Ever since my husband and I started dating, we have tried to traverse the world as much as possible. We compete with each other and his brother as to who can nab the most states, countries, and exotic locations. When our kids were born we made sure from the start that they would travel as often as possible. My son touched the Pacific ocean in both Costa Rica and Washington State by the time he was 18 months old. Typically traveling on a shoestring budget, we make sure to plan our trips very carefully in order to get the most bang for our buck. Cashing in on frequent flier miles, using travel rewards credit cards, camping and booking rentals through AirBnB & VRBO so we can cook as many meals as possible, are just some of the many ways we have tried to make traveling more affordable. (I’ll write a blog post on specific ways we save later.) This year we took our travel to another level. We took our travel to another level and extended our typical week of vacation to a month long road trip. My husband is able to work virtually so he did not take off of work for an entire month. We planned our travel time for nights and weekends as much as possible. By working on east coast hours, he was able to balance both work and family time.
Spending this much time in the car was a first for me and the kids. I was nervous about how stir crazy they might become but was pleasantly surprised. There were obviously moments of frustration, but on the whole, they did quite well. They had a stack of books to read and brand new drawing pads and crayons/markers (special thanks to Grandmom Maggi for that gift). Plus the secret weapon…personal dvd players.
Here is a picture of my son that makes the whole trip worthwhile to me. He loves to draw and is quite good at it. I love watching his creativity. This image in particular really tugged on my heart because he looks like a teenager. It made me treasure the time we have with them even more. Right now, they love being with their mom and dad but I know that is short lived. Before I know it, there will be a lot of eye rolling and running out the door to be anywhere but with us. This trip was to focus on us as a foursome and to give them memories that they will treasure forever.
Our first stop was to see my husband’s Aunt and Uncle in Pittsburgh. It was great visiting family along the way.
We tried to break up the drive by stopping to eat or at a landmark. We were able to see the St. Louis Arch but did not go inside…next time.
We spent the Fourth of July in Topeka, Kansas, where there was a fireworks display at a local lake. To say that I LOOOOOOOOOOOVE fireworks is an understatement. When we arrived at the lake, before sunset, houses all along the lake were already putting on their own fireworks show. This was followed by a beautiful “official” fireworks display that was spectacular. We got prime seats on the dock.
Seeing the landscape change from state to state was fascinating. Seeing the windmill farms was impressive.
Our first destination was Fort Collins, Colorado to visit my brother in law, Ryan (aka Uncle Ry Ry). A wonderful town north of Denver that is experiencing rapid growth due to its small town feel and easy access to the mountains. Keeping the kids entertained while my husband worked was my “job”. Our first outing was to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. My son’s current passion is dinosaurs. In fact, dinosaurs became the main theme of our trip. We tried to hit as many dinosaur related places as possible. He instantly fell in love with the the Denver Science Museum and it was easy to see why. Beautifully done, with so much to see that we ran out of time. My daughter loved it just as much. Fun for all ages.
Unfortunately, our first week of vacation was filled with a lot of rain showers. It was ok since we were still recovering from the drive out and we found the best toy store ever, Dandelion Toys. We literally spent hours here, went back twice, met the nicest employees here that actually played with the kids.
Our first big excursion after Fort Collins was to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which was an adventure on its own. Uncle Ry Ry knew exactly where to go to see moose, which made his niece and nephew (and sister in law) ecstatic. Look, this one even posed for us in front of the county sign.
You can see proud Uncle Ry Ry as the kids oohed and ahhhh’d.
First family picture of the trip. I even got new glasses for the trip…my last pair was eaten in a leaf sucker almost 3 years ago. It is nice to see things clearly again.
Another image of my son that makes me so happy. He is learning how to “glass” with binoculars. Notice his “explorer hat”…a must when on an adventure.
Some more stops for beautiful scenery along the way. Perfectly timed with the sunset. :O)
The kids became amazing road warriors.
Uncle Ry Ry is a hard core fly fisherman and found this beautiful spot to take the kids fishing near Steamboat Springs. It was breath taking. I probably could have spent the entire month here. Gavin caught his first trout here.
Seriously, how can you not enjoy this scenery? See those specs off in the distance? That is my family fishing while I actually got to relax and read a book for a brief moment!
On the way back to our rental, we saw some mule deer (which, aside from moose, are my favorite deer) backed by mountains and a beautiful sunset. Score. Wonderful day.
After Steamboat Springs we headed to Salt Lake City, Utah. Between the two locations is a placed called Dinosaur National Monument where you can see actual fossils in the “ground”. They have a great education program where the kids interact with the ranger. Gavin came decked in a dinosaur shirt, dinosaur hat, and a stuffed dinosaur so the ranger was very nice and had him participate in a number of activities. Here he had to put his hand in “dinosaur poop” in order to find out if he was a meat or plant eater. Spoiler alert…this dinosaur was a plant eater. If you completed enough activities, you were able to become a junior ranger and even got to swear an oath.
