Hiking Glen Ellis Falls

Glen Ellis Falls trail is an easily accessible, kid-friendly hike in Pinkham Notch. Some may classify it more as a walk, with stairs, than a “real” hike. Whatever you choose to call it, the views are worth the small effort to get to the falls.  The trail is about .3 mile each way, with approximately 100 ft of elevation change. The trailhead and parking lot are right off Rt. 16 just a bit north of the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.  Although the parking lot is big enough for dozens of vehicles, it does fill up on sunny weekend days.  A vault toilet is available near the parking lot.


Girl near sign
Tiny excited to begin our hike


The trail is heavily used and can be muddy after a rainstorm.  Well-constructed stone steps are on the slopes, but handrails are often only available on one side.  The trail follows the river on its  way to the 64-foot waterfall, providing a pretty view along the whole hike. We stopped to take lots of pictures as we went and read the informational plaques.

Because it is so easy to get to, Glen Ellis falls is very popular on sunny summer days.

When we got down to the base of the falls, there was a set of steps to go up near the top of the falls. On a breezy day, this was a lot of fun because the spray from the falls misted over us! We went to Glen Ellis Falls on a Saturday afternoon, and it was rather crowded. We had to circle around the parking lot to find a space, and there were a lot of people on the trail and at the falls.  I would recommend visiting on a weekday, and going in the morning if possible. This was a very rewarding hike for young children and beginners.

Touring the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul

After we finished working the beet harvest, we had a little time for sightseeing as we traveled south. We visited friends near the Twin Cities, but found the weather too cold to enjoy outdoor attractions such as the zoo or sculpture garden. We did, however pay a visit to St. Paul to see the Minnesota State Capitol.

The Capitol is open to the public seven days a week.  Weekday hours are 8 AM to 5 PM. Saturdays you can visit from 10 AM to 3 PM, and Sunday hours are 1-4 PM. We had to pay a few dollars to park in a nearby lot, but if you visit on a weekend free parking may be available.


The Rotunda at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul

There were no security guards or metal detectors at the entrance, so we went right in and started looking around. What we didn’t know at the time was that the ground floor has a gift shop and visitor information desk, where we could take a tour. While we were near the rotunda, a tour group came in so we joined them. I was very glad we did because the guide pointed out lots of details we would have overlooked. Minnesota is the Gopher State and the state flower is a lady’s slipper.  Worked into the details of the ironwork throughout the building are small gophers and lady’s slippers that our guide pointed out to us. I also learned that Minnesota is the only US State with a French motto, L’Etoil du Nord. (The Star of the North)

The Minnesota State Capitol features beautiful art in addition to lovely architecture. The Governor’s Reception Room features Howard Pyle’s painting of the Battle of Nashville and other Civil War art. The State Supreme Court chamber features murals relating to the development of law throughout human history, including a powerful image of Moses on Mt. Sinai. There are murals and other art throughout the building, including many portraits.

Lots and lots of gold leaf!

 We really enjoyed our tour of the Minnesota State Capitol as a way to take in some history and some art and learn new things.



Friends had recommended the Henry Doorly Zoo to us when they learned we were going to be stopping in Omaha, Nebraska. Even though the weather was cold, when we found out how many indoor exhibits this zoo features, we decided it was worth seeing.

The Henry Doorly Zoo has different admission rates depending on the time of year. There are three sets of rates, one for summer, a lower rate for fall and spring, and an even lower rate in winter.  The adult admission applies to everyone 12 and over, and children 2 and under are always free.  More information on admission is available here.In the summer, not only are admission rates higher, but according to many reviews of the zoo, it gets terribly crowded.  By visiting when we did, we not only paid a lower rate, we were better able to enjoy the exhibits. We do hope to visit again during warmer weather to enjoy the outdoor exhibits, but will avoid the summer crowds when we do.

The indoor exhibits we enjoyed included an indoor rainforest, a domed desert exhibit, an insect exhibit with butterfly room, a nocturnal animals exhibit, and an aquarium.

The rainforest exhibit could be enjoyed both from ground level, as in this photo, and from an elevated walkway around the upper level.

