Tag Archives: caves

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Heading south from Mt. Hood in late June, we stopped off at the Crooked River gorge in the Peter Skene Ogden State Park between Madras and Redmond.  We were a bit bewildered by how many people were gathering and setting up lawn chairs as if waiting for a big event.  Unfortunately, we made the mistake of asking. ;-)  Turns out they were all there awaiting the passing of an historic steam train engine (Southern Pacific 4449) to cross the bridge.  It was due within the hour so we relocated the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle and decided to wait.  After a couple of hours though, it became clear from news being relayed around that there had been delays and it was still an hour or so out.  So we bailed.

Our destination was actually the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and this proved to be a nice place to spend a few days.  We camped the first and last night on some forest roads and one night at one of the campgrounds in the caldera alongside Pauline Lake.  We had a crazy red sky sunset one night, enjoyed some early morning kayaking on the completely still water and a nice trail ride up to near the caldera rim on our mountain bikes.  We hiked the mile-long Lava River Cave lava tube and checked out the lava tree casts.  There’s actually plenty of other trails and caves to visit too but we had to move on.

    

Click through for the full gallery of pictures.

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Bolivia: Altiplano to Amazon

As an add-on for our trip to Chile’s Atacama Desert, we all wanted to be sure to get to see the amazing Uyuni Salt Flats in nearby Bolivia.  As it worked out, we were able to join up with BikeHike’s trial run of their new Bolivia adventure trip by taking a guided, three-day, 4×4 road trip from Chile over the Altiplano to the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia.  Darlene was also able to finagle a little additional time off from work to join us on this portion of Glenn and Michele’s Most Excellent Adventure™.

   

Click through for the full gallery of photos and videos from the trip.

A video montage of our time in Bolivia. (6:45 min, 131 MB)

Across the Altiplano: Glenn, Michele and I started out in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, and were driven up to the Altiplano and dropped off at the tiny, remote little border control building on the southwest Chilean/Bolivian border.  After successfully negotiating Michele and Glenn’s Bolivian visas (mostly about producing absolutely pristine US dollars for the visa fee), we were loaded into the apparently defacto standard Altiplano vehicle: a Toyota 4×4 Land Cruiser.  Over the next couple of days, we navigated a maze of dirt roads in the high altitude (15,000 ft) visiting a series of color-coded lagoons (red, green, white, etc) and a few miscellaneous sights and landmarks.  We overnighted in both a hotel made of stone and one made of salt and got to try our hand at herding llamas to pasture as well as trying to fire a slingshot without injuring ourselves.  We also spent the better part of two days criss-crossing the Uyuni Salt Flats and they proved to be as vast and amazing to behold as suggested in the photographs we’d seen before.

Crossing the Uyuni Salt Flats

Crossing the Uyuni Salt Flats

More of the Uyuni Salt Flats: After this initial introduction to Bolivia, we were deposited in the town of Uyuni in time to join Darlene and the rest of the BikeHike group flying in from La Paz.  Over the next couple of days, we would explore much of the area on bikes, starting with a tour of the mining ghost town of Pulcayo.  We biked back down to Uyuni, mostly following the route of the old mining railroad bed.  We biked across a few chunks of the salt flats itself – which proved quite daunting due to the vast, unchanging scenery.  We stayed overnight in a more rudimentary building made of salt on the slopes of the volcano Tunupa and enjoyed a ride out for sunset and stargazing on the salt flats.  On our second day, we visited a cave containing desiccated mummies and continued on to the island of Incahuasi, in the middle of the flats and home to hundreds of cacti.

