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Little Horseshoe Lake Ice Fishing Report

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We actually never made it out on the ice last year and I was excited to get the kids back out again. We try to keep it fairly simple and go for either some bluegill or crappie. We had been on Little Horseshoe Lake ice fishing a few times in the past and caught only bluegill, but I knew there were crappie in the lake after losing one at the surface on our last canoe fishing trip on Little Horseshoe Lake. I wanted to see if we could find them through the ice.

Some folks were driving trucks out on the ice at this point, but I wasn’t ready to do that quite yet. We’ve had a mild winter up to this point and I hadn’t been on the ice yet myself. I knew it was plenty thick enough for us to go out, just not comfortable driving out yet.

At anyrate, I got the ice fishing equipment pulled out of storage earlier in the week in preparation to go. I had fired up the auger to make sure it was good to go and arranged our gear on the sled to make sure it all fit. I don’t have an ice fishing specific sled, but just a solid backyard sled that is still sturdy enough to haul a little bit of wood on it and works pretty well for ice fishing when I go by myself with the small shelter. I would have to pull one of the kids’ play sleds with some of the extra gear so I could fit the larger shelter on my main sled.

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Little Horseshoe Lake Ice Fishing Day 1

I was suprised when we arrived to actually find quite a few people out on the lake. It wasn’t packed, but there must have been 7 or 8 vehicles parked near the ramp and another 7 or 8 out on the ice. This isn’t a lot, but I’ve only seen a couple other folks any other time that we’ve been out there.

We packed up our sleds and headed out on the ice. I know there is a deep spot of 40+ feet, but have never fished it in the canoe. We usually fish the shorelines in the canoe, but we headed for the hole with our ice gear. I pulled both sleds, while the boys took turns with our rod box.

We stopped where I thought the edge of the hole was, cleared off the ice, poured some water down and hit it with the fish finder to find marks suspended around 20 feet! I immediately got the auger out and went to work on some holes. On the last hole, I realized that my blades might be dull as the auger stuck hard just before breaking all the way through and spun the motor handles right out of my hands. I really wish I had been wearing gloves…

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As the handles spun out of my hands, they took a chunck of skin with, leaving me dripping blood on the snow. The boys got a little freaked out by the blood and were asking if we had to go. I stuck my hand in the snow to see if I could freeze it up. It took quite awhile and every time I lifted it from the snow, the blood would start to drip again. I eventually got it to stop bleeding between icing it and holding it against my carhartts.

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We got the shelter set up, the heat going and our lines all set up. The marks were definitely fish, but they were a really light bite and we had hooks on for crappie. I couldn’t find the minnow bucket at home and ended up just getting wax worms. We had a enough stuff to haul out on the sled as it was. At anyrate, Reid hooked into one that turned out to be an 8″ plus bluegill. I was a bit surprised as I expected those suspended fish to be crappies.

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One of us downsized hooks for bluegill and the focus began… The bite was slow, but I eventually reeled one up myself. Not quite as big as Reid’s, but darn close and a nice size fish. Kyle gets real serious about his fishing and his focus was about to burn a hole in the ice as the bites became more and more silent. He did have a good jerk on his line at one point and ripped on the pole like he was setting the hook on a shark and pulled up an empty hook.

I started laughing and told him he probably ripped the lips right off that fish. Reid thought that was the funniest thing ever and that became our joke for the next 20 minutes about Kyle ripping the lips off all the fish. They joked about how there might be a fish swimming around down there with no lips on it.

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As time passed, we joked around, had some good laughs and just enjoyed hanging out. Life gets busy and sometimes we don’t take the time to just sit and enjoy each other’s company. It was nice to have my boys out on the ice with me.

It was starting to get dark and we were discussing packing up. As what usually happens, we started getting some bites as we were getting more serious about packing up. We just couldn’t get anything to stay on the line and the bites were really light. They eventually slowed back down and came to a screeching hault and we decided to pack things in for the night.

The boys were great at helping me pack things up and Reid took an interest in helping me pull down the shelter, which I can do myself in a couple minutes. I was just telling him to watch where he was walking when Kyle shouted “watch out for the holes” right as Reid stepped in. I saw it happen and was on it quick, plucking him back up. The ice cold water scared the crap out of him more than anything, but I knew we had to get moving up to the truck before the cold started setting into his foot. The temperatures were dropping off once the sun set.

He wanted to take his boot off, but I tried to explain to him to keep it on or he was just going to expose his wet and cold skin to the open cold air and make it worse. We had to get off the ice and get him in the truck before he took his boot off. I stuffed the tent in its bag and quickly threw the rest of the stuff on the sleds.

The entire time, Reid was crying and scared about the cold and Kyle had asked a few times if he was going to survive… I told him, he’s gonna be just fine. We weren’t that far from the truck. Aside from asking if Reid was going to survive, Kyle was extremely calm and told us all a few times that everybody needed to stay calm. I was calm, but Reid was in a bit of a panic. I think all my previous warnings about being careful on the ice and why I don’t take them out until people are driving on it, had him freaked out about going in the ice cold water, even though it was only knee deep.

We were headed back to the shore and only a couple hundred feet from the ramp when our gear came apart on the sleds. I turned to Kyle and asked if he could just hang here with the stuff and I’d get Reid to the truck and then come back and get him. I was a little worried about Reid’s feet sitting in those cold wet boots too much longer. Kyle was really calm and said he was fine. I picked Reid up and carried him up to the truck.

I pulled his boot off once he got in the truck with the truck running to find his feet cold, but far from frozen. He was gonna be just fine, but hopefully learned a good lesson. I had measured about 14″ of clean solid ice when we cut our holes, so I went ahead and drove the truck down on the ice to where Kyle and our gear were at. Kyle had everything packed back up on the sleds and ready to go. I was impressed how well he took care of things. We threw everything in the back of the truck and headed home for the night.

Little Horseshoe Lake Ice Fishing Day 2

The temperatures were in the high 20s today, making for another great day to get out on the ice. We decided to go a little earlier and then pack up before dark to get home. We had initially talked about going to another lake, but knew that we could catch bluegill on Little Horseshoe Lake and decided to give it another shot.

We basically imagined a straight shot from yesterday’s holes over to the point where we would catch bluegill in the summer. I cut 2 holes at about the halfway point and let the kids start fishing. From there, we’d either work deeper again or go shallower where I knew we’d catch plenty of bluegill and sunfish if deeper failed.

Kyle immediately brought up a small sunfish. Reid couldn’t help but check out Kyle’s fish and of course, takes a couple steps backward to get back to fishing again and steps in his own hole… Not quite knee deep this time and I saw it about to happen and yanked him out pretty quick again. He stayed calmer this time and since it was mild temps, I had him sit down on a bucket and pull his boot off.

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I knew he had packed an extra pair of socks in his bag. His socks were wet, but not all the way to the toe and I decided to set up the heater and start drying his boot out in front of it. I got his foot dried off and a dry sock on him and then let him rest his foot in a rubbermaid container from the sled to keep his foot off the ice while his boot was drying out in front of the heater.

Meanwhile, Kyle was catching a few fish and I think had 4 or 5 fish on the ice by the time Reid’s boot dried out. It was obvious that his boot was going to dry out and we were going to be able to stay out, so I cut a couple more holes and set up the portable ice shelter and cranked up the heat inside.

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Once the shelter was set up, it seemed as the fishing quieted down a bit. Any bites that we did have were all very light and you had to pay close attention. At one point Reid had his pole just sitting on the ice and didn’t event know he had something on it. I think he lifted it up or went to reel it in, because they always have to check their hook… turns out he had something on the hook! He reeled it in to find a 12.5″ crappie on the end of the line. Now things were getting serious…

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Kyle was back at piercing more holes in the ice with his laser like focus and Reid… just chiling and figuring out what snack to eat next. I reeled in a few myself over the course of the afternoon as well. At one point, we all stepped out to investigate a couple more holes outside of the portable with no success. This effort was led by Kyle in his determination to out fish Reid. If one guy catches a big one, then the other guy needs to find an even bigger one or fall back to the, “but, I caught more fish” story…

We were all back in the shelter and pulled in the occasional fish and most were a mix of smaller crappie and midsize bluegill or sunfish. We enjoyed the company and had a great afternoon out on the ice. It was getting close to dusk and we had enough fish for a couple of meals. We packed things up and headed home.

Little Horseshoe Lake Ice Fishing Summary

little horseshoe lake icefishing

Whether we caught any fish or not, the best part was unplugging and getting out on the ice for some good quality time. We had some good laughs and also learned some good lessons… a couple times! Anyways, we’ve caught a lot of panfish out of Little Horseshoe Lake in both the winter and summer, along with northern pike and smallmouth bass in the summer and crappie now added to the winter catches. It’s a great little lake for taking a canoe out and small enough to walk out on in the winter.

We had about a week of thawing temperatures here recently and haven’t been back out on the ice since this trip. We’ll see how things work out over the next few weekends and hopefully we are still able to fit in another ice fishing trip this winter.

Reference Links

Little Horseshoe Lake

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Fall Camping At It’s Best – Moose Lake State Park

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In my opinion, fall camping is the best camping you will experience. The night air is cool, crisp and perfect for campfires. The sunny, but cool afternoons are refreshing. The leaves have changed colors and are falling while morning hikes are amazing around the mist filled lakes and frosty plantation. I don’t mind putting on a hat and jacket and enjoying the end of the season with a final fall camping trip.

The last trip of the fall camping season, before putting the camper away is always the most bitter sweet. You leave it feeling like it was the pefect way to end a season and transition to another, but you just don’t want it to end. I felt that way as I was going for my solo morning hike on the last day and then again, as I watched the boys cast lines from the dock as we were packing the fishing gear into the truck after our last trip out on the lake. I didn’t want it to end and it left me wanting for more…

Heading Out For Our Last Fall Camping Weekend

We hadn’t packed a thing yet and were a bit disorganized with some of our gear. We hadn’t used the camper since our long road trip of visiting family over the summer and really hadn’t touched it since getting back home. Luckily, we’ve been dialing things back on how complicated we get with our camping and were able to pack up fairly quick. It’s becoming pretty simple for us… Bike and fishing gear for starters, grab whatever we want out of the fridge and transfer to the camper, pack some clothes and a couple other odds and ends and get on the road.

We arrived at camp in plenty of time to go for a short bike ride around the campground to check things out. The boys were most interested about checking out the lake and all they could think about was going fishing the next day. They had all kinds of questions about what type of fish and where we were going to go on the lake to catch them. They of course have their own ideas, but they always want to know what I think… As if I have all the answers on every type of fish and the bottom structure of the entire lake that I have never seen before…

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We started a campfire early and the boys skipped hotdogs and went straight for the s’mores. Who am I to argue… It was our last trip of the year and it would be a bit of a free for all weekend. I love watching their excitement as they anticipate this next marshmellow being the best one they’ve ever roasted, while every other one goes up in flames.

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I had a hotdog and then diced up some potatoes and onions with some coconut oil in tin foil to set over the fire on the cooking grate. I don’t eat potatoes very often, but I love them cooked this way. The night was definitely crisp and we eventually went inside and hung out for awhile before settling down for the night.

I know folks don’t think camping in an RV or travel trailer is true camping… I am totally ok with that. It’s not specifically about the camping for me. It’s about the forced family time and getting out. Whether we pile into a tent at night or pile into our camper for the evening, we’re together and enjoying each other’s company. We don’t have the option to send the kids downstairs to play or head to their room. We get to sit around together for a little bit each evening, even if a movie is playing on the TV. It’s just good family time, the kids will remember it forever and at 7 and 8 years old, they already talk about the trips they want to take their families on.

All Around Great Day Of Fall Camping

It was a cold morning as all of them would be for this trip. I am usually up before everybody else and I fixed myself some coffee and did a little work on my laptop while things were still quiet in the camper. As day light came, I eventually headed out for a walk. I love walking campground roads in the quiet morning, before everybody is up and moving around. It’s peaceful and relaxing. It is one of the better ways to start a day and I was thinking to myself, that I wish we had more fall camping weekends left before the deep freeze of Minnesota winters set in.

Everyone started to wake and I fired up the gas grill to cook some sausage links. Sausage is one of our breakfast treats while camping. We usually just eat eggs for breakfast at home. We actually keep meals pretty simple in general around home most of the time and save some of the extra stuff for camping trips. I think it is these little things that keep camping trips special for us. Even though we’re in the travel trailer and have most of the amenities of home, I try to mix the routine up a bit. I think it is important to distinguish the time differently and the kids each have different things to look forward to when we go camping.

It was pretty cold out still and we enjoyed the warmth of the camper a bit. The kids eventually turned on a cartoon movie on the TV and I put on my running gear and headed out for a run while Lynn enjoyed her coffee and the warmth of the camper with the kids. I just started doing some trail running. This might be a little off topic, but most folks that follow me closely around social media know that I have been diving deeper and deeper into mountain bike racing the last few years. But, I am looking to test myself with some trail running in the future. I’ll put a link to my fitness and endurance training website (Endurance Path) at the bottom of this post. Anyways, it was a fantastic run. The trails were not very technical and offered some great views around the lake.

I was back from my run and it was time to head out fishing. Lynn was going to head into Duluth while the boys and I chased some fish around the lake in the canoe. These guys really crack me up. It is just funny to watch these little people get all serious into the fishing and really trying to understand what we’re doing. Kyle is extremely serious about the fishing while Reid can be a bit more figity and likes to manuvere the canoe. Reid was getting pretty serious about getting the canoe manuevered around and learning how to use the oars just the right way. When it came to the fishing, they were both intent on forgoing the ultralight rods for the bigger setups to try casting for some pike or bass. This of course is a bit chaotic in a canoe, so I had them take turns.

All we had was night crawlers and crank baits. Nothing was happening with the drifting crawlers other than a couple nibbles here and there with no takers. Kyle was focused and continued working the edge of weeds with his rapala and then boom! I could tell it was a good size fish. It actually stayed below the surface the entire time and I wasn’t sure if he might of had a pike on. He was one excited kid! I grabbed our litte colapsable net as he pulled the big guy toward the canoe and I scooped him up. It was pretty awesome to see him bring in this big bass and he was really proud of it.

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Reid didn’t catch it, but you would have thought he caught one himself with the excitement that he had for his older brother. Although we were hoping to catch something to cook over the fire for the evening, it was early and we released the big bass back into the lake. The boys are extremely competitive with each other, but also always supportive and excited for the each other. It is a very cool thing to watch.

There was some big excitement in the boat now and we decided to continue working our way around the shoreline. Reid took a few casts, but no luck. We eventually worked our way around the point and decided to head to the other end of the lake, looking for a hole that I saw on the lake chart. As a side note, the Minnesota DNR provides charts for most of the lakes in the state. They are real simple pdf charts, but a great resource for folks like us that aren’t super serious, and want to get an idea of what the lake looks like. I’ll drop a link at the bottom of the post to the Minnesota Lake Finder, where the charts can be found.

We found the hole, but the wind had picked up a little and we were drifting across it too fast and our anchor line wasn’t long enough. We decided to slowly start working our way along the shoreline back to the other end of the lake. Reid was taking additional interest in manuevering the canoe, while Kyle was concentrated on his cast. We drifted across some flats and along a sunken island with a weed bed growing to the surface and Kyle got another hit. We all called this one a great teamwork play as Reid was manning the oars, Kyle on the cast and myself on the net.

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This one came out of the water and started dripping some blood. He appeared to be just fine, so I am not sure if it had just eaten live dinner below the surface before hitting Kyle’s rapala or what. At anyrate, it swam away fast when we released it. It was awesome to watch Kyle bring that big guy in and Reid was still pretty excited about being the guy manuevering us around with the oars. That was the last of our catches for the day and we eventually worked our way back to the boat landing and headed back to camp.

We did some walking around the campground and bike riding before Mom arrived back from Duluth and then we all settled in around a campfire for the evening. We busted out the hotdogs and marshmellows again and went ahead with my potatoes in tin foil. I love watching the final logs burn down to coals in the fire before heading in for the night. It was another great day of fall camping and a successful day out on the lake.

The Colder & Windy Side Of Fall Camping

It was a little colder and windy, but there was a persistance around camp, mainly from the boys, that we would go fishing again. We did the same breakfast routine as the previous day and enjoyed some family time, sitting together in the camper over breakfast and coffee. I took a short walk as we waited for the near freezing air to warm. As I walked down along the lake and watched the sky, I realized we probably wouldn’t be seeing the sun anytime soon and the previous day’s sunny sky may have been the last of those sorts until April.

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Regardless, we headed down to the boat landing in the truck to offload the canoe and fishing gear… We didn’t even make it out on the water and lures were being blasted all over the place from the dock and I soon heard something along the lines of, “Dad! All I did was cast it out and it tangled up…”. I came to check out the situation to find a nest that took a couple cuts of line and dismantling of the line spool from the reel to clean up. I am always amazed at the nest of lines that can get wrapped 100 times around and trapped in every crevis of a fishing reel, just by casting it out…

Finally, headed out onto the lake and the wind was blowing so hard, we didn’t have to paddle much and decided we better drop the anchor near shore, not too far from the boat landing. Lynn and Kyle took some casts, while Reid enjoyed the comfort of his camp chair that he packed in the canoe. I hooked a worm up on another line and dropped it over the side. I immediately was getting some nibbles, but no takers.

