Posts Tagged ‘travel with kids’

The Year Long Adventure has provided our family with many new opportunities.  One of the things we have really enjoyed is taking factory tours and learning how things are made.  On Leg 2, we toured Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream in Vermont and Herr’s Snack Foods in Pennsylvania (You can relive these adventures here and here).  Leg 5 led us to St. Joe, Indiana, and a tour of the Sechler’s Pickle Factory.  Our 9-year old daughter is a big fan of pickles, and our research told us that this was the only factory tour of a pickle plant in the United States.

Ralph Sechler started working in the pickle business in 1914, and by 1921, he and his wife were making and selling pickles out of their home in St. Joe.  Today Sechler’s makes over 40 varieties of pickles, relishes, and specialty items.  The company offers free tours of their factory, and they show guests their process for making and packaging their products.

Sechler's original home

Sechler's current factory complex

The tour was very interesting, and one of the things that amazed us was the amount of sugar needed to make sweet pickles and relish.  It was fun to watch the complex machinery needed to turn a cucumber into a pickle ready for shipment to stores.  Unfortunately, no pictures or video were allowed inside the factory, so you’ll have to trust us or schedule a visit to Indiana.

After our walk through the factory, we were able to dive into Sechler’s tasting table and sample some of their delicious products.  We ended our tour by taking a family picture with a giant pickle.  Good times.

Yes, we got to keep the hats.

St. Joe, Indiana, is also the home of the annual St. Joe Pickle Festival.  This annual celebration, held every year in August, includes events like the decorated Pickle People contest, Pickle Derby, and the Pickle Pepper Poker Walk.  Who knew pickles could be so much fun?

Don’t miss a moment of the YLA!  “Like” us on Facebook at Year Long Adventure.


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Editor’s Note:  Due to a broken computer and getting back to life upon the return of the trip blog posts for Leg 4 of our YLA are about 5 – 6 weeks behind reality.

The Four Corners, located on the Navajo Nation Tribal Lands, is the area of the U.S. where the states of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico all come together at one point. This means that you can actually be in four different states at the same time. When we discussed the possibility of taking the Year Long Adventure with our then 8 year-old daughter, a visit here was one of the selling points.  She loved the idea of being in four states at once, so a planned trip here helped close the deal.

In the late afternoon on May 19, we left Mesa Verde National Park outside Cortez, Colorado, during a snowstorm.  We were in the home stretch of Leg 4 of our Year Long Adventure, and this is the part of the trip where the actual value of upcoming stops is REALLY scrutinized. The trip from Cortez to the Four Corners Monument is about 50 miles, and unfortunately, not in the direction of home. Mom and Dad explained the situation and without hesitation, the kids unanimously voted to go, even though it would add 2 hours to the drive.  We headed toward Four Corners through this very desolate part of the country, enjoying the incredible rock formations lining the road along the way.

When we were almost there, we noticed that a big thunderstorm was beginning to form in our path.  We pulled up to Four Corners right around 5:00 and paid $15 entry fee.  Most of the vendors were hurriedly packing up due to suddenly strong winds and the ominous skies above.

Luckily, because of the time and the rapidly approaching storm, there was not a big crowd.  We only had to wait for one other group to take their pictures before we had our turn. Everyone took a turn at being in four states at once, photos were snapped, and we RAN back to the car.  Seconds later, the huge thunderstorm hit.

Apparently, we sacrificed the quality of the shot in the interest of speed. Oops.

A girl's dream being realized: four states at once!

We were only at the Four Corners for about four minutes, but it was great to check another item off the YLA Bucket List. It was a much more exciting visit than if we had to wait an hour in 100 degree heat for the same experience, and in the end, our 9 year old left with a giant smile.  Priceless!

The rainbow after the storm.

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Editor’s Note:  Due to a broken computer and getting back to life upon the return of the trip blog posts for Leg 4 of our YLA are about 5 – 6 weeks behind reality.

We left Bryce Canyon en route to Arches National Park, one of the “must-see” places on our list when we began planning the Year Long Adventure.  The drive between the two parks was spectacular and varied.  Holding our breath, we traveled on roads with names like “Devil’s Backbone” across high mountain passes, trying to ignore the steep drop offs on both sides.  Dad was able to commemorate his 40th birthday by standing in a field of snow on a mountaintop, a very unique opportunity for a Native Texan born in mid-May.

