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Friday, August 12, 2016

Head Underground in South Dakota

When we were planning our travels from west to east, at one point we considered skipping both of the Dakota's entirely. Now that we are done that trip, I can say I am so happy that we made the time to see South Dakota - and we spent a lot of time there as well. It's definitely a state worth stopping for.

To be quite honest, the only thing that came to mind for me when thinking of South Dakota was Mount Rushmore. At the time I wasn't as eager to visit the historic site, and I was completely ignorant to the rich history and incredible wonders of this state. Did you know that some of the coolest things you'll find in South Dakota are actually beneath the earth's surface? It's absolutely true! Our family agrees that the best part of our time in the state was visiting the two caves that are part of the National Parks Service; Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park.


South Dakota 2016

I honestly had no idea about them until we began to do more research about the National Parks Service sites in the state. As you may know from previous posts, we are on a mission to visit as many sites as possible and Halle's collecting Junior Ranger Badges. That meant heading underground in order for her to get two.


South Dakota 2016
Going down, down, down at Wind Cave

South Dakota 2016

Now, I'm quite claustrophobic, but thankfully these tours are pretty safe for those scared of small spaces. Both cave tours leave you plenty of space to move around, just remember to stay on the paths and keep your hands to your self (though your tour guide will remind you). For those feeling more adventurous, you can volunteer to do some exploring below, as they still have not yet discovered the entire network of caves. These positions can mean spending a few days in the cave and involve long crawls through some very tight spaces - definitely not something I could handle!

The most important thing you need to know though is arrive early, especially if you want to make it down into Jewel Cave. You'll need to arrive first thing in the morning when the ticket booth opens, so check online for times the day before you plan to go. They sell out quickly (especially in the summer months) and are on first come, first served basis. Our first attempt was a fail, as we arrived in the late afternoon. The next day we were there first thing in the morning, and managed to get ourselves onto the third tour of the day. It worked well for us, as we were able to help Halle complete most of her Jr Ranger Booklet before we made our way underground.


South Dakota 2016
In the "landing room" at Jewel Cave

South Dakota 2016

South Dakota 2016

The caves are quite different, so if you can do both, we recommend it. If you can only make it to one, we would suggest Jewel Cave. The crystals, and other formations found here are sights worth seeing... especially the Bacon! Yup, Bacon! Definitely our favourite feature in Jewel Cave. Oh, and don't forget a jacket or sweater as well, believe me, you'll need it!

If there are sights that you need to take our word on, these caves are it. Despite the awesome uplighting, there is no easy way to photograph these caves and capture how truly impressive they are. You absolutely need to get down there and experience them for yourselves! 

I wish we had, had more time to explore aboveground at Wind Cave, but we had arrived late and caught the last tour, so by the time it was over we were ready to head back to the trailer for dinner. We did have more time to walk around above ground at Jewel Cave and it definitely has some beautiful views.

South Dakota 2016

South Dakota 2016

After visiting these two caves, I'm excited to explore more as we continue our family adventures! Next on my list? I'd love to see Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Has anyone else gone cave exploring? Which family friendly caves would you recommend for us to check out in the future?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings: Summer Camping

This time of year, during these warm summer days I love to think back on all of the beautiful places that we camped and visited during our summers in BC. There was so much to see and do there, that we both know we'll inevitably be back one day - whether it's to live or just to visit.

One thing I loved about last summer was our little Boler travel trailer that Brett had purchased for us to camp in. It was by no means luxurious, but it made it so much easier to camp comfortably with a preschooler and a baby. We made two trips last summer to Ross Lake, and Nolan was only 6 weeks old during our first visit. 



Ross Lake 2015

The campsite is located just outside of Hope, BC on the border of the United States. There are actually campsites located on the American side, which are only accessible by car if you drive through Canada. Last summer we camped in both the Canadian and American campgrounds, and had great experiences both times.


Ross Lake 2015

Ross Lake 2015Ross Lake 2015

Ross Lake 2015

The campgrounds are nestled within the North Cascades mountains, placing the American side within the National Park. I never realized this last summer, and was one of the things I learned using our National Geographic Road Atlas.  


Ross Lake 2015Ross Lake 2015

Ross Lake 2015

Our first trip we stayed in the Canadian campground and the second time we camped on the American side. Both campgrounds are on a first come, first served basis and we had great sites during both trips. The only difficult part about making the journey to Ross Lake is the hour long drive along a dirt road. If something happens (which it did to our friends son), you have a long drive to any sort of medical care. It's also not a great spot to camp if you can't handle mosquitos, there can be quite a lot, especially during the late summer.

However, it's quiet and a great family camping spot. The water is great for swimming and it's also perfect for recreation like hitting the water in a canoe or kayak.


Ross Lake 2015Ross Lake 2015

Despite having a small travel trailer, camping with a baby was not always easy but we had a great time during both of our visits to Ross Lake last summer. Great memories were made with great friends, and we are so glad we had the chance to make both trips with them during our last summer on the west coast. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

In Grand Territory

Located on the southern border of Yellowstone in Wyoming is a smaller but equally impressive National Park - Grand Teton. Known for it's towering, rugged mountain range, Grand Teton won us over with its breathtaking views and wildlife sightings.


Grand Teton 2016

To be honest, we weren't too sure how much of the park we would actually be able to experience. The day that we left Yellowstone for Grand Teton Halle wasn't feeling well and had a bit of a fever. By the time we arrived at the North Entrance to the park, she was burning up and just wanted cuddles. Despite her state she was insistent on completing the activities to become a Jr. Park Ranger and she did. Luckily for her most of what she needed to complete could be done sitting in my lap in the truck, and inside of the air conditioned building. Our little trooper slept the entire drive through the park, and completed her booklet in the parking lot of the south welcome centre after some lunch. We were extra proud of her completing this Jr Ranger booklet.


