Lightning HT2 – Sierra Designs

When I head into the mountains on a backpacking trip with my favorite six-year-old, I know I am going to be carrying most of our gear myself, so I want our essentials to be as light as possible. I also want them to work well. At three pounds and 14 ounces, the Lightning HT2 doesn’t add a lot to my load, and it keeps us dry and cozy for three-season camping.

The tent is super easy to set up, has two doors and two vestibules (in case I want to sneak out at night and gaze at the stars without waking my son up), and is surprisingly roomy. Hanging pockets store books and headlamps for easy access.

$299.95 sierradesigns.com

This review first appeared in Montana Parent magazine.

Slope & City Jacket -- Polarn O. Pyret

The Slope & City jacket looks good and works great. The exterior is made with wind and waterproof fabric to keep the elements away from your kid’s body. The fleece interior is soft and snuggly (and non-pilling). The jacket works for Montana-formal occasions as well as playing in the snow. This super adjustable jacket can be fine-tuned for variously shaped kids and diverse weather situations. Tighten the waist with an interior draw cord, snap on the removable hood, and tweak the inner sleeve cuffs. The Slope & City has a snow lock that can be attached to trousers. Lock it down for skiing powder or playing in deep snow, or loosen it up for more airflow.

$153 polarnopyretusa.com

This review first appeared in Montana Parent magazine.

Trekker 64 – Kelty

My first backpack was a Kelty external frame pack. Way back then, it seemed everyone was switching to internal frames, and I soon did, too. While an internal frame pack is great for dodging through bushes and tight situations, I still missed my external frame. Until last summer when I got a new and improved Kelty Trekker 64.

Since I am often carrying the gear of a six-year-old, I want to make things as comfortable as possible. An external frame gets the weight off my back and feels so much better on those slow hikes into camp. Like my old pack, this one has lots of pockets, making it easy to find things. The frame is adjustable, the waist and shoulder belts padded, and load lifters stabilize the pack. There are some modern updates too, like hydration system compatibility.

$159.95 kelty.com

This review first appeared in Montana Parent magazine.

Speedster Swivel Deluxe – Kelty

Whether running along Peets Hill or strolling down Last Chance Gulch, a good stroller can makes an outdoor outing more pleasant. The Speedster Swivel Deluxe has a secure five-point, adjustable harness and an adjustable-height handle so it fits both you and your kid. The fully padded seat and frame keep your rider comfortable and safe. The front swivel wheel can lock down and it’s easy and quick to fold and unfold. $399.95 kelty.com

This review first appeared in Montana Parent magazine.

{Peru} Colcapampa to La Playa

You're never alone in the Andes. Subsistence farms with their tiered gardens and noisy chickens hang tightly to the mountains. Couples much older than I pass you with heavy loads on their backs. A guy on a burro is led by a man holding an old radio to his ear. But still, we've been out there. Until now.

Tonight I am sitting in my tent with two different songs playing in the background. One stereo is thumping loudly from behind, and another radio screams from somewhere off to my left. A car alarm blares. Dogs bark. People laugh. A television shouts in Spanish. After six days in the mountains and five nights in quiet campgrounds with just our group, this is arresting.

Store, tents, and a stray dog in LaPlaya.

Looking through the screen on my tent door, I see a small, open shop selling candy, beer, soda, and other junk food. There is another, nearly identical, store just behind us. When we first rounded the corner in La Palya and spied our six tents lined up in two rows, I was disappointed. Where was the mountain culture I was loving so much? Where was the solitude? I knew I did not want to sleep here, in the middle of noisy La Playa.

Carlos explained that down here in the "jungle" or selva, people are different than in the mountains. The climate is warm, the fruit is lush, and people spend a lot more time outside socializing. They spend their days in shorts and sandals. Their houses are open and so are their personalities. According to Carlos, they are more straight forward, which to me seemed a little aggressive, but understanding the culture did open my heart a little to a different experience.

I hadn't slept well since I arrived in Peru (the altitude messed with my sleep something fierce), so I climbed into my tent and napped.

The day had started with toasted lima bean mush, pureed and mixed with cinnamon and cloves. We drank it from cups and I was surprised at how much I liked it.

Turkey chick in our camp.

The day's walk was gently downhill. I think it was our biggest day for mileage, but it was easy walking and relaxing. We started the trek on a new road--just one year old--and eventually crossed the Rio Tortora to a trail. As we descended, the vegetation changed until we were walking through avocado trees with giant fruit, manioc, lemon, papaya, passion fruit and banana trees and coffee plants. We were in the selva.

Leaving Tortora
Down into the Selva.
One of many waterfalls.
Kelli and Felicia picking strawberries on the trail.
Another waterfall.

And the flowers! Oh my, the flowers were abundant, showy, and gorgeous. It's a miracle I even made it to La Playa.

Flowers!
El rio.
It's getting lusher and lusher.
Creepy crawly millipede.

Changing elevation in Peru is like changing latitude anywhere else. We crossed lots of creeks with waterfalls. Then the Rio Totora jumped around rocks in a churning, frothing gorge. The turquoise water looked like the glacial melt you see in high mountain streams.

Vote Wilbert!

Back in my tent, I notice how very stinky I am and look forward to tomorrow's hot springs dip. It's another night without much sleep, but that's a small price to pay for an experience like this.

Playing with a kitty through the tent door.