Celebrating 40 in Utah

The winding road took us through two more National Parks:  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park.  The rock formations were amazing, and the kids were inspired to name each feature they saw.   We arrived in Moab in the early evening, just in time for a quick stop at the Arches Visitor Center before it closed.

We're here!

We gathered Junior Ranger Books and park information so we could plan the best way to use our time the next day.  We did not have a hotel reservation at this point, so we rode down the main drag of Moab, reading hotel reviews on Trip Advisor on our iPhone.  Dad decided to approach the La Quinta Inn Moab with his freshly honed negotiating skills to seek a deal or upgrade, and ended up getting the two room suite for only slightly more than the price of the regular room.  Once you go “suite”, it is hard to go back.  Happy Birthday, Dad!!

We awoke Wednesday morning, hit the breakfast room, and stopped at a grocery store in Moab to get picnic supplies for lunch.  This is an important step when visiting Arches because there is no food sold within the park.  Our excitement started to wane as we approached the park entrance and raindrops began to fall on the windshield.  A quick check of the outside temperature on the dashboard display informed us that it was 48 degrees outside.  Things did not look good for a day at a park that involves a lot of hiking.

Rain, rain, go away!

We took the road into the park as heavier rain started to fall at a faster pace.  Most of the major geologic formations lie along the main park road, a loop with stops at the best viewpoints.  Because there were no Ranger tours available, Mom ran through the rain to purchase a driving tour guidebook.   As we drove, we learned about the geological processes which create these incredible fin, window, and arch formations (simple explanation here), making them even more amazing to behold.

By the time we reached the parking lot for the first big attractions, “Double Arch” and “Turret Arch”, the rain had almost vanished.   Decked out in our rain gear, we quickly hiked the short trail to “Double Arch”.  We were able to climb up directly under the arch and were amazed at the viewpoint.  The size of the immense arches is truly amazing when you are standing close to them.

"Double Arch" from a distance

Underneath the massive "Double Arch"

We then crossed the road for a quick climb to “Turret Arch” and another photo opportunity.  By the time we reached the car, the rain had started to pick up again.  Sadly, this would be the pattern for the rest of the day.

View from under "Turret Arch"

The next hour was spent driving through the rain, looking at the incredible landscapes, and stopping at viewpoints.

Sightseeing in the rain

Taking pictures proved difficult through droplet covered windows and/or driving rain.  It was only raining lightly when we reached the viewpoint for the signature arch of the park, “Delicate Arch”.

Delicate Arch looms in the distance. To hike or not to hike? That is the question.

The viewpoint is still a mile hike from the actual arch, but we decided not to make the trek for a closer look.  This was one of the best decisions we made on the trip as 10 minutes later, the torrential rains came.

Back in the car, we made our way to the end of the main road where the park campsites are located and found some truly hearty souls sitting under their tents in the heavy rain.  The storm broke long enough for Dad and the girls to go search for one last arch, and they were rewarded with a pretty cool site.

The hike to the secret arch

One last arch

On our way back out of the park, the rain stopped a final time, allowing for a quick walk around Balanced Rock.  This is an amazing site where a boulder the size of several school buses balances atop a rock spire.  It is also a great trick photo opportunity.

Balanced Rock

Don't knock it over!

Arches National Park is a beautiful park, but not the best place to visit in the rain.  Moab was a cool little town with a laid back feel to it.  Hopefully we will get the chance to return some day during the dry season to try our hand at more hiking and perhaps river rafting at one of the many nearby sites.

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After weather complications prevented us from seeing the Giant Sequoias, we made an unscheduled stop in San Francisco on Leg 4 of our Year Long Adventure.  This was Mom & Dad’s third trip to SF, and we were excited to get the chance to show the kids the city where we spent both our honeymoon and ten year wedding anniversary.

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge

Our first stop was north of the city, where we experienced the beauty of Muir Woods National Monument (read about it here).

The amazing Redwoods of Muir Woods

We contemplated staying our one night outside the city, but we instead decided to stay in the heart of the Fisherman’s Wharf area at the Best Western Tuscan Inn.  The cost to stay here was a little more than outside the city, but the prime location allowed us to walk to most of the places we wanted to see on our visit.

