National Parks

North Cascades National Park

After we left Port Angeles we headed over to the little town of Concrete, Washington to visit North Cascades National Park.

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This park is known for mountains, glaciers and lakes. The glaciers are a beautiful turquoise green color like in this iconic view of Diablo Lake.

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Diablo Lake

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A park ranger explained to us that the glaciers moving against the rocks over time result in the stunning green color in the water. I was curious why the glacial melt in Glacier National Park results in blue water while this park’s glacial melt results in green. The ranger showed us how rubbing 2 rocks together from this area creates a fine green dust, while the rocks in Glacier must be somewhat different in the color resulting in a blue dust.

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We started the day at the Gorge Powerhouse, walking across the suspension bridge and then a short hike up to Ladder Creek Falls.

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Ladder Creek Falls

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Then we hiked the Thunder Knob Trail to see Diablo Lake. This hike was 3.6 miles round trip and to be honest it wasn’t really that interesting except for the end. There was not much to look at for the hike up, but once we got to the top we were rewarded with this view. This was an out and back hike so the hike back down was just as uninteresting, but easier of course as it was all downhill.

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If you’re short on time I wouldn’t bother with this hike. You can get a much better view of Diablo Lake from the Diablo Lake Overlook (the pictures from the beginning of this post were taken at the overlook). I don’t mean to sound negative about this hike, but my personal preference is to hike trails where you have amazing views throughout the hike, not just at the end.

Next we drove further down the scenic North Cascades Highway to hike the Rainy Lake Trail. This was a short 2 mile out and back hike to a beautiful lake. Again, the hike wasn’t all that interesting, but it was short and paved, and ended at this awesome view.

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Rainy Lake

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A few more miles down the road we stopped at the Washington Pass Overlook for some spectacular mountain views.

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Lastly, on the way out of the park we stopped at Cascadian Farms for some organic ice cream. I thought the blueberry ice cream was delicious!

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We stayed at the Grandy Creek Thousand Trails while we were in this area, and also celebrated Jesse’s 11th birthday that week. We had been so busy sightseeing and exploring while Gramma and Grampa visited, and I think everyone felt the need for a break. Jesse requested that we stay home for his birthday and not go anywhere. So that’s what we did. We spent the day at the campground, playing games and mini golf. I made his favorite ice cream cake and one of his favorite dinners — lasagna, meatballs and homemade bread. I bet you didn’t think we could bake all that in an RV, did you? 😉 Last Christmas my dad and Chris switched out our microwave oven with a combination convection/microwave and I love it! The standard oven that comes with an RV is pretty useless since hardly any pans even fit in it. The convection oven fits my lasagna pan and bread pan perfectly. And I cook meatballs in our Instant Pot, one of the best kitchen appliances for an RV.

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I wasn’t sure how we could possibly top his 10th birthday that was celebrated at Mall of America, but he said this birthday was just as fun. Sometimes it’s the simple things in life I guess. 🙂

Categories: National Parks, Washington | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Olympic National Park

After 10 wonderful weeks in Oregon we moved on to Washington where my parents would be joining us for a couple of weeks. Our first stop in WA was Port Angeles in the Olympic Peninsula. My parents flew into Seattle which was about 3 hours away but the closest airport for them to fly into. We had a fun day of planes, trains & automobiles (and ferries too!) when we went to pick them up. I will write a separate post about Seattle later.

While we were in Port Angeles we visited Olympic National Park. This park is huge and takes up most of the northwestern part of the state. It includes mountains, lakes, the ocean and even a rain forest!

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Port Angeles is near the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center so our first adventure at Olympic was hiking up to Hurricane Ridge. The views were spectacular! We were blessed with a beautiful, clear day and could see Victoria, British Columbia across the water where we went the next day. Stay tuned for a post about that amazing city.

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After the strenuous climb it was time for a snack break!

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Later that week we went to visit some other areas of Olympic that were close to Port Angeles including Marymere Falls and Lake Crescent.

