The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Exploring (page 1 of 3)

Finding Fairy Houses

When daughter Andowen was little, she loved to read books about fairies. She loved the photographs in the wonderful series by Tracy & Barry Kane. When she was six years old, she found her first fairy houses in the woods—on a family vacation to Blackriver Falls in WV.

Tracy and Barry Kane

On that trip, Andowen spent hours wandering the trails, posing her fairy figures in front of (and inside) openings in the roots and branches of trees. Eventually, she decided this area was a special conference center where fairies come to rest and have fun together.

Fairies Rest and Have Fun in the Woods

Eventually, all of us started looking for fairy houses as we traveled the world! Big sister Nettie delighted Andowen by building a special stump house in a campground near Seward Alaska. She even included handcrafted woodland furniture. Andowen spun many tales about the fairy family who moved into such luxury accommodations!

Custom Built by big sister Nettie

As we backpacked along the Appalachian Trail in the past few years, there are a few locations that looked like possible fairy houses but we weren’t certain if they were still occupied. One afternoon in Northern Virginia, Andowen found a Fairy Marina where tree roots met a burbling stream. There were many protected slips for a variety of sizes of boats. She watched for quite a while, but the fairies stayed hidden…

AT discoveries, VA

The breakthrough occurred when we spent a few months in Germany. Apparently the fairies have been there so long that they have developed a good relationship with humans. Andowen was quite excited to discover the Royal Fairy Academy in the old Linden tree in the town of Frauenstein. One of the fairies told her that this tree became a training school for Fairy leaders in the 800s. It has been in continuous use since then. The guide explained that there are only a few training academies around the world. There needs to be plenty of entrances and room inside for hundreds of fairies to live, learn, and play. Plus each location has to have special features that set it apart. In this case, many of the suites at this Royal Academy have mossy balconies for fairies to enjoy the lovely setting!

1000 year old Linden, Frauenstein Germany

When we returned to the USA, Andowen kept an eye out, on a search to discover the secret location of the American Fairy Academy. Unfortunately, too many people here no longer believe in fairies, so the school is kept hidden from prying eyes. Finally, Andowen found the academy, camouflaged by hundreds of fake entrances in the walls of Ash Cave in the Hocking Hills right here in Ohio. One fairy guard realized Andowen was a friend and came out to talk to her. Americans tend to be active and exercise conscious—and our fairies are no different. They chose this location because it has a huge floor for sunrise yoga sessions and midnight dances when the moon is full, all serenaded by the falling water.

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Most recently, Andowen was excited to discover the Royal Canadian Fairy Academy. Although the location is one of the most crowded trails in Banff National Park, this school is found in the walls of Johnston Canyon. Apparently this place was chosen because of the wild white water rafting on moonlit evenings. Plus there are few tourists to interrupt treks to the frozen falls when the entire park turns into a winter wonderland. (see link below for photos)

Fairy Houses in Canada, Banff National Park

Fairies just wanna have fun

Read about other ways we have fun in the woods HERE. In case you missed the first installment in our series about the Lego Tiny-Mes who go on adventures with us, you can read about them HERE.

Find Andowen’s favorite Fairy House book HERE

For more information about locations of what we have found so far, check the following links:

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis WV

Frauenstein, Wiesbaden Germany

Johnston Canyon in the Winter, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada

We continue to look for new-to-us fairy houses and training academies. If you find any, please post photos and share the locations in the comments below! Let’s continue to celebrate our fairy-friends!

8 Discoveries in a Children’s Garden

When your kids are bored by the local park and you don’t have energy to take them to wilderness areas, look for a Children’s Garden. We discovered a delightful garden play-area hidden in a corner of our small town. (Don’t know where to find such a place? Check HERE for a list of botanical gardens around the world. Many of them have an area especially designed for children.)

Spending time at a Children’s Garden is not just all about fun. (…although that’s obviously an excellent motive to get out the door with a bunch of kids!) Spending regular time outdoors is also important for our children’s development. There is growing clamor from “experts” who remind us that children need connections with nature to thrive. According to Andy McGeeney, allowing our children to explore outdoor areas in a free, unstructured way “enhances children’s social relationships, confidence in risk taking and exploration, as well as connections to nature.”

“Reports concluded that being in nature was important to childhood, as much as a healthy diet and exercise.” (Gill—London Sustainable Development Commission)

Here are 8 things to look for on your next outing to a local Children’s Garden:

Welcome: Hopefully, the Children’s Garden is a welcoming place that offers a safe space to wander and many beckoning corners and hidden patios to keep the attention of young ones (and caregivers, too!)

(gates and hidden spaces at the Children's Garden)

Walkways: Following a path is intriguing, especially if an interesting destination is visible. Even better are trails that twist and turn, letting children imagine what might be around the next corner.

(oversized adirondack chair is a fun climber)

Wacky: The best gardens have wacky “rooms” that make fun of the real world. Tiny fairy houses or GIANT oversized tools are both fun to explore.

(Oversized tools are wacky at the Children's Garden)

Wander: An excellent Children’s Garden will have space for children to safely wander on their own. Opportunities for free-exploration are important for building self-esteem and a sense of competence in the world.