Biking Bolivia's "Most Dangerous Road"

Biking Bolivia’s “Most Dangerous Road”

“Death Road” Ride: Upon our return to La Paz, we had an early start to go ride mountain bikes down along Bolivia’s infamous “world’s most dangerous road”.  They’ve since built a new, modern, paved highway to bypass the route but it was once very treacherous for being a dirt road cut into very steep mountainsides and forcing buses and other large vehicles to try to squeak by each other.  This route now makes for a gorgeous and easy downhill bike ride packed full of wonderful mountain vistas.  Unfortunately, we had to do the ride with one of several large tour groups and so you have to do things on their terms.  You’re forced to keep to a schedule that at times is pushing you forward (despite the desire to stop and enjoy the stupendous views) or making you wait (for organized photo portrait stops, despite the fact that everyone has cameras of their own, or while the staff clean and prep the bikes at the end of the ride, etc).  Amusingly, you’re also required to wear full downhill racing body armor and full face helmets despite a route that consists of first a paved highway and then a well-used dirt road and a gentle downhill slope.  Actually, the full face helmet was dangerous for how much it limited your ability to see around you.  I suspect the armor is both to drum up the “Death Road” adventure marketing as well as for insurance purposes – not that body armor would do you much good if you managed to ride off a several hundred-meter precipice!  Anyway, I think this excursion would be a lot more fun with your own group, going at your own pace and with normal biking gear.

Enjoying a scenic overlook in Bolivia's Amazon jungle

Enjoying a scenic overlook in Bolivia’s Amazon jungle

Amazon Jungle and Grassland: After La Paz, we were on to the Amazon jungle, starting with a river boat cruise to our jungle lodge in Madidi National Park. Along the way, we stopped off at a farm where among other things they grow sugar cane.  We were able to put a little labor into squeezing out a bucket of sugar cane juice for everyone to sample, with a touch of lime.  From our jungle lodge, we set out to hike to our overnight campsite, near a macaw nesting area.  Besides lots of spiders and ants, our guides were able to scare up a  pack of wild boar.  I was a little anxious about overnighting in the Amazon as I’m very not keen on large creepy-crawlies and have already had my share in other tropic rainforests like Costa Rica and Australia.  As it turns out, at least this part of the Amazon was no more intense in terms of bugs and it was fine.  I do wish we could have spent a more leisurely time moving through the jungle though and seeing and learning about the rainforest (as I have enjoyed on other such hikes), instead of in the apparent rush we often seemed to be in.  I wasn’t even really able to pause to take any decent pictures along the trail.  We did enjoy a leisurely return trip to the lodge, floating down the river in the afternoon rain on a log raft constructed on the beach.  That night we went for a short jungle walk to see what we could find after dark.

Temo demonstrates his boundless affection for Michele. (30 second video)

The following day saw us return to town by river boat and then take an extended drive to get to a second lodge in the swampy  grasslands of Pampas del Yacuma.  First we were greeted by not-so-friendly caiman and turtles but then by a super-friendly and ever-curious coati at the lodge.  We ventured out again on a pair of boats to follow the river and see the many birds, caiman and capybara along the river… before the skies opened up for serious afternoon downpour.  (At least our boat didn’t pussyfoot it back to the lodge to get any silly rain gear.)  That night Glenn and I went out again with our guides Ishmael and Jorgen to see all the creepy eyes of the caiman reflecting back at us in the dark.  Plus we managed to catch several Amazon trout by expertly letting them leap into our boat.  On our fourth and last Amazon day, we went hiking in a plantation to hoot at howler monkeys in the trees and to catch meat-hungry piranha by the river side.  The tricky part seemed to be removing the hook from the menacing jaws of those little fish.

An alpine view near Mount Condoriri

An alpine view near Mount Condoriri

Our Last Day: After returning to the cool, high altitude of La Paz from the Amazon basin, we enjoyed a home-cooked meal at the home of a local resident while Glenn kept careful watch over a clearly demonically-possessed children’s doll. On our last day, Michele suggested a hiking destination for us all in the Andes: the glacier-laced Mount Condoriri.  The drive out there proved adventurous in itself, including trying to find a suitable box lunch among the raw meats and stacks of junk food in the street-side market.  We ended up hiking to an alpine lake at the base of the mountain and it proved to be a nice finish to a great little trip.

