Dry Tortugas National Park

Florida – Visited May 2017 (23 out of 61)

Rare Treasure

This park is a place of adventure due to the uniquely limited accessibility, pristine oceanic beauty, and remote location. Located off the tip of the Florida Keys, it is accessible via float plane or boat. Take your children here to cruise across the sea on tranquil turquoise waters while they look for diving sea turtles. Take your family here to explore a 19th century fort, so historically intense you will feel as though you just stepped off a pirate ship. Go to spend hours snorkeling along the fort’s moat wall with barracuda, sting ray, brain coral and many other tropical fish. Take pictures of your children with salty sparkles shining in their hair, and glorious freckles peeking beneath sun kissed smiles. Go here for yourself, to stand upon the deck of the Yankee Freedom Ferry (the most common transport to the island) and feel the wind in your hair, feel young, vibrant, alive and joyful.  I am still left in awe over this trip, it was pure magic, almost too beautiful to have been real.

Remember:

Dehydration and Sea Sickness.

Drink plenty of water the night before your trip, during breakfast, and during the trip. Yes, you will have to journey to the restroom facilities, but you will be in the warm sun for a substantial amount of time. You will also be very active walking around the fort and swimming or snorkeling. Keep track of children’s fluid intake and be sure to push plenty of water among the plentiful on-board soda pop. Dehydration can lead to nausea and be easily mistaken for motion sickness or exacerbate the condition.

Consider motion sickness ahead of time. Motion aboard the Yankee Freedom Ferry can be relatively significant. Our family didn’t experience any trouble, but if you are prone to sea sickness be sure to ask your doctor for recommendations before your trip. Waiting to take motion sickness medication until you are sick is not advised. Some motion sickness medication can make you drowsy. It has been recommended to me to take it the night before. This helps alleviate the drowsiness, but may still reduce motion sickness. Talk to your physician and pediatrician.

Extra Tips:

Plan to arrive early. If taking the ferry, you will access it via the ferry terminal. When you arrive at the terminal, sit along the west wall to board early as there are no seating assignments. On board, we preferred to sit in the booth like seating area along the windows in the food galley. It offered shade, and quick access to the front of the lower boat deck where we could stand against the rails. It was a thrill to ride the waves and watch for sea life.

Bring your own snorkel gear. This is especially important if you intend your children to actively snorkel. Being familiar with your gear will make ocean time a more comfortable experience. No need to purchase, however, as the ferry does provide free gear. Utilize the buoyancy compensators provided by the Yankee Freedom Ferry if you plan to snorkel for any length of time (especially if you plan to go completely around the moat wall). You will be more comfortable, worry less about your children, and enjoy yourselves significantly better. Even though you are along the wall, you cannot use it as a place of rest due to its height and wave action.

Tour the fort and finish the Junior Ranger Badge, lunch, and then ocean swimming. You will get a bit warm walking around the fort and a nice dip in the ocean before boarding for the return is refreshing. However, watch the time while the kids are finishing their ranger booklets and guide them accordingly so that you have plenty of time to explore the waters. We enjoyed lunch back on board the Yankee Freedom between fort and snorkel activities. Allow yourself time to rinse-off with fresh water at the back of the boat after you swim and before you board.

Where to Stay

We did not camp on the island. I am sure that it would be a spectacular experience, but we couldn’t facilitate camping gear on this trip. If you are considering camping, there is plenty of information available on the Yankee Freedom Ferry and National Park Service websites. Please read camping information carefully.

The drive from Key Largo (base of Florida) to Key West is over 2 hours. So, it is best to stay closer to Key West the night before your trip to Dry Tortugas as the Yankee Freedom Ferry boards at 7:30 AM. Key West offers plenty of hotel amenities. However, our family enjoyed staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Marathon, Florida which is located 1 hour from Key West. Marathon Key was one of our favorite areas as it is smaller and more sparsely populated. We loved the Tarpon Creek Bar and Grill on the hotel property. We also enjoyed watching manatees at Sparky’s Landing located within walking distance.

