Lasting Impressions at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Our first major stop on our East Cost Road Trip was Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park is made up of three different units, but as our route took us directly through the South Unit we focused our energies there. After a brief stop in the Visitor’s Center to pick up Junior Ranger booklets, we started out on the impressive loop road to see prairie dogs, wild horses, and the expansive vistas of the Badlands. Next we got back on the highway to continue on to the nearby Painted Canyon region for a hike. The Painted Canyon Nature Trail gets universal praise as a worthwhile, family friendly hike down into the canyon itself. As we sized up the crowds around the Visitor’s Center and heading toward the Nature Trail, however, we decided to strike out on a more solitary route and hike part of the Painted Canyon Trail just east of the parking lot. The picture below captures perfectly the initial trusting, youthful optimism before it was sucked out, step by step. All started out well with a sign post advertising Painted Canyon Trail. From there we meandered past some fenced-off government buildings along an unpaved road signed with “No Vehicles Beyond This Point”; considering ourselves pedestrians and not vehicles, so far so good. Footpaths started heading off left toward the canyon rim, but none seemed certain to be the path. We soon reached another post with a motion-activated camera from the University of Southern Somewhere, and thought it a good place to take stock. As we didn’t consider ourselves wildlife, still so far so good. The path to the canyon rim from this post looked the widest, and lacking any printed guidance we walked to the edge and saw a somewhat steep track heading down. So we descended, and there was mud. Lots of it.

High Five raced ahead unfazed, but audible grumbles could be heard from the rear questioning the choice of this particular route, the fact that we kept pressing on instead of turning around, and expressing a general lack of faith in Five String’s ability to find his feet in the dark, let alone the trail we were supposed to be on. Parental words of wisdom such as “Mud makes memories” had no discernible impact. As High Five followed some mysterious inner guide to decide which of the numerous game trails to lead us down next, the only thing heavier than the tension was the thick layer of mud coating our sandals. As the prospect of a muddy fall increased in lockstep with the desire to push Five String down the hill to form a rolling mud ball, the majority stressed that they would not (and in all likelihood physically could not due to the weight of the mud) take another step.

The hike back up was fortunately free of any slipping or sliding, which fortunately still assured all of us a seat on the continued journey eastward. The added resistance of the mud and the fact we all had gained about two shoe sizes made for a strenuous, though some would say character building, hike back to the top. Just as relief spread that the labored steps were behind us, we reached the gravel of the verboten road. As we quickly learned, the only thing stickier than mud to sandal is gravel to mud. As we reached the parking lot with our shoes having doubled in width yet again, there was laughter, free of mirth but full of exasperation.

Fortunately, nature provided the ideal tonic for the soul: parking lot puddles for us to wade through and wash away the weight (though not the memory) of our time in the Badlands. If Five String’s new adage was correct, then the Younger Fives will definitely have impressions of Theodore Roosevelt National Park for many, many, many years to come. 

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Junior Ranger Badges on Display – Finally

The Younger Fives have been collecting junior ranger badges at national and state parks throughout the United States and Canada since 2013. They have worked hard to complete junior ranger booklets and activities while visiting the park and be sworn in as a junior ranger by park staff. For several years the badges and patches have been stuffed into suitcases and the the car glove compartment while we traveled.

However, once we were a little more settled it was our intent to display their badges in some way. At first it seemed that buying a National Park Service tee-shirt or bandanna to pin them to would be the way to go. However, after several trips to park gift shops nothing turned up that worked. Most merchandise is specific to the park that you are visiting and while we have our favorite parks we wanted something more generic.

