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Entries in national parks (5)


Olympic National Park, an awayschooling family travel log

A continuation of our trip log started in the San Juan Islands


Another early morning, up, packed and ready to go. We shared breakfast together, and Calvin and Uncle Michael spent nearly an hour in the radio room again before we left. A ride to the airport, sad goodbyes, and the next leg of our journey began. The 10-seater flight back from the island was as smooth and easy as the flight out. We were early, and our shuttle driver took us directly from Boeing Field to the rental car building at SeaTac, meaning we were on the road over an hour earlier than expected! This was a good thing, and something we really hoped for, because the weekend forecast is now all rain all the time, and our best hope was to make it early enough to get in the mountaintop hike we'd planned for tomorrow morning tonight before the rain came in. The plan worked. The weather held! We even had some sun. We saw beautiful birds, the Olympic Chipmunk (only found here!), and Mountain Goats! A mom and baby who passed so close we could almost have touched them (but didn't! They get violent, we'd been warned). We to the actual mountain top (eek!) as the sun lowered and the wind picked up. As we drove back down the mountain the rain started up, punctuating the success of our changed plan with a satisfied "!" Back in town, our hotel turned out to be very nice and cozy. Exhausted, we picked up pizza and wine and took it back to our room, settled in away from the rain for the night. 

Hurricane Ridge Visitor's Center, Olympic National Park

Olympic Chipmunk

Mountain goat and baby

Hiking Hurricane Ridge



We woke up to rain this morning. We knew we would, but it was still very disappointing. Breakfast in the hotel, then off to the Visitor's Center where we saw a great video on the park, picked up the assignments for Calvin's Junior Ranger Badge, and met the information that the pass we'd hiked the night before was closed due to the rain. Win! Then the word of the day was slugs! We started with a short hike at a falls (slugs! birds!), our first rain forest adventure, then moved on to a Bigger adventure at one of the parks main ranger stations—a three mile hike to a four story waterfall. Enormous trees draped in moss, plus slugs! beetles! Birds! So much gigantic beauty, and the rain slowed down to intermittent drizzle. After our hike we had lunch in the park lodge on a glacial lake partially obscured in misty clouds, and finished his assignments to earn his Junior Ranger Badge for the park. Then a two mile hike to another waterfall after lunch, shorter but more powerful affair, where we saw an Olympic squirrel (only found here!) before driving to our stop for the night. Our Bed and Breakfast stay in Forks (the supposed inspiration for the Twilight novels), was surprisingly nice. After check-in and a quick snack, we booked it to Rialto beach to catch the most beautiful misty day close at what felt like the end of the earth. 

In the Olympic National Park main Visitor's Center

Madison Falls Hike

Storm King Ranger Station, Olympic National Park (getting assignments for Junior Ranger badge)

Marymere Falls Trail, Olympic National Park

Lake Crescent and Lake Crescent Lodge, Olympic National Park

Back at Storm King Ranger Station, earning his badge

Sol Duc River and Sol Duc Falls trail, Olympic National Park

Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park


Started this morning with eggs benedict in the B&B—not bad, very friendly for a breakfast. Saw elk grazing at the end of our road before heading out. Our first hike of the day was a rainforest with more maples draped heavily in mosses and ferns, the floor so heavily littered as to be impassible. No rain, but certainly wet! Our second stop was back out to the beach where we watched a surging tide as it started coming in, and splashed Calvin where he sat on a washed up tree, watching the world roll in. The rugged coast is a beautiful surprise. We stopped at another park lodge overlooking the ocean for a snack and rest before making our way around the south of the park for our final park hike—another rain forest location, but this one almost all maples and red alders dripping in a thicker, darker moss. Then our final park stay was our first in an actual National Park Lodge, and it was memorable—a sweeping lawn overlooking the lake, Calvin read by the fire while we had drinks just outside the door on the large porch, then we splurged on a nice meal in the lakefront dining room. Our lakefront room was a comfortable place to sleep, listening contentedly to the thunder as storms swept through overnight.

