Shenandoah, October 2017

Finally! An East Coast National Park to add to our list! I had really been looking forward to this stop. It did not disappoint. There were a couple of snags, Example, we expected the fall colors to be peaking, but, we were wrong. The same odd weather that dimmed the northeast foliage, was affecting Virginia’s colors too. As usual, the east coast weather was quite variable and we got a few nice days and a few hellish days.

We still enjoyed the park and we did find some patches of gorgeous leaves. Not all was lost. The campground was lovely with hiking trails right by our site! We managed a few hikes and snagged some JR Ranger badges.

Shenandoah is a little different then the parks I have experienced before. The Western Parks were mostly made from previously protected lands. This park was made because the nation was paying attention to the states with national parks, and Virginia wanted a park of her own. The state government chose to build Skyline Drive. Unfortunately, some people already lived there. The state government made a few land grabs (one result being – there are family plots scattered through the park) and carved out a long skinny park stretched along the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The result is a beautiful winding road that takes you through pretty patches of woods and past a great many overlooks. The hiking is good too, but expect to climb or descend. We managed a few good hike days, enjoyed a Ranger program, and hunkered down for the bad weather.

We kicked off the hiking by tackling a teeny piece of The AT (Appalachian Trail). We hiked out to Lewis Falls, which gets you to a pretty overlook at top of the Falls.

When we hiked it, the Falls wasn’t showing very well, but we enjoyed the view. Our lack of waterfall was compensated by sighting of bear! We were very excited about that!

We took another day to hike the highest peak in the park, Hawksbill Peak. There is a loop you can do with a slow meander up and a steeper trail down. We accidentally went the other way, but it wasn’t too bad.

The destination is another viewpoint, along with a shelter where the girls enjoyed lunch. No bear sightings, but we did find some beautiful mushrooms and an area where there was a study concerning salamanders occurring. Apparently there is an endemic species of Salamander in Shenandoah.

Our final hike in the park was the Rose River Loop. It’s a pretty Trail that descends through forest to a few view points along a river. There’s a nice cascades to enjoy and a few deep pools. We did our usual lunch picnic and took an easier route up.

With all the fun weather we encountered, we found plenty of time to do homeschool lessons and earn the junior ranger badges! We made it to one great ranger program about Red Tailed Hawks. It was outside, and bitterly cold, but we came prepared and learned a few things. The girls really loved seeing a hawk so close!

We picked a great time to visit the park. As usual, we learned a lot, we saw a lot, and we left wanting to see more.

Boston and The Hometown, NY, October 2017

This section of our trip was mostly devoted to visiting friends and family. I’m originally from New York, in the suburbs of NYC. I have a lot of family in the area, and it had been a long time since we all got together. We also have some friends in Boston and we specifically made this branch of the trip to see them! Bonus, a friend of mine from undergrad also is in Massachusetts, so we got time with her as well!

I was all about autumn leaves, and this autumn was a pretty good flop in that sense. The weather had been unusually warm so the trees were not up to showing off. I was a little disappointed, but we were going to enjoy what we could. (Aside: I hear the leaf peeping was great in California this year…)

After we left upstate New York, we headed to Boston. We camped at Wompatuck State Park, right outside of the city. I fully recommend this campground. It was very pretty under a thick canopy of leaves that hadn’t changed yet. There were some splashes of color here and there, and I made everyone look at them! The bath-houses were very clean, always a plus. We had electric and water, but no dump, so those clean bath-houses were very appreciated!

We took a day to explore the nearby historic Plymouth. We stopped by Plymouth Rock, ate some seafood, and counted weather vanes.

After our lunch, we took a short drive to the Plimoth Plantation. This is a living history museum with a Wampanoag Homesite and a 17th Century English Village.

The Wampanoag Homesite has examples of home construction, cooking demonstrations and a few other treasures. The staff in this section are not actors, they are all people of Native descent (of various tribes) and are quite happy to answer any questions you have.

The English Village is staffed by actors role playing as 17th Century English Villagers. Expect accents and outdated world views. I was very entertained when one gentleman gave my daughter an explanation on why onions cure colds.

