Big Bend Part 2: Crossing the Border Into Mexico

Last Thanksgiving, we spent two full days at Big Bend National Park. My, how quickly things have changed. As I finally have time to write this entry after winter break, the government is shutdown (and many employees working without pay) over the proposed border wall. Meanwhile, national parks, including Big Bend, are open but are suffering without staff.

When we visited the park in November, there was talk about the border wall though no government shutdown yet. In fact, I had watched the season premiere of the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” In the episode, Bourdain visits West Texas, including Santana Elena Canyon. The show drips with social and political commentary on the Texas/Mexico border and proposed border wall.

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Santa Elena Canyon.

So that was on my mind when we visited Santa Elena Canyon (which I discussed in my previous post), as well as the next day when we crossed into Mexico, which became the highlight of our trip. If you want to go, make sure everyone in your family has his/her passport and take cash (small bills).

When I woke up Friday morning, the air was chilly. It was hard to convince my body to crawl out of the warm sleeping bag. My teenage son and husband were already up, had the camera set up to catch the sunrise over the Chisos Mountains. The two younger kids were still asleep.  I finally got out of the tent. The sun was just rising and waking up at the base of a mountain is always worth it.

Big Bend doesn’t allow campfires, so I cooked eggs and turkey bacon on our camp stove for breakfast. It felt great it to eat a hot breakfast on the cold fall morning. Once our stomachs were full and our campsite cleaned up (Big Bend has bears, so it’s important to clean up well and put everything in a bear box), we headed to our first stop of the day, the Boquillas Crossing.

The Boquillas Crossing is located on the Southeast Corner of the park.  If everyone in your party (including all the children) have their passports, you can cross into Mexico. Make sure you check the hours ahead of time. If you go late and don’t get back before the crossing closes, you’ll be camping in Mexico.

We arrived around 10am, and there was a steady line of cars pulling in. There’s a parking lot and at the end of the parking lot, you’ll see some adobe buildings. We were able to find a parking spot easily (when we came up, the parking lot was full and people were parking on the road).

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The Bosquillas border crossing.

When we got into the building, you’ll find a park ranger or border security person inside.    He or she is only there to provide information and make sure everyone has their passport. The person doesn’t check it, just reminds you that you’ll need it when you come back to US side.

You leave the building through the backdoor and walk down a path to the Rio Grande River. There you’ll find the International Boquillas Crossing ferry. It’s really just a row boat. The fee is $5 a person round trip.

(I was going toad photos of the boat and town but I realized, there are others in the photos. I didn’t want to insert pictures of  others without their permission.)

Once you cross, you can walk to the town, or go on a donkey (which was about $8 a person round trip). Usually, there’s a guide that walks with you and its customary to tip him as well.

You can pay everything in US dollars and that’s why I said to take a stack of small bills on the way over. The little town only has a little over 200 residents and it survives on tourism. There are a couple of restaurants and shops that sell handicrafts to tourists. Our guide was a friendly gentleman that was born and raised in the village. His wife sells crafts at one of the booths.

After walking around the town and looking around, we ate at a little restaurant. There are two in town. One is a bit pricer but has a view of the river. The other one is less expensive. We ate at the one without the river view, mostly because it was quieter. We ordered Cokes for all of us (including our guide). We then feasted on goat tacos! They were so good. Afterwards, we walked across the street to check out the river view at the other restaurant. I gave the kids a little cash to pick out a souvenir and then it was a donkey ride back to the ferry.

Once we got back, we used a machine to scan our passports and spoke with a border agent over the phone.

It was around noon when we left the border crossing. By now, the parking lot was packed. We drove to Rio Grande village, also on the east side of the park, and took a short hike. The Rio Grande nature trail is an easy hike but known to be a great spot to look at birds. It did not disappoint.

bird

We stopped at some scenic overlooks. Finally, we went to the hot springs. There’s a three mile loop trail there at the site of an old hotel that was built by the hot springs. The hotel is no longer there, just the ruins, but you can still dip into the hot springs. I hadn’t brought swim clothes, but the kids still jumped in. I only dipped my feet in. If you are careful, you can reach over and touch the icy cold water of the Rio Grande as well as the hot waters from the springs. By soaking in the hot waters of the springs, you can look across and see Mexico. Maybe contemplate on which side of the wall these hot springs will be located.