(Wander the paths and find the Covered Bridge)

Window to Another World: Window-views add an extra layer of enjoyment. Those openings frame Nature’s “art” and offer glimpses of new worlds to explore.

(Tepee play area at the Children's Garden)

Water: I know, I know, water gets messy. But that is part of what makes an outing memorable! Opportunities to play in water are a wonderful addition to any play area. Just bring some towels and keep a close eye on your kids, of course.

(Tepee reflecting in a tiny pond)

Whimsy: Why have boring, “normal” play equipment in a Children’s Garden? Choosing unique climbers, play houses, and benches adds a whimsical touch rather than just feeling like a typical playground with a few extra plants and flowers.

(Whimsical playground climber)

Wonder: Any time we step outside our doorways, there is an opportunity to allow our children to experience the wonder of the world around us. All of us are happier when we “take time to smell the flowers!”

(Little girl closely inspecting flowers in the garden)

See a list of a few of my favorite books, articles, and websites about the importance of connecting with nature HERE

Find activities and printables for getting kids outside HERE  Participate in monthly outdoor family challenges HERE

We all need to get outside regularly. But let’s not forget the children. Let’s teach the next generation to love Nature as well! (Drop a line in the comments–what is one thing you do for fun outside?)

The Best Things about Car Camping

As you know, Daughter and I spend much of our outdoor adventure time backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. This involves sleeping in the woods—either in a small tent or in a primitive 3-walled shelter. (Read more about it HERE ) But occasionally, when we go on road trips, we are reminded of the glorious benefits of car camping.

“Car Camping”: driving to a place where you camp close to your car so loading and unloading is easy

Here are some of the best things  about driving to a campgrounds to spend a night outside:

COMFORT:

With no need to count every ounce that we must carry on our backs, we can enjoy the comfort of lounging in lawn chairs. To fight the bugs, we can easily bring a mosquito coil or even an entire screen house.

Macedon NY City park, mosquito coil and lawn chairs

Most campgrounds provide each site with a fire ring, wood for purchase, and a picnic table. No balancing on a log with dinner on our knees? Ahhhh…luxury!

Relaxing at Ohio Pyle State Park

A CAR IS HANDY:

When we head to a campsite with our car, we can bring a cooler filled with fresh food and cold drinks. We don’t have to worry about weight, so fruit and salad can be included along with hotdogs and buns, condiments, and, of course, ingredients for s’mores. Backpacking food gives us the fuel we need to hike; Car Camping food fills our bellies and our souls!

yummy, juicy food is possible when car camping

Having a car handy makes it easy to run to a nearby town for food, for entertainment, and for more ice for the cooler. The car becomes a huge locker to store all of the extra “stuff” we might need or want on our adventure. It also means we don’t have to hang a “bear bag” to keep critters away from our goodies. Hallelujah! (Read about the trials and tribulations of hanging a bear bag while backpacking HERE and HERE)

The back of the car is filled with stuff, including hikers who need a ride!

EXTRA FUN:

When we go on a backpacking adventure, the hiking itself is the primary “fun” of the trip. With car camping, we still have walking trails right outside our tent door. We can leisurely wander those paths for a few hours without the stress of pushing to get to the next flat ground to set up camp for the night.

National Parks have many locations for car camping 

With easy access to our car, we can also take advantage of entertainment in the surrounding area. We might take a canoe trip, explore a cave, do some antique shopping, or just go have dinner in a quirky restaurant. Having options is delightful!

Lots of opportunities for fun when car camping

BETTER SLEEP:

It is usually more comfortable to camp near our vehicle. We aren’t exhausted from a day of hiking up and down mountains, but we often sleep better with a few “luxuries.” We can bring our favorite pillows and blankets…

We can bring blankets and pillows from home when we car camp, Acadia NP

Sometimes we choose to bring our large tent which has space for … COTS! Not as comfy as a bed, but surely less hard than sleeping on the ground.

Sleeping on a cot when car camping is much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground

Car Camping Comparison:

We prefer to spend extended time in the mountains and woods. That means we will continue backpacking and sleeping far from our vehicle. But occasional trips to a campground are still enjoyable. Some of our favorite parts of camping are available in both settings. We will never grow tired of waking up to bird-song and watching trees sway in the breeze from our tent “windows.”

We can still see trees from our tent when we are car camping

Sitting around a campfire is a perfect end to a day spent outdoors. When backpacking, we rarely have the energy to start a fire, plus most hikers are asleep by the time the sun sets. But sharing stories and laughing with friends around a crackling fire is a special treat whenever it happens.

Chairs, Tripod, and lots of food are possible at a campfire when car camping.

ALTERNATIVES:

Not sure if you want to “rough it” in a tent? Remember, many places have cozy alternatives. Consider renting a cabin at a state park. Or try more unusual options such as a caboose or a tepee. (Read about our Tepee Dreaming HERE ) On your next vacation, plan to sleep a night or two in NATURE!

Car camping is not only sleeping in tents, it includes alternate lodging as well.

