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.

Advertisements

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.

DSC08987 DSC08989

 

DSC08991

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.

DSC09025

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 🙂

 

 

 

An Elevated Easter

DSC08768

Is there such a thing as the Easter Elk? While we can’t say for sure, we certainly found lots of Easter cheer as we spent the day out and about in the Jackson Hole area and Grand Teton National Park.

DSC08739

DSC08745

We started our Easter adventure at the National Elk Refuge, a spot where elk and other wildlife winter before heading for higher elevation when the heat sets in. While the elk were far away from the dirt road that winds through the backside of the refuge, there were plenty of bighorn sheep, ground squirrels, and waterfowl to spot.

DSC08752

DSC08753

DSC08765

DSC08756We next headed into Grand Teton National Park. The Teton Park Road along Jenny Lake and other sites doesn’t open until May, but Route 89 is open year-round and provides access to Jackson Lake and the border with Yellowstone. We had originally planned to hike part of the family-friendly Hermitage Point Trail that starts at Colter Bay and follows the shoreline of Jackson Lake past some smaller lakes and ponds. However, the lure of sledding under the lodgepole pines was too great. We found a nice spot to picnic at the shores of the still-frozen lake and caught occasional glimpses of the Teton Range as the clouds swirled around them.

DSC08769

DSC08763DSC08771DSC08775Driving back south through the park back to Jackson, we stopped to take in the views from the Snake River overlook, watch some munching moose, and explore the Craig Thomas Discovery Center. This visitor’s center is very well done, and there were lots of hands-on activities teaching all about the local plants and animals, as well as the unique glacier activity that sculpted the mountains to rise so dramatically directly from the valley floor. The Discovery Center was also in holiday mode, and an inspired snowshoe hare had hidden eggs throughout the building earlier that morning. Although we never were able to uncover any of the eggs, we can certainly say Easter and outdoor spirit abound when you spend the day high above sea level.

Stallions and Sledding

DSC08512Now that we are settled into our rental in Western Wyoming, we have been making the most of our rural surroundings and spending as much time as possible outdoors. Admittedly, we haven’t ventured too far (we haven’t lost sight of the house), but there is no real need to. For one, Captain, a neighboring dog, has been paying us daily visits to play in the snow and hunt mice (his idea, not ours).

DSC08461

There is also plenty to explore just across the street, the site of a large horse pasture. We definitely prefer our horses wild and free, but the kids cannot resist visiting with the mules and horses when they come back to this part of the pasture every 3-4 days. Each kid has made their own equine buddy and makes sure to provide them with the choicest grass from the other side of the fence.

The hill next to the road even makes for a pretty respectable sledding hill, just the right size for sliding without a sled. The Younger Fives even inspired Captain to take a turn sliding down the slope. It turns out you don’t need much to catch up on a long overdue dose of sunshine and fresh air 🙂