LI and NYC

They said it couldn’t be done (or shouldn’t) however we left WI around noon, drove through the UP, onto the Mackinac bridge over Lakes Michigan and Huron by sunset and continued on to reach NY by 1:00pm the next day. For the record, Lake Superior is very long. It went on forever and was a beautiful companion for that part of the drive.  The kids slept through the night which made the longest driving leg of the journey bearable. I felt like Joseph and I were in our early 20’s again traveling across the country from AZ and Colorado to the East Coast – were we actually that care free?  My gosh, that was almost 20 years ago. Thanks to Pandora – Greg Brown, John Prine and Bob Dylan we stayed awake…well Joseph stayed awake and I woke up every little bit to make sure.

I think I have driven maybe 4 hours on our trip to date (while en route). I mostly navigate, write, daydream, return business related emails, brainstorm, sing and make food for the family. This said, with the sun rising, I took the 6:00 am shift through rural Pennsylvania on the lookout for coffee and a good place for a sleepy family to have breakfast.

Awake, caffeinated and fed from the kid’s first experience at a classic greasy spoon diner we drove the last few hours through Pennsylvania, New Jersey and into one of the craziest spider web of Interstate mayhem, on planet earth.  Onward to Long Beach on the south shore of Long Island to visit my brother and his family in preparation for Zac, my 13 yr. old nephews Bar Mitzvah.

Jack’s house is 2 blocks from the newly restored Long Beach boardwalk which was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. I can smell the ocean from his driveway and it beckoned. We parked the car, hugged my brother who was off on a thousand pre Bar Mitzvah errands and walked to the beach via the farmers market to buy fresh sour pickles. We officially entered my childhood stomping grounds and the reverie came flooding back. I had an itinerary for the family for the week including LI and NYC aching to show them where I grew up, places so different from the town and area that we have chosen to raise our family.

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As we walked onto the beach Ila immediately stripped down to her suit laying on the powder soft sand rolling and rolling down towards the water…the antidote to being strapped into the car seat for 24 hours. The boys (all 3) dove into the ocean. The Atlantic is so different from the wild cold Pacific, crashing waves and vast but somehow more tame. It is the smell and imprint of this ocean that led us to again live by the Ocean on the west coast. I can’t be far from the sea…

Over the next few days the family started rolling in from the East Coast, aunt’s, grandparents, cousins coupled with bagels and more bagels. Friday night dressed in “handsome clothes” as a young Jacob once dubbed them, we piled into the minivan and headed off to Temple Avodah as Zac grown up, self assured and handsome led the congregation through a Sukkot inspired service. The little girls (Ila and and her cousin) danced around the edge of the congregation in my high heels while the ancient prayers soaked into their cells. Saturday Zac was called to the Torah for his official Bar Mitzvah, such a proud moment for our family, feeling the presence of my dad and of our ancestors in the room as the Rabbi reminded Zac to make wise choices in his life even though those are the choices that take effort and may not be the easiest. Celebrations followed lasting through the weekend.

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The socializing and celebrating lasted for a couple of days.  While many of the relatives traveled back to their homes by Monday morning we rallied our little family onto the LIRR, (the Long Island Railroad) first stop Penn Station, NYC. What to do in NYC if you only have one day with a 11, 7 and 1 yr old? We planned a busy itinerary that quickly changed tracks.  Of all of the kids Elias was affected the most by the density of souls pouring out onto 7th Ave.  As we walked through Times Square heads craning to see advertisements, people, marquess more people, and Jacob trying to edit what the little ones glance at,  Elias, our country boy, clutching me tightly asked to go back to LI, saying somewhat distressed, “I was excited but this isn’t what I thought it would be…”.  Understanding that we needed to find the most natural place in NYC as a transition from suburban to urban, we popped down into the subway and minutes later popped up into Central Park. Ahhh, he started to breath calmly again.

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I found out 2 things on this part of the excursion (1) never would I have guessed that so many turtles live in the pond in Central Park and I am pretty sure we needed to stop and greet each one in our rented row boat and (2) Joseph is officially a land lover although he captained our boat with dignity, he is more comfortable on the Earth.

