Buffalo National River

After a grueling drive through the entire state of Kansas and spending 2 nights outside of Kansas City, MO, we were ready to get back in the woods. Since the Buffalo River, which is nestled in the Arkansas Ozarks, had been recommended to us by a couple of people, we decided to make a slight detour away from Atlanta to check it out. We’re sure glad we did.

Buffalo National River offers camping, hiking, and 120 river miles of unspoiled wilderness. This wilderness area is especially unique since its location allows plant and animal species of the Southwest, Southeast, and Northeast to coexist together.

After spending the first day hiking to a nice river overlook, we spent the next two days paddling different sections of the river for a total of 14 miles accessed right from our campsite. The river is clear and unpolluted, with high bluffs framing its banks and long stretches of sandy bottom — perfect for our crew. The weather was unseasonably warm and hit 90 degrees while we were there so we took every opportunity to get wet. Fortunately, the Buffalo River offered both deep swimming holes for rock jumping and plenty of slow, shallow spots for the kids to practice their swimming.

This area was previously unknown to us but being only 9 hours from ATL and offering another 106 miles of river to be paddled, we will definitely be back.


Rocky Mountain & The Mile High City

Our trip through Colorado marked the end of our Western journey as we began to head back east to Atlanta for two dear friends’ wedding. Luckily the timing was just right, we pulled into Rocky Mountain National Park three days before the campgrounds closed for the season. We camped at Timber Creek where we were serenaded all night, every night by the resident elk population bugling to their mates. Liam and I explored the campground and got a front row seat to watch one particularly large male elk calling to his ladies, it was quite the sight.

One of the resident campground elk bugling to his ladies.

We spent our days hiking around the park and keeping warm. The first day we enjoyed a quiet 7.4 mile hike to the headwaters of the Colorado River – the same river we paddled in Moab that nearly swamped the boat. We enjoyed a pleasant picnic along these calmer banks, watching minnows dart among the rocks and even stumbled upon a mother moose and her baby.

Later in the day we explored the Alpine Visitor Center and hiked up to an alpine overlook that offered stunning views of the Rocky Mountain peaks and lakes far below. In case you’re curious alpine environments are designated to anything above 11,400ft. Few species, both plant and animal, can survive up here and those that do, are extremely susceptible to the effects of climate change which threaten to destroy their delicate ecosystem.

The next day Rick and I traded off parenting duties and each of us got to do our own solo hike while the other minded the kids. During my turn entertaining the kids we stumbled on a herd of elk moving through a thicket. As we tried to back away so as not to upset them a mother moose and her baby came charging through the trees. It was the equivalent of a traffic jam in nature. Luckily the kids and I were far enough out of the way that the animals ignored us and quickly went their own separate ways. Meanwhile, Rick thoroughly enjoyed his hike to the top of Deer Mountain where he stood above the clouds and got to watch them sail gently by beneath him.

Despite the short stay, we felt like we got to see much of the park. After a short stint boondocking in Fort Collins and exploring their local farmers market, we made our way to Denver to visit my Uncle Paul’s family.

Liam and Cora Jean were excited to meet another cousin and had fun learning to golf with Sylas and playing with the neighborhood kids. Rick and I were well fed by my Uncle Paul and cousin Shaina, and enjoyed hearing colorful family stories each night over delicious meals. My aunt and uncle have been living in Denver for well over 30 years and as a painter my uncle knows the city and it’s neighborhoods like the back of his hand. He took us on several tours of the city and surrounding towns giving us the history and fun backstories on the various properties he’s worked on in the past.

I hadn’t seen that side of the family since our wedding, so it was a long overdue visit. I enjoyed a chance to catch up, meet our newest cousin and sincerely appreciate my aunt and uncle opening their home to us!

Hike, Bike, Paddle: Grand Teton

After 10 days navigating Yellowstone’s massive roadways and crowds, we ventured south to Grand Teton National Park, which quickly eclipsed our enjoyment of Yellowstone thanks to its smaller size and even smaller crowds. As you enter Grand Teton you notice the immensely flat landscape broken by a single chain of mountains. With no foothills to obscure the view the Tetons are visible from nearly the entire park and provide the most jaw dropping backdrop to everything you see.

