Our California trip was all about re-connecting for me. The timing was due to our good friendsï¿½ Disneyland adventure, but the real impetus was to see my grandma, now 95-years-old and in failing health.
The last couple times Iï¿½ve seen her were quick. Because she lives in an assisted living apartment (small, not really appropriate for little visitors), and because I had two young boys, I spent more time chasing them than visiting with her. This time, the boys and I chatted, played Skipbo, shared donuts, and had a relaxed time. I donï¿½t know if I will see grandma again, and I am so glad we could spend time with her now.
Connections. We played with my brother, my mom, and my dad and stepmom. We stayed near San Luis Obispo with my friend Missy from high school. While she and I caught up on the last 10 or 15 years, our boys made new friends around a bonfire at the beach.
We toured a science museum, tried made-on-the-spot ice cream, climbed rocks, and engineered gumdrop creations with Jen (my first college roommate!) and her family. Most importantly, we talked and joked. I ï¿½seeï¿½ these friends on Facebook and Instagram, and occasionally, talk on the phone, but the real connection, of course comes from face-to-face interaction.
And then there were the landscapes. The Pacific Ocean is an old friend whose waters I touch only once a year, if I am lucky. The sand through my toes and warm sun on my back as I walked its shoreline, brought back memories and sparked new thoughts.
Re-connecting with Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountain range while introducing them to my kids was amazing. On a lark, I stopped at the Merced Grove just inside Yosemite. We walked the 1.5 miles to the grove, and no one else was there. The boys and I attempted to hug a Sequoia tree, just as I did as a kid. They were genuinely thrilled and in awe of the big trees. While I greeted old friends (really old!), Anders and Finn made new ones in a moment I think we will all remember.
When we came around a corner and spotted Half Dome for the first time, a flood of familiarity filled me. From camping in the Valley with my mom and brother, to trips with college friends, to jobs working in these mountains, it all came back. Well, almost. It took a few days of walking trails and looking at maps to recall the names of plants and landmarks. We're not as close as we used to be, the Sierra Nevada and I, but we are starting to reconnect. We just need more time together.
This summer we ventured to Portland and the Oregon Coast. Again, it was about catching up with friends, as well as exploring new places. The connecting, and reconnecting, has meant so much to me. I want to hop in my car and come visit every one of you.
Our friend Kelly spent a year driving around the country connecting with people. And she came out of it a changed person (and I think, the people she met were all positively affected, too. We were!). Read about her trip and her new book here.
This is a piece I wrote for the Great Falls Tribune last winter.
At Homestake Lodge, east of Butte, skiers kick, glide and skate over nearly 40 kilometers of groomed trails. School groups don skis for the first time, women’s groups hone their skills on skate skis and kids’ groups learn to ski recreationally and competitively.
Families and individuals breeze through aspen trees and around beaver ponds and cruise up and down the conifer-lined trails beneath granite cliffs.
Seven years ago, this Nordic center was nothing but trees, boulders and a few dirt roads. Now families, exercise enthusiasts and hard-core Nordic skiers get their cross-country fix, meet up with friends and enjoy a bowl of homemade soup in front of the fire.
“We had a vision of a place with great trails and a communal aspect,” said Chris Axelson, who owns Homestake Lodge with his wife Mandy.
They’ve made that dream come true.
With an eye on minimizing their carbon footprint through the use of passive solar heating, thermal masses, photovoltaic panels and other eco-groovy techniques, Homestake Lodge is a perfect place for a day — or a weekend — out of town.
Montana is loaded with Nordic skiing opportunities. From full-fledged lodges, to parking lots that lead to miles of trails — where there is reliable snow in Montana, there’s a cross-country ski trail system.
The North Shore Nordic Club maintains trails for skiers and snowshoers in the Flathead Valley. They groom 6.5 kilometers at Bigfork Community Nordic Center and 43 kilometers at Blacktail Nordic Trails.
