Jr. Ranger for the National Parks

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So I mentioned a few things last week in another post that I was planning a longer National Parks post. Well, here it is!

My little niece had become a Jr. Ranger for the National Parks in this very park last summer, and was so excited for Wyatt to become one as well! Wyatt was pretty excited too, especially when he got his badges and his patch. It was really simple. We asked for the Park Ranger booklet for Sleeping Bear where we were, completed the activities inside while we toured the visitor’s center, and reported back to the ranger on duty. I explained that Wyatt’s speech is limited so reciting the oath would be tough, and she was so sweet and kind about all of it. Wyatt did repeat key words however, and listened and raised his hand – until he got shy about halfway through and hid his head on his dad’s shoulder.

Kids can either become Jr. Rangers and earn badges at nearly every National Park, or…they can do them online (unfortunately not every park has an online program)! I love that they offer some of them online, not all families have the ability to travel to all the parks, or even travel much at all, and these children can still participate in this free program! Since Wyatt was still excited about earning his badges at Sleeping Bear, I thought we would give the online version a shot. I chose Denali, since I don’t really see us getting there, especially when he is young kid. He is also familiar with Denali thanks to the PBS cartoon Molly of Denali, so it seemed like a good one to experiment with. And honestly we had a really good time learning about the different facets of Denali via the NPS website! Wyatt had to search the website, looking for answers to questions like, which sled dog would you like to meet (Nucha) and which animal that calls Denali home would you most like to see (moose)? Nucha is a cutie, I wish we could actually meet him! And he sounds like a dog made for Wyatt, sweet and charming and mischievous. After finishing up the questions, we dropped it in the mail! I guess they will mail his badge to us; I am curious about how long it will take!

Kids like to wear and display their badges, of course. My niece has a backpack that she puts hers on, and we saw a little boy with them on his hat. Neither of those options are quite right for Wyatt. A vest wouldn’t really work either, so I went online and took a peek at solutions, and found the perfect thing! A lanyard! He LOVES it, and will actually keep it on. So far he has three badges and two patches, although one is from Hartwick Pines State park, where we stopped on our way home. I figure he can pick and choose which badges he puts on his lanyard, and then we will keep the rest as well as any patches on banners, which I still need to order. I am considering getting one of those scratch off maps, or just a map of all the National Parks to hang as well.

I think this is going to be so fun to do with Wyatt! He is starting a U.S. social studies curriculum next year, where he will learn about all of the states, and I think for some of them we will try to visit a National Park, or do an online badge to go along with the curriculum.

I also mentioned in that post that Wyatt received a free lifetime membership pass for all the National Parks due to having a permanent disability. We got ours at the gate, but you can apply online here. They also have a senior pass , and free access passes for veterans and Gold Star families, as well as the general annual pass. Fourth graders can also get a free one year pass! So there are many different options out there.

I am already out here planning a trip to Voyageurs National Park with my brother and his family – and since we will be out that way, a few of the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesteads. You can rent a houseboat at Voyageurs! Has anyone done that?

We are very excited about this whole thing as you can tell. We really didn’t need anymore incentive to visit the National Parks but I think this does make it more exciting for the kids.

My proud little ranger!

Sand Dunes, Shopping, and Petoskey Stones

Day three! Vacations sure fly by don’t they? I think our plans for day three were the ones I was most looking forward to, and the day did not disappoint.

We had another nice slow start to the morning. Even though it was Father’s Day, Billy made the whole crew of us pancakes with strawberries from our garden on top, and Chrissy scrambled up fifteen eggs. It was cute to watch them cook at the stove together, with Rosie the dog at their feet.

We started out at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – the sand dunes and the view are something to behold! We were on Sleeping Bear itself, which has a descent down to Lake Michigan, but you are warned that the climb back up is arduous and to not attempt it if you are not sure you can make it the almost two miles back up. In sand. In fact, there is a huge sign, and a fine for rescue, to the tune of $3000. While we were there we saw a group of college age kids, in peak athletic shape and fitness, coming back up and they were exhausted. I have never attempted it. For me, I would have to plan on camping it or something and taking it a few steps a day. LOL.

I always panic at the top, like people are just going to topple over the edge – mainly my son and my mom. So I guided them as far away as I possibly could get them and then stood in front of my child who wanted to slide down, because, well, he is 7 and it was a lot of sand.

