Thursday, October 29, 2015

Adventure Blogging Challenge

Ok, so it's not a challenge to write adventure blog posts, but I needed a catchy title. In point of fact, Cristi is starting a "blogging through the alphabet" challenge with several of her friends, so she suggested I join as a way to guide my decisions on what to post -- and to ensure I keep posting!  And, since I've refocused my blog on travel, camping, and hiking, each post will focus either on a trip (adventure) we've taken or in gear recommendations.  

Just to whet your appetite, the first few (subject to change) are:
1) Assateague Island
2) Battlefields
3) Checklists
4) Dehydrated Meals

Obviously, Cristi is also doing this (you can follow her blog here), as well as her friend, Meg (her blog here).  Neither of them are going to be posting about super-cool adventures, getting you excited about all there is to experience in the great outdoors, but they're pretty cool people, so I encourage you to check out their blogs as well.  Posts start next week, so check back on the blog then!  Oh, I also want that mystery gift they're giving away if I link up all 26 weeks!  After all, I am competitive by nature!

Blogging Through the Alphabet” style=

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Camp Cuisine

In my last post, I promised a post on what we ate while we were camping in Wyoming.  First, a little philosophy:  Camping is not the time for just "getting by" with sandwiches and beanie-weenies.  If anything, it should be amped up above the normal everyday.  That said, I don't want to spend all day cooking either (nor do I expect Cristi to).  I'm on vacation, and adventure is sounding her irresistible call.  Therefore, meals should be relatively easy.

A few of the highlights are below, but, first, a little about the camping gear we use:  Typically, we take a traditional propane 2-burner Coleman camp stove and a propane tabletop grill.  Those two will do almost everything you need.  Over the last year or so, we've also branched out into using a backpacking stove (such as a Jetboil, MSR Micro Rocket, or similar) to boil water for coffee or cook up spam or hotdogs for an on-the-go hot picnic lunch.  This time, we also brought the dutch oven (the cast iron type, not the household type).  This is one of my favorite cooking tools because it works just like an oven, and it's almost impossible to burn something in it.

A few of the highlights included:

- Mountain Man (also known as breakfast hash) -- The sausage was browned ahead of time; the hash browns were dehydrated, rehydrated, and heated with sausage and eggs; the eggs were scrambled and dumped in the skillet on the camp stove with the sausage and hash browns. Note that this could have been cooked in the Dutch oven as well, adding cheese if desired. Serve by itself or as breakfast burritos.

- Cinnamon Roll Pancake -- The dry ingredients were mixed together ahead of time with the wet ingredients added on site.  The icing was also mixed on site.

- Stuffed Burgers -- Made up ahead of time, stuffed with cheese and bacon.  We cooked them on the tabletop grill and sauteed onions and mushrooms in a skillet on the two-burner stove to be used as toppings.  We served them with chips.  NOTE:  This was probably our most time-consuming meal to make.  If you don't make them up ahead of time, plan for an extra hour of prep on-site.

- Chili -- The hamburger meat was browned ahead of time so all the ingredients could just be dumped into the Dutch oven and heated.

- Apricot-Ginger Pork Chops -- Marinade ahead of time, then grill. We served them with mashed potatoes cooked on the camp stove.  If this sounds as yummy to you as they did to us, you can get the recipe from Cristi's blog.

- Brownies -- These were made up as a dry mix with the wet ingredients added just prior to cooking.

- Berry Crisp -- The topping was mixed up on site and put on top of the berries in the Dutch oven. Put some cool whip on top, and it's just like Grandma makes!

And, of course, we made s'mores one night because you can't go camping without s'mores!

You can tell we don't go hungry when we're camping.  The meals we fix are easy to cook and clean up and keep our kids begging for more!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks

Disclaimer:  This post turned out a lot longer than I thought it would.  If you're short on time or don't care about my ramblings, take the time to look through the pictures.  I think you'll enjoy them!

Yellowstone and Grand Teton are the 4th and 8th most visited National Parks in the US, and for good reason. Each boasts some of the most magnificent nature you will find. I originally didn't plan to make it up here in conjunction with our camping trip to Sinks Canyon State Park (you can read about the rest of the trip here) since it was 3 hours away, but our friends, the Leonards, really wanted to go. My fears were validated to an extent because it turned out to be a very stressful day. In retrospect, I'm glad we went, though, for three reasons: 1) It was beautiful; 2) I knew I wanted to spend more time up here, and it gave me eyes-on to do better trip planning for next time; 3) It marked 3 more things off my bucket list!

