Schools out! Prime time to travel with the kidlets!

Being an empty nester, having to figure out kid-oriented summer travel plans are no longer a part of my summer agenda. But one can’t help be affected by the throngs of kids out and about trying to figure out what to do with the long days of summer. This vision brings memories flooding back of some of my most enjoyable travel over the years with my kids. Seeing the world through their eyes was a refreshing and enlightening way to travel.

This ranged anywhere from taking our kids fishing twenty minutes away from our house to a little fishing hole known only to the locals to a major road trip through multiple states to visit Disneyland to a flight to the east coast to visit the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell and the White House. As much as my kids were into just hanging out with their friends at home, playing video games, going to the new summer movies, reading the next Harry Potter novel – they also had, and still have, an openness to a new adventure.

My husband and I came from an era where the great outdoors was our playground and we wanted our kids to be exposed to all that our natural environment has to offer. We spent a lot of time taking our kids to my Dad’s cabin in a remote part of northern Minnesota – where there is no TV hook-up. Days were spent walking the trails looking for wildlife and picking fresh berries; jumping off a pontoon and swimming with the newly hatched minnows; catching minnows for fishing off the dock; throwing the tennis ball into the lake for our labs to retrieve – over and over and over again; making bonfires to cook weenies and roast marshmallows for s’mores; nap and read in a screened in porch.

As my last post revealed, we lived in several different places during our kids developmental years. And each place offered up a plethora of day trip opportunities. We loved to pack up the picnic basket, hop in the car and in an hour be at a destination only Mother Nature could create, chockfull of opportunities for fun activities – i.e. hiking along cascading falls learning to navigate fallen trees and slippery rocks; a glass-topped lake to learn how to skip rocks; a slow meandering river to float down; climbing upwards to vistas that would take away anybody’s breath.

Walking along cascading falls

Walking along cascading falls

With longer blocks of time we hit the road and were able to expose our kids to some of man and natures most amazing masterpieces. The Mount Rushmore monument and the still in progress Crazy Horse monument are a sight to behold. Not only to see what the marriage of man and nature can create, but to realize the magnitude of such a venture, and then think about when those carvings were done – long before today’s technology was there to help ease the transformation.

The truly amazing destinations are the one’s man had nothing to do with creating: the geysers of Yellowstone National Park, with bison, elk and moose grazing along the roadsides; or the immense majestic snow-covered peaks in Glacier National Park, with mountain goats licking the salt off the roads and grizzly bears eating huckleberries along the mountain slopes; or the Badlands where centuries of wind blowing sand has created formations that no human could emulate; or the natural slide and jumping holes created by centuries of running water at Slide Rock Park outside of Sedona, Arizona.

Slide Rock State Park, Sedona, AZ

Slide Rock State Park, Sedona, AZ

Sports are synonymous with my family. So no summer would be complete without many sports themed outings. Whether we were teaching our kids to golf or taking them to a baseball game. Teaching them to play tennis or off to the pool to work on their swimming stroke and dives. These activities were initiated closer to home, so that when we traveled we could incorporate them into our travel activities.

Getting our son into the game of golf at an early age

Getting our son into the game of golf at an early age

A little bit of culture never hurt anybody either. There were many destination trips taken with the sole purpose of attending a play or a concert; visiting museums and historical monuments; or checking out the local zoos or botanical gardens. Education can be fun, and the more we exposed our kids to these kinds of cultural activities, the more they became part of all future travels.

My daughter off to see the play Carmen, with her Grandfather

My daughter off to see the play Carmen with her Grandfather

As adults, our kids now partake in many similar activities they spent their youth being exposed to: my daughter would rather spend an afternoon reading in a beautiful park setting or visit a local museum vs. being cooped up in her apartment watching TV; our son would rather be out playing golf or attending a concert than sitting at home playing video games. Travel traditions were created that have stood the test of time: fishing trips to Jan Lake, Saskatchewan for my son and husband; spa days for my daughter and I; and becoming “foodies” by being open to the flavors of our travels.

