Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Exploring (page 1 of 2)

3 Days in Paris: Day 3 – Savoring the City

After dragging ourselves through the exhaustion of our first day in the City of Light (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 1 – Surviving the Jetlag), followed by a very full day of seeing the main sights (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 2 – Hitting the Highlights), some extra sleep was called for to start off our third day.

Once the kids were up and ready, we had breakfast at Aux Péchés Normands for the third time. It was already becoming tradition. The little bakery is a two minute walk from our hotel and offers great pastries, plus fresh coffee and juice. Fueled for the morning, we headed back toward where we’d began our adventures two days ago.

Notre Dame de nouveau

Notre Dame cathedral was both the first and last stop on our first day in the city. We’d enjoyed the view of the famous church from the square in front, returning later to enjoy the view from the towers.

But we’d missed one important piece: seeing the inside of the cathedral. This was what we intended to rectify today.

We arrived at Place Jean-Paul II to what seemed like an enormous line in front of Notre Dame. It extended the length of the square, and then wrapped around back towards the front of the Gothic cathedral. There really wasn’t any alternative to get inside, so we just joined the lengthy queue.

The line moved surprisingly quickly, and we were actually inside in under 10 minutes. The inside of Our Lady of Paris is just as lovely as her exterior. I love wandering around old cathedrals. When my wife and I visited Europe in 2016, we went to cathedrals in Milan, Florence and Dublin.

We didn’t stay especially long, just enough to take in the stained glass and immense feel of the cathedral. From Notre Dame we moved on to the other sights located on the Île de la Cité.

Conciergerie and Saint-Chappelle

A short walk later and we were standing at the entrance to Saint-Chappelle, a beautiful chapel with some of the most impressive stained glass I have ever seen. The chapel isn’t very large, but the ceilings are high and the color is mesmerizing.

Sainte-Chappelle is part of the Palais de la Cité, the residence of the kings of France for centuries. In many ways it is equally as impressive as Notre Dame.

The kids and I enjoyed the stained glass and wandering both the upper and lower levels of Sainte-Chappelle before moving on to the Conciergerie, located just another short walk away.

The Conciergerie is another part of the royal palace on the island in the middle of the Seine, albeit an infamous part of it. It served a number of functions after the French kings moved to the palace across the river, before becoming an infamous part of the French Revolution. Many prisoners were held here before being executed by guillotine, including Marie Antoinette.

I was surprised by how bare the interior is kept. There were a few areas where you could read about the history of the building, but other than that, you just got to wander the bare stone rooms. Bare, that is, except for a flume that is oddly constructed through the space and results in the waterfall you see outside between the towers.

I did my best to relay my limited knowledge of the French Revolution to the kids. They were fascinated by the story of Marie Antoinette, asking again and again why she was killed. The fact that the revolutionaries killed her unjustly, hating her for her wealth and power as one of the French royals, was hard for them to get their minds around.

Even as we left the Conciergerie, the kids continued to ask about Marie Antoinette and what happened during the revolution. I was glad for the moment I could teach them a small nugget of history, right in the place where it happened.

Lazily cruising the Seine

From the Conciergerie we continued our stroll along the Île de la Cité, heading to the dock where one of the river cruise companies operates. Given how much we’d all been on our feet the previous day, I wanted to make sure we broke up our day a bit more with active versus passive activities. I made sure to plan a time where we could just sit and talk and take in Paris. A cruise on the Seine fit the bill perfectly.

The tour company we used was fine, but there is serious room for improvement. Given the price of Paris in general, I was going for cheap. I’m sure there are better companies out there. The main drawback was that the tour guide did little more than point out 8-10 places in very thickly accented English. I caught most of what she said, but the kids hardly understood anything.

But it was still enjoyable to watch the city drift by from the water. The cruise took us from the Île de la Cité to the Eiffel Tower and back again.

We also headed upriver briefly and passed by Notre Dame, which was a highlight from the water.

We also saw (purportedly) the smallest house in Paris.