I would love to know how YOU choose to spend time outdoors—whether you take a day-trip or spend a weekend sleeping in the woods. Let me know in the comments…

The Tiny-Mes Visit the Big Apple

We recently finished a road trip to the Northeast USA. Our Lego Tiny-Mes, of course, joined us along with their new travel buddy, Tiny-Dox (TD). Today we tell the story of their adventures in the “Big Apple.” (If you missed their time in upstate NY and Maine, read about it HERE. To start at the beginning of our adventures with the Tiny-Mes, click HERE. )

When we got to New York City, we drove straight to our lodging on Far Rockaway. Our plan was to park the car, avoid traffic and use transit to get around the Big Apple. (Tiny-A is a growing teen who is always hungry—she wants to know why NYC has that funny nickname anyways?!) Both Tiny-Mes are a bit nervous about our navigation skills when there are no trails or white blazed trees to follow. They carefully studied the transit map to help decide the best mix of ferries and trains to get us to our chosen sight-seeing destinations.*

Tiny-Mes, Lego tourists, planning

Tiny-Dox (TD) took control of the ferry timetable. Who’s a good-boy?!

Doxie, Planning

We spent our first day following the path taken by floods of immigrants to the USA in the late 1800s. Good thing we had reservations—there are floods of tourists today. Lady Liberty is still the most iconic Welcome symbol in the world!

Big Apple icon

Tiny-Dox was adamant that we had to spend time exploring Ellis Island. After all, his ancestors might well have arrived at this entry point. Dachshunds ARE from Germany, you know! Tiny-A and Tiny-S were sad that THEIR ancestors arrived much earlier from Germany and Sweden and weren’t represented at Ellis Island…

Heritage, Ancestors, Lego, Dachshund

All of us enjoyed the ease of commuting by ferry to get to the Big Apple. The lower deck is enclosed, with plenty of seats, a snack bar, and plugs to recharge electronics. The Tiny-Mes enjoyed sprawling on the wide sill to stare out the huge windows. They were amazed at the container ships that lumbered past, looming above the ferry. They were thrilled by tiny boats with bright colored sails, and excited to go under famous bridges and gawk at the city skyline.

Lego travel buddies, East River, Big Apple

We all stayed dry inside when it poured down rain. But one sunny day, the Tiny-Mes begged to go up to the open top deck. They laughed at the gulls dancing above the ferry. BUT WAIT! Where is Tiny-Dox? Someone grab him, quick! It’s not safe to balance on the railing in the wind! Whew! Let’s go back downstairs…

Doxie, hudson river

After transferring ferries to travel further up the East River, we got off at the 34th Street Terminal. Entering the maze of tall skyscrapers with crowds rushing and taxi-horns blaring was overwhelming!** Tiny pocket-parks of green were a comfort. And the occasional statue or street art was entertaining. TD was quite excited when he saw this quirky Dalmatian statue. He ran around this way and that, trying to find a taxi to balance on HIS nose. Silly Doxie!

Doxie, Dogs rule!

We walked to find famous landmarks in the Big Apple. Grand Central Station is beautiful inside…but far less stressful to just enjoy it from a distance, away from the crowds. We noticed TD’s nose sniffing the air, but didn’t think anything of it. (Oops! Bad idea…)

 NYC transit, Lego travel buddies,

Oh, no! Come back, Tiny-Dox! He led us on a merry chase—dodging this way and that to sniff food truck after food truck and enjoy the wondrous scents coming from restaurants above and below street level. “Woof!” said TD when we finally caught up with him. He was right…that pizza was delicious!

Doxie, Dachshund foodie

Once every crumb of pizza was devoured, we insisted it was time to start moving again. We wanted to see the Empire State Building before rush hour clogged the streets and sidewalks with hordes of commuters. We walked block after block, but the icon never seemed to get any closer. Eventually, Tiny-S and Tiny-A sat on a step and refused to move. They insisted they needed something sweet to give them energy to continue. And Tiny-S claimed she *needed* to refill her coffee mug. Fortunately, we were close to a tiny bakery…

Dessert

Finally, we got to our destination. We loved the ornate, art-deco lobby. The Tiny-Mes preferred marveling over the sheer height of the building. (Daughter Andowen was excited to see the site of modern day Mt Olympus—made famous by Percy Jackson books…but that’s a story for another day!)

Big Apple icon, Lego tourists, Percy Jackson Mt Olympus

As we headed back to the ferry terminal, Andowen joined the Tiny-Mes in demanding yet another snack. (I guess teens and TMs are ALWAYS hungry!) This time we found a Tower of Fries…perhaps a fitting way to celebrate the many square miles of skyscrapers towering over this big city.

 Fancy Snacks, Sidewalk Cafe

Each evening, we enjoyed watching the city skyline pass by as we rode the ferry back to our lodgings. On the last night, we were a little sad to say Farewell to the Big Apple! We will be back again someday…but for now we are happy to be heading home. And Tiny-Dox is excited to get back to his family!

