More Balderramas in Yellowstone

This is part 2 of my Balderramas in Yellowstone post.

After two busy days of driving around the west end of Yellowstone, we opted for going low-key for day three and do things a little closer to the west entrance.

Our first stop was a cute shoreline along the Madison River, where we enjoyed some time in the stream and a picnic over by the river.

Next up was a quick stop over at the Fountain Paint Pot. In terms of number of features, this was probably the best stop we had. In addition to the “Mud Pots” that would boil over, there was also a cave that spewed out smoke and sounded like a dragon was living in it. There were also the multi-colored pools, similar to what we saw in the Grand Prismatic, as well as a geyser.

We headed back into the West Entrance town and enjoyed some brews at the Slippery Otter.

We had originally planned to go back home on Sunday, making a long day of driving, but the drive between Rock Springs, WY and to Island Park took a lot longer than we expected, due to road construction and going through towns. We opted to break the drive into two days and just go back to Rock Springs on Sunday. This created the opportunity to drive through Yellowstone on the way back and stopping to see the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

We also continued to drive through the South Entrance (which was much smaller than the West Entrance) and drive along the Grand Tetons. We were told by multiple people that it would be well-worth the drive – and they were right! We just made a quick stop at a pull-off and grabbed some beautiful pictures.

Our trip concluded back in Rock Springs with some rest and swimming! With as much fun as we had, we’re glad to be back home.

South Dakota

Hello from South Dakota! We ventured up north for a few days to spend time with family, see some sights and relax up north a bit. We’re up here near Custer, about 4.5 hours from our home in Windsor. I was really surprised just how short the drive felt, especially with a 5 and 3-year-old in the car. The girls were champs, Clara was particularly excited about a camera that is new to her (our last point & shoot camera we had before our smartphones overtook it) and proceeded to take pictures out the window for most of the trip, as well as a dozen pictures of her tray table.

We’re staying at a beautiful house that is next a pond and a pasture, nestled between two hills.

The weather has been cool, a bit rainy, but also beautiful as well. This has been a nice escape of the summer weather that reached Colorado last week.

After spending Saturday getting settled-in, we ventured out to Hot Springs to see the Mammoth Site. I’ll admit that I didn’t really do much research beforehand and had assumed that they uncovered the remains of a single mammoth, but found out that the Mammoth Site actually houses the remains of at least 61 mammoths, as they fell into a hot springs trap long ago.

The girls got to take part in a Junior Paleontoligists dig, where they got to dig up replicas. They really enjoyed playing in the dirt and making their discoveries.

We picked up lunch at the Daily Bread Bakery and Cafe and had an awesome buffalo chicken sandwich, then spent the afternoon swimming at Evan’s Plunge. We actually didn’t realize that the hot springs aren’t all that hot (at least those have been to Glenwood or Steamboat). The water is definitely warm and clear, and we had a lot of fun swimming.

On the way there and back, we drove through a Buffalo pasture, where we got to witness the beautiful animals up close. Bethany took this photo from the passenger window.


On Monday we ventured north to Mt. Rushmore. The day turned out to be rainy, but the rain let up just long enough to get some beautiful shots of the mountain sculpture.

We managed to get a little closer through the scenic path, snagging a better shot.

Between the time we viewed it on the scenic trail and when we got back to the observation point, the clouds and rained rolled in, preventing it from being viewed.

The rain squashed our plans for the rest of the day but gave us the opportunity to stop back in Custer and eat at The Burger and Bun Co. It was highly recommended from friends and definitely lived up to the hype!

The rest of our day was spent relaxing back at the house and resting up. We’re gearing up for full day on Tuesday before we head back to Colorado on Wednesday. More to come!

Hello from Nashville!

We’re on Spring Break this week, so we took the opportunity to hop over to Music City for a few days.

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When we got here the weather was significantly colder than back home in Colorado. That northern wind caught us a bit off guard, but luckily it’s died down over the last few days and we’ve enjoyed some good mild days in the 60’s. The most surprising thing to us was the layout of the city, with everything being so spread out.  It’s similar to Denver, where you really can’t get around unless you have a car. Luckily with our rental, we’ve been able to hop back and forth between downtown and over by the Opry (close to where we’re staying).  Driving by the Grand Ole Opry, it’s funny how the exterior resembles a civic center theater, parked between a mall and the Opryland hotel.  We spent most of Monday over in this area, on the backstage tour of the Opry.  The tour was definitely worth the $20, being able to see the Artists entrance and their dressing rooms, rounding off with the chance to walk out on stage.

