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.

Washington DC, October 2017

We spent a short week in Washington D.C. in mid October. We camped at a state park outside of town that had easy access to metro and highways. We spent one day exploring Capitol Mall and one day exploring Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington.

The Pohick State Park was very nice. Our site backed to a playground and giant field, so the girls were set. There was a few walking trails that went to and overlooked the lake. There was also a water park, but it was closed for the season. I had quite a few enjoyable dog walks in the area.

We took one day to tour the Capitol Mall. Our first stop was lunch. We bought an overpriced, subpar lunch, but we enjoyed our picnic on the lawn anyway!

We pointed out the important landmarks, but I’m not sure how impressed the girls were. We had been studying civics and government, but it hadn’t been a major theme. Nonetheless, we pointed out Congress and the Supreme Court. We did get a glimpse of the White House, but we didn’t walk to it. Our original idea was that we would return the next day, so we left some sightseeing for that. Unfortunately we didn’t end up returning, so we did miss a few things I wanted to see.

We took a long walk down the mall and stood under the Washington Monument. I did pick up a couple of JR Ranger worksheets, but we didn’t really have the time for them.

The WWII memorial is pretty close to the Monument, so we took a visit there and talked a bit about WWII to the girls and their family connections to the event.

The Reflecting Pool was our next visit, and we walked along it to get to the Lincoln Memorial. The girls are quite familiar with Lincoln, so they did get a lot from that. It was a pretty warm day, and the little legs were getting tired, so it was time to head back.

Our walk back incled the Vietnam Memorial, which is one of my favorite war memorials. I think it is jarring and it makes me cry every time.

To change things up a bit, we decided to hit up the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. All of the museums along the Mall are free, so it is an easy thing to go in and out at your leisure.

We went through a very nice butterfly house, saw some bones, took a quick visit through Ancient Egypt, and walked out through the Oceans exhibit! It was a fast visit, but we enjoyed ourselves.

For their good behavior, the girls got to ride the Carousel. They were thrilled about that, and so was Bear.

On our way back to the train, we walked through a small garden, which I thought was really pretty. I was impressed with their succulent displays especially!

The next day, we changed our mind about a visit to the Capitol Mall and decided to head to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. I fully recommend this trip, the entire estate is open to walk around. There is a Main Museum, another museum, a tour of the home (no pictures), gardens and farms (complete with heritage livestock) and probably more that’s slipping my mind.

On site there is also a Slave Memorial. We took a walk to it and explained how George Washington left the presidency knowing that he had not done what he should about slavery. He did free his slaves upon his death, but Mount Vernon did use slave labor and I was glad that it was recognized.

Also on site, it the resting place of George Washington himself. We took a moment there, I got a bit weepy. I find I’m embarrassingly sentimental when it comes to memorials.

Our trip to D.C. had come to a close. I felt we saw a good amount of sights and made use of our two days in the area.

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.

The Great Smoke Out, August & September 2017

Our original route would have taken us to Crater Lake and then we would have moved eastward to Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, we had to scrap Yellowstone in favor of getting Goose’s cast removed. We were able to get to Crater Lake, and we opted to head south to Yosemite. This seemed like a great plan, until the fire season caught up with us. But, more on that later.

Our first stop was Medicine Lake, sacred to the local tribes and very close to Lava Beds. I loved this campground, the lake was beautiful and different every time I walked down to it.

My other favorite thing about this Lake is that the banks were teeming with little frogs. I would clap as I walked through, to get them moving away from my feet. I didn’t relish the idea of squishing tens of frogs with every step. These little critters would also fill the evening with their calls, adding to the peacefulness of this spot. There were also a few sights around the area that could be hiked to, but unfortunately, we didn’t do much of that.

We took a day trip to Lava Beds, which was pretty heavy with smoke. That kind of ruined our plans for a scenic drive or any hikes above ground, but luckily, many of Lava Beds attractions are under ground in the form of lava tubes. The first thing we did, as usual, was to stop at the visitor center to learn more about the park.

