Our Road Trip…20 Hours, 1200 miles, a 2nd Grader and a Sleep Hating Toddler

Sedona, Arizona
Sedona, Arizona

Since our last road trip was affectionately dubbed “Vacationpocalypse”, and the road trip before that we learned (the hard way) that Tater gets car sick, so understandably, I was a bit on the nervous side last week when we packed up for a week in Nevada and Arizona.

My husband had a 2-day business conference in Nevada, and after that was finished, we took a 5 hour drive out to northeast Arizona to see the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert for a day, and then headed west two hours to Sedona for two days before heading home. All in all, it was 20 hours-plus of driving over 6 days, and while the kids did pretty good in the car, Junior didn’t sleep well at the hotels so we are starting off this week very tired!

It was definitely a lot of fun and we made wonderful memories. Because of homeschooling, I was able to write the trip into our curriculum, and the kids did hands-on science and geography lessons, explored the history of the region, did road trip math, and completed several Junior Ranger programs. (Plus, I purchased the entire Schoolhouse Rock series on DVD, so the kids were learning while we drove as well. Hahaha.)

Having Fun Building Cars at the Childrens Discovery Center
Having Fun Building Cars at the Children’s Discovery Center

While my husband was working, the kids and I headed out to the Children’s Discovery Museum in Nevada. This was our third trip there, and it never disappoints. Although, 7 year old Tater has stopped wanting to play at the imagination make-believe stations and has taken more interest in the hands-on science experiment areas. Sniff Sniff.

We drove through several sections of old Route 66 while driving from Nevada to Arizona. The random, side of the road attractions really made me feel like I was stepping back in time. The small town of Seligman, AZ was especially cool to see.

Driving Route 66 was Quirky and Just Plain FUN!
Driving Route 66 was Quirky and Just Plain FUN!
I Sort of Wanted to Stop Here for Lunch...
I Sort of Wanted to Stop Here for Lunch…
This is a Still Working Motel on Route 66
This is a Still Working Motel on Route 66

We finally reached Holbrook, which is the gateway to the Petrified Forest. It was 17 degrees when we woke up the next morning! We spent most of the following day at the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert, which is actually one park. It was beautiful, and because it was off-season, there were maybe 10 other groups in the entire National Park! We had the place pretty much to ourselves to wander around in.

The Snow and Blue Skies Made for the Perfect View
The Snow and Blue Skies Made for Perfect Views
The "Blue Badlands" of Northern Arizona
The “Blue Badlands” of Northern Arizona

Tater learned so much about geology and earth science while exploring the “Blue Badlands”…it’s such a surreal landscape, and we took some fantastic hikes.

If you ask my kids, though, the highlight of the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest was becoming Junior Rangers. At every National Park and National Monument in the US, there is a Junior Ranger program, where kids fill out a workbook about the park and earn a badge or pin. The workbooks include scavenger hunt, puzzles, and “draw what you see” type activities to help kids get the most out of their time at the park.

The Junior Ranger Badges and Pins the Kids Earned on Our Trip
The Junior Ranger Badges and Pins the Kids Earned on Our Trip

After spending the day there, we packed up and headed two hours southwest to Sedona. The snow was just beginning to melt, but there was still enough snow on the surrounding mountains to give an amazing contrast between the red rocks and white snow.

Beautiful Sedona
Beautiful Sedona
Hiking in Sedona
Hiking in Sedona

Montezuma’s Castle was another highlight—and another Junior Ranger destination. The “castle” was a collection of Native American cliff dwellings that were mysteriously abandoned by their inhabitants about 800 years ago. Tater had so much fun imagining living in one of the cliffs!

Fascinated by Montezuma Castle's Cliff Dwellings
Fascinated by Montezuma Castle’s Cliff Dwellings

After a day and a half in Sedona, we headed back home. It was a quick trip, but we managed to pack a lot in as per usual. I can’t wait to see where our next adventure will take us!

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Our Wild Natural Disaster Adventure…Part 2

If you read part one of our story, which included mudslides, flooding, and fires, you were probably wondering what kind of troubles we hit next. Well, let’s just say that we watched an enthused park ranger jump for joy telling everyone the “HUGE news” caused by the weather.

Okay, so we left off at the fires. The rest of that day was pretty calm…we took an amazing drive to Tuolumne Meadows, and spent some time at Tenaya Lake which was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

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The next day, we knew it was going to rain, but we didn’t know how much it was going to rain. Yosemite Falls was dry (a rarity), so we hiked up the rocks. The kids had a blast climbing the rocks. I’m pretty sure they were made for it.IMG_8644

God obviously had our backs, because no more than 5 minutes after finishing our hike on the dry falls, the rain started. And I don’t mean it was raining. It was RAINING. I have never been so wet in my life. We had to walk about a half mile back to the visitor’s center in the rain, and it was too wet to see. Two days later, my clothes were still soaked.

