Monthly Archives: September 2018

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…