Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

As many of you know, the California's State Parks are in serious trouble due to budget cuts. A new list of service reductions and partial closures was recently released. The parks are remaining open in some capacity for now but California’s budget woes are far from over. In an attempt to bring attention to all the wonderful state parks California has to offer, I will be featuring a different CA State Park every week. I hope to bring attention to these treasures to increase awareness of what the state park system has to offer and encourage others to stand up and help protect these important places.

What comes to mind when you think of the Napa Valley? If you are like most people, sprawling vineyards and fantastic wines immediately pop into your head. While the vineyards are both beautiful and an important part of the valley’s identity, they are a relatively new addition to the landscape. For thousands of years, there wasn’t a grapevine to be seen. There were fields of grass, plains flooded with swollen waterways in the spring, stands of coastal redwoods, and forests of oak, maple and fir. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is a great place to get a taste of the Napa of yesteryear and enjoy the trails in Ritchey Canyon. Camping, horseback riding, and hiking are all wonderful ways to enjoy the park.

September 2008

September 2008

Be sure to check out the pioneer cemetery to see the graves of some of the original settlers of the Napa Valley. You can just feel the history walking as you walk amongst the gravestones.


If you would like more information on Bothe-Napa Valley State Park click here.  For more info on hiking in the park click here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tanaka Farms


It wasn’t long ago that Orange County was covered with strawberry farms, ranches, and orange groves. Now, it is nearly impossible to find a patch of land still used for agriculture. Luckily, there are still a few hold outs and one of them is Tanaka Farms.

Tanaka Farms in tucked back in the hills of Irvine, surrounded by suburbia, yet still manages to provide the rural feel that so many of us miss. The Tanakas focus on a different crop each season such as strawberries in the spring, watermelons in the summer, and pumpkins in the fall. They also provide tours to school groups where kids can pick their own carrots, green beans, and more!

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No self respecting pumpkin farm can possibly exist without a corn maze.  After going to the World’s Largest Corn Maze last year (read about it here), we have been a bit spoiled but Tanaka’s maze is still fun and a great place to let the kids run off some energy.

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During pumpkin season the vegetable patch is open on weekends for kids pick their own veggies. Ben was especially proud of his bounty and refused to let anyone touch his veggies but him.



The wagon ride around the farm puts families in the spirit of the season and gives people a bigger glimpse at the size of the farm. A highlight is watching the pumpkin cannon go off during the tour.   Of course, the whole point of going to a pumpkin patch is to find your perfect pumpkin. After much searching through a sea of squash, Mari and Ben decided they wanted “baby” pumpkins and Mommy’s wallet couldn’t have been any happier.

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If you would like more info on Tanaka Farms and all the great programs they have going on year round click here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Irvine Railroad Pumpkin Patch

Don't you just love this time of year? Kids are bringing home pumpkin themed art projects from school. The leaves are turning brilliant shades of red, brown, and gold. The weather is getting brisk (unless you live in Southern California where is was a chilly 85 today). Football dominates the weekend. Halloween is just around the corner and pumpkin patches are open for business!

The Irvine Railroad certainly knows how to provide good holiday fun and Halloween is no exception. There are pony rides, hay bale mazes, tractor rides, and of course train rides. Its the perfect way for any toddler to spend the afternoon. There is still plenty of time to enjoy all the fun before Halloween and if you head on over to Daytripping Mom's site here you can get buy one get one free train tickets! I guarantee a great time had by anyone 7 and under!

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Road Trip Day 18- Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon, Yellowstone NP

There is nothing quite like waking up in Yellowstone National Park. It is invigorating to walk outside, smell the fresh mountain air, and know that there is an entire national park just waiting to be explored. Due to the size and scope of Yellowstone, its not hard to believe a family could spend months in the park and see something new and amazing every single day. Unfortunately, we only had three days so had to make the best of our time.

Our day began with water and canyons. We drove through the Tower-Roosevelt region, trying our best to take in the vast scenery that dominated our windshield. We paused at roadside overlooks and gazed at water plunging further into the landscape.  Everything was so big, so perfect, so much more than I could have ever dreamed.

