Camping

Caves

We promised Elias that we would take him to visit a cave for his birthday.  When we made that promise we had no idea how easy it would be to keep and that we would be able to visit two cave systems instead of just one.  The morning of the 28th of December we drove into swampy east Texas and onward, through humid Houston, the 4th largest city in the country and onward into rolling Texas ranch country watching the deciduous forests slowly widen and prickly pear start appearing.  We drove into San Antonio where we stopped for groceries; here the forests were made up of 15 – 20 foot tall Pinion Pine, Gambles Oak, Juniper, and some sort of short Cedar.

During the drive Michelle found a wonderful camp ground only 40 minutes beyond San Antonio called Cascade Caverns Campground.  When we arrived we stepped out of the car, set up our tents and quickly signed up for 2 nights instead of one. The kids tramped out of the car after 2 days of driving and quick as a wink geared up with bow and arrows, backpacks, pocket knives and trowel heading like the lost boys (and lost girl) of Neverland into the woods for adventure.

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 It turns out that just beyond San Antonio there lies the remains of ancient reef systems.  The sea receded leaving the limestone remains of what’s called the Texas Hill Country.  These hills harbor a very high concentration of caverns.  One such cavern was located right under our tent at the campground that we decided to call home for the next several nights.  We signed up for a tour the next morning which Jacob has taken the time to explain here:

Elias, Dad and I walked to the meeting place.  There were about 10 people.  The guide came and we all started to walk.  The guide started to tell us about the caves and this is what he told us:  “The caves were created by water 140 million years ago.  All of the land was under water and the silt and dead life was made into limestone.  Limestone has a slow dissolving point in water.  When the water receded and the land was uplifted, all of the rain water went to the lowest point.  So when that water sat on the stone it started to dissolve creating the caves.” 

An interesting thing is that in most cave systems the stalactites and the stalagmites grow and inch every 80 years or so, but in these caves the stalactites grow an inch every year.  But here, every few years the caves would flood and knock down the cave formations. 

Also because of the very wet nature of this cave there are two animals that live here, Bats and the Cascade Caverns Salamander which is endemic to this particular cave system.

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On December 30th we loaded up the car and once again headed west.  This time we drove 6 and half hours through landscapes becoming consistently less vegetated.  Slowly the trees where outnumbered by prickly pear.  Cat Claw Acacia, Creosote, and a few other very shrubby plants took over and finally a complete lack of moisture gave way to barren expanses of rock, dirt, sand and oil rigs.  The lofty rigs and big aggressive oil trucks were the only things we saw through the flat landscape until we crossed the border into New Mexico.  With  only 30 minutes of our drive remaining the view became hillier with soap tree yucca and prickly pear, while desert grasses became numerous and a grand desert mountain range loomed ahead with Carlsbad Caverns tucked somewhere in the landscape.  We drifted into White’s City Campground at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains.  We were the only tent campers there with the entire desert to ourselves.  This may be due to freezing evening and early morning temperatures in the 20’s…

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On December 31st we hopped in to the car and drove the several miles up the hill to the entrance of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Carlsbad was huge.  The immensity of the Cavern chambers was not what any of us expected.  Our birthday boy, Elias explains the caverns as “fun….very fun”.  Elias goes on to explain.

“The Stalactites and the stalagmites going together were awesome, I loved them.  It was VERY big.  It felt like a different planet.  I’m still not believing it was real. I really liked the underground ponds and the curtains.  Like when you put your flashlight up to them it shined through them and you can see red.” 

We all learned the quick way to remember the difference between the cave formations from our guide, she said the stalactites hold “tight” to the ceiling and you need to be careful of the stalagmites as you “might” trip over them as you walk.

