A few days after hiking in Mariposa Grove, we were intrigued by the lure of the Fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree further up the trail and decided this would be a nice hike to end our time in Yosemite. According to the sign posts along the trail this was a little over 4 miles to hike. Using My Tracks from Google, we hiked over 5 miles almost 6 miles (in an effort to appease our travel companions from HobbyJeep.com). Either way this is a long distance for a 4 year old (the youngest of our group of 9) to walk and she did this remarkably well.
There is an alternative to hiking to the Wawona Tunnel Tree, you can purchase a ride on the tram going from the parking lot to the tree and back taking just over an hour. There are a couple of reasons this did not fit into our objectives. Cost was the first deterrent. For a group of 2 or so the cost isn’t so bad but for a group of 9 the expense became larger than we were comfortable with. Next, the challenge of a hike this distance for the kids would be a good experience. Finally, the tram only stops twice for people to get on and off to explore these incredible trees. We didn’t find this out until after we got to the museum near the tunnel tree. By hiking we were able to walk among many sequoias and enjoy the trail. In addition, for the Monopoly Travelers, this was a good opportunity to experience a nice hike before heading to Isle Royale National Park where hiking would be our only method of travel.
Armed with a pack consisting of fruit and trail bars along with plenty of water and our cameras it was off to the trail. Don’t forget the med kit as scratches are very possible. The first mile was familiar as we reached a number of trees visited a few days prior such as the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree. Soon it was on to new trails exploring vistas we haven’t seen in search for more amazing vistas. After hiking about 2 hours we were starting to wonder how far away it was as we hadn’t passed anyone in a little while. It is at these times your mind plays tricks on you as you begin to wonder if you missed a turn somewhere or took a wrong turn earlier. Fighting these detrimental thoughts we pressed on and approached the top of the hill we had been climbing to entire time and found a trail marker. In addition to the mileage we were also climbing about 800 feet in altitude. The marker told us we were near the museum and still on the right track.
The first portion of this trail follows the shoreline of Lake Superior giving amazing vistas demanding a moment of your time to take in all the sight has to offer. There are many places along this trail begging you to stop and see what nature has created. Unfortunately this also means more time with a full backpack strapped to you each time you give in to natures majesty. Each ache and pain in your body asks that you keep moving so that this heavy load can be taken off. Each person has to decide which portion of this battle will win. I gave in to the natural creations knowing that the pain will go away but the memories will be there for a long time. I would have regretted not taking in this part of the island. As the trail turned inward to cross the island we began to ascend up a long hill being greeted with a light rain shower. This was no real surprise as we could see the clouds off in the distance while walking along the shore.
Near the top of this hill the rain subsided but the mosquitoes began targeting us for lunch. These mosquitoes where persistent for much of the trail encouraging a faster pace. Our group split into two during this trail: a faster group and a little more relaxed pace keeping in contact with the use of two-way radios. Each group continued on the trail going up and over rocks, around water, and on to our final destination taking a moment to explore an old copper mine along the way. The first group reached Washington Creek and secured the same shelter we used earlier. Our second group had a little more interesting trek. After stopping to explore the Wendigo Mine, they came upon a moose blocking the trail. Slowly backing away as anyone who has encountered a moose knows that they own whatever territory there on. After backing away it was decided to remove the packs as who knows how long the moose would be here and it would be easier to blend in to the trees without the additional weight if that need should arise. After about 15 minutes the moose moved on along with her calf allowing this group to continue towards and eventually reaching Washington Creek.
Everyone was glad to be back at this first campsite quickly removing the packs and resting a few minutes before setting up camp for the last night. The night was cool and again treated us to a sky filled with stars. Our next morning consisted of eating and packing up getting ready to board the Sea Hunter III for a return trip to the mainland. Once again the morning was beautiful and sun drenched giving us one last day with amazing weather. Our younger participants became Junior Rangers once again and where ready to shove off after four days of extreme camping. If you can believe it, this was done with children from 7 to 12 years of age who all carried at least some items as far as they could. A learning experience for all. Just imagine how little we can actually live on and how little we need to survive compared to everything we desire in everyday life. Even living on this little, there were and are people who live on less!