Plan your own trip

Are you reading along and thinking, "I want to go on a trip like this!"? Call my friend Felicia at Bella Treks, she'll set you up. And it's not just Peru, she goes all over South America, Morocco, Yellowstone, and a ton of other places.

Sock story

When we were in California at the end of August, I had a sudden urge to start knitting again. I'm a seasonal knitter. I usually get motivated in the fall and lose interest in spring. I know August wasn't fall, but my biological knitting clock started ticking loudly enough that I dragged my mom (willingly) to a local yarn shop. I decided on a pair of socks so I would only have to buy a skein of yarn and one set of needles.

One small sock...

I made a beautiful, lacy, sock that would fit someone with shorter feet than I. After all that work--the pattern was somewhat intricate--I was frustrated it didn't fit and thrust it to the bottom of my knitting bag. And I found a sock I made for Anders last fall. It wouldn't fit him anymore, but if I made one more I could give them to Finn. So I did.

Finn's fun socks.
You just want to relax when you wear these.

Now to go unravel the end of my too-small sock and get back to work.

Field Trip Friday: Four Dances & Pictograph Caves State Park

Long before Lewis and Clark took their fabled trip across the west, and through Montana, prehistoric hunters found a nice little canyon near the Yellowstone River. They would stop there on their trip from one hunting ground to another to seek shelter in the sandstone caves, eat the local plants, and take advantage of Bitter Creek.

Those prehistoric hunters left behind artifacts and over 100 pictographs, or rock paintings. The oldest rock art in the cave is over 2,000 years old.

We wanted to check it out. I've been to Pictograph Cave State Park a few times. Once I met up with the director of the MSU Billings Archaeological Field Team as part of a story for Big Sky Journal.

We started our field trip with a short walk at Four Dances Natural Area. Finn was not happy to find out that we would be walking an entire half mile to an overlook. Of course, I carried him on my back most of the way. Yes, he is five.

The BLM acquired the Four Dances Natural Area in 1999. The property is native sagebrush/grassland, and ponderosa pine in the rocky outcrop areas near the river cliffs. 200-500 feet below, cottonwoods line the Yellowstone River. We has sweeping views of Billings in one direction; the Yellowstone, wide open spaces, and the Pryor Mountains in the other direction.

I love how easy and cooperative this kid is. He makes parenting a breeze.
No pictures of Finn since he was out of sorts (as usual when walking is involved).

Four Dances is designated a Special Recreation Management Area and Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). BLM's objectives for the site are the protection of open space and natural and cultural resources, while providing dispersed public recreation in Billings (and those who visit). There is a picnic table and porta potty, but no water. It’s rumored that there are five geocaches in this area, so if you go, bring your GPS if you are into that sort of thing.

Four Dances is a peregrine falcon nesting area. We weren't there at nesting time, but it looks like some of the cliff areas are closed when birds are laying eggs and raising young.

After lunch and our walk we drove a couple miles down the road to Pictograph Caves State Park. The highlight of this park is a sandstone wall featuring one of the most significant archaeological sites in Montana.

The park's three main caves - Pictograph, Middle, and Ghost cave - were home to generations of prehistoric hunters. The caves were carved from the eagle sandstone cliff by the forces of water and wind. Those same forces are still eroding the cave, making the pictographs more difficult to see than they used to be.

Teepee and picnic area.
Everyone is happy and we are exploring the caves.

We stopped by the Visitor Center first, so we would know what to look for when we got up to the cave. We also snagged a self-guided trail brochure, which we all found pretty interesting. It's nice to know what you are looking at in a place like this. The caves and pictographs are cool, but there is more going on and reading as went clued us into that, and helped us form a fuller picture of what life was like here long ago.

A short paved trail leads to Pictograph Cave, the largest of three lacunas and covered in rock paintings. Interpretive signs explain the cultural and natural history of the spot. You can’t get too close to the cave walls, so we used binoculars to better view the pictographs. Honestly, they are really faded, so knowing what used to be there is good.

This trip worked out well in terms of the cave study we've been doing recently. We talked a lot more about the people that camped here and what their lives must have been like, than the geology, but we did talk a little about the caves themselves. They are really different than the cave we will be in this weekend. We also picked up the Montana State Park junior ranger program booklet so we can fill that out before heading to Lewis and Clark Caverns (also a State Park) .

There's my sweetie.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: Four Dances Natural Area and Pictograph Cave State Park Why: Natural and cultural history, views of Billings and surrounding area, pictographs, native plants Where: Four Dances Natural Area: Take exit 452, turn right on Old U.S. 87 South, first right on Coburn Road, drive about 1.8 miles to Four Dances sign. Pictograph State Park: Take exit 452, turn right on Old U.S. 87 South, first right on Coburn Road, drive 5 miles (pass Four Dances) to the park. October – March: Park and Visitor Center Open Wednesday - Sunday Park: 10 am - 5 pm, Visitor Center: 10 am - 4 pm Free for vehicles with Montana license plates. Who: This is easy walking, although there are some steep areas at Pictograph Cave. All the trails are short.

{Cave Studies} stalactites and cave formation

Way back when I was in college, I spent a summer working as a cave guide in Sequoia National Park. We wore funny green berets that made everyone comment on how we looked more like, well, Green Berets, than park interpreters. I lived in Lodgepole with a bunch of friends and went caving and backpacking on my days off. Pretty much a dream job.

