The Pioneer Museum of Flagstaff, AZ


When we found out Margot’s first day of school was August 1st, we scrambled to scrape together a family vacation at the last minute. We like to keep our plans loose, avoiding reservations and expectations in order to flow with the weather, and our moods while traveling. It’s an art form, really.

Our plan was to take the pop-up camper out for almost a week; staying at Apache Lake near Phoenix, and camping and hiking in Sedona. Well, Apache Lake was sweltering. I went for a run at the Burnt Corral campground where we stayed at a shoreside site and the temperature held steady at 104 at 7pm. I got zero sleep that night, and felt like I was suffocating in 97 degree weather at midnight. The kids were fine, and Isaac seemed okay, but I definitely was going to have a bad time camping in weather like that; and if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. I think that’s how the saying goes.


So north we traveled, hoping that the weather would cool the further we went toward Flagstaff. Sedona was still above 100, so we traveled onward to Flagstaff.


Camping at the county fairgrounds was wonderful. Quiet, cheap, centrally located. We had at least two activities a day that we achieved; visiting the Arboretum, a Mansion, trails in the mountains, kayaking at Lake Mary and — my favorite — checking out the Pioneer Museum!

095A4665095A4675The Pioneer Barn, separate from the main building, contains loads of artifacts of yesteryear – I especially enjoyed spotting a large floor loom. It was warped with a project on it. I wish I were able to identify all the features of various looms on the spot. I need to crack open a few more books and click around a few more websites before I can do that.095A4681095A4671095A4669095A4610

I’m still neck deep in Pioneer culture right now. As some of you may know, I tend to latch onto a topic and immerse myself in it for a year or so until my interests are swayed into another direction. We’re reading the Little House on the Prairie series and chipping away at lessons in the Playful Pioneers curriculum at the moment, so this museum was exactly the type of place we had to visit.


A lumber train staged in the front of the museum was open for us to trot through. From there we followed the foot path to a historic cabin.  I love imagining how life would have been in the late 1800s. We went to the museum after a trail run, and I wasn’t feeling as hygienically civilized as I would like to be, so I think I had a pretty good idea of how it felt to live intimately with the seasons and the elements. That is certainly part of the joy to camping; reconnecting with nature and learning to appreciate the modern conveniences we all have. And resetting the internal clock to coincide with the natural circadian rhythm — totally necessary!


I will tell you the best part of the Pioneer Museum, by far. Their Children’s Room, full of wooden toys, period costumes, school desks and books. 095A4619

We had to loop around to the Children’s room twice so the kids could continue to play with the Jacob’s ladders, hobby horses and oversized dollhouse. Engaging children in museum settings is difficult, so I commend the Historical Society of Arizona on curating such a magnetic place for kids to explore. 095A4591095A4586095A4582095A4575


Among the many activities we did in Flagstaff, the Pioneer Museum was top of the list for me; although it was tough choice between trail running, s’mores making, and kayaking. I will definitely revisit this place, and I doubt I’ll have trouble dragging my family along again.


Granite Tors Trail

Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea PuebloGranite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

Oh, I certainly wish I had the stamina I had when I was in my early twenties. There’s something about carrying and delivering two children, and then once again carrying them on a mountain that really wipes a mother out. Younger, unattached hikers could probably accomplish the 15 mile round trip hike to the Granite Tors in a day, but we Ardoin’s, toting two small children, cannot. We did make it eight miles, though! Hooray!

Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

Our first day camping, we took the short 2 mile loop at the Granite Tors trailhead, just to scope out the scenery. A wildfire cleaned out the clutter of the forest back in 2009, leaving a charred landscape in its wake. New growth has taken over. Bright green buds burst out of the black spruce like fireworks; their neon needles contrasting sharply with the burnt trunks at their center. The brush underfoot looked as though nothing had happened. It was springy and marshy with snow melt, and saturated in color — not scarred like the tall trees above.    Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

Truthfully, I cannot remember a time when my shoulders were that sore. I had Woods in a front carry in the ergo, and Isaac had Margot in the REI structured hiking carrier. Both of us had day packs in addition to the kid weight. After an afternoon of my shoulders being pulled in two opposing directions, and a steep climb up toward the Tors, I was completely wiped. The tors are large granite protrusions popular with climbers. They’re unfortunately just a few miles too far for the burdened day hiker.

Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

The trail starts out as a leisurely stroll along the Chena River. It splinters off into a boardwalk trail that steers you over to the fork where you can either elect to take the shorter two mile loop, or carry onward to the long trek to the Tors. The boardwalk ends abruptly when the foothills meet the valley. Then a quick ascent along a trail that runs through a birch forest. On the right in the distance, a large beaver dam (not pictured) created its own pond. The occupants where nowhere to be seen.

The slow lumbering mosquitos of early summer were slow to get us, unless we stopped. Sally was unable to keep them off of her, unfortunately. Her furry hide twitched and flinched the entire time.

Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

Once the elevation plateaued, we entered a more exposed terrain, with lower brush and more of the charred remains from a wildfire past. The sun barred down on us, but the cool temperatures kept us from roasting in the high-noon light.

Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

At this elevation we were able to see a great distance in every direction. The lush green hills, with their tiny freckles of unmelted snow, seemed to roll on forever. We found a clearing where we could eat our packed lunches in peace. Margot fed her crust to Sally, who was just as hungry as the rest of us.

Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

We made it to a back country campsite with sweeping views of the Tors (still a few miles away). Although the daylight hours stretch long into the night, our kids’ happy dispositions do not. Opting to head back to the camper to clean and rest up before bed, we headed back down the mountain at a much quicker pace.

On our descent, Margot sang songs about quesadillas to keep the bears away, and Woods slept soundly against my chest. We all had an incredible night’s sleep.


095A3012Granite Tors - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo




Pop Up Glamping

Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

I’d like to go back in time to last summer and smack myself upside the head for camping while pregnant, with a toddler, without a camper. What was I thinking? Such an unnecessarily uncomfortable experience, although it was fun and rewarding at the time.

Isaac and I have been looking at campers since March, and going by the towing capacity of our Toyota Sienna (minivans rule!) we narrowed down our wish list to a pop up camper with an 8-10 foot box. Local sale listings came and went (sparingly), usually selling before we even had a chance to respond. Some had roof rot, and nearly all campers in great condition were far out of our price range. Our sales page diligence paid off when we spotted this 1990 Coleman Columbia on Craigslist. It was within our budget, and appeared to be in fair condition.  We contacted the seller just hours after the listing posted, and secured the second appointment to view it. I was sure we were going to miss out since these campers tend to sell the same day when they’re in good shape and priced fairly. Fortunately, the first buyer passed and having sold our old utility trailer the same day, we went to check out the camper with cash in hand. The camper was in amazing condition so we bought the pop up and towed it home the same day. After the kids went down for bed, we popped open the camper on the driveway and clinked beer bottles at the dinette, excited about our upcoming trips.

It was a stroke of genius to invest in a pop-up camper, and an incredibly lucky break to snatch one for sale in the Fairbanks North Star Borough where there typically two or fewer for sale at any given time. This year we have two littles we want to share the outdoors with. Camping with two tiny kids and two tall adults in a tent, on the ground, surrounded by mosquitos, under the Alaska midnight sun was not going to work for us. Sorry tent camping and backpacking purists, we’re a young family with many needs. We are the first to admit — we are sell outs.

Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo


Our camper has a two stove burner, two full size beds, and a sweet dinette that folds down into a twin sized bed. Although our coleman has a sink, we did not camp with full water and electric hook ups, and we didn’t rely on battery power. This was our maiden voyage and we needed it to be as primitive as possible for our own adjustment from tent camping to glamping.

Having a place to hang out, away from the mosquitos, while still catching a summer cross breeze was glorious. Our kids were able to bounce around like normal, the dog had a spot on the floor to nap, and I had kitchen space to whip up some hot chow. Vegan chow, no less.

And blackout curtains! Wonderful, gracious, functional blackout curtains! We don’t even have those up at home yet.

Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

Our site was in the Chena Lakes Recreation area just outside of North Pole, close enough to home for us to bail in the event of some crisis, and close enough to town for us to run and buy more diapers, or whatevers that we may have forgotten.

I’m not one to toot my own horn, but TOOT! I did an excellent job packing up for the camping trip, bringing along all the necessities, and even some creature comforts.

Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

Isaac is already brainstorming on how to rig some golf batteries to a solar panel to create super efficient energy for our camper. I need a water holding tank so I can stop going outside to wash dishes. And the kids need a few more blankets to keep cozy when the nights plunge into the high 30s like they did this weekend. We were warm enough, but not as comfortable as we could have been. Electric blankets might be in our future, if Isaac can somehow harness the power of the sun. I still can’t believe electric blankets are even an option for camping. Is it still camping? I’m having some doubts on the legitimacy of glamping, but I just remembered I don’t care.

Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Vegan Smores - Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Vegan Smores - Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Vegan Smores - Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Vegan Smores - Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

We spent our days exploring the Chena Lakes area. Towering birch forests enveloped us on our nature walks, and the views from a 40 foot retaining wall were humbling. Snow capped hills rolled on to infinity to the North, and to the south, the Alaska range jutted into the sky, faded in appearance by the miles of atmosphere in between.

Our wildlife sightings were limited, fortunately. While we do carry bear mace on our outings, I have no idea how to use it, so we would likely be in a world of trouble if we came upon a sow and her cubs. On our first night out, there was scratching under my bed, and a low rustle in the brush nearby. A raccoon? A fox? We speculated on what it could have been, but never landed on any conclusions about our mystery visitor.

Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

Camping is great. It’s a free pass to not clean, and to be disorganized. But despite my best efforts, I still tried to reign in the chaos, stuffing gear into our storage boxes, delegating chores to Isaac and even snapping at the dog to eat up food bits that fell to the ground. There were still diapers to be changed, mess kits to be cleaned, and  trash to be taken out. Par for the course.

Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

I do believe our Coleman Pop Up Camper will see much use this summer. Alaska’s brutal winter is in the rear view mirror, and the midnight sun is hovering on the horizon (all night long).

Pop Up Camping - Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo