Cloudy with a Chance of Bears

** Written by Sofia (8) and Brandon (11) **

Sofia – “Yesterday I went hiking and camping at Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks.  They are located in Upstate New York and it was 90 miles to drive there.  First we drove to the top of Bear Mountain and we hiked down a little to look at the valley and trees.”


Top of Bear Mountain

Top of Bear Mountain


Sofia – “At the Perkins Tower, we climbed up 4 stories to the top.  I saw an amazing view.  It had all these mountains and trees.

Brandon – “On every floor of the tower there was pictures of different times in the history of Bear Mountain and what it looked like.  People used to take steam ships to get to the bottom of Bear Mountain”.

Perkins Tower

Perkins Tower


Sofia – “After we came out of the tower we hiked on the Appalachian Trail and we

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Up around the bend in Watkins Glen (AKA who needs a cell phone anyway)

I had a few days of planned vacation end of last week and last minute was looking at Hither Hills for some camping by the beach. Of course I should have known that camping+Montauk+Beach+last minute was going to be unrealistic and they were booked. We took a risk and I drove up to Watkins Glen Thursday morning to do some fishing, camping, hiking and whatever trouble we could get in with Sofia and Brandon. A sort-of continuation of our trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks this summer; just with less Bears and Snakes (or so we thought!)

We packed up the car rather quickly as we knew there was a Walmart in the town we were headed to pick up a bigger tent, some food to BBQ and a 1-day fishing license – next Summer I’ll get the season license.

On the way up Sofia said she wants to be a butler. Brandon jumped on that and said she could be his butler. That little wise guy, I told Sofia she will never have to serve him and I thought she wanted to be a baby Dr. or a teacher. She said that’s true but being a butler would be ‘the last straw’ 🙂

We hit some traffic with an accident on the Throgs Neck Bridge and later with a disabled truck. As we reached the Delaware Water Gap area in New Jersey we pulled over at an entrance to part of the Appalachian Trail – which is 2186 miles from George to Maine (on the bucket list to complete with Brandon when he graduates high school).


We reached the village of Watkins Glen early afternoon and headed up to the WG State Park to check on walk-up availability for a campsite. I knew there were many State Parks with camping in the area so we had a backup plan. But we really wanted to be near the gorge and its 19 waterfalls.

At the park office Sofia questioned the rule of 1 free CLIF bar and the nice office manager said we could have 2 each. It’s the little things that matter to my eldest daughter!

We picked lot # 264 from a handful that were available. It was in the Tuscarora Village campground area which I had read along with Seneca Village was a great location. There would be a 2am train running pretty close to our site but we knew about it and made the choice.

From Sofia, 7: “We picked #264. We liked that it had more room. We were going to pick 267 but we like 264 better because there was no people camping either side”

All Sofia was talking about was the Olympic size swimming pool at the park and all the playgrounds, while I talked about how we could do those things anytime at home and we should get out on the lake to fish and do some hiking. Of course I gave in and we did everything. I can’t refuse that face 🙂

We got some hot dogs, some snacks and some candy at Walmart, as well as a 4 person tent (our other one is for 2) and it was easy to setup. We grilled dinner on our little Weber charcoal grill (shout out to ‘T’) and then made some Smores before queueing up “Grumpy Old Men” on the iPad in the tent. The kids loved the movie – especially when Jack Lemmon threw the fish in Walter Matthau’s car – and then we went to bed; or at least until the 2am train came by, but only I heard it.


From Brandon, 10: “The hot dogs tasted sooo good! Daddy dropped two of the cooked dogs on the way to the picnic table because it was completely dark outside. That was funny :-)”

We got up somewhat early on Friday and as a team decided to head to the gorge first, then fish.

The centerpiece of Watkins Glen State Park is a 400-foot-deep narrow gorge cut through rock by a stream – Glen Creek – that was left hanging when glaciers of the Ice age deepened the Seneca valley, increasing the tributary stream gradient to create rapids andwaterfalls wherever there were layers of hard rock. The rocks of the area aresedimentary of Devonian age that are part of a dissected plateau that was uplifted with little faulting or distortion. They consist mostly of soft shales, with some layers of harder sandstone and limestone. Oh, and thanks Wikipedia 🙂 Back to our quest!


The park features three trails – open mid-May to early November – by which one can climb or descend the gorge. The Southern Rim and Indian Trails run along the wooded rim of the gorge, while the Gorge Trail is closest to the stream and runs over, under and along the park’s 19 waterfalls by way of stone bridges and more than 800 stone steps.