The enthusiasm Elias was showing made it all worthwhile for me.  I am not a cave person; my favorite parts of the caves are the entrances where all of the living things are found.  In Carlsbad Caverns for example the entrance is huge and hosts one of the coolest natural shows on earth.  Every sunset for half the year thousands of bats pour out of the entrance to this cave creating what looks like a sunset plume of smoke for miles in every direction.  Unfortunately we were not there for the show, but we were there for Elias’s birthday and he was very happy about that.  The actual birthday was on the first of the year and our plan for that day was to take it easy around camp, open presents and enjoy the day slowly.  The big party, the big birthday bash that Elias would remember forever was going to all of those cool caves.

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To end the day Elias and I hiked a trail from the visitor center about three miles all the way to our camp.  A great walk marked by a desert landscape he was just being introduced to.  We celebrated the New Year of 2014 around 8:30 pm which was about an hour past our family bedtime. We usually go into our tents when it gets dark and rise after dawn. This night we sat around a fire, watched the stars, reminisced about our crazy year to date, shared gratitude for our life, our family and friends and thought about the year to come.

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Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Camping, Car camping, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Cascade Caverns, Family camping, Homeschooling | 4 Comments

The Keys

As we drove south of Miami we passed the last turn offs to Everglades National Park and continued south.  Eventually the road kept going but the land did not.  The Over Seas Highway continues traveling 127 miles jumping from island to island or key to key via a series of very long bridges all the way to Key West.  Instead of a landscape panorama we’d been watching through the windshield up to this point now it was all Ocean Blue.  “Where are we?” “I want to live here!” Elias hollered out as we cruised along like a ship at sea.

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The lower Keys are technically part of the Caribbean in several respects.  The climate is considered tropical and is the only tropical climate in the contiguous United States.  The history is well tied into that of the infamous pirates of the Caribbean which included Key West’s strategic location as an ideal staging ground for the US military to fight and eventually defeat piracy in the region.  Then there are the people and pace of life which is totally Caribbean, meaning laid back and friendly.

We had reserved our camp 6 months ago which was for the next 7 days.   It was located around mile marker 95 which is below the 25th Parralel on Bahai Honda key, a quiet and undeveloped State Park reached soon after the Seven Mile Bridge.

When we pulled into Bahia Honda State Park the gals working behind the check in desk were stoked to hear about our trip, very friendly.  Our camping spot was just perfect on a very quiet lagoon with the back side of our camping spot tucked aside mangroves.  The Mangrove forests that make up the bulk of the trees in The Keys actually extend throughout much of southern Florida’s coast and estuaries’ making up the most extensive Mangrove forest in the western hemisphere.  During high tide at night, the sea came in just shy of camp surrounding the site by water on either side.  There was definitely an organic sea grass odor that wafted in and out of the tent and our dreams.  Even with the highs every day in the low 80s there were no mosquitoes.

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We began each day sipping coffee and watching the many different types of shore birds on the Lagoon and in the Gulf but then spent most of the time on the beaches on the other side of the island in the Atlantic Ocean.  We would home school, cook and eat dinner right there next to the beach as well.  Lovely.

Through the entire week we made one trip to Key West  for an evening of wacky sunset fun with Grammy and Michael (our Key guests for a few days) and a one day trip to Big Pine Key to see the tiny Key Deer species endemic to the area.  Other than that we stayed very busy with an intentional meditation of soaking up the tropical sun during the last few nights of Hannukah… We called it “B’Chai Chanukah” on Bahia Key.  Bathing suits were just about all we wore for the week…snorkling, throwing frisbee, swimming, home schooling , learning about the place and so on.