It was a great way to kill and hour and still enjoy the city. I’d highly recommended adding a Seine cruise as part of your Paris itinerary.

A much needed rest

Even after sitting for an hour, the kids were still tired. Three days of walking and sightseeing was a lot for both of them. It was mid-afternoon, and I still wanted to take them to Champ de Mars that evening to see the Eiffel Tower again and basically saw our goodbyes to Paris.

The best course of action was to regroup at the hotel for a while. The kids spent some time watching cartoons while I closed my eyes and tried not to drift off to sleep. Which was hard. I don’t like taking down time and would rather stay out until I’m completely done for the day. But with the kids, I needed to break it up.

But we had to get moving soon before I just decided to stay put. Dinner. We needed dinner.

Au revoir, Tour Eiffel

We headed out after maybe an hour at the Crowne Plaza Paris Republique, and grabbed some more bread, cheese and lunchmeat at a local store. Dinner was on the cheap yet again. However, we splurged afterwards, buying eclairs at one of the top-rated bakeries in the city. It was the most utterly delectable cream-filled pastry I’d eaten in my entire life.

On our way to the Champ de Mars, I became concerned that we might get rained out. The weather didn’t look promising. Sure enough, as we exited the train station, a light rain was falling. Plenty of other people had umbrellas. We weren’t so prepared. Even living in Humboldt, I cannot remember the last time I used an umbrella out and about.

We decided to just make a go of it. Looking at the clouds, I didn’t expect the rain to get worse, and it certainly wasn’t cold. We would be fine. This turned out to be the right call, as the rain let up within 15 minutes.

We walked along the Champ de Mars, bidding the icon of Paris adieu. Just had to get the perfect photo of these two in front of it. We strolled along slowly, me taking it all in. The kids brought up the fact that I’d made them walk up hundreds of stairs to the top. I have no regrets of my decision.

On the other side of the tower we encountered “the bubble man”. He was in the business of providing enjoyment to at least a dozen kids at a time for a small sum from their parents’ pocket (voluntary, of course). The kids enjoyed jumping and chasing the bubbles immensely. The Eiffel Tower made for the perfect backdrop.

A carousel ride, the perfect Parisian ending

After that we crossed the Seine toward Trocadero once more. This time we weren’t in a hurry, having already accomplished the mission of the evening. The kids asked to ride the carousel, and I figured this was the last chance we’d have. Of course this one picked a plane instead of a horse.

From there we wandered over to a small park maybe 100 yards from the Trocadero fountains. To my surprise, there were a couple families with kids. Young kids. I’m always taken aback by how late Europeans are out each evening. It was definitely late for us. The kids should have already been in bed. But here we were, enjoying the park, as the hour hand crept past 9 o’clock.

We finally got back to the hotel around 10:00, and quickly to bed. We said goodbye to Paris the following day, which was bittersweet. A final visit to Luxembourg Gardens was all we were able to fit in. We’d had a ton of fun. But the adventure would continue in Luxembourg!

3 Days in Paris: Day 2 – Hitting the Highlights

It figures we’d sleep in a bit after going 31 hours without so much as a real nap. Our first day had brought me to the most exhausted state I’ve felt in years (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 1 – Surviving the Jetlag). I still got up fairly early, but actually felt quite rested.

While the kids continued their unbroken slumber, I showered and did some research for the day. I had a general idea of what we should see but still needed to finalize a more concrete plan. It quickly formed around some of the biggest highlights the French capital has to offer.  But the first order of business was breakfast. Time to get the kids up.

Le Petit Déjeuner Parisien

Since IHG has a pretty lousy elite program, the hotel breakfast wasn’t free. And we absolutely weren’t going to pay somewhere around €60 for the three of us.

To our delight there was a wonderful little bakery just around the corner from our hotel. Aux Péchés Normands offers a delectable array of pastries, plus fresh juices, coffee and a few other items. Ordering was a bit awkward, as my attempt at French lapsed into Spanish at a couple points. How I wish I had the time to study a few more languages. Someday, I keep telling myself.

