Joshua Tree National Forest – Quirky and Picturesque

California

Visited December 2013

A natural art-filled playground, replete with color, shape, form, and texture rests due north of eccentric Palm Springs. These two travel destinations go hand in hand, with their odd uniqueness and placid gorgeousness basking in the southern California sunshine.

It is a place of historic gunfights and rough settlers. It is a timeless place where the Giant Ground Sloth roamed, consuming the Joshua Tree seeds that were then spread through dung. The extinction of which has led to the dampened attenuation of the Joshua Tree’s range. Black Rock Canyon offers the most splendid view of the remaining Joshua Tree Forest.

Geologic and environmental forces continue to carve and shape the scene. Shapely boulders form via the timeless forces of freezing water and wind. Our family had a fantastic time scampering along boulder strewn trails and looking for images in the weathered rocks. There are abundant trails of all varying levels of difficulty, so finding a place to explore is easy. With names like Skull, Arch, and Split Rock, everyone will love the adventure of discovery.

At 789,866 acres, Joshua Tree National Park is bigger than Yosemite by a little over 25,000 acres, but it seems much smaller and very accessible, especially due to its location directly off Interstate 10. There are multiple visitor centers, but the Joshua Tree Visitor Center to the north is the best access point to see most of the hiking trails and points of interest. This visitor center is approximately a one-hour drive from Palm Springs.

Junior Ranger Badge:

Ask for a Junior Ranger booklet when you arrive for your children (and adult children) to complete while you visit. Be sure to donate to the park to cover the costs of these materials. This is also a great opportunity to talk to the ranger about ranger led programs happening during your visit. When you complete requirements in the booklet, return to the ranger station, raise your arm to take a ranger pledge and earn your Junior Ranger Badge. Topics covered include:

  • Wildlife
  • Maps
  • Habitat
  • Desert Resources

Extra Tips:

Always be prepared in these remote places. The most important supply you’ll need is water. I’ve written it all over this blog, but the most important rule in places like these is 1 gallon per person per day. It seems like a lot, but if you get disoriented, injured, or have mechanical problems it will be a great relief to know that you have plenty of water.

Remember:

The Mojave Desert ecosystem is protected here by this land status. This fragile ecosystem lives at the edge of earthly extremes. Stay on the trails and respect the fragility of the unique plants here.

Where to Eat:

Keep it simple and pack the food you will need. Due to the distance from Palm Springs, you will want to make sure you have enough food for the duration of your visit.

When to Go:

This place is a paradise of exploration in the winter months. Be aware of when the Santa Ana winds blowing. They can be extreme.

Where to Stay:

Unlike many National Parks, Joshua Tree is surrounded by plenty of accommodations. From camping in the park, to nearby upscale RV resorts and hotels, there are numerous options depending on your desired experience. We always recommend staying in the parks if possible, enjoying the dark night skies is bliss.

Death Valley National Park – A Place of Extremes

California

Visited February 2013

Vacant space and openness abound. It grabs your soul and tugs at your essence. What is best about this place is the magic of national parks, they make you understand your humanness and your place within the universe. This place is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park. Our quintessential ego makes us center. Our thoughts plague us and overwhelm us. We are swarmed daily by questions of where we are in comparison to others. Are we smart enough, wealthy enough, connected enough? The universe does not care. Your presence is not requisite. The universe is requisite to us though, and understanding it is important if we can ever hope to comprehend what this life is all about.

Strip everything away, especially life quenching water. Drive far, far away. Come to the edge of earth and find clinging life forms that exist at the brink. Find strength in the purpose of living. Look to living things that go on, that reproduce, that perpetuate themselves through time despite all odds. A little bit of luck and a lot of strength, despite odds. It is love. It is exploration and adaptation. Keep going. Don’t stop. Ever.

Our family loved this place! The kids were at the perfect age for short hikes and there are plenty.

Short hikes we enjoyed:

Salt Creek – Water in the desert? Yes, this small stream is also home to the endangered Salt Creek Pupfish. Keep an eye out for them, as you may see them spawning during winter months.

Badwater Salt Flat – Go to the lowest point in North America! Photos here are especially spectacular. The way the light bounces around is just magical.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – Clamber up a sand dune, photograph it!

Mosaic Canyon – Located near Stovepipe Wells Campground, this shaded canyon is great for exploring what’s around the bend.

Natural Bridge – This hike was a bit more advanced than the others. The natural rock bridge was enjoyable, but it was the hike back that offered some incredible views.

Junior Ranger Badge:

Extra Tips:

Be prepared. Be grateful for help from fellow mankind. Never deny another, when you can make a difference in their life. Love one another.

There are just some stories you cannot make up, like this is one. We drove to Keane Wonder Mine, to see the historic mining infrastructure. It was getting late, and there were no signs of other vehicles anywhere. We were headed back to the campground when a loud boom sounded, and the car careened a bit and suddenly came to a plunging stop on the dirt road. My husband and I looked at one another, concern swelling. After getting out, opening the hood to no avail, he checked the tire. It was obvious, a missing caliper bolt wasn’t holding our brake together! Without it, it was impossible to drive.

We stood around for a bit, and my husband thought maybe he could fix it if we had a piece of wire. So, we walked along the road, hopeful but not encouraged. Suddenly, as if placed there by gods, was the perfect wire in length and diameter. How on earth? Luck. My husband wired it, and we drove slowly to the ranger station area. It was dark, the Furnace Creek Gas Station didn’t have what we needed. There was no way we could pull our travel trailer home. So, they recommended a tow. A very expensive tow…or swinging by a park employee’s house – because he has a lot of spare parts in his garage!

We took a chance and drove to park housing. We found the slightly notorious gentleman, and he opened his one car garage door for us. There were hundreds of buckets filled with parts! He knew the bolt we needed was there somewhere. So, my husband and this incredible, ingenious park angel started looking. He understood the quintessential element of this place, resources are important. They found it! Luck? Blessings? Converging elements of the universe?

We headed back to the campground after profuse thanks, and a tip, with our hearts full of love. Love from another human, gratefulness for the resources that he shared with us.

Remember:

Water. You need a lot of water here. Take 1 gallon per person per day with you EVERYWHERE you drive. Keep the family hydrated, carry water with you everywhere. I was a bit panicked when we found ourselves with mechanical problems, but not too worried, as we had water with us.

Also, it gets very cold in the winter months. This is a desert, but you need a jacket at night.

Where to Eat:

The Ice Cream Parlor at The Ranch at Death Valley for date shakes! Dessert in the Desert. Saddle up to the bar and order a date shake for everyone. Let the cool delight hit your mouth, quench your thirst, remind you of civilization and how far we have come. We can go to a remote corner of the world and order a perfect epicurean delight.

When to Go:

When to go depends on the experience you want. Do you want debilitating heat (highest on record is 130.0 degrees F), and time only in your car and at the ranger station? Is the requisite hot temperature picture a must? Pick summer.

Do you want to go for abundant hiking? Pick winter. If you have young children ONLY GO IN WINTER.

Where to Stay:

As with most well-developed national parks, this place has ample places to stay. Check out the Death Valley National Park Service website for options including hotel and campgrounds.