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To the north the entire country was cold.  We heard about snow in Asheville, we heard that it was even in the teens in Bellingham, which is rare.  We heard that temperatures were getting well below zero  in parts of the Rocky Mountains.  Places through Montana and Wyoming where we began our trip were under a blanket of frigid air.  The important thing is that we weren’t there.  We were here where cold only existed in form of an evening beer and an afternoon ice cream.  Not that I don’t like cold.  I’ve made a career of being in the cold.  But I seemed to have hit a threshold, perhaps it was last winter and I haven’t been able to warm up.  It was not sudden though.  It was year after year –  there I am in the snow, in the winter, year round.  Granted, there’s always the reward of cold smoke spraying my face, there’s the crystal sublime landscape that’s all mine, but there have been one too many arctic chills setting in further than my down clothing could protect.  Too many hours, days trudging in white out, snow, rain, wind….lots and lots of wind.  Not normal wind, wind that bites and doesn’t care. Then there’s the cold rain.  The rain soaks in beyond my gortex jacket and this is my second jacket….the rain should only last for two more days; day after day of cold rain; drizzle; snow ; blizzard; My fingers are still numb, numb from cleaning out gear with cold, numb fingers that make me want to scream….and barf; But I can warm up.  I am slowly warming.  Here in the Keys the water and the air temperature are both in the 80s.  The wind is warm and tropical and I am starting to thaw.

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At the end of the week as we drove back towards Grammy’s house we were gritty from sand and browned from sun.  The mood in the car was quiet and happy.  It was a satisfied quiet that comes from days spent slowing down time.  The evening sunsets with pelicans drifting by and the boys wrestling on the beach while we make dinner are forever imprinted on my mind.

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Categories: Bahia Handa State Park, Camping, Car camping, Ecosystems, family, Family camping, Florida Keys, Homeschooling, Snorkling | 1 Comment

October

On October 1st we tackled the 10 hour drive south to central Virginia

We had a lot of plans for Charlottesville.  Of course one was to experience the leaves change.  When we arrived we re-wound the seasonal clock two weeks.  Surprisingly we were greeted by the South East’s last heat wave of 2013. I quickly remembered  why  I never come to the east in the summer anymore.  The hot soupy humid air hung thick with bloated mosquitoes for what seemed like eternity although I think it only lasted for 3 or 4 days.

We came to Charlottesville to be with my family.  My parents live, literally a stone’s throw from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s famous home on a hill above town.  My brother Frederic and sister Adriana live here as well with families.  My brother’s son Julian is Ila’s age and is small and adorable with a dark complexion to match his Costa Rican mother.  He is fully committed to trucks.  My sister has Auguste, age 3 with electric blue eyes and a blonde head that matches a young Elias  and perhaps me when I was his age.   And Zora my sister’s very big and happy baby daughter.

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Choosing to live far from them has limited the opportunities to keep growing and sharing our lives.  I’ve been getting glimpses of the idea that our kids could grow up not knowing each other.  Just getting together for holidays is too fake.  I wanted us all to hang out for a small cross section of normal life.  See what the work week looks like for them.  See how they get along.

We came here because a year is a very long time to travel for a small family.  We came to be grounded in familiar places and feel what it was to be at a proverbial home.  I love coming to my parent’s house.  When you grow up and leave, even after almost two decades it is like coming home.  My mother’s cooking, our extremely comfortable routine of being together, our ability to laugh enthusiastically at the exact same things.  So many things about being with family are entirely taken for granted until you’re out there in the big wide world for too many years and not enough people are laughing at your jokes.

Jacob and Elias love coming here as well.  It’s a level of mystery and excitement they don’t get anywhere else.  They LOVE going to my parent’s art studio and diving whole heartily into projects.  Growing up we would always take Halloween costumes very seriously and I have always wanted my kids to enjoy that with my dad.  Jacob took on the task of designing and constructing the battle armor of a dead Trojan Warrior while Elias, also preparing for battle built his far more glamorous a knight in shining armor.

The second week we were there the hot humid weather turned to a constant torrential rain as a tropical depression that had crawled up the east coast stalled just off of the coast of Virginia beach and lifted buckets after buckets of water out of the Atlantic inland to the Blue Ridge.  As the rain came down Michelle and I dropped the eager boys off at their grand parents work aka art studio and we hunkered down to get some much needed work done.  After all, just because we’re traveling for the year doesn’t mean we don’t have jobs.