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Children soaking in hot springs. The water behind them is ice cold. That grassy area is Mexico, the hot spring “tub” is on the Texas side.

Also located on the trail are some pictographs. Ever since I saw my first set of pictographs on my road trip a couple of years ago, I’ve been fascinated by them.

pictographs

We ended the evening with burgers and hotdogs at our campsite. We quickly cleaned up and headed over to the Chisos Lodge parking lot. We got some dessert at the camp store and headed over to the window view trail.  It was a little cloudy but we still got to watch a marvelous sunset through the “window.”

window view

That night, the two younger kids and I hung out inside our tent. With our flashlights on, we chatted and my youngest finished his junior ranger book. My oldest sat outside with his dad, hoping the skies would clear up and he could take some photos of the stars. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Big Bend National Park

lost mine view3

Over Thanksgiving, we visited Big Bend National park. It was our first time visiting this desert beauty. Like other national parks, we only scratched the surface of what the park has to offer on this short visit.

Big Bend was named after the “big bend” of the Rio Grande river. Because of the parks climate, fall and spring are popular times to visit the park. Big Bend National park is one of the least visited parks, with a little over 350,000 visitors a year. During our visit, it seemed like most of those visitors came to the park during Thanksgiving week.

We arrived at Big Bend early Thursday morning (Thanksgiving Day). We spent the previous night at Alpine, Texas, which is about 80 miles north of the parks entrance. We had a campsite booked outside the park, but I really wanted to camp inside the park. That meant waking up early (5:30) to get out early and try and snag a walkup site. It was a foggy morning, so I had to drive a slower than usual. Our excitement built when we saw the entrance to the park.

bigbendentrance

There were no rangers at the entrance yet (we paid at a visitor center later), and we continued toward the Chisos Basin campsite. There are three campsites at the park as well as a number of back country sites. During the busy season, not only is it difficult to book a campsite at the park but permits for backcountry camping can run out as well.

After some discussion the night before, we decided we would try our luck at the Chisos Basin campsite. Within Big Bend National park is the Chisos Mountains, the only park that contains an entire mountain range within its borders. It’s centrally located in the park. It was close, but we were able to snag a campsite at the park. I would have preferred to have reserved one ahead of time, but we had only decided to make the trip a month ahead.  The campsite is located near the Chisos Lodge, which is the only hotel at the park. There’s a visitor center, camp store and restaurant.

After setting up camp, we backtracked the way we came and parked at the Lost Mines Trailhead. Lost Mines is a popular trail in the Chisos Mountain region of the park. It’s almost 5 miles round trip. Along the way to the top are breathtaking views. You are walking uphill, but I’d say it’s only moderately strenuous. Also, even if you don’t hike all the way to the end and only go halfway up, you are still treated to some amazing views.

lost mine trail

After our hike, we went to the Panther Junction, filled up gas, and paid our entrance fee to the park. We were hungry for lunch and figuring out a good place to eat our picnic lunch before the last hike of the day. We decided to go ahead and towards our last hike of the day, Santa Elena Canyon.

Located in the Southwest region of the park, the Rio Grande River flows between the high canyon cliffs, creating the natural border between Mexico and the United States. The trail is by the river on the US side.

Shortly before arriving at the parking lot for the trailhead, we pulled into historic Castalon. There is a visitor center there. The adobe building at from the early 20th centuries. You can see older ruins of buildings there as well.

I had cooked taco meat at home earlier. We took out our camp stove, heated up the meat and enjoyed hot tacos. We were hungry and the weather was cold. The tacos felt amazing to eat. After we had eaten our fill, looked at the old buildings and took a bathroom break, we heading down to Santa Elena Canyon.

So, I’m burying the lead in this post, but the Santa Elena Canyon was one of the highlights of the trip. To reach the trailhead, you have to cross an offshoot of the Rio Grande. The day we went, the water was knee deep and cold!

santa elena

We took our shoes and socks off and rolled up our pant legs. My teenager carried his brother. When I stepped into the water and began walking, I felt the sharp pebbles beneath my feet. Once you get to the other side, you have to pull yourself up to the bank. There is a rope you can use. They was a large group ahead of us and I just about died, standing in the icy cold water with sharp pebbles as I waited my turn.

Once we crossed though, it was totally worth it. The trail is lined with large grasses and plants. The high canyon cliffs was beautiful. There is a bit of an incline, but the trail is pretty easy.  Of course, you have to cross that water on the way back!

