Where we're heading next:

Home Sweet Home

Quote of the Day

Peanut, "Wow, mom, now we can say we've been to all 50 states! What are we gonna do next?"

21 August 2008

Travel Logistics

We're in our last hotel, a few miles from home and I'm finally responding to a common question from readers. I hope this helps you out with your own road trips.

Here are my thoughts about traveling with kids this age on long road trips:

1. Pangs of home-sickness seem to start at about 3 weeks. If you're traveling longer than this, make sure the destinations are ones the kids value. For us, we had Yellowstone and Craters of the Moon to look forward to.
2. Let the mornings happen naturally -- wake up on their own, load the car and check out, have a leisurely breakfast. We set out most naturally around 9:30am but sometimes it was 10:30am.
3. Try to arrive back at the hotel in time to go for a swim, or run around in a park, have a bath and get to bed within an hour or so of their normal bedtime.
4. Let the kids participate in decision making. In Chicago I asked, "Do you want the double decker bus or would you rather go to the fountain again?" They chose the fountain for a short time, followed by the bus! When we were nearing home, I actually asked the kids, "Do you want one more night in a hotel with a pool, or would you rather drive longer to get home and see your friends and the kitties?" They chose the hotel much to my surprise.
5. Keep media out of the program altogether. We allowed cartoons on some mornings when one kid was sleeping longer than the others, but that was it. T.V. and computer games are much harder to take away once they've been allowed. Kids have incredible imaginations and are capable of entertaining themselves (and us!) when that's their only option.
6. Each kid is likely to be in a different stage and it's okay if things don't even out perfectly. Little Man would have been happy to simply go on a gift shop tour of the U.S.A. He got something at EVERY stop and he played with it until the next stop. This worked beautifully. Peanut was happy to read her books in the car and only chose a couple of souvenirs. Doodle controlled the music almost exclusively.
7. We made a cd for each kid before leaving and brought books on cd that complimented the trip: Mark Twain's, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Laura Ingalls Wilder's, On the Banks of Plum Creek. We listened to these repeatedly and the kids' music non-stop. It's important to note that their interest in music is quite diverse. Their cds weren't exclusively childish music -- The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, Billy Joel, Stray Cats, Patsy Cline, They Might be Giants and The Cure were on their playlists, too.
8. Try to feed your kids real food. Skip the Children's Menu if possible when it only contains mac'n'cheese and dino nuggets. Order a steak or shrimp or pasta and split it among your kids. Let one kid get french fries, but share them. Get a salad and let them pick out the parts they like. It'll cost about the same and they'll feel better afterwards.

There will certainly be frustrations and arguments, but I really believe it usually stems from the adult's mood in the car. When I was easy-going, the going was easy. When I was calm the rest of the car usually mimicked me. The minute I started to freak out about something, the vibe of the car shifted negatively. If I could pull myself together, all went well, even in stressful situations.

I hope this helps any of you thinking of a long road trip with wee ones and I hope you'll join us again in a month when we head to New England!

The Home Stretch

Back in Washington of all places, the golden, swaying wheat fields finally came into view. This was literally our first wheat crop of the trip even though I'd prepared the kids for miles and miles and days and days of wheat. Instead we found only corn fields, until now. It was b e a u t i f u l! We pulled over to play in it, cut it, chew it. We talked about different ways to grind wheat -- using a mano like Josefina did (see New Mexico) and a wheat grinder like Pa did (see Walnut Grove, MN). Back in the car, they separated the seeds with their fingers and made wheat maracas.

I rounded a corner after taking yet another picture, when I saw the oh so familiar swirling red and blue lights. All the music stopped as a cop pulled me over. I was only going 66mph, but naturally the speed limit had just dropped to 55mph. When I only got a warning, Peanut said, "Wow, mom, I didn't know cops were nice in Washington, too!" What am I teaching these kids?????

Despite being an 8-hour drive, the kids were overjoyed for the sun to go down so they could do another flashlight show (see North Dakota). They created a stage with their Glacier National Park walking sticks, and another stick Little Man picked up somewhere to make an arrow when we got home. This contraption became quite ornate, with blankets, birds, etc. and they proceeded to entertain themselves while I desperately tried to find a hotel.

A stroke of bad luck...

Fireman cousin was stuck in Boise and we were headed North, so we weren't able to meet on this trip. Too bad because he's a real cowboy and Little Man was dying to show him the rope he'd made in Walnut Creek, MN.