We probably could have spent all day in the rainforest exhibit alone.  We saw howler monkeys, a wide variety of birds, a pygmy hippo and her baby, tapirs, and lots of fruit bats. At the end of the day, the bats were more active, flying along the paths and through the tunnel, right over and around us.

A fruit bat “hanging out” in the rainforest exhibit

The desert dome featured plants and animals from an Australian desert, an African desert, and North America’s Sonoran Desert. We enjoyed seeing the plants and animals that have become familiar to us from our winters in Arizona. We also enjoyed seeing the similarities and some differences between desert-adapted flora and fauna around the world.

The aquarium featured penguins, jellyfish, and an amazing walk-though tunnel with small sharks and other sea creatures.  It didn’t photograph well for me, so you can check it out at the zoo if you visit, and I recommend you do!

Things to Know When You Visit Henry Doorly Zoo

The entire zoo campus is tobacco-free. 

You can purchase food and drinks at various locations around the zoo, or you can bring your own, provided you don’t bring in alcohol or any glass containers. 

Parking is free.

If you have a membership to an AZA member zoo that participates in the reciprocal admission program, your visit to Henry Doorly Zoo will be half-price. We have a member ship to the Western North Carolina Nature Center, which is a particularly good value, because in addition to the AZA Reciprocal program, they participate in the ASTC Travel Passport program, which offers free admission to science and technology centers. We have saved literally several hundred of dollars in admission to zoos and science centers across the country. If you would like to become a WNCNC member, you can do so online  here without travelling to North Carolina. 

Strollers, wagons, and motorized wheelchairs are available to rent at the zoo.

We hope you get a chance to visit the Henry Doorly Zoo and enjoy it as much as we did!




Basin Campground and Basin  Pond

This summer in New England we had to stay in campgrounds. The first year we had the RV, we camped on my mother’s property.  The next summer, that place was for sale, but my cousin invited us to stay at his place. We had a wonderful summer there, but when we bought the new RV, we realized it is so much taller than our old one that it wouldn’t fit in the same spot.  We decided to look for a work camping gig. None of the campgrounds looking for work campers were within a reasonable distance of the family members and friends we wanted to spend time with, so next we looked at campgrounds.

We took a drive to check out Basin Campground, one of the Forest Service campgrounds in the White Mountain National Forest.  Looking at a website is a good starting point, but sometimes the only way to determine if our rig will fit in a campsite is to go look. We found plenty of sites that we could get into and decided to give Basin Campground a try.


Basin Pond-too many leeches for swimming, but fine for fishing and canoeing.

Approaching the campground we passed the day-use/boat launch area. (Non-motorized boats only are permitted.) The pond and adjacent meadow make for some great photo ops! The kids enjoyed wading in the pond to chase frogs, until they discovered how many leeches live in the pond!

Basin Campground is about 15 miles north of Fryeburg, Maine right off Route 113.  There are 21 sites, 7 of which are walk-in only. Camping is $20 per night with a 14 day stay limit. Access and Senior passes are honored for half-price camping at Basin Campground.

Each site has a picnic table and fire ring. There are flush toilets near the camp host’s site, and water spigots at a few locations throughout the camping loop.

Basin Campground does not have electric or water hookups at the campsites, and there is no dump station on site.  The nearest dump station we found was in Gorham, NH at the water treatment facility.

CAmp site
Each campsite has a large picnic table and fire ring with cooking grates

Basin Campground is further away from the amusement parks, restaurants, outlet malls, and other tourist attractions that are popular in other parts of the White Mountains.  There are opportunities for hiking, fishing, and enjoying nature, which is what we go to the mountains for in the first place! Basin Campground was within a reasonable distance of the birding blind at Deer Hill Bog, and several hiking trails.  Though we stocked up on groceries before we went up, there is fresh produce and firewood available at roadside farm stands. Gorham, NH also has a good-sized, diverse farmer’s market once a week. 

Two children running
Adjacent to the day-use parking is a huge wildflower meadow with lots of room to run.

The camp hosts, Roy, Ann, and Kimberlee, were very helpful and friendly, and had firewood available to purchase. We are looking forward to seeing them again when we return to Basin Campground next summer!

Riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

When we visited Cuyahoga Valley National Park, we found that there was an excursion train that runs through the park, traveling between Independence and Akron. We thought this might be a fun way to experience the park and looked into ticket prices.

The National Park Scenic Train  offers coach tickets for $15 for ages 13 and up, and $10 for ages 3-12. (Children under 3 can ride for free on a parent’s lap.) Although the prices are very reasonable, it adds up quickly for a larger family, so I started to look for discounts, coupons, or promotions.  I found that if we rode the train on Thursday, that we would be eligible for a half-price military/veteran fare. The offer was extended to each veteran plus three guests. Since my husband and I are both veterans, we were able to purchase half-price tickets for all the kids. What a deal!  I don’t know if this discount is available year-round. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers different promotions throughout the year, such as “children ride free”. If you want to use the military/veteran discount, contact them to see if it is being offered, and if you don’t qualify, contact them to see what other promotions are offered that you may be able to benefit from.


Locomotive approaching platform
Waiting to board and watching the train arrive


Once we boarded the train and found seats, an easy task since there were not many passengers, the two Trainmen assigned to our car introduced themselves and told us a little about the train and the park.  The trainmen are volunteers who give their time and talents to assist passengers,  narrate the trip, and answer questions about  the railroad and the  region. Trainman Tom and Trainman Harold, who were assigned to our car, were both very knowledgeable and personable and patient with our group of inquisitive kids.


Trainman Harold lets Sparky try on his cap

With our tickets we had the option to hop off the train and re-board later. At one stop, we did exactly that. A large group of us got off to spend several minutes exploring one of the educational exhibits within the park, a short walk from the platform. It was a nice chance to stretch our legs during the 3.5 hour trip, and the exhibits were very enjoyable.

Amenities and Other Excursion Options

There is a concession car on the train where one can purchase snacks, sandwiches, drinks, and souvenirs. Cash and credit cards are accepted. There are also toilets in the coach cars, but no running water for hand-washing. Waterless hand sanitzer was available.  For visitors with mobility challenges, there is an ADA accessible car with a lift. Due to limited availability, they request that you call ahead to reserve seating in an accessible car.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad also puts on special excursions, such as a Polar Express Train for the holidays, and wine and beer tastings (nobody under 21 permitted on board) More information can be found at the FAQ on the official website.



Birding at Deer Hill Bog

While camped at Basin Campground in Evans Notch, we heard there was a wildlife viewing blind off Deer Hill Road.  Curly, our birder, and I got up early one morning to go check it out in hopes of seeing lots of birds and perhaps beavers or moose.

To get to the viewing area was a long drive up a rough dirt road, but that didn’t bother us.  There was a dirt pulloff with room for a few cars to park, but we were the only ones there.  The blind itself was wood with benches and viewing slots at a variety of heights, so we could choose to sit or stand.

We didn’t see a moose, or the beavers (though we could see their lodge) but we didn’t see and hear lots of frogs and birds, including an Eastern Kingbird , a merganser, and the ubiquitous Canada Geese. 

The Deer Hill Bog wildlife blind was a comfortable but uncrowded spot for birding and other wildlife watching, and we plan to return again when we’re back in the area.


Frogs in a bog
A variety of wildlife can be seen at Deer Hill Bog
We enjoyed watching this merganser early in the morning

State Historical Society of Iowa Museum  

Very close to the Iowa State Capitol  is the State Historical Society of Iowa Museum.  What a mouthful! They should give it a short, catchy name that’s easy to remember and shorter to say or type.  By any name, however, the museum is a fun way to spend some time.  We visited after seeing the State Capitol building and spent the entire afternoon at the museum.

mammoth skeleton
This cast of a mammoth skeleton greets visitors to the Iowa State Historical Society Museum

The first thing we saw in the main lobby was an exhibit that includes a cast of a mammoth skeleton and other fossils, There’s a ton of information if you take the time to read the signs at the exhibits.  The lobby also features a large globe and an information desk.