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As you look across the river, you see the cliff on the other side and realize that you are looking at Mexico. Nature doesn’t have borders.

After the hike, we cleaned up by the car and headed back to the campground. The sun was setting and it was dark by the time we got back to the campsite.  We decided to get our tent ready for the night with our bedding.

I didn’t feel like cooking in the dark so we decided to eat dinner that the Chisos Lodge. They had a Thanksgiving buffet that night and it was a welcome treat after a long day of hiking. The buffet was pretty basic Thanksgiving food, but pretty decent. The kids really enjoyed the dessert.

By the time we were done, it was about 9pm. I turned in with the two younger ones, while my teenager and hubby stayed up for a bit enjoying the famous big bend night sky.

We still had another full day and another part of the park to explore.

 

Mission Tejas State Park

“We can hear the water! We can hear the water!” the girls yelled out to me and my girl scout co-leader.

The eight girls, including our daughters, were standing on the edge of a creek. The creek originated from a spring and ran under rocks in the hills of the forest.  We were in the middle of our hike in the woods, away from any big cities and no cell service. It was a cooler than normal weekend in Texas and we ran into only a few other hikers.

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Fall colors at the park

We walked up to the girls and could hear the gurgling sound of the water coming up and down the creek.

“It’s the babbling brook,” I exclaimed to my daughter, a reference to Anne of Green Gables. The girls took pictures and ran on ahead up is on the steep trail. The beautiful fall colors surrounded us, we were warmed up from the exertion of the hike, and were happy we decided to spend the weekend camping at Mission Tejas State Park.

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Mission Tejas State Park is located in East Texas, near Crockett. I had never been there before, but when talking to a state park employee on the phone several months prior, he recommended it. It had a group campsite, it wasn’t too far from where we lived but far enough that it would be an adventure for the girls.

The park has an old mission, hence the name, as well as an old family homestead. The weekend we were at the park, they park rangers had organized a music festival. In addition to the festival, they had set out old wooden toys and games that pioneer children would have played with. The rangers taught our girls a few of these games, and they enthusiastically joined in and played for over a half an hour. They would have played longer but the November days were short and we wanted to get some hiking in.

The park rangers were friendly and helpful and the bathrooms were clean. With the shorter days, we didn’t have much time to hike, but it was perfect for the troop. As I mentioned, it was beautiful site and the girls were busy looking into logs and checking out wild flowers and exotic looking fungi.

tejas 1

The next morning, one of the girls yelled out, “Can you believe we’ve spent almost an entire day outside?”

Yes, we have taken them camping before.

The girls told us they wanted to come back to this park and hike some of the other trails. The ranger told us they are planning on hosting a festival in the fourth week of April.

I’d definitely like to come back here to camp.

It’s Out!

Happy election day to everyone! First of all, if you haven’t voted, please go out and vote! If you are reading this blog, that means, you have access to Internet. That means you can look online for your correct voting location as well as research candidates online.

Next, I am excited to announce that my first travel piece was published by Outdoor X4 magazine. It’s a travel essay chronicling our family’s road trip last year through the national parks. I’m grateful to the publisher and editor-in-chief, Frank Ledwell, for taking a chance on me.

cover photo
My story is the National Park Adventure!

My day job for years has been working as a reporter covering everything from power markets in theMidwest to the Louisiana legislature. But outside this blog, I haven’t done much writing on the outdoors. I truly love be outdoors, and I hope to share that love with others and inspire them. I didn’t grow up going camping (though we did a ton a road trips and went on picnics and fishing trips), so the first time was overwhelming. But camping is something almost anyone can enjoy. It’s only by immersing ourselves in the outdoors can we appreciate how important these places are.

 

My Picks for Park/Camping Books

I can’t think of a better way pass the time between outdoors adventures than reading about the great outdoors.

A while a good travel memoir can get you in the mood, research is an invaluable tool to help ensure you have a memorable trip (memorable in a positive sense). There are a lot of online blogs and sites that can help you, but I have some books I like as well.

Why books?

I like books because I am better an processing information when I have it in a book than when I am reading something online. Often, when I am traveling, I am visiting places that don’t internet. Having a book on hand helps. I can tear out pages I need, highlight and make notes in the margin.

