Majestic Mt. Rainier

As we were leaving Hood River area I had the brilliant idea for a fun family outing that would result in one of the trips most infamous events – The Blueberry Fiasco.

Hood River has a popular tourist attraction called, the Fruit Loop – essentially a driving tour of the areas fruit farms. U-Pick farms abound and I thought I’d recreate some fond childhood memories with my own kids picking berries. Rick was skeptical, but I found an organic blueberry farm not too far off our route. The memory of my purse being stolen fresh in my mind, I felt it better to have Rick  squeeze the car and trailer down the narrow and overgrown drive than leave it parked on the side of the road – ripe for vandals.

Turns out the camper is bigger than it looks – we took out a sign and several tree limbs trying to navigate down the narrow drive. Whoops! Once Rick ran out of curse words we had fun picking nearly 3lbs of blueberries – we literally had to tear Liam away from the bushes.

Unfortunately, our initial damage on the way in wasn’t the last of it. We got snagged in a ditch trying to turn out of the driveway, bending our doorstep and skid bars which protect our water tank in the back. Our bad luck continued when an unknown road closure diverted us onto a washed-out gravel road through the National Forest for over 40 miles. We had to stop several times to ask for directions as signage was minimal. Thank goodness we weren’t still newbies or we might have thrown in the towel. It was a long day of driving and after the Blueberry Fiasco our rig was already banged up – every pothole had us wincing.

img_0255It’s no surprise that we were thrilled when we finally reached Mt. Rainier. We decided to splurge after the day we’d had and treat ourselves to full hook-ups at a private RV park. It was located just outside the park and conveniently abutted the town’s library, which the kids were excited to spend an afternoon in once we were done hiking.

We only had three days at Rainier, but we made the most of it, rising early and crossing off all the family friendly hikes the park had to offer. As far as beauty goes – Rainier tops the list. Every where you looked wildflowers were bursting in bloom, rivers and waterfalls gushed and the park’s name sake dazzled above everything.


My two favorite hikes were Comet Falls, which I found to be prettier than anything we saw at Yosemite with a fraction of the crowds, and the Silver Forest Trail. The latter took you high up in alpine meadows, everywhere you looked was a rainbow of blooms, Mt. Rainier was hard to tear your eyes from and glacial lakes dazzled turquoise in the valleys far below. If I had to recommend just one park to visit, Mt. Rainier would definitely make the short list. It’s beauty and scenery were unlike any we have visited so far.

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Minor League and Fish Hatcheries

We left Ketchum and were planning on driving straight to Mt. Rainer NP. At the last minute, however, we decided to swing by Hood River, Oregon for a couple of days because we’d had it recommended to us by several people. Along the way, we stopped in Boise, Idaho for two nights and happened to camp within walking distance to the Boise Hawks’ stadium. They were playing at home so we decided to check them out. The game was fun, but I’m still partial to the Montgomery Biscuits or the Asheville Tourists. The next day, after an early bike ride on Boise’s wonderful intown hike/bike trail and a trip to the Boise Children’s Museum, we continued on towards Hood River.

As we crossed the state line we spotted a sign for the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center located near Baker, Oregon and had to pull off. Having spent hours playing the Oregon Trail computer game as kids, Maggie and I both thought it warranted a stop. We laughed a lot reading some of the diary entries from the pioneers as we felt like we could sympathize with many of their experiences (minus the dysentery – fingers crossed). A prairie schooner is pretty much the same as a travel trailer right?

Hood River is an active, outdoorsy town located along the Columbia River near the Bonneville Dam. We secured a campsite at a state park located just outside of town along a railroad track. We decided to stay at the park despite the tracks since it was located on the Columbia River and offered access to several waterfalls and hikes. We were unpleasantly surprised though by the frequency with which the trains passed during the night. Liam got used to it, but CJ was pretty terrified every time it came through, which was 3 or 4 times a night.

After hiking to a few different waterfalls in the area, we decided to visit the Bonneville Dam. The Bonneville Dam was built in the 1930’s and is open to the public. In addition to information about the construction of the dam, it also allows visitors to view the fish ladder that the salmon and other fish use to swim upstream. The kids really enjoyed watching the fish through large viewing windows.

After the dam we headed a little further down the road to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery, home of Herman the Sturgeon. Herman is a 79 years old and weighs a whopping 500 pounds! The kids got a kick out of seeing Herman and feeding the rainbow trout. Normally a fish hatchery wouldn’t be high on our list of tourist stops, but this one was actually pretty nice with beautifully manicured gardens and plenty for the kids to see and do.