The third week the crisp cool autumn air returned as scheduled, bringing an occasional Maple to turn completely yellowish red or a an Oak to turn yellow orange.  We visited our friends on White Oak Lake in Madison county very close to where I was born and we proved that not everyone catches fish on White Oak Lake.

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From here we moved to my brother’s house for the remainder of the stay.  My brother lives on this 100 acre picture perfect horse farm in rolling pasture hills cozied up to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Here I had one of my favorite bouldering rocks about 3 minutes away and was very eager to bring that into our daily routine with our usual home schooling and work related tasks.  We prepped for Ila and Jacob’s birthdays (which took place through the last week of our stay) and we prepared for the rock climbing courses I scheduled to teach in Northern Virginia throughout our visit.

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As the boys came closer to the finishing touches on their costumes single trees turned into groups of trees lighting up on the hill sides:  The Ash, Walnuts, Poplars and Elms turning the panorama yellows and oranges.  We traveled to Northern Virginia to run rock climbing courses and visit the capitol city.  Actually it was just Jacob and Elias that helped, and they did a great job of it too.  Still young enough where I need to watch everything they do it was very cool to watch these adult students give Jacob all of their confidence while he explained a skill and watched them shake their head in surrender while watching Elias scamper around the rocks like a spider.  The climbing here was actually fun considering I was expecting nothing special.  It is also located right on the Great Falls of the Patomic River which is a big symphony of Cascading rapids on this fairly large river that head waters several hundred miles up in the mountains of West Virginia.

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Here we camped for the first time since camping on the Missouri River in central south Dakota.  We returned to the basics of our little adventure while remembering the rythm that we had established as travelers during the first month of our journey.  Following one of the day’s rock climbing courses we went to the Washington Mall where one can find all of the most notable sites of the District of Columbia including the White House and the Washington Monument.  Our main goal was the Museum of Natural History which is part of the Smithsonian Museum, the largest collection of museums on the planet and they are all free.

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Back in the Blue Ridge the forests were erupting with yellow, red, purple and orange – extraordinary yet so ordinary.  Ila’s Birthday was quiet and humble as it should be for a two year old. We visited her “horsey friends” many times that day, played with her stroller and her brothers and ate fruit.  We saved the 27th, Jacob’s Birthday for the Ila and Jacob party.  It took place at my brother’s farm house.  We made Sushi, played soccer and walked the farm checking out the horses.

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Now with only a few days left we had many things to accomplish.  I had a few bouldering problems that I had to finish.  We had a few more hikes in the hills, a few more dinners with my sister, my brother and their family.  Frederic, my brother, and I sipped more whiskey and then of course one last important job to do:  Trick or Treating.

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We hit the road after trick or treating to make the five hour drive down to Asheville, North Carolina where Michelle’s brother lives.  I had a Wilderness First Responder course I had to make on the 2nd of November and hoped for a day of rest in between.  As we drove away from my parents house we traveled south through Appalachia and were rocked by the winds tossing the car around with an oncoming storm.  In the evening dark there were now more leaves blowing in the wind than there were on the trees.

Now three hours into the drive, full of treats from Halloween,  we finally received a trick.  Our car began coughing and studdering – it was clear we needed to stop.  We checked into a hotel and awoke in the morning in Christiansburg, Virginia.  This turned out to be a good thing since this region is where stock cars were invented to run moonshine back in the 20s and 30s.  Still being very much a part of local pride and culture we found some very nice Nascar mechanics to make a few “adjustments” to the car before heading on to Asheville. November 1st…the adventure continues…

Categories: Adventure, Blue Ridge Mountains, Camping, Halloween, Monticello, VA, Washington D.C. | Leave a comment

Mt Rushmore

On the morning of September 11th we drove to Mt Rushmore without expectations.  Mostly I think we were answering to a routine tourist call as Mt Rushmore is one of the most iconic tourist destinations in the United States.  What we found when we arrived surprised me.  The original sculpture was proposed in 1927 to promote tourism to the area.  Originally it was proposed to feature both native and non native western heroes but gained more nationwide support and interest upon the idea of featuring the four presidents.  The symbolism of these presidents have led to not only what has made this country strong and innovative but what has allowed the United States to be one of the most significant single influences in the world through the 19th and 20th centuries.

