Where We Begin Our Summer Adventures

Summer! It’s so hard to believe that summer is almost over and the school year will begin soon. We have been traveling all over the country in our minivan, with lots of road trips adding miles to the odometer. Our first trip was out west, to visit my family in Des Moines, Iowa during Memorial Day weekend.

We have visited my family so often in Iowa that I thought we had done nearly everything near the Des Moines area. We’ve looked for bison at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Preserve, biked the High Trestle Trail, and walked along the Des Moines River in downtown Des Moines. Lily has fed the giraffes at Blank Park Zoo and we even took a paddle boat onto Gray’s Lake. And yet, when my dad mentioned visiting Ledges State Park, this was the first time I had even heard about it!

Our plan had been to go on Saturday, but unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with our plans and it rained almost all day. Sunday was a beautiful day and perfect hiking weather; unfortunately my dad had to preach that Sunday and my stepmom had to play the organ at church. (Let’s just say I’m looking forward to my 75 year old dad retiring soon!)  Since Ed, the girls and I had attended church Saturday evening, we headed up to Ledges on Sunday morning.

Part of the road leading to the park had been washed away by a storm, so along with other visitors to the park, we needed to park in the parking lot at the entrance and then hike down the road into the canyon. There is also a parking lot on the other side of the park for visitors who would rather not hike down into the canyon. The road down, however, was a short and easy hike, and while the road wasn’t safe for cars, it was very safe for walkers. When we reached the bottom of the canyon and saw the water from Pea’s Creek flowing intentionally over the path, the girls were ecstatic! They love wading in the water!

The creek curved around throughout the park, crossing the path several times. There were also a couple of nice bridges going over the creek and steps going up to trails on the top of the bluffs. With only 4 miles of hiking trails, the park is relatively small and easy to explore, especially with kids. I’ve been looking at the trail map while writing this post, however, and I see we missed a trail down to the Lost Lake. The trail head is is a different spot from the main trails, so perhaps that’s why it’s called “Lost Lake.” We certainly didn’t find it!

This arched stone bridge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.

After we hiked up and down the bluffs, we saw people wading up the creek and decided to do the same! We weren’t prepared for this part, however, and took off our shoes and socks. The creek had some sandy spots but was also rocky, so next time we’ll bring our water sandals! Hiking in the creek was really fun and showed us more of the bluffs from down below. Since this park is often flooded by the Des Moines River, however, it may not always be possible. The water was only up to our ankles when we were there in May.

Hiking up and down the bluffs was great practice for our next road trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. And it also made us hungry! We knew of a barbecue place in Ames that my stepmom had taken us to, but here was the challenge. We didn’t remember the name of the restaurant, and we didn’t know what street it was on. (And we don’t use our smart phones when we’re roaming!) But we figured, what’s the worst that could happen? So we drove to Ames and wandered around for a little while…and just as we were heading back to the highway, we found it! Hickory Park has great barbecue, and even more exciting to the girl, a candy counter! The candy ranges in price from a nickel to a quarter, so the girls had fun picking and choosing some candy for the road trip home.

Just a few weeks later, we got in our minivan again and headed East…to Maine!



Ten Tourist Attractions

My husband and I love to travel. It is probably more accurate to say that Ed loves to travel and he drags me with him. I love telling people that when I was six months pregnant with Emmy, he dragged me up the side of a mountain just to see a waterfall. I may have been a little out of breath, but I made it, and the view was gorgeous. Most of the tourist attractions we visit are outdoors, and we usually have to hike to see them. Since today is National Tourist Attraction Day, here are just some of the places we’ve been.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Ed and I rented a little cabin on the side of a mountain. Lily was two at the time, and we spent a week exploring the Smoky Mountains. It is a beautiful place to visit!

9. Castle Rock State Park, Illinois

This time, instead of hiking while pregnant, I carried Emmy all over the place in her baby carrier. Castle Rock is a beautiful bluff in Illinois that not many people visit. It’s on the Rock River in Northern Illinois.

Climbing Castle Rock
Hiking on Castle Rock

8. Mammoth Cave National Park

If you’ve ever wanted to go caving but are a little afraid, this is the place to go. Park Rangers take visitors on guided tours of the cave, and this cave is so big it’s hard to feel claustrophobic. Located in Kentucky, there are also a lot of hiking trails in the forests surrounding the cave entrances. It’s an amazing feeling to be hiking in the woods on a hot summer day, and then feel the cool air coming out of a cave entrance. The caves are always about 67 degrees Fahrenheit, so even if you visit in the summer, bring a jacket to wear in the cave!

Inside Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Inside Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

7. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The best way to see Pictured Rocks is by boat. The cliffs tower over the waters of Lake Superior and are pretty spectacular.

Pictured Rocks, Michigan

6. Rocky Mountains National Park

The mountains of Colorado are also gorgeous, and in a very different way that the Smoky Mountains. The Smoky Mountains are blue, rounded, and yes, smoky. The Rocky Mountains are craggy and sharp, with snow topped peaks.

Rocky Mountains
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

5. Niagara Falls

Touristy, check. Beautiful, check. Loud and wet, check.

A view of Niagara Falls from Canada
A view of Niagara Falls from Canada

4. Denali National Park, Alaska

Just plain wilderness. I’ve been up to Alaska three times (I have relatives in Anchorage) and each time I’ve visited it has been completely different. The weather, the mountains, the animals…beautiful beyond description!

Alaskan lake

3. The Grand Canyon, Arizona

One of our best vacations yet!

