It's been a busy week over on the plastic side of things. We'll be catching up on our road-trip recap this weekend and will continue next week with new posts Mondays & Thursdays!!!
Welcome back! Post 2 of 3 from the Missouri-portion of our summer road trip takes us to a familiar spot: Maramec Spring Park. It's a beautiful place and ETC has been there before (see the post here).
Managed trout pools, a crazy blue spring pumping out millions of gallons of water each day, historical stone iron works, trails, a small museum, more & more. Be sure to check our older post for all of the details. For now, enjoy a visual tour with these Maramec pics!
~ Paul, Amber, Dad
Really long story short: we survived Kansas. Our driving party that started in the Pacific Northwest took us through gorgeous forests, mountains, valleys, dunes, and more…and then it stopped…or at least the mountains, forests, valleys, and dunes stopped. The road kept going…through the seemingly endless Great Plains. All US road trips change when you hit the Great Plains, it doesn't matter which way you're headed across them. It gets boring. Sleepy. Sleepy with a lack of Starbucks. Never-ending. The woosh! of a semi-truck passing you on a stormy, flat, interstate.
Speaking of the interstate, one thing that made our Great Plains driving days better was driving on highways instead. For a lot of people, this is a terrible idea. It takes longer, the speed limit's lower, small speed-trap towns are everywhere, and a giant combine will definitely be hogging the road. Wow, after writing that, it really does seem like a horrible idea.
For us, the bad parts of driving on highways are about equal to the bad parts of driving on the interstate. One of the complaints is really a double-edged sword; slowing-down for small towns is a great way to keep yourself from getting bored & drowsy. There's strange country stuff to look at around every turn. You meet more people. Gas stations are unique. So we drove. We loved it.
We arrived in one of my home states: Missouri (I claim 3 home states now: South Dakota, Missouri, and Washington state). We were taking a break from the road and visiting the Pops in the Ozarks. We spent some time exploring 3 locations in the area: Onondaga Cave State Park, Kayaking along the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, & Maramec Spring Park. Today, a quick visit to the cave!
I used to hate caves, but since adventuring in the Pacific Northwest and blogging here on ETC, I've really enjoyed exploring anywhere with historical meaning. Since I've learned so much from trips in the Northwest, it's great to learn what was happening in the Midwest around the same time (the 1800s). Stories of this cave - how it came to be, early exploration, the abundance of caves in Missouri, what 19th century settlers used them for and extracted from them - it's all here. Tours are cheap, guides are super smart about the area, and a small museum has cool images from 1800s Onondaga, located in the visitor center. A pretty cool visit (cave joke).
~Paul, Amber, Dad ETC
Onondaga Cave State Park
Just when Kali-cat was getting comfy in the Mesa Verde Lodge we left for the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Located in Colorado, a bit off the beaten path, there lives some massive American sand dunes. I've always wanted to visit this park but since we were with feline we couldn't really spend too much, or really any, time in the sandy backcountry.
After stopping by the Visitor's center, we drove to a parking-lot nearby and set out onto the dunes. It was sandy.
These dunes are crazy-big. Lots of sand-boarding surfer types. See the little specs of people in the picture above? Epic sand.
So, about the Park being the almost greatest. It's just we're a little partial to the Bruneau Dunes in Idaho we recently visited (and declared most beautiful sand dunes in the USA). Did we declare a winner too early? Is Great Sand Dunes National Park the greatest after all? More careful examination of this park is definitely in our future…just not on this trip. I blame the cat (as usual). Off to the Ozarks!
~Paul, Amber, Kali ETC
P.S. Take notes: essential Everyone's Travel Club camping materials pictured below.
Our last little trip in Mesa Verde National Park was to the highest point in the park, the Park Point fire lookout.
Below is a picture of the actual fire lookout building at the top. When we were there their was someone working inside, doing whatever fire-lookout people do. The building was restored back in 2009 (link to restoration article).
You can also hike from here, a 2.2 mile trail heads down from the viewpoint. Check here for a list of trails in the Park.
We had such a great visit to Mesa Verde National Park. Staying at the lodge within the park was a perfect fit for us. Although the guided cliff dwelling tours weren't really our style (crowded & wifey's afraid of heights), there was enough to explore without dangling over a 100 ft cliff:) The summer weather was mild, sunny by day, with thunderstorms at night.
Thanks for traveling with us as we recap our epic US summer road trip! Next stop: Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve…!
~Paul, Amber ETC
After a day of climbing ladders at the Balcony House, Amber and I turned our attention to another day of Mesa Verde adventure. It started with us investigating the popular Cliff Palace tour…more ladders…not really the wife's style. We skipped it and took these shots from above!
To be honest, the make-a-reservation-and-tour-with-a-guide-and-tons-of-people thing is OK, but not really our style. Because this park is one big archeological dig, it can't really be done any other way (or it would surely be destroyed by the thousands of annual visitors). We decided to check out a nearby trail (no guide) to the Soda Canyon overlooks.