We were off to the next destination which was just over four miles away while carrying 40 pounds or more of camping equipment and food. While researching backpacking it was recommended to carry a maximum of 20% of your body weight in your pack. Ours seemed slightly higher than that which appeared to be more common amongst the other hikers on the island. 20% would certainly have been more comfortable and easier on our bodies. The scenery was quite nice and changed along the way however after a couple of miles of walking up and down hills with all this weight the scenery became less important. Finally after five hours of hiking we arrived at our destination and where able to take the packs off for an extended period of time. This did include stopping for lunch and a couple of other snack breaks so it was not constant walking. After some recuperation it was time to set up camp for the night and enjoy our surroundings.
Huginnin Cove was without a question worth the hike. We had Lake Superior on two different sides of us with trees and rock formations everywhere else along with plenty of peace and solitude. The landscape was spectacular even when you’re exhausted from getting there. Listening to the waves of the lake crash against the rocks surrounding the shoreline while taking in the surroundings was an amazing experience. Off in the distance we could see the shores of Canada and at times see the city of Thunder Bay. At this camping area there was no pre-built shelter, running water, or flush toilets so it was more extreme camping. Our evening meal was prepared while watching the sunset across the water. As we finished cleaning up for the evening the stars light up the sky with no moon to interfere. This happened to occur at the same time as the Perseid Meteor Shower was winding down so not only did we get to star gaze but we were treated to shooting stars and numerous satellites crossing the sky. This was the experience I was hoping for!
Our next morning was beautiful and sunny giving some incentive to get up and enjoy the day. We were much slower in emerging from the tent even with this nice sunny day as there were many sore muscles and joints along with the knowledge that it was another day of hiking with all this extra stuff strapped to our backs. Eventually we made breakfast and cleaned the dishes and packed everything away into our packs in an effort to head back to Washington Creek. There are two ways to get from Hugginnin Cove to Washington Creek. We explored one of those the previous day so decided it was time to take the second trail today. A very good decision as the scenery was much better and the trail slightly easier.
A trip to Isle Royale National Park is different than many other parks. It is one of the least visited parks for good reason… getting there is a little more difficult because you can’t drive there. This national park is on an island located in Lake Superior and is at least 15 miles from shore. There are only two ways onto this park: boat or airplane. We chose to take a 1.5 hour boat ride from Grand Portage, MN on the Sea Hunter III to the Windigo side of the island. Now once you get to the Island what are you going to do? There is the short day trip that many people utilize and spend about 4 hours exploring Isle Royale before returning to the mainland. If you decide to stay longer you will need to spend the night. Be prepared as there is only one small resort area which is likely booked and requires getting on the right boat to get there as it is on the opposite side of the island from Windigo. The last option is camping. We chose to camp for three nights allowing us the opportunity to explore the island a little further.
Our first night we decided to make it relatively easy and stay at the nearest camp area known as Washington Creek. This location is easy as there where shelters available which are enclosed on three sides and screened on the forth side allowing for air movement while keeping out bugs and other curious critters. Also, water suitable for drinking is nearby and a short distance away there are bathrooms with running water. Our shelter was right on the banks of Washington Creek giving us a relaxing view when waking up. One of the only downfalls of this camping area is the noise coming from boats, airplanes, and a higher population of people than most other areas. Well, a lot of noise compared to the solitude experienced elsewhere but substantially less than even a small town.
The next morning involved grabbing some oatmeal for breakfast then cleaning up and packing it all away in preparation for our hike to Huginnin Cove to spend the next night. Did I mention that you need to bring in all of your supplies and bring them all back out with you again as this area is designated as ‘Leave No Trace’? That means backpacking all of your necessary items if you do not have a boat of your own docked somewhere around the island. We could have spent three nights in Washington Creek and just did day hikes without all of our gear but our purpose in traveling to all these different parks is to experience new and different areas so we decided to try our hand at real backpacking. Thankfully we did a trial run a few weeks earlier allowing us to be more prepared for multiple nights living out of backpacks.
