Sunday, June 28, 2015

Voyageurs National Park- Minnesota

Most of Voyageurs National Park is only accessible by boat so we rented a canoe and took off for a day. The weather in the midwest at this time was awful so we didn't get a chance to see as much of the park as we had hoped but my kids love canoeing so it was a win! *Less the fact that we were tossed around during the start of a lightning storm and some pretty intense waves.* Lesson learned, check the forecast. You can explore more with tours but coming prior to the start of the tourist season really limited our ability to explore more of the park. In the end, we would definitely come back to this area- I'd recommend visiting in mid June- Labor Day.

The girls did a nature study and played with algae, water bugs and observed several loons on the lake. We paddled to Beaver Island as well as a few other smaller islands around. Athena really enjoyed the park and rates it on her top ten with Yellowstone and Arches.

What really stood out at Voyageurs and that really caught my attention was the visitor center at Rainy Lake! The visitor center has been set up to really engage kids and they celebrate Jr. Rangers. Not only did the kids receive a patch and a badge (which is pretty rare in the West unless NPS changed this) but they were also given a moose head eraser and a pencil. There were also crafts and drawing where the kids could make bracelets.

We also spent some time at the Duluth Children's Museum which is free with an ASTC membership. It's a nice museum and has a lot of science- hydraulics, lifts, tinkering and locks. Going into the Great Lake states it was a good first introduction to how the locks and shipping industry work together. It really helped A1 understand the transportation of food and goods in the Midwest.

The Duluth Children's Museum- is probably best for kids under the age of five, maybe up to seven if they enjoy tinkering or have a friend.

Wisconsin- Amnicon Falls State Park

If anyone has a chance to visit Amnicon Falls State Park in Wisconsin, I would take the chance. The girls spent the morning exploring and enjoying the ecology. Wisconsin State Parks offer a Junior Ranger program but the girls rejected the program and spent the day hiking and finding their own trails. A2 slipped while hiking and wound up with a large bruise and scrape on her thigh which took a few weeks to heal. She loves her farm skirt though, haha.

While hiking we found a tic- tac- toe board carved into a stump and played for a while. Funny enough, the part of the trip my kids disliked the least were the falls. 

Tic tac toe treasures.

Monday, June 22, 2015

North Dakota

Leaving S. Dakota we headed up to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, while I want to give this park rave reviews because it was fun... In my opinion, unless you are trying to knock off all of the National Parks it is not something you must see in your lifetime.  The wildlife is attractive to kids and adults but bison are found in many parks now. If you are going for the geological features, they are a smaller version of the Badlands in S. Dakota. The history of the park, Roosevelt's history, is what makes it a National Park. 

Athena thought it was hilarious that Roosevelt would rock in his chair around the room.

Looking at Roosevelt's brand symbol for the ranch, which was carved into one of the posts:)

Unfortunately, in various parts of the park you can see fracking.

She takes the trail less traveled.

And she takes the look at me surf approach.

We saw several males apart from the heard and the heard... But for some reason the boys are cooler.

That said, we did have a wonderful day hiking, exploring and looking at wildlife but... it's not necessarily worth the trip up. 

As we left TRNP we stopped by the North Dakota Heritage Center and I was impressed. I had low expectations for two reasons. A. We were in North Dakota. B. It was free. Overall, the state has put a lot of work into the Heritage Center making it interactive and fun. There were areas to play and microscopes to look through. They had some very impressive exhibits, most impressive was the content on the Native American's in the area. Sadly, when my phone died we lost those pictures but the exhibit really helped put into context how life was like and didn't really skim over the negative altercations between the native people and settlers. 

Giant turtles and microscopes to help observe tiny treasures.

We camped at a free site, at Crown Butte Dam in Mandin. The girls loved this site, our tent space backed up to water with tall grasses. They found frogs and fish. We would absolutely camp here again! 

Summer 2015 kickoff in S. Dakota!

We decided to head toward Michigan via the Upper Peninsula for the first part of our trip heading out through the Dakotas. We chose Rapid City because of the Lakota history and the rich geological features in the area.  

On the way up we stopped at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs as a shake our sillies out stop. Normally, we pick parks for these stops but it had been raining and snowing on and off all day and both the girls objected. 

The dig site itself is fully enclosed and has a wonderful exhibit on the topic of mammoths locally and abroad, theories of extinction and even covered the usage of the bones outside of the Americas.

I lost most pictures on my phone after it met the highway, my phone backed up the week prior to the trip and had not done so since. 

Overall, there were two species of Mammoths in the pits and all mammoths in the pit were male. 

After the dig site we headed up to Rapid City where we spent our time exploring he caves at both Jewel Caves and Wind Caves learning about bacon formations, calcite crystals, stalactites and stalagmites as well as box work. A1 was fascinated while A2 preferred the hiking above ground. 

Because they are caves both parks require tours, both were equally fun but a few older people complained about the hikes taking a toll on their bodies. A2, now 3, did not share their complaints. 

Our ranger at Wind Caves told the Lakota immersion story which sparked a major interest in a unit, perhaps for this fall? 

This is probably a good time to mention A1 helping to plan this trip. She has spent a great deal of time researching national monuments and parks, museums and more. She begged me to do this and I am ashamed to say I paid $11 to park but I did...

As we left the visitor  center with our Jr. Ranger booklets and as I thought, "I can not believe I spent money to see this..." A1 proclaimed at the SAME moment, "I can't believe you took me here!" It was funny and made it worth it:) 

We started learning about the colonial history when she became obsessed with George Washington or "General Washington" as she refers to him. She was elated to see his face carved in stone. 

Exploring Badlands, they are gorgeous... The girls loved spending the day hiking and climbing. For some reason I'm okay with kids playing near the edge of the Grand Canyon or in an arch at Arches but I was freaked out a little by!

Perhaps it was the cracked ground? Either way, I will admit my pretty mellow attitude on hikes disappeared- fast. A1 pointed out I seemed a little tense. Nauseated would probably be more accurate;) Overall, S. Dakota seems to be a strong favorite for our family. 

We can also recommend the Keystone Climbing Area for a campsite, while it is very basic it is in a nice location and great for kids to play near.