Next we made it to the self-guided (in the summer anyway) Spruce Tree House. This 1/2 mile round trip tour starts at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. It's a nice cliff dwelling experience without all of the ladders and wifey feelings of death-below!
We've got one more hike from Mesa Verde National Park coming at you this Thursday, and then we're off to some mega sand dunes in Colorado. Thanks for traveling with us!
~Paul & Amber ETC
Judgement day. Mesa Verde National Park…The Balcony House hike. The wife gets another chance to overcome her fear of heights! Annnnnd she passed. I'm on my own as she's probably drinking mimosas back at the lodge. Oh well, let's do it.
As we explained in our last post, we narrowly secured scheduled hike tickets to a few of the hikes/cliff dwellings in the park. Make sure you do this as you enter the park - if you wait till later you'll be at the top of the mountain with a long drive back to the beginning to make it happen.
I showed up at the Balcony House parking lot and hung out until the scheduled start of the hike. You walk in a decent-size group with a park ranger for a little bit before you start climbing up ladders!
Once you're in, you spend some time exploring and learning about the many rooms, kivas, plazas, and history of the 13th century cliff dwellers, ancestors of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico & Arizona. Time is of the essence as there is another group on your tail. Don't expect a lot of individual exploration on this hike - you're in and out.
Exiting is a little trickier than the ladders at the beginning of the house. First you squeeze, and I mean squeeze, through some super tight cliff walls. Next you climb a few more ladders, these a little more exposed (to death). You arrive back up top just a few clicks from where you started.
I'm so glad I went on the hike. The wifey was right in not going ~ the heights would have freaked her out (and the small spaces). To those with similar fears - prepare to overcome them or hang back at the lodge and have a mimosa (or just an orange juice if you're little:). Next up: more hiking in the park. Tune in Monday!
~Paul (only) ETC
I had cliff dwellings on my mind as we departed the dino-extravaganza in Lehi for Mesa Verde National Park. It turns out that the busyness of this epic road trip meant that I didn't really spend much time actually planning for this epic road trip. Luckily, the Mrs. is always there to efficiently complement my many inefficiencies. She booked us a couple nights at the Far View Lodge, located in the Park. That's our cabin in the picture above. Wifey did good.
A stop at the park should really start at the Visitor's Center. It's a fancy looking building near the entrance of the park (it's before you start climbing up the long & curvy road). We decided to head straight up to our lodge. We should have stopped at the Center first…we'll explain why in a bit…oops.
But we made it! It's a decent 25 min or more drive from the entrance of the park to the Far View Lodge up top. We checked-in and parked at our cabin. It was small but perfect in every way. Clean with hard floors, a balcony, bathroom & shower, fridge, and it is in walking distance to the restaurant & bar and the cafeteria-style breakfast place and gift shop. Did I mention pet-friendly? (1/2 of the units are anyway). We could live here.
After relaxing for a bit we started to plan our days. We knew we'd like to try a few of the popular cliff dwelling hikes around the Park…hmmm…what's this? You have to buy tickets and make a reservation for some of the hikes - Balcony House hike at 1:30. OK, sounds good…where do we buy tickets? Ohhhhh…I see…back at the base of the mesa at the Visitor's Center. Huh. The Visitor's Center that's now closed. Oops.
Well, no fear! There is a well-stocked general store and campground halfway down the mountain and there at the ranger booth you can buy next day trail tickets (make sure to ask about their hours too). We drove down as the sun was setting - not bad:)
Well, all's well that ends with a pretty sunset. We stocked up on drinks and snacks at the general store and made it back up to the Lodge. We stopped by the restaurant for a bite and back to the cabin for some shut-eye. A good night sleep is in order if we're gonna climb the crazy cliff dwelling ladders in the morning!!!
Join us here on the blog Thursday to see if we actually made it. More specifically, I wonder if my organized-in-hotel-bookings but deathly-scared-of-heights wifey made it…!
~Paul, Amber, (sigh) Kali the cat
Link to Mesa Verde National Park
Link to the Far View Lodge
The West to East Coast road trip continues!!! We left the sand dunes of southern Idaho for a sweet dinosaur museum near Salt Lake City, Utah. We'd been by the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, Utah before, but to be honest, I kinda thought it might be a religious dinosaur museum (if there is such a thing)…I mean, the name, the location (Mormon country).
Well, after a great visit we can say that the museum is science to max - tons of plant and dinosaur fossils, skeletons, and more. An impressive collection.
Our first brachiosaurus skeleton (above)!!! And a highlight of the museum - a supersaurus pelvis (pictured below) and accompanying skeleton.
All in all, one of the best dino-museums we've ever been to. We highly recommend a visit!!! Grrrrrrr.
~Paul & Amber ETC
Museum of Ancient Life