Experiences, anecdotes, tips, how-tos, hiking, nature, motherhood, memories.

Adventures in Camping with Kids

Camping with kids is like pitching a tent upside down. Both are bound to fill with laughter and raindrops.

--Victoria Marie

Thursday, December 1, 2016

In Search of Old Bones in Colorado: Dinosaur National Monument


So I’m all about having our children learn something new when we go camping as a family.  When we were out in Colorado, we discovered that there are national monuments as well as national parks.

Okay, we said to the park ranger, so what’s the difference between the two? 

Ladies and gentlemen, please note: Park ranger programs deeply enhance any visit to these national treasures whether you have a family or not.

A park is set aside by an act of Congress, the ranger told us. After approval from Congress, the president's signature is required to make the land a national park.

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The family on a quest to
                touch the ancient past and
            learn about dinosaurs!
A monument is established by presidential proclamation only. No vote in Congress necessary, the ranger said.

You can learn much from the official National Park Service website.

Everything seems bigger out west in the United States according to our children. I tend to agree. The fossils at Dinosaur National Monument are no different. These bones turned to rock of dinosaurs and other Jurassic period creatures that roamed this land when it was once a sea millions of years ago are on vivid display here. The fossil grounds are so big in fact that the park spans two states: Colorado and Utah. 

Dinosaur National Monument is a unique park in that most of fossils are still in the rock. It’s a fascinating place to learn about the Jurassic period and the land and life of hundreds of dinosaurs. Don’t worry. You can see many of these rock-encased fossils at the Quarry Exhibit Hall. You can learn how paleontologists find fossils in their natural resting places and how paleontologists are attempting to preserve the fossils for future generations. There are a few dinosaurs reassembled at the museum. Park rangers offer full tours and talks during the summer months.
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This was once a sea with mud
                 when the dinosaurs died.
              Fascinating!

Depending upon the season, you may have to take a shuttle to enjoy the park. Many national parks and monuments are resorting to free shuttles within park boundaries. This cuts down on pollution inside the park as well as travel congestion and parking issues. The shuttles also allow visitors the opportunity to look around during the drive and drink in the natural beauty of their surroundings. Shuttles can be picked up at the visitor centers of major parks.

I love hands-on learning for both myself and our children. But you don’t need to visit a national park or national monument if there aren’t any nearby. Take the family to a natural history museum or any museum to discover something new along with your children. Do you have any favorite museum you like visiting?

Thank you so much for visiting Camping with Kids. Enjoy your holiday season!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Varied Landscapes of Colorado National Parks

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A beautiful national park, but keep an
eye on your children around cliff edges.
Colorado is a fascinating state to visit.  It boasts four National Parks with different landscapes: Rocky Mountains, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  I talk about our adventures at Rocky Mountain National Park here, Great Sand Dunes here, and Mesa Verde here. 

            The deep, dark Black Canyon of the Gunnison River is extremely narrow compared with the Grand Canyon and we couldn’t venture in with our young children.  Even though we’ve hiked with our children for years, the inner canyon is only for experts.  The trails are through gullies down the cliff side on unmaintained and unmarked trails. 

This is not like the unmarked trail at the Great Sand Dunes National Park where you can see all around you and you’re only trudging through thick sand.  At the Black Canyon, it is raw, rugged cliffs, backcountry, they call it.  Not for a family who wishes to see another adventure.

Never take children on unmarked trails.  The chance of getting lost is too great.  Sunlight fades fast out in nature and it becomes black and cold at night.  Hiking unmaintained trails are also not a good idea as you can’t be sure what danger lies in the brush.  Never hike alone.  Never!  Needless to say, sheer cliffs are not for children.  Or me!

But don’t worry.  There’s much family friendly adventure waiting for you at both the North and South Rims of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  Aside from some awesome park ranger programs about the geology of the cliffs, the park boasts some of the oldest rock in North America, there are easy, flat hikes and breathtaking scenic drives along the rims.  And you can get to the glistening green Gunnison River by the East Portal Road.  The museum is fascinating!  It also tells you about the schist and the gneiss of the canyon walls as well offering documentation of exploration in the canyon.

As you view the raw, natural power of geology and water, keep a close watch on your children.  The cliff edges are dark and cut away drastically.  I couldn’t enjoy the view until my children were all sitting down around me.  Only then, could I look around.  However, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is definitely worth the visit.