That summer ignited my love for caves. The following summer I went to West Virginia to take teens caving, backpacking, and mountain biking. It cemented my interest in crawling around in the dirt underground. There are tight squeezes (places you have to exhale to fit through), low ceilings, and exposed climbs, and then you pop into a room filled with decorations. Stalactites, soda straws, cave bacon, and stalagmites reflect your headlamp like a diamond chandelier.

So, I like caves.

We are spending a couple weeks at the beginning of this no-school year studying the biology and geology of caves.

Videos

I have a big ol' science crush on Bill Nye the Science Guy, so whenever I can work one of his 1980s kids' videos into our day, I do.

[video:youtube:m8InLteUI40]

I'm sure you watched all 23 minutes of this video and loved it.

Build a Cave

Next up was cave building.

We stacked sugar cubes and covered them with clay. The sugar cubes represented limestone (a soft material that is worn away by water), and the clay is the harder rock overlying the limestone. We made sure at least part of a sugar cube stuck out.

We let the mountains dry out for a day or two and then sprayed water in the holes, on the sugar cubes. As you can imagine, the sugar cubes dissolved and our mountain became a cave. Just as the limestone is worn away by water, forming real caves.

Grow Stalactites

Once you have a cave, you need some decorations. We followed Bill Nye's advice (remember, from the video?) and grew stalactites. We cut a hole in the top of a box (our cave) and inserted a cup. Then we tied pieces of yarn to metal nuts to hold them down in the cup. We poked a few holes in the top of the cave and threaded the yarn through it, so they hung down from the ceiling of the cave.

We mixed as much Epson salt into hot water as the water would hold, then poured it into the cup after it had cooled a little. A little time, a little capillary action, and we had stalactites.

Field Trip

We haven't done this part, yet. Now that we know all sorts of things about caves, it is time to explore one. This weekend, We will take a family trip to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.

I took the tour a bunch of times with teens when I worked for Montana Outdoor Science School. It's kind of cheesy with the guides pointing out the "wedding cake" and the formation that looks like Romeo and Juliet. I know I am a cave snob, but I want more geology and less silly names. I can decide for myself what things look like.

That said, I'm excited for the boys to walk around in the cave after all the reading, watching, and building they've been doing. We visited Jewel Cave a couple years ago, but don't the boys don't really remember it. I just hope they can go two hours without having to pee.

UPDATE: We made it to Lewis and Clark Caverns!

Books

We can't fully cover a subject without books. We love reading.

Caves and Caverns by Gail Gibbons

Cave by Donald Silver and Patricia Wynne

Caves: Mysteries Beneath Our Feet by David L. Harrison

Bats

Bats by Gail Gibbons (can you tell we are fans?)

Bats (Lerner Natural Science Books) by Sylvia A. Johnson

Word to your chicken

Remember those chicks we got way back in February?

Well, they grew up quickly, and by June or July we were getting seven eggs a day. That is a lot of quiche, my friend. I'm eating a couple eggs for breakfast every day and trying to talk the rest of the family into doing the same. Henry and Finn eat them once or twice a week, but there is no way Anders is eating eggs for breakfast. I can understand that. Eggs are right on the edge of disgusting and delicious for me.

They all come running (in anticipation of food) when we walk up to the coop.
Me and my friend SnowStriker.
The product of all their hard work.

We all like quiche, though. Once a week we have it for dinner.

In case you need to use up a few eggs, I'll share our favorite recipe with you. I call this "Quiche Even Finn WIll Eat," but the person who created the recipe calls it something else. Go figure.

The recipe comes from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café -- one of my all time favorite cookbooks.

Gruyere Quiche with golden onion and red pepper

1 Tbl olive oil 3 cups sliced onion 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp dried thyme 1 tsp dry mustard 1 unbaked quiche crust (recipe below or buy one) 1 Tbl balsamic vinegar 1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper 1 cup (packed) gruyere cheese (despite the recipe name, I often use goat cheese since we always have it around. Parmesan works, too) 3 large eggs (add 4 if you have an abundance) 1 cup milk freshly ground black pepper

1. Add oil to a preheated medium skillet. Add the onion, sauté for 5 minutes, then add the salt, herbs, and mustard. Cover the pan, lower the heat and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (During this time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the unbaked crust on a baking tray.)

2. Stir in the vinegar and bell pepper. Turn the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Sprinkle cheese into crust, then spoon the onion mixture on top of the cheese.

4. Whisk together the eggs, milk, and black pepper to taste, and slowly pour this over the veggies and cheese.

5. Bake on the baking tray in the lower third of the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the custard is set. Cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing (which I rarely do because the people are starving and I am running late). Serve at any temperature.

Finn's Angry Birds birthday (5 years old!)

I cannot believe our little guy turned five. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, it's the natural progression, but I wasn't quite ready. It's no secret that the baby/toddler years kicked my butt. It wasn't the most enjoyable time of my life. But, four was pretty sweet. Fortunately, five looks to be fun, too.

Now that Finn is five, I don't get to pick the birthday party theme anymore. No more camping-themed parties, Finn wanted Angry Birds. I embraced the challenge.

Finn has specific desires. For breakfast he requested extra sugar in his pancakes (I added a couple chocolate chips). He didn't want any singing (he hung up on Mogie when she tried to sing Happy Birthday over the phone). And he wanted to bring the Angry Birds computer game to life (H built a giant sling shot).

