The Nation’s Capital

On the road again to our last destination: northern Virginia and Washington DC. I have a cousin* in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC that I hadn’t seen for years, so it was time for a visit. We arrived at their house on a Friday evening and spent the evening catching up. We met her husband for the first time, and helped him explore his Swedish heritage. He learned to say “Ge hit en öl till annars bränner jag ner er by,” which means “Give me another beer or I’ll burn down your village.” Like a viking, I suppose. He tried calling a bar in Stockholm so he could say that and see what they’d say, but international calling was disabled on his phone. Probably for the best. His pronunciation was pretty good though.

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With my cousin Carolyn outside her lovely home in Virginia

Saturday we explored our nation’s capital. We walked up to Capitol Hill and around the Washington Monument before deciding to skip the attractions that we adults had already seen before and the kids were too young to understand or appreciate. We set our sights on the Smithsonian museums – they’re free, they’re fun and they’re educational. It was a good choice. We had a great day at the Museum of Natural History.

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Peter and the Capitol Building

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Getting directions to a visitor’s center so we could stamp the
National Park passports one last time

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Pappa’s shoulders are much warmer to sit on than that stone!

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The Smithsonian Museums are truly a national treasure!

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So curious, and so much to learn!

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The dinosaur exhibit showed differences between dinosaur feet and human feet, particularly number of toes. Emelie wasn’t satisfied to count the toes in the picture, or even on Pappa’s already bare feet (flip flops as usual!). She sat right down and insisted on removing her shoes and socks to count HER toes. Ok, 10. They were right.

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The last exhibit we had time for that day involved petting and holding exotic insects.       My girl is fascinated and unafraid. 

Sunday we went to church with my cousin before packing up our things, hooking up the trailer and hitting the road one last time. After 91 days covering over 12,000 miles of road, it was time to head back to Pennsylvania.

*Other side of the family this time… so cousin actually means cousin. As in, the daughter of my father’s brother.

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Son of a gun, gonna have big fun (on the bayou)

IMG_3045 LA with text

Full confession: the title of this post comes from a line of a song in the movie Steel Magnolias. It’s been a number of years since I’ve seen it, but I think they dance to it in the wedding reception scene. For some reason, this song I barely know pops into my head every time I hear the word bayou. So now you know.

It seems that every time we spend time checking out a new city, however much we enjoy it and find lots of interesting things to see and do, we find ourselves itching to get back out to nature. Our visit to New Orleans was no exception. After spending a day touring the city, although there were many sights still left to see, we decided to take our second day in New Orleans to go to the other national park in NOLA, a bit outside the center city. So we made our way to Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve and chose to hike the Bayou Coquille trail.

It’s striking how many different types of environments we had already explored in different parts of the United States, and yet the bayou area added yet another. We hoped to be able to see an alligator in the wild (at a safe distance of course), but November isn’t really the ideal month for alligators and we didn’t get to see any.

We had a great day exploring beautiful nature, and a picnic lunch in the sunshine. Because of the nature of the bayou, a bayou trail is mostly boardwalk. So it was a relatively easy walk. Most of it would have been accessible with the stroller, but carrying Peter in the backpack made it easier to go over bridges and up and down stairs.

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Trailhead, Bayou Coquille trail

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Plant life so dense you can’t even tell that’s water and not land

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Trying out the macro setting… I was pretty pleased with this one

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My favorite people in a beautiful place!

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We would recommend a visit to Jean Lafitte National Park to anyone visiting New Orleans. No visit to NOLA would be complete without experiencing this unique landscape that forms the foundation for much of New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s culture.

Info: http://www.nps.gov/jela/index.htm 

N’awlins

New Orleans is a city unlike any other we’ve been to, with a culture all its own. Since you could argue that this culture is built around alcohol and music, then for our purposes the music was in focus.

New Orleans cover

 

We took a walking tour of the French Quarter and enjoyed beautiful architecture and waterfront views. We walked through an outdoor market and went to the Jazz National Historic Park (and stamped our national park passports, of course!)

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Beautiful characteristic wrought iron features and lots of flowering plants on porches and balconies.

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Because it’s famous, not because it was really our scene.
It was mostly deserted during the day anyway.

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Miraculously she did not fall in the fountain.
But the temptation to touch the water was just irresistible.

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Still plenty of riverboats to be seen. Makes me think of Mark Twain.

