Family Road Trips: Time Together that Breaks and Bonds

As parents before us always cautioned, “Time goes so fast, enjoy it before it’s gone.”  Words of wisdom, and words we tried to heed in between those other moments when every parent feels that a little alone time would not be so bad?  So it goes with the family road trip.

My recent travel consisted of acting as a companion to my son as he visited universities in Boston and Washington, D.C., while my husband and other son held down the fort at home with the four-legged family members.  As my oldest son and I traveled together for the week, I was struck with the thought that our days of the week-long family road trip are probably over – the boys’ summer activities, social life and work schedules increasingly interfered with trying to schedule family time this past summer, and in not much longer than a year from now, we will see our oldest off to college.  Time does go fast.

Geocaching along the highway
Running back to the car while geocaching alongside the highway, before mom threatens to drive off . . .

Our family’s road trips over the years are full of memories — the good, the bad and the ugly.  So it goes when spending 24/7 together in a car, in a tent, in a small rustic room of lodging, on the trail, in the heat, in the cold . . . .

Road-tripping across North Dakota and Montana
Road-tripping across North Dakota and Montana — endless fields, endless skies.

Our road trip a few summers ago to Glacier National Park in Montana involved the long drive across Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana to reach that stunning northwestern Montana scenery.  But don’t knock the scenery in between — the prairie land of North Dakota, the endless yellow canola fields of Montana, the miles and miles of blue sky in all directions, and the wildlife along the way.

Free range cattle
“Look, there’s buffalo!” OK, so the lighting was off, and they are free-range cattle instead . . .

After several days of exploring Glacier National Park’s trails and the surrounding area (I shared one stunning example with you in this post on the Iceberg Lake trail), it was time to reverse the road trip and head back home to Minnesota.

Entering the North Dakota Badlands
Entering the North Dakota Badlands

The novelty of 18 hours in the car over two days wears off more quickly on the return trip home.  Mom’s choice of music (driver’s pick) gets tiresome (or so I am told), my husband has trouble sleeping for nine additional hours each day as front passenger, and my boys have to continually find new ways of pushing each other’s buttons.  Sure enough, with each trip, new and novel ways to entertain emerge.  Enter “gum guy.”

“Raising a kid is part joy and part guerilla warfare.” ~ Ed Asner

Kat navigating through North Dakota

“Gum guy” ended up in “time out” status on the dashboard before his reign was complete.  He was the creation of my oldest son.  We are pretty sure that gum guy’s sole purpose on earth was to torture my youngest son.  I will say that gum guy left us in stitches before he was confiscated, as he had some witty one-liners in between his aggravating antics.

Gum Guy
Gum Guy

Seriously, though, when I think of the countryside we have explored by car together, sometimes traveling for hours by interstate, but often taking that road less traveled to see the nooks and crannies of the scenic side roads, I am grateful.  I hope my boys will be, too, as they look back years from now.

Road tripping provides opportunity to stop and appreciate the wonder of a changing landscape.  As one example of many from our road trip travels, we approached our stopping point for the night on the western border of North Dakota.  Storm clouds moved in and let loose some heavy rain for a time.  The clouds were still dark and heavy when the sun broke through on the horizon behind us.  The result was the most rewarding scene for miles — a rainbow which blossomed into a double rainbow, so breathtaking in its beauty that it even had two adolescent boys exclaiming in awe!

Double Rainbow in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Double Rainbow in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Never have we seen a rainbow so vibrant, so large.  We pulled the car over to a scenic overlook spot along the highway to enjoy nature’s special show. The sight left us believing that if we ran across that rugged landscape we would be certain to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. ~ Vincent Van Gogh

As the sun began to set, the rainbows faded.  My oldest son had discovered a geocache was located nearby; I called out for him to return to the car so we could finish our journey for the day.  When he shouted back to me, I turned to see his silhouette atop of one of the buttes, making his way back to the car.

Geocaching in the North Dakota Badlands
Geocaching in the North Dakota Badlands

Our trips to the big cities have been exciting, full of interesting museums, historical sites, eclectic food, sometimes posh lodging.  But our road trips in various directions across this diverse landscape of the United States have held memories you cannot create by buying a ticket or making a reservation.

