Tag Archives: road schooling

Road Trip Video #4

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3 1/2 months have now passed since we returned from our trip of a lifetime. With life consuming us, these days of exploration and ease seem like a lifetime ago. It was an amazing adventure, one we will look back on with fondness for decades to come.

Grace collected photos and little videos from every leg of our journey with the goal of documenting our adventure in a series of 5 (10-20 minute) videos. It has been a couple months since her last video. With all that has been going on she hasn’t had a spare moment to finish her last two videos of the trip, but last week, with the conclusion of the second quarter of school, she had a few days off and finished video #4. This video highlights our week and a half of vacation following Disneyland but before we reached Missouri. (Our adventures in Missouri will play out in Gracie’s final video.)

Some of the stops included in this vacation highlight reel include:

The Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Petroglyph National Park, Four Corners, Mesa Verde, Roswell NM, and Carlsbad Caverns.

I think Gracie did an excellent job of capturing the adventure, the beauty, and the incredible memories we made as we rolled cross country in our converted school bus.

Enjoy #4!

What a Trip it has Been!

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It was almost 10,000 miles.

We traveled through 22 states.

Over the period of 7 weeks.

We visited 13 National Parks,

and hiked miles and miles of this beautiful country.

Brand new shoes, purchased at the start of the trip,

were worn clean through by the end.

A walking testament to all that was seen and done.

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For those who have forgotten or our joining us more recently, here is a recap of where we have spent the last 50 days.

Day 1: Travel to St. Louis, Missouri with a stop at the Columbus Zoo.

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Day 2: Tyler’s 10th birthday! Explore the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri

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Day 3: St. Louis Arch

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Day 4: Tour Hannibal, Missouri. Home of Mark Twain.

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Day 5: Drive to De Smet, South Dakota

Day 6: Tour Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homestead and then on to Mitchell, South Dakota to see the Corn Palace.

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Day 7: Visit 1800’s town, South Dakota.

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Day 8: A stop at Wall Drug and a visit to Badlands National Park.

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Day 9: Day 1 in Rapid City, South Dakota: Bear Country USA, Storybook Island, the Dinosaur Park, and a chuck wagon dinner.

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Day 10: Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park to see the world’s largest free roaming buffalo herd in the morning and then a visit to a mammoth fossil dig site in the afternoon.

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Day 11: Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments.

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Day 12: Check out Devil’s Tower.

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Day 13: Day 1 in Yellowstone National Park

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Day 14: Day 2 in Yellowstone National Park.

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Day 15: Visit Grand Tetons and go swimming in hot springs.

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Day 16: College tour of BYU Idaho.

Day 17: Visit temple square in Salt Lake City, Utah and swim in the Great Salt Lake.

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Day 18: College tour of BYU in Provo, Utah.

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Day 19:  Travel to Yosemite National Park.

Day 20: Visit Yosemite National Park in California.

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Day 21: Visit Sequoia National Park, California.

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Day 22: A day swimming in the Pacific Ocean at Newport Beach, CA.

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Day 23-27: Disneyland, California. This was the big surprise of the trip. The kids just found out the day before we left.🙂

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statue at Disneyland California. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

Day 28: Las Vegas. Tour Hoover Dam.

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Day 29: See the sites of Las Vegas.

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Day 30: Another (unexpected day) in Las Vegas.

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Day 31: Visit the Grand Canyon.

Day 32: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

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Day 33: Arches National Park, Utah.

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Day 34: Visit Mesa Verde National Park to see the cliff dwellings and stop at Four Corners monument.

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Day 35: Visit Petroglyph National Monument.

Day 36: A stop in Roswell, NM while driving past on our way to Carlsbad Caverns.

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Day 37: A cave tour of Carlsbad Caverns with my brother, Travis.

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Day 38: Drive all day to Branson, Missouri. (See David and Jen along the way)

Day 39: Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.

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Day 40: Second day in Silver Dollar City.

Day 41: Explore Branson, Missouri and tour the Titanic Museum.

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Day 42: Branson, Missouri.

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Day 43: Rusty’s 15th birthday. Spend the day in Marceline, Missouri, home of Rusty’s hero: Walt Disney.

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Day 44and 45: Visit Mimi Joy who is serving a mission in the Independence Missouri mission.

Day 46: Visit Nauvoo, Illinois.

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Day 47: Drive toward home.

Day 48: Home Sweet Home!

For 7 weeks our family 0f seven lived in our converted school bus which was lovingly named, “The Rolling Gnomes.”

We slept, ate, did school, and traveled together in 280 square feet.

For 7 of those days our 280 square feet felt like 20 square feet as we lived without the boys’ ADHD medication thanks to restrictive state laws regarding controlled medications.

Our little bus climbed mountains almost 10,000 feet high feet and at Carlsbad Caverns we explored 750 feet below the earth.

We crossed wind swept prairies, majestic mountains, mighty rivers, and desolate deserts.

We made it to the Pacific Ocean and then turned around and drove back home.

Along the way we gained a greater appreciation for our country, and a greater connection as a family.

As a family we grew and learned lessons about ourselves, about our nation, and about each other.

We learned:

About the incredible natural beauty found in the United States of America and gained a greater appreciation for the conservation efforts that have preserved this country’s natural beauty.

On the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service we were able to explore some of the prettiest sites we have ever seen.

In the NPS’s “Find Your Park” campaign we each found “our park…

each of us falling in love with certain areas of the country and the beauty found there.find-your-park

Here are our “Find your Park” National Park choices:

Toby and Grace’s favorite national park was Grand Tetons National Park.

Rusty’s favorite was Arches National Park.

Molly’s favorite park was the Grand Canyon.

Ozzie loved Mt. Rushmore.

Tyler’s chosen park was Badlands National Park.

And my personal favorite was Devil’s Tower.

Some favorite stops included the City Museum of St. Louis, Silver Dollar City, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead, Titanic Museum , 1880’s town,

and of course, Disneyland!

We fell in love with the Black Hills of South Dakota,

and were little impressed with Nevada and California.

But the greatest revelation that came from our travels was how good the people of this country are.

