Visited: June 2016
Duration: 1 day
Accommodations: Kokepelli Cave Bed and Breakfast, Farmington, New Mexico.
Mesa Verde National Park is what inspired our very first National Park trip, and the rest is history. Hunter was studying cliff dwellings in Social Studies in the 5th grade. His teacher asked if anyone in the class had ever visited a cliff dwelling and nobody had. I asked Hunter if he would be interested in going, it isn’t that far away and it would be fun to see something you have learned about already. He was really excited for this National Park, it was full of history and we love to learn!
We stopped off at the Visitor Center and got all of the info we needed. We tried to do a tour of Cliff Palace but they were full for the day and only had openings for the next day. That’s okay we decided to head out to the Step House and do a self guided tour of one of the many cliff dwellings located in the park.
We drove the whole length of the park road to get to the Wetherill Mesa Information station, this takes awhile to get from one end of the park to the other so just plan your time. We had a picnic lunch before heading out on the trail for our cliff dwelling tour. It was a relatively short hike to reach the Step House. There you can buy a tour brochure and do a self guided tour, but we were lucky enough to be one of the only groups there so the park ranger gave us the full tour and took our pictures everywhere we wanted as well. What a deal!!! She was full of information and answered all of our questions. I’d say we lucked out on this stop.
Step house photos
We finished up in this area and then headed back driving down the Chaplin Mesa road. We pulled over at all of the pull offs but our favorite view was the view of Cliff Palace from across the valley, by Sun Temple.
These dwellings are absolutely amazing. Back to the visitor center to earn our Junior Ranger badges and we can head back to the Cave hotel. I think we would have enjoyed this a heck of a lot more if the kids weren’t so interested in getting back to Kokopelli’s and hanging out in the cave more. It was pretty amazing, you can check out our stay in the cave here.
We loved this National Park and would recommend it, if you are in the area. Have you been here?? Fun place to learn history and get some great photos. This part of Colorado is gorgeous, lots of scenery and great places to visit. Next up, Great Sand Dunes National Park. Check back soon.
Visited: June 2016
Duration: 1 full day
Accommodations: Thunderbird Lodge (I do not recommend)
We spent a full day here at the park on the South Rim. We started off with an overpriced breakfast at Bright Angel Lodge. We walked the rim trail in the morning stopping at the Visitor center for Junior Rangers and cancellations. Everywhere we went was absolutely packed with people and tourist shops. Not what I expected at all after visiting Arches, Bryce and Zion. We stopped and got some great pictures of the canyon along the rim trail.
We went to El Tovar for lunch and ran down to the General store to fill up on food for the rest of our trip. A little shopping in the afternoon at the Grand Canyon village shops and the kids are ready for naps.
After our naps, we headed down to Shrine of the Ages for our evening ranger program called Twilight Zone. We did everything in the dark, learning to use our other senses because we couldn’t use our eyes. We also learned how some living things fluoresce and we pretended to be able to fluoresce using gum, pretty cool trick I didn’t know. This was a great program put on by Ranger Andy, I would recommend this if you have Junior Rangers earning their badges, this is one of the programs you complete to earn it. Even the adults LOVED it in our group. We had a dark and spooky walk back along the rim trail to our hotel. It didn’t help my kids were hiding in the timber making cougar and mountain lion sounds. We didn’t know grandma could walk that fast!! LOL.
In the morning we visited Vercamp’s Visitor Center to receive our Junior Ranger badges and we were off to Four Corners Monument.
We didn’t spend long at the Grand Canyon, too many people and really not much to do, that we could find. It was gorgeous, but I think I would rather spend my time at the North Rim or Havasupai, a little less crowded and a lot less touristy. Have you been to the Grand Canyon? What did you think? It really wasn’t one of our favorites. Maybe we will try it again some day.
Visited: June 2016
Duration: 2 days
Accommodations: Cable Mountain Lodge, Sprindale, UT.
Zion National Park, this was the park I was most looking forward to on National Park Trip Season 1. It brought 0 disappointments.
