5 More Reasons to Visit Olympic National Park

Are you planning for next summer yet?  Looking for a National Park that has it all?  Olympic has a little bit of everything and a whole lot of amazing.  Focusing a trip around this park will add interest for every single person in your family, and if I had to pick a Top Three favorite parks, without a doubt, this one would be on that list.  Here are my top five reasons why.

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1. Hurricane Ridge, O.N.P.  This is the view.  Don’t miss it.  Our first night inside the park we camped at Heart O’ the Hills.  It is a beautiful campground nestled among the dense Montane Forest, and immediate access to the adventurous Heart O’ the Forest Trail.  The next morning we awoke and drove up to one of the great Olympic Peaks at Hurricane Ridge.  Prepare to be amazed!  This view reminds us that there are places in America that can rival any scene over seas in beauty and grandeur.  The deer in velvet walking around us, the high alpine meadows full of blooming wildflowers, and the tree line framing the ocean of snow-capped peaks as far as you can see, made this one of the most beautiful days of our entire thirty day trip.

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2. Hoh Rainforest, O.N.P.  Yes, America has a rainforest.  Specifically a Northwest Temperate Rainforest, and it is soggy and green and lush and incredibly beautiful.  There are an infinite number of things to do here.

You can take a ranger walk to learn about this incredible forest ecosystem.
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You can climb on a colonnade of Sitka Spruce.  What is a colonnade?  Read about them here.
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You can read a book under the great green canopy that filters the afternoon sun.
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Or let the kids play in a shaded green meadow.
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You can engineer a rock canal in a glacier river.
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Or wade along the bank of it’s icy waters.
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You can take an early morning hike.
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Or find a hidden rock waterfall, and just see what happens while you are there.
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Just be there.  This incredible forest is full of the bountiful gifts of nature.

3. Rialto Beach/Mora, O.N.P.  The nourishing and dense coastal forest of the this park give way to the sprawling rocky beaches of the Olympic Penninsula.  These beach scenes are framed with the pounding surf, the rocky tidepools, the giant driftwood that washes ashore, and the distant, rocky sea stacks off the beach.  It is perfect place to romp and explore and just let the kids run free.  Bring a picnic and take the afternoon to enjoy the unique ecosystems along this coast.

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4. Forks, WA.  Do you have a tween in your household?  Although this obviously does not have universal appeal, sometimes the best motivation for getting your tweens and teens outside in the woods, is to take them somewhere they really want to see along the way.  For us it was Forks.  Oh yes, the year we came to the Olympic Peninsula, my eldest daughter was deep into Twilight obsession mode, and we did it all:  Port Angeles, Forks, and LaPush.   We saw Bella’s car, Bella’s home, Edward’s home, the hospital, the high school, and a few other settings sprinkled throughout the books.   I have to applaud the town of Forks.  Not only have they graciously embraced all the Cullen crazed visitors into their town, they have gone out of their way to re-create the magic of the book’s setting for Twilight fans around the country.

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5. Seattle, WA.  Part of planning a long summer vacation, is making sure that there is highlight for everyone in the family to enjoy, and seeing one of the country’s most unique cities might be more appealing to some than spending days sleeping on the ground and hiking in the woods.  Maybe.  Either way, Seattle is the gateway city to the Olympic Peninsula, and you should take advantage of your proximity to spend a couple days in the city.   Take a flight up to the top of the Iconic Space Needle and enjoy breathtaking views of the city and the Puget Sound.  Let the kids romp around the Seattle Center, splash in the fountain, and take a whirl on the carnival rides.  The Experience Music Project is a unique, world-renown museum that any music lover in your family will enjoy.  The Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Aquarium, and the Woodland Park Zoo are also fantastic outings for the whole family that offer enjoyable interactions with nature.  And what is a trip to Seattle without a stroll through Pikes Place market?  Pick up some meat on a stick and bury your nose in the beautiful flower bouquets.  Sports fans would love to catch a Mariners or Sounders game and the family history buff will enjoy the incredible Museum of Flight, our absolute favorite museum in Seattle.  There is something for everyone here.

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All in all, I don’t think there could be a better focus for your first trip to the Pacific Northwest than Olympic National Park.  Remember, our entire northwest trip itinerary is posted here.

Happy Planning!
~Cassie

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

Local Lands Need Our Help Too!

