Planning Time!

Planning vacations is one of my favorite hobbies. Okay, if I am honest, planning …planning anything….is my primary hobby.

After last year’s Wild West trip, my family talked about where we wanted to visit the summer of 2015. The decision was Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Sounded great to me. I looked online and saw a couple of houses in Boothbay Harbor, Maine that were the right size, reasonably priced and would work great for our family. For some unknown reason, I didn’t make the reservations. Normally, by this time of the year, I will have booked some plans for our summer vacation adventure. Airplane tickets if needed or a rental house.

I am still not sure why but on Sunday as I was sitting in church listening to the pastor teach about financial fitness and idea about changing our vacation plans hit me. Don’t see the connection? Neither do I but that’s how it happened. After we got home, I talked with the kids about my thoughts. I knew that Dave would go along with whatever I decided but I wanted the kids on board. They agreed and now the brainstorming begins. We have decided to stay “close to home” this summer. Well, close to my family’s farm home is more of the truth.

Some of the horses on my family's farm in Newfane, NY

Some of the horses on my family’s farm in Newfane, NY

I grew up in a wonderful area of the country named Newfane, New York.

I guess the seagulls at Olcott Beach, NY don't read too well!

I guess the seagulls at Olcott Beach, NY don’t read too well!

Most people have never heard of it but most of the world has heard of a place just 25 minutes down the road….Niagara Falls! We have been to see Niagara Falls at least once a year with the kids and we have our favorite things to do in the area but this summer we are branching out.

A picture of part of Niagara Falls from the Cave of the Winds.

A picture of part of Niagara Falls from the Cave of the Winds.

Seeing new things and going new places in an area that we thought we were familiar with. This change of plans isn’t the only thing that is changing this year. My daughter Clare (15 years old) has often said that even though I ask what activities the kids want to do, I don’t ever give them control of the planning. Duh….that’s my favorite part! Well, this year I am letting go (at least a little) and letting the kids research and plan our adventures. I will offer some guidance, suggestions, a budget and one or two rules but this vacation is their design.

I am sure that this year’s adventures will be just as interesting as before so stayed tuned!

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Going to the Sun

Up early for a ranger led hike to Avalanche Lake. The meeting place was at the trailhead where there were bathrooms and a picnic area. There were a lot of parking places so I was very surprised that we got one of the last parking spots…at 8:30 in the morning! A large group assembled for the 5 mile hike. Our ranger did a great job pointing out the different types of trees and rocks along with evidence of fires and avalanches.
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It was a beautiful walk through huge forests and past rushing streams. After a while we were rewarded with the most amazing sight. A serene, high mountain lake fed by 7 or more waterfalls. I wish that my pictures could do it justice. It was just wonderful to be there. The kids took their shoes off to walk in the water. Brrr….Glacier National Park 099Glacier National Park 122Glacier National Park 129Glacier National Park 140Glacier National Park 147Glacier National Park 134
There were chipmunks running all around and Sean spotted this Stellar Jay. I didn’t know what kind of bird it was but Sean never hesitated in its identification. Guess reading the Audubon Guide to North American Birds paid off!Glacier National Park 155Glacier National Park 151We had received some good news…the Going to the Sun Road opened less than 12 hours before. We were going to be able to drive the entire length of the historic scenic highway on its opening day for 2014! What a road!!! At first we followed a river but then the road began to rise. It seem like we had only gone up for a few minutes and when we turned (another) corner, the river looked so far below us. The road curved and climbed up the mountains.
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We passed waterfalls coming from the snow melt, got up to the snow line until we reached the summit at Logan’s Pass. The snow was well over our heads. This was July 3rd!!! It is fun to be able to play in the snow when it is 80 degrees outside!Glacier National Park 220Glacier National Park 241
We start down the mountain and discover Lake Mary. The turquoise color is so vibrant. Glacier National Park 245

We exit the park so that we can drive north to another entrance. The area of the park called Many Glaciers can’t be reached from other roads in Glacier. Once there we find another grand lodge perched on another turquoise lake. There was a park ranger that gives a guided tour of the hotel. I don’t have to be asked twice!
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We are a long way from our cabin but the drive back through the Blackfoot Indian Reservation is beautiful.
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. It was getting late and the kids were getting hungry but when we were only a few miles from the West Glacier entrance, I looked up a hill that we were driving by and thought I saw a mountain goat. Dave stopped the car and we got out to see if there really was a mountain goat. Well, it wasn’t just one mountain goat but a whole group of mothers and babies. They were climbing a hill right next to the road. Our hunger was forgotten while we watched these absolutely adorable babies.
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What a great way to end a long day!!

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Getting a taste of Glacier….

We can see Glacier National Park from out rental cabin but after a hearty breakfast of eggs and bacon, it is time to actually go in. Twelve miles back down our dirt road is a lesser known, unattended entrance to the park, Camas Road. It was so nice to be able to get into the park without waiting in line.
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Our first stop was at the Apgar Visitor Center. Clare and Sean signed up for the Junior Ranger Program and we got the park paper with a listing of Ranger Programs and available hikes. Going to the Sun Road is the most famous attraction at Glacier. It is an amazingly scenic road that crosses the center of the park, winding along rivers and climbing mountains. Unfortunately, the road was still closed due to avalanche activity and snow at Logan Pass. Did I mention that this was JULY 2nd?!?

