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Outdoor Mom’s Journal – March 2017

Outdoor Moms Journal @handbookofnaturestudy


Outdoor Mom’s Journal

March 2017

We have had so much rain that the thought of traveling somewhere warm and more on the dry side was very appealing. My daughter and I had started planning this trip way back in August because she lives in New York where the winters are far too long for that California girl.

Big Island Landscape @handbookofnaturestudy

One of my favorite places to be warm and beachy is on the Big Island of Hawaii. It made sense for all of us to rendezvous there for a winter escape. The added bonus was this year our friend was able to round out our group to make it more fun. This was her first time traveling to Hawaii so we got to see all of the things through her eyes and enjoy sharing our favorite places.

We have been to Hawaii several times but never during the month of February so that part was new to all of us. What a treat! We were able to see whales just off the coast as they breached and spy hopped out of the water.

Hawaii 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy (5)

Snorkeling just about every day gave us plenty of opportunity to see the colorful fish and sea turtles in abundance. I love the feeling of just floating around in the water and watching the turtles as they feed off the coral. One afternoon we boarded a boat and did some serious snorkeling in Kealekekua Bay.  The conditions weren’t perfect, but we still saw plenty of interesting things including a puffer fish.

Akaka Falls Hawaii 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy (8)

The day the weather was gray and a little misty, we ventured to the Hilo side of the island.

Hawaii 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy (7)

We hiked to Akaka Falls which are amazing and the walk down to them is lined with all sorts of interesting plants.

Hawaii Volcanoes Hawaii 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy (7)

Later that day we made it over to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The internet has been full of images of the lava lake and the lava spilling over into the ocean so we were hoping to see this in person. We were able to see the actual lava lake in the caldera of Kilauea but we weren’t prepared for the 8 mile round trip hike to see the lava “fire hose” going into the ocean. The weather was turning rainy too so we decided we would be satisfied with the lava that we could observe from the museum’s lookout. Totally worth it!

Coffee Tree Hawaii 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy (7)

We visited an actual Kona coffee farm for a tour and tasting. The experience was even more special because we saw cardinals singing and a chameleon hiding in an orange tree.

Chameleon Hawaii 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy (7)

I never thought I would see a chameleon up close like that and they are amazing creatures.

Sea Turtles Waikoloa Hawaii 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy (7)

We did lots of beach walking in Waikoloa where we were staying but you need to put aside your preconceived idea of what a “beach” is to do that. These are not white sand beaches but rather black lava rock with coral washed up on the shore. It was fun to do beachcombing and we nearly always saw whales off shore and sea turtles sleeping on the beach.

I squeezed in some nature journaling time while there and I have a short list of things to research and record now that I am home. I will be sharing my journal entries in a separate post next week!

Sometimes taking a trip is not really a vacation but this one allowed me to relax, spend active and quiet time in nature, and enjoy the company of my family and friends.


Hawaii 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy (7)

Just a Note about the Cost of Traveling

We make our trip fit our budget by taking advantage of air miles for free tickets, researching condos for the perfect location and amenities, cooking almost all our own meals, and then planning activities that are within our financial reach. Also, traveling with other family members and friends allows us to split costs like food, gas, and the condo. Our condo had snorkel gear, chairs, beach umbrella, and boogie boards for us to use while we were there, so check into that benefit if you are thinking about booking a condo on the islands.

Hawaii 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy (7)

Read more about my experiences: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

How Do You Join?

Answer all or just one of the prompts in a blog entry on your own blog or right here on my blog in a comment. If you answer on your blog, make sure to leave me a link in a comment so that I can pop over and read your responses.

  • During our outdoor time this week we went….
  • The most inspiring thing we experienced was…
  • Our outdoor time made us ask (or wonder about)…
  • In the garden, we are planning/planting/harvesting….
  • I added nature journal pages about….
  • I am reading…
  • I am dreaming about…
  • A photo I would like to share…


Outdoor Hour Challenge Plans for Sept 16 to March 17 @handbookofnaturestudy

You can use the free monthly newsletter along with the Handbook of Nature Study book for your nature study. Adding a membership gives you access to the Ultimate Naturalist Library’s ebooks and printablse which provides members with even more in-depth studies each month.

Read more about it!

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Joshua Tree National Park – Tips and Images

Joshua Tree National Park tips and images @handbookofnaturest

National parks give us the opportunity to experience things that are out of the ordinary. National parks give us some space to breath in the wilderness and take a break from the same old routines of modern life.  Joshua Tree National Park is just such a place with its unique rock formations, fascinating plant life, and creatures of the desert. What is a Joshua Tree? Well, it is not really a tree at all but a species of yucca. They can grow to be over 40 feet tall and they bloom sometime between February and April. They are part of a fascinating desert habitat in southeastern California.

Joshuar Tree

This national park is only about 2.5 hours from Los Angeles, 2.75 hours from San Diego, 3 hours from Las Vegas, and 3 hours from Phoenix. It is reachable for many of my readers as a weekend trip or even tacked onto another destination as a bonus. The park is easily experienced in a day but I highly recommend giving this special place two days to explore (suggested itineraries here). The hiking here is not difficult so families with even young children can enjoy getting outside in the sunshine together.