There are a lot of books out there, but here are my recommendations. I’ve included my all time favorite book for planning a national parks trip, plus a few other good ones. I’ve also included a couple of books I like on camping in general.

  1. Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 58 National Parks. by Michael Joseph Oswald. This books is a rundown of the 58 park, organized by region. Oswald gives readers a background on the park, maps, best hiking trails, and other activities and information. My favorite part was the suggested itineraries for each park. I’ve looked through a lot of National Park books and this was the most comprehensive. When we went on our epic road trip, I took my book apart and carried the sections of the parks we were visiting. Always double check information in this book or any guide book with the park website in case of closures. Pros: hike recommendations based on difficulty, maps, and suggested itineraries. Cons: book only covers national parks and doesn’t include info on sites in the national park system like national monuments and national historic sites. books1
  2. The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges. by David L. Scott and Kay W. Scott. I received this book as a birthday present. As I read through vivid descriptions of the lodges in Yellowstone, I began to picture myself there. It visuals sparked my imagination and prompted me to plan our Epic family road trip. The couple that wrote this book describe lodges, cabins and hotels that are located within National Park Boundaries. If a park doesn’t have lodging within it’s boundary, you won’t find it in this book. They also did a good job of discussing pros and cons of various hotels in the park in a practical tone and recommend not only which hotels they like, but even which rooms they like. Pros: If you want to stay within the park boundary in a hotel, this book is a must read to decide where to stay. The descriptions will awaken your imagination to your own trip. Cons: The book sticks to buildings within camp boundaries. If you want to tent camp or stay right outside the park, you’ll have to get advice from somewhere else. lodge book
  3. Various National Park Guides published by National Geographic. National Geographic publishes a number of guide books to the National Geographic, including one aimed kids. The books have interesting facts about each park as well as beautiful pictures (nothing less than what you would expect from National Geographic). These are nice books to look at and get an overview or flavor of  park, but they aren’t designed to help you plan a trip or itinerary to a park. Pros: Gives good overview and facts about each park as well as great photos. Cons: Not as in-depth for planning purposes. national geographic

While I blog mostly about National Parks, I wanted to include a couple of books on camping in general. The idea of camping for those who have never gone seems overwhelming. Why do it? Because when you camp, you can experience some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes not matter what your income bracket. For example, a room Jenny Lake Lodge in Grand Teton (probably the most expensive National Park property), is a little under $600 a night. We camped at Jenny Lake, woke up to the same amazing view, for $18 a night. We spent the money we saved on ice cream and a hearty breakfast at Jackson Lodge.  Here are a couple of books I like to recommend on camping.

  1. The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping With Kids by Helen Olsson. This book is a great resource for those who never have been camping before. It gives you an overview of things to plan. I especially like all the lists she has in the back to help you plan what to take. Some of the things might not be useful for your trip, but it’s a really good introduction to camping.

camping book

2. Camp Out! by Lynn Brunelle. This is a great book for kids. My five-year-old found this book at our local library ahead of our Epic family road trip in 2017. I ended up buying a copy. He’s a planner like me and liked the lists in the book. But it also has interesting nature facts on things like animal tracks and stargazing, fun recipes, crafts and recipes. It’s a great way to get kids excited about their first camping trip.

kids camp

If you do buy a camping book, if especially one about national or state parks, be sure to make sure you get the latest edition and always remember to double check info with the park to make sure you have most up-to-date information.

Climate Change and the National Parks System

Climate change is affecting our national parks and if you visit the national parks system. Last week, a group of scientists released a report on climate change and it’s effect on the parks. Climate change affected the parks disproportionately, the report said.

climate change
Picture of brochure I picked up in Alaska. Publication date is October 2016.

When we went on our national parks road trip last year, there was literature on climate change’s effect on the parks at the parks we visited, from Mesa Verde to Glacier. In fact, the effects of climate change in Glacier is very striking. The lobby of Many Glacier hotel are lined with photos of the glaciers going back over 100 years. You can see how much the glaciers have receded in the park. Scientists predict by 2030, there will be no more glaciers at Glacier National park. Years ago, people would hike up to Grinnell Glacier and walk on the glacier. Now, it’s a hike to a view area of the glacier. There’s a pool of icy water in front of it and you can’t walk onto it anymore.

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At the end of Grinnell Glacier trail. Rangers used to take hikers out onto the glacier, now it’s more of a viewing area since you can’t walk out onto it anymore.

