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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Making Memories On Any Budget

If you’ve known us or followed us for any length of time, you know that we love Disney.  We have a little history with Disney, though. Duane and I met working at The Disney Store back in 1996 and we were married just two short years later in Disneyland.  We have raised our kids in a “Disney home,” following many of Walt’s own traditions.  And we visit the Happiest Place on Earth whenever we can get away for a few short days.  Many people wonder how we can afford it, but we’ve visited so often that we know how to spend and save money. Also, working for Disney allows us several benefits that not all guests can afford.  And even though Disneyland will always be our go-to vacation, we also love going on other adventures outside of Disneyland.  So, how does one go on adventures on a budget?  I’m going to share with you my top 5 money-saving adventures.  And yes, Disneyland is one of them.

  1. DAY DRIVES.  I think one of our favorite things to do as a family is to find a place just a couple hours away and take a day drive.  It’s always fun exploring new things.  Last week’s blog was about how to make memories anywhere and this is one of the easiest, and cheapest ways to do it.  Usually all it takes is a full tank of gas and some research.  Pack a lunch, grab your smart phone for directions, and you’re off!  Here in the Seattle area some of our favorites are Leavenworth, Mt. Rainier, any place a ferry can go, or even the city itself.  You just need to get creative.
  2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE SEASONS.  Every town, city, state offers seasonal adventures.  In the fall, visit your local pumpkin patch.  Summer time is great for fruit or veggie picking.  Regardless of the season, find something new and fun and go for it.  Again, with just a little research, you can find adventure just about anywhere and at any time.
  3. VENTURE OUT TO A NEARBY BIG CITY.  One of our favorite getaways as a family is Portland, OR. If we have a couple of days off in a row, we try to head out of town. Portland offers great shopping and dining.  And it doesn’t matter how often we go, the kids love staying in hotels.  It’s a different experience for them. And who doesn’t love going for a swim or soak in the hot tub after a long hard day of eating and playing?
  4. GO FIND YOUR PARK!  Did you know that you can purchase an annual park pass for the entire family for just $80?  And it pays for itself in 2 park visits.  Every state offers several national parks, historic sites, or historic reserves.  Again, just pack a lunch, several snacks, water bottles, jackets and/or hats, and fill up the car.  The National Park Service also offers a Junior Ranger program with fun activities and adventures for your kids and an opportunity for them to earn a Jr. Ranger badge.  All of my kids, including my 17-year old, love earning their Jr. Ranger badges! Just visit The National Park Service to find out more information and programs near you!
  5. DISNEYLAND!  OK, you knew I had to! Like I said, we visit Disneyland as frequently as we can.  Each visit is different and depending on the kids, they all experience something new.  So, how can we afford it?  Before I was worked for Disney, we had annual passes.  If you visit the park more than 5 days, you will have paid for your annual pass.  Plus the annual pass gets you discounts on food and store purchases.  There are several hotel offerings around Disneyland Resort, so just choose the one that best suits your family’s budget and needs.  For our family, I’m all about saving as much money as we can.  I bring a backpack with me filled with snacks and waters to save on food purchases.  Our kids have learned to split meals so we only end up purchasing 3 meals at a time instead of one for each of us.  If they’re still hungry, they can have a snack, but most times, they’re just fine.  And I’m not big on souvenirs, but we give each of our kids a $25 gift card to spend on souvenirs, dole whip, churros, etc.  And the biggest money saver for us is transportation.  We load up all 4 kids in the minivan for a 18-hour-straight-thru drive.  We have done this so often that we know where to find the cheapest gas, cheapest food, and best times to travel to save time. I guess you could say we’re experts on Disneyland on budget!

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to find adventure!  Just a little imagination and research.  Now go find adventure!  It’s out there just waiting for you!

A Grand Old Time

There’s something about the Grand Canyon that leaves even our loud family speechless.


But pictures can’t begin to explain or help you understand what you see when you look out into this enormous, beautifully terrifying rip through the Arizona landscape. 

Our last visit was 10 years ago, and the kids were much smaller–and our fourth child hadn’t been thought of yet.

Visiting the same spot with bigger kids reminds you how fast time goes by, and it was fun to see how the kids have changed, and to do things we couldn’t do before.  We hiked between the Visitor Center and El Tovar along the South Rim, and did our Junior Ranger books.   Keeping the kids from waking to close to the edge was paramount, especially after Gus jumped to a rock that could have led to serious injury.


The hike was fantastic, with stellar views of the valley, the Colorado River, and the mountains more than 80 miles in the distance.  We visited with Ranger Rick at the Watchtower and loved hearing about the different animals who make the Canyon their home.


It was so cool to stop and see the elk in the park, like this guy, who took advantage of a mud pool to cool off on the hot day.  We later saw females and babies playing in the same place.  Naturally we stopped and watched–until they started bellowing and making clear we were intruding on their space.


We were at the Canyon from morning until late afternoon, and we still had so much more we didn’t get to see. Clearly we need to go back and experience it again.  There’s just so much to see–as August realized.


 Next time, we are going to visit the North Rim, though.

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.