Coconut tree climbing – and jumping – in Southern Quintana Roo, Mexico. Coconuts, or cocos in Spanish, were an exciting fruit to explore here. We collected them as they washed up along the shore and played with their dried out shells. Locals were quick to point out which ones taste best – yellow for the coconut flesh, green for the coconut water, never the ones that have already fallen – so soon after this picture, we borrowed a machete and tried our hand at cutting a few open ourselves. And by we, I mean my husband. Gauging by the number of swings and how quickly he broke into a sweat, it did not look easy. But…it was very fun to watch and just as fun to taste.
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Some of the most dramatic views and memorable experiences on our 100 day road trip were times the earth revealed its ancient history. In the Badlands and Moab it was as we stood at the bottom of what was once (millions of years earlier) an ocean, with a panorama of towering rocks that were once under that very same water. On Cape Flattery it was where we stood on stunning cliffs with jutting islands all around that all were once inland, but had since been eroded away by wind and water and time.
Driving through Northern California gave us much of the same natural mysteries. We humbly wandered among giants at Redwood National Park. We hiked down to patches of sand, through natural arches, surrounded by enormous cliffs. We explored tide pools and small towns, dodged forest fires, and lamented the effects of severe droughts. And between episodes of nausea as we hugged the curves of the PCH, I contemplated how wild and incredible and again, how wild it would be to hike the Pacific Coast Trail.
The west coast leaves quite an impression. Even in the relatively short time we spent there, that much was unavoidable. Step inland into the forests and a calm and wonder comes over you, while a stone’s throw away the dramatic and powerful ocean, well at least it left my heart pounded a bit faster.
Here’s a glimpse of our experience as we took our small family in our even smaller car and wandered through Northern California.
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Our little family of three left the suburbs of New Jersey to travel 100 days around the United States. By the time we made it to the Olympic Peninsula, we were in awe of all we’d seen, quite tired and ready to rest and officially across the country. We’d left the Atlantic Ocean and were now stepping foot in the Pacific. We’d made it! Cue collapse into a heap of exhausted joy.
Coming from the east, it is hard to grasp just how big states and areas are out west – that a drive from one part of Olympic National Park is hours from other parts meant more than a little readjusting of expectations. But mostly, it meant there was more beauty to enjoy wherever we found ourselves. It also meant – happily – that we would have no choice but to really slow down and settle into our base. While exploring Port Townsend, Ruby Beach and Cape Flattery, we spent most of our time in and around Neah Bay. Our tent was pitched on a spot of sand in a tree grove alongside VW buses and surfing families. That was where we called Washington home for much longer than planned. It was hard to leave when we could be barefoot on our private beach cove day in and day out. Here’s a little bit more on why we loved it so:
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Our little family of three left the suburbs to travel 100 days across the United States by way of car and camping. Here, we explored Mt. Rainier. A beautiful and varied national park, there are glaciers and temperate rain forests in the same view! This place, with its stunning peak, its family-friendly trails and its powerful peacefulness quickly became very special for us. Here’s a glimpse why:
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Our little family of three left the suburbs to travel 100 days cross-country by way of road trip and tent. Here, we explored Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the United States.
Yellowstone, Wes Anderson style.
Our daughter’s face as a bison walked down the road, alongside our car.
Here’s looking up.
No, wild grizzly sightings. Taking in our human impact on wildlife at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery + Rescue Center.
Our daughter was fascinated by the fact that by walking around Yellowstone, we were walking around a volcano.
So long, Yellowstone.
Welcome to the Badlands. Millions of years ago this was an ocean. Now we drive and walk and explore the bottom of it, among fossils and sediment, among peaks and valleys, among stillness and thoughts. To be here is to feel small and humble, to be in awe of our world, to yearn for even more secrets kept underground. You know, the little things in life.
When we first heard of the Badlands, people told us it was like walking on the moon. It was. My daughter said it was like, “being inside the Earth.” It was. It’s simply unlike any other place we’ve been. We were drawn back to it each day, just to take it in all over again.
But the adventure didn’t really start at the Badlands. We’d been driving 2,000 miles and about 10 days before we even hit the South Dakota border. Our cross-country road trip had taken us west from New Jersey, through terrain that was largely similar. While each state has it’s own culture and landscape and it’s own feel and uniqueness, the area was largely covered in similar forests and fields.
Then we hit South Dakota and everything changed. We pulled off an exit to get gas, and we were among bison. Just there, next to our car. We got back on the highway, seemed to turn a corner and all of a sudden, there were misty, rolling, green hills as far as the eye could see. A storm was coming in. The dark clouds, with the sun behind us gave everything a neon hue. It was simultaneously bright and dark, endless and natural, stunning and new.
I was overjoyed that the next two hundred miles could possibly look like this, but South Dakota reinvents itself over and over again. For most of our drive was flat prairie land, dotted with cattle, farms and billboards – my daughter described it as, “all flat and green, with signs”. If we didn’t already know about Wall Drug, it was impossible not to after this trek. But it was here that I truly understood what it was like to see the sky as a large dome. It was bigger than we’d ever seen and more expansive than we’d thought possible. We already felt so tiny.