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I soon heard hints from the crew that maybe it was a bit chilly and some hot chocolate and coffee back at camp might be the way to go for the afternoon. Then, I finally hooked this beast (baby perch in the picture below) that had been nibbling at my worm. Reid, was now wanting in on the game and Kyle was ready for a simple hook and worm. I knew we must have been sitting over a school of tiny little fish as there were lots of bites with only that tiny little perch.

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Kyle pulled up a similar catch as the wind picked up even more and we made the call to head back to the boat landing. I had a bit of a hassle getting our little anchor pulled up as the stiff wind got it dug pretty deep into something down below. All hands were on deck ready with oars and paddles as I finally pulled the anchor loose and we were “hammering”, as Reid likes to say, toward the boat landing.

Once back at camp, we grabbed some quick lunch and then headed out for a hike on the park trails. Kyle was enthusiastic, while Reid was less than enthusiastic. Reid is a bit of his own man and he is not about to pretend to be excited when he is not. I can’t help but appreciate the confidence and matter of factness in his honesty. We ended up hiking about 2 and half miles on some nice wide ski trails. Reid would express that the trails were not difficult enough and that they were not real hiking trails, since they were not narrow with roots and rocks in them. Apparantly they were substandard trails for the hiking ability of an experienced 7 year old and he required something more challenging.

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This was our last evening at camp for this fall camping season and we busted out the pie irons for pizza sandwhiches. This is another one of my favorites in regards to campfire cooking. I am not a huge fan of the pie filling sandwhiches, but love the pizza sandwhiches. The kids enjoyed making their own and it just adds another special experience for the kids while camping. It’s all these little things that they look forward to on these little trips.

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The Final Day Of Our Last Fall Camping Trip

I knew this would be my last morning at camp for the year, so I grabbed my coffee and headed out for a walk. My original intention was just to check out the lake, but I didn’t want it to end and I just kept walking. The sound of a single falling leaf would remind me of sitting in a tree stand as a kid, listening to all the native sounds coming from the woods, hoping that one of those sounds was a deer walking into view.

I stopped, looked around a lot and took some pictures. There was something about this walk that was a bit special. I don’t know if it was a calmness inside, or I felt good about life in general, but it was just a peaceful morning and I was content. I ended up walking about 3 and a half miles before getting back to camp to prepare for one last fishing expedition out on the canoe. Below is a string of pictures from the hike. Look closely in the first picture… I was able to catch a bird in flight across the lake surface.

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Surprisingly, everyone was still in bed when I returned from my hike. I immediately thought about how rough of a morning the next day was going to be, getting the boys up for school again. I grabbed some more coffee and then climbed up in the boys’ bunk to sit for a few minutes while they woke up. They think it is funny for me to climb up there. They were soon awake and I got breakfast going before we packed up for one last trip out on the lake.

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We were out on the lake again, for what would most likely be our last time on open water for the year. The Minnesota freeze would start soon and our next fishing trip would likely be on the ice. It was another beautiful and perfect finish to the fall camping weekend. We didn’t stay out long, but I kept getting those little perch nibbling at my line. We caught a couple bluegill that we decided to keep for the boys to eat for dinner. Lynn had some fun with a small pike and a nice crappie that both shook off the hook, right at the edge of the canoe. The boys claim that both fish still count as a catch, because mom got them to edge of the canoe. There was a pretty big debate about it on the way back to the boat landing.

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I didn’t want this trip to end, but it had to. We were back at shore and the kids continued to launch rapalas from the dock, while Lynn and I packed up the canoe and the rest of the fishing gear. I stood there for a moment and watched the kids casting from the dock without a care about anything else in the world. They were in the moment and I had a hard time telling them we needed to go. I have a big soft spot in my heart for these moments… I even teared up a bit as I watched the boys casting from the dock and thought about how fast they were growing and another experience like this was coming to an end.

We headed back to camp and packed up to make our way back home. Another camping season was over and we would transition to some colder weather and winter adventures. Like previous summers, this one went by way too fast. Each year seems like it passes faster than the previous and reminds me to slow down a bit and enjoy the moments along the way. Hanging out with my boys, continues to remind me to never let go of the kid inside me and continue to learn and challenge myself. These kids never stop learning. They thrive on a new experience, another challenge and picking up a new skill. They always challenge me and I hope they continue to set these examples for me as we all grow older.

Reference Links From Our Last Fall Camping Trip

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Endurance Path – My Fitness & Endurance Website

Minnesota Lake Finder

Moose Lake State Park

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Camping At Indian Lake State Park In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

indian lake

camping indian lake

Sometimes, being forced into the overflow rustic campground turns out to be a great gift. We pulled into the main campground for Indian Lake State Park to find only 1 tent site left. The ranger told us we could easily find a spot over to the west campground on the other side of the lake. He said there were only outhouses, but there was be a few water spigots, each site had a 20 amp hookup and the campground was usually empty. I wasn’t sure what we were going to get ourselves into if this one was full and the other was empty, but we filled our water tank at the main campground and then headed around to the other campground on the west side of the lake.

Secluded Camping at Indian Lake and Pie Iron Pizza

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We pulled in to find only 4 to 5 campers set up in the 72 available campsites and set ourselves up in one of the loops all by ourself. It was quiet, wooded and the kids had plenty of room to play and ride bikes without having to worry about them disturbing anyone. We kicked back the first evening, built a campfire and watch the kids play, cooked marshmallows and even made some pie iron pizza sandwiches. It had been awhile since getting the pie irons out. In fact, we hadn’t really done a lot of campfires around camp in quite some time. I think we were either camping when it was hot or at a campground that didn’t allow ground fires during some of our recent trips.

Chicken Tortillas On The Grill

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We started the next morning off with our typical coffee and eggs while I was jotting some notes for a blog post I was putting together for Endurance Path. We let the kids play for the morning while I worked on a few things and just enjoyed listening and watching the kids play. It had been a little while since we camped in a state park and I was just enjoying sitting in the woods under the awning.

We decided to make some lunch before heading over to Palms-Book State Park that was just down the road. I mention lunch, because this was the first time I had ever heated up tortillas shells on a grill and they were awesome. We cooked some chicken on the grill, turned the grill off and then cooked the tortillas on the remaining hot grill grates. At any rate, the chicken tortillas were awesome, so I thought I would mention them. By the way, we use the uncooked refrigerated tortillas shells from Costco and they are cheaper and way better than regular packaged tortillas.

The Spring At Palms-Book State Park

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I had remembered going to Palms-Book State Park nearly 20 years ago. We were the only ones in the park at the time and went out on a raft in the middle of a fresh spring where the water was completely clear. At any rate, the park was packed on this trip and we had to wait a while to go out on the big raft in the middle of the spring pond. I think it can fit 40 to 50 people and there is a wheel on the raft that is connected to a cable strung across the spring pond. Anybody on the raft can man the wheel, so you never really know how long you might get stuck out there unless you take the lead. People seem to kind of take turns anyways and let a few kids run it.

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Anyways, it was pretty cool once we got out there. Although, I think Lynn was feeling a bit claustrophobic as we were packed on the raft with a bunch of other people that were not afraid to crowd over you. I don’t blame her… we went from secluded camping to being packed on a raft with 50 other people only 20 minutes later. The kids thought it was super cool though and  were really interested in the huge trout swimming in the fresh spring and the sand bubbling below where the spring water was coming out of the earth. The water was extremely clear and I believe I read that it was 44 feet deep. You could clearly see to the bottom as if you could reach out and touch it.

Sometimes you hear the funniest things… I overhead another Dad explaining to his family that it was probably methane gas boiling out of the sand at the bottom of the spring… I had a hard time holding back my laugh. I was hoping this guy wasn’t serious as there were so many things wrong with what he said… First, there was no air bubbles coming up out of the ground, nore through the water. Secondly, I doubt that the State Park Service would construct a raft to carry 50 people out over the top of a methane gas spring. At any rate, I had to share the story.

Back At Indian Lake State Park

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The town of Manistique is only a few miles away, so afterwards we ran into town quick to pick up a few groceries, buy a couple bundles of firewood and fill the truck up with gas before heading back to the campground. We did drive down to the lake access near our campground to check out the lake. We found 2 kayak paddles laying in the road like they fell out of somebodies truck. We picked them up and left them leaned up against the building at the park entrance. I didn’t want them to get run over and broken and thought if the owners came back looking for them, they might see them leaned up against the check in station.

We arrived back at camp to enjoy the afternoon. Lynn and I grabbed our chairs under the awning to chat while we watched the kids play. I did get my laptop out to make a few notes for some things I was working on while we enjoyed the quiet campground and surrounding woods. There were a couple others folks that set up camp, but overall the campground remained quiet and peaceful aside from our own kids making hot laps on their bikes.

I couldn’t help but join them for a few laps. There is a little part of them that actually thinks they can go faster than me and they always want to race. Hopefully I can maintain my Dad strength over the years and continue out pacing them… I had a mountain bike race coming up the following weekend and was wanting to do a few lead out sprints anyways.

As we were settling down for the night, a guy from another campsite stopped by to ask if we had an extra coffee cup that he could borrow for the morning. We gave him a coffee cup and then got to chatting about his trip. Him and a buddy were on a motorcycle trip up to Copper Harbor, so we pointed out a few places to make sure that they stopped at. It sounded like it might have been the first time taking a motorcycle trip and it was his first Harley. He was on an Electra Glide and his buddy was on a Softail. He mentioned that they had picked up this tent, but wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. It was a 2 man tent, but turned out to be way smaller than he thought and it didn’t sound like they were too thrilled about sharing it…

We eventually got back to our campfire and then settled in for the night. I heard the motorcycles pull out of the campground early in the morning and then I found their tent, a sleeping bag and our coffee cup sitting outside our camper… Apparently the tent did not work out and they didn’t want to haul it around the rest of the trip. I could see why after taking a look. It was a 2 person tent, but it was one of those cot tents and I don’t know how they were hauling it on the motorcycles in the first place. This thing did not package down small at all. The tent package itself was probably a foot in diameter and 4 feet long.

I assume the sleeping bag was way to hot for summer camping also as it was a 10 to 30 degree rated sleeping bag. It was super nice of them to leave the tent and bag for us and thanks to them. Ironically, I was actually looking at these same tents a few months back. I thought they were interesting since they were off the ground but never pulled the trigger on one. I thought a tent like that would be handy for me on a solo trip to a mountain bike race or something. I guess I will find out.

The kids played the rest of the morning on their bikes, while I stayed in the camper and worked on a report I was putting together for Endurance Path. Checkout was not until 1:00, so I wanted to lock myself in the camper for the morning to finish that up before we left. The kids didn’t complain as they had a near empty campground to rip thru on their bikes for the morning.

I finished up what I was working on just in time to pack up camp before the rain came in for the afternoon. There is no dump station at the west campground, so we had to drive over to the east campground or main entrance for Indian Lake State Park to flush the tanks out on the camper before making our way toward Marquette.

Indian Lake State Park Trip Summary

I have marked Indian Lake State Park down as a place I would stop at again for a couple nights on our way through. It is not far off Highway 2 along Lake Michigan and I would head right toward the west campground again as it was so quiet, but still had electricity. We had our camper, so showers and bathrooms were not an issue for us at all. That being said, the outhouses at the west campground were probably the cleanest outhouses you will find. Palms-Book State Park down the road was a nice little attraction also. It was definitely more busy than I would have preferred to really enjoy it as the raft was really packed, but the springs were still worth checking out.

Links

Endurance Path

Indian Lake State Park

Palms-Book State Park

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Visiting Door County

visiting door county

Door County had been on our travel list for a few years, but sitting on the back burner until now. We had spent a couple days in Portage, WI and decided we could fit in a couple days of visiting Door County on our way to the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan.

visiting door county

Day 1 of Visiting Door County

Lambeau Field, Arriving At Camp and A Quick Bike Ride

visiting door county

We were almost to Door County and decided to surprise the kids with a little detour to check out Lambeau Field in Green Bay. I don’t really follow many sports on TV and quite honestly, usually don’t even know who is in the Super Bowl until the time comes and somebody mentions that the Super Bowl is coming up. However, my 8 year old loves watching sports and was pretty excited to pull into the parking lot of Lambeau Field. The lot was open, so we parked and walked into the entry way quickly to check things out and then walked through the pro shop. The kids thought it was pretty cool, so I am glad we made the short detour to check it out on our way up to Door County.

We arrived at Tranquil Timbers campground around 5:00 pm on a Sunday evening to find a super easy campsite to back into and were set up in just a few minutes. However, 2 sites down looked like a full weekend fraternity party that was just getting ramped up. Luckily we weren’t right next to them.

Anyways, I headed out on my road bike within an hour and Lynn and the boys headed for the pool. I tell you what, I really enjoyed the ride. I found a little connector trail to the the state park, where I rode a loop all the way around the park before finding another little connector to a road that would take me into town. I crossed the bridge in town near the harbors and then rode out of town a few miles to check things out for a ride I was planning for the next day. I was planning a longer ride for the following day and didn’t want to waste time, figuring out my way around town. I was also curious and didn’t feel like sitting around camp either.

By the time I got back from my ride and cleaned up, evening had set in and it was too hot to mess with a campfire. We made some dinner and then settled in for the night. The kids didn’t really want to get to bed as they were all geeked up about the swimming pool, mini-golf, soccer field and pool table at the clubhouse. We usually camp at state parks, so this was all a bit of treat for them. By the way, the fraternity party actually simmered down around quiet hours and didn’t turn out to be as bad as I thought it was ramping up to be.

Day 2 of Visiting Door County

Exploring Door County By Bike and A Campfire

After some coffee and breakfast with Lynn and the kids, I gathered up my bike gear and headed off to explore Door County. I ended up pedaling 94 miles around the Door County Peninsula on my bicycle. I wrote up a full ride report with pictures over on my other site, Endurance Path. There is a link at the bottom of this article to that ride report, incase you are interested.

While I was out, the kids played in the swimming pool, played pool and used the soccer field nets. It sounded like they kept Lynn quite busy with activities. When I got back we jumped in the truck and took a quick drive into town, so I could show the kids the ship building ports and some of the harbor area. We didn’t get out, but I just wanted them to see some of the stuff and we could figure out what we wanted to check out the next day.

visiting door county

We had a nice campfire when we returned… cooked some hot dogs, brats, made s’mores and just enjoyed watching the kids burn up marshmallows. We all headed in for the night to get the kids to sleep and I got my laptop out to work on a few things before going to bed myself. I rarely completely shut down. I think most people see my trips reports and the race reports over on my other site and think we’re just in a lala land of neverending play time, but we are usually busy working on various projects in the background.

Day 3 of Visiting Door County

Boats, A Museum and Driving Door County

Our mornings in the camper as you may have figured out are about the same every day and actually, not that different than when we are at home. It usually involves me waking up first, starting some coffee, making some eggs and grabbing my laptop. I have been working on some mountain bike training plans for my fitness coaching and personal trainer business and I spent a little time on them in the morning before everyone else crawled out of bed.

Today was our family day to find a museum and take a little drive. My bike ride, the previous day was handy, as I saved the family a few miles of driving around because I was able to scope out what they might be interested in seeing or not. We did have some other business to attend to before heading out though. The boys wanted to play some pool in the club house and then go swimming in the pool. Kyle is pretty much on the verge of being able to swim and was able to make it across the pool with a mix of doggy paddling, frantic arm movements and pure will power. I was proud to see him keep trying till he made it.

visiting door county

Our first stop, once we headed out on our little Door County tour, was downtown Sturgeon Bay to check out the tug boats and walk across the bridge in town by the harbor. There were some pretty big boats in the marina, but the kids didn’t find them as interesting as I thought they would. I like the harbors, just because I spent most of my summers boating and hanging out in a harbor town as a kid. I just like the relaxed atmosphere.

visiting door county

After that, we headed for our main stop; the Door County Historical Museum. The kids love museums and this turned out to be a good one. They had old fire trucks, lots of old pictures and local artifacts. The downstairs was a really cool set up with little sections almost set up like a little downtown and each area or building had its own theme. Some was old kitchen tools, old garage or farms tools, black smith stuff, etc… Upstairs had a lot of history about fishing in the area which is always a hit with us.

I didn’t figure we would make any other stops, but we did want to drive out to the end of the Door County Peninsula while we were there. It really wasn’t that far of a drive out to the end. There was a small maritime museum, but we didn’t go in. I did grab a picture of an old fishing boat that was out there and then we drove down by the harbor. There really wasn’t a whole lot out there, but a couple tourist shops and a place to eat. I suppose it would be a nice little stop if you were into the restaurants and tourist type stuff.

visiting door county

We did find a little county park on our way back south that had a great lookout. It was pretty high up, but we could see and hear a bass boat going by down below. It was getting slammed around quite a bit in the waves. It was probably a bit too rough for an actual bass boat on that larger body of water. This lookout point is where we took the family selfie at the top of the article. We eventually made our way back to Sturgeon Bay through the small towns of Ephraim, Fish Creek and Egg Harbor.

