Great Basin National Park

Last July (2017) we made a boys trip to Great Basin National Park.  Because of its remote location it gets much fewer visitors than most of the parks in the west.  When you consider the drive from Salt Lake or Las Vegas and the other National Parks that you can go to instead the park gets much fewer visitors.  I say this not to speak ill of the park but to set the scene.

We stayed in the Grey Cliffs Campground.  This is the only place you can book ahead.  There are some other amazing campgrounds in the park that operate on a first come basis.  Wheeler Peak Campground and the two Lehman Campgrounds specifically.  Driving out there with 3 boys and Grandpa we did not want to risk not getting a place.  Funny thing we got the last place in that could be reserved but our camp area was empty.  My theory is people reserve in Grey Cliffs to make sure they have a place but then go stay in the other campgrounds.  I can see why Grey Cliffs is a very cool area but much more dry than the other areas, lots of sage brush and because of the elevation even that is drier than you would expect.  The other campgrounds are much more alpine more trees and higher in elevation.

We spent 2 nights here but really only 1 full day in the park.  In the morning we went to Lehman Caves.  I would recommend booking your tour in advance.  You can do so online, over the phone or in person.  There are no entrance fees to enter the park but camping and cave tours do cost.  The cave was amazing.  Stalactites and stalagmites and other cool cave formations everywhere.  The tour took an hour, there is a slightly longer one available as well.  This is a must do if you come here.

For lunch we drove to 10,000′ and the parking lot near the Wheeler Peak Campground.  Many trails start here.  There is also picnic tables.  We opted to hike to Rock Glacier and take the slight diversion through the Bristle Cone Grove.  Both are a must.

The hike to the glacier round trip should be a little over 5 miles.  That being said 5 miles at 10,000′ feet with 3 kids is different.  I didn’t know what to expect but knowing them i packed treats to get them to the snow.  2 miles in the boys started losing their minds as kids do.  The hike seemed to be going nowhere and there was no snow in sight.  After bribing them with treats and the promise of ice cream in the sleepy town of Baker, NV after the hike we made it to the Bristle Cone Grove.  the trail at this point is large chunks of granite gravel.  But for whatever reason this is also where the boys minds were changed and the hike was fun.  We could see snow and they thought that being around trees that were upwards of 3,000 years old was very cool.  We hiked through the grove coming and going from the glacier it does not add much to the length of the trail but should be done at least once, I looked at the other trail it is straight shot so probably faster but you miss all the views and the trees.  The Bristle Cone Grove is on a ridge and provides tremendous views.

From the Grove the glacier is not very far.  When we made it to the snow that was a few hundred feet from the Glacier my kids were immediatly energized.  Snow was flying in all directions I took some direct hits as well as some collateral damage.  It was so much fun.  My dad and one of the boys decided to hike to the actual glacier and I stayed with the other 2 boys and made a snowman.  While there are other hikes in the area including to the top of Wheeler Peak which is over 13,000 I would highly recommend making this hike part of your trip because of the snow, geology and history.

Promised ice cream in Baker….  Baker, NV is small it is not your typical town near a National Park.  There was a general story place that did have some ice cream, thank goodness.  But there is really nothing to do here.

All in all the trip was amazing.  For people who have never been to this part of the country I might suggest skipping Great Basin for some its more famous friends Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon or Death Valley National Parks.  But if you are in the area or driving through it is worth a stop and doable in a day or even a half day.

 

The other thing worth noting is because of the location Astronomy is a big thing in the area.  The park does offer Astronomy Programs the one that was going while we were there was cancelled due to a quick rain shower.  By 11 that night though the sky was clear and the Milky Way was bright, clear and could be seen with the naked eye.  If you have never seen the Milky Way it should be added to your list of things to see.  I have seen it a few times in my life and it never gets old.

Keukenhof

As part of an epic road trip from Amsterdam to Paris we planned on stopping in Keukenhof.  It is only open 2 month a year as it is an expo on all Dutch bulbs, mostly Tulips.  We have had family and friends come here and seen may pictures on social media so we were excited about the pit stop.

