Activity: Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad (Fish Camp, CA)

While we were staying in Yosemite, we were told the 150th celebration of the Yosemite Grant, which designated Yosemite as the first protected natural space in the US, would be taking place on Sunday and things would get packed. This was quite interesting to learn about because when the Grant was signed by President Abraham Lincoln, he was also in the middle of the Civil War. Yellowstone keeps the acclaim of being the first National Park since Yosemite didn’t actually become a National Park until 1890 (Yellowstone was founded as a National Park in 1872 and it seems there might be a bit of a rivalry there!). Yosemite Rangers were suggesting if we didn’t like crowds, that we should leave the park for the day. We decided to heed their advice, and drove down Hwy 41 about 4 miles from Yosemite’s South Entrance to the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.

When we pulled in, we picked a parking spot and walked up the hill. The first thing we saw was a booth where you could learn how to pan for gold. We promised the kids we would check it out after the train ride. We then worked our way up the rest hill and went into the gift shop, where they sell the tickets for the train ride. Tickets are $21/adult and $10.50/child (3-10 years old). We got tickets for the 12:00p train which gave us time to sit at the picnic tables and have a snack lunch before the train was ready for us to load. The gift shop has all sorts of great things to buy and they also sell some food if you are interested it.

When the train came up, there were 2 cars with shade and 2 cars that looked like hollowed out logs. These trains were originally used in timber industry, to haul logs out of the forest and get them to the mills. It was a hot day and everyone tried for shaded cars, which I would recommend. There is some shade along the way, but you will be in the elements sitting in the open-air log cars.

The train ride lasts about an hour and takes you through a forest outside of Yosemite National Park. There is a fellow on the train that points out different trees and plants, as well as describing the history and working conditions of the loggers and the trains. The train runs on a narrow gauge track, which was picked up and moved as the loggers moved through the forest.

The train makes a stop half way through the tour to refill with water, as it is a steam engine. The area looks like an amphitheater area which I was told they use for their special train rides in the evenings (there are two, one with a steak dinner and another “train heist” themed ride). They allow you to get off the train and explore a bit when you are stopped. If you ask the engineers, they will allow folks to come up into the engine for a closer look.

The engines and cars were bought from the Westside Lumber Company by the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad and refurbished and retrofitted for passengers.


We were traveling with a 6 year old and a 9 year old. The 6 year old was happy with the whole experience until the 9 year old mentioned an expectation of the train going faster through the forest, and then we had two kids who thought it would have been more fun if it was faster. It might be good to set the expectation that the train does move on the slower side.


Upon our return, we had a quick look through their museum, which is a collection of lots of old tools and “things”. Then we made good on the promise and the kids got to learn how to pan for gold.


The prospector teaching them was very animated and great with the kids. They had a lot of fun.


It was $10 per kid and you come away with a couple of dollars of gold flake in a vial.


The novelty of it was worth the money and the kids seemed to really enjoy it, plus in kept with our theme of gold and trains. Who doesn’t love a theme?

Campground Review: Wawona Campground (Yosemite, CA)


I have wanted to see Yosemite for many years. My whole family had been, but I was unable to join them on any of the trips. They told me stories of grandeur and it had been on my list for years. As we planned our trip through the Southwest, I was going to have to cut across California at some point, and this seemed as good a time as any to visit Yosemite!

Many friends suggested staying outside of the valley due to the sheer number of people there, and one friend suggested the Wawona Campground near the south gate of the park. We were very happy there. One travel guide mentioned that it could be loud being next to Hwy 41, but we didn’t find that to be the case as we heard very little traffic. We were in the furthest loop from the ranger booth, just across the campground road from the river. We had a lovely big spot, right near the bathrooms. There wasn’t much shade, but things cooled down really nicely at night.

There are no showers at this campground, but they have sinks and flush toilets. Bring flashlights and soap with you to the bathrooms. At night the lights are not always on. One way to cool off (or rinse off) is to take a dip in the south fork the Merced River. There is a great spot in the campground to do this. The water was cool, but not cold, and with the California being in a drought, it was very docile. There was even a rope swing to play on, which the kids loved!

Hot means swimming in the South Fork of the Merced Rvier.

Showers are available in the Valley at Camper Services. We made a day of the Valley and finished up with laundry, showers and dinner. There was a lot of traffic trying to get out of the valley around 4:30pm, so we avoided that by staying a little longer.