Slinging the bird into the wall.
Zach getting after it.
Buddies

I googled "Angry Birds cupcakes" and came up with these cute cupcakes.

Not to brag, but I did make these awesome cupcakes.
Finn didn't want any singing at his party, but he was happy to dive into the cupcakes.

Henry bought Angry Birds tattoos and we plastered the kids in them. They were a huge hit.

Then I found this piñata online. I probably should have given myself more time, but no one seemed to notice the paint was a little damp when we launched it. I wanted to fill it with those tin foil-covered chocolate eggs that are sold around Easter. Eggs coming out of a bird, cute, right? Those are impossible to find in a small Montana town in August.

Not to brag, but I did make this piñata.
Launching the piñata.

The kids had a blast knocking down the pigs' fortress with the big slingshot, running around, and being crazy. I still got in my eco-message by making everyone bring their own reusable cups, and serving cupcakes, watermelon, goldfish, and beer (no plates or forks).

Happy birthday to my favorite five-year-old. I can't wait to see how this year unfolds.

Not to brag, but I did make that kid (with a little help from Henry).

Thanks to Hannah for some of these photos!

And a little video action from Henry to really get the feel of things. [video:youtube:vZ4wMWvFcyc]

Hiking and backpacking getaway

Looking down at the Yellowstone River from Hellroaring Trail.

It's become a tradition for Heather and I to take a summer trip to Yellowstone. Last year it was backpacking in the Bechler region, the year before we rented a cabin at Roosevelt. This year we did a little of both--cabin renting and backpacking.

There are a whole bunch of pictures from this trip posted over at Flickr. Don't look at them if you don't like moose, rivers, high lakes, granite, or wildflowers. Seriously, don't look.

Heather and I always have a great time together. We catch up, cover a lot of miles, and visit beautiful places. It's a much appreciated vacation with a dear friend.

We spent two nights at the Roosevelt cabins (best deal in the park) and two nights backpacking in the Beartooth Range. We hiked to a beautiful creek, climbed a ridge to find petrified trees, ate a trout breakfast at the Log Cabin Cafe, and spent two and a half days wandering around the high lakes area in the Beartooths.

Hike on over to Flickr to see all the fun.

Heather at Hellroaring Creek.
Moose and fireweed.
Big bison
Heather is amazed by the petrified tree.
We started our hike at Island Lake.
Our campsite at Becker Lake.
Becker Lake
Lonesome Peak above one of the many lakes we hiked to.
Paintbrush at Lonesome Lake
At the end of the hike. And strangely orange.

Field Trip Friday: Suce Creek

During the summer our field trips tend to be along a trail somewhere. The season is fleeting around here, maybe six or eight weeks at best, so we have to take full advantage of the season. I find myself trying to cram every fun, summery activity into these short weeks. There is no time to be inside.

Suce Creek will look familiar to anyone who has spent much time here. It's the closest trailhead to our house, and our go-to short hike. With wildflowers, a creek, a couple rickety bridges, and plenty of shade, it's a kid (and mom) paradise. This year the flies were pretty bad, but rumor has it that's the case all over southwest Montana.

In addition to walking, identifying flowers, and playing in the creek, we collected rose petals for a couple projects I am planning. So far all I have done is dry them and get them prepped for tea and lip balm. We also lugged the flower press along to "squash flowers." I need a good project for those. Last year we pressed flowers and then let them sit in the press for nine months (whoops). When we finally took them out we enjoyed looking at them for five minutes, but that was the end of it.

Last summer we picked bee balm and Saskatoon berries. Good thing I have this blog, I forgot all about the berries. Looks like we'll need to get back up there in a few weeks.

Mostly, we sat by the creek. The boys are really into (ineffective) dam building, so I let them go to town while I kick back and soak in every minute of summer.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: An up to 5 miles round trip, and 1090 feet, hike in the Absaroka Range Why: Because a mellow, pretty walk next to a creek is just what you need sometimes. Where: From Livingston, head south on Highway 89 for 3 miles. Turn left on East River Road and continue another 2.7 miles. Turn left again, on Suce Creek Rd, marked by a street sign as well as a brown National Forest sign. Follow the dirt and gravel road 1.5 miles to another Forest Service access sign and turn right. Drive 1.5 miles to the trailhead. Maps: Beartooth Publishing, Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, USGS Livingston Peak, and Brisbin Who: You, your dogs, your mom, and your friends. Take your dad, too.

Need a book? Day Hikes Around Bozeman is pretty good and covers a lot of trails. Or you can check out my trail description.

{Peru} Yanama to Colcapampa

While we were hiking up Ramshorn this weekend Felicia reminded me that I've been slacking on my Peru posts. Not any more.

Back on the trail.

We started the day walking up the Yanama Valley. A mountain cara cara (hawk) flew overhead and lupines covered the sides of the valley. Short rock walls divided the land where people were harvesting potatoes. The harvesters built stone ovens in the fields to roast potatoes as they are picking them. Talk about fresh.

We passed a stone corral in which locals sacrifice a lamb or llama each year as an offering to Pachamama, or Mother Earth. While that is interesting to think about, I'm glad we weren't there during the sacrifice.