We hit the road at 0530 that morning because Brad wanted to get there as the "dawn's early light" was hitting the Tetons. Sure enough, we were driving into the park with the soft glow of the morning against the mountains. It was stunning!

From there we headed into the park with the intention of driving along the inner road down to Jenny Lake, but poor signage at Moran Junction left us guessing, and we wound up taking the outer road. Nevertheless, we were treated to another awesome view of the Tetons, so we stopped to heat up oatmeal and coffee while we appreciated it.

Back on the road, we passed a sign for a glacier view. This was the first glacier my family had seen, so we all ooh'd and ahh'd.  If you've never seen one, it's the large white patch on the mountains in the middle of the screen, below.

After driving a bit further, we turned down the one-way scenic loop toward Jenny Lake. Vanessa had been talking about how spectacular the view was, and it was truly spectacular. Our camera is awesome, but I'm still not sure the pictures do it justice.

Much of the rest of the drive north followed the edge of Jackson Lake, a very large and pristine lake. After stopping at the Coulter Bay Visitor Center to admire it and turn in Junior Ranger books, we headed toward Yellowstone.

I didn't realize it until recently, but the two parks are very close together. Consequently, there's no reason to not visit both parks while you're in the area (which probably also explains why Grand Teton is one of the top 10 most visited parks even though it's less famous). They're only separated by about 20 miles, and this beautiful stretch of roadway has also been preserved by the National Park Service as John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway as a tribute for his philanthropic donations to Grand Teton National Park and others.

Upon entering Yellowstone National Park, one of the first things I realized is that it's huge! Yellowstone is laid out with the main road forming a figure-8 through the park.  I knew going in that we wouldn't have time to see more than the bottom half of the figure-8, but seeing signs from the entrance about Old Faithful (our first planned stop) being more than 30 miles away was a little disquieting. 

Vanessa and I both have a thing for waterfalls, and we saw a sign for Lewis Falls along the way.  It was definitely worth the stop, but there was even better stuff in store for us during the rest of the day.

Old Faithful blows about every 90 minutes, so, when we arrived, we immediately went to find the predicted eruption time.  Sure enough, it was scheduled to go off within about 10-15 minutes.  While I wanted to see Old Faithful (you have to, right?), I really didn't think I would be that impressed.  Sure it's caused by volcanic activity occurring just below the surface, but after all, it's just hot water shooting up out of the ground.  Old Faithful holds a magic to it, though.  You do have to see it.  You won't be disappointed.

Afterward, we went back to the cars and fixed a picnic lunch then headed back to the Visitor Center to claim our standard souvenirs of patches and postcards.  While we were in there, a ranger announced that another geyser, Beehive, was going to erupt within the next 10 minutes -- something it only did every 12-18 hours, blowing higher and putting out more water than Old Faithful -- so we went out to see it, too.  It was very impressive and picturesque sitting right beside a stream.

Driving on, we next stopped at Excelsior Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring.  While they don't typically erupt like Old Faithful and Beehive, they do put out considerable amounts of steam.  The water inside was a crystal clear light turquoise, but the area around betrayed all the sulfur mixed with it, staining the ground around in vibrant colors.

As we headed east toward the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, we were stopped by a herd of buffalo that decided to cross the road.  These buffalo clearly knew they had the right of way.  One stood halfway on the road for several minutes before several others finally decided to cross the road.  The "road guard" buffalo then casually crossed himself, allowing traffic to resume.

 Next we arrived at the trails to see the two large falls.  I didn't get very good pictures of them, though, because our family was getting tired by this point, so we chose to stay put and rest.  I definitely need to put this on the list for our next trip.

As we headed south again toward Yellowstone Lake and the entrance, I was amazed at the number of geysers you could see that steamed continually.  I had no idea there were so many and that you could see that much geyser activity as you simply drove through the park!  Interrupted from my reverie, though, we were again stopped in traffic as some people were pulling off the road and others were pulling back into traffic.  About a hundred yards distant, we noticed a large animal.  Vanessa stuck her head out of the window and mouthed "bear", so we both pulled off the road to get a better look. (For those of you panicking right now, there was a ranger there that made sure folks didn't decide to just hike out and scratch ol' Pooh behind the ears.)  I got out of the car, Cristi grabbed the camera with the zoom lens, and Brennan got on top of the car, so we handed him the camera.  Turns out it was a grizzly (you can tell by the hump behind the head) -- and Brennan did a great job getting pictures!

By this time, it was getting on toward sunset, so we stopped to admire huge Yellowstone Lake.  The soft glow against the water and the distant mountains was spectacular!

As darkness took over, we finally headed back to our campsite, arriving back about 10:30.  We were worn. out!