The Wawona Campground made a great home base for Valley and the southern sections of the park we wanted to see. We were very close to the Pioneer Village and the Mariposa Grove, we were a short drive from Glacier Road and one of our favorite hikes (up to the top of Sentinal Dome), and we were about an hour into the Village. We are about 45 minutes from the closest town (Oakhurst, CA) as well, and about 15 minutes from the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.

blacksmith hard at work in the pioneer village


Making his way through the covered bridge

Stunning beauty in Yosemite

Getting reservations for the summer can be a bit nerve wracking. You have to push the submit button on the day, 6 months out, at 7:00am exactly, or you will probably not get this campground. It was fully booked in less than 4 minutes. I was able to get a campsite, my friend was only a couple of minutes behind me and didn’t. It all worked out (she was allowed to share with me), but the summer months have high demand and you are up against people all over the world. Make sure you know which day the reservations open and set your calendar!

We would gladly stay at this campground again, the next time we are in Yosemite. It is not convenient if you are interested in the area up Tioga Pass and the northern section of the Park, so I would look for campgrounds closer to that area if you are interested in it. For a nice quiet stay, in the park and close to the valley, this is ideal.

Trip itinerary: Yosemite and the Southwest

We just returned from 22 days road tripping and camping across 8 states, seeing 6 national parks, 2 state parks, several friends, and having lots of fun. A few of the days early on were visits to friends along the way, otherwise it was all road tripping!

Here is what our trip looked like.

Day 1: Travel day – Portland to Valley of the Rogue State Park
Day 2: Travel day – Valley of the Rogue State Park to Gold Rush Country, CA
Day 3: Gold Rush Country, CA (visited The Black Chasm)
Day 4: Travel day – Gold Rush Country to Bay Area (visited the California State Railway Museum)
Day 5: Travel day – Bay Area to Yosemite National Park (Wawona Campground)
Day 6: Yosemite (Visitor’s Center & Mariposa Grove)
Day 7: Yosemite (Pioneer Village & Sentinal Dome hike)
Day 8: Yosemite (the Valley)
Day 9: Yosemite (Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, a trip into Oakhurst)
Day 10: Yosemite (recovery day)
Day 11: Travel day – Yosemite to Kershaw Ryan State Park
Day 12: Travel day – Kershaw Ryan State Park to Zion National Park (Watchman Campground)
Day 13: Travel day – Zion to Grand Canyon National Park (Mather Campground)
Day 14: Grand Canyon (recovery day & Visitor’s Center)
Day 15: Grand Canyon (Flagstaff Day)
Day 16: Grand Canyon (Ooh Ahah Point hike, Family Discovery Pack, Jr Ranger chat at El Tovar Lodge)
Day 17: Travel day – Grand Canyon to Mesa Verde National Park (Four Corners National monument, A&A RV Park, Visitor’s Center)
Day 18: Travel day – Mesa Verde to Moab (tour of Balcony House, driving tour of Mesa Verde, checked in at Canyonlands Campground)
Day 19: Moab (recovery day)
Day 20: Moab (Canyonlands National Park)
Day 21: Moab (Arches National Park)
Day 22: Travel day – Moab to Boise (checked in at Boise-Meridian KOA)
Day 23: Travel Day – Boise to Portland

We took several recovery days to fix trailer breakdowns and to prevent kid breakdowns. Everyone needs to recharge batteries and we had some really long days in the car. In total we drove 4087.6 miles, passed through 8 states (did Utah 2 times, so we could actually say 9 states), saw 6 National Parks and 2 State Parks, and had tons of fun!

In the next few weeks I will get the reviews written for the trip, so be on the look out!

Home and out again!

The last three weeks of my life were spent on the road, having a great journey with the Lad and 2 friends. I was home for 3 days, and took off again for another camping trip. Those 3 days were barely enough to get the trailer unpacked, cleaned up, and repacked, let alone, get anything written for the little blog here. I am starting to feel rested, barely, and more inspired to tell my tales. Hang tight! I haven’t given up the ghost yet!

Campground Review: Valley the Rogue State Park

We were planning a drive down to the Sacramento area and decided to split our drive up a bit by finding somewhere in the middle to stop. I really like Oregon’s State Parks and some friends had suggested Valley Of the Rogue State Park based on my criteria: southern Oregon or Northern California, easy freeway access, and safe.

