Day 27 on our Summer Adventure!
– Olympic National Park / Kalaloch, WA (Rialto Beach, Hoh Rainforest, Kalaloch Beach, Tree of Life)
Thursday, June 17, 2021
Hours: 8 or 9 out and about
Miles: 123 (of 6,421 total)
New Counties for the kids: 1 (Washington) (of 101 total new counties)
Wildlife: 2 elk, 1 black bear, 17 sea stars
We started our day with another tide-pooling outing, this time at Rialto Beach. This was one of the recommended beaches for it. It was gorgeous but wasn’t very much for tide-pooling for us. We later realized that the area for seeing things is really about a mile and a half from the trail parking lot. We walked for quite a while but gave up probably about halfway as, though beautiful, the beach was much rougher for walking. There were lots of tiny stones and the sand felt sharp. We all had water shoes on as it hurt too much to walk without them, but the tiny pebbles would find their way inside our shoes too. The kids were near tears by the time we decided to turn around. We did see 17 sea stars / starfish from a distance, but even at lowest tide, most things were still too far out.
Still, this nice but not exceptional experience was just our own. It seems like for others who made it to the further part, this really is still a great place for tide-pooling. There are many great pictures online that seem to prove this, we just weren’t ready for this one and what to expect with the walking and the sharp stones on the beach. Regardless, this is definitely a beach with a phenomenal view at the curve of the peninsula, and lots and lots of picturesque driftwood. It really was quite beautiful. We heard the area on the Quileute Indian Reservation that runs right up to Rialto Beach is really gorgeous as well, though it is still closed due to Covid so I guess we’ll just have yet another reason to go back at some time (I love a good excuse!)!!
One thing that stood out at the beginning of Rialto Beach was all the driftwood. We saw no other way (there was one we discovered later, I’ll get to that,) to get to the beach then to climb over massive piles of driftwood. This surprised me because I’ve seen signs at just about every information board and building about being careful and not climbing on driftwood. It was kind of amusing to me to think of why this was, and I was thinking that dangerous snakes and rodents must make their homes there, or splinters would be riddled with some deadly bacteria… but no, it actually is a lot more straightforward than when I let my imagination run away. Once I did some reading on it, apparently, the big (and now obvious) danger is that it can roll over… and certainly, in the surf, it gets tossed around lightly and easy enough that it makes you forget it’s a TREE and can literally crush and/or drown people!
Some of the interesting reading I found was this article that goes into it well, though may require a subscription to the Wall Street Journal to read. Here is more information about the dangers of driftwood, though it’s more about sneaker waves, which are often involved in driftwood incidents. Then this article about a woman severely injured by driftwood in Oregon, states; ““For much of the West Coast, sneaker waves kill more people than all other weather hazards combined,” the National Weather Service says. The waves can drag people out to sea or roll logs or rocks onto beachgoers.” So obviously, driftwood is an issue. This stack at least seemed pretty far from the water, so we got over safely, BUT, there actually was an easy walkway for those who had gone to the end of the parking lot, by the bathrooms (though it’s a little trickier to find from the beach as it looks hidden, but if you know it’s there, you’ll still likely be able to find it.)
After Rialto Beach, we drove over to the Hoh Rainforest and spotted a black bear crossing the road up ahead just past where we’d turn so we got a short video (It’s posted here on our Instagram) but didn’t have time to get any great still pictures. The bear crossed over and then looked right back at us. It was a black bear (there are no grizzlies here) and it was in a dark shadow of trees so it got harder to see. We pulled up slowly, used to the Yellowstone bears that just ignore people, but this bear wasn’t having it and took off running into the thick forest.
We ate our picnic lunch in the car while we waited to get into the Hoh Rainforest. It was totally full, so they were doing 1 car in for 1 car out. We were about 15th in line when we pulled up mid-afternoon. The wait wasn’t too bad, maybe 15 minutes, so it was perfect for our car picnic. That all said, the line looked even longer when we left later that afternoon, and I’ve read a number of reviews that talked about waiting in line for closer to an hour to get in. Our advice would be to get there as early as possible if you want to go. Ideally, you could pick a day where low tide is later and you could do Hoh first and then head over to a beach afterward for more adventure.
Once in the rainforest, we checked out the Covid-modified (a lot less stuff) Visitor’s Center and chatted a bit with the ranger before doing the Hall of Mosses hike. It was gorgeous but we were also probably a little spoiled by having already done Redwoods a few days ago, as the kids weren’t as impressed with the big trees, and though the Moss and wetness was very cool, it still wasn’t quite as cool as the Fern Canyon at Redwoods. We were bummed we didn’t even get to see any more banana slugs, at least we saw that bear!
We were definitely hitting the late afternoon “witching hour” of tired/exhaustion/hunger that go with a long day and can ruin the rest of the day for any/all of us, so we agreed to just quietly enjoy the view and be calm and understanding of each other and head back to the cabin for a relaxing evening.
After a nice rest, we finally got a chance to go sit out on the balcony of the main lodge and enjoy the gorgeous views as the light slowly started to change hue, even though sunset here is around 10pm so we relaxed for just a bit and got a little treat of small ice cream cones from the mercantile.
Jude cooked a nice dinner, though a bold crow did get one of our corn on the cob, and knocked another to the ground. Luckily, we had bought 6 so it still worked out perfectly fine for the 4 of us. You’re welcome Sir or Madame Crow! I enjoyed making and keeping another fire going in our cast-iron fireplace. There had been about 5 bundles of wood in the cabin for us already when we checked in and we got an additional bundle delivered to our door each day we were there, I was enjoying every last piece of wood to make or keep going as much of these cozy fires as possible before we have to leave. It was toasty warm and so relaxing to sit and watch.
Earlier in the day we’d talked about making a point to get down to Kalaloch Beach. Apparently, there is usually a long staircase/ladder down from the edge of the resort property, but it got wiped out by some massive waves during a winter storm this past winter. There is another path through the campground the lodge manages next-door, so we were going to walk over there but then Jude also wanted to make sure we did a beach bonfire, so we drove down to help get our stuff there. It was pretty foreign to us to be able to do a bonfire on the beach but we’ve wanted to since we heard we could. It just has to be at least 10 feet away from any driftwood and has to be below the high tide line. It was VERY windy, so that presented a fun challenge but I was able to build a wind barrier wall with a few pieces of wood and get the fire going on the other side.
On the beach we were also able to walk over and discover the “Tree of Life” and root cave under it as well as a couple smaller but similar versions. This article has a great description continuing beyond this intro (below picture;)
“With its amazingly viewable roots seemingly supplying the tree with life despite having no soil, it seems to be immortal. Located just north of Kalaloch Lodge, near the Kalaloch Campground, “Tree Root Cave” features a tree like no other. Still breathing while its roots travel to nowhere. Erosion, having taken away its life supply, has not stopped the tree from thriving on the coast and leaving people speechless from a sight that has never been seen before.
How is the top so green? How has it not gone on to that big tree place in the sky? How has another tree not taken over like it so often happens in the tree circle of life? These questions have been asked so many times with no one really knowing how it keeps on going. So it became known to some as the Tree of Life.”
The kids also just loved running all along the “softest beach sand yet”. I took some pictures and tended to the fire but mostly froze, which is not uncommon for me. We knew it couldn’t be a long fire as we had to go back and get the kids to bed and get luggage re-packed and organized to check out tomorrow, so we were home and done with it all, and Jude and I finally sat down to enjoy watching the fireplace fire again, with a bit of light still in the sky, around 10:30 pm.
Day 26 on our Summer Adventure!
– Olympic National Park / Kalaloch, WA (Beach 4, Lake Quinolt, Quinolt Rainforest)
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Hours: short drives with lots of time in between
Miles: 85 (of 6,298 total)
New Counties for the kids: 0
Wildlife: 57 sea stars (aka starfish,) 1 osprey
Beach 4 had a little hike down to it that was semi-steep down a creek-side that flows to the ocean. There was a short bridge made of driftwood from the beach to cross over the small waterfall but then it just leads you to a rock formation you need to get down. A beautiful beach and a great fun experience for our family, but would definitely be limiting to many crowds who can’t climb down the big rock formation easily. The rocks are also on a tilt* jutting out almost upright. It was a little difficult to maneuver but a fun challenge. There was even a knotted rope at the top to help you start/finish on the steep part. That was Bunny’s number 1 favorite part of the whole day.
Down on the beach, we headed to the first rocky area that was an obvious part of this beach and started seeing more hermit crabs and anemones like we had at Seaside, OR. We were so excited to finally find a sea star (starfish,) as that was our number 1 goal for tide-pooling. We even saw a few more! The waters here were tricky as the sand bar was further out than we were, but there was a deeper part and swirling water around some of the rocks so we had to really plan our paths to get around to the safer areas and we were a bit limited by our caution so we decided to take a longer walk down to the bigger rocky area further down the beach.
Pro-tip: When tide-pooling, check a tide table ahead of time to find out when low tide is. Once you know that, you’ll want to plan to go out at least an hour, and ideally, 2 before low tide, so that the whole time you are there, the water is getting lower and spotting gets better. This seems obvious, but at beach 4, where low tide was at 11:25, we saw the crowd pretty much double, right around 11:30, so they all arrived for low tide, but it was only going to rise higher with every minute. Also, always use caution and don’t climb on or stay near driftwood (there were warning signs everywhere about the deaths caused by driftwood accidents,) and don’t ever turn your back on the oceans as there can always be large “sneaker waves” at any time. This last part is true weather tide-pooling or just being out and about near any ocean at any time.
This 2nd rocky area was a total jackpot. The rocks were smoother and easier to climb on. Jude and Bunny adventured up to some higher ones safely, while Karen stayed with Popcorn where it was a little safer and easier to explore. We started seeing way more stuff including 4 or 5 sea stars right off the bat. Then a sweet little boy heard our excitement and asked if we wanted to see a lot more sea stars. Of course!! He led us over to an area where there was a clump of about 12 all right near each other and beautifully mixed with their bright orange and purple colors. We also saw a lot more anemones and sea urchins that were bigger and brighter than others we’d seen.
After a full morning of fun, we headed back towards our cabin, still in the area. We first made a quick stop at the ranger station to pick up Jr. Ranger booklets. They even have an additional program here just along the coast called “Ocean Steward” where the kids can earn a sew-on patch. We talked to that ranger for a while and they had a good display of “what did I see?” that explained some of the things we saw but didn’t know. Most interestingly, the clump of what looked like clear gummy worms (which I may now never be able to eat again because of this) was actually squid eggs! Very cool! Our ranger talked to us for a while and it was interesting to hear she’d been stationed last year at Yellowstone, at Canyon, and how much she loved the area but couldn’t deal with all the tourists anymore and it was getting too crowded and frustrating, so she was very excited to request and get Olympic this year.
We ate lunch outside on the picnic tables by our cabin. The weather has finally been clear and gorgeous again. The weather has been in the mid-high 60s, which can be pretty chilly (for us) though still great for hiking. Out and uncovered from the sun, and with a breeze, it actually felt nice and warm without being hot. It felt wonderful.
We then went over to do the Quinault Rainforest Trail. The latest review on it noted it wasn’t “as muddy anymore”… which, was true though far different from being not muddy at all. While we enjoyed the hike, enthusiasm was wearing thin in the late afternoon, as was the patience the kids had for having a sibling.
Again we headed back to the cabin. The kids had hoped to get ice cream at the lodge and/or do a campfire outside to make s’mores, but we decided a relaxing night, some warm showers, and a good night sleep were most important to refresh all of us as we are just barely over halfway through this long adventure, and though great, it’s a lot to keep going every day and so much to see.
We know we need to build in more rest time too, and we’ve been doing better with it. I think it’s been harder in Olympic though because the rides between site to site are long, but not as long as it was in Yellowstone, or driving from Redding to Lassen Volcanic. Basically, this just means the kids aren’t getting their usual rest from the cat naps they’re more used to in the afternoon. At least in a few days, we’ll be in Seattle for another 5-night stay at a hotel and Jude will have at least 1 workday, so, as much as I love Seattle, and as much as there’s still a lot to see there, we are hoping to take some downtime then, since our focus on this trip is really the parks.
Latest update as of July 27:
Days 9-12 in Yellowstone are temporarily skipped until we finish getting those ready!
