Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Cadillac Ranch, TX

Not all adventures have to take a lot of time or cost a lot of money. Some are memorable simply because they are unique! 

The premise of Cadillac Ranch is simple. Basically, it's a bunch of Cadillacs stuck into the ground and lined up in a field...and you can paint them!  What makes it special is the mix of bright colors against the stark landscape combined with the "Are we really allowed to do this?!" feeling. So fun!

What You Need to Know

There are no fees and no hours posted. No restrooms or amenities available. There is a bit of walking from the parking lot to the cars. Not handicap or stroller accessible due to fence and turnstile. Not paved so if it's raining it will be muddy.

Paint is not supplied. You may get lucky like we did and find some partial cans available, but there's no guarantee. Empty paint cans can be discarded in a dumpster near the parking lot. Partial paint cans can simply be left for others to use. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Arches National Park, UT

Arches National Park boasts many wonderful sights including natural arches and interesting rock formations, but the thing that will always stand out most to me was the intense, saturated color. The fiery orange of the landscape set against the crisp blue of the sky with bursts of colorful flowers scattered about was almost overwhelming to my senses. I'll never forget it!

What You Need to Know

Like most National Parks, there's so much that can be done here: camping, backpacking, and much more. Be sure to check the NPS website for all the possibilities! You could certainly spend a week or more just exploring and taking it all in. For us, though, we found it to be a great day stop on our Grand Canyon loop trip. You'd be surprised at how much you can see in just a few hours!

The entrance and Visitor's Station is at the Southern most part of the park. Spend some time in the Visitor's Center, check in with a Ranger, and then consider walking the Nature Trail to learn more about the flora you'll encounter in the park.

There are many easy, short trails along the driving route and lots of picture-taking and overlook areas, too. If you have plenty of time, definitely consider one of the longer, more difficult trails! 
Check the park website before going so you can get an idea of the trails ahead of time or ask a Ranger when you arrive.

There are bathrooms scattered throughout the park, but there are not any restaurants. Be sure to take snacks and plenty of water.

Most of the trails are safe but rough so strollers won't work well.

Remind kiddos to stick to the marked paths. With so much open space and rocks to climb, it's very tempting to want to go off-path. However, there are many delicate ecosystems that need us to look out for them.

For safety precautions, click here.

Check out some of the Ranger-led programs prior to setting out. Personally, I think stargazing at Arches would be amazing!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Yosemite National Park, CA

Imposing granite mountains, lush greenery, roaring waterfalls, and towering trees - Yosemite National Park in California has it all! It's no wonder this destination consistently makes the top 10 national parks destinations and boasts around 4 million visitors every year.

Mountain Trio

What You Need to Know

Due to busyness in the summer and road closures during the Fall, Spring, and Winter, finding just the right window to visit is important. We went in mid May and it was pretty much perfect. There were a couple of road closures, but it was mainly for the more remote areas of the park that will be of greater interest to serious campers and hikers. It didn't impact us at all.

For lodging, we decided to stay in Evergreen Lodge, which is in very close proximity to the park. There are also lodging and camping options within the park itself, but they can fill up very quickly. Of course, you can always stay outside the park, as well, but it adds to the drive time every day. I cannot recommend Evergreen enough. The restaurant was stellar, our cabin was the perfect blend of rustic charm and comfort, and there were lots of neat bonuses such as the game room and the natural playground.

Evergreen Lodge Playground

As for food, we ate at our lodge restaurant twice a day and in the park for lunch. As per our usual, we took snacks and water with us for the in between times. HOWEVER, it's important to note that bears are a very real threat at Yosemite so it's not recommended you keep food in your car! Take only the snacks you can keep on you and leave the rest back in your room.

Check the park website for updated information on transportation. There are shuttles servicing some areas of the park. Since it wasn't busy when we went, we preferred to drive ourselves. This worked very well for us for the time of year we went. Another thing to note about transportation - larger vehicles such as RVs are limited as to where they can go due to the steep and narrow roads.

As with many of the larger national parks, Yosemite can easily occupy you for a week. But, if you only have a day or two it's still absolutely worth a visit! I'd recommend concentrating on Yosemite Valley. Start at the Visitor's Center and check in with a ranger for up-to-date info on closures or warnings. Rangers are also great for giving recommendations!

We spent the day working our way around the loop. After the Visitor's Center, we hiked Lower Yosemite Falls, then Mirror Lake, and finally Bridalveil Falls. If you follow the loop around, you'll find lots of pull-outs for picture-taking opportunities. We ate lunch in the valley since everything there is nice and close.

Bridalveil Falls

Covered Bridge

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake Trail

Yosemite Falls

Day 2 was supposed to be devoted to the Southern portion of the park, Mariposa Grove, but it was absolutely pouring. Mariposa Grove is known for it's sequoias, but since we were planning on visiting Sequoia National Park anyway, we decided to cut our losses and head on out to get away from the rain.

Additional Resources

Learn about the Jr. Ranger booklet requirements here.

More NPS resources here.

National Park lesson plans here, courtesy of PBS.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Badlands National Park, SD

Don't let it's ominous name put you off - the Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, is a wonderful way to spend a day! Merely driving through this picturesque park is a delightful experiences with lovely overlooks and vistas - and the occasional animal sighting - but add in the many family-friendly trails and boardwalks and it makes for a great adventure.

First view of the Badlands

As with most national parks, you could certainly spend more time here, but if one or two days is all you have to spare, it's still very much worth a visit! We arrived at about 11 and left before sundown. We saw a great deal of the Northern portion of the park and felt we had ample time to experience and enjoy what it had to offer.

What You Need to Know

There are multiple entrances to the park, but I'd recommend starting off at the Ben Reifel Visitor's Center. You can learn about the park there and check in with the park rangers to learn about closures or updates.

There are multiple short trails to explore and lots of overlooks along the Badlands Loop Road. Door Trail, Window Trail, Cliff Shelf, Saddle Pass, and the Fossil Exhibit Trail are all half a mile or so. The Notch Trail is longer and more strenuous, but it involves a ladder, which is a lot of fun for kids.

Saddlepass Trail

Window Trail

Short boardwalk trail

Keep an eye out for Roberts Prairie Dog Town, and don't be surprised if you see other wildlife scattered throughout the park. We saw lots of bison and some sheep!

Consider picking up a booklet at the Visitor's Center so your kiddos can earn their Jr. Ranger badge. This badge requires participation in a ranger-led activity OR viewing the movie so leave some time for that! For something different, consider picking up a GPS activity booklet.


As for food and lodging, there is a campground and a lodge (operating seasonally) inside the park. Be sure to check online for hours and availability. Otherwise, the nearby town of Wall has food and lodging. We ate breakfast in Wall and then packed a lunch and lots of snacks (and lots and lots of water!!) to tide us over during our day in the Badlands.

590 West

Storms can pop up quickly in the park, so sneak a peek at the weather before you head out for the day. We did have a storm blow through while we were there, but it came and went and didn't slow us down, thankfully. Apparently they can be vicious with lots of lightening, so be mindful of that possibility.

Additional Resources

The Badlands National Park offers several unique educational opportunities. The first is distance learning. The second is the ability to teleconference with a park ranger! This would probably have to be done as a part of a group, so if you're a part of a co-op, it might be worth looking into! Last, but not least, consider printing off this scavenger hunt checklist at home to be completed at the park.

For further resources, Enchanted Learning has a short lesson and printout featuring a prairie dog.