We started our morning out leaving Bryce Canyon and heading to Zion. We found a great German Bakery about half way in between the parks. What a great surprise. It was beyond delicious. We then headed to Zion. We arrived at the east side of the park and traveled the Zion Mount Carmel Highway. Highlight for the kids was the Tunnel. If you plan to do this I would add about an hour on to your trip, this takes some time but we thought it was well worth it. We headed straight to Springdale, the town we will be staying at for the next 2 nights. Check in at our hotel, which is in the most perfection location. Walking distance to everything.
We walked over to the visitor center to gather information for our visit. We strolled down the Pa’rus Trail that lead us to the Zion Nature Center, where we did enjoyed a fantastic Junior Ranger Program, Dino Discovery. The kids made molds/fossils of dinosaur footprints and learned all about dinosaur prints found here at Zion. There was a great Junior Ranger display here for the kids to enjoy. We then embarked out on a scavenger hunt to finish up the Junior Ranger book.
Hot and ready for the pool we headed back to the hotel to relax.
We started this day off early and still had to wait in line for the bus. Not for long though, this National Park is organized and the bus system is fabulous (compared to other parks we will visit).
We rode the bus all the way to the end of the road, Temple of Sinawava and will work our way back hiking and riding the bus. The first trail we went on was Riverside Walk, this gets you to the trail to go to the Narrows which was our plan. This was a gorgeous trail that was paved all the way until the Narrows trail starts.
When we got to the narrows entrance there was a park ranger standing there warning people not to go to far in because of possible flash flooding. We headed out a little ways but turned back and decided to explore other places in the park.
We hopped back on the bus and took it to the next stop.
We rode the bus to The Grotto, and walked the Grotto trail to Zion Lodge. A great easy hike with fantastic views.
We ate lunch at Zion Lodge and played on the front lawn before crossing the road and doing the Emerald Pools Trail. This trail was tons of fun with great overlooks but not many pools as the name implies, just some dripping water so don’t expect too much unless you are here in the spring. Check these awesome views on this trail. Also great photo ops of many different cacti along this trail as well.
After several great hikes and a wonderful day in the park we hopped back on the bus to take us back to the Visitor Center to get our first ever Junior Ranger badges! How exciting!
We really wanted to tube the river while we were here but we ran out of time. This place was an amazing stop on this trip so glad I took the advice of coworker and didn’t miss this park.
Thanks for visiting, have you been to Zion? Did you love it as much as we did?
Hunter and I want to go back and do the Narrows and Angels Landing hikes, any others you recommend?
Visited: June 2016
Duration: 1.5 days
Accommodations: Bryce Country Cabins, Tropic Utah
Our third park of National park trip Season 1, and our most favorite. We left Moab in the morning and got to Bryce Canyon right after lunch. It was a beautiful drive down Hwy 89. Lots of windy streams that followed along with the road surrounded by beautiful tall evergreens. Utah has to be one of the most beautiful places in the USA.
Our first stop in Bryce was at Bryce Canyon Lodge, this was the check in point for our Mule ride through the canyon. We booked this through Canyon Trail Rides. Before we knew it we were on our mules and off into what would be some of the most spectacular views I have seen on a mule. We own mules and ride all over the midwest, this was so different and unique I couldn’t stop taking pictures. Just look at these views! We definitely aren’t in Iowa anymore.
Our trail boss was Josh, he did a magnificent job leading us around and teaching us all about the wildlife at Bryce and how there has never been a fire at this National Park. The trees have been struck by lighting and that is why they look like this, the kids found all of this very interesting. Fun and educational way to see the park, I highly recommend.
After our wonderful trail ride through the park we stopped off at the Visitor Center to gather some info on what we wanted to do the next day. We watched the short film. We grabbed Junior Ranger books and took them with. But we thought doing the “Hike the Hoodoos” challenge appeared more captivating to us than the Junior Rangers so we didn’t complete those books.
We checked in to Bryce Country Cabins, unloaded our things and headed into Tropic for some outstanding pizza at The Pizza Place. Great food, excellent atmosphere and a beautiful view. Great choice by us 🙂 We headed back to our cabin to enjoy. I had a few adult beverages on my swing behind my cabin with a little fire, the kids played on the play set with some other kids. A perfect relaxing evening.