As beautiful as the valley was with waterfalls spilling down the mountains, and a small glacier capping the valley's end, we were all a little bummed to see a new road going in. Until now, the valley could only be reached by foot (human or horse/mule). Time had caught up to this idyllic spot and a few motorbikes are now crossing the 15,000-foot pass into the valley.

The road was ugly. It was an affront. We started to get a little worked up about it, but I have to remember that this isn't my place. The road is a bummer for the tourist walking through, but the people of Yanama wanted the road. Who am I to say they should live in an isolated place where they have to carry everything in and out on their backs when I own a car, have electricity and plumbing, and can travel halfway across the world on a whim? I didn't like seeing the road, but these people can't base their decisions on what I want to see the one time I walk through. It might be bad for tourism, but we didn't see any other trekkers the whole time we were out, so I don't know how many people come through anyway. The road sucked, but the day was great.

Nouveau Incan walls and a look up the valley.
Felicia and Carlos consult.
Here come our mules.
Ross and Amy head up the hill.
A glacier that used to be much bigger than it is now.

The trail stayed below the main road, then criss-crossed the switchbacks as we turned and climbed toward Walla Pass. Kelli and I were chewing coca leaves hoping for an extra boost up the hill and we felt pretty good. Of course, this was my third day chewing big wads of (legal) leaves and the only day I felt like it was helping. No buzz, no boost, just the ability to keep walking up steep slopes with my heart trying to pound its way out of my chest.

Another little glacier and our pass.
Road scars up the pass.
Almost there.
At the top! 15,000 feet.

We huffed and puffed under a hanging glacier, stopped to fill our bottles from a waterfall, and then suddenly we were at 4,600 meters or 15,091 feet. I felt great; it was my best day of hiking and I walked higher than I ever had before. I almost fist-pumped at the top, I was so psyched. (If you know me, you know I am not a fist-pumper. Nor a high-fiver. It's just not how I roll--usually.) We took some photos in the wind and then headed down the other side. I was so filled with emotion (I don't even know why, must be the Incan magic again. Or the coca.) that I almost started crying. I wasn't the only one.

What goes up, must go down.

We had lunch 400 feet lower in a whole different ecosystem. The clouds came in and it was like we were on a little island. With a cook and good food.

A little nest Felicia found on the trail.
Bridge crossing.
Our tents waiting for us at camp.
All this is ours...for a night.

We camped in another beautiful valley and I fell asleep to the sound of croaking frogs.

Plan your own trip

Are you reading along and thinking, "I want to go on a trip like this!"? Call my friend Felicia at Bella Treks, she'll set you up. And it's not just Peru, she goes all over South America, Morocco, Yellowstone, and a ton of other places.

Ramshorn Peak

I did not run a marathon on Sunday. Remember when I said I would? I trained, I really did. I even got up to 18 and 19 mile runs. On hills. But then my IT band started to be a jerk and blah, blah, blah, boring story, and it became clear that I wasn't going to run a marathon.

I trained for a marathon one other time when I was in my mid-twenties. I think I only made it to the twelve mile run that time before my IT band tweaked. Maybe by the time I'm 50 I'll be able to go the whole 26.2.

Let's not talk about what I didn't do this weekend, but rather what I did do.

On Sunday, Henry and I joined our friend Felicia and her friend David (now our friend, too!) on a hike up Ramshorn Peak in the Gallatin Range. You might remember Felicia from such blog posts as "I went to Peru." She owns the travel company Bella Treks, and put together a fun little thing called "Three Peaks in Three Days." We joined her for the last day, and the shortest hike.

For several years, Henry and I have been talking about getting someone to watch the kids while we hike. And we talked about hiking Ramshorn when that magical day arrived. Everything finally lined up and Big Henry came over to watch the boys while we walked with friends. (By the way, it's "Rams Horn," not "Ram Shorn.")

Ramshorn Peak is located in the Gallatin Range. While not particularly high in elevation at 10,289 feet, it's location makes it fairly prominent. Ramshorn is the tallest peak along the crest of the Gallatin Range between Electric Peak and Hyalite Peak.

We accessed it from Tom Miner Basin out of the Paradise Valley. It's been a very green summer and this trail proved that true again. There were wildflowers from the top to the bottom. Lupines, paintbrush, sticky geranium, sulfur paintbrush, gentian, penstamon, phlox, and so many more. I tried not to drool too much.

The hike was made even better by the sweeping views and the great company. We saw the Spanish Peaks, Lone Mountain, The Sphinx, The Taylor-Hilgard area, Electric Peak, Mount Cowen, and even the Tetons off in the distance.

Another cool thing about Ramshorn is that it is flanked by a petrified forest.

At Buffalo Horn Pass
Delphinium
Henry and I on the way up.
Lupine and paintbrush.
Strolling along enjoying the view.
Petrified trees.
Almost to the top.
Up, up, up.
At the top!
View from the top.
Mountain goats chomping on the yummy green stuff.
Our first kid-free hike together!
Did I mention the flowers? Outstanding!
Another view from the top.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: Ramshorn Peak is an 8.4 mile hike (roundtrip). It's a walk-up, no climbing or mountaineering skills needed. Watch out for grizzly bears and lightning. Why: Great views, amazing flowers in season, getting to the top of a peak. Where: From Livingston drive south on Highway 89 about 37 miles (16 miles north of Gardiner). Turn west on Tom Miner Creek Road and cross the bridge. Turn left at the T intersection. Follow the signs about 10 miles to a campground and the trailhead. The trailhead is signed "Petrified Forest Interpretive Trail." Who: Strong hikers, dogs who don't need much water and like the heat, petrified tree enthusiasts.

