This summer during my annual trip to Kansas to spend time with family, I took a trip of my own to Colorado. I have a hard time resisting the mountains, and this year I caved. But I took a detour on the way to out to visit two historical sites. It was a tour of tragedy.Continue reading A Tour of Tragedy
Throughout most of the fall I’ve been spending weekends heading out to Minnesota’s state parks.
Nature With the Kids
It started after a summer vacation I took with the kids to South Dakota, Colorado, and Kansas. We took in lots of nature: the Badlands, the Black Hills, and Rocky Mountain National Park.
But watching over two kids by myself (until Colorado when I joined my parents), I didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy the nature. There wasn’t a lot of quiet. Or patience. Or peace.
At one point in Colorado, after climbing across rocks in the river rapids with my kids, I sat down in a chair along the shore and put my feet up.
A moment later, Milo fell into the river. Continue reading Minnesota State Park Adventuring
I love seeing photos that are near reflections of each other. I don’t know what to call this—synchronicity, mirror images, whatever. There has to be a better way to describe them. But I love them.
While on vacation this year I managed to add a new chapter to several such photos:
On Aug. 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse passed across the continental United States. The last solar eclipse in the U.S. was in 1979 (the year I was born), and the last one that went through the middle of the country was 1918.
It’s not quite a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it’s pretty close. We’ve got a string of upcoming total solar eclipses in the U.S. in 2024 and again in 2045 (and one in 2099 that will go across Minnesota, if you plan to still be around then). You can certainly travel the world to chase down eclipses, but it’s still a pretty rare event.
Monday’s total eclipse lasted a total of two minutes and thirty seconds, so it’s definitely a short-lived moment.
Last summer I read Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass and learned about the wonders of a total solar eclipse. So I planned my summer vacation with the kids around this event, knowing it would be worth the effort.
And it totally was.
This is just before totality. You can’t tell from the picture, but the light is starting to get weird:
This is during totality. The sky looks bright in the background, but it’s twilight. The kids are freaking out. Lexi: “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod!” Milo: “Oh my freakin’ Thor!”
A glimpse of the sun in full eclipse:
This is immediately after totality ended:
Yep, worth it.
Last week my wife and I went on vacation to San Francisco. We were there to catch a U2 concert, which was amazing. We also took in lots of other sights. But my favorite—no big surprise—was Muir Woods.
It’s an incredible place filled with 500-year old trees that tower more than 350 feet above the quiet forest floor.
But it was so good. We met my parents in Nebraska and dropped the kids off with them for a week of grandparent bliss in Kansas. We went on to Colorado.
Abby and I spent about four days in Rocky Mountain National Park. Growing up my family made it to Grand Lake, Colo., and Rocky Mountain National Park every summer. In 2002 Abby and I took a vacation to Colorado and loved it.
So it was glorious to go back.
We spent our days doing, well, nothing. We read lots of books. I went on a few mountain runs. We grilled out and watched Buffy and checked out the wildlife. There was lots of sitting.
Hopefully it won’t be another 12 years before we do it again.
Last week I picked up the National Parks documentary by Ken Burns from the library. I heard about it when it was first on PBS, but who has time to sit down and watch 12 hours worth of documentary on PBS? I’ve been watching it for the past week and falling in love (again) with America’s best idea, the National Park Service.
It’s amazing what it took to create the National Parks. It started in the 1860s with the preservation of Yosemite and officially began in 1872 with the world’s first national park, Yellowstone. The idea of preserving something for the people was a uniquely American idea. But that doesn’t mean it came easily. People fought against the National Parks, not just in the 1800s, but even recently.
And once we had the parks, we had to fight even harder to save them. The idea that the animals should run free and wild wasn’t a natural conclusion. It was something people had to fight for.
After watching the entire documentary and learning about the history of the parks, I learned a few things.
First, practically every park was saved because somebody stood up and demanded action. They rallied the troops and wrote letters and raised money and did the hard work that had to be done to save a section of land from developers. It’s hard to find a park that was saved without a fight, without somebody wanting to develop the land and somebody else wanting to save it for our children and our children’s children. We owe much of our national heritage to these kinds of heroes. And not just national parks. If there’s a state park or beautiful city park in your area, somebody had to fight for that. Be thankful.
Second, we stand on the shoulders of giants in terms of accumulated knowledge. I kept finding myself dumbstruck by the people fighting against the parks and the silly things people would do in the parks, from exterminating predators in Yellowstone to grazing sheep in Yosemite. There was no understanding of the value of nature or the way an ecosystem works or that feeding a bear isn’t good for the bear. These are simple ideas that seem like common sense to me. But I realized that’s because I was raised and taught those ideas. Nobody had those ideas 50 years ago and it seemed like a good idea to throw out food so the tourists could watch the bears. Rather than be frustrated with our ancestors who didn’t know anything, I’m grateful for my inheritance of accumulated knowledge and wisdom.