We met some of the kindest people in our travels, and in all our interactions with thousands of strangers we had only one negative experience.

It was reassuring and empowering to see the goodness that shone forth across this great nation. In an era of sickening news reports and political filth, it is easy to assume that the loudest voices, the ones highlighted on our evening news, represent the majority of American opinion.

But I have found that to not be the case.

The people of this country are good…no, great.

They are moral, and kind. They are friendly and helpful.

They are proud people who love their country and long for its leaders to raise their standards and be better.

On this trip we made many new friends and the experience lit a flame of hope in me that despite the immoral, disgusting, self serving faces seen clamoring to be the representative and voice of the American people,

the people of America are so much better than the faces that represent them.

As we traveled I fell in love with my country and came home with a renewed spirit of pride in our history, our culture, and our citizens.

Through this experience I discovered a buried gypsy within my soul that fell in love with the simplicity of tiny house living and the life of a nomad.

It is good to be home…

To see the people we love.

To soak in a bathtub rather than shower in camp showers.

We loved being reunited with our animals,

But I’m already missing life on the road and look forward to seeing where the Rolling Gnome bus takes us in the future!

Thanks for traveling with us.

It has been a grand adventure!

Disneyland- Day 1

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“Had a good time we did.”

Whew…what a week! This past week was spent at Disneyland Resort in California. It was a fun filled week, packed to the gills with rides, pin trading, character meeting and memory making.

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Our days began early with breakfast, packing lunches, applying sunscreen, and getting dressed. Then it was off to the bus stop to catch our shuttle to the park. We would arrive 30-45 minutes before the park opened so that we had time to get through security and the bag check area and get in line to enter.

This was our first time at Disneyland.

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We have, however, visited Disney World in Florida, and it was our experience at that park that became our point of reference and baseline for comparison. How do the two parks compare?

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This was our experience…

Disneyland Resort is smaller. It is comprised of two parks: Disneyland and California Adventure, as opposed to Disney World which is comprised of four parks. The benefit of a smaller park was that there was less walking and it felt more manageable. The downside of a smaller area, however, was more congestion.

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Although we didn’t find that the increased congestion affected wait times too much. Our typical wait time in line was around 20 minutes. For longer waits we would obtain fast passes. The fast past system was the paper ticket version that Disney World used to use that allowed visitors to use their tickets to get passes that put you at the front of the line for certain rides. Visitors are allowed to get a new fast pass as soon as they use their previous one. This system allowed us to get 10+ fast passes per day, cutting down on our time in line and allowing us the opportunity to ride more rides.

This is different than Disney World’s new electronic fast pass system which only allows for 3 fast passes per day, per ticket.

While the wait times weren’t bad, we did find the congestion in the streets to be worse. You could feel the age of the park in the design of the streets and traffic flow. It just wasn’t set up for the amount of visitors they receive now in comparison to 60 years ago when the park’s layout was first designed. It just wasn’t as crowd friendly.

I also found it interesting how few benches their were around the park in comparison to Disney World where there are benches every few feet. The exception to this was the newer areas of the resort.

An area where Disneyland has Disney World beat, hands down,  is in the history. Probably the greatest pull we had to this park, especially for Rusty, was the fact that this was Walt Disney’s park. These were the streets he walked. These were rides he personally dreamt up. The magic of his presence is felt in the details and that makes this park extra special.

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This light in the window of Walt’s old apartment on Main Street of Disneyland always stays lit in memory of Walt Disney.

Walt Disney is Rusty’s hero. He can tell you anything you want to know about Walt’s life and the Disney company. The magic of Disney touched Rusty when we visited Disney World for the first time when he was nine years old and since then it has been his dream to one day work for the Disney company. This made Disneyland extra special for Rusty.

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Disneyland itself is comparable to Magic Kingdom in its layout and rides. Like Magic Kingdom it is comprised of different lands like Adventureland, Tommorowland,  Frontierland and Fantasyland. Each of these lands transport you to a different world through their themed rides, attractions, characters, and ambience. No details are too small or insignificant when it comes to transporting visitors into each magical new place.

Many of the rides found in these different lands are similar to their Magic Kingdom counterparts. With some of these familiar rides we preferred the Disney World version, while others were far better at Disneyland than the similar rides we had known at Disney World.

Some of our favorite Disneyland versions included:

Its a Small World:

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While not usually a big fan of the Its a Small World ride, we fell in love with Disneyland’s version of this classic Disney ride.

To begin,  just look at the outside of the ride:

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It was charming and magical with its moving clock parts and animal topiaries.

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Inside the ride, as we floated along in moving boats to the song “It’s a Small World After All,” we were enchanted by the sprinkling of current Disney character puppets mixed into the traditional puppets representing the different nations.

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It became  an “I spy” game as we searched for the characters hidden among the other animatronic puppets.

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Tarzan’s Tree House:

At Disney World this walk-through tree house is still the Swiss Family Robinson tree house (which I LOVE.) I didn’t think I would like the remake Disneyland did by turning it into Tarzan’s Tree House, but I was wrong.

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It was charming and endearing.

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I loved the way Disneyland told the story of Tarzan through vignettes, music, and movie clips as we walked through the rooms of the tree house.

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At the end of the tour, at the floor of the tree, the kids could make music using pots, pans and various household items repurposed as noisy, music-makers.

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The Haunted Mansion:

I loved this version of the Haunted Mansion 100 times more than Disney World’s version. The mansion itself, located in New Orleans’s Square, is incredible. Walking past it is enough to take your breath away.

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Add to that the seasonal decorations that are now transforming it into the holiday story, “The Nightmare before Christmas,” and the Disney World version can’t compare.

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For the next few months the traditional Haunted Mansion storyline has changed, and now as guests ride through the Haunted Mansion they follow the story of Jack, Sally and Zero.

This was one of my favorite rides at Disneyland.

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Another area we felt Disneyland really was more impressive than Disney World was with their characters. There were many characters that are regulars at Disneyland that we never saw at Disney World, like Jack Skellington:

and the Evil Queen from Snow White:

Our first day at Disneyland was spent exploring the park, riding the most popular rides, and getting a feel for the lay of the land.