Big Apple skyline, East River, Tiny-Mes

NOTES:

*   Eventually we discovered there is a website to help plan effective travel in NYC once you get to town from the ferry. If you are ever a tourist in the Big Apple, you can find transit options HERE

** Read about how Andowen (and the rest of us) survived the chaos of the Big City HERE

Which is your favorite Big City to visit? I’d love to read your answer in the comments below!

10 Things to Do Before the “Dog-Days of Summer” Are Over

Dog-Days of Summer:

Why is the hottest part of the season called the “Dog-Days of Summer”? Contrary to popular belief, it was not given this name because dogs respond to the heat by stretching out on cool ground, tongues hanging out, panting. July 3 – August 11 was actually called the dog-days by the Ancient Greeks who believed that when the dog-star Sirius rises with the dawn, it gives extra heat to the Sun’s energy.

Rather than joining the dogs and listlessly lazing by the pool or in an air-conditioned room, here are 10 things to get up and go do before the summer is over:

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES:

  1. Take time for stargazing. Drive somewhere with fewer lights and stare up at the sky. This year the peak of the Perseid Meteor Showers will be on the night of August 12/13, 2018. If they sky is clear, you could see as many as 60-70 “falling stars” streaking across the sky each hour! Adopt this as a new tradition to celebrate the dog-days of summer each year. (Click HERE for more information about the Perseids.)
  2. Spend time near (or in) water. Floating in the river or enjoying the wind and wake of being in a boat are both excellent ways to relax and cool down on a hot summer day. Bonus points for being near a waterfall or a beach with waves! Summer Fun, Dog-Days of Summer, Ohiopyle Park
  3. Go for a walk in the park. Stare at the trees. Feel the breeze on your skin. Notice tiny things around you—insects, wildflowers, textures of rocks or tree trunks. If it is an open area, find creatures and other funny shapes in the moving clouds.
  4. Spend an evening around a campfire. There is something special about relaxing with friends around a crackling fire, watching sparks drift upward. Make s’mores and savor your favorite drink. Share stories or sit in companionable silence as you stare at the flames. Summer Nights

INDOOR ACTIVITIES:

  1. Eliminate unused, worn-out “stuff.” I know, I know, this doesn’t feel like something enjoyable to do. Trust me, letting go of things that no longer serve you well is a great way to usher out the dog-days of summer and get ready for a new season. So dump the piles of paper in the recycling bin, throw bags of worn-out stuff in the trash can, and haul boxes of no-longer-used clothes and kitchen gadgets to the thrift store. Set yourself free!
  2. Put your feet up. Sometimes your pet has the right idea on the sweltering dog-days of summer. Lounge in the hammock, gently rocking in the breeze, while you enjoy your favorite drink. Or go for a leisurely ride on your friend’s pontoon boat, feet propped up, enjoying the wind in your face. Put Your Feet Up, Dog-Days of Summer
  3. Play an old fashioned game. Dig out a well-loved board game from the cupboard. Find the badminton or croquet sets buried in the garage. Make it a cut-throat, competitive tournament if desired. Or spend a few quiet hours introducing the next generation to the non-electronic games you enjoyed as a kid!

BE A LOCAL TOURIST:

  1. Enjoy a sidewalk café. Pretend you are in Europe as you slowly savor every bite of a decadent dessert. Sip your fancy coffee while you listen to snippets of conversations swirl around you from nearby tables. summer treats, dog-days of summer
  2. Explore a local tourist destination. Do an on-line search for “Things to Do” in your area. Finally spend the money to visit the world-class museum in a nearby city. Wander the midway at a local fair. Buy a treasure for your living room at the annual craft show. Enjoy the entertainment at a cultural festival.
  3. See a live show or attend a sports event. Whether amateur or professional, there are certainly opportunities for being entertained outdoors during the dog-days of summer. In our area, we can enjoy Shakespeare in the Park, weekly outdoor concerts and summer theater productions. There are baseball games, golf tournaments, and bicycle and running racers to cheer on as they race. Summer Fun, Knox County Jazz Orchestra

Now is the time to squeeze in a few more activities before the dog-days of summer turn into the crisp, cool days of fall. What other ways do you and your family have fun in the summertime? Please share your best idea(s) in the comments below!

(Did you miss these posts? Read about some of our local discoveries HERE. Find ideas about finding your town’s history HERE.)

How NATURE GIRL Survives the Big City

Too many people, too much noise, no quiet to be found… Visiting the Big City can be completely overwhelming, sending anxiety higher than the looming skyscrapers. And when you are “Nature Girl,” how in the world do you survive a week of chaos?

Andowen has been begging to visit New York City for a few years now. Some of her favorite books and movies have connections to that place. She was thrilled to find the (imaginary) sites she wanted to see. And both of us agree that we are in no hurry to return to the hustle and bustle of that metropolis. As I have explained HERE and HERE, our daughter needs extended time in nature to find balance in life. Even I was overwhelmed as we braved the chaos. We were in desperate need of some Forest Therapy!