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The quintessential outing was lovely and gave the kids a unique experience of the City before we popped back into the subway and out into Chinatown for some Dim Sum. Chinatown is its own country in NYC. The entrance from the subway up onto the crowded city street was shocking in a subtle way teeming with people working in tiny basement shops dappled with shops hanging whole pigs, chickens exotic vegetables and fruit. The restaurant was exclusively for locals, 3 floors up in an unmarked building recommended by a friend. Nobody spoke English and although I think my distressed request for “no pork” made sense, I crossed my fingers and bit in to the delicious dim sum rolled to our table on carts overflowing with options.

As we wondered through the Chinatown heading to the financial district we stepped back in time in the little park a few blocks away. Surrounded by the ruins of what looked like an ancient Asian inspired temple old wrinkled Chinese woman played Mah Jong, old men played GO on the picnic tables with music from the traditional musicians all around. The scene felt centuries old. We could have stayed and watched for hours if it weren’t for the rats running amidst the people. I kid you not! In the middle of the day, rats were scurrying into holes all over the park and the park patrons paid no mind. This is what the boys still talk about of all of the things in NYC!

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Our visit wound down as we approached the area of 9-11 at rush-hour now with people scurrying all over.  The monument being constructed in memory of the deceased is still in process and the new tower beside the former Twin Towers is almost complete. The scene as well as the day providing for some rich conversation on the subway and train back to LI as 2 sleepy boys, one sleeping girl and their parents soaked up the sights of the urban jungle.

Categories: 9/11, Bar Mitzvah, Central Park, China Town, family, LIRR, Long Beach, Long Beach Boardwalk, Long Island, Mackinac Bridge, New York City, Penn Station, Temple Avodah, Times Square | 1 Comment

Cornucopia

The long drive to visit our beloved friends on the south western shores of Lake Superior was an important transition in our trip from the “tone setting” nuclear family wilderness part to the reconnecting with extended family and old friends’ part. Although I excitedly awaited the reunion with my college roommate and her family, I felt the change in the air not quite ready to leave the wild lands. This said, the wilderness that met us on our journey north was unexpected and delightful.

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On the other side of the spectrum were our kids. With the excitement of spending time with ANYONE other than their parents, the boys encouraged us to keep driving from the Missouri River in South Dakota, 12 hours to the far reaches of WI. I will admit, this was the first time that Ila ever saw Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers or Dora…thank goodness for PBS!  Arriving at 11:00 pm to the open arms of Jen and Andrew at Spirit Creek Farm, we were ushered into their super cool guest yurt, stoked with wood burning fire we were tutored on the basics of the composting toilet before tucking 3 sleepy kids into bed.

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The time that followed felt much longer than the 5 days that we stayed.  The children coupled up quite quickly slipping away to the magic of the farm and the house, Jacob and 11 yr. old Willa, Elias and 8 yr old Ivy with 6 yr old Lake and Ila tailing behind.  Although the kids met when Jacob and Willa were only 3 and 4 and Elias and Ivy only baby hatchlings, the bond was set and they became inseperable. This was odd as we had been traveling as a tight unit for so long and now there was literal space amongst us. This allowed Jen, Andrew, Joseph and I time to collapse the better part of a decade since we last saw each other and catch up on the essentials of life.

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Spirit Creek Farm, the brain child of Andrew and nurtured by Jen is a fermenting foods paradise.  The kind of place you would dream up as you’re imagining your ideal life but most likely surrender to something less ideal. We learned the basics and tasted a rainbow of fermented veggies on our visit. (I still crave the fermented green beans.) They have built a sustainable business over the last few years supplying fermented veggies to co-ops, grocery stores and restaurants around the Midwest all with solar power and locally produced delicious veggies. These days Andrew runs the bulk of the business giving Jen time to home school the kids. However it is definitely a family affair.  Joseph and the boys participated by picking 1200 lbs. of cabbage our 3rd day on the farm while Ila and I met with the chickens, pigs and shall we say acrobatic goats. I remember Jen saying years ago that they wanted to sell something that people get addicted to and they are on the money!

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In between, homeschooling, fermenting, farming and playing Jen, Andrew and the family initiated us into the culture of the area which had a lot to do with a bioregional love and pride for Lake Superior. Cornucopia is a close knit darling little town with local artisans and craftsman selling their wears around the small marina of sailing boats. We got to experience the lake life firsthand when the Sauter-Sargents took us sailing on Lake Superior, exploring the local sea (lake) caves, swimming and playing on the picturesque local beach.