Fortunately the lady helping us was both patient and kind as I butchered her native tongue, plus took twice as long as everyone else to order. Man, could their staff work. The place was hopping and the the handful of employees were giving it their all.

With some croissants, a juice, and a café au lait in hand, we headed to a little park along a canal to the northeast of our hotel. It was the perfect place to enjoy an utterly Parisian first breakfast in Paris.

Except for the coffee. Standard French coffee is an espresso, which is simply too strong for me.

Walking the Louvre and Tuileries

Stomachs full of delicious pastry, we started our adventure with a metro ride to Châtelet once again. But this time we transferred and traveled one more station to the Louvre. I figured that even though we weren’t going to tour this most famous of art museums, we at least needed to see the beautiful Louvre Palace and walk the Tuileries Gardens.

This is also where we met a German mother an her adult daughter who asked us to take a photo of them. We chatted for a few minutes. They were surprised I was traveling with kids and also surprised we had come all the way to Europe for a week. We had a great discussion on the amazing-ness of travel, and I encouraged them to pay the U.S. a visit. They kindly took a photo of us as well.

From the Louvre we meandered leisurely through Les Jardins des Tuileries until we came to the next destination on the list: Musée l’Orangerie.

Marveling at the Water Lilies

If you’re an art connoisseur, you could probably spent a week at the Louvre and not appreciate everything. We could spend all day there, and I’d barely scratch the surface and end up with two unhappy kids. But I still wanted to get in a little art while in Paris. So we settled for the Musée l’Orangerie.

Located at the opposite end of Tuileries Gardens from the Louvre, the Musée l’Orangerie is substantially smaller than its more famous neighbor. But this trove of impressionist art contains one very iconic piece: full wall displays of Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies).

We spent a while marveling at the walls of horizonless, shifting mix of pond and plants arrayed around us on all sides.

Even I could enjoy such a moment. I’m not much into paintings, especially impressionist paintings, but I find the works of the early impressionists are substantially better than the later, abstract ones.

Most of another hour was spent on the lower floor as we examined a number of other works in the museum collection. Some were quite skillful masterpieces, such as this one.

Apparently I missed an easy career as an artist, if this is all it takes to get you into a famous museum. Maybe I could still switch? I’d have to kick the eccentricity up a few notches.

Eventually all three of us had had enough art for the day and ventured back outside to the banks of the Seine.

The highlight of the trip

It was finally time. I’d told the kids I didn’t want the Eiffel Tower to be a tale of misery, so I made sure it wasn’t on the agenda for the first day. Instead, this most iconic of Parisian structures was slated for lunchtime and early afternoon.

We’d already had some glimpses. Le Tour Eiffel often peeks at you from various corners of the city, reminding you that it is always there, always watching. When we left the Musée l’Orangerie, our view was the best we’d had so far. But a short train ride later, and we were standing underneath it.

Unfortunately, one of the entrances to the Eiffel Tower was closed, and we’d managed to pick the longest security line of them all. Ask my wife sometime how I feel about lines.

Luckily, once inside, the wait wasn’t as bad. This was mainly because I’d elected to go with the cheap and character-building Eiffel Tower experience, to the dismay of my children: the Snyders were taking the stairs up the tower! It was definitely for the best. Instead of waiting in a giant line for an elevator, we started up the metal stairs after a mere 10 minutes in the queue. Here are my two troopers starting out:

I had a blast. In the end, the kids did, too. But the adventure wasn’t without its share of whining and complaining about hiking up the Eiffel Tower when there was an functioning elevator available. But once we’d scaled the first floor, the smiles came back.

The views from the first floor were lovely.

But the views from the second level are even more stunning.

I’d read that this was the best level from which to view Paris, as you’re high enough to have a sweeping view of the city, yet close enough to pick out landmarks. I considered going to the top, but given the cost and time,  we’d be happily content with the second level.

Lunch was had at the tiny cafe, which to my shock had prices within the realm of reason. The baguette sandwich was delicious. Nothing beats French bread.