Well now of course! What kind of question is that? Let’s think about this for a minute. Is the purpose of your vacation to just relax or are you looking for an adventure or two? If all you wanted to do was sit around the pool and sip refreshments you could do that in any hotel with a pool and save the expense of traveling to some exotic destination. Most of us want to get away from our daily routines to rejuvenate which involves traveling somewhere exciting. While on those trips often people will find and excursion to take and something new to explore. During those adventures how often do you stop to enjoy the moment? Sure, you are enjoying it but do you actually take a minute to take it all in or is that what pictures are for? For many people, the adventure is over before they realize it. I often forget to take a few minutes just to consciously enjoy the moment and what I’m doing, where I am, and who I’m with.
Thankfully there are memories and photos to go over. It helps for me to share the memories with others who where there with me. This is one of the reasons I like to travel with a few people. Solo travel allows a lot of freedom but is not as meaningful for me as sharing the moments both during them and afterwards are. It can be interesting to share the different perspectives each has as well when talking about a past adventure. As time passes, it is interesting to find out which experiences where the most memorable. The memories from these adventures last a lifetime while the actual vacation may only last a few days or weeks. This is why I ask “do you travel for now or later?”. While on a trip to Mexico this realization occurred as I was traveling with someone who had never been there before. We began talking about how nice it was to escape winter and work and relax on the beach while exploring some of the highlights of that area. During the conversation I mentioned that it was nice at that moment but really the trip is more meaningful afterwards.
Yes, I travel for now but enjoy the memories and pictures more as time goes by. So, do you travel for now or later?
We are down to the last month of the summer season and only a few weeks away from our backpacking trip to Isle Royale National Park. While in Northern Minnesota for this experience the thought of also visiting Voyageurs National Park had crossed our minds however that has been dismissed due to the distance involved. Voyageurs is about 4.5 – 5 hours drive time from where the boat picks up for Isle Royale in Grand Portage, Minnesota. That would be about the same distance from our house so we will have to look at that another time. Much of the spring and summer has been spent getting ready for our backpacking trip to Isle Royale and the time is near for all that planning to be put through the test. Often you hear that you should step outside of your comfort zone to experience life and find out more about yourself. This trip is doing that for us.
Over the past 5 months we have been researching the gear necessary along with the cost for that gear and possible alternatives and procuring that gear. This being the first backpacking trip, most of our camping equipment does not work due to weight and size. We are restricted to 40 pounds of gear for each person contained in a backpack for the boat ride to and from the island. This should be easier to accomplish on the way back as much of the food weight will be gone. There is a lot of stuff to carry on your back while hiking for miles and most of that is all in an attempt to sleep as comfortable as possible such as tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and a tarp for under the tent. Keep in mind there are 4 of us to accommodate with one of them unable to carry their weight worth of stuff so the rest of us have to pick up that weight. All of this for 3 nights camping on Isle Royale.
In an effort to be prepared for this backpacking trip we embarked on a trial run this weekend. We stayed at a county park with numerous short hiking trails in a mock hiking trip. It was a mock trip because we had our car with us and some extra camping equipment just in case. We tested our 4 person tent, sleeping pads which were made out of foam mattress pads, blankets, cooking equipment and mess kits, etc.… The tent was really tested because there were 5 people and one golden retriever. One person and the dog will be absent on Isle Royale. Surprisingly we all fit however there wasn’t much room. Our sleeping pads work well for adding warmth but offer little in the way of softening the ground. The blankets we brought didn’t keep us warm enough during a summer night and the nighttime temps on the island are expected to be a little cooler so there’s one area we need to improve in the next couple of weeks. Fortunately we had sleeping bags in the car so warmth was found.‘
On the cooking and eating front things look good. Backpacking stoves were tested in an effort to learn how to cook different foods as well as how much fuel we will need. We found foods that will work well and some that we should stay away from. There are two types of stoves in our arsenal: a gas stove and an alcohol stove. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. The gas stoves are adjustable so you can use that for foods requiring different temperatures in order to cook thoroughly or keep from overcooking. Alcohol stoves are either on or off more like a candle. You light it and it heats or the flame is out. They tend to have a wider flame to heat more evenly so are good for boiling water as long as you add enough fuel. Our alcohol stoves come from bottlestoves.com and are quite useful and durable along with made from recycled materials. The mess kits include plastic ware and storage containers that are lightweight and pack together fairly tightly so they don’t take a lot of room. They seem to fit what is needed for backpacking. We did also bring a steel knife, spoon, and spatula for cooking purposes since plastic will melt. One of the things learned in this area is to use a different metal spoon and spatula since the pots being used are Teflon coated and metal can scratch that off.