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We also ventured over to the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.  We were originally expecting Bellagio-style gardens to view, but were taken aback with a tropical landscape under this big glass dome. The immense size of the hotel and convention center is hard to explain. The pictures I took from my phone don’t do it justice.  In terms of size, the hotel would trump virtually any hotel in Vegas. I kept looking for the casino.

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The rest of our time has been spent down-town, checking out the Honky-tonks on Broadway – at least as much as having a two year old would let you.  Luckily there is live music going on all day long, featured in really small bars with most of the stages backing up to the front window.  Clara can’t get enough of the live music, and in the few places we’ve been in, she’s been out there tearing up the dance floor. Out little groupie even ended up with one of the drummer’s Vic Firth’s, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that she already has 20 more at home.

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With Clara traveling with us, we’ve had to limit ourselves to the daytime and early evening hours, so I’m not sure how much dancing occurs in these places during the evening. I’m also not quite sure if there’s a lot of original music as well, most of the day-time tourist attractions have been a lot of cover bands.  As much fun as it’s been to be traveling with Clara and watching her take all this in, I think that if we visited this place five years ago we would have had a fuller experience, shutting down a few bars.  Don’t get me wrong –this trip has still been a lot of fun.

On Tuesday we’re planning on making the trek to Lynchburg to see the Jack Daniels Distillery, then rounding out our trip with seeing Vince Gil at the Ryman, which is one of the best places on the planet to view live music. The outside resembles a giant church, and I’m told the inside is similar, complete with wooden pews.

Stay tuned, more from Nashville coming…

Travel Tech Hacks Mt. Rushmore

Hello from Austin! It’s been a while since I’ve needed to travel for work, I’ve actually hadn’t needed to since Baby Girl was born. After traveling with an infant, my “packing light” skills were a little rusty, but I didn’t want to take a big suitcase out for a four day trip. As I was packing, I thought about my “Mt. Rushmore of Travel Toys” – a few utilities that pack a big bang for their small size and help me get the most out of my travel.

Portable WiFi Router

My newest item I added to my Mount is my portable travel router. Ten years ago I used to travel with my old D-Link Router that was the size of a small book. I guess I was ahead of my time because now we have these portable routers that smaller than a pack of gum. When I bought this last week, I was skeptical of the low price, but this thing really delivered. I was able to plug in the network cable right into it and give WiFi to all four of my devices with only having to pay for fast internet once.  The one I ended up with is the HooToo TripMate Nano Wireless N Pocket Router.

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Quick Sidebar: Homewood Suites did offer free internet, but the speed test reported less than 100kbps down, so I paid the little extra to give me 4.5Mbps. It’s funny how many hotels claim they give away “free” internet, but just heavily throttle it.

Roku 3

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When I would go on long trips (or trips where’d I’d have a good amount of downtime) I would drag my Xbox along with me, packed in a laptop case. I’d have to bring it out to airport security, all in hopes that the hotel TV would at least have an RCA jack so that I could stream video. Currently 80% of my Xbox usage is video consumption, so with that in mind I was gifted with a Roku 3 for my birthday. This has turned out to be one of the best entertainment investments I’ve made. The Roku is the size of a hockey puck and is really easy to pack. I also travel with a 10-foot HDMI cable, and at this point it seems like most hotels have TV’s with available ports. If they don’t: no worries, as no big sacrifice was made. The reason I recommend the Roku 3 over the stick (or ChromeCast) is that you can load videos onto a USB stick and plug it into the Roku – no need to be online for that. However if you do have decent bandwidth, Plex makes my movie collection available wherever I need it. One lesson I’ve learned about traveling with the Roku: make sure you take a battery out of the remote before you put it in your bag. The buttons are a little too easy to push, and can easily drain mashed up in your bag.

Targus Laptop Podium Cooling Pad

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There have been fancy USB-powered laptop cooling pads for a while now, and they do work great. However my non-battery-powered podium pad has been a great trade off for comfort and functionality for these long meetings. The podium elevates the back of your laptop to give a little extra space for circulation for your fan (and is obviously silent as well). My favorite part is that it makes it also makes it a little more ergonomic to use your laptop all day (both at work and home, I’m lucky enough to dock my laptop and have a full keyboard and monitor experience). The cooling pad is really easy on the luggage as well – the legs are removable and the biggest piece is a flat pad, smaller than your laptop.