Once we were all satisfied that we’d soaked in enough of the view, we headed down, taking the elevator this time. Turns out you don’t need a ticket to go that direction. Just up.

I’ll have more on the Eiffel Tower later, including a rundown on why I consider the stairs to be the better experience, even with kids. On with our adventure!

Triomphe!

After conquering the Eiffel Tower by foot, it makes sense that our next stop was a monument to victory. Napoleon’s victories, to be exact.

We took our time getting there, though. Across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower is a grand set of fountains and park called the Jardins du Trocadéro. From here you can get some great shots of the Eiffel Tower.

After walking a little further an up the stairs, we headed down to the metro and rode it three stops to the Arc de Triomphe.

Although the Arc de Triomphe isn’t especially tall, the views from the top are great. The Eiffel Tower is still fairly close, and being at the center of 12(!) different avenues makes for some unique photos.

Like many other places in Paris, the kids got in for free. And “child” prices typically last until they turn 18. This is one reason I would suggest visiting Paris as a family before the kids are grown, especially if you can travel hack the flights and hotel. The former is fairly easy. The latter is a pain.

The Arc de Triomphe involved more stairs, to the kids’ dismay. They asked why they didn’t install an elevator. I had to tell them they weren’t exactly common in the early 1800s. Not to mention electricity as we know it wasn’t a thing. And renovating an stone monument like this wasn’t exactly…eh…simple.

My last comment is to avoid the Arc de Triomphe if driving in Paris. Unless you relish a challenge. The giant circle is an utter free for all.

After our stop at the Arc de Triomphe, we found a cheap restaurant on a side street to grab dinner. There was still one more stop on our itinerary.

A Montmartre Evening

Montmartre is a neighborhood of Paris that I never knew existed prior to our trip, or that it is a favorite for many people visiting the city. When I was searching hotel award options (which is pretty difficult for a party of 3+, let me tell you!), one of the hotels I examined was the Holiday Inn Montmartre. It just seemed too far away from everything else, and the metro wasn’t all that convenient, so I quickly decided it wasn’t a good fit.

But it definitely may be on the table for consideration if we ever visit Paris again. The Montmartre area is charming. It consists of a mix of narrow cobblestone streets, small plazas, and a lovely hill to climb from where you can enjoy a view of the rest of Paris.

And atop the hill is the stunning Sacre-Couer Cathedral.

You can access Montmartre via the metro, but it is a bit of a walk up the hill. We rode the metro to the Anvers stop and then walked the streets to Square Louise Michel from where we took the funicular for the final stretch. I have an obsession with funiculars. My wife and I enjoyed the one in Quebec City when we visited in the winter of 2016 (SEE: Canadian Adventures in 16 Pictures).

The kids and I spent some time sitting on the hill enjoying the view. There was quite the crowd who all had the same idea. I don’t blame them; it was a lovely evening.

Even though there was a good amount of daylight left, I figured being out much past 8:00 was going to be too much for the kids. We’d seen a lot and walked a lot, and they needed to turn in early enough to be rested for the next day’s adventures.

Exhausted again

We finally arrived back at the hotel around 8:30. It wasn’t long before the kids were asleep, hopefully dreaming about the fun we’d have the following day, our last full day  in Paris.

I drove the two of them hard on our second day. They were troopers, and definitely enjoyed exploring Paris. But they were quite tired. I probably wouldn’t recommend an itinerary as full as ours, especially if your kids are younger. I was already planning on taking things easier on our last full day, and this just confirmed it.

3 Days in Paris: Day 1 – Surviving the Jetlag

I am a bit late blogging our day-to-day experiences in Paris, but here is the first installment. Two more to follow. 

As we walked off the jet bridge of our Delta 777 (SEE: Delta 777 Economy Review: Seattle to Paris) into Charles de Gaulle airport, I was overcome by that feeling of exhilaration that always accompanies arriving somewhere new. Never mind that I’d napped less than 30 minutes during our 10-hour flight and it was magically morning again. It was a beautiful day to enjoy and explore!

