Visiting National Parks with Toddlers


Enjoying the National Parks with Kids.fw

We booked a job in Utah so we decided to take a circuitous route through Arizona (Grand Canyon), Utah (Bryce Canyon), Wyoming (Grand Tetons), Idaho and Nevada. We ended up the next week in California for our next booking. The plan was to enjoy four national parks with our three year old and one year old.We wanted to visit Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Tetons National Park.

We expected to spend a week driving around and plunking down $30 for each national park. We visited AAA to get our maps and set out. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I told my family that we could do it. I told them it would be fun. Here are some tips that we picked up along the journey:


Crossing the bridge back from Mossy Cave outside of Bryce Canyon National Park.

#1 Buy the Pass

I knew that each park would cost $30 per carload to get in but what I didn’t realize was that there is a pass that will get you into all the national parks for the low price of $80! We paid $30 to get into the Grand Canyon and then found out that though the park is fine, the canyon doesn’t stop once the official park gates are behind you. After exiting the park, we noticed that the Grand Canyon (a huge gorge) runs for miles and miles outside the park. I pulled over to the side of the road and took a peak … for free. Hmmmm …

Next up was Utah. There are plenty debates over whether Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon National Park was the better park. I didn’t want to spend $30 for each park when I knew we’d only be able to visit for a few hours each. I decided to do a little Googling. Sure, I’d like to see the both parks but if it was going to save me $30 I don’t mind being cheap. We decided to visit Bryce Canyon National Park ($30 saved from not paying for both parks). The night before we reached Bryce Canyon National Park we realized that there is a hike that is perfect for toddlers with the same views of the hoodoos outside of the official park gates.  *slaps forehead* Instead of plunking down another $30 we did the free hike and spent about two hours viewing the little waterfall, crossing bridges, playing in the stream, and taking photos. We, of course, drove right by the actual park and I would have gone in …  if I had known that for $80 there was a pass that would get me into all the national parks …  but I didn’t …  so I didn’t …  and we missed a great opportunity and see Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Along with the Annual Pass, there are also passes for seniors, passes for 4th graders and their families, and passed for disabled folks. View all the passes here.

Grand Canyon 2017 - Horseshoe Guillermo chillin

Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona outside of Grand Canyon National Park.

#2 Enjoy the Outskirts

Some of our most enjoyable times happened just outside of the national park we planned to visit. I mentioned the hike we did up to Mossy Cave outside of Bryce National Park. It was an easy hike for both children and it provided a way for them to engage with nature (playing in the stream, touching the rocks, ducking into the cave, crossing the bridges, etc.).

I didn’t mention the short hike up to Horseshoe Bend outside of Grand Canyon National Park (outside of Page, Arizona). It was the best part of visiting Grand Canyon National Park. Driving around the edge of the Grand Canyon was cool but I wouldn’t run to do it again. Doing the short hike up to Horseshoe Bend was exhilorating. It’s free, it’s a bit of a challenge (there are uphill parts on the way there and the way back), and of course the view is beautiful. I had seen photos of it but I didn’t realize that it was outside of the park grounds. Taking time to explore things outside of the park made the trip memorable and made us feel like we were having a trip that no one else was having.


Shoshone Falls 2017 - Snake River Guillermo

The view of Snake River from Shoshone Falls platform.


#3 View the Little Things

On each trip, we tried to visit small, local things to break up the drive and help us learn a bit about local culture (can you tell we’re unschoolers? Lol). After driving through a snowstorm we realized that some of the streets in Yellowstone National Park were closed and it probably wasn’t a good idea for us to continue on. Instead we spent the day in Idaho visiting the Space Museum, getting stuck in the mud trying to find Hell’s Half Acre (volcanic rock), and made it on down to Shoshone Falls. Crossing from Nevada into California, we found Donner State Park (yes, where they ate each other) and spent a morning chasing butterflies and learning more about the native peoples in the museum. Taking time to stop and see what’s around us, instead of only focusing on reaching the next goal, makes for an enjoyable trip and give the kids time to get out of the car.

Utah 2017 Kids running

The kids enjoying some free time before the drive to Bryce Canyon National Park.

#4 Find a Park

Yelp is our friend. Little ones need to stretch their legs and RUN. At least once a day we find a park in whatever city we’re in to let the kids run around. I try to think of our trips as family endeavors, not just things I wanna see. To that end, we make an effort to let the kids have free time to play. It does take a little time away from the drive but it’ll save everyone’s sanity when the kids are sleeping after a run and a meal. Take my advice, find a park.



#5 Let ‘Em Explore

Half of the fun of visiting the national parks is enjoying the wildness of it all. We do babywear and put them up when they are tired or we need to keep them safe but often you’ll find our kids running loose along the trails. Touching things, looking at things, dipping their fingers and toes into things ….  it’s how kids learn. Instead of us always telling them how to play and where to play we try to let them lead the play. It leads to things that I wouldn’t have thought of and the kids enjoy.

We really enjoyed visiting the national parks and look forward to visiting more. See you on the trails!


April Fun in Louisiana

Blue gradient Louisiana map, USAI’m thinking about going to visit family in Louisiana and I’ve come across two festivals that might be just right: Franklin Parish Catfish Festival and the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival.

