Yellowstone Photo Album by Girl

Life on the road can be chaotic. Between keeping up with homework, daily exploration hikes and bike rides and trying to see as much as we could at each destination, we found it a challenge to also keep up with our blog. Speaking for Girl, I’m positive she had an extremely memorable and epic journey through our land. I know she has been dying to share some of her Yellowstone photos that she took. If you are ever hanging out with her, or get her on the phone or Facetime, she would be thrilled to tell you some of her favorite stories from our trip.

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My first Bison!
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My first black bear!
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I was doing my schoolwork and this bear walked right by me!
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A big Grizzly Bear that was mad at my dad

Moab and Beyond!

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Double Arch, Moab

Our apologies for our weeks of silence! After we left Yellowstone, it appeared the nasty weather was planning on following us East. We were desperate for sun and warmth so we decided to head Southwest to meet up with some good friends from Durango in Moab, UT. We passed through Boulder on our way, it was cold and rainy here too, but we managed to dry out a little bit and regroup at our house while dreaming of the desert sun.

We left in an early morning rainstorm which quickly turned to ice and snow as we crept along I-70 and through the tunnel. After a harrowing start to the drive, we finally saw blue skies in Eagle that morning, the first in 13 days! The Aspens were bursting with color, the sun was shining and we were ecstatic to finally have the wipers off.

Moab was a blast! It was nice to hang out and relax after our incredible Yellowstone tour. We had great company, Girl had a posse’ of kids to play with and we had a great campsite, great riding, great hiking and great weather (except for the back to back lightening filled torrential downpours). We finally caught the sun and just in time to celebrate Gal’s birthday under the desert stars.

With the many leaking issues with our tent and truck shell coupled with the never ending rain, we made the executive decision to halt the camping. We didn’t want to give up on our plans to check out Niagara Falls and visit some awesome friends in PA. So, we booked some cheap plane tickets to Buffalo, NY, rented a car and drove across the border. As a special treat for Girl, we booked 2 nights at the Great Wolf Lodge in Ontario, Canada. This place was amazing. It was like Vegas for kids! We were all thoroughly entertained and we were able to visit Niagara Falls on a beautiful, sunny day.

Niagara Falls is one of those places that you see photos and videos of, but once you see it in person you realize the photos don’t do it justice. It’s spectacular and truly a sight to be seen. The pure power of that amount of water is mesmerizing and humbling.

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Niagara Falls, Ontario

Even though we were done driving, we drove another 415 miles to Warrington, PA to stay with our super rad friends Josh, Jen and Tayler. We took a side trip to NYC by train (we took truck, car, ferry, canoe, boat, train, plane, bike and of course feet on our journey) and stayed a night in the city to show Girl what is was all about. We ate delicious food, played in Central Park, walked to Times Square and saw Aladdin on Broadway (I think we may have sat on the roof) and took a really fun New York Media Boat tour on the Hudson. We zipped around for an hour and a half stopping at over 40 NY sites. The weather was unseasonably warm and our guide was really fun and knowledgeable. Girl was super stoked to see the Statue of Liberty and ride up front catching the waves. Gal almost always gets seasick but didn’t have any problems on this tour. No fighting the masses or craning your neck to see a site. If you are ever in New York and want to see as much as you can of the beautiful city, we highly recommend this small boat adventure!

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NYC

We had a great weekend with our friends in PA. We spent time in the quaint town of New Hope, toured Washington’s Crossing and sampled delicious local brews. Girl was anxious to get back to school. We got home Monday night and she was awake at 6:30 am on Tuesday dressed and ready to go.

 

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Happy Gal’s in PA

While our journey may not have had all the camping and driving we originally set out to do, we realized the importance of fluidity and the ability to be flexible. We had an incredible journey nonetheless, we changed many plans along the way and saw some of the most beautiful sites in the world. We would strongly encourage anybody reading this to check out the treasures our own country possesses. The United States is full of magic and wonder and it is very much worth exploring.

To our friends in the South: Don’t worry! We plan on visiting your neck of the woods soon. Right now though, it’s nice to be home visiting our favorite trails, watching the leaves change, getting ready for ski and ride season and pondering our next route and adventure. Cheers and happy exploring!

Yellowstone

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Mammoth Hot Springs

When we left Jeremy and Angela’s we set off for Yellowstone. We had planned to camp on the West side near Earthquake Lake, but the weather was still against us. With high temps hovering around the 30’s and lows into the teens with snow, we had to come up with another option. As adventurous as I claim to be, there is no way I would want to be tent camping in that kind of weather and definitely no way I would subject Gal, Girl and Dog to that either. We found a great spot at the North entrance in Gardiner, MT called Yellowstone Gateway Inn. They have 1 bedroom apartments with full kitchens and pull out sofa bed’s. The space was great, the location was fantastic, just 1 mile to the North entrance of Yellowstone. I drove through a small portion of the Southern part of the park about 2 decades ago, but have never really experienced Yellowstone before. What an experience we had!