Camping at Seeley Lake, Montana

We had the best time camping at Seeley Lake last weekend. I can't remember the last time I spent the day in a swimsuit. We swam in the lake, read books on the sand, went for a little nature walk (just Finn and I), and sat around the campfire (eating s'mores, naturally). It was the perfect laid-back weekend.

The downside of Seeley Lake is that it's kind of crowded--by Montana standards, anyway. And there are motorboats and jet skis on the lake, which I don't love. We knew we weren't going to have a wilderness experience, so we were all in for a day at the beach.

Evening swim in the lake. We just couldn't wait.
Early morning in the giant tent.
H and I love sitting around in the morning, drinking coffee and tea while the boys sleep.
A morning swim in Seeley Lake.
Anders and dad going for a swim.
S'more time!
Playing in the sand.

A couple days at the beach is just what you need once in awhile.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: The community of Seeley Lake, named for the 1,025-acre lake at its front door, has a year-round population of about 2,000 people. Its population swells to more than twice that during the summer months when seasonal residents come home to enjoy their mountain cabins. Seeley Lake is one of a half dozen lakes in the Clearwater Valley known as the "Chain of Lakes," through which the Clearwater River flows. We stayed at the Big Larch campground, and there are two other campgrounds on the west side of the lake. None of them take reservations. Why: Swimming in the lake, walking through the larch and ponderosa pine forest. Water skiing and jet skiing, if that's your deal. Where: Just north of the town of Seeley Lake on Hwy. 83. Facilities: Open year-round. This spacious campground offers 50 camping units, a popular well-maintained beach, water play area, boat launch, telephone and year-round, non-freeze water hydrants. Handicapped facilities are available. There is a $10/night charge for overnight camping at this Forest Service facility. Who: Families, kids, adults, boaters, anglers...

Field Trip Friday: Passage Creek Falls

Passage Creek Falls holds a special place in my heart. Tucked up in Mill Creek--the largest drainage on "our side" of the Abasroka Mountains--it's a place Henry and I visited when I was pregnant with Anders. It's the place where Anders did his first longish hike, and the trail where Finn walked two miles at just two years old.

2006 flashback. Anders' first trip to Passage Creek Falls.
Rigby in his "don't shoot me, I'm not a wolf" vest in 2006.

It's also quite lovely. Late summer means tons of thimbleberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Fall is all warm colors and crisp days. In winter the ski to frozen falls (take the sticks off before the little cliff!) is a perfect leg stretch. And in spring, the water is high and the falls are big.

This time, it was Finn's longest walk to date. That's a pretty big deal. Getting Finn to walk five miles round trip with little complaint and no meltdowns, just might be a breakthrough. I don't want to make too big a deal of it, but this boy who sticks to his guns, stands up for himself, and doesn't let anyone else tell him what to do, can really impede on my hiking dreams. Fortunately, that passion and persistence will really pay off for him one day.

Passage Creek Falls trail is also the place I learned about candy motivation a couple years ago. This time it was trail mix with M & Ms. It works for me, too.

There are two mandatory, and one optional bridge crossing to get to the falls. All three are fun.
I love the contrast between the burned trees, green plants, and blue sky.
Shrooms!
Bluebells.
Picking dandelions along the trail kept the boys busy. We only pick non-native plants.
Then we entertain ourselves by decorating Diesel. Doesn't he look pretty?
Just beyond this trail junction is where you take your skis off and leave your horse behind.
Passage Creek Falls was pumping.
Diesel still only cares about the stick.
Phlox.
If only we could keep going into this...
Larkspur.
Rock inspection.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: A 2.5 mile (one-way) hike to Passage Creek Falls. The first 1.6 miles is pancake flat, then the trail goes up a bit, and steeply down to the falls. Why: Easy trail, pretty flowers, big waterfall. Where: Take Hwy 89 S. from Livingston about 14 miles. Turn left on Mill Creek Road, cross the Yellowstone River and East River Road, then drive about 15 miles to the trailhead on right. Who: Families, kids, adults, mountain bikers, horse riders...

Day Hikes Around Bozeman, Montana is a good hiking guide for this trail and another 109 trails in the area.

{Peru} El Maizal to Yanama

We woke up at El Maizal to find ourselves on a terrace, surrounded on three sides by mountains across deep valleys. Since we arrived in the dark we didn't know exactly what to expect; we weren't disappointed.

El Maizal is a little farm perched on the side of the Andes. I didn't write down the couple's names who farm there. The husband had left to tend corn crops or something by the time we got going, but the wife (did Wilbert call her Mama Tomasina?) gave us a tour of her home.

Our campsite at El Maizal
Getting busy in the barnyard. This is what you walk through to get to the outhouse.
Nothing is free.
Mama Tomasina (maybe) in the doorway of her house.

It was tiny and dark with a dirt floor. In the back, guinea pigs, or cuy, skittered around. When they are big enough, they will become dinner. For now they are just cute. The small attic was filled with dry corn that provided both insulation and food for animals and people. Pigs, goats, cows, chickens, and other barnyard animals wandered around outside. On the campground side--a couple grassy terraces that just fit our eight tents--foxgloves stood tall like sentinels on either side of a gate.