Lessons Learned:
So I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I was happy to get eyes-on to help ensure I didn't try to cram too much in next time we come.  I thought I'd share a few of those lessons for your Yellowstone trip planning as well:

1)  Don't try to do Grand Teton and Yellowstone in the same day.  Although they're close together, they're just too big to be appreciated in a single day even if you're staying on site.
2)  Try to go in the off season.  High season is July and August.  Your price for going then is large crowds at each of the major sites and bumper-to-bumper traffic along the figure-8 route. You may still find snow in the parks in May/June, but should still enjoy your visit.  September/October is probably the best time to go.  Some of the roads start shutting down in mid-late October, but it's open for winter activities, like snowshoeing and snowmobiling. The crowds were light by Yellowstone standards, and that was about as many people as I like to handle for a National Park. 
3)  If you only have one day in Yellowstone, do the bottom half of the figure-8.  It has all of the sites that most people would recognize.
4)  If you have multiple days, consider breaking Yellowstone up into quadrants.
5)  Sunrise and sunset really are magical times in the parks (sunrise particularly for Grand Teton because the road is on the east side).  Consider taking in at least one of those times while you're there.
6)  If you enjoy camping, both parks have campgrounds with flush toilets and showers.  Such amenities are unusual for National Parks.  If you can afford it and can get reservations, consider staying in one of the historic inns.

This day trip was amazing, and I'm glad Brad and Vanessa encouraged us to go.  It's easy to see how this area  of the country inspired our nation to preserve Yellowstone as the very first national park and why 3.5 million people visit each year. I can't wait to go back to both parks so we can spend more time there. If you want to start planning your trip, I used the Grand Teton and Yellowstone NPS sites extensively to find maps, itineraries, and places to stay.  If you've been to either of them before, I'd also love to hear your ideas on what to see, how much time to spend, and where to stay.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Wyoming: One of the Many Rectangular States

And that's about all I knew about Wyoming -- until a few weeks ago, when our friends, the Leonards, asked us if we wanted to get out and camp in the mountains before it got too cold here in Colorado.  Fortuitously, I had just received an e-mail from REI about seven state parks with incredible camping (check it out here).  Well, when I saw one in Wyoming -- a state I had yet to visit -- my sense of adventure took over.  Now, I know at this point you're probably conjuring up images of vast plains with cowboys herding cattle, but this place is on the other side of the state, right along the Continental Divide.  I was sold from the moment I saw the pictures.

Although farther than we intended to go, we struck out for Sinks Canyon State Park (just outside Lander, WY), so named because the Popo Agie River suddenly "sinks" underground (3rd picture down) only to emerge about a mile downstream (4th picture).  REI was right.  The area was stunning!

Where the river emerges is a small pool where a large number of trout hang out. People drop food to them from an overlook, so these trout are very well fed as you can see from the picture below.

The park has one main campground and one smaller campground, with yet another in the Shoshone National Forest that borders the park. While all of the campsites are primitive (pit toilets and no showers), each campsite is also positioned right along the river, providing beautiful views.  There was even a suspension bridge adjacent to our campsite, providing great fun for the kids.

Our second day, we made the trip up to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I couldn't do that trip justice here, so I'll dedicate the next post to it. Look for it in the next few days.

Our last day there, we hiked up to the Popo Agie falls, about a mile and a half upstream. It was well worth the hike with even more picturesque scenery than at our campsite.

Our families had a wonderful time.  We unanimously agreed this was a fantastic find.  So, if you like to camp and are headed to that area of the country, I highly recommend you check out Sinks Canyon State Park.

While the camping site is important to an enjoyable trip, it's not the only important factor.  Food is always important.  If you're interested in what we ate on our trip, stay tuned, because that will be next after I share the pictures from the national parks!

Oh, and for the record, I'm already working on that bucket list I mentioned in the last post!  This trip, we knocked out four:
- Wyoming (one of the states I had yet to see -- 37 down, 13 to go)
- Grand Teton National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway (one of the 433 National Park Service sites -- 58 down, 375 to go)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Bucket List

I've been struggling for some time on reinventing my blog.  I wanted to write, but what about?  The scary medical trials of Lauren are pretty much over, so what is there that I could share that people would enjoy reading about?  Over the years since Lauren was born, I developed a passion for traveling, camping, and hiking.  I've spent enough time researching trips for each of those categories that I thought some might enjoy the fruits of my labors. From time to time, I might throw in some "Throwback Thursday" posts of some places we've already been and how we got there or the gear we took along with us, but for now, here's my bucket list, which also serves as a preview of sorts for what you're likely to see on this blog in the future.