We set out for a tour early Friday morning with 2″ of fresh snow on the ground at our Inn. It turned out that most of the roads in Yellowstone were closed as the higher passes had received a foot plus and over 2 feet of snow in some spots! We took in some sites, saw a lot of Elk and found ourselves at Chico Hot Springs to swim and soak while the weather did its best to clear. Later that afternoon we set off back into the park and we had great timing. We saw our first wild Bison, then hundreds more! You see the photos and hear the stories but to see these massive animals mere feet from your vehicle or to stumble across one staring at you on a quick jaunt from the truck is mind blowing. We really enjoyed stopping to watch them graze, crossing rivers, tearing up grass from under the snow and driving right by them on the road.

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We headed up towards Tower Falls and got out of the truck to a small group of people pointing down a hillside. I went to check it out and there it was, our first black bear! She was foraging, eating the plethora of berries and munching on what seemed to be everything within her reach. She could care less about us watching her and appeared to be delighted with her feast. After watching her for a while, we drove on forgetting about the waterfall. We circled back to catch a glimpse of Tower Falls and left Girl in the truck as she wanted to do some of her schoolwork. The falls were only 200 yards away and as Gal and I headed up, we were cut off by a group of female Bighorns and their calves. They looked hesitant and kept looking back where sure enough that same black bear was there climbing the hill. Before we knew it, she was sauntering along right in front of our truck where Girl was inside! She stopped and munched on the Rosehips mere feet from where Girl was sitting and then moseyed along across the road to destroy a small Aspen and more Rosehip. Living in Boulder, CO one would think we were accustomed to seeing black bears, but after living here for 21 years, I have only seen 3 and all from quite a distance. This was such a treat and there were only about a dozen other people there with us for the experience.

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Black Bear near Tower Falls

 

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Black bear sauntering by the truck. If you looks closely, you can girl plastered against the rear window!

The next day we headed back into the park to see what we could find. We had geyser’s on our mind and the plan was to get to Old Faithful. Not too far into our drive, we saw the familiar horde of people stopped roadside so naturally we stopped to see what was going on. Off in the distance, we spotted our second black bear! We watched for a bit, realizing we were too far away for any decent photos and honestly wanting to get away from the crowd of people. We drove on seeing more Bison, Elk and Pronghorn along the way. We stopped to watch a lone Coyote hunting, and succeeding, in the snow with a herd of Bison and stopped again roadside to see our 3rd black bear! This one was a bit closer but on a hillside partially hidden behind a tree. Again, with a lot of people and a ranger coming through hollering at people not to stop on the road, we got back into the truck and moved on.

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We checked out Lower Falls and Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and finally got some sunshine. This was the first sun we had seen in nearly a week. These areas were gorgeous, but thoroughly crowded, so we moved on and stopped at Norris Geyser Basin. We were treated to a little more sunshine and a really incredible hike with geysers spouting off all around us. The colors and landscape were like out of a Dr. Seuss book and by the time we got back to the truck, we were tired and hungry and decided the trip to Old Faithful seemed a bit tedious especially after all the driving we had already done. As much as we wanted to see it, the magic of Norris Geyser Basin satisfied our souls.

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Grand Canyon of Yellowstone from the top of Lower Falls

We started to head back up and over the snowy and a bit sketchy Dunraven Pass when it happened. The thing I had been wanting to see most in Montana and Yellowstone careened down a slope right as we were driving by, causing it to skid to a snowy stop 10 feet from us and leap back into the woods…a male Grizzly Bear! I saw it right away as it came out the trees and skidded to a stop. As luck would have it, we were right at a pullout and there was absolutely nobody else around. I jumped out of the truck with my camera in hand. In hindsight this was probably the dumbest thing I could have done. He saw me instantly with deadlocked eyes on mine and came walking forward towards me through the trees.

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We were close, far too close for comfort, but he literally nearly landed in our laps. I scurried back around to the drivers side of the truck, trying to catch my breath and keep my hands from shaking while keeping my eyes on this majestic beast. The moment I disappeared from his view, he put his nose to the ground and came out of the trees into a clearing.

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I crept back towards to rear of the truck with my camera to my face and watched him through my lens from about 50 feet away. It was challenging to shoot with the adrenaline surging through my veins. When he saw me again he stared directly at me with his nose to the ground. I crept another foot or two closer and then he jumped up on hind legs snarling, batted his baseball glove sized paws at me and lurched forward with a pounce sending snow flying up and leaving me crippled with fear completely exposed behind the truck (check out Girls post for her incredible shot and take on this epic event).