Fortunately for both of us, we discovered that there are bits of Nature to be found, even in a Big City. We reminded each other to use our senses to connect to the non-human world:

  • We noticed Nature’s colors and changing light. Big City sunset, skyline, NYC
  • We listened for flowing water, found in tiny parks. Rocky Fountain, Pocket Park, Big City, NYC
  • We enjoyed the wind and waves on our ferry rides in and out of the Big City. NYC ferries, Hudson River
  • Rather than getting frustrated at a long wait for the ferry to load and unload (we were continuing on to the next stop), we focused on the dance of the seagulls playing in the wind. Statue of Liberty, NYC, play on the wind

Once our stress levels were lower, we began to notice that New York City is filled with quiet corners and tiny places to savor Nature. Here are a few of our favorite discoveries:

  • At the World Trade Center memorial, the story of the Survivor Tree reminded us of the healing power of Nature—both for itself, and for grieving people. the Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYCthe Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYC
  • We found tiny courtyards with gardens and benches, a peaceful haven for weary walkers (often hidden beside churches). Big City pocket parks, church peace
  • If you go to NYC, don’t miss walking “The Highline”—an unused elevated train track converted to a few miles of walking trail complete with gardens, set high above the busy streets. Big City pocket parks, NYC
  • We also found little playgrounds every few blocks, covered by shady trees. I enjoyed sitting on a quiet bench with children’s laughter and chatter covering the noise of traffic. Andowen was excited to find her favorite “spinners” to play on. Big City playground, NYC

These were some of the ways we found connections with Nature to help us survive a visit to the Big City. I’m curious how YOU thrive in a busy place—whether vacationing or living there? Drop your suggestion(s) in the comments below!

My 7 Favorite Adventures

What’s your favorite dinosaur? Class in school? Comfort food recipe? Where and when were your favorite adventures? Who’s the best band? Professor? Relative? We grow up being asked to pick favorites in most areas of life. Most often our lists change over time. But there are usually a few items that stay near the top, cherished for a lifetime.

With my love of wandering and my quest for “Big Epics” (read more about Big Epics HERE), it seems appropriate that I share the locations of my 7 favorite adventures with you. These are places I return to over and over—in person or in my dreams. (This list of places I have visited at least twice came together quickly, but it is presented in chronological order of when I first traveled to each location. There would have been days of dithering and second guessing if I had to actually rank my choices!)

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY – I love the coolness and the quiet of being deep underground. (I know, I know…many folks HATE being in a cave. Humor me!) As one of the longest cave systems in the world, there are a wide variety of tours at Mammoth Cave. I’ve been on most of them over the years. My favorite was going on the “Wild Cave Tour” when I was 16. “Exploring” the cave by headlamp and crawling through holes and narrow canyons was my first taste of big adventure. Even better was taking my young adult kids to the park for them to go on the same tour decades later. On my bucket list with this site is returning to go on the newly re-opened boat tour at the lower levels of the cave! (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE )

Big Epic Adventure, Favorite Adventures, KYHistoric Entrance, Kentucky

Killington Ski Resort VT – I was in middle school when we first went to Killington for Spring Break. It was a drivable distance from Ohio to this large ski area, which allowed my family to vacation here year after year. Trips became sporadic as my sisters and I grew up, went to college, and started our own families. Occasionally, we 3 generations gathered to enjoy the same runs. This place tops the list of favorite adventures for most of our family members. There is a possibility that we might manage to return in 2020 for a week of skiing with FOUR generations! You will certainly read about it if we pull that off. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE )  

Snow Skiing, Spring Skiing, Killington VTKillington Ski Resort, VT

Mayan Ruins in Yucatan, Mexico – I first spent a summer in the Yucatan when I was in high school. There is amazing scope for imagination here—remnants of a great civilization, daydreams of actually experiencing that culture, and adventure stories of archeologists rediscovering the ruins and eventually deciphering the language carved in stone. We returned as a family in 2002, when our youngest daughter was just a baby. Someday I would love to explore the Mayan ruins found in Guatamala and Belize. (More info about the famous ruins at Chicheen Itza HERE. The less crowded sites are even more magical to visit…)

Mayan Ruins, Yucatan Penninsula

Hadrian’s Wall across N Yorkshire, England – I admit it, I’m a history geek. Which made this site a stunning adventure. Imagine—a wall built millennia ago by the Romans is not just still standing…but you can actually WALK on it! The wall was not particularly effective at keeping the barbarian outsiders of northern England out of the civilized settlements. But it remains an amazing monument to a long-gone civilization’s determination and organization. I have visited small areas of Hadrian’s Wall twice—with a different daughter each time. I dream of walking the length of the wall with youngest daughter someday. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE.)

Roman Ruins, N Yorkshire, History Geek

Banff National Parque, Alberta, Canada – I love mountains of any size and shape. But my very favorite mountains (so far) are the Canadian Rockies. Steep mountains with snow caps surrounding brilliant turquoise blue glacial lakes—stunning! We spent time here during our nine months of wandering in an RV. And we returned on our road trip a few months ago when we visited a dear friend who now lives in this beautiful location. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE. The first photo is at iconic Lake Louise. The recent photo is at Lake Minnewanka.) 