By the time we reached the Badlands, I didn’t realize we could see so much variety in a few hours drive. The formations just appeared, almost out of nowhere. A few miles off the highway and we were driving through Badlands National Park, trying to wrap our heads around what we’re seeing, pointing over each other in every direction.
We drove for miles, winding through these formations. The road that runs through Badlands National Park brings you up close. You get a great view from your car window alone. Our first time through, on the way to our nearby campsite, we just gawked. It’s seemed impossible this place could exist. We were happy to have days to go back and keep exploring.
Camping made for a unique visit. Being among the Badlands we already felt connected to the earth, but camping meant we never really left it. From our picnic bench we watched distant storms and sunsets. Clouds were massive. Lightning was wild. The sun was a color we’d yet seen. It hung like a big, bright, orange-red ball low in the sky. From our campground, we biked up and down hills. There were rivers running through cliffside formations, snake skins along the side of the road, flocks of birds flying in circles over and over again and prairie dogs popping up all along the fields.
South Dakota was positively beautiful.
There was just as much to explore nearby the Badlands, as there was actually in the Badlands. But, of course, the Badlands were the main show. When we picked a few of the smaller trails to explore, we found that no matter your age or physical ability, the Badlands have been made accessible for you to experience. There were 1/4 mile boardwalks in some places and 6 mile dirt hikes in others. There were roadside pull-offs and climb at your own risk opportunities.
The summer gets quite hot, so we spent limited time hiking. A joy of slow traveling was that we felt we could spend an hour hiking and then just plan to come back another day, without a fear of missing something. But what we did hike was beyond memorable, looking out over a desert of towering rocks and frightening valleys. There was much talk about the history of this land, the idea that one day something might walk among the floor of our own oceans, and the perspective we have of ourselves in this space.
Our daughter really captured it when she said, “Sometimes you feel small because everything around you is so big”. Yeah, that’s exactly how we felt.
We loved it there. The Badlands felt very special for us. And we weren’t the only ones. While never feeling too crowded, the Badlands attracted many folks, and many families. We couldn’t help but smile watching kids of all ages in this space – infants wrapped on their mamas, kids holding their parents’ hands as they climbed, teenagers climbing the highest peaks they could possibly reach – then hopping in the RV or trailer or their car, like us, and heading off to wherever else they’re going to discover in this world.
It’s an exciting energy to be around and the Badlands themselves are a truly memorable experience – through your own eyes, and through your child’s. I hope you all get the chance to experience it someday.
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Once the spring sun starts coming out, we embark on one of my favorite traditions. We head to the beach, bundled up layers and all. The sky is as blue as the summer. The ocean and sand, seemingly untouched during the colder months, are ever constant. It doesn’t matter that the water is ice cold or that the air is still somewhat chilly. We go because the beach is as much an expansive playground as it is a brilliant space to be alone, with the first rays of spring warming the air and our faces.
We recently did just this, spending a day at Sandy Hook, our favorite beach in New Jersey. This place is off the beaten path in an area where it can feel like little else is. It’s a national park – albeit a narrow one – so you’re surrounded by sand and trees and bike paths, rather than development. And at the same time, you can see the NYC skyline as part of your beach view. Bustling life is close, but not too close. It’s easy to reach, but feels a far way off. Plus, you have the history of the island and its 250 year old lighthouse to boot.
But what made this visit so special wasn’t necessarily just the warm sun or the setting, although they were truly great. It was the simple moments my daughter and I spent together. Laughing. Exploring. Being.
For my 30th birthday, we planned a champagne brunch sail around the Hudson River in NYC and a French-themed picnic with some friends + family in a local park. Fancy. I love being out on the water and our last attempt at operating a sailboat was laughably disastrous (more on that another time), so I was happy to sit back and let someone else navigate. But I’m often seeking an off-the-tourist-trail kind of experience and was worried this might not fit the bill. I was overjoyed this was not the case.
We planned for a day hike out to Lautersee (lake) from our Mittenwald apartment. This time, best laid plans worked. We headed out along narrow streets lined with fresco-ed homes, carved wooden accent pieces, wide open screen-less windows, and yards full of flowers and lawn ornaments. This is Germany. We made our way up the steep incline and within a few minutes, at what felt to be a 35 degree angle, voila, we were above the entire town. It was really that quick.
We had a fairly basic playbook for where we based most of our stays during this trip. Mountains, small Bavarian village, forests. Mittenwald hit them all. So for the last leg of our travels, we headed across the south of Eastern Germany and settled into a cozy apartment on the outskirts of town.
Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.
I’d read about Ramsau on a travel forum and quickly added it to the reasons why we would need to stay in Berchtesgaden Land. It was described as a great place to visit for the day, with a beautiful church, babbling brook, and small shops along the streets. As it turns out, it is also home to a delightful apple strudel.
I knew on our journey through Germany, we’d need to find ourselves deep in a forest, looking out from a mountaintop over a valley below. I grew up on German fairytales told by my German Oma in her German accent. I had this idea in my mind of what the German countryside looked like. And accurate or not, I was hoping to find it.
Gemütlichkeit ( listen) – a situation inducing a cheerful mood, peace of mind, with connotation of belonging and social acceptance, coziness and unhurry.