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.


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.


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!


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

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

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.

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.
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.
If only we could keep going into this...
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.

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.

Indoor Ice Skating

Right now I am in Peru on my birthday trip, touring Machu Picchu. I went ahead and posted this ahead of time so you wouldn't miss me.

Way back in March, the boys and I met some friends in Bozeman for an ice skating party. It was the first time they'd skated indoors and I thought they would appreciate the smooth, manicured ice.

Since the open skating is in the middle of the day, no one else was there.

Anders skates over to his friends.
Ice dancing with my buddy.
Buckets help the twin stay up.
A skating pro.

Field Trip Friday: Bozeman

Right now I am in Peru on my birthday trip, hiking over 4550 meter (14,927 feet) Yanama Pass. It's the highest point on the trip and I think it is safe to say that I am sucking wind--hard. That's almost 15,000 feet! I went ahead and posted this ahead of time so you wouldn't miss me.

When I plan a field trip I tend to think further afield than Bozeman, but there are plenty of fun things to do right over the hill.

We started off our grand adventure with a stop at the Emerson Center for Arts and Culture. A friend had alerted us to an Einstein exhibit. It was very artsy, and I didn't really get it, but the lights were pretty. As Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge," so we went with that philosophy.

I later read that it was supposed to be like being in a star field and that the disc on the floor represented a black hole. The eerie music was the sound of the gravitational pull of the black hole. I probably should have been more on top of it and read the brochure before we got in there. It was still pretty cool.

Checking out the black hole.
This was a cigarette dispenser that was rehabbed to sell tiny pieces of art.

Next stop was the Children's Museum of Bozeman. The kids love going here, and normally I can use their wifi to work. Win-win. But the wifi was out, so we stayed for about an hour and then hit the Bozeman Library. The boys read and built with blocks, I worked, and another field trip was enjoyed by all.

Building a marble run.
Moving seeds around.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: Emerson Center for Arts and Culture, Children's Museum of Bozeman, Bozeman Library Why: To learn and play...and get some work done. Where: In Bozeman, Montana. Follow the links of the individual places for directions.

Live from the Mammoth Terraces

Right now I am in Peru on my birthday trip, starting an eight day trek through the Andes. I went ahead and posted this ahead of time so you wouldn't miss me.

Part of our Yellowstone FTF fun included a little walk around the Mammoth Terraces. There wasn't anyone else on the boardwalk while we were there, which goes to show that the off-season is a whole different world.

Happy to be at the Terraces.
We think it's pretty.

I'll let the boys tell you about it. [video:youtube:hox3uydYX9o]

Anders peers over the edge of the boardwalk to check out the bacterial mats.

Wait- Anders has more to say. Please excuse the stuttering and crotch grabbing.


And remember, stay on the boardwalk!

Field Trip Friday: Yellowstone

Right now I am in Peru on my birthday trip, enroute from Lima to Cusco. I went ahead and posted this ahead of time so you wouldn't miss me.

We love Yellowstone, and whenever I can get down there, I do. It can be tough with kids, but it usually ends up being worth the effort.

We started out with lunch at the Lava Creek picnic area. It was a bit snowy, but no one seemed to mind.

Picnicking in the snow.

What they did seem to mind, what Finn seemed to mind, was hiking. We started on the Lava Creek Canyon Trail with a lot of whining and claims of severe hunger. It had been three minutes since lunch, after all.

This 3.5-mile trail can be hiked one way if you arrange a car shuttle ahead of time and it’s mostly downhill. Or hike out as far as you like and turn around, which is what we did.

Starting off pretty well...
The brothers Smiley and Pouty.

The trail follows Lava Creek downstream to 60-foot Undine Falls at 0.3 miles. Finn could go no further, so we took some happy pictures, had a snack, and enjoyed the waterfall. Undine Falls gets its name from mythological creatures that were extraordinarily wise, usually female, and thought to live around waterfalls. An undine could acquire a mortal man, marry him, and have his children.

Undine Falls

We walked back to the picnic area and the boys played in the frigid water for a while before driving a little further down the road to the Wraith Falls Trail.

Barefoot in melting snow and 40 F temps.

This was a much better hike, attitude-wise. It's just 0.5 miles to the falls (more of a cascade) and has a few interesting things along the way, such as a boardwalk, bridge, and upturned trees. Kids like that kind of stuff.

We think bison might also be using this boardwalk on the way to Wraith Falls.
Fallen lodgepole.
Wraith Falls
Happy hikers.