As with Yellowstone, many of the campgrounds were closed for the season, so we settled on Gros Ventre at the very southern border of the park. The campground is situated along the Gros Ventre river and is heavily wooded with cottonwoods whose leaves had turned a brilliant shade of yellow, which contrasted perfectly with the never-ending blue sky. In addition to the outstanding scenery of the campground, Gros Ventre is a hot bed for moose activity. We could hear them walking by the camper at night and watched them grazing in the mornings and evenings.

Nearby was Mormon row which we explored one evening near sunset. This area includes several old structures left over from some of the earliest settlers to the area. It includes an old barn that is in nearly every picture you see of Grand Teton. We had fun poking around the old farmsteads imagining what life was like, the back-breaking labor probably didn’t seem quite so hard when you had that fantastic view to look at all day.
One of the things we liked most about Grand Teton was the variety of activities we could enjoy. There is plenty of hiking to be had, but there are also several bodies of water and a bike trail that travels from the park all the way into Jackson Hole. We managed to put the canoe in twice, once on the Snake River where we observed four bald eagles flying over us – 2 of which were squawking up a storm as they swooped and circled, playing in the sky. The river was pristine and at times we would look down and see nothing but fish blanketing the bottom. On another paddle we canoed across Jenny Lake before hiking to a waterfall on the other side. Shortly after leaving the boat we ran into a young black bear on the trail, which was quite a treat.


Our last day we hopped on our bikes for an 8-mile ride to the National Museum of Wildlife Art located just a few miles outside the park. While the family was skeptical at my suggestion to visit an art museum, they were all quickly smitten. The museum hosts artwork from the 1500s to present day, all with the common thread of wildlife. Many of the subjects were from the western parks we had been visiting and the historical descriptions given next to each of them added a layer to our appreciation of the American West. My favorite artist by far was Carl Rungius, an impressionist who completed some of his most popular work in the early 1900s and became one of America’s most notable wildlife artists. For as much as Rick and I enjoyed wandering through the galleries, Liam and Cora Jean had a ball in the children’s wing. It was full of books, puzzles, dress up clothes all related to animals. And the crowning jewel was the art studio where the kids could work with clay, paint, or sketch their own wildlife art. The studio even had animal models from bird beaks and feet, to various mammal noses and eyeballs!

The trip wouldn’t be complete without Rick sneaking off to tackle one of the more difficult hikes in the park, which for the Tetons was Amphitheater Lake. The hike offers views of Grand Teton from a beautiful sub-alpine lake located at 10,000 ft…or so I’m told. ☹

A Little Place Called Yellowstone

After leaving Glacier, we traveled south towards Yellowstone, briefly stopping in Helena and then Livingston, MT. Neither Maggie nor I had ever been, and I didn’t realize just how massive the park was. The park has an upper loop and a lower loop that look like a figure 8. Each loop takes a couple of hours to drive. Since we arrived late in the season, many of the campgrounds were closing or had closed for the year which made the remaining campgrounds pretty scarce. Luckily, we were able to secure a site at the Norris campground, located in the southwestern portion of the upper loop.

Since it was close by, we started our exploration of the park at Norris Geyser Basin where we all learned about Yellowstone’s different hydrothermal features (hot springs, geysers, steam vents, and mudpots). From there we drove to the Old Faithful visitor’s center to watch Old Faithful erupt along with hundreds of our closest friends.

While Maggie and I found the hydrothermal activity very interesting and different, the kids really wanted to see the herds of bison, pronghorn, and wolves which are located in the Lamar Valley on the northeastern side of the park. The drive to Lamar Valley did not disappoint. We saw dozens of buffalo herds, some of which were only a few feet from the road and several pronghorn antelope. We made the drive late in the afternoon in the hopes of doing a dusky hike along Slough Creek which, according to the ranger we asked, was the best time/place to spot one of the park’s wolf packs. While we didn’t see any wolves, we were treated to some gorgeous views and a few bison bulls.

The next day Maggie had to head into the nearby town of West Yellowstone to do some work. After dropping her off at the library, I took the kids to the Bear and Wolf Discovery Center. The BWDC is a non-profit that takes in nuisance bears (bears that have learned to associate people with food) and allows them to be ambassadors for their wild counterparts. It is also where a lot of bear proof containers and trash cans are tested before they can be certified as “bear-proof.” Liam and CJ enjoyed seeing all the animals as well as several mangled prototypes that did not pass the bear-proofing test.