My daughters didn’t quite get what was happening, Goose is pretty literal, so it was probably not as educational as I thought it would be. Nonetheless, it was a great place to visit, and I’ll return when the girls are older!

Another neat feature are the heritage breeds of livestock. The Village has quite a few chickens roaming around and there are areas with other farm animals.

We took one day to visit Boston. We were able to take the subway in, which saved us the trouble of parking Truckasaurus in a city! Always something to be avoided.

After some deliberation, we decided against more history and went to the Boston Children’s Museum. Wow. What an amazing museum! The first thing you encounter is this amazing climbing structure that kept my girls busy for a good twenty minutes!

We then moved to rock walls, crazy dance floors, and an assortment of science oriented activities. The water play/bubble room was amazing! They had all sorts of ways to enjoy bubble making, including some rigging that pulled an enormous bubble sheet!

After the kids ran the crazy action gauntlet, the activities became more subdued and calm. I’m pretty sure this is by design, role them up, calm them down. We loved our time here.

We even has some company at Jolly! Our friends met us out and about town, and made time to visit us “at home.” I love sharing our home with people, so this was a special treat!

Boston was a fast visit and I was eager to get to my hometown. The drive from Boston to Rockland County is usually about three hours, unless you’re driving on Columbus Day weekend… then it’s six hours. Ugh.

We eventually arrived at our camp, which was my friends driveway! He generously hosted us for a week. My kids loved being in a house for a while, and even got to do some chore and play tons of video games.

Seeing my family was really something special. I don’t get to see my cousins or Aunts very often, as we live on different coasts. I had really been looking forward to this, and it did not disappoint! We even updated the Ol’ Cousin photo! (I like the one where I’m the tallest..)

We took some time to explore Piermont and Nyack, two towns I spent a lot of time in during my teenage years. You may have never heard of these, but you’re probably familiar with the sight of them. They been in a multitude of movies and television shows, but my favorite is Labyrinth! The beginning scenes are shot in both towns.

Play dates and parties ensued. There was no shortage of people to visit with. I had thought we would have enough time to catch up with everyone, but I was wrong! I’d probably need a month for all of these visits. Especially, if we’re going to discuss politics.

I realized a few things on this trip. I miss my family and childhood friends more than I ever knew, I love watching my kids play with my the kids of my friends, and we all have gigantic smiles!

This did the soul good! I’m eager to return, hopefully in the next two years.

Heading East, September 2017

September took us from Colorado to Massachusetts! We took the drive pretty quickly, but we did manage some sightseeing and visits with friends and family along the way.

After Mesa Verde, we set out for Denver. Bear’s mother lives there so we took a day for visiting. Last time we had been out, we wanted to walk LoDo, the fancy name for Lower Downtown Denver. We had grabbed some lunch and then got rained on. So we figured, we’d take care of that this time around. We had lunch at our usual stop, Wynkoop and then made our way through town. There is a nice pedestrian walk right through town, and it’s filled with art and music. I really liked the pianos out for public use.

Our time in Denver was pretty quick, we had a lot more road to cover. We set off and stopped in Lusk, Wyoming. I really enjoyed this campground. It had a nice playground and the fence of bird houses was downright adorable.

Eventually we made it out to South Dakota. On our way to our camp in Rapid City, we made a quick stop to a little known place called Mount Rushmore! On the way we got some great views of Standing Rock!

The whole family enjoyed the visitor center, which goes through the history of the monument, from its initial dream to the actuality. It was an amazing endeavor.

We had three nights in Rapid City, and we took one of our days to drive to Badlands National Park. I was very excited about this park as many fellow travelers have enthusiastically recommended it!

It was well worth the praise. The land reminded me of a lot of formations we’ve seen in the Southwest, but the colors were quite different. It was cloudy, and we came in the middle of the day, so the light was not it’s best. Nonetheless, we were wowed by the sweeping views and multi-hued formations. We even got a treat, big horned sheep!

The visitor center is not to be missed. As usual, it gives a comprehensive rundown of the geological and cultural history of the area. It also has a paleontology lab where you can see real life paleontologists working on fossils. There are also coloring activities for the kids.

On our way back from the park, we stopped at the infamous Wall Drug for some free water and a Jackalope ride. We also made some friends.