Update: This product actually doesn’t look like it’s being made anymore!  The closet thing I’ve found is this Cooler Master NotePal.  If that’s the case and there’s not a product out there like this – that’s really too bad.

Portable Speaker

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This has taken many iterations over the years, but my current version is my water-proof shower speaker. As a podcast addict, I’m willing to give up the sound quality for the ability to listen in the shower and steamy bathroom – and with it being Bluetooth I don’t have to expose it to the elements. Although I watch a decent amount of TV, I always find that in the hotel rooms I just have the TV on for the sake of background noise. Bringing the speaker enables me to have something that I at least would like to listen to.

There are a few honorable mentions, one of which I don’t own yet.

  • USB-based power strip/charger. Given that most things are micro-USB-based, I’d like to just have this in my bag with a couple of extra cables and quell my constant fear of leaving my phone or tablet charger behind. Right now I’m researching the one that offers the best value, but will definitely have it on my next trip.
  • Bluetooth Mouse. No one wants to be stuck with their sub-par track pad all week.
  • Bluetooth Headphones. In absence of the Bluetooth Speaker, the headphones make it easy to get around the airport or the hotel gym without dealing with the pesky wires.
  • A suction-cup hook. This is a must-have if you use a loofa and are traveling with others. There’s only so many places in the shower to hang yours, and this little piece of plastic ensures yours isn’t touching anyone else’s.

So there’s my Mt. Rushmore. What kind of things (tech or otherwise) that you can’t do without (and let’s leave out the obvious things like your laptop, tablet or phone)?

Why I haven’t written: Part One–Summer of Balderramas

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As a justification to you (but mainly to myself) as to why I haven’t posted all summer, I wanted to share of some of the cool stuff that kept me away from blogging.  Up first is our SOB trip – Summer of Balderramas.

Our family is trying to get on the pattern of setting up a reunion vacation every 3-4 years.  We did the first one in Breckenridge, CO back in 2011.  This year we put one together in Daytona Florida for a week in June.  We had a bit of a smaller turnout compared to the last one, but we actually had different family members come out to this trip and had an awesome time.  At one point, there were 18 of us all together.  As with all vacations as of late, we once again booked a VRBO house that sat right on the beach.  The shot below was taken from our back yard on a wooden walkway.  This house was amongst of group of five others that were right on the beach.  Neighboring them were groups of hi-rise buildings with condos, hotels, restaurants and shops.  It was really neat to think that we were occupying the same footprint as a hi-rise with hundreds of people.  During the day folks would drive their cars onto the beach, which then became pretty funny when they got stuck in the sand – similar to folks getting stuck in the slush out here.  For the most part though we had the area right in front of the house to ourselves.  Every day I had Zac Brown Band’s “Toes” playing in my head.

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We couldn’t fathom going to Florida and not going to Disney World, so we had that in our agenda.  Given that we were traveling children that were 1 and 2, we didn’t think the lines and 48”+ height requirements of Magic Kingdom would have been best for two little ones that were likely going to skip naps, so we opted for Epcot.  There was plenty for them to see and interact with, as well as letting the grown ups do the “Beers Around the World” crawl by drinking in each country of the lagoon.  The girls spent the morning doing a breakfast with the Disney Princesses, and Clara got lipstick on her cheek with a kiss from Snow White.  We did a couple of low-key rides which were on par with “It’s A Small World”.  Clara also loved seeing all of the musical features as well, as the Taiko Drumming.

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Epcot definitely wore her out though.  She took a mini-nap in the USA part of the lagoon, but she stayed up through the fireworks show, easily making this her longest day ever.

Later in the week we drove across the state to visit Clara’s Great Grandparents, enjoying a great lunch with them. Clara loved exploring all of the cool things they had.

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The rest of our trip was spent hanging out at the beach house, drinking a lot of beer, eating raw oysters and clams, playing games and staying low key.  Clara was a champ during her first plane ride, staying sane through most of the 4 hour flights.  The trip home turned out to be pretty rough, as weather shut down DIA and forced us to stop in Amarillo for a refuel, making our trip home interesting. All-in-all: this was a fantastic vacation.