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It was a magical start to a magical week!

Day 1 down…4 more to go.

Tomorrow we head to California Adventure!

“Sea You Soon!”

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By the sea…by the sea…by the beautiful sea.

We made it! We crossed rivers, climbed mountains, and slowly crawled across the desert of Nevada so that we, like the gold prospectors of old, could say:

“We reached the coast of California!”

From one side of the country to the other, it has been an amazing journey. This Wednesday marks the halfway point of this trip.

So what did we do when we reached the coast? We dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean, of course!

We left our Sequoia KOA by 8:00 am, knowing we had a 4 hour drive over the mountains and through L.A. traffic.

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Both obstacles proved to be less daunting than we expected. We arrived at Newport Beach by noon and surprisingly found meter parking fairly quickly, which was nothing short of a miracle since we needed a double space large enough to accommodate the bus.

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We began our afternoon at the beach by coating our pale, Pennsylvania skin with SPF 50 sun block. We looked downright pasty in comparison to the California natives that filled the beach in various shades of brown.

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The blessing, however, was that our Pennsylvania pastiness made it easy for me to keep tabs on my family. I just had to look for the albinos in the sea of sun kissed skin. 🙂

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Ozzie was the only one that looked like a California native.

 

Newport Beach was a hit.

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The water was shallow enough and the waves small enough that I wasn’t the nervous wreck I thought I’d be. I have had nightmares about our visit to the Pacific Ocean with visions of 30 foot waves and Ozzie getting carried off by a Great White Shark, but my worries were unfounded.

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It turned out to be a similar swimming experience to swimming in the Atlantic.

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I was relieved. The kids had a blast splashing in the waves and digging in the sand, and I was able to let go of the anxiety I had been carrying about our stop at the ocean.

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The kids spent hours looking for shells to take home as souvenirs from their time at the Pacific Ocean…

And the girls each filled a bottle with Pacific ocean water. They loved the gold colored flakes that glimmered in the water. Toby was thrilled…

We are now traveling with granite boulders from Crazy Horse and bottles of the Pacific Ocean in our little bus. 🙂

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Next Stop: DISNEYLAND!!!

(Can you hear the screams of my children?)

My postings will be more sporadic over the next few days, as I will be spending all my waking hours at the Happiest Place on Earth. 🙂

Yosemite National Park

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As a child I always felt Kansas was the most painful state to drive across when we were traveling cross country. The endless flat topography and acres of cornfields left little to stimulate the senses. It always felt like that trek across Kansas was the longest part of the trip.

But that is only because we never made it as far west as Nevada!

Thursday we traveled 11 hours from Provo, Utah to Yosemite National Park, California. This was our view all day long as we drove Route 6 across the middle of the state.

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It was unreal. At one point we drove 3 1/2 hours without seeing a single building, just miles and miles of sage brush and rabbits.

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On our drive across the entire state we only saw 9 other cars.

I was grateful we had a full tank of gas and no mechanical issues because there was no way to get help if we broke down. Across the entire 10 hour stretch on Nevada we had no cell phone service. If we would have had mechanical issues we would have been stuck until some lone traveler eventually passed our way.

We finally made it to Tonopah, Nevada where we once again met up with civilization. While there we filled up the diesel tank, ever grateful for the 128 gallon tank Toby replaced the original 38 gallon tank with from a junk yard find. The boys got out and ran off some energy after being trapped inside the bus all day, and the girls took on the task of cleaning the bus windows while I boiled water for spaghetti.

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Then we were on the road again. We drove two more hours, crossing into California, to get as close to Yosemite as we could before we pulled over to the side of the road to sleep for the night.

In the morning we headed into Yosemite. This was everyone’s first time visiting Yosemite, but we had heard so many friends express a love for Yosemite National Park that we decided to make a point of visiting..

Location: California

Established: October 1, 1890

Size: 747,956 acres

“In a high-country meadow two hikers crouch near the edge of a mirroring lake and watch a pika as it harvests blades of grass for a nest deep within a huge rock pile. When they resume walking, there is no other person in sight for as far as they can see. And on this sparkling summer’s day, the view seems endless.

In the valley’s crowded mall, families stroll by, eating ice cream, dodging bicycles. People pile in and out of buses. Shoppers hunt for souvenirs. Kids hang around a pizza place. Rock climbers, coils of rope slung over their shoulders, swap stories. On a summer’s day about 14,000 people are in Yosemite Village

Both the solitude of the alpine ridge and the throngs of the valley are part of the experience when you visit Yosemite National Park. “No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite,” wrote John Muir, whose crusading led to the creation of the park. To this temple come 4 million visitors annually. And about 90 percent of them go to the valley, a mile-wide, 7-mile-long canyon cut by a river, then widened and deepened by glacial action. Walled by massive domes and soaring pinnacles, it covers about one percent of the park. In summer, the concentration of autos brings traffic jams and air pollution.

Beyond the valley, some 800 miles of marked trails offer hikers easy jaunts or grueling tests of endurance in the High Sierra wilderness. Even the casual visitor can explore this solitude without getting outfitted for a backpack expedition.

This park, roughly the size of Rhode Island, is a United Nations World Heritage site. Here, in five of the seven continental life zones, live the mule deer and chipmunks of the valley and the marmots and pikas of the heights; the brush rabbit and chaparral of the near desert; the dogwood and warblers of mid-elevation forests; the red fir and Jeffrey pine of mile-high forests; the dwarf willow and matted flowers of Yosemite’s majestic mountains.”

Did You Know?

Towering more than 350 stories above Yosemite Valley, El Capitan is the largest exposed granite monolith in the world.

We found Yosemite to be one of the prettiest national parks we have visited but also one of the most challenging to navigate. The climb into Yosemite National Park, through the Tioga Pass, proved to be the most stressful and trying drive of our entire trip so far. We put our bus through its paces as we slowly climbed from 6000 to 10,000 feet, through miles of switchback turns, to get to the entrance of Yosemite.

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Like Yellowstone National Park, we were amazed by Yosemite’s  vast size. It took us 1 1/2 hours to get from the Toulmne Visitor Center to Yosemite Valley.