Miller Tree Inn, Forks, WA

Hoh River and Rain Forest Trail, Olympic National Park

Glacial river, very cloudy and gray

Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park

Tide coming in!

Quinault Rain Forest and Farm trails, Olympic National Park

some really, really old signage

Lake Quinault Lodge, Olympic National Park

Moby Stick...



We woke up still in the park and enjoyed breakfast at the lodge in the same 1926 dining room, with Calvin reading again in front of the lodge fire—a perfect way to say goodbye to the park. A fairly quick drive, mostly through fields and forest on a two-lane country road brought us back to the bustle of Seattle. There we visited the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site where Calvin earned not only his Junior Ranger badge for that park, but also turned in the Centennial Junior Ranger booklet he'd been working on all week to earn his Centennial Junior Ranger Badge as well. Then, because Jon had never really done Seattle before we took him down to Pike Place market for a late lunch at Lowell's and a quick tour of the famous fish market and the original Starbucks (replacement) storefront, but it was too hazy to make the Space Needle a worthwhile trip. Our final fun was to visit our friend and his girls for dinner at a local brew pub. Our final hotel was a disappointing run-of-the-mill airport job so we could make it to the plane early, and by this time tomorrow night we'll be in our own beds at home.


San Juan Island, an awayschooling family travel log

Monday—travel to San Jaun

Up well before the sun and out the door with its rise. Our flight left at 10:30, but we like to be plenty early. The flight to Seattle was easy and we landed with plenty of time to spare. Plenty enough time for a wine and smoothly stop at an airport bar and some good reading (Moby Dick—I'm finally going to do it!), and we were off to the island on a 10-seater plane. We made it. Aunt Cookie and Unlce Michael picked us up with snacks in teh car. They live ten miles from town, and a beautiful ten miles it is. n our drive home alone we saw black-tailed deer, rabbits, and a fox who waits for people to stop and feed him, so he's this close to you, always. Back at "home" we fed the black-tailed deer, practically by hand. Also an Anna's hummingbird and local sparrows. Their inlet is beautiful—serene and lovely. Our first fun (or second, or even third, if you count the wildlife) was to go right out on the boat to retrieve the crab pots put down earlier in the day. No keeper crabs, but several to put back, which Calvin helped with in great delight. And after that work was done, we took a spin around a rocky island to see the Harbor Seals and sea birds (gulls and Oyster Catchers and a Great Blue Heron). Back on land, a delightful dinner of salmon far surpassing any store bought fish, and after dinner a trip down to the dock with flashlights to view the night aquarium: the sea anemone, shrimp, ghost shrimp, and a fascinating array of zooplankton that call the area around and under their dock home, viewed to best advantage after dark with flashlights. We are exhausted but content.


Up earlier than expected (or later than expected if you consider that it was already eight back at home), and nothing is boring here. The sun rises to reveal wildlife galore on the serene inlet: Blue Herons, gulls, grebes, the hummingbird is back, and the deer want their breakfast. Before anything else this morning, Uncle Michael and Calvin disappeared into the Radio Room (where all his radios are kept) and made contact with the outside world. They did this for a first time last night, and I'm not sure I've seen Calvin so thrilled about something in a while. After that and breakfast, our first order of business today was a hike up Mt. Young—a moderate hike with beautiful views at the top. Then lunch at the northwest end of the island, at the marina in Roche Harbor, a stop to get Calvin a fishing license, and a stroll among the marina boats—not unlike the Lake Michigan boat collections, although skewed to the larger side as a whole. After lunch? A stroll in the woods to a hilarious mausoleum (I'm sorry, I can't hep it: the people were buried in chairs around a table). The stroll and the woods were beautiful. On our way back to the southeast tip of the island we stopped at English Camp National Park, the English encampment from the pig war (which we will learn more about from the American Camp side in a couple of days), where we sighted an Osprey and some enormous Maple trees of a special breed, and then at Lime Kiln State Park, where we found Harbor Porpoises, Harbor Seals, Ravens, and beautiful water views. The day was so beautiful, and our hosts so accommodating, that when we got home we headed right back out on the boat in search of sea lions. And wouldn't you know? We found them exactly where we'd hoped they'd be! Yet the seals from yesterday were not on the island where we'd left them; it's as if the wildlife is on parade expressly for our pleasure. Crab and steak for dinner before collapsing into exhausted sleeps.


