Tuesday, September 02, 2008

2008 Family Vacation (For Nature and History Lovers)

[Moraine+Lake.jpg]

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada


Someone on the CHNI board was thoughtful enough to ask about it, so I consented to relive all the fun:

Did everyone stay healthy?

Pretty much, except I developed either a cold or hay fever about two weeks in, that delightfully coincided with three or four of the coldest and wettest nights. My daughter had a few sniffles, too, but nothing major. My second son developed a rash on his leg that started to heal before the trip was over.

The vehicle ran well?

Excellently. Our Ford Windstar van passed 100,000 during the trip, which was a total of 7100 miles.

What was fun?

All the stuff I'll recount below!

What was not?

Having a cold on a wet rainy night in camp, and pretty much missing Mt. Rainier (see below).

Are you refreshed?

Yes!

Exhausted?

Not really, but I will have some blood sugar issues for a little while, based on eating too much junk food and fast food on the trip. I wrote in a letter to someone from this board:

I went 21 days without a computer in sight or typing a single word. I didn't miss it in the slightest for about 18 days. In the last few I did have a desire to start doing apologetics again, which is good, and I was reading Chesterton for an upcoming book of his quotations that I'm compiling. I'm a workaholic but have no problem whatever getting away from work totally when we do do our "big" vacation. Rest is very important. That's a major reason why God instituted the Sabbath.

Our last day of the trip was very relaxing because we ended by visiting Judy's mother in upper Michigan (near Alpena). I spent the day swimming in a very pleasant, shallow, sandy Lake Huron (Judy walked the beach but didn't swim, saying it was too cold), and then at a big campfire on the beach at night, with a million stars and the Milky Way above. Perfect!

Judy (like me) had a marvelous time on vacation; so much so that it is a little hard adjusting back to real life. It's more difficult to come back to housework, cooking, and home-schooling than to the apologetics and writing that one loves with a passion. We ate out every night for dinner on the trip (our usual policy), so Judy never had to cook, which is a big part of being on vacation for her: no work at all except putting up and taking down tents. We camped every night (except for one) but we don't eat in camp.
Here is a rundown. For those who love the outdoors and history as we do, I hope some of my notes will be a "recommendation" for you:

We camped 17 days out of 18 (two three-man tents), several times in old-growth forests with huge trees. One night we were told that it had gone down to 28 degrees (I had five layers on, including a winter down coat, so I was toasty warm). We made maybe ten campfires (sometimes fires were prohibited): always gathering downed wood from the forest, rather than buying a bundle of cordwood. We got to sleep in a regular bed (well, a pull-out couch) at Judy's mother's house the last three nights.

On the non-camping night we found a motel in Great Falls, Montana (that Lewis and Clark sailed by, on the Missouri River, portaging around the falls, of course) for $51. We heard from two sources that it was to be torn down the next day. The shower and TV (and the AC) did work, though.

Among the wildlife seen were grizzly bear (twice: a huge thrill, as I had never seen them in the wild before; we saw them in Banff and Jasper parks), black bear (twice), buffalo (several times), prairie dogs (many times), lots of deer, antelope; and we heard a coyote and loons. We got good photographs of all of these that we saw.

The first day we drove through downtown Chicago: one of my favorite cities.

We drove through a very interesting hilly section of southwest Wisconsin. I love the up-and-down and around sort of driving with a variety of scenery; it's really fun.

In this area is the charming town of Baraboo, which was the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey circus.

Visited Walnut Grove, Minnesota, hometown of Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame. We saw the church (now a rather drab house) and schoolhouse (a better-looking home) and the site of the original dugout home on the creek. Prairie grass was restored to what it would have looked like. My 6 yo daughter (about the same age as Laura when she moved there) had the humor to run through the prairie grass and fall down (those who have seen the television show will get that). I got the biggest kick out of it.

Went to Pipestone National Monument in southwest Minnesota: a sacred quarry of the Sioux Indians.

We visited a Sioux (Akta Lakota) Museum in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

Got to Badlands National Park in South Dakota right at the pretty late afternoon time, making for wonderful photographs. That night, we attended a marvelous program by a park ranger, all about astronomy and constellations (complete with laser pointer), and got to look through a good telescope at the moon and Jupiter. Since this was the height of the annual Perseid meteor shower (August 12th this year) and we were in one of the darkest places in America (i.e., lack of "light pollution" from cities), we saw 60-70 meteors that night.

Next was the lovely Black Hills area of South Dakota: sacred to the Sioux Indians. We visited Mt. Rushmore, of course; also beautiful Sylvan Lake, where Crazy Horse is said to have had one of his visions, the remarkable Needles Highway, and the Crazy Horse Memorial: the largest sculpture in the world.

Just north of the Black Hills is Bear Butte: one of the most sacred of Native American sites (especially to the Cheyenne and Sioux). We camped there and climbed to the top (over a 1000 feet rise). This is also said to be the site of Crazy Horse's famous second vision of his future life as a gallant warrior.

Next after that was Devil's Tower (of Close Encounters of the Third Kind fame), in northeast Wyoming. We hiked around it (a nice little paved loop trail).

Then came the Bighorn Mountains and the site of Fetterman's Massacre: a famous victory of Crazy Horse over the US Army on 21 December 1866 (see photos).