But New Orleans is above all a musical city. We went to a free concert that was indoors, complete with a stage and seats for the audience.

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Don’t ask me who this was… I’m not sure we even knew at the time.
He told stories and sang original songs.

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Attentive audience

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Captive audience (literally)

And we found less formal performances, like this one on a street corner where we found some curb seating.

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The band name: The Drunken Catfish Ramblers, written on a piece of cardboard.
It doesn’t get much more New Orleans than that!

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Not just any curb seating… under construction curb seating.
After all the walking it was just nice to sit down! And yes, my daughter is barefoot. In the middle of a city. What’s your point?

And a slightly different style down by the waterfront where we stood up to enjoy the performance (well most of us, anyway).

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During our visit to New Orleans we stayed 2 nights at the West New Orleans KOA campground.

Campground Review: West New Orleans KOA
Price: $78 for 2 nights
Location: Convenient to the most popular New Orleans tourist areas, but far enough away to be dark and quiet at night.
Facilities: perfectly adequate but nothing special
Site-description: grass/gravel, well shaded with plenty of trees. Sites are a little close together.
Neighborhood: A good variety of guests, from families to retired couples, camping with tents, pop-ups and larger RVs.
Website: http://koa.com/campgrounds/new-orleans/
Comments: Shuttles are offered to and from the French Quarter, and public transportation is also an option. We chose to drive ourselves, mostly because of complications with car seats and for the sake of flexibility, so we can’t comment on this service. But as in most cities, parking downtown can be expensive and hard to find, so it might be a great option.

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Alamogordo NM/White Sands National Monument

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I had never heard of White Sands National Monument before we started planning our trip through New Mexico. Maybe it’s because I’m from the East Coast and I had never heard anyone talking about going there, but this gem of a park was not on our radar until we started looking for a stop-over to break up the trip between Albuquerque and El Paso, TX.

Our visit to the park began at the visitor’s center with a short video explaining why the sand is white, the animals that live in this unique environment, and an overall history of the region. Then we headed deeper into the park to experience the phenomenon for ourselves. The reflection of the sun off of the white sand is particularly strong, so sun protection is important. We chose one of the many roofed (shaded!) picnic tables to eat our packed lunch, but the kids were too eager to get out on the dunes to eat a whole lot that day.

We were staying at a campground in nearby Alamogordo (see campground review below) that had sleds available to borrow for trips to White Sands. Since we live in a place that generally has about 6-7 months of snow each year, sledding isn’t exactly exotic for us, but it seemed to be the thing to do at White Sands so we gave it a shot. The white gypsum sand has a different texture than the sand we’re used to. It feels more like baby powder or flour. But it isn’t slippery. So while it was exotic to sled down a sand dune, it didn’t go very fast and much of the time we were pushing ourselves down the hill with our feet. Maybe we were doing it wrong? It was fun and we took a bunch of pictures, but we also realized pretty quickly that this was not an all-day activity.

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So we grabbed the park map and picked a few hiking trails. One was the Dune Life nature trail, a stroller and wheelchair accessible boardwalk with regular placards talking about different aspects of plant and animal life in this unusual habitat. It was a short, easy walk and we learned a lot.

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Lizard tracks spotted from the nature trail

But we were also up for more of a challenge. So we drove to another trail head and exchanged the stroller for the backpack carrier. We found a loop trail that went up onto some dune ridges and wound around showing different examples of plant and animal life. We quickly realized that there really isn’t any footwear that is well-suited to such a trail, and it wasn’t long before the whole family was barefoot. Staffan, who generally prefers hiking barefoot anyway, particularly enjoyed this rare occasion when the rest of us also ditched our shoes. As much as we enjoyed sledding near the picnic area and the boardwalk nature trail, getting away from the road and crossing the dunes with the sand between our toes was definitely the best way to experience the park, in our opinion. It’s not a strenuous hike, but definitely something we’d recommend. The park also offers moonlit hikes and stargazing, and maybe someday we’ll go back with older kids who can stay up a little later to experience that.

