‘The National Parks Journal’ helps you log every park visit

‘The National Parks Journal’ helps you log every park visit

The National Parks Journal

“The National Parks Journal” helps campers plan and record trips to national parks. Pam LeBlanc photo

I lost my first tooth biting into an apple while picnicking at Mammoth Cave National Park as a kid. I learned to love the desert at Big Bend National Park. I realized the importance of letting land burn naturally at Yellowstone National Park, and I pitched a tent in the most beautiful campsite I’ve ever seen while backpacking at Glacier National Park.

I’ve experienced some important life moments while exploring our country’s parks, and I want to remember them all. “The National Parks Journal” by Stefanie Payne helps me do just that.

The 208-page book is broken into two parts. The front section includes a short history of all the national parks in the United States and its territories, plus maps, tips on visiting responsibly, and a checklist where readers can mark off ones they’ve visited. (I’ve made it to 29 out of 63 – almost half so far!)

Then it explains the differences among park types, from the 63 full “national parks” to the other 423 sites that are designated national monuments, preserves, scenic trails, memorials, seashores, battlefields, parkways, recreation areas and more.

Read more: I’ve discovered the perfect camping mattress

The second section of the book features 167 pages where readers can log their own adventures at parks they’ve visited. There’s room for notes on how you planned each trip, what you packe, and what happened while you were there, from wildlife sightings and people you met to your favorite campsite.

Payne, a content strategist for NASA, writes articles and blogs for National Geographic and Lonely Planet. In 2016, she documented 59 U.S. national parks in 52 weeks.

The book, published by Adams Media, costs $15.99.

I’ve tucked my copy of the book into Vincent VanGo, my Fort Transit campervan.

My goal? Fill every page.

 

 

 

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Banff Film Festival returns to Paramount May 5-6

Banff Film Festival returns to Paramount May 5-6

Banff Film Fest

The Banff Mountain Film Fest returns to Austin May 5-6, 2023. Photo courtesy Banff Film Fest

Grab your hiking boots and popcorn, outdoor people. The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour returns to Austin May 5 and 6.

The two-day festival features a selection of short films about people doing cool stuff in the mountains, from mountain biking, skiing, and paddling to rock climbing and other extreme sports. (And did we mention tooth brushing?) It’s also a great place to mingle with people who’d rather head outside than flop on a couch.

This year marks the 16th year that Whole Earth Provision Company has hosted the tour in Austin. It’s the 10th year that Texas State Parks – which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year – will benefit from the fund-raiser.

Tickets are $26.23 per night and available online at the Paramount Theatre website.

Each night showcases a different collection of films, selected from those shown at the Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival in Canada. The tour travels to more than 500 communities and 40 countries during the year.

 

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In Northern Idaho, don’t miss charming Lookout Pass ski area

In Northern Idaho, don’t miss charming Lookout Pass ski area

Lookout Pass

Alex Silgalis drops into the trees at Lookout Pass in northern Idaho. Pam LeBlanc photo

I’m smitten with the old-school charm of Idaho’s ski areas.

A recent whirlwind tour of the northern section of the state included a stop at Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area, where I spent the day exploring the resort’s new terrain. And yes, just before I was heading in, I took an awkward spill and wound up at the hospital with an injured knee.

The good news? Allison Kaufman of the Lookout Pass Ski Patrol transported me safely and cheerfully down the hill, then wrapped me up in bubble wrap and cardboard like a UPS pro. I’m waiting now to find out if I’ll need surgery to repair the damaged cartilage.

One pro tip? If you need rentals, head to Kellogg and pick them up at Lookout Ski Shop. The Lookout Pass fleet of rental skis just won’t cut it on a powder day. They’re too skinny.