            If you’re looking for a vacation with the most varied landscapes, Colorado is the state to visit.  And most national parks offer campgrounds inside the park.  With the celebration of 100 years of National Park Service here in the United States, which national parks have you visited?  Do you have a favorite?  Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Kids.  Please stop by again.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Mesa Verde National Park: Trail of the Ancients

            
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The twins kept right up with the Park
Ranger on the climb. I’m on the ground, 

taking the photo, trying to convince 
myself to climb up with the family.
It’s difficult for parents not to project their fears onto their children.  Case in point:  I’m extremely nervous around edges—you know, like cliffs.  I realize this is funny coming from a lady who camps each summer with her five children, but it’s true.  

My children are part Billy goat and climb everything; trees, rocks, even ropes.  My husband tries to convince me that climbing is a rite of passage for children.  Needless to say, I disagree—because they all started climbing way too early, like at the age of 2.  It was my son who taught his two-year-old twin sisters to climb the rope in the back yard, a mooring line anchored in our maple tree.  But that’s another story.   

I became hyper aware of cliffs when we were camping in Colorado with the family.  One night at dinner my husband made an announcement.    
“Tomorrow, we’re going to visit the ancient cliff dwellers.”
Oooo’s rang out around the dinette tables.  But all I could do was tremble. 
“What cliff?”  I called.  “Who’s ancient?”
My husband just smiled and patted my trembling hand. 
“Don’t worry,” he told the family.  “They have tall, vertical ladders to use.”
There was only one word I didn’t like in that statement.  Can you guess?  Yep.  It’s vertical—as in straight up and down. 
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Somewhat solid ground. I tried not to
                think of the cliff ledge we were on.

MesaVerde National Park is a semi-arid desert dotted in green pines tucked into sandstone cliffs.  Mesa Verde is Spanish for Green Table.  It’s proof of an ancient farming culture where the Ancestral Puebloans, the ancient ones, planted corn above their clay brick homes made into the cliffs and cotton, beans, squash, and melons on the moist canyon floor.

But that’s not what the children were interested in.  They wanted to take the Trail of the Ancients with the 18 inch wide, 12 foot long tunnel on your hands and knees at Balcony House. They wanted to race up vertical ladders at both Cliff Palace and Balcony House—one of them nearly 32 feet in height.  Balcony House is 600 feet above the floor of Soda Canyon.  Cliff Palace has a 100 foot vertical climb.  My children possess no fear. 

Why did the Ancestral Puebloans move from the cliff dwellings?  Did the crops fail because of drought and they moved on?  Did the people die out?  Or did one paranoid mother of five get on the leaders’ nerves so badly about the possibility of children falling off the ladders that the people relocated?  Experts theorize that the Ancestral Puebloans relocated to a more defensive position closer to the canyon floor. 

I bet mothers had something to do with that.  And I also bet the mothers were glad to be on solid ground, if only to stop carrying the produce up all those vertical ladders.  I know I was glad to be back on the ground.  The Ancestral Puebloans must have been in better shape. 

How about you?  Do you have any fears you need to be wary of passing along to your children?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Desert Hikes Take Care & Planning When Hiking with Children

            
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Interesting to imagine that it was once a sea. 
It’s interesting to think that some of the deserts out west in the United States were once oceans with abundant sea life.  However, the proof can be found in the creatures that are trapped in the sandstone and mud rock of the area. 

We took the children to the Four Corners area of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico and visited Canyonlands National Park

We chose to explore the sun-bleached plains of Utah and Colorado as we drove along a painted desert of pink, orange, golden, and tan sandstone.  Beautiful, spectacular.  Rock formations jut out of the desert floor, pinnacles precariously perched on dusty pedestals.  

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Hats are a necessity when 
hiking in the desert.
When hiking under the wilting desert sun, hats are a necessity.  Wide-brimmed hats are better, but any hat will work.  Long-sleeved, light-colored clothing is best and be sure to wear sturdy shoes, not sandals.  Everyone needs to carry water.  Slather pounds of sunscreen over any exposed skin.  And don’t forget the bug spray just in case.  It’s also important to stay on marked paths in protected areas such as national parks.  You need to be careful not to disturb the fragile soil crusts, the thin crustal ecosystem of the desert.  

While you cannot take anything from a national park, our commercial campground offered fossil hunts because we camped in that desert valley.  So one evening after dinner, our family rode in a hay wagon pulled by a tractor, sharing laughter with other campers.  Our funny guide told jokes and for the life of me I can’t remember one.  They were of the corny type, though.
 