Third, I want to go back to the National Parks. Growing up we spent nearly a decade doing the traditional summer vacation and hitting up the National Parks of the American West. We hit Rocky Mountain National Park nearly every year, but each year we’d go somewhere else different and I’ve racked up quite a hit list: Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Bryce, Zion, Monument Valley (which isn’t actually a National Park, but a Navajo Tribal Park), Yosemite, Sequoia, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Canyon De Chelley, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, Carlsbad Caverns, Whitesands and probably more (and OK, some of those are National Monuments or whatever other designation they have, but they’re still in the National Park system).
In 2003 Abby and I went back to Rocky Mountain National Park and it was the greatest camping experience of my life (and campfires weren’t allowed thanks to a wild fire raging nearby). I want to take my kids to the National Parks, just like my parents took me, and my grandparents took my parents.
This past weekend Abby and I left the kids with the grandparents and went to Mankato, Minn., for a weekend away. We also took part in the inaugural Mankato River Ramble bike ride. It was a great bike ride with gorgeous fall colors and actually got me to explore Mankato for the first time. I’ve never been to Mankato before (except for maybe driving through on the way to somewhere else), but I was floored by the beautiful river views and waterfalls. I love discovering gems like this so close to home.
Growing up as a kid vacations were mostly lengthy affairs that involved loading up the family minivan and driving across the country. We’d see incredible sights but it also took an incredible effort. While I loved those vacations, it’s also left me with the idea that I have to go across the country to see amazing sights. I never quite realize what’s in my own backyard, which is something I’ve been discovering about the Twin Cities and Minnesota since I first moved here more than a decade ago.
Mankato was no exception. We came across not one but two incredible waterfalls (OK, water trickles—it’s been dry lately) and according to the map there are a few more in the area. At times it felt very much like Kansas, with flatness stretching as far as you could see. Our hotel seemed to be on the very edge of city as developments gave way to corn fields. Pickup trucks also ruled the road. But then there were rolling hills and curving rivers—yes rivers, with the confluence of the Minnesota and Blue Earth Rivers, as well as a number of tributaries.
On Saturday morning we took a drive along a river bottom road with signs warning about flooding, falling rock and minimal maintenance. It was beautiful. And empty. We came upon the Minnemishinona Falls and found the place deserted. Didn’t see a soul the entire time we wandered around the footbridge and among the rocks. Later in the day we explored downtown, which didn’t exactly sport a shopping district as advertised, but did have a few unique shops (Mary Lue’s Yarn and Ewe and the Sticks and Stones boutique earned a thumbs up from Abby). We also wandered around Mankato State University just for kicks.
We drove home Sunday afternoon (with a stop at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store) and I couldn’t help but feeling like we’d only scratched the surface of Mankato. There were paths we didn’t follow, restaurants we didn’t get to try and one strange glassed-in door of an old house we never did figure out.
Speaking of old, Mankato also has the history as well. It has the dubious distinction of being the site of largest mass execution in U.S. history when 38 Dakota were hanged for their part in the Dakota uprising of 1862 (303 were sentenced to death but President Abraham Lincoln pardoned 265). This little historical rabbit trail brings up a number of interesting details, including the story of Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple who argued for leniency, an unpopular stand (to say the least) among settlers who were being slaughtered and wanted justice.
I imagine we’ll come back to ramble around Mankato another time.
Over Memorial Day weekend we went camping. The last time Abby and I went camping was nine years ago. Kids and dogs will do that to you.
A group from our church goes camping together every Memorial Day weekend, so it was a great way to get back into it and introduce the kids to the experience of camping (and introduce us to the experience of camping with kids). Not only did we have friends to distract the children but we were only an hour away from home if anything (weather, bugs, children…) made the trip unbearable enough to pack it in.
We planned on staying Saturday through Monday but left on Sunday night, more to preserve sanity than from actually losing it. Milo didn’t go to sleep until 11 on Saturday night and was up by 5, so he was running on fumes. We opted to end on a high note.
The weekend was a blast. We didn’t do much of anything, but we had fun doing it. With everything that’s been going on we needed a vacation. Which is a bit sad, because we can’t do something like that without thinking about what could have been.
We were also able to introduce Lexi and Milo to smores. Milo loved them. Lexi just wanted to eat uncooked marshmallows. Throwing stuff into the river was a prime attraction. Milo enjoyed trying to jump over tent stakes. Lexi loved playing with the big boys (there were half a dozen teenage guys on the trip; the closest in age to Lexi was 10). Lexi was mad on the way home because she wanted to go camping for four days, not two. Back at home on Sunday night when we put Milo to bed he asked if he could sleep in a tent again.
Lexi also declared that rule #3 of camping is you get up really early so you can sing and dance in the sun: ‘La la la!’
I guess we’ll have to go camping again to hear the first two rules.
I was thinking today about how badly I need a vacation.
Then I started thinking about taking a vacation with my family.
Now I think I need a vacation from thinking about a vacation.