Along the way the kids got to check out a natural heart-shaped pool at the base of Minnehaha Falls – only visible when the water line is low – and also walk behind and put their hand in the Falls just before reaching Cavern Cascade; a set of stairs leads up to and behind the 50-foot plume of falling water.

have a heart!

have a heart!

From Brandon: “I liked walking the gorge trail and seeing all the pretty waterfalls. It was cool walking through the waterfall and I put my hand in it. All of a sudden we saw a snake on the path – it was tan, grey and green”.


Along the path we saw several worms and Sofia asked if we can add them to the Nightcrawlers we were going to fish with 😉

The kids also noticed a snake just before the gorge trail met up with the Indian Trail. I was trying to zoom in with my iPhone until that snake’s tongue kept hissing and reaching closer to my leg and thought better of it! We stuck to the gorge trail for most of our hike, then hit the Indian Trail to cross a bridge to the other side of the stream and trek back to the start.

under the falls

Next up on our adventure was a few minute drive to the harbor at Seneca Lake; the largest of the Finger Lakes. We went to the end of a pier and climbed across these large rocks to a nice spot. We had some nibbles from perch and smallmouth bass. Brandon has fished with me before but this was Sofia’s first time casting and she did quite well. She was eager and just started casting her line with little more than me telling her where to put her hands and where to release the line. As I leaned over to help her at one point I heard sounds of something sliding down those large rocks and thought it was the other fishing rod or my Nikon; it was my iPhone and it was down in shallow water with no way to free it and bring it back up. We gave it a healthy try for 20 minutes. This really stunk as I try to take good care of the phone and had secured it pretty well (so I thought) but I wasn’t going to let it ruin our trip.

fishing pier

From Sofia: “I got to fish but we didn’t catch any but they were biting on the worms but they didn’t take the worms off all the way. So we climbed across these big rocks but there were spaces between them so we went slow. But I didn’t really go that slow, I wasn’t scared! Well, just a little scared. Well, Daddy’s phone was in his pocket and then it wasn’t. Oops”

I knew we were close by a raceway that Nascar uses for Nationwide and Spring Cup events annually. Actually just 2 weeks earlier Kyle Busch, who I love to hate, won the Sunday race at Watkins Glen. Don’t laugh – while NASCAR isn’t huge on Long Island, it wasn’t hard to learn about and become a somewhat fan of while living down in North Carolina – the birthplace and ‘home’ of NASCAR – for 6 years.

race cars

We got to the track in about 10 minutes and the attendance said that there were 50-100 Ferraris racing all afternoon. We got a spot at the top of the stands so we could see over the fence and watched the Ferrari’s race, as well as Porches, BMWs, lots of ‘Vettes and even a Smart Car. The kids had a blast and they even were able to climb in and mess around with the gears and knobs in an old race car!


From Brandon: “We got to sit in a Nascar show car and watch about 50 different Ferraris and also streetcars and a F1 race car. It would be about 5 minutes before each race car would come around the track again because the track was so big!”

race car

By the way, it wasn’t by design but with the hiking, fishing and race car watching this day it cost a total of 0 dollars (except the fish bait). We had the Empire Pass so didn’t have to pay to park at the gorge lot. After our trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks we knew this would have to be an inexpensive camping trip but I have to encourage anyone who wants to explore nature, camp and the rest of these outdoor activities to give Watkins Glen a try!

We had some time before dinner so next the kids played on a really large and complex set of playground sets in the center of our camp village. They had a lot of fun until Sofia banged her head, but it’s a hard head and her face lit up when I said ‘Let’s go swimming’.

The pool is really big and there were 3 lifeguards on duty. Brandon and Sofia had fun jumping in the water and a little while later I joined them.

Ok, dinner time! We grilled some burgers, followed that with more Smores 🙂 …and then watched Goonies – a family favorite – in our tent which eating a veggie platter (c’mon, to even out all the chocolate, marshmallows and candy). Brandon can’t believe that little kid ended up being ‘Sam’ in Lord of the Rings.


We slept better this 2nd night and Saturday morning we could tell there wasn’t great weather on the horizon. We headed home; which took a little longer since we had no phone (no gps), just a small compass we had purchased for Yellowstone so that helped until we reached Rte 80 East. Along the way we stopped at Cracker Barrell for an early lunch and then tried to find music on the radio (again, no phone) but had nothing until we reached Jersey and picked up 102.3, 104.3 and the Yankee game.

From Sofia: “I was glad that we went away on our camping trip. My favorite parts were the pool and the playground. Well, and fishing!”

All in all, a great spur-of-the-moment camping trip with kids I love to spend time with away from the ‘day to day’. We hope you like this post! Leave comments for us!!!