I’m thinking:

  • Fly into New Orleans
  • Drive over to Baton Rouge to check out the birth certificate of my great, great grandmother.
  • Drive up to the strawberry festival on Friday.
  • Head on over to the catfish festival Saturday.
  • Spend a few days with our loved ones.
  • Head home.

I’m wondering if that would be safe for us to do. I’ll call my relatives in the area and ask them. I’d hate to wander into an unfriendly area.

Unschooling Hopes

I just read this and it made me tear up. This is exactly what I hope for my babies:

“Can I have your cookie?” I ask, pointing to his oatmeal cookie that he almost went berserk over because dad almost accidentally threw it out. (I didn’t really want the cookie.) “Uhm…” he says, mulling it over. “Let’s half.” He splits his cookie in two, right smack in the middle, then hands the other one to me. Later on, he will do the same thing with his hotdog, offering the mangled sausage to me with his full mouth.

It is this kind of warmth and thoughtfulness that will take you aback—this sense of character, the incredible kindness, their concept of sharing—it jars you. Their social skills are intelligible, and they aren’t being graded for it. They don’t get a star for sharing a cookie, or a stamp for holding conversation with an adult. They just really warm up to you as a person, are curious about who you are and what you know. There is no judgment in their eyes—they approach every person with the same reverence. They will hold your hand, pull you with them, and open up their world to you.

I love how the babies are kind to each other. I love they are interested in everything. I love how they learn without even (barely) being taught. I want them to hold on to that for as long as they can.

Passport Attempt #1 – The Phone Call

phone call

In case  you haven’t been following along on our passport drama for kid two here’s the skinny:

  • We move and misplace original birth certificate for our daughter.
  • We ask adoption worker for another copy of birth certificate and she says no.
  • Adoption worker says we can get a passport without a birth certificate.
  • We finalize the adoption.
  • We apply for passport with birth records.
  • We go on staycation and place mail on hold. We get an email saying that we were receiving a letter from the passport folks. We return and get no letter. We tell USPS and no one cares. We end up calling the passport folks.
  • We speak with a customer service rep who tells us he can’t tell us what was in the letter but he’ll have someone from the office call us to chat.
  • We miss the call.
  • We return the call and no one picks up. We leave a message.
  • A woman returns the call and tells us that 1) the laws have changed and you do need a birth certificate to get a passport and 2) we need to sign a declaration saying that she doesn’t have a social yet.
  • We’re waiting on the letter to arrive in our inbox so we can get the birth certificate in the mail.

Ugh …..



Adoption Birth Certificate Arrived Today

Birth certificate sample NY

We finalized our daughter’s adoption June 2nd. Her amended birth certificate arrived today in the mail (about 42 days). We applied for her passport with her birth records and adoption paperwork and so far …  nada.

If I had known the amended birth certificate was going to arrive so quickly (the letter with the adoption paperwork said it could take up to 12 months. Eek!) I would have just waited to apply for her passport. Oh well ….

We were hoping to get down to Mexico before the summer is over. We’ll see …

Managing Foster Care Trauma in Infants


Grilling up some bubbles at beach during our staycation.

We met our daughter when she was eight months old (she was in foster care). We were told that she had one rather large medical problem (that could be worked through with years of physical therapy) and a few social emotional issues that caused her to scream in public and have to be carried all the time, yes even when in the house.

None of the information was accurate. Our pediatrician thinks she was manifesting her unhappiness with the family she lived with before (we are her third family).

In adoption class, a social worker told us that it would take twice as long as the trauma to be able to navigate the trauma and behave differently. Since she experienced 8 months of trauma (more if you throw on whatever may have happened during the nine to ten months while she was baking) it will take her around 16 months to be able to behave differently. My plans was give her until her second birthday before I really expected her behaviors to change.

She surprises me every day.

Right now, she’s 20 months old and she’s so different from how she was when we met her. She’s amazing! She’s never had any physical challenges (with us) and her behavior was different from the moment she got her out of that house. This week, we had a staycation and went around visiting touristy places in our city. She’s been smiling and waving to people and wandering around. Strangers in public have ever referred to her as a happy baby! Last night she slept in her own bed all night. She plays with her cousins (running around the house screaming and laughing) and is like any other little kid.

I look at her now and I can’t imagine our lives without her. I’m glad that her record didn’t scare us off. The paperwork does not tell the whole story. Both our kids had some challenges on paper. Both of our kids are perfect. They are absolutely perfect. I’m thrilled every day that I get to help raise such wonderful beings.

Most kids in foster care have experienced trauma but it happened to them, it doesn’t define them. With someone to love on them (we use attachment parenting and gentle parenting) and support them these kids will blossom. Managing foster care trauma in infants is easy: just love them.

Passport Attempt #1

We took the passport application, her photos, the adoption order, the adoption decree, and some birth records that we found in our placement paperwork to library. The lady wasn’t sure if they would issue a passport without a birth certificate, etc. Our adoption worker assured us that we’d be able to get her passport without a birth certificate.

The woman that processed our application didn’t seem too sure.

We’ll see ….