We camped at Stove Pipe Wells Campground. A car pulled next to our spot, and a lone young gentleman set up his tent and pulled out a nice telescope. After talking to us for some time, he said this was his last getaway before his girlfriend was due to give birth in about 3 weeks. We talked about having children, the art of it and the adventure. He was supposed to stay the weekend. The next morning, he was packing up. he was excited to start his new adventure as a father. He didn’t want to miss a thing. That’s why we take our children to these places. We don’t want to miss a thing, either. If you want to get to know your children, if you want to see the life you’ve created thrive and grow. If you want them to know luck and perseverance, get them to a national park. I like to think this gentleman is out there enjoying these parks with his family too. Maybe one day we’ll meet him out there.

Great Basin National Park

Nevada

Visited October 2021

A budget-constrained, quick trip to see fall foliage led us to some high survival adventure – think sleeping on the snow-covered ground freezing off our hineys at high altitude in under-performing tents! These beautiful children of mine are growing too fast, and there are still so many parks to see (and tortuous car rides to endure)! Creativity and budget considerations are going to play a part in getting us to all of them in the next several years. I’m fascinated by people who can afford to travel to all the parks, all in one go. That’s beyond our budget and time constraints for sure (normal family of four here). With one leaving for college, they will soon have their own lives, plans, and goals (and probably not be so keen on me trekking them to the middle of nowhere to see trees – Nah, they’ll probably like it still. We’ve raised ‘em right…right?). So, this momma is getting anxious to squeeze in the memories and trips as creatively and quickly as possible. Our Great Basin National Park is a perfect example of how to enjoy affordable adventure (chaos) .

Great Basin National Park is a natural wonder that characterizes the western United States. The geologic conditions that form this forest-island make this region abundantly special. Abrupt elevation changes create habitat zones that lead to interesting and varied ecosystems. One of many forest-mountain islands in the sky that dot the west, this place preserves a characteristic basin and range formation.

With budget constraints, we flew to Las Vegas with loaded backpacks intent on sleeping on the ground while getting in some hiking. With our self-contained accommodations, our first night was spent at the Red Rock Campground, just west of the city. Arriving at around 2:00 AM, we fell quickly to sleep in our tents until the morning winds, carrying an early winter storm, arrived and nearly blew us away. We were not defeated! My daughter admired the ‘van life village’ as we exited the area. We enjoyed a bomb breakfast at BabyStacks Café on our way out of the city.

Red Rock Campground, Nevada

Las Vegas, with all its shining lights and wildly human-centric experiences, is far removed from the beautiful quiet of this National Park. Yet, most people think of Las Vegas when they think of Nevada. But jump into a rental car and head north along US Route 93 and you will be bounded by abundant public lands and wilderness areas (hallelujah nothing for miles and miles and miles). Approximately 63% of the State of Nevada is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and even more by other federal agencies! That’s so many places available for us to explore, and so much open space to observe and enjoy.

Along the way, you will pass through small towns like Caliente, Nevada where you can see the architecturally beautiful Caliente Railroad Depot built in 1923. Mountain bikers from around the world convene here to enjoy Rainbow Canyon and Big Rock Wilderness areas. Continue north to the town of Pioche, once one of the most important silver mining towns in Nevada, and scenic as it clings to the side of a steep mountainside.

Caliente Railroad Depot

The approach to Great Basin National Park is majestic. Rounding the mountain to the north, you climb steadily to the home of Wheeler Peak (second-highest in Nevada at 13,065 feet). It’s fantastic, unless you are following a heavily loaded semi-truck crawling at 5 miles per hour that you decide to lead-foot pass, careening around it (and three trucks pulling RVs) terrifying the family. The first visitor center, Great Basin Visitor Center, was closed during our visit, so we drove further on to the Lehman Caves Visitor Center.

This family has seen a few caves, and we can be skeptics of cave tours. If spelunking is your thing (and apparently cave scientists hate to be called spelunkers – who knew?) then this cave is for you. The formations are exquisite works of art that only nature can create. It’s breathtaking, and there are so many incredible features, it is hard for the eye to absorb all the wonders. Take the tour.

After our cave tour, we headed to our evening accommodations at Upper Lehman Creek Campground. The winter storm from Las Vegas had reached us, and with snow flurries falling and the sun setting, we decided to wait to hike for one more evening. We enjoyed a meal at Kerouac’s Restaurant in Baker, which was a fun treat for us all, but especially enlightening for the kids as most ingredients are locally sourced and described on the menu. The portions were a bit small, but every single bite was profound, like Kerouac himself (see what I just did there).

Alas, we realized unfortunately we forgot to stop at a sporting goods store along the way to purchase fuel for our portable stoves…and this place is remote. The closest sporting goods store is well over an hour away. But saints are frequently found in campgrounds (in case you didn’t already know). A travel writer (a real one that gets paid for writing and traveling – what a dream job) was parked across from us and had a few solid fuel tabs that saved our trip. With those golden gems in hand, we loaded up our gear and trounced through the snow-covered woods along Lehman Creek Trail at sunrise.

Backpacking is an ever-evolving attempt at balancing the correct supplies and weight for what your body can happily endure carrying over rocks on steep trails. Too many clothes on a warmish day will throw my kids into tantrums. I’ve long since given up hiking in areas where we carry water (instead of relying on nature’s provisions) because my family members would rather die of dehydration (or drink my emergency reserves) rather than carry enough water. I thought I had finally found the right amount of gear. Really, I did! We use wool and synthetics only (cotton kills…apparently). I packed wool mittens and cozy beanies, snow parkas, and even fleece-lined hiking pants (which are fabulous). Let me just say, sleeping on the snow is COLD!!! Okay, we were never at risk for hypothermia, but it was a miserable shivering night, nonetheless. This odd part of my brain, the part that keeps us coming out to the woods knows that somehow this is good for my kids though. Some difficulty later in life will crop up, and they can say “I’ve got this, my mother almost killed us all sleeping in tents in the snow. This is nothing.”

We all look back at this adventure and we smile. We soak in the crystalline, ice-covered Lehman Creek that ran along the trail. Wheeler peak ascending above us in clouds and snow casts dreamy shadows over our memories. We laugh at the adventure and the sleepy drive back to the airport the next day. We embrace our cozy beds at home and think with absolute gratitude that there are these wild places for us to explore, to approach a limit to our comfort zone, to learn, laugh, and love in. So, get after it. Book that trip (don’t forget the fuel…write it on your hand so you don’t forget when you land at the airport). Be Wild Outside.

Junior Ranger Badge:

Animals

Cave and Geology Vocabulary

Tree Rings

Petroglyphs

Conservation

Moon Phases

Night Sky Preservation

Extra Tips:

Book your tours for Lehman Caves in advance. They fill up quickly.

Remember:

Fuel. Don’t forget the fuel. Always help-out other campers if you get the chance. Pass on the kindness. These places are sacred and deserve our sacred kindness to one another. Share the toilet paper.

Where to Eat:

There are a few fun little places to try in Baker. Kerouac’s had an excellent bar, and some fun food to try. Bring your own snacks and camping meals.