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During our weekend in Alamogordo, NM we stayed at the Alamogordo Roadrunner Campground. The campground seems to have changed quite a bit since we were there, including new ownership and becoming part of KOA, which they were not when we were there. The rates seem to have gone up a bit as well, but here’s a review based on how we experienced it:

Price: $29/night. We stayed 2 nights
Location: a relatively convenient 15 miles from White Sands National Monument. Just a short distance from the main road through Alamogordo, which offers a variety of stores and restaurants.
Facilities: sturdy concrete picnic table/benches, a light at each site. Bathroom/shower facilities were clean and reasonable.
Site-description: gravel sites, relatively close together
Neighborhood: there seemed to be a number of families that were living there long-term, which is a different environment than an RV park catering to shorter stays. This is probably a lot different now, though, if it’s a KOA. The staff was very friendly and helpful!
Website: http://www.roadrunnercampground.com/
Comments: The opportunity to borrow sleds for free for our trip to White Sands was very much appreciated! I hope they still offer that! Sorry, we forgot to take a picture of the campsite.

Petrified Forest National Park and the Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA

Petrified Forest National Park was another of those stops that was never on our original itinerary. Our next planned stop was Albuquerque, but the drive there was longer than we wanted to do in a single day. As I sat in the little room at the Grand Canyon Community Library and searched the web for a good place to stop between Grand Canyon and Albuquerque, I stumbled upon Petrified Forest National Park. Only about 20 miles off of I-40 and almost exactly the midpoint of our journey, this was the obvious choice. And as an added bonus, it was one more national park to stamp in the kids’ passports and add to our tally.

We’d passed several other opportunities to see petrified forests along our route, but always chose to prioritize other things to see and do in those areas. It’s not that we weren’t interested, just that you can’t do everything. In this part of Arizona, there weren’t too many other options, so it was time to satisfy our curiosity about petrified wood.

I’m sure there was much more available to do at the park than we had time to do. We took the walking tour of the main area, checked out the visitor center and the gift shop, then it was time to get back on the road. It’s fascinating how minerals replaced the biological material in these old logs such that they are perfectly preserved and look just like logs despite being stone. At the same time, for me it was a “seen one, seen ’em all” kind of experience. “Oh look, there’s a big one.” “Oh look, an even bigger one.” The variation in size and color wasn’t enough to excite me so much. Alas, a geologist I am not.

IMG_2740Overview of the main field that the self-guided tour loops around

IMG_2741This is one of the smaller specimen (can you call them that?) but this is a pretty good representation of how they look… Like a log, but also like a rock.

IMG_2760A more artistic angle on the end of one of the larger “logs”

It wasn’t something that held the kids’ attention for long either. At 3, Emelie is at the age where the world is still new and everything is equally remarkable. A rock that looks like a log? Okay. No big deal. Why wouldn’t there be rocks that look like trees? But the desert provides more than enough sand to keep toddlers happy, and often we were the ones that were ready to move on first. The game that got us around the self-guided tour was “find the next number”. She was then just getting good at recognizing numbers and being able to put them in sequence, so she loved showing us what she knew. “What number are we on here? 5, right. And what comes after 5? Right, can you go find the 6?” And away we go.

IMG_2745Oblivious to the geological phenomenon beside her. It’s all about the sand!

IMG_2748Or we could see what happens if we put sand on the rock log…

IMG_2755Nah, I’ll just sit by this drainage pipe and play in the sand.

IMG_2751She did a great job of following the numbers. And stopped to trace each one along the way. An educational stop, just not in the way you might think.

I’m not sure it would have been worth the trip if it hadn’t been right along our route and a perfect place for an overnight stop. But we got to stretch our legs, see something we’d never seen before, and it inspired a good theological discussion in the car about what we believe about the formation of these and other ancient geological phenomena.

The night before, arriving later in the day from the Grand Canyon, we stayed at the Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA. Here’s a little review (sorry, we didn’t take any pictures).

Campground Review: Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA

Price: $29/night. Very reasonable for a KOA.
Location: Approximately 20 miles west of Petrified Forest National Park, less than 2 miles off of I-40.
Facilities: Clean bathrooms and showers, a good playground, pool (May-September only). Wifi is available for an additional fee, but with limited range. I sat in the game room above the offices to use it.
Site-description: Gravel, some small trees.
Neighborhood: Mostly retired couples in larger RVs. In late October, this wasn’t so surprising.
Website: http://koa.com/campgrounds/holbrook/
Comments: They also offer “Cowpoke Cookouts” every night for an additional charge. Menus are provided at check-in. We chose to skip it and cook for ourselves, so I can’t comment on the quality.

Camping in Grand Canyon National Park

There are a number of campgrounds and RV parks along the road as you approach Grand Canyon National Park. I’m sure they all have their advantages, but we loved the idea of being able to just park the car for a few days and get around on foot and using the shuttle bus system. There are several campground options within the national park itself, but only Trailer Village has hook-ups. So we chose Trailer Village and it worked out great!