Finn was on fire after our two mini-hikes and wanted to check out the Mammoth Terraces. We drove to the top and since the Terrace Loop Road is still closed, we walked out to them. More about that next time.

I promise I'll love him even if he isn't a hiker. Probably.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: Hiking easy, kid-friendly trails in Yellowstone Why: It's our first National Park, it's pretty, there are cool animals, and kids (and adults) need lots of time outside. Where: Yellowstone National Park. From Mammoth, drive 4.4 miles east to the Lava Creek Picnic Area on the right (south). The Lava Creek Canyon Trail is across the road, over the bridge. Wraith Falls trailhead is 0.4 miles east on the right (south).

The Park Service has a handy brochure of hikes around Mammoth.

My go-to, favorite hiking book for Yellowstone is Bill Schneider's Hiking Yellowstone National Park.

Related Posts

Christmas at Mammoth, 2011 FTF: Self-Guided Trail, Mammoth Terraces Five Yellowstone Hikes for Kids & Families Beaver Pond Loop The Hoodoos Skiing the Snow Pass and Bunsen Peak Trails Skiing and Hot Tubbing in Mammoth 10 Hot Spring in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho Pronghorn Trail (Mt. Everts) Rescue Creek

Easter 2013 (a day early)

This year Easter falls on Henry's birthday. The nerve of Easter! To handle this calendar debacle we celebrated Easter a day early.

There were plenty of Easter egg hunts to choose from in Bozeman, so we chose a big one and headed over the hill. The boys were in different areas of the Montana State University soccer fields. I stuck with Anders, and Henry and Finn paired up in another area.

Ready for the hunt.
Gathering eggs.
Happy with his haul.

After the egg dash we hung around for face painting and bubbles.

Always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn, then be a unicorn.
Chasing bubbles.
When you're easily exhausted it's nice to have someone to help you out.

Back at home it was time to dye eggs. Finn and I whipped up four colors and boiled eggs.

Dyes -- (back to front) tea, beets, blackberries, turmeric

While we waited for the dye to cool off, I thought it would be fun to let the chickens out in the yard. It was their first time outside and they were a little freaked out. Maybe it was because of the manhandling.

Three chickens in a messed up yard.
Of course they are going to put a chicken in a trailer.
Sunset or Sunrise, or is it Cinnamon?

With the chickens back in their indoor wading pool, the boys got serious about prettifying their eggs.

Egg dying.

On Easter morning, the boys will search for eggs in the yard and be super psyched about the Venus flytraps in their Easter baskets. Then it will be all about Henry's 40th birthday!

Easters Past

Easter preview, 2012 Easter part 1, 2011 Easter part 2, 2011 Easter part 1, 2010 Easter part 2, 2010 Easter part 1, 2009 Easter part 2, 2009 Argentinian Easter, 2008

Field Trip Friday: Homestake Lodge

Despite the Equinox, it's still winter here (sort of, it was 50F today). Last Friday, the boys and I paid a late season visit to my favorite Nordic Center--Homestake Lodge.

There's 37 km of groomed trails through aspens and huge rocks, winding around marshes, and up and down hills. We didn't bring Diesel this time, but there are dog trails and lighted trails for night skiing. What the boys and I really take advantage of is the lodge.

Homestake is the perfect place to ski with kids. You can stretch out in the lodge after a long drive (almost two hours for us), and change into ski clothes. Of course, we immediately dive into our snacks upon arrival.

The lodge
Anders gets to work with the toys.
Finn gets to work with snacks.

Then, we headed out the door for a little ski. Thanks to my six years of parent training, I had no expectations for our ski. Well, very few expectations. We skied a bit, took a snack break, and skied a bit more. We may have been out there for a full hour. The boys really loved gliding down the hills while I held then up between my skis.

On the trail...for a little while.
I love the aspens and the views of the Rockies.

Back in the lodge, they boys played with toys while I caught up with Mandy and Chris, Homestake's owners. Mandy and I worked together at the Bozeman Recreation Department many years ago. I love getting to see her each year on my annual Homestake pilgrimage.

Plan Your Own Trip

What: Homestake Lodge--Cross-country ski center and lodge Why: Cross-country skiing on 37 km of groomed trails. Dog trails, lighted trails, lessons, rental and retail shop, clinics, races. Soup, sandwiches, beer, wine, and cookies for purchase on winter weekends. Hostel style rooms, a yurt, and cabins to rent for overnighters. Great people, beautiful location. Where: East of Butte, west of Whitehall, at the top of the Continental Divide. Get directions here. It's easy to find, but your GPS will lie to you.