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Marymere Falls

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Lake Crescent

It was quite smoky in the area that day due to wildfires in the northwest so it’s hard to get a good idea of just how clear this lake is. Standing over the edge of the dock the water was so clear you could see straight down to the bottom which was probably over 8 feet deep at that point, but it was really hard to tell.

We took an overnight trip over to the town of Forks, WA where the Twilight novels were based. This is the western side of Olympic but quite a drive from Port Angeles which is why we decided to spend the night instead of driving back and forth 2 days in a row.

Our first stop on this side of the park was the amazing Hoh Rain Forest. Near constant fog and mist in addition to 12 to 14 feet of rain each year result in this lush rain forest which has been designated one of the 7 wonders of Washington state.

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Hall of Mosses

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The boys earned their Junior Ranger badges at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center.

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Next we headed over to Ruby Beach which was beautiful and so much fun!

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I love looking for colorful sea creatures in the tide pools, but I didn’t find any here, probably because the tide was coming back in.

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Jake decided to build a raft out of driftwood and float down the waterways. Jesse decided to join him. I nicknamed them Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. 🙂

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Grampa liked skipping rocks.

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The next morning we woke up to a rainy day. I know that is not uncommon for the Pacific Northwest, but we had been very blessed with mostly beautiful days for the entire summer. Anyway, we weren’t going to let a little rain keep us from searching the early morning low tide pools at Rialto Beach.

At first it was just a little drizzle and fog, not too bad as we hiked to Hole-in-the-Wall and Split Rock.

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Split Rock

The rain picked up and we all got soaked, not to mention we were freezing! I don’t know about the rest of my people, but for me it was worth it. I saw the most beautiful and colorful starfish there. These were the best tide pools I saw in all of our time in the PNW!

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I had been searching for a purple sea urchin for weeks and never did find one, but I did see this beautiful purple starfish which was good enough for me.

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We saw lots of these green sea anemones everywhere!

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Chris and Jesse hung in there with me for a while longer after Gramma, Grampa and Jake decided they had enough of the cold and rain and headed back to the truck.

Jesse collected lots of rocks.

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We made it to Hole-in-the-Wall, looking just a little bit like drowned rats and feeling just a little bit cold!

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Hole-in-the-Wall

It was worth it to me at least. Look at this wonderland of tide pools just waiting to be explored! I could have stayed here all day if we weren’t wet and freezing.

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After this we walked/ran as quickly as we could back to some dry clothes and a warm truck. We had planned to go up to Cape Flattery next, the northwestern most point in the lower 48 states, but since the weather wasn’t cooperating we headed back to our cozy little home back in Port Angeles.

Up next… 2 beautiful days in Victoria, Canada.

Categories: National Parks, Washington | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Two Forts in Astoria, Oregon

We spent a total of 10 amazing weeks in my new favorite state of Oregon this summer, and we saved the best state park for last. Fort Stevens State Park is in the northwest corner of Oregon near the beautiful city of Astoria. This was my favorite state park we stayed at in Oregon. It was huge and so many of the sites have some trees and privacy. But the best part of the park was the miles of paved bike trails and historical places to visit.

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Awesome paved bike trails!

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Roadschooling one day consisted of touring the fort and a shipwreck on the beach. Fort Stevens was in service from the Civil War to World War II and guarded the mouth of the Columbia River.

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The Peter Iredale ship ran ashore in 1906 and the wreckage is now a tourist attraction on the beach at Fort Stevens. The boys loved climbing on this shipwreck.

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Peter Iredale shipwreck

The northern tip of the state park has beautiful views of the Pacific and the mouth of the Columbia River. You can also see the state of Washington across the river as well as the city of Astoria.

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One of the lookout points at Fort Stevens

Early in our Oregon travels we met a family back in Chiloquin that we have met up with at a couple of different places since then, one of them was Fort Stevens. We had a great time with them touring another fort (Fort Clatsop) and Astoria.

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The Lewis and Clark Expedition camped at Fort Clatsop during the winter of 1805-1806.