Today I really just wanted to share this beautiful video that my good friend Gillian, and Deschutes Land Trust Board member, sent me this week.  It is a great reminder of the beautiful land that we are lucky enough to call home, and also reminds me of how very important it is to become involved in protecting our local lands.  Land Trust community members work together to conserve, protect, and maintain both public and private lands.  Becoming involved in your local land trust is a great way to give back to your community and help to preserve the areas that you already know and love, all while digging your hands into the Earth and making a commitment to connect with and protect nature.   I’ve been learning of the many ways to volunteer my time; you can do anything from office work and mailings, to pulling noxious weeds, to leading a group hike through the preserved lands.

As Fall quickly slips into Winter, and we perhaps become less inclined to venture outside, making an effort to become involved with your local land trust is a great way to get you out of the house and keep you connected to the wildernesses in your community.  Perhaps use this period when our National Parks are out of commission to help the local parks and preserves in your area by making a financial donation, or gathering the family together for a day of volunteering, or simply taking a guided hike through a nearby land preserve to watch the changing leaves.  Here is a link that may help in finding a local land trust near your own home.

Happy Trails!
~Cassie

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2011, Harvesting our Christmas Tree in the Metolious Preserve, land protected by the Deschutes Land Trust

Thank You, Park Ranger

To All National Park Service Employees,

Today you are not at work, and I am sorry for that.  I wish I could do something to help you, but unfortunately the only thing I can do is hope that the government shutdown will be short lived, that the parks will re-open quickly, and that you will be back on payroll soon.   In the meantime, I would like to share a note of thanks.   I’m ashamed to say that I’ve not thanked you before.  For the past five years you have helped us, inspired us, protected us, guided us, taught us, made us laugh, and become a part of our own unique family memories at America’s parks.

You’ve ensured the safety of my family by monitoring the road, campground, and weather conditions.  You’ve watched animal movement, and taught us how to keep both ourselves and the animals safe.  You’ve maintained trail signs, bulletin boards, safety notices, and relayed vital up-to-the minute visitor information.  In 2009, after receiving a worried phone call from my husband, a Park Ranger in Sequoia National Park even hunted down my kids and I just to make sure we were ok.   A few days later we were in Yosemite National Park and another Park Ranger took the time to stop by our campsite and invite us to a twilight ranger walk.  He made the effort to get to know my kids, taught them a game and made them laugh, and during our walk together he even inspired a five year old to see the great mystery and beauty of a park meadow.  Thank you for making our first experience at the parks a great one.

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2009 – Yosemite National Park

You have guided us through so many beautiful places and taught us about why they are preserved.  We have followed you through underground caves, mountain passes, over rivers, and on forest trails.  You have taught us not only the names and locations of the plants and animals that live within the boundaries of the parks, but also about the unique roles they play in the environment.   You have humored my kids as they always, always, push through to the front of a group and nag you with dozens of questions and tell you their stories as we hike along together.  You’ve listened to them, just as much as you’ve talked to them.  Thank you.

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2010 – Olympic National Park

You’ve taught my children that learning is fun!  Not only do you incorporate funny voices and crazy animal imitations into your fireside chats, but you also make our trips memorable with your incredible park ranger stories.  You’ve included life long learning into your career simply because you love the outdoors and you love our parks, and we get to witness your passion for the wild places on every trip.  You’ve served the people of our country every single day by making our lives a little bit better, and a little bit brighter.  Thank you for being such a phenomenal example to all of us.

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2011 – Big Bend National Park

You have shared your hands-on knowledge with us as we’ve listened to your ranger talks all over the country.   You have let us touch, see, smell, and hear the whisperings of our country’s great wildernesses.   You’ve taught us about the indicator species of different forests, about endangered species protected within park boundaries, and about our changing climate and disappearing glaciers.  You’ve told us about what it’s like to work at the parks and the usually funny but always rich stories of how the parks were established.   You are always patient and happy to relay the information you have learned through your training and your travels.  You’ve taught us that learning takes a lifetime.  Thank you for your priceless service.

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2012 – Glacier National Park

You took every single Junior Ranger badge seriously.  I know this could not have been easy, with three excited kids in front of you after you’d probably already seen a dozen of them that day alone, repeating the same information over and over and over… but you made them feel important, and you took the time to ensure that they not only learned something, but that they would remember what they learned.  You greeted them with patience and laughter.   I remember a crowded visitor center at Hawaii Volcanoes,  and there were pushy adults trying to vie for your attention over the heads of the kids.  You made the adults wait in line while you taught something to my children.  It made them feel connected to you,  made them feel connected to their park, and maybe it even gave them a glimpse of how important they are to the future of our nation’s park service.  Thank you.