To begin with both Thomas Jefferson’s and George Washington’s time of influence straddled the precarious time of our country’s birth.  It could be argued that the US was lucky that it came into being during a time when these defining characters existed  although I think that the US came to be because of the strength of character and clarity of these individuals.

On July 4th 1776 Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence signed by congress featuring this most notable of all quotes:

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

This document and every word that was carefully crafted in it was so essential in galvanizing the faith and identity of the new nation that when General George Washington read the Declaration to his troops in New York City on July 9, with thousands of British troops on ships in the harbor, crowds began tearing down and destroying signs or statues representing royal authority. This strengthened sentiment spread quickly through the new nation leading to an equestrian statue of King George in New York City to be pulled down and the lead used to make musket balls.  By November of 1776 circulation of the document spread through Western Europe which inspired popular support in France leading to them becoming a key ally in defeating the British.

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After leading the country to officially defeating the British in 1783 by 1889 George Washington received 100% of the electoral vote as the first president.  Leading with clear sights toward the common good and impeccable example that transcended into our foundational principles, Washington knew more than anyone the importance of his every decision which included putting the Constitution of the United States into practice.  He would eventually step down after two terms in office in order to set the precedent as a leader of civil servitude, staunchly opposing dictatorship and tirelessly warning against partisanship in government.  Washington’s commitment to “the common good” lead him to free all of his slaves upon his death.

As a president of a new nation our third president Thomas Jefferson knew the importance of establishing our geographic boundaries.  Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory for 15 million dollars from Napoleon which kept the US out of the raging European wars of the day, but kept us in favor with its biggest power and potential threat, Napoleon.  Jefferson knew that the current boarders were only a piece of what would later identify our borders. With this in mind he personally trained Meriwether Lewis in preparation to lead the Lewis and Clark expedition and explore what lay beyond the known Frontier.

Jefferson’s Legacy did not stop after his presidency though.  Thomas Jefferson became almost exclusively devoted to education, believing that all children of a great nation should have access to free quality education.  Jefferson helped spearhead the separation of religion and science in education by creating the University of Virginia at the base of his home Monticello.  This signaled the beginning of a state run University System founded on these principles.

Abraham Lincoln was the tipping point that allowed the country’s greatest moral crisis to explode.  The Civil War happened because the nation was sitting on “a volcano” of yet unchecked ethical dilemma and he was the uncompromising hand that was needed.  It was Lincoln that defined the birth of the country as July 4th 1776 based on the nation’s realization that we were conceived on the understanding that “all men are created equal”. 

For Lincoln both slavery and the fragmenting of the nation were unacceptable and that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.   In April of 1865 while campaigning for voting rights for African Americans Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, almost instantly turning him into a martyr of almost god like proportions.

Theodore Roosevelt devoted to the traditional definition of our national identity in stating,  “It is unwise to depart from the old American tradition and discriminate for or against any man who desires to come here and become a citizen, save on the ground of that man’s fitness for citizenship…” Roosevelt was celebrated for tackling a culture of corruption in the government stating that,  ““behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” 

He pushed forward and popularized the importance of countless issues including women’s rights and perhaps his most popular and renowned legacy was his leadership towards branding the United States as a place where wilderness and the environment was an essential part of the American heritage, stating that “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources…..It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people are awakening.” With that said Roosevelt wasted no time doubling the size of the National Park system and setting a precedent towards a popular movement of conservation which to this day is a key part of in American identity.