The park is pretty big. There are 3 loops for folks with RVs, trailers or tenters who like electric and water right there. Some loops provide more hook ups. There is also a tent only loop.

The campground lies right along the Rogue River near Gold Hill, just south of Grants Pass and just north of Medford (roughly 45 minutes from the Oregon/California border). The downside is that it also lies right next to I-5 (remember me wanting easy freeway access…careful what you wish for!). Once I turned my fan off we could hear freeway traffic. Not ideal for a long stay, but for one night no problem. The crows are up nice and early too!

The campsites are really nice. Our spot (F17) was nice and flat and backed on to a grass field. We were right near the camp hosts, who were some of the nicest park hosts we have come across in a long time. The spots come with a picnic table, fire ring, electric and water. Bathrooms are nice, clean, and there are showers that are free to campers ($2.00 for non-campers).

The park itself was pretty and had a lovely paved bike path running through it. We enjoyed a bike ride after dinner. It is part of the Rouge River Greenway trail system.



There are Junior Ranger programs and the evening we were there, the Astronomy Club of Grants Pass had come down with high powered telescopes to look at the sky. We missed the presentation, but wish we had been able to go. It sounded cool!

All in all, it wasn’t our favorite campground, but we enjoyed our stay, felt safe, it was a great stop over place. It was a bit noisy with the freeway and there were some hungry deer flies and mosquitoes (ouch!). We would recommend for a one night stop over, or if you have good insulation or ear plugs if you are staying longer.

Favorites: Mama’s Go Tos!

I have gone over the several things that are favorites of kids with sports, art, games, and puzzles. Eventually I will talk about some of our favorite apps, but right now I thought it would be good to turn the focus to the Mamas. I am packing for our big trip and starting to pull out things that we need and making sure I have some of the things I love will make the trip more comfortable.

Mama’s Favorite Bevvies!


Starting with coffee! I have a Bialetti Espresso maker that I bring along. They recommend the Illy Moka Ground Coffee, and it is delicious! This gets my morning started the right way! I found it for the best price through Amazon, but I have seen it at local gourmet grocery stores as well.


Speaking of hot drinks, I drink a lot of tea throughout the day. I make sure to pack my favorites, and these are the three I bring along. The Ginger Aid tea keeps tummy aches away, Easy Now gives me a nice clear mind and I am able to drink small worries away, and Bedtime tea relaxes me for the best night sleep. On a kid note: I also get the Lad a special kids tea from Traditional Medicinals called Nighty Night. He loves it and I think it really helps him sleep better too. He also says it keeps his nightmares away.


Mama needs some snacks too. I have fallen in love with (read: become hopelessly addicted to) Dang Roasted Coconut Chips in the Caramel Sea Salt flavor. I find these at my grocery store, but I see they are also available on Amazon or through the Dang’s website. All I can say about these, is they are appropriately named, because they are dang good!

Mama’s Favorite Vessels



One of my favorite mugs is actually a jar with a special lid by Cuppow! I can either do a small jar or a large jar, using the same lid. The drinks stay really hot (sometimes too hot) and it basically turns a jar into a sippy cup. They can be used for kids and adults alike, and they make them in different colors now too.

I like to have a wash rag and a rubber band to wrap around the outside to help with the heat (and it insulates the jar too!).


Water bottles get a lot of use around here. We don’t buy bottled water out in our parts because our tap water is just as amazing as the bottled stuff. Having a good water bottle makes a big difference. Life Factory makes some great glass water bottles with silicone sleeves. My favorite version is the one with a straw, but I also have a flip top version. I like the straw because it is easier to drink if I am driving. I am less likely to spill, and because of that, I also got a smaller version for the lad. I like the glass for the warmer climates due to leaching from the plastic when things start getting hot (all parts on Life Factory bottles are BPA-free).


I like to have a glass of wine on occasion, and another favorite thing to bring is wine in a box. I am not talking about the kind we grew up with our parents drinking (ah, Franzia!), but many bands are going to this packaging method. I don’t know how this one called Bandit tastes yet, but I like to take wines along in this sort of packaging for a couple of reasons. 1) I don’t need to use a cork pull. This isn’t a big deal until you forget it at home…been there, done that! 2) If I am traveling with my kid and I am the only one having a glass, the lid screws on tight so I don’t have a mess to clean up later as it travels along with us in the cooler. 3) I can squeeze the air out of the box before putting it back in the cooler, keeping the wine fresher longer. It really is handy!