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It was there in Yosemite Valley that we found the bulk of the visitors in the park. The crowds increased as we got closer to Yosemite Village. Add to that the fact that half the roadways and parking lots in the valley were closed for road construction,  we found Yosemite Valley to be a crowded, chaotic mess.

In addition to many road closures we also found out that the Mariposa Grove was closed for a two year restoration project, so we spent the remainder of the day in the Yosemite Valley.

Determined to not let the stressful, chaotic start to our day sour our experience at Yosemite, we began looking for a parking spot. This was challenging for even a small car, much less a 43 foot school bus. After an hour of driving from one filled parking lot to another we finally found an open spot next to the side of the road.

It was only 11:00am, we had been navigating Yosemite for 3 hours, and we were exhausted.

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We decided to hit the restart button with a picnic lunch before we began seeing Yosemite. Everyone needed to decompress, and we knew full bellies would put everyone in a better state of mind, so we began our visit with lunch.

From there we head over to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.

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Around Yosemite Valley there is free shuttle service that takes visitors from one part of the valley to another. By utilizing the shuttle service you can move about the valley floor easily with  20+ different shuttle stops. We took the shuttle over to the visitors center.

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Here the kids met with a park ranger to get their junior ranger booklet to work on and attend a ranger led program.

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The kids learned about some of the wildlife found in Yosemite, particularly the foxes found in the park. They were able to touch the pelts of a red fox and a grey fox, and feel how much softer and lush the pelt of the red fox was. This beautiful fur is what almost led to the extinction of the red fox by fur traders before they became protected. In the park there are hundreds of grey fox, which were the less desired species, but only around twenty red fox are still alive in Yosemite.

They also learned that the squirrels, so abundant in Yosemite, had a special adaptation that was specific to squirrels in that area. They learned that the squirrels there were immune to rattle snake venom.

It was fascinating to learn about the conservation efforts made by the National Parks Service and how mistakes made in the past are being remedied. We learned how the parks are fixing mistakes made twenty years ago that killed off the turtle population in the park. The ranger shared how in the 1980s and 1990s, when white water rafting became popular in the area, the park went through and removed all the trees and debris from the rivers to make rafting safer. In doing so they mistakenly removed the habitat that the turtles needed for survival. Those branches and logs were used by the turtles to hide under and sun themselves on. That simple mistake led to the destruction of the turtle population. They are now trying to remedy that mistake by bringing in turtles from outside the park to repopulate. She told us if we keep our eyes open along the waters edge we just might see them, walking along with a tracker antenna attached to the top of their shell.

While we didn’t spot any bionic turtles we did see many of these cute little lizards,

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and a crayfish or two.

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If kissing a frog gets you a prince, what does kissing a crayfish get you?!

 

From there we hiked our first of three trails for the day. We decided to hike the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail. This time of year there are no waterfalls falling in Yosemite. Created by winter snow melt, they are dried up by mid summer, but it was still a beautiful hike.

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Along the way Toby taught Tyler how to whistle using an acorn top. What a wonderful skill to teach Tyler, Toby! 😉

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As we moved about the park, riding the shuttle and hiking the trails, we could see why Yosemite is a favorite park for so many people. The towering pines and enormous granite mountains have a way of making you feel small and in awe of nature’s impact.

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We walked a trail over to El Capitan, where we were able to see climbers working their way up the smooth, granite face.

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There were telescopes set up for visitors to get a closer look at the climbers,

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and a park ranger on site that was answering questions about rock climbing in Yosemite. It was fascinating to see him demonstrate the climbing gear used by the climbers to propel themselves up the cliffs, and to learn about the logistics of the multi-day climb it takes to get up El Capitan, like eating and sleeping on the side of a cliff.

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Can you spot the climber? How about now??

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In addition to being in awe of the side of the granite monoliths, the kids were also in awe of the size of the trees in Yosemite. We told them to just wait until tomorrow’s visit to Sequoia National Park. We won’t be able to reach around the circumference of those trunks as a family!

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It was a beautiful day.

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We were able to salvage our day, which started so stressfully, and enjoy and appreciate one of the prettiest parks we have seen so far.

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This is what a good day at a National Park looks like:

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Next stop: Sequoia National Park

 

 

Swimming with Sea Monkeys in the Great Salt Lake

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Never did I think I would utter the words,

“I spent the afternoon swimming with sea monkeys.”

As a child I had sporadic success as a sea monkey owner. That didn’t discourage me from trying, though. The packaging of the smiling, waving sea monkeys on the store shelf were too much to resist, so even with the experience of previous failed attempts of raising sea monkeys on my bedroom dresser, I would try again, certain that this time would bring better results.

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Sometimes they would hatch and it was always a thrill to sit and watch these alien looking creatures swim around in their plastic tank, but all to often the experience ended in weeks of longing looks into an empty tank before I would eventually give up hope and toss the kit in the garbage.

Even after 20 years of advancements in technology and quality control, things have not improved at all in the area of sea monkey husbandry. My own children have relived the same marketing pull and deep disappointment of unhatched sea monkey eggs and empty plastic tanks. After countless allowance dollars spent and multiple attempts at raising sea monkeys, my kids have never actually seen a hatched sea monkey.

Sea monkeys are actually brine shrimp. The marketing of brine shrimp as sea monkeys is a special kind of genius. Here is how they work:

“A colony is started by adding the contents of a packet labelled “Water Purifier” to a tank of water. This packet contains salt, water conditioner, and some brine shrimp eggs. After 24 hours, this is augmented with the contents of a packet labelled “Instant Life Eggs”, containing more eggs, yeast, borax, soda, salt, some food and sometimes a dye. The Sea-Monkeys that hatched from the original eggs seem to appear instantly. “Growth Food” containing yeast and spirulina is then added every few days.”