Journal is currently updated through Day 27 (Thursday, June 17th. )
Summary update as we work on finishing this journal after spending the majority of our trip without internet (which was otherwise pretty nice!)
We have decided to leapfrog over our Yellowstone Journals (Days 9-12). We just had so much from there with all the pictures and everything, that we thought it would hold up everything else. With so little internet on this trip, we are catching up on most of the trip here at this point now. We will continue to keep things updated as soon as we can and will post on Facebook to announce whenever we have a new entry updated here.
Total Number of Animals We’ve Seen so far (as of the POSTED Days up through Day 27 – Thursday, June 17, 2021)
Grizzly Bears – 0
Black Bears – 2
Moose – 5
Wolves – 0
Bison – “all the bison” (well into hundreds)
Big Horn Sheep – 2
Mountain Goats – 13
Coyotes – 3
Pronghorn/Antelope – 183
Elk – 199
Sea Lions – 22
Seals – 45
Deer – 70
Yellow-bellied Marmots – 2
Banana Slug – 1
Sea Stars – 74
Birds: Wild Turkeys (4+), Eagles (0), Osprey (2), Dusty Grosse (0), Turkey Vultures (6+). Stellar’s Jays (1), Sandhill Cranes (0), Quail (7). Hawks (many), Geese (tons)
Day 25 on our Summer Adventure!
– Seaside, OR to Kalaloch, WA (Lewis & Clark National Historical Park and Olympic National Park)
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Hours: about 7 or 8 with stops
Miles: 176 (of 6,213 total)
New Counties for the kids: 3 (Washington) (of 100 total new counties on this trip)
Wildlife: 16 elk, 2 deer
The far south side of Seaside Beach is an area called The Cove, and this is where we started our day with our very first time going tide-pooling on the Pacific Ocean. It was a pretty area, and we did have some fun but it wasn’t all that we hoped and we didn’t see much. We’re looking forward to trying again in Olympic as we really want to see starfish in particular.
We did get to see a number of hermit crabs both with and without/between shells. We also found a number of sand dollars, a few of them were in pretty much perfect condition! (And as I’m reviewing and posting these after the fact, I’ll add that we never saw sand dollars again at any other tide pooling beach!)
After checking out the Visitor Center, we walked down the path in back to see the re-made Fort Clatsop, the winter encampment for the Corps of Discovery from December 1805 to March 1806. We could walk into replicas of the rooms where Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea with her baby and husband, and the rest of the Corps lived, as well as walking down to the creek where they got their fresh water and get a sense of their home base from where they explored finally getting to the mouth of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean more than 200 years ago.
Their time at Fort Clatsop (named after the local Clatsop tribe) was not an enjoyable one. The weather was recorded as unpleasant with rain on all but 12 days. While elk were originally plentiful, the group grew tired of almost solely eating elk (and some deer), and eventually found them harder to find as well. The meat spoiled quickly but the skins were used to make clothing and moccasins. Lewis spent most of his time at the fort, documenting their journey and taking notes on the wildlife and features of the land, including many helpful maps. Despite naming the fort after them and eventually leaving it to them, the corps did not get along well with the Clatsop Indians and found them untrustworthy and prone to theft. In the end, it was the corp who stole a second, crucially-needed canoe from the Clatsop tribe who had refused to trade with them anymore. They had moved up their departure date as they were all bored and unhappy, with many suffering from numerous illnesses and other conditions including venereal diseases and respiratory problems. They were anxious to leave and start heading home.
Just past the Lewis & Clark site was the border into Washington, and the 48th state for each of the kids, their completion of the continental 48. Soon after, we were excited to enter our Olympic National Park, where we will spend most of the next week.
Despite grey and drizzly weather, checking in to our cabin at the Kalaloch (pronounced Clay- Lock) Lodge was still beautiful and felt perfectly cozy, especially with the cast-iron, wood-burning stove in the corner of the cabin and 4 packs of firewood waiting for us (with a new one to be delivered each day). We got settled in to prepare for our next 3 days here, having a nice dinner out front and playing some of the games we had with us while staying warm by the fire inside until bedtime, dreaming about what more tide pooling adventures would bring us tomorrow!
Day 24 on our Summer Adventure!
– Diamond Lake, OR to Seaside, OR
Monday, June 14, 2021
Hours: 11 hours total out and exploring
Miles: 349 (of 6,386 total)
New Counties for the kids: 6 (Oregon)
Wildlife: about 12 sea lions and maybe 20 harbor seals
With a squeaky and not very comfortable bed (though for the charming location I’d still go back there,) we woke up early and got a good early start for our day. After an hour and a half or so, we wanted to stretch and maybe get a cup of coffee. We were heading for a gas station when we spotted a great local place called Lion Mountain Bakery in Oakridge, OR. What a charming place. It was big and spacious and had displays selling crafts of local artists. The staff were delightful, and we chatted with them for quite a while, and the coffees were true perfection!
We added a little more coastal driving today to make sure to get to Depoe Bay, which was recommended to us and happens to be the whale watching capital of the Oregon coast due to a resident pod of grey whales that stay there year-round. It was a charming little touristy town with beautiful views of the ocean. It is also the world’s smallest harbor. Since we had gotten an early start, we had a little more time to work with. After picnicking along the shore and watching for whales from land, we decided to price out and look into a potential whale watching tour. Most of them there actually guarantee you’ll see whales, so okay, that’s pretty motivating, and at under $100 for all 4 of us, it was an experience we decided we couldn’t pass up (though we actually went with another company, Dockside Charters, that had higher ratings as the “guarantee” at the first company is just for another tour for free if you don’t see whales, but we didn’t have time for that anyway.)
Well, guess what tour saw no whales today… that would be ours. The waves were also significant, and our boat got thrown around quite a bit. I was VERY glad I’d taken my Dramamine. Popcorn was a bit skittish about going out on the boat on the ocean since he still isn’t a swimmer. While it wasn’t required, he asked to wear a life jacket on the ride to feel more secure, and he sat with me out on the deck the whole time.
It was hard keeping our balance as the boat got thrown around and I’d look up at the sky or out on the horizon to try not to get nauseated, but then put on my best mom face and would smile and talk to Popcorn about how much “fun” it was to feel all the waves. He wasn’t totally sold on it but did come around and ended up liking it quite a bit. I don’t regret doing it, but I would describe most of it as more tense than enjoyable for me.
Jude and Bunny walked around to different parts of the boat and had a blast on the ride. I was sure they were getting soaked up front, but where they were they were a bit protected, so, of course, it turns out I was the only one who got wet when a few waves came over the back and got my leg from where I was sitting in the middle of the boat, well back from any edges! Oh well, that just cracked Popcorn up even more, so I guess it all helps!
Unfortunately, we did not get to see any actual whales on our whale watching tour. We did manage to see a number of both harbour seals and sea lions at least. I have a video of a sea lion jumping off of a buoy as our boat came near. It’s harder to post videos on here so when I have short videos, I’ll usually just post them to our Instagram, which also has a number of other additional photos of our adventures, and I try to keep them different than from the journal so that people can watch both without it getting repetitive.
One outing we’d already had planned was to go see the Tillamook Creamery. Jude is a big ice cream fan and he had just discovered Tillamook ice cream within the past year and loves it. Pulling up to the building and the parking lot, we were surprised by how big it was and how crowded it was also, especially mid-afternoon on a Monday.
We went in and did the self-guided tour where you can look out over the floor where all the cheese is made and packaged. It was very well done, and I can see why they have such a great following, it’s definitely a great brand.
We wanted to get some of the ice cream too, but the line was just entirely too long. We waited for a few minutes, but it was barely moving, we assume due to short staffing effects of Covid that we’ve seen at a lot of places. We also were getting a bit tired from the long and full day and were anxious to get to our hotel just off the beach in Seaside, OR.
We checked in to our rental in a kind of random situation. It is apparently managed by the same people who run the B&B across the street, so there was a sign saying to check in over there. An email had said the front desk would be open until 9 pm. We got there around 6 pm and it was already closed and we had to figure out where a key was hidden for us, etc. It was like a scavenger hunt of sorts and not particularly easy, so that wasn’t the best first impression.
We got to our room and it was a nice little suite with a small living room and kitchen. After making dinner, we walked out to the beach in front. It was a vast beach and the kids had a blast running around, but it was also chilly. I had both a jacket and another light coat on over it. We also knew we want to wake up early tomorrow for our first experience of tide-pooling (looking around for sea creatures in the shallow pools left behind during low tide) so we headed back to the room to get ready for bed.
Day 23 on our Summer Adventure!
– Eureka, CA to Diamond Lake, OR (Crater Lake National Park)
Sunday, June 13, 2021
Hours: 9 hours total out and exploring
Miles: 296 (of 6,037 total)
New Counties for the kids: 4 (Oregon)
Wildlife: 71 elk, 1 deer (buck)
We took the scenic route through town as we left Eureka and checked out some of their famous Victorian architecture, especially The Carson Mansion, now a private club, that is one of the most photographed and written about Victorian houses in the United States. We also stopped at the Redwoods Visitor’s Center again for the kids to get their badges and take their Junior Ranger pledges! Then we settled in for a long day of driving, excited to see Crater Lake National Park near the end of it.
We also got to see a small group of young, male Roosevelt Elk right along the side of the road, so that was kind of neat as well!
We knew Hwy 101 was down to one lane for a stretch to repair where a rockslide wiped out half of the road. Wait times were said to be about 30 minutes, but we got lucky timing it and didn’t have to wait more than 5-10 minutes before we got to pass through.
The weather remained drizzly in the morning but did start clearing up. We got to the Rim Visitor’s Center (or the ranger standing in front of it) just before she was about to pack up and she helped the kids get their Jr. Ranger stuff together and even pointed out a few things like the popular Clark’s Nutcracker (bird) & Phantom Ship (island) knowing that our time was a bit limited, and those were both mentioned as things to check out in the Junior Ranger booklets.
The view of the lake was gorgeous. We were going to explore more but noticed a large cloud coming in and pretty quickly swallowing everything up, so we literally ran along the different rim views trying to catch pictures before it was gone, which was just a matter of a couple minutes.
Once the lake disappeared, we weren’t positive what to do. We went to go see the lodge but it was closed except for those staying there. We’d looked into staying there but it would have been a pricier stay around $250, and the reviews weren’t very good either, especially with a lot of the perks (like nearby hikes) still closed by snow.
We walked over to wait in the line to get in the gift shop building and warm up. The line was slow moving, probably largely because it was dreary and drizzly and cool outside, and inside was very nice, especially the clean bathrooms!
The kids both fell in love with a plush “softest wolf ever” and each bought the same one for themselves with their vacation allowance. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but on top of their $5 weekly allowance (which automatically puts $2 in savings, $1 in share/give (for charities of their choice, leaving $2 for spend money), we give them an additional $10 a week on vacation that they can spend as they wish, but they know not to ask us for anything, so that’s the biggest perk to us!
Anyway, with nothing else to do up at the top main area since the views were gone, the trails were closed for snow, and the buildings were all closed (to us) or closing, we decided to go drive around and slowly head down. Interestingly, clear blue patches of sky would emerge from time to time, and occasionally we could catch not just another view, but a quite beautiful one with sunshine and blue sky. Quickly we realized those could disappear almost instantaneously.
At one great lookout, we literally ran out to go get a picture, and the cloud took over before we even got to the edge of the overlook. We walked back to the car and were about to drive off, when clear skies came again. We ran back out and got a quick picture (this time just Popcorn and I,) and were going to go back to the car but saw another clear patch coming so we waved frantically for Jude and Bunny to come out and join us. They ran over and we snapped a few hurried pictures and were done. We took videos of how quickly the cloud cover rolled in and it was probably the quickest any of us had ever seen even after all of our time visiting mountains.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the view of the lake that was gone, but the view of the road. We had visibility limited down to just a few feet. Jude drove and we both carefully watched the lines along the road to make sure we stayed on it. At times, the lines would disappear, and it would feel like we were at the end of the world, but we realized we were just at an intersection. Luckily there were not many other cars, and we’d continue inching forward. By the time we got down to the bottom of the mountain, we could start seeing more and more. We even caught up to a car in front of us and it seemed amazing to be able to see up to about 50 feet in front of us.
