Rain, rain, go away

Last things first: We had a bit of a rainstorm over the weekend. Wasn’t as bad as it might have been, thank goodness. Around our house, I wanted to make some changes so we could avoid taking on too much water in the basement. Our gutters needed some work, and our downspouts needed repairs. Turned out that lots of people had the same idea, so when I got to Lowes Friday evening, the place had been ransacked. I was able to improvise some new downspouts so I could carry water away from the foundation of the house:



Considering how much rain we’ve had this month – smashing the record in Philadelphia by 5+ inches (12+ cm) – we did pretty well. I’ve got a bit more work to do from the inside of the basement. The to-do list never ends.

We’ve got lots of updating to do here, from our Shore trip to our other summer adventures. Those of you on the East Coast, hope you’ve been able to stay dry and can now enjoy the gorgeous late summer weather that surrounds us.

Time for another break

We’ve still got some more travelogue to cover, and events since then too, but I’ll be taking a week off of posting for this coming week, August 22nd-26th. Posts will resume on Monday, the 29th. In the meantime, here’s a look at Nick driving a buggy at high speed on the farm in Kentucky.


Good times! See you again in 10 days.

Day 15: Wyoming to Nebraska

We drove 875 miles (1,400km) on our first day driving back east. With all of that mileage, you’d expect we had gone through several states. Sadly, though, we only crossed two: the surprisingly wide Wyoming, and the predictably wide Nebraska.

Morning dawned early, and we were on the road before 7:00 a.m. Mountain time. Our route took us on a winding two-lane highway, heading south through miles of mountains and high plains, before reaching Interstate 80 and beginning the long haul east.


The day was uneventful – always good news on a driving day – though in the afternoon we passed through, and then raced away from, a huge line of thunderstorms in western Nebraska. We stopped in the town of Sidney, headquarters of the outdoor retailer Cabela’s, and discovered the most luxurious gas station we’ve ever seen. Check out these marble gas pump pedestals:



Dee-luxe! When these folks declare that they have ‘classy restrooms’, they aren’t kidding around. Everybody reported that the bathrooms were like Roman palaces.


We gave back one time zone on this day of driving, so it was 12:00 a.m. Central time when we arrived for a short night’s stay in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our hotel room was fabulous – a two-bedroom suite with two full bathrooms, a living room, and a full kitchen. Sadly, we were only there for about eight hours to enjoy it. Isn’t that always how it goes? You get the great hotel rooms when you can scarcely use them, and the bad ones always show up for a week’s stay.

Day 14: Hiking around Jenny Lake

The sun was shining bright and hot in the crisp blue sky when we got up on Friday morning, our last full day out West. After a leisurely camp breakfast, we drove into the park to the Jenny Lake trailhead. Our plan was to hike around the lake shore, a total distance of 7 miles (11km).



Before setting out on our hike, we stopped at the visitor center to borrow a naturalist backpack. Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons both have a program where kids can borrow a backpack full of supplies for day hiking. The Yellowstone packs are for geology work, and include nifty tools such as an infrared thermometer for checking the temperature of hot springs from a safe distance. The pack we borrowed in the Grand Tetons had art supplies for sketching and painting wildlife, as well as plaster of Paris for making casts of animal tracks. We were keen to find moose tracks – the real ones, not the ice cream – and sure enough, we came across the fresh prints of a young moose near a small stream not far from the lake.



While the cast set up, the girls made some paintings of flowers around us.



Nick, who is still pursuing his interest in photography, manned the big camera.


It was really neat to have the backpack, since we never would have brought plaster and watercolor materials along by ourselves. Ukuleles and beer, yes, but not art supplies.



Once the cast was firmed up, we scooped it out of the mud and kept hiking. Jenny Lake was running high because of the snow melt, and in a few places we had to divert off the trail and up into the woods because the trail had disappeared under the water – the same problem we encountered in Lamar Valley at Yellowstone.


The kids also found an abundance of rocks to scramble over – no surprise, given the mighty mountains looming over us.



The trail led us to an incredible series of waterfalls coming out of Cascade Canyon. Here the water was so rough and powerful that all but one of the footbridges were closed.


The raging waters were beautiful at a safe distance:



We got someone from a big family reunion group to take a family picture for us.