If you've been reading the many chapters of this travelogue, you know what our day looked like. We climbed up, up, up to San Juan Pass. The Rio Blanco, already about 3,000 feet below us at El Maizal, grew smaller and smaller and then disappeared all together. The lush jungle of the morning gave way to the puna--a high treeless plateau near the pass.

Amy decorated.
Wilbert and Amy head up the wet, jungly, trail.
They don't mind waiting while I take photos of flowers.
Totally worth it.
I'll get there eventually.
Another quick photo stop. You should have seen all the flowers I didn't take pictures of.
Into the puna and almost to the pass.
I made it! 13,000+ feet.

Domingo was waiting for us at the 13,615-foot pass with a hearty, vegetable lunch. Amazed as I was (again) by Domingo's ability to pack up after we leave, pass us on the trail, and have lunch going before we get there, what really blew me away was the view.

Inuksuk on the pass. They probably call it something else in Peru, but these cairns are offerings to the mountain gods.
Lunch at the top.
Post-lunch break.

We stood on the edge of the saddle taking photos of ourselves in front of Marcana, Puma Cillu, Chocquetacarpo, and other snowy peaks while braving the heat "down low." For the second or third time we were honored by Andean condors soaring overhead while we ate.

Andean condors are so big--one of the largest birds in the world that is still able to fly--that they have to live in windy areas to take advantage of the lifting air currents. These vultures are considered endangered, but we were lucky to see a bunch of them on this trip. It pays to stick to high, windy passes.

Andean condor blessing our trip. Or looking for something dead to eat. Hard to tell.
Two thumbs up for this awesome Bella Treks adventure!

From the San Juan Pass (locally called Yanama Pass), we walked down narrow trails to a valley full of lupines, orange lilies, verdant green hillsides and craggy mountains overhead. The Yanama Valley wowed us all. There had been no access by vehicle until very recently, so everything had to be brought in on horses and mules. It's one of the most pastoral, beautiful places I've ever seen.

Amy rounds the bend on the hike down into the Yanama Valley.
Is there anywhere lupines don't grow?
It's pretty, no?
I wish we had seen the mules on this section of trail.
Yanama Valley.

About 200 families live in the Yanama Valley, mostly as subsistence farmers. We walked past several little farms surrounded by low rock walls to get to the place we'd be staying. Chickens and roosters wandered through gladioluses, Easter lilies, poppies, and other bright, tall flowers.

Most exciting of all was the Fanta poster at the entrance to our camp/farm. That orangey, high fructose mix of goodness is something I crave when I travel internationally. When I've been in Belize, Panama, Turkey, Argentina, and every other country outside of the U.S. I want Fanta. I love Fanta. Not in Canada, though. In Canada, I want cocktails.

An oasis.

As usual, our tents were already set up in two neat lines. I crawled into mine to rest and read, but when the guy came with the Fantas and beer, I was out in seconds, soles in hand, ready for my treat.

Just another lovely campsite.

I wrote in my journal that this was one of the most physically demanding things I've ever done. Every day we climbed and descended thousands of feet, all at high elevation. But, since I've been back, the hard part of it has slipped out of my brain leaving only the amazing parts. And maybe the hard work made everything else that much more rewarding.

Last weekend, Ross came through Livingston (he lives in Seattle) and we had a little BBQ at Felicia's. He told Henry this trip was one of the most physically challenging things he had ever done--and that guy has done a lot of hard core stuff. It made me feel less wimpy. And it made me realize that even the hard stuff isn't that hard. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, lean on your sticks, and keep moving.

Plan your own trip

Are you reading along and thinking, "I want to go on a trip like this!"? Call my friend Felicia at Bella Treks, she'll set you up. And it's not just Peru, she goes all over South America, Morocco, Yellowstone, and a ton of other places.

Field Trip Friday: Tizer Botanic Gardens & Boulder Hot Springs

It's time for another edition of Field Trip Friday and this week it's a doozy--three locations in one super fun trip.

We started with a two-hour drive to Jefferson City and Tizer Botanic Gardens and Arboretum. I didn't even know this place existed until last fall. I saw a friend had "liked" it on Facebook, and about had a heart attack of excitement. A botanic garden in my very own state?!?! Why didn't someone tell me about this?

All winter I checked out the photos of gardens under the snow that the Tizer folks posted, and when spring arrived I was ready to go. For the boys' education, of course.

TIzer Botanic Garden has about 0.05 miles of trails through several gardens. It's not huge, but it is packed full. You can check out the various gardens and homesteaders cabins on their site. It was raining on the day we went, so we didn't linger as long as we would have on a sunny day. In retrospect, I should have waited another month. In addition to sunshine being likely, there would have been a lot more blooms.

Lots of fairies and gnomes perched along the banks of Prickly Pear Creek.
Get your free loaner umbrella to enjoy Tizer on a rainy day.
Apple blossoms = spring.
Bluebells on the Wildflower Walk.
Plant investigation.
Heading to the gazebo for lunch during a break in the rain.
Scotch moss and a Buddha in the Meditation Garden.

Still, it was a lovely visit. I picked up a couple plants at their garden center and am looking forward to another trip.

After walking around in the rain looking at plants, the boys were ready to warm up and play. On to Boulder Hot Springs. Although the buildings look super creepy as you drive up, the pool is great. I'd been there once before, but it was eight or more years ago and the boys had never had the pleasure of dipping their toes in the warm mineral waters.