We then visited the Battle of the Rosebud site and Custer's Last Stand at the Little Bighorn, in southeast Montana.

After that it was a long trip across Montana, then through Idaho, following Lewis and Clark's water route through the gorgeous, very steep Bitterroot Mountains.

Then we visited the beautiful former home area of the Nez Perce Indians, in the Wallowa Valley of northeast Oregon.

Then we drove many miles next to the Columbia River, with its interesting gorges.

This brought us to the very striking Mt. Hood, which we camped near and drove around, taking an obscure dirt road that we were told not many visitors drive.

After that we took some forest roads (complete with a wrong turn) through southern central Washington, with good observations of Mt. Adams and the recent active volcano Mt. St. Helens. We got a few peaks at Mt. Rainier, but we fatefully decided to camp before we got there. The next day was a dismal, dreary cloudy, rainy day: so bad that we drove right through Mt. Rainier National Park but never saw the mountain again. This was the low point of our trip and a huge disappointment.

Blessedly, the next day it cleared up enough for a spectacular drive through and near North Cascades National Park in Washington. I love young, jagged mountains, so this was a big highlight for me.

We made our way up to Canada and British Columbia: a lovely mountainous drive up to Alberta and the most famous section of the Canadian Rockies.

The climax of the trip was arriving at Jasper National Park, (see one typical vista photo) followed by Banff National Park, in Alberta. A chief interest of ours in the former was the many glaciers. We had the thrill to walk on one of them: the Athabasca Glacier (see a photo) in the Columbia Icefield. There was a distinct element of danger, with signs all around urging visitors not to venture out onto the dangerous ice (where some folks had fallen through and died), but no outright prohibition. And so we did it (just at the very edges). Right in front of the glacier (here is what it looked like, approaching it) is a strange, light grey muddy area that was a bit like quicksand. My younger 11 yo son stepped over it and his shoe went about five inches into the mud. His foot flew out of it and the shoe was left in the mud. We retrieved it (quite humorously for observers) with a borrowed hiking stick. Judy also got very muddy and a bit scared. I tried to learn from all these mistakes, but alas, I got very muddy, too. But we did it. Glaciers feel a bit like coral, because the ice is crystallised. My daughter told me in tears to never mention the glacier again, because she had been so scared. Yet when we got home she said her favorite part of the trip was walking on the glacier.

That day it eventually clouded up again and started raining, so that when we entered spectacularly beautiful Banff National Park and the famous town of Lake Louise. we could hardly see anything. But we were buoyed by the prospect of a sunny forecast for the next day, so we spent another miserable wet night in camp about ten miles north. I would have stayed there seven days awaiting better weather, because I was not gonna miss the most picturesque part of the Canadian Rockies! The weather did indeed cooperate the next day and it was gorgeous. Even more stunning to me than Lake Louise was Moraine Lake, which I consider the most beautiful site I've ever seen (surpassing the Grand Canyon). The water in both lakes is a very striking turquoise-green color (that comes from ground-up sediment from the mountains, from the glaciers). Here's another photo of Moraine Lake that shows the water color exactly as we saw it (and a similar one of Lake Louise).

After this phenomenal, jaw-dropping scenery, Glacier National Park in Montana (itself stunning) was almost "ho-hum." But we still enjoyed the Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of the most scenic in America (see a photo of arguably the prettiest spot). Towards the west end of the park we did a short hike through old-growth cedar-hemlock forest.

Following another long drive through the high plains of Montana east of the Rocky Mountains (after following the mountains as long as we could), we visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota: a sort of greener version of the Badlands (see a typical vista).

Then we went to the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, near the Missouri River in North Dakota. For anyone familiar with the Lewis and Clark expedition, (we've watched several documentaries on it) this was where they met the legendary Indian girl Sacagawea and was near the Mandan village where they spent their first winter. The remains we saw were depressions formed by large huts, of the Hidatsa villages. There was a remarkable full reproduction of one of these huts (see a photo of a similar one). We always went to the Visitor Centers of parks, which we regard as sort of "free museums." We can't afford costly museums that charge a fee. There is plenty that can be seen and learned for free, as this vacation proved once again.

That was about it, trip-wise. We traveled back through northern Minnesota and then northern Wisconsin: which to me was very similar to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (evergreens and lots of lakes; relatively flat), and down through Michigan back to metro Detroit, with the visit to Judy's mother on Lake Huron.

This was a very typical Armstrong vacation: camping (without the cooking aspect), any free historical sites we can find, outdoors (complete with tons of nature photos: we had three lenses), avoidance of large cities as much as possible, and cheap commercialism as well: lots of appropriate old-timey and Native American music in the car; and "fun" driving, often on less traveled roads: the black and grey (and sometimes red) ones on the map.

We save lots of money not only by camping, but by carrying our own cereal with us for breakfast (buying milk every morning), our own bread and peanut butter and jelly for sandwiches for lunch, and tons of homemade health-food cookies (chocolate chip, carob, peanut butter) and chips and crackers for snacks. We eat out only for dinner, and usually fast food, so that all five of us (my 17 yo autistic son chose not to go because trips are too stressful for him) could eat usually for $20 or less: Arbys, Macs, Subway, pizza places, etc.

We like the real thing: authentic culture, history, and the unspoiled glories of God's creation.

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