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2013 – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Thank you for always being there when we come to visit.  Thank you for your time.  Thank you for your inspiration, information, protection, and passion.  Thank you for sharing the Nation’s Greatest Treasures with us.  Thank you for everything.  We hope to see you again very soon!

Happy Trails.
~Cassie

Paradise

Aloha!

We returned from our 5th Annual Summer Road Trip Vacation last week and now that I’ve had a few days to get the lawn under control and shuffle through a heaping pile of mail and email, I just wanted to write a quick bit about the land of Hawaii before it’s lost to me in a sea of memories tethered only by the photographs.  Yes, our National Park project finally brought us to nani Hawai’i – a combination of our family summer vacation and our 15th Wedding Anniversary celebration.  It was a special one this year, and it took us a long time to get here, but I think that’s ok.  Great even.  Sometimes it takes a long time to know that nothing that comes at us in the future could be harder than our past, and that we really are in it together, forever.

Andy, I’m so glad it was you.

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Anniversary in Hawaii, 2013.

I don’t think anything in my future could ever match the… spectrum of the last fifteen years, and I found those contrasts paralleled in Hawaii.  Please forgive the repetition for those well-versed Hawaiian travelers, but this was my first time to the islands and it obviously made an impact.  Though we only checked off four more National Parks on our countdown this summer (two in Hawaii and our last two in California), they were big ones, and worth every penny and every effort of getting there.

Hawaii is a land of contrasts:  her newest and blackest shores are birthed in the East each day from Pele’s fiery belly, while her oldest, reddest, westernmost soils rust away under the constant barrage of wind and rain and sun.  In between, she takes the shape of sharp pumice stone and delicate orchid petals, of craggy, soaring peaks and submerged coral reefs, of lush rainforests in the North and arid deserts in the South.  Her colors range from the darkest of grays to the brightest imaginable spectrum of the rainbow.  Her highest summits break even through the clouds and stand sentinel over the ocean waves crashing the beach below.  A sun-kissed man with a flowered shirt and deep creases about his eyes weaves baskets from palm leaves and speaks of ancient legends to the throng of tourists sporting Nikon cameras and Patagonia garb.  Her deceptively small islands of Paradise above the surface hide her source of great power beneath the sea, power that can not only withstand the immeasurable weight of the whole Pacific Ocean bearing down on her, but grow beneath it and produce the great web of life.

Hawaii is a land of rhythms:  an accelerated cycle of birth and death as her isles stretch desperately above the sea for nothing more than a moment before steadily sinking back beneath the waves from which they were born.  The steady beat of gourd drums echo your footsteps among her isles, usher in the sunrise and mark its set with a few moments of nothing but sound and light, between which their sound reverberates in the steady and ceaseless pounding of waves and the rhythmic stories of the hula dancers.  The wind stirs the lanai every evening.  The rain feeds the land every morning.  The tide goes out, the tide goes in, the moon chases the sun over the open sky every day, and the drums beat out the balanced dance of dark and light.  Her song becomes a part of your own rhythm, unnoticed until you cross the ocean and realize you left the rhythm of the rain and the light and the waves and the tide and the drums and the dancing women behind you, because they stay in Paradise.

Still, maybe Paradise isn’t entirely bordered by water.  Coming home to the mountains and pine trees, to our lovely parks and charming downtown, to the comforting smells of an approaching Autumn, and children anxious to go back to school was another sort of Paradise to me.  Especially with the candle burning on my desk from which I can breathe in the scent of the Hawaiian Breeze these last few days of summer.

Aloha and Mahalo.
~Cassie

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Sunset in my Paradise – Bend, OR, August 24, 2013.

Amazing Places!

I saw Amazing Places to Take Your Kids by Laura Sutherland sitting on an out-of-the-way bookshelf at a school book fair.  I picked it up because it was priced so inexpensively and it probably wasn’t something I would have found at my favorite large book seller.  What a discovery!  This book has helped me plan and shape every single one of our road trips!  The chapters are laid out by regions of the United States, perfect for the way in which we travel.  On almost every page, there is a different place to visit described succinctly, yet with enough information to decide if it is age-appropriate for your kids.  Also, there is a large photograph on every page that the kids love!  This is a great tool in getting them involved in the planning process  because they can actually see what the options are in that region.  Sights in the book include various national parks, museums, theme parks, beaches, and historical places.  It really is amazing because it helps you get a feel for what attractions are important to see in an unfamiliar area of the country.  It’s also great to use for any of your other travelling throughout the year.  If you are going to visit family, flying to a new city for a wedding, or just want to get out of town for a weekend somewhere, this book has great ideas on fantastic places to visit.

