Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Our Family Vacay

Ben and I took the kids on a little adventure last week. In some rights, it feels like our first ever family vacation. Why? Especially when we travel so much to so many wonderful national parks (six in the last three years)? Well, this one felt different because it wasn't on the way to something else -- wedding, family reunion, etc. This was purely us, doing something just for us. It was kind of thrilling.

Back in 2013 I went with the YW to Rock Island State Park for our High Adventure camping experience. I fell in love and couldn't wait to take Ben back. So this year we made it happen. The plan was to stay two days and nights on Washington Island (a touristy town that offers commodities) and one day and night on Rock Island (a primitive Island that offers only drinking water). We did accomplish all of it but the night on Rock Island. It was suppose to start raining the morning we'd be packing up our camp and heading home. And not light rain, but heavy, heavy rain with thunder and everything. So we cut that part out and came home late that night without our glorious camp out on a beach.

Anyway, onto photos and adventures from the Islands!

We had a bit of driving to do, and thankfully I had Peter Pan on CD from the library. We'd also packed a picnic and made a little stop for lunch at Whitefish Dunes State Park. It was nice for the kids to get out and explore a bit while we were there.

If you could zoom in really closely, you'd see that we had to take the ferry line to get from the mainland to the Island. Once you are on Washington Island you can't even see the shores of the Peninsula. The Island itself is a pretty decent size though, and there was plenty to do and see once we got there. We'd built up quite a bit of anticipation for the Ferry ride. And it did live up to the hype. Mara seemed to enjoy it the most and spent nearly the full 30 minutes jumping up and down on Ben's lap. 

I don't know if it was the wind or the water below or what, but she was just peering over that edge and bouncing her legs the entire time.

We made it to the Island before our check-in time, so we headed up to Mountain Tower. Right as we were near the top it started to rain. The view of the entire Island was still pretty spectacular.

It was amazing how the trees acted like a canopy while we were on the trail steps. We hardly got any drops under that thick temperate forest. 

After the tower we headed over to the Starvike Church for another little hike. It was one pretty amazing Church. We kept telling the kids it was modeled after the likes of How to Train Your Dragon and Frozen. Though we did flip that around and were sure to explain that those two favorite movies of ours were actually written based on the culture of this Church. It was all a bit confusing, but also super exciting to see a real live "Viking" Church right here in Wisconsin.  

Before heading to our airbnb we stopped at the Island's only drive in and enjoyed a nice dinner and some ice cream. It was a wonderful first few hours at our destination. 

We drove around the Island Tuesday morning and made a stop at one of the sandy beaches. We didn't put the kids in their suits because I figured they'd be content to just play on the dunes. But, boy I was wrong! Despite it being early morning (and the northern tip of Wisconsin!) the water wasn't cold and each of them ended up soaking their shorts. Since we were the only people on the entire beach, we just had them take off their shorts and enjoy it a bit more until people started showing up. 

We went back to the apartment to eat lunch and give the baby girls (and Ben) a nap. Once everyone was sleeping peacefully Reid, Nell and I took off to try and find the farm museum. We made the mistake of stopping at the historic dairy -- but it was turned into a kitchy tourist shop and the surrounding land given over to lavender fields. We did eventually find the farm museum the next day, but we didn't get to stop because we were just driving through on our way to and from Rock Island. 

We also stopped at the grocery store for some cookies and the local Elementary school for some playground exploration. It was fun to take my two big kids out on an adventure for a bit. We did eventually have to wake everyone else up. We had to make it to a beach in our suits at some point in the day!

But before we headed to the internationally famous Schoolhouse Beach, we stopped by the Jacobsen museum on Little Lake. I don't know why, but it was cool to find this beautiful lake on an Island that is completely surrounded by one ginormous lake. The museum and surrounding Jacobsen camp was really cool and helped us understand a bit more about the Islands history. The kids were most taken by all the fossilized coral. I have to admit it was pretty neat. 

We finally made it to Schoolhouse beach -- one of only five soft stone beaches in the entire world. Mara was stoked about her chance to eat giant rocks. Coraline wasn't too keen on going in the water, but Ben, Reid and Nell all swam around for about an hour and had a great time together. 


For dinner we ate a pizza near the ferry dock. We still felt like we had a bit more adventure left in us, so we changed into some hiking clothes and shoes back at the apartment and headed out for one of the Island's bigger trails. It was probably a highlight of the whole stay. 

At one point on the hike we were on a small burn between Little Lake and massive Lake Michigan. It was a pretty neat experience. It was also really fun to have all of Lake Michigan to ourselves once we hit the end of the trail. Pictures don't do these views justice. It is absolutely gorgeous on the shores of Lake Michigan. 

These photos of Mara sleeping and the big kids watching Disney channel are some of my favorites! This is what vacation is all about, right? 

Once Ben woke up Wednesday morning we began discussing whether or not we should really attempt camping with the threat of the coming storm. We figured it'd be best to bail on the camp out. So we headed out as quick as we could to catch the first ferry over to the Island. Rock Island is so primitive they don't even let you take bikes over. You have to see it all on foot. 

The first thing we had to check out was this Viking Longhouse. Is it not the coolest? The kids were a little spooked at first, but they loved it once we got inside and started reading posters about all the island wildlife (spiders and snakes, really). 

Next, we headed on a hike to find the first Lighthouse ever built for the Great Lakes region. It was also the first official government owned Lighthouse. They offer a pretty wonderful tour once you are inside. The kids seemed as enthralled as you can be at their age. We also enjoyed a lovely picnic on that big lawn. 

The swimming beach is on the opposite side of the Island, but luckily the kids were in good spirits about all that hiking. I was really impressed with Nell -- as this is the first family vacay where we've really made her do any significant amount of hiking. From the Lighthouse to the Beach is a good 1.5 miles. And she did that round trip with little complaint! Even Coraline did the half mile hike to and from the beach with a joyful step in her walk. 

This time it was my turn to get in the water and play with them while Ben took baby duty. He and Mara went for quite a walk along the shore. I had fun giving my girls mermaid tails and watching my boy build up a little rock and mud fort. 

We had the entire beach to ourselves for a little over an hour. It was absolutely wonderful. The water wasn't cold, but for whatever reason the kids weren't big on swimming too far out (it never gets deep). After all those rocky beaches, I think they were just eager to play in the sand. 

We made it back to Washington Island around 4 and caught the 4:30 ferry back to the Peninsula. We decided to come down the Peninsula on the tourist heavy side, so it took a bit longer. But that was perfect because we finished Peter Pan just a few miles before we arrived back home! 

I feel like all the actual moments and memories of the trip are completely missing in this post. It's funny how trying to capture everything with pictures actually makes it less likely for me to share the goofy things that made us laugh (like ... ...) But perhaps this quick capture of our itinerary will help the kids hold on to those fond memories. 

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