Before we left, I was given leave to wake up at the crack of dawn to hike Mt. Defiance. The hike was only 12 miles long but gains 5,000 feet in less than 6 miles. While I enjoyed the challenge of hiking up the mountain, I did not enjoy the steep decent and had to practically run down whether I wanted to or not. While I’ve certainly done longer hikes, I can’t remember doing a tougher one than this and don’t believe I’d be doing this hike too frequently if I was a resident of Hood River.

Way To Go IDAHO!

After burning up in Hells Canyon, we drove west towards Ketchum to meet up with our good friends Dan and Eleanor. Along the way we stopped for a couple of nights at Ponderosa State Park in McCall, ID –a cute little resort town located along the shore of Payette Lake. We appreciated the opportunity to charge our devices, play on the beach, and escape the triple digit temperatures of Eastern Oregon.

From McCall, we continued southeast towards Ketchum, passing first through Boise National Forest where we camped for a couple of nights at Pine Flat campground. In addition to being located in a mature pine forest along the Payette River, it also boasts a natural hot spring hidden down a ¼ mile trail from the campground. The pool was nestled in the hill giving it an infinity-style view over the river below – we felt pretty special to discover it. It was a nice way to cap off the evening after a day of hiking. While the hikes in the area weren’t particularly glamorous, on one of our hikes we found several animal remains including an intact jaw bone which Liam thought was pretty cool. We found so many skeletal remains that Liam dubbed it the “Boneyard Trail.”

From there we headed to Stanley, Idaho and camped in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The Sawtooth Mountain range was aptly named for their jagged, saw-like peaks. Dan and Eleanor tagged up with us for a night on their way to Ketchum. We enjoyed a family paddle down the Salmon River to our campsite where the kids played together, and the grownups had a chance to catch up. Also, while in the Sawtooths, we enjoyed several day hikes through wildflower meadows and beautiful sub-alpine lakes. Despite all the natural beauty of the area, Maggie would argue that the most notable portion of our stay in Stanley was the discovery of Huckleberry ice cream, which she claims is the best ice cream she’s ever had (if you know Maggie that’s saying something).

From Stanley we made the short jaunt to Ketchum, a posh resort town surrounded by the Sawtooths. We found a campsite in the national forest that was biking distance to town. Dan and Eleanor had rented a house nearby with the rest of Eleanor’s family and were kind enough to invite us over for dinner and drinks a couple of times. We also got to explore the area with them, including a trip to the top of Bald Mountain (9150ft!) and a paddle on Silver Creek Preserve which was teeming with trout.

After many months away from friends, a chance to spend time with the Macken family buoyed our spirits. Liam even made a new friend in Eleanor’s mom, Mary. He barely left her side on the hikes and when he found out she was an avid bird watcher he brought over his collection of bird literature to read with her. We sincerely appreciated Eleanor’s family letting us mooch off their rental house’s amenities (cocktails in the hot tub!) and generally crash their family vacation.

Bend and Beyond

Excited at the prospect of seeing some familiar faces (our friends The Mackens), we started making a beeline for Idaho. Along the way we stopped at a few places in Eastern Oregon, that had it not been for the heat, we might have enjoyed.

First up was Bend, Oregon. We’d heard good things about the town so decided to stop by. It didn’t disappoint, it was definitely a cute little city, saturated with breweries and limitless outdoor opportunities. Rick lived out his vagabond dreams to the max — we boondocked in a Boy’s and Girl’s Club parking lot for the weekend. During our squatter’s stay we checked out “Lego Day” at the local library, hit up the local artists market, stopped by the Deschutes Brewery, and explored some of the city parks. We also ventured outside the city to one of the Cascade lakes near the Three Sisters mountains where we spent the day paddling. Following the weekend, we thought the fuzz might be on to us, so we moved to a more reputable and established RV park in Redmond, the neighboring town. There we gave Rick a free pass to hike Misery Ridge and several other trails in Smith Rock State Park, while the kids and I visited an alpaca farm…I’ll let you decide who had the better day. While in Redmond we also visited the rodeo that was in town, which was a fun time for all. I’m fairly certain Rick is going to be training the kids for “mutton busting” when we return (a rodeo event for kids where they try to ride a bucking sheep). The trip wouldn’t be complete without propping up the local economy, we dropped a pretty penny on new tires for both the SUV and trailer, so depending on how you look at it, Rick’s squatting in various parking lots paid off.