We took one afternoon to drive through Rapid City and visit the local park. I’m really glad we did. This park was awesome. It had a few different play areas, some based on sounds and lights, some more traditional. We had a great time poking through each section.

We could have easily spent more time in South Dakota, but we had to move on. Our next stop was near Chicago, and we stayed at a county park in Big Rock. We never made it to the city, but we enjoyed pizza and meeting friends at the campground.

After our time in Chicago, it was time to get back to visiting friends! First stop was Erie, Pennsylvania, where a very good friend of Bear lives. We got a nice campsite, on Lake Erie, and although the area around it was.. interesting (especially the sewage treatment plant), the campground itself was clean and pleasant. (And we never smelled the plant!)

We enjoyed some delicious food in town. At first the hostess seemed apprehensive of our kids, but I think it went well!

We took a day trip out to Niagara Falls, which was a pretty good drive, but worth the trip. We didn’t have time for any of the boat tours, but we took the view at the rim and poked around the visitor center.

Our last stop before Boston was in upstate New York, visiting my second family! This family lived across the street from me in my hometown downstate and it had been way too long since we had seen them.

They have a horse and a pony, so we put the kids to work and in exchange, they got lessons!

We took a few sightseeing trips to explore the area, including a fire tower, some fossilized trees, and the power authority.

We had made it to the east coast! Next stop, Boston.

Mesa Verde, September 2017

With our route change, we had gained the opportunity to return to Mesa Verde National Park. We had spent one afternoon here back in May. We had been at Black Canyon of the Gunnison and we were snowed out, so we took a day trip. I had told Bear that when we returned, I would want at least three days to further explore the park. Well, we got it and it was wonderful!

Mesa Verde is a real archeological treasure. It is the largest collection of cliff dwellings and has examples of the architectural steps it took to get from the mesa top to the cliffs. As you enter the park, there is a great visitor center that can orient you to the layout of the park and the cultural history. There is even an archeological lab that you can peer into. (Photos are from our previous trip, we were lazy and didn’t drive out to it!)

There is another museum on the Mesa which is the Archeological Museum. There are wonderful dioramas detailing the different archeological periods of the ancient peubloans. Many of the artifacts found in the park are on display here, and it was a thrill to see them! Our favorite factoid: alarm turkeys! Apparently, turkeys were kept for food, company, and alarm systems!

The drive up the Mesa is quite pretty, there are great sweeping views and some scary turns. We stayed at the campground in the park, which was comfortable and convenient for exploring the park. There were a few trails nearby, good for an afternoon walk.

We took two days for sightseeing, which is most driving from place to place. There are pamphlets for self guided tours available. Usually a small donation is asked for. We visited the Mesa Top sites, which included several versions of the early dwellings, pit houses, and some pueblos.

There are, of course, a few stops which overlook the cliff dwellings. These are quite impressive, but hard to photograph in the wrong light! (I cheated with some filters!) You can also get tours of these and go into some of them! A treat we saved for the next time we come through.

We also stopped at the Far View site, which is a Pueblo City and was a really incredible stop. There are a few things to see here, including the cities and the reservoir. This part really reminded me of ruins I’ve seen throughout Europe!

The girls enjoyed learning about and seeing the varied of archeological sites and artifacts. The park is the only park (or maybe the first?) purely dedicated to preserving cultural history and it’s very easy to see why! We still haven’ seen everything to see, so we’ll swing by again sometime.

Santa Barbara & Oxnard August 2017

We had been looking forward to our Santa Barbara visit. My grandmother lives out there, and it’s always a treat to visit with her. The girls adore seeing their Great-Grandma and, of course, the beach time that goes with visiting the coast.

Sadly, the beach was not meant to be. Our second day there, Goose fell off her scooter and broke her wrist. That stopped all our plans in their tracks, but we persevered and had a great time anyway.

We also had our first ant battle on the road. I pride myself on my ability to fend off ants. Unfortunately these little buggers defeated me. I could not find their entry point. Finally, Bear figured out that a branch was touching our awning and they were coming in on the roof! Argh!

After our trip to urgent care, we considered our alternate options. Santa Barbara has the Stern’s Wharf, filled with shops and a very small aquarium. We met my grandmother for lunch and then took our field trip to the aquarium.