When to Go:

We enjoyed our visit the second week of October, and snow flurries fell. A lot of the park is 7,000 feet or higher. I would recommend this park for a mid-summer trip, or an early fall. It is cooler in the mountains, but you must traverse the basins to get here.

Where to Stay:

This depends on your ability to survive the wild. There are a few very small accommodations in Baker just outside the park boundaries. There are quite a few very nice campgrounds within the park.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Colorado – Visited June 2020

There will be only one national park trip for us this year. From our remaining list, we chose Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park because we could get there without flying. This park offered a great respite for our minds and souls during these peculiar, Covid-19 laden times.

The deep chasms, breathtaking scenery, and plentiful outdoor opportunities were exactly what we needed to rejuvenate. With ample outdoor recreation surrounding the area, there was plenty to do while maintaining social distancing rules. Let me be clear though, we wouldn’t have traveled here without a travel trailer.

Overlook

Extra Tips:

Rural communities in the western United States are frequently bounded by abundant federal lands. The financial support from visitors is a benefit to these communities. However, their health care systems are frequently small with tight budgets. The health of these communities factored into our equation to visit during the pandemic. The travel trailer allowed us the ability to social distance effectively so that we wouldn’t get sick or transfer our germs to these communities. These were the rules we followed during our trip:

(1). We only used the facilities in our trailer. We showered, used the restroom, and washed our hands only in our own bathroom, which conveniently was always with us.

(2). At gas stations, only my husband would go inside. He always wore his mask, and sanitized before and after getting out of the vehicle.

(3). I purchased all drinks, snacks, and food prior to leaving and we ate only in the truck and trailer, except for an opportunity to patio dine.

(4). When we needed to replenish groceries, only I went into the store. I stocked up on everything we would need for the remainder of the trip to limit additional stops.

(5). We attempted to souvenir shop in Taos, New Mexico, but even with masks we felt uncomfortable going inside. So, we did not do any further shopping. These small tourist businesses are getting hit hard financially. See a list below for links to shops if you are interested in supporting them by purchasing online.

(6). We maintained our social distancing in RV parks. These parks are a fantastic place to meet people. We denoted a significant change in demeanor this year. The world is more subdued and less inclined to engage. Still, waive and give a smile.

Remember:

Always check the NPS website ahead of time so you know of any closures and personal protection requirements. We adamantly wore our masks while visiting the national park. Park Rangers are exposing themselves to the general public constantly. We need to keep these individuals safe. Regardless of your mask opinion, if asked to wear one please be courteous and do so.

Masks On Black Canyon

About the Park:

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a superb wonderland of unique geological features and deeply impressive views. Metamorphic rocks 1.8 billion years old are sliced by the Gunnison River due to uplift providing views of pegmatite dikes that lace the canyon walls like pulled taffy. Large volcanic eruptions, millions of years old, capped the metamorphic rock and now provide incredible otherworldly land formations. The geological features are easily observable on the canyon walls, placed like pictures in a story book.

You will marvel at the green, gemlike Gunnison River that flows at the depth like a carefully placed ribbon. Everyone will get a thrill peering over the canyon edge.

The scenic drive through the park offers excellent and abundant pullouts with walkways of varying lengths. Several overlooks are handicap accessible, which we took an opportunity to use as my son is currently on crutches due to an injury. The visitor center was closed, but rangers were still offering programs and provided Junior Ranger books and badges.

Due to the limitations that we had with our son injured, we were not able to hike further into the canyon, but inner canyon permits were being issued. A trip back to hike inside the canyon is certainly on our to do list. At the time of this post, the campground is also still open. But, you should check the NPS website before you attempt any visit to this and any other national park.

Junior Ranger Badge:

This park’s Junior Ranger activity book is one of our favorites, with a comic book style it covers:

  • Regional Geography
  • Geology
  • Leave No Trace
  • Habitat
  • Botony/Biology 

When to Visit:

Visiting in late June, the weather was still fantastic. Cool mornings of 60 degree weather, and sunny days with highs in the 80s were perfect for our visit.

So, was the risk worth the visit? This is the question we have to repeatedly ask ourselves these days. We have to consider how our choices will impact others and ourselves. We set out very specific safety rules for our trip, we followed them carefully, and we had a very successful and restful vacation without getting sick. If you are planning a road trip vacation to outdoor recreation areas during the pandemic, consider renting, borrowing, or purchasing a recreational vehicle that will allow you to self isolate during your travels. Be mindful of local health conditions and mandates.

Purchase from these area businesses:

Shop Taos Online

Gunnison/Crested Butte Shopping

Black Canyon Sign

Big Bend National Park

Texas – Visited March 2019 (29 out of 61)

Be Prepared, Be Flexible, Keep the Gas Tank Full, Roll in Mud if Attacked by Bees

Frequently, the goal of visiting a National Park is capturing the gorgeous sunset and smiling faces after climbing an extraordinary peak! Often, that picture can’t be captured without some tremendous and ridiculous endeavor, especially with children in tow. However, it isn’t worth it if it means traipsing along highly trafficked trails, parking on the side of the road onto precious wildflowers, or in other ways demeaning the value of the park. Big Bend is huge, and full of many opportunities to explore, find self meaning, and live with values that protect and celebrate wild places. When you visit, enjoy these opportunities and always follow park rules to protect it for future generations, and for the wildlife that call it home.

Big Bend is stupendous, but it isn’t for the faint-of-heart. It isn’t a place for someone expecting a gourmet meal and a spa treatment at the end of the day, unless you are willing to go through some extraordinary measures. Safety and preparation are also paramount. If you really want to get a hold of this place, think Rango. Go with optimism, a sense of humor, and a completely full tank of gas.

This park is about hiking, a lot of hiking. Hike up hills, down hills, across deserts, through dry ravines laden with javelina scat. Hike under sun, in shade, and amidst snake and prickly plant infested territory.

This park is also about the southern border with Mexico, and you can’t visit without being cognizant of that fact. Our government continues to fail passing meaningful immigration laws. Let me be clear, I abhor illegal immigration. I think it is dangerous, and immoral. I think, as a society, a second class of citizens has been created that have few protections against workplace danger. I think everyday Americans take advantage, with people to build, paint, and clean their homes; and do their yard work. Small and large businesses become wealthy from that labor source, and thus it has been difficult to regulate. If we need foreign workers, then we need a system to effectively, and legally manage that labor. However, I cant conceive of a border wall being constructed across this place. Equally, it made me visualize what one would look like elsewhere, across habitats, scenic vistas, ranches, and peoples backyards. We need to demand more from our politicians, and ourselves. We need an immigration system that works. You can use your visit here as an opportunity to talk to your children about citizenship, borders, and how human and animal habitats frequently cross these imaginary lines. 

  • Fill your gas tank at the last gas station you see before you enter the park, and fill up every time you pass a gas station in the park. Keep the gas tank full because the park is large, remote, and their are few resources. 
  • Bring plenty of water with you, everywhere. Bring full gallon jugs to keep in the car, and always, always bring water with you when you are hiking. I would recommend a minimum of at least 1 liter of water/person for hikes less than 4 miles, and 2 liters of water for longer hikes (especially in temperatures above 80° F). 1 gallon/person/day is the hiking standard. Don’t rely on spring water to filter, and utilize. It isn’t reliable and wildlife need these resources to get through the dry months. People have died in this park because they did not take enough water with them. 
  • Don’t bring your dog. He won’t be happy because this place is dry, prickly, and full of things that could eat, bite, or sting him. You won’t be happy because there are very stringent rules about where pups can join your treks.