Everyone was permitted one fossil.  These fossils are shells embedded in rock.  And we had to dig up our fossils ourselves. 
Now this is where “Daddy’s little girl” puts on the charm.
Our youngest, one of the twins, wanted a big fossil, so she proceeded to smile her way into having Daddy dig up the chunk of rock for her.  Not only did he dig it up—a foot square of ruddy sandstone—but he lugged it back to the hay wagon for her.  My poor husband didn’t get to choose a fossil.  He merely carried the pick.

Still, he fared better than the other male in our family.    

Our poor son, age 12, was girl watching instead of looking where he was stepping along the path to the fossil grounds. 
I was watching the girls at the time and learned about this later. 
Our son slid down a cacti-covered mound.  His father helped him back to the trail and plucked out the thorns before our son could continue on the journey. 

When hiking anywhere, it is always a good idea to watch where you are stepping on the trail.  You could suffer a far worse fate than merely a few thorns.

Later when we were getting ready for bed, I asked my son if he was okay.

“I’m fine, Mom,” he answered, rubbing his thighs in the sleeping bag.  “Dad helped me.”
“Good,” I said, and gave him a kiss goodnight.
Then a smile tugged at his lips.  “She had long red hair,” he shyly confessed, “and smiled at me.”
“Oh?”

“Yea.  Glad she didn’t see me fall off the trail.”  And with that, he turned onto his side and burrowed deep into his sleeping bag.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

Travelling Down the Road With Kids: Gotta Get There!

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The road is indeed long and winding,
especially out west in the United States!
When I thought about this blog post on road travel, The Hollies’ iconic song He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother immediately came to mind:  

            “The road is long,
With many a winding turn…”

Camping with Kids or even travelling with kids, the road is always long.  And loud.  And complicated. 

Case in point: 
It was my son who first coined the expression in our family.  He was looking out the window at yet another long and winding road on one of our camping trips.

“Mom,” he called to me.
   
I turned around in my seat. 

He shook his head, pointing out the window to the many construction signs popping up along the roadway.  “Road destruction,” he said in his innocence.

Actually, he is correct.  More often than not, it seems the construction workers first destroy the road completely before building it back up.  Oh, and this always takes a long, long, long time to complete.  Or maybe it’s just where I live.  What do you think?

[Rest assured.  I understand that road maintenance is an ongoing battle.]

Travelling across the country with five children, especially when there was a lot of road construction, we stopped in the late afternoon, well before dinnertime, to set up camp.  Some of the campgrounds along major highways seemed more like overnight parking lots than full-fledge camps.  However, we always tried to find a campground with a pool and playground, the only concession I could offer my travel-weary children after they assisted with camp setup. 

One particular campground in Iowa proffered the only tree in what seemed like a hundred mile radius.  And we camped next to it. 

What luck!  I thought.  And no one else seemed to be camping near it either!

…Then I learned why no one wanted to camp near the tree.

Every bird in that hundred mile radius knew of this heavenly tree and settled there each evening. 

Do you realize that birds like to chatter about their day in the evening, just like humans?  Hundreds of birds flew to this single, large tree as the sun went down.  And hundreds of birds had much to say that evening, in hundreds of different voices, just like humans. 

I could barely hear my own children squawking through the noise. 

By the way, birds tend to find that elusive first shaft of sunshine in the morning, too.  Well in advance of any human ever seeing it.  Oh, and those same talkative birds from the night before?  They like to chatter, at that time, about what they will be doing during the day. 

I wanted to shroud the tree with one of our big tarps so the birds couldn’t see that confounded first shaft of light that we humans never find. 


Someone should tell the birds about the “Quiet Hours” enforced on the campers by campground officials.  But I guess it wouldn’t matter.  Because once the birds finally quieted down, the bugs began their chorus!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: A World Heritage City

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Oh, and don’t lose the kids in
 the city when you go!
Working in the school system, I learn many things right along with the students.  Just before school ended, I learned that Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, had a new accolade.  June is a very busy month for the Lees family, so I wanted to wait until we had some time.

At breakfast one day, I broached a new subject with the kids. 

“Guys guess what?”  I knew they wouldn’t say anything, so I continued.  “Philly just became the first World Heritage City in the United States.

The children yawned.  “So what does that mean?”