Bigfork trails are located at the intersection of Foothill and Jewel Basin Road north of Bigfork. Blacktail trails are along Blacktail Road east of Blacktail Mountain (alpine) Ski Area.
Thirty miles of scenic trail system on private and Forest Service lands loop through terrain well suited for all levels of ability. Bohart Ranch is known for impeccably groomed trails, big hills, biathlon training and wildlife. The center is located 16 miles northeast of Bozeman.
Chief Joseph’s 25 kilometers of groomed trails receive reliable snowfall every year, and is usually skiable earlier and later than many of the other Nordic trails in the area. There is a warming cabin, with a rentable loft. It’s located at the southern end of the Bitterroot Valley.
This resort in the middle of the Seeley Swan Valley has 15 kilometers of groomed trails to fit a variety of experience levels. Beyond the trails, backcountry skiing lures the well equipped and avalanche-savvy.
More than 20 miles of ski and snowmobile (separate) trails beckon at Elkhorn Hot Springs in the Pioneer Mountains. From the lookout at Solarium Point, gaze south three miles to the ski runs at Maverick Mountain and beyond to the Big Hole Valley. To the north and east, the mountains — Highboy, Comet and Saddleback — dominate the skyline. Soak in the hot springs pools après ski.
Forest Service Trails
Throughout the state, the U.S. Forest Service maintains a network of hiking/biking/horseback riding trails that double as ski trails. Check with the local district for the best trails to ski on.
Winter ski and snowshoe trails throughout Glacier offer access to spectacular scenery and uncrowded recreational opportunities. From Apgar, Lake McDonald and North Fork on the west side, to Saint Mary, Marias Pass and Two Medicine on the east side, both groomed and ungroomed trails crisscross the park.
Nestled at the top of Homestake Pass between Butte and Whitehall, Homestake Lodge superbly grooms 37 kilometers of trails for classic and skate skiing. Ten kilometers of trail are dog-friendly. A yurt, cabins and bunkrooms are available for rent.
This historic inn bordering Glacier National Park in Essex has 33 kilometers of ski trails, which are groomed daily. The trails wind through gently rolling, forested terrain with views into Glacier National Park. Guided backcountry ski tours provide amazing adventures.
Voted No. 1 Nordic Ski Resort in North America by Cross Country Skier magazine, the dependable snow, 85 kilometers of meticulously groomed trails and epic views create an unrivaled ski experience in Big Sky.
The Last Chance Nordic Ski Club maintains trails in two areas near Helena. The 13 kilometers of trails at MacDonald Pass offer stunning views of the Big Belt Mountains through the sheltered forest area. The city golf course offers convenient skiing in town. MacDonald Pass trails are about ½ mile east of the MacDonald Pass summit in Highway 12, the golf course is in Helena.
Nearly 28 kilometers of groomed ski trails (10 kilometers for skate skiing, and all of the trails with the exception of the Spire Loop groomed for classic skiing). Ski trails also can be used as access to backcountry skiing along the Continental Divide. Find it 11 miles south of Highway 1, near Anaconda.
More than 15 kilometers of groomed trails are laid out to take advantage of easy-going nature of the terrain just outside of Red Lodge. Well-groomed trails skirt meadows and wind through aspen groves; the hills are challenging, but easy to avoid.
Easily accessible from West Yellowstone, the Rendezvous Ski Trails consist of more than 35 kilometers of gently rolling, beautifully groomed trails that wind through tall stands of lodgepole pine and open meadows. Situated at just more than 6,800 feet, the trails provide perfect conditions for high altitude training or recreation. A 22-lane range is available on a self-serve basis for Biathlon training.
More than 20 kilometers of trail wind through trees and meadows at the Silver Crest trails located in the Little Belt Mountains south of Neihart. Benches and shelters dot the trails just where skiers need a rest.
The 20 kilometers of Nordic trails wind through old growth forests, roll over ridge tops and meander through meadows eight miles from Whitefish. Trails are groomed daily. The lodge offers three suites for overnight guests.