So whether you have time for a day trip, a weekender, a more extensive road trip or even a flight somewhere – there are always activities to have some summer fun that will become a growing and learning experience for the kids – whether they realize it or not!

Traveling is exciting, but “There’s no place like home!”

We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! Oh wait, yes we are. That’s exactly where all our moves have taken my husband and I – back to Kansas, for the second time. As Dorothy so eloquently said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” and I couldn’t agree more. And for me ‘home’ has culminated in many different locations. I may not have a pair of ruby-red slippers to take me back home, but as much as I love to travel there is nothing better than coming back home.

I have been very lucky throughout my lifetime to have some amazing places to come home to: Minnesota, California, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some of these places are a little better known to the masses, but I found out through living in all these places each location offers up a set up unique characteristics that make them very embraceable places to live AND visit.

Minnesota: My beloved Minnesota. This is where I grew up, and for me that means this will always be home. I was born in Northfield – town of Cows (large agriculture community), Colleges (St. Olaf and Carleton) and Contentment. Inside the city limits an academic nature prevails, but as soon as you hit the outskirts of town you are enveloped in perfectly aligned fields of corn and beans; orchards that are ripe with scents from spring to fall; and cows, horses and other livestock roaming the succulent stands of grasslands. If all of that doesn’t spell ‘contentment’ I don’t know what does.

I spent many weekends with my family “Up North“, along the shores of Lake Superior. Downhill skiing at Lutsen; cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail; walking the streets of Grand Marais; hiking trails with amazing views of Lake Superior; and having walleye meals at the Lutsen Lodge.

My husband and I moved back to Minnesota in 1991, and our son was born there a year later. Many of our family members still live there and to me there are fewer more beautiful states. Minnesota showcases the four seasons better than any other state I have visited or lived in. There is nothing like the scent of the spring bloom of the lilacs mixing with the flowering crabapple trees; the summer ripened lush green fairways and thick forests of trees of golf courses; a drive along the St. Croix or Mississippi Rivers showcasing the vibrant colors of fall; or a walk through the snow packed backwoods roads of Minnesota with evergreens draped with a fresh snowfall.

The lush green fairways and thick trees that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN - "The Money Tree"

The lush green fairways and thick trees of summer that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN – “The Money Tree”

The fall colors of Minnesota

The fall colors of Minnesota

California: My husband and I married in 1986, and our honeymoon was driving from Minnesota to California – our first home away from home. We lived in Stockton, CA. The best feature of Stockton was its location. We were an hour to San Francisco for fresh crab and strong coffee; an hour to Napa Valley to replenish our wine supply; two hours to Yosemite National Park to float down Merced River. In the one year we lived in Stockton, we had more family visitors than any other place we have lived within the same time frame. Locally we played several great golf courses; took walks along inland waterways fed from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; visited a burgeoning local wine industry; and enjoyed great weather year round.

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

Montana: Big Sky country! And until you visit this massive beautiful state, you can’t comprehend just how accurate that state motto is. Being based out of Great Falls, which sits along the Missouri River, afforded a great location to visit the many highlights throughout the state. Head northwest to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – be sure to try some huckleberries; continue west into the quaint small western town of Whitefish that sits at the base of Big Mountain ski area; turn south along the great boating lake Flathead Lake; continue south into the Bitterroot Mountains of Missoula; veer a little southeast to the mining (past and present) town of Butte; continue east to fish the Gallatin River or ski at Big Sky or Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman; then work your way back north along the Missouri River as it cuts through some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain settings in the country. And to the east are the plains of Montana where Lewis and Clark trekked back in the 1800’s.

Big Sky country, where the (deer) and the antelope roam, Montana

Kansas: I first lived here 25 years ago, and my daughter was born here in 1991. Having never visited the area, I was in awe of the lush rolling hills of Kansas City. When I learned we were returning to KS, I had no reservations in returning – especially since KC straddles the Kansas/Missouri line, so you are getting the highlights of two great states at your fingertips. The people are a mix of Mid-western nice and southern charm and take great pride in the care of their properties; strong family and work ethics; and great cooking. The unique Spanish architecture of The Plaza (great shopping and eating) is a draw, especially as outlined in lights for the holiday season; the stately mansions of Mission Hills are tough to be replicated anywhere; not being a huge fan of BBQ, even I have to admit the BBQ in KC is “…to die for!”

