A Southwest Road Trip Itinerary

I am excited to be publishing my 3rd itinerary!  It’s difficult to think of just one word that sums up the places we saw in the Southwest…  perhaps Vast.  Timeless.  Humbling.  Beautiful.

I will never forget the rock formations of the Chiricahuas which seem forgotten by time and society, but are waiting to amaze you, strewn out in the middle of a lonely desert; or when we ran wild across the endless stretches of dunes at White Sands -a breathtaking, other-worldly experience; and swimming in the hot springs at Big Bend, watching the vast night sky with more stars than we thought possible rotating around us.  It was a simultaneously humbling and exhilarating experience.  Watching the hatchling sea turtles released on the shores of Padre Island at dawn was such an inspiring statement of hope, and somehow you walk away from it with more faith in life.  The Johnson Space Center of Houston reminds you of how far we have travelled, and walking the ruins of Pecos and Bandelier in northern New Mexico reminds you of how very long we have been travelling.  And the Grand Canyon, a place where you can watch millions of years pass by in a single moment of time.  It almost takes your breath away.

You can find and download this itinerary here by clicking on the Itinerary #3 Heading.  I hope you find as much enjoyment and inspiration from this trip as we did.  And no matter where you are planning to go this summer, I hope you are indeed making plans to travel.

Happy Trails
~Cassie

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Grand Canyon National Park, 2011

Where are you Going Next Summer?

It’s a good day.  Seriously overwhelmed by the responses I’ve received to Thank You, Park Ranger this week.  I can’t express how incredible it feels to have a positive impact on the very people who have inspired so much good in my family over the last few years.  Thank you Thank you Thank you.

So here I am, feeling ever so slightly intimidated by my newfound respectable sized audience, and it’s time for another post.  Actually, I think it’s time to plan!

What???   I know, it seems early, but trust me it’s not.  It’s time.  The busiest National Parks can fill up campground reservations 4-5 months in advance of the popular summer months.  With the holidays at our doorstep, extra time for planning is already in short supply, and trust me, the planning takes time.  Early next year, you’ll want to be able to login to the park websites and reserve your campsites as you can expect an even larger crowd next season.

But, this is the fun part!  The dreaming part!  What have you always wanted to see?  What do you want to see next?  Historical battlegrounds in Virginia or the wildernesses of Yellowstone?  The Mammoth Cave in Kentucky or the Arches of Utah?  Do you want to hike the Dakota Badlands or windsurf the shores of Padre Island?  What about Mt. Rushmore?  The Grand Canyon?  The Grand Tetons?  The Redwoods?  The Olympics?

America is at your fingertips, and at this point in the game, anything is possible.

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2012 – Mt. Rushmore National Memorial

I tend to plan our long summer trips in two different stages.  The first stage is like writing a story’s discovery draft… you’re just dreaming up ideas and possibilities!  Have fun and get the whole family involved!  Your goal over the next two months is to decide on which parks (and other destinations) you want to visit and approximately how many days you want to be gone.  Save all that pesky reservation-making and logistical what-if’s for the much more labor intensive second stage.

Here are some tips and questions to help you start brainstorming:

Resources

  • The nps.gov web-pages are fabulous and so very user friendly.  Spend some extra time looking at the park map and all the headings under the “Plan Your Visit” section as they will give you ideas on things you may want to see and do.  This will help you decide how many days you want to be at each park.
  • The National Park Foundation page is also a great source of information and highlights each of the parks, monuments, memorials, battlefields, and other lands governed by the National Park Service.  I love their User’s Guide – a free download brochure of what not to miss in each region of the country.
  • My Countdown page is a complete list of the 59 National Parks sorted by state.
  • The Amazing Places book illustrates hundreds of wonderful places to take your kids no matter where you are in the country.  Get it.  Read it. Love it.
  • Check out my Itineraries page for trip ideas.  Our 2009 trip to the parks in California and our 2010 trip to the parks in the Northwest are both posted.  I hope to get the 2011 trip up soon.

Questions to ask Yourself

  • Do you want to travel across the United States or stay close to home?  Or maybe find somewhere in between?
  • Do you want to see something you’ve never seen before or show the kids a favorite place from your childhood memories?
  • What are your kids studying in American history or science this year?
  • What activities/events are already on your summer calendar?
  • How much vacation time could you and/or your spouse have by next summer?
  • Start thinking about ALL your options for carving out time for your summer vacation.  My previous post, Thirteen Summers, discusses this topic in depth.
  • How much money can you put away per month for the next 8 months for travel?  Give yourself a monthly goal and start saving today.  Seriously, transfer $10 into your family savings account right now.  Check out this website and the (plethora of others out there) that give ideas on how to shave a few dollars out of your expenses each month.  Stay tuned… new posts on budgeting for an extended trip are coming up soon.