“The city will be even more crowded when we visit it now,” my husband said.  

We’re not crowd people, remember?  That’s why we camp in nature.

I glared at my husband.  We couldn’t let this great honor go unnoticed so close to home.  I tried to entice them with a bit of history. 

            “Philadelphia was the seat of government at the birth of our new country way back in the 1700’s.” 

             “We know, Mom.”
 
This was going to be tough.  It looked like I needed to do a bit of research on the internet to get them interested.

            When we reconvened for lunch, I told them what I discovered. 

“In order to obtain the classification of World Heritage City, among many other things, a city must be important to the history and heritage of a country.”

They rolled their eyes.  My husband sat quietly eating his sandwich, smiling to himself.   

I sighed.  “In other words, guys, the process needed to start with an UNESCO site.”

“An un…what?” our oldest daughter asked.

Good!  At least someone heard me.  “A site approved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.”

No reaction.  Unperturbed, I continued. 

“Philly has Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.”

They just chewed their sandwiches.

“And later the birth of the country’s government was created and signed there with the Constitution of the United States in 1787.” 

The kids were still unimpressed.

“That’s a lot of history rolled up in Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park.”

Then I remembered.  “It’s the 100th Birthday of the National Park Service.  There may be special activities.” 

At least that made them look at me instead of their sandwiches.  I lost no time.

“They have horse and buggy rides around town.”
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All families love horse and buggy rides!

The smiles started.

“And we get to take the train into the city,” I finished. 

That did it.  Soon we had a daypack stuffed with treats and drinks.  I carried the smaller pack with sunscreen and bug spray.  A camera around the neck, comfortable walking shoes, and sun hats on the heads and off we went to discover Philadelphia, the new World Heritage City.

If you are visiting the area, here’s a webpage to all the fun in Philadelphia during the 4th of July Independence Celebration.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday to the National Park Service: The Need for National Parks

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National Parks are a vital part of peace
and education for people everywhere. 
I believe the United States would be lost without our National Parks.  Places of natural beauty, storehouses of national knowledge are important treasure for people and families around the globe.  

As much as people need other people, they also need time to themselves, a place to go to find peace.  To stop.  To rest.  To listen within.  The beauty in nature helps people and families find solace. 

Now this is where the National Park Service can help.

National Parks and families go together like sunshine and blue skies.  Park ranger programs are the lifeblood of any stay in a National Park.  My family and I know this firsthand from our many adventures camping with kids.  I’ve addressed the importance of National Parks before on my Camping with Kids blog in the post entitled “National Parks and Families.”  I’ve also discussed the important issue of selling private land within national parks for commercial development in my post entitled “The Future Enjoyment of National Parks.”  

My family and I have learned from Park Rangers that National Parks are for discovery:  
We have found life within the emptiness of a desert, a diverse ecosystem, lichen upon rocks, the fragility of sand pavement. 
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Arches National Park
                the diversity of the desert
We’ve seen the ages of geology painted in the canyon walls of the west. 
We’ve wondered at the archaeology that uncovered artwork of an ancient people and learned about their culture.
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Mesa Verde National Park
                discovering the culture
               of the Ancient Ones
 
We’ve listened to volumes of history constructing the freedom needed to make our government great.

On our family camping trips to National Parks, we’ve discovered the excitement of watching the Milky Way pop out in a blackened night sky while reclining on a beach.  We smelled the heady fragrances of ponderosa pine in spring and wild rose in June.  We sought out shelter from the rain under the canopy of trees in a national forest, experienced the coolness of caves or crystal clear mountain water in summertime, and felt the moisture cling to our skin hiking up into the clouds on a mountain trail.

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The cooling mountain waters in
                 Yosemite National Park

The centuries of knowledge that the United States National Parks hold are not just for those who can visit the parks firsthand.  Not with today’s technology.  Teachers, schools, parents, and students around the world can discover facts and find lessons on history, science, art, geology, biology, archaeology, and much more on the National Park Service’s Find Your Park website.  Scroll down to "America’s Classrooms for Teachers" to find a treasure trove of resources for teachers. 
Choose a park.
Pick a program.
Receive lesson plans with a defined vocabulary list.
Find grade level distance learning programs [park ranger presentations] available.


National Parks are needed in today’s world not only for the beauty and solace they provide, but also for the knowledge they share with others.  Bravo, National Park Service.  Happy Birthday!