Joshua Tree scene

Tip:We purchased the Road Guide To Joshua Tree National Park at the Visitor Center and I highly recommend this as a guide through the park. The book starts with stop at the Oasis Visitor Center and Nature Trail and then continues along the park drive, giving you mileage points and this to view and experience. We did the trip in one day and stopped at various spots to hike, picnic, and take photos. I always love knowing what we are looking at so this book was a huge help.

visitor center joshua tree

We started as usual at the Oasis Visitor Center near 29 Palms (trip taken in 2009 when my boys were teenagers). This was a simple way to introduce the park and to get our bearings. (There are 3 different visitor centers for you to visit.) There is a Junior Ranger program for children to complete at Joshua Tree.

joshua tree national park map

Joshua Tree National Park is situated in a unique place within parts of both the Mojave and the Colorado Deserts. It is the only place on earth where the Joshua trees grow in large numbers in the wild.

arch rock

Arch Rock was a great place to stop and stretch our legs in the warm California sunshine. This is a wonderful place to talk about the geology of the park and share a bit about the granite arch and how it was formed.

desert scene

The beauty of this place can not be truly appreciated unless you get out of your car and walk out into the landscape. The harsh environment creates plants that are strong and rocks that are carved out in interesting formations. We spent a lot of time giving names to our favorite rocks.

not blooming yet

The Cholla Cactus Garden trail was lined with menacing cactus. There are many other nature trails within the park for you to choose from.

lizard joshua tree

There were lizards, birds, and spiders to distract us from the cactus. This lizard posed for us on the top of a rock!


This is an amazing place that we hope to visit again someday, hopefully camping to experience the night sky and to slow down to take in more of the parks plants and animals…and birds too! Don’t be fooled by thinking that the desert landscape is barren and empty. It is a rich habitat with much to learn about along with your children.

Other things you might like to know

  • Entrance Fee is $15
  • Camping is available in the park.
  • Palm Springs is a short distance for hotel rooms of all kinds. We stayed at the Embassy Suites in Palm Desert.
  • There are three visitor centers at each of the entrances to the park: Joshua Tree Visitor Center, Oasis Visitor Center, and Cottonwood Visitor Center.
  • Visiting in the spring and fall are recommended. We were there in February and the weather was perfect and there were many wildflowers and blooming cactus to view.
  • There are places to picnic but you will need to purchase your meal before you enter the park.
  • Educational materials to download before your trip are available.


You can read more of my national park tips in these entries:


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Lassen Volcanic National Park – Tips and Images


Lassen Volcanic National Park Tips and Images @handbookofnaturestudy

Last summer my husband and I were able to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. We were camping at near-by Eagle Lake and this seemed like the perfect day trip for us. We had been to this national park in the past, I am guessing in 1996. This time we were going to take in the highlights and hike a few easy trails.

Lassen National Park 2014 (5)

Of course, stopping at the visitor center was a must since we needed to get some suggestions for hiking and to see the exhibits. We spent a few minutes talking to the ranger at the information desk about how to make the best use of our time. Equipped with some ideas, we set off on the road through the park, traveling south to north. The entire road through the park is about 29 miles.

Lassen National Park 2014 (6)

The first place we stopped was the Sulphur Works. The signs were very helpful and told both about the geology of the area and the history.

Lassen National Park 2014 (8)It is pretty impressive to see the mud pots bubbling and steaming with stinking vapors. The yellowish parts are where the sulphur is exposed.

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Here is another view of the Sulphur Works area. The hydrothermal features of Lassen are not as extensive or impressive as the ones found at Yellowstone National Park but still very interesting.

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From the same parking lot, you can take off on a hike up to Ridge Lakes. If we had more time, we would have hiked the two mile round trip trail to see the lakes. The first section of the trail was beautifully bordered by ferns and wildflowers galore. Gorgeous!

The next major stop on the road is the parking lot and trailhead to Bumpass Hell. We have done this trail before and would be a MUST SEE for any first time visitors. We took our very young children on this hike so I know it is possible to do this as a family. The reward is a view that is rare and unique. You need to note that this trail is only open for part of the year so check the national park website for opening and closing dates.

You must watch this video on YouTube: Lassen Volcanic National Park – Bumpass Hell.

We chose instead to have a picnic lunch at Lake Helen.

Lassen National Park 2014 (29)Lassen National Park 2014 (29)

This is an amazingly blue lake with crystal clear water. We sat in the sunshine on this day and marveled at all the geological history surrounding us.

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Here is another view of the lake. Believe it or not, there were some people who came and jumped in this lake for a swim. The water was ice cold making it hard to understand the attraction but we enjoyed watching them swim across the lake and back.

Lassen National Park 2014 (40)Lassen National Park 2014 (40)

The drive through the park included some amazing vistas. We took our time and explored this meadow a bit and then headed to the devastated area.

Lassen National Park 2014 (42)

We walked the nature trail here at the devastated area, reading the signs and imagining the volcano’s eruption last century. This is a perfect place to learn about this particular volcano and see some rocks and other geological features up close.

Lassen National Park 2014 (43)You can see the actual volcano in the distance from here. On this bright sunny peaceful summer day it was hard to imagine the violent eruption that happened so recently.