Following gardener friend's advice, we headed into the unrivaled Boise National Forest. The drive through Picabo (remember Picabo Street?), Hailey and up to Stanley was slow going but glorious. Our plan was to make it all the way to Lewiston which we did.

Congratulating myself on getting in at a reasonable hour (thanks for the gift, Pacific Time Zone!), the kids were so excited to swim in a hotel after driving so long. Would you believe the entire town of Lewiston, Clarkston and surrounding areas were completely sold out? All the universities were starting up and towns were overrun with helicopter parents.

Back in the car for a couple more hours...

Craters of the Moon

Idaho is one of those states that is so beautiful and diverse but full of oddballs. Lots of movie stars, California immigrants, potato farmers, outdoor enthusiasts and of course, thousands of rednecks and Mormons (sometimes one and the same, but not always). Never did I imagine driving the entire state, but Idaho isn't easy to cross. There are these illustrious mountains in the way!

We made it to Arco, a town that I refused to sleep in because it gave me the creeps, a point Grandma and I didn't agree on. Soon the earth turned black and charred and lumpy and the heat poured over us like syrup. We'd arrived at Craters of the Moon!

My nephew has never been here. My Fireman cousin in Twin Falls has never been here. Take a day trip soon!!!! This is the most unique place Idaho has to offer and it's impossible to visualize without visiting it in person. There's a LOT to do, but come as early as possible to avoid the heat.

Eight periods of erupting volcanoes have given us this crazy landscape and the Visitor Center has a very visual display that makes this history easy to understand. The kids learned that magma is inside the earth, and
lava when it comes out of the earth.

The loop drive only takes about 20 minutes, with several places to stop and hike. We chose to stop at the Spatter Cones, just a 1/4 mile hike. You can literally look down the cones of little volcanoes -- some still have unmelted snow! Pretty remarkable considering it was 104 degrees out here!

The kids were mad that I wouldn't let them hike more, but their cheeks were already bright red! Also, I remembered that hike to see the horses at the beginning of our trip (see Washington) and I wasn't eager to do it all over again in this heat.

I let them climb as much as possible, but these rocks are sharp and scratchy and porous. Doodle followed Peanut everywhere which was terrifying to say the least.

There's actually a lot of wildlife out here which is shocking, but not nearly as shocking as the tents dotting the rocks -- humans!

20 August 2008

Bubbles in Idaho

Back to Idaho!

My nephew goes to school in Rexurg, ID which happens to be right on our route. We only spent about an hour with him because we were trying to get to Craters of the Moon before it closed. Also, it was bloody hot after being in Yellowstone, and the dreaded melting feeling was returning.

Now, the kids were slap-happy to see him. Nephew can blow bubbles the size of his head and all the kids in my family have a sort of hero worship for him. After lunch at a funny place (they start with a bowl of popcorn on the table!) we stopped and bought two packs of Bubblicious. Peanut has recently learned to blow bubbles, and the other two were willing to try anything for a piece of that juicy deliciousness. When Nephew got 4 pieces feeling just right, the fun began!

Water Falls and Fires

Driving to the waterfalls on our last evening in Yellowstone, every turn brought a different color to the canyon. Truly magnificent. No wonder it's called Artist Point. We could spend days painting this area.

The forest fires were another startling site.
Do you know why forest fires are so important? The fire melts the cones, releasing the nuts and popping them like popcorn, spreading them around the ground. Cool, right? It’s remarkable how much of the forest we saw had been on fire

at one point or another.
You could see evidence of fire almost everywhere, at every stage of

There were burned forests that still smelled of char, and forests with trees falling unpredictably in every direction and then there were burned forests with baby forests beneath them. Healing themselves.

Firemen are the most amazing detectives and I'm lucky to have 2 in my own family. How in the world are they able to track down what starts a fire? They know the 1988 fire started from a cigarette butt being thrown out the window in Idaho. They knew it and then proceeded to find the butt and it’s owner who pled guilty. Our guide told us he’s still doing community service. His butt actually caused a small fire, which led to a big electrical wire falling down, which then caused the treacherous blaze throughout the park.

That man is wishing he’d never taken his first puff, eh?

19 August 2008

Computer Stuff

Arrrgh. We finally have internet service, but pictures won't upload. Hopefully, tomorrow all the posts will have our great shots of Yellowstone!

Old Faithful

At first, disappointing.