We finished the evening off by meeting some really nice people from Idaho by the name of Nicole and Doug that were camping next to us. They were great people and even invited us to visit them and take us white water rafting if we ever made it to Idaho. Just like I really enjoy meeting all the great people around the mountain bike community; I also enjoy the same in the rest of our travels.

I bring this up, because I see people post so much negative stuff about people out there on social media and it drives me nuts. I’ve met a lot of great people and there is a lot of good in this world. If you are not running into good and positive people, then you are just not in the right place physically or mentally, for that matter. Anyways we always seem to run into some really nice people wherever we go.

Day 4 of Visiting Door County

Time To Leave Door County

After some breakfast, coffee and a little bit of computer work in the morning, we packed up and headed for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Summary

We enjoyed visiting Door County, even though it wasn’t exactly what I expected. I am not sure what I was expecting anyways. There seems to be quite a bit of camping and hiking, but I could also see it being very busy on the weekends. If you are into wine and like cherries, then you would probably really like a visit here. You can even pick your own cherries on some of the farms. The small harbor towns are nice also if you like to stop into ice cream shops, little pubs and enjoy eating out.

Biking Door County Ride Report

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First Canoe And Fishing Trip Of 2016

fishing trip

Yes, our first canoe fishing trip of the season was successful! We covered 2 different lakes, but the first lake was a very short journey. We started the morning by checking out a small lake a few miles down the road from us. After paddling all the way across the lake to find out it wasn’t more than 4 to 5 feet deep, we pulled the canoe out and headed for a familiar lake a few mile further away.

first canoe

Getting Back To Our First Canoe Fishing Spot In Minnesota

I knew right where to go, once we got the canoe in the water. There is a bit of a point just across from the boat launch that drops off quick, but the shore is lined with lily pads and cat tails. We headed across and dropped our anchor. I personally like to drift, but I find it a lot easier to just drop the anchor when the kids are in the canoe. Reid immediately hooked into a nice blue gill with his #8 hook and sinker set up. Kyle had the same set up, but I think it was sitting right on the bottom and took a little while before he brought one in.

Meanwhile, I was getting myself set up with a rapala to do some casting along the shoreline. It was an overcast day, but I threw on my go to floating shallow diver that is silver with a light blue back on it. On about the 10th cast up near the lily pads, I had a nice little small mouth jump on it. I knew he was going to hit it. He came out of the water a couple feet away from where my lure landed and he hit it just as I started to reel. I thought about keeping him, but then he shook out of my hand and off into the water.

I handed the rod to Lynn, so she could do some casting and I set up another rod with a hook and bobber to cast up closer. The kids were not getting any more bites, but we had drifted out to the end of our anchor line and were a bit off the shore at this point. I tossed the bobber up closer as a little test and sure enough, I was able to pull a couple sunfish in right away. We pulled up the anchor and paddled up real close to the edge of the lily pads before dropping it back in.

I handed the line with the bobber over to Lynn at this point and tried out a little deeper diving rapala that was silver and black. I actually had a crappie hit it, but lost him right near the side of the canoe. I cast for a little longer, but kept pulling up weeds and went back to my shallow diver with blue. The kids were pulling in a mix of sunfish and blue gills at this point and were staying entertained. I spent a little time teaching Kyle how to cast with the larger open face reel, but that is tough to do with 4 of us in a canoe. He eventually went back to his simple hook and sinker.

We had stacked up enough sunfish and blue gill for a meal at this point and I did some more casting. I had a nice hit and it dragged the line right to the bottom. I figured it was a nice northern pike. Sure enough it was as I pulled him near the surface, just before started ripping line out again in another dive. Lynn and the boys all pulled their lines up, so we didn’t end up with a tangled mess as I finessed the pike. I had him up near the boat a couple times and then he dove back to the bottom again.

I tried to net him one time, but the net folded back under him. The net is one of those foldable and collapsable nets and it wasn’t locked in. Lynn got the net locked in and took another stab at the pike as I pulled him back up again. She was able to get him in the net and almost hit me in the face with the netted up pike and rapala as she swung it into the canoe. This fish was mad and scared the boys a bit as it slammed the floor of the canoe a few times right at their feet.

first canoe

It was a nice northern pike around 28″ and would be perfect for dinner. I debated tossing him back in, but I haven’t had a northern in a really long time. I kept him as it would be the perfect dinner for the 4 of us and we could save the blue gill for dinner later in the week. The boys were really excited about their blue gill, because they caught all the blue gill with worms they found in the back yard. They have a worm farm box that they had collected a bunch of worms in while we were digging holes for a bunch of trees we planted a few weeks ago.

The boys had been asking about going fishing the last couple weekends and I was glad I could get them out. I thought we would outgrow our canoe by now, but it is still working out great and I think it will get us through another summer without a problem. Speaking of summer… We’re not quite there yet and I’m looking forward to a few more of these trips. We were really only gone for a few hours in total. It is nice to have so many lakes around us to be able to get a quick fishing trip in without taking up the entire day. We’ll keep you posted on our outdoor adventures throughout the summer and in the mean time, we would like to hear about your fishing stories. Head on over to our Facebook Page and post up some of your fishing pictures and stories.

Also, I can’t end this post without mentioning this… It is Memorial Day Weekend and many of us are spending time with family, fishing, biking, camping or whatever it is that you do with your friends and family. Many things we do for recreation are done in other places of the world under dangerous conditions and for pure survival from day to day. The way we enjoy these things as recreation would not be possible without the Men and Women that have fought and still do fight today to defend the freedoms we have in this country.

Words are not enough, but Thank You for defending our freedom so that I can have the opportunity to safely take my family out on a trip like this, not to mention do all the other fun things that we do. I hope you all had a nice weekend, but don’t pass the weekend up without thinking of those families that have an empty seat at their picnic table, in their canoe or on their patio from a loved one that gave their life so you and I could enjoy a long weekend with our families.

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Dinosaurs, History and Murals – Tucumcari, New Mexico

Tucumcari

Tucumcari, New Mexico is not a pass thru town. We randomly stopped in Tucumcari for 2 nights to break up our 3 day drive home from Arizona. We found ourselves at a KOA campground, just off the highway in Tucumcari. This KOA was really nice and they even escorted us to our campsite, to make sure we got pulled in ok. The folks at the KOA also told us about a Dinosaur Museum and Historical Museum in town. We were in luck! Our site seeing for the vacation was not over yet.

Tucumcari

A Full Day In Tucumcari, New Mexico

Driving Thru Tucumcari

We woke up the next morning ready for a tour of Tucumcari, New Mexico. Tucumcari was a classic old route 66 town. There were a few abandoned old service stations, drive-ins and motels that appeared to have been left untouched since the early days of route 66. We kind of felt like we went back in time a little bit. Some of the old service stations had old classic cars parked around them. It was kind of interesting driving around, checking out the old route 66 nostalgia mixed with the modern small town.

Tucumcari

Dinosaurs In Tucumcari

We made our way into the Dinosaur Museum to find a really great collection. It was not a very big Museum, but there was plenty to check out and the boys had a great time. There were some interesting displays of dinosaur bones, human skulls and fossils. I am intrigued by the dinosaurs a bit, but have never really spent time on the subject. I guess there is a curiosity of their place in history as all we have is the bones and carbon dating.

Tucumcari

The Future Tucumcari Railroad Museum

We left the Dinosaur Museum and went looking for the old rail station. We were told that another museum was getting put in at the rail station. The museum wasn’t open yet, but we could tell work was being done and the outside of the building had been restored. We looked in the windows and could see a couple displays being set up. There was also a cool mural on a building across the street with Union Pacific’s logo in the center.

Tucumcari

The Tucumcari Historical Museum

Our next stop was the Tucumcari Historical Museum. The museum was really nothing more than one of the old city buildings turned into a storage and display facility for all kinds of artifacts. There were old fence pieces, firearms, an original wooden water line, kitchen stuff, books, school items, etc… It was really, really cool. If you come thru the town, I suggest you stop in and take a look. I could have spent a lot more time in there, but a 6 and 8 year old can only spend so much time looking at this type of stuff. There was some neat stuff around the yard as well, like an old wagon, farm equipment and old caboose. I was fascinated by it.

Tucumcari

The Murals of Tucumcari

It was at the museum that we learned of the painted murals around town. I had seen the one by the old rail station, but didn’t think anything of it until the folks at the museum told us about more of them around town. We actually went looking for a few more of them that they mentioned. There was one that had the eyes of people from town painted on the side of building. I guess these people could pay to have their eyes painted in the mural.

Tucumcari

Happy To Find Tucumcari

Tucumcari, New Mexico turned out to be a neat little town with some hidden gems that we were definitely happy to have stumbled upon. We had 2 more days of long driving ahead of us yet and headed back to the campground to hang out for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Until next time, keep on exploring… You never know what you are going to find!

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Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings Trip Report

Walnut Canyon

Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings National Monument is located just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona and we had plenty of time to check it out and make it back to camp to unwind for the evening. Walnut Canyon would also be our 3rd National Monument visit on the day, but the kids were excited for another Jr. Ranger Badge. We stopped into the visitor center to pick up the Jr. Ranger workbooks and spent some time learning about the cliff dwellings and history of Walnut Canyon, before making the hike down into the canyon.

Going Into Walnut Canyon

walnut canyon cliff dwellings

There are 2 hikes at Walnut Canyon National Monument. 1 hike is up on the rim and the other goes down into the canyon by some of the cliff dwellings. Although more strenuous, the kids were up for the hike down into the canyon as they also wanted a closer look. The path down into the canyon follows right along the edge of the canyon walls with steep drop offs protected only by a hand railing, so we kept the kids close.

Walnut Canyon Walls Scattered With Cliff Dwellings

walnut canyon cliff dwellings

As we dropped into the canyon, we could immediately start seeing cliff dwellings scattered along the canyon walls across the canyon. I was baffled at how you could even get to these dwellings, let alone carry materials to and from them for construction. It would have been a lot of work carrying food and water back and forth and it seems like climbing and ladders would have been a requirement. I could see why you would build there from a security standpoint, but that would have been tough getting to and from, especially with kids.

Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings Up Close

walnut canyon cliff dwellings

The hike goes down into Walnut Canyon and then circles around an island type structure in the canyon, lined with cliff dwellings that you walk right along side of. It is fascinating to see the old smoke stains on the overhanging rock that would have been the ceilings of these cliff dwelling homes. My kids were cracking me up as they discussed with one another which rooms they would have taken for themselves.

Destroyed Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings

walnut canyon cliff dwellings

It is really great that many of these have been preserved or closed off to entry for us to still walk by and enjoy. We were reminded of this privilege as we walked by the rubble remains of dwellings that were scavenged by settlers and explorers in the late 1800s looking for artifacts. It is nice that they were able to find some artifacts, but that history is gone and all that remains is the rubble. I am all about looking ahead to the future, but I don’t think you can look ahead to the future without reflecting on the past so that you can appreciate the present. I am happy that many of these have been preserved for us view today.

Climing Out of The Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings Hike

What goes down into the canyon, must come back out and we had to climb the stairs back out of the canyon. It really was not a bad hike at all, to be honest. It was fairly short and the kids didn’t have much of an issue with it either. I highly recommend doing the hike into the canyon if you visit. It lets you get a little more up close and personal, versus having to see all the dwellings from a distance up on the canyon rim.

Jr. Ranger Badges From Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings

We stopped back into the visitor center for the kids to finish up their Jr. Ranger packets and pick up their Jr. Ranger Badges. They were a bit excited as these were their 3rd Jr. Ranger Badges on the day. The program really helps keep them more engaged in the park. I tend to linger around some of this stuff, trying to learn more about it and the kids could get quite bored following me around if they didn’t have these packets to fill out in an effort to earn their badges.

It was a quick trip, but well worth it. I would highly recommend stopping by Walnut Canyon National Monument if you are coming through Flagstaff. Flagstaff is a great basecamp with all the National Parks in close proximity. This was our last National Park for the trip, but stay tuned for a short report on our day spent in Tucumcari, New Mexico on our way home.

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Visiting Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments In Arizona

Wupatki National Monument

We woke up to another crisp morning in Flagstaff, Arizona with more National Park visits on the agenda. We did not spend much time around camp in the morning, before heading north on HWY 89 out of Flagstaff to hit the north entrance of Wupatki National Monument. We figured we would work our way south from there back to Flagstaff. It is a desolate area and the first site that we pulled into along the park road was the Box Canyon Dwellings and Lomaki Pueblo.  They were just a short hike off the small parking area and we were able to walk right up to them.

Box Canyon and Lomaki Pueblo

Wupatki National Monument

There were 2 structures on either side of Box Canyon, known as the Box Canyon Dwellings. These were the most fascinating to me at this point on our road trip as they were in a very natural state. There was no touristy feel here. It was rugged and natural, just like they were found. You could picture why the natives would have settled along this small canyon. It is still amazing to me how much of the structure has avoided erosion over the last 1000 years.

Wupatki National Monument

We headed down the path a little further to the Lomaki Pueblo, that was a little more intact and larger. It had a few rooms and one of them had a little opening door in it. This was different than most of the pueblos that we had seen. Many did not have doors through the walls, but would of had a roof entry instead. The red rock is beautiful and pictures do not do these places justice, like standing right next to them.

I suppose many people may drive through the park road and miss this turn off and head straight for the main visitor center located at the Wupatki Pueblo, but I am glad we stopped to check out Box Canyon Dwellings and Lomaki Pueblo. We find some of the best sites, by turning off the main road. We jumped back in the truck and headed for the main visitor center. We did pull off quickly to take a look at Nalakihu and Citadel Pueblos, which are along the main route through the park.

Citadel and Nalakihu Pueblos

Wupatki National Monument

These are easy to spot as Citadel sits up on a small hill right off the road. The location of many pueblos and small dwellings are right out in the open. I found it interesting, because one might assume that people in those days would build their shelters with more coverage and hidden. I think the wild west has been engrained in our head with stories of fighting and wars with the natives that lived on the land, but based on the locations of structures from long ago… I would have to assume these were fairly civil people and they did not have many fears of being under attack from anyone.

Wupatki Pubelo

Wupatki National Monument
At any rate, we made our way to the main visitor center located at the Wupatki Pueblo, the main pueblo ruin of the park.  The kids picked up their Jr. Ranger packets to fill out and we headed outside to check out the pueblo ruins. We stopped and had a really interesting conversation with a volunteer park ranger on the way down to the ruins, about the area. He said he loved coming out here and told us more about the history and area.  You can only learn so much about something by reading the signs and it is great to talk to local people and find out more.

He was telling us about the original park ranger that came out and discovered the abandoned pueblos on the land in the late 1800s. He said that the original ranger and his wife actually lived in one of the rooms for a short period, before building a home nearby before his wife had a baby. The original ranger was working to get the land protected as a national monument as people were starting to loot and take artifacts from the area. Some people don’t like that the Federal Government owns and protects land, but if our government did not protect some of the land; you and I would not be able to have these experiences and gain first hand history lessons.

The volunteer ranger also told us about some of the unknown things about the area. Apparently, the local Hopi Tribe, who are ancestors to the original natives of this land, know more about the history and why their ancestors left some of the land, but they won’t share all that history. I don’t blame them either. The mystery is interesting and keep in mind that they lived on this land for many years, before folks from the railroads and settlers came through and claimed the land that was their home. These people instantly became trespassers on their own land.

Wupatki National Monument

At any rate, we had an interesting conversation and then made our way around the Wupatki Pueblo ruins. This is a really neat structure that you can see where rooms were added over time. You can also see where they may have had fires for cooking in certain rooms and other gathering areas. You have to go see this stuff for yourself. That being said… I guess not everybody is going to appreciate it as much as the next. We all have our interests in various things today, but sometimes everybody needs to look into the past to put life today in perspective.

The boys finished their Jr. Ranger packets while we spent some time in the visitor center museum looking at the various artifacts and reading about the history of the area. The other thing, I find interesting is the perspective of time. We tend to think of time in centuries and 100 years being a long time ago. In all reality, 100 years ago wasn’t very long ago. Civilization has changed a tremendous amount in the last 100 years and there is no telling what things will look like in another 100 years. It is fascinating to see and learn about civilization from 1000 years ago and see that it hadn’t really changed much for 1000 years or more.

People were thankful for the land, because it provided them with everything they needed. When they left there homes to migrate to new places, they left them as they were to be reabsorbed back into the land. It was a tough life, but a simple life and they appreciated everything that they had. They worked together as communities and took care of each other. I would love to go back and spend some time with the local ancestors of the natives and learn more first hand. Maybe someday I can make that happen.

Wukoki Pueblo

Wupatki National Monument

There was still one more stop on our way out of the park and that was Wukoki Pueblo. Once again, built up on a hill out in the open. You could walk up real close around this one and even into one of the rooms where I took a picture through a window opening in the wall. My son Kyle, really thought these were neat. I could tell he enjoyed picturing life in those times as well. We had a little picnic in the parking lot on the tailgate of the truck and got back on the road again.

Wupatki National Monument
We were finished with our visit to Wupatki National Monument and would stop at Sunset Crater National Monument on our way back to Flagstaff. I combined the trip reports for Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments since they are very close together and you are likely to drive through one of them to get to the other. We had never been to a volcano before, so this was a first for all of us.

