Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument
Location: 15 Entrance Rd; Los Alamos, NM  87544
Price: $25 per car
Smashed Penny Machine: No

Bandelier National Monument is located outside Santa Fe.  The park is known for the ruins of several villages and cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo culture that once lived in the area.  We arrived to Santa Fe around 11 and we decided to grab a quick-lunch in town before heading up to the park.  During the summer months, day users of the park cannot drive into the park from 9 AM to 3 PM.  The park offers a free shuttle that starts taking visitors to the park at 9 AM and the last shuttle back leaves the park at 5 PM.  The shuttle meets at the White Rock Visitor’s Center.  There is plenty of parking here, a small information desk, a water fill station and bathrooms.  The shuttle leaves roughly every thirty minutes.   The shuttle ride took about 20 minutes up the mountain.

As you disembark the bus, a ranger meets you to give you some basic information about the park.  If you are a yearly pass holder, this ranger will check your pass.  If you need to pay admission, you will need to go inside to the ranger’s station.  The main trail called Main Loop starts just behind the Visitor’s Center.  Because most the people who just got off your bus will be walking the Main Loop trail, I would suggest checking out the museum and giving people a chance to space out a little on the trail.  If you are doing a self-guided tour, I would highly suggest picking up a $2 guidebook from the bookstore.  It gives lots of information about the sites you will see.

The main loop trail is 1.2 miles and most of it is a fairly easy hike. The path is flat and accessible for a stroller designed for hiking (i.e. one with big tires) but I think it would be difficult to get a wheelchair or umbrella stroller. Most the trail is not paved.   Even though it was afternoon by the time we got to the park we still saw a few mule deer (they are clearly very used to people because it didn’t even bother to stop eating as we walked by).  The weather was warm but because the park is high in elevation, it wasn’t super-hot.  You should still pack lots of water with you on the hike because the air has almost no humidity so you will get thirst very quickly.

After walking past the main pueblo ruins on the ground the path splits.  You can choose to circle back along the shorter nature trail, which remains mostly flat.  If you are a little more adventurous and ready to do a more strenuous hike; then you can continue along the Main Loop trail to see the cliff dwellings.  The path meanders along the cliff face with several opportunities to actually enter the cavates in the cliff face.  The ladders are not very long so it is a fairly easy climb.  The rooms are not very large so only a few people can fit in there at a time.  If you are there during the summer please be mindful that the people in the cavate need to come out before you go in.  Conversely if you are in a cavate, please be mindful that people waiting to enter basically causes a big bottle neck.  Basically please remember to be polite.

Once you come down from the cliff dwellings you’ll cross a small creek.   Again you have a choice, you can either continue to the left and follow the Main Loop back to the Visitor’s Center or you can turn right and hike to Alcove House.  The hike to Alcove House is .5 miles one way (it’s an out and back so you will return to the Visitor’s Center via the Main Loop regardless).  Most the hike is fairly easy until you get to Alcove house.  Alcove house sits 140 feet off the canyon floor and you have to climb (and then descend) 4 wooden ladders to get there.  The path is very narrow and is basically one person at a time with the exception of a couple of landings.  This path is not for young kids (the youngest we took up was 5 years old) or anyone that doesn’t like heights.  If you your group is split on going up, people could wait either at the trail split (there are several benches in the shade) or those not going up to walk to the cliff base and hang out by the creek (no benches but plenty of shade).  The hike out to Alcove house and back is going to take you about an hour depending on the number of people climbing the ladders and how much time you spend on the cliff.  Once you reach the top be careful the whole floor of the cliff slants slightly toward the edge and most the floor is loose dirt.  There are no guardrails so keep kids close.  The view from Alcove House was amazing and completely worth the climb. I would highly recommend it (but you’ve been warned about the climb J ).

After our hike, we returned to the Visitor’s Center.  The girls completed their Jr Ranger program and then we waited on the bus to take us back down to the White Rock Visitor’s Center.

