Adventuring Through the National Parks, Part Two

We are nearing the end of #NationalParkWeek, and it’s been fun for us to look back at our travels and where we’ve gone in the 12 years since we first started visiting what has been called “America’s Best Idea.”  In 2006 we ventured across the American West and drove over 6,000 miles.  We experienced Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and a made thousands of memories along the way.  It started a love for the National Parks that continues today.

Robyn has her favorites.  These are a few of mine.

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Golden Gate National Recreation Area and San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park– San Francisco, California.  Take one day in San Francisco and experience everything from the infamous Alcatraz to the old growth redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument to the only Civil War-era fort built on the West Coast, Fort Point.  Visit the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge or tour the history of California at The Presidio.

1Get away from the crazy hustle and bustle of the waterfront and experience the history of sailing, fishing, and so much more at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, or go directly to the coast and Lands End Lookout overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  There is literally so much to see and do in this amazing combination of monuments and historic sites, you will not be able to experience it all in one visit.

 


 

 

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Capitol Reef National Park – Torrey, Utah.  There are so many beautiful National Parks in Utah, it’s hard to choose one.  But Capitol Reef combines incredible arches, canyons, and red cliffs with a whole lot of history, which makes it tops for me.  The unique landscape of Capitol Reef made it ideal for Native American cultures, and there are countless petroglyphs visible, some just a short walk from the main road through the park.

Created more than 500 years ago, they are stunning examples of the Fremont people who lived here before the Mormon settlement of Fruita planted orchards of more than 3,000 trees.  1 (1)You can still visit one of the old houses, eat fruit right from the trees (they are maintained by the park), and then take a drive in deep red rock canyons–it’s a perfect experience for everyone.


 

Since Robyn only listed three, I’m limiting myself to three, too.  Honestly, I could list at least a dozen here, but since I only have one more choice, I have to go with the one that started it all.


yellowstone-1500x609Yellowstone National Park – Yellowstone NP, Wyoming.  Without Yellowstone, there would be no National Park system.  It was the very first National Park in the world, and it remains one of the most amazingly diverse ecosystems in America–a truly stunning combination of animals, geothermal wonders, rivers, canyons, and more.  It is one of those parks that you can’t experience just once–there is so much to see that a day’s drive from one end to the other will leave you a bit exhausted.  636559460866264567-1-Yellowstone-Kris-Wiktor-shutterstock-96972083Take time to explore the mudpots and geysers, marvel at the wateralls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and stop and stare at elk, buffalo, and countless other species that call the park home.  Yellowstone is one of the busiest National Parks, so plan ahead and make reservations for hotels around it, or for camping inside it.  You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll be reminded why our National Parks have been called “America’s Best Idea.”

What are your favorite National Parks?  What tips can we share about any visits you might be planning this summer?  Let us know!

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5 Restaurants to Try On Your Travels

On all of our adventures across the United States, we’ve enjoyed some great food.  There’s nothing better than experiencing local culture, and there’s no better way to do that than eating at restaurants you may not find elsewhere.  There’s nothing wrong with the familiar, but part of the adventure of life is trying something new–and when we’ve tried something new, we’ve typically been blown away by the people, the food–the whole experience.  Here are five of my favorites–stop by when you’re in these towns for a fantastic food experience!

Mother’s Bistro • Portland, Oregon

The city may want to keep itself weird, but there’s nothing weird about the food at this amazing restaurant.  You may feel like you’re sitting in your mom’s kitchen, surrounded by crisp white cabinetry, white linens, and feeling of home.  That’s because Chef Lisa Schroeder’s goal was to create a fantastic food experience around “Mother Food,” the kind of food she would cook for her family if she had the time.  Each month, a different real-life mom’s meals are featured along with familiar favorites like pot roast, chicken and dumplings–comfort food created with a distinct flair and excellence.  We discovered this place on accident while in Portland for a concert–and now go back every time we’re in the city.  Stop by Mother’s, because you will not be disappointed.

Carver Brewing Company • Durango, Colorado

The town of Durango has a long history of cowboys, mines, and railroads, and when we were there last summer, we wanted to eat somewhere that would give us a chance to enjoy some of that history.  Walking up Main Street, we found Carver’s, featuring some sidewalk dining.  The chalkboard sign was filled with promising ideas for meals, so we walked in.  As the hostess walked us through the labyrinthine maze, we were disappointed to find we wouldn’t be on the street, where the action was.  Instead, we were back in a back patio area.  Bummer, right?  Right–until the little kids discovered the swings available for them to play on, and once the food started coming out.  Our waiter was from Seattle, too, which was fun–but it was the food that really knocked it out of the park.  We eventually found out that this is a local institution with a long history, and the second-oldest brewpub in Colorado.  Enjoy some great food and drink while the kids play on the swings.

McGlinn’s Public House • Wenatchee, Washington

We decided to get away for a few days a couple summers ago and headed over the mountains into Washington’s apple country.  Driving through the town of Wenatchee, we couldn’t find anywhere that appealed to us (well, the parents–the kids would have loved to eat at Sonic) until we saw the sign for this place, located in a historic building with a storied history.  We couldn’t have made a better choice.  The wait staff was fantastic, the decor was full of history and great personality, and the food was stellar.  McGlinn’s was such a great experience because it was fun for adults to eat there, but also so good and that the kids liked it, too.  A short walk from the riverfront, McGlinn’s is a winning combination of history and contemporary excellence.

Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon, and Musical Revue • Flagstaff, Arizona

When we arrived at our hotel in Flagstaff last summer,  I asked the clerk about good local food.  He said, “How do you feel about singing waiters?”  That’s when I knew our family had to check out Black Bart’s.  Of course, for someone out of town it can be a bit disconcerting, especially when it’s dark outside and you have to drive past a bunch of RV’s to find the restaurant.  It’s a Flagstaff institution for more than 35 years, but it still looked totally sketchy.  The inside looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1970’s (except for theatrical musical posters which featured more recent hits like Wicked and Hamilton).  The menu was pretty impressive, though, and the portions were plentiful.  Everything was cooked to perfection and we agreed it was a good choice.  My theatre-loving daughter and I were enjoying the posters–and suddenly a waiter began singing “Be Our Guest.”  This was  where the experience went from good to great.  The entire wait staff joined the song and eventually all of them had a chance to shine–along with a stellar accompanist.  If you want a great experience beyond just good food, definitely check out Black Bart’s next time you’re on your way to the Grand Canyon.

El Gaucho • Bellevue, Washington

I have to put this local favorite in this list, because it’s our favorite place to go for an incredible steak dinner (served to perfection by the fantastic waitstaff) or even a quick bite on a Sunday evening.  El Gaucho is a throwback to 1960’s steakhouses, with tableside preparation of flaming deserts or steaks, salads, jazz music, and a style that is both classic yet contemporary.  There are four El Gaucho locations (the original in Seattle, a lesser one in Portland, one in Tacoma), all with their own flavor, but we really prefer the Bellevue restaurant for the quality of the servers, the high ceilings, and ease of parking.  We have celebrated anniversaries, promotions, birthdays, and more here, and we have never been disappointed.  While its multiplicity of locations may make it more of a “chain,” the specificity of its Northwest theme, commitment to local food and wines, and its long history wth the city of Seattle make it feel more like an original.  Whether you want to eat steak served on a flaming sword or try bananas foster prepared en flambé as you watch, El Gaucho‘s Bellevue restaurant is a wonderful dining experience.

What about you?  What great restaurants have you discovered on your family adventures?  Share them with us–we can’t wait to try them out!

 

Maybe This Country Just Needs to Go on a Big Road Trip

I love road trips.

I love the idea of getting in a car and driving across the country, seeing things you can’t see at home, experiencing places you only read about in history books or see in documentaries you stream on Netflix, eating food you can’t get close to home, and talking with people whose life experiences are different than yours.

I grew up taking road trips, thanks to my missionary parents.  Every summer from my 1st grade year until my freshman year in High School, my parents and my brother and sister and I loaded into whatever vehicle we had at the moment and traveled from Seattle to Indianapolis, and then from there to everywhere else.  By the time I graduated from high school, I’d been through the entire lower 48 states.

I’d seen Yellowstone.  Devil’s Tower.  Plymouth.  Washington, DC.  Trenton.  Lexington and Concord.  Niagara Falls.  You name it, we’d been there.  You can read about our country all you want–but when you start seeing it, living it, experiencing it, it does something to you.

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It helps you realize that everyone isn’t like you,  that there is greatness in people who talk different from you, who eat different foods.  We share the same nationality, but we are all as wonderfully diverse as our country’s landscape.  The coast of Maine is not like the prairies of Kansas or the tree-lined roads of Alabama or the huge redwoods of California or the small towns of Texas.  And the people who live in each of these places are wonderfully different from each other, too.  When you actually sit and talk to people, you realize that although we are different, we do share a common heritage as Americans.

So this is a value I grew up with, and something I am excited to pass along to my children.

People think we’re crazy.  Six people in a minivan, driving more than 4,000 miles across the American landscape.  But if you don’t drive that far, you’ll never see it.  You can’t fly to most of the most amazing and beautiful parts of our country.  And like the Pixar film Cars so aptly celebrated, if you don’t get off the highways and onto the old two-lane roads, you miss the small towns and amazing people that make America great.

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In less than thirty days, our family embarks on our next great road trip.  We will be traveling from Washington to Idaho to Utah, through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  We’re going to get off the interstate, on to some small highways, and stay in small towns and eat in local restaurants that aren’t part of a large corporation.  We will visit National Parks like Arches, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Joshua Tree, and more.  (Yes, we are squeezing in a day at Disneyland, but that’s just a bonus.)

As the National Park system celebrates 100 years, there’s nothing better than getting in the car and going.  Get out of your routines and the normal places you travel.  Sure, it make take some getting used to, driving hundreds of miles for hours to get to a location, but when you get to see the sunrise over the Rocky Mountains, experience the heat of the afternoon sun and the clearest skies in the United States at Rocky Mountain National Park, you realize it’s worth it.  Visit Wall Drug, drive on Route 66, and walk the towpath of the Erie Canal–and talk to the people in these places and discover just how great these crazy places, and the people who live near them, actually are.

If you need to stay closer to home, that’s fine, too.  But don’t be content to just stay at home, and don’t get on a plane.  Visit a local National Park (they are all over the place, and sometimes they are in your backyard–we just visited the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Preserve a short drive from our home and loved it), take a drive and get ice cream at a local place, stop  at small store and get a soda.  There’s a lot of fun to be had out there, you just need to get out and find your family’s adventure.  You’ll discover you have a lot more in common with folks than you realize, and you’ll have some fun along the way.

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It’s just a thought, but maybe if we all took a few more road trips and traveled through the towns and neighborhoods of our country, seeing just how incredibly beautiful it is, we’d see each other in a different light, too.  There’s a huge value in the road trip experience, because not only does it create memories and bring your family closer together, it can bring you closer to the incredible ties we share as Americans.