Up and at em. Cereal for breakfast on our deck. Then we headed to the park. I happened to notice a trail head on our way last night from Bryce in to Tropic. This trail was on the Hike the Hoodoo challenge. When we hit it, in the morning there were very few cars there (just how we like it). This was the Mossy Cave Trail and was my absolute favorite trail we embarked upon on our visit to Bryce. It had everything, a cave, streams, waterfalls, hoodoos, vegetation and more. I couldn’t ask for anything else.
This trail was amazing. I highly recommend it.
We then headed into the park and drove all the way to the end of the park road. This is called Rainbow point and held another Hike the hoodoos challenge trail we did called The Bristlecone Loop trail. This one wasn’t as awesome as the Cave trail but still had stunning views and pretty cool stops on the way. Short trail for kids or people who aren’t hiking fans. Very easy and mostly flat trails. Check out some of the sites we saw along our hike here.
We hopped back in the car and proceeded to wind our way back along the park road stopping at all points of interest (there are 18 of them). Natural Bridge and Fairyland point being our favorites.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a not so great place (I won’t mention the name). Headed back into the park for our 3rd and final hike to complete our challenge. This time we did the Navajo Loop Trail. This trail was awesome, a little challenging in that we didn’t bring water, but we made it. We went down the hard way and came up the easier way. We met lots of fun people on this trail and took our time enjoying the views. They were unreal on the this hike. Check it out.
What a great trail. We felt accomplished after this. We walked along the rim trail to check out Thor’s hammer and just enjoy time outside at the park until dark. We made a pitstop for Ice Cream and shopping on the way out of Bryce. Great little stores to walk through. We then called it a day and headed back to Tropic for a good nights sleep before packing up and heading to Zion.
We stopped off at Dixie National Forest on the way to Zion the next day. The Visitor Center was awesome. Great park rangers and the kids got frisbees, chapstick, stickers and lots of goodies from them. It is worth a stop 🙂
Bryce Canyon was everyone’s favorite park of Season 1 trip and it is easy to see why. I would recommend a visit to Bryce Canyon for everyone. Trips can range from 1-7 days. You can see a lot of things with a 1 day trip, but if you have time you could keep busy for 5-7 days and get to see much more. I hope you all enjoyed our trip, please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions because I’m sure this will be a park we revisit. Thanks for stopping by!
Another cancellation in the books!! This was our car decal we all earned Hiking the Hoodoos!!
National Park Trip Season 3 (Summer edition) started July 2018!
Illinois State Line Sign was the first state line sign we stopped at on this trip. We will end up getting 12 this year. Which will give us a total of 31 so far. Not too shabby.
This sign was easy to get. It is located on I-80 east coming from Iowa and heading into Illinois. We took the Illinois Rest Area exit and parked the car along the edge of the road and walked over to the sign.
We then pulled into the rest stop for a snack and bathroom break. This was a very scenic and unexpectedly great stop. We walked around and stretched our legs, this was the half way point to our first stop of the trip so this worked out perfect 🙂 If you have a chance I suggest this rest area. Check it out.
National Park Service Sites in this state:
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Pullman National Monument
We are just passing through Illinois on this trip but I will add these sites when we do stop and visit them. Check back.
Visted: June 2016
Duration: 1/2 day (Finished at Arches in the morning, spent afternoon here).
Accomodations: Moab Under Canvas
As stated above, we headed over to Canyonlands National Park in the afternoon after a wonderful lunch at Quesadilla Mobilla (highly recommend). We pulled up to the visitor center and without missing a beat the kids noticed a car with personalized plates in the employee parking lot. The same vehicle the kids were making faces at, at City Market the night before. They started dying laughing and of course the owner just happened to be outside and they yelled his name (from the plates). He looked at them and knew exactly who they were and joined in on the laughter. (one of Gunnar’s favorite memories from this trip). He ended up being a park ranger at the park, small world.
After all of that excitement, we headed into the Island in the Sky visitor center and got some info on the park. There are 2 other visitor centers; Maze Visitor Center and Needles Visitor Center. We didn’t make it to either of these. They are located at different entrances to the park, you can’t get to them without going out and around to the different entrances.