Campground Review: Trailer Village at Grand Canyon National Park

Price: $35/night
Location: Within GCNP on the South Rim, just outside of the Market Plaza.
Facilities: Full hook-ups, bathrooms and showers. Trailer Village has its own shuttle bus stop along the blue line.
Site-description: Sand/gravel. Paved driveways. Some shade trees scattered throughout.
Neighborhood: An interesting mix of tourists and longer-term residents. It was the only campground on our trip where a school bus pulled in and dropped off a bunch of kids in the afternoons.
Website: http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/trailer-village-705.html
Comments: The Grand Canyon Visitor Center is an easy walk and sometimes a good alternative to taking the shuttle bus. Rather than turning toward the entrance and the shuttle bus stop, there is a paved path in the opposite direction, toward the “back”. You pass some of the longer-term residences on the way. Also, even in this relatively developed part of the park, it’s important to be wary of wildlife. One evening I exited the bathroom to be greeted by a large buck standing uncomfortably close to the bathroom door. I didn’t stop to count the points, but he was impressive. And he wasn’t going anywhere. I slid with my back against the wall down to a corner and went the long way around the building back to our campsite. A heart-thumping close encounter right there in the middle of “civilization”

IMG_2703We forgot to get pictures before the camper was packed up again but here’s a couple of different angles on the campsite.

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Additional Note: Free wifi at Grand Canyon National Park

This information is usually available in the park newspaper that you receive at the entrance stations, but it’s worth noting. While we didn’t mind being disconnected for a few days at Trailer Village, we also didn’t have our next destination quite figured out so we wanted to get online and do a little homework. The Park Office and Community Library offer unsecured wifi. They also have computers available to borrow if you don’t have your own. For whatever reason, the wifi signal wasn’t strong enough in the park office that day so they sent me through a courtyard to the library. In this tiny, tiny library, a very helpful librarian unlocked a private room where I could sit down (no room for chairs in the main library!) at a table and research undisturbed. I didn’t see any tourists in this area at all, and all the staff were extremely friendly and helpful.

Grand Canyon part 2: The Adventures of the Rest of Us

Please forgive the long break with no new posts. I still have every intention of sharing the remainder of the trip on this blog. I even have a bunch of follow-up posts planned. The pace and intensity of our everyday, not-on-the-road-anymore lives has picked up a bit recently, and often when I find the time to write, I’m just too tired to write it the way I want it to be. But it’s important to me to capture the memories before they fade any more than they have, and so I’m going to try to be a bit more disciplined and a bit less of a perfectionist about blogging.

In our last post, we introduced you to Lukas, who seemed to have a bit of an independent streak during our stay at the Grand Canyon and had some trouble staying with the rest of the family. But the rest of us had a great time at the Grand Canyon too! So at long last we share the adventures of the non-plastic Lindstroms.

The Grand Canyon had always been a dream vacation for me. The one that was always just out of reach. My family planned trips there on more than one occasion when I was growing up, but we just never got there. Staffan got to go once before we were married, and has fun stories to tell about helping a Boy Scout troop with car trouble and eventually getting to camp with them down in the canyon on their permit. Another story for another time (definitely a good one though!) but after his visit this place became the stuff of legend in my imagination. So you can bet I was excited to get there.

We chose to camp at the campground that’s in the national park itself (campground information and review to come in a later post). We arrived there in the early afternoon, checked in and set camp. Then we walked to the visitor center (not a very long walk, but you can also take the shuttle bus) to stamp the kids’ national park passports and get a little more information. And then finally… after all these years… we walked out to the first view point of the canyon itself. It’s hard to say exactly how I felt, but my excitement was mixed with a bit of fear. What if the real thing couldn’t live up to the legend I’d created in my mind? After all of the waiting and longing… what if I was disappointed? I looked hard at the ground and the back of the stroller all the way until I reached the fence. I took a deep breath and raised my eyes. I was not disappointed. If you’ve been there, then you know that it’s the kind of thing that can’t be captured… not with words or with a camera. If you haven’t, the only way I can describe it is that in 20 years of dreaming and imagining, with the help of photographs and paintings, I still hadn’t quite expected the grandeur that was before me. If you haven’t been there, go.