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The boys earned new Junior Ranger badges with their friends.

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After touring Fort Clatsop we explored the beautiful city of Astoria and had lunch at Mo’s. How is it we did not eat at Mo’s until the day before we left Oregon? There are several of them along the Oregon coast and they have the best clam chowder. Next time we’re in Oregon we’ll have to go there again.

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We climbed the 164 steps to the top of the Astoria Column where we were rewarded with gorgeous view of the Columbia River and the Astoria-Megler Bridge that goes to Washington.

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Astoria Column

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The kids enjoyed running and rolling down the hill outside of the column.

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It was a bittersweet day knowing it was our last day on the Oregon Coast. I thoroughly enjoyed our time exploring that part of this amazing country. I really hope to return again someday.

Categories: National Parks, Oregon | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bend, Oregon

We absolutely loved Bend, Oregon! We spent 2 weeks there at the Bend/Sunriver Thousand Trails and it wasn’t long enough. I was amazed at how many awesome recreational opportunities there are in that area. The Deschutes River is really popular for summertime water activities like kayaking, tubing and river rafting. There are so many parks and bike trails, as well as many places to go hiking. It’s also very dog-friendly; we saw people with dogs just about everywhere, including restaurants. There are even ski resorts nearby for all the wintertime fun you could want. Crater Lake is less than 2 hours away. The weather while we were there in July was very pleasant, although I’ve heard that since we left that area it has gotten quite hot.

During the 2 weeks we were there, we got to spend time with several other Fulltime Families (FtFs). We joined some other families for a field trip to Newberry National Volcanic Monument where we visited Pauline Falls which was gorgeous!

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Pauline Falls

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We also hiked the Obsidian Flow Trail which is a lava flow covered in obsidian and pumice stone. The pumice stone was so light while the obsidian was like black glass and very sharp and slippery. I slipped and fell on it and a couple of others cut their hands on it. You have to be really careful with this stuff!

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Obsidian Rock

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Roadschoolers Rock!

These 3 were inseparable at the campground, playing Minecraft all the time.

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Jake and the 2 Jesse’s

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After the Obsidian Flow we relaxed at one of the lakes where the kids enjoyed playing in the water and kayaking.

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Jake out in the kayak

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Jesse is always up for a game of ball (any kind of ball)

Later that weekend we went back to Newberry to explore some more with Chris. We hiked through a Lava Cave which was really cool, but too dark for pictures. We also hiked the Trail of the Molten Land and the Lava Butte Trail.

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Lava Butte

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Lava Butte

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Trail of the Molten Land

 

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The boys earned Junior Ranger badges here and part of their activities was to interview some of the park rangers.

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The last trail we hiked that day was to Benham Falls.

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There are other areas to explore at this park but we ran out of time. Such a wide variety of places to visit like waterfalls, caves, lava lands, lakes, etc. We really enjoyed this park!

I saved the best for last. Our absolute favorite thing we did while in Bend was tubing down the Deschutes River. We liked it so much we went twice, and also a third time at the Little Deschutes River at our campground. We went with some other FtFs which made it even more fun! On our second trip we had 16 people, and we all made a train by hanging on to each other to go down the rapids together. That was a blast and so funny when some of the group wiped out and fell in, including poor little Jesse. He took it like a champ though!

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We all really liked this house and decided if we wanted to live in Bend we’d like to live there. Just kidding, we couldn’t afford that house, and besides it doesn’t have wheels. I’m not ready to stop traveling and I still want a house on wheels. 😉

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During the week we enjoyed the float down the Little Deschutes at the campground.

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We really enjoyed the time we spent in Bend, and hope to return again someday and stay for much longer!

 

Categories: National Parks, Oregon | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Crater Lake National Park

There are just not words to adequately describe the beauty of Crater Lake; it must be one of the most beautiful places on earth! The water is the bluest blue you ever did see. That moment when I looked over the rim trail and saw it for the first time is something I will never forget. It literally takes your breath away, and these pictures definitely do not do it justice!