Other exhibits in the museum move forward in time through Iowa’s history.  Visitors can learn about the native inhabitants of Iowa, the wildlife, and the early European settlers and the agricultural and industrial activities they brought to the state. Other exhibits tell of Iowa and the Civil War, the Great War, and Hollywood.  The Civil War exhibit is extensive, with a reproduction of an encampment, along with displays of swords, cannons and shot, and everyday items.  There is a cafe on the third floor, but we didn’t see a gift shop anywhere.

Like many family-friendly museums, the State Historical Society of Iowa Museum has a children’s area called Hands-on History, though the entire museum is very child-friendly! Hands-on History is designed with kids 10 and under in mind and has picture books and a comfortable reading area. There is also a play kitchen and a large wooden train table. An art station gives children the chance to make crayon rubbings or their own drawings and display them on the wall.

 Tour of Iowa State Capitol


building with 5 domes
Iowa’s Capitol is the only one among the United States with five domes

Visiting each state’s Capitol building as we travel has given us an appreciation for architecture and a greater understanding of the history, people, and culture of a state. Des Moines, the Iowa State Capitol, did not disappoint. Another roadschooling family came along with us for this visit.  Although we had to pass through security to enter the building, the guards were very quick to accommodate the wheelchair used by a member of the other family.  We were directed to the information desk (right below the rotunda, on the ground floor) and had just enough time to check out the gift shop and use the restroom before starting a tour.


Our guide was very knowledgeable and first we learned about the previous capitols, construction of the current building, and a devastating fire that occurred in 1904. I learned that what is now Iowa was first part of the Wisconsin Territory before becoming the Iowa Territory and eventually, the State of Iowa.

We looked at a scale model of the Battleship Iowa and learned about her proud history. The children really enjoyed the model, but my 5-year-old had to be lifted up to see it, as the display case was higher.

Our guide pointed out lots of small details in the art and architecture of the building, things we may not have noticed on our own.  She took us to the Law Library, where we were able to see a book printed by Benjamin Franklin on his hand press. 


A display unlike any we’ve seen at other capitols featured dolls representing the spouses of the governors of Iowa.  The female dolls all have the same face and wear reproductions of the gowns the first ladies wore for their husband’s inauguration.  Since Iowa now has a female governor, a doll modeled on her husband is also displayed in evening dress. It’s fun to see how formalwear has changed over the years!

Dolls representing the governors spouses
This series of dolls represents the First Ladies of Iowa in their inauguration gowns. The gentleman doll is modeled on the husband of Iowa’s first female governor.

We finished up our tour with a trip up to the “Whispering Gallery” which overlooks the rotunda. The minimum age is 6 years old, and some steep stairs are involved, with no elevator access, so some of our party remained below in the care of 16-year-old Curly. During this time, one of the state Senators came across the kids waiting for us to come down, and offered to show them the Senate floor. (We had seen both chambers from the galleries during the tour) Of course, the kids said yes! I did not get this Senator’s  name, but it was exciting for the kids to get a special tour and we really appreciated her giving them her time.

We learned so much as the Iowa State Capitol and I recommend you visit if you ever have the chance. We followed up our Capitol tour with an afternoon at the nearby State Historical Society Museum

Shopping for Gifts For RVers

It can be hard to know what to give families or children who are RVing fulltime. Space is limited, and families have to take weight into consideration.  Heavy items like clothes and books may be quite unwelcome.  Even clothing can be an inappropriate gift when storage space is limited.  Here are a few suggestions

Give a practical gift:

Even those of us who use GPS often like to have a road atlas on hand as backup.  A new, updated one might make a nice Christmas gift.

Gift cards for fuel or grocery stores are always appreciated. Try to choose chains that are widely available.

Gift certificates to go to the movies are another idea. Again, nationwide chains are best unless you know where the travelers will be.

A camera to capture all those fun experiences and new places makes a great gift for all ages.

Travel guides can be useful if you know the new places the recipient plans to travel to. The “Off The Beaten Path” guide books are a favorite of ours. (I believe there’s one for each state)

A membership to a chain gym can be used both to stay in shape while traveling and to be able to take a long, hot shower from time to time without worrying about conserving water. Some examples are Anytime Fitness, SNAP Fitness, and Planet Fitness,

Rechargeable flashlights/portable lights are great. No need to carry around extra batteries!