Where to Eat

Grab a quick breakfast at your hotel. Bring along snacks and bottles of water. If you plan to take the Yankee Freedom Ferry, lunch is included. For dinner, take a short walk to the iconic Half Shell Raw Bar in Key West.

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When to Go

I would avoid peak hurricane season, between August and October. We went in late May, and it was perfect!

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Canyonlands National Park

Utah – Visited March 2016

A Poignant Exercise of Existentialism

There were people here before you and people here before them, and on and on until it was only the first human to have come to these canyons. But, unlike other places on this planet, the chain of people is particularly short in this remote, difficult to access, astoundingly barren but intensely beautiful landscape. The connection is there, and you ponder what these individuals were like who left their hand prints on the sandstone cliffs. Take your hand and hold it into the air and compare it (don’t touch it!) to the white hand print painted there hundreds of years ago. It is breathtaking and timeless. This was an individual, a soul, a human being. They felt cold, hunger, fear, and as they were human, making equally a remnant of their existence, surely they felt love. You will feel removed from yourself and question your very own existence, the absurdity of your everyday cares. You will be transfixed to the most basic human necessity by pondering the basic human needs: shelter, food, water…and human connection.

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Take risk here, backpack in and stay in the wild under the stars. Feel your humanity, because in the end that is why we go to these places. We don’t go to simply experience nature; we go there to reflect upon our own existence removed from all the conundrums that we have created for ourselves.

Live dangerously, let your children live dangerously in this place and know that there are risks. Our path was Peekaboo Trail. There will be moments of fear, that I take with me forever, of my little girl with her enormous backpack saddling along the sandstone path with a hundred plus foot drop looming against any slip, and nothing to stop her perilous fall. This is life, there are no guard rails. I will have the vision of me holding onto the straps of her pack in case she should slip and then reluctantly letting go knowing if I held too tight, it could be me that caused her descent and that is how life will be and her growing will be. When she goes to college, marries, has a home and children of her own, it will be that image and feeling of letting go that I will always take with me. Look upon their smiling faces of satisfaction and pride at the end of that trail. The confidence and resiliency will seep among the cracks of their entire lives filling in the gaps of insecurity in the least expectant moments. They didn’t die on Peekaboo Trail. They won’t die from taking that science final, or not making the basketball team, or losing a job.

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After visiting this place, children will understand the great circle of life too, that humans have existed on nothing but their wits and ingenuity for millennia. Their ancestors survived insurmountable odds. They will survive, as well, with cleverness and perseverance. When they leave their mark upon the world, I will hope and pray that it will be as indelible, but just as sweet and spiritual-bound as the hand prints upon the sandstone cliffs.

Extra Tip – Day Hikes Be prepared with the “Ten Essentials”

You have children with you and you are in an extremely remote location where day hikes are the adventure of choice. If you venture out, for even a short day hike, you absolutely need to be prepared for a minimum 24-hour window in the event of an emergency. Remember that you may be as far as 75 miles from the nearest medical facility, and in a location where cellular phone service is poor to non-existent. Water is an absolute essential in this location. For a day hike, you should plan to bring a minimum of two liters/person. Try not to rely on filtration systems for water sources you may find on the trail. Water in this ecosystem is precarious at best, and animal and plant life rely solely upon what is available in a changing climate. Wildlife critters do not have the opportunity to grab a water bottle at the local gas station!

Having the proper equipment with you helps you, your loved ones, and your potential rescue personnel. Various websites provide a list of the “Ten Essentials” you should always have in your day pack. My favorite list is the REI “Updated Ten Essential ‘Systems’” available at https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/ten-essentials.html.