Dinosaurs popped up everywhere along our drive in fun places.
We rented the bottom floor of a home in Salt Lake City via Air BnB. The homeowners were great. Very welcoming. Our first night in the rental, we drank beers together as they helped us plan our week in Salt Lake…so helpful to get advice by locals. The wonderful part of renting a portion of this house was accessed to a fenced in backyard with kid toys. It was pretty hot out so their kiddie pool was a highly appreciated.
Gavin was ecstatic to learn that there was yet another museum with dinosaurs here so of course it was our first activity. The Salt Lake City Natural History Museum is a must do when visiting Salt Lake City. It is very well done and the architecture was superb. Gavin even impressed the staff member at one of the education stations.
They had a wonderful dinosaur exhibit…although Gavin says that when he gets bigger, he is going to find a T-Rex skeleton for them to display since there were none.
Here is the largest land mammal ever discovered was Indricotherium. According to their website…it was a herbivore that lived in the forests of central Asia between 34 and 23 million years ago, weighed as much as three or four adult African elephants.
They had a fun kids area. Natalia liked playing in the water and is probably suited best for wee ones.
This puzzle was actually a challenge.
One of the reasons we went to Salt Lake City was because I was there during the fall of 2014 for a photography conference called ClickAWAY. It was the first time I had gone away on my own since the kids were born. The first time I truly did something that I loved for myself. It was a much needed break and I had a great time with an amazing bunch of photographers in beautiful surroundings. I knew when I was there that I wanted to come back with my family. Funny thing is that my brother lived in SLC for a stint but I didn’t get a chance to visit him while he did.
Our first outing was to a location where I went during my photography conference. It was great exploring with the kids and just having a quiet evening together. Being the photographer in the family, I don’t get in the shot as much as I would like so I try to snap some memories with my kids as we hold hands. I know there will be a time where he won’t grab my hand so easily but I am treasuring the time while I have it.
Our second outing was to Cottonwood Canyon and was simply stunning. I wish we had more time to explore.
Another moose sighting!!!
A young couple sitting on a rock, enjoying the sunset, was kind enough to take our second family picture of the trip. Perfect location!
I wish I could’ve stayed in this spot for hours and photograph Natalia.
After Salt Lake City we made our way up to Jackson Hole.
Our first night was spent in a great KOA. I love cozy nights spent around a camp fire.
The next morning we headed to the Tetons before hitting Yellowstone…stunning.
The iconic barn…
I rented a telephoto lens to safely photograph the animals from a distance. Gavin was able to hold the lens up long enough for me to get this shot.
Our first animal sighting in Yellowstone. We also got to witness a tourist getting dangerously close to a bison just to get a picture with his flip phone. Sigh.
Probably my favorite spot in Yellowstone. It reminds me of what the country looked liked before we started tearing it apart.
Seeing the bison up close was amazing. Closer to sunset they come by en mass. Gavin loved poking his head out of the window to take some pictures. Proud mamma here.
The mammoth hot springs and geyser are two other favorite spots in Yellowstone.
A trip to Yellowstone with an outdoorsman would not be complete without getting in a little fly fishing.
Next stop…Bozeman, Montana. Our first activity was the bear sanctuary, which I highly recommend. We learned a lot about bears and what to do if you run into one in the woods.
However, it was the baby goats that were a huge it with the kids. The kids spent over an hour feeding them.
Of course we had to visit the Museum of the Rockies. The T-Rex outside is named Big Mike. They have a lot of T-Rex skeletons here, which made Gavin super happy. T-Rex is his absolute favorite.
They also have a great kids area set up with a Yellowstone theme. This is a must stop for those with kids…mine had a blast here.
An after work excursion…
Bozeman was short lived and then we were on our way back to Fort Collins.
The drive was exquisite. Thankfully we were also to see more wildlife.
Once back in Fort Collins I was able to meet up with a dear photographer friend that I had only corresponded with online until now. Before we met I knew that she was a sweetheart. Getting together was so much fun and not long enough. A full post of our session together will follow but I wanted to give a peek into where we got together and of her with her adorable son.
The last week in Fort Collins was beautiful and we were able to spend a lot of time out and about in town. We went to the toy store again plus found some more fun places. Another gem we loved was Nature’s Own, which had more dinosaur stuff. YEAH!
The streets of Fort Collins…I was excited to see Philly’s own, G Love, coming to town. Too bad is was after we left.
Back to our favorite toy store…
Then it was time to head back home. It was sad to leave my brother in law and such a beautiful place. It was an wonderful month of adventures. Amazingly enough, we stopped at the original Cabela’s and the kids were so excited that they actually took a picture together, both looking at smiling. It’s a miracle!
Another stop was to see my college roommate in Michigan. It was fantastic to see her and her family. I loved watching our kids play together.
We are back to reality and trying to squeeze as much fun out of the last weeks of summer. Hope you enjoyed seeing our journey and that it inspires you to explore our great country as well. What are some of your favorite vacation destinations? We are always looking for new ideas!