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As we drove towards the Roosevelt Lodge (we had scheduled a stagecoach tour at their stables), we saw a bunch of cars pulled over to the side of the road. In true lemming fashion, we pulled over and started searching the  roadside in hopes of seeing something special. Suddenly something dark started moving in the grass. It was a black bear! We excitedly pointed the animal out to our kids from the safety of our car. After a couple minutes of watching and picture taking, we noticed something else moving in the grass. Out popped two little cubs! Adorable doesn't even begin to describe those precious little babies. Seeing the mamma bear and her little ones was the highlight of our wildlife encounters for the entire 24 day trip.

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After mamma and twins retreated back up into the cover of the forest we headed on over to the stables to wait for our stagecoach ride. Back in Vancouver I had promised Mari that Daddy would take her on a horse when he joined us and she had not forgotten. As a matter of fact, she had reminded me every day. As we quickly found out, there is no place in Yellowstone where kids under age 7 can ride horses. Luckily there is a stagecoach ride that all ages can be a participate in. The stagecoaches are accurate reproductions of those that came through Yellowstone back in the 1800s. It was fun to ride out into the sagebrush and pretend like we were coming out west for the first time. We even had our first bison sighting while out on our ride. I can't imagine a better way to see the bison of Yellowstone than on an Old West stagecoach.

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After our ride (which fully satisfied Mari's desires to "ride" a horse) we headed towards the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. By this time the kids were tired and passed out in the car so Paul and I took turns hiking down the steep (but paved)  trail which lead to the brink of Lower Falls. The view from the edge of the falls was overwhelming. Jut peering over the rails and into all that water 300 feet below gave me the chills. The Yellowstone River seems to just plunge into an abyss.

People were not the only visitors of these amazing falls. Giant bugs hovered around the brink of the waterfall like idol worshippers. It was completely bizarre. I had never seen insects like these before and even after a bit of online research, I still have no idea what kind of bugs they are or why they are there. If anyone has any info, please share. I am dying to know more!

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We ended our day with a drive through the Hayden Valley. It was one of the most picturesque spots I have ever been in my life. The valley is filled with rivers, meadows, and pockets of forest, all teeming with wildlife. If I were a bison, I would most certainly want to live here. We decided that we would certainly have to return to the valley the next day around sunset so we could further enjoy its wildlife and beauty. Until next time, here are a few shots we got that first day, with many more to come.



If you would like to see more fantastic travel photos, check out Delicious Baby's photo Friday here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Making a Splash at Lake Louise

Today, one of my articles, Making a Splash at Lake Louise,  is up on Travel Savvy Mom. Please take a moment to check it out here. I hope you enjoy it. Then take a couple more moments and check out the rest of the website. There are lots of great hotel reviews (some by yours truly) and articles to be read!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Neuroblastoma, Again...

Today I got news that I was convinced I would never hear again. I know another child with neuroblastoma.  He is the 7 year old son of a friend who was part of the original group of ladies I met online while pregnant with Mari and Ben. We were all pregnant with twins at the same time and looking for information and support from people going through the same thing. We all formed bonds that went beyond friendly chat on a Baby Center board and moved to a private website where we could share our lives with one another.  We all banded together to do everything we could for Tuesday and her family when she was sick with neuroblastoma. And now, another family in our small group will be facing the battle of their lives. I can't begin to wrap my head around what the odds must be for two families who have known each other before neuroblastoma to both have children develop the disease. Its shocking, horrifying, heartbreaking, and so many more words that my clouded brain can't think of right now. I do know Joey is a strong and wonderful boy with a fantastic family who needs your prayers. Please pray that this child will beat  cancer with as little pain as possible. Please pray that his parents and siblings will have the strength that they need to help someone they love so dearly go through something so awful. Please pray that a cure to this disease is found so we never have to hear the words "Its neuroblastoma" again. We love you Patti and we will do everything we can to help support you while your little one kicks cancer's butt!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I'm Raveable!

I was so excited to open my email this afternoon and see that I was the featured blogger on Raveable. Check me out and then check them out, its a great website! Click here.

Queen of Hearts and Alice in Wonderland Costume Set GIVEAWAY!!!!

