Colorado National Monument, Fruita, CO.

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After a beautiful drive through the Rocky Mountains, we pulled into Fruita, CO, home to Colorado National Monument. Oddly, we’ve never been, although we used to make the drive from IL to Las Vegas annually for a trade show. We made it happen this drive.

We got off the exit and saw a small state park with camping. We figured we’d stay there and head to the monument in the morning. However, when the state park employee said the monument campground was only six miles away, we figured we’d just go for it. He told us we’d fit through the tunnel no problem, but to straddle the middle anyways.

We climbed, went through two rock tunnels, thanked our decision to go Airstream because of the tunnels, and trolled the Saddlehorn campground for a spot. There were few left, aside from “reserved” sites that air camped in that night. (It’s quite frustrating to frequently seeย loads of national and state parks campsites “reserved” but vacant. It’s a tough situation, because we also very much appreciate the ability to reserve sites ourselves.) We found something that sort of worked, slept, and moved very early in the AM to the thankfully level picnic area.

From the picnic area we ate breakfast and hung out until we hiked to the visitor’s center, a short 1/2 mile. Little Fella decided he’d start his own drawing journal to capture the things he loves most on our trip. He drew three scenes that short hike, the canyon, a carved rock, and something else I unfortunately cannot recall. I adore that he came up with that on his own and I am excitedย to see it develop.

Both boys became Junior Rangers by completing five activities in their books and hiking a trail (the one we took to the center.) The book focused on canyon formation, hiking safety, and so on. They completed them quite easily.ย We hiked back and took the boys to a dino museum down in Fruita that afternoon.

One crazy thing that struck me at the canyon is the silence. I mean, no sound, not a peep, not a cricket or flapping bird wing silence. The campground and picnic area were so void of noise it was remarkable. I soaked that in as I shot photos over the void. It’s a replenishment I often don’t get.

Junior Ranger Badges at Our National Parks.

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(Rocky Mountain National Park)

On a stop to a National Park (pre-mother status) I saw a sweet little girl, probably seven years old, with a vest full of patches. I thought she had a fine collection and could tell both her and her father were very proud. While perusing the store I saw her venture over to the Park Ranger to earn another Junior Ranger patch. “What’s this?” I thought as I watched her raise her right hand and pledge to protect our countries national parks. I’m not sure where she could have displayed her latest patch, but I vowed at that moment that I would give that same opportunity to my child.

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(Yellowstone National Park)

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(Great Sand Dunes National Park)

The Junior Ranger program is a free program from our National Park system. Visit any ranger of a National Park and you will be handed a booklet and told what to complete based on your child’s age. The booklets feature basic worksheet style games and questions focusing on the National Park you are in. Our recent trip to Big South Fork had pages focusing on coal mining and logging with excellent history. We were also required to listen to a Ranger talk which focused on the local insects.

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(Grand Teton National Park)

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(Wupatki National Monument)

I have been well steeped in the National Park system through a Civil War buff father and a husband who once made a living on the road. The variety of land, structures, and history in the United States is amazing. Now that I have two sons that collect junior ranger patches we keep traveling to great new National Parks. They are usually inexpensive and expansive, two things I truly love.

For more places to visit, check out my pinterest board “our kids have seen” showing some fun locations and travel projects.

 

 

Big South Fork Discoveries.

DSC_8778 We had lovely weather and plenty of discoveries this past weekend at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. We spent two and a half days surrounded by thick forests and a fast-moving river, and saw many new things including a preserved coal mining facility, huge millipede, kayaks and canoes among the waterways, and horses walking riverside. The campground hosted some family milestones for us as well. Our youngest was determined to try his bicycle without training wheels and our oldest had his pocket knife out creating shavings for fire starting. DSC_8707 On hiking day we visited Mine 18, a preserved coal mining facility and outdoor museum dedicated to the lives of the coal miners who worked there, near Stearns, Kentucky. The river lured us in first, and the boys put together found items (inspired by Bear Grylls of Man Vs. Wild) to do some “fishing.” After they had enough development on that, we were off to discover the mine and it’s secrets. To top that all off we visited an overlook titled “Devil’s Jump,” named after the “raft devils” who road logs down stream for milling. DSC_8759

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And, of course, we had campfires and smores. DSC_8697If you go:

Big South Fork is touted as the hidden treasure near the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, just as beautiful, but not as crowded.

Campgrounds: There are two campgrounds, Blue Heron is near the North End of the park (and really small) and Bandy Creek is near the middle of the park. Blue Heron in the north is near the preserved Coal Mine which is titled Mine 18. It is free and part of the park service. Blue Heron has full hookups (water and electric) for a small price along with a bath house and dumping station. It only has about 30 sites and they are small and pretty crowded. Site 30 is probably your most private spot.

Hiking: Blue Heron Campground has no direct hiking from the sites. You must drive to a hiking trail. Bandy Creek has trails that do leave directly from the campground.

Other: The main visitor’s center is near Bandy creek. My youngest got to hold their corn snake, “Cleopatra” and my oldest was sworn in as a Junior Ranger.

Junior Ranger: Check out the National Park System’s junior ranger program. Ask a ranger. Kids get booklets to fill out that are about that park and earn a badge. My oldest son has amassed quite a collection!