But, that torrential downpour did elicit some clamor from the park rangers. About a half hour later, Yosemite Falls started back up again!!
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Okay, so we’re soaked, cold, and relishing in the beauty of the Falls. That’s enough excitement for one weekend, right? We thought so…until we saw this sign in the road…


A rockslide?! Now why didn’t I think of that???

Luckily, the rockslide wasn’t too bad, and we survived the rest of our time in Yosemite. It is an absolutely incredible place, and I wish we had more than a long weekend to explore, but we definitely want to return soon.

Sunday morning, I talked my husband into taking a (2.5 hour, God bless him) detour to Walnut Creek. The town we lived in when we were first married. We have a lot of great memories there, and we like returning when we can. (Last year, we spent my 30th birthday up there.)

Since it was just a couple weeks before my birthday, my husband counted it as an early birthday gift and we enjoyed sundaes at one of our favorite places…The San Francisco Ice Creamery. Bliss.




Oh, and I should mention that the day after we left the Bay Area, some 200 small earthquakes jolted the region. Needless to say it was an unforgettable trip, but I think we’re good on weekend getaways for a while =)

Our Wild Natural Disaster Adventure

We just returned from a long weekend trip to Yosemite National Park. It was beautiful…well, once we got there. We experienced so much wild weather and natural disasters to the point that it was almost comical. Definitely a trip to remember!

In fact, the Weather Channel contacted me for my experience, since we were in active mudslide AND flooding areas!

Check out how black the sky is…forgive the glare from the window…I was reading a wonderful cookbook :)


So, then we hit the rain just north of Los Angeles. It. Was. Pouring. By the time we hit the Grapevine, the stretch of I-5 north connecting Southern California with Central California and running through the mountains, we could barely see outside because the rain was so heavy. Just as we were about to hit Central California, we saw a truck blocking the middle of the road just a few cars ahead of us, and were forced to stop.


Ummm. That would be mud. Lots and lots of mud. A quick look at the mountainside next to us, and we knew we were in trouble. Mud was flowing into the road, hitting cars. After a few moments, the California Highway Patrol shut down the freeway and began diverting all traffic back the way we came. Interstate 5 would remain closed nearly 36 hours.


So, now we’re heading South, back towards Los Angeles, and looking for another road that would get us up to Yosemite. We finally found that we could take highway 58, a small highway going through the Mojave desert. We had no choice, so we backtracked until we hit the route that would eventually take us to highway 58.

Things were not much better on the 58, but at least the road was not closed (yet). Rain continued to pour until the roadside was flooded. Thank the Lord we hit Bakersfield (central California) before things got out of hand. Hundreds of cars were stranded on highway 58, and the road was closed for several days as they sought to rescue people caught in the storm.

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You can see that the road was starting to flood, and just a couple of hours after making it past, they shut the roads for a few days.

So, a 6 hour drive turned into 10 and we didn’t get to our rented cabin until well after 9pm, but we were just happy to be there after a long day of mudslides, torrential rain, and flooding.

The next morning we drove into the park, but were stopped by smoke. Uhhh, wait, there’s a FIRE here. Yep. It started out as a controlled burn for “healthy fire ecology”, but there were a few problem spots that needed to be extinguished.

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So, What’s Next??

To Be Continued…

Niagara Falls and Upstate New York with Kids

Niagara Falls and Upstate NY with KidsOne of my favorite things about homeschooling is that we have the opportunity to go places instead of just reading about them in a book. I have family in Upstate New York, and in recent years have been trying to go out annually to visit my paternal cousins, aunts and Gramma. This year, I only took seven year old Tater (my mom, aunt, grandparents, and friend all shared Junior duty for a few days), and we decided to spend a couple days in Niagara Falls, Canada before driving into New York to see our family. Here are some of the highlights from our trip!

1. Niagara Falls
Obviously the Falls are just awe-inspiring. Since we were staying on the Canadian side, we took the Hornblower Boat Tour (the Maid of the Mist operates out of the American Side.) It was definitely worth doing and we got some incredible pictures (plus getting soaked felt good since it was hot and humid out.) However, I wasn’t really a fan of all the touristy areas–so many restaurants, hotels, clubs, and gift shops, I honestly felt like we were in Vegas. So, we spent one morning at the Falls itself, a couple of hours doing Dinosaur Adventure Golf and the Sky Wheel in Clifton Hill (Tater LOVED the mini golf course), and that was the extent of the tourist trap. Instead, we drove into Canada a bit, and avoided a lot of the cheesy tourism. (Ages 4+)



2. Butterfly Conservatory
The Butterfly Conservatory is part of Niagara Parks, and is located next to a Horticultural College, so there is also an amazing garden to walk through and see different trees, flowers, and Tater was especially impressed with the black squirrels. The Butterfly Conservatory itself has thousands of butterflies flying and landing around. One even landed on my foot. And some lady took a picture of my non-pedicured foot. Ummm, allllllllllrighty then. So, we spent a few hours there, and Tater was just tickled pink to see “sooooo many butterflies all in one place!” (All Ages)