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For appetizers one night Andrew brought home whitefish salad that almost brought me to tears (with joy). If I closed my eyes I could have been 12 years old eating whitefish on a whole-wheat-spinach bagel around our dining room table Sunday morning from Stuff and Bagels (or what Joseph calls Stuff me Bagels) my favorite Long Island bagel store. How could this be? Then Andrew asked, ”Michelle, I was always told that the whitefish brought in by the fisherman is shipped to the Jews in NY. Is this true?” Ha! Yes indeed! Thank you, thank you fisherman!

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Our visit drew to a close with a solar powered Beetles dance party that blew the breakers, starry knights, the howls of coyotes, delicious food, love and friendship. The boys wanted to stay forever however we needed to follow the call of tradition…the cousins Bar Mitzvah was 2 days away in NY…so long WI for now…

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Categories: Fermented foods, Homeschooling, Lake Superior, Midwest, Spirit Creek Farm, WI, Yurt | 2 Comments

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

Land of the Lost

As we climbed into our car our intention was to head directly for Wyoming’s Dinosaur Museum located about 45 minutes North in the town of Thermopolis.  To our delight after about 3 minutes down the road we entered one of the largest naturally occurring natural history museums in the world.  The road clung to the side of the steeply carved Wind River Canyon.  Here, the Wind River carved through a concise story book that displays almost the entire history of life on earth in impeccable chronological order.

The journey began with some of the oldest exposed rock on earth. Cambrian shale and limestone were at the start and held countless fossils of life forms from 450 million years ago.  As we sped down the road winding through tunnels and hugging tightly next to cliff and roaring river we passed signs marking the type and the age of the rock.  One after the other, a sign highlighted different notable formations for example “Such and such formation, Permian, 290 myo (million years old).”  At the time the numbers were so big that it didn’t mean anything.  As we drove on peering 2,000 feet up crumbly walls to the sky it began to sink in that this was no ordinary canyon.  It turns out the Bighorn Basin is notable for being one of the most complete hotspots in the world for preserving the story of prehistoric life on earth.

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After about 25 minutes we exited the canyon and arrived into Thermopolis, its name inspired by the hot spring state park located in the city limits.  That day held temperatures in the 90s therefore our interests were not on the hot springs.  With an unquenchable curiosity sparked by the run through Wind River Canyon we headed to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

It turns out that this region was host to a succession of prehistoric swamps, coastal regions, oceans and seas mostly teaming with life for hundreds of millions of years.  Over time each era became compressed and preserved:   Limestone and Dolomite which make up a large portion of the rocks is essentially compressed sea and coastal life.  Sandstone, also abundant, was created during this prehistoric era.  Dinosaurs didn’t really show up until about 240 million years ago.  They were on the scene at first as the recovery species directly after THE largest mass extinction of life that the world had ever seen, and then taking center stage as the world’s dominant life form about 180 million years ago.

During this epic tale, the landscape continued to gather and stockpile the clues of life on earth due to its variation of mostly shallow sea and coastal life.  At about 80 million years ago the landscape started to change in a way that this region had never experienced.  Due to the slow and shallow subduction of an ancient Pacific plate under a North American plate, the middle of North America began pushing upward.  Lasting only about 20 million years it was during this era of land contortion that the dinosaurs died off almost completely, a time most commonly referred to as the Laramide Oraginy.  For this region it means that the perfectly chronologically stacked sea life rose into one of the Highest regions of North America also known as the Rocky Mountains.

It has been the popular opinion for quite some time that the Dinosaurs were rendered extinct via a large meteor from outer space.  However evidence keeps pointing towards another earthly inspired mass extinction caused by an overwhelming amount of Volcanic activity rendering the air poisonous.  During the Dinosaurs final golden years over 60 million years ago we saw some of the most famous dinosaurs such as the Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex reign supreme over the land only to die off in some of the largest mass dinosaur graves ever found here in the Bighorn basin.

