Ten Cool Things For Kids in Yellowstone National Park

Geothermal paradise of 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 three 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

Fishing Cone Geyser at Yellowstone Lake

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

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.

Read the rest of my “Ten Cool Things For Kids in Yellowstone” here.

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 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

Photo Friday – Surrounded by History

“Isn’t it amazing?” I asked my daughter as we toured the Tower of London. “To be surrounded by so much history? Why, there’s the White Tower, built by William the Conqueror in 1078. And there’s where Sir Thomas More was imprisoned. And, right in front of you, is the Queen’s House, built by Henry VIII for his new bride Anne Boleyn. Behind you is where she was beheaded, and…”

“Shhh, daddy, I’m trying to take a picture of the raven.”

Sharing Memories

I’ve been away for awhile, sharing memories with my wife and kids.

Last year I traveled to England for an 86-mile charity walk along the Hadrian’s Wall Path. It was quite successful, both for the charity and for me.

I made some awesome memories.

Then, I came home and agonized that my family did not share these memories. They could not know the thrill of following in the path of the Roman Centurions, of exploring ruined forts and castles, or of looking out over the windswept crags to imagine what life must have been like 2000 years ago.

Of course I told them about my week-long walk and the people and places I experienced, and they eagerly listened at first. But, after awhile, they were bored. They just couldn’t relate to my amazing adventure.

So, I decided to do something about that. Either I would keep my memories to myself, or I would find a way to share them for real.

You already know that I shared rather than shut up.

First chance we had, as school came to a close two weeks ago, we packed our bags and headed for England’s north country.

My family walked the wall!

No, not all 86 miles of it, but we covered nearly five. The best bits between Housesteads and Birdoswald Forts.

We also climbed to the top of St. Paul’s, wandered the streets of Carlisle, and visited the castle where the Harry Potter movies were filmed.

In short, my memories are now their memories. That’s just the way I like it.

You can certainly expect a few blog posts about our family adventures in Great Britain. Like our brush with Charles and Camilla, or my daughter helping us escape from a locked Tower of London.

In the meantime, however, we have school to finish up. The kids will have no problem coming up with topics for their next history paper.

Why Must I Be SAD

Like most people, I have my emotional ups and downs.

I’ve just been very lucky, or blessed with good genetics, to have my mood swings rarely reach extremes.

All throughout my life, my lows have been mild and short-lived, while my highs have been generally free of giddy euphoria.

So imagine my surprise last October when this strange feeling of gloom settled over me and wouldn’t go away.

Like a cough I just couldn’t shake, I had a blue funk in my brain.

This had never happened to me before, so I didn’t recognize it as anything other than a symptom of poor sleep habits.

At one point, I thought it might be the longest case of jet lag ever.

It wasn’t until January that I considered my specific symptoms:

1. An overall tiredness and lack of energy
2. Difficulty waking up in the morning
3. Craving carbohydrates, especially pasta and bread
4. Difficulty completing tasks
5. Avoiding social situations
6. Trouble focusing

I remembered this fancy doo-hicky thing called the Internet and typed in some of my pronounced symptoms.

And there it was!

I discovered that I had a disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Pretty common this time of year, and so appropriately named.

Thankfully, my SAD wasn’t too SAD. I was just slightly SAD. But, still, an unusual thing for me to be feeling any of it. I’ve lived through 23 Idaho winters, and I don’t believe this one has been any grayer or colder than any of those others.

They say that sunlight works wonders for SAD sufferers, so the first sunny day we had in January, I made sure to be out there walking in it.

The combination of sun and exercise definitely lifted my spirits. And it made me think that the reason this winter was different for me was because I had embarked on an aggressive program of walking last spring, spending far more time outside in the sun than I ever have before.

Apparently, my body became addicted to long outdoor walks.

I think I’ve learned a lesson here. It’s not good to hibernate through the winter. It used to be fun to focus solely on indoor activities during these cold and snowy months, but now I realize how important it is to find some way to get out of the house and soak up the sun (if you can see it through the clouds).

And not just for me, but also for my kids. If they see me doing it, they’re more likely to join in. SAD for kids is especially dangerous, as it can negatively affect their self-esteem and lead to poor grades, isolation, and major depression.

So, pay attention to yourself. If you’re feeling out of sorts, do something about it. Don’t say, “Oh, it’ll pass when spring comes.” You’ll end up better prepared to observe your children and act accordingly when you suspect they might be suffering from this seasonal disorder.