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As we drove east from Mt Rushmore and settled into the vast grassy landscape Jacob and Elias’s curiosity was spiked with countless questions on what it meant to be part of this country.  I think the young minds were mostly inspired by the magnitude of individuals chosen for this iconic monument.  It occurred to me that these individuals were not ahead of their time but instead they have helped define the time.  What they stood for and accomplished was and will always be relevant on a timeless scale.  Upon Mt Rushmore’s completion in 1941 the principles it represented would help guide not only America during the trial of worldwide virtue through World War II,  but it supported in putting us at center stage while the world looked to us for guidance in our quickly changing world into the 21st century.

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That night we settled down at a wonderful camp mid way through South Dakota on the Missouri River.  As we watched the sunset  and imagined Lewis and Clark pushing up river for the first time I looked across at the increase in deciduous trees and was excited about our next stage of our journey spending time with our friends in Wisconsin.

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Categories: 9/11, Abraham Lincoln, Adventure, Camping, Constitution of the United States, Declaration of Independence, family, Founding Fathers, George Washington, Lewis and Clark, Missouri River, Mt. Rushmore, September 11, South Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson | Leave a comment

The Black Hills

The Black Hills are a cluster of forested mountains that sit like an oasis smack in the middle of the North American steppe or “Great Plains” and are a patch work of National Forest, National Park, State Park and private land that straddles the boarder of Wyoming and South Dakota.  In 2012 the United Nations general assembly recommended that the Black Hills be returned to the previous stewards of the land, the Lakota Native American Tribe.  What is to become of these recommendations is to be determined.

For us the attraction was nothing knew – some of the best summer rock climbing in the country.  A large portion of the climbing takes place in the Needles district of Custer State Park.  Let me tell you, if there is a better place for a couple young bucks like Jacob and Elias to get psyched on climbing I’m all ears.

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The very hilly landscape is blanketed by a pin cushioned like forest of granite spires with 300 foot tall monoliths and 50 foot turrets which are easily accessible via trails amongst grassy Ponderosa forests.  If you wanted to climb them all good luck, you could probably do it in three life times, maybe.  The climbing is a play ground of cool fins, arrets and bubbly faces most of which almost always top out on some sort of peak or summit.  It’s a great place to climb if you don’t own much climbing gear because you won’t need it.  Cracks and places for natural pro are rare and the route setters were cheap, meaning bolts are few and far between.

I hope that when and if the Lakota get their land back the door stays open to climbing.  And I do hope they get it back. A large portion of the Southern Black Hills, nearby hilly forests and rolling grasslands make up Custer State Park, named after General Custer and famous for fantastic animal viewing.

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I haven’t had the opportunity to read in great depth about why the UN Assembly on Indigenous Peoples recommended returning the park to the Lakota however I will say, you don’t need to read much to get a gist that things have not yet been set right.  The area encompassing Custer State Park is very important to the Lakota.  In 1868 a treaty was signed by the United States Government stating that this land would belong to the Lakota people forever.  In 1874 General Custer, who was given the task of rounding up Native tribes on the plains and placing them on their assigned reservations, marched into French Creek in the present day town of Custer and found gold.  He then opened up the Black Hills to a massive gold rush scrapping the US-Lakota treaty.  Eventually the Lakota would be pushed onto the current Pine Ridge Reservation.  However they weren’t pushed there by Custer himself.  The Lakota, the Cheyenne and the Arapahoe native tribes settled their age old differences (which included the Lakota taking the Black Hills from the Cheyenne in 1776) and ended Custer’s murderous rampage along with the whole of the 7th US Calvary at the Battle of Little Big Horn in South East Montana where Custer met his “Last Stand”.

It could be said that although Native rights have not been respected in this area, the rights of non-humans are currently well valued.  The park systems in this region remains one of the last North American sanctuaries for the American Bison, as well as home to large numbers of Elk herds, Mule Deer and White Tailed Deer, Cougar, Pronghorn Antelope, Prairie Dog and many other animals including wild donkeys that are very eager to meet you.