I fondly recalled one of the other times I stepped off a plane to a brand new day: my whirlwind trip to Australia. Heading 7,000 miles away for a mere 5 nights might seem crazy to most. But when you can do it for a hair over $50 per day, it’s within the realm of reason. Planning a trip of a mere week in Europe is pretty analogous.

But this time was different. For the first time I had two kids along. Two kids who were venturing somewhere outside their birth country and their adopted country for the first time. Their excitement was palpable.

Even though they hadn’t really slept, both kids were alert and curious as we navigated customs and baggage claim. Charles de Gaulle isn’t exactly an easy airport to navigate, mainly due to its size, but the signage was decent enough in English. It was just a substantial amount of walking. Finally, we made it to the train station. While I waited in a long line to get our tickets, the kids sat down nearby. This was their first mistake.

The battle begins

During our flight I’d told them how important it was to get at least a little sleep. Due to a last-minute flight cancellation, we ended up on a much earlier flight that anticipated. This resulted in an earlier landing in Paris, which was welcomed. But it also meant we would have to fight through a full day on little to no sleep.

If I was by myself, a nap during the flight would probably have been possible, even as uncomfortable as it is flying economy. But the kids just wanted to binge-watch movies, and I decided to let them. We wouldn’t be watching anything for several days, and it would at least make the flight an enjoyment for them.

But this meant that the exhaustion was starting to catch up to them. I could tell when I returned with our tickets for the RER B into Paris (SEE: Best way to get from CDG airport to Paris City Center) that the real onslaught was about to begin. It was going to be a long day battling jet lag.

The train ride into the city wasn’t any better. It turned into nap time. As we rolled into Gare du Nord, I jostled my daughter awake. We had to make the connection to our final leg on the metro. Finally, 20 minutes later, we were at our hotel, free of our bags and ready to explore.

Bonjour, Paris!

While the exhaustion had been creeping up on me as well as we sat on the train, getting out into the bustle of Paris filled me with a renewed vigor. We could do this. I knew it’d be hard with two tired kids, but I had a few things planned that would hopefully keep their minds off of their fatigue. Off we went to the metro station.

I’d picked the Crowne Plaza Paris Republique pretty much for one reason: easy access to the metro. It was also close enough to the middle of Paris that transit wouldn’t take long anywhere. We could reach multiple sights on the metro without even making a transfer.

Using a mere two words, “ticket” and “child”, in my assuredly terrible French, I managed to get a carnet of child fare metro tickets. I’d not bothered when we’d arrived at the train station, but I felt less hurried once we’d dropped our luggage. Buying packs of 10 child tickets is totally worth it. You can’t beat half off the normal fare.

Off we went on the line to Châtelet. Seeing Notre Dame was first on the agenda. Ok, not quite. The first order of business was sitting the kids down in a quiet park and running through some ground rules for the trip. Don’t run off, hold my hand while we walk, don’t go with any strangers. That sort of stuff. We’d run through this before at the airport, but now that we were here, I thought it wise to reiterate.

Parental spiel over, we headed toward Paris’ famous cathedral on foot.

Le Île de la Cité

Reaching the banks of the Seine was one of those surreal travel moments for me. It was synonymous with the morning I caught my first glimpse of Newfoundland through the dawn fog. Or the moment I walked out of the train station in downtown Sydney and caught my first glimpse of the Opera House. It was that perfect moment of I’m actually here. If only I could capture it and savor the feeling even longer. Even more incredible was being there with two of my kids.

Who immediately began to ask how far we’d have to walk and started to complain that they were tired. Alright. Back to reality.

Notre Dame wasn’t that far of a walk, but for kids who object to hiking a short distance (SEE: 3 Tips for Hiking with Kids in the Desert), there were still a few complaints. But the complaints turned to awe as we rounded the corner and Our Lady of Paris was there to greet us in all her beauty.

It figures that the first thing on the kids’ minds was Quasimodo. Thanks, Disney.