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Crater Lake with Wizard Island in the middle

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The rim trail is really fun to stroll along and see the lake from many different angles. After we had our fill of seeing the lake from the rim, we headed out for a hike up the Garfield Peak trail. The trail is 3.4 miles roundtrip, but most of it was still closed due to snow so we were only able to hike about a mile up and back. The views along the hike were stunning!

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Cute little marmot we saw on the trail

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Crater Lake Lodge

The trail to one of the viewpoints looks to have been recently cleared of snow. The snowbanks were so high here and in the parking lot. It’s incredible how much snow falls at Crater Lake every year. We were there in July and some of the roads and trails were still closed! Also, it was surprisingly warm in spite of the snow. It might look funny to see us in shorts with all that snow surrounding us, but it wasn’t cold outside at all.

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Jesse writing in the snow

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Snowball fight in July!

After we hiked and walked around the viewpoints we attempted to go to another area of the park to do another hike, but the traffic and crowds were crazy by this point. We decided to head back to the campground and come back another day.

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We came back in the evening later that week and it was not crowded at all. The first thing we did was stop at the Visitor Center to watch the park movie and let the kids earn their Junior Ranger badges.

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The most popular hike at Crater Lake is the Cleetwood Cove Trail which is the only trail where you can hike down to the lake. It is 2.2 miles roundtrip and includes a strenuous climb back up.

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It was really fun to go down to the lake! We learned in the park movie that the water is some of the purest water, so of course we had to try it.

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Tasting the crystal clear water of Crater Lake

On our way back out of the park we stopped and played in some of the mounds of snow. I still can’t believe how much snow there was in July. I can’t even imagine what it looks like in the winter.

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Crater Lake is so incredible! I really hope I inspired you to go see it, because like I said at the beginning of this post, my pictures do not do it justice. You just have to see it in person.

Categories: National Parks, Oregon | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Redwood National and State Parks

Northern California and the Redwoods are incredible! It seems the further north we went in the state of CA the more we liked it. Sorry SoCal folks, don’t hate us but we’re just not fans of traffic and crowds. Once we got up near the Redwoods it was like we arrived in a different state. It was so much less crowded and busy, and people on the roads no longer seemed like they were in such a hurry. Suddenly life slowed down and became more peaceful and relaxed, just the way we like it.

I wasn’t sure if we would like going to the Redwoods so soon after visiting Sequoia, but we really loved it! Even though they are both about big trees, they are so different.

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We spent 2 days exploring this park and the surrounding area. On day 1 we hiked the Big Tree and Lady Bird Johnson Grove trails. When we were in Texas we visited the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park. We learned a little bit about his wife Lady Bird Johnson, and it was fun to see a trail named after her at this park. She loved the Redwoods and was at the dedication of the national park in 1968.

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Hiking among ancient giants

It’s humbling to see how small we are compared to these giant trees.

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Can you see Jesse in this picture?

The next day we drove up to Crescent City to visit the Battery Point Lighthouse. I loved all the purple flowers in bloom… so pretty!

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Next we did another Redwoods hike called Damnation Creek Trail. I’m not sure where they got that name, but it was our favorite hike that we did at this park.

Most of the hike was among the enormous trees. The sun shining down through the trees looked so majestic!

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Banana slug we found along the trail.

After what seemed like a long time of hiking through the woods, we suddenly came to a clearing with this breathtaking view!

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It was so beautiful here! I took way too many pictures and we stayed for a long time. It was very hard to leave this spot!

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Jake loves looking at all the sea life in the tide pools.

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Jake’s collection of snails and mussels.

As much as I hated to leave this place it was time to head back. I still had one more hike for us to do before the end of the day. The hike out of here was tough! The entire hike getting to this point was downhill which means the hike back out was a very hard climb. I wasn’t sure I could convince my people to go on just one more hike after this one, but thankfully they went along with me. 🙂

This was the Yurok Loop Trail which was a short trail with stunning Pacific views.

