.  The felled logs are perfect for new growth, giving the name ‘nursery logs.’  

The path eventually gets you to the Skagit River.  The water was a beautiful cloudy blue-green and was overflowing its banks.  We kept the girls far away, but close enough to hurl rocks and sticks into the current.

On our first full hiking day, we tackled Pyramid Lake.  The hike is a little over 4 miles and gains 1,500 feet to the lake.  Ouch, that was a leg worker.  The hike was filled with growth, mushrooms, and moss.  

The hike finishes at Pyramid Lake, named for its triangular shape.  The logs floating in the lake have, of course, sprouted growth.  The floating gardens were a real treat.

After the uphill hike of Pyramid Lake, we decided to take it easy and hike along Thunder Creek.  It wasn’t the most View filled hike, but it did have some good spots to see the river and a great amount of things to see along the way.  Including slugs!

On the other side of the road from Thunder Creek is Thunder Knob.  This 4 mile round trip Trail has a decent climb, but nothing like Pyramid Lake.  It’s one of short moderate hikes, with great views, so it’s pretty popular.  I’m happy we waited until mid-week to tackle this one!

We came to the realization that our four mile hikes were not challenging the girls much.  So we decided to up the mileage.  The East Bank Trail was a great place to get the girls used to distance.  It starts off with some signs detailing prospectors in the area, and even has some features and remnants of the time.  

It was flat overall, with some rolling terrain alongside Lightning Creek.  As was the usual, we found some great flowers and beautiful mushrooms.  We also got to do some river crossings at some very pretty Cascades! 

A little less than 3 miles in, there is a junction in the trail. A short side trail gives you access to a few designated camp spots and a sweet spot for lunch. Some fellow hikers went all the way down to Ross Lake, but we contented ourselves with an overlook.

After all that hiking, we thought the girls deserved some ice cream and playground time.  We had kept passing New Halem which is a neat power town just inside the park.  There’s a nice playground, a convenience store (which provided the ice cream), and a sweet train that kids (and adults) could climb all over.  

As with all parks, the visitor center was worth a couple of trips.  The first day we picked up our JR Ranger packets and spent some time in the museum.  The girls were mostly interested in the giant slug and the children’s corner.  I enjoyed learning about the logging history (well as much as I could with screaming kids riding a banana slug..) and the magnified models of the local wildlife!

The second trip was to hand in the girls work and take the JR Ranger oath.  The Ranger who helped the girls was wonderful and engaging.  She even gave the kids fantastic hats for the occasion.

This was a beautiful park, and we look forward to returning.  I think we should wait until later in the season so some of the high country can open up.  Bear and I agreed, we plan to take advantage of the backpacking trails!  On to Oregon!

Denver, May 2017

Denver!  One of my favorite cities.  We spent a week touring the city and visiting family and friends.  It was a fast-paced trip with great rewards!  Bear’s mother lives in town, so she was our first stop!  We got to spend some quality Grandma time, swimming at her pool, seeing the Nature and Science Museum, and (of course) hitting the toy store.

The science museum was something I had been looking forward to!  It’s a huge museum that is impossible to see in one day.  We picked a few things and took our time. 

 We went through the space exhibit first and caught a planetarium show that Goose loved, but was a bit too real for Bunny.  The show toured the solar system up to Saturn, with a cute premise of a first-time space tour guide, Jessie, taking the audience on a space adventure where something goes wrong.  While flying through the rings of Saturn, a chunk of ice (what the rings are made from) got stuck in our space ship.  After Jessie saves the day by doing a space-walk to remove the ice, we safely land back on Earth.  As we left, we even got to touch the piece of ice from Saturn!

After the planetarium, we quickly went through the space exhibit.  I was very impressed by the number of volunteers available to help explain different concepts of space and planetary science.  One gentleman explained to the girls how the seasons are the result of the orbit of the Earth.

I’m a sucker for a good bug collection, and this one was pretty good!  I really enjoyed their butterflies.  The girls appreciated the giant ladybug.

The girls have been learning about geology, so their Grandmother suggested we walk through the Gems&Minerals exhibit.  It was a very impressive display of gems and minerals from around the world.  

