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.

Bend, OR – June 2017

We had heard a lot of good things about Bend, and were looking forward to our short stop here. We stayed outside of town, pretty close to the Newberry Volcanic National Monument. I hadn’t even realized there was a park here until we drove past it. There was also a museum, which was highly recommended by friends and reviewers. We only had one day to explore, so we had to pick one – we picked Newberry.

Newberry Volcanic National Monument is home to an assortment of Volcanic goodies. There are cinder cones, lake filled calderas, and the longest lava tube in the US. We took a short walk into the lava tube, and then took a drive through the Monument.

The Newberry Caldera was formed when the magma chamber emptied and the top of the volcano collapsed. Over time, Lake Paulina and East Lake formed inside the Caldera. We stopped at Paulina Falls for lunch. (Bonus, there’s a Pokémon Gym here!). It wasn’t crowded at all and completely accessible. Great views for little work.

I was particularly interested in The Big Obsidian Flow. I imagined it would be big and have lots of obsidian. I was right! The trail is a short, but steep in places, that tours you through a tiny corner of the flow. It’s something to avoid on a hot day. The big hunks of obsidian were a treat and the views from the flow are quite nice too.

We spent our evening walking around town. We hit up 10 Barrel Brewing for some afternoon beer and killer nachos. I fully recommend.

We walked off the food by hitting up some Pokéstops in Bend. We poked our head in a few galleries and bookstores as well.

We could spend a good week here, and hopefully it will show up on our itinerary for next year.

North Cascades, June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Short Weekend in Lassen

I had never heard of Lassen Volcanic National Park until I moved to California.  It’s one of the smaller parks and some refer to it as a smaller version of Yellowstone.  I would say Lassen is unique treasure, all on it’s own.

The drive was about four hours.  Unfortunately we had a late start, so we pulled in at about 10pm.  We stayed at the Manzanita Campground, which is in the northern part of the park.  We have been hear once before, and we stayed at the Summit campground.  I would recommend either.  Both campgrounds are close to a lake, although it gets cold up there, and we decided avoiding the lake was best!

We had time for two hikes, and due to the crowds and my bad knee, we were a bit limited in our choices.  We hikes about 3 miles to Paradise meadows the first day and hiked towards Echo Lake.  Echo Lake is in a hole, so we decided to hike along the ridge and avoid any steep downhills.   Although it was lovely,  every snack stop we were swarmed by bees, so relaxing may not be the first word I use to describe this hike!

I hope you enjoy our short weekend!

The Maiden Voyage

Preparations for the maiden voyage are almost complete!  We’re camping on the backside of the Sierras near Yosemite.  As is our traditional on Memorial Day, the weather is expected to be showery, especially on Friday.

So, without further delay, here is the grand tour of J2’s Maiden Voyage:

The Master Bedroom:img_4343

This room has three giant windows and way more storage than you might think.  The bed flips up with plenty of room for backpacks, extra sleeping bags, crampons, and most of our wardrobe.  I’m not sure about Bear, but all of my clothes are in the white bin, organized by ziplock.  I am a bit neurotic about ziplocks. This area is barely filled, I’m sure if I put my mind to it, I’ll think of more things to stow here.


The side closets are pretty neat too.  I have got my hiking boots, a Swiffer, and an ergo carrier in the bottom closet. All of my coats on the top.  The remainder of my wardrobe is under the bed.  As I said, I’m a bit nuts with the ziplocks. As for over the bed, I’m not sure what we will stow. For now, it is for the board games.


On to the kid’s room, pictured here are their bunks and wardrobe.


The top closet is big enough for all their coats, extra blankets and towels, and whatever else we can think of (<coughboozecough>).  The drawers have ample room for all of their clothes.  This is going to be no problem for full time living!


They’ve got under the bed storage as well.  There is enough room for three of the storage containers.  This is toy and homeschool storage. While we camp, the homeschool bin only has journals and art supplies.  As a bonus, there are a couple of nooks on the inside of the lower bunk.  Handy for even more toy storage!  One of these shelves will be for books.  They just have not been packed yet


The living area of J2 is between the Master Bedroom and the Bunk Room.

There is, of course, storage everywhere.  Overhead, under couch, under dinette and so on. The pantry is a bit small, but I’m scoping out a few more food storage areas.  I think the area under the dinette might be able to hold some non smelly food, like pasta boxes etc.

I’ve stocked the overhead bins with enough guide books and DVD’s to hold us over for 3 weeks of rain.  One can never be too careful.  Under the couch I’m stowing all out extra shoes (not my hiking boots, for some reason which I can not explain).


I think we’re pretty set.  We are just waiting on Bear to finish work and the girls to pack their toys, and we can be off.  I hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend.