Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mount St. Helen's-not a drive by

We planned this National Monument as a quick drive thru just to give the kids a chance to see what a volcanic eruption can do- we ended up spending a good part of the day in this area and at Mt. St. Helens.  On the drive in we stopped at the famous "A" frame house that is still standing but under 5 ft of mud/ash. This house is miles from the mountain so you get a sense of the magnitude of the eruption. Plus Sasquatch is here as well!
The drive to the Johnston Ridge Obsevatory Center is about 1.5 hrs but worth the diversion. The ranger talk, exhibits and theater presentation were very informative and gave us info we didn't know about the erupton so many years ago. We had some clouds, but they cleared enough for a decent view of the mountain crater.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Crater Lake

Once we reached Medford, OR (about 90 miles from Crater Lake) we decided to call ahead to make sure we could get a campsite, after all it was a Friday. We were lucky and got one of the last 4 spots.at Mazama village. Hooray!
The campground was lovely, wooded and not too crowded to your neighbor. We headed to the evening campfire ranger program, as we try to do in the parks, they are a great way to hear about some aspect of the park that you may not normally find out about.
After a full night of pouring rain we headed to "Annies Restaurant" just on the edge of the campground. The breakfast was disappointing and a bit pricy($51 for 4) but food was hot and we were warm.
Since it was still spiting rain we decided to drive around the lake. Suddenly the clouds broke and saw some awesome views of the lake from Phantom Ship overlook!  This was formed from volcano and is the deepest lake in the US, we have never seen bluer water!

From here we decied to see the Pinnacles. These are 100 ft spires of hardened volcanic ash in many colors. You have great views from the parking area but an easy flat 1 mile hike gives you more beautiful views of the many colorful spires. Be forewarned there are no railings along the edge of these cliffs.

Back to Rim Village and a stop at 100ft Vidae Falls. The area was loaded with wildflowers making for a beautiful view right on the side of the road.
Rim Vilage was very busy but it was Saturday. We opted for a picnic  near the Rim Visitor Center. There was only 2 other families having lunch here, with probably 20-30 "sites" with picnic tables.   We walked some of the Rim walk, fo beautiful views of the lake.
The kids got their Jr Ranger badges with interesting activities including a demonstration on how the lake was formed.  We were anxious to get to Mt Ranier so decided to head out but because of wildfires ended up exiting the long way to Eugene and towards Portland.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Heading to Crater Lakevia Redding, CA and Sundial Bridge

On the road by 8! We stayed at Granzella's in Williams, CA.  Nice little respite on a long drive. Rooms were very clean and reasonably priced. We had sandwiches at the Deli, very good but a bit pricey,but they were open late!
Had car problems and made it as far a Redding, CA- but were lucky enough to be taken right in at the MIDAS dealer. real nice folks! Had a great lunch in the Mexican restaurant next door Guadalajara's!!.
Driving out we saw signs for "sundian" bridge" and Turtle Bay Park. The kids had been very patient so we decieded to stop. What a gem!

You feel like your miles away from civilization  along the Sacremento river, but only a few miles off the highway. The Turtle Bay Museum had a fantastic lego exhibit "The Art of the Brick", my son(and the rest os us) loved it! We ended up spending a couple of hours here but certainly could have spent the day! BUt we need to get to Crater Lake which was still hours away.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

National Park Junior Ranger Program

The National Parks have a fantastic program  for those traveling with children.
The Junior Ranger Program is a great way to have your children active, learning about the park they are in and having a good time all at once. Best suited for ages 5-12, but we find we learn something too!  We didn't find out about this right away and are disappointed. Now, once we enter a park, the first thing our children want to know is what that particular parks Jr Ranger program entails, and can they get started right away!
Most parks Jr. Ranger programs are free. Once completed, the children receive a 'badge" from a park ranger after a "swearing in"ceremony. Some parks offer an additional program for a nominal fee ($3-5) and your child receives a embroidered sew-on patch as well.
Most of the programs have the children participate in a Ranger program which could be a scavenger hunt (Crater Lake), a short ranger talk on some aspect of the park ( Yosemite, Glacier) or a campfire presentation,almost all have these!
My children have learned about flora, fauna, and the environment, in addition to how the parks began.
We have found this program available also at National Monuments(ie.National Homestead, NB), National Lakeshore (ie. Apollo Islands, MI) and National Seashore(ie. Cumberland Island, GA).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Golden Gate National Recreation Area- Alcatraz and Muir Woods

We arrived in San Francisco in the late afternoon, just in time for a cocktail hour at our hotel TheArgonaut. 
www.argonauthotel.com.  What a great location for San Francisco" tourist" style. We took the cable car to Chinatown for a great meal setting us up for a day at Alcatraz.