Sunset Crater National Monument

Sunset Crater National Monument

We came into Sunset Crater National Monument from the east as we were leaving Wupatki National Monument and pulled off at the Cinder Hills Overlook to get a nice view of the volcano. You could see all the old volcanic rock around and most of the volcano was barren of any vegetation.  We didn’t get out of the truck, but just took a couple pictures and then got on our way.

Around the west side of the volcano, we found the Lava Flow Trail parking area where we got out and took the 1 mile hike through the Lava field around the base of the volcano. This was really cool. Like I said, I had never been to a volcano field before and the only lava rock I had ever seen was just small rocks in school or a museum or something growing up. It was pretty fascinating to walk through an entire field of it. Almost felt like you were on another planet. I thought it was really cool to see areas where the lava was probably starting to cool and build up as more lava was flowing into it. Almost like ice build up on the shores of Lake Superior in the winter, but with porous lava rock instead.

We stopped at the visitor center to check out the museum and the boys earned another Jr. Ranger badge. They were really getting a kick out of the whole Jr. Ranger badge program. I think I said this earlier, it does take some extra time, but it really helps the kids get engaged in the parks. There were a couple other trails that we could have hiked through other parts of the lava field, but we opted to get on our way back toward Flagstaff.

I hope you are enjoying the pictures and the chronicles of the trip. I probably have a couple more trip reports, before wrapping up our spring break trip series. Stay tuned for our visit to Walnut Canyon National Monument and our day spent in the town of Tucumcari, New Mexico. I’ll try to have these all wrapped up in the next couple of weeks.

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Tuzigoot National Monument Trip Report

We had been to Montezuma Castle National Monument earlier in the day, but didn’t want to leave the area without stopping at Tuzigoot National Monument as well.  Montezuma Castle seemed to be the more popular Monument that we had heard about in the past, but based on what I had read about Tuzigoot on the National Park Services website; Tuzigoot was going to be really interesting and just as good as Montezuma Castle.

Arriving At Tuzigoot National Monument

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We arrived at Tuzigoot National Monument to find plenty of parking left in the small lot and we could see the old Pueblo Ruins up on the hill, as we drove up.  We went into the museum first to show the Ranger our annual pass and ask about the Jr. Ranger Program.  He actually gave us the badges for Montezuma Castle, that we could give the kids after they finished their workbooks, instead of having to mail them in.

Museum At Tuzigoot National Monument

We spent about a half hour inside the little museum looking at all the artifacts, helping the kids with their Jr. Ranger booklets and learning about the site prior to heading out to see the ruins.  I found the little museum with all the artifacts really interesting.  It is all stuff that had been found locally and / or right on the Tuzigoot site during excavation and preservation activities.  It is really amazing to see pottery pieces and tools from so long ago.  Apparently, people had abandoned the area around 1400 A.D. according to the National Park Service.

Exploring The Tuzigoot Pueblo

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It was a short walk up the hill to the ruins where we were able to get up close and personal with them.  There are sidewalks around the edge and you are able to walk right up next to the walls and even walk in a couple of the rooms.  Again, this was fascinating to put yourself in the very place, but still so very difficult to imagine living life this way.  I am intrigued by the simplicity.

One of the things that just kept bothering me was the fact that there were no doors.  They had solid walls and entry or exit was via a hole in the roof.  Ladders were used to get to the roof and then down into the room.  I couldn’t figure out why they were not built with a doorway opening in the wall.  They would use the flat roofs to collect rain water.  I could also see that it was a nice security feature to be able to pull your ladder up at night, making it more difficult for intruders to break in.

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We were able to go into one room that had been reconstructed with a roof and actually go up to the roof to look out.  We could see for miles from there and apparently the original natives of these homes had lines of sight from their roof tops to other families or villages in Pueblos across the valley.  The Ranger told us they could communicate with reflective light signals across the valley.

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Tuzigoot National Monument was a ruins from what once was a huge construction of Pueblos to form a large community.  We could see how they kept building onto the structure over time and that it had over 100 rooms at one time.  The kids had more questions to answer in their Jr. Ranger booklets before we headed back into the museum and this helped with the learning experience of the visit as well.  They were able to stop back in the Museum to see the Ranger for their badges before we left and wanted to know what National Park we could go to next to get another Jr. Ranger badge.

Final Thoughts On Tuzigoot National Monument

This was a little shorter of a post, but I thought Tuzigoot National Monument was worthy of its own little write-up.  If you are planning to go to Montezuma Castle, then I would definitely add Tuzigoot to the visit.  Tuzigoot is not preserved as well as Montezuma Castle, but you are able to get up close and personal with the ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument, which provided us with an entirely different experience.

We left here to head up through Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, making our way back to Flagstaff.  Stay tuned as we still had a few more National Parks in the area that we visited before heading back north.

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Montezuma Castle National Monument Trip Report

Montezuma Castle

We were set up at the KOA campground in Flagstaff, Arizona for 4 nights and ready to visit some National Parks.  Montezuma Castle was one of the well known cliff dwellings in the area and had always been on my list of places that I wanted to visit.  Little known Montezuma Well is not that far away and also part of the Montezuma National Monument. Flagstaff is a good home base to a handful of National Parks in the area, as you will see with my next few trip reports.

Montezuma Castle

We arrived at Montezuma Castle late in the morning and had a tough time finding parking.  The parking area is really small and people were parking up the road already.  We made one more pass around the lot and ended up finding a spot.  I am not real sure what you do here if you happen to be in an RV or passing thru with a travel trailer.

It was quite busy inside the visitor center, but we had purchased a National Park Annual Pass at the Petrified Forest and were able to get through the line quickly.  We had recently learned of the Junior Ranger Program and picked up the questionnaire packets for the kids to fill out.  The questions were actually quite extensive and they told us that we can take them with us and then mail them in to get the kids’ badges.

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I was getting antsy to get out and see the cliff dwellings myself and started herding Lynn and the boys out the door onto the walking path toward the castle.  The first one you see is the famous cliff dwelling that you have probably seen pictures of in many publications.  You can’t go in any of the cliff dwellings anymore to avoid breakdown and erosion of them.  Years ago, they used to let people climb up into them on ladders.  Now they are only entered for inspection and some preservation.

I read somewhere, and I can’t remember now if it was at Montezuma Castle or at one of the other National Parks…  But, they have stopped doing reconstruction on old ruins and just do preservation now.  I believe some of this has to do with respect of the original people that built these places.  The original natives who built these homes had great respect for the land and leaving their homes and land in a natural state when they moved on.  Many of the ancestors to these original tribes return to these sites each year to pay their respect.

It was really cool to see and you might get tired of hearing me say this, but I just really get enjoyment out of seeing and visiting places like this.  I have so much respect for the people that built and lived in these dwellings and how they lived off of and respected the land so much.  It is really hard to appreciate from pictures alone and you really need to go out and see these places in person.  I only wish I had more time to learn about them myself.  I am quite fascinated by them.

At any rate, we got a couple of photos of the site and just hung out a little bit.  We stopped and read the kiosk signs to learn what we could in our short visit.  The kids had a lot of questions and I think that is what really makes it enjoyable.  They ask some great questions and it forces you to stop and do some reading to understand it yourself so you can answer them.

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We continued our way around the path to the base of another dwelling that you could walk up to the bottom edge of.  This one was not nearly as well preserved as the main Montezuma Castle, but it was neat that you could get right up next to it.  You could see the remnants of its old walls working their way up the side of the cliff.  It must have been a few stories high at one time.  There were also remnants of much smaller 1 room dwellings scattered around the cliff edges, taking advantage of every nook and cranny of the cliff walls.

We take things for granted with our lumbar yards, manufactured cabinets and appliances; but these people built everything they owned and used, with their bare hands out of the very ground surrounding them.  It is pretty amazing.  I badly wanted to go inside and explore the cliff dwellings to really set myself back in time, but completely understand why they have been closed off to the public.  It is great that they will be around for many future generations to visit and appreciate.

We found a bench to sit on and helped the kids work through their Junior Ranger booklets for a few minutes, but also wanted to see some other things that day and decided to keep moving.  The next stop does not get nearly the attention that Montezuma Castle does, but is actually considered part of Montezuma National Park.  It is called Montezuma Well and is less than 20 minutes from Montezuma Castle.

Montezuma Well

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We arrived here to find a spot in a small parking lot and only a very small guard shack as a Ranger Station.  There is a nice side walk path up to the top of the well, that is basically a very large hole in the ground that is fed by a spring underground.  At the top, we found the Park Ranger with a spotting scope set up on an owl that was perched up in a spot on the edge of the wall.  The Park Ranger was really nice and let the kids take a look at the owl through her spotting scope.

The water does not fill up the hole and the walls of the crater have a few cliff dwellings scattered around them.  There was a trail down into the bottom of the well and I started working to recruit one of the boys to join me for the short hike down to the bottom.  It isn’t that far, but you gotta climb back out of it and the kids are learning to pace their hiking out throughout the day.  We still had another National Park stop after this.

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Reid and I headed down the path to the bottom of the well to check things out.  We found another dwelling at the bottom that you could walk right up next to.  It was quite interesting to see old graffiti from the late 1800s.  We think of that as a long time ago, but places like this were just being discovered by settlers during those times and they had treated the canyon walls like the bathroom wall of a rest stop.  Times haven’t changed I guess…

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We made our way back out of the well hole and headed back to the truck.  We finished our way around the walking path on the way back to the truck to find a pueblo ruin on the hillside, just off the edge of the well.  It is pretty neat, because you can imagine their being an entire community around this water hole.  Glad we took the long way back to the parking lot!

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We had some lunch on the tail gate of the truck in the parking lot and then on our way out,  we also found the old irrigation ditch that ran from the water in the well.  Apparently, a few of the locals along this old irrigation ditch still use some of the water for their gardens.  I guess this well is pretty consistent with its water flow, even during all the times of drought.

Montezuma Castle and Well were both really neat and I may have actually enjoyed Montezuma Well even more than the Castle.  I think only because it felt a bit more up close and personal and less people around.  Montezuma Well was also in a bit more of a natural setting as the Castle had a much more touristy type feel to it.  Regardless, I really enjoyed both places and it was a great up close and personal history lesson for the kids.

Our next stop was Tuzigoot National Park, but I’ll write that up on its own.  It will probably be a little shorter, but it was really cool and deserves its own attention.

Reference Links

Montezuma Castle – www.nps.gov/moca/index.htm

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A Quick Visit To The Grand Canyon And Desert View Drive

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So there we were on day 5 of our trip, waiting for a phone call from our travel trailer’s frame manufacturer for an update on the arrival time of the service technician.  We were supposed to be at the Grand Canyon on the evening of day 3 and leaving on day 6 to head to a mountain bike race up in Utah.  We got the phone call to find out they wouldn’t be there till Friday morning… again, this whole ordeal will get its own post sometime in the future.

At any rate, I would never make the race, since I had to check in Friday afternoon.  We decided to leave the trailer at the KOA in Holbrook and pack some things in the truck and hotel it for the next few days and continue our journey.  I think we were able to leave the KOA in Holbrook, Arizona by 2:00 pm and were headed for the Grand Canyon.  We were not real sure where we would end up that night, but the Grand Canyon was our first stop and then we would work our way toward St. George, Utah where I needed to be for my race check-in by the next afternoon.

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We made it to Grand Canyon National Park with plenty of daylight to walk the rim and enjoy the spectacular scenery of the canyon walls.  It was pretty busy, but we actually found a parking spot right up close.  I think it was toward the end of the day and people may have been starting to leave.  The visitor center was closed and we headed for the Mather Point lookout, which was the closest viewing point of the Grand Canyon from the visitor center where we parked.

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I gotta say, the view of the Grand Canyon was spectacular.  It actually takes a few minutes to digest how deep the canyon actually is.  It is not until you start scanning the canyon walls and seeing the canyons within the canyons that you realize how big the Grand Canyon actually is.  When you first look down, you see what initially appears to be the bottom of the canyon.  At closer look, you see more canyons dropping out from what you think is the bottom and that is when you realize how deep the Grand Canyon really is, which is somewhere over a mile at its greatest depth.

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We, of course, took some family selfies and had someone else take a picture of us, along with just some random shots of the canyon.  Looking back at the pictures, they really don’t do it any justice at all.  You’ve got to see it in person to really appreciate.  We meandered along the rim path, checking out some more of the overlook points along the way.  We stopped at one where you could hike down to a rocky point and I made my way down to the edge while Lynn and the kids waited for me up on the walking path.

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After the rim walk, there wasn’t much more that we were going to do and we needed to start making our way to toward St. George, Utah.  We jumped back in the truck and started heading west on Desert View Drive along the south edge of the Grand Canyon Rim.  This was a nice drive with more lookouts and we saw Elk along the road and back in the woods in a few different spots along the drive.

We did stop off at a couple of the lookouts and I was able to get a nice family photo by setting my iPhone on the tailgate of my truck.  There was another lookout that I got a really cool picture of a neat looking tree with the canyon in the background.  The sun was setting and the light looked really cool.

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There is also a pull off called Tusayan Museum and Ruin, but the Museum was closed already.  We did take a quick walk around the ruins, which were very similar to the old Pueblo ruins in Petrified Forest National Park.  It was getting dark at this point, so I didn’t get any good pictures.  I could walk around or see these every day and still be fascinated by them.  It is hard to imagine what life was like then and pictures and books just don’t do it justice, like walking around and seeing in person.  I try to put myself back in time and imagine building one myself and living in it with my family.

We’ve got it pretty easy today in the grand scheme of things.  Our only problems are mostly created by stuff that we own, that quite honestly we could do without.  Back in the times where people were building their homes out of the very earth they were building on, they had real things to worry about like; where their water was coming from, having enough food to eat, having fertile ground to grow fruits and vegetable, etc…  At any rate, I never appreciated history when I was growing up, but I really like to get out and experience it today.  I try to take some time to help the kids understand it as well at the same time.  I hope they appreciate it or at least look back some day and appreciate it in hind sight.

That was about it for our Grand Canyon National Park Tour.  It was getting dark by the time we passed by the Desert View overlook and we made our way out of the park toward St. George, Utah.  We ended up staying in Page, Utah for the night and finishing the drive in the morning.  I was happy to be able to make it to my race and still take the family to the Grand Canyon.  We did have to change our vacation plans for after race, since we had to go back to Holbrook, Arizona to get the camper.  Stay tuned for the following trip reports to see where we ended up next.  Hint, it involves more National Parks…!

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Visiting Meteor Crater in Arizona

We had planned to stop at Meteor Crater after Petrified Forest the day before, but our trailer issues stopped us from making it that far.  We were now in day 4 of our visit and had been hanging around the KOA in Holbrook, Arizona all day waiting for the repair person from the trailer frame manufacture to arrive.  After finding out from the manufacture that in fact, nobody was coming today…  (more on this in a dedicated trailer issue post), we jumped in our truck and headed down the highway to see Meteor Crater before it would close for the day.

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Getting Into Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater was only a little over an hour away from Holbrook and we would have plenty of time to see what we wanted to see when we arrived.  Meteor Crater is just west of Winslow, Arizona and out in the middle of the desert and only a few miles off the main highway.  A quick note to those looking to visit Meteor Crater.  Meteor Crater is privately owned and operated by the Barringer family and not a National Park, although it is designated as a National Natural Landmark.

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Viewing Meteor Crater

There are multiple viewing platforms and a museum for the crater.  We first went to the crater and made our way up to the top platform for the high view.  The crater is not quite a mile all the way across the crater and over 500 feet deep.  We’ve had the telescope out in the back yard with the boys before to see the craters on the moon, so this was a really neat experience for them to see one close up on planet earth.  They had all kinds of questions about the meteor that made this crater, what direction it came from, what was at the bottom of the crater, etc… so we went inside the museum to see what we could learn.

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The Museum At Meteor Crater

Inside the museum was a lot of historical information about the the crater and the scientist Daniel Barringer, who was the first to suggest the crater was made from a meteor impact.  It was interesting to read about the original history of Barringer exploring the crater, to find out how it was formed and then proving out that it was formed by a meteor impact.  There was a nice 10 minute movie to watch about it all also.  We arrived too late for it, but there is also a guided walking tour that goes out a little bit around the edge that I am sure provides some more personal explanation of the crater and the history behind the discovery and exploration of it.  Inside the museum is also a big chunk of the crater that is mostly nickel and iron.  Kind of cool to touch something that came direct from outer space!

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One Last Look At Meteor Crater

We headed back out to the crater overlooks to try and find some of the spots on the crater that we learned about in the museum.  They had binoculars set up on the platforms to see some of the different spots.  You could find the old trail that was used to haul stuff down into the bottom of the crater and also see the drilling holes from drilling that took place in the bottom during investigation and exploration of the site.  There is a statue of an astronaut with a flag at the bottom as well, to help give a better perception of the size of the crater.  NASA has used the location for various testing operations, so the astronaut and flag statue is fitting.

Final Thoughts

It was a short visit, but I thought it was worth a quick post to share our experience.  If you are passing through the area or within a couple hours, I think it is worth your visit.  I wish we would have gotten there early enough to make the guided tour and spend a little more time in the museum.  My mind was also a bit preoccupied with our travel trailer issue, so I wasn’t as focused on the crater visit as I would like to have been.  That being said, the kids thought is was really cool and enjoyed the museum portion.  There was a few interactive things in the museum and I think they really enjoy learning about things up close and personal and on site.