Glacier Nordic Club grooms and maintains 13 kilometers of flat-to-rolling ski trails at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course and 10 hilly kilometers on Whitefish Mountain.
Yellowstone is at its best in winter. A blanket of snow, steamy geysers and hot springs, wildlife hunkered in the valleys, and the lack of summer crowds make skiing in Wonderland delightful. Find groomed or blazed trails at Mammoth, Tower, Old Faithful, Northeast, Canyon, West Yellowstone, and along Highway 191 in Gallatin Canyon.
After an awesome day at Disneyland we were ready for some real relaxing. My brother went to work, my mom drove down and we hit the beach.
Running in the sand, digging to nowhere, chasing waves, and hanging out with mom/grandma-- a perfect day.
And we ended the day with another swim in the pool.
We are back on the road again!
It all started when my friend Dorel mentioned she was taking her girls to Disneyland for their 8th birthday. I had been wanting to get out to California to see my grandma, so the timing was perfect. We would join them at Disneyland for the best birthday party ever.
I went to Disneyland a bunch as a kid. We lived just a couple hours away and could easily pop down for a day at the Magic Kingdom. But, the boys had never been. So, we hopped in the car and 14 hours later we were there....in Las Vegas.
The boys lost their minds as we drove down the hill into Vegas. The lights of the city were like a Mecca to them. I realized that our kids are truly small-town kids. Anders, especially, is in love with Las Vegas, despite, or maybe because of, how little he knows of it. It pains me to say this, because I hate Las Vegas, but we might need to take a real trip there sometime.
As it was, we just spent the night, rode the elevator, and dipped our toes in the freezing pool.
Then it was another five hours to my brother's house on the coast. Dinner and a good sleep, and then Disneyland!!!
None of the kids knew the other set of siblings would be there. So they were dumbstruck when their Montana friends showed up. It was such a fun surprise. And such a fun day. We hit the park hard from open to close. It wasn't super busy (just thousands and thousands of people) on a Monday in November.
Some of the classics were closed (Small World, Space Mountain, Jungle Cruise), but we had a blast riding all the others. It was an even better day than I anticipated, and the kids had such a good time running around with their buddies in this crazy place.
One thing I never thought about when I was having kids, was how rewarding it would be to watch their friends grow up. I am so attached to my friends' kids and love that we get to share these special days with them. And to pull in my brother (one of my all time favorite kids) made it even more special.
On our August trip to Jellystone, Heather and I braved the rain (drizzle) to walk up Elephant Back Mountain. It's a well-known trail in the Lake area, but neither of us had done it.
We drove to the trailhead, but then realized it's a really short walk from the Lake Lodge cabins where we were staying. Oops. We were on our way north, anyway.
The uphill trail is well kept. We didn't see a lot of people, but that may have been due to the weather. We did see a ton of mushrooms, mosses, lichens, and bryophytes--definitely due to the weather.
The trail is in the trees most of the way, with periodic views of Yellowstone Lake and the Absaroka Range. It was the perfect mix of "steep enough to get your heart rate up," but not "so steep you can't talk." Heather and I always have a lot to talk about. I think we talk so much that the bear spray we each carry on our hip is unnecessary.
We passed some people who had seen a bear, but no bruin sitings for us.
Plan Your Own Trip
What: A 5.2 mile lollipop loop trail up Elephant Back Mountain.
Why: Great views of Yellowstone Lake and the Absaroka Mountains, plus some exercise.
Where: Drive 0.7 miles south of Fishing Bridge or 0.5 miles north of Lake. Marked trailhead on the west side of road, and extra parking just north on east side of road.
Who: Hikers who don't mind a hill.
How: About halfway up, the trail splits and makes a loop. Go either way. We went to the right and thought it was great.
Need a trail guide? This is the book I use.
My go-to, favorite hiking book for Yellowstone is Bill Schneider's Hiking Yellowstone National Park.
Want to Spend the Night?