Mama’s favorite Moisturizer


My skin is not only sensitive, but I tend to dry out in any climate. Alba Botanical Very Emollient body lotion is my favorite lotion for bodies and hands. It isn’t greasy, absorbs quickly, and I don’t get all itchy from using it.

Mama’s Favorite Fashion!


My great-grandmother used to wear these amazing full length dresses when they went out into the woods. I have spent most of my time in capris and shorts, until recently! I discovered “Skirts With Benefits“! That is what Title Nine calls them at least! They are skirts with a pair of shorts sewn into them and Title Nine is where I have gotten my favorite ones. I find them super comfortable, I can run and climb and bike without flashing my “unmentionables”, they look super cute with my Keen Mary Janes or my walking/running shoes, and they are much cooler to wear on hot days than capris and shorts.

Mama’s Favorite Wrap Ups



Folks in our parts will tell you that Pendleton Blankets are some of the finest items in the world. They are often given as wedding gifts or at baby showers. These wool blankets are heritage items, and I got my first one, called “Spirit Quest”, for my high school graduation. It is something I take with me that makes me happy and keeps me warm. Having a wonderful blanket can make all of the difference, especially on cold nights.

Mamas Favorite Books


I like to have some good books along. If we are staying several days in a location I like to have travel books for the places we are going. Having a rough idea of what is going on or if we are struggling with trying to find things to do can easily be solved with a quick look in the book for ideas.

I can’t just read travel books, so I bring along fun books too! I have recently started reading the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley. This series has turned me into a serial reader, something I haven’t been since “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” series. This series is totally different than that, but has me captivated. The stories are about an 11 year old girl named Flavia, who has a love of chemistry, a very eccentric family, and murders that keep happening in her small 1950s English village. They are really fun reads, Flavia is hilarious, and the stories keep your attention. I also love Carl Hiassen’s books, so I like to bring them along as well. Bringing books and magazines that you enjoy make for happy mamas!

A few other Mama’s favorites that I have already reviewed include:

Bike Friday

Bucky Eyemask

Beacon “Phoenix” Speaker

Thermacell Portable Cordless Mosquito Repellant Device

Recipe: Pasta Salad version 2!

I love a good pasta salad and usually make them much bigger than we need for one sitting, because they keep in the fridge well, are filling, and often taste even better for the second meal. I like when the pasta absorbs flavor while sitting in the fridge waiting for me to get hungry again.

I made this one recently. It is kind of similar to my other pasta salad in the recipe section, mainly because these are all ingredients I usually keep on hand. I made a little twist here and there that gives this one a different flavor.

Here are the ingredients I use for this salad:
* 1 bag of your favorite pasta (but I like to use one with curls or holes so the bacon and avocado get caught in the nooks and crannies)
* 1-2 Avocados (pitted, cubed)
* 1-2 Cucumbers
*1 container of mozzarella (I like the Ciliegine from Trader Joes)
* Half a jar of bacon bits (I cheat with this on the road, since it is easier than frying up a pack of bacon, but if you have the fresh stuff, even better!)
Half a bag of frozen corn
Half a bag of frozen peas
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
(I usually add sweet grape tomatoes also, but forgot when I made this batch)


First off, put a pot of salted water on to boil and cook pasta according to the instructions on the package.


Then I start cutting and placing the avocados, cucumbers, mozzarella, tomatoes and bacon bits into a big bowl.


I like to cut my cucumbers into small bites after quartering them and deseeding them.


About 2 minutes before your pasta is ready, pour the corn and peas into your pasta water to cook them.


When the pasta, peas and corn are finished strain them, run under cold water and strain again. Add it to the big bowl and toss.


When it is well combined, add two big gulfs of extra-virgin Olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, then salt and pepper to taste and toss so everything is coated. If you need a little more of everything, just add it. I tend to do this by feel and taste instead of by measuring.

When the tossing is finished, plate the food and enjoy!


Tip & Trick: Hanging Masterpieces!

I was perusing the Container Store one day, looking for a couple of organizing things I had learned about, when I came across these simple stainless steel strips. On closer inspection I realized they had adhesive stickers on the back so I wouldn’t need to put holes in the walls of the trailer. I picked up two of the longer ones, one for each side! They run right around $7.99 each.