I shared this photo, because I thought it was kind of a cool little natural photo frame of the desert view just outside the museum…

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Petrified Forest National Park Trip Report

After nearly 1,500 miles of driving, we arrived at Petrified Forest National Park.  The Petrified Forest would be our first National Park and major site seeing destination of our 2 week spring break trip.  It was the morning of our 3rd day and we were headed to the Grand Canyon that evening.  We honestly did not have big expectations for our visit to Petrified Forest and were just planning to quickly pass through the park, since we were traveling through.  Our visit would take an interesting turn of events after discovering some major issues with our travel trailer while in the park, that would force us to cut our visit short and return later.

Arriving At Petrified Forest National Park

We started off at the north visitors center to get a map and information about the park and then started to make our way through.  It is extremely desolate land and as it turns out some really interesting things to see and definitely worth driving through and stopping off at some of the sites if you are in the area.

Tiponi Point

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Tiponi Point was our first site pull off point of the Petrified Forest.  Even though we had been driving through empty land along the highway, Tiponi Point lookout gave us an even better understanding of how desolate this land really is.  You could see landscape for miles that was full of nothing but badlands type structure.  The pictures probably don’t do it much justice, but the colors of the landscape are pretty spectacular.

Route 66

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There isn’t a ton to see at the Old Route 66 stop, but it is still a cool little stop of nostalgia.  There is an old rusted out car parked on the side and you can see the raised path through the desert that once was Old Route 66.  You can also see the old power lines running through the desert along the abandoned and overgrown road.  I find things like that a bit majestic and help place you back in time.  Curious what it might have been like to drive through here on the original Route 66 two lane road in a much older car.

This is also the location where we discovered that the rear shackle weldment for our travel trailer’s rear axle leaf spring was actually ripping from the trailer frame and was barely hanging on.  I won’t go into much detail here as the entire ordeal probably deserves its own article, but after unsuccessful attempts at trying to get decent enough phone signal and me inspecting it enough to see that most of the tear had probably been present for quite some time…  we decided to slow roll our way out of the park and 20 miles up the shoulder of the two lane with our hazards on to the nearest town where we could get some help and figure things out.  To make a long story short, we were stuck in Holbrook, Arizona for at least the night and after dropping the camper at the KOA and knowing we had some help on the way, we headed back to the Petrified Forest to finish our tour.  We didn’t want to let the trailer issue get in the way of our site seeing and spring break.

Giant Logs

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Our first stop after getting back to Petrified Forest was the Giant Logs walk.  It was a short walk through scattered Giant Petrified Logs.  You don’t really think much of it, but the Petrified Logs are really interesting.  They look like normal wood logs, but are in fact turned to rock.  I don’t completely understand it, but it has something to do with the log absorbing and becoming saturated with minerals while buried under ground and cut off from oxygen.  The absorbed minerals eventually turn to rock, taking the place of the original log.

Newspaper Rock

There are some Pictographs located here that you can see through a set of binoculars set up on a lookout area.  There is a nice view from this area, but we’ve seen Pictographs up close in the past and didn’t spend a ton of time here.  If you’ve never seen them before, then I suggest stopping by to have a look through the binoculars to check them out.  We were also in a bit of hurry to see a couple other things in the park anyways and quickly made our way to the next stop.

Puerco Pueblo

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Puerco Pueblo was our next stop and this was really cool.  I enjoy placing myself in history and the best way I find to do that and to really appreciate and understand it is to visit old structures.  It is quite interesting to think about how many years ago people were living out in this barron land, assuming it was barron in those times.  There was the foundation remnants of the native homes called pueblos.  It was just a short walk, but we were able to walk a path around the outer edge of the old foundations and it really helped picture what it might have been like to live in those times.  I am actually really impressed by the amount of structure that is still there.

Blue Mesa & Forest

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Blue Mesa and the Blue Forest was the last main stop of our trip to Petrified Forest.  We took the hiking loop down into the so called Blue Forest and it was very tranquil.  It was a fairly short hike through the clay mound formations and valleys and it is very similar to what is found in the South Dakota Badlands.  This might have been my favorite little stop and walk of the park.  I think it was just relaxing and I enjoyed watching the kids run up the trail in front of us, getting all excited about stuff they would see along the trail.

Tawa Point

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We did pull off here quickly for me to run down the path to check out the overlook.  The kids were getting a little restless and gunning to hit the playground at the KOA before dark, so I ran down to check things out quick and take a couple pictures.  Curiosity gets the best of me and I have a hard time passing by anything without stopping to check it out.

I have never heard much about visiting the Petrified Forest, but I thought it was worth the visit.  I wouldn’t travel a great distance for the Petrified Forest alone, but I would definitely plan time to stop and check it out if you are passing through the area.  Every place has its own little hidden gems.  In fact, if I had time on another trip…  I would drive back through again to check out the Giant Logs and Blue Mesa & Forest again.

Keep an eye out for quite a few more trip report posts from this spring break trip.  I plan to break them down by places or areas visited to help keep them more searchable in the future and short enough to read in one sitting.

Petrified Forest Reference Links

Petrified Forest National Park – www.nps.gov/pefo/index.htm

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Pedernales Falls State Park Trip Report

Pedernales Falls State Park was our main destination on our Thanksgiving camping road trip. There was plenty of hiking, a little bit of biking and just a great scenic area to be in. We also made a side trip to the nearby Enchanted Rock State Park for some more hiking.

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Day 1 at Pedernales Falls State Park

Arriving At Pedernales Falls And A Short Hike

We headed out of Caddo Lake in the morning for a long drive across Texas.  This would be my first time driving across Texas and it would turn out to be a beautiful day for driving.  We drove 79 across Texas before traveling thru Austin.  The first thing I noticed is that the speed limit was higher on the 2 lane roads in Texas than what I was used to and the shoulders were wide enough that people would move over on the shoulder to let faster traffic pass.  I thought this was great and safer than people having to move out into on coming traffic to pass.

There was not really much to see between Caddo Lake and Austin, but I enjoyed it anyways.  I think driving between destinations gives you a good perspective on where you are going and where you have been.  There was a lot of open land and that is my kind of atmosphere.  I am not much of a city guy, which is why I was happy to get thru Austin as quick as possible and head into the Texas Hill Country.

We finally arrived at Pedernales Falls State Park in the late afternoon and set up on campsite #40.  There was quite a bit of room between the sites next to us.  In fact, our fire pit and picnic table were actually back into the woods about 60 feet behind the camper.  After getting set up, we all took a short walk around the campground, with Reid riding in the stroller.  We came across a short trail that lead to a waterfall overlook that I had to check out.

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Kyle came along with me while Lynn and Reid continued meandering around the campground.  It turned out to be a nice short little hike to a platform that overlooked a small waterfall down below called Twin Falls.  We saw a few deer fairly close up that watched us walk right by.  I even took a couple pictures of Kyle with the deer in the background.  The sun was getting close to setting, so we made our way out of the trail to rejoin Lynn and Reid.  We headed back to camp for a small campfire and then a good nights sleep.  It was a nice start to the next few days at Pedernales Falls State Park.

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Day 2 At Pedernales Falls State Park

Hiking, Pedernales Falls and Old Rock Fences

I am an early riser and love to watch the sun come up over the land, especially when we are on a camping trip.  First thing in the morning, I made some coffee on the old percolator pot and Coleman stove.  Even though we have the camper, I still like to cook outdoors.  I filled my cup with some fresh coffee and took a walk down to the Trammel River crossing.  The water was actually overflowing quite high and fast, so the crossing was impassable, but the scenery was great.  The sun was coming up over the hills and was shaping up to be a great day.  These are the moments that you have to just sit and take in for a few minutes.  I don’t take pictures of these place because the picture may be great, but I take the pictures to take me back to that moment every time I see the picture.

After I got back to camp, we figured we would pack the boys up in the Jeep and check out the rest of the park.  By the time we drove over to the picnic area, one of the boys had already fallen asleep.  I stayed at the jeep with the boys while Lynn took a short hike down the trail to the swim area to check things out and have some of her own piece and quite time.

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After she got back, we drove over to the parking lot for the main falls area.  I ran down to check out the falls area real quick, while Lynn waited up at the parking area with the boys.  Reid was less than 4 months old and Kyle was not quite 2 at the time, so we were still learning how to travel and sight see with the kids.  The falls were beautiful and I couldn’t resist walking down to the rocks to check everything out a little closer.  I could have spent all day down there, but I wanted Lynn to see the falls area also.

pedernales falls

I ran back to the parking area and strapped on the baby carrier so I could carry Reid on our hike back down to the falls.  Kyle was quite the sight.  He was really proud of himself for hiking on his own.    I did not take the family down to the rocks, since the kids were way to little and the water was moving pretty good at that time, so we just enjoyed the view from the lookout.  We managed to get somebody to take a family picture of us at the falls lookout area for us to remember.  I still remember that day.  It is only a quarter mile walk down to the falls area and so worth it.  This was Kyle’s first “hike” and he was so proud of himself.

pedernales falls

When we finished at the falls, we headed back to the camper for some lunch.  Kyle wanted to go on another hike, so we headed down Warfle’s Trail which is just a short little trail from the camping loop road over to the beach access road loop.  It was a nice little hike that crossed an old dried up creek bed.  We walked down the creek bed to find an old rock wall that was built by settlers years ago.  The campground host told us that there were quite a few of these rock walls throughout the park.  Apparently, the settlers built these rock walls to establish their property lines over a hundred years ago.

pedernales falls

After Kyle and I returned to the campsite, Lynn took a walk down to the river, near the trammel crossing to read a book.  I stayed back at the campsite and played with the boys.  It was nice for Lynn to get some quiet time and relax. She doesn’t get a whole lot of quite time with a baby and a toddler at home.  She said it was so peaceful sitting down by the water and had to take a picture of her book in front of the river so she could remember sitting there.  It was a great day in Texas and we were loving the Hill Country.

Day 3 At Pedernales Falls State Park

Nearby Enchanted Rock State Park

pedernales falls

On Tuesday, we took a drive a little further into the Texas Hill Country and ended up stopping at Enchanted Rock State Park.  Kyle and I hiked to the top of Enchanted Rock on the main trail.  I wasn’t sure if we were going to give it a go or not, but as we started up the trail, Kyle kept on truckin’.  I had to lift him up over some of the big rocks and ledges, but he loved it.  I picked him up a couple times to carry him and he would kick his legs like a dog out of water and say “I hike Dad, I hike”!   There is a nice day use area at the trail head that Lynn hung out at with Reid while Kyle and I were hiking.  There is a ton to do here and the area is absolutely beautiful.  This little hike is one of my most memorable moments.  I fully realized on this day that I had a new hiking buddy for life!

After enchanted Rock, we drove south to San Antonio to visit some relatives for the evening.  It was really late when we made it back to the campground, so we skipped the campfire that night.

Day 4 At Pedernales Falls State Park

Biking The Trails Of Pedernales Falls State Park

pedernales falls

It was our last day at the park and Lynn wanted to have some time to take a hike on her own, so she headed down to the falls overlook to relax in the late morning.  Lynn stays more than busy taking care of the kids, so it was nice for her to have some quite time to relax.  Plus, I had a good time just hanging out with the boys at the campsite.  Reid was just sitting in his carseat at the picnic table while Kyle and I kicked a soccer ball around.  I also took the opportunity to take some more pictures of the cactus’ around the campsite.

I had wanted to check out some of the longer trails, so after Lynn returned, I loaded up my hydration pack with some water and crackers and headed out on my mountain bike.  I had it planned that I would ride the Wolf Creek Trail, which starts from the backcountry camping parking lot.  Much of the trail was a fairly wide path and was really enjoyable.  If you are in to backcountry camping, but not not the long thru hiking trips, Pedernales would be a nice place to go.  I eventually made my way around Tobacco Mountain by Jones Spring.  There were some nice overlooks along the way, that really made it a nice ride.

pedernales falls

The most interesting thing to see, was the old foundation from a settlers cabin.  I love old structures, they really take you back in time.  The bottom half of all 4 walls were still standing and you could actually walk thru the doorway and stand inside of what once was somebody’s 1 room home.  I just stood there and tried to imagine what it would be like to originally settle the land and make a home in the 18th century out in this barren land.

After taking it all in and getting a few pictures, I made my way through the rest of the trail.  Knowing this was my last day at Pedernales, I really didn’t want to stop riding so I road around the park roads for awhile just taking in the fresh Texas Hill Country air.  I made it back to camp just in time to run back down to the falls area before sunset.  I really wasn’t ready to leave Pedernales yet, but I knew we were packing up in the morning to move on.  We had one last campfire at Pedernales before calling it a night.

Day 5 At Pedernales Falls State Park

Leaving Pedernales Falls State Park

We packed up in the morning and headed to our next stop of the road trip, Dinosaur Valley State Park a few hours to the north.  We really enjoyed Pedernales Falls State Park and highly recommend visiting anybody visiting.  The falls area is beautiful and there is a lot to do in the park if you are in to hiking or biking.  The water was high during our visit, so we were not able to access the trails on the other side of the river, but there were plenty of other things to do.  If you are in the area and looking for a place to camp, or even just a place to spend the day, I highly recommend you stop in to check out the falls area at minimum.

Stay tuned for my report on the next leg of the trip at Dinosaur Valley State Park…

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Caddo Lake State Park Trip Report

Caddo Lake State Park was our first stop on a Thanksgiving road trip, that would take us to 4 different State Parks. My youngest was not quite 4 months old and my oldest not quite 2 years old at the time of this trip. It was quite the experience and a great trip and I hope you enjoy my write up of our events and itinerary.

caddo lake

Heading For Caddo Lake State Park

We left Metamora, Illinois around 6:00 pm after I got out of work on Thursday evening.  We had reservations for Friday night at Caddo Lake State Park in Karnack, Texas and figured we would drive as far as we could Thursday night before stopping.  We attempted to pull into Trail of Tears State Park in Jackson, Missouri but we were a little late and the gate was closed.  I was feeling pretty good and the kids were sound asleep, so we figured no big deal, lets just keep on driving.  About 2:00 am I was starting to get real tired and had to pull off for gas anyways.  There happened to be a couple of RVs at the back of a Walmart parking lot near the gas station and we decided to join them for some rest.  We pulled in and climbed in the back of the camper to catch a few zzzs.  Keep in mind the temperatures were pretty close to freezing and I quickly realized that the camper propane tanks were empty.  This was a rookie mistake for sure…  At any rate, we bundled up to keep the kids warm and were able to catch a couple hours of sleep.

Day 1 At Caddo Lake State Park

Arriving At Caddo Lake State Park

So, we were back on the road again around 4:30 am with not much sleep, but the couple hours was a great refresher.  There is something about being on the open road with no traffic at that time of the morning while headed across the country that puts a feeling of freedom in you.  The sun eventually started to rise and I was getting pretty excited, especially because we were getting closer to some warmer weather.  We ended up pulling off the expressway in Little Rock, Arkansas to fill up our propane tanks at a UHaul facility.

We finally arrived at Caddo Lake State Park in Texas in the afternoon with plenty of daylight left and set up camp on site #45.  I was pretty tired by now from the drive and lack of sleep, so we decided to just relax at the campsite and I even took a short nap.  We eventually did a little wondering around the campground and I took a walk down to the fishing pier, but it was getting dark by this time.  I tried to get some pictures of the lily pad filled pond and the moss filled trees, but it was too dark for my photography abilities.

Day 2 At Caddo Lake State Park

Kayaking And Fishing From Caddo Lake

caddo lake

Saturday was another nice relaxing day.  I took the kayak for a ride down the Cypress Bayou in the late morning by myself.  Lynn dropped me off at the boat ramp within the park with my kayak and gear.  I was able to head a mile or two down the bayou before turning around and kayaking right back to the campground through Mill Pond.  I had mainly used the kayak in Northern Michigan and Illinois on little lakes in the past.  This was my first experience on some southern water in a somewhat remote area.  I swear I saw an alligator swimming on the bayou after I had turned around and was headed back.  I thought there was a log floating out in front of me, but then I realized it was not a log as it was moving across the bayou and eventually disappeared below the surface.  An alligator was the only thing that could make sense.

If you get a chance to stay at this campground, I highly recommend a trip down the bayou.  At minimum, you should kayak or canoe around in Mill Pond.  Mill Pond is filled with lily pads and Bald Cypress trees with moss hanging off them and is very majestic.  After seeing what I swear was a large gator on the bayou, I was a little nervous about one popping up in front of me in the lily pads, but I didn’t see anything.  There is a little store on the bayou that rents out canoes, kayaks, boats and also has pontoon boat tours down the bayou if you don’t have your own boat and want to get out on the water.

caddo lake

We relaxed around the campsite for a while in the afternoon and then Kyle and I took a short drive to check out the area and stop into the Ranger Station to ask about fishing.  This area of Texas is considered the Piney Woods region and rightly so.  There are many pine trees and quite honestly, driving around reminded me of Northern Michigan pine tree country.

caddo lake

After returning to camp, we grabbed our fishing gear and walked down to the Mill Pond pier and tried our luck at fishing.  We didn’t have any luck, but we had some good quality family time.  Kyle can get real serious about his fishing.  Actually, he gets pretty serious about anything and could fish for hours.  We stayed till dark before heading back to camp for an evening campfire and prepared to pack up in the morning for the next leg of our adventure.