Later in the week, our friend Jacob was kind enough to pop in and visit us for a few days between business trips. The kids enjoyed the car full of junk food that Jacob brought for them and, in return, I enjoyed taking Jacob on a short, but punishing hike to the top of Avalanche Peak.

Jacob also joined us for a hike through Pelican Valley which is touted as “some of the best grizzly country in the lower 48.” While we did not see any grizzlies while we were hiking, we did see and pick up two Dutch tourists who asked to join our crew for safety since the ranger told them that they should not hike this particular trail with less than 3 people in their party. After 6.2 miles of Liam and CJ yammering away at them, I expect next time they’ll take their chances with the bear.

After a long day of hiking and exploring the park, we all decided to get dinner at the Old Faithful Lodge. After waiting close to an hour to be seated, we had a bizarre dining experience in which we had to sit at a table with a random person who was pounding liquor. A fellow customer who was observing our dining experience, felt badly enough for us that he surreptitiously paid our tab. After dinner, Maggie had to drive Jacob’s rental car, because neither Jacob nor I were able to drive. I’m not sure if it was the speeding or lack of headlights that first caught the park ranger’s attention, but within minutes of leaving, Maggie was pulled over on the side of the road and getting grilled by the park ranger. It appeared that she was about to get a slew of tickets, but when she told him that she was the designated driver and the ranger saw the two numbskulls that she was having to drive around, he immediately softened and let her go with a warning.

Yellowstone is a massive and well visited park, but it’s beauty really does live up to the hype. Even though it was more crowded than we like, we were able to find plenty of solitary hikes and breathtaking vistas without another human in sight. Seeing bison up close, watching the mist rise from the rivers in the morning as they meander through fields of golden grasses, and observing coyotes hunting down their lunch were just some of the unforgettable sights of Yellowstone.

Crown of the Continent – Glacier

Despite a couple of wild fires raging in the park, we made the most of our visit to Glacier by staying in four different areas of the park and enjoying what each had to offer. Since we were coming from the West, our first stop was Apgar, the western portion of the park. Unfortunately, this was the area most heavily affected by the fires and most trails and roads were closed. We had a long drive from Spokane so we decided to camp there for two night anyways to give the kids (and us) a break from the car. Despite the closures, we still managed to enjoy some short hikes that were open and paddled on Lake McDonald and down McDonald Creek. We were desperate to see some moose and beaver, but instead spotted a baby fawn and a bald eagle and had ourselves a pleasant float. The second day we explored the nearby town of Whitefish. We enjoyed our favorite treat – huckleberry ice cream – and the kids got to play on the playground while I worked at the library. We spend so much time in the woods, “town days” are really special for us. The kids love a chance to play with other kids, I can usually get some work done, and Rick usually gets a break from dish duty.

After taking it easy at Apgar we headed southeast to Two Medicine. We almost didn’t stop here, but over concern about the other campground’s availability decided to pull in. We are so glad we did, we found a beautiful spot on the creek and were treated to a moose walking right through our site on the first evening to munch on some bushes along the opposite bank. The setting of the campsite alone was gorgeous, and the hikes even more so. There were numerous trails spurring off straight from the campground, but to avoid a mutiny from the kids, we were selective in the ones we chose. Many of them included waterfalls, and the longest one we did, Scenic Point via Appistoki Falls, gave spectacular views of the mountains. Liam and CJ seemed less interested in the views at the top, and more interested in sword fighting Rick (whatever keeps them motivated). The only downside to Two Medicine was the wind. We had several sleepless nights as the camper rocked and swayed. Our final day Rick had hoped to paddle across Two Medicine lake for a paddle/hike combo, but to the relief of both me and the kids, it was too windy to take the canoe out. Instead, we hit the road and headed northeast to Rising Sun. While Rick went to the dump station, the kids and I walked along the lake and got up close to two young bighorn sheep.

Rising Sun is one of two campgrounds located on the eastern side of Glacier, the other being St Mary’s. We chose this one because of reports of high bear activity – the park service has banned any tents or soft-sided campers in the campground. For Rick, this was the equivalent of sending up a bat signal. After 9 months of hiking the kids are starting to rebel a little, so Rick and I took turns completing the Hidden Lake trail at Logan Pass – one of the prettiest we’ve done. The trail leads up through alpine meadows and among steep cliffs covered in wildflowers and fluorescent lichen. Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, marmots, and bear are all common sightings and we got to check each off our list. The kids got to pick the evening activity and Liam was stoked to listen to a ranger talk about Ice Age animals. Liam was spouting off saber tooth facts while the ranger tried to get through her lecture. The highlight was learning about the short-faced bear and getting to look at it’s skull.