Queen of Hearts and Alice in Wonderland Costume Set GIVEAWAY!!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Riley Wilderness Park Hike

Its always nice to find nature close to home. Those of who live in Southern California can often feel removed from nature because of the urban sprawl that defines our region. Luckily, there are many special places that are still wild and closer to home than many people realize.  They give us glimpses at what the land looked like when the first settlers came to this region and provide homes to many important plants and animals.

One such little pocket of wild is the Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park. It is located just outside the gates of the über exclusive Coto De Caza and is a wonderful little spot to take a family hike. There are six miles of trails in the park, open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. The park is home to Sycamores and Coast Live Oaks that have been here since California was part of Mexico. There is a cute little visitor center and butterfly garden near the entrance of the park where you can get your bearings and plot out your trek.

The day we visited the park we opted to do the Oak Canyon/Mule Deer loop around the park per the recommendation of a ranger. The loop took us through grassy hillside terrain filled with beautiful old trees. You couldn't help but imagine the stories these trees could tell after all their years on this planet.

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It must have been red ant season because we saw plenty of those while on our trail (while we were not at all bothered by the ants I would definitely recommend avoiding sandals so you don't have any unfortunate missteps) and a few really big beetles. We also saw plenty of holes that were home to ground squirrels.  As we looked up in the sky and trees we saw plenty of birds including red tail hawks and turkey vultures.


On this hike I brought an old camera so Mari could take some shots of her own. She really enjoyed taking pictures like Mommy ALWAYS does and would stop us whenever she found something picture worthy so she could take a few shots of her subject. She is only three and still learning to hold down the button long enough to get the shot while keeping her fingers away from the lens but is getting better every time she tries. Here are a couple shots from a three year old's perspective:

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When we reached the top of the ridge we found plenty of deer tracks on the trail and followed them to a matted down field where the deer slept the night before. My daughter enjoyed pointing out the tracks to us with her stick just like her grandma had done earlier on the trail.  We were disappointed we didn't see any actual deer while we were hiking. Luckily, just as we were about to get in the car we saw a herd run across the field and into the woodlands.  It was a wonderful way to end a wonderful morning.


If you would like more information on the Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park click here.   

Friday, October 9, 2009

Road Trip Day 17- Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP


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"For the benefit and enjoyment of the people". These are the words that we drove under as we entered Yellowstone National Park. These are the words that I had been hoping to see in person for more years than I can count. Yellowstone is our country's first National Park and one of the greatest. We had finally arrived (and with Daddy who had flown in for the occasion!)  and we were excited to be spending the next few days in a land of geysers, canyons, water, and wildlife.

Our first stop on our tour of Yellowstone was Mammoth Hot Springs. We threw our suitcases in our cabin  and walked down the street to the hot springs.  It's hard to miss the stark white and rust colored  hill as it stands out amongst  the wooded mountainside. It has its own kind of beauty. A beauty that reeks of sulfur and could scald the skin off your leg. It looked a bit to me like some sort of ancient and miniature Grecian city.


The white crust is fragile and incredibly thin in some places so the park system has constructed  a system of boardwalks around the hot springs to avoid damage and accidental burns. My kids loved running down the planks from viewpoint to viewpoint and climbing up the wooden steps to see what unimaginable scene was next.



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  The view from the top was amazing. The hot springs reminded me of an infinity pool filled with boiling hot sulfurous water and a million dollar view. The hot springs are still very active and growing all the time. Trees can sometimes become casualties of their growth.

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One of the more famous landmarks in the Mammoth Hot Springs area is Liberty Cap, a dormant geyser. My kids must have thought it was pretty cool because taking a picture in front of Liberty Cap quickly became a race to keep them out of the restricted area near Liberty Cap.

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By the time we had finished our tour of the hot springs afternoon was slipping away into evening and dinner at the Mammoth Hot Springs Dining Room was calling. We had two full days of exploring the park ahead of us and were about to experience more beauty than we could have ever expected.