After hanging around the top, and apprehensively watching a family start to head down the dune, with a toddler and I am assuming the toddler’s grandmother in tow, we left the view behind and started in to town.

Before I go further, I want to mention something. Wyatt received a free lifetime membership pass to the National Parks due to having a permanent disability. When we drove up to the gate the nice ranger asked if we had anyone in the car that was 62 or over or had a permanent disability. We had both actually, but my mom declined and so we got Wyatt all set up. He has a nice membership card with his name on it that he can use forever! I definitely recommend looking into it if this is something that will benefit you or anyone that you know.

Our next stop was actually the Visitor’s Center in Empire. Mermaid Girl had become a Jr. Park Ranger last year and was very excited for Wyatt to do it as well. Which he did! He received a certificate, three badges, and a patch! I think I am going to do a whole post on this next week so I will talk more about it then.

And then with our new Jr. Ranger we all piled back in the cars for the super short drive to Glen Arbor for some shopping! We had a few must stops on our list..

Leelanau Coffee for Iced Miel Coffees, and then my very favorite bookstore in the world.

I wish I could just move up there and work here. I love it.

I always try to buy from the local author bookshelves when I see them on vacation and this time I picked a book called Words Like Thunder by Lois Beardslee.

Then we headed over to the Cherry Republic and hung out for a bit, eating french fries and ice cream and shopping.

It was starting to get late but we still had one last stop – Rocky Beach in Glen Haven. Glen Haven is a deserted little town with my family’s favorite beach of all. My stepmom took us there for the first time years and years ago and it is one of her favorite places in the world. Then it became my brother’s, and now you can add us to the list too.

My SIL Chrissy is a huge rockhound. She finds it super relaxing to sift through rocks, looking at them, and on beaches where you are allowed to collect them, she does that too. Rocky Beach is part of the Sleeping Bear so a no collecting beach but they had fun looking. And she got to indulge for as long as she wanted the next day at a different beach, finding several petoskey stones, including a pretty darn big one, the lucky duck!

By the time we left it was getting late and we were all full of sand and sunshine, and ready for dinner. So we made the drive back to our cottage, grilled up some hot dogs and veggie dogs, and that was that. We had a fire on the beach, some adult drinks, and went to bed, after a perfect day.

Some of my favorite vacations..National Parks Week

I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite trips since we have been in lockdown, and so many of them have been our trips to National Parks. We have not yet had the opportunity to take Wyatt, but I am hoping that maybe next year we will be able to start visiting with him, although I am not sure which to start at. An old favorite? One that is new to both Billy and I? We will see!

For now, I can look back with smiles on the memories I have made visiting the parks before he was with us and it was just Billy and I off adventuring, many times with my brother Devin and his wife Chrissy, before my niece was born as well.

I think my favorite of all that I have been to (which is not very many sadly!) is Shenandoah. To me there is just something so beautiful about the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Shenandoah in particular was so peaceful and lovely. We have stayed there more than once, and we always stayed in Big Meadows Lodge. Big Meadows Lodge was built by the CCC and is rustic and sturdy, with its stone and log walls. We stayed in a room that did not have television or phones, and I loved the quiet of it. The deer are so plentiful and numerous there that they are as common as the squirrels here, just frittering about in front of your room or on the trails. And so are other animals, including bears! We never saw one on the trail, but I am sure they knew we were there… we did see a mom and her cubs from our room though, all the way across a field. I was a bit nervous being from an area that does not have bears! But the best part was the horse back riding on the trail – I have always loved horses and never had the opportunity to ride them until Shenandoah and it was such a great experience. One of my favorite lifetime memories was here at this National Park too – and my brother told me the other day it was one of his as well. There is a little pub bar in the lodge where you can go and get drinks and snacks, and at night they have a sing-a-long. We all sat there drinking our wine and beer, singing along to songs like Country Roads by John Denver and then when we headed back to the room we stepped outside and saw the bright stars just blanketing the dark skies overhead, the mountains stretched out in front of us, the cool air and felt so alive and happy and in the moment. Just perfection, one of those moments you never forget.

Our trip to Sequoia was equally memorable – it was my first (and only so far) time in California and wow, so beautiful!! We stayed on Coronado Island to start, at the Hotel Del Coronado then ventured north to Sequoia, which was like something out of a movie set. If I ever move to California, that is where I want to go. I am a forests and lakes and mountains kinda girl, and I am not one for beaches, although they have their own beauty and charm. It is impossible to walk in the shade of the giant Sequoias and not feel in awe of nature’s wonder. We stayed in the lodge here too, because I am not a tent camper. I like bathrooms that are in my room and a bed and walls. Especially in bear country! Plus there is something to be said for hiking all day then going back to your room at night, at least in my opinion. The best of both worlds!

