Somewhere In My Memory

Alnwick Castle Memories

Try to remember what you had for dinner on the 16th of July this past summer.

Now try to remember what you were doing on the afternoon of June 5, 2012.

Anything?

If you can recall the details of those days, you must keep a daily diary, or you have a photographic memory. Or, maybe you looked it up on Facebook just now.

Most likely, you were traveling. Continue reading

10 Cool Things For Kids in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the crown jewel of our National Park System. It was the first of its kind, and remains the most unique and diverse wilderness experience that you will find in this country.

It’s also an extremely cool place for kids.

But with almost 3500 square miles of lakes, geysers, canyons, and hot springs, there’s too much to see in one short stay. So, after four visits to Yellowstone, and consultation with my own children, I have compiled the following list of park sights and activities that will make your family trip an especially memorable one.

Ten Cool Things For Kids (and Grown-Ups) in Yellowstone National Park:

1. Dragon’s Mouth Spring

Dragon's Mouth Spring

How can you resist telling your kids that a dragon lives in a cave near a mud volcano? It doesn’t take much imagination to think that this cavern, with its growls and thumps, and spitting steam, might just hold a real dragon.

2. Fishing Cone

Yellowstone Fishing Cone

It’s probably just a tall tale, but the story goes that the early trappers and explorers would catch fish in Yellowstone Lake, swing them directly into the Fishing Cone geyser just off shore, and have a meal of boiled fish in just minutes. “Hook and cook,” they called it. Like the dragon cave, another cool sight that will fire up the imagination.

3. Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn lobby as seen from Bat's Alley; Jim Peaco; October 2003

What kid won’t love the largest log hotel in the world? Just walk inside the 100-year-old Inn’s lobby, with its four stories of lodgepole pine balconies and 500-ton stone fireplace, and your kids might just want to sit for awhile. Preferably in one of the many handmade wood rocking chairs. Better yet, stay in one of the Inn’s rooms. Prices are reasonable, and the food in the dining room is first-class.
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Sleeping in the Trees

Treehouse

I had a treehouse when I was a kid. And I’m pretty sure I slept in it once or twice.

As a grown-up, the idea of sleeping in the trees, on the bare wood floor of a drafty, spider-infested, rickety old treehouse, doesn’t sound so appealing.

Ah, but what if you could find some relative luxury up in those trees?

That’s what you’ll get at the Out ‘n’ About Treehouse Treesort, in Takilma, Oregon. Continue reading

Food, Glorious Food

Early on in our trip planning, it was suggested by some that the Boy Scouts would seek out any American fast food they could find in London.

The food situation was one of my biggest fears, right after one of the kids getting run over by a black cab.

You take a group of teens thousands of miles across the ocean to a foreign land, and then spend your breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Subway, McDonald’s, and Pizza Hut.

No thanks, I can eat that back home.

I told them how it was going to be. We would seek out British food at British restaurants and at least try to sample the traditional dishes of the country, whether they liked it or not.

Why travel if you refuse to try something new? Continue reading

Where’s the Fun in Fundraising?

I need $20,000.

Who doesn’t?

I’ve been trying to raise it as part of a fundraising campaign for the past 10 months. This is something I have no experience with, so it’s been interesting, to say the least.

Sometime about a year ago, I was attending my son’s Scout meeting when the parents began to talk about the need for some sort of high adventure trip for the older boys.

For some reason, people looked at me. Why, I don’t know. I’m not an outdoorsy person, and I’ve never been on a “high adventure.”

This is what I told them. And then I hesitantly followed with the word, “However…”

Because, in fact, I had been on an adventure of sorts, and very recently. As some readers may recall, back in the summer of 2010 I set out for a very long walk across England. It was a charity walk, raising money for the Joseph Salmon Trust. Good fun for a good cause.

I hadn’t really thought of it as being something a bunch of Boy Scouts from Idaho would do. But once I started talking about it, I could see a bunch of parents becoming very interested. Once the boys heard about it, well, that was it. There was no way I was going to get out of walking that wall again.

Which is funny, because at first I wasn’t too keen on several aspects of a return trip to Hadrian’s Wall country. The biggest was the cost. But the thought was that by setting a date for two years in the future, there would be plenty of time for all participants to raise the money through Boy Scout fundraisers.

The other thing I wasn’t looking forward to was getting back in shape for an 84-mile walk. But it’s good for me. Having a goal gets me to the gym.

However, I quickly learned that the only thing I really had to fear was the fundraising. As I said, I’ve never done this before.

And it’s hard. Annoyingly, unpleasantly, frustratingly hard.

We’ve sold popcorn, honey, and BBQ dry rub. We’ve had car washes and pancake breakfasts. There have been yard clean-ups and chili feeds. And all of that just in the first year.

I’ve learned a few things about fundraising. First, working for the money is so much easier than trying to sell stuff for the money. I’d much rather haul dirt in a wheelbarrow than stand in front of a store pleading with people to buy a bag of caramel popcorn.

Second, I’ve learned that you can easily get burned out on fundraising. Two years of doing it is a year too much.

But we’ll keep marching on. Because the boys are more than eager to make the trip, to visit the birthplace of Scouting, and to walk the path of the ancient Roman Centurions.

When I do stop and ask myself why there’s no “fun” in fundraising, I think about these boys who are looking forward to the adventure. It’s one that most of them would not have a chance to do otherwise.

Some of these kids have never even been out of the state of Idaho before, let alone on the other side of the world. It will be a life-changing trip for them. I try to remember that when I’m arranging yet another table sale or calling around to see who needs their yard weeded.

By the way, anyone want to buy some lovely creamed honey or tasty BBQ dry rub? Need some dirt moved? How about a nice plate of all-you-can-eat pancakes and sausage?

Hey, I’m trying.