That’s it for today! Happy Planning!
~Cassie

One Lost Wedding Ring and the Best Trip Ever

What is your favorite park?

It is an impossible question…  and one the kids get asked often.  But, all the parks were established to preserve an incredible part of the country, and not just any place… but the highest! The deepest! The longest!  The most!  The best!  There is something magical about all the parks.  Something that transcends the efforts of getting there.  We’ve now been to 27 National Parks; we’ve spent the night in a tent, hiked a few trails, gotten dirty, explored a wilderness, learned something new, and seen something amazing there.  We’ve learned a lot about these parks, and we all have fond memories of each stop along our trips for unique and various reasons. So, how do you pick the very, very best?  Your most favorite?  How can you rank the dense wilderness of Sequoia against the vast sun-beaten grasslands of the Badlands?  Can you even compare the alpine meadows of Glacier with the glow of an Arizona sunset on the walls of the Grand Canyon?  Or choose a favorite between the Mammoth Hot Springs of Yellowstone or the Great Bat Caves of Carlsbad or the flowing Volcanoes of Hawaii?  I don’t know that you can.

We do each have a few favorites through.  It’s like books.  I don’t think I can pick my most favorite.  But, I can pick my top three, hmm… or maybe I’d have to go with a top five.  Either way, there are a handful of parks that I hold very near and dear to my heart, not just for their beauty, but for some of the experiences we’ve had there.  Three of my most favorite are included in the Northwest Itinerary:  Rainier, Olympic, and the Redwoods.  So, although I can’t pick a favorite park, I think I can pick a favorite trip.  Not only does the Northwest Itinerary include six incredible parks, but it also includes some other locations that make this itinerary special:  the beautiful Lake Chelan, the pristine San Juan Islands, the culturally unique cities of Seattle and Portland, and the absolutely breathtaking Oregon coastline.   Not to mention that in between stops, you are driving through some of the most magnificent and productive forests in the world.

But every trip has its valley… even the Best One.  I lost my wedding ring on this trip.  It wasn’t a diamond or a family heirloom, thank goodness, but it was mine.  It was a very simple, plain, white-gold band, the one I was married with, the one I’d been wearing all those years we struggled through the early part of my marriage, and through all the happy times we shared while watching our family grow.  It was heartbreaking.  I believe I lost it somewhere in our campground at Lake Chelan, and after hours and hours of looking for it, driving away was torture.  But there’s more.  That was also the summer that we were trying to keep a flailing business partnership afloat.  I’m not sure if any of you have ever been through a business partnership “break-up,” but I think it may be as emotionally draining and devastating as divorce.  You face some of the hardest issues among our personal relationships:  the loss of loyalty, trust, and friendship.  The stress level and phone calls were enough to make us all think about driving home early.  I’m so glad we didn’t.

There are always reasons not to go, not to plan, not to spend the money, or not to take the time.  But, I’ve never yet felt that one of these trips wasn’t worth the effort or the sacrifice of being there, because this is the thing that is most important:  the time with your family.  Now it is three years later and when we look back, we don’t see the things that went wrong.  We remember the great eagle that swooped over our dashboard while in the San Juan Islands.  We remember how it felt to be standing under the powerful spray of Comet Falls after accomplishing a strenuous two mile hike up the foothills of Mt. Rainier to get there.  We remember the first time we walked over the rim and gazed at Crater Lake.  We remember our first Fourth of July in Bend, OR, a town we would come to call home.  We remember the breathtaking views overlooking the Olympics Mountain range and the laughter of following the Twilight Trail in Forks.  We remember that incredible Museum of Flight in Seattle.  We remember the salt-water taffy in Seaside.  We remember throwing ourselves down the great sand dunes of the Oregon coast.  We remember our last hike of the trip, walking through a dense fog in the middle of the Redwood forest.

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I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we all have valleys in life, just like every trip will have it’s valley.  Don’t let that stop you from taking them!  And more importantly, don’t let it stop you from finishing them.  Our first business disintegrated that summer, and I lost my wedding ring.  But, we just deal with the difficult times knowing that it’s only a low point, and that we’ll hike out of it soon enough, and onto our next mountain.  My brilliant husband has built up a better company and I’ve inherited a beautiful heirloom ring from my Great Grandmother.  And, now that I look back, I kind of like the thought of my plain gold band buried somewhere near the shores of Lake Chelan.  Maybe someday, some imaginative child will dig it up out of the mud and play a little game called “The One Ring.”  One can only hope.

Happy Autumn!
~Cassie