Among the Giants

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Visiting Redwood National Park has been a priority for several years now, and it was truly a pleasure to spend two days camping at the lovely Elk Creek Campground in the adjoining Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It’s hard to describe the feeling of looking up and straining to see the tops of the towering redwoods all around, of having the cool fresh air wash over you as you hike through a fern-covered canyon, or spotting whales and seals from your picnic perch above the sea. We won’t even try, but we will give some glimpses into our favorite spots at Redwood National and State Parks.

 

Prairie Creek Trail
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Prairie Creek Campground
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Fern Canyon
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Lady Bird Johnson Grove
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High Bluff Overlook
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And no good trip to a national park is complete without participating in the Junior Ranger program. The booklet (available in both the national and state park visitor centers) was one of the best we’ve seen and had plenty to keep the Younger Fives engaged and learning for two solid days. Now that they’ve taken the official oath, they feel honored to do their part to protect and preserve these magnificent trees and their surrounding ecosystem.
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Redwood (and Rookery) Coast

The past few days exploring the southern section of Big Sur have been breathtaking. While camping under towering redwoods, we’ve walked to the ocean-side of the campground to see whales spouting as they head south toward Mexico and sea otters drifting through the kelp beds. And then there’s the elephant seals, harbor seals, and dolphins we spotted from various roadside viewpoints along the way. All in all, it’s been a visit to remember! Here are some highlights in pictures…

 

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
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Limekiln State Park Beach
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Limekiln State Park History Hike
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Limekiln State Park Falls Hike
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Granite Glow

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With a week to go before we leave Southern California for Oregon’s Willamette National Forest, we’ve been thinking of some final activities to get in before we depart. At the top of everyone’s list was a final trip to Joshua Tree National Park, less than 90 minutes from the San Bernardino National Forest. This time around we decided to try something new, camping inside the park.

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We had spent most of our time in the Intersection Rock area during our last trip to Joshua Tree a few weeks ago, so the kids wanted to focus our climbing around Skull Rock in the Jumbo Rocks section for this visit. We found a great site in the Jumbo Rocks Campground, which offered some excellent climbing just beyond our tent as well as a hiking trail directly to Skull Rock. The kids wasted no time and sprinted to the rocks as soon as we parked in front of the site.

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After thoroughly exploring the formations towering over our tent, we walked to the center of the campground and took the connector trail to the Jumbo Rocks area. The rock formations in this part of the park definitely inspire the imagination, and we saw skulls, turtles, walruses, and a variety of other interesting forms in the monzogranite all around us. We had trouble keeping our eyes on the rocks, though, as the desert was in bloom around us, and all along the path we stopped to take a closer look at pencil cholla cactus and California buckwheat blooms.

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As always at Joshua Tree, we were equally exited to experience the park as the sun started to go down. We returned to our site and scrambled up the rocks there to watch the magnificent sunset, and from our perch up high we also caught a glimpse of a coyote making its evening rounds and of bats out catching their breakfast. By the time we settled into our tent a while later, we fell asleep watching the stars visible through the upper screen of our tent.

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The next day we made sure to get out on the rocks one final time before heading home when the afternoon heat set in. The Hall of Horrors area had always caught our attention, so we packed up and headed back towards Keyes View for our morning climb. After a few dead ends we found a way to the top of the middle formation, where we watched the moon still visible in the sun-drenched sky and played in some deep crevices in the rock. A few hours later we were all understandably worn out after two days of scrambling about, so we piled back into the car, put the windows down, turned the music up, and enjoyed a last view of the joshua trees as we made our way back to the San Bernardino Mountains.

Banner Years

It’s that time of year again when we update our web site header, which sadly happens about as often as we update our Daily Snapshot on the home page. Instead of merely letting the old header slip away into digital oblivion, we thought we’d take the chance to look back at banners past and tell a little of their stories.

With each header, we try to show in pictures our family motto, “Living, loving, and learning on the fly” from the year to date. The first picture shows something about where or how we’ve lived, the middle is always a family picture, and the final picture offers a glimpse of what homeschooling on the road looks like.