After checking into the hotel, we walked four blocks to Pier 39 to see the Sea Lions who gather on the floating docks.  The kids really enjoyed the antics and call of the sea lions despite the cold and windy evening.

We then walked down the wharf and ate dinner at Boudin Bakery.  Their specialty is sourdough bread, and they bake loaves in some amazing animal shapes.

Turtles, crabs, and bears...oh my!

Bread alligator

After some excellent seafood, we took a taxi up to Nob Hill to show the kids the Renaissance Stanford Court hotel where we spent our honeymoon back in 1997 and our anniversary in 2007.

Nob Hill is only a few blocks away from Chinatown.  From the hotel, we walked down a street so steep that it is hard to believe.  We did a little souvenir shopping and stopped for a  photo op on Clay Street.

At sunset, we caught the closest trolley car for a ride back down to the wharf.  This was another big hit with the kids.

Riding the Trolley

The next morning we walked a few blocks over to Lombard Street.  This is the famous “crookedest street in the world” built with switchbacks to allow cars to traverse the extremely steep slope.

Crooked street in the world

Preparing to walk back down

It was a rough hike up the hill to make it to the top of the street, but the view was worth it.  A quick walk back to the hotel and our 24 hours in San Francisco were done.  The kids really enjoyed the trip, and it was fun for Mom and Dad to share one of our favorite places with them, if only for a short time.

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On our way to visit two more natural wonders, we were “getting our kicks on Route 66” between Albuquerque, NM, and Holbrook, AZ.  We spent the night in Holbrook, NM, a town off 1-40 and the Old Historic Route 66 which was a happening stop in the 1960s as American families traveled West.

Our first stop the next morning was at Petrified Forest National Park located about 20 miles east of Holbrook.  This park is home to one of the largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood in the world and also the “Painted Desert”.

In Year Long Adventure tradition, we began our visit to the park at the north end Visitor Center watching the introductory movie and picking up Junior Ranger Books for the kids.  There is a 28 mile road that travels north to south through the park, taking you through scenery that at times makes you feel like you could be on another planet.  Centuries of uplift and erosion have created a badlands topography of many mesas towering over acres of flat grasslands.  These mesas are made up of many layers of different colored rocks and minerals that have created the “Painted Desert”.  Many colors cascade across the landscape as the sun moves across the horizon.

In the center of the park are the ruins of Pueblo Puerco, an ancient settlement which once contained up to 100 rooms.  A short walking trail leads among the ruins where some petroglyphs can be seen.

Toward the southern end of the park is where the large areas of petrified wood are found.  Thousands of years ago, this area of the country was a tropical rain forest with huge trees up to 200 feet tall.   Over time and through a chemical change that was difficult to understand, many of these trees that had fallen were petrified.  Many of these trees have become colorful explosions of quartz and crystals.  At many points along the drive, the Park Service has created walking trails which wind among these huge pieces of the petrified wood.   At one point we found a tree lying next to the path that was still over 40 feet long.

It is against the law to take anything from the park, and they explain at the visitor center that over 1 ton of petrified wood and rocks are stolen from the park each month.  Luckily for those wanting a souvenir,  there are about a dozen rock shops outside the park that will sell you any kind of rock, crystal, or petrified wood that you could want. (Not sure where they get their inventory since it is illegal to take it out of the park.)

Despite the extreme conditions, wildlife does populate the park.  As we arrived at the South Visitor Center, we were greeted by two Pronghorn on top of one of the mesas. 

We toured the Rainbow Forest Fossil Museum inside where the kids got some great one-on-one instruction from Ranger Michael, who then swore them in as proud Junior Rangers.  The kids were thrilled when he let them hold a 200 million year-old fossilized tooth!

This park is truly amazing, and much different than we expected.  If you ever find yourself in Eastern Arizona, you really should make a point to visit.

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We awoke in Roswell, New Mexico, ready for more adventure.  To break up the long drive that day, our plan was to stop in Albuquerque and visit Petroglyph National Monument.  Located on a mesa of volcanic rock, Petroglyph National Monument stretches 17 miles to the west of Albuquerque.  It is on these rocks that ancient pueblo dwellers and early Spanish settlers carved images that we know today as petroglyphs.