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By the time we finished all of our fun that day it was too late to get back to the Visitor Center in time to get the kids’ Junior Ranger badges. We went the next morning just before we left the campground to head to Oregon.

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32nd Junior Ranger badges

While visiting the Redwoods we stayed at the Klamath River RV Park. This was a very pretty park right on the river. I loved this view right in front of our camper with the mysterious looking fog.

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I think of all the places we have visited in California, Yosemite and the Redwoods have been my favorite. I can’t say I was sad to leave the state though; I sure don’t miss that traffic! We moved on and headed up to Oregon which is quickly becoming my new favorite state. More on that later.

Categories: California, National Parks | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Yosemite National Park

When people ask me what is my favorite place we have been, I find that is a very difficult question to answer. This country has so many beautiful national parks to explore and it’s hard to pick just one. Some of my favorites are Bryce Canyon, Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Now I can add Yosemite to my ever-growing list of favorites because I just loved it!

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We had to take a few days off work to visit Yosemite because we stayed at Yosemite Lakes RV Park where there is no cellular coverage at all. That’s okay though, sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere and disconnect and really focus on enjoying our time at the park.

On our first day driving into the park we were lucky enough to spot a bear grazing in the grass beside the road. We pulled over to get a few pictures.

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Our first hike was to Lower Yosemite Falls. I have to say that when we were there in early May the rivers and waterfalls were raging and so powerful! The large amounts of rain and snow that California received over the winter have resulted in amazing falls to see in Yosemite.

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Lower Yosemite Falls

We hiked a portion of the trail up to Upper Yosemite Falls but did not make it the whole way. It’s a long way up there, but the views along the way are beautiful even if you don’t make it all the way to the top.

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Next we went to Bridalveil Fall which was overflowing onto the trail. As soon as we got close to the falls it seemed like it started pouring rain even though it was a sunny day. The spray from the falls was like a drenching downpour. And our feet were freezing walking through the ice cold water.

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Bridalveil Fall

There were some ponchos to borrow on our way up to view the falls; Chris was the only one smart enough to grab one. The rest of us got soaked!

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Ooh, that’s cold!!

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Raging river below the falls

After this we went to Tunnel View to see one of the best views in all of Yosemite. You can see El Capitan on the left, Half Dome in the distance in the middle and Bridalveil Fall to the right.

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The next day was a cold and drizzly day in Yosemite so we just took care of getting the kids’ Junior Ranger books done and watched the park movie which was very interesting.

On day 3 (our last day in the park) we did a really long hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls. We hiked a total of 9 miles which included a mile each way from the parking lot to the trailhead. We had hoped to also hike the 2 miles to see Mirror Lake after this but we were all way too tired after this hike to do it. Next time!

The hike up to Vernal Fall is very crowded, but starts to thin out once you get past this waterfall and continue on up to Nevada Fall.

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Vernal Fall

There is so much spray from this waterfall that you get soaked on the way up. It felt like we were getting rained on in the picture below.

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With the spray comes beautiful rainbows!

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Once you get to the top of Vernal Fall, there is a large flat area to rest, let your clothes dry and have a snack before continuing on up to Nevada Fall.

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Top of Vernal Fall

Continuing on up to Nevada Fall was strenuous but so worth it!

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Nevada Fall

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Top of Nevada Fall

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There was a nice, large flat area at the top of this waterfall also which was a great place to rest and have lunch.

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Starting our hike back down the other side of Nevada Fall

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We really enjoyed our stay at the RV park because we got to park next to the Travaglino family. They are the ones that started the Fulltime Families group. Fulltime Families runs all of the rallies we attend and it is through that group that we have met so many other like-minded traveling families. We are so thankful for FtF. We had met the Travaglinos before, but never had the chance to get to know them very well. We enjoyed hanging out by the campfire each night and getting to know their family better.

Unfortunately one night while we were sitting around the campfire someone ran into our truck. An RV was pulling into the campground at night and took a turn too wide and the back end of his RV hit the back of our truck. With us always traveling we wondered how in the world we’re ever going to get that taken care of. I prayed that God would help us work out all the details and that something good would come out of the inconvenience. Well it did! First of all, the other guy’s insurance took care of everything and they did it quickly. They got it fixed at our next stop in Santa Cruz within a week, and meanwhile we had a nice fuel-efficient rental car to use to sight-see around Santa Cruz and Monterey. If you are at all familiar with Highway 1 (also known as the scenic Pacific Coast Highway), you would understand that having a smaller vehicle for that was a true blessing. The timing could not have been better to have something besides our big truck to drive around in for a few days. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for the good of those who love God. I find that promise to prove true in our lives all the time, and this was one of those times. 🙂

Categories: California, National Parks | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sequoia National Park

After leaving Las Vegas it was time to head into California. First stop was Sequoia National Park located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We had planned to also visit Kings Canyon while we were there, but the only day we had available to do that ended up being a rainy and cold day so we didn’t make it.

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Anyway, Sequoia was beautiful of course but we only spent one day there. We stayed in Lemon Cove about 30 miles from the entrance. I had assumed we could make a few trips into the park in the evenings during the week, but on our first visit on Sunday we quickly realized that was not feasible. The hard part about visiting Sequoia is that you have to drive a very long twisty & windy road up a mountain before you get to most of what you would want to see and do in the park. So even though we were only 30 minutes from the entrance, it was probably another hour drive before we got to any hiking trails and things to see. And that hour drive was the source of some complaining of car-sickness because of the windy road. So we decided in order to more full experience this and Kings Canyon (which is connected to Sequoia), we will come back again someday and stay at a cabin or lodge inside the park. That way we will only need to do the carsick-inducing drive once and then spend a couple of days exploring once we’re in there.

Of course the main attraction at Sequoia are the enormous sequoia trees.

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General Sherman is the biggest tree on earth. Not the tallest nor the widest, but biggest by volume. Interestingly, the top of the tree is dead but the volume keeps increasing. The trunk grows wider every year, adding enough wood to equal another tree.

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A tree’s trunk tells its history. The rings in the tree below show that the tree lived about 2,210 years and marks within some of the rings show scars from at least 80 different fires

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Can you spot the boys and me in the picture below? We are so small compared to these giants!

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The area of the park where you go to see these trees is at a pretty high elevation, so there was still lots of snow left in May.

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After admiring the giant sequoias, we went to hike up Moro Rock. You get beautiful panoramic views of the entire park from up there.

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Lastly we went to the Tunnel Log to see if we could fit our big truck through it.

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We fit!

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We stayed at Lemon Cove RV Park which was a nice little park with a pool. Even though it was very cold up in the higher elevations of Sequoia, down where we stayed it got quite hot that week. An added bonus to staying there is we met another Fulltime Family staying at the park. We really enjoyed getting to know them during the week at our nightly “happy hours” and hope to meet up with them again soon.

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The drive into Sequoia from Lemon Cove is very pretty, passing by Kaweah Lake…

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…and the cute town of Three Rivers and the currently raging Kaweah River. Please be careful if you visit any areas with raging rivers like this. Two people died falling into this river during the time we were in the area. The water is so rough right now due to all the heavy rain and snow CA experienced over the winter, and the rocks are so slippery. I believe the people that died fell in when they slipped on the rocks.

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One day was certainly not enough to fully experience Sequoia, there is much more to see so we will hopefully go back again someday and visit Kings Canyon while we’re at it. Next we moved on to Yosemite, one of my new favorite parks!

 

Categories: California, National Parks | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Zion National Park

We have finally been to all 5 of the big Utah national parks, with Zion being our 5th. I can’t say that Zion is my favorite because it was actually the most crowded of the 5 and the crowd level took some of the fun out of it. However, we still had a great time visiting this very popular park.

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Our first day visiting this park was on a Monday afternoon. We could not believe how crowded it was! There is very little parking inside the park so there are several parking lots outside the entrance scattered around the town of Springdale. There is a shuttle bus that will take you into the park from Springdale.