From here on, as prehistory turned to history this region would take on a few more major changes, including major cooling causing several successions of glaciers to carve at varying depths into the landscape then finally becoming windswept and arid, leading to and eventually arriving at present day with a climate and landscape of preservation.  Currently, this region has a very low human population leaving most of the land under federal management.  It remains very dry due to its ideal location, just out of reach of almost all major weather patterns that crisscross the country.  It’s actually so easy to find fossils here that one of the attractions offered to visiting tourists is the option to go on an archeological dig and find your very own fossil souvenirs.  Unfortunately we were here on a National holiday so we didn’t get to do this…”next time”, I had to explain to a very disappointed Elias.

From here we were to head only an hour or so north and east into the Big Horn Mountains and the climber’s jungle gym at Ten Sleeps!

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Categories: Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Grand Tetons

Driving into the Grand Tetons there was a general consensus in the air that we needed a big dose of high adventure.  We pulled up to the back country permit office and were blessed to meet our favorite park ranger ever.  She was like everyone’s adored grandmother, so sweet and encouraging.  We explained that we have a one year old, a 7 year old and an 11 year old and we want to go on a four day trip.  Prior to arriving we had been recommended a variety of different hikes that were (similar to the 3 Bears) too easy, too short, or entirely too boring.  Most people do that.  The majority of people will give you the experience light recommendation.  But this sweet little ranger knew exactly what we needed.

From the permit office we headed down to the String Lakes trailhead with 3 large bear canisters, 2 bear sprays and permit in hand for a 4 day 3 night trip up Paintbrush Canyon over the 10,800 foot Paintbrush Divide and down the very scenic Cascade Canyon, a 4,200 foot climb and descent over 20 miles of sub-alpine and alpine wonderland.  The pass was almost the exact same height as Mt Baker, the big mountain that sits over our home town which helped make our mission relevant and enticing to the boys.

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As we packed the car the mood in the air was electric, literally.  Deep rumbling accompanied the darkening clouds forming over the Tetons as we attacked the mammoth job of packing our packs for the trip.  We did a great job of not talking about the weather.  We simply saddled packs and mozzied onward and upward to greet the storm.  The kids did an amazing job of hiking fast through the open meadow land while the lightening storm was wreaking havoc.  Finally as the thickest of it was above our heads and the hail was storming down, we stopped to huddle up and soak in the fullness of this big crazy adventure.

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The hiking somehow happened harmoniously, mostly.  Jacob had a full pack including a loaded bear canister of food, a big boy now for sure.  Joseph had a ridiculously large amount of stuff including an extra satchel thrown over his shoulder.  Michelle had a full backpack……and Ila on shoulders, front or back depending.  Elias carried a cute little pack with the trowel in one side pocket and water bottle in the other.  Together we greeted the hike as a desired challenge after a mellow visit to Yellowstone.

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Our camp on day one was worth writing home about overlooking the deep valley below. Although Michelle expected to see a Grizzly or Black Bear around every tree, we were bear free. We cooked above camp on a rocky ledge and arranged the food canisters lodged among large boulders. The kids played and scurried like Pikas among the rocks.  On the second day we had a leisurely mile and half hike or so up canyon and there we found Paradise.  The rest of this day was spent frolicking and lollygagging around in Alpine meadows and lakes.  It’s a tough job but that’s why alpine meadows exist.

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That night was weird though.  I (Joseph) kept dreaming about ghosts and finally woke up to the tent smelling like smoke.  I went outside and couldn’t see the outline of the peaks that surrounded camp anymore and ashes were flying around everywhere.  I became very concerned and after some thought based on past experiences mostly in the North Cascades decided that the smoke had moved in from the big fires in east central Idaho and went back to bed.  The previous summer during the month of July I experienced the worst forest fire haze ever.  It turned out that during the month of July 2012 there weren’t any forest fires in the region but rather the haze was moving in from Siberia due to the worst forest fires Siberia had ever had on record.  Now back to our tent in the Tetons, I woke up later to the smell of fresh air again and allowed myself to fall back into a deep sleep.

The next day we awoke to crisp clear skies – no hint of smoke – with the intention of heading over Paintbrush Pass.  The hike up to the pass was challenging, but you couldn’t tell if you were just watching us.  The Anderson family was on a mission and we were bound to it.  The last bit was steep and well, steeper with glacial scree and ice.  This is where Ila had decided she didn’t want to be held anymore so Michelle got to wrestle this little and strong bundle as she negotiated the most precarious and dangerous part of the hike.  This is extreme child rearing ladies and gentlemen.

