I’ve written before about my penchant for repeat travel. I don’t really understand people who check places off a list, who believe that going anywhere more than once is a waste of time, money, or a chance to bolster a count of some kind. Some travelers – I am clearly one! – happily return to places they have enjoyed (and even places they have not), perhaps to deepen an understanding or maybe to change their minds about a subpar initial experience. (Believe me, there is no value judgment intended here; I want to keep seeing new places as much as anyone else.)
Much of the last two-plus years has been a more painful exercise in repetition, not just in the travel realm, and when I looked back at where I had gone since my last post in July of 2021, I couldn’t help but see many of the same places over and over again. There were good reasons for that – family most of all – but the main one was that we hadn’t been able to really spread our wings in all that time.
Now, I’ve recently returned from my first journey out of the country since February of 2020 and it was, you guessed it, a repeat: my third trip to Costa Rica. It was the least ambitious of my forays there but still a great way to triangulate what I know about this small Central American country. Like many, we have cancelled our fair share of travel plans in the last few years, so when my son and his wife asked if I wanted to join them on a trip in late April, I jumped at the chance. They had their own travel goal: getting one final country stamp in their daughter’s passport before she turned two and had to start paying for a ticket!
Our family’s initial trip to Costa Rica was twenty years ago, a spring break trip with our three kids to the west coast of the country and our first experience with eco-tourism. The hotel had no A/C or TV, was strategically built into a jungly hillside to catch ocean breezes and optimally manage water and waste, and served food from sustainable and organic sources.
At our kids’ ages at the time, it helped that it was also a veritable wildlife refuge, with howler monkeys in the trees outside our room and giant iguanas that roamed the pool deck. A short jaunt down the road was Manuel Antonio National Park, a tiny gem that we spent several days exploring with knowledgeable nature guides.
We returned in 2005 to spend nine days of our Christmas break volunteering in a small village in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. This was not the same cushy vacation we’d had a few years earlier! We stayed in a rustic motel that cost $10/night, where my daughter and I found a spider the size of my fist in the ice-cold shower on day one. We dug trenches for pipes, mixed concrete by hand, moved endless piles of cement blocks, painted, hammered, and cleaned.
Overseas volunteer trips were in their infancy at the time, and we have always been happy we took such a trip before many of these ventures became little more than vanity projects. We felt truly connected with the villagers who worked alongside us for a week and a half, and we were required to take our work cues from them, whether or not we might do it that way at home. It was a valuable lesson in servant leadership. As simplistic and hyperbolic as it may sound, I still believe this trip was the initial driver for our children’s later careers and other life choices.
Last month’s excursion had no such lofty ambitions, unless bonding with my granddaughter and her parents counts (I think it does, actually!). This time, as we did on the first visit, we spent a day near San Jose to recharge after the long trip with a toddler. We were especially happy with that plan after our flight was delayed, our car rental became a series of mishaps, and we reached our hotel after midnight.
The rest of our days – again, on the west coast, this time in Jacó – were pure vacation as we walked the beach, played in the pool, and ambled into and around the small town for groceries, dining, and of course, ice cream. In a full-circle kind of outing on our last day, we took little E to revisit the eco-resort as well as Manuel Antonio National Park, and both were just as delightful as they were when her daddy was 14 years old!
It felt great to break the seal on staying put in the U.S. Now I’m itching for more, so I’ll need to twist J’s arm to get back out there in the near future. Until then, I’m savoring one more repeat stamp, even if I’ve got a couple of new ones in mind for this year!
It was finally time for a more comprehensive tour of the western U.S., especially now that Covid was on the wane and we had a mini-HQ in Colorado from which to depart. We’d seen a decent assortment of places out west over the years; in fact, no state we would see was a stranger to us, but we had never committed consecutive weeks of time to just rambling around the region.