 “Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.”   ~ Thomas Berry

Ciao! ~ Kat

Geocaching in Cascade River State Park

When we meandered to the northern tip of Minnesota at the end of September, following the North Shore of Lake Superior (as I shared in this post about Grand Portage State Park and this post about Judge C.R. Magney State Park), we also stopped by Cascade River State Park.  This multi-park day trip was motivated by the Minnesota State Park’s “Geocaching Avian Adventure” that began in June 2012 and goes until June 2014.

Waterfalls of the Cascade River ~ Cascade River State Park, MN
Waterfalls of the Cascade River ~ Cascade River State Park, MN

Perhaps you are not familiar with geocaching?  The website is the “go to” resource for people new and old to the hobby of geocaching.  But rather than my trying to explain to you what geocaching is, or how to “go” geocaching, here is a two-minute video put together by that concisely explains this activity enjoyed by so many people:


And, now back to our regularly scheduled programming. . .

Cascade River State Park, Minnesota

Cascade River State Park has some trails that climb to stunning overlooks of the Sawtooth Mountains (we use the term “mountain” loosely in Minnesota).  The geocaching coordinates took us to a loop that started at the cascading falls, and then turned back to go along the river upstream from the falls.

Cascade River State Park, Minnesota

This geocache at Cascade River State Park was the 5th find for my son of the 82 geocaches that make up the “Avian Adventure” — completing the adventure may be a bit ambitious, given our schedules the next couple years, but we will have fun trying when we do have time!

Cascade River State Park, Minnesota

Geocaches can be cleverly hidden, and the one in Cascade River State Park did not disappoint.  I will not give away the precise location, though, so the next geocacher can enjoy finding it as much as we did.

Cascade River State Park, Minnesota

Any other geocachers out there?

Ciao! ~ Kat B.

Judge C.R. Magney State Park: More than Devil’s Kettle

Many of Minnesota’s beautiful state parks become known for one particular feature or trail.  In the case of Judge C.R. Magney State Park, the Devil’s Kettle waterfall is usually the “can’t miss” sight.  When the water is running high, as it was when I took the first few photos back in the fall of 2007 (and never again have I managed to properly set my camera to capture the rushing water blurred just so!), it is exhilarating to hike the narrow path — going up and down the steep wooden stairs, and then standing at the edge of the falls and feeling the water spray as it mysteriously streams into a large opening in the rock, seeming to disappear into the depths of the earth.

Devil's Kettle Falls ~ Judge C.R. Magney State Park (Minnesota)

Brule River ~ Judge C.R. Magney State Park (Minnesota)

The falls empty into the Brule River which winds its way through the rolling hills, just northeast of Grand Marais, Minnesota.  Judge C.R. Magney State Park is not a heavily traveled park, particularly if you wander off of the main Devil’s Kettle trail.  Many years ago, my husband and I camped at the park, which has several lovely spots for tent campers.

Brule River ~ Judge C.R. Magney State Park (Minnesota)

This fall, during autumn’s last hurrah at the end of September, we headed to Judge C.R. Magney State Park to capture our fourth geocache in the Minnesota State Park’s Avian Adventure.  The activity led us to the Timberdoodle Trail, a short self-guided loop which had many interpretive markers along the way.

Timberdoodle Trail ~ Judge C.R. Magney State Park (Minnesota)

Leaves were not only past peak in color, but thinning out significantly as we walked along the leaf-strewn path.  The almost-barren birch stood like sentries on either side of the trail, marking our way.

Timberdoodle Trail ~ Judge C.R. Magney State Park (Minnesota)

Whether you take the classic river trail, or meander along a forest path, Judge C.R. Magney is a state park where you can enjoy peaceful solitude.

Ciao! ~ Kat B.

I Can See Canada From My Window . . .

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. . . at least I can see Canada when I am standing at the entrance to Grand Portage State Park, at the most northeastern point of Minnesota.

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Continuing on our geocaching adventures through Minnesota’s State Parks, we drove the beautiful entirety of Minnesota’s North Shore on about as perfect a fall day as fall days come in Minnesota.

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Lake Superior was a vibrant blue in striking contrast to the golds and greens of the autumn landscape.  At this overlook just off of Highway 61, the vantage point is perfect for viewing the Susie Islands near Grand Portage.