Overall:  I had never heard of this amazing park before planning this trip.  If you are planning to be in the Santa Fe area I highly suggest checking out the park.  We spent about 4 hours at the park (that includes commute time on the shuttle).  The park was moderately busy.  The Main Loop hike was a hike that a casual walker could do.  Most of Alcove House was an easy hike except for the part spent climbing.  There are several other hikes to do in the park and the park offers a campground as well.  This park is very much worth visiting.

This is part of the Alcove House Trail
More of the Alcove House trail
Alcove House
Katie climbing down from the cliff dwellings

Pop’s Soda Ranch

Pop’s Soda Ranch
Location: 660 W Highway 66; Arcadia, OK 73007
Price: Free
Smashed Penny Machine: No

This was a mix of a gas station, tourist stop and classic diner.  Pop’s is a little ways off the interstate you aren’t going to just see it and decide to pull over.  This stop was probably 20 minutes or so of driving off the interstate down Route 66.  If you like soda (or nostalgia) it’s completely worth the time.

The first thing you see as you pull into Pop’s is the giant soda bottle out front.  This giant statue/billboard is also lighted so I’m sure it’s an amazing site to see at night.  I’m not sure how tall the soda bottle is but its several stories tall.  Make sure you get a photo in front of it.    Pop’s itself is a fairly small building.  The building is split in two parts.  One side is a small classic diner. We did not eat here as it would have been a little late for lunch but too early for dinner.  The food smelled really good though.

The other half of the building is a convenience store that sells almost nothing but soda.  The back wall is composed entirely of coolers so you can get a cold soda of just about any flavor you could imagine.  They have your basic flavors: cherry, orange, grape, root beer from hundreds of different brewers.  They also have slightly more exotic tries: strawberry, chocolate, coffee, black licorice, etc.  There was also a small cooler with a bunch of flavors that just sounded gross such as buffalo sauce, ranch dressing, etc.  I was not brave enough to buy anything from that cooler.

Pop’s is set up so you can buy any bottle individually or you can buy a build your own six-pack.  Each family in our group did a six-pack.  They also sell old fashion candies.  So after getting drinks and a snack, we went back outside and found a shady spot to try a few sodas.  We had a good time sampling what everyone picked.  We used the restroom (they are located on the diner side down a long hallway by the kitchens) and got back on the road.  The whole stop was probably about thirty to forty-five minutes.

Overall:  We had a lot of fun picking out sodas.  We grabbed a few unique ones to take back as gifts for our dog sitter.  The facility is very clean and well maintained.  It was VERY crowded inside though and the entire place is full of glass bottles of soda.  I made sure to hold very tight to the little ones.  The area outside had a large grassy area where they were able to burn a little energy while we sipped sodas.  This was a really neat stop and something I’d highly recommend.

Weird soda selection

Totem Pole Park

Totem Pole Park
Location: Hwy 28A; Foyil, OK
Price: Free
Smashed Penny Machine: No

Totem Pole Park is the definition of roadside attraction.  The park is a little off the beaten path (10 minute drive or so off the interstate) in pretty much nowhere Oklahoma.  The park boasts the world’s largest totem pole.  While the world’s actual largest totem pole is in British Columbia (the area of the world you would expect to find a totem pole), the park was still something worth stopping to see.

The park contains one very large totem pole and several other small ones.  The largest totem pole you can actually walk into.  It has a small sign explaining what the park is and a little about the park’s founder.  The park is not very large so you can see it all in about 15 to 30 minutes.  When we arrived in the afternoon on a Friday, the park was basically empty.  There was our group and one other couple there.  The kids had a great time walking around the totem poles and looking at the carvings.  This was a great place to just let them run and burn off a little bit of energy.

In addition to the totem poles, the park had a few other fun features.  There are several picnic tables spread out around the park so you could bring a lunch with you.  There was a small gift shop on the property.  In addition to having a few books on local and Route 66 history they gift shop also had a large collection of fiddles.  I don’t know anything about fiddles but it was a neat display.  The park also had a restroom available behind the gift shop. There was also a small dog walking area on the other side of the parking lot.