If you would like to see more fabulous travel photos check out Delicious Baby's Photo Friday here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park Hike

School is in session for my little boy. Gone are the days of shuttling Ben from one therapy appointment to the next. He is now in preschool 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. He is a little boy with special needs (he has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum with PDD) and so we have to do what is best to meet those needs. Luckily, he is in a wonderful school with programs specific to children just like him. Unlucky for his mom and sister who love having him around all day, this means less time together during the week. This will be my only year alone with Mari before she starts preschool and I am hoping that we will take full advantage of our special time together. One way we plan on taking advantage of that special time is hiking. Ben loves being outside and is a great little hiker but he is incredibly prone to distraction. It can take all day to go 50 feet if we let him slip  off into "Benland". Mari, on the other hand, is born to walk. She loves every minute of it and makes for a great hiking partner. Now that we have a few hours every day to spend together, we can start attempting longer hikes. During Ben's first week of school, I decided to attempt something with Mari I had never done with my children before, a 5 mile hike.

Mari and I pulled up to Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park on an unseasonably warm fall afternoon. The park is an urban oasis with 4,200 acres of canyons, rock formations, and grassy hillsides set aside in an area where real estate is at a premium. I had read about a cave inside the park which bandits had used as a hideout after robbing stagecoaches in the 1800s. That cave was our destination. We started down the path and got excited about the scenery and signs of wildlife all around us. We found scat and tracks from deer, rabbits, and coyotes. My daughter always gets excited about animal poop so this was a good substitution for seeing the actual animals. I imagine at the right time of day (dawn or dusk), it wouldn't be very hard to see a plethora of wildlife. For those who aren't familiar with animal tracking, there are some nice information plaques set up along the way.

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We discovered a wild melon along the trail called a coyote melon.The fruit is not edible for humans but coyotes (as the name implies) do eat its fruit. After a little research on the internet, I found out that there is a coyote melon festival in Arizona every year and that Native Americans ground and ate their seeds. They also used them in their dried form as rattles. Doesn't that make you want to go out and pick a melon to make rattles of your own?

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Even though October is not the greenest month in Southern California, we still managed to see a nice variety of plant life from cholla cacti on the dry hillsides to riparian plants along the creeks.

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After following the Aliso Creek Trail for about 1.5 miles, we made a right onto the Wood Canyon Trail.  The landscape became much more rocky and Mari and I were anxious to get climbing. We took a side trip on the Cave Rock loop and found the perfect spot to scale some rocks.



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As we came back down the side of the rock we encountered a cave. It looked small at first glance, but once we crawled inside we could see that there was plenty of room to hide out. I thought this was Dripping Cave, the famous bandit hideout, but when we got home and I looked online I found out it was in fact Cave Rock and that we had turned around on our hike about a quarter mile too soon.  Nonetheless we were quite happy with our little cave discovery.

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Since the hike is not a loop, we headed back the way we came and were happy to enjoy the same scenery one more time. If you would like more information on Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and the multitude of trails running through the park click here

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dana Point Marine Reserve Hike

Orange County seems to have a never ending supply of gorgeous beaches. After living here for almost a year, I have seen quite a few but I am constantly finding more for us to explore. Recently, I took the kids to the Dana Point Marine Reserve for a hike along the coast. The reserve is located behind the Ocean Institute (a place I hope to visit soon) near the mouth of the Dana Point Harbor. There is a secluded beach at the beginning of the reserve with plenty of sand to run around on, rocks to climb, and large waves to watch crashing towards the shore.  Tall cliffs rise high above the sand and rocks below. 

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Beyond the small beach, the shore is narrow and filled with rocks. A small trail hugs the bottom of the cliff and leads up the coast toward the Dana "point".


Along the way there are tide pools and sea caves. The lower the tide, the further you can follow the trail. The kids loved playing in the small cave we found and I look forward to coming back at a minus tide and venturing out to the larger sea cave.


This is a great family hike and perfect on hot days when it is too warm to hike inland. The cool ocean breezes and dramatic scenery are hard to beat. If you would like more information about this hike click  here.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

San Onofre State Beach

As many of you know, the California's State Parks are in serious trouble due to budget cuts. In an attempt to bring attention to all the wonderful state parks California has to offer, I will be featuring a different CA State Park every week. I hope to bring attention to these treasures to increase awareness of what the state park system has to offer and encourage others to stand up and help protect these important places . 