Things cleared up eventually, though remained grey and drizzly, and we were pleasantly surprised to see pretty Diamond Lake and the charming Diamond Lake Resort main lodge building. There were cabins and a few motel buildings (one of which was where we were staying), and a big lawn right up to a small beach and the water. There were picnic tables everywhere and even a large firepit.
Jude immediately started dinner while I took the kids to the room to check it out, drop off our essentials, and use the restroom. We spent the entire evening down by the lake. There was almost a constant misty drizzle, that picked up a bit while we were eating, but it was so pretty out we didn’t mind. And once we got a good roaring fire to keep us warm, we didn’t worry about much else. Once the sun set (which is pretty late out here, well past 9 pm), we headed back to our room, which was … rustic, and got to bed for another big day of driving the next day.
Day 22 on our Summer Adventure!
– Eureka, CA (Redwoods National Park)
Saturday, June 12, 2021
Hours: 11 hours total out and exploring
Miles: 155 (of 5,741 total)
New Counties for the kids: 1 (California)
Wildlife: 36 elk, around 10 sea lions, around 25 seals, 1 banana slug, 1 osprey, 1 bunny
What an awesome and gorgeous day, even despite some grey and drizzle! We were excited to see more redwood trees and earn another Jr. Ranger badge so we headed over to Redwoods National Park and stopped at the Visitor’s Center right off the bat. Like many other places, this is still running differently for Covid, with indoor displays closed, but rangers outside at a table with information. This is what we’ve seen most often at visitor’s centers, though some have been open. All in all, there are definitely more places open this year than last year, and we can appreciate the precaution of everything being modified.
We’d read about the Fern Canyon hike and had concerns about how wet it would be, but were also very excited. There are 3 places we’d have to drive the car through standing water, so we asked plenty of people who assured us it wouldn’t be more than a few inches. Being that we have to do that in New Orleans almost every time it rains, we were not deterred.
I’d packed an extra set of gym shoes for everyone, so I packed those up in a day bag with extra socks as well, and decided to give it a go. The hike itself is through a creek bed, so I was picturing much more constant and dirty water and mud. We knew there were boards put out around but not everywhere. Once we got there, it really wasn’t that bad for wetness and was super worth it!
Interesting note – Steven Spielberg used Fern Canyon for to film part of Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World, describing the canyon as “an unforgettable natural wonder.”
There is a creek that ranges in depth by a few inches, but would rarely be more than ankle deep, and the boards or downed trees put across deeper or wider parts were hugely helpful. A lot of the time you are just walking on rocks along the side of the creek. You could certainly get in there and not get too wet, but since we had back-up shoes, we decided to go all the way in to the canyon as far as the “trail” went. There really is no specific trail and there are a few times that you have to choose your own path and may be climbing over large downed trees, climbing up or around muddy hills, or wading through the water itself. We were more cautious on the way in so that we wouldn’t have to hike long in wet shoes, but let the kids get a little more adventurous on our way back.
It was really an awesome hike. The canyon is covered with fern and moss all along the walls towering (50-80 ft) over you. As sunlight comes through it creates great effect for a new view around every curve. This is technically a loop hike where you can start or end by hiking above the canyon, but luckily, I’d read a recommendation to just stay in the canyon both ways, and we’re so glad we did. Even though we’d seen everything, it felt all new coming from the other angle. Also, despite a large and full parking lot, we never felt crowded by other hikers and certainly had some stretches all to ourselves for a little bit here and there.
We even got to see a banana slug! These are emblematic of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) and particularly the rainforests of Olympic National Park in Washington, where we will go in a few days. The banana slug was climbing along on a narrow tree branch we needed to cross under, but it was at a good height and easy to watch it as it turned around to head back while we were there. The banana slug did have a few black dots on it, which I feel like I remember seeing on others when I was out here as a child, so didn’t seem too bad but some of the other hikers were talking about it and asking about it. Someone asked me if I knew what the black spots meant and all I could come up with was “overly ripe?”
We finished the hike and changed our shoes in the parking lot and headed out. Water in the roads had risen a bit and was deeper in some parts, particularly in the bigger of many potholes at the crossings, but you could still manage to get through it pretty easily as long as you paid attention to picking where and at what angle to cross.
On our way out, we drove back through Elk Meadow and spotted a few elk this time! They are apparently super common here but we hadn’t seen any yet in this area. We also realized, unless you see them moving, they’re pretty tough to see as the prairie grass is as tall as they are. Luckily, we got to see a number of them cross the road in front of us. We were extra excited to see a number of babies, as well as listen to a mother call for others to cross while she had traffic stopped, as their very own crossing guard. (You can see/hear the video on our Instagram account @Family_Road_Trips_With_Kids)
After a nice picnic, we decided to head along the coast more and try our luck at spotting whales. Bunny and I sat out on the lookout where the river flows out to the ocean in Klamath, CA. The boys stayed in the car and took a half hour nap. We talked with a local man who was out watching the ocean with his binoculars. He pointed out the sea lions way down below by the beach and talked about whales as well. He said they haven’t been seen there in a few days but recommended we stop at Depoe Bay in Oregon when we told him our plans for the next few days. Meeting people like this is the reason we leave some flexibility in our plans always since we did end up looking this place up later and everything confirmed what this man had said so we definitely added it to our list for our drive in two days!
When the boys woke, we said this view was pretty but not incredible and it’d be worth looking for other options, particularly if we could get further down by that beach. We saw people down there so we knew it had to be possible. We followed a couple remote roads with little success, though we did get to see an osprey up close in a tree right near the end of one of the roads. There were 10 or so cars parked off the side of the road at one area that looked like it had a beach that would be closer, though not the beach we saw, so we climbed out and explored there.
After seeing someone else climb across and through the muddy hill of trees near the beach, we figured that had a likely opportunity to be another “path” that might lead us even closer to the beach near the sea lions, so we cautiously checked it out and were richly rewarded. What a neat and largely secluded area, we looked up later to find little mentioned about it but did confirm it’s Klamath Beach. Yurok Natives were out fishing with nets in the river. Quickly we noticed that there were some sea lions swimming up into the river happily fishing as well while the fish were moving around.
We walked further out and saw the little peninsula beach we’d seen from the overlook and there in the crashing waves we saw a number of harbour seals and sea lions hanging around playing in the surf, or just trying to hold their spot in the shallow waters as waves crashed up and over them. These were one of the moments when I was extra in love with my camera and its excellence with zoom photography. It took hundreds of shots, but I did get a number of them where you can clearly and easily see these fun sea mammals.
The kids and Jude walked out and explored further down the sand hill to the lower beach and closer to the water while I sat and got trigger happy with my photography. We hated to leave but eventually dragged ourselves out of there knowing it was going to get dark (especially on a gray day) and that we wanted to get home to pack up and get ready for another few days on the road starting tomorrow. Tide was also getting a bit higher and the climb out to this beach had already been a bit awkward, so we didn’t want to mess it up with more water.
It was a very enjoyable day for all, especially when we were winging it for some of it and weren’t sure what to expect for most of the day. When those days come together, the rewards are often great, as they were today!
I’m adding a gallery of more photos from Fern Canyon, Elk Prairie, and Klamath Beach below.
Day 21 on our Summer Adventure!
– Eureka, CA (Redwood State Parks, Avenue of the Giants, Drive-Thru Tree, Glass Beach, HWY 1)
Friday, June 11, 2021
Hours: 13 hours total out and exploring, with a picnic, a few hikes and some pit stops included
Miles: 284 (of 5,586 total)
New Counties for the kids: 1 (California)
Wildlife: 2 deer, 2 close turkey vultures, 1 Steller’s jay at our picnic site
Starting in Humbolt Redwood State Park, we drove the route through Avenue of the Giants and enjoyed a number of hikes. This drive (approx. 30 miles) is really the most beautiful drive for seeing all the redwoods and we found it a must-do and started here before the National Park, as it’s such an impressive introduction to the Redwoods for the kids to see, as well as offering a number of great kid-friendly hikes so you can get out of the car often to stretch and explore.
The kids were in awe (as were we) at these massive trees and LOVED hiking around and exploring seemingly almost every tree. Many of the trees had areas where you could climb on them, over them (if they’d fallen,) or go right through them. There was even one that had fallen across another one that made a unique seesaw!
We even got to see the truly awesome Dyerville Giant, a fallen redwood that was once the tallest tree (362 ft.) in the park before it fell in 1991 at approximately 2,000 years old (I mean, this tree deserved to finally lay down!) The fall was so dramatic it registered on a seismograph nearby. You can walk the length of the tree and see the giants that have fallen over on top of it at some parts, snapped and splintered. The incredible thing is that you are and have been hiking around/through other massive trees, and this one STILL manages to stand out impressively and hold it’s own.
The trees are incredible and exciting to walk around between, but it was really impressive when we’d step back a minute and really take in their size and what they’ve lived through. New Orleans (our home) recently celebrated its tricentennial (300th birthday) which was really extraordinary, especially considering our country wasn’t even a country yet and is more than 50 years younger! Then, you think about a tree that has stood for 2,000 years and it’s really kind of hard to even fathom. There were a few trees at different sites that had fallen and had important historical dates pointed out along the inner rings of the tree to show just how long the tree had lived. Dates that were many rings/circles (each represents a year of life) out from the center of the tree, show how big the tree had grown when important events in history happened, such as the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, the beginning of the Renaissance (1453,) and the Boston Tea Party in 1773. While these events were happening in other parts of the world, these trees were already giants that had lived for many hundreds of years before, steadfast pillars of natural strength and beauty.
After taking in the magnificent beauty of nature, our obvious next stop would be to go do one of the most touristy experiences. So, we went to drive through a tree. Of the three options where this is possible (all are privately owned,) we chose the Shrine Drive-Through Tree purely due to convenience as it was nearby and avoided driving 50+ miles to either of the other options. This is the only tree that had the pass-through naturally created (mostly). It has been widened a bit by the owner, and is now 7 feet tall and 7 feet wide. They assured us our Honda Odyssey minivan would fit as long as we folded in the mirrors, and it did, though, I did have flashbacks to my phobias about getting stuck in a cave. We went through VERY slowly and still did tap the passenger mirror but corrected and made it out with about a solid inch (maybe on both sides!) to spare! Let’s just say the video I was trying to record while going through, had to be stopped and restarted while Jude and I calmly and lovingly discussed the brilliance of this idea.
After we and the car all exhaled, we went on to do the much less stressful “drive-on” tree stump and then went to play in the two 2-story treehouses each carved out of other individual redwood trees. They were pretty cool and I admit, I may have even gone in and climbed upstairs too (while trying not to think of the “stairway” as a narrow cave-like opening.) These little houses were not only adorable but the craftmanship was impeccable and one even had little bookshelves carved into the wall!
Changing scenes, we headed over to MacKerricher State Park for our first views of the Pacific Ocean on this trip. We got off Hwy 101 and switched to Hwy 1 at Leggett, CA and headed to the coast, a drive of about 60 miles that will take nearly 2 hours and have no real turnoffs or stopping points, just ENDLESSLY winding 2-lane road with very limited passing opportunities. Luckily, we did not have much other traffic as I can’t even imagine doing this stuck behind a huge RV. I did end up taking some Dramamine to make it through the twists and turns. I very rarely have motion sickness from the car (that would make our road trips pretty miserable, wouldn’t it?!) though have had other issues occasionally when the view is limited and you are entirely within forest (such as in the mountains of southeastern NC.) Anyway, it was a beautiful but LONG drive. The speed-limit fluctuates between about 20-35mph depending on how sharp the next turn is. We even saw one unfortunate car that may have chanced a turn at closer to 40-50mph… let’s just say it’s obvious they learned their lesson, and traffic is going to be rough whenever they find someone to tow that car out of there. It made getting to the Ocean all that much more joyful, despite the grey skies and drizzly weather.
Bunny and I enjoyed the beautiful views from the boardwalk trail to Laguna Point while Jude stayed in the car with Popcorn who was deep into a well-needed nap. Despite the grey weather, it is always impressive to look out over the ocean. We also really hoped to see a whale on this trip, even though we knew it wasn’t particularly likely, it wasn’t out of the question either. Hopefully we’ll get a chance at some of our other coastal spots on this trip. We did at least get to explore the skeleton of a grey whale (and partial skeleton of adult and baby humpback whales) at the entrance to the park!