Remember:

It is crazy busy in March! This is by far the busiest time of year, as most Texas schools have spring break in March. However, early spring is when the wildflowers are amazing, and the weather is beautiful. Just be patient and be flexible. Study the park map ahead of time. Understand that there will be full parking lots in some areas, and be prepared to find another nearby trail or activity. There is plenty to see and do, so don’t get frustrated or disappointed.

Where to Eat:

There aren’t many options for dining facilities within the park. To be economical, and healthy, you should bring food and snacks with you. Rio Grande, Panther, and Castolon all have snacks and sodas to purchase. Rio Grande has some very basic pantry items. The only restaurant within the park is Chisos Mountain Lodge. It is expensive, and very busy. They have some fun cocktails and a relatively nice menu, including one for children. Terlingua has some interesting dining choices, for when you finish up activities on the west side of the park.

When to Go:

The cooler months are your best bet for enjoying this park (October thru March). With so much desert hiking terrain, it would be a challenge to hike with children in the summer when temperatures exceed 100° F, and not much shade is to be found. While the Chisos Moutains may be up to 20° F cooler than the temperatures found on the desert floor, you still must drive across a great deal of desert to reach that location. This park is a great escape for those living in northern latitudes wishing to escape the cold winter! Check the NPS Park Website for additional information.

Where to Stay:

The answer to this question depends upon how far in advance you are planning, when you intend to visit, and your budget. If you are looking for hotel style lodging, make reservations six to nine months in advance, especially if you plan to visit during cooler months.  Visit Big Bend is an excellent resource for accommodations. Within the park, getting a campsite can be a challenge during busy times. We stayed at Stillwell RV Park, which is 7 miles from Persimmon Gap entrance. It was perfect for our needs, and they never turn anyone away.

Example Itinerary

Day 1: Grapevine Hills Trail was perfect! This especially scenic hike is great for all ages, but takes a short and bumpy dirt road to reach. We drove in our pickup, but saw much smaller cars. This trail is a 2-mile RT in and out straight to a small boulder laden peak. We climbed it, enjoyed the fading sun, checked out the pretty flowers, and raced back to the truck so my son could grill burgers on the tail gate. He is 15, and he eats a lot, like, all the time! He was grill master, and it was just one of those perfect park days, really.

Day 2: Oak Spring Trail to Window Trail (4.3 mile in and out, add additional 4 miles if road is closed)– all downhill from here, or up, depending on your perspective. After abundant research, I clearly ascertained that Window Trail from Chisos Basin is bulging with people, which is not the way this outside gal would like to spend her time in the wild! So, in a moment of brilliance, I thought we would take Oak Spring Trail to Window Trail from the back side. First off, the road to the trail was closed, but this adventurer will not be dissuaded. Onward – across a 2-mile dirt road to the trail head (adding 4 more miles to this hike – shh don’t tell my family). I keep cool though, it’s all in the plan (wink wink). Then, we ascended, and went up, and climbed some more, and found ourselves on the side of the igneous mountain, to which I had assured my beautiful daughter we would NOT be climbing. Having nearly crested, and yet to see the illustrious ‘window’, we continued feeling rather like dwarfs or trolls (or whatever they are in Lord of the Rings) on an unexpected journey. Trying not to look over the steep edge, I tried humming the theme song, and relating that glorious feeling to my family, but they weren’t having any of it.  My kids quit. They stopped, in the middle of trail and sat. They weren’t going any further. So, I left them! YES, I DID! My son is 15 and one heck of a Scout, I knew they would be fine (especially because I load their first aid backpack kits with all sorts of precautions, they unwillingly carry with them everywhere).

When we reached the Window Trail (literally directly below), my kiddos decided to follow. It could have been the beckoning call of the stream, but more likely it was the sounds of other human life forms that lured them onward. Window Trail was packed!! It was not really hiking, but more like trekking across some water filled pools with zillions of others, trying not to slip and take out the person perilously walking in front of you.  We saw the ‘Window’ meh – just don’t let the little ones too close to the edge. 

The return trip was kind of like riding horses, super slow on the way out and running on the way back. We finally made it to the gravel road when I heard a humming sound and my husband saying “uh, honey”, which was ironic because as I looked back anticipating a car heading our direction instead I saw a giant cloud of bees was heading our way. “This is how we die, in a National Park, stung by thousands of Africanized bees” – is what I thought. “Puddle, where is water, no water to jump in, can I make mud by pouring the contents of my water bottle on the ground? No, I cannot, only 100 ml left!” “Kids, bees, duck!” I stammered, and just like that the bees were gone.

All this called for one remainder of the day, drinks and dinner in  Terlingua

Terlingua is FUNKY! It’s the greatest little end of the earth drop off town, ever! If you are expecting to see a Whataburger, you will be mistaken. Have you ever seen Young Guns? This place is a dry, dusty old mining town surrounded by glorious nothingness. Old bearded men, and motorcycle dudes sit beneath the veranda at the High Sierra Bar and Grill and drink beer. Dogs slip through the fence to greet patrons and beg for treats. The food, um, the drinks are cold, and the tequila is plentiful. GO!! Take the kids, let them see the reflection of endurance it takes to make a life in the far reaches (and patience, it takes time to cook food). Sip that cold margarita and know peace.

High Sierra Bar & Grill

Day 3: My family is sore from climbing the rocky crags from the day before. So, we take it easy, stopping at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit. It has lovely architecture, placement, paleontology, and one display covers dog-sized-horses (not genetically selected by crazy pony breeders, but real fossilized tiny horses)!

Fossil Discovery Center

Homer Wilson Blue Creek Ranch is a fun hike for the little ones, and easily doable with a baby carrier. Only 0.5 miles RT, it leads to an incredible historic ranch site with a lovely little ranch house I would move to in a heartbeat. The back veranda offers an incredible view, and the ceilings are exquisite.

Homer Wilson (2)

At La Harmonia Store in Costolon, apparently, there are some excellent exhibits that explain military history in the area. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch that because my son has great taste in music and a new blue tooth speaker. So, we chilled in the parking lot, ate sandwiches on the tailgate, and people watched. The bathrooms here are nice, clean, and the toilet flushes which is a definite wonder in this far flung desert park.

The Dorgan-Sublett Trail was one of my favorites. It’s short, only 1-mile RT, but it leads to two small mesas where you can look to the Rio Grande valley and get your children to imagine what it would have been like to live on these homesteads. Inside the Dorgan home remains an incredible fireplace constructed of utterly magnificent petrified log stones.  My adorable family reached it before I did and they predicted I would be ecstatic when I saw, and I was!!

Santa Elena Canyon Trail – Packed, no place to park. Please don’t park on the side of the road and squish the wildflowers! You’ll get a ticket and look like a donkey. Turn around (with a 60 point turn like my awesome husband) and go park at the overlook, admire the view and head on to other things. There is so much to see, I promise you won’t miss it.