Banff National Parque, Canadian RockiesBanff National Parque, Canadian Rockies

Chaco Culture National Historic Site, NM – Scattered across the high desert of New Mexico are ruins of another great civilization. Chaco Canyon receives few visitors because it is in the middle of nowhere and is only accessible by 20 miles of dirt roads. Because of the low volume of guests, people are allowed to wander unaccompanied through the ruins. This is another location with great scope for imagination as we walk through doorways and peek through windows to see the same scenery enjoyed by the Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi) 600 years ago. Because we lived nearby for three years, we had the privilege of seeing this site in different seasons, changing light, and varied weather. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE.)

Chaco Canyon, Anasazi RuinsChaco Canyon, Anasazi Ruins

The Appalachian Trail (GA to ME) – As I have described elsewhere on this blog, since I was a teen I have dreamed of taking extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. To me, this is the very definition of a “Big Epic.” Youngest Daughter and I have completed over 500 miles of the 2200 mile-long path through the woods and up and down the mountains of the Eastern USA. We plan another trip for later this fall. I don’t know if we will ever complete the entire trail—but we are having fun along the way! (More info about this Favorite Adventure—at the official site HERE and our reasons for heading to the woods HERE.)

first big epic, section hiking, ATWhite blazes, AT, foggy day

BONUS: WHALE WATCHING (There are many places to do this. We enjoyed Kenai Fjords National Park, AK – Walking to (and tasting!) ancient glaciers. Taking a boat tour along the mountainous coast and seeing amazing wildlife, including WHALES. Exploring the history of the region. What’s not to love about visiting this park? Someday I dream of returning to Alaska to revisit my Favorite Adventures in that wild land. And I would be happy to go on Whale Watch Tours in other locations as well. (More info about this National Park HERE )

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, Favorite AdventuresExit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

I would LOVE to hear about YOUR Favorite Adventures. Please leave me a comment below…

Junior Ranger Challenge

Hop in the car and head to the nearest National Park. Sounds like a good vacation outing to me. But far too often, this simple activity is met by complaining from the back seats: “Do we HAVE to…?” “This will be BOring…” Turn down the whines and help your kids look forward to what they can “Explore, Learn and Protect!” by getting involved in the Junior Ranger program at more than 400 National Park sites.

Our family discovered this fabulous hands-on challenge when we wandered the western USA in an RV nine years ago. Daughter completed the information scavenger hunt, earned her first badge and was sworn in as a Junior Ranger at Arches National Park when she was just seven years old. (As a paparazzi extraordinaire, I must confess that somehow I have no photos of this momentous occasion. In my defense, I had no idea that this would be more than a one-time entertainment.)

nps, hiking, southwest USA

The quest for ever more badges has continued. Wherever we go, we look for National Park sites along the way for daughter to add to her collection. She started adding the replica badges to a lanyard. Then we bought her a vest to show off her collection. Eventually, she had so many badges that she made a wall hanging to display all of them. This past weekend, she earned badge #100 at the Statue of Liberty! Woohoo! Way to Go, Andowen!

earn badges, nps

nps, statue of liberty, collection

Originally this program was targeted to children ages 7-13 years old. There has been enough interest that anyone of any age is now allowed to become a Junior Ranger at each location. Let’s walk through the process together:

  • Pick Your Park to Visit—Whenever we drive somewhere, I check the list of parks at nps.gov to see where we could stop along the way.
    nps, travel itinerary
  • Go to the Desk at the Visitor Center and ask for a Junior Ranger Book—Complete the required number of activities. It is perfectly acceptable for family members to help. (In the process, we often learn more than our daughter does!) Because we consider these activities to be part of our homeschooling curriculum, we insist that the entire book must be finished, in the car if not at the park itself. (You can read more HERE about how we include travel activities as part of school.)
    family, homeschoolingearn badges, nps
  • Many Different Activities Help Complete the Booklet—Watch the park movie. Take a tour. Explore the plants and animals outdoors. Write poetry or draw pictures. Go on an information scavenger hunt in the museum. Interview a Ranger.
    National Park Service, Visitor Centernps, explore naturenps, displays, scavenger hunt
  • Take the Booklet Back to a Ranger—At minimum, he will check to see you have fulfilled the requirements. Sometimes, she will discuss what you have written or explore what you have learned. A few of the rangers have taken time to encourage our daughter to imagine how she might get involved with the National Park Service as a career. Junior Ranger, Ft Davis, npsJunior Ranger, nps, valley forge
  • Raise Your Right Hand and Be Sworn in as a Junior Ranger—promising to continue to explore National Parks, do one’s best to protect the parks, and share what is learned with family and friends. Then shake hands with the ranger and accept your new badge. nps, raise your right hand, biscayne bay
  • Add the Badge to Your Collection—In our family, that means adding a few pages to yet another scrapbook as well as pinning the latest badge or patch to the custom wall hanging. nps, junior ranger, collection

BONUS: Here are links to my daughter’s favorite National Park Sites that we have visited (so far).