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All the while Gal and Girl were shooting photos from inside the truck, thankfully, and now the people that were not present for the past 20-30 seconds started to show up to marvel at what we saw, which caused this magnificent beast to dart back into the woods. I honestly did not really notice the all the people. I did not make eye contact or talk to anyone about the once in a lifetime (to us anyways) experience we had just witnessed and got back into the truck and continued up the pass. I pulled back over about a 1/4 mile away as I was still shaking and in shock and awe of what had just happened.

All in all, Yellowstone was the highlight thus far of our trip. Despite not being able to camp in Yellowstone due to weather I am so happy and fortunate to have been able to share such an incredible journey through this magical place with my family. Liv is one lucky Girl to have seen the plethora of wildlife and beauty in this park during such an incredible time of the year when these creatures are preparing for the months of harsh winter ahead.

 

Glacier

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Guy and Gal skipping rocks at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

From the moment we got off the Washington State Ferry from Orcas Island and started heading East towards Idaho, we were met with continuous rain. Continuous rain and much colder temperatures. We pulled into Coeur d’Alene, ID, where we were planning on a hotel night before heading to Glacier National Park. We got to the hotel after dark and the temperatures were in the low 40’s with freezing rain. The weather never got any better for us.

The drive towards Glacier through Northern Idaho and Western Montana was beautiful despite the constant downpour. We saw bald eagles perched on trees, beautiful valleys, dense forests and what we could imagine as steep mountain peaks hidden in the clouds.

We were planning on winging it and camping near Glacier somewhere around Hungry Horse Reservoir. Luckily we had an invite to stay with some great friends, Jeremy and Angela in Whitefish, MT. We took them up on their offer rather than camping. We are so grateful for their amazing hospitality! Camping in all if that rain with a few leaks that we were dealing with wouldn’t have been fun.

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Liv singing to the wildlife as we hiked in Whitefish

Whitefish is a really cool small Montana resort town. The lakes and mountains are endless, we only wish we would have gotten to see more as we were socked in the entire time. When we did get a small break in the rain and the clouds lifted a bit, we were treated to peek-a-boo glances of snow dusted mountains and the local ski resort which we’ve been told to call Big Mountain like the locals! Glacier National Park was 90% closed due to wildfires. Even with the rain, when we got up there the fires were only 50% contained. We took in the view from Lake McDonald though there was not much to see aside from a shoreline with piles of burnt pine needles and ash over a foot deep. The lake was still crystal clear and beautiful with a rainbow coloring of rocks showing through the clear water. Our trip to Glacier didn’t last long as Going-to-the-Sun road was closed. We headed towards Polebridge trying to spot bears and took some forest roads back into Whitefish. We were able to get in a great mountain bike ride and a hike on the Whitefish Trail, right behind Jeremy and Angela’s house. We had a blast visiting breweries, taking in some local flavor and enjoyed our time with our friends and their dog, Corona. Corona and Stella really bonded and the big fellow jumped into our truck as we were packing up…he took up the whole back seat! We are bummed we didn’t get to really experience Glacier and camp in the area, but we are excited about the idea of heading back up there in the future and enjoyed the time with our friends.

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Corona and Stella… blockheads unite!

Orcas Island

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At Mount Constitution looking out to Mt. Baker

Hi Blog Followers! This is Liv (aka Girl). This post is about Orcas Island. I hope you like it!

I’m at Orcas Island! We have rented a house. On the way here we got on a ferry (well, two ferries!) and I tried to spot whales but we didn’t see any. It was a short drive to the house after the ferry rides and I got to go with my Grandma Mia, her friend Marla, and my mom’s brother, Mac. My mom and dad road with Stella in the truck. When we got to the house, the view was really pretty. My dad had a good idea. He got out our binoculars and put them on the table outside so we could look for whales in the ocean from our deck.

Biking is hard on this island because this island has a lot of mountains. We even had to walk our bikes down a hill because it was so steep. We road our bikes around town and we took a path to a little, mini airport. We didn’t know we were going there, it was a surprise! We got to see a little plane take off.

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Hiking is the best!

Hiking is beautiful on this island. We hiked down to a waterfall. It was steep to the waterfall and then we climbed back up and went on with our hike. Then we saw a few more waterfalls that were amazing. There were little swimming holes at the bottom of each waterfall and the pools looked clear with a hint of teal. After the hike we went on a little walk up to a big, tall rock tower. I got to climb stairs to the top of the tower and saw a beautiful view of the ocean. The boats looked so small in the water that surrounds the island. I waved down to my dad, Mia, Marla and Mac. I said “you all look so small”!

img_0891.jpgOn Saturday we went to a Farmer’s Market. I got my face painted like a pink and turquoise beautiful, shimmery butterfly. And then we looked around at some very beautiful jewelry. I heard a girl, her brother and big sister play violin solos. I got to give her a dollar because her solo was amazing.