More Homestake Fun

Women's weekend at Homestake, 2012 Cross-country skiing at Homestake, 2011 Camping at Homestake, summer 2009 Cross-country skiing at Homestake, 2008

Walking back to the lodge after returning our skis to the car.

{Homeschool Science} Animals in Winter

We had our second homeschool science class a couple weeks ago. In our first class, the six kids learned about the science of snow. This time, the fifteen(!) or so kids learned about how animals get through winter.

We met up Mill Creek where I knew there would be plenty of snow and a good sledding hill. I like to get in about an hour of "lesson" and then have some play time. Of course, the lessons are so fun it is like we are playing the whole time.

We talked about three ways animals survive winter: migration, hibernation, and adaptation.

After we understood what those three words meant, I broke the kids into three groups and gave each of them three animals (not the actual animals, but pieces of paper with animal names written on them). The kids had to decide which migrated, which hibernated, and which adapted to the winter world. There were some tricky ones in there, such as elk. Elk migrate to sunny hillsides and to lower elevations, but don't fly south like better known migrators.

Since there were a lot of kids and a lot of energy, we walked a bit between each group's report.

For the next activity, we talked about how animals move through the snow. The kids practiced walking like elk (straight legs pushing through the snow--no knee-bending!); moose (with articulated knees they can lift their legs out of the snow with each step); and snowshoe hares (hopping-would have been better with snowshoes). Then we decided which was the easiest and how this partially explained the elk's migration. We also talked about the subnivean environment, but there wasn't enough snow to dig tunnels.

Jumping like snowshoe hares.

On our little walk, we found a snow cave someone had built. The kids were thrilled to explore it (and jump on the top), and I got to talk about how animals create warmer homes beneath the snow.

We also talked a little about how plants get through winter and searched for particular plant types before walking back to the sledding hill.

Most of the kids got to sled for about 30 minutes before we started, so they were prepped and ready for the ice luge that the sledding hill had become. Despite the rocket-speeds, and kids sprawled out on the ice, everyone had a good time and we avoided injuries. Expect for me. My elbow still hurts from whacking it in on the cement-ice while trying to protect Finn during a little incident. I'll probably recover.

Ice sledding.

Next month we are meeting at the Yellowstone Gateway Museum to explore their native plants trunk. Yay for plants!

Ukelele Gig, again

You may recall that the boys have been taking ukelele lessons for about a year and a half now. We took a pretty big chunk of time off last spring and summer, but started back in earnest last fall. Every week.

I am supposed to get them to practice every day, but that is a lot of effort on my part, so I do it (most) weekdays only. Still, there are plenty of days when it doesn't happen until I unburden the task onto Henry after dinner. Anders is easy; just tell him to practice and he happily strums along to himself. As with everything, Finn takes more persuading. And you actually have to sit down and do it with him. (I realize there are bigger problems in the world then getting your kid to practice an instrument.)

Both of them are getting pretty good. When I watch them change cords and read music that I don't understand, I am proud of them. And when I see how cute they looked at their St. Patrick's Day Gig, I appreciate all the hard work they put into it. Although, I am the one doing the reminding and prodding, they are the ones who really make it happen.

This video might be a little long and boring if it's not your kid, but since it is about our kids I think it's pretty sweet. [video:youtube:8WJlKO8zWlw]

And here's the video from their Holiday Gig, in case you missed it.


Field Trip Friday: ZooMontana

It had been awhile since we visited ZooMontana in Billings, and for some reason it's always a spontaneous trip. The first time we went it was because I saw something on Facebook, threw some lunch together, packed our stuff, and was off. This time wasn't much different. I woke up, thought about the zoo, and we went.

In other ways it was very different. No stroller, no diapers, no dreading the car ride. I packed lunches, jackets, and my phone (loaded with the Pippi Longstocking audiobook), and hit the road.

ZooMontana is pretty tiny, as far as zoos go, but there is something special about the natural areas, the creek, the playgrounds, the sensory garden, and little farm.

Anders ran the whole time we were there (yay!). Finn even let go of my hand and ran a bit (yay!). Nothing better than watching your kids tire themselves out.

It wasn't as pretty as when we've visited in the fall, but we did have the place to ourselves. And since it was in the 40s the day felt a whole lot like spring.

Checking out the bald eagle.
Stop! The wolverine is in Minnesota breeding.
Running down one of the nature trails.
Look! My mom keeps making me pose for pictures.
I love the wolves. They always make me think of Rigby.
Petting the goats.
Finn was most excited about seeing the chickens.

