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.

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.