Weekly Photo Challenge: ROY G. BIV

A creative response to this week’s Photo Challenge? Perhaps not.  But, this rainbow so vividly displayed the full spectrum of colors, as we drove through Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota a few years back, it immediately came to mind when I reviewed our photo charge for the week!  If only we had more time, perhaps we could have discovered that pot of gold lurking behind the butte at the end of the rainbow ….

Butte Rainbow near Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”ROY G. BIV” is this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

Sand Dunes in the Mountains

I gave you a glimpse of the Great Sand Dunes National Park in the post for this week’s photo challenge.  It is worth revisiting in more detail, starting with the sunrise at San Luis State Park, just outside the dunes.  The San Luis campground was the ideal launching pad for a day trip to the Dunes as we continued our road trip through Colorado.

Campsite at San Luis State Park, Colorado
Our campsite at San Luis State Park, outside the Great Sand Dunes

As you approach the park entrance sign, the dunes are like a mirage at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Hiking the dunes on a summer day requires a morning start — that sand bakes in a hurry under a hot sun.  With no trees or other objects to provide cover or shade, one quickly gets a desert hiking experience.

Starting out on a Great Sand Dunes hike

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

Sand angels are not a wise idea when you have your camera in your pocket.  Photos are great tools for capturing memories; this photo will always capture the memory of my son’s camera literally biting the dust.

Sand Angels in the Sand Dunes of Colorado

It took awhile to get the hang of climbing the dunes — there is a strategy to minimize the feeling of walking on a treadmill.

Not all came to hike.  We saw visitors with makeshift sleds, and others on skis, treating the sand like a warm weather ski hill.  No problem with congestion at this vast venue!

Climbing the dunes in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park has such a unique setting — neverending desert-like dunes butted up against the extensive Sangre de Cristo mountain range.  Sunrise and sunset would provide for some phenomenal photo opportunities!

Hiking the dunes at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains

We had a goal of hiking to the top of the tallest dune, but settled for the second tallest, by our estimation.  We sat and rested for a water break before the return hike to the car.  Water bottles were quickly depleted, and sunglasses essential, as the sun climbed to its midday spot.

sand dunes hike 10 8_3_09

sand dunes hike 17 8_3_09

If you are pressed for time, even a half-day stop to wander through the Visitor Center and take a short walk onto the dunes is worthwhile.  However, spending a day or two exploring the nearby mountain trails and activities would make for a fun weekend trip.  We barely scratched the surface of this fascinating site.

Parting view of Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

The National Park website for the Great Sand Dunes National Park has all the information you need to start planning a visit to this unique Colorado destination.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top

Returning to another great road trip memory for this week’s challenge: my son standing on top of a sand dune at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado.

Great Sand Dunes National Park -- standing on top of a dune

Check back tomorrow for more photos from this interesting National Park, and the greater perspective and context of these dunes.

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”On Top” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

Yellowstone National Park, Classic Road Trip Destination

I am saddened that our days of the classic summer road trip are over.  We had a good run of them.  Then our boys became involved in summer activities or jobs that made it increasingly difficult to schedule around, and they went on to create their own special memories with friends old and new, as it should be when your children grow up.  Since summer road trip season is not too far off (or so I like to believe as I watch the snow get blown about outside my window ….), what better time to dig into the photo archives and share some of my family’s favorite travel memories from over the years.

Our summer road trips usually involved a National Park destination or similar natural setting.  If you had to select just one classic U.S. National Park to visit for that summer adventure, you could not go wrong with Yellowstone National Park.

Old Faithful Inn and the Upper Geyser Basin

Yellowstone has an amazingly diverse landscape, from the colorful steaming pools and murky paint pots, to the geysers and rivers and lakes.  The glacial landscape results in some amazing scenery.

Glacial Boulder in Yellowstone National Park

While Old Faithful is a classic sight, it is in the center of the Upper Geyser Basin activity.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

We found that sitting along the banks of the river on a hot day, watching the River Geyser go on for ages, provided a peaceful respite.

River Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

A person also could spend much of the day pondering the midnight blue depths of the Black Pool, alongside Lake Yellowstone.

Black Pool, Yellowstone's West Thumb Geyser Basin

Some water features of the park are hidden far below the surface, showing themselves only through the steam escaping from vents scattered about the Park.

Buffalo steam-bathing in Yellowstone National Park

Then there are the incredible moving bodies of water — both the Upper and Lower Falls are scenes straight out of a postcard, captured through the ages in paintings and photography.

Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone presents the classic sight of buffalo letting drivers know who rules the road.

Buffalo on a Yellowstone National Park highway

Congestion is quickly escaped, though, by enjoying the vast rolling greens of Hayden Valley.

Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Even Hayden Valley meets with a traffic jam on occasion, as the herd moves to its evening grounds with the sunset.  What an awe-inspiring sight it was to watch buffalo after buffalo, mother encouraging their young, large bulls kicking up the dust, as the line of buffalo snorted and grumbled its way across the highway, down the bank of the river, across the river, and then off into the valley beyond.

Evening buffalo crossing in Yellowstone National Park

Buffalo herd crosses the river at sunset in Yellowstone National Park

The National Park Service’s website is your best starting point for planning a visit to Yellowstone National Park.  If you intend to stay inside the Park, plan your reservations far in advance, because lodging fills early during popular summer vacation dates.

Ciao! ~ Kat


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