As mentioned, the aquarium is small! It does have beautiful tide pools for kids to explore, and a neat jelly exhibit. I love my jellies!

The following day, we explored the Santa Barbara Zoo, where we met the usual zoo animals, including some chatty parrots. We even spotted some dinosaurs! The girls and I really enjoyed this dinosaur presentation, it was completely unexpected and right up our alley.

Despite the scooter mishap and the ant invasion, we had a great time. It was wonderful to visit so long with our family, and we got to see a part of Santa Barbara we usually pass over for more beach time. Although we were bummed about missing the beach, I reminded the girls, and myself, that come November, we’ll be on the Atlantic Shore!

June Lake – July 2017

June Lake is an Eastern Sierra lake, slightly southwest of the more famous Mono Lake. We’ve camped here before and usually enjoy the experience. This time, heavy smoke from local fires shut down all outdoor activity. It cleared after a few days, so we did get a few hikes in. In addition to the dismal air, the loudest group of campers, ever, showed up for the second half. We’ve decided that this campground is bad luck for us, and will only return after seven years, on a blue moon, after a solar eclipse.

Despite the poor conditions, we still got to enjoy the lake. It’s a popular destination, but we didn’t feel too crowded.

The camp is pretty close to Mammoth, a ski town. We have a few favorite spots to stop for grub, and we certainly took advantage of the situation. Roberto’s Cafe serves good food and delicious margaritas, so we hit that right away. On a related note, lunch time margaritas translate directly to afternoon naps! We also stopped at The Eatery, which is part of the Mammoth Brewery. I thought the food was overpriced, but it was really yummy. On a related note, lunch time beers translates directly to afternoon naps.

Our first, and usual, hike was to Parker Lake. The first quarter of the trail features steep climbs and gets the pain over fast. Once clear of the climbs, the hike goes through high Meadows and conifer forests.

It gets close to the river a few times, and it’s a good place to wet your hat and cool off. Move quickly though, the bugs like it there too. We stop at Parker Lake, a pretty typical Sierra lake, with a frame of sheer granite mountains. A treat here is a clear view of the Falls that feed the lake. The trail actually continues over the feature to Mono Pass.

We did two hikes in the Horseshoe Lake area , outside of Mammoth. The Mammoth Pass/Crater Meadow Trail took us to a ridge overlooking Reds Meadows, part of our beloved John Muir Trail. The hike was a steady climb towards the overlook, and an easy downhill back.

We returned to do another trail that went past MCleod Lake, and down towards a cinder cone. We didn’t have a set destination , so once we found a nice view of the cinder cone, we stopped.

We spent one afternoon walking around Mono Lake. This highly photogenic gem features a unique ecosystem, salt water, and awesome formations -Tuffas. This year, thanks to the wet winter, the lake was fuller than we had ever seen. Add some fair skies with scattered cumulus clouds and it was a great visit.

We will definitely return to the area, there is always a lot to do and see. Considering our experience at this campground, we’ll probably pick a different one the next time we visit. There is no shortage of beautiful destinations in this area.

A Short Week in Death Valley 

 Bear is away at work, so I, Mouse, and the girls decided to meet my folks out in Death Valley National Park.  The park is located in the south eastern section of California and borders southwestern Nevada. From Sacramento, the drive requires two days each way, so, even though we’re taking eight days -it’s a shorter trip than I’d like.

This is our third trip to Death Valley.  Before our first trip, I looked it up, saw some photos of a big wide flat empty valley and thought… Okaaaaay? However, I have faith in our National Park system and I have never been disappointed in any Park I’ve been to. I figured it would be the same with Death Valley, and I was right. In Death Valley, the earth itself is the attraction. The layers and colors of geological processes lay bare and exposed for your enjoyment. 

There’s a variety of attractions within Death Valley, you could drive to Dantes Peak and view the expanse of Death Valley. You can hike and scramble through canyons. You can trek through the dunes or just play with a shovel and pail. There’s history as well.  The Shonshone Timbisha have made their home here since the time of their Ancestors.  Mining brought the new Americans, for gold and silver at first. Borax turned out to be the most lucrative resource before tourism.  And how could we forget Scotty’s Castle? Oh yeah because flood waters have it closed for a looong time! 🙁. The story behind the castle is amazing even if you can’t visit.  