It was a beautiful day so we found a parking place (easier said than done) near the Lake McDonald boat dock at Apgar Village. We unpacked our picnic lunch and found a large log to serve as our table/bench. The kids were less than excited about the prospect of yet another sandwich (day 11 in a row) but I had fixed a little bit of a surprise for them…chicken salad, cheese, lettuce and flour tortillas for wraps. Happy kids enjoyed their lunch with an amazing view!
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It was sunny and warm so off came the shoes and feet went in the water. The water may have looked inviting but it was cold. I guess that makes sense since the lake was being fed by snow melt from the surrounding mountains. We met a couple who had recently moved from Massachusetts to the area near Glacier. We had fun chatting with them and then the kids helped them launch their oversized, motorized canoe.
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We attended a ranger talk about the bears that live in the park. This was our second ranger presentation (we went to one in Grand Tetons earlier) about bears but despite the rangers’ assurances that there were large numbers of bears we had yet to see one.
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The western National Parks are known for their grand old lodges. We didn’t stay in any of these (not exactly budget and family friendly) but I certainly wanted to see one. We drove a few miles up the road to the other end of the lake and went into Lake McDonald Lodge. Wow! It was massive, gorgeous and beyond impressive. Maybe, sometime when the kids are grown, I will get to stay in one of these masterpieces. In the meanwhile, I got a cookbook of recipes from the lodges to keep me dreaming…and cooking!
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My idea of camping….

I was so happy as we started toward Glacier National Park. I had found cute cabins near the town of Polebridge, MT right outside of the park. We were going to stay in one place for 4 whole days!! No unpacking and repacking. A small but real kitchen that I could make meals in. Of course that means that I needed to plan menus and purchase all of our food since the nearest town was about an hour away on a dirt road. The kids helped me find everything that we would need for nice hot breakfasts and dinners. (Lunch was still going to have to be sandwiches since we were planning to be in the park during the day) Bacon was Sean’s one and only request….although he did ask for numerous pounds! Somehow the kids managed to talk Dave into a couple of quarts of Huckleberry ice cream.

Before we began our trek into the northern woods, we stopped at a little store called Outfitter’s Supply. My mother had purchased saddle/horn bags to use on her horses through the mail from them years ago. They were still working well so it was time for Ryan to get his own set. (They are a Christmas gift from his brother and sister so don’t tell him!) I guess I was expecting a large store since Outfitter’s Supply brand of packs (Trail Max) is carried at stores all over the country but we found a small store and we were the only customers at the time. That was just fine with me because we got great customer service from the ladies working there. We found bags that would work for Ryan and even got a couple of Christmas gifts for my mom. There were some beautiful western saddles that Clare was eyeing….until I showed her the price tags!

My kids have never been big campers. They like the outdoors but also want a bed and flush toilet. Outfitter’s Supply had an awesome camping display set up. A big white canvas tent with walls, a cot-type bed, comfy chairs, a small wood stove and all sorts of other comforts of home. No flush toilets but my kids were certain that they could be comfortable camping like that!! Really nice became a huge WOW! the minute we saw the (fake) mules displaying all of the pack options available to move all of those luxury camping supplies into the wilderness. Impressive is an understatement.

We cheated. We took our loaded rental SUV and started the drive north on the 40+ mile dirt road to our cabin with solar powered electricity, gas stove/oven, hot showers and FLUSH TOILETS! The road seemed primitive compared to a modern highway but not like heading into the wilderness with a string of pack mules.
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As you can see we are really roughing it. There are four small cabins along with the owner’s log home. We have an amazing view of the mountain range in Glacier and a nice handmade bench from which to enjoy it. I made a pot of chili and we settled in for a relaxing evening. Tomorrow we hit the park!
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Water, water, water…..

Water, mountains and trees. After leaving the desert-looking part of Idaho, those three words can describe most of the scenery.

Some of the water is in large lakes, some in small streams and other is in rapidly flowing rivers. We managed to find most of that in one day. I chose Libby, Montana as our next stopping point. It wasn’t going to be too far of a drive from Sandpoint, Idaho and quite frankly…. I am sick and tired of riding in a car!

We made our way through some twist, turny, up and down roads (with speed limits posted at 70 mph) to the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge and Falls. The Kootenai River is a pretty river and the water was flowing quite high and fast due the snow melt in the mountains. Idaho to Montana 039
The original bridge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps but had been upgraded….otherwise I would have been too chicken to cross.
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My kids have no fear of heights….or much of anything….so they head right across. I have, shall we say, a healthy respect for things out of my control. I take my time and hold on but the view is spectacular!!Idaho to Montana 049
We then hike up to the falls and are rewarded with a great view and a cool mist!Idaho to Montana 107Idaho to Montana 083
Another drive and we end up at the Libby Dam. Libby Dam was constructed by and is run by the US Army Corps of Engineers as a hydro-electric plant. The sight as we head up their road is beyond impressive. The sheer size is breathtaking.Idaho to Montana 123Idaho to Montana 117
There are free guided tours that take you across the top of the dam and inside the facility. I would love to be able to show you pictures but cameras (or any electronic devices) are not allowed due to security concerns. You will have to believe when I say the views from the top and bottom are jaw-dropping.