Ten Essentials List

  •     Navigation (map and compass)
  •     Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  •     Insulation (extra clothing)
  •     Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  •     First-aid supplies
  •     Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  •     Repair kit and tools (think pocket knife with attachments)
  •     Nutrition (extra food)
  •     Hydration (extra water)
  •     Emergency shelter

Junior Ranger Badge:

  • Erosion
  • Cryptobiotic Soils
  • Stratigraphy
  • Ancestral Puebloans
  • Create Poetry

When to Stay:

The first weekend BEFORE spring break season

Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona – Visited September 2007

Eternal Dirt

The Grand Canyon is expansive, in every possible! The soaring vistas, the precarious recognition of your small self in the larger natural world carry peace from your spirit to the other side. The contrasting colors of the sky and stratigraphy paint images that will last an entire lifetime.

Dirt. How exclamatory that those simple grains of dirt created this miracle. Small, individual grains that slowly found themselves deposited in layers for millennia; and small individual grains correspondingly eventually washed away to places beyond, leaving the great gouge in the earth as the Colorado Plateau lifts higher into the sky. It is the largest canyon on earth at 10 miles wide and one mile deep.

Take your children here. Let them play in the dirt, let them sit on the ground and feel this great geologic connection. Let them eat it, be covered in it, combine with it, know it. In your home, you abhor it. You spend hours vacuuming it, dusting it, mopping it. But here, in this space, in this place it is the stuff of magic.

Extra Tip – Use Pedal Power

Bikes and National Park camping seem to go hand in hand. Bikes offer a quick way to access various locations within the parks, limit vehicular traffic, noise and air pollution, and offer a unique opportunity to enjoy the fresh air while getting from place to place. There are ample paved trails available. With younger children, the bike trailer offered a great way for us to get from the campsite to the rim and all of the activities surrounding. Bike rentals are available on the South Rim and all park shuttle buses are equipped with bicycle racks. There are only two locations where bicycle are not allowed, and you certainly would not want to use them in these locations anyway. They include inside the Grand Canyon (below the rim), of course silly. You may also not ride along any paved or unpaved portion of the Canyon Rim Trail, because it’s a long way down. Check the NPS website for more information on bicycling in the Grand Canyon.

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Where to Stay:

There is an abundance of accommodations both within and outside of most national park boundaries. The Grand Canyon National Park is certainly no exception, but due to its extreme popularity, advanced planning is paramount.

Within park boundaries: There are three campgrounds within Grand Canyon National Park, two of which can be reserved through the National Recreation Reservation Service by calling 1-877-444-6777 or online at http://www.recreation.gov/.

Our family stayed at Mather Campground, located on the South Rim accommodating both tent and RV.

When to Go:

October

Junior Ranger Badge – Why Geology, Of Course!

Understanding the geologic processes that provide this mesmerizing expanse is certainly the primary theme. On the large scale, there is the canyon itself, but even on the smaller scale ranger led fossil tours allow children the hands on experience of exploration. Also, don’t miss the opportunity to learn about the incredible animals that call this place home.

Growing in a National Park

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In the chaotic modern world, overflowing with electronic sub-natural terrain and little opportunity for peace and quiet, being surrounded by nature has become short of elusive. Our National Park System still offers that refuge. In our National Parks your heart and soul intermix with the external beauty unhindered by the complexity of the man-made existence that has become our recent stage. We are a creature whose development has slept under the stars for the millennia, and now we find ourselves blinded without the stars, bathed in an un-natural light. We need our wide open spaces, like air or water. Our selves demand them. Our children, especially, need these places to grow, explore, and develop unhindered by modernity.

Referred to as “America’s Best Idea”, these wild spaces lend room for our souls to flourish.There are 59 National Parks within the United States National Park System, and hundreds of additional Monuments, Military Parks, Historic Sites, Preserves, Memorials, Recreation Areas, Rivers, Seashores, Battlefield Parks, Lakeshores, Trails, and Parks.

This website chronicles the adventures of one family to rest from society those rare and special moments of connection between our internal selves and the natural world while visiting our Nation’s Greatest Treasures with our best gift, our children. There are no electronics here, no amusement park rides or video games. There is only a connection between us and the earth.