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Next time we go I want to take another family photo on this rock.
Then maybe frame them side by side! 

IMG_2645 IMG_2656I know it can’t be captured with a camera, but we still had to try

We spent that first afternoon riding the shuttle bus loops, getting off at different viewpoints and just taking it in from some of its many angles before returning to the campground. We had dinner out that night in the Village and spent the evening planning a hiking route for the next day.

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This pose was her idea.
And people complain that I don’t post enough pictures of myself

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Approaching sunset

Our hiking day in the Grand Canyon proved to be slightly less idyllic than the day before. As is the risk when traveling with small children, Emelie was having a tired and cranky day. It was one of those days when it seems everything is a battle. Everything from wearing pants (it is NOT warm at the Grand Canyon in the end of October!) to not climbing up on the rocks designed to keep people from plummeting down into the canyon (slightly less trivial) seemed to cramp her style and lead to some kind of tantrum. We expected these days would come, and we managed to keep her alive and even enjoy many parts of the day. But it also seems appropriate to issue a formal apology to anyone who may have sought to gaze into the amazing beauty of Creation in silent reverence on that day. I’m sorry that your experience was punctuated, not infrequently, by the screams of a three-year-old. We did our best.

IMG_2678On the trail. Maybe hard to see, but Emelie has Lukas on her shoulders.

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Former Adventure Camp friends… know what those are?
Eating Oreos on mountain peaks is an important tradition to teach your children. Hard to say exactly where the “peak” is when the whole hike is at the top, but that just means you can stop and eat your Oreos anywhere!

We hiked our planned stretch of trail along the South Rim, awestruck again and again by the view. I itched to turn off onto one of the trails that lead down into the canyon, though I knew of course that it would be dangerous to attempt that hike with small children and no camping reservations at the bottom. We had chosen a trail that paralleled one of the shuttle bus routes, so that we could go as far as we wanted and when we were tired, just hop on the shuttle and connect back to the campground. This worked great and allowed us to adjust the length to our needs at the time.

IMG_2654Okay, so I couldn’t resist going down one of those trails just a little!

In the morning it was time to pack up and get back on the road. But not before a stop at the East Entrance visitor center and one last view from the Desert View Watchtower. We will be back, Grand Canyon. With bigger kids and camping permits.

IMG_2717Desert View Watchtower

IMG_2720It’s designed to look like an ancient structure, but it’s really from the 1930’s

IMG_2716Good bye for now, Grand Canyon. We’ll be back when we’re bigger!

Grand Canyon part 1: The adventures of Lukas

Meet Lukas. Lukas joined our family on Emelie’s first birthday and has more or less been a part of everything we’ve done since then. Although for over 2 years, Lukas didn’t have a name. Whenever anyone asked Emelie what her baby’s name was, she looked at them like they were crazy and said, “It’s a baby” or some variation of that. Lukas got her name (yes, her. Don’t let the name fool you. She is most emphatically a girl.) after our visit to San Fransisco and the Bay area. We stayed with Staffan’s cousin and his family, and their youngest son is named Lukas.

Though I don’t believe I’ve mentioned Lukas in our blog at all before, Lukas participated in just about everything we did. But it wasn’t until the Grand Canyon that Lukas had herself some real, and at times independent, adventures. So it was time for her to be featured in a post.

Grand Canyon National Park is a large park, and most of the roads are closed to private vehicles (something I think a lot of other parks could benefit from emulating). Visitors get around by using the shuttle system, which we found to be effective, efficient, and depending on your driver, even entertaining. The only part that was a little tricky was that we had to take Peter out of whatever stroller/backpack he was riding in and hold him in our laps. I’m not sure why, but rules are rules. It just made getting on and off with both kids and our stuff a less than streamlined experience. And as we shuttled from the campground to the head of the trail we planned to hike, one of us got left behind in the shuffle. “Where’s Lukas?” someone asked, beginning the conversation familiar to parents everywhere. “I thought you had her.” “No, I had my hands full with…” “Is she in the…” Double-checking everywhere when we all knew exactly where she was.

So we sat at the bus stop where we’d gotten off, one of us a bit teary eyed, and waited for about 30 minutes for that particular shuttle bus to loop around and come back. Thankfully Lukas was none the worse for the wear, and after a happy reunion and a few jokes from the funny bus driver, we were back on track.

Lukas got to see a lot that day. She seemed to really enjoy the Grand Canyon, and even posed for a picture along the way.

