Family Vacation Devils Lake State Park, Wisconsin

Our family vacation this year got downgraded from Colorado to Wisconsin.  However not a bad change at all.  I was so impressed with the area and the park.  We spent a week in August exploring close to home.

We booked a teepee at Devils Lake State Park.  It was nice not to have to deal with tents.  The teepees sleep 6 and had cots and have a huge secluded campsite.  We spent the week hiking, took the kids horse back riding for the first time and enjoyed numerous glens and the lake.  The nature center had GPS units the kids nature exploration bags to check out, which the kids loved.

Geologically this is where the glaciers stopped (think of a snowplow) leaving 400 foot piles of massive pieces of broken stone.  The CCC built stunning trails through these rock slides in the midst of corn fields.
Our Teepee
One of the pieces of broken granite, you can see the scratch marks from the glaciers sliding over it.
 The kids did so well on the trails.  Balanced Rock was a 400ft assent on uneven stone stairs.   Beautiful trail design.  Needless to say the kids slept very well this day :)
Balanced Rock Trail

Trail Steps
Where is the trail??
Devils Doorway - We made it to the top!
View from the top of the ridge
Our second day we took the kids into the Dells to go horse back riding for the first time.  Erin was adamant that she was not getting on a horse for fear of death and dismemberment.  Jared put his foot down and made her go.  When she mounted her horse, she turned around with a gigantic smile on her face. Eliza had her own horse also and did very well for her first time and age.

We spent one afternoon at Parfrey's Glen.  We had hiked a few county park glens and the kids were tired.  We were about to turn around, the trail was nothing special but Eliza wanted to keep going and this is what we found.   Photos do not do it justice, to give you an idea of size and depth click on the panoramics below.

Kids exploring Parfreys Glen
Parfreys Glen
After four days we headed to Madison for a night.  On the way we stopped at this roadside art place.  Sadly it was closed but they did have a few sculptures on the side of the road.

 We spent a morning at the Madison Zoo and then toured the Wisconsin state capitol before heading home.
Ike was scared to death of this guy :)

Costa Rica - Day 7&8 - Paradise on a Dirt Road

We left Jaco and traveled another hour south along the coast to Manuel Antonio National Park.  We had debated about going since we had read it was typically overpopulated with tourists.   But decided that we would regret not going so we saddled up the Yaris and headed out.  Pulling into the park we were met by an entourage of tour guides and parking lots hosts bidding for our cash.  This didn't put me in a great mood and then the first mile of the trail was on a gravel road with groups of tourists, guides and the occasional government car....so much for wildlife.

And then we hit the "front of the brochure", the white sand beaches of Manuel Antonio.  We spent the afternoon hiking the less populated trails and ran into a great troop of white-faced monkeys.   Also a 280' tree (which was not properly labeled).

And then we headed to the white sands paradise of Manuel Antonio. We would have stayed longer but there was a storm a brewing (when you look around and all the Ticos have left you know its time to head out).
Manuel Antonio Beach

The drive was about forty minutes north and then turned on a gravel road that held  stunning views and a serious 17km drive up the mountain.  We passed through a small village, saw the agriculture side of the region.  We seriously bottomed out the car once but managed to escape any major damage.
Agricultural fields
View on the mountain road

Mountain road panoramic
Our last night we stayed at the Paraiso Carlisa Eco Reserve.  We were the only guests on 100 acres of preserve.  Story behind the place a wealthy European had built the chateau for his family and when the children grew up they wanted nothing to do with the area.  They went on to build several villas for research and tourism.  The The best western took it over for a while but because of the location it was unsuccessful.  Our Villa was appx 800 sq/foot, it was huge (for $40/night).
Our Villa Bedroom
Villa living room

Villa patio
Lodge porch
The next morning we were awoken by the monkeys on the roof. I stepped outside and saw a half dozen monkeys looking curiously back at me.  We ate breakfast on the chateau porch watching all the wildlife.   Then the Ukrainian college student (who was one of the five staff members on the whole property and very excited to see human life)  took us on a guided tour of the preserve.  We walked through the animal rehab center and then down through the pastures to the waterfall.  We didn't have the time to do the horseback ride to the big waterfall (which was our one regret) because the clouds were gathering and we had to get the Yaris back on paved roads before the rain came. 
Animal Rehab Center
Animal rehab
Ginger!  They had at least 20 varieties in the garden.  The flowers were about 24" tall.
Waterfall on the preserve
This was by far our favorite place we stayed on our trip, so far off the beaten path it was a slice of paradise.
We left the Eco Lodge at 1pm and started our 26-hour trip back home.  This was (one of the better) bridges we crossed on the gravel road.  At least this one had all of its planks.