Unfortunately, my photos from our other trips have been lost when my old computer died. Our trips to Gettysburg (a place I have visited at least five times!), and to Mammoth Cave National Park, so different but both so amazing to visit. Then there is our trips to Chincoteague National Seashore when I was a kid, one of my favorite places ever and is on the top of my list to take Wyatt when we can travel safely again, and of course Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore! I do have photos from that trip though! And of course, I saw that pancakes picture and had to include it since I have a pancake problem… lol.

I have some parks that are on top of my list to visit one day! Acadia is definitely one, and of course the big ones like Yellowstone and Yosemite. Smoky Mountain too, because I can’t believe I have never been there, with my love of the mountains. Billy can’t wait to head west, although I’m not sure how I will feel about the desert but Carlsbad Caverns looks pretty cool. And of course we both want to go to Isle Royale in our own home state!

Have you been? What is your favorite?

National Parks Week!

Our family loves to hike and be outside, and before we had Wyatt, Billy and I had made plans to visit as many National Parks as we could. Notice the key word there, plans. We have visited a couple so far, but we were waiting until well, this year, to start visiting again, a plan that might be on hold for a little bit.

While we can’t visit this year, there are ways we can “visit” virtually if you need an escape for a bit. I love Instagram and always find different events and information through following different accounts, which is how I found out that Yosemite was hosting a virtual campfire program Saturday night. We set up Wyatt’s tent in the living room, lit a virtual fire on my laptop, gathered blankets and pillows and snacks, and tuned in. My brother and his family did the same, and we video chatted each other before the event. It was the closest we could get to hanging out right now, but it was nice to see my little niece having such a fun time doing the same thing we were.

It’s not the same as visiting in person, but there are ways to visit virtually! I am adding some here, and I might add to this list as the week goes along, so keep checking back!

The complete list of National Park Week events from the NPS. If you scroll down there is a list of all these different parks and if you click on a park listed, it takes you to their pages of events! So many to choose from and look through! https://www.nps.gov/subjects/npscelebrates/national-park-week.htm#CP_JUMP_6139956

Take a virtual visit to a park! https://www.nationalparks.org/connect/blog/take-virtual-visit-national-park

The NPS has a checklist of a great ways to celebrate the National Parks virutally https://www.nps.gov/articles/national-park-week-inspired-20-virtual-ideas.htm

Or if you have kids, here is a complete list of how to earn Junior Ranger Badges at home from the blog Craft Knife http://craftknife.blogspot.com/2018/06/heres-every-national-park-junior-ranger.html

A few free coloring sheets from The Landmark Project.. https://thelandmarkproject.com/blogs/news/nps-coloring-pages

Billy and I spent some time coloring on Saturday…

Follow Parks Project on Instagram for a different challenge everyday, like trivia, playlists, and challenges!

And of course, there are always books! We may not be able to go to the library in person, but these books are available digitally or if not, for purchase. These are a few that I have read, but there are obviously tons out there – I even picked up a few more to read while grabbing these cover images! This list is a mixed bag of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books but I have enjoyed them all!

Later this week I will be sharing some of our previous adventures at National Parks. What is your favorite park?

My Almost Last Minute Outdoor Inspired Gift Idea Guide!

So I posted my kid oriented gift idea post the other day, and here is my outdoor inspired one for adults! These are all things I would buy my husband, have bought my husband, and/or want a version of for myself. I love everything on this list! Again, check shipping this close to Christmas before ordering.

Under $25

Field Notes National Parks Journals: So I am in love with blank books. And the National Parks. In fact you will see a lot of National Park stuff on this list, so I apologize in advance. Lol. These are so cool and you get a set of three of $12.95! (and the paper is from Michigan, my home state so bonus!)

National Park Beanie: Buying this hat helps support the National Parks, plus it looks super warm and utilitarian, something my husband loves in a hat.

Opinel Knife: Great little knife to have, according to my husband. I got him one last Christmas and he loves it. Good to work with, and feels good in your hand, according to him.