Lily taking pictures
Lily taking pictures at the South Rim.

2. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

A place I’ve wanted to visit ever since I taught about it as a second grade teacher. Seeing the cliff dwellings was amazing! Preserved for centuries, the dwellings were only discovered about 100 years ago by a couple of cowboys.

Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace

1. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Seriously, one of the most amazing places in the world that has been forgotten.

petrified log
Petrified Forest, Arizona

Ed, Lily, Emmy and I are looking forward to more adventures next summer…California, here we come!

Click the Tuesday Ten button for more tourist attractions at The Golden Spoons!

The Golden Spoons


Mesa Verde

I first saw photos of Mesa Verde in a social studies text book. I was a young second grade teacher, and the thought of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde fascinated me. I didn’t just want to teach about it, I wanted to go there! When Ed said that Mesa Verde wasn’t that far from the Grand Canyon, I told him to make it part of our trip. Ed had never really heard of Mesa Verde before, but he humored me and included it in our plans.

The morning of our Mesa Verde tours, we approached Cliff Palace in complete awe. Over a century ago, two cowboys had been searching for lost cattle in the canyon, and what they stumbled upon was truly amazing. The rest of the world agreed with them!

As I reached in my purse to take out my camera, I had a sudden realization. I had left my battery charging in the hotel room! The night before I made sure I had enough memory on my memory card and wanted to make sure my camera didn’t run out of power, and then I totally forgot the !@#$% battery! This was a place I’d been dreaming about visiting and now that I was finally there, I couldn’t take pictures! I was so mad at myself.

My darling 8 year old daughter came to the rescue. Her camera was in the car, so I was able to take pictures after all.

Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace

Mesa Verde is such a great place to explore. You can take self-guided tours or go on ranger-led tours, which I highly recommend! We squeezed through tunnels and climbed up ladders, and explored the ruins left over a thousand years ago by an amazing group of ancient people.

Mesa Verde
Squeezing through a cliff side to get to a ladder.
Mesa Verde ladder
Going up!
Exploring a cliff dwelling
Exploring a cliff dwelling

What did you do during your summer? Gretchen and I want to know! Tell us in the comments, or link up your summer post below!

Second Blooming

On Monday, I’ll have a new prompt for next week. Be sure to check in and see what we’ll be writing about!


North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Our summer vacation was 10 days long, and we went to so many places and did so many things, it’s taking me a long time to write all about it! We started at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, then drove around the canyon to the North Rim.

One of the first things we noticed when arriving at the North Rim was that it was quieter than the South Rim. There were quite a few tourists there, but it definitely wasn’t as crowded. One of the first things we did was pick up the Junior Ranger books for the girls. They wanted to go find a bug to watch for a minute, which was one of their Ranger activities. We went out by the lodge and listened to the sounds in the Ponderosa forest at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Lily started following a grasshopper, and it made such a loud whirring sound compared to Midwestern grasshoppers. Emmy tried to observe a fly, but it was not cooperative at all! We wandered down the point out into the canyon; it was a narrow strip of blacktop that extended past the lodge while the edge dropped off into nothing. Scary but gorgeous.

North Rim lodge

The lodge has two large porches with a lot of chairs and benches, and a huge fireplace. It’s cool up on the North Rim since it has an elevation of about 8000 feet. We spent a lot of time at the lodge sitting out on the porch, looking at the canyon, listening to a ranger program, and gazing at the stars.

Did you know that it never gets dark in Chicago? It looks dark outside when the sun sets, but there’s always a glow in the sky that makes it difficult to see the stars. Grand Canyon National Park, on the other hand, is one of the best places to go star gazing. We let the girls stay up to look at the stars. Not only did we spot the Big Dipper, but we could also see the Milky Way and how we teeter on the edge of an unfathomable expanse of stars swirling away from us. It was such an amazing sight to see.

I haven’t even told you about my favorite place yet. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. Don’t forget to write about your summer vacation, and link up for the Spin Cycle! Your link will show up both here and on Gretchen’s blog, Second Blooming!

Second Blooming


Quirky Little Stops

It was hot in the desert, and I noticed that the teenaged boy who waved our car along was carrying a water bottle. I thought he was smart to stay hydrated on that arid day. I soon realized, however, that that was not the purpose of the water bottle after all. After we parked, he led us around the rocky ground showing us dinosaur tracks that remained behind from a long ago age. As he sprayed water on the tracks, we were able to see them better in the blazing sunlight.

dino tracks 2

This was a stop that we normally wouldn’t take the time to make on a vacation. When we were eating breakfast at our hotel, we met a couple that had stopped at the sign that read “Dinosaur Tracks” and they told us it was neat. We had some extra time, so we thought “Why not?”

dino tracks 1

Just a couple of miles outside of Tuba City, Arizona, this little Native American tourist stop is based on tips only. We thought it was neat to get out of the car and walk along the stony ground where dinosaurs used to tread.

dino tracks 3

Another fun stop on our vacation was the Four Corners, where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet. We had to pay a fee to visit this monument. Even though there is not much to see, it was fun to be in four states at one time.

Four Corners
“Four states here meet in freedom under God.”

As we were leaving Four Corners, along came the Wiener Mobile! We couldn’t pass up a chance to take a couple of pictures.

Wiener Mobile

At the end of our vacation, Ed pulled into a place on a whim….

Gus's Jerky

Let me tell you something…Gus knows how to make jerky! We bought some Cowboy Jerky, and it was quite tasty!

Do you stop at quirky little places when you’re on vacation?


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