One of the areas most well-known BBQ stops, be ready to wait – but it’s worth it!

Four must haves at Jack Stack BBQ: pork ribs, burnt ends, cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans.

Arizona: I have lived in Arizona, specifically the Phoenix area, a couple of different times and it will be where my husband and I retire, but Arizona has been the preferred vacation spot for my family, going back almost 40 years – my how this place has changed in 40 years. The dry warmth was always an appeal for a winter getaway from the humid cold of Minnesota. And being avid golfers it was a natural choice. As noted in my previous post I lived there as a junior in high school, when no major highways through the valley existed, and often Tempe and Mesa would be cut off from the rest of the valley when the monsoons hit and the Salt River bottoms flooded.

With the development of several major freeways, the city is now easy to navigate. Besides golf (albeit some of the best golf in the country) and an opportunity for a great tan, the valley has much too offer the visitor. Hiking trails abound throughout the surrounding mountain ranges providing spectacular views; floating down the upper Salt River watching wild horses drink from the shoreline; never-ending supply of great eateries; shopping to rival any other major city; a plethora of beautiful cars adorn the roadways; concerts, theaters, museums galore to satisfy the cultural palette.

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Saskatchewan: The year 2000 found us moving northward. At this stage in my life I assumed I would be working my way south to warmer drier climates. Instead we headed north to one of the coldest climates known to man, that has a population of more than a few hundred. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan was our landing spot. It didn’t take long to realize that as challenging as it was to survive the winters, the people held a warmth to offset even the coldest of days. It was a great place to bring up our children.

The standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can see your dog run away for 3 days – because it is so flat there. But you have to give the pioneers of Regina a lot of credit for making Regina a/k/a the Queen City a place worth living and visiting. Every tree in the city was hand planted in this once desolate plain, and Wascana Lake was created to be the center piece of the city with the stately provincial legislature building sitting proudly at its shores, and walking paths that take you along the lake and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Queen of England and all of her children have been visitors, since Canada is a Commonwealth of England; and there has been no shortage of great acts (ie. Rolling Stones, ACDC, Prince) through this city that sits on the one main highway through Canada – the Trans-Canada 1.

Downtown Regina serves as a backdrop to Wascana Lake and the Legislature building

Alberta: My stay in Calgary, Alberta was short-lived, only two years, but it wasn’t hard to make a real go of it in a city that sits in the foothills of some of the most majestic Rocky Mountain ranges in the world. Our kids were off to university by now, and so my husband and I took the opportunity to live in a high-rise condo, affording us amazing daily views. The weekend we moved there I sat on our 25th floor deck and listened to an outdoor concert, that was being held along the banks of the Bow River. The concert was part of the world-famous Calgary Stampede, based two blocks from our apartment when the whole city of Calgary turns into a cowboy theme park for the better part of two weeks.

While the city itself has a lot to offer, the proximity to places like Banff and Lake Louise make it an equally appealing place to live. Summer golf and hiking and winter skiing await you on a beautiful drive through a greatly untouched Bow River Valley, on a well maintained four-lane highway, past Cranbrook – stop in for a helicopter ride to reach new hiking heights. On into Banff National Park to get your fill of natures beauty: glacier fed turquoise blue lakes; snow-capped mountains even in the middle of summer; wildlife roaming over manmade animal bridges; clean fresh crisp air year round.

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta - with snow capped peaks in this July picture

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta – with snow-capped peaks in this July picture

Travel is about the journey, not just the destination…

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” For me, learning to enjoy the journey enroute to my point of destination is becoming the part of travel I want to focus on more. For years I have traveled to some amazing locals, but the getting there has always been a bit of a blur.