More ZooMontana

Flashback 2009

November 2009 ZooMontana February 2011 ZooMontana

Books & Movies

We've been on a bit of a book/movie kick lately. I read a book to the kids and then we watch the movie--both for entertainment and to compare and contrast the two. It's mostly been Roald Dahl, but I've tried to expand our author selection.

It all started with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You know, the story about poor Charlie who, against all odds, gets a golden ticket. That ticket opens a world of amazement and imagination when he gets a tour of Willy Wonka's candy factory.

I had saved all the Wonka candy out of the boys' Halloween haul after I bought it from them. I whipped up a couple golden tickets on the computer and then left them in the mail slot. When Anders checked for mail, he freaked out. He and Finn were so excited to get golden tickets. They were still psyched after I told them that I doubted they'd be going to England to tour the actual factory.

The boys and their golden tickets.

While I set up the movie (the Gene Wilder version) Henry took the boys into the basement to "help with laundry." When they came up, I told them an Oompa Loompa came by and dropped off the candy, made hot cocoa, and queued up a movie. I was a little surprised they bought the whole thing, even asking me what the Oompa Loompa looked like, but I guess when someone hands you candy and a movie you just go along with it.

[video:youtube:qw0zZttfUaw] (There are a bunch of ads you have to click off-sorry about that.)

Later we watch the Johnny Depp version of the movie without all the fanfare. I know the older one is supposed to be better, but I like Johnny Depp, and this version is closer to the book. Plus, we got to talk about how different people imagine the story.

Next up was Matilda. I hadn't read this one, and it's a little brutal. I mean, the headmistress swings kids around by their pigtails and locks them in the chokey. I haven't read much about Roald Dahl, but the more books of his we read, the more I think he must have had a miserable childhood. With a really mean aunt.

Of course, the movie was next.


After Matilda, we read James and the Giant Peach. Again, the terrible aunts make James' life miserable. Luckily, a little magic sends him on a grand adventure and he gets back at the aunts in the end. This is one of my favorite of Dahl's books. I only wish we had read it during the summer so we could eat peaches after watching the flick.

I was ready for a little break from Dahl and his auntie-issues. There's more to read, and we'll get back to it, but for a roadtrip to Billing (wahoo!) I downloaded the audio book of Pippi Longstocking. I had never read it, nor seen the movie, but of course had an idea of who the orange pigtailed girl was. Plus, I love anything Swedish (except the depression and one of the highest suicide rates in the world thanks to dark winters).

Pippi is adorable. And hilarious. There was almost nonstop giggling from the back seat while we listened, and plenty from the front seat, too.

A couple days later we baked pepparkakor (Swedish ginger cookies). Ours didn't roll out like they are supposed to, perhaps because we didn't roll them on the floor, like Pippi did. They still turned out to be delicious.

The pepparkakors don't look right, but they taste great.

I was super bummed to discover that the movie, made in 1969, is seemingly impossible to find as a download. There are newer ones, but they are all about her "new adventures," not from the story we listened to.

But as Finn said, "As long as we get to eat the cookies, I don't care about the movie."

During my search for the Pippi movie, I stumbled on Astrid Lingren's World. It's sort of an amusement park where you walk around and visit different settings from Lingren's books, including Pippi's house, Villekulla. So, now we have to plan a trip to Sweden.

Next up is Charlotte's Web. I remember it as a very sad story, but hopefully that's just at the end. Between Rigby and the chick, I've had enough animals die. Maybe we'll save it for another month.

We'll read more Roald Dahl, and probably more Astrid Lingren. What book/movie suggestions do you have? Spring in Montana tend to be pretty gray, wet, and cold; we may need to hunker down for a bit.

Winter knits

My knitting needles have been on fire this winter, knitting and purling like nobody's business. And thanks to all that click, click, clicking, I've finished three sweaters.

A rainbow sweater for Anders
A little something for me.
Owls for Finn

Anders' sweater is my own design (and a way to use up some of my leftover yarn), my sweater came from the book Simply Circular (because I do love to knit in the round), and I found the pattern for Finn's sweater on Ravelry.

{Homeschool Science} Snow Science

He can't wait to do some snow science.

I've been trying to connect with other homeschooling families in our area. The people who are active on the local homeschool listserv seem to have older kids. We've been to a few events/get togethers, but our kids are by far the youngest.

With many of the boys' friends starting kindergarden last fall, I really wanted them to get to know some other homeschooling kids. I want them to know there are other kids doing something similar to what we are doing.

When I couldn't find those people, I decided to start a science/natural history class. We've only met once, but the plan is to meet once a month, somewhere outside, to explore and learn a little.

