One of my (many) goals for this trip was to stay in a castle. It seemed easy enough. It's the UK for goodness sake, no shortage of castles here! Maybe I didn't search it right because for a long time, I couldn't find anything that met my criteria: fun interiors and not a rip-off. (You'd be surprised how many drab hotels are operating out of castles these days. Jeez...) After my hundredth google search I came across the Augill Castle in Cumbria. It was everything I'd hoped to find in a castle stay with a price tag that wouldn't have us packing up and heading home early. We set off from Glasgow on Wednesday and made our way down.
This post is dedicated to all those incredible humans who get the urge to dedicate mass amounts of time and money to restoring some tiny part of our history on a local level. We owe these folks a huge amount of thanks for their gifts to our cultures. The Highland Folk Museum is the perfect example. Founded 80 years ago by Dr. Isobel F. Grant, this living museum continues to grow well beyond the collection Grant built in her lifetime.
The town of Fort William isn't anything spectacular, but the drive leading up to it certainly is. (It seems like it might actually be hard to pick a bad drive in Scotland. So far, all have been spectacular!) We came here to catch the train to Mallaig, on the west coast. The ride roundtrip is do-able in an afternoon and boasts some of the best landscape in all of Scotland. We had hoped to ride The Jacobite, made famous by Harry Potter as the train to Hogwarts, but missed the summer schedule and had to settle for the Scotland Rail ticket. No terrible difference really - same tracks, less romantic train, fraction of the price.
We left our magical town of Plockton today. In our two days of touring the Isle of Skye I've yet to see a town sweeter than this one. Tucked down deep at the base of tree covered hills, and only accessed by a long, winding, single-lane road, this tiny village took good care of us on our first days in Scotland. But before departing, we had to take a seal tour with famed local, Calum.
Our first three nights in Scotland were spent in the tiny, picture-perfect fishing village of Plockton, with easy access to the Isle of Skye. Our house, our views, our temporary fantasy world, were all just perfect. I only wish we could have stayed longer and done a little kayaking, hiking, and maybe some relaxing. As it turned out, we spent our mornings and evenings in the house and surrounding village, but during our two full days, we drove down (and up) to the Isle of Skye.
This trip marks a new start in travel for me. I decided I couldn't carry my prized 3.5lb, 6D Canon camera around with me all day anymore and invested in a FujiX30 instead. I was very nervous about switching so close to our departure - nervous I might compromise the memories I was responsible for collecting. A friend of mine with deep, digital intuition, heard my concerns and came over to help me navigate my latest *screen*. Within an hour, I felt ready for adventures in pocket photography. So far, I'm very happy with the results!
Here are some shots from our second day in London, starting at the famed Regency Cafe, said to have the best English Breakfast in the whole of London.
Six months in the making and we are finally here in London - one of my favorite cities in the world, and one I was lucky enough to call home for a short time in college. I will be alone with the kids for a week, then Hubs is meeting us, at which time we will fly to Scotland and road-trip all the way back down.
We landed yesterday afternoon. Some of us had slept a little, some of us not at all. By some miracle, everyone rallied and powered through. After dropping our bags at our apartment in South Bank, we headed to Covent Garden in the pouring rain, hoping to put some smiles on little faces at the London Transport Museum.
I hesitate to say we've been blessed with beautiful weather this winter. As much as we enjoyed the past week for all it's warm, spring-like days, it no doubt came with a cost: my East Coast friends are being pummeled with relentless storms. My girlfriend in Boston and I kept swapping pictures of scenes outside our windows. She had a two story pile of snow engulfing her house last week, and complained of all the liquor stores being dry. My pictures were of clear blue skies, and my only complaint was that the rope from our hammock was still a little stiff. Truth be told, us Californians all know deep down inside that this summer will bring a deeper drought awareness than any of us care to acknowledge this month.
So...like I was saying, we've been blessed with beautiful weather this winter.
We spent our winter break in West Marin with friends, observing the local wildlife and digging in the sand...
...we played on Mother Nature's playground...
...and marveled and the wonders, both big and small.
We got to boogie board in the Pacific, 100 feet away from a grey whale that was swimming surprisingly close to shore...
...and we ran through the tall grass, playing tag and hiding-go-seek while the dogs ran free on the beach (until the ranger came and asked us to put them on leash).
We hiked everyone's favorite trail...
...and were kicking ourselves that we'd never done it before.
West Marin was beautiful last week. It's been a tradition in my family for several generations, and we are making sure that continues for at least one more.
