A Great Drive in Western, MT

The Annaconda-Pintlar Scenic Route from Polaris, MT:
I used to have a cabin on top of a mountain a little north and west of Drummond. The Pintlar mountains and the Deer Lodge Valley was the view from my living room. It was nice. And so is this drive (created in response to a question at Fodor's message board aboiut what to do while in Polaris, MT).

More stuff to do:

City Visits: Keep Your Sanity While the Kids have a Blast

You’re visiting the City for the first time and you may not get back for years. You want to see (and show your kids) as much as possible, but where do you begin? Lower your expectations and increase flexability with smart planning.

It always seems like a great idea to plan lots of stimulating things for kids to see in the big city. After all how often do you get to visit New York City (or Washington DC, or Chicago, or Boston…)?

Considering that kids are equally amused by a revolving door as a $120 Broadway show, it’s usually worth scaling back your expectations and focusing on a few really cool things. Keep your daily itinerary realistic. Just like Christmas, if you keep giving kids more and more presents, each previous one loses its luster. Make a list of the things you really want to do and then cross out half of them. Stick with cool things that they can explore, and let them dictate the pace. Within reason.

But cutting the itinerary in half is just one way to boost your chances of a successful city visit. There are a few other factors that can make or break the experience: pick the right hotel, don't get caught waiting for food, let them play hard, but give them a chance to rest (even if your kids “don’t nap”).

Your hotel room can be your happy place
We like suites so that there is at least one private bedroom and a kitchenette. They also often have two bathrooms. As we say frequently on this blog, we like Residence Inns because they’re very kid friendly, they allow dogs, and there is a good (at least good enough) breakfast buffet each morning (some even have espresso machines). And there are also the Marriott Rewards points that Dan racks up during business trips.

Eat breakfast in the room, pack some snacks, and don't sweat lunch
Finding a place for lunch can often take a lot of time and energy, so have snacks on hand to take the edge off. If there is a breakfast buffet at the hotel room, grab an apple or two and a couple of mini boxes of cereal.

In New York and many other cities there are enough street vendors to make lunch easy. You can also get a deli recommendation from the hotel and buy some sandwiches before you head out. Also if the museum has a cafeteria, convenience may trump cuisine. That being said, there are also a lot of great places to eat, just have things planned so that you’re in the neighborhood (and stocked with snacks) before the lunch bell rings.

Make time for playing
Find a playground for a lunchtime picnic or a post lunch play session. Kids love to run, climb and blow off steam even more than they love visiting museums. Hard to believe, but true. Not only will the kids get to play hard, but the parents get to rest and people-watch. Central Park in New York City and The National Mall in DC are great for this.

Take a break before dinner
Because the lines are shortest at museums and such, it often behooves you to get started early. As mentioned above, a quick breakfast in the hotel room or the lobby is a good strategy. But after an early start, an exciting museum, and playtime after lunch, the kids and parents are bound to be a bit tired. Do yourselves a favor: head to the hotel around 4:00 and kick back for a little while. Let the kids watch TV while you visit the cocktail lounge, take a shower, nap, read a book... whatever it takes to re-charge a little bit. Dinner will be a much better experience because of it. And depending on the age of the kids, you may even be able to sneak in an evening adventure (such as a ferry ride past the Statue of Liberty) after dinner without fear of an exhaustion crash.

Are we missing anything? Leave a comment and let us know!

Great Eastern Drives: Portland, ME Lighthouses

Lighthouses played an important role in American maritime history both during peacetime and war. There are also architectural lessons to be had...

“Yes Tom?”
“Can we go on a road trip soon?”
It’s not often that a six year old asks that question. So I set one up; a quick trip to Portland, ME to scout a couple of job sites for photo shoots (I'm an editor and photographer for a residential construction magazine).

“I have you in a non smoking king room for three nights, is that correct?”
Looking down at Tom, I asked the desk clerk to switch us to a room with two doubles (I figured I'd upgrade Tommy from the pull-out couch to a big bed so he could stay up late and watch Letterman with me). When we got up to the room, Tommy promptly dragged a blanket off one of the beds and climbed under the desk.
“Dad, can you put the blanket over the table so I can have a sleeping fort?”
I should have kept the king bed. But the sleeping fort did a good job: Tommy slept in ‘til around 8:00 each morning. After a late breakfast at the hotel, a visit to the jobsite from around 10 to 11, and lunch at a chowder house (Gilbert's Chowder House has extremely good clam chowda), we went off in search of light houses in the afternoon.

The job site visits worked out well, one had a big dirt pile covered with snow. Tommy put on his snow pants and had a blast while I talked with the builder and scouted photo angles. The other site had a gravel basement and the architect told Tommy he could throw rocks at the wall all he wanted.

We were able to visit four light houses all together:
Portland Breakwater Light
Portland Head Light
Spring Point Ledge Light
and Cape Elizabeth Light
We also saw Ram Island Ledge Light, but because it’s on an island, we weren’t able to visit this time, maybe next time.

The weather was cold and windy. Very cold and windy!
You can see Tommy hiding behind the sign on the way to the Portland Breakwater Light (known locally as Bug Light) to get out of the wind. I didn’t really expect to walk out there, but he just kept on walking, so I followed. As it turns out, this light house was built in 1855, but there was no keeper’s house built. The poor guy had to scamper over the breakwater in winter against the wind, over the ice and getting slapped with the spray. Just like we did. That keeper kept scrambling until 1889 when a keeper’s cabin was built out there.

Tip: Visit lighthouses in June or July, not February

Bug Light is a really cool light house. It’s short, only 26 feet tall, but its design is beautiful. A cast iron tower with fluted Corinthian columns. Apparently, its design is based on a Greek Monument built in the fourth century B.C., the Choragis Monument of Lysicrates (good opportunity to teach a little about classical architecture).

Commissioned by President George Washington in 1790 Portland Head Light is the oldest lighthouse in Maine.
It’s also likely the most famous light house in Maine, and certainly the most famous in our family as my Dad was unknowingly photographed as he sailed past it back in the 1970s and the photo was reprinted on postcards, calendars and placemats. The tower is 80 ft. tall. Portland head light has a museum that's open to the public from May through October. The lighthouse also adjacent to Fort Williams Park, an old army fort that never saw action, although it was fully manned during WWI.

Spring Point Light is at the end of a long breakwater
which was built to cover the underlying ledge that the lighthouse marks. Completed in 1897 and located in Fort Preble Park, a war of 1812 fort which also saw some action during the Civil War when some Rebs tried to raid Portland Harbor. There is a playground at the park, so it’s a good destination in warm weather.

Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse is actually two lighthouses, the twins.
But they’re not twins. Nor are they both visible in my photo at the far right. Located on private land they’re best viewed from an amazing beach accessible from the parking lot of a nice seafood restaurant (eat there). Built in 1874, the two 65-foot towers served as range lights for the ship captains. Because one was due west of the other, mariners approaching Portland Harbor would line them up to verify their course.
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