So, the badges continued to sit in a keepsake box undisplayed. Until this past week when we finally got our act together and decided to grab out the trusty glue gun and make our own hanging wall pennant with the help of some brown felt and a few backyard sticks. The whole project took less than 15 minutes and the Younger Five’s junior ranger badges are now proudly displayed on their bedroom walls. The best part is crossing this long enduring to-do item off the never ending list that is tacked to the refrigerator 🙂

Picnic at the Pass

Ever since our thwarted efforts to reach Glacier National Park’s high country during our first visit to Montana, we’ve been eager to make the drive up to Logan Pass on the Going to the Sun Road. This past Wednesday the entire stretch opened after plow crews worked diligently for weeks to clear out the feet of snow and debris left over the winter. Knowing how busy Glacier gets in the summer, we jumped in the car this past Thursday to make our first successful trip to Logan Pass.

While the road itself was clear of snow, the top of Logan Pass definitely was not. After a quick picnic lunch, we headed out on the Hidden Lake Trail. The mix of snow below and sun above made for a quasi-winter wonderland. Hikers, skiers, and snowboarders shared the trail, and quite a few snowball fights were in full swing all around.

On the way back down the trail Five Spice had the inspiration to pull an emergency tarp out of our backpack and fashion a makeshift sled. While not the smoothest sledding experience, the backdrop of the surrounding peaks couldn’t be beat!

When we set out for the park we hadn’t planned on a romp through the snow, but it ended up making for a wonderful day. The park had definitely transformed since we last visited this past winter, and it was hard to imagine just a few months previously we had been cross-country skiing on the road we were driving on. For those not yet ready to let go of winter, Glacier provides plenty of snowy fun well into the summer.

Cross Country in Five Days

There’s been no shortage of snow here in Western Montana, and we’ve been eager to introduce the Younger Fives to skiing. As a first step we decided to begin with cross country skiing to give everyone a feel for moving through the snow in a new way. After looking into our options (and there are plenty here in the Flathead Valley), we found the following to be ideal for learning to Nordic ski as a family.

West Shore State Park
Family-Friendly Features: uncrowded, Flathead Lake

 

Blacktail Mountain Nordic Trails
Family-Friendly Features: groomed trails, mountain setting

 

Herron Park
Family-Friendly Features: sledding hill, plenty of space

 

Bigfork Community Nordic Center
Family-Friendly Features: groomed trails, forest setting

 

Glacier National Park
Family-Friendly Features: trails over and along streams, mountain scenery

 

Our Unexplored Corners of Yellowstone National Park

After driving over the Beartooth Highway last week we decided to spend a few days in Yellowstone National Park. There are still several sections of the park that we haven’t explored in depth and we were eager to see Yellowstone in it’s fall colors.

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We arrived at the Northeast entrance of the park and stopped for a picnic breakfast along Soda Butte Creek. The crowds were out in full force near Slough Creek where we spotted wolves on our last visit. However, we were eager to make the drive up past Tower Falls. This section of road has been closed on our last two visits to the park, so we were excited to finally see Mount Washburn and Dunraven Pass up close.

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After sight seeing from the road we stopped at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to show Five Ball the falls. He was too little to remember our climb down to the lower falls a few years back. On this trip we were excited to find that Uncle Tom’s Trail was open (it was closed due to snow and ice on our last trips). The short but steep trail, complete with a set of 328 stairs, brought us to the base of Lower Falls and gave us an up close look of the canyon.

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The rest of our first day in Yellowstone was spent along the shores of Yellowstone Lake where we enjoyed basking in the mild and sunny September weather. From there we were excited to drive by the crowd chaos of the Old Faithful area and head to our lodging in West Yellowstone.

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The next day we took route 191 North to a very quite section of the park which lies outside the five main entrances. There are several hikes that start off from this area. We chose the Bacon Rind Trail which heads west through the park towards the Gallatin National Forest. The trail is over 10 miles one way and follows the Bacon Rind Creek. We only went out a few miles and spent the rest of our time playing along the creek as the afternoon temperature rose to 80 degrees.

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Although it was one of our quicker forays to Yellowstone National Park we had amazing weather and a spectacular time. Plus it felt great to finally visit a few areas of the park that are usual closed due to weather.

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