Our drive out of Wyoming, heading towards the Black Hills of South Dakota, was one of our longer days driving. As a rule of thumb, I always try to keep our time in the car to no more than three to four hours. Tourist attractions along the way always have us pulling over and exchanging parental high-fives.
Ayres Natural Bridge was one such place. Hidden well below the seemingly level surface of Wyoming's endless prairie, this beloved attraction was created over a million years by the flow of one single river.
We loved Ayres! Having arrived early (eager to get out of our sad and dirty hotel room, smack dab in the middle of a very depressed small town), we had the entire park to ourselves. We spread our grocery store bought breakfast over two tables and probably three benches (we couldn't decide!) and ran all around exploring, in and out of the water, up and down the grass, and around and around the playground. There was so much diversity in this tiny park compared the endless flat praire up top. The kids would have been happy to stay all day.
Later that day, right after having crossed over into South Dakota - hay bales made another great roadside attraction worth stopping for.
We arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota late. While I LOVED this historically rich town in The Black Hills, it was fairly far from all the attractions we set out to see. But our hotel was great - pushed back up against a cliff, is had a huge pool for the kids and a well appointed room for Mom and Dad. As soon as we woke-up the next morning, we headed straight out to Mount Rushmore.
We made it! A lifetime of dreaming finally became a reality for me.
We made two purchases at Mount Rushmore - another national park bandana for each of the kids, and an ice cream for everyone. Did you know that Jefferson is reportedly the author of the first known ice cream recipe in America? Neither did we. But they were pushing the story hard and so everyone was walking around with an ice cream in hand, including us. I was later telling this litte fact to another tourist I met who was on her way to Mount Rushmore. She looked at me, made a funny face and said, "That's weird. We were just in Philidelphia where they are telling everyone Dolly Madison is the inventor of ice cream." Haha!
I have great memories of my grandmother taking me to the South Dakota State Fair in 1983. All the farm animals and machinery, the giant bingo game where you could win a TV, my 86 year-old grandma taking me on the Tilt-A-Whirl (God bless her!!), going back for seconds on the best fried onion rings I'd ever eaten - I remember it all with great fondness. I had hoped to duplicate that magic for my kids someday - a trip to a midwestern state fair. It ended up all working in our favor when planning this road-trip out of Yellowstone. Wyoming's State Fair opened right in time for us to catch it while driving towards Mount Rushmore. Turns out, it wasn't exactly what we'd all hoped for. See, it was very, very, very small. In fact, it might have even been smaller than our country fair here in California. And despite us being there on it's second day, much of it's offerings - concerts, livestock shows, the rodeo, were not even available yet. We still managed to knock-out an entire day seeing it's unique offerings like the antique tractor pull, and the collection of vintage covered wagons (not shown), but I still have a craving to get my kids to a giant midwestern state fair. I just read Texas puts on the largest state fair. It's not exactly the midwest, but it IS next month... ;-)
Cody, WY was such a treat. The chuchwagon cookout, the rodeo, and The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, had us all wishing for a covered wagon and our own pairs of cowboy boots. We stayed at the Americinn, which was ideal in that it had an incredible display of taxidery to entertain the kids, an indoor pool, and on-site laundry!
The day after the rodeo was dedicated to the museum. You might remember me mentioniong that the whole reason we came to Cody was because my MIL said this museum was said to be great. She was so right!
I'll let you in on a little secret about me that you probably didn't know: before last week, I knew absolutely nothing about Buffalo Bill, other than his name. I couldn't tell you who he was, or why he was famous, with a giant museum dedicated to him.
But now I do! And if YOU don't, I highly suggest looking him up because he has an INCREDIBLE story that we will most certainly be digging down deeper into,.. I'm thinking this might be a good next step.
Above is a shot of Annie Oakley, displayed in the firearms museum. This museum was by far the largest of the five museums housed under one roof. And it went on...
...and on. It literally took me some work trying to find our way out.
Have you ever seen a walrus head mounted? I sure hadn't! Found this one in the firearms museum, along with tons and tons of other taxidermy.
Above, Frijoles stands in the cabin of a famous artist who has a lot of work in the art museum. I just loved how the light fell on her face in the dark room.
We weren't planning on taking the time to walk through the art museum, based on our packed schedule and long drive ahead. But we were easily pulled in, and ended up staying a while.
At the suggestion of my MIL, who spent her teen years living in Sheridan, WY, we exited Yellowstone last week via the east gate, and headed to Cody, Wyoming. She recommended we stop at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, specifically. That was enough for us. What we didn't realize until much later in our trip planning is that Cody is said to be the rodeo capital of the world!