After wandering the square, taking some photos, and admiring the exquisite cathedral, it was time to grab a bite to eat. But I broke a general rule of travel: don’t eat in the heart of the touristy spots. I knew without even experiencing it that the cafés just steps from Notre Dame would be overpriced and the food would be mediocre at best. I’d like to say I was pleasantly surprised, but it the little place on the corner was what I’d expected to a T.

With two tired kids and half my brain cells turned off due to jetlag, I didn’t really care.  At least I can say every other meal was more affordable than our first.

A stomach full of food brought on the urge to nap, which I fought against valiantly. We walked across the street and pulled tickets for the Notre Dame tower. Since tickets are doled out for visits later in the day, we’d have to occupy ourselves for a couple hours until we could climb the stairs to Quasimodo’s perch. No matter. I knew the perfect place to go.

Ahoy, there!

One train stop and a short walk later and we were entering Luxembourg Gardens. Unlike the other major sights in Paris, this one had been off my radar until I started researching for our trip. Make sure it’s on your list when you visit.

The kids amused themselves for the first half hour with the wooden boats available to rent at a rate of €4 each for 30 minutes. Each one bears the colors and initials of a specific country and comes with a stick to help navigate it around the pond.

It is great fun and one of the classic things to do for kids in Paris. The kids had picked the boats of Ireland and Portugal rather hastily. We looked for a Costa Rican boat on the rack when we finished, but couldn’t spot one.

After our sailing adventure we continued further into the park to one of the most superb playgrounds I’ve ever seen. The required entry fee was unexpected, but it was worth every penny.

The kids caught a second wind while my eyelids drooped. Everything in me wanted to curl up on a bench right then and there and fall asleep. But I managed to stay awake for most of an hour while they enjoyed the playground to its fullest. We’d surely make another trip here a different day.

The final stretch

Finally, it was time to head back for our tour of the towers of Notre Dame. Having climbed up to the top of the cathedral in Milan with my wife, I knew just how cool this would be.

However, the kids less than thrilled, mainly because of the stairs. My son told me that there had to be “more than 100” stairs. I countered that there were probably more like 300, which elicited a groan. Turns out there are actually 422 (LOL!).

But it was completely worth it. The views are incredible. Now I might not mind being a hunchbacked bellringer myself if this was my view every day.

We didn’t go to the very top, as the kids didn’t want to climb any more stairs. For once, I relented. They were worn out, and it was time to head back to the hotel.

Utter exhaustion

All of us were thinking about one thing when we finally dragged ourselves back to the Crowne Plaza: bed! We picked up some food at a local market and then headed back to our room. I made the kids shower since it’d been essentially 2 days since their last one.

Even with the TV on, my son passed out within minutes. I decided not to wake him and make him eat more, even though he’d hardly touched dinner. Food could wait. We’d survived our day of jetlag and it was finally time for some well-deserved rest. They’d both need all the sleep they could get for our next days of adventure.

Should you Visit Colossal Cave Mountain Park?

After flying on literally the most ahead-of-schedule United flight I’ve ever set foot on (SEE: My Kids Magically Fixed United), the kids and I arrived in Tucson late at night. The next morning included getting a rental car from the airport. I’ll not let you forget the screaming deal I found on a one-way for our adventure driving back to California (SEE: 2 Tips for Planning a Last Minute Trip).

Our first stop on our first day was Colossal Cave Mountain Park. I’d found the attraction in the brief searching I’d done to find out if there was anything else in Tucson worth seeing besides the Air and Space Museum and Saguaro National Park. Since we’d have a full day to spend, I figured we’d split the time between the museum and the cave.

General Info on Colossal Cave Mountain Park

The park is actually located outside Tucson a good half hour. The easiest access is by taking I-10 east until you reach Exit 279. A left turn will send you onto Colossal Cave Road. From there, you can pretty much follow the signs.

A large arch greets you as you enter the park. The road then turns really rough. It made me wonder what sort of shape the place was in and what the quality of the tour would be like.

The parking lot was a bit confusing. We got up to the top, parked, and then I wasn’t quite sure where to go, so we walked the wrong direction. The path to the cave actually takes you down a bit, and I totally missed the sign and entrance since someone had been stopped in front of it when we’d parked.