Mountain road panoramic 2
Racing the storm to the paved roads
Interstate back into San Jose
 We then had a four hour drive back to San Jose in torrential rain, the first really hard rain we saw all week.  Again hit rush hour and prayed that we could get the car back in one piece.  AND WE DID!  I have never been so happy to return a rental car.  We stopped at dinner and then caught the shuttle back to SJO airport around 7pm.  Our flight didn't leave until 1am but San Jose is not a safe place after dark so we sat at the coffee bar listening to the crazy man sitting down the row from us sing rap songs.  We were happy to get through security and no longer listen to him, lucky for us he was on our flight.  Last time I saw him he was stopped with three guards at Customs in Florida.  We arrived in Chicago at 10am, found our civic with hub caps still attached and drove the final four hours home to hugs and lots of little smiles.  I would trade the ocean and mountains any day the laughter and love at home.  A big thanks for grandparents for making it possible. 


Costa Rica - Day 5 & 6 - Lost and Landock meets Pacific

Our drive out of Arenal to Jaco looked like an easy backtrack down the mountain....lesson learned stayed on the "yellow" roads on the GPS.  The GPS rerouted us through a residential area.  Still having a hard time dealing with psychotic driving habits of the locals I was more than happy to take the "less traveled" tour.

Our paved road soon turned to gravel and gravel quickly disappeared and before we knew it our Yaris was navigating a one-lane dirt path with gigantic boulders and no place to turn around.   I'm pretty confident this road was last on the maintenance list in the 1930's.  The inclines were so steep that I could not see the road at the peaks and as we wound the mountain there were no guard rails.  We stopped at a "bridge" and (the only vehicle we saw) was a truck from the 1940's.  As it passed  they all pointed and laughed.  We drove through villages who haven't been touched by the modern world.  Stunning views but we hardly took photos.  White knuckled, both of us were trying to figure out how we would most likely soon have to tell our credit card why we had a 2wd car 1. at this location and 2. how we totaled it.  At any rate we did pretty good navigating , came out with four wheels intact and left the local Ticos good dinner conversation about crazy lost gringos in a blue Yaris. 
Have no idea where we are...
Still lost....
Part way to Jaco we stopped at the Tarcoles bridge to see the crocodiles.  There was a guy with raw chicken that would feed the crocs for $10.00.  Lucky for us the guy next to us was your typical American tourist who laid down double the money to see the performance.  There were around 18 gigantic crocs just hanging out.....waiting....we declined the boat tour, we wanted to live to see the ocean.

Jared has always wanted to take surf lessons.  Me, eh, the water up the nose and/or shark scenario never really appealed to me.  But we were there and I too decided it was a once in a lifetime chance.  We decided on going to Jaco on the pacific side because in was en-route to our next destination.    Jaco is known for its party-hardy atmosphere (where we questioned if this was a good idea as we checked into surf camp and rule #2 was no prostitutes).  That being said we stayed on the south side of the beach in the more residential area and ended up staying an extra day because we loved the area.

We stayed at Hotel Perico Azul. which also housed the Tortuga Surf Camp.  Celine (from France) ran the hotel and her boyfriend Mike ran the surf camp.  It was like staying with family.  They would sit down and swap stories and had so much information about the area.

Wednesday morning we got out of bed at 5:30am to hit the morning tide.  Mike fitted us with rash guards and quickly named us "Team Landlock"   Within ten minutes we were in the water learning to paddle, turn, and roll (where you roll underneath your board under the water as a large wave thrashed over you) and get up and ride the wave.    I have a new found respect for surfers.  By the end of two hours I felt that I could hold my own without killing myself and even got a few good runs in.  Jared picked it up really well.  But by 8am the only thing we wanted to do was crawl back into bed.  It was absolutely exhausting, a muscle group you normally don't use.   Mike thought Team Landlock did pretty good.

We hit the local bakery headed out to do some hiking.  Celine told us of a trail on the south edge of town. Thirty minutes up the mountain we came across this derelict structure, a series of  porches standing in ruins and covered in graffiti.    The view was unbelievable.  When we returned I asked Celine about it and she said a developer came in to build a B&B and started without a permit and was shut down.  He then died and the structure stood there.  Jaco fights hard to keep the big resorts out.  We saw alot of half finished resorts that were an eyesore in these beautiful areas. 

Wall that ran the mountain road
View from the first porch


Half completed B&B on the mountain side
  Wednesday evening we sat on the beach watching the sunset and then headed over the to Taco Bar.  We'll admit we ate here three times.  It may even be better than Freebirds.  Costa Rician food is eh at best.  But this place was great.  AND it had swings as seats.  AND it had really good passion fruit juice drinks, which Jared spent a paycheck on alone.  We were always in by 8pm but we saw the softer side of Jaco and would stay there again in a heartbeat. 
Jaco Beach
The one highrise development that made it through.

The bar bathroom next to the Taco Bar
Taco Bar!!