We've had to stop going to our local hot spring lately because the water has been ridiculously hot. At Boulder Hot Springs it was perfect for swimming and soaking as we checked out the mountains of the Deerlodge National Forest.

There are two indoor plunge pools in each changing room-- a hot pool and a cool pool. They are segregated by sex. I couldn't send the boys into a pool alone, and a sign on the women's changing room door said boys four and older were prohibited. (I took Finn in with me anyway; I'm not sending my four-year-old into a changing room he's never been in before. Anders managed it, but the two of them together is trouble.)

So, the plunge pools were out for us. I'm the only one I trust alone in a swimming pool. There are some coed hours, but not during the time we were there. Luckily, it didn't matter. We had a blast swimming in the big pool, and we'd rather be outside anyway.

The outdoor pool was the perfect temperature for swimming.
Maybe these field trips aren't just for the kids...

Next time I'm in Boulder, I'd love to check out the Radon Mines. They sound kind of weird, and I like weird. Not really kid-appropriate, though.

Since we were in the neighborhood, we made a stop at Elkhorn ghost town in Elkhorn State Park. Dating from the second wave of Montana's gold and silver rushes, Elkhorn has survived as one of the better ghost towns in the west. Its principal mine, the Elkhorn, was discovered around 1872. Booming in the 1880s and 1890s before tapering off in this century, the Elkhorn reputedly produced some $14 million in silver during its long life.

A lot of the old buildings have been renovated and have people living in them. And there is still an active mine. Anders was hoping to see some dynamite, but unfortunately, the mine was fenced. There are a few standing, unoccupied buildings, which are fun to look at. If we had more time, I would have like to take the boys through the graveyard and walked around a bit more. Next time.

Gilliam Hall and Fraternity Hall at Elkhorn.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: Tizer Botanic Gardens and Arboretum, Boulder Hot Springs, and in Elkhorn State Park Ghost Town. Why: Flowers! Plants! High elevation gardening! Not to mention hot springs, old buildings, and a piece of Montana history. Where: Check out the links above for directions to each place. Tizer Gardens and Boulder Hot Springs have their entrance fees listed on their sites. Who: Families, kids, adults, plant lovers, history buffs.

Hiking the Hoodoos Trail in Yellowstone

For our official start of hiking season, we chose the Hoodoo Trail in Yellowstone. The boys and I hiked it one other time, but they were too young to remember.

We don't get far before stopping to look at flowers.
Buttercup--worth stopping for.
Up close with Anders.
Checking out the route.

I like this trail for kids because it's short, sparsely traveled even though it is right near super-popular Mammoth, mostly downhill. There are lots of fun rocks, the so called "hoodoos," to climb on.

As is our way, we stopped 900 times for snacks and Finn was exhausted (his words) three minutes into the hike. Fortunately, he rallied and walked all but two minutes of the trail by himself. It may have been due to the promise of ice cream. Whatever works....

Finn can't walk without holding someone's hand.
The second of many snack breaks.
Playing the sticks to the wilderness.

These rocks aren't what I think of as "hoodoos." Rather than pinnacles of weathered sandstone, they are travertine stacks from Terrace Mountain. Travertine is formed when hydrothermal water brings dissolved calcium carbonate to the earth’s surface, where it releases carbon dioxide and creates the white rock.The terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs are made out of the same rock, but the hot springs are still active there and growing the terraces. The hoodoos are old travertine formations left over from when this was once a thermally active area that fell into a jumble in a landslide.

To learn more about the geologic history of the hoodoos, watch this minute-and-a-half video.

Anders named this "Rock City."
He has to climb on everything. He just has to.
Not to be outdone, Finn does a little climbing, too.
Arrowleaf balsamroot--a sure sign that summer will eventually get here.
We are so happy!
Aspens leafing out.
Finn!

The trail ends at the Upper Terraces, and we walked out the Upper Terrace Road to the main road, where I hitchhiked back to our car.

There is a loop option for folks who don't want to hitchhike, or are looking for a longer walk. Start at the same trailhead, but instead of veering right at the Hoodoo junction, continue on ahead. After 2.3 miles, the route turns east at a 3-way junction and climbs to the top of Snow Pass, a narrow saddle pinched between Terrace Mountain and Clagett Butte. After cresting the pass, the trail drops into an unnamed creek valley above Pinyon Terrace, then rounds to the south along Terrace Mountain's eastern edge. Catch the hoodoo trail and continue on in the opposite direction we walked it. The loop is 7 miles.

Entering the thermal basin.
Larkspur in abundance.
Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs.

It was kind of interesting that all the Americans sped right past me. It wasn't until some Eastern Europeans came by that I got a ride. They didn't even speak much English, and they were willing to take me back up the hill.

You'd pick me up, wouldn't you?

Plan Your Own Trip

What: Hoodoo Basin Trail in Yellowstone National Park (3 miles one-way) Why: Easy hike, hoodoos to climb on, interesting geology, views of Bunsen Peak, pretty meadows, hot springs (at the end). Where: Drive 4.8 miles south of Mammoth on the Mammoth-Norris road. Park on the right (east) side of the road in the Bunsen Peak parking area. Cross the road to the Glen Creek Trailhead and follow to the signed Hoodoo junction. Go right. Who: Families, kids, anyone looking for a short, interesting walk.