During our time camping we took 1 1/2 mile hike with backpacks loaded just to get a feel for what we’re in for on Isle Royale. All things considered, this hike went well. We traveled at about a mile an hour on average over uneven terrain. Not bad considering there are two younger kids traveling with us carrying backpacks. I’m glad we did a practice trip as there are a number of things we learned and need to make some adjustments before getting to Isle Royale. All of this for only 3 nights on the island. This better be worth it!
It was the best of times …. uh … it was a cool and dreary day at ….. it was the worst of times … Let’s go back to that cool and dreary thing. It was July 3rd and the sun had not awakened yet as we were quickly getting up and packing the car for a day at Mt. Rushmore. We had heard about the Independence Day Fireworks being some of the best in the U.S. as they are broadcast in many different areas of the U.S. and even internationally and were eager to get our spot to enjoy a day of festivities.
Daylight was arriving to the Black Hills of South Dakota as we were driving towards this patriotic destination. Friends that had been there in years past for this celebration warned us to get there early or there would be no place to park or sit. Finally we passed the entrance sign to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial and began to wonder where all of the cars were. There were plenty of indications that a huge crowd was expected but no lines. Could we really be early enough to have avoided much of the traffic? Enlightenment quickly arrived as we neared the entrance and saw that the only way to get into the park was from the other direction of which the line of vehicles went as far as we could see. We continued driving down the other side of the mountain passing stopped cars waiting to enter the memorial. Finally the end of the line appeared so all we had to do was turn around and get in line.
It was at this time that traveling with children reminding me of the frustrations that can occur as one of them blurted out “I have to go to the bathroom! Can we stop!?” Great! Every minute we delay getting in line reduces our chances of parking inside the park. Well, waiting as long as we were going to have to it was better to not take a chance so I pulled over by a gas station and let out the children and my wife to take care of this issue while I turned the car around and got in line. As the line started to move I began to grow nervous as our missing passengers hadn’t returned yet. As I continued to creep further and further away from the gas station I kept looking for Karen and the kids with no sign of them. The line was about to move forward around a corner when finally here they came. Success! The children were once again comfortable and we were all together again without giving up too many spaces in line.
It was just after 8 a.m. when we entered Mt. Rushmore National Memorial Park. Relieved that we would be parking inside the grounds it was time to find a parking spot and then move as quickly as possible to find a spot to sit for the day. After several minutes more we had landed in our place to park for the day and there was still plenty of room for more cars. Moving on towards the monument we were again stalled due to security screening. Nothing we could do about this so just wait for our turn. Besides, everyone else needed to do the same thing. As we waited there were plenty of things to look at such as a huge screen monitor to watch all the festivities on. This monitor took up an entire semi-trailer! I had never seen a screen that big. Now I wish I had taken a picture of it. Once through security (which was similar to airport security except you could bring coolers through with larger amounts of liquid) it was on to find our living quarters to enjoy the Independence Day festivities. We were fortunate to get prime seating (using our own camping chairs of course) staring directly at the monument.
The entire area was filled with fog keeping the sun from beating down on us. As the morning grew older we could see people setting up the fireworks display we had so eagerly anticipated. After sitting for about on hour rain began to fall. It was at this time we started questioning if we should stay. It appeared as though the rain could continue much of the day and possibly cancel any fireworks display. This was confirmed by periodic weather updates given by park rangers and those watching the radar on their phones. To make matters worse the rain was basically defined to this area of the mountain and just kept building for much of the morning. We decided that there had been plenty of time planning this event that we should stay so off to get rain ponchos and rain coats and wait it out. After being out in the rain for several hours we would take turns going through different buildings to see the displays and find a reprieve from the rain.
Throughout the day there were many different activities planned including Native American dancing and ceremonies along with military aircraft flying over. Around the middle of the afternoon the rain slowed down and eventually stopped. Some of the aircraft flyovers had been canceled already but there were more scheduled and now that the rain had stopped their were indications that these could take place. The sky had began to clear and there was plenty of sun to dry us out and the hope for fireworks had returned making us extremely happy we decided to stay. As the daylight began to wane, so did the clear sky. Just in time fog had rolled into the mountains making it impossible to even see the monument let alone any fireworks. Our hopes of witnessing this spectacular display were once again dashed.