Our first class was snow science. We dug a little snow pit (it would have been better if there was more snow), we looked at the layers, took temperature readings and tried to determine whether the snow was warmer near the top or closer to the ground. We tried to understand the history of the snow by looking at how hard/soft/icy the different snow layers were. There was a scavenger hunt, a couple other experiments, and a whole lot of running around in the snow. With three six-year-old boys, a nine-year old boy, four-year-old Finn and one little girl, it was a whole lot of crazy fun.

Hannah, AB's mom and my friend, took some beautiful photos. Since I don't really know the other parents, yet, I'm not posting too many photos of their kids, but know that Hannah took some really nice ones.

How sweet is that little Finn face?
Taking the snow's temperature.
I should have explained what the magnifying glasses were for.
Our lone and brave girl, AB.

Field Trip Friday: Helena

It's been a while since our last Field Trip Friday (check out others here) so we decided it was high time to revive the tradition.

Last week the boys and I drove to our state's capital--Helena. If you aren't from around here, you might try to pronounce it correctly, as in "Hell AY na." Don't do it; it just makes you sound like a tourist. It's "Hell a NA." We like to Anglicize things.

Our best-laid plan (you can see where this is going) was to visit Exploration Works!, a kids' science museum. With our Museum of the Rockies membership we can get in free. I check the hours on their website before we left, packed a lunch, charged up the iPad, and off we went.

Explorations Works! is in a plaza with the Great Northern Carousel so we started there.

After a whirling around on the backs of a horse, a rabbit, and a triceratops, we went over the the museum. Closed. Apparently they shut down for a week to change an exhibit. It would have been nice if they put that on their website for diligent parents who are so on top of it that they check those things before driving more than two hours. Anders cried, I was disappointed, Finn was psyched for another ride on the carousel.

Still, there are other things to see in Helena. Like Last Chance Gulch-the city's main street. Helena was founded with the July 14, 1864 discovery of gold in a gulch off the Prickly Pear valley by the "Four Georgians." Last Chance Gulch street lies close to the winding path of the original gulch through the historic downtown district. The original camp that became Helena, was named "Last Chance" by the Four Georgians. By fall 1864, the population had grown to over 200 and the name "Last Chance" was viewed as too crass.

Now, Last Chance Gulch is shops, restaurants, and a walking mall. We went into a couple toys stores and the boys each got something with their own money. They haven't really shopped for themselves before, so it was quite an experience.

Next, was ice cream at the Big Dipper. To make up for the Exploration Works! disappointment, you know. (Don't judge me, I know using food to feel better is a bad idea, I just wanted some ice cream.) The original Big Dipper is in Missoula, and we've been there, too.

Mmmmm Mexican chocolate

Last Chance Gulch has public art, some you can play on, a tea shop, and a yarn store. If you know me at all, you know this is my kind of heaven. I didn't go into the yarn shop, both to spare the boys and my wallet, but I did come home with four types of Earl Gray tea. The boys had the toy store, I had the tea shop.

Our last stop was at the Holter Museum of Art. We would have gone anyway, but when I heard there was an Ansel Adams exhibit, I had to go. I grew up camping in Yosemite (thanks, mom!) and have an emotional connection to the famed photographer. Not only did we see some of the places he photographed, but we had a dogwood photo hanging in our house. That dogwood photo was in the exhibit.

Our Field Trip Friday wasn't exactly what I planned, but we had a great time. Now, we have an excuse to return, visit Exploration Works! for real, and maybe pick up a few ounces of tea.

Related Posts

FTF: Helena, again Camping on the Missouri FTF: Gates of the Mountains

Biking days

If you don't live in Montana you probably picture winters here as cold, snowy, and harsh. I think that's how it used to be. And while there are some days that are pretty bitter, many days are downright pleasant.

A couple weekends ago, we took advantage of nearly a 50 F, windless day.

Henry and I walk so we can bring the dogs...and to be porters when a biker can't go any farther.
Playing on the stage.
Loving daddy.
We took a little time to play around at the skate park.
Anders and I checked out the river level.

Winter in Montana, it's practically the tropics.

Rigby was happy to find a snow patch and cool off.

Anders turns 6!

I had great plans for a touching blog post about Anders turning 6 (yesterday). I have photos and everything. I also have a bunch of work that needs to get done today. Luckily, Henry is way more on top of it than me. So I direct you to his sight to see a whole bunch of videos of Anders.

(Admittedly, this is more for family, because who wants to watch a bunch of videos about someone else's kid?)