Driving South from Amsterdam you find yourself quickly in some of the greenest farm country in the world.  Old and new windmills begin to appear all over on the horizon.  About 30 minutes from leaving the car rental place we leave the highway and start to see fields and fields of patchwork colors.  Commercial tulip fields as far as the eye can see.  A few minutes later we arrive at Keukenhof.

Since 1950 the park has been used as an independent showcase of Dutch flowering bulbs.  Over 7 million bulbs are planted each year, not to mention the trees and other flowering plants.  The park besides being a tourist attraction is a living catalogue of plants that can be ordered and shipped all over the world.  At the time of writing this post our tulip bulbs had not yet arrived as it is still summer and bulbs are shipped in the fall.

We only had a few hours here but one could spend a full day.  Besides the rows and rows of flowers here are some things that were highlights for our kids:

  • Petting Zoo
  • Kiosk that sold hot stroopwaffles, Belgian waffles and dutch hot chocolate
  • Climbing into a working windmill that overlooked the grounds and nearby commercial tulip fields
  • taking pictures of everything on their ipods
  • Keukenhof has a kids scavenger hunt that 2 out of 3 of our kids liked

The best way to show how cool it was is with pictures.  We would go back 100 times as it was so beautiful and enjoyable to be in the park.

 

 

One Afternoon in Ghent

On a road trip from Amsterdam to Normandy we found ourselves having been in the car too long and needing a break.  When we checked the GPS we saw that Ghent, Belgium was only 3 miles away.  The only thing we knew about Ghent was the famous altar piece from the movie The Monuments Men.

It was a Saturday afternoon and the old town was hopping.  After driving through 2 pedestrian only streets we found a parking garage with 1 spot.  From our parking spot we walked across the Leie River on a picturesque stone bridge.  From the bridge we could see a castle that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We walked past 3 really cool looking churches and some amazing smelling chocolate shops on our way to see the altar piece.   Besides the art being amazing the thing that changed our lives here is that our kids took an interest.  This was the second on this trip from Amsterdam to Paris where they listened to the audio guides.  The first was the Anne Frank House.  I was not surprised there because we spent months preparing for the Anne Frank House and for Normandy.  But we had zero plans to stop at any churches in Belgium.

After the church we got waffles and ate them in a square near the church.  From here we shopped our way back to the car.  This included stops at Leonidas and  Neuhaus Chocolates It was an amazing diversion on a long drive.  Some of the best destinations are the ones that you never planned.  Like all of our one day or short stops in places more time could be added here but the stop was amazing.

Lakenhalle in Ghent Belgium

Belgian Chocolate from Leonidas

One Hour in Florence

For our 10th Anniversary we booked a flight from the US to Rome and back from Paris.  We spent 4-5 days in each of the bookend cities but the middle of the trip had 3 nights in 3 different cities as part of an epic road, rail and plane journey to Paris.  Day 1 of this trip found us renting a car at a Rome train station.  We needed to be at our rental house in Vernazza in the Cinque Terra at 3.  By our calculations we had about an hour to spend somewhere along the way.  Based on the map it was a battle between Pisa and Florence.  Pisa never really had a chance since all we knew about it was a leaning tower.  We know there is more to Pisa than this but I digress.

Piazza Della Signoria you can see a replica of the statue of David

Garage Ponte Vecchio if you need to park a car in a pinch in Old Florence this is the place for you

After 3 plus hours of driving through the Italian countryside we find out selves at Garage Ponte Vecchio. 20 Euros to park all day or in our case 20 Euros for the hour.  Worth it!  We are now on the clock.  We walk across the Ponte Vecchio, window shopping along the way.  As we leave the bridge we look for a quick lunch.  A deli is selling Panni and Waffles.  While the Waffle is more of a Belgian treat it hit the spot.  We walked around the square and the Duomo as we ate our lunch.  I will be first to tell you 1 hour is not enough time to spend here if you have just an hour it can be done.  We only saw the outside of the Duomo and the outside of the Baptistry.  Both were amazing, we will be back to see the inside of each building not to mention all the museums and good food that we missed.  From here we shopped our way back to the Ponte Vecchio.  After we crossed the bridge we found a pastry shop.  After a quick stop here we were back on the road racing toward Vernazza and the best Focaccia we have ever had…

Douglas Fir Inn – Hotel Review

Douglas Fir Inn

Located on Tunnel Mountain Road on the east side of Banff the Douglas Fir Inn is a great place to stay but there are some things you need to know first.  The hotel is caters to families who are on ski trips in the winter and road trips in the summer.