Santa Elena Canyon Overlook

Mule Ears Spring Trail – This 3.8-mile RT hike is a definite must for anyone with moderate hiking abilities. It isn’t exceptionally steep, but we did it on an overcast cool day – don’t attempt if it is above 80° F with smaller kids. My kids loved it, I didn’t even see them, they were always far ahead. I hate when I can’t see them, but they needed bonding time. My daughter misses her busy high school brother. So, if one was bitten by a rattlesnake (which fortunately they weren’t) I would have just chocked it up to sibling bonding. Plus, my husband and I had alone time, we may have even kissed. We grilled brats in the trail parking lot. Happy Day.

Day 4: We summited the misty mountain!!! No, really, we climbed the entire 12.4-mile Laguna Meadows, South Rim, Boot Canyon, Pinnacles route, and it was misty all day and so we didn’t see the views from South Rim, which is why we climbed the mountain. No golden ring. We did see the psychotic trail toilets though. Those things are ridiculous and look like something out of a horror film!! Please, don’t subject your children to the terror. They will have nightmares for the rest of their existence. Besides the fact that they look like massive thrones placed on the mountain, they are built for huge, tall timbering men. 

You thought I was going to write about the incredible mountain, and trek. Nope, if you want to know, climb requisite. We saw lots of college-age kids, and a few small children. Third graders will complain, fourth graders need lots of snacks, fifth graders and up will love it. It is considered the premier hike to do in Texas, and it will not disappoint!

Day 5: Rio Grande Village. It was a lot warmer on this side of the park, and busier. That might have been because the gas station at Panther Junction wasn’t working and the park personnel had to drive all the way to Odessa to get the necessary part. It is remote here, I’m telling you. Everyone was racing to Rio Grande Village for gas, and people were in line. Most people got it, the pump is slow, there is one side for gasoline and one for diesel. Most people were patient, and kind. One wasn’t. Don’t be the one, don’t be the donkey.

Boquillas Canyon Trail is fantastic. There was plenty of parking, and the 1.5-mile RT trail leads to exceptional views along the Rio Grande River where you come across homemade artistic wares for sale from the folks across the stream (across the stream is the country of Mexico, in case you didn’t realize). The artisans wait on the other side, probably with binoculars, for visitors to purchase and deposit cash in empty bottles they may collect in the dead of night, or in the middle of the day. One fellow was on a horse, so I wouldn’t skimp on the pay if you acquire a trinket. The trail leads to a fantastic, beautiful fault. I was ecstatic. My daughter thinks I am crazy, but she knows what a fault looks like. Yes, she does.

Hot Springs Historic Trail – Parking lot full, don’t be a donkey and run over the flowers parking on the side of the road if there isn’t a proper parking space. Apparently, the hot springs is the size of a large pick up truck, and people wait in line to get in. YUCK!!! It was the one temptation that my children were most looking forward to enjoying, and unfortunately this slightly germ-a-phobic mother made them pass.

River Road East to Glenn Springs Road – If you are brave and know what you would do if you had a flat tire in the middle of the desert, find a dirt road. If you have a back country-prepper kind of mindset, and you and the kids wouldn’t mind sleeping in the car if you break an axle, find a dirt road. If you have a very full tank of gas, find a dirt road. Big Bend is really experienced best this way. This 801,163-acre national park is full of wide-open spaces best accessible on bumpy, dirt roads that wind their way through the park. At the suggestion of a ranger, we took River Road East, swooped up to Glenn Spring and then out on Glenn Springs Road. We pulled over along the way (in a pull off, not on flowers) and grilled steak, salmon, and corn on the cob. We drank beer and root beer and roasted Peeps to make smores. It was windy, the sky was blue, and the sun was setting. It was the perfect dusty, prospecting, playing down on the desert kind of day that would have made my Grandpa Timothy proud.

Day 6: Sleep in, go get your Junior Ranger Badges, and do a little rock hunting at Stillwell RV Park. Stillwell is a private overflow campground for Big Bend National Park. It is located 30 miles north of Panther Junction, and only about 7 miles from Persimmon Gap entrance. Spring Break is ridiculously busy, and we did not want to search for a camping spot within the park, so we enjoyed our stay here. You cannot collect rock, flower, or animal specimens in the park, but you can collect rocks at Stillwell!!!

We didn’t let the sun set on our last day without a hike in the park, though. We drove to the Persimmon Gap Ranger Station and took the trail up the dry stream bed. It was laden, heavily, with javelina scat. We hiked, scrambled up rocks, and looked at the most fantastic geology yet. This is a great hike for little kids till you get to the rock cliff face at the end of the wash, then it’s best left to the mountain goats. We also, finally, saw a family of javelina up close. It was so exciting!!

IMG_E2977

Shenandoah National Park

Virginia – May 2018 (25 out of 61)

Take your children to Shenandoah National Park to enjoy hiking along trails that lead to glittering waterfalls. Let them scamper along gorgeously wooded paths to find abundant wildflowers decorating the landscape. Take your children to learn about the profound sacrifice that was required to form this mountain oasis.

The creation of Shenandoah National Park is a story of volunteer and forced personal contribution to establish a sliver of preserved land along the Appalachian Mountains. It was conceived as a respite for people in large eastern cities, so they too could enjoy a place like the national parks in the west. A stop at the Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center prior to exploring is key to understanding and appreciating this place.

Besides extraordinary natural beauty, exquisite hiking trails, and excellent camping accommodations, time spent here is a great way to explore environmental philosophy. Was it right for the State of Virginia to utilize eminent domain to forcibly remove citizens to create the park? How much oversight are we willing to accept from government to regulate our individual choices when it comes to environmental protection? How much sacrifice are we willing to self-impose?  How can we improve choices that we make as individuals so environmental decimation does not entail mandatory or government directed change? During our visit, our children were asked to help raise the flag at the visitor center. This park offers a great way to consider the conjunction of citizenship and environmental protection.

Junior Rangers at Shenandoah

Junior Ranger Badge:

Pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Book from a visitor center and let your children complete the booklet. When completed, return it to a park ranger for them to take the park pledge and earn a Junior Ranger Badge! Don’t forget to drop some money in the donation box to pay for the expenses. At Shenandoah, children will learn about:

  • Habitats
  • Using senses
  • Seasonal changes
  • Wildlife
  • Water cycle
  • Nature journals
  • Animal adaptations
  • Map reading
  • History
  • Weather and climate
  • Astronomy

Extra Tips:

Look Up! This densely wooded landscape is serenely graced by chestnut, red oak, maple, birch, ash, basswood, and poplar trees. Remember, that what grows up must also come down (eventually). When hiking, picnicking, or setting up your campsite remember to look overhead particularly at the sound of any creaking or groaning heard from above. On our trip, we were certain to look overhead before setting up tents in the back-country. We chose an area in a clearing with no overhanging branches. After sunset, we heard several pops and cracks. At first, we believed that it might have been wildlife. Alright admittedly, I thought it was a bear. When two large limbs crashed to the forest floor I screamed (loudly) imagining a bear rushing! It was especially terrifying when we saw how gigantic the fallen branches were the next morning. They were tent crushers, for certain! We are so grateful that we looked up prior to setting camp.