3. St. Catharine’s Lakeside Carousel
Just 20 minutes outside the busyness of the Niagara Falls tourism area you run into the town of St. Catharines. On the edge of Lake Ontario lies Lakeside Park, a charming little beach park  with an original turn-of-the-century carousel that has been kept in pristine condition. Each ride still only costs $0.05. Tater and I went on almost a half-dozen times. It was a quaint little scene that we hope to return to. (All Ages)

4. The Laura Secord Homestead
Growing up in the States, what I learned about the War of 1812 was exclusively from the perspective of the Americans. Coming to the Laura Secord Homestead, I learned about the namesake, a woman who walked 20 difficult miles to warn the British of an impending American attack in 1813. The homestead is a charming little restored (original) home with period pieces and décor. The tour was educational and fun and there was yummy chocolate and ice cream to buy at the end! (Ages 6+)



5. Niagara on the Lake
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a charming, quaint little town right on Lake Ontario. There are plenty of roadside farmer’s markets (try the fresh peaches!), little cafes and bakeries (amazing fresh pies!), gallery type shops, and is considered the “wine country” of the region. The Laura Secord Homestead, Ft. George, Brock’s Monument (in Queenston Heights Park), and MacKenzie Printery are all fun educational experiences for the kids. (Ages 6+) 


6. Costco
Okay, don’t laugh. But I have this need to go into at least one local Costco when I’m traveling. And since I’d never been in an international Costco before, I just haaaaad to go to the Costco in St. Catharines. There were some really fun, unique, oddly spelled (flavour, colour, favourite, etc) products that were fun to browse. I got this book to bring home for Junior about Canadian animals. And, the best part–while we were there we met a little boy with bilateral cochlear implants! (All Ages)


7. Crystal Beach
In the little town of Fort Erie just south of Niagara Falls is a nice (albeit crowded) beach on Lake Erie. Tater made friends immediately, and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to catch minnows. The water was warm, super clear, calm, and was only wading depth  so I didn’t have to worry about Tater too much while we were swiming. (All Ages)

8. Strong National Museum of Play
Our several day whirlwind in Canada done, we drove back into the States and headed to see my family in Upstate New York. One of the must-dos was the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester NY. It’s a HUGE children’s museum. The downstairs is a hands-on, interactive play area with a bunch of fun attractions. The upstairs is a toy and game museum with a full arcade of old video games. We spent 3 hours there but probably could have spent longer. (Ages 2-10)

Then we spent 2 wonderful days with family spending time together, eating amazing food (Tomato Pie, Buffalo Wings, Salt Potatoes, Hofmann Hot Dogs) and having a great little family BBQ pool party. We can’t wait to go back next year!

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*I have no affiliation with any of the above named places or attractions. These were simply the highlights of our vacation. All opinions are my own. Make sure to verify all directions and hours of operation before traveling.

Home From Vacation: My 5 Favorite Things

We just returned from a week and a half vacation at the beach. It was so glorious. We swam, tanned (luckily didn’t burn too much), hiked, collected shells, celebrated our anniversary, celebrated Tater’s 7th birthday and most importantly, just spent time together. Here are some of the highlights from our trip.

Note: You won’t see “sleep” on this list…Junior does not like to sleep in any bed other than his own and made it very clear every 4 hours or so, that he was not happy with his surroundings.

1. The Beach


There is something so peaceful about the waves and the sand (as long as it’s not tracked into my house, in which case sand and I become mortal enemies) that just refreshes me. There were 10 foot waves from a storm so we didn’t spend too much time in the water, but just smelling the salt spray and listening to the crash of the waves was enough.

2. Nature
We hiked a lot, and found some areas in stark contrast to the ocean. Everything from pine trees to palm trees to cactus. All within the same hike! The kids didn’t love walking, but they did love the mud puddles we found!
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3. 10 Years
I cannot believe it has been 10 years since our Wedding Day. We celebrated our 10th anniversary while on vacation. I made my husband a photo book of moments from our decade together.

4. Junior’s Listening
Junior LOVED listening to the birds and the waves at the ocean. He wore his cochlear implants into the pool a few times, but with all the background noise, it was hard for him to hear too well. He was very vocal in telling us he wanted to go to the beach (“beeeh”) and refused to wear outfits that weren’t his swimsuit.


5. Time Together
I am so thankful for how hard my husband works for us, even though he works a lot. But this makes the time we spend together even more valuable, and I am grateful for these last 10 days to celebrate our anniversary and Tater’s birthday.

I’m still not back into the swing of things here at home…it will probably take me weeks to fully unpack and reorganize my life. But, the lifelong memories were worth it, even with the sleepless nights…and the screaming in the airplane…and the whining for food…traveling after kids is definitely a different ballgame than traveling before kids, but I sure do love having them around :)