This morning started almost as early as yesterday, but I have hope that we may adjust to the time, probably just before heading home. This morning all three guys went out for a fishing adventure (Calvin caught 5 king salmon, but all just too small to keep), while I sat and watched the inlet wake up before Aunt Cookie and I went for a walk to the beach where the driftwood is the size of a mast head (reading Moby Dick, remember?) and covers the entire shore, then up a grassland hill and through a forest of still more sizeable trees. After a companionable lunch together, our family of three went into town to the whale museum there. It was a thrilling stop, especially since we are reading Moby Dick, and I believe the artifacts from Melville era American whaling vessels may have delighted Calvin as much if not more than the bleached bones suspended from the ceiling. On our way back we spotted a bald eagle in a pine near the road where we stop every day to visit the fox we now refer to as Tommy. And after a relaxed happy hour at home it was back to town for Thai dinner (yum!), and before bed another go at the ham radio. Those two, Uncle Michael and Calvin, are now referring to themselves, and each other, as hamsters.


Our final full day on the island. It started out like yesterday with the guys out on the boat, only this time their efforts yielded not even a thing to throw back, only the hope of later crabbing success in the pots they put down. And again Aunt Cookie and I hiked, this time to the top of the hill that is big enough to have its own name: Mt. Finlayson. Lunch was a calm affair at home, and then we shoved off to see the last of the island parks: American Camp, South Beach, and Cattle Point. At American Camp (vast, coastal grassland with more rugged, debris strewn seashore) Calvin proudly earned his Junior Ranger Badge by learning about the Pig War and exploring the park in great detail. At South Beach (more coastal grassland but made largely barren due to an overabundance of rabbits) we observed Surf Scoters diving en masse for their food while Calvin combed for rocks and constructed with the smaller pieces of wood. And at Cattle Point Glacier Learning Center we observed glacial striation on the exposed rocky outcrop, which we also enjoyed climbing upon. Back at home a boat ride out to the crab pots yielded the promise of a fresh dungeness crab dinner! So Calvin was able to participate in the entire process from dropping the pots through collecting them, killing, cleaning, and cooking the crab, and finally to cracking and eating it. For our final night we took another trip to the night aquarium (back to the dock with flashlights), another hour on the ham radio, and music and dancing late into the night. 

Tomorrow we leave the island for peninsula. I have no doubt that our adventure will be as exciting there, but it is hard to leave our time here with family and all the enriching experiences they so lovingly provided. I have always referred to these trips as our fall awayschooling adventures, but when we left for this one I had no idea how great the learning part of the adventure would be. For Calvin especially the time on the sea alone has been wholly new and enriching, a time submerged in a new vernacular and a new way of living, plus the radio time, the American history time, and all the physical activity. I call it science, history, ecology, and even art. Plus the reading—this really was a great time to tackle Moby Dick together. 

To be continued in our travel log on the Olympic Peninsula...


Shores of the Great Lakes

We are just back from a week long trip that was both delightful and exhausting in its own peculiar way. The trip consisted of a circling of Lake Michigan, taking us to Michigan's Upper Peninsula by way of Chicago, then home again by way of Harbor Springs. It consisted of big city shopping, back country camping, a wedding and photography, national parks, and a handful of tourist hot spots. It started in temperatures upwards of ninety degrees and took us through storms and into nights that dropped to the low forties. Now that we're at home there is more laundry to be done than I usually have to do in a month, and while that is an exaggeration, it isn't one by much.