If you read the reviews many people will say the hotel is dated.  To be honest it is.  We stayed in one of the stand alone duplex chalets.  It has seen better days the carpet is worn the galley kitchen is small and dated.  That being said we enjoyed this hotel.  It had many amenities that made our stay here great.

Laundry: The hotel is located across the street from a large camp ground, and by large it is huge so the General Store and Laundry facility always have traffic.  But, we never had a problem when we washed clothes.  For long trips like this if we have access to laundry we usually take advantage so we don’t have to pack as much.

Waterslide: The hotel has two waterslides that are indoor, guests can use them as part of their stay.  They are not special but at the end of each day our kids loved racing down these slides over and over.  Many adults partook as well including this one. In the pool area is an area for toddlers.  Outside but connected to the waterslide area is a hot tub.  It is quite large and has a nice view of Tunnel Mountain.

General Store: Think any general store in any National Park and that is what you have here.  It was great for quick things like a quart of milk but if you need to go to the store make the trip to town or even better stop in Canmore on your way in from the east.

Indoor Play Area:  The hotel converted an old racquetball court into a multi-level indoor play place.  While we would never tell anyone to book a hotel based on things like this, it was nice to have especially in the morning while everyone was getting ready to take the boys over here to burn off some steam before a car ride to the days journey.

We enjoyed staying here and would recommend it but make sure the hotel is right for you.

Glacier Adventure – Athabasca Glacier AB, CA

This is the first of many posts about an epic adventure our family took in the summer of 2017.  In total we drove over 2,600 miles, we could have made it to Key West, FL from our home in suburban Salt Lake.  But we did not go east we went north. 11 days, 2,600 miles and we never even left the Mountain Time Zone.

Brewster ‘buses’ on the Athabasca Glacier. The buses are used here and Antarctica.

Day 1, 12 hours in the car.  The drive north was long and a little painful.  Night one was spent in Shelby, MT after a stop at a Lewis and Clark NPS site in Great Falls, MT.  Day 2 started early, we found our selves eating lunch in Calgary.  We hit some traffic heading west towards Banff and then a crazy summer storm north out of Banff, needless to say Day 2 was almost as long as day 2.  1,100 miles out of the way in 2 days.  But as we rolled across the continental divide the storm cleared, and we saw a heard of Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep the trip already seemed worth the drive.  Shortly after that we checked in to the Glacier View Inn, and our kids were bouncing off the walls.  They were troopers to spend that much time in a car.

One of the members of the small herd of Rocky Mountain Sheep we saw as we crossed from Banff National Park into Jasper National Park.

The whole point of coming this far north was to see and go onto the Athabasca Glacier.  The views from the hotel are amazing.  There is a patio with chairs where you can stare at the glacier all day.  But as we arrived latter in the day we did this until dinner and then looked out the window of the restaurant.

Day 3, Glacier Tour.  For us this was a once in a lifetime experience.  While it was only a short time off of the bus on the glacier we felt a world away and than time froze.  Our kids were having so much fun once they adjusted to walking on ice.  Usually in the summer it is more slushy but the storm the night before had left ice on the surface.  Being that close the deep blue ice just below the surface and being able to get an up close view of the Columbia Ice Field and the multiple glaciers that it feeds was amazing.  As one might have guessed with 3 boys a brief snowball fight broke out.

After our tour was over we took the bus back to the hotel, at lunch and headed toward Banff, Lake Louise and our hotel for the next 4 days the Douglas Fir Inn.

Note: Book your tour before you get here if you can, it gets busy and the lines get long.  Also.if you have tickets you do not need to wait in many of the lines you can just go to where they are taking tickets for the tour and head to your bus.  We took the first tour of the day which meant there were fewer people on the glacier I would recommend that or the last tour if possible.

We did not go to the city of Jasper on this trip but if you have the time, it is a very cool city in the middle of some of the most beautiful country on the planet.