The path takes you down to the gift shop and the entrance to the cave.

You can pay for a cave tour ahead of time by booking online. Tours are capacity-controlled, and I’m sure they sell out during busier times. There was only one tour sold out for our day at the time I booked, and I got the 11:00 a.m. tour like I’d hoped for. From what I’ve read, though, you might want to book early as the Classic Cave Tours do sell out on popular dates and at popular times.

If you want to chance things, you can buy tickets at the gift shop like we did. The only issue is that you may have to wait for a tour if one has filled up, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do in the interim. I’d recommend booking online if you know you’ll be there at a specific time.

Touring Colossal Cave

One of the things that surprised me was how warm the cave was. In Oregon, the cave is typically a chilly 40 degrees. And it is wet. Colossal Cave is exactly the opposite. Although it was a fairly scorching 90 degrees outside (hey…don’t judge this Humboldt boy), the cave is a perfect 70 degrees.

It is also a dry limestone cave, which means the formations aren’t growing anymore. This has been the state of Colossal Cave for at least a few hundred years.

Our tour guide’s name was Savannah. She was engaging and humorous, which makes for a great tour. She had great knowledge of the cave and was able to relay much of the science of limestone caves and the history of Colossal Cave in particular.

When the tour guide mentioned how many stairs we’d be either climbing or descending, my first thought was, wow, that is a ton.” But over the course of the tour I realized that it wasn’t as strenuous as I’d anticipated. You walk a good distance, and the stair sections are fairly well broken up.

The kids were fairly interested during most of the tour. There were instances where they wanted to move on, but others where they really enjoyed what we were looking at. Some of the formations had names, either due to the unique shape of the rock, or the way they would cast shadows when the guide shined her light on them. This was the “witch of the cave”.

My favorite parts were definitely the Crystal Forest and the Drapery Room. The sad part, however, is that because Colossal Cave is a dry cave, the broken stalactites are no longer growing and will not repair themselves.

colossal cave mountain park

All we can do now is limit additional damage to the cave.

There is also a story of bandits that hid gold in Colossal Cave and then died in a shootout soon after. The gold is worth tens of thousands of dollars, and to this day no one has found it. The tour guide played this story up, although she had the gall to insist that we had to share a cut of the gold with her should we find it.

Other tours and activities at Colossal Cave Mountain Park

The bulk of people take the normal cave tour. However, the park offers a few other levels of cave exploration for the more adventurous types. There is a ladder tour that costs $35 and is 90 minutes long, taking you to places the Classic Cave Tour doesn’t. You have to be at least 12 years old and physically able to climb ladders and move through narrow spaces.  For comparison, the normal tour is about 50 minutes long and is all concrete path and stairs.

Adventurous types can also take the Wild Cave Tour that last 3.5 hours and costs $85. Groups are limited to 6 people and require a minimum of 2. Young adults of 16 or 17 can take the tour, but they must be accompanied by an adult. You should be physically fit and need to bring gloves (which you can also purchase there).

Besides the other tours, there is a gift shop, a small “cafe” (it’s basically a food stand). We considered eating here but ended up opting for a Mexican restaurant about 15 minutes away.

There is also a super short nature trail. If this is your one chance to be up-close-and-personal with some saguaro, I’d take it. Otherwise, I’d pass. There is a lot more to see and enjoy in Saguaro National Park itself.

Conclusion

My takeaway is that if you have access to other, larger and more interesting caves, you might want to pass up Colossal Cave Mountain Park. The tour was interesting, but not quite as long or engaging as the tours I’ve taken at the Oregon Caves. And nothing has beaten my visit to Carlsbad Caverns in terms of size.

But…Colossal Cave Mountain Park does have some things going for it, including the perfect temperature, and the fact that it is a dry cave, which is a bit more rare. It is also within an easy drive of Tucson, so it could be a great place to spend a half a day if you are already in the area.