After Bend/Redmond, we headed further east to visit the John Day Fossil Beds. Liam is obsessed with prehistoric animals so, with the prospect of saber tooth cats and wooly mammoths, we hit the road. Temperatures continued to increase, and the scenery became more barren, but we found a cheap camping spot on the John Day River where we had the place to ourselves. When we weren’t digging for fossils or visiting the museum, we were on the river. Either canoeing or swimming, being near the water was a must. With no one around for miles and the temperature in the upper 90s we enjoyed skinny dipping at our private beach and catching crayfish in the shallows.

Gluttons for punishment, we headed next to Hells Canyon…often mentioned in the tourist literature for it’s beauty and outdoor potential we thought we’d give it a shot…although we were curious why it had been dubbed “Hells Canyon.” Upon arriving we quickly found out – it’s hotter than Hades. We sweated through three days of 100 degree temperatures that never got below the 80s. I think Rick was holding out because we found a free camping spot on the Snake River, but without electricity to run the AC, I finally revolted and convinced Rick it was time to move on. The only highlight from that miserably hot stint that I can think of, was me catching a fish on the Snake.

Crater Lake: Into The Deep Blue

img_9463After 6 months on the road and several parks under our belts, there are certain qualities in a park that we know will heighten our enjoyment. Those are:

  • Limited crowds
  • Ease of travel within the park
  • A range of trails – in other words, ones that are good for families or solo (on the rare occasion one of us can sneak away for an adult only hike)

Crater Lake delivered on all three credentials. Despite visiting over 4th of July weekend we had no problem finding a campsite. And because the park is centered around the lake, navigation is easy. A road, which takes about an hour to drive, loops around the caldera with short spurs branching off for easy access to all the sights and trails the park has to offer. We enjoyed several of these, the first of which was the Watchman, which offered spectacular views of the lake and even a chance for a snowball fight in July.

Speaking of the lake, let’s take a few moments to drop some knowledge about Crater Lake. Did you know CL is the deepest lake in the U.S.? It’s actually a caldera that formed when a volcano collapsed in on itself. No rivers, streams, or creeks feed into it, the water that fills the lake is pure snowmelt which means it’s also some of the cleanest water you’ll find in the U.S. We all enjoyed dipping our water bottles in and having a taste. The clarity of the water is also remarkable, visibility goes to astonishing depths of, on average, 115ft. Clarity and depth of the water all leads to the most astonishing feature of the lake, its surreal color. The only thing that I can compare it to is the most brilliant sapphire you could ever dream of seeing – that was the color of Crater Lake.

OK, now back to what we did at this breathtaking body of water. In addition to the Watchman hike, we enjoyed taking a boat to Wizard Island, a volcano inside a volcano. There we hiked to the top and explored the “Witch’s Cauldron” which is the crater atop the Wizard Island volcano. The hike up was unique in that you are scrambling up huge chunks of volcanic rock with craggily junipers and vibrant wildflowers taking root wherever they can. All around is the magnificent blue of the lake, it’s a magical sight. To cool off after the hike all four of us took the plunge into the frigid water (how could we not?). Rick was thrilled that Liam and CJ showed up a group of college guys who couldn’t work up the stones to jump in themselves.

Rick was able to go on a few solo hikes, one of which he was upset not to see the bear whose tracks he followed up the mountain. However, we lucked out the next day and caught a glimpse of a bear galloping across the road. We were also treated to marmot and deer sightings, several beautiful waterfalls and meadows bursting with wildflowers. All in all, Crater Lake was a pleasant surprise. We hadn’t expected much, and almost skipped the park but are so happy we didn’t. No other lake will ever compare to the unique beauty of Crater Lake.

The Redwoods

img_9178Our last stop in California was Redwoods National Park. As with all our stops along the way it came with its own set of highs and lows…the highs including the limited crowds, beautiful mix of woodlands and ocean views, and the lows being that our car was broken into. Wah-waaaah

Our first night in the area we parked the car on a road outside Patrick’s Point State Park to watch the sunset, only to come back and find the passenger window shattered and my purse gone. Luckily, I had my wallet and cellphone on me so all the thief got away with was my passport and checkbook, a pain but not as bad as it could have been. We had the window repaired the next day and made all the required calls to the state department and our bank, we were quickly back on track exploring the area.