It was time for lunch so we went into the Lodge for yet another cafeteria meal (ugh) and afterwards decided to watch Old Faithful spray one more time. I enjoyed sitting out in the heat chatting with people. There’s a great feeling of anticipation in the air when everyone is watching…waiting…wondering…

A ladybug landed on Peanut and everyone enjoyed the distraction of us applauding her for being so lucky once again. “What do you wish, Peanut?” we all asked her. She sighed in pure heat-exhaustion-boredom and said, “for it to be 3 times taller, 3 times wider and 3 times longer this time.” For many, this was their first time witnessing Old Faithful and I shamefully admitted to them that it hadn’t lived up to my kids’ expectations.

Well, hell. Would you believe it burst up in all its glory this time around?! It seemed to us exactly 3 times better: taller, wider and lasting longer. The crowd cheered and we confirmed they’d definitely seen the BEST show, which pleased them all greatly.

A Cowboy Cookout to Remember

I’d booked this wagon ride and cookout months ago and I’m so glad we did. An old cowboy sat on a stump and sang and played guitar the entire evening. There was a pile of bones that Little Man stacked into a number of piles, his best being a fly-catcher of some sort. That was...until he found the creek. Other boys were damming it up or racing their paper cups. Not exciting enough for him.

As I was enjoying my steak, Doodle ran up in full delight, “Little Man is getting all soaking wet!” and she took off like lightning. Just as I was approaching I could see him, starting at one end of the creek and barreling through full speed splashing the entire way to the end in a big mud puddle. By the looks of him, this wasn’t his first tour of said creek. He was in his element and unfortunately I had to end his fun.

The event was surprisingly huge – there were about 10 wagons holding 20 or more people each. We met all kinds of people: an uptight family from Long Island that I liked immensely, a nice New Jersey dad with his boys, a family from Holland and another from Saudi Arabia. The most memorable family, however, was one from our neck of the woods. Except they really were from the woods and they had a lot to share with our wagon guide who was also from the woods. She was a kick in the pants with her chew sliding around her front teeth as she talked about such things as Poison Cliff up ahead (one drop and you’re dead).

She had useful things to say, too. Guess which critter causes the most casualties in the park? Timber Tigers. Apparently chipmunks aren’t as skilled at deciphering a carrot from a finger as one might think.

Someone mentioned seeing elk and she said she’s only interested in seeing elk outside the park – yup, this classy gal is a hunter, too. Enter Woods Mom from behind, “Yeah, I just learned how to skin a coyote! You start with the claw and pull the nails and skin back, then you...” Waiting for Peanut to say something didn’t pay off and finally I admitted, “Wow, I’ve NEVER felt more urban in my entire life.” I have to say I was truly enjoying this family; they were just from another planet.

18 August 2008

Love at Mammoth Hot Springs

This is where Tomcat decided I was his cup of tea. After being best friends for nearly a decade, we hadn’t actually lived near each other in a couple of years. For a stint we both found ourselves living in a very unlikely place: Utah. He was studying film and I was living in the burbs with Sister, anxiously awaiting an au pair assignment in Paris. I’d been driving all over the country for the past year, trying to hit all 50 states and found myself extremely restless. So one day I called Tomcat and said, “Hey, I’ve got the bug. Do you want to come with me? You can pick: North, South, East or West.” He said, “Sure, I’ll come. I haven’t been East.” So we left that night for Mt. Rushmore, returning via Yellowstone.

Well, the heater in my car was broken and we were bundled in blankets. Heading to Yellowstone only brought disappointment – it was closed for the winter! I’ll never forget shivering to the radio, which was playing the entire Bat out of Hell album.

A year later, he was still in school and I still wasn’t abroad. It was late September and Mammoth had a cabin available so we were off to try Yellowstone again. There was nothing up there to speak of back then, maybe an old church nearby. We ate a nice dinner somewhere and I introduced him to Baileys. This will forever be the beginning. “How come you never dated me?” “Well, you always had a girlfriend.” “Well, you always had a boyfriend!” (Actually, I don’t quite remember who started that 3-sentence conversation.) Looking at each other, we realized that we were both liberated; he’d just dumped his girl, and I’d just dumped my guy. We were married less than 4 months later!

Now, here I am up in Mammoth Village with my kids and no Tomcat. It just doesn’t feel right. The area has developed into something far greater, but the cabins seem lost and the area is no longer teeming with elk, or maybe we were there at the wrong time of day. We did spot a couple of females trying to nap under a shady tree and that thrilled the kids. The actual terraces maintain their magic though – stinky as hell, bubbling up their boiling waters into phosphorescent pools of copper and blue.