The seeds for such a trip were planted months ago when my brother asked me to assist him in photographing Julie's brother's wedding, and, since the wedding was to be in Marquette, to turn the visit into a longer stop that included camping. Over time camping became backpacking and the destination became Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, then Jon and I tagged a few more activities onto our list, and it became a week-long ecology vacation.

What is an ecology vacation? For the couple of weeks before the trip, Calvin and I did a unit study of sorts on the Great Lakes. Living in Michigan we often take them for granted, and while we've spent many a happy afternoon enjoying the lakes, we had spent precious little time understanding them. Our two weeks of study were enjoyable; we covered their geographical history, their prehistory, their pre-European history, and ultimately their place in current events. Of course we also spent some time on the wildlife and environmental makeup of the area. I learned a lot. Calvin became enamoured with the idea of seeing a bear, a sturgeon, and/or the real deal bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald. One of those things happened.

We planned to visit all three National Parks Lake Shore Sites, including Indiana Dunes and Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan and Picture Rocks on Lake Superior, and the trip went off very well, even with a few monkey wrenches thrown in. On our first day we hiked Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 92 degree heat. We saw a lizard, several bird species, and opted not to swim when we saw that the bay was flanked by ominous factories on both sides. 

We joined up with Curtis and Julie in Chicago that night and left together early the next morning for the Upper Peninsula where were to camp for two nights in the back country of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Even that far north it was miserably hot when we reached the trail head and geared up. Our campsite was 3 miles in, and the hiking was beautiful, but buggy, rugged in area, and hot, hot, hot. We pitched tents in the early evening, managed a fire in spite of damp wood, and enjoyed dinner through exhaustion while swatting bugs and listening to thunder. We were in bed by eleven, and the first big storm hit around 3am. I've never heard such long, drawn out peals of thunder, and the rain pounding the tent was deafening, but we were surprisingly snug and dry in our little tent. Three storms later it was still drizzling when we all staggered out of bed around 9am, most of us working on only a couple hours of rest. It's hard to sleep with all that noise.

Wet wood, no sleep, and an increasingly iffy trail in wet weather were all concerns, but it was the debilitating swarms of mosquitos that clinched it, and in the morning we packed up our gear in an unrelenting rain and re-hiked the three miles back to the car. It was not a defeated move, though. Even as we arrived back at the trail head in a steamy, mocking, freshly emerged sun, swatting at mosquitoes while trying to remove and wring out completely soaked clothing, I think we all felt accomplished. Plus, later in Marquette, after a warm welcome at Julie's dad's, we relaxed in his pool with beers (except for Calvin, who had water) and watched the storms continue to roll in and felt vindicated in our decision. Life was good.

We spent our time in Marquette at a charming hotel downtown (another change in plans, since the continuing strong storms and dropping temperatures talked us out of our previous plan to camp there as well), exploring the area's beautiful parks and enjoying family and friends. We swam more, I tried out target shooting, we hiked Presque Isle, we witnessed a stunning rainbow. Weddings are always joyful and this one was no exception. When we left at the end of the weekend, we did so feeling more rested and with a pile of good memories.

After Marquette, Jon, Calvin, and I headed back to the lower peninsula by way of Whitefish Point, where we saw the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, and the Soo Locks, where we took a boat tour of the locks and the Canadian steel plant. This turned out to be doubly fascinating because, while at Whitefish Point, we studied a real-time radar display of ships passing through the area, then met up with two of those enormous ore boats in the locks as we went through. After the Locks came the Mackinac Bridge, and a night at our favorite place with our favorite person in Harbor Springs.