Because we only had 24 hours to soak-up the whole Cody experience, we went straight to the highly rated tourist attractions, starting with a chuckwagon dinner at The Cody Cattle Company. The kids loved it! We had a great dinner in a lively atmosphere, booming with live country music and authentic cowboy vibes.
Right down the street from The Cattle Co. is the rodeo. Every night, 8-10, all summer long, Cody puts on a show. The wind was WILD that night and the kids had fun playing with all the tumbleweeds blowing around them.
Once inside the park, all three kids just about lost their chuckwagon dinners when they spotted a mechanical bull!!!
We took our seats in the stands and settled in for a whole new experience. It was everyone's FIRST rodeo!
Half-way through the show they did the nighly critter crawl, where all little kids are invited down to try and grab a ribbon off a calf's tail.
Tiny Buns almost won. ;)
I had been so excited for the new rodeo experience, but once I was there, I realized I was actually quite uncomfortable seeing the animals chased and roped. I can fully appreciate it as a much loved cultural event, and those rodeo animals certainly have a better life than any animal on a factory farm. I'm glad we went, just not sure I need to see another rodeo in this lifetime.
We cut out early in order to get the kids down. On our way out, I walked by this little guy and he kept his eyes on me as if he wanted to tell me something. His sweet face made me happy we'd not stayed until the end.
Since leaving Yellowstone, we’ve crossed Wyoming, taking in a rodeo and state fair, and made our way through The Black Hills, and across most of South Dakota. Before I post about any of those adventures, and trust me when I tell you there were many, I want to skip to one of our last days because it was just so good. I know there are a lot of friends and family waiting to learn more about our time in De Smet, South Dakota, living the life of a young Laura Ingalls.
First off I need to mention what a near miss this experience was to us. Having just finished On The Banks of Plum Creek with Frijoles, and having no idea yet that the Ingalls ever lived in what was then Dakota Territory, De Smet was nowhere on my radar. But late one night, while finalizing the details of our road trip, and on Trip Advisor trying desperately to scrounge up something to do near my father’s hometown, it was suggested through the site that I might consider The Ingalls Homestead in a neighboring town.
When I clicked through I was absolutely floored!! Laura Ingalls lived in South Dakota?? Just thirty miles from where my father grew-up?!? Then I learned that the next Little House book we were about to start - By The Shores of Silver Lake - begins with their journey to this territory. I realized visiting it worked PERFECTLY with the one remaining hole in our travel schedule. I then found an amazing B+B, run by a family who strives to keep this part of our American history alive!! I was completely sold and vowed to finish all the books with the kids before we arrived!!!
And then I went to bed and starred at the ceiling with an accelerated heart rate for the next three hours.
So exciting, right!?!
Now flash forward to this pask week when we were making our way east, through Wyoming and South Dakota, all the while listening to the final three Little House books on audio. A captive audience, everyone was engulfed in the stories and well prepared for our arrival.
We arrived in the tiny town of De Smet, ready for two nights and one day of exploring. At the suggestion of a local, we took the in-town tour first, covering the surveyor’s house, two neighboring prairie school houses, as well as the house Pa build once he and Ma moved off the homestead and into town. It was the right way to do things. Our day started with a one-hour tour of these otherwise locked buildings. The kids were fed and rested, and attention was good. Photos are not allowed in either of the homes, but we could snap away in the one-room schools. These was a lot to take in! The surveyor’s house was just as I'd imagined, have read Laura’s descriptions, and our tour guide was great about relating everything back to the books, as well as adding in additional trivia.
Once our tour concluded it was time for lunch, and even I was feeling a little tired. But we came to see the homestead and so after a short rest and some refueling, off we went down the road.
Knock, knock! Ma, I'm home!
Little Miss Frijoles was beside herself with excitement. Once at the homestead, she kept busy for four hours playing with kittens, fetching water for the barn animals from the well Pa dug 135 years ago, washing laundry by hand, playing a pump organ like the one Laura bought for Mary, and making a corn doll like Laura's *Susan*. The boys jumped in with certain activities like rope making and pony rides, but mostly they focused on catching frogs and snakes, or lassoing each other.
It should be said that all this was made possible by just a few families that had a dream of restoring this homestead to its original state, beginning in the early 1990's.
I was told that one couple bought this land back from a commercial farmer after over 100+ years of it having been farmed. They put up at tiny visitors center, and that was about it. It wasn’t clear to me if they cleared the crops or not, but I do know that at this time, all that remained of the homestead was the well that Pa dug. Then at some point, a family (from….Iowa? Ohio?) was driving through to see the spot, and as a result, they had the vision to take it ten steps further by returning it to as much of a working homestead as it had been in the 1880’s. Can we just bow our heads and have a moment of thanks for people such as these? This family apparently bought the land from the first couple, then moved out to De Smet and made it ALL come true so that the rest of us can relive these stories, and the time in our history that they embody. I was also incredibly impressed with the knowledge and enthusiasm of ALL the people working the farm and guiding the various activities. Amazing! Just AMAZING!!!