We drove the Island in the Sky roads and stop off at every overlook. It reminded us of a mini Grand Canyon. You could see for miles, it was gorgeous.
Along the road there are beautiful rock formations, shown below. Overall you are on a literal Island in the Sky here. It’s majestic, but I prefer to be in the canyon looking up instead of looking down. It’s all a personal choice. Still worth a visit.
After our drive through Canyonlands it was getting late. We headed back to Moab to fuel up for the drive to Bryce tomorrow and grab a bite to eat. We got our cancellations but no Junior Ranger at this park. I guess we will need to revisit.
Check back soon for Bryce Canyon National Park! It was my favorite (tied with another) for National Park Trip Season 1.
Have you been to Canyonlands? What would you recommend for our return visit?? I am thinking the Needles area??
Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Visited: June 2016
Duration: 2 days
Accommodations: Moab Under Canvas
Arches National Park. Park #1 of National Park Trip Season 1. This is where it all starts. This was my first visit to a National Park, the rest is history. We picked a perfect park to begin at. Arches is a drive-able park with a few trails to hit off of the main road. This is a great warm up for my kids to start their hiking careers. This year we had my mom with us who had purchased a Senior National Park pass for $10. Good for life and lets us all in to the parks.
First stop Visitor Center. My mom found the National Park Passport books and talked us all in to getting them. They looked fun so I bought into it. I didn’t know how much fun they would be until later on in the trip. Good call on these Mom!! I am officially addicted to my Passport as I am typing this 2 years later.
We watched a short film on the geology of Arches National Park, grabbed a park map and headed out. As stated above Arches is a drive-able park. One main road goes through the park, with a couple of roads to turn off and see arches. Most Arches are within walking distance from the road. Our first day we did the pull offs and a few of the Arches right off of the road. The second day we did some short hikes to several of the arches.
First day main road pull offs:
We turned around on the main road and headed back south. We took the turn off for Wolf Ranch and headed to Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint. We walked the path to the viewpoint and then headed back to the vehicle. We were tired and really hungry. There is no lodging or food in this park so we headed south to Moab, a few miles to get some dinner before heading back to our tent.
The morning began with a relaxed breakfast on the porch of our tent at Moab under canvas. We enjoyed beautiful view of the Moab desert and mountains while eating our apple jacks and fruit loops 🙂
We headed to the park pretty early and the parking lots were filling up quickly. We started our morning off by heading out to the arches we didn’t get to yesterday. Double O arch and the windows arches.
We were done with Arches by lunchtime. It was getting hot and we were getting hungry. We headed back to Moab and went to Quesadilla Mobilla (recommended by TripAdvisor). This lunch was spectacular!!! Well worth the wait it took. While we waited we put our stickers in our Passports and organized them, the time flew by. We decided to head over to Canyonlands National Park to end out our day.
Arches was fantastic! We did miss a few things from not being National Park connoisseurs (yet). 3 things we will do on our return trip to Arches that we missed this time.
Have you been to Arches? What were your favorite spots? Anything I need to add to my return visit?
Visited: March 2018
Duration: 2-3 hours
We arrived at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument around 8 am. We were one of the first cars in the parking lot. We entered in the South part of the park coming from Hwy 22.
At this part of the park there are 2 Trails; Cave Loop Trail (1.2 miles) and Slot Canyon Trail (1.0 miles) with steep climbs and caverns to crawl through. We did both trails and neither one was a disappointment to us. As a matter of fact this place was “in tents”. Geology puns never get old!
It took us maybe an hour to 1.5 hours to do both trails, taking our time and taking lots of photos. You can’t take a step without picturesque views. This place was amazing. We really enjoyed ourselves here.
Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the traditional Keresan language of the pueblo. An important part of this area’s geologic story is the formation of the cone-like, vertical tents called “hoodoos”. We love hoodoos and just couldn’t miss this park on our trip. We fell in love with them at Bryce Canyon National Park, and this place was a great reminder of why.
Hoodoos are products of volcanic eruptions and erosion. These eruptions happened 6 to 7 million years ago leaving pumice, ash and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. If you look close at the formations you can see small, black, glass fragments in the layered deposits. These are obsidian or called “Apache Tears”.