The Itinerary: Our schedule and destinations were predicated on seeing friends and family in a number of cities, and I had the added incentive of spending some active, prolonged time at higher altitudes to prepare for a mountain event I planned to do in Idaho in the middle of the trip. I drove from Houston to the Denver area in late May, spent a week in our little Colorado abode, and trained in the foothills on my own and with a fellow event participant. I loaded up the pup in early June and headed over the Rockies to Salt Lake City and on to Boise, Idaho, where I stopped long enough to pick up my husband at the airport and walk Boise’s mellow, refreshing Greenbelt for an hour or two before setting off once again to make Bend, Oregon by nightfall.
After three days in Bend, we meandered through southern Oregon to Crater Lake National Park and on to Northern California and the Mount Shasta area. San Francisco was next, a city stay that still featured plenty of hiking in Muir Woods and Angel Island, and after the weekend, we pointed the car east to Lake Tahoe. A stunning drive north into Idaho landed us in the Sun Valley/Ketchum area, where we split up – husband and dog to a nice hotel for work and some play, and me to my Bald Mountain hiking challenge and decidedly less cushy lodging (a tent). Four days later, we followed the Salmon River on a jaw-dropping drive through the Sawtooth Mountains to Bozeman, Montana, and a few days after that, we were traversing the Beartooth Highway, northeast and northern Yellowstone National Park, and then western Yellowstone and the Big Sky area. The incredible Tetons were our final stop before returning to Colorado after three glorious weeks.
Friends and Family: A big part of our motivation to stop in the places we did was to see our kids and some old (and new) friends. As a bonus to start my trip, I overlapped for a few days with our daughter and her husband who were visiting Colorado, and I also got to spend some joyous days and evenings watching our one and only granddaughter try to take her first toddling steps with our older son and his wife. In Bend, we reunited with friends with whom we had done volunteer work in Costa Rica and Mexico, and in two minutes, the twelve years since our last get-together disappeared in a rush of old memories and fondness.
A weekend in San Francisco was our first chance to see our younger son’s new life since a job change during Covid took him cross-country with his girlfriend. In the Lake Tahoe area, my fourth-ever blogger meet-up was a big success; Kelly (Compass and Camera) and I had always joked that we must be sisters from other mothers, and I think our dinner together supported that notion! “The Js,” our two husbands, got along great also – always a plus.
My J got together with an old work colleague and friend in Sun Valley, and I must note that in the first two days without me, he managed to fall and skin his arms and legs on both a trail run and a mountain bike ride (and people think I was the crazy one doing the mountain challenge …). In Montana, we had a too-short visit with my dear, best friend from high school, and we arrived back in Colorado just a few days after grandbaby E became a bonafide walker (hiking with Gigi cannot be far behind!). What a fantastic way to add love, friendship, and context to all the new places we went!
Travels with Tashi: We got a new puppy last spring, and I am still not used to the complications he adds to our lives after more than a year, even after being a former dog owner for fifteen years. The two-and-a-half-year gap between dogs must have spoiled me because now I can almost not tolerate having to think about his schedule and all the gear we have to haul around for him, especially in a city hotel where the car is nowhere near the room.
Still, he was a trooper. Like our other pup, Tashi is great in a moving car, on some days chilling in his crate on and off for up to nine hours while we stopped in small towns and pulled off the road for one of my 7 million photos. We introduced him to various cabins, hotel rooms, and strangers’ houses over the weeks on the road, and he was impressively nonplussed. After a few attempts to hike with this energetic little guy, we gave up and left him in our accommodations while we did the longer trails because he is still in the eat-everything stage, and one night of severe illness was enough to dissuade us from trying that again on this trip.
Hikes Galore: Our goal is always to find a hike or two anywhere we go, and this trip produced the goods. In Bend, our friends pointed us to Smith Rock State Park, which exceeded all expectations by a mile (or five). The climbs were a great warm-up for me, afforded stunning views, and wound us through all sorts of rock formations (see “Monkey Face” below) before a steep descent.
Crater Lake offered a series of snowy walks, which we had to let Tashi enjoy with us. Being from Houston, he found the cold, wet stuff to be a captivating novelty, and we were happy to give up some longer walks to see him scampering around the rim of this enormous, deep-blue lake. (Hard to ferret out cigarette butts in the snow anyway.)