Recommendations: Our 4×4 excursion from San Pedro de Atacama over to the Uyuni Salt Flats was not particularly exceptional and I have no reason to recommend them (actually it seemed our driver was more knowledgeable and trying harder than our English-speaking guide).  For the rest of the trip, the BikeHike tour of Bolivia including the Uyuni Salt Flats and the Amazon jungle, this trip was very enjoyable despite being their trial run to shake out the “bugs” and find improvements to be made.  Definitely worth checking out.  But I want to call out special attention to Ishmael and the folks at Mashaquipe EcoTours for their splendid staff and lodges in the Bolivian Amazon basin as well as their efforts to benefit local indigenous families.  Lastly, thanks again to Trish and Jorgen for helping us (me, Darlene, Glenn and Michele) enjoy another great adventure!

   

Click through for the full gallery of photos and videos from our trip.

Michele has also posted several stories and pictures from the trip on her blog:

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Summer in Iceland

Well, “almost summer” anyway: Iceland (and most of the North Atlantic) experienced the coldest summer in decades this year – this after one of the warmest and wettest summers ever last year.  So while we remained bundled up from the cold, wind and rain,  Darlene and I had a fantastic time.  It’s a very beautiful place and full of so many places to see and experience that even with 19 days in Iceland we were still forced to skip so much.  Iceland is definitely a wonderful and easy place to visit.  The hardest part is having to pick what not to see (and trying to pronounce or even just copy down the Icelandic place names).  I tried to book lodging to give us multiple days to stay and explore in each area and we consciously left off whole large areas of the country but even so it wasn’t enough: we still felt like we didn’t have enough time in any given area.  Gotta go back!  And yes, I’d like to see it in winter too.

A short video montage of our 19 days in Iceland.

Click through here for my full gallery of pictures and videos from the trip.  Here are just a few highlights from our trip though:

Landmannalaugar

 

This is an incredibly colorful (and popular) mountain area to explore in the highlands.  Many will set out to do the two-to-four day Landmannalaugar backpacking route to Þórsmörk (I’d like to someday) but we just enjoyed a day of hiking some of the nearby trails through this colorful terrain, followed by dipping in the natural hot springs there.  This was also our first taste of the many rough, gravel roads (including river crossings) that are needed to access many parts of the country.

Skógafoss and the Fimmvörðuháls Trail

 

This is a gorgeous waterfall to begin with, particularly how it falls on to a flat plain, and even though Iceland is covered with incredible waterfalls, the trail that starts here covers the most fantastic series of waterfalls I’ve ever encountered.  It’s not just the sheer number (as in dozens) of falls that you see along the trail, but the incredible heights, splendor, variety and ferocity of the various falls that tumble down this beautiful gorge that lead up to where the two glacial ice caps (Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull) meet at Fimmvörðuháls Pass.  Many people will hike this trail up and over the pass to Þórsmörk (or all the way to or from Landmannalaugar) but if nothing else, you’ve got to at least spend a day hiking as far as the bridge crossing (as we did).  While there’s an overnight hut at the top of the pass, they say you can do the one-way hike to Þórsmörk in 10 hours or so but I don’t see how it can be done so quickly if you try to take in all the incredible views along the way.

Askja (Vatnajökull National Park)

 

This was to be our deepest adventure into the highlands of Iceland. Askja is a large volcanic caldera (and crater lake) in the remote central highlands and part of the vast Vatnajökull National Park of volcanic formations, glaciers, lava fields, and the largest ice cap in Europe.  (Notably, this was the area that the Apollo space program used to train their astronauts in geology.)  This excursion was potentially going to be trouble for our little Subaru Outback due to some potentially deep river crossings. As it turned out, the cold weather played in our favor and the river in question was not running too strong (and the weather clear), so we were good to go on our own rather than needing to sign up with a tour operator and their monster trucks/busses. We camped out at the base of Herðubreið but, once again, there was much more to see here than we had allotted time for and I would love to come back and explore more of the area.

Lake Mývatn

 

This lake region is filled with tons of different geologic formations: geothermal areas, volcanic cones, lava formations, caves and lava tubes, etc.  The name Mývatn means (“the lake of midges”) and oh boy, we can attest that there are a bajillion of them along the water.  I know we short-changed this popular area, having only a day left to hit up the some of the many sites before having to head on to Akureyri.  We did get to see the fissure and water-filled cave Grjótagjá, the tephra crater Hverfell, the lava formations of Dimmuborgir and walk around Höfði to see some of the lava pillars in the lake (and the aforementioned bajillion black flies).  Lots more to see, like the Lofthellir cave and its ice sculptures but it would be a half-day tour just for that.