Overall:  It is a fun place to stop and stretch your legs on a long road trip.  It is not a very long stop (unless you are planning to picnic).  We were there less than 30 minutes and we were easily able to enjoy all the park had to offer.  The park is privately run so be sure to drop a few dollars in their collection box on the way out.  This park is exactly what you would expect from a Route 66 stop.

Miss A and Miss L
Adam and Miss A in front of one of the smaller totem poles
Miss A in the large totem pole

Uranus Missouri

Uranus Missouri
Location: 14400 Highway Z; St Robert, MO  65584
Price: Free
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, but it cost $1.01

This was our first stop on our Route 66 part of the trip.  Uranus Missouri is not old enough to have been part of the original Route 66 but it certainly catches the vibe of slightly off the wall road side stop.  The main part of the building is a small gift and fudge shop.  But the location also houses a bar and grill, an outdoor outfitter, an escape room, an archery range, a tattoo parlor and a food truck.

When you first pull into Uranus, you are going to notice the outdoor decor right away.  We spent several minutes getting pictures with all the various statues and photo props that line the property.  The parking lot is fairly large and most of the statues and stuff are over by the food truck and outdoor seating area at the bottom of the hill near the entrance to parking lot.  The buildings are at the top of the hill (with the archery range actually behind the main buildings).  We arrived about 5 minutes after the main gift shop opened so none of the other attractions were open (which is fine we were just there for a small rest stop anyway).

The main gift shop is not overly large but has a good selection of random t-shirts, coffee mugs and oddities along with lots of candy.  If off brand humor is not your cup of tea, then I’d avoid this stop.  Most the novelties played off the name of Uranus and the jokes were a little off-color.  The jokes weren’t so bad as you need a PG-13 rating to come in here but figure your 12-year-old is going to giggle uncontrollably at all the butt and fart jokes.

They also serve fresh made fudge.  We got several varieties for a snack, used the restrooms (which were very clean although a little bit of tight quarters) and got back on the road.  The total length of our stop was probably thirty minutes.

Overall:  It’s a fun place to stop and stretch your legs on a long road trip.  If you were doing a vacation in the general Ozark’s area, it might be neat to try out the food options but I felt like we covered what they had to offer very easily in 30 minutes.  I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to make a stop here but it was fun and quirky.

Having fun with the cutouts
Alex and Mr B with a dinosaur

Southwest Trip Overview

This summer we decided to do a tour of the American Southwest.  Since the first half of the trip followed very close to Route 66, we HAD to do some traditionally roadside stops. A lot of these locations have tons of other cool things to do in the area (several of the parks could be a trip of their own) so pretty much any single day could be turned into a longer trip.  This overall trip had a lot of windshield time (over 4400 miles total) but it is very doable.  We had a large traveling party (as usual).  Total there were 10 people in our group (in two cars): my parents (ages 59), my family (34, 32, 7, 1), and my sister’s family (30, 28, 5, 2).  Also for our time in Santa Fe my older sister drove down from Colorado Springs and met us for the day with her family (41, 39, 13, 11).

Day 1 Travel from Evansville, IN to Amarillo, TX
Route 66 Stops along the route:
Uranus Missouri – St Robert, MO
World’s Largest McDonald’s – Vinita, OK
World’s Largest Totem Pole – Foyil, OK
Pops Soda Ranch – Arcaida, OK
Hotel in Amarillo, TX

Day 2 Bandelier National Monument
Hotel in Albuquerque, NM

Day 3 El Malpais National Monument
El Morro National Monument
Petrified Forest National Park
Hotel – Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ

Day 4 Standin’ on the Corner Park, Winslow, AZ
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Wupatki National Monument
Grand Canyon National Park – Desert View Entrance and Watchtower
Hotel in Tusayan, AZ

Day 5 Grand Canyon National Park – South Entrance

Day 6 Slide Rock Park
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Saguaro National Park – Tucson Mountain District
Hotel in Tucson, AZ

Day 7 Chiricahua National Monument
White Sands National Monument
Hotel in El Paso