A Grizzly Discovery

Storm Point Trail, Yellowstone

We’re back from a family vacation in Yellowstone National Park!

In the week leading up to our trip I’d grown nervous about the weather forecast, which had called for rain and thunderstorms. But the skies stayed mostly sunny while we were there.

And by “mostly sunny,” I mean that we’re all now sporting hot red sunburns on various parts of our bodies because we weren’t quite prepared for that big bright thing in the sky that has been hidden away for most of winter and spring.

The first sunburn of the year always signals the beginning of summer, so that’s one positive about it.

Yellowstone River

Our time in Yellowstone was great fun. The kids had been there before, but it was nine years ago and they don’t remember it. They’ll have a hard time forgetting this visit, as we explored almost every inch of the place from morning to night.

My son had a goal to spot every mammal known in the park. He almost did it too, getting up close and personal with a wolf, fox, marmot, pronghorn, and black bear, as well as the ever-present bison and elk.

We hiked miles and miles throughout the park, including the quite lovely 5.2-mile Fairy Falls Trail. If you visit Yellowstone, I highly recommend getting off the beaten path and away from the hordes of tourists.

Another cool trail, and a much shorter one, is the 2.3-mile Storm Point Trail, which leads you through open meadows to the shore of Lake Yellowstone, and then back through dense forest.

The area is a great place to find Yellowstone’s vaunted wildlife, especially Ursus arctos horribilis, more commonly known as the grizzly bear.

We didn’t really want to make a grizzly discovery on our hike, but the recently posted sign at the trailhead informed us that there was a good chance we would.

We went down the trail anyway. Bear spray in hand. Imagination on overload. It’s amazing how closely a shadowy, swaying fir tree can resemble an attacking mama grizzly! Multiply that tree by a thousand along the trail, and you can guess how much fun I had on the hike. I’m still shocked that I didn’t spray myself in the face at some point.

In the end, you have to realize that the danger from animals at Yellowstone is very small. There have been 5 or 6 bear fatalities in the park over the last decade. Out of 30 million visitors!

You should be more worried about getting smacked in the head by a German tourist with a 600mm lens trying to snap a photo of a chipmunk.

Actually, what I really should have been concerned about carrying around with me was not bear spray, but sun screen. Those burns will kill me before a grizzly does.

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone

Olympic Summer

I could tell the kids were ready for summer to be over. They were wandering aimlessly around the house, just begging for someone to sit them down at a desk and teach them something.

But we couldn’t let summer come to an end without our traditional August road trip. One last blast of vacation fun before hitting the books.

We set out for an old favorite, the Pacific Coast beaches of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where the kids always love to build driftwood forts, dig in the sand, and explore the tidepools for sea creatures.

It’s a place to exercise the legs and clear the mind. If I ask my kids to go for a walk around the neighborhood, they’re good for a mile before the complaining starts. But on these vast expanses of sand? They’ll go 3 or 4 miles without even missing a skip.

I don’t know of anyone, of any age, who can’t help but be mesmerized by the beautiful beaches of the Olympic Peninsula. If you plan to go, check out the Kalaloch Beaches, Ruby Beach, and Rialto Beach. You can hit them all in one day, or just pick one and explore it to its fullest.

It’s a great place to ring out the summer and steel yourself for the coming season of books and calculators and reports.

Walking the Wall, Again

Walking the Wall, Again

It was a little over a year ago that I spent a week walking the width of England, following the National Trail that runs along Hadrian’s Wall.

It was a memorable adventure that raised a lot of money for charity. But as I hiked those scenic crags, it always felt like something was missing. I soon realized that I wanted my family to be there with me to experience the ancient Roman wall and the breathtaking English countryside.

Almost a year later, I was able to share the walk with my wife and kids. Well, maybe not the entire 91 miles. In fact, we just walked the best bits of the wall. 5 miles of it in total.

Oh, and this time I left home the stiff boots and overweight backpack.

We started out at Birdoswald Fort, touring the museum there while we waited out an early morning rain shower. After the sun appeared, we walked east to the village of Gilsland, where the kids rejoiced over an ice cream shop.

From there, a short bus ride deposited us at Housesteads Fort, a dazzling Roman site which includes one of the best preserved latrines from nearly 2000 years ago.

Roman latrines

You wouldn’t think we could get excited over an old army latrine, but it was kind of cool to see where the Centurions did their business.

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Beachcombing

Beachcombing along the Thames

Of all the things we experienced in England, my kids talk most about the couple of hours we spent shuffling slowly along the muddy beaches of the River Thames, our heads hung low, our eyes sharply focused on the ground.

We were beachcombing, or mudlarking as some call it, along the shores of the river that runs through central London. After thousands of years of stuff being tossed into the Thames, it’s no surprise that some of it washes back up along the banks.

When the tide is out, it’s easy to play archaeologist and search for little treasures. And odds are always good that you’ll find something.

We descended into the muck somewhere near the Tate Modern and immediately my son picked up a small piece of china. Then my daughter found an old clay pipe stem. Then I spotted a mineralized cow tooth.

We actually found dozens of old bones. I assumed our little stretch of beach had once been the outlet for a slaughter house.

My son theorized that it was a dumping ground for executed prisoners.

More clay pipe stems were found, along with polished glass, twisted bits of metal, bottles, and part of a deer antler.

After just a few hours of picking through the muddy rocks, we had several bags worth of goodies to take home. All little bits of history that sparked my kids’ imagination in a big way.

If you’re visiting London, don’t hesitate to step off the paved paths and get your hands dirty on the banks of the Thames. It’s one of the best ways to experience the history of this ancient place.

Best of all, aside from any valuable artifacts, you get to keep the treasures you find! Here are some that my son has proudly displayed on his shelves…

Thames Treasures