The National Park Passport and State Capitols Passport books are a fun souvenir. These are small blue books that visitors stamp with the special stamp and the date when they visit.

For families who hike, like mine, there’s no such thing as too many wool socks. Yes, we get excited about new socks. Yes, the kids too!

A travelling family will get a lot of benefit out of a zoo or museum membership that offers free or discounted admission to other museums.  We love our Western North Carolina Nature Center membership, which gets us reciprocal admission to both zoos and science centers under the AZA reciprocal program and the ASTC Travel Passport program.


2019 Road atlas
An updated road atlas comes in very handy!

Give Consumable Gifts:

Consumable can refer to food, certainly, but also anything that gets used up.  Christmas cookies, fudge, or a box of gourmet chocolates are all consumable. So are things like crayons, for families with young children, or other art supplies, or paper plates.

These are just a few ideas of gifts for RVers that don’t take up a lot of space or add a lot of weight.

When we began to consider buying a newer RV, we came up with a list of must-haves.  We wanted a door to our bedroom instead of just a curtain.  We wanted a place for the two boys to sleep without having to convert the dinette to a bed every night. Most importantly, we wanted to be able to use the kitchen and sleeping spaces without having to put out slides.  As short as this list of “musts” was, we had a hard time finding a travel trailer that fit our needs.

Overview of the Octane 272

After months of looking, we decided to purchase a Jayco Octane Superlite 272. This is a toy hauler travel trailer, with a front queen bedroom, rear queen bunk over a dinette that converts to a queen, and a set of  single bunks between the bathroom and living area. The boys sleep in the single bunks and the girls share the two queen beds. 

Camper bunk beds
These bunks are approx. 5’6″ long. The fridge can be seen on the left

This particular model has a foldaway dinette as the doorside option, rather than a sofa or captains chairs, giving us maximum flexibility.

You see, that doorside dinette means we have a table to use  after the kids are in bed or in the morning before they’re up.  It converts to a comfortable bed, so we could take along a guest or two on a short trip.  It also folds up against the wall, giving us more space to stow gear and coincidentally, making it very easy to clean the floor under the table. The way the interior features of the RV can be reconfigured reminded us of a Transformer-from which we get the name, Octavius Prime.

The rearmost dinette seats all six kids comfortably.  We raised the stops for the upper bunk to a height that allows us to sit in the dinette underneath it. Now we don’t have to raise the top bunk by day to use the dinette.  It was a simple adjustment-if you can turn a screwdriver, you can reset the stops!

The upper bed stays in the position shown, while the lower part converts from a dinette to a bed.


Although some Octanes have a party deck option to use the rear door/ramp as a deck, this option was not available on the Superlites. No worries! When we want to sit outside, we can sit under our awning or around a campfire. We do love the fact that we can put the rear ramp down and pull down the rear screen to keep the bugs out while enjoying sunlight and fresh air.  

View of the rear dinette with the back ramp open.

Organizing Our Octane 272

Because the interior is designed to be reconfigured during travel to hold ATVs, motorcycles, a golf cart, or other equipment, there is much less built-in storage than in a bunkhouse model.  We hit up Target, the Container Store, Dollar Tree, and Aldi to find items to use in organizing our new space.

First, the kitchen…

Command hooks hold our measuring cups and spoons, pot holders, and trusty Almanac. The paper plate holder we had for the old RV mounted to the underside of the overhead cabinet.

A magnetic bar holds our knives and scissors, and the bamboo covering prevents the edges from being damaged.

Bamboo surfaced magnetic knife bar
This keeps knives out of little hands


Two rows of magnetic spice tins hold all the spices and herbs we need.

Two rows of magnetic spice tins
I bought one of these magnetic spice racks at Aldi a few years ago for the old RV. I found a second one at the Container Store, seemingly identical.


There was no place to hang a dish towel, so we added this bar that hooks over a cabinet door.  We were able to find one that matched the finish of the other hardware.

Green towel on cabinet door rackOverall we are very happy with our Jayco Octane 272 and have found it easy to add storage and organization.  If we cross paths during our travels, we’d be happy to give you an in-person tour!