Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore – Maple Sugar Time

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is part of the National Park System. Being from the Chicago area, I’ve been visiting the Indiana Dunes since I was a kid. This year, we took the kids to Chellburg Farm (part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) for Maple Sugar Time, where we learned first-hand how maple sap is harvested and turned into maple syrup.


We started with a ranger-led hike down a trail from the visitor’s center. The ranger made sure we all understood how trees got their nourishment. Early spring is maple sugar time because the trees have sucked all the nourishment from the ground and haven’t used it yet to make leaves or start growing in the new season.


Continuing on the trail, we saw a demonstration of how Native Americans made maple sugar from the sap of the maple tree. They would tap the tree with a wooden spigot and collect the sap in a bark basket. The sap would be transferred to a rock with a bowl-shape, into which a fiery rock would be submerged to boil off the water, leaving the syrupy sap behind. This was further processed into dry sugar for easy transport.

Bark basket

charred wood

Further down the trail we saw how early settlers boiled the sap down to syrup in a succession of hanging cauldrons.

maple sugar time

We were then given an opportunity to “tap” a tree just to see if we could do it.


We then visited the boilery that the Chellburgs used to process the sap into maple syrup. They used a succession of metal pans.

In the Chellburg farmhouse, we were given a taste test to see if we could tell the difference between real maple syrup and the fake stuff from the grocery store. We could definitely taste the difference!

After learning all about the process of making maple syrup, the children earned their Junior Ranger badges.

Junior Ranger Indiana Dunes

And the family took a hike to enjoy the natural beauty and history of the Indiana Dunes.





LA to Chi-Town Part 2: Somewhere in Middle America

Goal: Get home! Check out our Route 66 trip from the beginning here!

Our goal after leaving Utah was to spend two more nights on the road and then be home to sleep in our own beds.

What happens on the last leg of a 4,000-mile road trip.

It’s funny, because when I said spend the night on the road, I did not mean it literally. BUT, I let my husband book the campground just east of Denver for a one-night stay. He booked a campground on the side of the highway. And I do mean that literally. There was nary a mountain in sight. And all night we felt like we had set up our tent on the median in the middle of the interstate.

After an interesting night’s sleep, we packed up and were on our way.

The next night, we treated ourselves to a Hilton in Omaha, NE. Omaha is quite a happening little place with a bustling downtown area. We didn’t get to enjoy too much of it, though, because we were very tired (see campsite on the side of the highway above), so we retired early to get a good night’s sleep for the last drive day back home.

“Get me out of this car!!” Somewhere in Middle America, USA

And make it home, we certainly did. The trip was wonderful and well worth it.

Can’t wait to take another Epic Family Trip!

LA to Chi-Town Part 2 Goal: Accomplished

LA to Chi-Town Part 1: How I Learned to Love Diarrhea in Las Vegas and Altitude Sickness in Utah

Goal: Find somewhere to sleep in Utah

We started back home on day 7 of our 11-day cross-country excursion. The plan was to camp two nights at Fishlake National Forest in Utah, then camp one night just outside Denver, and play it by ear in Nebraska, before returning to good old Illinois. Well, you know what they say…

“The best laid plans of mice and men” and families on road trips “often go awry.”

Brian Head Utah
Brian Head Peak, Brian Head, UT

By day 7 I think we had a little too much road food and the two boys (one 44-year-old and one 6-year-old) started having tummy troubles. My poor little boy went through several pairs of undies before leaving an indelible impression in a McDonald’s restroom in Las Vegas. You would think that, as travelers, we would have a multitude of pictures of this interesting American destination (Las Vegas, not McDonald’s), but we spent our time looking for potties as we passed through, feigning some oohs and aahs at the plastic recreations all over town. (Don’t get me started on my feelings about Las Vegas. They are not positive. We’ll leave it there.)

Anyway, after surrendering yet another pair of kid undies to the diarrhea gods, we got the heck out of Dodge.

Continuing on our way northeastward, we happened upon a lovely rest stop in Utah. Seriously, this rest stop was perfect for conjuring the fantastic adventures you are sure to have as you pass through Utah. Seriously. But I can’t remember what it was called. Anyway, we fell in love with this rest stop so much that we decided we should just get a room at the Holiday Inn across the street. Unfortunately, there were no rooms available.

So we searched Expedia for nearby places to stay. We checked out several hotels before happening on the perfect spot for us – The Grand Lodge at Brian Head.
First off, Brian Head is billed as the “Highest Resort Town” in the U.S., sitting at 9,800 feet at its base and 11,300 feet at the peak. Who knew? We had never heard of this place before. We just knew, thanks to the internet, that there was a lovely lodge there with an affordable overnight price.