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The nature lover in me thoroughly soaked in the information about the rocks and geology shared on the interpretive signs. This is the perfect place for families to visit before, during, or after a study of the earth’s rock cycle.

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Near the entrance station, there is a wonderful lake to stop at and walk around. Manzanita Lake was a busy place on this particular day with picnickers, fishermen, and walkers.

Lassen National Park 2014 (1)

We sat at the lake’s edge long enough for me to sketch the scene in my nature journal. What a perfect way to end our day!

Lassen National Park 2014 (16)

I hope you get to visit this national park sometime with your children…put it on your list!

Things You Probably Want to Know

You can read more of my national park tips in these entries:





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Great Basin National Park – Tips and Images

Great Basin National Park tips and images @handbookofnaturestudy

Great Basin National Park is a surprising place…way out in the middle of a lot of nothing-ness (close to both the Utah and Nevada borders). It takes some planning and forethought to get there but it is worth the effort. We stayed three days earlier in August along with my husband, son, and two of his friends.

Great Basin  (9)

We camped in one of the five campgrounds in the park, Baker Creek which is three miles up a gravel road that is accessible to most cars whether they have four wheel drive or not. We looked at each of the other campgrounds during our stay and they each have their own benefits so make sure to read about them on the website. All are first come, first serve so arrive early in the day for the best selection of sites. There are no hook-ups for RVs, all have simple vault toilets, and there are no showers….making for a real camping experience. There were lots of trees, nice picnic tables, and a babbling creek that some children were exploring when we were there.

The nearest place to perhaps find a room is in Baker, Nevada but Ely, Nevada is not too far either. Baker had a little grocery store (very limited), a cafe, and a gas station. The national park does not have a store except for a gift shop. There is a small cafe at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center.

Great Basin Visitor Center

There are two visitor centers at Great Basin National Park. The Great Basin Visitor Center (closest to the highway) is superb! We thoroughly enjoyed the interactive exhibits, historical displays, and nature based information that was presented. You can learn all about the bristlecone pines, the Great Basin habitat, and all the creatures found in this unique desert environment.

Great Basin National Park is trying to make a name for itself as a dark sky destination for viewing the night sky beauty. It bills itself as “one of the last true dark skies in America“. We wish we had been able to experience that part of the park but because of the super moon and the clouds…it wasn’t a great star viewing weekend. It will go back on the bucket list for future visits. You can find a schedule of astronomy events on the park’s Astronomy page.

Great Basin  (21) Lehman caves

The second other visitor center is the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. This wasn’t as updated or interactive as the other center but still very informative and interesting. We booked our cave tour here early in the morning and we only had a few choices of times available. Make reservations or arrive early to make sure to fit in a tour of the caves. There are two different cave tours and we took the ninety minute tour which takes you to every room open to the public. It was amazing!

Lehman caves (6)

I have been to quite a few caves but this one by far is the most interesting and beautiful of all. I also want to note that this cave has lots of tight confined spaces that you have to fit through (usually by turning your body sideways) and lots of low ceilings. I am fairly tall (5′ 10″) and many times I had to walk a distance with my head down to avoid touching the ceilings. Just a warning. This tour is appropriate for all ages as long as they are comfortable with walking since you can’t take strollers, carriers, or even backpacks on this tour.

Lehman caves

There are also Park Ranger programs you can attend by viewing the schedule in the park newspaper or asking at either visitor center. The day we were there they were offering up scopes to few the sun and an interpreter to tell you all about what you are looking at.

There is a Jr. Ranger program at Great Basin National Park that we observed quite a few of the children participating in….ask at either visitor center for information. They also have a “Cave Cadet” pin so ask about that too!

Great Basin  (20) Lehman caves

My guys enjoyed the viewing scopes to look down from the park across the Great Basin…

Our group split up on hiking day. Three of use hiked the Bristlecone Trail and two hiked to the top of Wheeler Peak!

Bristlecone Trail Great Basin

The trail up to the Bristlecone pines was empty when we hiked up early in the morning (around 8:30 AM). There is a rather large parking lot at the trailhead but it was FULL when we got back later in the morning. There are vault toilets (clean) in the parking lot once you wind your way up the road from the visitor’s center. It is a very high altitude and the views as you round the corners are majestic.

Bristlecone Pine Trail: The hiking trail itself is a little longer than posted at closer to 3.1 miles and not 2.8, as measured by our pedometers. It is a moderately difficult hike because of the length and elevation when you end up at a little over 10,000 feet.

Great Basin  (24) Bristlecone Wheeler Peak hik

Our group thoroughly enjoyed the hike and then the interpretive trail with signs teaching you more about these  ancient trees. More information on the hike here.

Great Basin  (27) Bristlecone Wheeler Peak hike

Fascinating to think about how old some of these trees are and after going through the interpretive trail I am fairly sure I can identify these interesting trees.

Great Basin  (34) Bristlecone Wheeler Peak hike

Great Basin  (25) Bristlecone Wheeler Peak hike

View from the trail…amazing light and clouds the whole day long!