Day 3 At Caddo Lake State Park

Leaving Caddo Lake

We packed up in the morning to head for Pedernales State Park.  It doesn’t take us much to pack up.  We have all the amenities of the camper, but try to pack so we can road trip easily without having a big hassle of loading and unloading stuff.

We enjoyed the short time in the Caddo Lake area and I would come back again to do some more exploring.  I’d like to get out on Caddo Lake for some bass fishing.  Stay tuned for the Pedernales Trip Report.  I’ll get that one posted up here soon as well.

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Cloudland Canyon State Park Trip Report

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Northwest Georgia was was the main destination of our 2011 Thanksgiving road trip with our camper.  We left Michigan on a Friday night with our truck and camper headed for Georgia with a 1 night stop at Van Buren State Park in Ohio and another 1 night stop at Norris Dam State Park in Tennessee, to break up the long drive.  This was a fantastic trip and although I call it a road trip, we would stay in one place for most of the trip.   We had a great time and I was quite impressed with Cloudland Canyon State Park.  We even had a nice day trip up to Chattanooga for some site seeing on one of the rainy days.

Day 1 At Cloudland Canyon State Park

A Morning Hike Before Leaving Norris Dam And Arriving At Cloudland Canyon In The Rain

We woke up to a nice morning in the hills of Tennessee and were the only people at the Norris Dam State Park Campground.   I went for a short ride on my bike through the park roads.  I covered about 5 miles, and what a workout that was in the hills!  After the bike ride, I took the kids on a short hike on the trails.  I took one of our child carrier backpacks with us and ended up carrying Reid for part of the hike.  Kyle likes to hike and Reid likes to ride along.  I’m good with either way as I just like getting them out and enjoying the trails anyway I can.  I had spent most of the previous 10 years sitting around doing nothing and carrying one of the kids on my back was well needed exercise.

cloudland canyon

Once back at camp, we were ready to head out.  I always do a quick walk around the camper before heading out on the road and found a bulge in one of the tires that looked like it was very close to blowing out.  I’m glad I caught it, because we were driving through the mountains in Tennessee that day and it would not have been fun to blow out a trailer tire in the hills.  We made it to Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia, late that afternoon just as it was starting to rain.  The rain eventually calmed down enough for us to have a little fire while sitting under the camper awning.  We were excited to be settled in at our base camp for the week and explore the trails and waterfalls.

Day 2 At Cloudland Canyon State Park

A Day Full of Hiking In Cloudland Canyon

cloudland canyon

Ah, I love mornings at camp.  I like to go for short hikes in the morning before everybody gets out of bed.  I started the morning off by taking a short trail that that led down to a small stream with little waterfalls.  After I got back, we made some breakfast and let the kids play around the park a little bit.  We eventually packed our hiking gear into the truck and drove over to the main overlook area in hopes to do some hiking.

After checking things out and realizing that Reid was ready for a nap, we decided that I would take Kyle on a hike down to the falls by myself and just hike back to the camp from the falls, while Lynn took Reid back to the camper for a nap and some quiet time for herself.  This turned out to be a long hike for Kyle and I.  Kyle made it down all of the stairs to both waterfalls.  Keep in mind, Kyle was still a couple weeks away from turning 4 years old yet.  The kid loves to hike and started hiking before he even turned 2 years old.  The waterfalls were beautiful and well worth the trip down the 100s of stairs.

cloudland canyon

My curiosity got the best of me when I saw the access to Sittons Gulch Trail near the lower waterfall.  Kyle was getting a little tired at this point, so I carried him for this whole trail in my child carrier backpack.  It was an out and back trail (4 mile round trip) and it followed the bottom of the canyon the whole way.  This is a really nice hike and very peaceful as it follows the bottom of the canyon among tall trees.  After backtracking to the lower falls area, Kyle got out of the carrier to make the climb back up the steps on his own feet.

The stairs are really steep and on the edge of the canyon walls, so I did not want to have Kyle up high in my backpack while climbing the stairs.  He did a great job and he was so proud of himself for making it back up all those stairs.  Once back to the top of the steps I put Kyle back in the pack and we made our way back to camp via the West Rim Hiking Trail.  I figured it to be somewhere in the 6 to 7 mile mark for our hike.  I was very tired, considering I carried Kyle for 5 to 6 miles of it.  We spent the rest of the evening relaxing around camp, cooking over the fire and talking about the hike that Kyle and I went on.

Day 3 At Cloudland Canyon State Park

Ruby Falls And Chickamauga Civil War Battlefield

Tuesday had rain in the forecast for most of the day, so we decided to go for a drive and explore areas  outside the park.  We took our time getting out in the morning, but eventually made our way up to Chattanooga to take a tour of Ruby Falls.  Ruby Falls was really cool and I like the history and story behind the falls as well.  They light up the underground falls for a pretty spectacular view.  Reid was only 2 at the time, but learned very early on how to get people stirred up…

cloudland canyon

We are about halfway thru the tour, about 1,100 feet under ground in the tight quarters of the cave and Reid yells out “Mom, I pooped my pants”.  People around us started making funny faces preparing themselves for the invisible wall of odor that is about to hit them as we were all packed in close together in this cave.  Lynn started panicking, wondering what she was going to do about a dirty diaper while stuck down in this cave.  Reid was laughing about it, and Lynn realized that Reid did not poop his pants and just thought it was funny to get us riled up.  He has been and still is a bit of a jokester.

At any rate, we finished the cave tour and had a good laugh out of it.  We wanted to check out the Incline Railroad, but it was closed.   The boys were quite tired and it was starting to rain, so we passed on visiting Rock City.  We left Ruby Falls and headed for Chickamauga Civil War Battlefield.  I did go into the visitors center quickly to check things out.  I could have spent all day in there checking out all the artifacts.  However, I did find it interesting and disturbing that some of the souvenirs sold in a National Monument were actually made in China and not in our own country.

cloudland canyon

With the rainy and overcast weather, we elected to go on the self guided driving tour of the battlefields hoping the boys might fall asleep and take a nap at the same time.  The boys got out of the truck at the first couple stops of the tour, but eventually fell asleep.  I think it took us a couple hours to drive the entire self guided tour.  I highly recommend this driving tour at some point if you are in the area.  It helps to understand that this battle and the Civil War was only 150 years ago, which is not really that long ago in the grand scheme of time.

By the time we finished the driving tour, the boys were fast asleep and we decided to take a detour on our way back to Cloudland Canyon and drive just inside the Alabama border to check out DeSoto State Park.  I’m glad we did, DeSoto State Park looks great and we have added it to our list of parks we would like to visit on another one of our camping trips.  By the time we made it back to camp it was dark and had stopped raining, so we were able to enjoy some cooking over a fire for the rest of the evening and let the boys play around the camp.

Day 4 At Cloudland Canyon State Park

Morning Solo Hike and Afternoon Family Hike

I got up before everybody else again and took off from the campground to hike the West Rim Trail.  I had hiked the first part of it with Kyle to get back to the campground on Monday, but wanted to hike the main part of the trail to see all of the canyon overlooks.  It was a great hike with some spectacular scenery and views.  I took some cornbread with me that I had baked in the fire the night before.  It was quite peaceful hiking through the woods and eating my cornbread breakfast along the way.

cloudland canyon

I stopped at a couple of the overlooks to sit down and just take in the beautiful scenery for awhile.  It was so peaceful; I still remember the moments just sitting there and enjoying the sun come up over the canyon walls.  These are the moments that you have to look up to the sky and thank God for creating this beautiful world that we live in and for the opportunities to enjoy it like this.

cloudland canyon

When I returned to camp, we spent the afternoon hanging around and watching the kids play in the woods.  In the late afternoon we drove over to a parking lot that accessed the west part of the West Rim Hiking Trail, so Lynn could check out one of the overlooks.  I did not want to take the kids on most of the West Rim loop, as there are quite a few ledges, but this other section of the trail was ok and gave Lynn the opportunity to check out a couple of the overlooks while I stayed back on the main trail with the kids.

I really enjoy getting the family out on the trail.  There is something about getting out in nature with your family that brings you closer together.  When you are walking down the trail and can watch the kids walk along though the trees in complete freedom, you can just let go and forget about anything else and enjoy your family.

cloudland canyon

We returned back to camp to enjoy the evening cooking over the fire again.  I enjoy teaching the kids how to cook over the fire and they get a kick out of eating stuff that we cooked together out in nature.  Even though we travel with a camper, we tend to cook outside and try different things over the fire.  Our camper is like our mobile cabin that provides us with a comfortable dry place to sleep and keep our things.

Day 5 At Cloudland Canyon State Park

Thanksgiving Dinner At Cloudland Canyon

cloudland canyon

Ah, Thanksgiving Day.  I was looking forward to cooking our Turkey for dinner.  I had been contemplating how I was going to cook it over the fire all week.  I ended up deciding to use the camp park grill instead of the larger fire pit.  I wrapped the center part of the grate with tinfoil, leaving the ends of the grate open for smoke and heat to get through.  I built a small fire in the charcoal area of the grill before letting it burn to coals.  I kept a small flame going throughout the cooking process by adding small pieces of wood.

After placing the Turkey in a basket over the tinfoil, I wrapped tinfoil over the whole grill and turkey to hold the heat in and trap the smoke around the turkey.  It turned out wonderful!  I would say it might be the best turkey I’ve had.  It was roasted just like in an oven but also had a nice smoked flavor.   I started out with some high heat to sear the outside and barely had any grease drip throughout the entire cooking process.  That being said, we spent most of the day hanging at our camp, relaxing and keeping the coals going for the turkey.

cloudland canyon

This was a great Thanksgiving dinner.  What better way to spend Thanksgiving dinner, but with your family next to a fire that you just cooked the turkey on out in nature.  We relaxed around camp for a couple hours after dinner and then figured we should go for a hike to work off some of that turkey dinner.  There is a 2 mile Backpacking Trail that was perfect.  The trail is thru an all wooded area with a little bit of terrain that passes thru some of the backpacking campsites.  We finished the hike a little before dusk.  I carried Reid on my back in the child carrier most of the way, where he actually fell asleep.  We made it back to camp to enjoy the evening around the fire again and eat some left over turkey.

cloudland canyon

Day 6 At Cloudland Canyon

One Last Hike To Cloudland Canyon Falls

I got up before everybody and drove over to the main overlook area so I could hike down to the waterfalls one last time, knowing we were leaving Cloudland Canyon the next morning.  It was cold down in the canyon by the falls that early in the morning.  The sun hadn’t had a chance to shine down in the canyon yet to warm things up, but it was nice going that early.  I just like being out in nature and actually prefer cooler temperatures anyways.  Nobody else was at the falls and it was very peaceful.  I was able to get some nice pictures also.

cloudland canyon

When I got back to camp, Lynn took off to check out the falls, since she hadn’t had a chance to do so yet.  I relaxed around camp and watched the boys play in the woods while she was gone.  After Lynn returned, I jumped on my road bike to get my last bit of exercise in at Cloudland Canyon.  I road all the paved roads I could find in the park, covering about 12 miles and wearing me out.  The weather was nice and it was great to get out on my road bike as I had recently gotten back into some exercising.

I was never much into road biking; mountain biking was always my favorite, but I hadn’t done much of either since my college years.  Our camping trips were helping me get more active again and I was starting to get my bikes out on occasion.  We spent the evening enjoying one last campfire at Cloudland Canyon State Park and got our campsite all packed up at the same time to head out early in the morning.

Day 7 At Cloudland Canyon

Starting The Journey Home

We left Cloudland Canyon State Park before dark so we would have plenty of time to make our way north.  We pulled into Big Bone Lick State Park in Kentucky by mid afternoon to spend a night and break up the drive home.  We definitely could have driven further north, but it was nice to have the afternoon to check out a new park and see the bison.

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia is a fantastic place to spend a week.  It didn’t necessarily have the greatest set up for small kids, but we had a blast and so did our kids.  Some people think we’re crazy to haul our camper and kids all over the place like this, but we’ve had some really awesome experiences.  You just have to take chances and you will be rewarded with some great experiences and family memories.

Reference Links

Cloudland Canyon State Park – www.gastateparks.org/CloudlandCanyon

Cloudland Canyon State Park Review – www.outdoorfamilylife.com/campground-reviews/cloudland-canyon-state-park-campground-review

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Roaring River State Park Trip Report

We try and break up our week long vacations with a weekend destination on the way home sometimes.  It breaks up the trip and lets us have additional experiences.  I was new to trout fishing and Roaring River State Park was a good place to go enjoy trout fishing as a beginner.

Day 1 At Roaring River State Park

Arriving At Roaring River Just In Time To Catch Dinner

We had spent the previous 5 nights at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas and were packed up first thing in the morning to spend a few days at Roaring River State Park to try our hand at some Trout Fishing for a couple days before making our way back home from our spring camping trip.  We took a more scenic route through the hills to catch some of the Arkansas scenery and found ourselves winding up and down some pretty steep grades with the Jeep and travel trailer in tow.  We arrived at Roaring River just in time for me to do a little trout fishing before dark.  We had a campsite near the wading stream, so I went in with my fly rod and was able to catch a nice little trout for dinner!

Day 2 At Roaring River State Park

More Trout Fishing And A Trolley Ride

roaring river state park

I got my fly rod out first thing in the morning before Lynn and the kids got up and around.  I went down to the no wading section of the river and caught a nice trout out of one of the holes.  As much as I would have enjoyed fishing all day, I wanted to spend some time with Lynn and the boys, so I headed back to the camper to make some plans for the rest of the day.

We packed up and headed into the town of Cassville, Missouri to take the boys on a trolley ride.  They had a riot!  The trolley was like a train ride for them.  Of course Reid was only 9 months old, but Kyle was one happy kid.  We walked around the town a little bit and then found a little pub to grab some lunch before heading back to the campground.

roaring river state park

When we got back to camp, we all went down to the family fishing area to let Kyle try some fishing.  We didn’t catch anything, but Kyle had a good time fishing with Dad regardless.  Afterwards, we walked around the trout rearing pools, so Kyle could see all the trout.  He thought that was pretty cool and just kept pointing at all the fish.  We capped off the evening with a nice campfire and prepared to head home in the morning.

Day 3 At Roaring River

Packing Up

We left Roaring River State Park in the early morning and made our way back home to central Illinois.  We had a fantastic trip.  This was a great stop on the way home from Petit Jean and I do wish that I had an extra day here, but it was worth stopping in for just a couple nights anyways.

Closing Thoughts On Roaring River State Park

Roaring River was a nice little trout fishing park.  The streams are all stocked with trout.  There are various sections to break the streams up between wading sections, no wading, family area and fly rod only.  I really enjoyed it as I was (and still am) a beginner when it come to trout fishing.  The campground itself was nothing special, but it was a good place for a beginner to do some trout fishing.

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Petit Jean State Park Trip Report

We spent 4 full days and 5 nights camping at Petit Jean State Park with lots of hiking and enjoyment of overlooks throughout the park.  I hope you enjoy my little write up on our visit.  I actually wrote this up right after our trip, but had never posted it to this blog feed after relaunching the site a couple years ago.  Look out for many more trip reports in the future of our past vacations and adventures.

Day 1 At Petit Jean State Park

Arriving At Petit Jean State Park

petit jean state park

We had spent the previous night at Lake Wappapello State Park in Missouri to break up the driving to Petit Jean State Park.  We arrived around 3:00 in the afternoon to get our camp all set up and were ready to enjoy Petit Jean State Park.  Our campsite was great, the lake was only about a 100ft away and we had a full hookup site, so we could use the full amenities of our camper for the week.  Not to mention, the campground was really spread out among some large pines and we had a ton of space between us and the next camper.  After settling in at camp, relaxing for a bit and fitting in a short canoe ride, Kyle and I jumped in the Jeep to go get some maps of the park from the camp store.  We picked up my fishing license and also got a quick lay of the land to start planning the next few days.  I got excited about the next few days when Kyle and I came across a few overlooks in the process and were able to take in some the scenery of the canyon as the sun was setting.

Day 2 At Petit Jean State Park

Mountain Top Driving Tour, Petit Jean Gravesite, Overlooks & Hiking

After getting the kids up and around, eating breakfast and just enjoying the morning at the campsite; we decided that taking the Mountaintop Driving Tour would be the best way for us to get a grand view of the park before we jumped into some of the specific hikes.  This driving tour turned out to be great little drive that led us to numerous overlooks, trails and sites in which I’ve highlighted below.  We went ahead and got the kids out of the Jeep and hit a couple of the short trails.  It was our first time using the kid carrier backpacks and they worked out great.  We had 2 different carriers, a Kelty and a Sherpani.  Highly recommend getting one if you are doing any hiking with toddlers.

petit jean state park

Our first stop on the driving tour was the Petit Jean Gravesite at the top of a beautiful overlook.  As you drive into the overlook parking lot, you’ll notice the remains of a sandstone structure on the right.  It was built in the 1920s and apparently was destroyed by fire in the 1940s.  It is completely open and quite interesting to walk thru and take pictures of.  I enjoy looking at old structures and imagining what is was like years ago.  From the overlook, you can see an amazing landscape with the Arkansas River running through.  Just to the edge of the overlook, you can also see what is believed to be Petit Jean’s actual gravesite.  Legend says that Petit Jean was a French girl that disguised herself as a cabin boy and traveled on a ship in the early 1700s to accompany her fiancé on an exploration trip of the “New Land”.