We started at the visitor center for a trail map and the always popular Junior Ranger Book.  There are two different areas where the petroglyphs can be viewed.  We chose the Boca Negro Canyon, a short drive from the Visitor Center.  The first trail, Mesa Point, was quite a steep climb, weaving through giant rocks and ending on top of the mesa around 700 feet higher than the parking lot.  Along the trail we were able to clearly see many petroglyphs on the rocks.

Climbing up the paved portion of the steep trail.

Our favorite petroglyph. We thought it looked like a lizard holding a lollipop.

Once we made it to the summit, we were rewarded with incredible views.  The kids worked on their Junior Ranger Books and gave new meaning to the term “outdoor science lab”.

School in session atop the mesa.

While on top of the mesa we saw some pretty cool lizards and a rock squirrel stopped by to check us out.

After a short rest, we slowly made our way down the trail (much scarier than climbing up) and were able to check out the two shorter trails along the base which also featured some closeup views of the petroglyphs.

The kids really enjoyed the hiking and the petroglyphs.  They were quite proud when they realized how high they had climbed!  We would recommend the trip if you ever find yourself in Albuquerque and are looking for a neat outdoor activity with your family.

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Leg 4 of our Year Long Adventure has begun! The focus of this trip is on the natural beauty of the Southwest, so we will be visiting as many National Parks as we can while traveling through this region.  Day one of our journey took us on a long drive from our home base near Dallas, Texas, to Carlsbad, New Mexico.  As we left Dallas, it was pouring rain and 47 degrees, quite unusual for early May.  We had warmer weather when we left on Leg 3 in February!

We spent a pretty uneventful 10 hours making our way to Carlsbad.  It was amazing to see the vast number of windmills in West Texas stretching in a line as far as the eye can see.  The kids were truly impressed.

The next morning, we drove to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a 30 minute drive south from the town of Carlsbad.  Upon arrival, we obtained our Junior Ranger booklets and purchased tickets for the afternoon “King’s Palace” tour, the least strenuous of the guided tours.  Detailed descriptions of the different guided tours are available online, so you can pick the one which best fits your interests and limitations.

There are two ways to enter the caverns. One is a walk through the natural entrance and down a steep, winding trail that takes over an hour to get to “The Big Room”. The second option utilizes a high speed elevator that descends over 750 feet in less than a minute, arriving fifty yards from the same chamber as the natural entrance.  We took the elevator.

Our first stop was to take the self-guided tour of “The Big Room”.  This is an area inside the cavern that is literally a BIG room.  A 1.5 mile winding trail takes you through the room filled with amazing geological wonders.  Words cannot truly describe the place, and pictures do not do it true justice either.  It does not seem possible that this place is real.

We finished the self-guided portion of the tour in time to grab a quick lunch in the underground dining area before our Ranger-guided tour of “The King’s Palace”.  This tour took us to another four rooms of the park with all different types of formations.

Stalactites and stalagmites - do you know the difference?

Drapery formation in the "Queen's Chamber"

Carlsbad Caverns were discovered by a teenage cowboy in 1901.  He spent years exploring the caves with a homemade lantern made from an old coffee can filled with kerosene, and he named these rooms and all of the formations inside.  You can read more about fascinating story of Jim White here and here.  Today the Park Service has added many lights among the formations to enhance the wonder of the place.  One of the highlights of this Ranger tour is when they turn out all of lights in the cave for around 5 minutes so that we could experience true total darkness.  Our daughter Audrey was very proud to be selected as the volunteer who pushed the button to turn off and on the lights.

Audrey posing with the button that turns off the lights.

As we expected, the tour was very informative.  We learned all about the different types of natural formations in the cave and how they form.  One of the more interesting parts was hearing stories of the early years after the cave was discovered, but before the Park Service took over.  In order to publicize the caverns, everything from weddings to Chamber of Commerce meetings were held inside.  Part of the original “Journey To The Center of the Earth” movie was filmed in one of the chambers.  Unfortunately, people unknowingly damaged many of the cave formations, so paved trails were added and new rules enforced to preserve it for future generations.

Walking on the trails

We really enjoyed our opportunity to explore this incredible natural site and highly recommend it to all.  Bring a jacket because it is 55 degrees underground year round.  We were surprised at how busy it was on a Tuesday in the first week of May.  Advanced reservations for guided tours are suggested as they fill up quickly.  Our kids once again enjoyed the Junior Ranger program, and they were thrilled to receive both a pin and a patch upon completion.

Being sworn in as Junior Rangers

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