Read more about Chaco Culture National Historic Site (in New Mexico) HERE. Andowen has many happy memories of this park since we lived near it for three years and visited often. nps, junior ranger

Read more about Craters of the Moon National Monument (in Idaho) HERE. This was one of the most desolate yet fascinating sites we have seen. nps, junior ranger

Read more about Kenai Fjords National Park (in Alaska) HERE. Andowen enjoyed tasting a bit of ice from Exit Glacier. And she was completely WOWED by seeing orcas and a whale fluke on the boat tour! nps, junior ranger, awe, excitement, whale watch

We would love to hear from you—what is YOUR favorite National Park to visit?

(Read about Homeschooling in the Woods HERE!)

10 Things to Do for a Great Vacation

When you go on your next adventure, avoid the” woulda, coulda, shoulda” regrets of missed opportunities. Plan ahead to make sure you soak up all the best sounds, sights and activities. If you are like me, take this list along with you so you don’t get too busy and forget these little details that will turn your next trip into a great vacation.

ACTIVITIES:

1 – Say “YES” to unexpected opportunity: Be flexible enough to make a quick change of plans when you find something fun, intriguing, or exciting to do. Make sure you have some extra money in your budget to fund a few extras. On one family trip, we shared the cost of renting jet-skis for an afternoon. On a day in Paris, daughter Andowen and I took a bike taxi ride. Both are memories we still cherish!

unexpected fun, explore, great vacation activities

2 – Talk to a local: Strike up a conversation with a local shopkeeper or another mom at the playground. Folks are often quite proud to be asked for advice. You might find the perfect romantic restaurant or family-friendly café. There is probably a hidden gem of a park or waterfall or swimming hole nearby. (Time in Nature *is* important, ya know… HA!) On our current road trip, I stopped to get a haircut. The barber and his next customer animatedly urged us to explore a nearby nature preserve. We are still talking about the giant eagle nests topping the line of power poles and the great heron spearing his fishy lunch in the marsh.

3 – Find a local market or shop to explore: Avoid chains and big-box stores. It’s far more fun to discover little treasures and one-of-a-kind things at a local emporium. Even better is a store with sky-high prices—an opportunity to window-shop. You can ooh and aah without being tempted to buy anything. Take time to chat with the owner or store-clerk, if possible. They often have interesting stories to tell—about the merchandise, about the local area, or about their own life story. Little details like this can turn a ho-hum trip into a great vacation!

shop local, gift store

4 – Try something outside your comfort zone: Why in the world would I suggest you be uncomfortable (or even terrified) on your next vacation? Because when we are stretched, we learn more about ourselves. So try that zip-line or take a jeep tour. Taste the local food. Hike the mountain above town. Figure out what types of adventures you enjoy and which things you never want to do again!

THINGS:

5 – Find/Buy a meaningful memento: Sure, that stuffed animal is adorable. And that T-shirt has a hilarious saying. But do you really have a place for that quirky candle-holder or colorful poster? Is there empty space in your cupboard for yet one more mug or wine glass? Consider starting a collection of something small instead. Going on a hunt for the perfect spoon or earrings or magnet can become an enjoyable tradition. And each time you glance at your collection back home, you will be reminded of the wonderful adventures you have had.

frig magnets, great vacation mementos

6 – Snap the photos you have missed: Sometimes I remember to make a list of specific photos I don’t want to forget. I know myself—without a reminder, I will take far too many photos of beautiful scenery and architectural details, and far too few pictures of people and quiet moments. Because of my list, on this current trip I have taken more photos of the friends we have visited, the shops we have wandered, and the made-up adventures of the Tiny-Mes (our Lego travelling companions). Snap a quick picture of the sign at a yummy café or a quirky shop. Capture the treasures you find to remember details of your great vacation when you get back home.

7 – Send a postcard to someone special: Grandma would love to hear from you (and so would Mom…trust me!) Share the fun with the person who cheers you on in your adventures. Find a historic photo to send to your favorite history geek. (okay, okay…so I keep these for myself…) Tip: tacky-tourist stores or museum gift shops are often the best places to purchase postcards. Unfortunately, postcards are becoming harder to find!

snail mail, paper ephemera, great vacation memories

MEMORIES:

8 – Savor: Take time to soak in the atmosphere of the place you are visiting. We best remember things associated with strong emotion: excitement is an easy memory trigger. But noticing with our senses also makes deep connections. Notice the changing light on the buildings. Breathe deeply in a garden or near the spices in an open market. (But you might want to use shallow breathing to lessen the stench of an open meat market!) Pay attention to the background noise around you: music, conversations, footsteps, car horns. Feel the warm sunshine or cool wind on your skin. It might seem like you don’t have time to waste on such things. Actually, you are wasting your time if you don’t savor the uniqueness of your great vacation location!

Ocean spray, big waves, Maine coast

9 – Remember your motivation & objectives for this adventure: Why did you take this vacation? Perhaps it was to rest and recharge from a chaotic daily schedule. Maybe it was to add some excitement to your life. You might have wanted to get away from people…or meet new people and hear new stories. As you remind yourself of the purpose(s) for your trip, is there anything you still need to do to fulfill your own expectations?