The next two stops were the Mary Ann Richter and CCC Overlook.  It is highly recommended that you get out of the car at both of these overlooks and take in the great views.  From the Mary Ann Richter Overlook, you can see the highest point in Arkansas, which is Mt. Magazine.  CCC Overlook is just a little further down the road and you must be careful if you wander far from the main lookout as there are no rails at the edge of the cliff.  The CCC overlook provides a great view of Cedar Creek Canyon and you will recognize some of the views from some of the pictures on the Petit Jean State Park website.

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Turtle Rocks and Rock House Cave are both on the Rock House Cave Trail, which was our next stop.  We grabbed our backpacks and decided to check out the trail.  Turtle Rocks comes first on the trail and you have to hike over them to get to Rock House Cave.  Turtle Rocks are interesting and gets their name because the rock has worn to the look of turtle shells.  I would not consider Rock House Cave a true cave, but it is a large dome shelter in the side of the rock cliff that the Native Americans used as a shelter and lived in.  I always enjoy the opportunity to put myself back in time and imagine what it was like years ago.  After hiking back to the jeep, we got out a blanket and had a nice little picnic as the kids were getting hungry.

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We had one more hike in us for the day, but it was a short one.  We stopped in at Bear Cave Trail for the short 1/4 mile hike through small rock canyons and little natural shelters.  This is a great little hike for the kids.  Its fairly short and is packed with neat little rock formations that you can walk thru.  Kyle got a real kick out of it.  I guess the trail got its name because an early settler shot a bear in one of the little caves or shelters.  After this short hike we were ready to head back to camp and relax for the rest of the day.

The short driving tour with the couple of hikes ended up taking us about 5 to 6 hours to complete.  There are quite a few other neat things to see on the Mountaintop drive, such as the Palisades Overlook, CCC Water Tower, CCC Bridge and other various neat photo opportunities.  We got back to camp just in time to relax by the lake and do a little fishing.  I wouldn’t call it serious or relaxing fishing by any means. I’m not sure you can accomplish either, when you hand an ultra-light with an open face reel on it to a 2 year old, but hey, it was a good time!

Day 3 At Petit Jean State Park

Cedar Falls And A Family Canoe Ride

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I really wanted to hike Cedar Falls trail to see the main falls of the park.  We read that it was a pretty steep grade to the bottom of the canyon, so we decided to skip on trying to trek to the bottom of the canyon and back up with both of the kids.  I took off late morning to make the hike myself while Lynn relaxed at camp during the kids nap.  It did turn out to be a very steep grade, but well worth it.  It was very peaceful at the bottom of the falls.  I even stood under the falls just off to the edge enough to catch some of the refreshing spray from the falling water.  This hike is a must do if you visit Petit Jean State Park.

Prior to coming back up the canyon, I did hike down the Canyon Trail to the Blue Hole Area, which was a nice little out and back hike along the creek on the Canyon Trail.  As you hike the Canyon Trail, you can see the fish swimming in the creek pools.  There are some stepping stones that you can cross the creek on at the end of the trail.  If you wanted, you could continue down the trail after crossing the creek on the stepping stones to connect to the larger trail loop, called the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail, but I turned around at this point.  The entire hike took me about 3 hours to complete, which also included a little bit of time sitting near the falls or next to the creek just taking in the scenery and peacefulness.

Once I met the family back at camp, we spent the rest of the day relaxing near the lake again with our fishing poles and enjoying a few short family canoe rides.  We even got a picture of Reid drinking a bottle in the front of the canoe.

Day 4 At Petit Jean State Park

Family Hike And Playground Time

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It was actually my birthday and we decided to hike the Cedar Creek Trail as a family.  Kyle said “I hike Dad” and didn’t want to ride in the kid carrier, so I carried Reid with me.  The Cedar Creek Trail isn’t too technical of a trail and is just a little over a mile in length.  Kyle actually hiked the whole trail except for the last 200 yards or so.  It was a very nice trail along the creek and overall was a nice hike to take.  There are no major overlooks on it, but the trail does have some minor elevation changes as it follows the creek bed.

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After the hike, we spent the rest of the day relaxing at camp again and did take one visit down to the playground. Kyle calls all playgrounds “parks”.  He very much enjoyed it.  Reid was only 9 months old at the time, so he hung out in is stroller taking in the nature while we watched Kyle climb all over the “park”.  As we did the rest of the evenings, we capped off the night with a nice campfire and I got to open a couple presents!

Day 5 At Petit Jean State Park

The Seven Hollows, Natural Bridge And The Grotto

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This was our last full day at the park and there was one main trail that I still wanted to hike, the Seven Hollows Trail. Seven Hollows is about 4 1/2 miles in length, so I went at it on my own in the morning.  What a great trail!  This trail never got dull.  There is very little elevation to the trail, with just a few rolling hills.  If you ever hike this trail, make sure that you take, the side trail that goes just a short distance up to what they call The Grotto.  The Grotto is probably the main feature of the trail aside from Natural Rock, the other big feature of this trail.  This hike has been one of my favorites.  The walk through the hollows is very majestic.

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I was able to finish the hike and get back to camp in time to enjoy the rest of the afternoon with Lynn and the boys. Kyle and I managed to fit in another canoe ride with our fishing poles.  We didn’t catch anything, but I find it fun to get him out on the water and he likes being a big boy and hanging out with Dad.  I’ve learned to tie his fishing pole to the canoe, otherwise it may end up overboard.  This was our last night at Petit Jean and we spent the evening riding some bikes and then settled in next to a nice campfire.

Day 6 At Petit Jean State Park

Time To Head Home

Our time at Petit Jean State Park was over, but we very much enjoyed it and highly recommend it as a place to camp.  We packed up the camper first thing in the morning and headed for Roaring River State Park in Cassville, Missouri.

Petit Jean State Park Final Thoughts

This is a great place and I could have spent another day or 2 here and hiked back down to the falls again or sat out on one of the overlooks just to relax.  That is a bit hard to do with a baby and toddler along at camp with you though.  Petit Jean State Park should definitely be on your to-do list for a 3 to 4 day stay.  It is definitely a gem, tucked away in the hills of Arkansas.

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Trip Report – Lake Superior Circle Tour 2015

Day 1 – Sleeping Giants Provincial Park, Ontario

We pulled out of our driveway mid morning to start our trek around the North Side of Lake Superior.  We wanted to arrive at Sleeping Giants Provincial Park by late afternoon, so we could enjoy the evening around camp and maybe even get some hiking or biking in before dark.  We intended to stop in Grand Marais, MN to grab some take out fish and chips from Dockside Fish Market next to the Angry Trout Cafe…  Lynn was reading on her phone about the border crossing and read that you could not take chicken across the border because of a potential Avian Flu outbreak.  We ended up stopping at a roadside pull off and grilling up our chicken for lunch instead of stopping for the take out.

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We made it across the border, which was uneventful and they didn’t even ask if we had chicken…  As we drove around Thunder Bay, we could see the rocky cliffs rising up out of Lake Superior that made up the peninsula where Sleeping Giants Provincial Park is located.  I couldn’t wait to get out there and check it out.  We had made reservations and found ourselves on a large pull through campsite with a half empty park!

We set up camp, unloaded the bikes and the boys and I took off to check things out.  I had a hard time finding trail maps posted, but found one in the campground store where I asked about the trail heads and which trails were bike accessible.  There seemed to be some discrepancy between the map showing bike accessible and what the park staff said were actually bike accessible.  I headed down Marie Louse Drive with my bike to find one of the trails that lead out to the what is considered the Giant’s Head.

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I missed the trail and ended up finding myself around the other side of Marie Louise Lake.  This was a nice gravel ride regardless, so I continued on my way and figured I could save the trail for the next day.  I finished my route around the lake and back to camp where I found the boys making hot laps around the campsite on their bikes and Lynn reading under the shade of the camper awning.  We finished the evening with a small campfire before retiring to our beds for the night.

Day 2 – Sleeping Giants Provincial Park, Ontario

Lynn was looking forward to a day of relaxing around camp with a book, so I took off in the morning to check out the trails.  The map was showing a bike on the legend next to the Top of the Giant trail, so I headed that way.  It was actually a bit of a hike just to get to the start of the trail that lead to the Top of the Giant.  I passed a few hikers along the way and made good time along the trail.  The trail itself is fairly uneventful and would not be that exciting of a hike.  Since I was on my bike and making good time, I took the opportunity to stop off at some of the side trails to the beach areas and backcountry campsites to take in some of the natural beauty that was surrounding me.  The trail becomes very eventful if you step off onto the beach and camp areas.  If you wanted to do some pack in camping, this would be a great place to do so.

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I eventually made it to the start of the Top of the Giant trail to find a bike rack.  This is what they meant by bike accessible.  You could ride your bike out to the start of the trail and then hike it from there.  I was prepared with a bike lock and had opted to ride with my flat pedals that day so I could hike, just in case.  I hiked / jogged up the trail to find some fantastic lookouts.  It would have been easy to turn around at the first lookout, but my curiosity always gets the best of me and I pressed on till the trail ran out.  I found myself out on a straight drop off that was amazing.  I have a hard time relaxing, but I did take a few minutes to sit down and take it all in before making my way back down the trail and back to camp.

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Now that I had a good lay of the land, the boys were ready to go for a short hike.  We had some lunch and then jumped in the truck to explore down a couple of very short trails for a little family time on some trails.  We finished off the rest of the afternoon and evening by relaxing around camp and watching the boys ride their bikes around.  We were surprised a few times when a deer came walking right through our campsite and of course the boys got a real kick out of the deer being so close.  We finished the evening off with a fire and some and pie iron cooking.

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Day 3 – Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario

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Since we had a good 6 hours of driving ahead of us on top of making a few stops to check out the sites along the way, we got an early start out of Sleeping Giants campground.  There is some great scenery during the first half of this drive as you stick along the shoreline and can see all the large islands rising up out of the waters of Lake Superior.  There are many roadside pulls offs along the route to stop and spend some time taking in the views.  There is something about the shorelines of the Great Lakes, especially the vast miles of untouched Lake Superior shoreline, that put me into instant relaxation and calmness.

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We stopped off in Terrace Bay for a couple of short hikes.  We pulled off at a trailhead just before Terrace Bay to find a great overlook platform to some waterfalls and a deep canyon.  It was a great way to stretch our legs.  Before passing straight thru town, we drove down to the beach area for another short little hike to a bridge over the little river and rapids.  It was nice to get out, especially at such a nice place.

We finally made our way to Rabbit Blanket Campground in Lake Superior Provincial Park to set up camp for the night.  There was rain in the forecast for the evening, but we still had plenty of time for an early campfire and some cooking over the fire before turning in for the night.

Day 4 – Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario

We woke up to a rainy morning and decided to bust out the Monopoly game after breakfast.  Monopoly games usually never get finished in this house.  They just keep going and going and going.  The kids love to play, but take forever to do so.  We usually end up cutting it off at a certain time and whoever has the highest asset value between cash, properties and buildings is declared the winner.  Reid, the youngest was the winner!

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After our Monopoly game, we decided to try our luck at a hike while the rain had stopped coming down.  We tried the short hike across the road that turned out to be a bit rugged for the kids and we eventually turned around at a creek crossing that required hopping very slippery rocks.  We ended up taking a short leg of a trail that wrapped around the backside of the campsites before making our way back to camp.  As luck would have it, a new storm came in and we were a bit happy that we turned around at that creek crossing or we would most likely have been caught out in the down pour.

The storm eventually blew over just in time for me to go jogging around the park.  Afterwards, Reid joined me for a walk down to the lake before the rain started coming down again.  Too bad it rained quite a bit of the time, but we still enjoyed ourselves.  Having the travel trailer has made it real nice for traveling.  We aren’t necessarily going for the full outdoor experience, but we like to get out and explore new places while still keeping ourselves comfortable and not getting burnt out from it.  We ended up with some real nice family time out of the rain storms.

Day 5 – Headed To Lower Michigan

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We headed out Thursday morning on a detour away from our Lake Superior Circle Tour toward lower Michigan to spend a few days with family.  We had a few stops to make along the way and the first was Agawa Rock Pictographs.  If you are driving through here, I highly recommend stopping by for a short hike.  Even if you don’t make your way out to the Pictographs, which are a little tough to get to, the short hike down to Lake Superior is worth the stop on its own.  The trail takes you through 2 little canyon walls and then down to Lake Superior along the bottom of a big rock cliff.  We did not take the kids down to the Pictographs, since they are along the rock cliffs that drop into Lake Superior.

Our next stop was in Sault St. Marie to see the Soo Locks.  This is a set of Locks on the St. Mary’s River that allow ships to go between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  Lake Huron is lower than Lake Superior, so a set of locks are needed to raise and lower the ships to the different lake levels.  We were lucky enough to arrive just as a ship was pulling into the locks.  This was our last stop before making our way south across the Mackinaw Bridge for the next few days of visiting family.  We continued our camping by just setting up camp in our family’s yard for a few days.

Day 6 thru Day 9  – Lower Michigan

We spent the next few days enjoying family around nightly backyard campfires, a couple bike rides and a family reunion.  I surprised my Grandmother for a visit on one of the mornings and also enjoyed some coffee with my Mom one morning at the coffee shop.  We smoked 4 pork shoulders, a brisket and a pork loin that was darn good.  We basically had a grand old time hanging out and catching up with family!

Day 10 – Wilderness State Park, Michigan

I was excited about heading out this morning, because we would be following my parents to Wilderness State Park and we rarely have had the chance to caravan along with someone else on a trip.  After a few stops along the way, we would arrive in plenty of time to enjoy the late afternoon around the park.  We started a campfire and enjoyed some marshmallows over the fire.

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Day 11 – Wilderness State Park, Michigan

We started the morning off with our usual coffee, while getting breakfast for the kids.  I eventually jumped on my Fat Bike to check out the lay of the land and found myself down a mixed use trail where I washed out the front wheel of my bike on a wet boardwalk, slamming down on my right shoulder.  This was going to put a damper in the day.  When I returned, my Dad was ready to do some exploring via bike and we headed out with me trying to baby my shoulder.

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We made our way down some two track type trails to connect to the North Country Hiking Trail, which is also open to mountain bikes.  We went about 5 miles south down the North Country Trail before taking the Shoreline Drive back north and weaving our way down some country roads before finding another section of the North Country Trail that led us back to camp.  It was a nice 26 mile ride of exploring.

After returning to camp, we realized that we still had enough time to take a drive into Mackinaw City for a bit of tourist activity.  We wanted to check out the Mackinaw Bridge Museum that is in the 2nd floor of Mama Mia’s Pizza Parlor.  The artifacts and stories of building the bridge are pretty amazing.  I recommend stopping in, if you get the chance.  We made the usual stop down by the the water for a nice view of the bridge and then made our way back to camp for an evening campfire.

Day 12 – Wilderness State Park, Michigan

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I joined my Dad and my youngest son for a hike first thing in the morning.  Reid was pretty excited as he got to see two snakes along the trail and even had me take his picture with the one of the snakes in the background.  There wasn’t a perfect loop to hike and make our way back, but we headed down a nice hiking trail that popped us out on the road to make our way back to camp after covering 4 miles.

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The hike was just getting our day started and then my other son joined us for a trail ride on the mountain bikes.  We covered mostly two tracks and brought one of the shared use hiking trails back for a 7.5 mile ride.  Reid had all kinds of energy and just kept hammering the pedals as he would keep repeating to my Dad.  Every time he would come to a hill, he would yell out “I am going to hammer this”.  The little guy was a machine.

I wasn’t quite finished with my exercise for the day, so my Dad and I jumped on our road bikes and headed out for a spin.  We ended up riding 40 miles and made a nice loop through Carp Lake and then up near Mackinaw City before following the shoreline drive back out to the park.  It was real nice to have a couple days of riding with my Dad, while exploring some new roads and trails.

 Day 13 – McLain State Park, Michigan

We are getting really efficient at closing up the camper and headed out early to make our way to the Keweenaw Peninsula, one of my favorite places in the world.  The Keweenaw is known as The Copper Country but many people refer to it as God’s Country.  There is just a mental relaxation that comes over me as soon we get close.  As you drive along US-2, you start to realize you are only a few hours away and you just settle into the tranquil Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  We made 1 stop along US-2 for a quick break and a close up peak at Lake Michigan before making our turn north on the Seney Stretch.

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We stopped off at our relative’s place near Marquette for a break on the way thru, providing me with an opportunity to go for a trail ride on the Noquemanon South Trails that are an IMBA designated ride center.  After having rode these trails earlier in the summer, it would have been difficult for me to pass through without stopping off for a ride.  I actually dropped Lynn and the boys off at our relatives and took the trailer with me over to the trails while they went for an easier bike ride on the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, before meeting back up with me at the Noquemanon South trailhead.  There were a whole bunch of people at the trail head for some trail work or something, so I had a bit of an audience as I pulled my truck and camper into the full parking lot and had to back it in along the edge of the lot in the only space left.  I’d rather not have a big audience when I am going to solo back up the truck and trailer…  I pulled it off on the second attempt!