Over time wind and water erosion have cut into these deposits creating what we see today. Isn’t nature awesome!!
After our hikes we headed back to the car and picked up some Junior Ranger packets out of the information stations located near the parking lots. The kids filled these out while we ventured back to the Cochiti Visitor Center at the corner of Hwy 22. There, we were able to find a magnet and were told that we could earn our rangers badges and cancellations back at the ranger station we just passed. Oops. 🙂
We ventured back to the station and the Rangers were thrilled to see us. We got passport cancellations, and patches for the everyone (including mom and dad). The rangers were very fun and we really enjoyed getting our badges and chatting with them. Great group of people. Awesome patches!
Overall we really enjoyed our time at this stop. This park isn’t listed in the National Park Passport book, we lucked out by reading blogs online or we would have never found this gem. It is like a mini Bryce Canyon. We recommend stopping by for a hike and great pictures if you are in the area.
Have you been to Kasha-Katuwe? What was your favorite part?? We loved it all.
Duration: 2-3 hours
For the next stop on National Park Trip Season 3: Spring Break edition we traveled north to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Petroglyph National Monument is located just off to the west of Albuquerque, directly north of I40.
We headed straight to the Visitor Center to pick up our Junior Ranger booklets and find a great trail to discover Petroglyphs. We watched the short film, picked up some goodies in the gift shop, talked with the rangers and headed out to Boca Negra Canyon.
There are actually 4 hiking spots at the Monument:
Boca Negra Canyon: 3 short trails, restrooms, picnic area, water and ~100 petroglyphs
Rinconada Canyon: 2.2 mile trail, no water, no restrooms and ~300 petroglyphs
Piedras Marcadas Canyon: 1.5 mil loop, no water, no restrooms and ~ 300 images
Volcanoes: 1-4 miles of hiking, no water, restrooms, and no petroglyphs
Boca Negra Canyon was just less than a mile up the road from the Visitor Center. The city charges you parking ($1 on weekdays, $2 on the weekends). We found a place to park, filled up on water and headed out on what was a sunny, warm and beautiful day. Luckily we have had plenty of those on this trip.
It doesn’t take long before you discover the petroglyphs. The kids and I had a great time finding them and guessing what they were and what they could possibly mean to the people that left them.
We hiked all three trails: Cliff base trail, Macaw Trail and our favorite, Mesa Point Trail.
The top of Mesa Point Trail gives you this stunning view.
We spent a little over an hour out at Boca Negra before sitting down at a picnic table and finishing up the Junior Ranger booklets. We headed back to the Visitor Center just before closing time to do our pledge and earn those badges and patches.
Boys are pretty proud of them 🤓 This was a really fun Junior Ranger program to do.
We got another cancellation (stamp) for the Passport book ❤️❤️
Petroglyph National Monument “rocked”. Whats not to “lava” about it? 🤪 Have you been there?
You really just can’t beat New Mexico! It is a gorgeous state. We chose to do Spring Break here because we LOVE to visit National Parks every summer but I just don’t want to do it in 100 degree weather. We headed down in March hoping for some warm but not sweltering temps.
Our state line sign stop was on Hwy 285 coming back from Guadaloupe Mountains National Park, heading north. We had already gotten a New Mexico state line stop from National Park Trip Season 1 but we didn’t have one with dad in it. So we stopped. So glad we did. I love it!
Our National Park Itinerary in New Mexico includes the following stops
(please hover over each for a link to that particular blog post)
Pecos National Historic Park
Fort Union National Monument
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Traveling through New Mexico should always include a visit to Roswell, New Mexico!
Who doesn’t love being creeped out by the thought of alien encounters?
We stopped in Roswell to stretch our legs and see if we would have any encounters? We stopped at the Space Alien Museum and walked around. We watched a short film on interviews from people that witnessed the Roswell encounter. We then headed out into the town to see what else we could find.
This town is great! Everything is alien themed, right down to the light posts. 1/2 block east of the museum is a little gift shop with a black light tour that the kids thought was pretty groovy, it was cheap enough and they enjoyed it so I would say do it. We got some souvenirs and headed down the road.
A good place to get out and spend 1-2 hours if you are on your way to Carlsbad and need to take a short break.