Bucket List (in Priority Order):
1.  Visit all 50 states (39 down, 11 to go) (track my progress here)
2.  Visit all 442 sites under the National Park Service (you can see that list here.  Note that this document now lists National Heritage Areas, National Trails Systems, and National Wild and Scenic River Systems.  I am not tracking completion of those on the Bucket List.) (105 down, 337 to go -- get planning resources or track my progress here)
3.  Hike the entire Appalachian Trail
4.  Hike the Continental Divide Trail
5.  Hike the Pacific Crest Trail

Ok, just in case that list is either too underwhelming or too broad for you, below is a more specific and slightly less aggressive list that we'll work on while we're in Colorado (full disclosure -- we got a head start on this list a year ago when we vacationed in the area).

Bucket List for our time in Colorado:

1.  Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the top of Pikes Peak
2.  Garden of the Gods
3.  Royal Gorge
4.  Hike on the Continental Divide Trail
5.  Hike on the Colorado Trail
6.  Air Force Academy Football Game
7.  Colorado Avalanche Hockey Game
8.  Colorado Springs Sky Sox Game (Minor League Baseball) (Trip Report)
9.  Denver Broncos Game
10.  Skiing (Trip Report)
11.  Snowshoeing (Trip Report)
12.  Fall Leaf Tour in the Mountains
13.  Run the Incline (Trip Report)
14.  Climb a Fourteener
15.  Paint Mines
16.  Rifle Falls State Park
17.  Whitewater Rafting through Royal Gorge
18.  Ziplining
19.  Rocky Mountain National Park
20.  Great Sand Dunes National Park (Trip Report)
21.  Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
22.  Colorado National Monument
23.  Dinosaur National Monument

Pacific Northwest Sites:
1.  Grand Teton National Park (blog post)
2.  Yellowstone National Park (blog post)
3.  Glacier National Park
4.  Flathead Lake, MT
5.  Seattle
6.  Olympic National Park
7.  Mount Rainier National Park
8.  Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument
9.  Lewis and Clark National Historic Park
10.  Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
11.  Crater Lake National Park
12.  Hell's Canyon Recreation Area, OR/ID
13.  Great Salt Lake

Great Plains:
1.  Fort Mandan/Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
2.  Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site/Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
3.  Theodore Roosevelt National Park
4.  Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
5.  Mount Rushmore National Memorial
6.  Badlands National Park
7.  Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
8.  Carhenge, NE
9.  Scotts Bluff National Monument

1.  Zion National Park
2.  Bryce Canyon National Park
3.  Canyonlands National Park

For some of you, you think I'm insane.  You're right.

Some of you think this is an incredibly eclectic mix of sites.  There are several reasons I love to travel:  One is that I just plain like to have fun.  I also love seeing the beauty of God's creation in different textures.  There's a definite beauty to every place I've traveled.  Each place is stunning in its own unique way.  The third reason I love to travel is that I like understanding the different pieces of our history that weave together the tapestry of who we are.  Not all my kids yet appreciate why it's important to see a rundown trading post on old Route 66, but hopefully someday they'll realize that was America and appreciate it for what it was while understanding how we have evolved past it.

Still others are jealous of my bucket list.  It's this group I most hope to influence -- to spread "the bug".  Stay tuned for reports on our adventures.  I hope it inspires you to get out and experience even a little bit of what this world has to offer.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Under a Blood Red Moon

A couple of days ago, I was sitting on the couch reading when Addison came in and announced there was a total lunar eclipse occurring in just a few minutes.  Cristi was still out running, but as soon as she returned, our family migrated out to the front porch to watch the shadow slowly overtaking the moon.

Cristi suggested that I get the camera and capture it, but I was skeptical.  I mean, how well can a black moon show up against a black sky.  Nonetheless, I quickly translated "Do you want to..." to "You need to...", and, boy am I glad I did (Thanks, sweetheart!)!

The first picture wasn't that spectacular. It simply showed a bright moon steadily becoming overshadowed.

As the shadow, grew, however, I started playing with the camera more, adjusting the shutter speed.  It wasn't long until I began to clearly see a shadowed moon that looked like a dark, textured sphere -- maybe like some artistic sci-fi rendering -- rather than a dark blob of nothingness.

This discovery suddenly fueled my interest in playing with the camera's shutter speed, along with the age-old photography maxim of "just keep pushing the button."  As the shadow continued to fall, the blood-red moon phenomenon became more and more apparent, and my camera handled the occasion brilliantly, producing photos I didn't know would be possible. 

I'm still amazed at the beauty of this phenomenon and thankful for a camera that enabled us to enjoy it even more (and for longer!).