We had wanted to drive on the Zion-Mount Carmel scenic highway through the tunnel that sounds pretty cool, but the lady at the entrance station said we could not drive the dually truck through there unless we pay $15 for an escort. I had heard about that before but thought it only applied to RVs, not dually trucks so we aborted that plan.

We took a chance on driving into the park to see if we could park near the visitor center, and we were able to park in the oversized vehicles lot where we saw several other dually trucks parked. I guess if we can’t drive through the tunnel because our truck is too big, at least we were able to park in oversized parking.

We went in the visitor center to pick up maps and junior ranger books, and the line to the desk was the longest we’ve ever seen at any park so far. Once we got that taken care of we looked at the park maps to try to decide what to do. The line for the shuttle bus that takes you into the park was about 45 minutes long (seriously, this place is worse than Disney as far as crowds go). So we opted to hike the Watchman trail which starts at the Visitor Center so we did not need to take a shuttle bus anywhere.

This hike was approximately 3 miles round trip and gave us some spectacular views of the towering rock formations at Zion. It was very nice to get up on the trail and away from the crowds.

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After this hike we went back to the campground to re-group and come up with some kind of strategy for visiting this very crowded park. I’m not sure if it’s always this crowded, we were there for the 2 weeks before and after Easter, so maybe it was more crowded than usual with spring break crowds.

That weekend we decided to go to the less-visited side of the park called Kolob Canyons. That turned out to be a good choice for Easter weekend. It was not crowded at all and we enjoyed some nice hiking there.

But we still had to figure out how we were going to explore the main part of Zion. Chris came up with the idea that we should spend the night at the Zion Lodge. The Zion Lodge is inside the park and if you are staying there you get a special red parking pass that allows you to drive into the park where only shuttle buses are allowed. By parking and staying overnight at the lodge we were able to avoid the crowds at the visitor center and get an early start on the trails in the morning before the rest of the world entered the park. We were lucky to get an opening for one night at the lodge. Typically you need to reserve a room there a year in advance, but they seem to always have last minute cancellations.

Staying at Zion Lodge was a real treat! We had a beautiful view from our balcony.

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From the lodge we were able to hike to the Lower and Upper Emerald Pools. The hiking trail starts right across the street. The pools were not emerald colored at this time of year but were actually kind of muddy. I heard that at certain times of the year they are a prettier color. The hike was still very pretty regardless, although very crowded (have I mentioned how crowded this park is?) 😉

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Virgin River

In the evening we explored the cute town of Springdale and found out from the locals that Oscars is the best place to eat so we had dinner there. It was very good so I can see why the locals like it.

The next day was our best hiking day in Zion. Since we were able to get an early start from the lodge we were able to avoid most of the crowds that show up later in the day. We started by hiking along the Riverside Walk which is a mile out and back. This paved trail goes alongside the Virgin River and it’s very pretty. It ends at the start of the Narrows. The Narrows is a hike through a slot canyon where you also are hiking in the river and will get wet. It sounds like an amazing hike and it was the hike I was most looking forward to at Zion, but unfortunately it was closed. The Virgin River was at a very high level when we were there and it’s not safe to hike through the Narrows when it is at this level. It sounds like late summer may be a better time for that hike so we’ll have to try again someday.

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The start of the Narrows; no hiking beyond this point until the river level goes down.

Next we did the short hike up to Weeping Rock.

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Weeping Rock

Lastly we hiked to Hidden Canyon. This hike goes up many switchbacks until you get to a section where you are literally on the side of a cliff and have to hold onto chains. It was quite scary and fun all at the same time. Jake really enjoyed it, but Chris was nervous the whole time. He doesn’t do well with heights and especially has a hard time watching his kids on the side of a cliff. I can’t say that I blame him. One of the most popular hikes at Zion is called Angel’s Landing and it has some areas where you are on very narrow ledges holding onto chains. We did not do that hike this time because we were not sure we were ready to take the kids on that, but Jake really wants to try it next time since he liked this one so much.