Great Basin  (21) Bristlecone Wheeler Peak hike

Wheeler Peak Summit Trail: We dropped the other group off at the Summit trailhead and they started off at around 8 AM. It is advised to start early so you aren’t up on the peak when the threat of afternoon thunderstorms roll in. There is a very small parking lot for this trailhead so plan to have someone drop you off or get there early. This is a very strenuous hike and fairly long at 8.6 miles roundtrip. You start at 10,100 feet in elevation and gain 2,900 feet going up to the summit.  My son said the last portion of the hike is all exposed with no tree cover.

reat Basin Ntl Park Wheeler Peak (1)

These two young boys completed the hike and said it was worth the effort because of the beautiful view from the top. I will take their word for it.

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There is a turnout alongside the road where you can use these telescopes to look up at the peak. We could actually see people up there but not our boys.

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One evening we walked along this trail which parallels Baker Creek and ended at our campground. What a beautiful place with the aspen trees, green grass, and the sound of running creek water.

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There were lots of wildflowers which makes me happy.

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Plenty of fungi to observe too!

reat Basin camping nature center (3)

Not so very glamorous after a week of camping and no showers at Great Basin. Our children are all growing up so we treasure the time we have to spend with even just one of them during a camping adventure. Planting seeds of appreciation for the natural world gifted to us by a loving Creator is something we highly value and have tried to do throughout our years as parents. Seeing our youngest share his love of the outdoors with his friends makes me smile from ear to ear.

Thanks for coming along on our Great Basin experience!

Some other things to know about Great Basin National Park:

  • No entrance fee!
  • There is a ticket cost for the cave tours.
  • This is the desert but it gets cold here so make sure to bring a jacket or sweatshirt even in the summer.
  • Check for operating hours before coming.
  • Visit the Things To Do page on the park’s website for a good idea of how to spend your time.
  • You can download a pdf of the 2014 park Newspaper from the website.


You can read more of my national park tips in these entries:

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Mammoth Cave National Park – Tips and Images

Mammoth Cave National Park Tips and Images @handbookofnaturestudy

Our May 2014 roadtrip across the United States included a trip through Kentucky. When I was deciding our route from Nashville, TN to Louisville, Kentucky I realized we would pass right by Mammoth Cave National Park! I never dreamed I would visit this place so I was super excited to explore a new area.

Mammoth Cave National Park Ticket

My daughter and I read through the Mammoth Cave National Park website and realized we had time to take one of the cave tours. There were a lot to choose from! We decided on the Domes and Dripstones tour and reserved our tickets before we even left home. We have explored many caves before so we wanted to experience a different kind of cave. Boy we were excited!

Mammoth Cave National Park has the world’s largest known cave system in the world so there is perfect cave experience for everyone.

Mammoth Cave National Park May 2014 (42)

We arrived a little early at the national park which was in a beautifully green area of Kentucky. We went into the visitor’s center and read a little about the park and what to expect. We asked at the information desk about hiking trails and we were directed to try the Green River Bluffs Trail(you can see the many trails right around the visitor’s center HERE). This was a wonderful way to get out into the forest and see so many pretty wildflowers and views.

National Park May 2014 (46)

It was a little warm and humid but it felt good to be out of the car and hiking along the trail.

Mammoth Cave National Park taking photos of wildflowers

I remember commenting to my daughter that I wish I could hike on a trail like this one every single day.

Mammoth Cave National Park May 2014 (45)Mammoth Cave National Park May 2014 (45)

National Park May 2014 (66)

There were places you could see that there were openings into caves below the trail which after we took the tour with the guide and learned about the geology of this area we understood more about the caves. I highly recommend taking a guided tour on your visit to Mammoth Cave National Park.

Mammoth Cave National Park May 2014 (43

On this trail you are high above the Green River (which isn’t green at all). The river is part of what creates the caves in this area….water, rock, and time. We stood here at this spot for a few minutes and listened to the sounds of the birds in the trees. There is nothing like hearing birdsong while out on a hike….it is like the music or soundtrack to the day. I would dearly love to come back to this park and stay at a campground, taking time to learn more about this beautiful habitat.

Mammoth Cave National Park hiking the trails

We ate our picnic lunch and then waited for our tour to begin. It starts with a bus ride up to the cave entrance  and along the way the tour guide (who is a park ranger) tells you all about the countryside and the geology that created the cave system. It was just enough to make things interesting. We had a rather small tour group of around 30 people which I was told is not even close to their 100+ tours normally experienced during the summer months. You might check the description for the tour you are interested in taking and reading the tour group size before choosing your trip.

Mammoth Cave National Park May 2014 (1)

The cave entrance for the Domes and Dripstones tour is actually a door at the bottom of an outdoor staircase. Not at all what we were expecting!

Mammoth Cave National Park hiking the trails

The door keeps critters and random people out of the cave so the ecosystem stays intact. After you enter the cave, there is a vertical staircase that you descend and it is very close and tight. We had the added experience of the lights going out about half way through the descent. It was pitch black and if someone hadn’t turned on their cell phone light, I probably would have started to panic. All was well when the guide reached the switch at the bottom and illuminated the way once again.

I don’t have any photos of the trip but I will describe a few of the outstanding features we enjoyed.

The first part of the cave tour is in a dry cave, like jumbled slabs of rocks really. It is cool and with the lights on quite pleasant.

The cave is inhabited by cave creatures like cave crickets and bats. We saw both during our tour. Believe it or not, the crickets creeped my out more than the bats hanging from the ceiling.