When we went to Glacier Bay National Park this summer in Alaska, a ranger talked about climate change. It’s true that glaciers naturally recede and grow, but currently they are receding at a faster rate than they are growing. There are charts that show the park’s glaciers and which glaciers are receding and which are growing. When we went on our boat trip, there was a lady with us that had taken the same trip in 2015. She had photos from that trip. You could see the difference in her photos with the glaciers we saw only three years later. Where once was beautiful blue ice we could see what looked like “dirty” ice and you could see on the sides where rock was beginning to show.

This was not new information. I know climate change is real, but seeing the impacts first hand in such a dramatic way put it all in perspective. Besides the impact this will have on us and our way of life, it’s also sad to look at our parks and realize how we take them for granted. I used to assume they will be there for my children, but now I realize how that may not be true. Or they will be different than how we experience them now. That’s why every hike I take in the parks with my kids is special.

But the ranger talk also sparked my curiosity about the direction of the parks under the current administration. I went up to the ranger asked about the talk. With the current administration’s view on climate change, has there been any pressure to change the talking points. (I’m guessing the displays I read on climate change in summer of 2017 in the parks were from the previous administration. The pamphlet on climate change in the parks was published in 2016).

The ranger told me that the direction from their boss in Alaska was to speak about climate change in very specific ways. So they use a lot of data, charts, etc. to take specifically what’s happening in their parks. It was clear that park staff and scientists wanted to continue to talk to people on the impacts of climate change but were being cautious on how they presented it. I spoke to only one ranger specifically about this but throughout my trips, rangers talked about both conservation in general, as well as climate change.

I hope the rangers keep talking to people about climate change, and I hope people continue to visit the parks. It’s only by knowing what we have to lose, will we have the urgency to try and save it.

 

How Hard is that Hike?

Even though my family and I have gone hiking to many different parks, I still have a hard time deciphering how difficult a trail might be to hike. My guess is that this is a common conundrum.

Guidebooks and brochures usually divide hiking trails into three categories, easy, moderate and difficult. Those terms are subjective and it’s often difficult to determine whether a trail is doable or if we should pick another option.

Why does this matter? Because, sometimes the payoff of doing a more difficult trail is immense. My favorite National Park guidebook lists Highline Trail as difficult (strenuous). It doesn’t matter how much of this 20 mile trail you walk, it is the most breathe taking scenery I have ever seen. Everyone should try and walk at least some of this trail for a truly spiritual experience.

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On the Highline Trail. Teenager and young son holding onto a rope on the trail. We didn’t hike the entire 20 miles. Instead, we walked 30 minutes down the trail and 30 minutes back.

On the other hand, if you go on a hike, especially one that is guided, and it’s too difficult for you and/or your children, you’ll end up disappointed and frustrated. It is especially true if you are signing up for a paid guided tour, like a cave tour in Wind Cave or a cliff dwelling tour at Mesa Verde National Park. You can’t just leave the tours (unlike a ranger led hike). You might have to cajole a preschooler through a tour that’s too long and difficult for them.

Our family includes fit teenagers to a tenacious young elementary school child, plus two almost middle-aged parents. I’m not an elite athlete, but I’ve hiked enough and I have the endurance to go on pretty long hikes, though I’m slow. My teenager is a lot faster than us, but he also likes to take photos. If it’s a busy trail, I’ll let him go on ahead of us (as long as he stays on the trail). He usually stops along the way to take nature photos and we’ll catch up.

Our youngest is the most challenging. He gets tired and/or bored. Sometimes, a trail that is easy for me, is just plain boring for him and he won’t want to go any further. A difficult  trail, like the one at Lost Maples State Park in Texas, is easier to take him on because he enjoys scrambling up the rocks.