Also in MacKerricher State park was Glass Beach, often listed as the best place in the world to find seaglass. There were many tiny pebbles of seaglass there and we had fun exploring, but we definitely didn’t have the time or focus of some of the real collectors who go there. The beach is very pretty though, and we had lots of fun. I’d definitely recommend people check it out if in the area. It was a neat contrast to be on the beach instead of the redwood forest we’d explored earlier.
Around Mendocino, we turned around and prepped to take Hwy 1 back to Leggett and Hwy 101. Yes… that LONG and windy road was still our best option for heading back. At least we had a better sense of what to expect for the drive back, and we got kind of goofy waiting for which turn would reveal that poor car that didn’t make the turn some other time. Definitely a lesson in paying attention to those lower speed limits around each turn!
Anyway, it was a long day, but truly wonderful and we are so excited for more Redwoods as we head up to the national park tomorrow! I’ll post a slideshow with some additional photos below but don’t forget to follow us on our Facebook and Instagram for additional pictures and posts throughout the day.
Day 20 on our Summer Adventure!
– Redding, CA to Eureka, CA (Whiskeytown, Shasta Trinity National Forest, Bigfoot Museum)
Thursday, June 10, 2021
Hours: 4 or so, plus a number of stops
Miles: 179 (of 5,302 total)
New Counties for the kids: 2 (California)
Wildlife: 3 deer near Lewiston mining town, quail family, frog, grasshopper, dominant female raven making “knocking” noise to claim territory
After checking out of our hotel in Redding, we headed back over to Whiskeytown for the kids to finish up their booklets and get their Junior Ranger badges, and to go back and see Oak Bottom Beach again, including looking for my prescription glasses that I’ve lost somewhere along this part of our trip, and I think they fell out of the car door somewhere most likely.
On our way towards Eureka, we drove for a few hours through the Shasta Trinity National Forest, which was lovely. We found a great picnic area right along the Trinity River at Whites Bar. There was a clicking/knocking sound in the trees that wasn’t a woodpecker and the more we watched, it was actually a raven. Apparently, this isn’t an uncommon thing, but it was something we’ve never noticed before, or maybe just assumed was a woodpecker or something. In the quiet of a picnic area, and with the bird right near us, it was easy and interesting to watch during our lunch.
After lunch we walked down the path a bit further to go right up to the Trinity River. There was a very small little whitewater area through the rocks that was pretty, and the kids enjoyed exploring and playing with rocks along the area. They also found a frog and grasshopper and a number of interesting bugs.
As we drove out, we got to see a mother quail and all her babies cross the road in front of us and then scoot up a hill. They really do camouflage very well among the bushes and grasses, but we did get a picture of one or two babies. Not an excellent one, but a fun keepsake of that memory for us.
After all the forest exploring we’ve done, it seemed only fitting to stop by the Willow Creek – China Flat Museum to see their massive Bigfoot Collection!! The kids were too scared to go in the room, so I went in alone and had a blast checking out all the plaster footprint casts, written stories, and other paraphernalia. I highly recommend for both believers and nonbelievers!
Day 19 on our Summer Adventure –
Redding, CA (Whiskeytown)
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Hours: 3 out and about with a number of stops
Miles: 38 (of 5,123 total)
New Counties for the kids: 0
Wildlife: 1 deer at sundial bridge
We had a rough night last night with Bunny up coughing a lot and going through a box of tissues. Everyone slept in and no one felt particularly great this morning. Popcorn had his own sniffles as well. We kept trying to motivate ourselves to get going but then a couple of us would fall asleep longer, and Jude was able to get more work done, as well as take a nap also. We didn’t end up getting going until 3:30 or so but appreciated the rest.
We ran some errands and then headed over to Whiskeytown again to see if they’d replaced the Junior Rangers booklets they keep outside of the Visitor’s Center, which is only open Wednesday – Sunday 9am-2pm. We did get the booklets and explored the area again some more.
We’d aimed to go do a couple waterfall hikes in the area, but no on even had energy for that, so we decided we’d head back to Redding to see the Sundial Bridge again and walk around that area for a bit. We even got to see wildlife when some poor deer got terrified by a dog off it’s leash and the deer flew out of the woodsy area right out across the path in front of us. That was the most excitement we could take for today, so we headed back to the hotel and had a calm evening working on Junior Ranger booklets, packing up to leave tomorrow, nibbling on some leftovers for dinner, and getting to bed at a reasonable time so that we will hopefully be feeling better tomorrow and in the days ahead.
Follow along on our Summer 2021 Adventure!
Day 18 – Redding, CA (Lassen Volcanic)
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Hours: 8 with many stops for exploring
Miles: 160 (of 5,085 total)
New Counties for the kids: 0
Wildlife: sadly, none
We enjoyed taking our time with our longer stay here in Redding, CA. Sometimes people ask about how we choose where we stay. After we pick our national parks and get those reservations, we work around those dates and look at options in between. The other thing we look at is good deals. We have a number of 5-night stays because that is the best deal when you are booking/paying with Marriott points, so we try to take advantage of those opportunities as a chance to get resettled, have a less-rushed stay, and, of course, save money. We do a lot to keep costs down on these trips, but they obviously still add up too!
Today we went back to Lassen Volcanic and the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor’s Center, where Popcorn adopted a Pika and got his certificate and a plush pika to commemorate his donation. He named it Chou, so it’d be his Pika-Chou (Pokeman reference I don’t even know beyond the name.) We stayed on the nice grounds and used one of their many picnic areas, even taking advantage of the nice fire pit to do an impromptu little campfire while the kids ran around and explored.
The road through the parks was a lovely drive again. Unfortunately, a number of hikes are still closed because of snow (which we didn’t really expect because, well, June.) We did get out at Sulphur Works and enjoyed seeing the thermal features there. It reminded us of Yellowstone but the kids were excited to see a more liquidy mudpot as the mud pots at Yellowstone were a little dryer and slower this year. This one was boiling rapidly!
The beautiful Emerald Lake was our next spot. Such a rich shade of green in a lovely setting was just fantastic. And the water was so crystal clear. There were a few rocks and a downed tree trunk to climb across for better views too. More snow here too. Not a lot but the kids were still thrilled and don’t miss a chance to throw snowballs at their father!
The other Visitor’s Center wasn’t even open yet for the season (again, it’s June, but whatever.) We enjoyed walking around the area and seeing the seismograph and HUGE pinecones. We did a little more looking around at the camping and gift store near Manzanita Lake, which we hope to come back to tomorrow
We hit a couple of different grocery stores on the way home, looking for more local products or souvenirs, and to get a sense of the culture of the local area outside of the park. Then we headed back to the hotel room, made dinner and all got so sleep early, feeling a bit under the weather, Lucy with a stuffy nose and sore throat, everyone feeling tired. I’m going to add another little slideshow below to show some other highlight photos of this day at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Day 17 – Redding, CA (Workday, Hedge Creek Falls, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area & Oak Bottom Beach, and Sundial Bridge)
Monday, June 7, 2021
Hours: 3 driving
Miles: 147 (of 4,925 total)
New Counties for the kids: 1 (California)
Wildlife: geese and turkey vultures very close up
Today was a workday for Jude and a rest day for the rest of us. The kids did some homework and Jr. Ranger work, read, colored, and had some iPad time as well. Karen worked on photos and journaling for most of the day.
Around 3 pm or 3:30 (after it hit 5 pm CST and Jude was done) we were able to get out and explore a bit and get a little exercise and fresh air. We did a drive around the outskirts to see waterfalls and Lake Shasta.
We did a short but steep hike to Hedge Creek Falls and enjoyed seeing all the mud handprints other people had left on the rock cave you could walk under/through behind the falls.
After more driving, we went to nearby Whiskeytown Recreation Area and played and cooked dinner for a picnic at Oak Bottom Beach. It was very windy but the kids enjoyed running with a scarf they used as a parachute!
The scenery was beautiful, and though there wasn’t much for wildlife, we enjoyed watching lots of canada geese and turkey vultures.
There was also a gorgeous sunset. We hung out for quite a while to see if we’d see stars, but it was a bit cloudy and just kept getting colder with all the wind, so we decided to head back.
Before going to the hotel, we went to go see the neat Sundial Bridge in Redding, lit up for nighttime, it was very pretty. All in all, it was still a pretty full day even on top of getting a bunch of work done.
Day 16 – Redding, CA (Meeting up with friends in Chico, CA)
Sunday, June 6, 2021
Hours: 4 driving
Miles: 165 (of 4,778 total)
New Counties for the kids: 2 (California)
Wildlife: 1 deer
We got a slow start today as Popcorn wasn’t feeling well this morning. He woke with a tummy ache and was tired still too. He ended up throwing up and sleeping 2 more hours and then woke good as new. We drove down to Chico to meet up with friends Karen had gone to college with, now living in Sacramento. We found a nice playground with a shaded picnic area and the adults caught up for a few hours while our kids met, played for the afternoon, and became new friends. Their son is a year older than Bunny, and their daughter is a year older than Popcorn. We did have a hard time finding a good spot in Bidwell Park. It was really nice but kind of confusing to figure out the roads and where the playground was but worked out perfectly in the end. And we even spotted one deer in the park, so there’s our wildlife for the day!
After that, we drove back to Redding and enjoyed the mountain views some more. We think we MAY have even been able to see Lassen Peak, but aren’t sure if it’s too far away or not, and it may have just been a different mountain.
We stopped at Safeway to pick up some groceries and use the Amazon locker. Over the first two weeks, we discovered a few things we needed for the trip and had a few things break (like phone charge cords and shoelaces) so we ordered on Amazon a couple of days ago and the locker pickup worked great!
Dinner in our kitchen tonight at the Towne Place Suites and we’ll get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, Jude will have to work for most of the day, so my goal is to keep working on photos and these journals and reset our luggage. After going from 26 to 103 degrees over the past week, and finally knocking out a few loads of laundry, we need to set things back in order for our next stretch. In the meantime, we have 4 more nights here in Redding, so we’ll still do more here between Lassen Volcanic, Mt. Shasta, and a few other neat things we’ve looked into in the area.
Day 15 – Reno, NV to Redding, CA (Lassen Volcanic National Park)
Saturday, June 5, 2021
Hours: 7 (with picnic stops and exploring the park)
Miles: 235 (of 4,613 total)
New Counties for the kids: 5 (California)
Wildlife: 1 deer, 1 (blonde) black bear
We were ready to leave Reno, and the drive out was not much different than the drive in, so our first few hours were nothing particularly special.
The second half of the day was great, once we got to Lassen Volcanic National Park. It was one of the national parks we didn’t know as much about, and Karen couldn’t remember if she’d been there as a kid or not on their family travels. It’s really beautiful there.
We stopped at the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor’s Center, which is very well done, has a great store and café, and tables outside with an incredible view! It was one of those “hot” days here but truly gorgeous weather to us.
The mountains aren’t huge like the Rockies or anything, but very pretty and an interesting mix of rock and trees vs. being almost entirely rock or forest, like many other mountain areas. The park itself sits basically inside what was once a volcano that blew its top. All the peaks around the park are actually just jagged wall edges from the original volcano.
There was still some snow around, including enough to shut down two of the popular trails, but everything there was great, and we can’t wait to go back in the next few days for more. The crowds were also minuscule after Yellowstone as our last park.
The coolest part of all was that, after some funny excitement about seeing a deer (our first wildlife spotting of the whole day), we later got to see a (light) black bear. It was pretty close to us too and foraging and pulling tree branches and trunks up and apart. And there were only maybe 3 other people near us… In Yellowstone that could have been 30 or even 300!
It was one of our coolest bear sightings ever! (Though we agreed the mama bear with her two cubs climbing up and down the tree in Yellowstone a few nights ago was the best overall.) Please go to our Instagram page if you want to see the close-up video (though shaky/blurry at the beginning and end) of this bear tearing apart a fallen tree with its mouth and front claws!
Thanks again for joining us on this virtual adventure, and particularly for your patience as we get these early posts up. Don’t forget to follow along on our Facebook and Instagram for other (and more common) pictures and posts throughout the day.