Next post Days 4,5 & 6 – Lake Louise and Moraine Lake

Taken from the Athabasca Glacier looking South to it’s tributary the Columbia Ice Field.

Glacier View Inn – Hotel Review

 

View from the deck of the Glacier View Inn, after all the crowds have cleared out for the day.

 

Glacier View Inn 

 

Located on Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Canada 185 km North of Banff, 104 km South of Jasper.  The Glacier View Inn is a tale of two hotels.  Located on the 3rd floor of the Glacier Discover Center which from 8 am to 5 pm is full of people coming and going from tours and hikes to the Athabasca Glacier.  From 5 pm on the whole area clears out and you can have the area to your self.  We spent one night here in late July.   It snowed on the glacier the night before we got here.  Needless to say any visit this far North even in the summer make sure you pack appropriate clothes.

As for the hotel itself it was great.  A mix between and chalet and a Best Western.  The room was great, we stayed in the rooms with a loft for our kids.  Defiantly worth staying the night.

Restaurants: There are 2 food options here.  The Dining Room is a more expensive restaurant.  It serves 3 meals but has pretty strict hours so check that if you plan on eating here.  There is a cafeteria style restaurant.  It is open during the day when visitors are in the Glacier Discover Center.  We ate at both places, neither were amazing but there were only two choices.

Coming Soon The Glacier Adventure, which is really the reason to stay at the Glacier View Inn

One Day in Philadelphia

As a preface to this post I spent a year of my life in Philadelphia living in North and South Philly and I have been asked many times what people should see in Philly if they have some time there.  Below is an edited version of what I have sent to 3 separate friends and relatives:
Near Center City
 
Reading Terminal Market
          The old train station in Center City.  Located close to City Hall, China Town and the Masonic Temple.
           Highlights here are all the Pennsylvania Dutch People selling amazing from scratch food.  We bought the most amazing bread pudding here. Bassetts Ice Cream is Philly style Ice Cream, made with eggs and cream very thick and rich.  Cheesesteaks can be bought here and they are good and if you are only in Center City it is a good place to get it but there are many better places to get one.  The Italian Deli here is amazing.
City Hall and Penn Tower
Fun to visit the top of Penn Tower is a cool way to see the city, you need to book a reservation.
(Everything above is about 11-12 Blocks away from everything below)
Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell
     If you go to the Visitors Center which is North from the Bell and Independence Hall right when they open you can book a tour that is scheduled (for the hall) so you don’t have to wait in line.  This is the NPS version of a fast pass and it is amazing.   You can just go see the bell the line moves pretty quick as it is just a bell and once you look at it and take a pic that is kind of all you can do.  If you have never been it is a must.   As a side note just South West of here is Washington SquarePark block and it is the location of the tomb of the unknown soldier from the Revolutionary War.
US Mint
     I think you can book a tour here it is very cool but for one day I might skip it.  But if you are into coins like me a quick lap in the gift shop is very cool
Christ Church
       Like its counterpart in NYC (trinity church) Christchurch is where the founding fathers met.  The steeple was funded by a lottery that Ben Franklin ran.  It is a few blocks east of the mint.  But just south of the mint is the Christ Church Cemetery it is a cool old cemetery where a bunch of signers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are buried.
Franklin Court
      Home to the first post office in the US.  There are lots of ‘Firsts’ in Philly, Bank, Stock Exchange etc.  Ben Franklin founded the first post office in the US here near his old house which is just north across the street but no longer stands there as there was a fire i think.  Now there is a museum that displays some of his inventions.  It is cool but i would put this lower on my list
Elfreths Alley
       The oldest continuously occupied street in America.  It is an old street a few blocks east of Christ Church.  Its pretty cool but in the end is just a street.  If you like colonial architecture it is a must if not it is a few blocks out of your way.
Betsy Ross House
       With people dressed in colonial attire it is hard to not find this place a little cheesy.  The house is real the furniture is correct to the period and the house is cool.  I would do most other things on this list first but it is near Christ Church and Franklin Court and on the way to Elfreths Ally.  So could be worth a stop.
Now for a list of things not near Center City but could be cool to see none the less
Cheesesteaks
Tony Lukes Cheesesteaks
This is way in South Philly. Worth the Drive could be quite busy
An alternate would be http://www.patskingofsteaks.com/ or http://www.genosteaks.com/ which are right across the street from each other in the very Italian part of South Philly (think Rocky Running down the street with all the Italian Market Stores).  All 3 are Great Tony Luke’s used to be more philly but now they have a location in Dubai so that may have changed.  I have eaten at all 3 places and you can’t go wrong.
West Philly
In West Philly near the river are a few things that could be worth your time but I would say more for day 2 or 3 which you don’t have but it is still worth mentioning.
Franklin Institute
Rodin Museum
Further west
Boathouse Row
University of Pennsylvania 
http://www.upenn.edu/  UPENN has a very cool campus and bookstore
Valley Forge
http://www.nps.gov/vafo/index.htm  Cool if you are near it but not much too see.  Same goes for Washington’s Crossing in NJ
Valley Forge is similar outside of the city just a place where people camped on winter
Day Trips Beyond the City
If you have more time I would recommend Intercouse, PA (yes that is the name) this is Amish Country.  Great food and fun to see.  Beyond here are Hershey, PA.  Not worth a stop unless you are right there.
Gettysburg is a few hours west of Philly well worth it if you are close.

