Monday, March 25, 2013

US National Park in the Caribbean & No Passport Required!

Where can you find such a place?  St. John US Virgin Islands.
View of ruins and coral blue waters at Lameshur Bay St John US Virgin Islands
Ruins at Lameshur Bay
 The Caribbean... If you haven't been, you really should, and if you have, then it is just a matter of when you are going back, not if.

View of beautiful Trunk Bay US Virgin Islands
Trunk Bay
St. John is the least populated, and most laid back of the 3 US Virgin Islands.  Nearly half of the entire island is a US National Park (Virgin Islands National Park).  There is camping just like in the other National Parks, but this camping is right on the powdery sand beach--complete with public showers, bathrooms, water equipment rental, snack bar and restaurant.  It also has the only under water trail in the entire US National Park system--at Trunk Bay (pictured above). 

Gentle waves on the powdery sand beach at Cinnamon Bay St John US Virgin Islands
One of the finest stretches of beach in the Caribbean - Cinnamon Bay
 St. John has many stretches of powdery sand beaches with gentle surf and shallow enough water for kids of all ages to be able to play in the water without getting into any trouble.  Some of the best beaches are Cinnamon Bay, Trunk Bay, Maho Bay and Francis Bay, but they are by no means the only beaches you should visit while you are there.

Wading by ourselves in the shallow water at Brown Bay US Virgin Islands
Brown Bay Beach completely to ourselves
As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is amazing what you can find with a short hike.  We hiked about a mile and a half from the road and had Brown Bay all to ourselves.  We didn't see another person for more than 4 hours while we were here.  And, here's a little secret.  The left side of Brown Bay was one of the two best places to snorkel on the entire island.  Let me know if you would like directions to the trailhead. 

Full Moon Through the Palm Trees at Cinnamon Bay US Virgin Islands
Full moon through the palm trees at Cinnamon Bay             
 Here's another tip.  Don't be afraid to get a handheld dive light and snorkel after dark.  A great many living things in the ocean are nocturnal, and you will see things that you won't likely see during the day.  We went night snorkeling 3 different nights while we were here--including during the full moon at Cinnamon Bay.  Highlights were color-changing Octopus and Squid, and schools of big silver Tarpon.
Holding my hand out to a Southern Stingray in shallow water at Francis Bay US Virgin Islands
Holding my hand out to a Southern Stingray in shallow water at Francis Bay
 Because most of St. John is a protected National Park, you will see wildlife of all kinds at every turn.  In addition to the abundant and spectacular aquatic life, you will find tropical birds, tree frogs, Iguanas, Mongoose, and even wild Donkeys.

Holding a Bright Orange Hermit Crab Emerging from Its Shell
Holding a bright orange Hermit Crab emerging from its shell
We found Hermit Crabs almost everywhere we went.  This one came out to take a look at us.  Our boys found one that was about 4 times as large as this one--Check it out below!
My son holding a huge Hermit Crab living in a large Conch shell
My son holding a huge Hermit Crab living in a large Conch shell

We had sea kayaks included with the villa we rented, (and an SUV too!) and they ended up being great for playing, exploring, and moving food and gear to more remote stretches of beach.

My sons trying to knock each other off the sea kayaks at Francis Bay
My sons trying to knock each other off the sea kayaks at Francis Bay

Three of our children with kayaks and snorkels at Waterlemon Cay
A short Kayak trip out to Waterlemon Cay
 The best snorkeling in St John was at Waterlemon Cay.  It is a tiny island just off shore, and you can easily and safely swim to it even if you don't have a kayak.  The best snorkeling is to the left.  The far side and the right side have good snorkeling too, but sometimes the conditions are pretty rough so just be aware.

A Small Black Tip Reef Shark Swimming in the Shallows at Waterlemon Bay
A small Black Tip Reef Shark swimming in the shallows at Waterlemon Bay
 This little Reef Shark swam along side us as we walked the beach early in the mornings at Waterlemon Bay.  You don't need to be very worried about these guys.  They are very shy once you get in the water, and they swim away before you get very close.  We also had numerous Green Turtles to swim with in the mornings at this beach, which are Callie's favorite thing in the entire world... except for me I'm assuming ;-)

View of Coral Bay St John US Virgin Islands from the Window of Villa Mahr
View of Coral Bay from the window of Villa Mahr where we stayed
 We stayed in an excellent villa on the mountain side overlooking Coral Bay.  We found it on, and it is called Villa Mahr.  Scott Mahr, whose father built this villa, was extremely generous with us and rented it to us for a great price.  We had a pool, washer and dryer, BBQ grill, and as I mentioned earlier, sea kayaks.  Plus he even rented us his 6 passenger SUV for far less than a rental company would have.

Family Picture at the Pool of Villa Mahr at Coral Bay St John US Virgin Islands
Family picture at the pool of Villa Mahr at Coral Bay
 Here we are at the pool at Villa Mahr.  I am not sure that my kids aren't still waterlogged to this day thanks to the easy access to the beaches and the pool on this trip.  They were constantly getting wet and having fun.