Day 14 – Boise, ID to Reno, NV
Friday, June 4, 2021
Miles: 459 (of 4,378 total)
New Counties for the kids: 10 total – 4 (Idaho), 1 (Oregon), 6 (Nevada)
Wildlife: 3 pronghorn
This was a pretty dull day of driving for sure. Jude did a conference call for work in the morning while we headed out. We were excited to snip the southeast corner of Oregon on our drive, giving the kids their 46th state, and Jude his 49th! Oh, and we did see a number of trucks pulling triple cargo, so that was impressive. When we thought about it, we could remember having seen these before, but they aren’t super common.
Other than that excitement of getting a new state for most of the family, there wasn’t a whole lot more. There were long stretches of absolutely nothing, which luckily, we later started seeing the signs warning it’d be another 40-70 miles before the next gas or rest area.
It was interesting to see a part of Oregon that seemed to blend right in with that area of Nevada and Idaho, though these weren’t particularly our favorite areas to drive through, they were still different and pretty in their own way.
Nonetheless, we were ready to keep moving, especially since today’s drive had more main highway driving than we’d had in a while and coming into Reno was not particularly pleasant with traffic. We admittedly didn’t have many expectations about Reno either, therefore, it didn’t really disappoint. It had a handful of very large casino hotels scattered around town, not on any one strip or area as far as we could tell. There were a few neat old-fashioned hotels and casinos that had some neat signs, but there wasn’t much more.
Our hotel gave us probably the least comforting piece of paper we’d seen in a while. It was a note to put in your car so they could call you in the middle of the night if something happened to your car overnight. In some ways, it’s a nice thing to offer, but with multiple signs about removing everything from your vehicle and how the hotel has no liability if anything happens to your car… it wasn’t comforting. It was a pretty nice, modern hotel in what seemed to be a reasonably good area as well, but it definitely seemed like they’ve had plenty of issues there before.
We went to Costco to pick up a few things, including refills on some of our medications that were due, and then we went back to the hotel to make sure we still got a good, well-lit parking spot in the front that was visible to the front desk, and we went up to the hotel and worked on work, summer homework, and photos.
Day 13 – Hailey, ID to Boise, ID (Via the Sawtooth Mountains)
Thursday, June 3, 2021
Hours: 6 (including 1-hour picnic lunch)
Miles: 201 (of 3,919 total)
New Counties for the kids: 4 (Idaho)
Wildlife: 2 Deer, 28 pronghorn, 2 elk
Without a long drive, we started the day off catching up on things at the hotel as we continue to catch up on photos and notes after nearly 10 days with limited to no internet. In fact, as I post this, we have decided to leapfrog our journal over Yellowstone for now to have a better chance at otherwise catching up to where we are. The days since have mostly been written already so we just need to update them on the website and add pictures.
We left around noon and even doubled our drive to get more counties and enjoy a prettier drive going through the Sawtooth Mountains. First though, we enjoyed the small but up-and-coming ski towns right around where we had stayed and up through Ketchum, ID, where we also stopped to see the grave of Ernest Hemingway. Hemmingway lived a complex life to say the least, but his works have been some of Karen’s favorites as a college English Major.
We headed up into the Sawtooth Mountains and were able to stop for a picnic lunch after about an hour more of driving once we reached the beautiful Redfish Lake. There is the Redfish Lake Lodge and cabins at one area, which looks idyllic, and a number of public beaches and campsites around the area. The lake was gorgeous with crystal clear water and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
This area is going through a bit of a heatwave and temperatures were in the high 80s, which seems uncommon for this northern mountain area, but the locals were out and loving the icy cold waters of the lake. It did look very inviting, and we did stick our feet in but didn’t have a lot of time and no of us had much desire to go further into that cold, melted snow water. Jude cooked a nicer meal on the grill since it would be too hot and less fun to do at the hotel in Boise later, so we saved our easy picnic meal for dinner.
After a nice break, we were looking forward to more downtime catching up on things again this evening, so we got back on the road. Crossing over the mountains had the expected beautiful views with the occasionally scary sharp drop off over the edge but wasn’t too bad. We crossed at least two summits that were each just a bit shy of 7,000 feet elevation. We saw lots of fire damage in the area, which isn’t uncommon on drives like this, but think it was the first time where we saw warning signs to watch out for dead trees and limbs falling in the road from fire damage. Luckily, we didn’t see any of that happen.
The mountains also were less rocky than we are used too and had lots of dusty rockslide and avalanche area. The roads were fairly desolate though, so we didn’t have to worry much about other traffic. Lots of camping around with people just hanging out by their tents and trying to stay cool. Almost every license plate we saw was local/Idaho.
We got to our hotel around 6pm and had a relaxing evening. It was 103 degrees when we got in That said, with only 40 percent humidity, 103 degrees out west feels like a fairly lovely day in New Orleans. I’d take this over 82 degrees or warmer in New Orleans any day! (I remember thinking similar thoughts when we got to Phoenix, AZ 5 years ago in 117 degrees and thought “this doesn’t feel too bad, just like you’re in an oven” – which did sound like it would be bad, but truly was not nearly what we expected and still much better than it would have been at 20-30 degrees cooler but with 90-100% humidity).
Bunny worked more on the postcards she’s coloring (a new idea we are trying out where we bought blank postcards and let the kids draw and color in whatever scenes they want to from the trip). Hers are looking great and she gave me permission to post a picture of them!
Karen worked on reorganizing clothes yet again, as it was now 75 degrees warmer than it had been for us just a few days ago when we’d wake early to go look for wildlife in Yellowstone. (It was just 26 degrees when we drove to Hayden Valley 3 days ago.) She also continues to sync and edit down our thousands of pictures on iCloud and worked on updating more of our journal and drafting additional posts. Adding pictures took forever without enhanced high-speed internet, but the journal is now updated a bit more and hopefully, we’ll be able to catch up and get into our Yellowstone journaling soon because there will be a lot there.
PART 2 (OF 2)
Saturday, May 29, 2021
PART 2 (Part 1: Thermopolis to Yellowstone,
including Beartooth Pass, in the post below this one)
We were so glad to be back in Yellowstone and to come in through Lamar Valley especially. This is by far our luckiest place in the world for seeing wildlife and we are excited about the days ahead.
We chose to stay at Mammoth Hot Springs again this year because we loved the cabin community there and its convenience to Lamar Valley. Karen used to stay at Old Faithful when her family came here in her childhood and was reluctant to try other options because of the historic charm of the Old Faithful Inn that she didn’t want to give up. Last year we stayed at the cabins at Lake Yellowstone for 3 or 4 nights, and then Mammoth Hot Springs cabins for 4 or 5 nights and she appreciated the ease of getting to Hayden and then Lamar Valley, but Mammoth and Lamar easily took a new favorite spot.
A bison herd crossing the road was the perfect welcome for our visit and we took our time enjoying these gorgeous beasts taking their own time as we crossed through their home. We love seeing the new babies of spring and saw plenty of young bison calves (sometimes referred to as “red dogs”).
We also happened upon a dozen bighorn sheep just relaxing right along the side of the road. We didn’t get to our cabin until about 6:30 pm, and we still had to unload the whole car, get settled, and have dinner, so we decided that would be it for tonight since we knew we’d be waking up early the next few days, and specifically at 5 am the next morning.
Jude cooked dinner on our Skottle in the center area of the cabins where another large group was grilling as well. We admired their fold-up table and they came over to admire and ask questions about the skottle. It was a large family that comes in from all over the country to stay at Mammoth every Memorial Day weekend. One of the adult sisters lives in Jackson Hole and coordinates it each year. The kids played and enjoyed watching elk on the hillside over the roofs of the cabins.
While we cleaned up dinner, and the kids and I went in to get ready for bed, Jude took the car to drive over to the main lodge to get some ice for our cooler for the morning. He wasn’t gone long before he came back and told us to come outside. He’d been stopped by the small bison herd that had moved into Mammoth this year and was coming through the cabin area.
We came outside to see the tail end of the herd running (and some just grazing) right through the little grassy field area at the center of our square of about 20 cabins, entering and exiting right between the cabins and the parked cars all around. Very cool! This, and the nice people again helped make Mammoth the right choice for us. Last year we woke from an afternoon nap to find rangers hazing two black bears out of the area right on the hill behind our cabin, and we also met a wolf expert who gave us amazing wildlife viewing tips that have made all the difference for us (and keep us largely in Lamar Valley).
Though it seems almost impossible that it’d ever be anything less than great anyway, this looks like it has all the potential of being another amazing Yellowstone trip! Time to set our alarms for the morning and get some sleep!
Day 8 – Thermopolis, WY to Yellowstone National Park, WY (Hot Springs State Park, Red Lodge, Beartooth Pass, Lamar Valley)
POSTING PART 1 OF 2 NOW (as of 6/7 afternoon)
Saturday, May 29, 2021
Hours: 6 of commuting with stops (approx. 9:30-3:30), probably 5 more around Yellowstone
Miles: 245 (of 2,743 total)
New Counties for the kids: 1 (Wyoming)
Wildlife: 3 Deer, 43 pronghorn, 0 Coyote, 13 elk, 0 big horn sheep, “all the bison”, 4 moose, 13 mountain goats
POSTING PART 1 OF 2 NOW (as of 6/7 afternoon)
Our excitement to get to Yellowstone had us all up early and ready to go. We did agree to do a short hike around town and over to see this amazing world’s largest hot spring and cross over the bridge for a better view. It was pretty neat indeed and we could totally see how people could enjoy a few days here. We talked about possibly driving through again another time, though agreed that pretty much any time, despite the appeal of this town, we’d still be too anxious to just get over to Yellowstone. So, off we went.
The kids were disappointed that our drive would take about 5 hours, but we pointed out that the last hour or so would be in Yellowstone anyway, and an hour or two before that would be up on snowy Beartooth Pass, which is a spectacular experience on its own.
We had a nice little picnic and pit stop in the town of Red Lodge before heading up the mountains. People have definitely talked of this road as one of the more terrifying mountain drives, and we were slightly concerned since it had only opened again from winter just the day before, but we’d taken the road out of Yellowstone last year and didn’t find it that terrible.
Anyway, it was fun seeing all the snow. There were sections where the snow plowed to the sides of the road stood probably twice the height of our car!
We got out to take a picture with the sign at the summit and quickly taught the kids about staying on the snow path already created when Popcorn stepped on a different part and his foot fell right through. It was only about 6” deep there but we saw some other holes where obviously a full adult leg had fallen through. As we posed next to the sign, we reminisced about standing UNDER this same sign last year a few weeks and much more snowmelt into the summer.
We enjoyed watching lots of skiers and snowmobilers taking advantage of some of the different slopes, some of which were incredibly steep and obviously expert level.
We stopped in the town of Cooke City for another quick pit stop before heading over to the Northeast Yellowstone entrance. In the short distance between the two we saw FOUR moose! They were both in sets of two and both not far off the road.
The second set was walking around between and around some houses/cabins. All were cows and looked like young adults though could have also just been a bit smaller coming off of winter.
We entered Yellowstone and drove through Lamar Valley (our favorite) on our way to our cabin in Mammoth Hot Springs. It felt so good to be back! I’ll follow up on that and add it to this post or an additional (“part 2”) post later.
Day 7 – Custer State Park, SD to Thermopolis, WY (Devil’s Tower)
Friday, May 28, 2021
Hours: 10 approx. (9:30am-7:30pm)
Miles: 396 (of 2,498 total)
New Counties for the kids: 5 (Wyoming)
Wildlife: 6 Deer, 82 pronghorn, 0 Coyote, 52 elk, 2 big horn sheep, 0 bison, 1 moose, 2 wild turkey, 2 yellow-bellied marmots
Still grey and cold when we said goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa and crammed back into the minivan to head our separate ways, feeling excited about our next 6 weeks of adventure before we see them again in Chicago. We did get to spot our first two bighorn sheep of the trip crossing the road and climbing a small hill next to us.
The weather improved as we drove, and we were back in vast openness again for a while. We headed to Devil’s Tower, which really is always neat and beautiful to see in person, but also oddly frustrating as you can see it from like 20? 40? Miles away and you think “yay, we’re almost there” but you really aren’t and have another 30 minutes of twisting through the hills and countryside before you get there.