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And since Lukas really didn’t want to ride in the backpack with Peter, and Lukas’ mommy was a bit tired and grumpy that day, we found ourselves asking the “Where’s Lukas?” question a lot. She was left at several scenic overlooks, picnic stops, restroom facilities, and even got a little too close to the edge of a cliff once or twice. All in addition to her solo bus tour. It was a quite a day for little Lukas. And the poor thing had to do it all naked except for that bandaid on her arm. Life is tough when your mommy is only 3.

Pinnacles National Monument

We worked our way slowly south through California for many reasons. The weather was amazing and there was so much to see and do. We also felt like California is so far away from where we usually are when we’re in the US that we’re unlikely to get back there again any time soon. And at this particular point in our trip through California, we were trying to time it right to see our friends in Santa Barbara when they were home. And so it was that we discovered Pinnacles National Monument, a stop that was never a part of our planned route but which certainly ranks among our favorite places that we’ve visited.

Pinnacles NM is named for the particular mountain formations in the park, but what we enjoyed most about the Pinnacles was hiking through them. There is one trail in particular that, when it’s safe enough, takes you through a cave. There is a lower part of the cave, after which you can turn out of the cave and continue on the “outside” trail, or you can continue into the upper cave, which is much more difficult (and therefore fun!) to traverse. It’s a wet cave, and certain times of year there’s too much water and part or all of the cave is closed. But when we were there, the whole thing was open.

Not in the cave yet, but still some fun narrow passages to hike through!

Look I can touch both sides!

We’ve been in several caves in the National Park system on our trip, and all were amazing in their own ways. This cave didn’t boast any unique geological features (that I know of) and there are no guided tours. There are no paved walkways or handrails (except one part of the lower cave where there are stairs) and no artificial lights. There are white arrows spray painted on the walls so you won’t get lost and hikers are advised not to enter without flashlights.

Little rock tunnel! Mamma carrying Peter, Emelie carrying her baby Lukas

Look! It’s a cave!

In we go! Peter likes to touch the walls too!

Headlamps on and ready to explore!

Stepping stones

Family picture in the cave

It was high adventure that was perfect for a family with small children. It was just hard enough to be exciting, but not so difficult as to be too much or unsafe. So, with headlamps on, we crawled over, ducked under, crossed streams on stepping stones, and squeezed a baby carrier through impossibly small spaces. Emelie led the group, and charged ahead with great excitement and absolutely no fear. Sometimes it was hard to get her to stop long enough for me to turn around and help Staffan and Peter get through. We had so much fun!

Not always easy to get through with Peter in a backpack!

The trail comes out by a reservoir where we sat to have a picnic lunch. A few drops of rain sprinkled on us but it blew over quickly without developing into much. It was a loop trail and most people go up through the cave but then back down on the “regular” trail. We gave Emelie the option and she overwhelmingly chose to go back through the cave. We chose to only go back through the lower cave in the interest of time, but after another tour through the cave we walked back to the car. I would thoroughly recommend this hike to anyone who has little ones with a bit of an adventurous spirit. It’s truly a gem that no one really seems to have heard of and that was the opposite of crowded and over-commercialized, the way some of the “bigger” parks can tend to be. Highly recommended.

Up the steps to the reservoir after the cave

Adventures make you tired

There is also campground at Pinnacles NM, and we stayed there the night before our hike. It is very basic, but adequate and as far as we know the only place to camp in the vicinity. Here’s a review:

Pinnacles National Monument Campground
Price: $36/night
Location: Within Pinnacles NM, which is pretty far out from anything else
Site description: Gravel and “grass” sites, relatively small but since it wasn’t crowded it felt spacious
Facilities: Bathrooms and coin-operated showers in a building near the office, which is a bit of a walk from all the campsites. The primitive campground areas have their own bathhouses, but they are not in the same place as the developed campground (with electricity). No dish-washing facilities, no playground. There is a pool but it was closed for the season (though they still watered the grass around it all night so that it was thick and green and not crunchy brown like the rest of the area).
Neighborhood: Relatively quiet, just a few neighbors with RVs, one other family with kids
Websitehttp://www.nps.gov/pinn/planyourvisit/camp.htm
Comments: It is really annoying to have to walk that far to go to the bathroom, especially at night. But it was dark enough and private enough to just pee on the ground at night. So it worked fine.