Our final day took us to the final of the three National Parks. After a restful night and relaxing breakfast with Aunt Lonnie, we headed through Petoskey to lunch in Traverse City and an afternoon at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. So very different than the rocky outcroppings on the shores of Lake Superior, and so much more vast than the dunes in Indiana, Sleeping Bear is the pride of the lower peninsula, or it should be. We swam it, we hiked it, we took the scenic drive. And then, because none of our trips are truly complete until there's one last day of cramming in every event imaginable, on our way south we drove through the tiny town that my grandparents called home when I was growing up and sought out the house and land I so loved to visit and had not seen since they left it twenty years ago. It was a nostalgic cherry on top that got us a bit off schedule, so after a late dinner at Maggie's Tavern in Cadillac, we headed home under a gigantic rose colored moon. Calvin dropped off to sleep while Jon and I played trivia all the rest of the way home.

And now we need a vacation from our vacation, but those piles of laundry keep reminding me that there is no rest for the weary.


National and state parks

Slept in until eight this morning. What a treat! The real treat, though, was Seattle's Best Coffee and a pool in the back yard.

Near noon we headed across the street to the Theodore Roosevelt National Historic Site, which turned out to be the most disappointing national park we've been to yet. Most national parks have an enjoyable visitor's center and knowledgeable, friendly park rangers (even the more urban parks), but this one had no visitor's center and required an hour-long, paid tour only, with half the artifacts off exhibit due to construction. We were short on time and had counted on the ubiquitous visitor's center, and instead were greeted by rather uninterested employees (not park rangers?) and an extended gift shop. We had to skip the tour, but at least we got to see the house.  

And on the way out of town? All road lead to this intersection? Or at least three of them do.

We made it to Niagara just after lunch time and avoided both kitsch and crowds by going around the town and driving straight to the state park. Strangely enough, the state park parking lot was only sparsely filled, though it seemed to be the same price, or better, than the public lots on the edge of town. plus it was more peaceful.

Calvin was wowed by the falls. Of course. We hiked Goat Island, crossed the pedestrian bridge (over the rapids!) visited the observation deck and Prospect Point, and then did the Cave of the Winds attraction (no cave, lots of attraction), which was totally worth the excruciatingly long line.


Also excrutiatingly long was the line to get into Canada. Everyone wants out of the States on a Saturday night, apparently. Must be the gambling and early drinking age. But we made it, we ate a late dinner overlooking the falls from our room, and retired to the colorful lighting of that natural wonder.

I'm sure I could be wittier, or provide more information on how we made this an enjoyably educational visit, but I'm too tired, so there's always tomorrow.


Four states in a day

Up at six, out the door before eight, seven hours plus of driving to go. We have a habit of pushing through on our first day of vacation so that we can enjoy the rest of the days that much more. We made it out of Michigan, through Ohio, through Pennsylvania, and into New York today before checking in and hitting the pool in Buffalo. Calvin thinks it's pretty fun that we're staying in Buffalo. I think they need to rename the town American Bison.

First stop, Cleveland, OH, to tour the house from A Christmas Story. I've seen the movie so many times, and yet there was so much to learn. Did you know they really did stick Flick's tongue to the pole? Eek. And that Randy really was terrified to go down the Santa slide? He did not know he was being filmed when he let loose with all that screaming. Kitsch abound, it was a fun stop.

Calvin has not seen the movie yet, but he was a good sport about posing for some iconic shots.

The lighting was so bad you can't even see the elecric sex gleaming in the window!

Our second stop, far more somber, was in Mentor, OH, at the James A. Garfield NHS, the family home that he refurbished with his wife a few years before his election and assassination. This stop moved me—so sad, such a waste, so heartbreaking. A young family left behind. I think this was my first mournful historic site visit.

Less mournful was Calvin's junior ranger involvement. The national park rangers are pretty darn cool, most of them. Calvin completed three required projects while we were there (a scavenger hunt for artifacts, an interview with a ranger, and decoding a Morse Code message), and was sworn in as official junior ranger. He received a badge and a certificate, which made him that much more excited for the park we will visit tomorrow.

In addition to the ranger program, Calvin read the James A. Garfield volume of the Getting to Know the U.S. Presidents series before we left. It's a good series, and helped him prepare for some of the things he would hear and see on the tour.