10 – Take time to reflect: Consider the things you have most enjoyed about this vacation. Make sure you keep these things in mind for your next trip. Ponder the things that frustrated you. How can you lessen those challenges next time? On our first backpacking trip (You can read about the adventure HERE) daughter and I started a daily practice to write down “our three good things.” We allow ourselves to record just one “bad” thing from each day. This helps us notice the things we enjoy, even on hard days. And it makes an excellent reference when planning future trips. We can choose to include more of the things that make our hearts sing! (Read our first post about Three Good Things HERE)

memories, 3 good things, great vacation

Most of us take a trip at least once a year. What things can YOU add to this list to help others turn an annual tradition into a great vacation? I’d love to hear your favorite tip(s) in the comments below…

Travel Buddy for the Tiny-Mes

We are traveling again—this time on a road trip to the Northeast USA. Our Lego Tiny-Mes have, of course, joined us. Here’s the next installment in THEIR adventures. They have a new travel buddy. (If you haven’t yet met our Tiny-Mes, read their introduction HERE.)

While we were busy packing, Tiny-A and Tiny-S insisted we had to stop for a few minutes and meet their new friend. They introduced us to Tiny-Dox (or TD)—an adorable little dachshund. Like most “doxies,” TD is ALWAYS curious. Although he dearly loves his people, he was apparently a bit bored and was looking for new places to explore. They proposed he join us as their special travel buddy.

Doxie, Travel Buddy

We had no interest in taking responsibility for a pet while traveling. After all, we leave our own dog at home. But the Tiny-Mes insisted they would keep a close eye on TD. They pointed out he is well trained and quite obedient…at least MOST of the time! We have apparently become softies because we said, “Okay, Let’s GO!”

Packed Car, Let's Go!

 Our itinerary for this trip includes stops at a number of National Parks and National Historic Sites for Andowen to collect more Jr. Ranger Badges. Tiny-A and Tiny-S enjoyed learning more about the fight for Women’s Rights. “We would have joined the men and women marching for equality for women,” declared the Tiny-Mes.

NPS, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass

 Poor Tiny-Dox. He was awfully bored inside the museum. The movie was too loud. There were no critters to hunt. There were no comfy chairs for dozing. We reminded TD that we couldn’t leave until Andowen earned her badge. “Quick,” he woofed! “I’ll help you finish your workbook. Let’s get out of here!”

NPS, Tiny-Dachshund, workbook

Tiny-Dox much preferred our day-trips to the Atlantic Ocean and the Coast of Maine. The Tiny-Mes pose for a photo on the rocky shores below the Pemaquid Lighthouse. But where is TD going?

Pemaquid Light, Rocky Shore

“Woof,” bellowed Tiny-Dox from a mini-cave in the rocks. “Look what I found! It smells deliciously strong and salty…”

Tiny Dachshund, Doxies, Seashell

All that walking in the fresh salt air made everyone hungry. We headed to town, looking for tasty seafood. The Brass Compass Café in Rockland smelled perfect! We could hardly wait for the food to arrive at our table. The plates were mounded with wonderful food: fish and chips, a haddock club sandwich, “chowdah,” and crispy onion straws. YUM!

Brass Compass Cafe, Fried Food, Yummy

Ohhhh, Tiny-Dox! What in the world are you doing? … “Woof!”

Tiny Dachshund, Doxies, Seafood Stew

We have spent the past few days with friends in Maine. But we will be camping for most of the nights on this road trip. We all agree that the free camping in a city park beside the Erie Canal was the best (so far). Andowen and I each know our part of the “dance” of putting up our little tent. The Tiny-Mes stayed out of our way, trying to prevent TD from exploring.  Once the tent was set up, Tiny-A and Tiny-S decided to hang out at the little camp.

Macedon Canal Park, Tenting

Tiny-Dox promised to behave if we let him join us on our walk along the canal. Seems like he makes a good travel buddy, after all. He was shocked at how large the gates were for the lock. Even TD was careful not to go over the edge! That would be a long fall…

Tiny-Mes, Lock 30, Macedon Canal Park

As the sun began to set, we headed back to our little orange tent. Time to get ready for bed. But TD wandered off with the Tiny-Mes running to catch him. His powerful nose was teasing him with new smells. He quickly bounded into a hole at the base of a tree. “Come back, Tiny-Dox! The fairies don’t like visitors!”

Tiny Dachshund, Doxies

Tiny-Dox is a good little fella, but far too curious. It’s hard work for the Tiny-Mes to keep their travel buddy out of trouble… Finally, all three Tinies returned to the tent. TD immediately burrowed deep into the sleeping bag. Dachshunds love to find hidey-holes, especially for sleeping. Hmmm…I wonder what mischief Tiny-Dox will get into later in our trip?

To Be Continued…

(Get  more information about the Women’s Rights National Historic Site in Seneca Falls, NY,  HERE. Find more information about the Pemaquid Lighthouse HERE and about the Brass Compass Café in Rockland Maine HERE.)

Have you traveled with a pet? Drop a line or two in the comments below and tell me about a misadventure!

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