Fees for Watkins Glen State Park camping vary, check here:


3530 State Route 419 Watkins Glen, NY 14891
(607) 535-4511
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American West Adventure Days 11, 12 & Wrap-up


From Brandon:  on the eleventh day of our trip we went from Montana, through Idaho and Butte County.  There was this big Butte volcano, the Soda Butte River and Butte is a town in Montana :-).  We drove along the Salmon River Scenic Bypass the whole way because we had extra time.  We drove through Idaho Falls and then on to Pocatello to get to the hotel.  On the way to the hotel we stopped at a lake that had about 500-700 people in a town called Blockfoot and  saw a cool firework show.

From Sofia: We drove across Idaho to get to Salt Lake City the next day.  We saw a river the whole way.  We went to a lake really late at night before we went to the hotel.  This nice family with 1 boy and 3 girls sat next to us in the sand and gave us glow sticks, sparklers since it was 4th of July, and gave us a blanket to sit on.  My glowing thing kept falling in the water so my shoes got all wet.

Salmon River in Idaho somewhere

Salmon River in Idaho somewhere

Crashing a fireworks show in Blackfoot, Idaho

Crashing a fireworks show in Blackfoot, Idaho


From Brandon: This morning we woke up like 10, went downstairs, ate breakfast and had to get out of the hotel room by 12.  We beat the house cleaners by 2 minutes before 12.  We went to see Despicable Me 2 – it was really funny.  We saw a trolley when we went to downtown Salt Lake City for dinner.  The flight home was late at night, we boarded at 11:45pm.  It was a shorter flight home than when we left Continue reading

American West Adventure – Day 10


This morning we went out in front of the Many Glacier Hotel to start our boat rides across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine to start our hike to Grinnell Lake.  The kids were fighting over little stuff, but after 10 days in each other’s space and no break I give them credit, they did pretty well!

I don't know how I got a pic of them smiling, they were fighting over seat space the whole ride!

I don’t know how I got a pic of them smiling, they were fighting over seat space the whole ride!

It was a nice morning.  The water is turquoise in these lakes and I was looking forward to a nice hike.  The guide was a retired Biology teacher who used to come visit the Glaciers every year, then turned it into a way of life after he retired.  He went on daily hikes once the snow melted and loved to teach adults and kids about the trees and plants, the water and its inhabitants, the changing Glacier environment, the wildlife and more.  He was pretty funny and knowledgable and the kids gravitated towards him.

Lake Josephine

Lake Josephine

There was a swinging bridge that the kids had to cross and they thought it was such a cool part of this adventure!  We finally made it to Grinnell Lake.  Although the Grinnell Glacier view down to Grinnell Lake (google it online) cannot be matched, it was very pretty and the kids did a great job on this trek and all the rest.  Having the Camelbaks made a huge difference, but I never heard on this vacation “I don’t want to do that”.  Maybe it was all the candy Continue reading

American West Adventure – Day 9


We had a lot of driving yesterday so this morning we wanted to hang out locally. The Many Glacier area is really pretty and lots of things to do. We drove out to St. Mary to get some gas, ice and stuff for the cooler. On the way we saw this moose taking a bath in Swiftcurrent Lake. There are a LOT of bears on the opposite side of Many Glacier Road from the lake and as I walked up to this moose I wondered if he was a decoy. But I made it back to the car alive 🙂

Moose bathing in Swiftcurrent Lake

Moose bathing in Swiftcurrent Lake

After breakfast, we rented a rowboat and spent a few hours on the lake. Sofia, who normally is up for anything, didn’t seem to be thrilled with how deep we were venturing out on the boat. In fact she showed me her dismay in the pic below.

Sofia...Who else?

Sofia…Who else?



bubba rowing

But she warmed up a minute later and we took turns rowing for the next few hours. The kids didn’t want to stop. We saw a mama duck and about 6-8 babies and watched them swim around the lake. A nice guy was fly fishing with his wife and talked to us for a bit. Sofia quacked to all the ducks and was in her own world for awhile. I asked Brandon if he wanted to go to Canada and he was like ‘eh, no’.

From Brandon: We rented a rowboat for about an hour and a half. While we were rowing around Swiftcurrent Lake we saw a family of about 8 baby ducks and a mother. Every few minutes they would start swimming away from the rowboat because we were getting close to them. I went to switch seats with Sofia for awhile and we have a funny picture because it looks like I’m going to sit on her!”

sit on sofia


Since we were only a quick car ride away from Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, I took the kids anyway. I knew he

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American West Adventure – Day 8

7/1/13 This is our first full day at Glacier National Park. We are staying in the Many Glacier area which is full of wildlife, lots of trails, and several lakes including Swiftcurrent, Josephine and Grinnell. We are heading across the Going-To-the-Sun Road, which is 52 miles across to the West side of the park. Elevation as we travel across the mountain will climb and drop, and we will be right up against the mountain side, with ice melting, water splashing, snowball fights across the road while the cars coming east are right on the cliff’s edge throughout the ride. We first headed to St. Mary’s Falls Trail, a 3 mile hike to see waterfalls and cool wildflowers.