Fallen Branches

Consider densely caloric, easy snacks, for children to carry. Honestly, I still haven’t figured out the exact amount of gear necessary for our backpacking trips. I know I would pack lighter if it were just my husband and I. However, with my children joining us it is always hard for me not to lug everything and the kitchen sink. I have learned that food needs to be carefully chosen. I don’t like relying on water in nature to prepare all our meals. I avoid perishable (easily squished) items as much as possible. I am plugging Pro Meal Bars (never received money or samples…yet)! They really are delicious, they stick with you for a long time, they make the best quick lunch while hiking. Oatmeal in the morning is easily prepared with a little boiling water. There are many prepared backpacker dinner meals available. I have found them to be either too spicy or too bland for my taste, and picky children might have an especially hard time eating them. We have started making our own dinner meals with rice, soup mixes, and cooked chicken pouches – make sure you are using a quick cooking rice (under 15 minutes). I give each a 1-gallon seal-able plastic bag with all our meals inside. They serve dual purpose as trash bags and we put them all together in one bag at night to tie in the tree for bear protection. I add a few hard candies, and I always bring along a little extra food for the kids. They trip, and the food spills, and you don’t want them going hungry. But, you probably won’t need the kitchen sink after all!!

Many hiking trails are steep. This park follows a ridge line, so trails predominantly slope off to one side or the other. There are exceptions near visitor centers, where nature hikes offer a more leveled experience. Hiking trails to waterfalls are generally quite steep. Back-country trails for the most part are both steep and rocky. We manged a 10-mile hike over 2 days/one night. I recommend hiking poles or walking sticks. Younger children who have never hiked or backpacked might find many areas especially challenging. For a more enjoyable trip consider height elevation changes in your planning.

Steep and Rocky

Remember:

In our experience, a general rule of thumb in National Parks is that dogs are only allowed within campground or other paved areas where there is an abundance of people. Each National Park is unique and generally has very specified rules regarding where “man’s best friend” can roam, leash lengths, etc. Park rules must consider the safety of visitors and wildlife. Please, review the rules for every place that you visit prior to going and make accommodations accordingly. These specified rules are available on park websites. Shenandoah National Park allows for dogs to accompany you in many locations, including hiking trails. However, some hiking trails specifically prohibit pets. Always, always be prepared to pick up after your pet, and carry or bury as permitted.

 

When to Go:

With over 1 million visitors per year enjoying Shenandoah National Park, solitude can be a little out of reach at popular times of the year. We enjoyed our visit in early May, when Big Meadow Campgrounds first began to allow reservations. There were still plenty of campsites available when we arrived on Thursday, but the campground quickly filled though not to full capacity. Unfortunately, many of the trees were still leafless and will not be fully dressed until the end of the May. Abundant wildflowers, however, were in full view. Popular hiking trails had a spattering of people, but we were able to find our perfect back-country campsite on the Rose River Loop where we were secluded. Thankfully, we were alone enough that nobody came running to the sound of my screaming when a bear…er branch fell.

Where to Eat:

The Appalachian Trail runs directly through Shenandoah National Park. As such, there are wonderful amenities for hikers within the park. Check out the Waysides for dining room or take out options that provide breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Misty Mountains

Redwood Forest National Park

California – July 2013 (11 out of 61)

There are certain places, that as a child, we learn about in wonderment. These places become revered in our heart, and we know that one day we will see them, as though time does flow backwards. Redwoods was that place for me.

Protecting the environment has always meant something very visceral. As a child, when asked, I would tell people I wanted to “save the panda bears” while others listed off nurse, doctor, or policeman. I didn’t have mantra pounding parents that led me to this conclusion. My father was a coal miner, so was my grandfather, and many uncles. I did live surrounded by nature in Utah, and we spent a great deal of time camping and exploring.

I have an MS in Environmental Management, and was blessed for years putting that to work in industry where I always felt impactful. Our family made our choice, as all families must, and I decided it best to stay at home with our children for now. I will go back to work again, but I am hesitant. I have felt hesitant for many years, but it isn’t for reasons that most people fear. I know that I will be entering the loosing battle again. It’s difficult to work on something that continues to erode, like a retreating glacier. There have been success stories, but make no mistake on a global level we are loosing the battle to protect earth’s environmental resources.

For now I must do the best I can to fulfill the part of me desperate to protect this beautiful planet. That means, sharing preserved and protected places with others, encourage them to visit, and most importantly take their children so that future generations will learn the importance of conservation. Wild places are necessary, but if a child doesn’t appreciate them, can we expect they will protect them in the future? I am flabbergasted by the number of our children’s friends who have never even gone car camping. Is a hotel with a water park more valuable to these kids than a stand of Redwood trees?

For some reason of evolution, preservation, or original sin, it is human nature to want more. It is hard to shun bigger, better, newer. So, knowing this about ourselves, we need to value preservation as a premier source of protecting our planet. Preservation is the “easy button”. Allowing earth systems to work their magic takes nothing but preservation.

Over 95% of the redwood forest was cut down. That is such a mind-bending number when you stand in awe of this magnificent forest. Add climate change into the picture, and it is heart wrenching. The redwood forest stores more carbon dioxide per acre than any forest in the world, even at its decimated state (https://e360.yale.edu/digest/california_redwoods_co2_storage).

Understanding climate science doesn’t need to be political. It is a very factual explanation, and “What Good is a Redwood” (available on the Redwood Forest National Park website) is a video that offers an easy to understand presentation. The basics are simple, ice core data tells us that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are greater now than for the majority of human evolutionary history. Currently, we are around 400 ppm.  For the past 400,000 years, this value hasn’t exceeded 300 ppm. The rate of carbon dioxide increase is currently exponential. Why is that a problem? Light energy enters the atmosphere from the sun. This energy then bounces off the earth surface as radiant energy. The radiant energy waves are absorbed by green house gas molecules in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is one of those molecules. It vibrates with the radiant energy it absorbs and holds it against the earth’s surface like a big woolen blanket. That energy is a good thing, normally, it keeps us from freezing. But, too much, especially more than what we have experienced for the last 400,000 years will affect our earth systems on a global scale. It is not just climate that is impacted, but also chemistry. Consider that as the oceans (our greatest carbon sink) absorb carbon dioxide in the air, carbonic acid is created increasing the acidity of our oceans. That is just one environmental cliff that we are about to face.

Therefore, preservation and proper funding of our national parks is critical. Besides the nature connection we feel when we visit, they promote biodiversity. They harness the environment to help keep essential earth life support systems functioning. They repair our planet daily.

Take your children to Redwoods National Forest to educate them about climate science. Let them wander in wonderment. Take your children here to freely appreciate the importance of stewardship and let them know that as huge and wondrous as our planet is, it is also precariously fragile. It takes every one of us making choices every day to do our best. We do it one decision at a time, to protect what is ours…like forgoing the paper plates for our next camping trip and just washing the dishes already. See, that wasn’t so hard.