To truly get a feel for Yellowstone’s geothermal features, one must get up close and personal to each one. This might seem obvious, but I was guilty of appreciating many of them from afar at first, somehow believing I was having a full experience. It can be deceiving. On an overcast day, when the air is cool, all around you the ground appears to be smoldering, and that alone is a phenomenal experience. But rain or shine, you have to get out and hike into each one and see the incredible differences each one holds. There are no two alike. When the sun is out, the pools are brilliantly colored. On cloudy days, the colors are less intense, but the steam that rises above them is more intense. For six days, these wonders had me both entranced and inspired. Sometimes I felt like I was in someone’s psychedelic dream, other times I felt I was viewing a war-torn landscape, but every time, I was inspired to make art.
I'm still churning-out the Yellowstone posts, even though we've since blazed through Wyoming, and are now in South Dakota. I miss posting on a daily basis and in chronological order, as I have on past trips. There is something very satisfying and comforting for me when I do. Oh well...
One of our Yellowstone excursions, as a traveling family of ten, was a morning of horseback riding. No, I haven't posted those pics yet, but I will soon. I figure we've all seen pictures of people riding horses through meadows and forests, but have you even seen the inside of a Mountain Man Rendezvous?!?
We just happened to drive by this on the way to the stables, and while the tiny white tents from the roadside didn't spark too much curiosity, the big tee-pees we've been seeing all over these parts did. I wanted so badly to check it out and see what it might hold.
What we discovered was just incredible! It was a tiny celebration of 19th century fur trapping and trading, run by die hard enthusiasts, all eager to share their knowledge and know-how. Turns out the name *Mountain Man Rendezvous* is "trapper jargon" for the annual gatherings of fur trappers and mountain men, between 1825–1840. It was at these rendezvous' that participants could trade goods, replenish supplies, and socialize.
The kids each picked out a memento. The 9yo desperately wanted a coonskin hat (which he's worn everyday since), Frijoles picked a beaded necklace and rabbit fur pouch to wear around her neck, and Tiny Buns picked a leather pouch which he filled with some hand selected beads and stones. You can see all the items here:
As if horseback riding and the Mountain Man Redezvous wasn't enough thrill for one day, we also managed to check-out the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center on our way back into the park.
Now we can say that we actually got to see a real live grizzly while at Yellowstone!
And Frijoles can say she actually go to pet one too! ;-)
I get a super-dorky-kind-of-excited when I’m able to find us some experience that mimics a time in history that we’ve studied as a family. This entire two-week road trip aims to feed this obsession of mine, with all sorts of cowboy and pioneer themed activities. One of our favorites so far was a cowboy cookout at Yellowstone, complete with horse-drawn wagons, a roaring campfire, tall tales, cowboy coffee, huge steaks, and of course, song. Our wagons left from the charming Roosevelt Lodge, a spot we would have loved to spend a couple nights at with its tiny cabins and log construction. The cousins got a game of tag in while we waited for the horses to get hitched, and Daddy snuck off to buy the kids graphic bandannas as mementos. Along the wagon trail we were told colorful stories of the park’s history and geography. We saw lots of yellow-bellied marmots, and once we reached our cookout destination, the kids were free to pet the horses and explore the area. We filled-up on cowboy grub while cowboy sang us old songs from the 1800's. Then we all joined together and sang Home on the Range before heading back to the hotel in our covered, orange wagons. So fun!
Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.
Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.
A friend recently told me about the Junior Ranger Program, available at most of our national parks. I looked into it, and while it sounded great to Tiny Buns, Beanie, and me, I couldn’t get the big kid on board right away. I think he must have assumed that completing the program would only get him a gold star. When he heard me talking about the beautiful embroidered patches one receives upon completing their level of study/activity, he wanted in on the action - like grizzly bear for highly processed packaged human food.
So we bought each kid a booklet at $3 a pop. In each book there are lots of activities for different age levels. Tiny Buns tackled the 4-7yo *Geyser* level, Beanie opted to take an early step up to the 8-12yo *Bear* level, and the big kid insisted on challenging himself with the 13+ *Buffalo* level. In the end, they were all able to complete the required work in about 3-4 hours (each). It was a great way to continue their education of Yellowstone, and an activity they were all eager to complete. Once they did, we returned back to the closest ranger station for official review of their booklets, and of course, to take the official pledge.
