Saturday, July 27, 2013

Citified in Chicago

We left the quaint fields of Iowa and headed for the bright lights and big city of Chicago. I had been to the city before, but we had never explored it as a family.

We took the train out to Oak Park, whose leafy tree-lines streets and hydrangea-hugged historic estates wowed me years ago.

The wood on that home is astounding; I immediately pulled out my trusty When I'm Absurdly Wealthy notepad and jotted down the address. My failproof plan for absurd wealth involves the ol' standby of winning the lottery, and in the alternative, finding a pirate's treasure chest filled with gold doubloons.

We also toured Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio, and what stood out to me this time was his stained glass designs.

I was fortunate to inherit my grandfather's stained glass tools, and Sam gave me a glass grinder as a law school graduation present. Unfortunately for my proposed new hobby, at that time I had a 13-month old Jackson and was 3 months pregnant with Alex. And had a bar exam to do a wee bit of studying for. Needless to say, 9 years have passed and those tools and the unopened glass grinder box are still patiently waiting in the basement.

This trip may have inspired me to break them out soon.

But I digress; let's get out of my basement and back to Chicago, where we sailed around Lake Michigan.

We also hung around Millenium Park, which is home to the ever-awesome Bean and other really unique water features.

Riley, Jackson and I trekked through the city to the Hancock Building to have drinks and watch the day turn to evening from the 96th floor, a height at which no human (at least this human) should spend time.

The city was fun, but camping is ahead as we continue eastbound...

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hayfields and Water Towers and Corn, Oh My!

Our second road trip brings us eastbound, reportedly to Maine and back (although I may or may not have a one-way ticket booked to a top-secret location abroad just in case I start to lose my mind trapped in that Toyota Sienna with 5 males). Why the government doesn't offer all mothers of boys (who take in extra boys to boot) don't get monthly spa days is beyond me.

Heading east from the lovely state Colorado means the scenery is going to be, well, less scenic to be put bluntly. I didn't bother planning a camping stay for our first night, as I can imagine little worse than camping in virtually scenicless central Nebraska during tornado season with an unimpressed Australian teenager who hates camping and is petrified of tornadoes.

(Obligatory state line photo, sans Kenyon, who refused to participate)

Instead, we stopped at the water park in a grand Island to get our wiggles out...

...and stayed at the AmericInn in South Lincoln, which gets bonus points for the cutesy name and was nice enough but not memorable.

I love road trips, but the nutrition is often more lax than how we live in our normal lives (evidenced by some tongue colors that can only be produced by huge quantities of processed sugars and food dyes.

While this area of the world doesn't have the grandeur of Colorado, there was a calm, quaint beauty to the landscape that I enjoyed. Maybe because it was a nice contrast to the experience within the car? Ha!

These two are thick as thieves:

Kenyon has a hard time with goodbyes in general; he's not going to be very happy come July 31 when a certain someone boards a plane bound for Down Under.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Greatest of the Great

Prior to our visit to Yellowstone, the information I knew about the area was embarrassingly minimal--that it was the world's first national park and there was a geyser called Old Faithful.

As you can imagine, my mind was blown.

You can see why folks looking around this area would decide to designate it as a national park--the land is amazing, with storybook perfect streams, winding rivers, meadows with long grasses waving in the breeze, impressive cliffs with waterfalls, and beautiful forests.

Our walk-in campsite at Norris Campground was perfectly situated on the edge of a drop-dead gorgeous meadow with a snaking river and resident bison.

Riley is hard to impress; he definitely doesn't express awe or wonder with regard to anything having to do with the natural world. The closest Sam and I have seen him to being impressed was while he photographed this bison; could anyone not at least be slightly impressed by such a magnificent creature?

Yellowstone is massive; we sometimes drove an hour and a half to another area of the park to see something. Luckily, while you drive you can regularly stop to see wondrous geological thermal pools. As we first drive into the park, the weather was fairly freezing; a nice contrast to the scalding water bubbling from colorful pools and streams.

There's also the decent probability that at some point during the drive to a destination that you'll happen upon a crowd of cars pulled over, meaning there's some awesome wildlife to behold. During one such stop, we watched an infant cinnamon black bear hang out by a tree, seemingly waiting and looking for it's mother (who sadly never showed in the near hour we spent there). It was hard enough to refrain myself from running down the slope to give this baby bear a good snuggle; thinking of it as a likely orphan was heartbreaking.

One day we were heading back to the campsite after a long day and came upon a crowd. Not wanting to make a long stop, I hopped out of the car to check what the fuss was about to see if it was worth all of us making a side excursion. I was told there had been a mother grizzly and two cubs, but they had disappeared behind some brush and hadn't been seen in a bit. Just as I began jogging back to the car, Riley walked across the street and at the same moment, quiet gasps were heard amongst the crowd.

And just like that, the momma and her babies emerged.

The rest of the family came over and we all watched them make their way across the grass, the two littles romping behind their mom.

I got a little teary-eyed at the awesomeness of that sighting.

And even when there wasn't a crowd pulled over for viewing, sometimes we just happened upon absolute magic, like this bison rush hour:

This was only 1/4 of the crew, courteously galloping down their side of the road while we drove down our side.

That little guy had a lame foot but kept up with the others just fine.

The Mammoth area was another otherworldly geologic wonder to behold.

It was endlessly peculiar to see scalding water flowing and pooling, straight from the Earth.

(obligatory cousin photo; spot the obligatory uncooperative 5-year old)

Bison are awesome...and massive. We're ten years in so I can't remember exactly, but I'm fairly certain there was a line or two in our wedding vows that dealt with promising to roll down a window and wait patiently with one's foot on the brake while the other photographs bison standing 2 feet away.

I think I'll keep him.

I am fully aware that my writing was chock full of superlatives, but superlatives are needed for such an extraordinary place; Yellowstone cannot and should not be described in any less terms. If you haven't been, then go, and if you have been, go again.

I can't wait til we do.