I pulled off the sticker backer and applied them to our walls along the roof line so we can hang post cards or pictures (like one of dad, so we remember what he looks like while we are gone!). We can also hang art that is created while we are on the trip, like the picture above of a pack of wolves in Yellowstone!

I also bought an extra pack of colorful magnets just to make things even more fun (and I am hoping the bright colors will make them easy to find when they are no longer attached to the strip).

A little organized sprucing up!

Recipe: Homemade Stove-top Popcorn

We love popcorn! Who doesn’t, right?

Some are definitely better than others though, and we have taken to making it at home in a pan on the stove. It really couldn’t be easier, and we have found making a basic bowl of popcorn is faster our way and healthier than grabbing one of those bags of popcorn and throwing it in the microwave. Plus, it will work great while camping too!

Here is how we do it. All you need is:


+/- 2tbsp oil (I like safflower for this)
+/- 1tbsp butter
1/2 cup popping corn

Put the oil and butter in a pot with high sides (have a lid handy), and warm over medium-low heat until the butter is melted.

Pour in your half cup of popping corn (I realize the picture is using a 1/4 cup..I was making a smaller batch which is the beauty of this! You can vary the quantity!), give the whole thing a shake to coat the kernels. Put the lid on the pot, and wait. Just like in the microwave, as the popping slows, it will be finishing up, so I turn the heat off (and take it off the heat). Give it a minute for those last kernels to pop before removing the lid. When it is finished popping, season with salt to taste. All in, I think it might take 2 minutes total.


This basic recipe will run you about 30 it calories per serving. My favorite popping corn is from Bob’s Red Mill.

Sometimes we change out the flavor for something more sweet or I go with a little steak seasoning for something more savory. You can find lots of great ideas on this website!

Have fun and enjoy!

Favorite: Puzzling puzzles!

Sports gear and art supplies are awesome. Games are fantastic too, but sometimes you want to challenge your brains a bit or have you kids play on their own. The Lad just loves mazes and dot to dots, so I have added some different puzzles and activity books to the activity box.

I found this great box of puzzle cards by Usborne at our local book store. The box is full of cards that are dual sided and includes a write on/wipe off pen.


The puzzles are varied with some being harder and some easier. This lets them cover a wide range of ages. We have 2 of these sets. This one comes in the this nice tin box and another in a paper box. Both are compact and easy to take on the road!

I found this next puzzle at our local toy shop. Amaze by ThinkFun is a fun maze game, that is great for travel, and I see the Lad using it in the car during driving.


You can easily change the mazes by shifting the 4 rows of red dots on the left side of the game.


All of the different puzzles (16 in all) are listed on the back so there is no book to take along (read: lose) either. The little plastic “pen” (it doesn’t mark at all) helps you find your way to the finish. For a boy who loves mazes, this was ideal!

We love puzzles that help our counting and dot to dots are the best for that! I have found a few dot to dot books to pack along as well.

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The Usborne Dot to Dot in Space book has different puzzles on each page that are color coded, so you know which puzzle is which. It is an easier book than the Extreme Dot to Dot, where you do the puzzle and then put a matching sticker within the lines you just drew. The other great thing about dot to dot books is once you have done the puzzle, they turn into coloring books!

We also love regular puzzles. I came across these little travel puzzles in bags by Crocodile Creek that are awesome and easy to pack.


I took the picture with my phone to give you an idea of size. This puzzle has 100 pieces and comes in a zippered bag. The picture of the puzzle is on the back of the pouch so you know what you are putting together and the puzzles come in different themes. We have a little part-time astronaught (when he isn’t a cowboy), so things that have space and planets and rocket ships are awesome. Too bad they don’t make a western themed one!

We also love activity books. I have a math lover and we have activity books around the house, so I added his next math book from DK Books to the box. He likes these a lot. He has finished 2 others already. There are sticker chart rewards for each page, which builds skills as you continue through the book. The Lad works on these books for hours.


I found this activity book from Rand McNally called “Are We There Yet?”


It has lots of different geography based puzzles throughout the book. There are mazes, coloring, dot to dots, word searches and crosswords. Some of the activities he will need a little help with, being a new reader, but many he will be able to do on his own with no trouble.

What are your favorite puzzles to take along on road trips or camping? Tell us!