Portage to the Past in Great Falls

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With Nana Five in for a visit, we decided to make our first trip north to Great Falls. We focused on three sites along the Missouri River, but that was plenty to keep us busy all day long. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center was packed with information and activities; the kids got a first-hand taste of life in the Corps of Discovery and then spent hours inside the massive interpretive center following the path the party took and working through the activities in the Junior Ranger-esque Forest Service Packet. From there we picnicked just down the road at Giant Springs State Park and enjoyed the cool breeze blowing off of the 54 degree spring water. The spring serves as the headwaters of the Roe River, one of the world’s shortest at only 200 feet. Finally, we backtracked and headed over to the north bank of the Missouri to see Ryan Dam, the site of the Great Falls which gives the city its name. The best views are from Ryan Island, connected to the shore by a suspension bridge. After a day of learning about the epic portage around the falls, it was fun to end our trip with a use of rope that was way more fun!

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

 

Giant Springs State Park

 

Great Falls / Ryan Island

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Glacier National Park in Bloom

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We were fortunate enough to slip away for a few days to Glacier National Park early this month before the summer crowds arrived. While the Going To The Sun Road wasn’t fully open the park did not in any way disappoint. As always Glacier National Park provided some of the most spectacular scenes of beauty that we have had the fortune of seeing in our travels. From cascading waterfalls to blooming wild flowers we had a wonderful visit and left wishing that we could stay in such a magical place forever.

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During the one rainy day of our visit the kids worked hard to complete their Glacier National Park junior ranger booklets while we parked the car in a scenic pull off near Jackson Glacier Overlook. As the wind whipped rain along the mountains the kids learned all about how the park was formed and the native peoples that lived in the park before the National Park Service took over managing the land.

The remainder of our trip was spent at the Two Medicine area of the park where we set up camp and had a blast hiking around the lakes and to several waterfalls. We all enjoyed watching the sun slip behind Rising Wolf mountain and listening to the tail slaps of a very active beaver out for an evening swim. We were greeted with such a variety of wildflowers around the Two Medicine area that our resident photographer (Five String) had a hard time keeping up. We were excited to have along a copy of the wonderful Lone Pine field guide Plants of the Rocky Mountains. This is one of the most comprehensive yet easy to use plant field guides that we have found. The descriptions accompanying each plant picture are fabulous especially the traditional uses of each species.

*** Note all wildflower common names listed above (scroll of the pictures) are guesses by the kids using Plants of the Rocky Mountains. A great homeschool project and definitely hard work when it comes to telling the difference between two different species.

We can’t wait until October when the summer crowds thin out and we can get back to Glacier National Park one of the true gems of America’s national park system and definitely a family favorite!

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Grizzly Goodbye

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“As a Junior Ranger, I promise to teach others about what I learned…” These words were enthusiastically repeated by High Five on the the final day of our recent trip to Yellowstone National Park. He hadn’t been quite old enough to take part in the excellent Junior Ranger program during our last visit , but this time around he was determined to work through his activity book and earn the Junior Ranger badge (which in Yellowstone is an actual badge instead of a pin). High Five’s official status as a Junior Ranger in Yellowstone was one of the many highlights of a day that included exploring the geysers of the Norris and Old Faithful basins and seeing our only grizzly bear of the trip just before heading home. Between the geothermal features and wildlife, there’s no place like Yellowstone 🙂

 

Norris Geyser Basin
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Old Faithful and Midway Geyser Basin
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Goodbye, grizzly! Goodbye, Yellowstone. We'll be back soon!

Goodbye, grizzly! Goodbye, Yellowstone! We’ll be back soon!

Oregon’s Coastal Cornucopia: Cape Perpetua

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Having a few days to explore the Oregon coast with Nana Five, we were looking for a place with great tide pools, beaches, and temperate rain forest trails to explore. We found all this and more at Cape Perpetua National Scenic Area in the Siuslaw National Forest. From anemones and sea stars to krumholtz trees and Sitka spruce, Cape Perpetua really has it all. Factor in an awesome visitor’s center with super-friendly and enthusiastic rangers (they took more time reviewing the Younger Fives’ Junior Ranger booklets than anywhere else we’ve been), and you have all the ingredients for a memorable coastal visit!

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Profound Panorama: A Day at Crater Lake National Park

 

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Climbing up the sandy bank from the parking lot, we were unprepared for the view ahead. Circled by a ring of hills, the deep blue waters of Crater Lake glimmered below and held us mesmerized. Throughout the course of our visit to Crater Lake National Park, we experienced the lake from at least a dozen different viewpoints, and each vista was as impressive as the previous one.

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The view is matched only by the equally magical landforms rising above the surface of the lake. Some, such as Wizard Island (first picture above), are visible from almost anywhere around the Rim Drive. Others like The Old Man (a mountain hemlock floating upright in the lake for over 100 years) take a little more patience (and a pair of binoculars). The kids were amazed to learn that the Phantom Ship (second and third pictures above) was actually 170 feet (17 stories) tall despite its tiny appearance from our elevated viewpoint.

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The day wasn’t all seated vistas though, and the Younger Fives were hard at work (as always) completing their Junior Ranger booklets. They learned about the geology behind the volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama that created North American’s deepest lake, about the importance of rain and snowfall in keeping the lake replenished (it has no inlets or outlets), and about the Klamath tribe that historically lived in the area and whose present-day reservation is just south of the park. One of the kids’ biggest surprises came on the Scavenger Hunt Bingo; the park ranger pictured on the board was the one that administered the Junior Range oath to them. See if you can spot him above 🙂

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One of the inescapable themes we all took away from the exhibits and conversations with people around the park was the impact of climate change at Crater Lake. The park has averaged about 44 feet of snowfall since the Park Service started keeping track in the 1930s, making it one of the snowiest places in the country. That number, however, has been dwindling for the past several years; the 2015 season only brought 18 feet of snow. About the same amount of precipitation is still falling here overall, but more and more is coming down in the form of rain and not snow. This is part of a larger problem of decreased snow pack that we’ve been seeing in our travels throughout the West this past year, from Colorado and Wyoming to California and Oregon.

October Drought
October Fire

The National Drought Mitigation Center puts out a weekly map of drought-impacted areas across the country, and the places impacted only seem to be growing (especially in the West).  Less snow means less fresh water flowing into rivers and streams, thereby creating a situation where below-average snowfall in Colorado helps fuel the chronic water shortages that we’ve seen firsthand in states such as California. Diminished snowfall also has a marked impact on wildfires by prolonging the dry season; at this moment there are 163 fires on public lands according to the US Forest Service, one of which is just miles from our present rental.

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The Younger Fives feeling like giants in a stone model of Crater Lake.

Crater Lake has definitely inspired us with its beauty, and its cautionary tale about the link between climate change, snowfall, and drought is one we find hard to ignore. The Younger Fives take their Junior Ranger pledge pretty seriously, so in addition to staying on the marked trails and helping keep the animals in the park wild, taking action on climate change is another duty to help preserve national parks like this one. There are countless activities planned around the country tomorrow (Wednesday, October 14th) as part of the People’s Climate National Day of Action. While there might not be a rally nearby (which is our situation), there are many ways to raise awareness about addressing climate change, from posting or sharing on social media to being more mindful of our own energy and water use. Tomorrow we’ll be parking the car and taking the 4 Liters Challenge as part of homeschool, which is the amount of water (about 1 gallon) that hundreds of millions of people around the world must live on each day for all their water needs. What will you be doing? Leave your comments below!