It turns out the volcano we were standing on, Medicine Volcano, is the largest shield volcano within the Cascade Range.

After we did our formal education part, we went over to the rangers to be screened for white nose syndrome so we could safely enter

the caves. White nose syndrome is a fungus that has been decimating bat populations and, so far, the western US is free of it. If you plan on caving in these areas, be sure to bring no equipment with you that have been in any infected areas. There are handy maps and helpful rangers to assist you in this. After you’ve been screened, you get a pass for your car, any equipment you might need, and a handy map detailing all the cave options. They range from easy walks, to more difficult adventures that require tight squeezes and crawling. As we didn’t have much time, we opted for the easiest and only lit cave, Mushpot. This tube is about as accessible as a cave can get, although I don’t think it’s suitable for wheelchair as the path is uneven and the entrance has a good amount of stairs. It’s an interpretive trail with many informative signs along the way.

Our next adventure took us to Crater Lake National Park, a place both Bear and I were really excited to see. We kinda saw it.

There were several fires in the area, the closest about four miles away from us and right on the rim. We spent the day under raining ash and thick smoke and decided to flee to Mount Shasta.

We had one great day in the area. We hiked the Old Ski Bowl trail and found a good viewpoint for lunch.

My parents and Bear decided to hike up the trail further, and the girls sand I stayed to admire the cairns. The rocks in the area were great building material! They stacked very easily, so we decided to build our own.

The next day, we were smoked out again. So we continued our trek southward and quickly realized, we were not escaping. By the time we got to our camp outside of Yosemite, the air was still smoky. It was slightly improved, but we knew we weren’t going to hike in this. So we visited the nearby town of Groveland, hitting the library and the local museum.

We did take one smoky day to drive into Yosemite. We found a spot above 7,000 feet with no smoke. We had a picnic lunch and did a little exploring. We also made time for one visit to the visitor center, had to say hello to our dear friend John.

Finally… the day arrived!!! Cast off! Time to start heading east!

Sequoia National Park, August 2017

I adored our visit to Sequoia National Park. Sequoia National Park is part of a complex of national parks (including Kings Canyon National Park), monuments, and forests. It has a great amount of designated wilderness and is a paradise for backpacking. We got a great spot at the Lodgepole Campground, right next to the amphitheater! There were Ranger talks there every night, and we got to catch a few, including one on the Buffalo Soldiers and one on mushrooms!

We had about 10 days at the park. After we got Goose’s sling off (see Santa Barbara, adventures and misadventures) and cast on, we were able to get started.

We kicked the trip off with the Tokopah Falls Trail – a 1.7 mile gentle uphill which finishes at a grand falls. There are some fun parts of the trail where you get to squeeze through giant boulders.

That hike took us about half the day, so we took the afternoon to go see the biggest tree in the forest. (And the world). General Sherman. It’s a high traffic destination, and during the regular season a shuttle is available. They have two stops for Sherman, one at the top of the trail where you can walk down to the tree, and one right by the tree itself.

The same shuttle system, or a network of paved paths, can take you to other well traveled groves. You can spend a few days exploring these sections and we did. We hit the Big Trees trail which featured… big trees. We didn’t thoroughly explore this area, but we know we’re going to come back.

We did a few other hikes as well. A favorite of ours from previous trips is The High Sierra Trail. This is a great backpacking entry point. It starts in the forests, climbs a small ridge, and passes some sequoias along the way. One you reach the end of this section, you’re greeted with amazing views into the foothills and

further into the sierras.

The trail continues along the side of the ridge, and frankly it was terrifying with the girls. I’m pretty sure Bunny almost walked off the cliff at some point. I use my hiking poles to tap them back towards the safer part of the trail. We walked until we found a good rest spot.

Dorst Creek was another repeat trail for Bear, but new for me. It’s a short an easy trail to a hidden grove of Sequoias. Unlike the more accessible trails to Sequoia groves, this one is quite solitary. The trail travels up Dorst Creek under heavy forest. We kept busy by playing scavenger hike. I give the girls certain trees, plants, rocks, etc to look for and they get a point whenever they spot it first. This time we looked for granite (easy), incense cedar, and shelf mushrooms.