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Arriving at the pass was very gratifying for me.  I am always in these alpine environments.  Up high, big views, feeling healthy but something is always missing:  Jacob, Elias, Ila and Michelle.  Frankly that’s all I really want.  Why not go to the best places with your favorite people?  A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to have Jacob along for an ascent of the Becky Route on Liberty Bell Mountain, which is one of our super classic alpine climbs back home.  What a blast that was.  Now I had everyone, even my little girl.  Everyone was buzzing with giddy accomplishment. We ate ridiculous amounts of protein via tuna, bars and jerky. The boys couldn’t get enough calories down. We concluded the alpine feast and continued onward and downward.

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We trucked down to Lake Solitude, laid around for awhile in the very comfortable grass, watched Ila do her Ila show, then moved down canyon to another unique and lovely camp with cascading water flat rocks to rest on and a mini wilderness to explore.

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The last day was huge.  It was an 8.5 miles mostly downhill/cross country hike and a big push for Mr. E.  Several times on this last day we spotted moose which was a thrill for the whole family.  We also watched an Osprey mama feeding her large Osprey babies in a very big nest only 45 feet or so above us.  Then chug, chug, chug, chug, chug allllll the way to the car.  There the kids basked in the shade as the grownups did the crazy task of blending our backpack lives back into our car lives.  “Mission Accomplished!” as our 43rd president would say.

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From here we rolled on to the ranger station where the kids finished up the remainder of their Teton’s Junior Ranger Packets.  We also acknowledged the boys great backpacking efforts with a wolf journal for Jacob (the super storyteller – I think he told Elias stories for about 18 miles of the hike) and a tracking book for Elias (the scientist/tracker/thing finder).

Hopping into the car blasting east we had a very pretty drive up and over Togwotee pass, which is the Southern end of the Absoraka Mountains.  Then down into the strange arid landscapes of North Central Wyoming.  We found Jacob a promised hamburger in Riverton and by 11pm we made it to a very nice camp on the Banks of Boison Lake.

Good Night.

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Yellowstone

Bozeman has been an important place in the past for us as it was there over 12 years ago when we found out that we were going to have our first child, Jacob.  It was then that Michelle and I enjoyed a winter visit down to Yellowstone with our Bozeman friends and were lucky enough to see a wolf pack not too far off the road with a fresh winter kill.  It was a wild, wild scene extenuated by the whiteness of winter, the reality of life in the wild hit hard with the red blood of the elk coloring the entire wolf camp.  The landscape so cold and wild I felt almost embarrassed to be an observer. Our friends are no longer there but the idea of visiting for a bit was enticing.  In practice we found that resupplying and moving on as quickly and efficiently as possible was by far the best thing to do for our motley little crew.

With full rations we headed south through Galletin Canyon to the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park.  Yellowstone is the first National Park in the world.  At 3,468 square miles it is a huge land area and with just about all large Rocky Mountain animals present and heavily protected or even re-introduced it has become the top animal viewing National Park or the “Serengeti” of North America.    This area was originally set aside because of the geysers and massive hot springs spread all over the park.  The park averages 7,000 – 8,000 foot elevation and holds the most geyser and hot spring activity in the world and is in fact now considered the worlds largest super-volcano.  Some geologists believe that it is in fact due for an eruption at any time that could destroy almost all life in North America.  IMG_0315

We pulled into the west entrance of Yellowstone around 7 in the evening.  After a few miles of driving we ran into the first of the classic Yellowstone animal viewing car scene with a traffic jam of people franticly stopping in the middle of the road and getting out with giant cameras to photograph the unnaturally tame Elk heard bimbling about.  This brought me back to another memory of Yellowstone. When I was about 18 or so I was traveling through Yellowstone with a group of friends when uncontrollable sulphuric belches and farts billowed from me as we were entering the park in a jam packed Astro Van.  Eventually I had to hop out and my quickly on setting Giardia took a tight hold of my facilities and there I was on the side of the road in Yellowstone……Gone Wild.  The cars piled up to take pictures of the man loosing it from both ends.