We also use this book as a memory-keeper for our trips.  We bring it with us on our vacations, and after visiting a site that is described the book, we turn to that page, date it, and everyone in the car signs it.   It’s kind of neat that now I have a book with signatures dating back to four years ago, and we will just keep adding to it.  I think it will be another great keepsake with which to remember our travels.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this great planning and keepsake idea.  If you’re interested, check out the publishers page or Amazon.com to purchase a copy.

Happy Trails!

~Cassie

Amazing Places

Welcome!

“In the end we will only conserve what we love; we will only love what we understand; and we will only understand what we have been taught.”
~Baba Dioum, Senegalese Environmentalist and Poet

Welcome and Happy Mothers Day!

One of my New Year Resolutions for the year was to figure out what to do with all my vacation itineraries.  The obvious answer is to write a travel book, publish it, make a million dollars, retire early, travel more.  Unfortunately, since I haven’t yet reached the status of nationally syndicated radio talk show host or famous daytime pop psychologist,  getting the attention of a literary agent is basically impossible.  So, I’ve decided to launch this blog instead.  Thank you for taking the time stop by.

Parents have many ambitions when it comes to raising children.   Personally, I want my kids to be self-reliant, to have a solid understanding of why the world looks the way it does, to be responsible with money, to live an active and healthy life, to be passionate about protecting our environment, to be proud citizens of these United States, to laugh easily, and to love spending time with their family.   I mean I’m not asking for much.  In light of these parenting goals, I made the decision four years ago to change the way we do family vacations.  My long term project is to explore all 59 U.S. National Parks before the kids graduate from high school.   Maybe this strategy isn’t going to guarantee that they’ll possess all these traits by the time they’re grown, but I figure it might help, and so every summer we head out into the world to experience real eye-opening, strength-testing, character building, Took-loving adventures! (Yes, I often look for ways to reference Tolkein.)

Dreams and high expectations are as much a part of motherhood as are guilt, diapers and chauffeuring.  So I’m pretty sure that most of you share many of these same dreams for your own kids.  For the sake of introducing what is to come here, let me just say that this project is centered around the following three child-rearing priorities:

  1. Nothing is more important than finding the time and money to explore the world with your kids.
  2. The best way to improve our country is to teach our children to understand it and care about it.
  3. Adventure is necessary food for the soul.

Every day I read articles relating to how anxiety-ridden, secluded, dependent, overweight, fussy, and/or depressed so many of our children are becoming.  I realize the problem is complex and the solutions will have to be daring and multi-faceted, but in the meantime I wage my own battle here in my little claim on the world.  I will show my children that we work hard to play hard and that the beauty of life can only be discovered through the guts of experience.   I will teach them that they are stronger than they think they are, and that happiness has nothing to do with a mattress and a flat-screen TV.

“Mountains and Valleys” is a phrase we coined at some point along one of our trips.  Now we use it to describe all of our high and low points.  Your Mountain is the best part of your day, trip, school year, year, whatever.  The Valley is the worst.  I hope most of what I share with you are mountains, but I think its also good to remind ourselves that valleys are just that – a low point that we’ll hike out of before we climb our next mountain.

I have a very messy collection of plans, tidbits, advice, lessons, photos, parenting commentary, and travel writing currently scattered all over my notebooks and desktop.  I aim to use this blog as a vehicle to get my own writing organized, but also as a method of sharing my ideas with others that may find it useful.  As a former teacher, I very strongly believe in the idea of building off the work that we “borrow” from others.   Please share or borrow anything here that you like!

I still have a day job and three kids and five ball team schedules to work around, so my posting probably won’t be as consistent as I wish, but I think there’s enough here to start with.  The categories listed on the right are fairly empty at the moment, but keep checking back in because I will be adding posts!  Our first trip itinerary is available for download on the Itineraries page, so stop by and take a look if you’re interested.

Again, thank you for visiting.   I hope that in these pages you find a little inspiration and a lot of help in planning your family’s next Great Adventure, and I always look forward to any feedback, comments, or ideas of your own that you want to share.

Happy Trails!

~Cassie

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Glacier National Park, 2012 – Clemans Clan at the disappearing Grinnell Glacier