2015
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We’ve covered a lot of ground this past year, journeying from Croatia to Germany on our roundabout Train Odyssey that took us through 13 countries in 15 days. The picture on the right of the header is from the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, a windy day indeed. The picture on the left shows our rental in Wyoming upon returning the the US. Though spring came unusually early to Star Valley this year, there were a few small storms that provided enough snow for us to make some smaller creations, just the size for the neighbor’s dog, Captain, to perch upon. The middle picture is from this past June in King’s Canyon National Park in California, where we spent a few days camping among the giant sequoia trees.

2014
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In 2014 we spent quite a bit of time south of the border in Mexico. The first picture is from Bahia Concepcion, just south of Mulege in Baja California Sur. We got our fair share of Vitamin D playing on the warm sand beaches and splashing in the water, and when we needed a break from the sun the palm-leaf palapas were just steps away. The right-hand picture is from our time in Chiapas, exploring Palenque and the many fascinating local flora and bromeliads. Finally, our family picture was taken from our back patio in Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula.

2013
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This was the year of exploring our neighbor to the north, Canada. The right picture is from the Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia. Having just returned to the mainland (more or less) from Newfoundland, we were practically living in our rain gear. Louisbourg was having an Archaeology Week when we visited, so we had a chance to get our hands dirty and learn about the process of uncovering, identifying, and preserving artifacts. The middle picture is from Prince Edward Island, where we spent the summer in Stanhope and biked to the red sand beaches every day. The left picture, truth be told, was a hold out from our previous banner.

2012
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In 2012 we sold our house in Maine and embarked on our first big adventure, driving the length of U.S. Route 1 from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Florida. We camped almost every night of our 2.5 month trip, which gave us many snapshots of “Living on the fly” to choose from. The one that won out was our awesome site right on the lake at Cheraw State Park in South Carolina. Some parts of the route had very few camping options, so that is how we ended up at the Jupiter Beach Resort in Florida and had occasion to get cleaned up and dressed up for a family photo. The final picture is in front of a chunk of coral at Biscayne National Park. Learning about the plight of coral reefs and humans’ impact on them was eye-opening to say the least.

And finally, the header that started it all….
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We created this in May of 2012, before we officially hit the road. From Maine to mangroves, we knew we were in for an adventure. However, we couldn’t have possibly dreamed or hoped that after 3 years, the adventure would still be going strong 🙂

Leaving Our Mark at Great Sand Dunes National Park

DSC09003“Wait, they’re no trails we need to stay on?” The Younger Fives were in utter disbelief as we parked the car at Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and informed them they could hike anywhere they wanted. Being used to narrow, set trails that minimize the impact on fragile ecosystems, they thought maybe we were trying to trick them. However, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a wonderful anomaly in many ways, from allowing the freedom to blaze your own path to being able to leave your name (or any other design) behind in the ever-shifting sand.

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DSC09015The fun begins with a crossing of Medano Creek, a seasonal stream fed by melting snow on the Sangre de Cristo Range. We noticed immediately the stream was quite shallow, so we expected an uneventful fording. As we got about a quarter of the way across, we looked upstream to notice a small wave surge heading toward our sand bank. In a moment’s time we were ankle deep in water, scrambling to reach the next island of sand. After some observation we realized the water regularly dams behind small sand bars only to burst through, sending small waves to collect at the next sand obstruction. Trying to predict where the next patch of dry sand would be while outrunning the waves was absolutely delightful, and we had huge smiles on our faces as we reached the other side (albeit with soggy boots).

DSC08995 DSC09001 DSC09006 DSC09010The sand dunes themselves are a giant sandbox where just about anything goes. We all branched off to find our own paths up the dunes, and we soon realized climbing up the sand can be a bit of a workout. The highest dune, Star Dune, is 755 feet tall, but we contented ourselves with scaling some of the smaller peaks just a few hundred feet tall. Of course, coming down is the real treat, and we tried running, rolling, and sledding down on our bottoms (and there are even real sleds and sand boards to rent as well). After a few times up and down, we could really appreciate how the journey is never the same twice.

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On a final note, we really enjoyed camping at the park that evening. The campground is very close to the dunes, and a recent survey found Great Sand Dunes is the quietest national park in the contiguous 48 states. After an action-packed day of exploring the dunes, there’s nothing like unwinding over dinner, watching a sunset framed by sand 🙂