At the southern tip of 111 square miles of Custer State Park is Wind Cave National Park.  We visited the Wind Cave on our second day in the region.  Wind Cave is one of the longest explored caves in the world with 140 miles of cave now mapped (residing under one mile of surface area)  which leaves an estimated 90% of the whole cave yet to be mapped.  The discovery of this cave is due to the “wind” that  flows out of the cave during low pressure.  The breeze streams out of the cave’s only known natural opening which is the size of a volley ball.  The first explorers of the cave not only squeezed themselves through this absurdly small opening but they squirmed for hours on end by candle light.  A large opening was eventually built in the name of prospecting, where nothing of value was found, which made it possible for a young man named Alvin McDonald to lead tourists through the cave as early as 1892…all by candle light dragging sting behind him to find his way out.  Today being guided through this cave is easy, fun and fascinating.  One of the real gems of the Park is the fact that there are 44 more square miles of prairie protected above ground allowing one of the 4 largest and genetically pure herds of wild buffalo to roam free along with all of the other wild animals found in the region.

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The majority of our time in this area was spent in the Needles District of Custer State Park.  Here we stayed in a secluded hilltop campsite next to Sylvan Lake.  Along with hiking and climbing we also found a quiet routine at camp which included schooling, playing in the forest, building forts and time around the camp fire with other travelers, including a British math teacher who gave Jacob math lessons in exchange for climbing lessons.

On September 11th we packed up camp and began our eastward migration but not without stopping first at Mount Rushmore.

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Categories: Adventure, Bison, Camping, Car camping, Custer State Park, Ecosystems, Elk, family, Family Climbing, Great Plains, Homeschooling, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids | Leave a comment

Ten Sleeps

Some of the most mystical places we go to we don’t even realize we’re there until the magic has already set in deep…… I found Ten Sleep when researching climbing areas across the country while prepping for our trip.  Ten Sleep caught my eye because of well, just the shear massive amount of climbing with summer temperatures averaging in mid 70s as well as the fantastic description from an old Climbing Magazine:

“Hippies and hunters and cowboys and climbers—these strange bedfellows mingle in relative harmony in north-central Wyoming’s Ten Sleep, ‘a little western town with a big western heart.’”

After tearing across the northern Wyoming desert and pushing our weighted Mazda up into yet another Rocky Mountain range, none of us really knew where we were going to end up.  We did know that the patience tank was on empty.

After selling ones house and hopping into a mini van with your entire family, which IMG_0505c_rainbowincludes a moody teenager, a babbling 20 month old and squid learning to squirm, with the intention of traveling in that small vehicle for 10 months, a person experiences many  emotions in rapid succession over the first month.  The dominant emotion to this point had been a giddy sort of excitement.  Also there was the effervescent feeling of endless possibility.  There is the thought of “finally….Finally…we did it.”  And then there was POOP, GRRR, AAAA, HELP, but always the opportunity to become more adept at being together returns and with nothing but time on our hands we are reminded that patience is the easiest way.

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So it was here in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains that we found ourselves after hiking up and over the Tetons, driving late, getting up early, learning about dinosaurs and then driving more.  We were all in a knot that was getting tighter when we realized we were literally following a massive rainbow.  As the knot seemed to tighten more we did not know to what extent the rainbow was effecting us until we turned onto this Forest Road off of the main road pulling us towards the end of the Rainbow.  To the right there stood a moose happily eating. We drove further, our minds loosened, we pushed up hill to the edge of this magical meadow.  We parked, got out and there we were bathing in this giant pot of gold.  Each of us filtering out of the car became contentedly and quietly absorbed by our new home for hours…our was it days?  I think it was a total of 6 days that we spent there before peeling ourselves away.