Sea monkeys, or brine shrimp, thrive in a highly hypersaline environment like that of the Great Salt Lake. Four times saltier than the ocean, the Great Salt Lake is considered an extreme environment that supports few forms of life. The exceptions to that rule include the ever abundant brine flies and brine shrimp:

b) Brine Flies

Due to our terrestrial nature we notice the huge, coal black clouds of flies on the lake shore. We are often annoyed by their presence and fail to realize just how important they are to the aquatic ecosystem of the Great Salt Lake. These flies and their larvae & pupae support an enormous number of shorebirds.

a) Brine Shrimp

In the late 19th century, various investigators identified the brine shrimp as Artemia salina or Artemia gracilis, however, more recently they have been named Artemia franciscana (the same as the one in San Francisco Bay). Brine shrimp (also called “Sea Monkeys” by aquarium enthusiasts and aquaculturists) are Crustaceans that have about 15 larval molting stages ( their larvae are called nauplii) before they become full adults of about 10 mm. .

Yesterday the kids were able to see what those sea monkey eggs should have hatched into that they spent their hard-earned allowance money on in childhood. Not only were they able to see sea monkeys, they were also able to swim with them!

They weren’t as thrilled with that, but they didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to swim (and float) in the Great Salt Lake, so they joined millions of sea monkeys and took to the water to swim in “shrimp soup.”

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The Great Salt Lake is a natural wonder of the world. The high concentration of salt, due to water flowing into it but not out of it makes it one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world.

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We pulled into the Great Salt Lake state park where we paid 3.00 for the bus to enter. This meant we only paid .50/ each to float in the Great Salt Lake. What deal!

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After speaking with the rangers, and learning a little bit more about the lake, the kids and I headed back to the bus to put on swim suits.

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The rangers warned us about the flies and the shrimp but told us that if we could brave those two elements we would be able to experience the unique sensation of extreme  buoyancy found only in hypersaline water due to the increased density.

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The kids worked their way into the water and eventually took the plunge.

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I waded out with them but Toby chose to stay on the shore. As a result he became the official towel/hat/shoe holder. 🙂

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It was fun seeing the looks of astonishment and delight on the kids’faces as the water supported their body weight on the surface of the water.

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Even my kids with minimal body fat, that usually are unable to float, stayed atop the water. Rusty exclaimed, “Boy, I wish I could take my Boy Scout swimming test here!”

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They all had fun trying out different floating positions and yoga poses as they were supported by the water.

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They were even able to sit cross-legged and remain upright as the waves bounced them along.

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After an hour of floating we had everyone get out to dry off. The dry desert heat evaporated the water from our skin almost instantly, leaving behind a coating of salt that made our skin glisten. Rusty said we all looked like vampires with our glittering coating of salt.

Before we climbed back on the bus to change, we stopped at the outdoor hose to wash the salt from our swim suits and skin.

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It was one of those unique, once in a lifetime experiences, that I never need to do again.

I can now say,

“I swam with Sea Monkeys in the Great Salt Lake!”

Trains and Rockets

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“A telegraph signal sent from the tracks… signaled a truly transcontinental extravaganza. As the word went out over the wires, the nation went wild. In city after city, church bells rang, trains hooted, fire engines howled, gongs clanged and cannons thundered.  Citizens thronged the streets to watch parades. People sang The Star-Spangled Banner, prayed and shouted themselves hoarse. Countless orators hailed this as a ‘great day’ of national destiny.”

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We were just inside Utah’s border when we saw the sign for the Golden Spike National Monument at Promontory Point, Utah. While not on our planned itinerary, I knew that the 24 miles it would take us off track would be worth it. (And it would be cost-free with our America the Beautiful pass.)

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I told the kids I had visited there when I was attending college at Weber State University, and the kids couldn’t stop laughing and teasing when they heard that it was a date that brought me there. For some reason they found the idea of visiting abandoned railroad tracks for a first date funny. 🙂

As a fan of all things historical, I told them that I thought it was a perfect first date.

“Mom, you’re such a nerd,” was the reply.

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In a day when cars or airplanes can travel anywhere, anytime, it can be difficult to appreciate just how momentous the completion of the transcontinental railroad was to the United States in 1869. The railroad was a tremendous feat of engineering that cost the lives of many. The railroad made it possible for people to travel from coast to coast in a few days, instead of a few months. The railroad effectively ended a way of life for the American Indian as white settlements multiplied throughout the West.

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The first thing we noticed when we got to the rail line of the Golden Spike National Historic Site was the silence. With the midday sun high overhead the only sound we heard was the wind coming down from the Promontory Mountains. It wasn’t always like this. In 1869 this was where the first transcontinental railroad was completed.

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During the 1860’s the United States Congress ordered that a railroad be built across the nation in an effort to connect the sparsely populated western half of the nation with more established areas in the East. The connection would help build the economy, shorten travel times, and help the military control resistance by the native tribes. Two companies sprang forth to make this happen, Central Pacific Railroad (CPR) and Union Pacific Railroad (UPR). CPR would build a railway east starting at the city of Sacramento. Beginning in Omaha, Nebraska UPR would lay its line heading west. The last spike to join the two was driven by Leland Stanford, the President of Southern Pacific Railroad, at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10th, 1869.

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We explored the visitor center and learned much about the great sacrifices made to accomplish this historical feat. Then we went outside. The two train replicas that are normally on display were gone for maintenance, but we were able to walk the track and see the site where the two lines were joined together.

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And what do my children do when left unattended on abandoned railroad tracks?

This, of course!

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As we were leaving the Golden Spike National Memorial a park ranger made a suggestion of another site, only two miles away, that we should check out. The site he suggested was  the ATK rocket garden.ATK is the company that used to make the rocket boosters for the space shuttle. Outside of their building is a small “rocket garden” that is free to the public.

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There were many different displays of rockets including a shuttle booster and a Patriot missile. Each had an interpretive sign that explained what we were seeing and what it was used for. All though all the rockets on display were very interesting, the one that fascinated me the most was the rocket booster for the Space Shuttle.

I know the Shuttle is a very large craft but you have no idea how big  until you stand next to this booster, and it takes two to get the shuttle into space!

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 We didn’t spend a lot of time here, but it was definitely worth the stop if you are on your way out here for the Golden Spike National Historic Site.

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The little boys were especially enthralled.