Once there, it’s still very beautiful, but we found it a bit of a letdown for the extensive detour it takes to get there from anything. Still glad to have done it but I don’t need to do it again for another 30 years or so. I do remember being really awed by it as a kid, so hopefully, our kids will remember it in the same way.
It was fun spotting the mountain climbers up there as always too!
Probably part of the letdown was because the Visitor’s Center was closed (luckily, they had a bin with Jr. Ranger booklets and badges out front, but that said, without a lot to go through and learn, our kids kind of gave up on their booklets and the badges feel a bit less earned here).
We went to one of the big prairie dog fields to picnic from the car. I get why they don’t have picnic tables there as these little beggars would likely get fed a bit too often. We enjoyed watching them from the car though as they ran and played and jumped and squeaked.
An interesting thing we learned as we’ve never sat and just watched prairie dogs for so long (other than a few years ago when we found a badger hunting them, but that created a pretty different environment at the time) was how they are constantly growing or remodeling their little holes. They’d dig and push the dirt around with both front and back paws. It was oddly fascinating to watch, kind of like DIY videos on YouTube.
Back on the road since we still had quite a drive ahead of us to Thermopolis, the drive was quite pretty through the Big Horn mountains. It was really neat seeing signs up near some of the rock walls we passed that mentioned how old they are. We’ve seen that out west before and always find it kind of amazing.
We saw quite a few more animals including two herds of 15-20 elk each. Popcorn commented “it’s like a hurricane of elk here!” Bunny even spotted a moose for us! It wasn’t far off the road, but still, driving by at 65 mph or so, it was pretty impressive to catch. We found the next chance we could to turnaround and go check it out since luckily there was lots of pull over space. Many cars drove right past, possibly not caring, but more likely not even seeing the moose, though it wasn’t very hidden.
As we drove on, we pulled over a while later at a pullout to get the water jug out of the trunk and refill our water bottles. A couple pulled up in their pickup truck and the woman driving held up a nice camera and said excitedly that they were following us because we’ve been spotting more wildlife than they’d noticed. They’d apparently been one of the cars to pull over and watch the moose and had been following us since.
After quite a long stretch of nothing, we found an adorable little lodge that had just opened that day for the season (Friday of Memorial Day weekend). There were a girl and boy working who were both around 20 or so and were so friendly and talked with us and the kids for a while. They were fascinated by us driving all the way from New Orleans and said Thermopolis (our destination for the night, a couple hours further down the road) was pretty neat. The girl was jealous that we were going on to Yellowstone and said she’d never been but hopes to get there someday. Note, we were already in Wyoming! Yellowstone is like a 4- or 5-hour drive from here. Can you imagine living that close to one of the most amazing places on earth and never having been there?! It was a good reminder of how lucky we are. Certainly, we’re well aware that taking such big trips is not feasible both for cost but possibly time even more so for most people, and we regularly talk to the kids about how thankful and privileged we are to have these opportunities and that we should never take them for granted. That said, it just hit home even more so while talking to this girl. A small part of me was thinking what luggage we could leave behind for a while to take this girl with us for a while, thought that was obviously not realistic. We just really hope she makes it over sometime! At least she’s also in a super beautiful area that had ample wildlife as well, so maybe it’s not quite as much that she’s missing out on either. We certainly felt very lucky to be able to see for even a short time, a place that she gets to wake up to every morning!
Finally, we made it to our hotel in Thermopolis, which is also home to Hot Springs State Park (not to be confused with Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas). The sulfur smell was a good preparation for Yellowstone. It was also home to the largest hot spring in the world, which really seemed to blow Bunny’s mind. She couldn’t believe that this town wasn’t more famous. She somehow must have missed over our many road trips that tons of towns have figured out and celebrated whatever they have that’s the largest in the world. (ie. Lucy the Elephant in NJ, Albert the bull in Iowa, the boll weevil in AL… we keep our kids well-cultured!)
Our hotel (Best Western) was in the historic old Plaza Hotel building and was charming in just enough ways to counterbalance some areas that modern renovations and improvements had missed. The neatest thing was that they had a small hot tub pool filled by a natural, mineral hot spring. We got into the hotel a little on the later end and with a cool room (the kids were fascinated by the electric fireplace) no one was particularly motivated to go sit in the hot tub that smells like rotten eggs. After fighting with the internet not syncing our pictures or letting us accomplish anything after already falling a few days behind on our journal, we figured it’d be for the best for Karen to try a therapeutic soak in the hot spring. It was nice and quiet and indeed fairly relaxing down there. The water was estimated to be about 94 degrees though which, though kind-of hot, was still short of being normal hot tub temperature, which was a bummer as it was still pretty cold outside. Definitely needed to run upstairs to get in a hot shower after that, both to wash off any lingering smell from the spring and to get the chill out of the bones. At least between the hot spring and a hot shower, relaxation was finally achieved while we fell asleep with the windows open to let the cool air in!
Day 6 – Custer State Park, SD (Jewel Cave National Monument & The Mammoth Site Museum)
Thursday, May 27, 2021 (Posted June 5th, with pictures added that night)
Hours: N/A – exploring the area on and off all day
Total Trip Miles so far: 2,102
New Counties for the kids: 0
Wildlife: 12 deer, 8 pronghorn, 12 bison
(We also have total number of animals in a section with a black background and turquoise text below.)
Grandma and Grandpa drove over to meet us at our cabin again after we all took a relaxing morning. The weather was pretty miserable all around, but at least it wasn’t raining (or at least that much/often.)
We were hoping it’d be a clearer day to drive Needles Highway, which we wanted to do yesterday on the way back from Mount Rushmore, but it got too foggy. Today was even worse weather. Luckily, we’d also just done Needles when we were out here 3 years ago (funny enough, Grandma and Grandpa were with us that time too after we’d all spent a week at Rocky Mountain National Park for their 50th Anniversary.) With grey weather and temps in the 40s we looked at our list of potential indoor options.
After being pleasantly surprised by such a good visit at Wind Cave yesterday, even though (or for some of us, especially because) we couldn’t go in the cave, we decided to head over to Jewel Cave National Monument, which is also in the Black Hills National Forest (along with Wind Cave, Mount Rushmore, and Custer State Park, and much more.) Though they will start again in just another week or so, cave tours were not currently offered. Shoot! 😉
—- Interesting Tidbit —– Have you ever wondered what really is the difference between a National Park and a National Forest? Well, here you go! The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. So, while National Parks are highly vested in preservation, barely altering the existing state, National Forests are managed for many purposes: timber, recreation, grazing, wildlife, fish, and more.
In comparison to Wind Cave, Jewel Cave offers more tour options (when operating) for the really adventurous/curious/crazy and skinny people to crawl through even tighter places than at Wind Cave. There’s actually a cement box out front that you can try wiggling through to see if you’d fit through those sections of the cave before you sign up for that tour.
I figured it’d be fun to try since it was only about 2 feet long, out in the open, above ground, and seemed to technically have handles that could lift the top layer of concrete off if anyone got stuck. Nope! I couldn’t even stick my head in that small space without feeling panic and imagining what it would feel like to get stuck in a narrow crawl space, possibly hundreds of feet underground, and things poking at you from different angles, maybe bats flying at your head trying to get out the other way, no bathroom (but that wouldn’t be a problem long as you get dehydrated from lack of water and start to starve anyway), not being able to move other than your cramping up muscles, but just waiting for your slow and terrifying death. Maybe other people will then get stuck behind you as well. (How many days do humans live before they starve to death?) Okay, maybe my crippling fear is causing me to exaggerate the worst-case scenario (though maybe not,) I’m sure there’s some way that people could eventually get to you, after a few days probably, and maybe tie a rope around your feet or something to pull you out backwards before you actually die. I mean, I guess that sounds good to some people, and I certainly appreciate their research and findings! So, into the nice visitor center and theater we went to learn more about this underground world!
The film was great, though a few parts set off my anxiety just be watching it and I had to turn away. It showed some of the cave’s most interesting features, and even a few pictures of people climbing through those miserable tunnels. Seriously, there is even a stretch nicknamed (by the people who aren’t terrified by this and find it interesting or even fun) “The Miseries” for its 1,800 feet crawling distance (that’s about a third of a mile… of CRAWLING or squirming, through a tight space, UNDERGROUND!) You really need to see the picture they posted (on the left below) with this muddy girl, SMILING, while wedged into one of these passageways as tight as skinny jeans after Thanksgiving dinner (and a shower so your legs are still wet!) Seriously though, we have so much trust and respect for the National Park Service, that I’m sure this is a pretty safe tour, it’s just definitely not my thing.
The kids stamped their passports and earned another ranger badge each. This was the first place on this trip where the rangers did the little ceremony where the ranger has the kids raise their right hand and repeat a pledge about protecting this and other national parks and our earth etc. before handing them their certificates and badges. It’s pretty cute and something worth taking a video of if you haven’t yet done this with your kids.
This junior ranger booklet was pretty good too, with some physical assignments that didn’t involve going into the cave. There was a lot of focus around the bats in the cave, so one assignment had the kids use their booklets to measure their own “wingspan” in comparison to bats. They also had to see how many times they could flap their arms in a minute (which a young ranger even came over and joined them in doing). I believe the kids each got about 100 “flaps” in, while a bat is able to flap it’s wings over 1,000 times per minute! Oh, and we learned a new word that would be great for you to use while playing Words with Friends or Scrabble. The word is Hibernaculum, and it defines a “winter shelter” for bats.
Overall, the little museum in the Visitor’s Center was very well done… additionally, it had a small cave that you could crawl through. I was actually able to put on a brave face and do this one as it was twice as big as the concrete torture chamber outside, and you could actually crawl instead of just wiggle/slither through. They even have a little fan blowing wind at you as this cave also “breaths” just like Wind Cave.
There is a theory that Jewel Cave and Wind Cave, the entrances of which are approximately 20 miles apart, MAY be connected. Extensive research seems to show it as unlikely though, and even less likely that they’d be connected in any way passable by humans. That said, and while much has been studied and learned from these caves, seemingly very little have actually been explored as of yet. Wind Cave is the sixth longest cave in the world, with approximately 150 charted miles so far, though that is estimated to be only 10% of the passages! Even more impressive, Jewel Cave has about 200 miles mapped, though, as the world’s third longest known cave, that is only about 3 percent of its passages. With researchers and enthusiasts mapping approximately 2-3 additional miles of these caves per year, it does not seem that we are likely to reach their full extent in our lifetime.
Back to our visit, we enjoyed a nice little hike on the grounds outside of the Visitor’s Center down to a pretty view of the valley. There were also some nice picnic tables in the parking area that allowed us to share a nice picnic lunch with Grandma and Grandpa.
After exploring Jewel Cave without actually exploring the cave, we decided to head over to Hot Springs, SD to visit The Mammoth Site museum and dig site. Wow! Dinosaur bones can be pretty cool to see in a museum, but that experience is nothing compared to being able to see them in the very space they were dug out of (and where people are continuing to uncover more bones and are working right there as you tour around them!) To clarify, mammoths were mammals and not dinosaurs, and lived later than most of the dinosaurs that we think about, but still quite an impressively long time ago.
There’s so much more to this place than I can even describe, so I linked to the website above (just click on The Mammoth Site) in case anyone wants to check it out further. Even the gift shop was cute and had a kids’ area where kids could “dig” for toy mammoths in the sand. It was all amazingly well done, and we highly recommend it if you are ever in the area.
This evening we’d already set aside for hanging out at the cabin, grilling dinner, and having a campfire. Because of how tiny our cabin was and the cold and miserable weather, we procrastinated a bit more by driving some more of the Wildlife Loop in hopes that the cool weather might bring the animals out and make them more active. It did not. We still got to see a couple of bison though, and a small group of Pronghorn we got to pull right up near, and the fog made for a different background that was kind of neat.
We also stopped at the Custer State Park Visitor’s Center which we’d accurately remembered as being particularly fun and well done. They have a video about bison that is very well done and a good representation of the area. They also have neat hands-on learning opportunities like a small climbing wall for the kids (there’s lots of mountain climbing in the area, particularly along Needles Highway and even on the back of Mount Rushmore.) They also have huge scales that you can step on as a group to try to get up to the weight of a bison. Luckily they don’t show any actual numbers, and a bison is apparently quite the flattering comparison after a few days of eating on the road. (see pictures, once I can add them). First thought while walking away; “so, we remembered to get all the s’mores stuff, right?”