When I research where I am going, the how of getting there gets lost in transition. If I’m flying, I do not allot extra time to watch the sun set over Camelback Mountain or check out the Indian burial grounds along the Papago Mountains, because I’m in a hurry to get to the airport to get to my destination. Once on the plane, I always take the aisle seat to have easy access to the bathroom instead of taking a window seat so I can take in the breathtaking birds-eye view of the depths of the Grand Canyon or experience the vastness of the Rocky Mountains.

Trying to enjoy the sunset on the way to the airport, in AZ

Trying to enjoy the sunset on the way to the airport, in AZ

If I am driving, I tend to take the most direct main routes so that I can get to my destination as fast as I can. Even though there are so many destinations along the way that I pass by without much of a thought. I marvel at pictures of the amazing land formations that dot the far-reaching corners of Arizona, but in fact are only a few hours off the beaten path. If I would add one more day to my drive I could stop and see these places in person and take my own pictures.

Snow covered Rocky Mountains in Utah in the middle of summer, enroute from Phoenix to Calgary.

Snow covered Rocky Mountains in Utah in the middle of summer, enroute from Phoenix to Calgary.

For almost 50 years I have traveled at great length, throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico, throughout Europe and to the Middle East. As I relive some of this travel, I realize that the journey to so many of these places are the memories that are beginning to come to the forefront. It is amazing what the mind remembers when you don’t think you are paying attention. So even though I may not have made a concerted effort to make note of the highlights that played out on these journeys, the highlights are there nonetheless.

Like the car ride in the back of a station wagon with my three brothers, playing games and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches through the golden wheat fields of Kansas, and the majestic Colorado Rocky Mountains, on our way to Disneyland. A train ride across the northern US to Holden Village in Washington state, cutting through the badlands of the Dakotas and the Big Sky country of Montana, coming out into the lush green hillsides of the Cascade Mountains.

The ferry-boat from the white shores of the Dover Coast of England, across the English Channel to the shores of France. And back on the Euro-train running under the English Channel, where our train was detained for 5 hours because of a train derailment on the England side of the channel, giving me time to wonder about the engineering marvel we were enveloped in. The train from Geneva to Bern, covering some of the pristine Swiss countryside and showcasing the unique changes in architecture from the French to the German sectors of the country.

Going through one of many European train stations, with the landscape often dotted with a beautiful cathedral.

Going through one of many European train stations, with the landscape often dotted with a beautiful cathedral.

The drive from the Dead Sea to Petra to Wadi Rum and back to Amman, Jordan, through the rugged landscape, mostly desolate of people and plant material was surreal to realize people have lived in these regions for centuries and in many places the lifestyle has not changed dramatically in all those centuries. The Bedouin Tribes still live off the land, even though living a desert existence has gotten no easier over the centuries. People still use camels to transport themselves and their goods. And the call to prayer is as much of a daily ritual as it was centuries ago.

The rugged landscape of Jordan along one side of the road that has the Dead Sea flanking the other side of the road. What history in that one square mile of land.

The rugged landscape of Jordan along one side of the road that has the Dead Sea flanking the other side of the road. What history in that one square mile of land.

The engineering marvels that make it possible to reach all of these amazing destinations in a much safer and more direct fashion often go by with not much more than a “that was cool” notice. Like the mile long Eisenhower Tunnel in cut through the Rocky Mountain pass in Loveland, Colorado. Or the “Going to the Sun “road in Glacier National Park, a two lane road winding up to the pinnacle of the park, dotted with billy goats along the route. Or the four underwater tunnels running under the Hudson and East Rivers to get you in and out of New York City.

In recent years, when going to Europe, I have made a concerted effort to pick a fly in and fly out destination, but to take the train to all points in between. What a great way to see some amazing countryside versus just the major highlighted cities dotted throughout the region. The writer in me wonders what are the stories behind all these people and places we fly by on the way to our destination. I plan to make more time to find out!

So next time you travel, take a little extra time to enjoy the journey! You will be rewarded with an extra special highlight reel to add to your destination portfolio.