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Just as the border station looms, the visitor center for Grand Portage State Park comes into view.  Grand Portage State Park contains the highest falls in Minnesota – aptly named the “High Falls.”  The Falls usually have two or more large streams of water flowing into the Pigeon River.  With the dry spell Minnesota has seen in recent weeks, like so much of the rest of the country, the Falls were a relative trickle, exposing the interesting surrounding rock more than usual.

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The Spanish moss provided a delicate overhang as we walked the path to the geocaching coordinates. (I am always reminded of the ents in Lord of the Rings when I see Spanish moss, which is not an overly common sight in Minnesota!)

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As my son found our third “Avian Adventure” geocache, we checked Grand Portage State Park off the list (79 to go!), and enjoyed the view of the Pigeon River as we walked back to the main parking lot.

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I am disappointed we did not get an earlier start (this was the same day trip where I selfishly left a car full of hungry people in a scenic overlook parking lot at the end of the day, so I could take some pictures of the moonrise over Split Rock Lighthouse, which you can see in this post). We did not have time to spend in the exhibit hall, with its murals depicting the culture and traditions of the Grand Portage Ojibwe people. The Park is uniquely situated within the Grand Portage Indian Reservation.  Grand Portage National Monument is nearby, as well, with interesting exhibits relating to the historical fur trade between the voyageurs and Ojibwe.  And, let’s not forget a day or overnight trip to nearby Isle Royale National Park, with its unique ecosytem.  Just more reasons for a return visit to this corner of the state.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Fifth Falls Trail: Gooseberry Falls State Park

Gooseberry Falls is one of Minnesota’s iconic State Parks.  We have hiked the well-worn trail along the edges of the Falls and Gooseberry River countless times; it never gets old.  This classic view (below), however, is one we left behind for one of our two geocaching hikes last weekend.  Instead, we followed the Fifth Falls Trail inland, in pursuit of one of the Avian Adventure geocaches (so that we could end the weekend with only 80 left to check off the list before June of 2014 — as you may recall, the other geocaching hike of the weekend was the lovely Tettegouche Lake Overlook Trail).

Gooseberry Falls ~ Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota
Gooseberry Falls ~ circa 2008

The grasses and wildflowers were close to peak color along the forest floor.  I am always fascinated by the twisted, craggy trunks of the old cedar trees, their graying bark standing in stark contrast to the colors of the forest surrounding them.

Gooseberry Falls State Park ~ Fifth Falls Trail

Moving inland away from Lake Superior’s cool breeze, we broke a sweat as we hiked along, and as soon as our lab sensed water was nearby, he started tugging at the leash.  For some reason, I thought it would be more convenient to put my trusty friend on the jogging leash (hands-free, attaching around my waist with a bungee-type extension leading to the dog), and free my hands for the camera and water bottle.  It was convenient, until we reached the river’s edge, and I stupidly did not unhook him to jump off a small rocky ledge into a slow-moving pool of water upstream from the falls.  I instinctively held my camera safely above my head, so only my elbow nailed the rock as he jumped  . . . there may have been a few profanities unleashed as well as the dog at that point.  My son wisely did not say a word.

Gooseberry River, upriver from Fifth Falls ~ Minnesota

The water level is incredibly low with the lack of rain we have had in recent weeks, leaving much of the rocky river bed exposed to view.  Moving downstream from the falls provided great views of the interesting small caves and openings along the steep river banks.

Fifth Falls ~ Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota

Fifth Falls ~ Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota

Fifth Falls ~ Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota

After locating the geocache, and tucking away the biome bird card as proof of the “find”, we headed back along the Gooseberry River.

Fifth Falls Trail ~ Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota

Gooseberry River ~ Fifth Falls Trail (Minnesota)

Although we have just dipped our toes into this Minnesota State Park geocaching challenge, it already is proving to be an enjoyable way to see different parts of the parks we have visited for years.  The challenge also will take us to numerous parks we have never explored despite living in the state for over twenty years — the Garden Island State Recreation Area cache on an island nineteen miles from shore in the middle of the Lake of the Woods will take a little planning!

Fifth Falls Trail ~ Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota

Two down, eighty geocaching challenges to go . . . but what a delightful way to explore Minnesota’s diverse outdoor offerings!

Ciao! ~ Kat