Herring Era Museum (Siglufjörður)

 

This sounds ridiculous, but the Herring Era Museum in Siglufjörður (on the northern coast) is a really wonderful experience.  We almost blew it off.  I mean, come on, “Herring Era Museum”?  But it’s really well done.  You get to explore several buildings from the “glory days” of Iceland’s herring fisheries from the early 20th century, including the living and working quarters.  Every room is furnished and filled with personal belongings as well as tools and equipment as it would have been at the time – and not behind glass: most of it is just laying out open and unprotected.  It’s deservedly won several museum awards.  It really feels like walking into the past.  You can pull out a suitcase from under a bunk bed and find it filled with clothing and mementos.  It’s quite the experience!  There’s another building housing a couple of fishing boats “docked” to a pier that’s staged and lighted and feels more like you’re on a movie set than in a museum.  And of course, you can climb aboard and explore below deck or on the bridge.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

 

The centerpiece is the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is the glacier-capped, volcanic mountain of Snæfellsjökull and the peninsula is surrounded in fjords, more cool geologic features, and rugged mountains and coastline.  The hike between Arnarstapi to Hellnar was wonderful in particular (with a fantastic cafe at the turnaround in Hellnar…. oh, that skyr cake!!)  We also checked out the Vatnshellir lava tube, the Sönghellir “song cave”, the impressive and intriguing cleft in the cliff Rauðfeldsgjá and made a driving tour of the northern coastal towns on the peninsula. We spied on a seal colony in twilight, tested our strength with the old fisherman’s lifting stones and tried hiking up to the glacier itself but the road was still closed due to snow and the visibility too poor to go very far without a trail to follow.  After three nights at a guesthouse on the peninsula, there was still much we were unable to get to see or explore.

Langjökull and “Into the Glacier”

This is a new experience, opened in June of 2015, where they’ve dug out a series of lighted passages and chambers into the Langjökull glacier.  After being driven up and over the glacier by massive, converted missile carriers, you get to walk down into the man-made tunnel, into the glacier, inside the ice and even see fissures and ice formations from within the glacier.  Very cool!  When we were there, it had just rained heavily the night before and so water was still dripping and seeping through everywhere in the glacier.

Glymur Hike/Waterfall

 

This short little gem-of-a-hike is definitely worth a half-day to enjoy.  I’m very happy our host at Hotel Á recommended this to us on our final day as we would have missed it otherwise.  It was a great way to cap our trip.  Note that there’s a choice of paths to follow up once you reach the river Botnsá.  I definitely recommend crossing the river and taking the eastern trail (or righthand side of the river).  I think it provides more revealing and thrilling views of the gorge, falls and the valley back to the fjord and car park.

And More to Experience…

A couple of other little surprises to mention are Petra’s amazing stone collection in Stöðvarfjörður in the eastern fjords (and she was quite an interesting character) and the entertaining Settlement Centre presentation in Borgarnes of the Saga of Egil.

I was floored by how frequently and unexpectedly fantastic the meals were throughout the country, even in the smallest villages and most remote guesthouses.  Iceland clearly has a disproportionate share of fantastic cooks and chefs scattered around their country to treat their mostly European tourists.  It’s like being treated to French cuisine in terms of the care and skill… but also in terms of cost: it’s very easy to go US$60-$100 or more for two people.  There is of course cheaper fare in a smattering of fast food, roadside cafeterias but it’s mostly not very appealing.  If trying to keep to a smaller budget, I definitely recommend buying groceries and cooking meals yourself.

I wish we could also have gone to the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in Strandagaldur or toured the western fjords or gone backpacking in the Hornstrandir, etc.  Like I said, much to see and experience in Iceland!

Click through here for my full gallery of pictures and videos from the trip.