We slept, read, walked, climbed, wrote, ate, climbed some more and slept some more.  Finally we remembered we were on this big adventure and we were not yet ready to disappear into the great wide open.  Not yet… onward…

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Categories: Adventure, Big Horn Mountains, Camping, Car camping, Dinousaurs, family, Family Climbing | 6 Comments

Organic Farming in the Rockies

Larch camp
Day 2 – Day 6
Waking up in a Montana Larch forest to freshly picked huckleberries and French pressed coffee, care of my husband, as the kids slept, was delightful. After a slow morning of yoga in the sun and quiet chatting with Joseph I realized that nature is my medicine right now…wilderness, walks, crickets, wild chamomile, berries and quiet. There is a lightness that I haven’t felt in years creeping back into my spirit. It is contagious and I think we are each experiencing it in our own ways.
The previous evening was wonderful. As dinner was cooking on our camp stove the boys eagerly started their “adventure school” work, writing and drawing in their main lesson books about the beginning of our journey. Although I expect their enthusiasm will wear off as school becomes an integral part of the trip it was quite satisfying to see them work. Ila played her part. She participated by snatching up Mr. E’s crayons when nobody was looking, then running as fast as she could then stopping and eating them as he chased her down the trail. Ila’s entertaining yet goofy urge to eat crayon continued. We gave her a piece of paper with crayons so she could participate. When everyone was looking her way she would use them to draw. Once she decided everyone was looking away she shoved it in her mouth and started devouring as fast as she could. “Ila no!” someone would shout….back to drawing.
J and E 1st lesson
Ila's main lesson
From there we enjoyed the spectacular drive down to Missoula and took care of some busy work…Laundry, food shop, gas. We also learned that town life was complicated with our family of five. Instead of hanging around we wasted no time and headed North to the Salish Indian reservation.
Next stop, was our college friends’ organic farm, Fresh Roots Farm just outside of Polsen, MT. About an hours’ drive North from Missoula their picture perfect farm was nestled literally at the base of the dramatic western edge of the Rocky’s. The Mission Range towered above as we enjoyed this lovely resting place and opportunity for karma yoga. Weeding onions, gathering eggs, washing beets, sharing meals and playing in the sun, E was sold on the farm life and on his new 4 yr. old buddy Kena. Mr. J was psyched that it had wifi (read download more books) and an opportunity to learn how to fish and Ms. I was all about the animals. She made friends with the sheep, courageously pet a chicken and was pretty much the last gal standing at the end of each night with late night visits to see the cows, horses and donkeys. The stay included pasture walks, lovely hikes with refreshing and picturesque swims at nearby Flathead Lake – a lake so vast it seemed more like an inland sea with the Rocky Mountain rising abruptly out of its eastern bank.

Mr. E's new friend

Mr. E’s new friend


I, E, K on tractor
Days before we set off on our journey from Bellingham, Joseph Mr. J and I watched Food Inc. We wanted to educated ourselves before we traveled, knowing that the temptation to eat mindlessly and poorly on the road was too easy. We hoped that the film would make this decision simpler. Interestingly, we experienced the themes of the movie first hand on the farm. As the kids played on our last morning, our hosts prepared an incredibly bountiful box of veggies for us for the road and we packed up the car, a plane flew super low over us spraying the commercial seed potato farm adjacent to our friends’ farm. Although common to farm folk, it was incredible to our little town family that such spraying of pesticides (and earlier in the season, herbicides) was acceptable much less right next to a certified organic grower. The wind was quiet that day however is it realistic to say that all of the spray fell over the exact area and not in the common irrigation ditch or atop other parcels of land?
Flathead lake swimming
Kena fishing
Joseph and Karl harvesting
Over our last breakfast, Karl and Darcy, our farmer hosts gave us a quick lesson about commercial/organic farming regulations and practices as well as the impact of GMO’s and the power of large companies like Monsanto (with printouts regarding the major chemical companies that now own the majority of seed companies and the rights to the seeds as well as the major organic seed sellers).
camping at the farm
We left the farm with a focus on continuing to learn more about our food, visiting other farms across the country, remaining aware about our choices and feeling thankful for our friends in the gorgeous valley and their dedication to sustainable, organic growing…
The Farmers
Let the adventure continue. Next stop Glacier National Park.

Categories: Adventure, Camping, family, GMO, Hiking, Homeschooling, Montana, organic farming, Rocky Mountains | 7 Comments

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