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We were so glad we took that 24 mile detour off the beaten path to check out these two historically significant transportation monuments.

Within an 8 mile radius, we were able to experience one hundred years of transportation history by visiting the Golden Spike National Historic site, where the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, and visiting the rocket display at ATK, where scientists helped put a man on the moon exactly 100 years later in 1969!

From trains to rockets…a speedy, good time.

Yellowstone National Park

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For the last two days we have been exploring the uniquely beautiful geologic formations of Yellowstone National Park. The absence of recent blog posts has been a result of minimal internet access in the area.

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We arrived at the western side of Yellowstone at 10:00 pm, on Friday night. We had spent 10 hours getting from Devils Tower National Park to northern Wyoming where Yellowstone is situated. The long travel day was spent getting everyone caught up in school, puttering around the bus, stopping for our weekly grocery shopping trip, refilling the boys’ prescriptions and getting things in order for the next week of travel.

We woke on Saturday morning with icicles on our noses. The temperature had dropped to the 30s overnight. As the day progressed things warmed up, but not before we spotted our first snowflakes of the season, something we certainly did not expect over Labor Day weekend!

Sweatshirts were pulled out and lunched were packed and we were ready to hit the road for a day of exploration.

Everyone was excited about this stop. Being one of the more well-known national parks, the kids had a bit of an idea of what to expect here. They knew they would be seeing geysers and watching Old Faithful erupt, but they had no idea all the other unique sites we would be seeing at Yellowstone.

As we drove into the park Tyler’s first comment was,

“I love Yellowstone! It smells just like marshmallows!”

It took me a minute to follow his train of thought before I realized that what he was noting was the distinct smell of campfire, as a result of the five forest fires currently burning in the park.

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As we entered through the western gate we passed through an area currently on fire. We could see the firefighters on the hillside as we drove through the smoky haze. That night, as we exited by that same road in the dark, the hillside glowed with burning embers.

We began our tour of Yellowstone at the Lower Geyser Basin, working our way counterclockwise around the park. The two things that struck me as we worked our way around the park was the sheer vastness of Yellowstone and the great diversity of the land and animals in the different areas of the park.

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“Yellowstone National Park is America’s first and foremost National Park, drawing over three million visitors yearly. Established in 1872 by the United States Congress “for the preservation of” its many wonders and “for the enjoyment of the people,” and now encompassing 2.2 million acres.

The Park has five entrances and some 370 miles of paved roadway. Situated in the northwest corner of the Wyoming frontier, Yellowstone is a treasure that inspires awe in travelers from around the world, boasting more geysers (about 250 active geysers from amidst 10,000 total thermal features) than anywhere else on the globe.

Yellowstone is home to thousands of active thermal features, including the world renowned Old Faithful Geyser. Yellowstone is also known for the spectacular Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is 1200 feet deep and highlighted by the powerful Lower Falls. Yellowstone is also pristine mountain-range wilderness and an open refuge for wildlife, including grizzly bear, elk, American bison, moose and wolf.”

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The other thing that took me by surprise were the crowds! We have been spoiled in our travels by minimal crowds at the places we have visited so far. The return to school for school age children has resulted in smaller crowds at most of the places we have visited. We have found that those we have been touring with tend to be retirees, couples with young children or fellow homeschoolers. This was NOT the case at Yellowstone. The fact it was the weekend, as well as being Labor Day weekend, resulted in massive crowds.

Add to that the fact that Yellowstone is one of the most toured parks by international tourists, and the fact that the rise in visitors has increased by 60 % because of 2016 being the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and you have this:

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The experience made us all the more grateful that we postponed this cross country trip from June to September!

It was crazy…but we tried to not let the crowds put a damper on the experience.

Once again, four of the kids asked if they could participate in the junior ranger program. We stopped at the Old Faithful Visitor center to get the junior ranger booklets for them to work on over the next two days. The booklets were filled with a variety of activities that the kids needed to participate in.

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They needed to attend a Ranger-led program.

They decided to attend, “Truths and Myths about Yellowstone” at a beautiful lakeside pavilion on Yellowstone Lake. Check out those views!

“Yellowstone Lake — This is the largest high-altitude lake in the lower 48 states, and it is breathtaking in grandeur. As you follow the long shoreline both east and north, you will see snow-capped mountains rising across the lake. On windy days, ocean-like waves break onto the shore. Be sure to visit Lake Village and walk through the Hotel. You might also want to sit on the porch of Lake Lodge and take in the view”

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They had to hike a trail or boardwalk and record their observations. They chose the Paint Pot hike:

 “Along this short walk you will see very good examples of most types of thermal features found in Yellowstone. These features include some very pretty hot pools, steaming fumaroles, erupting geysers and probably the best easily accessed mudpots in the park. The area is highly active and at least one geyser is usually erupting here at all times.”

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Grand Prismatic Springs:

“Temperature 147-188°F Dimensions 250×380 feet. Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, and is considered to be the third largest in the world-New Zealand has the two largest springs. Grand Prismatic sits upon a wide, spreading mound where water flows evenly on all sides forming a series of small, stair-step terraces. The Hayden Expedition in 1871 named this spring because of its beautiful coloration, and artist Thomas Moran made water-color sketches depicting its rainbow-like colors. The sketches seemed exaggerations and geologist A.C. Peale returned in 1878 to verify the colors. The colors begin with a deep blue center followed by pale blue. Green algae forms beyond the shallow edge. Outside the scalloped rim a band of yellow fades into orange. Red then marks the outer border. Steam often shrouds the spring which reflects the brilliant colors. Grand Prismatic discharges an estimated 560 gallons per minute.”

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They had to observe Old Faithful erupting and predict its next eruption:

“No visit to Yellowstone is complete without experiencing at least one eruption of Old Faithful. Old Faithful erupts more frequently than any of the other big geysers, although it is not the largest or most regular geyser in the park. Its average interval between eruptions is about 91 minutes, varying from 65 – 92 minutes. An eruption lasts 1 1/2 to 5 minutes, expels 3,700 – 8,400 gallons (14,000 – 32,000 liters) of boiling water, and reaches heights of 106 – 184 feet (30 – 55m). It was named for its consistent performance by members of the Washburn Expedition in 1870. Although its average interval has lengthened through the years (due to earthquakes and vandalism), Old Faithful is still as spectacular and predictable as it was a century ago.”