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Onward to our campsite we were jammed into the tightest most expensive camp of our journey to date which was odd compared to the amount of wild area surrounded the campground.  We quickly set up and off we were to the spectacular upper Madison River meandering just out of camp.  Fishing rods in hand we decompressed on the river for the rest of the evening.  The next day we packed up and headed down the road towards the south end of Yellowstone Lake.  The section of road between was within the great Caldera which is the center of hot spring and geyser activity in the park.  Our son Elias, the naturalist/scientist of the family was beside himself running along the boardwalks that trailed the hot spots, oozing mudpots colored rust, golden, greens and blue from iron blue, spouting steam and water geysers.

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The following day we headed into the valleys to the North of Yellowstone Lake where we had a blast.  As we drove through the herds of Buffalo the memories of my first visit to Yellowstone came flooding in.  I was 16 the first time that I ever saw the Rocky Mountains.  A family road trip brought us clear up to Fargo North Dakota to join up with my Aunt and Uncle and cousins.  We drove across the Plains via Billings and drove in through the Bear Tooth Mountains.  I had spent time in the Alps which did not prepare me for this level of Wildness. Driving up over the highest continual road in the states and into Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is living proof of our countries great ability to maintain and preserve the mountains (even in modern consumptive America) allowing nature to continue to exist and flourish on some sort of modern compromise.

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On this day as we drove north with my family I cast aside all personal embarrassments about nature as a source of entertainment and jumped in full heartedly.  The Bison did not disappoint and the kids were psyched!  They were everywhere and we had so much fun.  There were ample opportunities to create a strong learning environment about the animals the history and the landscape. While in Yellowstone, we took well advantage of quite a few “adventure schooling” opportunities including the evening presentations by resident rangers on many park subjects on Wolves, Bear and Moose.  The boys participated in the Junior Ranger Program and earned their 3rd or 4th badge of the trip.

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The evening before leaving we were soaking in a quiet evening on Yellowstone Lake each child happily doing their thing.  Jacob fishing, Elias making sand castles and Ila…..playing in the pools adjacent to the Lake.  Later when we got back to camp we found a leach on Ila’s foot.  With further inspection we experienced a panic when we found many more on her body.  I immediately went to the visitor’s center and they sent me a few serious looking emergency dispatch rangers who (thankfully) confirmed that the leaches were harmless and to not worry.  Alas it was time for us to leave Yellowstone and move south to our next adventure in the Tetons….

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Climb On

Driving out of Glacier National Park one immediately enters the vast expanse of prairie that’s owned by the Black Feet Native Tribe.  We learned about the Black Feet and other Nations at the Plains Indians Museum in Browning, MT a low key museum full of original artifacts, clothing and stories. The drive onward was important as it was the first time that the kids ever saw the Great Plains. The first time I (Joseph) drove through the Plains was driving from East to West where the subtle changes from flat Midwest woodlands to Great Plains vastness occurs over hundreds of miles.  Here, where the two landscapes collide, may well be one of the most spectacular transitions of scenery on Earth.

We moved on to Great Falls to visit the Lewis and Clark museum and replenish our reserves before we continued south to a highly recommended rock climbing area just east of Butte Montana called Spire Rock. This area is comprised of a cluster of granite domes and blocks in the mountainous regions east of the Continental Divide.  It sits at about five thousand feet elevation and is completely undeveloped.  There are networks of National Forest roads that wind around the area and you can set up and camp where ever you want.  The forest consisted of some of the Fir species we recognized from further north but there was a well defined increase in Rocky Mountain species found clear down to Arizona, including Pinyon Pine, Juniper, and of course Sage.  There was sage everywhere and it smelled delightful.

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Over the next four days, we relaxed into the landscape rising to the new day with strong coffee, stretching and yoga.  The kids joined as they chose.  By mid day we meandered to the rock outcroppings and enjoyed clean granite crack climbing.

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Spire rock is notable as it was Ila’s debut to rock climbing. She eagerly donned her full body harness and asked to go “up up”.  She smiled and hung out on the rock about 4-12 feet off the ground at which time she signaled that she was ready to lower.