The second part of the cave has water and you can hear it running and dripping as you walk along. The formations are beautiful and it was truly an enjoyable experience.

If I ever went back to Mammoth Cave National Park, I would choose another tour to experience a different part of the cave.

It was a fun experience and if you ever find yourself in this part of the world, make time to stop and take your own cave adventure!

You can watch this video on YouTube: Mammoth Cave National Park.


Other Items of Note:

  • There are miles of bike trails within the national park and if I ever get there again you know I am going to be pedaling around to see what I can see.
  • There is no entrance fee to this national park but there are fees for cave tours.
  • The day we were there the park was full of grade school children. The park ranger said that they normally attend the morning tours so if you want it to be a little less hectic, choose an afternoon tour if school is in session.
  • There was a restaurant and gift shop at the Visitor’s Center.


Kentucky Bourbon

Just a sidenote: We really enjoyed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience, visiting just one of the distilleries along our trip route. After a long day of driving, hiking, exploring, and learning, we enjoyed a little Kentucky bourbon with the friends we were staying with. What a great day! You can visit and taste at a number of distilleries in Kentucky. We visited Wild Turkey! (Our friends shared their Jim Beam.)

You can read more of my national park tips in these entries:

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Hot Springs National Park – Tips and Images

Hot Springs National Park Tips and Images @handbookofnaturestudy

Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas is a park like no other that I have visited before. This national park is not gated by an entrance station and has no real parking within its borders.

Hot Springs National Park and Town

Instead, this national park is right in the middle of a town! Hot Springs National Park is not far from Little Rock so when we were traveling through on our cross country trip last April, we made a visit to this interesting place.

Hot Springs National Park day (3)

My daughter and I arrived early in the morning when there was still plenty of on street parking and the temperatures were cool. The national park is one side of the street and the town is on the other.
Hot Springs National Park May 2014 (16)

We were too early to tour the Fordyce Bath House (where the Visitor’s Center is located) so we took a stroll along the Promenade just behind the row of bathhouses. In this image you can see the stairway up to the various terraces where the pathways are located.

Hot Springs National Park May 2014 (4)
It was a pleasant walk in a green and wooded area where we heard lots of birdsong.

Hot Springs National Park May 2014 (8)
There were several paths (more on hiking in the park) to take and if you have enough time you can hike to the top of the mountain behind the bathhouses to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. We were on a time schedule so we didn’t do that hike this time but we would have liked to do so and would highly recommend it to other families.
Hot Springs National Park May 2014 (1)
These hot springs are different than those we have seen in the past. The waters are heated by pressure and friction (you can read more here). They do not have any sulfuric smell at all and you can find both hot and cold springs within the park.

There are places you can bring your own containers to fill up water from the hot springs to take home. I purchased a water bottle and filled it up as a gift for my son in New York. In times past, people were given prescriptions for hot springs water to cure all sorts of ailments.

Hot Springs National Park day (1)
Today you can still have the traditional hot springs bath experience at the Buckstaff Bathhouse. We watched the movie in the visitor’s center that showed just what you do when you take a hot springs bath…super interesting and very involved.
Hot Springs National Park May 2014 (19)
We were interested in these steam baths…not sure I would like to actually get in one but still rather interesting (only your head sticks out).
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This is one of the bath house rooms where the men would sit after their bath.

Hot Springs National Park May 2014 (21)
In their hey day, these bath houses were quite stylish and reminded me of the gilded age. There were many stained glass windows and ceilings throughout and very ornate furniture and decorations.

Hot Springs National Park day (6)

You can also have a more modern hot springs experience at the Quapaw Baths and Spa right in the middle of the national park.

This was a wonderful half day trip for us and if you want to add in the bath house experience or hike to the tower, you could easily spend a whole day exploring the national park. I would love to also take time to investigate the surrounding areas of Arkansas. Arkansas was a surprising place for both my daughter and I. It was so much prettier than we had imagined it to be and much greener. I can imagine it would get very humid in the summer time but in the spring it was lovely.

I highly recommend visiting this park with your family!

You can watch a video on YouTube for Hot Springs National Park.

Some Quick Notes About Hot Springs National Park

  • Hours and Seasons
  • There is no charge to enter Hot Springs National Park
  • Lodging is available in Hot Springs, Arkansas and we enjoyed staying in Little Rock, Arkansas (about 50 miles away)
  • The campground looked really nice at Gulpha Gorge
  • There is a Jr. Ranger program!
  • You can get your National Parks Passport stamped at Bathhouse Row Emporium (a fantastic gift shop and book store!)

You can read more of my national park tips in these entries:


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Crater Lake National Park – Tips and Images



This month I am sharing tips and ideas for a national park trip to Crater Lake National Park in the state of Oregon. Our family has visited this awesome place two times…both during the month of July. One time there was so much snow that we couldn’t do all we had planned but the second time it was perfect. Lesson learned? Check ahead of time on the national park website to see the current conditions...including road conditions.

On the way there we stayed in Ashland, Oregon(around 90 minutes) but Medford, Oregon (less than 90 minutes) is a little closer if you are looking to stay in a bigger city near Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake National Park reflection

This is one amazing place! The first thing you notice is the color of the water…Crater Lake Blue! The reflections will blow you away no matter the time of day. You can’t stop looking at the view.