Anyone who has driven from LA to San Diego is familiar with the long stretch of desolate coastline within the gates of Camp Pendleton. These expanses of open coastline give us a glimpse of what Southern California looked like 100 years ago. While most of Camp Pendleton is closed to the public, there is a state park right along its northern boundary with some of the most famous waves in the world. Surfers from across the globe trek to surf the break at Trestles, a portion of San Onofre State Beach's pristine coastline.

Getting to Trestles is an experience in itself. This is not one of those beaches where you can pull up to a parking lot surrounded by sand and walk a few hundred yards to the water. Most people park about a mile away off of the Christianitos exit and follow the Panhe Trail under the railroad trestles to the beach.

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From there, an open expanse of beach is yours. There are plenty of calm spots around the mouth of the San Mateo creek (which flows all the way to ocean for only part of the year.) for kids to safely play in the shallow water. There are surf breaks for all different skill levels and lots of entertainment for  looky-loos. The rocks are a great place to look for tiny signs of life, from hermit crabs to sea snails.  If you feel like taking a long walk down the beach, you can even find a spot where nudity is popular, even if it is still illegal.

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The beach is also a great place to let your inner architect shine while you build a palace for the hermit crabs you discovered during your exploration of the rocks.

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However you choose to spend your day at San Onofre,  you will be certain to have a perfect day along a stretch of California's Golden Coast.

If you would like more info on San Onofre, click here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Road Trip Day 16- Glacier National Park

When I woke up on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park, I had no idea that I was about to see a little piece of heaven on earth. Sure, I knew it would be pretty, but there are no words that truly describe Going to the Sun Road. It is magical. It is jaw dropping. It is so much more than I could ever imagine.

Our first major stop on the road was a trail that led us along a  raging river in the Sunrift Gorge down to Baring Falls. It was a perfect little hike for families but a word of caution- the bridge over the river to the falls only has a rail on one side. We decided to let the adults cross one at a time to view the falls while the other two adults watch the kids safely on the other side. This went well until it was my turn to go. Mari was not happy about being left behind and tried to get on the bridge herself. She only got one foot on the bridge but that was enough to cause me to nearly die from fear. I decided it was safer for all involved to just let her come with me to pose for a picture.

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One would think that Glacier National Park would be full of glaciers and at a time, it was. In actuality, most of the Glaciers in the park have melted and the few remaining are expected to disappear as soon as 2030. Don't let this discourage you from coming. The park is more about the awe inspiring landscape the glaciers have carved rather than the glaciers themselves. Still, everyone wants to see a glacier when they visit the park named for them. Luckily, you can see Jackson Glacier from Going to the Sun Road and the appropriately name Jackson Glacier Overlook.

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I expected glaciers and trees and mountains but I never could have anticipated so many waterfalls. Water gushed off the faces of cliffs, down steeply angled mountainsides, and into the valleys and meadows below. Some waterfalls fell off in the distance while others seemed to almost crash down directly into the road.


The highlight of the entire day for me was Logan Pass. Yes the visitor center was crowded, but if you start following the boardwalk trail you quickly escape the crowds. Suddenly, you are swept away into a sub alpine world carpeted with glacier lilies. Snow still lingers along the trail in many spots which is a treat for kids who haven't seen it in a few months. The snow melt creates a multitude of little streams weaving their way down the mountainside. 





It seems like even the animals in the area know they live someplace special. The deer seemed to skip from wildflower to wildflower to graze.  A marmot posed on the rocks with an expression that seemed to say "I make this look good". Mountain goats mozied  on down the road without a care in the world.  Even the squirrels seemed to be filled with cheerful laughter.

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From Logan Pass we headed west, going from one scenic vista to the next.


In some spots the walls alongside the road dripped with water. I encouraged my friend Chrissy to roll down the window and get some shots of the water. Suddenly we made a turn and the water started coming down with a bit more force. She got a great shot alright.  She also happened to get a face full of water in the process. I laughed until I cried.


Our day at Glacier ended alongside Lake McDonald. We stopped to grab a bite to eat and enjoy the lake. Unfortunately by the time we had ordered and paid for our food, a huge thunderstorm rolled in and put an end to our day. Still, it was one of the  grandest days I will ever experience.


If you would like to see more amazing travel photos check out Delicious Baby's Photo Friday here.