Our No-Media Family Vacation (Complete with campfire recipe!)

Last week, we took our official annual family camping trip. Each summer, we take one trip to a California State Park that I deem “official”because it is with kids and without cell phones, laptops, or iPods. The only media we allow are cameras and Kindles (for capturing memories, and because we can keep all our books in one place). What I discovered on this trip was that three days of no Facebook updates, no check-ins, no Tweets and no notifications can actually be addicting. So much so, in fact, that we have now been back in civilization for almost three days, and other than to edit my photos, this is the first time my laptop has been on since we left!

What I took away from our trip was so much more than status updates and shared photos. We made real memories, ones that my kids don’t need an online album to talk about for years to come. (That doesn’t mean I’m not in the process of making one, but you know what I mean!)

The drive up to Big Basin State Park started out later than we expected, but we got the RV packed and the kids lunched by early afternoon. The drive up was exciting for them, because we took some roads that they had never been on before. There were tiny two-lane highways that led through artichoke fields, sections of the PCH that they had never seen, and the beautiful winding drive up Highway 9 just up from Santa Cruz. The kids surveyed their surroundings, read, and ate all the way up!

A pit stop at Johnnie’s Market in Boulder Creek for bottled water and some local wine, and we were on our way up Highway 236 to Big Basin! The majestic redwoods greeted us like welcome friends, and once again, we were in a world all our own. It became our little family unit, carving out time and exploring God’s creation together.

We took a quick hike just after we arrived to show the kids the old Girl Scout building fireplace my husband and I had found the first time we were there. The kids loved seeing the giant, overgrown structure left for us to discover so many years later. (Of course, Mom forgot her camera on this hike, so we had to go back the next day to take pictures!)

Once back at camp, the kids explored a bit more (and found a banana slug in the process), while the hubby and I started a fire and dinner (green chile stew). I tried making it as “camp-style” as I could, so although I was cooking inside the motor home, I still used a Dutch oven! After dinner, we discovered that the s’mores ingredients hadn’t made it into the pantry, so in desperation, the kids had Jiffy Pop and roasted mini marshmallows on sticks. Then came one of the things I love most about camping: going to bed just after dark!

The next day, the kids wanted to join the two-hour Junior Ranger program for the day, so we ate a decent breakfast and walked down to Park Headquarters to check them in. While they were getting their ranger on, my husband and I cruised around the tiny park museum, gift shop, and snack bar. We then took the shortest trail out from the main parking lot called the Redwood Loop. This trail boasts the “Mother of the Forest” and the “Father of the Forest”, which are basically HUGE OLD TREES sectioned off by redwood planks. According to the park map, this trail was supposed to take 45 minutes to an hour. Fifteen minutes later, we were back in the parking lot.

We found a sunny spot on a bench and waited for the kids, while beautiful butterflies frolicked around us. Once the group of kids returned, they received their badges, stamps in their log books, and the pride of walking back to our site to eat lunch as Junior Rangers.

After lunch, it was time for a longer hike and creek walk. (This time, I remembered my camera!) We made sure to make it back from this hike in time for the afternoon campfire at the park amphitheatre. The kids learned how to make “Ranger Apples,” roasted marshmallows, made a paper snake cut-out, felt animal skins, and performed with shadow puppets on a huge movie screen. Then it was back to camp for dinner, camp fire and more Ranger Apples!

The next day was our check-out day, so after a light breakfast, we bid farewell to Big Basin and drove into the town of Boulder Creek to let the kids do some more exploring. My husband and I had been here before, so we knew just where to start: Junction Park. This cute little park is where the railroad junction in town used to be, and it holds something that makes it one of the coolest town parks I’ve ever been to: a natural swimming hole! There is a section of the park that the creek runs through, and the sheer rock face creates a huge pool that is perfect for jumping off rocks, swimming and playing. Someone has even tied a rope onto one of the trees for swinging into the deep end.

After the kids exclaimed, “Oh cool,” and took off into the shallow end of the water, a little group of ducks decided to grace us with their presence. They flitted around and talked to us, watched the kids swim and posed for pictures. Other than the ducks, we were the only living beings in the park.

After our water play, we ambled through the town until we came to the end of it (three short blocks later). At the end, we stopped at Boulder Creek Brewery for lunch. This place reminds me of an old saloon, only larger. Gleaming silver tanks line the wall behind the bar area, boasting that the establishment actually brews the beer that they feature on tap. I went with the Dragons Breath IPA, which was light and citrusy, but still hoppy (the way I like it). Combining this with the Chicken Bruschetta Salad was an excellent choice! The garlic bread, piled high with fresh garlic and shredded cheeses, was so delicious, it was almost dangerous.

After stuffing ourselves silly, we walked back through town on the other side of the street (AKA Highway 9). We stopped in at the drug store for some souvenirs, drooled over the local listings outside the real estate office, and finally got my “I Support Boulder Creek Fire Department”sweatshirt at the fire department office. Here is yet another thing I love about this town: I only stopped in to buy a sweatshirt, and my son was given the opportunity to sit in the fire engine, wear the headset, and turn on the lights! A firefighter on duty explained some of the equipment to him and let me take pictures of him in the driver’s seat before we left. After his brief tour, we made a pit stop at Rainbow’s End café to get the kids a milkshake before getting back on the road to go home.

After every trip we take as a family, I like to look back and reflect on what we learned. This time, I learned to make sure the s’mores stuff makes it into the RV, to always have my camera with me, and that our kids are learning to travel very well in a motor home. The kids learned what a banana slug looks like, how recycling helps the earth, and how to make Ranger Apples. The best thing is, we all learned that family time is best without media!

Ranger Apples

Ingredients:

Whole apples (we used Gala and Fuji)

Sugar

Cinnamon

Directions:

Roast apple on a roasting stick over a fire until skin is blackened and bubbly (about 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the apple).

Using a paper towel, peel the skin off the apple and discard (careful—it’s hot!).

Roll the peeled apple in sugar and cinnamon until it is coated.

Roast a few more minutes over the fire until sugar and cinnamon is bubbly and caramelized.

Enjoy!

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Tags: California, campfire, camping, family, fun, kids, media, park, recipe, redwoods, More…summer, trees, vacation

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