Crater Lake 2007

You can drive all the way around the lake easily in a day since it is just around 29 miles. Our family completed the drive but not without stopping for a few photos along the way. We also stopped at the Visitor Center which was informative and included a movie. (Don’t forget to get your National Park Passport Book stamped before you leave!)

Crater Lake boat trip 2

We took the Crater Lake Boat Tour and it was worth the hike down to the shore to catch the boat (a little more than a mile each way). Our kids loved this boat ride and it was fun to see all the different rock formations from lake level. The guide was knowledgeable about the area’s history and geology so we soaked it all in. Yes, the water really is that color blue!

Crater Lake boat trip 1

Here is a photo from lake level where there was a waterfall coming into the lake. The tour was an hour and a half and you really did get a great look at this amazing lake from a viewpoint that was spectacular.

Crater Lake 2

The “Phantom Ship”

Crater Lake Blue Water

Crater Lake is known for its amazing clarity – the official website states that the water is so clear that you can see to a depth of 120 feet. The lake itself is 1,943 feet deep, the deepest lake in the U.S. and one of the deepest in the world. Truly a unique place!

Crater Lake National Park Hike wildflowers

We also enjoyed the wildflowers at Crater Lake National Park. There are several easy hiking trails that you can take around the rim of the lake and this one at Castle Crest Wildflower Trail is one of the prettiest we enjoyed during our stay. It is super easy with beautiful views of the area.

Crater Lake Wildflowers 1

Amazingly beautiful flowers to enjoy!

Crater Lake Wildflowers 2

We stayed outside of the national park (about a ten minute drive) at the Crater Lake Resort. This place was perfect for a family with active boys! We actually rented two cabins for our big family but with the reasonable price it was a great choice. I can tell you that it is exactly as depicted on the website and we would stay there again in a heartbeat.

Crater Lake Resort 4

Nothing fancy but clean and comfortable…including a full kitchen which helps save on your vacation food costs.

Crater Lake Resort 2

There were canoes and rowboats to use at the resort and that kept my men occupied while I did a little journal work.

Crater Lake Resort 2

There was a rec room and bikes to borrow too. This place was terrific.

This is a national park that you can take a day to visit, seeing the highlights and making memories that will last.

 Other Things You Might Like to Know

  • $10 entrance fee per car
  • Mazama Village has a gas station
  • There are a number of park brochures you can download ahead of time: Park Brochures.

You can read more of my national park tips in these entries:

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Death Valley National Park – Tips and Images

Death Valley National Park tips and images

Death Valley National Park is a surprising place! I had lived in California all my life but until 2006 had never visited this amazing place. Our family took a trip during the first week of April 2006, escaping to the warm temperatures and dry landscape for a few days. My boys had a blast in this vast and awe-inspiring place.

Hottest, Driest, Lowest…all describe this unique place on earth called Death Valley.

We stayed two nights at Furnace Creek Ranch, making that our home base for the three days we were there. The hotel and rooms were nice but the highlight was the swimming pool! My boys enjoyed swimming in February and I relished the time to have bare feet as I watched them splash around mid-February. There was a diner type of restaurant, a small store, and a the Visitor’s Center. It was super expensive so if we ever go back, we are going to go camping!

Furnace Creek Visitors Cente

We started our visit with the Visitor’s Center to get our bearings and to learn more about his unique habitat. We talked to the rangers about hikes to take with our boys to give us the flavor of Death Valley. I purchased Hiking in Death Valley and Mohave Desert Wildflowers to have as references during our stay.

Death Valley Wildflowers

Yes, wildflowers! Can you believe wildflowers in the desert? This was our first experience with this kind of habitat and right away I knew I had been wrong about what we would find to observe and study there in the desert. I had expected only rocks but found a whole array of wildflowers and plants to learn about as we hiked and explored.

Death Valley scrambling up rocks

These are affiliate links to books I own and love!

I highly recommend both books we purchased because I think we did get more out of the experience knowing where and what to look for during our stay. Several of the hikes that were listed in the guide book are not clearly marked from the road and we would have driven right past them.We concentrated on the Furnace Creek region of the park and there was plenty to do just exploring this part of the vast desert.

Death Valley hike at second dip on Artists Drive

Our favorite was “Canyon at second dip” along the Artists Drive. Sure enough, the canyon at the “second dip” was just as described and a favorite of the boys because the start of the trail is a scramble up a “short pink fall 50 yards from the road”.

Death Valley Natural Bridge

We experienced natural bridges.

Death Valley dead end canyon

Hiked to the end of box canyons.

Death Valley Mosaic Canyon

Explored places carved by flash floods.

Death Valley Artist Pallete

Marveled at the stunning colors we observed.

Death Valley Zebra Lizard

Found surprising creatures.

Death Valley Wildflowers Yellow

Wondered at the way plants could grow right out of the rocky, sandy, graveling floor of Death Valley.

Death Valley chocolate chip mountain

This is an amazing place to explore a study of botany, geology, ornithology, and zoology.

Death Valley amazing sky

Look at that incredible sky!

Death Valley hiking

Death Valley as 3.4 million acres to explore…be prepared! Water is a necessity at all times of the year and we also carried a good map, wore sturdy shoes and hats, and made sure to gas up the car. You can see this page for a list of places within the park to fuel up.