It had large and small samples of pretty stones.  My favorite part of the exhibit was the cave replicas.  They were very realistic!  

There was also a display of gems that had been carved into figurines.  They were very pretty and I enjoyed the samples we saw, unfortunately we didn’t make it to their main exhibit.

The Prehistoric Journey took us back to 3.5 million years to see the start of life on Earth.  The dioramas of early life were very interesting.  At every stop along the timeline, there was information about ‘where Colorado is’ and what was happening on the planet. The journey takes you through the start of life, through  the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, and the evolution of mammals.

This is not a painting! It’s a diorama! Absolutely stunning.

The best stop was the Exploration Station, which had a great area to play and explore.  The water tables were pretty much the only thing the girls wanted to do, and I can’t blame them.  These were awesome water tables.  They got to play with whirl pools, water management, and just plain splash around.  It was a great way to end a great visit to the museum.

Bear and I have a fondness for LoDo, the lower downtown area of Denver.  We usually hit up Wyncoop, and then tour the downtown.  Unfortunately, after lunch, the weather turned, so we had to cut our visit short.  But the eating part got done, and it was delicious.

My folks met and married in Denver, so we took a visit back through their old neighborhood. We got to see the little town where, after work, my father would go for a beer and his dog would escape and go after him.  It was a neat treat.

Bear also had to run off and do some work, so for two days, it was just the girls and me.  We hit REI.  If you’re an REI fan, and you’re in Denver, you MUST stop at their downtown location.  It’s enormous.  I should have taken pictures.  The parking, however, made me teach the girls some new words. (Who am I kidding? Reinforce the words they shouldn’t know.. I’m just going to call this homeschool, subject: swearing.) It was pretty tight, and our truck is a bit big in the hips.

After that, we found glorious parking at the downtown aquarium, just minutes from REI.  We met some friends for lunch and toured the aquarium.  The restaurant was overpriced, but really cool to sit in.  It was all done up to look like it was at the bottom of the ocean, complete with tanks of large fish and mermaids!  I don’t know why I didn’t take a photo of the mermaids, but I did manage to get one as they were being moved from the tanks.

The aquarium itself was well done.  The exhibits were made to match the habitats of the fish and I thought it was a good effect.  We got to see otters, sharks (the biggest in Colorado), and jellies!  My personal favorite.

I wish we had more time in the city, but the time we had was well spent. We managed to spend a good amount of time with family and got to see all our friends in the area. 

We also got to visit some iconic Denver locations, not bad for just a quick week. It would have been nice to see more of the Nature and Science Museum, maybe hit the amusement park and the botanical gardens.  Not to worry, we’ll be back.

Colorado State Parks

After Black Canyon of the Gunnison, we headed for some downtime in two State Parks, Rifle Gap and State Forest State Park.

We spent time cleaning, enjoying full hook ups, with less, but not no, sightseeing.  We even discovered a new hobby!

Rifle Gap is pretty close to Glenwood Springs, boasts pretty waterfalls, and was one of the nicest big rig friendly campgrounds I’ve ever been to.  Unfortunately, Glenwood Springs was under some serious construction, but we managed to enjoy some great Cajun eats and tour the local stores.  

The waterfalls were an easy stroll in the woods for us.   Mere fraction a mile!  The trail gets to the falls right away, and there is a loop that takes you up and over.  There are some neat limestone caves along that part and we explored a few.

The campground had huge clean sites and overlooked a reservoir.  It was one of the best kept campgrounds I’ve ever seen.  It was also the most hosted!  I think there was at least one host per loop.  

We lucked out and had neighbors for one night that we instantly bonded with.  Their daughter was an absolute joy for our daughters and we spent a great evening in good conversation over a few beers.  Sometimes, we just get lucky!  The only drawback, they only stayed one night.

After Rifle Gap, we drove east (and up) to State Forest State Park.  This park is very close to Rocky Mountain National Park and can boast having the largest Colorado moose population.  Yes, it’s the Moosiest place in Colorado.  

Sadly, or maybe fortunately, I didn’t see any moose. Bear did.  He was up early one morning, and caught a mother and her mooselet walking through the meadow.  Apparently, he tried to wake me up for it, but I’m a stubborn sleeper. 