Until the next encounter.
Welcome back, the next stop we made on our Spring Break National Park trip was Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. There are four different sites to visit at this monument: Abo, Quarai, Gran Quivira and the Headquarters/Visitor Center located in Mountanair, New Mexico. We had time to visit 3 of the 4. Looks like we will need to come back to get the 4th someday.
We started at the Abo Ruins since we were coming in from the west. There was not a park ranger there and contact station wasn’t open. With no one around for miles we took extra time here to enjoy it. This place was gorgeous.
“Abo was a thriving community when the Spaniards visited the Salinas Valley in 1581. Franciscans began converting Abo residents in 1622, and by the late 1620’s the first church was finished. A second church was built with a sophisticated buttressing technique unusual in 1600s New Mexico. But the good times did not last. Battered by the disasters that struck the other Salinas pueblos, the people of Abo left sometime between 1672 and 1678 to take refuge in towns along the Rio Grande.”
Next stop was in Mountanair at the Visitor Center, where we picked up our Junior Ranger books. We watched a the short film, and did a few of the Junior Ranger tasks to earn our Headquarters and Abo badge and ribbons.
We headed out to the Quarai site. This site had a very informative and helpful ranger at the Contact station. There is a small museum and beautiful walk around the site.
At Quarai there are springs of clear cool water fed by melting snow from the mountains. The Tiwa Indians were dry land farmers, planting corn, beans, squash and cotton. They mined salt from salt lakes which they used to preserve meat: to eat and trade. This village was built around 1300 AD and about 600 people lived here. They manufactured pottery and traded with nearby pueblos. However, like all of the Salinas pueblos, drought and famine left them to abandon their homes in the late 1670’s never to return.
We finished up our Junior Ranger but didn’t get our ribbon for this place because they were out. I will need to have it mailed if I ever get around to that. The kids thought this set up was pretty cool.
We ate a picnic lunch here and headed North to Albuquerque. The Salinas Pueblo Missions were fantastic. I highly recommend them if you are traveling through the area. Great history and low crowds, it doesn’t get better than that.
Another National Monument checked off of our list √
Boy are you in for a treat at this place! The boys both agree that this was the highlight of the trip. I wasn’t expecting this much fun after trying to sand sled at Great Sand Dunes National Park. The difference was astounding.
We pulled into the parking lot around 10 a.m. and it was already packed. We headed into the visitor center and decided to take our time getting out and into the park. We grabbed the Junior Ranger books, walked through the museum, we watched the short film and then did some shopping. We bought the sleds at the shop and headed out to try this sand sledding thing again. The girl who sold us our sled said the best sledding is between miles 5 and 8. Sleds cost $20 and they give you $5 or $10 back (I can’t remember) we found some people at the visitor center looking for sleds and sold them ours for $15 when we were done with them. Lol!!
We headed out to Dunes Drive. This is an 8 mile drive from the visitor center through the heart of the dunes, it’s gorgeous. You don’t really appreciate them until you get out and walk them and see how far they actually go. The 16 mile round trip drive would take you around 45 minutes, but do yourself a favor and stop, this experience was amazing.
Look at how beautiful this sand is up against the San Andres Mountains!! We had a gorgeous day out to enjoy, the blue skies added to the beauty of this place.
The sand here at White Sands is very smooth making this sand sledding experience worthwhile. The sand is actually gypsum that has been dissolved from the mountains by rainfall and snow melting. It then settles in the lake that is present here. When all the water evaporates the dissolved gypsum recrystallize and form selenite. Selenite is very brittle and the wind breaks it up into very fine sand, perfect for sledding on.
We went sand sledding for hours, the kids built ramps to jump over and met so many fun people while we were there. A younger couple was teaching the boys to sand board on their sleds.
The kids helped another family to build ramps for the little kids to sled over.
Even Mom and Dad got in on the fun!
We had a picnic lunch at our sledding site, finished up our Junior Ranger books, got in a few more passes down the slopes and headed back to the Visitor Center for our badges!
What an amazing day! I would put this place as a must do if you are venturing through New Mexico. A day we won’t soon forget.
Have you been here? Did you love it as much as we did??