Junior Ranger Badge:

Pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Book from one of the many Park Visitor Centers and let your children complete the booklet. When completed, return it to a park ranger for them to take the park pledge and earn a Junior Ranger Badge! Don’t forget to drop some money in the donation box to pay for the expenses. At Redwood, children will learn about:

  • Habitat
  • Signs of Wildlife
  • Tide Pools
  • Weather
  • Nursery Logs
  • American Indians
  • Banana Slugs

Jr Rangers in the Cave of Redwood

Remember:

Everything is protected in a National Park, including bugs! These creepy crawlies are essential to a healthy ecosystem, especially in the redwood forest. With over 100 inches of annual rainfall, the soil would be quickly leached of important nutrients. However, bugs, and other decomposers regenerate these nutrients by converting fallen leaves into topsoil! They are part of a special life cycle, so give them the respect they deserve and no squishing. The redwoods forest is full of some extraordinary bugs, too. We were fortunate to see both the yellow spotted millipede, and a quite perfectly posed banana slug on the Lady Bird Johnson Grove sign itself!

Extra Tips:

Where to Eat

It is approximately one hour from Eureka, California to Redwoods National Park. Truly exceptional local seafood is served in several establishments in Eureka that are absolutely worth the time, especially for dinner. The Sea Grill in Old Town Eureka was probably our favorite! I even tried raw oysters and let me tell you that they were amazing. They reminded me of a mouthful of seawater in the best way…really. The Eureka Visitor Center offers great suggestions for restaurants and activities in the area.

 

Wind Cave National Park

South Dakota – June 2016

Treasure Above and Below

There is a National Park where you can take an elevator ride to the depths of the earth and enjoy ranger guided tours through one of the longest caves in the world! Go to Wind Cave National Park to see enchanting cave formations that grace the underground labyrinth where park rangers will guide you and your little spelunkers. Go to wander horizontally and vertically through the darkness, sometimes in narrow passageways that open into towering cathedral rooms. Intricate, weirdly wonderful cave formations like stalactites, popcorn, bacon, and box work are visible nearly everywhere. This place is a magical wonderland where imagination commingles with profound learning opportunities.

The topside offers its own beauty set in the Black Hills of South Dakota where American bison and other wildlife are easily discovered. Pine trees and grass prairies abound, and scenic pull offs offer many a great opportunity for that perfect photo.

American Bison Windcave NP

Junior Ranger Badge

Pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Book from the Wind Cave Visitor Center and let your children complete the booklet. When completed, return it to a park ranger for them to take the park pledge and earn a Junior Ranger Badge! Don’t forget to drop some money in the donation box to pay for the expenses. At Wind Cave, children will learn about:

  • Cave Discovery
  • Habitats and Diversity
  • Water’s journey
  • Fire Ecology

Windcave NP Junior Ranger

Extra Tips

To enter the cave, you must purchase a guided tour ticket at the Wind Cave Visitor Center. Tours begin at the visitor center. Tours do sell out, so it is best to arrive early in the day to purchase your tickets. It is possible to make reservations ahead of time for both the Candlelight Tour (minimum age 8) and the Wind Cave Tour (minimum age 16) by calling 605-745-4600. Other tours are available including: Garden of Eden, Natural Entrance, and Fairgrounds. In order to select the appropriate tour for your family, please visit the park website for tour descriptions. The park website discusses tour features including recommendations and restrictions.

For our trip, we made advanced reservations for the Candlelight Tour. Make reservations at least one month prior. Our children were 10 and 13, and so our family met the 8-year-old age restriction. Small buckets with candles, tipped sideways, are used as lanterns. Everyone (including children) carries their own candle bucket. No electronic devices, including cameras are allowed. The tour was thrilling, but somewhat strenuous and the surface was very uneven. No sandals are allowed. The kids were enthralled with the deep sense of adventure. The intense quiet and dark of the cave left a surreal feeling of peace for a long time, even after we left. Beyond the adventure and learning about the science and history of the cave, that peaceful feeling was an unanticipated bonus!

Comfortable, stable, closed toe walking shoes are an absolute must. Bring a jacket. The ground surface in the cave is uneven and can be slippery. Also, it can be quite chilly underground, even when warm and sunny on the surface. Bring a jacket or sweatshirt.

Control your children – yes, I really did write that. If you cannot, a cave tour isn’t for them. It is dark down there, like pitch black. You don’t want kids darting away from you or getting in the path of other visitors. The trip underground can be disorienting and for safety reasons, everyone needs to be able to concentrate on the traverse and not worry about errant children.

Parking becomes more limited later in the day, especially for RVs. If you are driving a motor home or pulling a travel trailer, we highly recommended that you arrive early.

Remember

Do not wear shoes or clothing that have been in any other cave, except Jewel Cave or Wind Cave. A mass extinction is currently underway in the United States. White-Nose Syndrome has killed over 5 million bats since 2006. Bats might not be particularly cuddly creatures, but they are essential to pest control and critical to a healthy ecosystem. White-Nose Syndrome is caused by a fungus that disturbs the bats during hibernation causing them to essentially starve. Spores may easily travel on your clothing or other items, so please protect the bats in your national park sites and follow these park rules.

Where to Eat

There are no restaurant or grocery services available in the park. The best itinerary includes arriving when the visitor center opens, purchasing tickets, and then a picnic lunch before finding time to hike in the park, or explore other nearby areas. See itinerary below. If you head to Hot Springs afterwards, check out  Woolly’s Western Grill  located at 1648 US HWY 18 Hot Springs, SD 57747; 605-745-6414.

When to Go

You just cannot beat South Dakota for Independence Day fun! Plan a complete summer vacation, including a visit to Wind Cave National Park during the first week of July. The weather is fantastic and there are so many things to do! For more information, we highly recommend you obtain a South Dakota Travel Vacation guide. You can either download at https://www.travelsouthdakota.com, or give them a call at 1-800-732-5682 and they will mail one to you.

Where to Stay

There are so many exceptional places to stay in the area! From tent camping to luxurious lodging, the Custer, South Dakota area is comprehensive in accommodations.  The Elk Mountain Campground is the only campground within the Wind Cave National Park boundaries and sites are first-come, first-served. Outside of the park, nearby Custer State Park offers plentiful campgrounds, and other lodging including motels and cabins.

Our Itinerary

I am an obsessive planner when it comes to our vacations! I usually keep us on a packed schedule, with scheduled down-time. We our providing our itinerary as an example, only. There are so many variables that you must consider for your own family but this may give you a start in planning your own excellent Black Hills vacation.