We found a cozy little county park with access to both the beach and a fresh water lagoon where we spent a few days exploring. The kids had fun collecting rocks on the beach and during a canoe paddle we stumbled upon a large herd of elk grazing in the marsh grasses on the banks of the lagoon.

Liam and CJ had a great time playing with two girls camping next to us. We went on a banana slug hunt together and found a plethora of the oddly colored gastropods inching along all over the forest. Somehow their bright hue made them less icky to look at then their slimy grey brethren.

We went on several hikes through the Redwood forests, the most notable being Fern Canyon – literally exactly what the name implies. A small canyon whose walls are covered entirely with different species of ferns. Part of Jurassic Park 2 was filmed there and immediately upon entering you could understand why the producers might have picked the spot, it certainly had a prehistoric feel to it.

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My favorite walks though were those along the rocky coast. We spent several hours exploring tidal pools or just sitting on ledges watching the waves explode into the large rock formations out in the water. We found sea anemone, gooseneck barnacles, hermit crabs and fish flitting about in the water.

The vandalism on our first day wasn’t enough to tarnish the area for me. It was the perfect mix of forest and ocean and I would love an opportunity to go back. Not to mention (as I write this in the 95 degree heat of eastern Oregon), the cooler temperatures!


From Napa, we made the short drive to my friend Tommy’s house, which was located about an hour north of San Francisco near Occidental, CA. Tommy lives on several acres so it was nice to be able to park our rig out front without fear of offending the neighbors.

Tommy and his wife DeEtte graciously welcomed us into their home for a long weekend, acting as tour guides for the area. The kids had a blast playing with their son Jones, and Liam was especially smitten with Tommy who is an extremely talented science illustrator. Liam was in hog heaven with all the animal reference books floating around the house.

Occidental and the surrounding area is a hidden gem in Northern California. Tommy’s house is situated just a few miles inland from Bodega Bay – made famous by the movie The Birds. We enjoyed a day playing on the rocky beach searching for starfish and sea anemone and eating fish tacos (what else do you eat in California?). We were also happy to have another family who was game to throw their canoe in the water and enjoyed a family paddle on the Russian River, where we saw harbor seals basking along the river and sunning themselves on the rocky beach where the river met the ocean.

This was the first “home-base” we’ve had since visiting my cousin David in New Mexico and was a much needed respite from the road. Thank you all again for sharing your local insights, showers, washing machine, company, and most importantly – the tequila!



Wine Country


After leaving Yosemite, we headed west to see my friend Tommy and his family in Occidental, CA. On the way, we decided to stop at Skyline Wilderness Park located in the foothills of Napa Valley. The park was conveniently located near downtown Napa, had plenty of room for the kids to roam, and offered our holy trinity: hot showers, electricity, and WiFi. After going close to a month without electricity and being forced to live out of our cooler, we especially appreciated the opportunity to have a working refrigerator for a few days. Never again will I take the unsung hero of the kitchen for granted.

Our time together in Napa was fairly short because Maggie left to go visit her grandfather in Buffalo, NY for a few days. Before she left, however, we were able to visit the wonderful Napa Farmers Market, paddle the Napa River, and enjoy a tasting at the lovely Cline Winery. Additionally, we met a German couple, Fabian and Dorte, at the campground who were living out of an RV for two months while they toured the West Coast. They had 3 children, 2 of which were Liam and CJ’s age. The kids had a great time playing with each other and digging for fossils even though they did not speak the same language. Giving kids license to smash things with a hammer and a screwdriver seems to be a universal crowd-pleaser. We were even able to entice them to come with us to see their first baseball game (the Napa Silverados) with promises of cheap beer and hot dogs.

When Maggie left for Buffalo she took the phone with her so the remaining 3 days went undocumented, but suffice to say everyone ate all their vegetables and went on long hikes whether they wanted to or not.


Yosemite and THE CROWDS

If Kings Canyon was a quiet park removed from the crowds, Yosemite was its complete opposite. Swarming with hordes of people, Rick and I often found ourselves quoting Edward Abbey and some of his more extreme solutions to preventing Slobivius Americanus from overwhelming our National Parks.

