Are the wild Florida Keys child-friendly? Ask Flipper

Dolphin Research Center

OK, so the Florida Keys may not be the first destination that comes to mind when you think of a family vacation. But maybe it should be.

Sure, there are about a hundred other Florida attractions you’re more likely to take your little ones to than this island chain, which has a well-deserved reputation for world-class diving, sportfishing and, of course, its notorious watering holes.

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In Idaho, the land of long piers, better mind your idioms

Jumping at the docks

Like one or two frazzled parents before us, we’ve been known to invite our kids to take a long walk off a short pier.

It usually happens when we’re at the end of a marathon road trip and the children have been fidgeting and fighting in the back, like starving rats dropped into a maze, only not as polite.

So when we visited Coeur d’Alene, Id., and our children asked us if they could take a walk on its floating pier, we knew we’d have to rethink our use of the idiom.

That’s because it’s the longest floating boardwalk in the world, as the placard in front of it said, and as our eight-year-old son read with some satisfaction. It’s also one of several surprises we found on a fall trip to Idaho, an adventure that took us to the Pacific Northwest’s oldest state park and a mysterious but beautiful lake with a French name. [continue]


Halloween on Southwest Airlines — enough said!


OK, we admit it: We rearranged our schedule to fly Southwest Airlines on Halloween. This holiday is a big deal, and besides, our kids will do anything for trick-or-treat candy at the gate.

We flew from Spookane back home to Gore-lando — sorry, I couldn’t resist — a six hour trip including a stop in Dead-ver (hat tip to Dave for that one).


Montana is a sweet adventure on a horse named Skittles

Erysse on a horse2

At some point during our stay at Bar W Ranch in Whitefish, Mont. — I’m not sure exactly when — the candy theme hit us like a startled grizzly on a hiking trail. Which is to say, we never saw it coming.

Skittles were everywhere. We found them in our kids’ packed lunch before they headed out for a day of riding. For reasons not entirely clear to us, the multicolored candy popped up everywhere in our log cabin. Coincidentally, Skittles was also the name of our six-year-old daughter’s horse.

Yeah, we get it. Montana is a sweet adventure. [continue]


My impressions of Montana


The first thing I noticed about the Bar W Ranch were the wild turkeys. I bet it’s Thanksgiving every day here!

This is the inside of our cabin at the ranch. My sister loved the rocking horse, but my favorite part was the beds — they were very comfortable. [continue]


Adventures in Montana’s “biggest” ghost town

Big Sky Ski Resort

The first thing you need to know about Big Sky Resort in Montana is that it’s bigger than ever.

Now that it’s merged with neighboring Moonlight Basin, it’s the biggest ski resort in the United States. How big? More than 5,750 acres of skiable terrain with 4,350 vertical feet.

Biggest skiing in America, they say.

The second, and maybe more important thing to know about it is that in mid-October, the only ones here to appreciate its bigness are the moose, the grizzly bears, and an occasional maintenance worker preparing this mountain resort for Opening Day on Thanksgiving.

Welcome to Montana’s “biggest” ghost town. [continue]

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How can you miss your national parks if they never go away?

My sons Aren and Iden Elliott jump for joy on Friday, the second day we visited Grand Teton National Park.
My sons Aren and Iden Elliott jump for joy on Friday, the second day we visited Grand Teton National Park.

Maybe we should thank the United States Congress for shutting down our government, which closed America’s national parks for 16 unbearably long days.

I am.

For most of last week, my family and I entertained ourselves in our vacation rental at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, waiting, hoping, praying that Grand Teton National Park would reopen.

Really it was no hardship. Our vacation home, the Colter Ridge Lodge, had plenty going on. We had moose trekking past the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the vast natural landscape and a memorable early morning bear sighting from the bubbling security of our indoor hot tub.

Inside was just as cozy and nice. We enjoyed hot chocolate around the breakfast nook and made s’mores by the fireplace while checking the news to see if the parks would finally open their gates.

We were glad we’d decided to stay in a home because we had plenty of room and things to do. Imagine being confined to a hotel room with the whole family. Our place was a spacious four bedroom house with really comfy beds, comfortable living rooms were spread across two floors. The structure was built right into the rugged mountainside and made you feel like you were a part of nature. But one of the best parts of staying in the managed vacation rental was that the staff, especially the folks at Jackson Hole Resort Lodging, were able to point us in the direction of adventures we might not have thought to try while waiting for the weather or in our case the government ruling to change.

And when Grand Teton National Park finally opened last Thursday, we immediately drove our rental car to the closest entrance.

“Welcome back,” I said to a smiling park ranger.

“Glad to be back,” he replied. And he sounded like he meant it.

I handed him my credit card and my National Parks annual pass, and asked him for a renewal. Ours had expired during the closure, fittingly.

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Wild about Jackson Hole

Crisp and cold!

Even though we usually have a great time wherever we go, I wasn’t sure about this trip. The government shutdown meant we wouldn’t be able to visit the national parks a key part of any trip to Wyoming and Montana. Still I kept my hopes up. I took this photo of Jackson Hole ski resort as we drove toward the mountain on our way to our vacation rental. I edited this by going into photoshop and changing the colors to feel a little warmer and them brighter. [continue]