You will need a car to explore Death Valley National Park. It is reachable from just about any of the major cities in California. Please note that many of the highway passes going west-east in California are closed in winter. Check with Cal Trans information before planning a drive over

Also, your cell phone will not work in Death Valley National Park so be prepared for that if you need to make a call.

Death Valley Badwater

I found these links helpful:

When to Visit Death Valley – seasonal information to help you plan your visit

Directions – Routes to getting to Death Valley, including directions from Las Vegas, Nevada

Wildflowers and the 2014 Update

List of Hikes We Did and Loved:


Scotty's Castle

We also visited Scotty’s Castle on the way out of the park, heading towards home. This is a lot of fun to tour with the kids and we enjoyed seeing this unusual place and hearing the story of how it was built.

You may be interested in reading more in my national parks series:

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Tips and Images

The December 2013 newsletter focused on various national parks, showing different ways to enjoy the parks with your children. I was very inspired by the contributors and their experiences at national parks from east to west.

Throughout 2014 I am going to feature one national park each month here on the blog. Our family has traveled to many of the western parks and enjoyed exploring their wonders. I desire to share those adventures with you and perhaps spark a desire in your family to travel to one soon.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – 2005

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The most recent national park that I have visited is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. We have been there several times now and each time spent time doing something different. If you are planning a visit, don’t miss their Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Trip Planner.

View of Kilauea from Jaegger Museum 2005

On our most recent visit, we also spent time at the Visitor’s Center viewing the displays and reminding ourselves of the opportunities there are for exploring. Of course, the main attraction is the Jaegger Museum and Kilauea volcano itself. These are such awesome places to start your visit if you want to learn more about the volcanic activity in the area. We used this museum as a way to support our study of volcanoes and geology. What better way to learn could there be?

Kilauea 2013 – Lots of VOG (volcanic gases)

If you are planning a visit to the Big Island, it is a drive from either the Hilo side or the Kona side. The amazing thing to realize is that most of the time you are on island you are actually not very far from the large volcanoes that reside there, some still active. See a map here: Hawaii Island.

Trail to Thurston Lava Tube – 2004

After visiting the museum, you can drive to Thurston Lava Tube and actually walk through a dark, damp tube that was formed by flowing lava. This is an easy walk and everyone should experience it. This walk is in a part of the park that is like a rainforest with large ferns and vines and beautiful bird sounds. The first time we came here I was surprised at the contrasts of this national park with its volcanic moonscape and then the lush rainforest. Truly there is something for everyone.

There are several viewing spots along Crater Rim Drive. Stop at a few of the spots and see the way the lava flowed, forming bumps and layers. Take in the caldera of Kilauea and stop at the steam vents.

If you have more time and are interested in taking in more of the park, take a hike! There are trails you can use to visit more of this awesome landscape. There is one trail where there are ancient petroglyphs.

Hiking out past the end of the road on the lava. Reflectors mark the trail. 2005

Our family hiked out on the lava several years ago and we were able to see actual lava flowing. It was an amazing experience and I hear that at times you can hike out on this section of the park after dark and see the lava actually flowing into the ocean. We have never done that and it seems a little risky to me but many people have done it and survived.:)

Moving lava – see the red hot spots?

Warning: The day we were there the museum and several of the trails were closed because of toxic fumes from the volcano. The winds were not blowing  and the accumulated fumes were on a level that was dangerous for prolonged exposure. See this page for more details: Area Closures.

We took a bike tour of the park with a touring company. It was a fantastic day and the guide was super knowledgeable about volcanoes as well as the plants that we saw along the way. I highly recommend this tour for families: Bike Volcano.

At the steam vents 2013

At the end of the Chain of Craters Road, there is a picnic area, restrooms, and little shop for snacks. You can walk out where the lava has covered the road in past eruptions.

Flying in a helicopter is the best way to see the active volcano

My husband and two of my sons took a helicopter tour that flew up over the volcano. They said it was an awesome experience to see down into the caldera with active lava flow. They saw lava skylights where the lava flows through tubes and the top opens up so you can see the glowing red lava. They flew with Safari Tours and were very impressed with the safety and knowledge of the guide.They flew out of the Hilo airport. Check out the video on the Safari Tours website.

There is a Junior Ranger program for kids at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

There are two campgrounds in the national park. There is also the historic Volcano House. We have never stayed there but have been inside and it looks like a great place to stay.

We have experienced all kinds of weather at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Twice it rained on us and the last time it was perfectly clear and beautifully sunny. Even when it rains it is not cold so shorts and sweatshirt are the most you would ever need.

This past November during our trip to this awesome national park we realized that we need to spend some more time there on the next Big Island visit. We would like to explore the area on foot and perhaps stay at the Volcano House Hotel. There is also an art center at the park that we have not visited yet…so many things to do!

Here are some additional websites to explore:
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Info – webcams, eruption information
Volcano Art Center 

There are two other national historical parks we visited on the Big Island.

Pu ‘uhonua O Honaunau – The Place of Refuge is a reconstructed ancient Hawaiian city. It is an awesome example of history and culture. The view from the park is amazing.

