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.

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.

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!

Mount St Helens-June 2017

I had almost forgot! Before we got to Cascade Locks, we camped in Chehalis, WA. It’s pretty close to Rainier and St Helens. We chose St Helens.

We were camped at the Thousand Trails in the area, which was quite nice. They had a good playground, and there were quite a few friends to play with.

For the trip to St Helens, we couldn’t have asked for a better day. The air was clear, the weather was pleasant and the location? Well it doesn’t get much better.

We took a hike from the visitor center, it was easy enough. Started off downhill, meandered a bit, and had great views of the volcano.

We lucked out with flowers. They were jaw dropping! I took about a thousand pictures of the impressive fields, I’ll only share a few.

Coming back, I would definitely time my trip for the spring. The views are amazing, but with the added flowers? Breathtaking!