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Chains to hold while hiking along the cliff

You can’t see it in these pictures, but it is a very long way down over the edge here. I think we were all a little nervous, except for Jake who seems to be fearless. There was a couple behind us and the man was petrified. I didn’t think he would make it, but once we got to the top I saw his wife hug him and congratulate him. He was so relieved and I think he conquered a fear that day.

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After our fun day of hiking it was time to get the kid’s junior ranger badges and head back to the campground.

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I found it interesting how many parts of Zion are named after places in the Bible. Zion itself is a biblical name. There is also Angel’s Landing, the Court of the Patriarchs (where the 3 large rock formations are named Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), the Great White Throne, and the Virgin River.

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The Court of the Patriarchs

Chris had a great idea when he suggested we stay at the Zion Lodge. It really gave us a chance to more fully explore Zion without having to worry about driving the truck, where to park the truck, long shuttle bus lines, etc. I would like to go back someday and experience the Narrows and maybe even Angel’s Landing (still undecided about that one). I just don’t know when exactly is a good time to go there when it’s not so crowded. A lady in Springdale said it’s always crowded except in the winter, so maybe there really is no “best” time to go.

Now that we’ve been to the big 5 Utah parks, would you like to know which one is my favorite? All 5 parks are incredible, but my absolute favorite is Bryce Canyon. I love Bryce and cannot wait to go there again someday.

During the 2 weeks we were in the area we stayed at a fabulous state park called Sand Hollow State Park in Hurricane, UT. I will write a separate post about that later along with a write up about our day of hiking in Snow Canyon State Park nearby which was amazing!

Categories: National Parks, Utah | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon was one of my favorite places we visited in our first year of travels, and it is definitely worth a return visit. This is one of those places that I could return to again and again. I could never tire of hiking through the beautiful hoodoos.

If you’ve been following along you might remember that we got to enjoy some snow at Grand Canyon just a couple of weeks before coming here. We were so excited to get even more snow while we were at Bryce Canyon.

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The boys got to enjoy sledding down a little hill at the campground. When we bought these sleds for the sand dunes in Texas we had no idea we would get to use them again so soon, or that we would be able to use them for snow this time!

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We had one good day of snow, but most of it melted the next day. The rest of the week we were able to go for several hikes in the evenings after work. I love daylight savings time since it gets dark later in the day now so we have time to hike in the evenings.

Our first hike of the week was a repeat of one of our favorite hikes at this park: Queens Garden. This hike can be combined with the Navajo Loop trail, but since we wanted to do shorter hikes each evening, we did not combine them this time. The views on this hike are so incredible which means I took way too many pictures.

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The next day we did the Navajo Loop trail, but it ended up not being a loop because the Wall Street section was closed. So we hiked out and back. This hike includes going down a bunch of switchbacks which you later have to hike back up. Hiking back up is exhausting! On the way down most people passing me on the way back up were out of breath. I knew that would be me on our way back up, and sure enough it was!

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The last hike we did that week was the Peek-a-Boo Loop trail starting from Bryce Point. This hike was new to us this time and we all loved it! That has become our new favorite hike at Bryce. The hike down from Bryce Point was a little tricky with all the ice and snow still on the trail. It was wet, muddy and slippery in some sections, but so worth the effort to get to the bottom for the Peek-a-Boo Loop. This hike is a total of 5 miles: 1 mile down from Bryce Point, a 3 mile loop and then a mile climb back up.

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We stayed at Ruby’s Inn RV Park. We really like to stay there while visiting Bryce because it’s right outside the entrance to the park. There is also a shuttle bus to take you into the park from the campground, but it wasn’t running yet when we were there in April. The shuttle bus service runs from May through September.

This last picture was taken on scenic highway 12 on the way to Bryce as you go past Red Canyon. When we came here 2 years ago we weren’t sure if we could fit under this tunnel so we pulled over to measure before going under. This time I wanted to get a picture of Chris driving the rig under the tunnel and I can see we had plenty of room!

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Categories: National Parks, Utah | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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