Eventually, we had to face up to the cold weather and head back to the cabin. Jude braved the cold to make our dinner and the kids and Grandma entertained themselves with a campfire. Grandpa and Karen just stayed warm(er) hanging out and chatting inside the cabin. After a full (though likely shorter than it would have been) evening, the cold won out and Grandma and Grandpa headed back to their hotel so we could all try to warm up some more and get a good night’s sleep without nightmares of caves.
… oh, and darkness! The cave would be dark too while you are stuck in it. Just thought of that.
…and maybe upside down! That one I didn’t even think about on my own but read about (and you can too if you want to click here) in my inevitable google search of different ways people die in caves (of course.)
Day 5 – Custer State Park, SD – Mount Rushmore National Park, Wind Cave National Park
Wednesday, May 26, 2021 (posted on Friday, June 4)
Hours: N/A – plenty of commuting around the area, but not distance in the overall trip
Total Trip Miles so far: 1,989
New Counties for the kids: 0
Wildlife*: 14 Deer, 1 pronghorn/antelope, 4 elk, 9 lone bison & 2 full herds… 1 herd crossing the road with us, 1 wild turkey crossing the road in front of us (we’ve seen a number of them on the drive we haven’t counted, but this is our 2nd up very close).
* We now have a separate section below (black background) tallying our total animal sightings for the whole trip
Again we are still working without internet, just LTE. It does not look like I’ll be able to post pictures on this journal until we have internet Friday evening. In the meantime, I was able to post a few pictures on our Instagram (Family_Road_Trips_With_Kids) quickly at some points and will try to do that there and on Facebook (RoadTripsWithKids) whenever possible.
UPDATED June 3, 2021:
Grandma and Grandpa drove over from their hotel in Custer to meet us at our cabin at Legion Lake Lodge in the state park, and we all rode in the car together for the day for our adventure. Had great views* from far away on the road there as we went through narrow, one-lane tunnels, and numerous switchbacks and pigtail turns.
* See more photos of our drive in the slideshow reel immediately following this Day 5 post. We’re trying that option out in preparation for posting lots of Yellowstone pictures so let us know what you think!
The first thing we did was turn in Bunny’s paperwork to get our actual plastic card pass that is special for 4th graders and will cover all of our National Parks this year. The kids did the Junior Ranger program and earned their badges as well while learning a lot, as usual.
We got in and hiked around what we could (the trail is still blocked off around the halfway point, as it was 3 years ago when we were last here).
While most people know the four presidents on the mountain, do you know why they were specifically chosen (I hadn’t)? The presidents were chosen by the sculptor (Gutzon Borglum) to commemorate the founding, growth, preservation, and development of the United States and symbolize the principles of liberty and freedom on which the nation was founded.
George Washington signifies the struggle for independence and the birth of the Republic
Thomas Jefferson signifies the territorial expansion of the country (with the Louisiana Purchase which we are particularly partial to!)
Abraham Lincoln brought “the permanent union of the States and equality* for all citizens” (*Of course, at the time, this focused on basic natural rights like freedom from slavery, but stopped short of civil rights like voting.)
Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt is acknowledged for the 20th century role of the United States in world affairs and the rights of the common man. (His immense role in protecting wildlife and approximately 230 million acres of public lands through the United States Forest Service is felt in so many of our national parks and monuments as well!)
Interestingly, while there have been rumors or suggestions spread of adding other presidents to the memorial over the years, we noticed it mentioned more than once, including from rangers themselves, that the memorial will never have any other presidents added. According to The National Park Service, there is no secure surface on the mountain. While a large expanse to George Washington’s right (on the left in our view) seems a likely spot for at least one more president, NPS officials point out that sculptor Gutzon Borglum intended to place Thomas Jefferson there, but it turned out the area was not stable, so Jefferson was relocated and crunched between Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. Even back in 1941 when the sculptor died, his son Lincoln Borglum closed the project and stated that no more carvable rock existed.
We were glad we got some great views before the fog rolled in and the mountain disappeared. Even before we left, we heard someone go up to the ranger desk and ask where the mountain was, and the ranger could only say “right behind you”. Bummer for them but yay for us. Grandma and Grandpa talked about the same thing happening to them on their honeymoon 53 years ago! They waited an hour for the fog to clear and it never did.
Next we headed down to Wind Cave National Park and the kids were able to do the Junior Ranger program to earn badges there as well. The tours to go down into the cave were well filled up. The rangers say they need to do reservations now with Covid and that they are daily and on a first come first served basis but people start lining up around 6 am for the 8 am opening! (Grandma and Karen were not too let down as this isn’t really the place for those with claustrophobia. Grandma had apparently gone down on their honeymoon years ago and immediately regretted it and needed to get out.) That all said, it’s still a neat experience that won’t eat up much of your day without going into the cave itself.
Wind Cave got it’s name because, being so large, it has it’s own air pressure system. The barometric airflow causes the cave to “breathe” as it will suck air in or force air out in attempts to equal air pressure up on the surface outside of the cave. The barometric airflow also allows an ability to calculate the approximate size/volume of the cave passages. Through monitoring and recording this airflow, it has been determined that the 145 MILES of the cave that have already been explored are only about 10% of the cave’s total volume!
We did get to go by the first discovered entrance to the cave… an 18” hole that happened to be blowing out at 13mph while we were there, and was so intense it was hard to breathe when you put your face into it. For the life of me, I don’t understand the people who would have first come across something like this and thought “hey, this weird dark and narrow hole is blowing wind out at us like crazy… let’s go crawl inside of it and see how deep we can go!” Not for me, but glad they did as it’s very interesting to learn about (especially safely on the surface)!
After a pretty full day, we decided to do another ride around on the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park to see what we could see before dinner and the expected rain to come. We saw many pronghorn and again, quite a few bison. We even got up close with a herd as they crossed the road and mostly just hung out in and around the road. It was fun to watch them and you could hear them when you put the windows down, though we rolled those back up when the bison came over to lick for salt on our car and explore us a bit. We all loved watching all the new calves running around and playing most of all!
We stopped by the cabin for Grandma and Grandpa to get their car and we put on some warmer clothes before heading into town during a heavy rain and hail storm to meet up again for dinner. After that, we hung out at their hotel for an hour or two while trying to sync photos on the internet but it was obviously not hugely successful since we are posting this a week later! Still another great day overall.
Day 4 – Oberlin, KS to Custer State Park, SD
Tuesday, May 25, 2021 (posted June 2, pictures added June 3)
Hours: 8.5 (though gained an hour with timezone change, so that helped too) – this also counts just commuting time from hotel to hotel, so while I’ll update mileage when staying at one location, as we’ll still go out exploring, this is just commuting time.
Total Trip Miles so far: 1,882
New Counties for the kids: 11 (9 in Nebraska, 2 in South Dakota)
Wildlife: 20 Deer, 18 pronghorn/antelope, 3 coyotes, 3 herds of bison.
(Updated with pictures 6/3/21)
Before anything else, I need to set expectations for the next week or so. We do not have wifi right now, so we’re working off of LTE and hot spots. We also are now at a destination, so taking lots more pictures, but that’s adding way more time to sync on iCloud and update, so pictures may be more sparse or come at other times… my updates will likely be briefer to start and then I hope to update them with more details (or maybe do a more-detailed overview of each location afterward, where internet is an issue. We will be here at Custer until Friday and then we have a one-night hotel stopover before 4 more nights without internet in Yellowstone. Okay, I hope goes through!
We got a little bit of an earlier start leaving KS because we were so excited to meet up with Karen’s parents later in the day and wanted more time with them. Bunny made us wake up at 6 am and was like a drill sergeant keeping us moving. We had just a few bathroom stops but the kids wouldn’t even take a picnic break at a playground, we had to eat lunch in the car to keep moving.
We drove fairly straight up through western Nebraska and it (like Kansas) seemed much prettier than other parts we’d driven through before. We also had much more blue sky. Seeing vast landscapes of rolling hills of green grass and bright light yellow wheat mixed with deep blue bonds and spotted with cows and horses was gorgeous. With fluffy white clouds moving through, the sun shining down on the hills and the shadows moving over different areas keeps even similar landscape changing and beautiful as well.
The last stretch of Nebraska, through Cherry County, was really neat but much longer than we really realized (though, obvious when thinking about it and looking on the map). Luckily we’d just stopped for gas and a bathroom break because unlike other places with long stretches like this (like Death Valley) where you get warnings, there was no warning here that there’d be NO services or crossroads or anything along the next stretch of approx 70 miles. It was neat hills and seemed somehow mostly valley though. Gorgeous long windy views of the road, and we finally started seeing some wildlife. It was mostly deer at this point but also very cool to see two separate coyotes, and I got a really great picture of the first one that I’ll post eventually.
Next, we drove up through South Dakota through the Oglala Sioux Reservation. It’s still closed for Covid, but you can sign in and drive through, but aren’t allowed to stop at anything (like the memorial at Wounded Knee). Part of the route went along the back end of Badlands National Park, which we’d decided to hold off on for a different trip to explore more completely. It was a beautiful drive (though TONS of litter and plastic bags blown into fences that was pretty sad to see.
We were checking into our Cabin at Legion Lake Lodge in Custer State Park while Grandma and Grandpa (Karen’s parents) checked into their hotel at Custer and then came over to meet us. Our cabin is “quaint” as a realtor would say. It’s nice and cozy but tight! Two queen beds fit in there tightly and a low/small loft has two twin beds but Bunny is the only one who has used that and didn’t want to sleep up there alone. With a narrow ladder going up, we can’t even really store stuff up there. We do have a nice fire pit and picnic table in front so we’ll hang out and do at least one campfire at some point, though hopefully it’ll warm up a bit more as we have lots of temps in the 40s and 50s.
We had a nice dinner at the Legion Lake Lodge, though not what we remember from 3 years ago, as Covid has really hit their supply chains and we had to eat early. Popcorn then played at the playground and made a there while we took turns exploring, and Bunny and I hiked around the lake.
We then went on the wildlife loop (had unpacked the van into our tiny cabin so all 6 of us could ride together. Saw a number of antelope and 3 or 4 different groups/herds of bison, some very close up… including, at one spot, one charge quickly to scare off a girl who got way too close! He could have easily hurt her but was obviously just scaring her off and let her run off (which she did quickly!)
With the backdrop of a full moon (or as the kids like to correct me to be exact, it was the night before a full moon), it was a gorgeous way to end the evening before saying goodnight to Grandma and Grandpa and re-organizing clothes for the next few days with warmer clothes.
Day 3 – Weatherford, OK to Oberlin, KS
Monday, May 24, 2021
Hours: 11 hours (though would have only been 9 if we hadn’t driven into a tornado warning 20 minutes before we would have gotten to our hotel)
Total Trip Miles so far: 1,412
New Counties for the kids: 16 (7 in Oklahoma, 1 in Texas, and 8 in Kansas)
Wildlife: Just one deer and some tornados
So, this entry is a work in progress as we were aiming to get to the hotel for 6:30 after a calm and easy day, but we didn’t get here until closer to 8:30 and then had to unload the car, cook and eat dinner, and narrow down A LOT of pictures and videos while also being very interested in searching for more information about Selden, the town just south of us that was hit by the tornado that blocked our way. I’ll post it now for those texting or messaging us on social media so we can tell our story in one place, but I’m writing this as just a brain dump for now, and it’s getting late so I’m not sure how well it’ll come out but will continue editing it and adding pictures.
I first need to add that I was so excited earlier this afternoon because this was going to be such an easy post tonight. I was just going to jot down a conversation Bunny and I had in the car today as it seemed to sum things up pretty well.
Bunny: “Oklahoma just seemed like it was mostly just about fences and horses and cows and agriculture.” Karen: “Well what does Kansas feel like then?” Bunny: “The same thing.” Karen: (excited voice) “Just wait until we drive through Nebraska tomorrow! Do you remember what Nebraska’s like?” Bunny: “The same thing.”
So, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not really. She’s not wrong. To give credit where it’s due, we’ve driven through less interesting and attractive parts of Kansas (and many other states). We found Northwest Kansas largely quite beautiful. Still not particularly exciting (for a while), but as it got hillier and we got blue sky again (which we didn’t have yesterday or all morning,) we all noted how pretty it was with the light hitting at different angles over the vast open views about 20 miles out in any direction at times. We were also in awe of the fields of wind turbines. We’ve seen lots of these fields all over the country, but there seemed to be more in Central/Western Kansas than in other places, and they are kind of neat to watch from different angles and distances.
Just when we thought those wind turbines would be the most riveting part of our day, we noticed a thunderstorm building up just west of us. It was around 6pm, and about 20 minutes or so before we were due to get to our hotel. We were all very anxious and excited to have a nice relaxing evening at the hotel so we figured just a few minutes of heavy rain shouldn’t be too bad to drive through.
The storm, though still west of us and not even raining on us, did continue to grow darker and more ominous though, especially for something so small otherwise. Then we passed a driver pulled over on the side of the road. We thought he was taking a picture of the storm, which was neat, but not worth stopping for a picture of at that point. Then I thought it looked more like he was looking up information and I figured he was likely checking the weather and that maybe that’d be a good idea.
I was already opening my weather app when Jude suggested I check the radar. Up pops a TORNADO WARNING! I always need to remind myself which is which so I went through my “watch means be aware and watch out, warning means get to safety immediately as a funnel has been spotted nearby”. So…. I just nudged Jude to show him that before I moved on to radar (not wanting to say anything to worry the kids as Bunny was already anxious about the storm which I’d assured her was nothing – whoops). We casually mentioned to the kids that we were going to look for a safe place to pull over so that we could check our phones and see how bad that rain was before deciding if we’d drive through it (we knew why we were stopping already and that we weren’t driving through it.)
Pro Tip: Music stations on satellite radio apparently don’t break in to offer Tornado Warnings, or they sure didn’t for us. Though our weather apps that usually alert us to these things hadn’t done anything either, so maybe it developed too quickly? I don’t know but we didn’t get alerts from anything other than the developing tornado itself!
The kids danced around and threw rocks on the little pullout we’d found while we started searching for more information (and Jude set up a camera on the roof to get a time-lapse video… I’ll link to it at the end of the post). It was an impressive storm and we could watch the tornado forming right there. We confirmed with radar that the storm was heading northeast (we were heading northwest) and we were obviously not going to drive farther as it would cross right through that path, but we were debating if we needed to turn around to move further away or not. We did turn the car around so it was ready to go in the other direction immediately, but felt safe and decided to stay. The line between fear and total awe and excitement truly can be quite thin!
We stayed for quite a while and watched it. Bunny, though she can be anxious, LOVES reading and watching shows about weather and particularly natural disasters. So she pretty quickly saw the obvious. She warned us that the storm was turning into a tornado and she started to panic a bit. I took her back in the car and leveled with her about the Tornado Warning and that we hadn’t wanted to worry them, but yes, it was a tornado and I reassured her (as much as possible) that we had and continued to watch the radar that the storm was far enough away and heading northeast, so we’d easily be able to head further south and away from it. We also talked about what an amazingly rare opportunity this was for her to see something like this in real life, and particularly from a safe distance (where it wasn’t even raining!) Oh, and lest I forget, Popcorn was having a blast dancing and making funny faces for my camera and throwing rocks into puddles from previous rainstorms this past week… ah the blissful ignorance of some things when you are 6-years-old! At least now maybe “tornado” can be a new noun in our endless collection of Mad-Libs, though I may be too optimistic here, as really, can any noun ever top “fart” for doing Mad-Libs with kids?!
A few more minutes of watching the storm moving what seemed to me more east than north (ie. towards us, though still not directly), I let Jude know I was starting to feel a little more anxious myself. Then the emergency vehicles started RACING past us at top speed with sirens blaring. We assumed they were closing off the road ahead in preparation for the tornado crossing (I don’t know if that’s a thing, but I imagined it like a funeral procession or a second line parade in New Orleans, and that the police just rush ahead to keep the other cars back and out of the way until whatever it is has gotten through the intersection or whatever.) We felt reassured that, since they were going past us, we were still probably fine where we were (which we would have been).
We could watch the storm swirling and the wind picked up near us and the clouds closer to us (though still a safe distance, though just by a bit) were starting to swirl. We decided to head back south just another mile or so to give a bit more distance just in case. As we did, the emergency vehicles continued coming and were followed by the storm chasing trucks (which was pretty cool truthfully).
A few more cars were stoped at pullouts along the way (we were in a pretty remote rural area so there weren’t tons) so we just started looking for people who looked like they might be locals. We pulled over by two pickup trucks watching the storm and Jude went over to talk to the guy in the cowboy hat because, well he obviously had instant credibility with that hat and dirty pick-up truck. Turns out he was indeed a local and told us how his son was a firefighter on one of those trucks that had sped by, and that a large grain elevator had been hit and there were a few touch downs confirmed. We continued to watch while it continued to get later, so we decided to start slowly making our way back to get to our hotel since the storm was moving along and seemed to be dissipating at least a little bit. Oh, and Cowboy Hat had confirmed the worst was over and he (as the obvious authority) had started driving again, so we felt okay going too.
We passed a couple of cars and trucks that looked like they were tailgating almost, and saw their jumbo antennas and realized they were some regulars at this. As they were still watching (and they were now our new authorities,) we took the next turnout to pull over again and chatted with three people standing near a long antennaed car also. Turns out they were amateur HAM radio operators and storm spotters. We talked to them for a bit and found out they also were county collecting people, so we shared some stories and told them we were going to head on. They said we couldn’t yet, and pointed out that the white haze following the storm, which we thought was just rain, was actually hail. So… we waited some more.
They confirmed it was indeed our road which we needed to turn on about 2 miles up that was being blocked off because it went straight to the town of Selden, where the tornado hit. I noticed a few trucks coming through on it though, but they explained people were allowed to come out/east but there were no cars allowed going west. There aren’t many road options in rural areas like this, and many of them are not paved but just dirt and rocks. We hadn’t thought about it but the storm spotters pointed it out and said those roads may end up being the only option for getting that way, and they were concerned about us taking those roads. We reassured them that, as they know, if you are a county collector, you’re not unfamiliar with dirt roads. They cautioned that the roads in this area can already be muddier than many other dirt roads, and heading down them after such a storm was probably not wise with our minivan.
We figured, or certainly hoped, that the police who were blocking the road might be able to give us better advice still about how to get to our hotel in that case, or possibly even let us through if we showed our confirmed reservations – just like when the streets at home are closed for Mardi Gras parades and locals who live on the other side are usually still let through before the parades start if you can show your license proving you live on the other side of the street.
Nope, it didn’t work, but they did give us some directions that headed us directly east (oh great, right behind the storm that was still not particularly far away,) and then north, and then back west on a road that did head directly to Selden, but our turn north to Oberlin would be just before that.
Though we were skeptical if this would really work, we didn’t really have any other options, so that’s what we did and luckily it worked. We took our detour and got to that last turn before Selden and could see the grain elevator further down the road with all the lights of the emergency vehicles blinking around it. There were police blocking that road any further as well, but we were able to make our turn north for that last 15 miles or so to the hotel. Whew! It’s been a long night!
I’m going to post this now but keep in mind it’s also super late and I’ve been up late for a number of days now, so apologies if I got too long-winded and/or rambly, but thanks for sticking with it. And now for the reward: Jude’s timelapse video is probably the neatest thing we have, so I’ll try to get that posted now.
Thanks again for virtually traveling with us another day. Hopefully, future excitement will be more about wildlife (from a safe distance preferably while we are in a car) more than dangerous weather. Again, please follow along on our Facebook and Instagram for other pictures and posts throughout the day.
Day 2 – College Station, TX to Weatherford, OK
Sunday, May 23, 2021
Total Trip Miles so far: 943
New Counties for the kids: 17 (13 in Texas & 4 in Oklahoma)
Wildlife: Just one deer, but will mention livestock again here for the neat longhorns, some rams, and a CAMEL?l
Another day of making progress towards the Northwest and still enjoying the ride as we continue through Texas and on into southwest Oklahoma.
We had on and off rain most of the day but luckily it was never very heavy and was less in the afternoon than in the morning. Unfortunately, the morning was when we were driving through all the most beautiful wildflowers. We were still able to enjoy them but couldn’t get any pictures. With a blue sky, they would have been spectacular!
The rain cleared up for us to have a picnic in the cute little town of Dublin, Tx. There was a nice lawn in front of the public library with a number of picnic tables and we enjoyed the fresh air but in shorts and t-shirts, a breeze and 71 degrees gave these New Orleanians a chill so we didn’t take too long before getting on the road.
We explored a new (to us) app from Roadside America that tells you about random points of interest that you would otherwise never knew existed in these small towns. In Eastland, TX we stopped to see the giant statue of “Old Rip” the horned toad that was sealed in a cornerstone of the county courthouse for 30 years and survived (or so the story goes.) The most fascinating part of the whole story, to me, was the “celebrity status” this frog apparently took on. For example, “President Calvin Coolidge broke several previous White House engagements to meet him.” (Note this is the internet and I have not verified this so it totally could not be true but the site seemed very good and knowledgeable about other things too, and either way, I give creativity to whoever came up with this if it isn’t true… it definitely makes for a good story). You can read more at https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/3631
We also checked out the “World’s Largest Steel Longhorn” just off the highway in Throckmorton, TX. Standing at 22 feet, it can be seen from quite a distance. It actually seemed smaller than we expected as pulled up next to it, and like so many other things out basically in the middle of nowhere, it, unfortunately, has bullet wounds all over the face from being shot at. Luckily, it continues to stand strong and tall!
What wasn’t small, was the size of the horns on the longhorns we found right up near the road for easy picture taking. Those really are some LONG horns, and they’re even cooler to see closer up.
A couple of hours more and we arrived in Weatherford, OK, where our hotel is. Not only does this Route 66 town have a cute downtown, but it has a neat playground area with one of the blades from a wind turbine you can walk right up to and get a better sense of how truly massive these things are!
Now we are in our hotel as I’m writing this and listening to Popcorn giggling in his sleep, which he does occasionally, and I am 100% in love with! Tomorrow we’ll be on the lookout for Toto and Auntie Em! And again, follow along on our Facebook and Instagram for other pictures and posts throughout the day.
Day 1 – New Orleans, LA to College Station, TX
Saturday, May 22, 2021
Total Trip Miles: 413
New Counties for the kids: 7 (all in Texas)
Wildlife: One turtle, a number of vultures, and plenty of roadkill* (a nutria, opossum, armadillos, etc.) We generally don’t count farm animals with wildlife but have to include the obligatory Texas Longhorns while we are here!
*We won’t usually count or mention roadkill but the kids haven’t seen many nutria before and have never seen a living armadillo.
Well, we had a stretch goal of leaving by 8 a.m. but felt 9 a.m. was more realistic, so of course, we didn’t get on the road until just before 10:30 a.m. The car is PACKED full but we got everything to fit (except for maybe our legs, lol).
Our first few days are really all about getting some new counties to explore places we haven’t been, while focusing on making progress towards Custer State Park, SD, where we’ll be Tuesday – Friday. We’re also all very excited to see Karen’s parents (meeting us from Chicago) in person, and be able to hug them for the first time in a year and a half!
We only had to do interstate driving up through Baton Rouge, at which point we were beyond ready to get away from all that traffic. After that, we enjoyed state highways and small towns with very little traffic and good speed the rest of the way. Lunch was an easy picnic in the car while driving to make up for the late start, but we got to the hotel in time to make tacos for dinner. We had just a bit of rain in Texas but were happy to avoid the heavier storms that loomed nearby for quite a while. We saw LOTS of flooding pretty much the whole way from the massive amounts of rain this past week (12” in one day in some of those places!) Nothing especially interesting or exciting today, though we did swing back around to take a picture after happening to drive by two houses designed as a cowboy hat and boot in Huntsville, TX (picture further down ). We were also thrilled that the kids never even asked for their iPads (we often let them play for just a bit during longer stretches or when we think the other might take a nap) though it did require full family participation on LOTS of Mad Libs (ie. “and it was Franklin Roosevelt who once uttered the famous words ‘The only thing to fart is fart itself.’”)