Before leaving Rising Sun, I did get to spot one of the campground’s resident bears. It was an adolescent black bear who was munching berries on the hillside that buffered the campground. I was working inside the camper while Rick took the kids to the ranger station when I was roused by to the sound of repeated clapping. Curious I started walking around the campground, along with several other campers only to find out it was a ranger trying to chase the bear off. Clapping/talking loudly, but calmly are common techniques the rangers employ to haze the bears. They encourage hikers to use these tactics while hiking – it turns out they are a lot more effective than bear bells.

Our final stop in our grand tour of Glacier was Many Glacier – also bear central and high on Rick’s list. If you want to see wildlife, this is the place to come. Our first day was relaxed, we indulged ourselves with lunch at the lodge before heading for a short hike around Swiftcurrent Lake. The lake is nestled into the foot of towering rocky mountains, synonymous with Glacier. It’s also a hot bed for moose activity and we saw two as we made our way around the lake. That evening we enjoyed one of the most engaging ranger talks, which discussed…time – or atleast how animals use their time. We learned some interesting facts, such as Grizzly bears get much of their protein not by snacking on hikers, but by eating MOTHS!

Our down day was with a purpose, the next day was a grueling but rewarding paddle/hike combination, where we had close in counters with some of the top mammals found in Glacier. The first leg of our trip required a two-mile paddle across two lakes with a quarter mile portage (carrying the boat) in between. Rick and I carried the canoe over our heads while we called out “heeeeey bear” in the hopes that we would scare off any nearby grizzles. With the canoe over my head, all I could see was the ground in front of me and the massive piles of bear scat we kept stepping over. I was just hoping the site of a giant green canoe moving on legs would be enough to scare off a bear before they noticed the tasty morsels trotting along at our heels…Liam and CJ.


Once we got across the second lake we stopped on a pebble beach to have lunch before we began the 8-mile hike. We had just finished our sandwiches when hikers on the cliff above us shouted, “Bear!”

“What?” We called back. “There are FOUR bears headed your way!!!” Picnic over, we quickly instructed the kids to hop in the canoe while we gathered up all our food and threw it haphazardly into the boat. Just as we were picking up the paddles and preparing to shove off, we saw a momma grizzly and three cubs emerge from the brush and splash across the water 25 yards from us. We jumped in the boat and paddled a short distance from the shore. The bears were completely uninterested in us and we got to watch the cubs play on the beach while mom ate her fill of grass and berries. It was completely unforgettable and I’m so glad we opted to take our own canoe instead of riding the concessionaire boat across the lake. Every now and again, Rick’s insistence on doing things the hard (and cheap) way pays off…

With our recent bear sighting buoying our spirits, we began our ascent to the Grinnell Glacier. This was a really long and difficult hike for the kids, but Rick and I thought it was extremely important we get up to see it before it disappears. Unfortunately, there are only about 25 glaciers left in Glacier NP (down from 150 when the park was created in 1910) and scientist expect the remaining glaciers will be gone by 2030. To keep our hike interesting, we had several more animal sightings as we made our way up. First was a momma mountain goat and her kid. Snowy white and shaggy, they seemed oblivious to the hikers ogling and snapping photos of them. Further along, and in between the stunning views of Grinnell Lake, we spotted two large male bighorn sheep. Their brown coats blended perfectly with the talus rocks on the mountainside and we marveled at their enormous curved horns. Finally, after shepherding the family up 4 miles – Rick often carrying both kids tandem, we made it to Grinnell Glacier. It was both a heartbreaking and breathtaking sight. The glacier stands out as a shock of white against the surrounding brown mountains and at its base, a brilliant turquois pool of glacial water, complete with floating chunks of white ice. The sadness in looking at it is realizing that it is only a fraction of what it once was and that it will not be around for CJ and Liam to view as adults. Oblivious to this fact, the kids had a blast fishing ice out of the water, CJ of course ate some. While we sat and marveled at the view, a giant cracking sound echoed through the air and we watched as a corner of the glacier broke off and crumbled into the icy waters. The sound reverberated off the cliff wall and about a minute after the ice hunk had fallen, waves began to slam into the shore that had previously been placid. After enjoying the glacier and resting our legs, we began the trek back down. Along the way we say marmots, ptarmigan (an alpine bird similar to a grouse), and the same bachelor bighorn sheep from earlier. As we paddled across the lake, surviving the second portage, we spotted a young male moose bedding down along the bank. This brought our critter count up to the highest of any hike thus far on the trip. We finally pulled into the boat ramp 8 hours later, satisfied that we had just completed the prettiest, most exciting and definitely most grueling hike of the trip.