We did some light hiking here, there were a few easy trails, but it seemed to be an area more for four wheelers.  There was a nature trail that I enjoyed walking through and we did a two mile hike out to the visitor center and back.  This hike came with geocaching!  A new travel past time for us.  

The campground was big, well spaced, and clean.  We spent Memorial Day Weekend here and even full, we didn’t feel crowded.  The only downside to this campground was that the pine beetle damage was on full display. 

Once more, we were treated to springtime Colorado snow!  We made good use of it, snow ball fights, snow people, and peaceful walks.

We sorely needed some downtime and rest and we got it.  The state parks were quiet, clean, and peaceful.  We were quite refreshed, and ready for the next adventure…. Denver!
PS on the way out, we saw a porcupine!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison 

The Black Canyon was a bit different than the parks we had visited before.  It’s in Western Colorado, pretty close to Grand Junction.  We spent a week there and marveled at the steep canyon walls, enjoyed the foot of snow dropped by a passing storm, and took a side trip to Mesa Verde.

The parks we had visited previously were predominantly sand stone and prone to erosion. This canyon was carved out of hard schist and gneiss by the Gunnison River.  The rock is so hard, it takes a year to wear away the thickness of piece of paper.  The result is a narrow dizzying canyon, quite intimidating to peer over.  

The stone has veins of pegamite, a pink shiny stone, and it’s fun to imagine shapes in the streaks.  The best are the dragons, there are two, but I only got a good angle on one.  If I remember correctly, this is the Painted Wall.

We spent most of our time on the South Rim.  There are a few hiking trails and we were able to hit the Rim Trail, the Uplands Trail, and Oak Flat.  Trail.  The Rim Trail was a great easy trail that took us, predictably, along the rim from our campground to the visitor center.

  The center was great!  It had great informative displays and several exploration stations for kids: including a microscope with animal and rock samples; a track, pelt, and scat identification station; and even a dress up area!  We had a lot of fun.  There are some easily accessible viewpoints off the back porch and they’re fun and scary to look over.

We took the Uplands trail back, which was an easy meandering trail that took us through meadow and forest.  Bunny even spotted a grouse! 

The Big Oak Flat trail wasn’t my favorite, and frankly we could have skipped it. It did give us a cool view of rock faces, but otherwise, it was just a workout. (Not that that isn’t useful!)

We took one day to visit the North Rim and hiked out to Exclamation Point.  Much to my amusement, we ran into a cattle drive on the way.  The hike was fun with a great view of the Dragons, and some spooky vistas at the end.  Both Bear and I are nervous with heights, so watching us approach the edge to peer over is probably pretty amusing.

We were hearing we might catch some snow.  We were right.  About a foot fell over an afternoon and night and we enjoyed the hell out of it!  We didn’t have our snow gloves, but we had knitted gloves, dish gloves, and hair ties.  We made it work.  We spent one day playing in it, and one day driving the viewpoints.  It was freezing, so we did it as fast as possible.

When we had enough of the snow, we took a day trip to Mesa Verde, another National Park in Colorado.  This one has similar landscape to previous parks, but has an amazing amount of Cliff Dwellings and other ancient Pueblo finds.  We were able to see the progression of structures from early humans to cliff dwellers.  It was a great road school opportunity, and although we had only a few hours here, we made the most of it.

Both parks were amazing, and I would be thrilled to return to either.  I think we’d have to prioritize Mesa Verde because we just got a small tease of the park.  

A Quick Stop at Goblin Valley State Park

On the way from Capitol Reef to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, we took our lunch break at Goblin Valley State Park off of Highway 24.  

This park is exceptionally neat!  Even as ‘Canyonland Overloaded’ as we were, we couldn’t help but marvel at the valley of ‘goblins.’  

The Goblins are relatively small hoodoos and they are a ton of fun to explore.  The girls had a great time playing hide and seek, and we had to keep them from climbing on top of everything.  

The rocks can be unstable, so climbing isn’t a great idea.  The dogs got to enjoy the park as well, and even made some new friends.  If you’re in this area, it’s worth the entrance fee ($13 for day use) and the drive off road.  Just do it.

