Friday, August 16, 2013

Backpacking. (Makes camping look easy.)

A number of years ago, both my sister and my brother started backpacking with my Dad. I pretty much figured that was their special thing, and that was totally cool. But when Joker and I started camping with the kids, I realized I was missing out. 

This spring, my Dad threatened to hang up his hikers.  If a trip went off this year, it would be his last.  Even though I didn't really believe him, I signed on. 

Joker was stuck working all weekend, so our party was Boppie, Aunt Jessie, Andy and myself.  We hit the farm on Thursday night to divvy up the stuff - pots and pans, hatchet, flatware, etc. - and make a plan.  Also, to leave the girls with Mima for the weekend. 

Friday morning started with the long and super beautiful drive up the Poudre Canyon, through Walden, past Steamboat to the Flat Tops Wilderness area.  It was pouring rain when we pulled in.  Also, hail.  So we ate our sandwiches in the car, waited out the fury of the storm and hiked with virtually no weather.  And hiked and hiked.  It was pretty far.

Lakes in the Wilderness.

Big test for our group came when we lost the trail and weren't sure where we were.  We reconned up and down the hill, without seeing our goal.  Then we voted.  Then we backtracked.  When we pitched our tents (during daylight - yay!), we were all still friends.  And grateful for the wine Andy had hauled up there.

Gorgeous first camp site.
Next morning, we had a half-hour hike before we saw the vista that is Deer Lake.  Wow.  Now I know why you backpack.  You can see beauty via car, but this was outstanding.

First view of Deer Lake.
We fished (unsuccessfully).  We read.  We played cribbage during the rain and hail.

Clouds and mountains.
We hiked back to the car on Sunday morning, and the beer that awaited us was cold and delicious.  Trip of a lifetime, crappy weather and crappy fishing and imperfect navigation all included.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The National Aquarium, in Baltimore

Before our backpacking weekend (more on that later, I promise!), Mima and Boppie snuck in an awesome visit to the baby cousins.  The highlight, clearly, is that the now-2-year-olds are talking up a storm, Caleb is rocking his new walker, Wyatt is super kind.  Also, they share.  Which is kind of amazing to me, coming as I do from a house where the girls swing from best buds to cat fights and back pretty much constantly.

Anyway, I learned that the Baltimore Aquarium - always far, far superior to the National Aquarium in DC - is now the National Aquarium.  And it's fabulous (if a tad pricey).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Holy massive monolith!

Devils Tower, the final destination on our road trip, was the one place I'd hoped was as cool as I'd remembered it.  It was every bit as incredible, and more.

The drive from South Dakota to Devils Tower is another beauty.  As you leave the Black Hills, the earth becomes a rich red color, and there are bluffs and mesas and hills that were all carved by the Belle Fourche river.  The first view of the monolith is a shock, and as you get closer it only grows more fantastic.

We hiked the 1.5-mile Tower Trail which circles the base of Devils Tower, but there are a number of trails that wind through the red river basin as well.  The boulder fields around the base of the tower are totally on limits, and the Bug and Joker climbed as high as non-technical climbers are allowed.  The hike was fun and easy, and the crowds really thin out as you get away from the parking lot and visitor center. 

The drive back to Evergreen was a long one, especially since the two girls had us stopping at every rest area in Wyoming.  But after some fairly lame rain we were gifted with one of the prettiest sunsets I've seen.  The verdict?  One very successful road trip.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hiking in the Badlands

From Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills, we adventured to the west.  Although I'd been to the area before, I didn't even know that Badlands National Park existed.  I love the drive out there; I can't get enough of the unending grasslands.  It's worth noting that the "towns" we passed through were virtually ghost towns, so gas up before you leave Rapid City. 

Canyon below the Windows Trail

Along Windows Trail
Formations along the Fossil Exhibit Trail

We approached the park from the south and started our visit at the visitor center.  There we learned that the park has an "open hiking policy," such that the kids can run and climb anywhere they want.  We started at a couple of very short hiking trails just north of the visitor center, then made our way northwest to exit via the park's other major entrance.  There are numerous places to stop, view and hike along the road, and we took advantage of many of them.

Yellow Mounds Overlook

View from Pinnacles Overlook
I've actually heard mixed reviews about this park, but we all loved it.  Hiking / climbing around the formations is a  blast, and the stark beauty is awesome.  We will absolutely return someday!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Magnificent Mount Rushmore

After taking our leave of the Fort Laramie area, we headed for the hills.  Specifically, the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

My grandfather had suggested that we see Mt. Rushmore by both day and night - advice we were eager to heed.  After settling into our hotel and having a bite to eat, we hit the memorial to see it illuminated.  We should perhaps have done a little more research - they don't just turn on the lights.  Rather, there is a (very well done) 45-minute presentation that begins around 9pm.  The Bunny fell asleep before it started, but the rest of us were very glad to see it, and the night-time view was incredible.

The next morning, we returned to the memorial for a closer inspection and a hike.  We picked up the Junior Ranger materials first, and were pleased to see that this one was within reach for both girls.  The one mile-ish Presidents' Trail is accessible for the first half-mile or so, and involves about 250 stairs after that viewing platform.  En route, we caught the tail end of a ranger talk about the Native American history of the area, and the girls checked out the inside of a teepee. 

This stop was probably the girls' favorite of the trip - they must have recited the presidents' names 50 times before we left.  They were also thrilled to earn their first Junior Ranger badges!  (N.B., And "earn" they did; there is a lot of work involved in getting those badges!)  While Joker and I could easily have spent more time in the visitor centers and museums, this was a wonderful visit.  Mt. Rushmore is a must-see for every family!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Where the old west still lives

Earlier this week, we took our very first family road trip: up through Wyoming to South Dakota and back.  Filthy camping dishes, camping laundry and car-after-four-days-in-it-with-kids aside, it was a fabulous trip!

First stop: Fort Laramie, Wyoming.  We hit the Fort on Sunday.  It's part of the National Park Service, and had fallen into pretty serious disrepair before the Civilian Conservation Corps came into existence.  Today, many of the buildings have been restored to their 1850s or '60s appearances, and a number of volunteers in period dress can answer questions about the fort and its occupants.

From there, we proceeded three miles west to Boppie's cousin's ranch.  We camped there along the Laramie River, enjoying the hospitality of our cousins.  Joker fished (with, among others, a keeper small-mouthed bass), we relaxed, we saw shooting stars and a spectacular lightning storm in the distance and generally had a great time.  The next morning, we took a hike to the highest point in the ranch, with commanding views in all directions - where Native American scouts and cavalry commanders had clearly stood before us.
Dinner on the Laramie River
The final stop on the ranch - and a highlight, especially for the Bug - was the site of a former Native American burial ground.  All visible traces have been long gone, but the ants living there have unearthed, so to speak, some secrets.  Beads from the Native Americans' clothing, lost underground, are occasionally carted up as the ants excavate their tunnels.  We swept aside the pebbles and uncovered six of the old beads - an incredible treasure for us!  Many, many thanks to the Petersons for their hospitality - this leg of the trip would not have been so spectacular without our stay at the ranch!

The Bug displaying our treasure

Stunning ballhead waterleaf are all around the Wyoming plains
Before turning north, we went another 10 or 15 miles west to the town of Guernsey.  This tiny town is home to two incredible sites along the Oregon Trail.  Carved three or four feet into sandstone are the Guernsey Ruts - made by wagon wheels as over 30,000 people per year sought their fortunes in the west.  And when these emigrants passed Register Cliff, many carved their names into the soft stone.

One of the names on Register Cliff