Through the Smoke in North Cascades

Our next stop in the State of Washington was North Cascades National Park. A quick side note to mention that our route to NCNP took us on an epic boondocking extravaganza, much to Maggie’s chagrin. We “enjoyed” city camping at a park in Port Angeles, behind a Thai restaurant in Everett, WA; and the back of an ACE hardware store in Bellingham, WA. Maggie was grumbling, but I thought it was a great way to see the city and save a few bucks…now back to our stay at North Cascades.

While North Cascades is much less trafficked than the state’s other two national parks we found it every bit as beautiful. Its spectacular, craggy peaks are breathtaking and have been likened by some to the Alps. Unfortunately, we happened to be there during a time when the surrounding areas were engulfed in wildfires. While the smoke interfered with our views (and our lungs) the one upside was that we practically had the park to ourselves. We secured a great campsite with a private, sandy beach along the beautiful Skagit River which contained what I believe to be our coldest bathwater to date. The river’s temperature was in the low to mid 40’s, but Maggie and the kids know the routine at this point and were champs about it. I think I speak for all of us (or at least myself) in saying that I’m going to miss our daily dips in these pristine rivers when our trip is over.

After the first two days, we felt the smoke had cleared enough for us to do a decent hike. We hiked the 8 miles to Cascades Pass and back which offered stunning views of sub-alpine meadows, dozens of peaks, and a few glaciers. We even got to hear the rumbling caused by snow melting and sliding down the mountain into the valley. While we did not see any big game, we did see several marmots and learned that they emit a very loud and shrill whistle (hence the nickname whistle pigs) if they feel threatened. We also saw a few weasels and a particularly friendly ground squirrel that Liam and CJ were really taken by.

While we really enjoyed our time hiking and paddling in the park, it was not without incidents. Liam decided to eat a penny sized rock because he thought it would help “aid in digestion” and we’ve taken on a family of mice who seem to want a free ride from North Cascades to Glacier National Park. Our next stop on this road trip will be…to an ACE Hardware for traps.

Rain Forests, Twilight, and Humpbacks

I have been waiting 8 months to get to the Pacific Northwest. For some reason it is the area I felt the strongest draw to. It might be the combination of beach and mountains, or how it looks so startlingly different from the terrain I’m used to. The beaches have character, they are rocky, with massive sun-bleached trees littering the shore and craggy rocks shrouded by mist emerge out of the water. The forest is thick and envelopes you in a world of green made of ferns as large as grown men, fuzzy moss on every surface and towering old growth trees. It felt like the setting of a fairytale, as though you might stumble upon the Three Bears cottage or see a girl in red skipping down the trail.

Olympic National Park is large and spread out. We were able to explore several different parts – although I probably could have spent another 2 weeks there. Our first stop was Mora Campground. Situated on the beach, we were able to explore both the surrounding forest and coastline. We walked to Hole in the Wall and Second Beach, which offered tidal pools to explore and eerie views of rock cliffs rising from the water. We also visited the Hoh rain forest – a unique temperate rain forest that receives over 150 inches of rain per year and supports more biomass per acre of land than any other ecosystem on the planet!


From Mora we headed further into the interior to Sol Duc. Here we enjoyed a day at the natural hot springs and hiking to the Sol Duc Falls from the campground. Unfortunately, upon leaving Sol Duc we discovered the bent axle we had been ignoring was getting much worse and decided we needed to make a beeline to civilization to get it fixed. Luckily, Port Angeles, on the outskirts of the park, had a nice family-owned RV repair shop that was able to fit us in. While we waited to get service done, we made use of the local library, playgrounds, and I caught up on my Twilight reading…(when in Rome – or Forks I should say). On our last day we went on a whale watching tour where we were treated to an especially energetic humpback whale who breached no less than 30 times to the delight and amazement of the crew and passengers.

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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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.