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Road Trip: Through Idaho

Highlights from the Idaho portion of our summer road trip to Yellowstone:

   

We stayed several days in Boise: biking through town and up on some of the trails above the city, floated the Boise River through town, successfully solved (and escaped) the house in Boise Escape and made a side trip to historic Idaho City. After Boise, we visited the World Center for Birds of Prey, stopped off at Three Island Crossing (Oregon Trail crossing of the Snake River) and camped overnight at Craters of the Moon National Monument.  After exploring the lava formations we continued on to Idaho Falls, stopping off for a tour of the world’s first nuclear power plant, Experimental Breeder Reactor #1.  Our final leg included the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway and camping near West Yellowstone.

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Return to Kauai

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Darlene and I just spent twelve days in Kauai, my favorite of the Hawaiian Islands.  There’s just so much to do and explore there – you can never have enough time! Twelve days was still not enough for everything we wanted to do. I last visited Kauai about eleven years ago on an REI Adventures trip.  And, as I found with the extra days after my REI trip last time, I highly recommend Andrew Doughty’s The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook to making the most of your time in Kauai.

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We stayed four nights in the southwest, in Waimea, and did a bunch of hiking in Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park. Our first full day was along the Awa’awapuhi Trail – out and back only as the Cliff Trail is currently closed due to cliffside collapses.  Another day was the Pihea Trail through the Alaka’i Swamp to the wonderful Kilohana lookout and another day for the Cliff Trail to the top of the Waipo’o Falls.  Every trail was more than the usual adventure (and slow-going) due to all the clay, mud and severe trail erosion, particularly along the Pihea Trail.  Finally, we also explored a little bit in the south near Po’ipu along the beaches and cliffs.

We found ourselves getting a late start on seemingly every day-long excursion so that we were always the last ones out of a given location, which was pretty cool for feeling like we had the place to ourselves and getting pictures without anyone else present.

Our next four nights were at a rented condo in Princeville, overlooking the ocean and we were thrilled to be able to watch the lengthy parade of humpback whales blow and breach right from our lanai.  The super dark night skies here were also fantastic for star watching.  From here, we visited the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge, hiked the Kalalau Trail through the start of the Na Pali Coast to Hanakapi’ai Falls, checked out a couple of the wet and dry sea caves (including swimming into the “blue room”), watched the winter storms pound the coast around Hanalei Bay and at the “Queen’s Bath” and kayaked one evening up the Hanalei River. (And unexpectedly met Josh, my guide from my previous Kauai trip eleven years ago, who now owns a kayak rental/tour outfit of his own in Hanalei: Napali Kayak Tours.)

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Our last four nights were spent at a hotel on the east side in Wailua.  From here, we rented kayaks and paddled up the Wailua River and then hiked the remainder to “Secret Falls”.  (This is a very popular and well-known kayak/hike outing.  They’re anything but secret!)  We also visited Wailua Falls and hiked our way down one of the very unofficial trails to swim in the large pool of the falls. Another long day was spent trying to hike into the center of the island and the crater of Waialeale.  Once again there’s no real dedicated trail: it’s more about repeatedly finding and following and re-finding hunters’ trails to make your way as far as you can.  And of course we encountered plenty of mud along the way! We got further than I managed the last time I was here, despite having to hike the road a couple of miles due to fallen trees blocking our rented vehicle.

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We made a few attempts over the trip to get in some snorkeling from various beaches but were repeatedly thwarted by high surf conditions due to the winter storms and/or too-shallow sheltered waters in low tides.  We finally squeezed in a little snorkeling at Lydgate Park by ignoring the protected but shallow fish-feeding/snorkeling pool and swimming out what seemed like nearly a half-mile on a relatively calm evening.  (We had to go that far out to just get like a dozen feet of depth and find some fish.)  On some future trip I still want to set aside a few days to go out on a boat for scuba diving.  We ended our trip like my first one with a spectacular helicopter tour around the island.

Click through for the full gallery or below for a video montage from the trip:

(5-minute video, 71 MB download)

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Revisiting the Galapagos Islands

I originally got to visit the Galapagos Islands five years ago but Darlene has long wanted to go herself.  Of course the Galapagos Islands are well known for their abundant and unique wildlife, their fascinating and beautiful geology, as well as for the inspiration and development of Darwin’s theory of biological evolution.  So, no, I really didn’t mind going back for a second visit!