We could spend all day talking Geyser Basins. Walking along and suddenly seeing steam shoot up 20 or so feet high out of the ground only a few feet in front of you is quite a memorable experience. Their steam whistling and spitting out of the tiniest holes or roaring out of immense ones. There’re these milky bubbling hot tubs called Paint Pots, which had us all giggling for some reason. They were so unlikely and gross and yet appealing! At one point Peanut was dodging the steam from an active geyser, shouting, “Thank you SO much for bringing me here! I love this place!” Smelling rotten eggs while watching these displays makes the definition of Sulfur sink in pretty well. And when the sign says “Danger Thin Crust” we can talk about pizza and what treasures lie just below the Earth’s surface in the same sentence and have it all make perfect sense.

Yellowstone National Park

Thank you, Grandma! Her Senior National Park Pass got us into Yellowstone for free and now we have 2.2 million acres at our fingertips! We're staying at Canyon Lodge in the center of the park. It's the only place in the park that had an available room and it turned out to be a pretty good spot for us. The Ranger handed each kid a yellow piece of paper with animals all over it so they could check them off as they see them. Fantastic!

Our first sighting was a big bison sitting up on a hill. Hoorahs all around! We’ve already learned that bison are not really buffalo, which are found in Asia. But early explorers named them buffalo because they reminded them of water buffalo.

Well, little did we know that 30 minutes later we’d be in for the bison show of our life! First we saw a herd by several small geysers and I let the kids get out for a picture. Just how far is a safe distance from a bison? Apparently it’s 25 yards. Then we were literally stuck on the road for over an hour while a herd of bison made their way across – at least 200 or 300 -- in every form of temperament. At one point there were 3 bison charging down the road directly toward our car. I jumped through the sunroof with my camera and tried to video them, but I had too much adrenalin and it came out blurry. You can see the pics though. They ran right toward us and then just beside our car and finally past us. (Grandma screamed the whole time, “Roll up the windows!!) Immediately after, we witnessed an Osprey swoop down into the river and catch a fish! No doubt about it, we are on safari!

16 August 2008

Wyoming - State #26

Driving across Wyoming has been my sleepiest drive yet. Supposedly the color blue makes one restful, but I think it's really golden hues that bring sleep on. We've experienced "golden" in every possible shade, under every possible sky on this stretch!

Finally we hit Bighorn National Forest and the kids learned how to

recognize switchback road signs. This was like an alarm clock for me. Peanut was shocked by the canyon. I think she thought we only had red dirt in the Southwest and here we have red, black and golden. We can't decide which one to choose!

Nothing has thrilled any of us more than spying our first moose! It's the only animal we missed seeing in Alaska, and here they were just lounging in the Wyoming sunlight. What luck!

We've stopped for the night in Cody, WY before heading into Yellowstone. This seems to be the culmination of everyone else's road trips. Nowhere else have we met more people traveling thousands of miles on journeys like ours. Yellowstone is the chosen destination apparently.

And you can see Grandma has been up to her old tricks again!

15 August 2008

Wyoming License Plate

Mt. Rushmore and more...

Mt. Rushmore comes into view unexpectedly up in the Black Hills. It looks exactly like the pictures you've seen. But to see it in the middle of those Gaudi-like cake batter mountains, it's far more impressive. How did Borglum carve that out of those?

Rapid City is far more surprising! I was here over a decade ago and the town barely existed. Now you could fill up a 2 week vacation here with all kinds of crazy stuff.

Even though a storm came the kids were begging to go the Reptile Gardens. Their billboard advertising obviously worked, because we drove in an hour before they closed, long after the kids were whooped. This place didn't disappoint and everyone quickly had a second wind.

Grandma and I flipped over all the fossils and perfect skeletons. They actually had

a "pile of turtles" fossil found somewhere in Nebraska. They assume they were hibernating when they got covered. Very, very rare.

Peanut loved the Sky Dome with all the exotic birds. She got a "genuine alligator tooth" and can't wait to show it to her friends back home. She was overcome with the python as were we all. Little Man loved the real alligators almost as much as the giant fake Australian one. He also loved the parrots and the snake wrapped around his branch out of a cage. Doodle loved the alligators and the bouncing bird. She could have watched it all day but I found it very disturbing. I'm against caged birds in the first place. More over, I've seen parrots in the wild and they never acted like that. I'm sure this one was senile.

The storm cleared by the time we got out of there and we took a little drive through town. Funny town. Even funnier were Doodle and Little Man when we got back to the hotel. I asked them what they were doing and they said, "We're having an Ice Picnic" as though it were the most normal thing in the world!