Wildflowers along St. Mary's Falls Trail

Wildflowers along St. Mary’s Falls Trail

Brandon telling Sofia which rock to step on to stay dry.  She chose her own path

Brandon telling Sofia which rock to step on to stay dry. She chose her own path

St. Mary's Falls

St. Mary’s Falls

Deep Thoughts w/ Sofia

Deep Thoughts w/ Sofia

Sofia checked out the rock walls and was peering into the crevices to see what was forming naturally in the cracks. Then she was throwing some of the residue into the water. She told me this whole plan which I understand, but she was pretty passionate about it, so…cool.

From Sofia: So I was um…I started to look up close at the big rocks and then I saw these little rocks on the big rocks and in the middle of them. And then I pulled the little rocks out and threw them into a mud puddle on the ground and over the bridge and into the water.

Watching the Falls from the bridge

Brandon watching the Falls from the bridge

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American West Adventure – Day 7


Sunday morning we hit the road for Montana and Glacier National Park at 6am. The kids fell back asleep, but I woke them up 20 minutes later when we hit some Sunday morning traffic; in the form of a herd of Bison migrating along the Grand Loop Road. More and more came off the side of the road by the trees until our car was surrounded by about 25-30 adults and 8-10 babies. The mom’s were pushing the babies along and showing them how to walk the right way. This was one of the best parts of our vacation for sure.

From Brandon: The Bison were all different sizes. Some were black, brown, tan, some were wet so they might have come from a lake. A lot of them were really big and some had small horns. Some were very cautious and guarding the babies. It took about 15 minutes for all of them to pass the car and head further down the road and it was like 6:30 in the morning. It was cool to see all of them at the same time!

Bison herd migrating at 6am Sunday morning

Bison herd migrating at 6am Sunday morning

The kids fell back asleep and just before reaching Mammoth Springs on our way out of Yellowstone and Wyoming, I was able to take this pic in the middle of the road. No one but us was up and about early Sunday it seemed.

the open road...

the open road…

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American West Adventure – Day 6


We woke up to a nice view outside our hotel window of the lake this morning. We slept in a bit. Lazy is ok on vacation, ok?

Yellowstone Lake - window view

Yellowstone Lake – window view

We then took off for the Old Faithful area in the morning. The Old Faithful Inn where we stayed was the first great park lodge of the American West and is one of the last standing log hotels in America. It looks amazing inside.

Old Faithful Inn lobby

Old Faithful Inn lobby

We hung out to watch the Old Faithful Geyser shoot water about 80 feet in the air, which was cool. But we aren’t into spending all day with crowds at all the touristy things so we took off North to see more geysers and thermal activity (less people).

Messing around

Messing around

Blowing off some steam

Blowing off some steam

We headed up to Black Sands Basin and Continue reading

American West Adventure – Day 5


We slept in Friday morning to catch up from the long days and nights so far. Then we headed South to the Lake area. First we passed over the Fishing Bridge over the Yellowstone River, which was built in 1937. Beautiful views to the North and South. It was early AM and we wouldn’t be able to check Lake Yellowstone Hotel yet, so we headed to the marina to see if we could get out on the water. All the rowboats were out for rental already so we took a boat cruise around Yellowstone Lake with a park ranger from the National Parks Service. We found out that a large portion of the lake is over a dormant volcano and there is a lot of thermal activity down below. The rest of the lake is quite cold.

Stevenson Island

Stevenson Island

We then came upon Stevenson Island, which has an interesting history. A man named E.C. Walker built a raft in the early 20th century and brought wildlife to this small island. He then would charge visitors to Yellowstone $1 to take them out on the raft to see the animals. He would then take a photo of them and say they owed him $1 additional for the pic. Eventually the powers-that-be in the park kicked him out. That was one reason, it seems he was also having crazy parties and had lots of women. They never bothered to take his boat off the short of the island and it remained until it was hit by lightning and most of it burned up.3 at Lake

We went out to the general store grill (not bad) for some cheeseburgers and then went to explore Mud Volcanoes. We saw boiling mud and heard all kinds of bubbling sounds under the earth. Bison roam freely and one had stationed itself right in front of one and a crowd gathered to check him out. Some parents are really dumb; one kid was just a couple of feet from the Bison while he was started to get irritated; growling and shaking its head. Duh. Continue reading