On this trip we hiked the two canyons, the dunes, and Salt Creek. Canyons are carved throughout the alluvial fans and mountains framing Death Valley.  The two most visited, I think, are Golden Canyon and Mosaic Canyon. Both walks are great for families and kids. You can choose how far you want to go and the kids can literally climb the walls. Mosaic Canyon, Goose’s favorite, is lined with marble and breccia rock, sedimentary rocks embedded with rocks and pebbles, smoothed and polished by flash floods and time.  

The rocks and pebbles embedded in the walls give the canyon its name. My girls loved scrambling along the walls and sliding down the marble, so did I!  We hiked out to the natural amphitheater where we had lunch and went search under rocks.  We found two beasties, a zebra tail lizard and a scorpion!  Handle rocks with care!

Golden Canyon is named for its yellow rock. It’s formed where rushing water from flash floods carve through the alluvial fan. The rock itself is soft and powdery. You can also find me a borax throughout the walls. There are a network of footpaths that take you up the crest of the dunes. If you can handle a bit of vertigo, it’s worth the trek.  Golden Canyon, like most parts of Death Valley, is an area where you can walk anywhere you feel like walking. This gives you a lot of options, especially when traveling with children, of what to do and what type of hike to have. We hiked through Golden Canyon and down Bower Gulch. This is a nice option because the steep part or all uphill in the downhill is wide and gradual.

Salt Creek is home to the endemic Pupfish.  You may catch them a few different times of the year, but the spring is when they are most plentiful. The Pupfish live only in the springs and each species is a biological treasure. Interesting fact – the pupfish lives in such a salty environment, it actually needs to drink water! 

I have been here twice before and never found a Pupfish (as I said, seasonal). This year they were everywhere! It was a real treat. If you’re visiting off season, the walk is well worth it. A boardwalk guides you through an interpretative trail around dunes and Salt Creek.  

A favorite for people with children, and people without children, are the Mesquite dunes. We caught a Ranger talk there this time, and it was a real treat. It covered the formation and ecology of the area, and it included some time to hunt for animal tracks.  

The kids love, love, love digging around and playing in the sand. We bring buckets and pails find a nice quiet area and go to town. I particularly enjoy watching car pull up and explode with children, who run as quick as their legs can carry them straight into the sand. The relief on the parents faces, as their children finally get to run around after a long day in the car, always makes my day.

If the landscape seems familiar, you’re probably on to something.  Some of Star Wars was filmed in this area and it’s easy to why.  We’ve even come across kids in costumes for photo ops!  

We had enough time to complete the JR Ranger program offered in this park.  It’s a great way to integrate homeschool into our National Parks!  This time we studied adaptations for desert life, conservation and preservation and a bit of local history.

The expansive, seemingly desolate, landscape is inspiring to all.  Death Valley is an enormous park with a lifetime of treasures to discover.   It’s a place where you can enjoy the night sky and the rarity of absolute silence.  It’s a place of life and death, of hardship and preserverence and of absolute beauty.

How we Homeschool

A day in homeschool usually involves three sessions of school and the remainder of the day free play or field trips. I average 4 days of hard school a week and one or two easier days if we’re not traveling. A good school day, in our home, is three sessions of schoolwork. Every school day includes the technical skills both girls need. Reading, writing, and math. For reading and writing I really lean on the Explode the Code series. Goose has just started Beyond the Code, which assumes basic reading skills and expands into critical thinking. She seems to find the new workbook more interesting as it asks more of her imagination and what SHE thinks.
For handwriting, both girls have a version of Handwriting Without Tears. Bunny has basic handwriting copy work pages. When we started out, we did one or two worksheets a day. They’re both used to the work now, so we can average 6 pages a school day.

The Singapore Math system has been working pretty well for us. In the car we do math drills as a along the way game. Only the driver is excused from playing. Believe it or not, it’s even a good game on the trail. I know, hiking and math drills, sounds fun right? It keeps their mind off their legs for sure.