Orcas Island is awesome because you can see the ocean view and everyone is kind, sweet and nice. I wish everyone could visit Orcas Island. It was a treat to go to the island and visit with my family that came out to spend time with us on our road trip.

Sequim Bay

sunriseHi Guys! It’s Liv (aka Girl). This post is about Sequim Bay. I hope you like it!

Sequim Bay (pronounced Squim) is amazing. There are many opportunities to hike, bike, boat and be outdoors. Our camp site was really close to the bay. So when I got to take Stella on walks I took her down to the bay. I was looking at the ocean with binoculars and saw an otter. One morning I woke up really late and my dad told me that an otter was teasing him. I told him I wasn’t surprised because otters are funny.

I went on a hike and it was so beautiful. When we got back from the hike we went to the river. There was a really good swimming hole. The water was the prettiest color teal and I liked that I could cross all of the river rocks. My mom did something amazing. She built this tall rock pyramid. She put tiny rock stacks on the rock pyramid. It looked like a rock castle!

After the hike we went biking on the Olympic Discovery Trail. There were many different color leaves on the trail and we could peek at the bay through the trees. At one point we got to get off our bikes and pick blackberries. Everyone of them were a different flavor. They were the best blackberries ever! I felt like a black bear grabbing blackberries and stuffing them in my mouth. It was so delicious. When we finally stopped eating blackberries we kept on riding. After a few minutes down the path we saw some people picking blackberries and putting them in a bucket. It was a great idea!

Not everyone can visit Sequim but if you go to Washington go to Sequim Bay!

 

Homeschooling on the Road

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School house in the Redwoods

When Bob and I were considering going on this adventure, one of the first things that stopped us in our tracks was Liv’s education. We knew we wouldn’t be able to leave until September, so we’d have to pull her out of school for an extended period of time. Homeschooling Liv seemed doable for the short period of time we planned on being gone, but would her school allow it? Would they be on board with our plan? After speaking with Liv’s Principal, many of our concerns were alleviated. He advised us that the easiest way to take this two-month absence would be to unenroll Liv from school and then re-enroll her upon our return.

Third grade started mid-August for Liv. She was able to spend a few weeks in the classroom before we took off on September 1st. This time not only gave her a jump start on the academic side of third grade but also helped Liv make friends in her class and get to know the daily routine. Amazingly, Liv’s teacher was totally on board with our plan as well. We really lucked out with such a remarkably thoughtful, kind teacher. Taking Liv out of school for the first part of the year would have been much more challenging had her school not been so supportive and helpful. Before we left, we met with Liv’s teacher and talked about what we would be working on with her while we were away. We were given Liv’s math, cursive and spelling workbooks. Liv also packed many age appropriate reading books and writing notebooks.

Liv’s teacher was enthusiastic about her blog and said she’d try to read it to the class while we were gone. Knowing her class would read her blog was a real incentive for Liv to focus on her writing.  We also promised to have Liv write postcards to the class from the various states we visited. This way, Liv could continue to feel connected to her classmates while she was on the road and her class would have a better idea of what she is up to while away. So far, sending postcards back to the classroom has been a really fun activity on the road. For Bob and me it feels kind of retro (in the best way possible) and Liv loves picking out a card at each of our stops. As an added benefit, it helps rein in the interest in purchasing junk from gift shops, instead was can just focus finding the perfect card.

Before we left I thought we’d have a more regimented schedule for school work. I imagined Liv grabbing her backpack, walking around the campsite and sitting down at her table to begin her school day. The reality of life on the road has been less structured. We work on memorizing state capitals, multiplication tables and spelling as we drive but once we get to our campsite, we’re more focused on enjoying our new surroundings than schoolwork. By the time we get back to the campsite in the late afternoon, Liv is often too tired to focus very long or retain new information well. We’re working on breaking schoolwork up into smaller sections throughout the day. Morning work before our daily outing, shorter afternoon work before dinner and independent reading before bedtime in the tent.

There are some clear benefits to homeschooling Liv on the road. Both parents working one on one with our child has allowed us to better understand the specifics of what she is learning. We can reinforce definitions and new ideas while on a hiking trail or make connections to academic concepts while exploring a new place. While we were both working full time, we would ask Liv questions at dinner about what she learned that day, but rarely would she share mundane specifics. On the road, class time blends into the rest of the day and there are teaching moments in all that we do.

We met a nice man hiking in the Redwoods. He was interested in our travels and as we described our game plan he nodded and smiled. He said “Classroom time is important, but these experiences are priceless. She’ll remember this forever and it will shape her as a human being.” I couldn’t agree more.

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Checking out the lava rocks while on a hike in Lassen