After a long day of waiting fireworks time had arrived. Unfortunately there was one problem! It was uncertain if we would be able see them. Time came and an announcement over the loudspeaker began to confirm our disappointment. They decided to test one of the shells to see how it would look. It was difficult to know if it was the firework or lightning as that is what if reminded me of. After this test the audience was asked if they should continue with the rest of the display. A loud resounding YES! was the crowds response. After a few more minutes the pyrotechnics display we were all waiting to see began. It reminding me of a mix of lightning and northern lights set to music. Once this had finished many members of the audience agreed that this was the best fireworks show we never got to see. As it turns out, this may also be the last Independence Day Fireworks display at Mt. Rushmore for some time to come. To read more about that go here ….
This was a day that tested our fortitude and rewarded our persistence with a unique light show created by humans and nature which will not be duplicated for a number of years if ever at Mt. Rushmore.
On our last voyage to Southern Florida the main goal was to visit Everglades National Park. When planning a park trip we look at nearby national parks as well and in the process explored Biscayne National Park which we would never have gone to due to lack of knowledge about it. Another park that came up was Dry Tortugas National Park. This requires a boat ride or seaplane ride to get there as it is 70 miles off the coast of Key West . Due to the difficulty and expense in getting there we took it off the list. Having another opportunity this past winter we decided to plan a trip to Dry Tortugas if the weather was going to cooperate. This means warm, sunny, and low winds.
I was in Ft. Lauderdale for a convention and decided to extend the trip for a couple more days. Near the end of the convention I started watching the weather forecasts a little closer and saw expected highs in the upper 70’s with minimal wind. It couldn’t possible get any better so off to Key West to catch the Yankee Freedom II for a 2 1/2 hour boat ride to Fort Jefferson. The morning starts early with boarding at 7:30 am in order to get to the island and back before sunset. We had a beautiful trip with plenty of sun although it was a touch cool requiring sweatshirts. During our voyage out to Dry Tortugas National Park we saw a ship with a long trail of white debris behind it. Turns out this was a crew working to recover items off a Spanish shipwreck. They were out on a weekend because of the calm water from lack of wind. It was certainly interesting to see an actual shipwreck recovery in process.
Finally we arrived in the Dry Tortugas! These are a chain of very small islands but extremely beautiful. Docking at Fort Jefferson we quickly got off the boat as there were only 4 hours to explore this place. First we wanted to snorkel for an hour or so in these tropical waters. For being tropical waters it sure took some time to get use to the cool water. There were some great things to see such as a conch slowly moving along the sandy bottom and some squid in the sea grass but very little coral. After swimming for some time we heading in a different direction and discovered the coral. While enjoying the fish swimming in amongst the coral I noticed we were being watched by a barracuda. I get a little nervous around these fish as they have a reputation for being a little aggressive and seeing the rows of teeth covering their mouth just adds to that reputation. Fortunately this fish just continued to move ahead of us. After this short time in the cool water we dried off and got something to eat before touring Fort Jefferson.
Fort Jefferson was constructed around the civil war and was one of the few southern locations aligned with the Union armies. This fort takes up almost the entire island and was built to house up to 2,000 soldiers however it was never completed. As the construction continued the island began to settle (sink) under the weight of all the bricks and other construction materials used. Prisoners were kept here and the most famous of those were 4 men convicted of helping in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. There is some fascinating history being preserved at Dry Tortugas National Park. I understand why this was placed under the national park system.
After learning about this fort and it’s history and exploring under the surface of the ocean it was time for the journey back to Key West. I would have liked to stay longer and take more time to explore but we did not plan for it on this trip. Camping is possible and would give more time for snorkeling and exploring the fort along with experiencing the peacefulness and solitude of the Dry Tortugas. This is one of the least visited national parks for obvious reasons. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend this opportunity!
The planning for this summers Monopoly National Parks board trips are in full progress. Our destinations include Yosemite National Park which includes a stop at Ahwahnee for dinner and Isle Royale National Park. These were expected to be fairly easy trips to plan because we’re meeting some friends in California and then heading to Yosemite for a few days. This is a somewhat familiar area for us as we have been there visiting various friends and relatives so we have a good idea of what we need to do and where to go. Isle Royale is the closest park to us on the Monopoly Board so again should be fairly easy to plan for.