Stonehenge and Bath

While we were in London we took a day trip to Bath and Stonehenge.  It was about 8 hours round trip but worth the time.  Stonehenge is a must and doesn’t really demand too much of your vacation but we recommend visiting because of the beauty, history and mystery surrounding this amazing site.  While Stonehenge was everything that we thought it would be an a must when visiting this part of England, Bath was the surprise.

Stonehenge World Heritage Site

Stonehenge World Heritage Site

Bath is an old town that has Roman roots and tons of old English charm it became a world Heritage Site in 1987.  The Bath Abby is at the center of the city’s fame and rise to prominence in history, including the crowing of an English King in the late 900s.  The Abby has changed hands and been renovated a few times since then but it is beautiful and worth a stop.  Not to be outdone the Roman Baths are almost 2000 years old.  We love history and have always been entranced by the Romans especially when the remnants are found on the outskirts of the Holy Roman Empire, like here in Bath. The Roman Temple and Bath were built on top of a hot spring and can be visited for a fee.  In addition to the the Abby and the Baths there are many beautify houses and streets that were built from the 1600s to the 1800s and have shops and restaurants.  The Avon river of Shakespeare’s fame runs through Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon is just down the road.

Roman Baths in Bath, England

Roman Baths in Bath, England

Galeries Lafayette – Hidden Gem in the middle of Paris

Let’s start by saying Galaries Lafayette is not a secret nor is it hidden but there is more to this monster department store than an amazing stain-glass skylight.  Near the Opera Garnier (think Phantom of the Opera) the home to the French National Opera, Galeries Lafayette operates 3 huge stores on Rue du Lafayette.  It is always mentioned in the shopping sections of guide books as ‘the’ department store in Paris, and really in all of France.  That being said it can be much more than a basement full of women’s shoes, and we mean the entire basement floor is stall after stall of brands of women’s shoes. It is near the Paris Metro stops of Opera and Chausse d’Antin de Lafayette.

View of the Eiffel Tower beyond the green roof of the Paris Opera House.

View of the Eiffel Tower beyond the green roof of the Paris Opera House.

Stained Glass skylight at Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

Stained Glass skylight at Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

Near the roof of the store there are multiple cafeteria style cafes.  You won’t find high cuisine here but what you will find is a reasonable place to eat a meal or grab a snack, and that place has amazing views of the heart of Paris.  Venture up to the roof you will find lounge chairs set up on AstroTurf and 360 degree view of the City of Light.   This is a free view of the city where as most other view points are ticketed and have huge lines.  We visited on a rainy day in March and the views were a little obscured by clouds but because most of Paris was built 5 stories or less you can still see all the sites that you would want to see.

Across the street from the main store which is geared toward Women you will find the men’s (Homme) store and kiddie corner from the main store is the home store.  These are fun places to wander on a rainy day.  The main store has a pretty fun toy and souvenir section as well.  While we wouldn’t say that it is a must do we have always enjoyed the spectacle of the store and it is a great place to rest from the elements for a while.