Here are my tips for deciding if a hike is right for you:

  1. Talk to a ranger about the trail: What makes the trail strenuous? Sometimes, a trail isn’t too long but requires you to climb stairs or a ladder. If that’s the case, how many steps is it? An uphill trail might have a lot of switchbacks or be steep. That might be a problem if you have knee issues. Also ask if it’s rocky or flat. An uphill climb can be even more difficult if the path is rocky instead of smooth. You know what your issues are, so the more info you get, the better decision you can make.
  2. Watch a video. I dreamed of doing the Grinnell Glacier trail. It was listed in my guidebook as moderate, so I wasn’t sure if I could do it with my kids. There are Youtube videos of the hike. Seeing it helped me decide. I ended up taking my two older kids, while my husband took the younger one on a shorter hike. It was definitely more challenging than I would have thought, but I also knew what was coming up and new there wouldn’t be anything too crazy.
  3. Go on message boards, blogs, guidebooks. Just like talking to a ranger, these resources will give you added information. Message boards and blogs also give you other people’s experiences, especially hiking on trails with kids. But remember, every child is different. Your child might not have the same tolerance as someone else’s child.
  4. Don’t hike the entire trail. Remember, you can always turn around. If you get to a part that seems too difficult, then don’t go any further. Sometimes, you think you can do a 6 mile hike, but then realize, you can’t. We didn’t do all of the Highline Trail, but we loved the parts we did do.
  5. Take the proper tools: If you carry too much, you’ll get really tired. These tips are for “short” hikes, not overnight hikes. I would take a light pack to carry water, a snack and poncho. Hats are good. Walking sticks for the entire family can really be a lifesaver (knee-saver). Finally, please invest in proper footwear. My biggest pet peeve is seeing improper footwear on trails!
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A magnificent view walking the trail to Grinnell Glacier.

For me, hiking is all about enjoying the scenery and company during the journey as well as an interesting/ spectacular destination! Sometimes, you have to push yourself a little to achieve that. You also don’t want to risk injury or a full blown tantrum five miles away from your car (been there). Hopefully, these tips will help you decide your next hiking trip.

Gateway Arch: A Pleasant Surprise

St. Louis’s Gateway Arch isn’t a place I would have planned to visit on my own, but a trip to this city and the park ended up being quite enjoyable to spend a long weekend.

arch
View from below!

We drove up to St. Louis this summer over Fourth of July weekend to attend a family event. In addition to the event, we had time to visit the city and it ended up being a very enjoyable trip.

We visited the Arch on a Friday afternoon after our event was done. Unlike most of my visits to national parks areas, this was spur of the moment and pretty much unplanned. This year, the museum had reopened after being closed for several years for a redesign.

One thing I never knew is that people can actually ride up to the top of the arch. Once at the top, you can take in the view from the top. Unfortunately, because the park had just reopened, it seems that the entire city of St. Louis was visiting the arch and tickets were sold out. My youngest was the most disappointed.

full arch

BUT… Where there is a national park, there’s a junior ranger badge. So while, we were not able to buy tickets to the tram up to the arch, ($13 for adults currently, $10 for kids. If you have a National Park pass, adults tickets are knocked down to $10) we were able to visit the museum which is free.

museum

The idea of the arch is kinda overrated. It’s another, “if we build it, they will come,” attraction/ploy. I guess Mt. Rushmore is kind of like that too. BUT…. the museum is really cool. It explores westward expansion and the exhibits are really interesting and well done. If you have seen exhibits at the Smithsonian, its similar to that, yet it’s not too big. You can go through it in a couple of hours in the afternoon.

It was an enjoyable afternoon. My little one was still pouting about the arch but was happy to add to his collection of junior ranger badges. Speaking of the Arch, the museum includes an exhibit on the engineering of the arch and how they defined the cars that go up the structure. That was cool and made us wish we had been able to get tickets.

Across from the Arch, also a part of the park, is the Old Courthouse, which is famous for the Dred Scott decision. We didn’t get a chance to go in there, but that would be another interesting building to visit and learn about an important part of U.S. history.

court house

I want to mention that leading up to the trip, my teenage son did not want to accompany us. He felt that a trip to St. Louis would be boring and begged us to leave him home with his grandparents. By the end of the weekend, he said he really enjoyed the city.  In addition to the Arch, he visited the Blues Museum and a bird sanctuary.

We also visited the city’s Forest Park (which is larger than New York’s Central Park and is home to a number of the city’s museums, all free).

forest gate park
You can rent canoes and paddleboats at the park. We rented a couple of canoes and really enjoyed it.

We drove by Washington University and ate at a restaurant off of Delmar Blvd. We also enjoyed root beer floats at Fitz’s as well. We had one full day, so we didn’t have time to visit the City Museum, which is also supposed to be a great place to visit.