We didn't have tickets...word to the wise if you know you are going... get tickets in advance online. We did get tickets but we were in line at 8am! And all of your party needs to be in line with you or no tickets for them.
We managed to get seats for the 10:30 boat- not bad and took the quick ride(15 minutes) to the island.  The Ranger talk on the history of the island was worth the delay in getting to the "prison"... we found out things we never knew which I won't spoil here. The audio tour that is included is great, even the kids payed attention! We spent about 4 hours and didn't see the movie. The view of San Francisco alone is worth the trip, but a few hours on Alcatraz will give a great perspective of prison life.
Also part of the Golden Gate Rec Area is Muir Woods.About one hour north of San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge past Sausalito. Be sure to stop just over the bridge in the rest/viewing area for great views of the bridge.
Muir Woods is a beautiful respit full of Redwoods. Even having seen the Great Sequoia's, this is a lovely park. One of our favorite spots, maybe because it was after spending time in busy San Fran? The park has a few different walks amongst the Redwoods we opted for the shorter 1 mile trek.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Yosemite- Hodgon Meadow and the Giant Sequoia's of Toulomne Grove

lLocated on the north west edge of Yosemite. I'd camp here as a last resort primarily because many of the site(s) are hilly, and with a tent that doesn't work so well.  However its not far from The Toulomne Grove of Giant Sequioas. Because of the crowds we decided to go here versus the more known Mariposa Grove. The total length of the walk was about 2 miles- downhill on the way in-that means its all up on the way out. In all we saw over a dozen Sequoia's. One you can walk through. Another is a fallen Sequioa that gives you great perspective on its size. Most of us are able to stand in it and it seems to go on quite a length. 
There were a few others on the trail, but on a busy day in August we didn't feel crowded here.
This is a great spot on the way to or from Tioga Pass away from the hustle of the Valley.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009



Yosemite Valley - yes it is what they say!

View from the dining room at the Ahwahnee.

We arrived via Tioga Pass, from the east, thru Tuolumne Meadows. This was our intro to Yosemite outside of the Sierra Nevada's on the way in, and it was spectacular. Being an Ansel Adams fan I could see why he spent so much time here-- and we hadn't even gotten to "the Valley" yet, which was where we were camping the first night. It did take us a couple of hours for the 55 mile drive but we found ourselves stopping in awe of the views. I already wished I had planned more than 3 days here. Originally I had us camping at Tuolumne Meadows and it would have been nice to spend more than a drive thru in this area, by adding a hike here. We did finally make it to our campsite in Upper Pines- right in the Valley.

CAUTION! Take the bear warnings seriously! We saw black bear on our way back to the campsite and heard the warning signals that the Park Rangers send out to scare the bears away from the campgrounds. If you heed the warnings and follow the storage for food and scented items chances are you will be left alone. We put any and all of our scented belongings into the bear lockers, including toothpaste and soap. We slept fine!

We splurged with Sunday Brunch at the Ahwahnee! We went early(9am) and were seated immediately. Its pricey but the menu is extensive and food was very good as well as the service!! Food on our trips is usually not priority so we really enjoyed the massive buffet. Imagining that this was the same place Roosevelt and others once stood and the impact they have had in The National Parks was enough to take pause about.

The camping in the valley was Perfect for El Capitan! WOW! Yosemite Falls (Lower) is an easy flat walk on a very well maintained trail to a beautiful view of the Falls. Be forewarned that it will probably be crowded because it is accessible to almost everyone.
I am told that the longer hike to Upper Yosemite is more strenuous, but you get away from the crowds.

We opted to hike to the top of Vernal Falls. This is a moderately strenuous hike even to the first bridge( i think its about 0.5miles) but nice view. We kept going and amazingly the crowd thinned out quickly, but they don't know what they missed! This is a tough hike. Lots of narrow stairs along the side of the falls, but on this hot day the cooling mist was a welcome relief. Making the hike to the top for a beautiful view of the valley! We did continue to the next bridge to view Nevada Falls. Even the kids thought the trek was worth the view!!

A side note, it really does get crowded so plan on using the shuttle service or walking.

The day goes by quickly. We had camping the next night in Hodgdon Meadow so headed out before dark so weren't setting up camp in the dark. Because we booked this trip about 2 weeks before we left ,we didn't have the luxury of getting multiple nights in Yosemite Valley- Book well in advance for multiple nights-- 2 nights would have been better.Vernal Falls

Tonapah to Yosemite via Bodie State Park, CA (ghost town)

Bodie State Park,CA

Located about 1/2 hour north of the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite and Well worth the diversion!
This is an old abandoned gold mining town from 1879!Pretty Cool! Interiors of the buildings have been left as they were. The kids ( and us adults) really enjoyed wandering around the old town left as it was from 50 years ago. One ranger even spoke of seeing ghosts. We kept our eyes open but failed to spot one. Our kids participated in their Jr. Ranger program which got us all informed on the different buildings and the lay of the town which once was over 10,000.
Have water and a snack, we spent a few hours there and could have spent 1-2 hours more. There is no shade so plan accordingly.
For more information: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains-2007

Tomorrow is the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Dedication of the Great Smokies as a National Park so I thought I'd post my impressions from our visit 3 summers ago.

We came in from the east (Asheville/Cherokee NC). We had spent the night in Asheville at the Holiday Inn Express and would again in a heartbeat. We stopped at the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, which put us behind schedule but a very interesting and informative stop. The kids loved it.

Having less than a day, we drove the Newfond Gap Road to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park. The steep 0.5 mile paved trail takes you to the top of the dome. From here if you have ever had to desire to walk the AT( Appalachian Trail) you can access it from here. For longer stays there are plenty short "Quite Walkways" as well as many drives.
Close by is Gatlinburg TN and Pigeon Forge with plenty of places to stay.