Ten reasons to visit Lookout Pass

Still, here are my top reasons to check out Lookout Pass:

Lookout Pass

Alex Silgalis and Jaime Pirozzi ride a groomed slope at Lookout Pass. The resort doubled its terrain this season. Pam LeBlanc photo

  1. The resort roughly doubled in size this season, adding 500 acres of new terrain, a new quad chairlift and 14 new trails on Eagle Peak, now the highest point in the park. Until this season, skiers and boarders had to hop a snowcat to access the area.
  2. You can ski both Idaho and Montana. The resort straddles the border between the two states – and the time zone. Wear a watch and don’t rely on your smart phone for the current time.
  3. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the base lodge, the second oldest in the Northwest behind Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, in 1941. The huge hewn timbers that support the ceiling are gorgeous.
  4. The Lookout Pass free ski school started in 1940 – and it’s still going. Since its inception, the school has introduced about 38,000 kids to skiing and snowboarding.
  5. You won’t find any on-slope lodging at Lookout Pass, but that helps it maintain its quaint charm. Nearby Wallace, the self-declared “Center of the Universe” (just look for the manhole cover in the middle of town) makes a great home base. I stayed at the no-frills Wallace Inn on Interstate 90.
  6. Lift tickets are affordable. In 1950s, skiers shelled out 50 cents for a ticket. Today, customers shell out $52 for a weekday pass or $63 for a weekend pass. But you can find deals – like the two lift tickets for $75 on Thursdays.
  7. If you’d rather ride a bike than ski or ride a snowboard, consider a summertime visit. I’m already plotting a return trip to pedal the Route of the Hiawatha Scenic Bike Trail. The 15-mile trail, which is open from May 26 through Sept. 17, features 10 tunnels and seven trestle bridges.
  8. The resort serves up great views of the Bitterroot Mountains.
  9. More expansion is in the works. Long-term plans call for expanding onto another southwest of the existing ski area.
  10. Long gladed stretches, my favorite.

 

 

 

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Ten reasons Texans should hotfoot it to Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho to ski

Ten reasons Texans should hotfoot it to Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho to ski

Headwall

The Headwall serves up some of the best terrain at Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho. Pam LeBlanc photo

Here in Texas, we generally aim for Colorado when ski season rolls around each winter.

Sure, some Texans subconsciously understand that people ski in other states, including California, Wyoming, and Utah. But until last year it never fully registered for me that Idaho, perhaps best known for its potatoes and trout, makes a fine ski destination, too.

Since then, I’ve logged trips to five Idaho ski resorts. I found a lot to love last week at Schweitzer Mountain, located about 80 miles from Spokane. The resort opened in 1963 and today 10 lifts whir away on its privately owned land.

From Texas, fly into Spokane and make the hour and a half drive to the mountain. You’ll be glad you did.

In the meantime, here are our favorite reasons not to overlook Schweitzer Mountain:

Schweitzer

Skiers can drink in a view of Lake Pend Oreille from the slopes of Schweitzer Mountain. Pam LeBlanc photo

  1. With 2,900 acres of terrain in the Selkirk Mountains of the Idaho panhandle, Schweitzer ranks as the biggest ski resort in Idaho.
  2. You’ve got to love a place named for a Swiss hermit who supposedly enjoyed a hearty bowl of cat stew now and then. According to the Bonner County Historical
    Society & Museum
    , the mountain was named Schweitzer, which is German for “Swiss,” after just such a person. He was eventually hauled off to an asylum, but his name stuck.
  3. At the funky and cozy Talus Rock Retreat just down the road, where I stayed a night, one room features a shower built into an artificial tree.
  4. If it snows hard like it often does, you might not realize the resort is perched just above Lake Pend Oreille. The views are superb.
Schweitzer Mountain

The clock tower at the base of Schweitzer Mountain makes a good meeting point. Pam LeBlanc photo

5. There is no sprawling megaplex at the base area. It’s small enough to find your friends between runs, and the clock tower makes an easy meeting point.

6.Head to Headwall, a perfectly pitched black slope with widely spaced trees, for the best terrain on the mountain.

7. Even the wildlife at Schweitzer has attitude. Signs next to the on-mountain trail maps remind visitors to watch for coyotes, a familiar sight to most Texans. In January, one chased a skier down a run, nipping her and sending her into a tree well.

Schweitzer

Taylor Prather blasts through the trees at Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho. Pam LeBlanc photo

8. The cool, modern Humbird Hotel at the base makes a fine place to hang your skis. Later this year, a hot tub will open on its rooftop. Until then, you can use the outdoor pool and tubs at the neighboring lodge, the Selkirk.