There were no available campsites in Yosemite, but thankfully we were able to find a site outside the park in the Stanislaus National Forest. Due to long driving times between where we camped and the different sections of the park, we split our time exploring Stanislaus NF near our campsite and battling the masses in the Yosemite Valley. Nearby, we enjoyed a short hike to Carlon Falls, which cascaded from a rock face as wide as it was tall into deep pools carved into smooth rock where the clear turquoise water collected. Rick and I had fun jumping into the icy central pool, while the kids splashed around in the smaller holes nearby.

In addition to Carlon Falls, we enjoyed afternoons cooling off in the river near our campground. Rick even managed to catch some trout using the kids’ nets – a feat he was very proud of considering there were some fly fishermen up river who came up empty handed despite all their gear.

Also nearby, was a swanky mountain resort, which I used most mornings to mooch off their free WiFi for work and even snuck in a shower at their posh bathhouse. They also provided live entertainment, which all four of us enjoyed one night. Rick and I got some drinks at the bar and sat back in large Adirondacks on the lawn to listen to 60’s rock covers while CJ twirled to Jefferson Airplane’s, White Rabbit. Rick wore his cleanest t-shirt so we went unnoticed by the paying guests…

Inside the park, we saw Yosemite Valley by bike, canoe and foot – anything to avoid driving through the mob. These were long days, rising early and packing up for the entire day so that we could secure a parking spot by 8:30 am. We saw our first bears of the whole trip – a momma with her two cubs, one cinnamon and one black high up in the trees while mom foraged in the meadow.

Our final day was spent exploring the most beautiful portion of the park, Tuolumne Meadows. Far removed from the Valley’s crowds, the road to the Meadows passes by alpine lakes and high mountain peaks. The meadow itself is an extensive swath of vibrant green framed by snow-capped mountains and accompanied by the pristine Tuolumne river that runs through it. We climbed a granite peak to look down on the meadow then wandered through the grasses where we spotted deer after deer grazing in the evening. If we ever return to Yosemite, we will be spending all our time at Tuolumne immersed in the beauty and solitude.

Kings Canyon & Sequoia


Kings Canyon was a welcome respite after Memorial Day weekend, which we spent bouncing around from place to place – everywhere being booked with the holiday crowds. We entered the park with some trepidation, assuming we would have the same bad luck of the last 3 days and the campground would be full. Fortunately, we struck gold and miraculously had the campground virtually to ourselves for 4 of the 10 days we stayed.

To orient those of you who are unfamiliar with Kings Canton, it is a sister park to Sequoia. The two are connected and share similar scenery with towering Giant Sequoias, steep granite cliffs, and lush mountain meadows. Between the two parks and the surrounding national forest land, there were an abundance of hikes which we barely put a dent in.

The hikes we did do were gorgeous and I hope to never forget the sight of those monoliths towering above us as we tramped through the quiet groves blanketed with ferns. To describe these trees as big would be an insult. They are gargantuan and majestic, they give the forest character standing as silent guardians over this special place. We stood in awe of both General Sherman and Grant the largest and 3rd largest trees by volume, respectively, in the world. We hugged, walked inside, and across the many other nameless sequoias we passed along our hikes. Enjoying many a picnic on the fallen sentinels that spanned through emerald meadows. We even drove through the famous Tunnel Log – a tight squeeze with the canoe, but we made it.

In addition to marveling at the stately sequoias, we saw many other beautiful sights. Nightly sunsets from our campsite rivaled the painted skies of Big Bend. Driving to the northern part of the park Rick and I were like kids giddy with excitement and wonder over the south fork of the King River. Never having seen a river moving with such volume and force, every section was white water foaming and crashing over boulders. I can’t mention the meadows enough, the dark forest would randomly open up into these lush green, sun-drenched meadows with small streams flowing through them, often unseen only heard by the pleasant trickling of water moving past the rocks and grasses.

We became obsessed with finding bears and began seeking out every meadow we could find (a bear’s favorite stomping ground). Several times we roused the kids early in the morning to cook breakfast on the meadows edge. We came close three times, but never saw any bears. We did spy plenty of deer, marmots, and even a coyote.


An added treat to the trip was seeing our friends Ashli and John, and their son Jackson who are also full-timing. The kids enjoyed an evening of roaming around the campsite and playing games, and we had a chance to catch up with Ashli and John’s travels since we last saw them in Texas.

Of all the parks we’ve visited, Kings Canyon and Sequoia has been one of our happiest for its solitude, beauty and expanse.