The format of science, cultural studies and history completely depends on if we’re traveling or stationary. Stationary, we’re at the library every two weeks or so. They have a good collection of science videos and history videos. I’ll pick a few books to cover similar subjects. The kids pick whatever they want, and they’ve picked some great ones. Animalium: Welcome to the Museum come to mind.   We’ve recently been gifted with a subscription to zoobooks and that’s going over great.  I was a huge fan of Zoobooks at Goose’s age and I think it’s genetic.  Both girls are animal scientists, and they love the in depth animal profiles.  This month has been Rhinos. To be honest, I’m usually the one telling people random Rhino facts now.  PS did you know that the biggest Rhino head is estimated at 2,000 pounds?  Holy Guacamole!

For history we flip between profiles of famous people and a somewhat chronological overall human history.  We started with Early Humans, which covers prehistory.  We’re using Usborne and Encyclopedia of Everything for history.  We fill that out with folks tales, mythology and religious studies.  We haven’t been formally studying ancient history much lately, but we left of at Islam and started reading The Arabian Nights. Bunny picked the current biography book, Rabble Rousers, which covers 20 women who had an influence on the American story.    I go through all the history and cultural books by reading them out loud and doing either a discussion or journal entry afterwards.  I love the journals because they’re not just great tools, they’re keepsakes.  We also cover Current Events on a somewhat regular basis. I’m a huge fan of New-O-Matic, which we have as an iPhone app.  It gives five stories a day.  Each story has a read-to-me (or to yourself) option, a slideshow and some video related to the article.  It covers politics (in a pretty friendly way!), science, sports and culture.  They even do career profiles, which I think is brilliant.  It’s a bit much for us to do daily, but a few times a week is a good habit to have.

For night time reading – Harry Potter.  Oh yes. 🙂

When we travel we cut way back on the library time.  We’re usually in National or State Parks.  And if we’re in a city, we’re visiting museums.  That gets us pretty far.  I fill out the read out loud with kindle books.

The Transition

The transition has been made!!!! It’s been a bit of an adjustment, but about as smooth as we could make it.  We decided to move into Jolly around October 2016.  We’re home schooling full time, and Bear continues to work full time until this Spring.  We alternate between a few home base RV parks and have made a few new full timing friends.  We have used all of Bear’s vacation time for road trips to get the hang of full time travel. 

We’ve hit Verde Valley, Arizona; the North Rim of the Grand Canyon; Santa Barbara; Morro Bay; Joshua Tree; and San Diego!  We’ve had a few issues here and there and so far have turned out to be easy fixes.

Road schooling….  That has been a lot of fun and has been keeping me quite busy.  The girls are both reading, and practice math every school day.  While we have signal, we use a few educational aps for daily news and magazines.  We often don’t have wifi or phone signal while we travel, but we usually gain museums and hiking trips which are really educational.  The girls have both declared that they are Animal Scientists, so while we travel and hike, we learn all about the local habitats and animals.  They’re mildly interested in plants as well.

Our last trip to Joshua Tree and San Diego was filled with animal adventures.  We stopped in Millerton Lake State Park for one week while Bear did some work in nearby Fresno.  We did daily homeschool work and took daily nature walks around the lake.  We were treated to a lot of bird life but the real treat was the local tarantula population!  We saw three different spiders walking around.  They were moving slowly, because of the cold, and they didn’t seem too concerned about us.  This trip turned out to be a real study in tarantulas as we met, what I suspect was, a different species in Joshua Tree.  The San Diego Zoo also had some exotic ones.  In Millerton Lake, Goose found a California Toad, which was a really cool animal.  It was about the size of my hand, and instead of hopping, it walks.  Bizarre!

We visited two zoos and one aquarium!  So many beautiful critters.  The Fresno Chaffee Zoo is surprisingly great for such a small Zoo.  They have easy to navigate grounds and a great variety of animals.  

In San Diego, we hit Scripps Aquarium and the San Diego Zoo!  This was my first time to San Diego Zoo and it did not disappoint.  I found it a bit hard to navigate, but the grounds and habitats were just spectacular.  

Overall we’re pretty happy about the way things have gone.  We’re looking forward to hitting the road this Spring and will keep you posted of our adventures.

Happy New Years!