Brian head peak utah

It was so affordable because it was off-season, as it is a ski-resort town and we were visiting in the middle of the summer. We even got upgraded to a beautiful 1-bedroom suite because they had quite a bit of availability. Our stay there was so lovely, we decided to book a second night.

We couldn’t figure out, however, why we were feeling so run-down and tired. I thought I was just hungry, or maybe just exhausted from the trip. Talking to the waitress in the lodge restaurant, we figured out that we were suffering from altitude sickness! But that didn’t stop us from exploring the area. After a nap, of course.

Unfortunately, some of the activities (ski-lift, rock climbing wall, kids’ trampoline and toboggan track) were only open on the weekends, as this was the off season, so we didn’t get to enjoy these adventures. But we did get to do some hiking.


We made it up to the 11,300-foot peak (with the help of our car) and also hiked a trail that took us to actual snow on the mountaintop in the middle of July!

It was all worth it when I heard this little guy say, “Life is awesome!”


We loved Brian Head so much that we were considering investing in a condo there. It hasn’t happened yet, but we’ll see!

LA to Chi-Town Part 1 Goal: Accomplished

Route 66: Day 6, End of the Road

Goal: Santa Monica Pier and dipping toes in the Pacific Ocean

Isn’t it fitting that we made it to the end of our journey on Route 66 on day 6? And what an epic day it was.


After fueling up on breakfast at our motel, we headed out on the road for a very quick drive to Los Angeles and, finally, Santa Monica Pier – the end of the road. What a monumental day this was for us. An epic statement that we, as a family, can accomplish a whole lot if we work together, keep our minds open, and just shut up and enjoy the ride. (In fact wouldn’t we all be better off in every day life if we followed those 3 simple tasks?)

Work together, keep your minds open, and just shut up and enjoy the ride!

Anyway, we reserved a parking spot at a hotel garage across the street from Santa Monica Pier, and when we got there, all we had to do was show the attendant our phone reservation and the car was valet parked for us. We even were welcome to use the hotel restroom for a little potty break before we embarked on our very busy day.

Where do you start, you may ask, when you only have one day to spend in LA with two little kids? Well, I took some advice from one of our family’s favorite travel shows, Travel with Kids, and sought out one of the hop-on hop-off buses. These buses seem to be a fixture in many major cities. And taking one of these bus tours is a great way to get a lay of the land in an unfamiliar city. After perusing the bus map, we decided to take the route that would bring us by the La Brea Tar Pits, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and around Beverly Hills.

IMG_1094Our first stop was the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. The tar pits themselves are free to visit and absolutely fascinating, especially for the little ones. We had not planned on visiting the museum, but the kids had so many questions that I could not answer, we decided that it would be an invaluable learning experience to spend a bit of time there. Be advised, however, that there is no food in the museum, no cafe, no nothing, so eat before you go in. It’s easy to find food on Wilshire Boulevard, though. There was even a line of food trucks there to amuse an adventurous palate.

As we thought, the museum was well-worth the stop. The kids learned a lot about the Ice Age(s) and how animals got stuck in and were found and excavated from the tar pits. In fact, the excavations are continuing to this day. Fascinating stuff.

Coppin' a squat on Wilshire Blvd while waiting for the hop-on, hop-off bus, Los Angeles, CA
Coppin’ a squat on Wilshire Blvd while waiting for the hop-on, hop-off bus, Los Angeles, CA

Our next stop was Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I have to say, this was way less exciting than it sounds… and it really doesn’t sound that exciting. We got off the bus, pushed our way through throngs of tourists, snapped a few pictures, then got back on the bus.

The most interesting thing about this particular stop was finding out that my children had no idea what a celebrity was and why all these people were hovering about looking down at people’s names on the sidewalk. I love the minds of these children and hope they never lose their sense of puzzlement or incredulity (neither of those words is the word I want to use – maybe I’ll come back and edit this post later) at the insanity of celebrity culture.


Kermit the Frog’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los Angeles, CA

After taking in the sites around LA from the comfort of the top tier of the hop-on hop-off bus, we found ourselves back at Santa Monica Pier, the end of the road. The sun was setting and we seem to have brought a cool Chicago breeze with us to California. In other words, we were freezing by the time we made it onto the pier. But what a great opportunity to purchase sweatshirts to not only keep us warm, but also to commemorate our epic and amazing journey.

Warm sweatshirts, Santa Monica Pier, CA
Santa Monica Pier
Making the most of our 10 minutes on the freezing cold beach


With our nice, warm sweatshirts on, we explored the pier and then made our way down to the beach to dip our toes into the cold Pacific Ocean.

We made it!

Relishing in the success of our journey, we ended the night with pizza and craft beer at the Pizza Press in Pasadena.

Route 66 Goal: Accomplished (now we just have to make our way back home)