Driving Time Activities (July 3, 2016)
Badlands to Wind Cave Leave @ 6:30 Drive to: Wind Cave National Park (2.25 Hours) Hwy 44 W thru Scenic to Rapid City, Route 79 S. approx. 50 miles to U.S. Route 385. Right onto U.S. Route 385 North, then continue through Hot Springs. U.S. Hwy 385 another 6 miles N. and into Wind Cave National Park.
  8:00 – 10:30 Wind Cave Visitor Center located 11 miles north of Hot Springs off U.S. Hwy 385, about 1/2 mile west from the highway. Do not use your GPS to find the visitor center — you will get lost.
  10:30-12:30 Wind Cave Candle Light Tour – Reservations are accepted beginning one month before the tour and must be made by phone or in person. Please call 605-745-4600 Reservations for Candle Light Tour @ 10:30 (Long Pants, Shirt, Boots & Mittens)
  1:00 Packed picnic lunch in parking lot @ Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave NP to Mammoth Site 1:30-3:30 Drive to Hot Springs, SD and tour Mammoth Site 1800 US 18 Bypass Hot Springs, SD 57747; 605-745-6017
Walk to Wooly’s Western Grill 3:30-4:00 Ice Cream at Woolly’s Western Grill 1648 US HWY 18 Hot Springs, SD 57747; 605-745-6414
Mammoth Site to Fort Welikit 4:00 – 5:00 Fort Welikit Family Campground 24992 Sylvan Lake Rd Custer, SD 57730; 888-946-2267
  5:00 – 6:00 Set up camper and quick dinner
Drive to Bismark Lake (near Stockade Lake) 6:00-Sunset Fly fishing at Stockade or Bismark Lake 

89 South 16A East

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

North Dakota – Visited June 2016 (18 out of 61)

Inspiration is Home

Take your children to this park to see intrinsically where the roots of preservation were breathed to life. If you are a national park enthusiast, you have come to revere Theodore Roosevelt as the architect of our beloved treasures. Traveling to his namesake park is something of a religious pilgrimage. A visit here is a journey for the soul. Like all great journeys, getting here takes effort. This landscape is what inspired the man to preserve our wild places. For that reason alone, it is worth the visit. Teddy Roosevelt was a giant among men. With a fascinating spirit he emboldened his life, and our nation, with accomplishments and charisma. The beauty of this place lies in the very essence of its desolate voice. Think wild horses roaming vast green badlands and you are getting the picture.


Hiking on trails at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center will give you a chance to explore the local flora and fauna and see an overlook of the colorful geologic landscape. Take time at the South Unit Visitor Center to learn more about Theodore Roosevelt. No, he never rode a bull moose, but he did finish a campaign speech with a bullet in his chest before being rushed to the hospital. Cruise along the Scenic Loop Drive, especially picturesque at sunset.

Junior Ranger Badge:

• Badland Prairie Flora and Fauna
• What is a Butte?
• Fossils
• Listen!
• Prairie Dogs and Keystone Species
• Theodore Roosevelt and 1880’s Ranching

Remember:

Follow the speed limit and wear your seat belt! This park is in western North Dakota and will generally be accessed via private vehicle. Subsequently, you may be traveling some distance before you arrive and will tour the park in your vehicle or by bicycle. Please be courteous of other park visitors, and the beautiful wildlife and follow all road signs. Park rangers will enforce speed limits. Also, since you typically are on a scenic drive in the park, passengers might be getting out frequently. Please remember to buckle up the kids and yourself – each and every time. The remote location is absolute reason to avoid easily preventable injury.

Where to Stay

We didn’t have the opportunity to stay the night in this area, unfortunately. I think camping in the park would be a truly wonderful experience. It is a very peaceful, remote place and would be ideal for car camping. Please visit the Theodore Roosevelt National Park website for further camping information. Some campsites may be reserved.

Where to Eat

The quaint town of Medora sits at the South Unit Visitor Center park entrance. With names like Theodore’s Dining Room, Cowboy Café, and Boots Bar & Grill, there are plenty of fantastic places to find a great burger in Medora! Our favorite stop was Medora Fudge and Ice Cream Depot!

When to Go

Summer months (June – August) offer the added opportunity to see the famed Medora Musical. Set outdoors, this musical show is fantastic fun for the family. Summer months are warm and dry, late June to early July would be ideal.

Top 10 Reasons to Visit a National Park on your Family Vacation!

1. To leave the bounds of normalcy and have an epic adventure.

Wander through misty Redwood National Park and imagine you are on another planet when you see otherworldly creatures like the Banana Slug. Hike the dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park and feel Sahara Desert movie scenes come to life. These things cannot be replicated at amusement parks. They are pure and true adventures that will be unique to you, because they are found in the wild.

Redwood National Park

2. To learn about your American Heritage.

There is an abundance of history poured into each national park. They tell the legacy of things we have valued as a nation; and how we determined to preserve these treasures collectively. Your children should know the names of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt. They should understand the struggles and the work that countless individuals undertook to preserve these places for us.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

3. To get outside!

We need more outside time! Children are especially in need of time in an unfettered natural environment. It soothes the soul and calms the mind. Get away from mechanization and human creation, and explore nature. It stimulates creativity and spurs the desire to use your mind and body to go beyond.

4. To pass on the importance of preservation.

National parks must have our support! If we do not value them as a nation, then the financial incentive to preserve these places will dwindle. We must pass on a love of wild spaces to our children, only then can we secure national park preservation for future generations.

Badlands National Park

5. To experience the sheer beauty – together.

Don’t wait for retirement before you go and enjoy these spectacular places. In sharing our national park experience with others, all too often we hear them express a plan to visit when they retire. Why wait? The magnificence is too intense not to share with your children. Stand in awe TOGETHER!!

Bryce National Park

6. To make exceptional memories.

Sure, you can make memories on a cruise, on a tropical island resort, or an amusement park but they are managed and manicured. National park memories include things like fly fishing with an elk in Yellowstone! During one trip, my husband was fly fishing and a cow elk walked up behind him and was drinking and eating for a long time before he realized she was there! People were driving by snapping pictures of the delicate scene.

7. To establish shared experiences.

Do you want to have something to talk about with your children? Shared national park experiences are unique in every way. We relive our backpacking adventure in Canyonlands National Park frequently. We laugh and cringe at the slick rock path we skirted around. We share in wonderment the memory of the juvenile wolf we witnessed walking through our campground in Yellowstone National Park.

8. To live STEAM.

With so much talk about Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math education in the school setting, why not go live it! National park visitor centers are replete with science. With exceptional Junior Ranger programs, children can do STEAM in the field. Many parks offer “backpacks” with unique supplies that make the park a true learning experience. Most importantly, children are surrounded by YOU and NATURE and the unique experience enhances their memory and inquisitiveness.

Mesa Verde National Park

9. To be docent for people from other nations.

People from all over the world come to the United States to witness the splendor of our national parks. Interactions are inevitable. One favorite experience is when are our children shared smore supplies with a family visiting from Germany. The father wasn’t particularly impressed with the unique campfire cuisine, but his kids were thrilled!! The second was helping a European family with their rental RV slide-out. My husband directed them to the fuse box and helped them with a quick fix, so they could be on their way to the next stop in their tight schedule. They were so grateful. Extending hospitality one to one is how we grow global cooperation.

10. To have fun!!

One family with whom we shared our national park love thought their children wouldn’t know what to do on such a trip. They preferred roller coasters. My kids love a good roller coaster too, but they will be the first to tell you national parks are anything but boring. They have snorkeled; sand surfed; splashed in hot spring fed streams; stood in completely black caverns hundreds of feet underground; and climbed hundred-foot ladders against sand stone cliffs within the park boundaries! Outside park boundaries, entrepreneurs offer even more adventures like rope courses, snow mobile riding, and sailing. Great, and unique fun will find you at any national park!

 

Biscayne National Park