Day 8 Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Hotel in Odessa, TX

Day 9 Medieval Times, Dallas, TX
Hotel in Arkadelphia

Day 10 Hot Spring National Park
Lambert’s Café, Sikeston, MO

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
Location: 3027 East South Street; Lincoln City, IN  47552
Price: Free
Smashed Penny Machine: No

Lincoln Boyhood Park is about an hour East of Evansville and about an hour and fifteen minutes West of Louisville.  The park is fairly small containing a small visitor’s center, a living historical farm, a few hiking trails and a small picnic area.  The park is directly across the highway (and is connected via trails) to Lincoln State Park which is run by the state of Indiana.  The state park is quite a bit bigger and offers more hiking, several picnic areas, two lakes (one of which has a swimming beach), a campground and cabins for rent.  You can find out more information about the state park here:

We started our afternoon at the visitor’s center.  The visitor’s center has a short film (about 15 minutes) that tells about Abraham Lincoln’s childhood and young adulthood in Southern Indiana.  There is also a small museum that details about Lincoln’s life and about pioneer life in the early 1800’s.  In the main hall way of the visitor’s center is a small selection of books and souvenirs available for purchase.  If you have kids in your group, you can also get the Jr Ranger booklet from the front desk.  I would also highly encourage you to use the restroom at the visitor’s center.  The other bathrooms in the national park including the ones by the picnic area are primitive, outhouse style restrooms.

After exploring the visitor’s center, we decided to hike to the living historical farm.  After leaving the visitor’s center follow the trail past the flag pole and then stay on the left path for the shortest distance to the farm.  Along this route you will also pass the Pioneer Cemetery.  This is the resting place for several people who once resided in the general area as well for Lincoln’s mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln.  The trail will also walk directly past the picnic area and the primitive restrooms.  Just before the farm, there is a very short path to the left which is a memorial built on the site of the cabin where the family lived.

The living history farm is a depiction of what a typical early 1800’s farm would have looked like in the area.   The farm is open and staffed from about mid-April through the end of September.  During offseason you can walk to the farm but none of the buildings are open.  The farm is staffed by people in period clothing.  Throughout the day the staff does typical chores a family farm would have had to complete from cooking meals, sewing, caring for animals and crops and chopping firewood.  Since the needs of the farm are ever-changing each visit is somewhat unique.  On this visit, a staff member was spinning wool into thread on a spinning wheel.  Other members of the staff were telling stories of frontier life and answering questions.   The staff is very good at interacting with kids and recruiting them to help around the farm.  It’s a neat hands-on experience that helps bring a little bit of history to life.

The farm’s main building is the family one-room cabin.  There is also a smoke house (they had bacon curing during our visit), a woodworking shop, chicken cope, barn (sheep, horse, cow) and family garden. Kids are free to gently explore the cabin and grounds.

Past the farm there is a short hike (maybe 200 yards round trip) to the well the family would have used for water.  There is nothing very exciting to see and the trail dead ends here.  We took the hike because one of the farm workers sent the girls on a “mission” to bring back a bucket of water so they could see what chores would have been like for kids on the farm.  It wasn’t a bad hike just nothing exciting.

The hike back from the farm we took the Trail of Twelve stones.  The trail (about a half mile) passes twelve stone from various buildings that were important to Lincoln’s life and small plaque explaining the stone.  They aren’t very exciting stones unless you are really, really into history from this time period.  However, it’s an easy hike through the woods and it brings you back to the pioneer cemetery so it makes a nice loop from the farm back to the Visitor’s Center.  The kids then turned in their Jr Ranger books and received their badges.

Overall:  This is not a very large park (especially by Federal park standards), but a very nice park to visit.  You could spend easily two to three hours exploring but could see the highlights very easily in an hour if you were pressed for time.  There are a lot of other things to do in the general area so it would be easy to make this part of a longer day trip or even a small weekend getaway.  Other things in the area include Lincoln State Park, the town of Santa Claus and Holiday World theme park.

Miss A and Miss L at the farm
Miss A working on her Jr Ranger book