We were in the Galapagos for twelve days (December 5th through the 16th) and we stayed overnight on the islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal with day trips out to Santa Fe, Bartolomé, Leon Dormido as well as a few smaller outcroppings.  (Here’s a great map.)  This was a land-based trip (as was my previous trip), but this time I booked the trip through BikeHike.com and extended it with time on our own for four days (and to include San Cristobal).

Our days were filled with hiking, biking, kayaking, snorkeling, and boating as well as with sea lions, iguanas, penguins, giant tortoises, sharks, sea turtles, rays, cormorants, pelicans, frigate birds, crabs and fish!  And great food!  The whole trip was fantastic!  (Thanks again to our guide, Jorgen, and to everyone else who contributed to making this such a fun experience!)

Here’s a little video I put together covering the whole of the trip:

(5:37 minutes, 115 MB download)

And here are my pictures and other video clips from the trip (including some of Darlene’s), separated into four galleries:

Days 1-3: Santa Cruz and Santa Fe

  

Days 4-5: Bartolomé and Santa Cruz

  

Days 6-7: Isabela and Sierra Negre

  

Days 8-12: Santa Cruz and San Cristobal

  

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Twelve Days of Croatia

Darlene and I recently enjoyed a twelve day trip to Croatia, booked through REI Adventures.  (June 27th to July 9th)

Our trip started in Zagreb and we worked our way south through Dalmatia and down to Dubrovnik, with a side excursion through Bosnia-Herzegovina.  As an active, multi-sport trip, we enjoyed lots of hiking, biking, river and sea kayaking, as well as just seeing and exploring various sites along the way.

Here’s a video montage I put together covering much of our trip:

I’ve organized the pictures into four different galleries:

Days 1 -4:  Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Zrmanja and Krupa Rivers, and Novigrad

  

Days 5-7:  Paklenica National Park, Vrgada Island, Skradin, Krka National Park, and Trogir

  

Days 8-9:  Split, Trebižat River, Mostar, and Ston

  

Days 9-12:  Dubrovnik, Zaton and the Elafiti Islands

  

 

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Perseids at the Pinnacles

Darlene and I camped out on the east side of Pinnacles National Park this past Sunday to watch the Perseids meteor shower. We had some fairly dark skies as Pinnacles is in a somewhat remote location. The glow of lights from Hollister and Salinas (about 25-ish miles away) were apparent to the north but the Milky Way was still quite visible. And the crescent moon set nice and early. We spotted probably several meteors per minute.  There were a few clusters of four or five.

I made a little video of some time lapse images I captured during the night:

As it was a Sunday night, getting a campsite was easy – most of the sites were vacant — not so on a Friday or Saturday night!  There was lots of wildlife though… of the more natural variety.  We had multiple visits from human-habituated deer, rabbits and a coyote in our campsite.  (I don’t count the yellow jackets!)  We went for a hike to see the nearby talus caves and saw a couple of bats but part of the caves were still closed to protect the bat colony.  (Talus caves are formed by rocks and boulders falling into a narrow area to form a ceiling and block out the sky.)  On Monday, we hiked the High Peaks loop and happened to run into an old coworker from FileMaker.  We also saw some turkey vultures and possibly some California condors.

 

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Back Into “The Womb Room”

Here’s a collection of pictures and a little video from an afternoon of caving/spelunking at California Cavern on their “Mammoth Cave Expedition” tour. I’ve enjoyed many caving adventures (including multiple visits to this cave system) but this was a first time experience for Darlene, Glenn and Michele to go on more than a walking tour of a cave. They were a little nervous and reluctant but went for it and everyone had fun and came through with smiles… despite a few moments of claustrophobia!

Click on through for the full gallery:

 

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On the Mississippi

Pictures and video from a week of visiting with Darlene’s family along the Mississippi River on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. We also visited an eagle rehabilitation center in Wabasha, a limestone cave near Harmony (Niagara Cave), enjoyed a dinner cruise on a paddle wheel boat out of La Crosse, went riding some all terrain vehicles through the mud and visited some llamas.

 

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