The weather started to get gloomier. Having been out West for nearly two weeks now, we took the clouds seriously. Instead of hiking back, we hopped on a shuttle boat that would take us straight back to the trailhead. We were glad we did, too, because there was a thunderstorm crashing overhead within the hour.



There was a French-speaking family from Paris sitting on the shuttle behind us, and I broke out my high school French to chat with them for a few minutes. I didn’t feel bold enough to ask about this fat belly and large breast business.

Back at the visitor center, the girls earned another Junior Ranger badge for their scientific and artistic work out on the trail.


We had a lovely dinner at a rollicking bar and pub in Jackson called Sidewinders, and then we headed back to camp for some packing and some sleep before it was time to head back East. I want to note here that Chelsea and Nicholas did some extraordinary packing work, staying up until 2:00 in the morning to get ready while I was sleeping for the drive. They had prepared us so well that it only took 40 minutes from wake-up to starting the drive the next morning.

Tomorrow: On the road again.

Day 13 again: Time for Tetons


Where were we?

Having settled up on our Junior Ranger business in Yellowstone, we made the relatively brief two-hour drive down to the Grand Tetons National Park. Our first stop was the Gros Ventre Campground, a first-come, first-served place like most of the Yellowstone campgrounds. Gros Ventre (pronounced grow vahn) means ‘big belly’ in French. The French explorers who came through here must have been an earthy bunch, because the name Grand Teton is French for ‘large breast’. Hey kids, let’s go spend a couple days exploring Large Breast National Park!

People of France, consider us pranked.

Our campsite at Gros Ventre was similar to our site in Yellowstone, with the big difference that Gros Ventre had bathrooms with running water and electricity. What luxury!


By the time we had set up camp, it was late afternoon. We decided to go around the corner from our campground and visit a swimming hole with a hot spring. ‘Hot’ in Wyoming is a relative concept – the water was probably around 75F/24C – not frigid, mind you, but not what comes to mind when you hear that a hot spring is involved. We were still excited to have it at all, since our hopes for swimming in Yellowstone had been dashed by the snow melt and high water everywhere.



What the swimming hole lacked in temperature, it made up in scenery.


We got cleaned up from swimming and then set out for dinner. I had read about a place called Dornan’s Chuckwagon, a local institution, and dragged the family there. Dornan’s is part of a private food-and-entertainment complex inside the park, a legacy of the fact that private settlement of the Jackson valley was well underway before the National Park was created. The Chuckwagon is a barbecue buffet – two great words that go great together. Plus, they had a huge Indian tepee that you could sit inside while eating.




The Chuckwagon served barbecued beef ribs, skin-on Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, baked beans, biscuits, and mixed berry cobbler. My family wanted nothing to do with any of that food. So they got pizza and pasta from another restaurant across the way, and we ate our divided meals in the tepee.

After dinner we went for a drive through the park. We stopped for a bit on the shore of Jenny Lake, in the shadow of the great mountains. By this point it was twilight – still late in the day at 9:00 at night – and there were rich opportunities for taking pictures.






Tomorrow: Let’s do some hiking.

Working hard or hardly working?

Well, I was hoping to do a couple more entries from the big trip out West, and clearly I got interrupted. Work has been very busy, and we also had to celebrate a certain person’s 90th birthday this week. (I won’t name names, Gramps.)

Fortunately, I’ve got a guest at the office this morning – a bright young summer intern who is already making a name for herself:


My employers have a Take Your Children to Work Day in April each year, and it’s designed for older kids. Anna is not old enough yet to participate. So she and I decided to have Take Your Anna to Work Day last year, and now it’s an annual tradition. Looking back at last year’s picture, I’m struck again by how fast these kids are getting older.


Happy weekend!

Monsoon camping

So we were out in the monsoon this weekend in upstate Pennsylvania. Those of you who live around Philadelphia know that it scarcely rained here during the weekend. Not so up in the mountains. If you look at this radar image from the weekend, you can see a blob of red and yellow storm activity on the left, right around the 9:00 clock position. That’s where we were.

Luckily for us, it wasn’t all monsoon all the time. In fact, when we drove into camp Friday night we were traveling under sunny skies. We had some passing rains overnight Friday into Saturday. Then the rain held off Saturday morning into early afternoon, which gave us enough time to do some butterfly hunting and some breakfast cooking. We had the traditional Saturday morning pancakes.