When, we left the city, we all agreed that St. Louis was a great city to visit and we enjoyed the little time we spent there.

fitz's
a float from Fitz’s was a perfect way to end the day. These things are huge, so you can ask them to split them. This is only one half of a float!

Banff and Lake Louise

When I was in junior high, my family took a family trip to Banff National park. Ever since that trip, I concluded that Banff was the most beautiful place on earth.

lakelouise
Lake Louise, June, 2018

After our Alaska adventure this summer, we made a pitstop in Canada to visit family before coming home. We had one day to sightsee and I already knew I wanted to spend it  in Banff.

It had been over 20 years since I visited Banff National Park. Since my trip to Banff, I’ve visited other places. Glacier National Park reminded me of the beauty of Banff. Would I feel differently about the place now that I’ve been to other equally beautiful places. Definitely not.

Banff and the surrounding areas are still exquisite. Even with the crowds, it is was an enjoyable visit. The day started out raining and we were worried we’d be stuck with thunderstorms the entire day.

We drove to Banff from Calgary. I wanted to leave our hotel at 6:30, but we ended up leaving closer to 7:30 am. Since it was raining, the crowds at the park were still thin when we arrived closer to 9am.

We drove straight to the gondola that takes visitors up Sulphur Mountain. This little ride was nostalgic for me. I have a vivid memory of going up Sulphur Mountain as a child. It wasn’t an ideal day for the gondola ride because of the cloud cover.

gondola

This is the only day we’d be here and I felt the experience would still be fun for the kids. On the plus side, there was no wait and we got special early bird pricing. Despite the clouds, the ride up was beautiful.  The visitor center was fascinating and we took the walk on the boardwalk up to the weather tower.

It was chilly on the mountain but we really enjoyed it. On a clear day, the views are expansive and amazing, but it’s not too shabby on the cloudy day either.

Afterwards, we warmed up with hot chocolate in the visitor center.

It was still drizzling, so we decided to take a scenic drive on Tunnel Mountain Road and pull up to the Hoodoos Lookout. We spent just a few minutes at the lookout, snapped a few photos and got back into the car and drove to Lake Louise.

banff

By the time we got to Lake Louise, the sky had cleared up and the crowds had built up. Despite the crowds, Lake Louise was magnificent.

We decided to make the hike up to Lake Agnes Tea House. The trail up to the tea house is a little over 3km. The trail is smooth but its steep. It was nothing for the kids, but it took us for awhile. They ended waiting for us at the top.

Once we got to the top, it was worth it. The tea house was crowded, but we found some tables. Luckily, we knew ahead of time that it was cash only and had brought money with us. It was chilly on the top and we enjoyed a hot pot of tea and sandwiches.

teahouse

After lunch, we took some pictures around the lake and walked back down the trail. We then drove back to Banff. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the town and ate dinner at pizza place before heading back to Calgary.

I would love to go back to Banff and spend more time there as well as Jasper. It’s on my bucket list.

Glacier Bay National Park: Day 3 Tide Pools

Our last day at Glacier Bay was pretty relaxing. We slept in and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. Our goal today was to check out tide pools during low tide.

Bartlett Cove

The schedule for high and low tides is available at the ranger station. For our final morning at the park, the low tide would be in the afternoon, after the shuttle would be leaving for the ferry dock.

We visited the beach before the tide was at it lowest. We still had a great time looking at the tide pools.

sea star

We saw several sea stars in the pools. It was definitely very cool.

The day was clear and as we looked across Bartlett Cove, we could see Mount Fairweather.  As the shuttle drove to the ferry dock, we saw a bear in the forest. The shuttle drive pulled over for a minute so we could all watch the animal.

Unlike the ferry ride up to Glacier Bay, it was sunny and a bit warm on the ride back to Juneau. We spent almost the entire ride on the deck. We spotted some whales and porpoises as well as more sea otters. I think they might be my new favorite animals.

Back at Juneau, we had reservations at the Hangar On the Warf. We also took the opportunity to buy some smoked salmon for friends back home.

Our trip to Alaska was probably one of my favorites. We met some wonderful people. The pace was slower than parks we’ve visited in the lower 48. It’s a real special place and I definitely want to come back.

In addition to the parks I wrote about in these posts, we also visited Glacier Gardens, SEAlaska Heritage Institute, and DIPAC Salmon Hatchery in Juneau. We enjoyed all of these excursions.