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She easily transitioned to napping as we walked back to camp which allowed for the rest of us to work on lessons, different projects and relaxing.  At some point we’d start prepping dinner and eat.  Each evening ended with tickle fights, wrestling, song circle of kid’s songs and different variations on the family pile ups until it was just too dark to see.  This is what we did everyday and frankly if the choice was all mine this is what I would do every day for the rest of my life.

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Alas, laundry needed to be done, food and water were running short and we were eager for more adventure so we packed up camp and headed on.  From here the plan had changed though.  Previously we saw ourselves spending several days in the Bozeman area but realized that a succinct resupply of food, used books, knitting needles and ice cream was in order and then off to Yellowstone…

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Glacier

As we drove in to Glacier we had our sites set on Avalanche camp which is nestled in the deep valleys of the Cedar and Hemlock forests.  These forests were a spitting image of the mountains at our own home of the Mt Baker region.  Everything just a little smaller and no tree moss really to speak of.  Above you could catch glimpses of towering peaks which reached 4 thousand feet above.  The peaks were calling so we didn’t want to call it a day yet but set up camp and headed up to the famous Going to the Sun Road.

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With its high point at Logan pass (6,600 some odd feet) Glacier was spectacular.  I need to point out that tourists were swarming like flies on camel snot but that’s OK.  Logan pass is above tree line and although peaks are very sharp and jagged as well as valleys tend to drop steeply for thousand of feet, the rolling meadowy landscape that wrapped itself around surrounding peaks was good medicine for the whole family.   From Logan pass we hiked up to a higher pass above and caught a view of Hidden Lake…See photo.  The Logan Pass hike included many mountain goats, mamas, kids and papas with horns only steps away from the trail. Elias made friends with the Columbian Ground squirrels that scurried across the trail.

The walk felt really great for everyone.  There was a bit of excitement in the air as this was really the first time we had hiked on the trip and the scenery was spectacular on quite an unreal scale.

Camping at Avalanche Creek, the following day we hiked as a family up to Avalanche lake.  Good fun and spectacular but the feel of being at Disney world had it’s day so we packed up to see what we could find on the east side of the mountains.

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We then traveled to the east side of the park to camp at Two Medicine Campground, a quieter and more remote spot in the south east corner of Glacier. We immediately noticed the stark change in vegetation as we traveled over the divide and welcomed the new flora. Something really amazing about the forests here is you have four different ecosystems that rarely meet coming together in the mountain range:  From the west  the most eastern stands of the North West forests push their way up to just shy of the Continental divide.  As big and magical as these thick forests are they are also thick and it’s not as easy to see all the big and awesome terrain above.  Once you’re just shy of tree line and rolling over from the east side, the Northern Rockies and Southern Rockies forests meet and mingle cascading down the eastern slopes.  Pushing in from the lower sections of the east side of the range is the Steppe or the “Prairie” creating a very pretty mosaic of grasslands and forests which also lends itself to the big scenic views of giant alpine peaks literally rising right out of the Great Plains.  In some places the grasses of the prairie seem to have no distinct boarder or perhaps only hinted by some small stands of Aspen forests.

Inspired by the magnificent views at Logan pass and from the Going to the Sun road, with bear spray in hand, we attempted to get backcountry camping permits but where sold out.  Instead we settled on day hikes and based out of Two Medicine campground.  This place was stunning.  The camp was located on a picture perfect lake and mountains towered on all sides.  Easy living.

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The next day we hiked around the North Shore of Two Medicine Lake with the bulkiness of Sleeping Wolf Mountain looming over four thousand feet above.  Once we were beyond the 3 mile long lake we continued up one of the valleys to the stunning Upper Two Medicine Lake.  Here we hung out for quite some time, swimming, sunbathing, skipping rocks and sunbathing some more.  On the way down we wrapped around the south side of the lower lake and found patches of the best huckleberries ever.  Finally back at camp we clocked in as a total of 12 mile loop. The kids were incredible. We discovered the deliciousness of thimble berries which are different from the ones in the Cascades and the variation of blue berries and huckleberries on the trail.

Overall visiting Glacier was great but it was in the Two Medicine region that things felt magical.  Everything was so crisp and refreshing and there was a wildness that we finally found.  As we spent several days enjoying in soaking it in, the bug to keep exploring was constantly buzzing and the laundry started to stack so we packed it up and moved on.

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