Pu ‘ukohala Heiau – This is a great place to get out and stretch your legs. Walking on the path of ancient Hawaiian kings and learning more about the history of the Hawaiian Islands. This is also an incredibly beautiful part of the Big Island. Take a trip here and then explore the area’s little charming towns.

If you find yourself on the island of Oahu, you can visit Pearl Harbor or the World War II Valor In The Pacific National Monument. We took our boys when they were studying modern history and this place immerses you in the history of this landmark location. We really enjoyed the tour, the museum, and learning so much in one small place.

We have felt so blessed to be able to travel to these amazing Hawaiian National Parks and Historical Sites. They have helped build in our hearts a special place for Hawaii and the national park system.

If you have any questions, please feel to ask me and I will hopefully be able to help you out.


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Summer Trip to Yosemite – Hiking, Wildflowers, Rocks, and More

Yosemite National Park in the summertime is an outdoor adventureland. There is so much to do! This trip was very different from our usual summer trips because it ended up only being my husband and I that were able to go. It is a far different experience to have just the two of us as opposed to having all six of us hiking around the Sierra. Both of us love this place so spending time together here is a pleasure and a delight.

There was a large wildfire further south from Yosemite but the smoke laid thick all three days of our trip. It was worse in the mornings but afternoon breezes swept some of it away. Yosemite Falls was dry! The park rangers were calling it “Yosemite Wall” instead. I am so glad that we had visited last May and enjoyed the cooling mists of the waterfalls then and for this trip it changed the focus from the valley to the surrounding areas of Tioga Road and Glacier Point.

We came into the park from the Tioga Pass side (east) and stopped just inside the gates to hike up to Gaylor Lake. This new to us hike (part of my nature study goals for 2013) was at a high elevation which always adds an element of breathlessness as you climb the trail. This is the view back down the trail…we listened to thunder and watched the clouds closely to make sure we would not be caught in a thunderstorm.

The landscape was green and there were quite a few wildflowers to enjoy from my resting spot along the trail. There were few other hikers on the trail which makes it seem as if you own the place as you hike along. We did see a man hiking back from the lake with a sack full of fish he had caught.

The trail crests and you look down over a beautiful basin where Gaylor Lakes have formed. I was still a little nervous about the thunderstorm but it seemed to be moving off in another direction.

Here at the top of the trail the trees are growing slanted and I can imagine how the wind must howl over the top of the mountain in the winter.

This is the Middle Gaylor Lake and on this day we didn’t go any farther. We sat for a long time enjoying the view before heading back to the car and on down Tioga Road.

We stopped along the way and took a quick hike over to Lukens Lake to see if there were any wildflowers but the conditions are much like you would find in mid-September and there were no wildflowers at all. It was still a nice hike and we did see lots of Bluet dragonflies along the edge of the lake.

The next day we decided to hike up at Glacier Point, taking the Panorama Trail as far as Illilouette Falls and then back. What were we thinking? We have done this hike before and it is a killer! The sign at the trailhead says two miles one way but both of us registered 3.5 miles on our Fitbits. That wouldn’t be bad but it is a steep, steep hike back up that 3.5 miles and in the hot sun exposed for most of the way. Guess what? It was worth the effort!

Along the trail we saw this wasp nest in a decaying tree. The insects were flying in and out but I got just close enough to take a good photo.

Here is a view of the whole tree and nest. The nest is quite beautiful and amazing to see…we were wondering how long it took to build this work of art.

Here is my victory shot after making it to the top of Illilouette Falls. The bridge behind me is just back from where the falls spill over the edge and down a 340 foot drop. We stayed on the upside of the falls for a long time just enjoying the beauty with our eyes and ears.

I sat on the top of a rock where the water was running down and swirling into the pool below. I was a little sad that my kids weren’t there this time to jump in or dangle bare feet in the cold water. My boys have even slid down the rocks here like a big slide into a deep pool where there are fish swimming in the crystal clear water. Great memories.

That evening we walked through the meadows in Yosemite Valley which is my favorite time of day to view the granite walls. The golden sunlight makes them come alive and the cooling air is filled with the sounds of the twilight creatures like crickets. Later that night we sat and watched the bats dart overhead. There is just so much to take in…

Here is another sunset visitor to Cook’s Meadow.

Early in the morning the smoke was filtering the sunlight and obscuring an otherwise glorious view of Half Dome from Tunnel View Turn Out.

Our last day we rented bikes from Curry Village and took off to explore the bike trails. The path is nearly flat or at least a gentle up and down so going is easy. This is such a wonderful way to explore Yosemite Valley away from the crowds and hustle of the popular areas. We had a nice pedal around the whole loop which includes several bridges over the Merced River where you can stop to take a break.

I of course stop to take a few photos of wildflowers. The goldenrod was so brilliantly yellow pretty.

This was something new to me…yet to be identified so if you have any suggestions they would be greatly appreciated.

So there ends another glorious trip to Yosemite, the second in my goal to visit every season. We have a camping trip planned for late September and I am already looking forward to that time in a season of changes.

These topics I will be adding to my nature journal and hopefully sharing here on the blog as part of my nature study goals:
1. Mountain chickadee
2. Rhyolite
3. Obsidian
4. Chinquapin (shrub)
5. Unidentified shrub with berries the squirrels were eating