In Search Of Snow

With the temperatures in the 60’s and flowers blooming in our backyard we figured that we had better hurry up and fulfill our promise to take the kids sledding before there was no more snow left to be found. So, this past Tuesday we headed off for our first trip to Mount Hood. On clear days Mount Hood is visible from our house and is stunning to behold. Driving up to the mountain wasn’t so stunning at least compared to other mountainous routes that we have taken in Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming. Route 26 which leads you up the mountain is two-lanes, well maintained and doesn’t offer much of a view.

The kids started to get worried once we got into the Mount Hood National Forest and there wasn’t any snow in site. We continued to follow the road to Government Camp (about 4,000 ft in elevation) and by that point there were some patches of snow on the roadside. However, not what we would have expected for February. However, as we continued onto Route 35 the snow pack started to get deeper and the kids started to relax. There would be sledding after all!

Sledding and snow play on Mount Hood is permitted only in designated Sno-Parks. Use of these parks is free but you have to buy a Sno-Park pass for your vehicle. A daily pass costs only $4, but depending on where you purchase one there can be a service charge. We made the mistake of buying for an Arco gas station and they tacked on a $2 fee. Next time we will buy from the Zigzag Ranger Station located between Mt Hood Village and Rhododendron on Route 26.

The most popular Sno-Park on the mountin is the White River West Sno-Park and that is where we decided to start our day. This park gets heavy use on the weekend and holidays, but on a Tuesday there were only about 20 cars in the 200 vehicle parking lot. The scenery from the parking lot is stunning with a wonderful view of Mount Hood. There was only about 2 feet of snow on the ground and the snow around the parking lot and main trail was pretty dirty. However, we headed off into the woods and found some pristine snow to sled down. While blazing your own sledding runs can be a lot of work the kids prefer going off trail to make their own runs as opposed to sledding pre-made trails. The only downside to this is the increased chance of smacking into trees, but the kids put mom and dad to good use acting as buffers.

Due to the warm weather (it was 45F) the kids gloves and snowpants became waterlogged. So, we headed back to the car for lunch and then went to visit the iconic Timberline Lodge. Construction on the lodge began in 1936 as part of the Works Progress Administration. It was dedicated in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The artistry that went into creating the lodge is absolutely stunning and visitors can walk around inside viewing the wonderful wood carvings, metal work, and mosaics. You definitely walk away with a great appreciation for the planning and construction put into the lodge.

After viewing the lodge and watching the ski and snowboarders skiing at the Timberline Ski Area we headed back out to find some more snow. This time we found a parking lot off to the side of the road leading to the lodge. The area was steep and the kids had a great time shooting down the hill while we tried to keep them from crashing into trees. Definitely not the best spot for those looking for a peaceful sledding hill. However, the sun was setting and the kids were eager to get in a few last runs before the end of the day.

All in all our trip to Mount Hood was decent. The Younger Fives miss having snow right outside their doorstep and sledding in their own backyard like they did in Montana. However, us older types have enjoyed not shoveling snow all winter long. Driving to Mount Hood seems like a good compromise and probably is pretty rewarding in years when the mountain receives more snow. This year the conditions just don’t seem to be prime, but we sure appreciated there being some snow left for our first Mount Hood adventure.


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.

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.


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


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.



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.




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.


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.