Besides the valley, there are hiking trails, mountain bike trails, great nigh-time viewing and even a disc golf course!  It looks like the camping would be fun, so I hope to stop here again in the future and spend a few days relaxing and exploring the park.

Capitol Reef – May 2017


Let me start out by saying that Capitol Reef is another prime example of the dramatic beauty of the Colorado Plateau.  The geological feature of interest is a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust, known as the ‘Waterpocket Fold.’  Alternating layers of limestone, sandstone, and shale are on clear display and, frankly, it’s magnificent.  
The park also boasts a rich cultural and historical heritage.  There are fantastic displays of petroglyphs and well preserved villages of the Mormon pioneers.  All that being said, after spending three days in this park, I didn’t fall in love with it.  This is entirely my fault, not the fault of the park itself.  (It’s not you, it me.) I had been enjoying the sights of the region for about a month and the travel fatigue had set in.

The Waterpocket Fold is a cool geological sight.  I mentioned before that it is a ‘wrinkle in the earth’s crust.’  The wrinkle is a 100-mile-long monocline (mountain on one side), of layers of sedimentary rock.  The sediment was deposited over 70 million years ago when oceans, deserts, wetlands, and rivers took turns covering the region. From 50-70 million years ago, the region uplifted, and instead of cracking, the layers of sedimentary rock folded.  Then lots of time happened, and the erosion and weathering left us with the multihued cliff faces and rock formations on display today.

One of the most unique aspects of this park are the orchards.  The Mormon settlers brought their fruit trees to the valley.  The same heirloom varietals enjoyed by the pioneers can be eaten and purchased onsite.  Edible History?  Sign me up!  If you arrive during the fruit season, you can wander through the orchards after a good day of sightseeing and literally grab a bite to eat.  Sadly, it wasn’t fruit season. We saw plenty of signs that informed us that the fruit is free is eaten in the park, and available for purchase otherwise.

I wish we had spent more time visiting the well-preserved settlements of the Mormon pioneers.  There was a school house, which we skipped (we were tired); a blacksmith, which we drove past (I said we were tired); and a pie shop, where we stopped (duh, pie!).  The pie shop is a sight in its own right.  As mentioned the fruit sold there is part of the park’s history, and the museum it’s sold out of is the Gifford House, which was a house built later during the Pioneer’s time there.  We didn’t buy pie, (I know!), because we weren’t very hungry, and we saw other things to buy instead.  Bear found some Cherry Butter, which is like Apple Butter, but with cherries.  It’s amazing.  I’ve been eating it with English muffins and butter.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!!!  Goose and Bunny picked out some Apple Salsa, which was very flavorful, mild, and sweet.  I grabbed some salsa, which was ok.  But hey, one can never ever have enough salsa.  It’s a rule of full timers, I’m sure of it!

To tour the scenery, we did the scenic drive, which follows the Fremont River through some beautiful monuments and canyons.  There were a few side roads, but most came with a warning for car size and we were worried about tight corners with Truckasaurus, so we just drove past.  If you have only time for one thing at the Reef – do this, then buy pie.

As for hikes, we did two, each about 4 miles.  The first, was the Rim Overlook Trail.  We didn’t make it all the way, but we were close.  The trail ends at some great views of Fruita and the Waterpocket fold.  We didn’t get to the gorge overlook, but we found some shade under a juniper bush at a great vista spot.

The second hike was the Chimney Rock Trail, which is a 3.6-mile loop.   The best vistas of the trail’s namesake are from the parking lot and the flats nearby.  Much of the hike is on the top of the feature behind Chimney Rock and the canyons behind that.  The climb up the monument required some hand holding for Bunny and Goose, but it wasn’t too bad.  Once on top, the trail stays away from the edge and the kids could run about a bit.  This section is marvelously flat!  We found another juniper bush and had lunch.  The back half of the loop takes you back down the monument on another side into canyons, (more hand holding) and treated us with more wild flowers and great views of the layers of the canyons walls.

Overall it was a great park.  We were able to enjoy a variety of sights and enhance our understanding of the geological processes that created the unique experience of the Colorado Plateau.