The dam created Lake Koocanusa behind it. It is 90+ miles long and is in both the USA and Canada. The Army Corps of Engineers provides a great boating, swimming and picnic areas right near the dam that are available for the public to use. We found a nice picnic table and cooked our spaghetti dinner on the Coleman cookstove.
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Great day. Plus…..none of these activities cost any money!!!

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America the Beautiful and humorous….

We were still in Idaho working our way north to Sandpoint but thoroughly enjoying the scenery along the way. The Salmon River has grown during our journey and is now fast and huge! There are whitewater rafting outfitters giving people a joy ride. We also had fun learning the fact that even “the deer and the antelope play” at the beach!!Central Idaho 063
This trip we have seen some really interesting National Parks and today we added yet another….Nez Perce National Historical Park. This park is a little different from the others. Instead of being about a place or event it is about a people and their long history. I am ashamed to admit that I really didn’t know anything about the Nez Perce before visiting the park. Thankfully there was a movie that was showing in the visitor center that explained some of their past…and present. The museum held amazing examples of artifacts. The beadwork was incredible as were the saddles and horse equipment.

On the Nez Perce Reservation

On the Nez Perce Reservation

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Central Idaho 084There is a beautiful picnic area below the visitor center that was perfect for our lunch! The grounds were great and flush toilet facilities always make my kids happy!

More driving and we pass miles and miles of barley and spring wheat crops. Others may just see the green fields but the way the wind blew through them it looked like it was alive. They weren’t amber…yet…but, as the song America the Beautiful says, it really was watching waves of grain.
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We are almost at our destination and we pass this great driveway marker. I had to get a picture!Idaho to Montana 002
Western Pleasure Guest Ranch. Ryan’s home for the next week. We are lucky enough to be able to join the group for a Dutch oven dinner around the campfire before we say goodbye. Can’t wait to hear about Ryan’s week riding horses and doing cowboy things! He might even do a blog post for me later.Central Idaho 108

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Breaking Stereotypes

When you mention Idaho to most people in the eastern half of the United States, the majority would immediately think POTATOES. I was one of those people. Even after I began researching things for our trip I never dreamt of the diversity that we have experienced in our 5 days in Idaho.

We saw lovely mountain vistas as we left Wyoming, field after field of potatoes and barley being irrigated as we headed toward Pocatello and now lava fields as we enter the middle of the state. Yes, LAVA fields! I always knew that there were volcanoes in Hawaii. I saw some in Alaska but in the middle of Idaho? Yep….albeit ancient ones.

We drove across miles and miles of nothingness. I am not sure how else to explain the area. We were going to tour the Experimental Breeder Reactor #1 ( on the vast Idaho National Labs property. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am not normal. I included a visit to the first nuclear reactor to produce electricity in vacation plans. So glad I did! This is a National Historic Landmark that offers free visitation and tours. idaho 112The EBR #1 has obviously been decommissioned and decontaminated so that the tour is safe beyond any doubt. I loved being able to show my kids part of an industry that their father and his cousin work in. Nuclear energy can sometimes be looked at in a negative light but when you are fully educated you see what a potential it has. When you tour EBR #1, if you keep in mind that it was developed in the 1950’s, you will be shocked at how technologically advanced it was.idaho 124The kids enjoyed being able to touch things, work the manipulator arms and the control panel. The boys thought hitting the SCRAM button was the best! I think that watching my daughter learn and grasp some of the scientific and engineering concepts was beyond amazing! idaho 115idaho 132Can you believe that they also experimented with a nuclear powered jet engine? Dave’s cousin worked on that project in the late 1950’s. I thought our flight to Alaska was long….imagine a plane that wouldn’t need to land for 30 days. Yuck!!!idaho 156
Our next stop was on another planet. Craters of the Moon National Park. (Only and $8 fee for the whole family) It is hard to describe how large and oddly beautiful this lava field is. I am not sure how but wildflowers and some trees grow in this field of rock. We picked up the Junior Ranger booklets (Dave and I are now doing the Jr. Ranger books with the kids. We have earned 2 patches so far!!) and began the 7 mile driving loop around the park. There are many stops along the way with easy paved walks through the lava fields and even to some caves. If you want to climb in the caves be sure to get a free cave permit at the visitor center. I was surprised at the size of a couple of the caves. My favorite walk though was a short hike up a lava cone. The view from the top was spectacular! idaho 196idaho 190idaho 176

Can you believe that part of the Oregon Trail went through here? The pioneers referred to the lava as “black vomit”.idaho 167idaho 220

Family vacations are fun but they are also tools to expose our kids to places, things and ideas that they don’t necessarily come in contact with in their everyday world.

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