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While at Old Faithful we strolled over to Old Faithful Inn:

Old Faithful Inn is the most popular hotel in the park.  Built during the winter of 1903-04, the Old Faithful Inn was designed by Robert C. Reamer, who wanted the asymmetry of the building to reflect the chaos of nature. The lobby of the hotel features a 65-foot ceiling, a massive rhyolite fireplace, and railings made of contorted lodgepole pine. Wings were added to the hotel in 1915 and 1927, and today there are 327 rooms available to guests in this National Historic Landmark.

It was stunning. We had fun walking around the lobby.

Before we left we bought a few cups of homemade Huckleberry ice cream to share on the porch.

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Another place in the park that the kids needed to visit was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone so that they could sketch the view in their booklet.

“Lower Falls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone – Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon may not be as big as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but it is nonetheless breathtaking. The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon, at 308 feet high, is one of the most photographed features in all of Yellowstone.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the primary geologic feature in the Canyon District. It is roughly 20 miles long, measured from the Upper Falls to the Tower Fall area. Depth is 800 to 1,200 ft.; width is 1,500 to 4,000 ft. The canyon as we know it today is a very recent geologic feature. The present canyon is no more than 10,000 to 14,000 years old, although there has probably been a canyon in this location for a much longer period. The exact sequence of events in the formation of the canyon is not well understood, as there has been little field work done in the area. The few studies that are available are thought to be inaccurate. We do know that the canyon was formed by erosion rather than by glaciation. A more complete explanation can be found in the Geological Overview section. The geologic story of the canyon, its historical significance as a barrier to travel, its significance as destination/attraction, and its appearance in Native American lore and in the accounts of early explorers are all important interpretive points. The “ooh-ahh” factor is also important: its beauty and grandeur, its significance as a feature to be preserved, and the development of the national park idea.”

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As well as fill out workbook pages recording the wildlife they observed as they moved through the park. We drove through Lamar Valley:

“Lamar Valley — This wide, expansive valley is home to bison, elk, coyote, grizzly and wolf, and is must-visit area for serious wildlife watchers. Bison and elk are readily visible, and coyotes can oftentimes be spotted. Visitors who are willing to rise early in the morning or wait up until dusk also may have the opportunity to see bears and wolves. In fact, Lamar Valley is the #1 destination for viewing wolves.”

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We also made sure we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs…Incredible!

“Mammoth Hot Springs – This is Park headquarters and it radiates history, featuring some of the oldest buildings in the Park, including structures from the days when the U.S. Army was managing Yellowstone.

Mammoth Hot Springs are the main attraction of the Mammoth District. These features are quite different from thermal areas elsewhere in the park. Travertine formations grow much more rapidly than sinter formations due to the softer nature of limestone. As hot water rises through limestone, large quantities of rock are dissolved by the hot water, and a white chalky mineral is deposited on the surface.”

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We have found that the junior ranger program really enhances the experience and engages the kids in a way that would be missed if we were simply just moving our way through the park. Filling in the booklets requires them to stop and read the signs, interact with the rangers, ask questions, and stop to really look and appreciate the beauty of the park.

The result of all that hard work:

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Being sworn in as junior rangers and receiving another patch and junior ranger pin to add to their collection.

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This is in addition to getting to keep their completed booklets as souvenirs of the experience and a record of all they learned.

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Next Stop: Grand Tetons National Park

Devils Tower

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 We are now 10 days into our road trip and 1/5 of our way through our journey. What a journey it has been- full of amazing sites, incredible experiences, wonderful people, and innumerable blessings!

On Thursday, after leaving the Black Hills of South Dakota we traveled two hours west, crossing into Wyoming, for our visit to Devils Tower National Monument.

This was another stop I was looking forward to with eager anticipation, as it is a place that holds so many fond childhood memories for me.

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Toby and I reenacting the infamous “tree sniffing photo” of my parents on our childhood visit to Devil’s Tower.

 

I remember camping at the Devils Tower KOA and sleeping under the silhouette of that mighty monument.

I couldn’t wait to return and share the experience with my own family.

As we approached the campground we could see Devils Tower looming in the distance, growing larger with every mile as we approached our camp.

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The Devils Tower KOA is located at the base of the monument, mere feet from the entrance of the park. It is a beautiful KOA, both because of the upkeep as well as the incredible views. It is the nicest KOA we have ever stayed at.

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Oh, how the memories came flooding back as we pulled into the campground!

We pulled into our site and the kids got out to stretch their legs and play at the playground while I fixed lunch.

Look at the view from our campsite!

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After lunch we headed into the national park to explore more closely the beauty of Devils Tower.

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As we drove into the park we passed a prairie dog town on our way up the winding road. At the top of the road sat a small visitor’s center at the base of Devil’s Tower. This was our first stop.

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Devils Tower:

“Devils Tower National Monument, a unique and striking geologic wonder steeped in Indian legend, is a modern day national park and climbers’ challenge. Devils Tower sits across the state line in northeast Wyoming. The Tower is a solitary, stump-shaped granite formation that looms 1,267 feet above the tree-lined Belle Fourche River Valley, like a skyscraper in the country. Once hidden below the earth’s surface, erosion has stripped away the softer rock layers revealing the Tower.

The two-square-mile park surrounding the tower was proclaimed the nation’s first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The park is covered with pine forests, woodlands and grasslands. While visiting the park you are bound to see deer, prairie dogs and other wildlife. The mountain’s markings are the basis for Native American legend. One legend has it that a giant bear clawed the grooves into the mountainside while chasing several young Indian maidens. Known by several northern plains tribes as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site of worship for many American Indians. Devils Tower is also remembered as the movie location for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

The stone pillar is about 1,000 feet in diameter at the bottom and 275 feet at the top and that makes it the premier rock climbing challenge in the Black Hills.”