Walking Among Giants: Redwood National and State Parks

What is it about majestic, ancient trees that they seem to embody wisdom? There are abundant examples in literature and film where aged trees become characters in the plot in some way. They are almost always mature, wise, and deeply respected. Walking through a redwood forest, where the tall canopy obliterates any view of sky or sun, gave me a deeper appreciation for the origins of these literary references. There is a sense that these trees have seen it all, across ages, and have endured. They are scarred by fires and acts of vandalism and yet they thrive. Most people speak with slightly lowered voices, as if out of respect for something they can’t quite identify. Not three-year-olds, but most people.

Staffan wanted me to title this post with a reference to the land of the Ewoks, since those scenes from Star Wars were filmed in redwood forests. He even suggested that the post, or part of it at least, be written in Yoda-speak. Agree with this I do not. Take a very long time it would. Exhaust both writer and reader it would. Continue this way I will not.

I think it may have been the ranger at the visitor center who mentioned how easy it is to lose perspective as you walk among these giant trees. When every tree is just a little taller and broader than the one before it, you can start to forget what size “normal” trees are. Somehow the extraordinary becomes ordinary. One remedy for this is tree hugging. Stretching yourself across the base of a giant redwood is a good way to remind yourself that these trees are b-i-g. It can also give some perspective not just on the size of the trees, but on the size of the people beside them. Someone walking past us in the forest commented, “I don’t know what you folks’ religious persuasions are, but all this makes me feel really small.” It wasn’t clear just what faith perspective he was expressing in that statement, and he turned and walked on without leaving time for a response, but it brought to mind the words of the psalmist, “What is man that you are mindful of him…”

The first of us to hug a tree

Then the rest of us took a turn

Can’t believe how little she looks next to that tree!

Still hard to understand just how big and old these trees are!

Family photo

But our kids are not nearly this contemplative of their surroundings, and we were once again reminded that nature builds the best playgrounds. One of the great joys of this trip has been to watch them, particularly Emelie, explore and discover all of these different, amazing and unusual natural environments. Seeing them through her eyes too adds another dimension and usually deepens the experience for us.

This one we could climb in!

All 3 of us fit in there!

This one she could climb through…

… and this one she could climb on!

When she ran in the ferns we couldn’t even see her! Here I am!

The redwood forests have also produced some places for the grown-ups to play a little. No visit to the redwoods would be complete without visiting the drive-through tree. Today it would be illegal to do this kind of damage to a redwood, and the few drive-through trees that are available are all outside of the national and state park boundaries. But those that already exist are allowed to continue to operate. And it is definitely an experience. We decided to visit the drive-through tree on our way south and away from the main redwood area. It fit best with our driving route, but it also meant that we had the trailer with us. We asked at the entrance if we were allowed to drive through with the trailer or if we needed to unhitch it first. His response was basically that we could drive it through as long as we didn’t get it stuck.

If I was driving, I would have been nervous enough about taking the minivan through. I would never have dared take the trailer through. But Staffan is a much more experienced and confident driver, especially when it comes to bigger vehicles, and he was sure it would be fine. If the side mirrors of the van fit, the trailer will fit. So I got a little nervous when the mirror on my side bumped a little and folded in, which impaired his view of the trailer. It just so happens that that window isn’t working, so I couldn’t put it down to flip the mirror back out, and there was certainly no way to open the door in there. But through we went. We gathered a little crowd of spectators, all of whom were expecting that the trailer would get stuck. But it didn’t. It fit exactly. As soon as the front of the van had passed through the tree, I jumped out with the camera to document the rest.

In we go!

And here comes the trailer! No wiggle room!

We’re still not sure what “maximum age” means, but probably the oldest in a range of estimates? Either way, it’s old and it’s big!

Family photo with the drive through tree – after the drive through

You need a bit of distance to see it, but the tree is definitely still alive despite evidence of fire on the trunk, and the giant hole that people drive their cars through.

As we watched others drive through in smaller sedans and on motorcycles, I couldn’t help but think that we had had the bigger adventure. They all experienced driving through a tree, just like we did, but with plenty of room to spare and without the thrill of not getting stuck. I still wonder sometimes what would have happened if we had gotten stuck in there. Has anyone ever gotten stuck? I don’t know but I’m certainly glad it wasn’t us.

After staying 3 nights in different parts of the Redwood area, it was time to continue south along the coast. We had wonderful adventures among the redwoods, but new experiences awaited us in the San Francisco Bay area!