If you dare my friend Greg to drink the pancake batter, he will:



The kids were eager to go swimming – this was a deluxe KOA campground, with all kinds of resort-like amenities – so Chelsea and Greg’s wife Aly took them down to the pool, while Greg and I reinforced the campsites for rain.



I should mention here that Chelsea and I were in the rare position of parenting only one kid for the weekend. Nick has been in Florida the past several days visiting friends and family. Maria stayed home with dear Aunt Kate for the Taylor Swift concert. That meant Anna was an only child for a couple days. She relished the attention.

The kids came back from the pool, and Greg and I then took them to the playground while the mothers rested and cleaned up. A spitting rain slowly turned into a drizzle.



The rain started coming down harder, so we took the kids to the video arcade for some indoor fun. Anna played a game called Deal or No Deal that spat out over 100 prize tickets. The girl is a force of nature.


The campground also had a new recreation center and ice cream shop, so we wandered over there to play some games.




Greg and I had hung up a tarp over the picnic table, so we had a dry place to hang out without being cooped up in the camper. It was tough being in the camper because the weather was both warm and rainy, which meant we couldn’t really open the flaps. The picnic table was the place to be.


The rain poured down for a few hours in the afternoon, and then seemed to let up around 5:00. We decided to head over to Swatara State Park, adjacent to the campground. Swatara has a fossil pit that is open to visitors. The ground is being eroded there, exposing sedimentary rock that contains fossils from the ocean floor. What is now North America used to be the bottom of a vast prehistoric sea. Seashell and trilobit fossils are abundant in this area.





The rain picked up again. We headed back to the campground, and got the kids on the carousel. Yes, carousel! The campground has a small area with some rides, including a carousel and a Ferris wheel. Most of the other rides were not running because of the rain, but the carousel was enclosed in its own building.


Next, the kids did a craft in the art room. The adults got in on the crafting action, too.





We ventured out of the campground to get dinner at a 1950s-style dinner up the road. Sheets of rain continued to fall on us, on our campsite, and on the Lesters’ tent, which was turning out to be more leaky than you would expect from a brand-new tent. Water was pooling inside their tent at the corners, and nearly every seam was leaking. Around midnight, they decided it was just easier to head for home. They left behind the tent and about half of their gear, which Greg came back in the morning to collect.


Like the Mother’s Day weekend trip, I can’t gloss this one over with nostalgia. We got soaked, our camper leaked a bit and was stifling hot inside, and the new tent was a disaster for the Lesters. A successful camping weekend does not include abandoning ship in a midnight downpour.

However, we couldn’t have picked a better campground for a rainy weekend. There were so many indoor activities available that the kids were busy and happy the whole time. Our first experience with a KOA campground was very good.

Tomorrow: Back to Yellowstone!

Call it The Rainmaker

We were out camping over the weekend, and it was a brutally soggy experience. Here’s a look at our campsite. This was a weekend trip with our friends the Lesters, who were testing out their shiny new tent. You can see it behind our camper, underneath a tarp:


I’ll share more in the next day or two from the trip. For now, I’ll mention three important facts:

1 – Weather reports by the end of the weekend estimated that the area in which we were camping received 5″ (12.5cm) of rain between Saturday morning and Sunday night.

2 – The Lesters, suffering many leaks in their new tent, packed up and took the kids home at midnight Saturday night, arriving home on Sunday morning at 2:00 a.m.

3 – Chelsea and I have decided that the trailer will be called The Rainmaker, and we will make money by taking it to drought-stricken farms and setting up camp.

If you know a farmer who needs help with the rain, let us know.

Notice the umbrellas by the door:


More tomorrow.

Day 13: Movin’ on down

My people are not really early risers. On the day we planned to move from Yellowstone to the Tetons, we needed to roust everybody at sunrise, so we could head south and get a campsite. Folks responded to reveille with, well, sluggishness:



We became excellent on this trip at breaking down camp quickly. By the time we would leave the Tetons, we were going from people in beds to driving down the road in 45 minutes.


One last look at our Yellowstone home, and it was time to go:


We also had one last piece of business in the park. Maria and Anna had been working throughout the visit on their Junior Ranger materials, and we stopped by the Old Faithful visitor center so they could be sworn into service.



Soon enough we were heading down the road toward the extraordinary peaks of the Tetons.


Next week: The Tetons, Jackson, and the long road back East.

Happy weekend!