Along some potions of the trail, you can see the destination grove across the creek. It’s pretty cool spotting the “broccoli tops” of the giant sequoias. Eventually you cross the creek and walk back towards the grove. We found a nice picnic spot at the foot of a tree.

We did one driving day, where we headed towards the neighboring Kings Canyon. We found some LTE signal at a neat overlook filled with Cairns and had a surprise visitor in the truck. A giant red and black wasp thing that nearly made us drive off the cliff! No photo, we were too busy screaming.

Between hiking, sightseeing, and just plain relaxing- I really loved our time at this park. The forest is amazing, the big trees are awe inspiring and the whole experience left me feeling rejuvenated and content. We’re planning to return next year and introduce the girls to some backcountry multi day hikes.

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.

Lassen, July 2017

Yay Lassen! This was a long awaited part of our trip. Bunny’s birthday on the road!

In honor of Bunny’s birthday, and because we were so close to our former home, we made arrangements with a great group of friends to meet for the Fourth of July weekend.

We kicked it off right away, with an, as requested, Pokémon Birthday Party! Woot woot! There was much rejoicing.

We took it very easy at this park. A good part was still closed due to the massively wet winter. But we did manage a few hikes. The first half of the trip, the girls’ best friends were around, so we basically had a three day campground play date. No one minded this!

The kids enjoyed the shallow stream by the visitor center. They spent a bit of time considering the ice cold water.

Goose even spotted a bald eagle!

If you’re in this campground, scout around for the big logs in the back of the sites. They’re technically in shared land, so feel free to walk over. It’s a good idea to remind any kids where the site boundaries are. Most campers don’t appreciate kids running through their site.

The hikes we managed were Paradise Meadows and Crags Lake. Both are good little climbs, but certainly in range for our little hikers. Paradise Meadows is probably where I first fell in love with Lassen. Our last time out here, (September 2016),we found a gorgeous meadow cut by a thin, but deep, creek. Throughout the creek, little water flowers were blooming, and the whole scene, framed by high peaked mountains, just blew my mind. (Photos of flowers from September 2016)

This time, it was much earlier in the season, so the flowers hadn’t bloomed and the meadow was much wetter. I found some treasures, hidden in damp corners, and we even had a visit from a local deer. Moments like this always remind me, how every time you visit a park, it’s always going to be a different park when you come back.

Crags Lake, lives up to its name and finishes at a lake under an impressive craggy peak. It’s a popular trail, but we didn’t feel crowded. My parents did this hike separately from us, and they recommend starting it early. The climb will be much more comfortable in the morning. (We tend to hike mid-day, just for lifestyle and laziness.)

At the end of our stay, we had another friend come and visit. As it was my friend’s son’s first camping trip, we had to cover some basics.

We also did some sightseeing, we drove out to Burney Falls and made a quick stop at the Subway Cave. Burney Falls is a California State Park, just north of Lassen. It’s very popular, and it’s worth bearing the crowds. A very short, accessible (but steep) trail takes you to a great overlook of the Falls. This was all we did, but there are some hiking trails and historic sites in the park. Always good to leave something for next time!

Next up, Subway Cave! As with most caves in the area, this is a lava tube! The tubes are formed from a river of lava. The outer surface of the flow cools faster and hardens. Over time, the walls melt and reform over and over, widening the tube. When the river runs dry, all that will be left is the tube. (When visiting caves, it’s always good to review “white nose syndrome,” a fungus that has devastated the world bat population. The caves in California and surrounding are free of the fungus, and would like to stay so. This cave is bat free, but it’s still good policy. Save the bats!)

We missed a lot of Lassen, it’s a wonderful, under-visited gem of Northern California. It has examples of all three types of volcanoes and some spectacular geothermal features. It has a short season, aim for early autumn, especially when after a wet winter.