Beautiful Sunset and Moored Boats on the Glassy Water of Francis Bay St John US Virgin Islands
Beautiful sunset and moored boats on the glassy water of Francis Bay
I'll finish off this trip with another sunset.  This one is at Francis Bay--Callie's favorite spot in all of the Caribbean.

I have only barely scratched the surface of all of the fun we had in St John.  Thanks to a bit of research and planning, this trip was more affordable than you are imagining it was as you are reading this right now.  I am happy to share all of the details with you if you are interested, so please either comment on this post or send me a message if you want to know more.

It shouldn't be hard for you to see that my family cherishes the memories of this trip far more (and will for far longer) than any of the stuff we have ever received on birthdays, Christmas, or even out shopping for ourselves.  Don't spend your money and time getting them any more stuff.  Instead, why not Take Them Traveling!   


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Old Faithful? Why Yes, It Still Is.

Old Faithful erupting in Yellowstone National Park

 Old Faithful is a Yellowstone icon, and for good reason.  Not only does it faithfully erupt around every 60 minutes and lasts for around 2 1/2 minutes each time, but when you are watching it in person, you can feel just how much power Mother Nature has right under your feet.
Kids behind burned out lodgepole pine trees in Yellowstone

I have always been fascinated by the effects of fires in the park.  I have been visiting the park since the early 1970s, and I have seen fires both take and give life.  Some plants, like these lodgepole pines my children are hiding behind, are dependent on fires to reproduce.  They have seeds that are only released from their cones under the intense heat that a fire can generate.

Steam venting from Monument Geyser in Yellowstone

This cone geyser--Monument Geyser--was on top of a mountain at the end of a two mile uphill hike.  It was well worth it as we were able to explore this geyser basin all by ourselves, and the panoramic views from on top were awe inspiring.

Callie, Gavin, and Kaye warming their hands on a steam vent in Yellowstone

The weather was still a bit chilly so Callie, Gavin and our good friend Kaye stopped to warm their hands on this natural hand-warming vent in the same geyser basin.
View of Porcelan Springs in Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone

I guess views from above were a common theme for us on this trip.  This look at Porcelan Springs in Norris Geyser basin was taken right from the boardwalk.
Contrasting sun and shade over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Deep gorge of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
It may sound strange, but I am always hoping for storms when we visit Yellowstone.  The reason is because of views like these.  There is no place better than Yellowstone for contrasts around every turn.  These pictures were taken by Callie at The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

View of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River

This is a picture of the famous Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.  The falls drop 350 feet and you can hike to both the brink at the top of the falls and to the base.  There are a ton of great hikes in this area with breathtaking views and amazing geologic features you can't see anywhere else on earth.
Sunset over Lake Yellowstone

We'll finish off this trip with a sunset over Lake Yellowstone.  This was a great trip, but I want to point out that this was only 2 1/2 days in the park.  I know that I could spend an entire year in Yellowstone and see something new every day (and here's hoping I get that chance one day), so whether you only have a couple of days or a week to visit, I heartily recommend it!

Please let me know if you would like any more information on this trip or would like to pick my brain on any travel ideas.  

Stay tuned next week as I highlight a family trip to somewhere more tropical in nature!   

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Yellowstone! Getting disconnected & rejuvenated.

Geothermal reflections in YellowstoneVery few places are as magical to me as Yellowstone National Park.  Callie claims that she can physically watch the stress melt off my face at the very moment we drive through the entry to the park ;-)  I truly do love this remote back-country park and especially love that no one's phone, tablet, or WiFi works throughout most of the park.The family standing near the Lower Geyser Basin This was our latest family trip over Fall Break.  West Yellowstone is about a 6 hour drive from our house in Provo.  In the shoulder seasons you can usually find a hotel with a pool, hot tub, and breakfast for around $100/night.  If you would like details on where we stayed and advice on how to plan your trip, please comment on this post or message me.


View of Midway Geyser Basin from mountain top

 A little hiking can give you a completely different perspective than just seeing things from the road or even on the walkways around the geothermic features. Midway Geyser Basin is so much more striking from above than it was from ground level.  This was only about a mile hike from the car.

Gavin standing at the base of Fairy Falls only about another mile and a half on the same trail system as the one we took to get the aerial view of Midway Geyser Basin.  Don't be afraid to hike a little.  We saw incredible things we had never seen before by getting out of the car and hiking--and it doesn't take that much hiking to see things everyone else is unfortunately going to miss.


There is more to share about this trip, so I will continue Yellowstone on my next post too.


I would love to get your feedback on this post as well as the blog.  Please let me know what you think and if there are specific things you would like me to cover that I haven't.


Do yourself and your family/friends a favor and put Yellowstone National Park on your list of places to visit!