As is often the case, what should be the easiest may turn out to be one of the biggest challenges. The challenges with Yosemite come in from finding a suitable place to stay. We questioned camping however that idea came a few days to late as it was a few days after campsite reservations became available. Apparently campsites fill up minutes after becoming available. Who knew? Certainly not me. A good learning experience. There’s a few options left but we probably should get it nailed down soon or there may be no more options left.
Isle Royale is one of the locations I was most excited to see since it is practically in my own back yard and yet provides a very different atmosphere than I am use to. Since this is within a few hours drive time (~5 hours to be exact) we could take a quick trip to Northern Minnesota, hop on a boat for a couple of hours, tour the area close to one of the visitor centers, and get back on the boat for a return trip to our car and be done. Did I mention that this park requires special transportation since it is on an Island in Lake Superior? Interestingly this is the one place where Minnesota and Michigan border each other.
I have wanted to camp in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a number of years and have not fulfilled that desire. Camping on Isle Royale would qualify in my opinion. Unfortunately we are restricted to 40 pounds of gear each on the boat without further costs. The boat ride already is getting more expensive than I was counting on at $67 per person per way bringing a total for 4 of us to $536 just to get there. That does not include a fuel surcharge, parking, and park fees. In order to camp on the island we are going to need full camping and hiking gear including a tent, backpacks, food, water, cooking supplies, etc.…
I don’t’ think my 10 person tent is going to work very well on this trip. It could very well weigh 40 pounds all by itself. When the realization of what we are up against hit me it was very daunting and exciting. Never camping while hiking before makes me a little nervous. Now add that I’m going to be going with my wife and two younger children really added to this nervousness. I’ve been spending countless hours researching Isle Royale and what is needed in order to make this a great experience for all. My nerves have been settling after reading and looking at necessary equipment. The excitement is returning for mid-August when this trip is planned for. Fortunately I started planning for this early enough to locate what we need and practice a little before we go. Now the big question is – can I carry 40 pounds of gear while hiking for several days? Also, can we fit everything we need into the packs for me, Karen, and the kids? Okay, so there are more than just one question at this time. In addition, we are hoping to include Voyageurs National Park for a few days. This also presents challenges since much of this park requires a boat. Still much to learn and prepare for.
The first time I wrote about re-capping a trip I called it a post-mortem. Apparently that seemed a little to weird so I changed it to a re-cap. You could also call it trip analysis. What can go into a trip re-cap report? That depends on each traveler and what they want to gain out of the re-cap. I like to keep track of how much each trip costs us along with how many miles we traveled and how many pictures we took. I also try to record things that I can improve for the next trip to make it better as well as what worked well if there was something I tried differently.
One of the things that I learned from our last trip was to pay closer attention to hotel location as compared to whatever sights we are planning on seeing. Our destination was Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Our hotel ending up being closer to the Miami International Airport which was at least 45 minutes from either of these parks. That cost us at least 1 ½ hours that we could have used to explore the park further. This time we learned that a flashlight is a good idea to have along (see An Evening Adventure at Acadia). Also, packing a soft sided cooler is helpful when exploring a National Park. This can be used to keep water or food cold. On a earlier adventure we figured out that buying a case of water early in the trip was useful and economical. Another thing learned at Acadia was that getting a meal ahead of time and bringing it with opens up some flexibility. There are a number of National Parks without options for eating and if you intend to spend more time than a few hours at theses parks than being able to stop at your leisure and grab something to eat allows for a longer adventure. In addition, most of the time what better place to have a picnic than in the presence of the scenery and sounds of a National Park.
Some of the other data that I collected:
Miles covered in an airplane: 2,248
Miles driven: 1,639
Miles walked: 13
All of these miles were covered in 8 days. We slept well during the night in order to have the energy to explore the next day. The 8th day was strictly a van ride to the airport so no miles driven or walked so taking the miles driven or walked divided by 7 gives us 236 miles traveled in a day. No, our goal is not to go as many miles as possible in a day. The goal is to experience as much as we can while the opportunity to do is present. Also, we took 587 pictures.
This reminds me. I didn’t even calculate the miles on the bikes.