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The kids were invited by the park ranger to participate in the junior ranger program, an educational, interactive program offered at many of the National Parks. The kids had not yet had the opportunity to try and earn their junior ranger badge at previous parks because of our limited time at each of those parks. This time, however, we had a full day planned at the park and plenty of time for the kids to really explore, research and learn all about Devils Tower.

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The booklet included a nature bingo game, pages to draw on and record information about a flower they saw on their hike and a wild animal they saw. There were also crossword puzzles, true and false quizzes, and fill in the blank questionnaires that required the kids to read signs and find the missing information.

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Molly, Rusty and Tyler decided to try and earn their badge. Ozzie was more interested in simply reading the signs and not filling out the 12-page booklet, and Grace was not feeling well, so after walking through the visitors center with us she headed back to the bus to lay down rather than hike with us.

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While at the visitors center we got our National Parks passport book stamped and the kids began filling in their junior ranger booklets with the information they found in the visitor’s center.

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Then we headed out on the Tower Trail, a 1.25-mile trail that winds its way around the base of this mammoth rock.

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The trail was beautiful…

And the views were breathtaking.

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We stopped at each trail sign to read about the park and so the kids could fill in their booklets. I knew Molly and Rusty would love this activity but I was surprised how engaged Tyler was. I have watched Tyler blossom, as a student, on this trip as he experiences these places that he has never shown any interest in while reading about them in a book. He is learning, experiencing, retaining and growing through these hands-on learning opportunities and it just confirms that Tyler’s learning style is that of a hands-on, kinesthetic learner.

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Looking at the original wooden ladders that took the first climbers to the top.

 

As we walked around the monument we were in awe and understood why, upon seeing this magnificent place, Theodore Roosevelt designated it the first National Monument in the United States. This made Wyoming the home to the first National Park (Yellowstone) and home to the first National Monument.

Along our hike we spotted a deer laying by the path,

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And hikers high on the cliffs.

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Tyler loved watching the hikers up close through the binoculars.

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He and Molly both agreed that someday they would like to try mountain climbing.

It was a wonderful hike and we learned a lot along the way. By the time we reached the end of the trail three of the four kids had completed their booklet and were ready to have them checked over by a park ranger.

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They passed and were ready to be sworn in as junior park rangers.

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What a wonderful program. They all enjoyed it so much and learned so much, they all said they would like try getting their junior ranger badges at all the National Parks we visit. What an awesome experience it is being able to visit and experience our nation’s national parks, especially in 2016, during the National Park Service’s 100 year anniversary!

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By then it was nearing dinner time, so we walked back to the bus to find Grace feeling much better. We decided that before dinner we would enjoy a swim in the KOA  pool. After working up a sweat, the cool pool water felt good, and we couldn’t have asked for better pool views.

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After dinner everyone put on PJs and sweatshirts and we walked over to the camp’s outdoor theatre to watch, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the sci-fi classic that was filmed right there at Devil’s Tower. This KOA shows it every night in their outdoor theatre that looks out onto Devils Tower monument.

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I remember sitting under the Wyoming stars, at the base of Devils Tower, as a kid watching this movie for the first time and thinking it was one of the coolest experiences ever.

It was so much fun to relive that moment again. Sitting under the stars, in the cool night air, introducing my own kids to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” I thought to myself,

“Life doesn’t get much better than this.”

Next stop: Yellowstone National Park!

Mount Rushmore

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And we ended our second day in Rapid City at Mount Rushmore…

“There are many ways to draw inspiration  from one of the nation’s most consequential and enduring patriotic symbols- Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. Just consider- the work of this massive carving, the largest monument in the world, was accomplished during a time of great national challenge and hardship- the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Between October 4, 1927 and October 31, 1941, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the colossal faces of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln to represent the first 150 years of the great experiement in democracy that is America. What many might consider America’s greatest challenge- World War II- was still ahead, and the years to come would bring a full measure of triumphs and tragedies.

Yet today the four “great faces” continue to greet each dawn with pride and glory- an image mirrored on millions of visitors’ faces who come away from the monument  with their patriotism revitalized  and their senses refreshed by the serene and beautiful surroundings.

The mountains eastern orientation and its smooth granite face  caused Borglum to conclude he had found the perfect site for his visionary undertaking. Yet Borglum faced monumental obstacles  in pursuit of his dream. Harsh winters and inadequate funding often stalled progress. In fact, Mt. Rushmore stands not only as a rock-solid reminder of our national pride, but as a monument to the patriotism and stubborn determination of a sculptor and the local crew of miners  he guided into carving a mountain into one of the wonders of the world.

Today, the astonishment of the mountain reverberates through every visitor.

The faces of the four presidents tower 5,500 feet above sea level and are scaled to men who would stand 465 feet tall.”

We began our visit with a stroll down the Avenue of Flags,

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on our way to the Grand View Terrace, where we were greeted with this spectacular sight:

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Then we began our hike. Beautiful forest surroundings welcomed us as we walked along the Presidential Trail, which offered the closest viewpoints of the presidential faces. We walked the planked walkway that looped around the base of the monument.

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The view from below gave us a new photography angle that Tyler dubbed: “snot shots.” 🙂

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The walk was beautiful and serene.

After circling back around to the Grand View Terrace, we made a stop at the ice cream shop before we found places to sit for the lighting ceremony.

We learned that in addition to Thomas Jefferson being the principal author of the Declaration of Independence he also happened to be the creator of the first ice cream recipe in America.

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And at Mount Rushmore ice cream shop they just happened to have T.J vanilla ice cream for sale so we were able to try out this 200+ year old recipe for vanilla ice cream as we sat in the shadow of his monument, waiting for the lighting ceremony to begin.

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“By far, the most spectacular program at Mount Rushmore National Memorial is the evening program held in the amphitheater at dusk. A ranger introduced  the 20-minute movie about Mount Rushmore . Then, with the tune of the “Star Spangled Banner” playing in the background , huge floodlights lit up the faces of the monument in a spectacular reveal, stark white against the black Dakota sky.

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That is when our hearts swelled with patriotism- and a renewed dedication to our nation, and its founding principals of democracy, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

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God bless America!

Next Stop: Devils Tower, Wyoming