I must admit, I got a little choked up when they held their right hands up for Ranger Megan, and took the Yellowstone Junior Ranger oath. The whole thing was just ridiculously cute to observe. We are all looking forward to doing similar programs this week in our upcoming visits to national parks in South Dakota.
Junior Ranger Pledge:
"As a Junior Ranger, I promise to teach others about what I learned today, explore other parks and historic sites, and help preserve and protect these places so future generations can enjoy them."
Speaking of rangers, this is probably just as good a spot as any to share pics of these incredible vintage 1950's NPS posters I fell for at the park's ranger museum.
Aren't they incredible?! I would love to find one someday and hang it in the naturalist's bedroom. I'm pretty sure it would make the both of us very happy.
Our first day in Yellowstone, the ten of us took a (protracted) tour of the park's lower loop in a big ol' funky bus. It was a great way to get oriented with our new surroundings, but it was looong... which was hard on the kids at points. We had plenty of opportunities to jump on and off, but not much time to dig down and explore or take a hike. The quote of the day came from my sister, a doctor, who had me in stitches when she said, "With the hotel's fiber-less buffet, and all this sitting, it's no wonder America is constipated."
The highlight of our tour, and every day so far, is seeing buffalo. We saw A LOT on our bus tour! We also got super lucky and had one brave guy walk down the road, right past us. Tiny Buns was trilled to view it from the safety of our bus.
One of our stops was *Artists Point* in Yellowstone's *Grand Canyon*. Absolutely gorgeous! The view made me wish my mom was with us as I know she would have loved to sketch it.
We are having fun putting our new instant camera to use for the kid's travel journals. More on their daily creations coming up.
Just a quick, quick post to share some pictures from our first day here in Yellowstone. Internet is hard to come by and our days are filled with lots of exploration, but I'm eager to keep posting so that I don't get buried in several hundred pictures that I'll never find time to post. We LOVE Yellowstone and the Old Faithful Inn, just steps from its namesake. We've already been in two bison jams, seen TONS of gorgeous geothermal features, gone fly fishing, and bounced along a dirt trail in a horse-drawn wagon to a cowboy cookout. So fun!! Lots more to come. Stay tuned!
When I woke the kids up at 5:45 this morning, Frijoles put her arms up for a big stretch, smiled and boasted, “I’m so happy today!!!”
We are on day one of a two-week road trip starting with six days in Yellowstone National Park, and ending in Souix Falls, South Dakota.
Along our route, we plan to visit museums that pay tribute to our pioneer roots, and the history of American Indians. My kids will likely lose their minds at the Wyoming State fair, before we head to The Black Hills. I will FINALLY make it to Mount Rushmore (lifelong wish), before driving through The Badlands, heading eastward to visit the homes and graves of my paternal ancestors.
Many months in the making (we booked our Old Faithful Inn accommodations 18 months ago, the day they opened-up AND sold out), the kids are like mini geysers at this point – just ready to explode from all the excitement.
Here is how we got our family *road trip ready*:
I found these two series of highly rated books on Amazon. Both are about families traveling America and visiting its most famous landmarks. They have been a great way to capture the kid’s interests of things still unseen. I really believe that hearing theses stories first will make them appreciate what they are going to see that much more.
We checked out lots of books about Wyoming and South Dakota from our local library. It never ceases to amaze me, the incredible wealth of free information we all have access to through our public library.
We LOVE audio books! For all the time we spend in the car, moving from one place to another, audio books have been an excellent way to keep the car calm, while maximizing learning. These five books all tell the stories of pioneer children, and young adults, growing up in the Great Plains at the end of the 19th century. While we’ve read out loud the first five books of The Little House on the Prairie series, we are making a mad rush to finish the series on audio before our visit to the Wilder homestead in De Smit, SD.
My mom inspired me to have our kids journal during their travels, as she does during hers. I’m super excited about this gadget (!!!) which I just picked up for our journaling purpose. Instant pics, stickers, colored pencils, pens, and glue sticks for gluing down things like ticket stubs and brochure pictures – we’ve got it all packed in.
I came across this old book in our collection and I love the old school illustrations. Not quite sure how it came to us, whether it was a hand-me-down, or something from my childhood, but it helped give the kids a general flavor for the life and times of the first people living on the Great Plains.
So much to look forward to! It’s looking like we will have little to no internet access while in the park, so I might go dark here for a while. But trust me when I say I will be AMASSING a gallery of photos to share once we depart the park and get reconnected to the real world.