Duke Cannon Bourbon Beard Balm: My husband is a big fan of all things Duke Cannon – he has the soap, shampoo bar, and is probably getting this for Christmas….

Retro Classic Flashlight: Let me preface this by saying all the men in my family are fascinated by flashlights – my dad, my husband, my son. Not sure what that is about but whatever floats your boat! I love this one and it is a great price for a great looking flashlight.

Pendleton National Park Socks: I have been in love with this company forever and will one day own a blanket. But for now, socks for my husband work! (and for me, I am not opposed to stealing them and wearing them. Or buying some for me too)

Under $50

Printworks Night Puzzle: A puzzle worthy of your time – doesn’t this look challenging? I love it. Perfect for long dark winter nights and tea! (or something stronger)

Yeti Tumbler: This is such a great gift, and great for our environment too! We use ours everyday!

Smokey the Bear shirt: I love Smokey the Bear everything – so does my husband. A throwback to my youth, with such a great message. And, some of the proceeds from this shirt do go towards wildfire prevention education.

Zero Waste Shave Kit: So I posted beard balm above – this one is for our clean faced crew. We are trying to go as plastic free and zero waste as we can, slowly bit by bit, and I am loving this item for men who are sans the beard.

Glacier National Park Beanie: Ok, so I know I am repeating myself – two hats, two different journal sets. But I love them and they are different so…. here they are. These beanies are National Park themed by park, and there are 10 different choices, including a Smokey the Bear version!

Wilco Field Notes – A set of 6 instead of 3, and totally different in theme. I couldn’t decide which I liked better so I am listing them both!

Under $100

Oil Cloth Backpack: I like things that are going to last and take a beating – and this backpack looks like it can withstand whatever is thrown at it, including a spill from your morning coffee. Duluth also has a lifetime guarantee on all of their products as well, which is awesome!

Lagavulin Scotch: My husband’s favorite. And I don’t mind this one either! Our friend introduced us to scotch over a really good vanilla ice cream with some ground pepper on top as a dessert – and it may sound weird but it is delicious! You can get this bottle engraved too.

Pima Cotton Crew Sweater: Another Pendleton item! On sale right now but it is only for a short time! Still under $100 even when not on sale which seems like a deal!

National Park Foundation Travel Telescope: I am a stargazer. My husband is as well. And we are already teaching Wyatt about the night sky. I think this is a great idea for families to learn and explore our world more together!

Big Time Splurge:

Shinola Watch Runwell 47mm: I love that these are made in Detroit! I toured the factory and was so impressed with all of it. These are beautiful timepieces. Not super outdoorsy but beautiful.

So I realize that these items will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I wanted to throw some of our loves and ideas out there, even to just get the ball rolling if anyone was looking for ideas! Even if these are not the item you are looking for, you may find the perfect thing on one of these websites!

Happy Shopping!!

Two Mini-Reviews: Where the Fire Falls and Dear Bob and Sue

It’s a rainy, dreamy, dreary morning here, but I’ve got my coffee and I am ready to review!

where the fire falls Where the Fire Falls is a book I picked up because I loved the first in this Vintage National Park series so much. I am a huge fan of National Parks, the wilderness, and throw in the vintage aspect and I am there. This book did not disappoint either. Olivia looks and acts the part of the oh so glamorous flapper, a good time girl and artist trying to make it big. She gets the offer of a lifetime when she is sent to Yosemite to paint for a travel magazine – an offer she can’t really refuse, located in the one place she said she would never set foot. Practicality wins, and her trip to Yosemite turns out to be a life changer, especially after meeting rugged, handsome outdoorsman Clark – who also happens to be a former minister. If you are apprehensive about reading a book with a little bit of religion, this book is a good one for you. The religious aspects are very well done, not super in your face, and fit the book and the scenery, settled into the beauty and majesty that is Yosemite. I thoroughly enjoyed this book! And seriously, isn’t this cover awesome?

dear bob and sue

Since we are talking National Parks, let’s talk about Dear Bob and Sue. Can I just fangirl a second? I totally loved this book!  It was chock full of real life moments, a real life relationship, adventure, laughter, and I learned lots of things along the way. Parts of the book made me laugh out loud, others made me think, and all of the time sparked my own wanderlust and desire to visit all of these parks as well! I learned so much, it inspired me to learn more about the places I read, and it certainly expanded my own to-do list. I highly recommend this book to anyone else who loves the outdoors and hiking and travel.