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After a trail ride and some lunch, we were all back together again and on our way to the Keweenaw Peninsula for the last stop on our Lake Superior Circle Tour.  After a stop at the IGA in Hancock, we arrived at McLain’s in the rain, just before dark.  We had the trailer set up quickly and everybody inside to enjoy the evening.  The kids got some games out and some of our relatives stopped by to hang out with us.  After years of driving by or through this park, we were finally going to stay here a few nights!

Day 14 – McLain State Park, Michigan

I wanted to get the kids out on a hike, so we headed out on the Bear Lake Loop Trail.  It was just over a 2 mile loop by hiking directly from our campsite.  One end of the trail leads out at the end of the park by the cabins before crossing the road, so we got to enjoy a little walk along Lake Superior on our way to the actual trail.  It was a nice wide trail that included signs in front of various trees.  My oldest son is old enough to read and really like learning what kind of trees were along the trail.  We came to what is designated as the fishing dock, which provided a nice view of Bear Lake, to find that it was a good thing we didn’t plan on fishing from it.  It is really shallow at the end of the dock and surrounded by Lily Pads and Cat Tails.

I was really wanting to get out on the mountain bike trails, but it had rained the night before and I don’t like riding on wet trails.  You may think that is crazy, because who doesn’t like getting a little muddy, but it can really mess up the trails if everybody rides on them when they are wet and the mud wreaks havoc on a bikes drivetrain.  I opted for taking my road bike out for a great little tour of the southern half of the Keweenaw through Calumet, Lake Linden, Dollar Bay and Hancock.

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I stopped and took a bunch of pictures along the way to document the ride.  I was lucky enough to see the Lift Bridge raise for the Ranger to come through and got a cool picture with my bike.  The Ranger is the boat that takes people out to Isle Royal and also has an evening cruise through the Portage Canal that is on our To-Do-List for one of our trips to the Keweenaw.

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We finished our evening with the Monster Truck show at the Houghton County Fair.  It was a small show with only 4 trucks, but the kids really enjoyed it.  This year, they had a spectator tug of war pull and there was a bit of damage from that.  They were not pulling the tension out of the rope before the trucks pulled, which resulted in ripping the hitch off of one truck with some major bumper damage and a broken driveshaft or axle on a jeep.  It was entertaining for the kids and a pretty cheap night as well.  The kids were free and it was only $7 for adults.  Pretty cheap for a Monster Truck Show!  Of course not so cheap for those in the spectator tug of war pull…

Day 15 – McLain State Park, Michigan

We started the morning off with some family time at the park.  McLain has 2 different day use areas.  One of them is right next to the campground and the other is less than a mile down the park road, where the canal dumps into Lake Superior.  If you stop through here, I recommend going down to this second park.  There is a nice picnic and beach area with a great view of the lighthouse.  I enjoy checking out the old lighthouses.

After the park, Lynn and the boys were headed to Grandma’s house while I did some mountain biking.  The Keweenaw Peninsula is a mountain bikers heaven with some great trails.  Copper Harbor is the big attraction, but there are some hidden gem trails in the Keweenaw and the Swedetown Trails in Calumet have a trail head just a few miles up the road from McLain State Park.  Lynn dropped me off at this lower trailhead before moving on to Grandma’s house while I enjoyed some great XC trail riding.

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After everybody returned to camp, we finished the evening off with a nice campfire and S’mores.  We found our own little way to make S’mores with chocolate covered cookies, instead of the traditional Graham Crackers and Hersheys, but my son decided to make the ultimate combo.  I also enjoyed a couple Oktoberfest Beers from the Frankenmuth Brewery in Frankenmuth, Michigan that I found at the local IGA.  It was the first time trying them out and they were fantastic.

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Day 16 – Home

After spending 15 nights in the camper, it was finally time to make our way home.  I have one stop that I usually like to make on our way out of Houghton and that is Roy’s.  You can’t leave the UP without having some sort of pasty, which we already had on Saturday, but making this stop before leaving town makes the trip whole.  I did change things up this time and opted for one of their breakfast pasties and it was definitely worth writing home about.  Roy’s is right down on the water front, so you can grab a pasty and coffee to enjoy at a picnic table next to the canal.  Summer only of course, as you would be sitting in 15 foot of snow in the winter…

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There are two main routes that you can take from the Keweenaw across Wisconsin.  One of them is taking US-2 that runs you along Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin before heading south in Duluth, or take the 2 lane backroads through some National Forest and little towns.  As much as I like the lake, I was pulling the camper and not going to take advantage of the highway speeds anyways and opted for the small town 2 lane forest roads.

This decision paid off as we found a nice little day park on a small lake where we stopped for a lunch break.  The boys and I even jumped in the lake for a little swim to cool off and stretch the legs.  We found some snails and clams in the beach area also that provided some additional entertainment for the kids.  Plus, there was a nice bonus of a few wild raspberries growing next to the beach.  We eventually had to end our swim and finish the rest of our journey home.

We had a great trip and really enjoyed all of our time together.  It was a major bonus that we were also able to spend some time with family along the way!

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Trip Report – North Dakota Badlands and Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

In my latest monthly report, you got a taste of our recent trip to the North Dakota Badlands for a mountain bike race on the Maah Daah Hey Trail, near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  We decided to make an extended family camping trip out of the event instead of just going out for the race.  This is a full report out on the trip.  We got to experience the Badlands and a little bit of Colonel Custer history in the process, with a stop off at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park on the way home.  Not to mention, a stop to see the World’s Largest Buffalo Monument!

Day 1 – Monday

We started our road trip out with an uneventful drive through our first leg of the trip that took us just shy of the Minnesota and North Dakota border, where we set up camp at Buffalo River State Park in Glyndon, Minnesota.  This was a nice little park and we arrived in plenty of time to enjoy a bit of relaxation around camp and for me to stretch my legs with a short interval workout on my bike.  The kids were excited for electricity as we had warned them that we would not have any electricity at our next stop, the CCC Campground near Grassy Butte, North Dakota.

An additional note on this day…  We took our time driving and must have had a tail wind because I ended up easily making it all the way there without gassing up and got 11.5 mpg.  This was my best fuel mileage yet while towing the camper.

Day 2 – Tuesday

Short video I took of the wind gust during one of our rest area stops

Tuesday was a bit of a different story with fuel mileage as we ran smack dab into one heck of a wind storm while crossing North Dakota.  We contemplated pulling off for the night, but knew that the storm was going to pass by the time we got to our final destination.  Luckily, it was all a headwind and the gusts were not coming at us sideways, or I would have gone ahead and pulled off for the night.  Needless to say, it took us a little longer to get to Grassy Butte with a couple extra gas stops.  To give you an idea of the headwind that we were fighting, I only got about 5.5 mpg on one of my tanks of fuel and we were only traveling a bit over 50 mph at the time.  We eventually arrived to the CCC Campground just after sunset to set up camp.

Day 3 – Wednesday

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My cup of coffee with a fantastic backdrop

It was a nice cool night and the sleeping was great with all the windows open.  We awoke the next morning to an amazing view of the North Dakota Badlands.  We were the only ones in the campground that morning and could see into the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park right from our campsite.  We didn’t have electricity for our coffee maker and I had gotten rid of our percolator pot at some point, so we improvised by manually dripping hot water through the coffee pot.

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Tough to beat this kind of camp setting

I took my cup of coffee with me on a walk up to the Maah Daah Hey trail head to check things out.  I turned around to find my little buddy Reid following me up the trail eating some breakfast in his t-shirt and underwear…  Apparently he was comfortably enjoying the nature of the Badlands.  I walked up the first hill a bit to get a full view of the land around us.  It was something else.  Some people like the security of a full hook up campground near town, but we’ve had some amazing mornings waking up to deer walking through our campsite, views over a lake or amazing scenery like the Badlands.  Those are the times I have had the most amazing cup of cheap morning coffee…  As a little disclosure, we’ve had some pretty nice full hook up campsites in a great atmosphere in the past as well, thanks to Arkansas State Parks!

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My boys catching a quick pic with me after my trail ride

We took our time getting up and around in the morning and I eventually took off on my bike to pre-ride a bit of the trail for the big race on Saturday.  This trail starts off with a big climb and I knew at this point I was in for one heck of a tough race.  It made me start to rethink my race strategy of how hard I would take off from the start line.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing around camp and watching the kids ride their bikes up and down the campground road. I can’t get enough of watching the kids laugh and play carefree on their bikes like that.  Those are the moments that keep me grounded.  When I say keep me grounded, I mean remind me to not ever “grow up”.  Life is short and you have to make the best out of every experience that you have.

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The boys pretending to be me in the hammock

Day 4 – Thursday

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Unit

Thursday was an extremely full day.  We did spend a fair amount of time in the truck, but we covered quite a bit of ground.  We started the morning off with a drive through the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park to see the Bison herds.  We were pretty lucky, as they were right up on the road when we came through and we had a real close up experience, from the safety of our truck of course…  The kids thought  the Bison were something else and enjoyed watching them.  We drove out to the end of the park, stopping at many of the overlooks to check things out.  The place was beautiful.  It is a bit different than the South Dakota Badlands.  I would say there are more colors and a bit more scenery at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but both places are worth the visit for sure.

We eventually made our way out of the park and back to camp for some lunch.  The kids had heard somebody at one of the lookouts talking about all the prairie dogs at the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and were set on driving down there.  We figured we could combine that with a trip of pre-driving the checkpoints for the race on Saturday to get a better idea of what I had gotten myself into.  That turned out to be a good decision and a fun one.  It was a 106 mile race and there were spectator and SAG (Support and Gear) checkpoints along the course.  Basically, whenever the course crossed a back road about every 8 to 10 miles there was a  checkpoint.

Crossing the Little Missouri River

For one, Lynn was able to see me drive across the Little Missouri, so she felt a bit more comfortable doing it on her own Saturday.  FYI, the river crossing would save her a whole lot of driving on Saturday, about 3.5 hours actually.  Secondly, I was able to get a better lay of the land and see that there was a whole bunch of it between the start line at the CCC campground and the finish line in Medora.  It continued to make me realize how tough of a race this was going to be and that I needed to pace myself a bit at the start if I was going to make it to the finish.  It also helped set in motion, us preparing for Lynn to have some extra water, ice and feed supplies ready for me at the checkpoints.

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Prairie Dogs in Theodore Roosevelt National Park – South Unit

After the river crossing, we found ourselves having to weave our way between earth movers and road graders that were putting a new road in, which was another interesting experience.  Without this, we would have had to back track a couple hours back over the river and the kids would have run out of daylight to see the Prairie Dogs in the South Unit.  We eventually made our way to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park just before sunset and drove in far enough for the kids to watch the Prairie Dogs for awhile.  That is really all they cared about at this point.  They had been waiting all day to see Prairie Dogs.  We figured the South Unit was right off of I-94 and we could easily stop in and drive the rest of the park on another trip through this area.  We made it back to camp after dark to settle in for the night with only one more day before race day.

Day 5 – Friday

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Scenery atop the Mesa after the first climb

My plan for Friday morning was to pretend it was race day and run through my pre-race routine to make sure I was ready.  I took a quick ride up the first climb to the top of the Messa to try and workout a comfortable but competitive pace.  I had taken a couple pictures on my Wednesday ride, but I had to stop again and take it all in because I knew I would be focused on the race the next day.  I was thinking about how awesome of an opportunity it was to race in this rugged, but beautiful land.  I made my way back down to camp and relaxed for the rest of the day.  The kids enjoyed their time riding bikes around the campground again and I kept my feet up most of the day.  Many people were starting to pull into camp for the big race on Saturday and also doing some pre-riding.

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About the only bit of two track in the race atop the first climb

We eventually drove into Watford City to check in for the race and pick up some extra water and ice.  We did make another drive through the North Unit on our way into town.  The kids wanted to see the Bison again, but we only saw a couple this time way off in the distance.  Even though the campground was packed that night, you could hear crickets.  Pretty amazing how quiet a full campground can be at 9:00 PM when everybody in it is getting ready to head out on a 100 mile mountain bike race first thing in the morning…

Day 6 – Saturday

Saturday was race day.  After not sleeping well, I was up at 5:00 AM to get a little food in me and stretch before I put my self through the long day of suffering out on the trail.  It was one heck of a day and I had a great race for where I am at in my current fitness and racing progression.  I ended up 10th place overall, but won’t go into detail here as I have written a full race report over on my other website.  You can read that report here:  2015 Maah Daah Hey 100 Race Report

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My boys hanging with me after the finish line

Lynn and the kids spent the entire day driving from check point to check point of the race, being my SAG (Support and Gear) vehicle.  Temps reached over 100 degrees that day and having cold water and ice available for me at the check points paid off.  It was a long day for them while I was out on the race course for just over 12 hours.  They made it through the whole day and were right there with me at the finish line in Medora.  We picked up pizza for the kids in Medora where the finish of the race was before heading back to the CCC Campground for our last night of camping here.

Day 7 – Sunday

We didn’t rush out of camp too early because we were only going to drive a few hours away to Bismarck, North Dakota.  I got such a kick out of watching the boys’ excitement about the Bison, that I decided to drive them across the river to the North Unit of the park before leaving the area.  They were excited to see the Bison one last time before heading out and we were lucky enough to see a few up near the road again.

We finally got the trailer hooked up and were on the road by late morning to head back East.  We arrived at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park to find ourselves on a nice campsite, after requesting a new one…  The first one they assigned us, was right on top of the neighbors and there were trees right along each side of the parking pad, so we would not have been able to extend our awning or slide outs on the trailer.  It was a bit of a rare site.

I know, we are not really roughing it…  We really like the exploring part of camping more than the real camping part of it and the trailer makes exploring new places real easy and comfortable.  I think as the kids get a bit older, I will take them on some backpacking trips to enjoy more of the real backcountry.  We spent the rest of the evening relaxing around camp and watching the boys ride their bikes around.  I had my feet up most of the time with a gallon jug of water in hand, trying to replenish all the lost fluids from racing the day before in 100 plus degree heat.

Day 8 – Monday

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Mandan Native’s Earth Lodges and Reid being photo bombed by his bear

I love waking up to a near empty campground and drinking my coffee while I pace around outside.  I was missing the morning view of the North Dakota Badlands, but it was still a good morning regardless.  After some coffee and breakfast, we took the opportunity to check out the visitor center and get a lay of the land.  There were some great photos from the Custer era and a good explanation of the grounds.  We checked out the Earth Lodges that were replicas of what the Mandan Indian Tribe people lived in centuries earlier.  It was really interesting and fun showing the boys how people lived back in time.  Being able to put yourself in the place, makes for the greatest history lessons.

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Post Cemetery at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

We eventually checked out the guard houses and the original Post Cemetery.  The Post Cemetery was extremely interesting.  You could actually see the sunken ground where the remains had been dug up at one point and moved to the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery.  It was a bit erie.  You could also see the names on the grave markers and how they had died.  The Cemetery was down off the hill side a bit and I really wanted to check it out.  Old cemeteries really make history a bit more real and helps take you back in time.  My son Reid didn’t want to miss out on anything with me and came running down the path to join me.

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Colonel Custer replica house at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

After the cemetery, we made our way over to the Calvary Post where the replica Colonel Custer house and Calvary Barracks were at.  We did not have a pass to go in the Custer house, but the Barracks were open.  The kids were amazed that the soldiers all lived in these barracks like this and ate all together in the dinning room.  The barracks were all set up as if still being used and again helped everything seem a bit more real.  Getting out and traveling like this has really made for some great history lessons for us.

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The boys checking out the replica Calvary beds

We had one last thing that we had to do.  There was a really nice bike path and the kids wanted to go for a ride.  I was still sore and hurting from the Maah Daah Hey 100 on Saturday, but I needed to stretch my legs a little anyways.  We only rode about 4 miles and then it was getting dark and headed back to camp for a campfire.  We saw a lot of deer on our little bike ride.  The boys would just light up with excitement at the sight of the deer standing there, watching them ride by on their bikes.

Day 9 – Tuesday

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World’s Largest Buffalo Monument in Jamestown, North Dakota

It was time to make our way home.  We packed up in the morning and headed out.  We did stop off in Jamestown, North Dakota to see the World’s Largest Buffalo Monument.  The boys got a kick out of the statue and a few of the old western town buildings.  We purchased some Buffalo teeth in one of the souvenir shops for the boys to keep and remember the trip.  We tend to like the memories and the pictures as our souvenirs, but the Bison teeth were cheep and kind of cool.  That was the last of our stops on this journey and we finished our trek home to unpack and prepare for the next one!

Summary

The main purpose of this trip was the Maah Daah Hey 100 mountain bike race, but we ended up getting a great family vacation out of it with some new great experiences.  All the things we do in life, lead to another experience.  I have enjoyed the mountain biking as it has led us on some great family outings and vacations.  It doesn’t matter what your thing is that you like to do, just go find out what it is and use it as an excuse to get out and see the world.  The boys have now been camping in 17 different states.  They have gotten to see and experience a whole lot with those trips and are usually talking about the next trip and visiting another state before we even get home.