3 Tips for Hiking with Kids in the Desert

During our time traversing the Southwest a couple weeks ago, we embarked on four different short hikes in the desert. Well…some of them you really can’t call hikes. Even in 100-degree weather, walking 400 yards or so out onto the salt flats at Badwater Basin in Death Valley still doesn’t qualify as hiking in my book.

But…it does to some. Including my kids. They weren’t ecstatic about my ideas and made their position on hiking quite clear. It took some significant coaxing and prodding to get them out of the car a couple of times. To them it was sooooo miserable that they wanted to stay in the car in 100-degree weather (yes, really).

After all my effort, I thought I’d note down a few tips in case you consider traipsing through the desert with your own brood.

Tip #1 – Reconsider the whole idea

I mean, really. You probably shouldn’t go. Unless you enjoy dragging whiny children over sand and rock for a couple hours at a time, this isn’t for you. Whether it is their supposedly hurting feet, or the fact that they didn’t bring enough water (in other words…they poured it all on the ground…or on a sibling), they will let you know.

At every moment you have to not just urge yourself onward but your children as well. It’s like they think they are going to die from a mere 90 minutes of desert exposure. Somehow the kids that were soooo happy to finally be someone warm suddenly think they are going to melt if they have to do something besides splash in the pool in 85 degrees.

Save yourself the pain and just stay home. It’ll be better for everyone involved.

Tip #2 – Bring earplugs

If you decide to go against your better judgment and still embark on this fun family outing ridiculous escapade, earplugs might be in order. It’ll prevent you from hearing the birds chirping, but you’ll also be able to enjoy the beautiful vistas in utter tranquility. Such was life at this moment in Sedona.

Ahhhh, peaceful Sedona.

But you might not need them anyway id the kids repeat themselves enough. By about the fifth time I’d heard, “I’m dying”, I had pretty much tuned it out. So I honestly don’t know if if was the fifth time or the twenty-fifth. I do know the first four times had included a quick check of each child: Blood? No. Signs of heat stroke? Negative. Out of water? Possibly, but typically not because they’re drinking it. Sweating? Yes, but that just means the cooling system is functioning properly.

Definitely no signs of dying. . Carry on.

Tip #3 – Just laugh

This was my one consolation. I finally realized how hysterically overdramatic their reactions were. Whenever I’d hear the newest reason as to why we couldn’t continue, I’d smile and keep slowly marching along. They’d always eventually follow.

I’d also chuckle when they’d use their water for things like making mud or dumping it on their heads. When they’d invariably run out, I’d happily sip my own. They’d just have to make it the last mile without refreshment.

Death Valley was the best. Although the temperature was pushing 100°F, we could literally see the car from where we’d hiked. And it wasn’t very far away. I’d had them hydrate before we got to Badwater Basin, and we each had a water bottle for our short outing. We were prepared for our excursion.

Yet it definitely wasn’t their cup of tea. This picture will forever make me giggle.

As for my own experience, I’d happily take a walk in full sun on a flat surface in a bone dry 100°F than an ascent at 80°F with any sort of humidity.

Ok…we did have *some* fun

In case you can’t tell this is mostly tongue-in-cheek, we did actually have some fun hiking in the desert. I definitely had to keep spurring the kids on at times, but it was a good experience for us overall. They don’t have quite the same appreciation of the scenic beauty of the locations we visited, but I am hopeful someday that’ll change. They’ll have to at least get used to it. Walking and hiking are two of my favorite things to do when traveling.

Of our four partial days of hiking, the kids enjoyed the red rocks of Sedona and our short trek to the waterfall at Red Rocks National Conservation Area the most. The latter hike didn’t start out all that pleasantly (as they had no idea what was at the end of the trail), but I was smugly satisfied sitting up on a boulder watching them happily toss rocks in the pool and enjoy getting close to the fall. I wish I’d had my camera out to capture the looks of horror when I finally told them we had to head back. Apparently they like the end goal of hiking, just not the process.

Would I take the kids hiking in the desert again? Absolutely. And we I would love every minute of it.

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