9. Channel your inner European and order fondue, wiener schnitzel, or raclette at the Crow’s Nest. They make a good old fashioned, too.

10. The nearby town of Sandpoint has a quaint downtown packed with restaurants and shops. Don’t miss MickDuff’s Brewing Company, housed in a beautiful old post office. (Attention salad lovers – Sandpoint is also home to the salad dressing maker Litehouse Foods.)

Schweitzer Mountain

Taylor Prather swoops down Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho. Pam LeBlanc photo

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I’ve discovered the perfect campervan mattress

I’ve discovered the perfect campervan mattress

campervan mattress

Hest sent Pam LeBlanc this memory foam campervan mattress. Chris LeBlanc photo

This may sound ridiculous, but I sleep better on the new campervan mattress in my Ford Transit than the one I’ve got in my bedroom at home.

I first heard about Hest, which makes an array of pillows, mattresses, and dog beds, when someone with the company asked if I’d like to test one of their camp pillows.

I politely declined. A pillow’s a pillow, right?

They kept at it. I got annoyed. I gave in, and Hest sent me a pillow. You can read what happened here. In a nutshell, the pillow – which folds into itself like a hedgehog – made me swoon.

So when Hest then asked if I’d like to test one of their high-dollar mattresses in my Ford Transit campervan, nicknamed Vincent VanGo, I immediately sent them my shipping address.

campervan mattress

The mattress was too wide for the platform, so Chris LeBlanc had to rearrange the furnishings. Chris LeBlanc photo

Testing the Hest Dually mattress

The mattress arrived in a long skinny carton, and the mattress itself was coiled up inside and secured with plastic bands. I figured the whole thing would explode when I cut the loops, but it just politely unrolled.

My husband Chris and I knew going in that the dimensions of the new mattress weren’t ideal for Vincent. A company in Colorado called Wayfarer kitted out our van, installing cabinets, a sink, and a platform for sleeping, complete with a mattress that was less than comfortable. We added a foam topper, but it still left something to be desired, especially for a side sleeper like me.

The Hest Dually, which folds in half and sleeps two, comes in two sizes – long, which measures 50 inches by 78 inches, or wide, which measures 60 by 72 inches. The platform in our van measures 72 inches by 54 inches.

Read more: After a hard day of skiing, kick back at Durango Hot Springs

Making it work

We opted for the wide, knowing it would droop over the edges of our platform by 6 inches. To accommodate the mattress, Chris pulled the bed platform out, to provide more room. The mattress now extends by 3 inches on either side.

Pulling out the sleeping platform meant Chris also had to move the kitchen counter and sink unit over a few inches too. Which meant he’d also have to trim a few inches off the fold-up desk he’d installed on the end of the cabinet, so I could sit in the driver’s seat and work on my computer.

He did all that. We unfurled the new mattress, hopped on top, and shut our eyes.

Holy frijoles it felt great.

HEST pillow

Pam LeBlanc cuddles up with her HEST pillow during a recent trip to Dinosaur Valley State Park. Photo by Chris LeBlanc

We drove Vincent VanGo to Pedernales Falls State Park for a night. The double layered memory foam mattress did its work. I felt great even when I rolled onto my side. My shoulders didn’t hurt.  ’m not going to say it was like sleeping on a cloud – clouds just collapse into ether. It was better – It provided support, but soft, cushioning support. And I didn’t overheat.
But the Hest mattress isn’t cheap. The wide model we have costs $599. The long is $549.

But it’s got some nice features. It folds in half and clips together. It’s got built in handles, so you can transport it like a giant floppy suitcase. The cover is washable.

If you’ve got a pickup truck, take note. It’s designed to allow you to place it in the bed of your truck and sleep.

As for me, I’m finding every excuse I can to hit the road and luxuriate in my new mattress.

 

 

About Pam

I’m Pam LeBlanc. Follow my blog to keep up with the best in outdoor travel and adventure. Thanks for visiting my site.

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