Grand Teton 2016
Not a bad picnic spot for lunch

Our second day in the park proved more eventful. We woke up to three large Moose roaming and grazing near our campsite at Gros Ventre Campground. While I watched from our dinette (Nolan was still sleeping), Brett and Halle headed to another campsite to observe from a safe distance with other campers and capture a few photos and videos. It was one of those moments that really reinforced that we had made the right choice to travel. 


Grand Teton 2016

Grand Teton 2016

Grand Teton 2016

That day we decided to also take a bit of time to see the park before we continued our travel east towards South Dakota. We had to travel north through Grand Teton again to hit our route so we stopped at a few viewpoints and enjoyed a small hike through flat ground with the kids before continuing on our way. 

Grand Teton 2016

Grand Teton 2016Grand Teton 2016

Grand Teton 2016

Grand Teton 2016

Grand Teton 2016Grand Teton 2016

The rugged mountains, and tall trees reminded us so much of what we loved about British Columbia and the west in general. 

As we continued east, the scenery of the state changed drastically. The rolling grassy hills and rugged mountains of the west, gave way to red soil and barren landscapes that reminded us much more of the desert. The land then changed again to show off grassy plains, and impressive spires of rock and sediment that provided us with only a hint of what we would experience at Badlands in South Dakota. We only wish we had a camera rolling on our dashboard for all of our adventures, to accurately capture how impressive the landscape changes were that we experienced. They have given us a whole new appreciation for the beauty and diversity of North American, and the United States in particular.

Wyoming 2016

Wyoming 2016

Wyoming 2016

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Diverse Landscape

Yellowstone - still on Yellowstone. How could I not be? It's taken me a long time to get around to sharing this as we've been so busy enjoying life together. We sure did a lot of that in Wyoming. We tried to see as much as we could - we woke up our last morning in Madison to go and see some of the mud pots before we moved on to the opposite side of the park. It was worth it. The landscape near the Artists Paint Pots was incredible. Steaming water and fumaroles, lush green trees, areas of ground just burnt out from the chemicals and heat. It was so diverse in one small area. What a site to see. 

Yellowstone - June 2016

Yellowstone - June 2016

Yellowstone - June 2016


Yellowstone - June 2016

Yellowstone - June 2016Yellowstone - June 2016

Boiling and steaming bodies of water and erupting geysers are not the only impressive water features Yellowstone has to offer. The waterfalls were also a site to see and I'm glad we took time to check out a couple.

Yellowstone - June 2016

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and it's waterfall were my favourite spot that we visited in the park. We headed to Inspiration Point to take it in the waterfall, and it was obvious why it was given this name. If you've seen photos of the waterfall before, it's highly likely they were taken from here. I could've stayed all day taking it in, but the crowd was pretty big, so on we moved with the kids to see more of the Canyon from other spots.

Yellowstone 2016

Yellowstone 2016Yellowstone 2016

Yellowstone 2016

Yellowstone 2016

Yellowstone 2016Yellowstone 2016


Yellowstone 2016

I hope that the next time we return to this National Park we can take in the waterfall from some different spots. Viewing it from the top, and seeing the water thunder over the edge I'm sure would be quite impressive. 

There were plenty of opportunities to entertain the children as well, especially on our drives from Fishing Bridge campsite. Heading north from the campground, we usually headed directly through large herds of Bison crossing the streets. Halle loved every second of it, and we were able to capture some great photos (and videos) while stuck in the "Bison traffic". 

Yellowstone 2016

Yellowstone 2016

Yellowstone 2016
Halle's favourite was definitely the "Red Dogs" - the baby Bison, and Brett and I had to agree, they were pretty cute!

Yellowstone 2016

Halle was also thrilled to earn a new Junior Ranger Badge in Yellowstone. Unlike other parks, you pay for the booklet here, but the $3 is money well spent in our eyes. The books are wonderful and Halle learned a lot. At the end of the activities, she earned not only a sew on patch for her age group, but also a wooden centennial pin, celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks Service! The Junior Ranger program is definitely our favourite part of visiting the National Parks with children.

Yellowstone 2016


We loved every view we had while there. Driving North we enjoyed the meadows and valleys. We had high hopes of spotting wolves and grizzly bears as we explored, stopping frequently to use our binoculars and look into the distance, as we knew that was our best chance. In the end we saw no wolves or grizzlies, but we were happy with the scenery. 

Yellowstone 2016Yellowstone 2016

Yellowstone 2016

Yellowstone 2016

Mammoth Hot Spring Terrace was a very cool sight to see. We visited on a hot day, and stopped for lunch and ice cream before walking over to the Springs.

Yellowstone 2016Yellowstone 2016

The colours and look of the terraced springs was incredible. It sparkled in the sun and in some spots looked like gold. Unfortunately a hot tired child was not as interested as we were, and a splinter was the final straw, putting an end to our short walk around the area. If you visit the park though, I highly recommend a visit to Mammoth Hot Springs if you can fit it in. After all, there is surely not enough time to see everything in it's entirety during one visit to Yellowstone. We have no doubt we will return to the park one day with the kiddos to experience more of it's wonder!

Yellowstone 2016

Yellowstone 2016

Yellowstone 2016Yellowstone 2016