Our SF son knows we are not content to just sit around and eat at fun restaurants (which we did both nights), so he took us to Muir Woods to reprise the Dipsea Trail hike we did a few summers ago, and he tacked on a nice, steep descent and climb back up out of a woodsy ravine to end our morning. The next day, he and his girlfriend booked us all a ferry ride to Angel Island, where we biked and hiked the entire island on a crisp, sunny Sunday.
Kelly pointed us to many, many hikes and other sights in the Lake Tahoe area, and we ditched Tashi again to marvel at the scenic east coast of the lake on the Tunnel Creek-Sand Harbor walkway, hike down into the Emerald Bay area, poke around Sugar Pine Point State Park, and take an easy amble through more historic lodges at Tallac Historic Site at the end of one day.
In Sun Valley, I hiked Bald Mountain more times than I ever need to again (fifteen, to be exact), and J got in some solid elevation on Proctor Mountain and then Bald Mountain himself when my event was over. Like a normal person, he summited once, but he did have to get down on his own, which is a knee-buster of a descent.
Bozeman was my cool-down, but we had to get a few little hikes in, trekking up Drinking Horse Mountain trail for a grand view of the Bridger range in the morning and capping the day with a sunset stroll up Peet’s Hill, a local mound that was surprisingly satisfying and enjoyable … and we even let Tashi do this one with us, lucky little guy.
In the big national parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton – we mostly took abbreviated strolls with the dog, snapping photos at turn-outs and walking short distances from there. We did sneak away for an easy four-miler at Taggart Lake one morning at GTNP, and it was a beauty.
Lakes Galore: I knew we had Crater Lake and its deep cobalt waters on the agenda, but I hadn’t stopped to think about all the magnificent lakes we’d ogle on this trip. Lake Tahoe – Big Blue itself – was a worthy rival for the Oregon national park site, and many smaller lakes on the trip caught our eye as well. From serene and still to deep and powerful, the lakes all reflected and magnified the splendor around them and quickly became a highlight of the trip.
Big Skies and Wide-Open Spaces: The West is dominated by its skies, and we couldn’t get enough of the clouds – from pale, wispy strands to pregnant white poofs to looming gray masses – adrift on the overhead sea. Entire days passed with us seemingly inside an Old Master or impressionistic painting – the vast fields lime and lemon hued, the pines adding a punch of dark green, the peaks a bit of stony punctuation, and the waters a mirror of that gigantic canopy of sky. The expansiveness got under our skin, and we both commented on how hard it would be to go back to city life and its confined spaces.
Geothermal features:Hot springs and geysers have never attracted me much, but the spectrum of colors and ethereal mists at Yellowstone were a worthy addition to my “geo-art” series of photos over the years. I might have snapped more pictures here than anywhere else on the trip, and that’s saying a lot with Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe’s over-the-top photogenic appeal.
The “road” in roadtrips: I love a good non-interstate, and we naturally hit a lot of “blue highways” on this trip and went out of our way to drive others. Highway 75 from Sun Valley to Redfish Lake, Idaho, a twisting ascent up through the Sawtooths and over Galena Pass, was one such treat (secondarily because we had absolutely no cell service for hours, so there was no temptation to be distracted), and it was followed by an equally-isolated drive that followed the Salmon River for many miles and hours. We drove two hours out of our way from Bozeman, Montana, one morning in order to start our Yellowstone trip from its northeast entrance. After that eastern swing landed us in Red Lodge, we hooked back west to drive the entire length of the Beartooth Highway (US Route 12) from there to Cooke City/Silver Gate and into the national park.
In Summary: The trip brought home our desire to live at least part of the year amid mountains, streams, woods, and open skies. We have taken a baby step in that direction with a small apartment in Colorado, and only time will tell if that is enough … or too much? … with our kids spread from coast to coast, and ongoing jobs and life changes for family members in all four of our time zones. Meanwhile, we have the memories of this brilliant road trip, which I would have been happy to continue for at least a few more weeks. Responsibilities lured us back to our humid home, but we’ve already agreed a western journey will be a permanent fixture on our summer docket.