Bluegill Lake Family Campground

Travel has a knack for introducing situations that provide its followers with the opportunity to face their fears.  This is something I experienced personally when travel put me face to face with one of my biggest fears on our summer trip to Yellowstone: eating at a table with strangers.  To most, I’m sure this does not seem like the typical adventurous pursuit of a travel blogger, but for a socially anxious introvert like myself who took 4 years to muster up the courage to eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge, it’s a pretty big deal.  The opportunity presented itself during our stay at Cody’s Cowboy Village in Wyoming.  After preparing continental breakfasts, my husband and I were faced with a difficult choice when there were no empty tables left for us to seclude ourselves to.  My gut reaction was just to abort the mission all together and take our plates back to the cabin to eat, but before I could even make the suggestion, a couple of another generation invited us to join them at their table.  To be entirely honest, I was cringing on the inside, but knew we had no choice other than to take them up on their hospitality if we wanted to avoid looking like real jerks.  As it turns out, it didn’t kill me.  In fact, it was actually pretty great to be able to compare experiences with people on the same sunset drive through the mountains high that we had fallen subject to.  From that experience, a door opened for me into Travel101 and I continued to pursue the lesson during a recent trip to Big Rapids. I’m sure expert travelers already know what experiential and educational opportunities await them when breaking bread with strangers on the road, but in case more convincing is needed, I offer a tale of Thanksgiving.

The decision to pursue this lesson in travel came after searching the web for possible campgrounds to stay in while visiting Big Rapids for a homecoming weekend of our own.  I was skeptical about whether it would even be possible to stay in a campground at all, since my expectations presented such a tall order.  I began narrowing down the options by ruling out all of

View from our cabin

View out the window of our cabin.

the campgrounds that did not offer cabins.  Due to the brevity of our stay, I wanted to avoid wasting any of our precious time setting up camp.  When I’d just about given up on the search, I serendipitously stumbled upon Bluegill Lake Family Camping Resort.  Not only did they offer cabins, but the cabins also had porches overlooking the lake.  That was enough for me to seal the deal, but the more I explored the website, the better this choice became.  Every weekend offers a different theme and if there is one thing I can appreciate it’s a themed weekend.  The scheduled theme for the weekend of our getaway was the Autumn Harvest Fest.  The camp offers a seasonal potluck dinner where they supply the turkey and guests each bring a side.  I was instantly reminded of the experience in Cody and knew this needed to make its way on to our itinerary.  Fearing the disappointment of needing to come up with a plan B if the campground was full, we immediately called and were fortunate enough to be able to book our stay.


Activity Center at Bluegill Lake Family Campground.

My initial excitement for the event was no match for my social anxiety when it came time to actually make our way to the activity hall for the meal.  I was nervous and my mind was racing with all the possibilities for social awkwardness that could result from interacting with strangers.  Before I knew it, somehow I’d mustered up the courage to leave the comforts of the cabin, and was now sitting at a table with complete strangers waiting for the meal to start.  Food was the perfect icebreaker.  Serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal helped ignite the conversation, opening the door for people to begin sharing and comparing family holiday food traditions and recipes.  At risk of offending several cooks in the family, I also have to say that this was

Activity Hall for Autumn Harvest Fest dinner

Dining Hall decorated for Autumn Harvest Fest.

in fact the best Thanksgiving turkey I’ve ever had.  I’m typically very picky when it comes to my Thanksgiving turkey and sometimes avoid eating the turkey
part of the meal all together.  According to my tastes, it has to be dark meat because I’m disgusted by gravy and without it white meat is just too dry.  The Autumn Harvest Fest turkey serving as further evidence of the unexpected discoveries that await you when dining with strangers.

Autumn Harvest Fest dinner decorations

Autumn Harvest Fest at Bluegill Lake.

The last of the rewards that came from this extended lesson in travel etiquette  was the after-meal conversation.  Traditionally, Thanksgiving dinner is a time most families avoid serious topics of conversation like politics or sharing positions on other worldly affairs.  However, when eating with strangers, there is less pressure for those beliefs to be the same, creating an opportunity for great open-minded discussion and captivating storytelling (that you’re actually hearing for the first time).  Of course I took on my traditional role of silent observer, absorbing as much of the conversation as I could.  Although I believe in the motto: what’s said at the dinner table stays at the dinner table, I don’t think it’s breaking that rule to paint a vague picture.  With topics ranging from Common Core, to generational positions on the pros and cons to technological advancements, I felt like I was living my own episode of Survivor: Gen. X vs. Millennials.  If I was meant to represent the Millennials, I’m sure I’m a poor choice as spokesperson since I often relate to concerns expressed by other generations of diminishing work ethic.  Even though the names Trump and Clinton were never mentioned, political discussion took the form of discussing stances on issues related to employment and education.  With the bonds of family, there was more of an effort to listen and understand each other, instead of criticize or feud.

All in all, it was the kind of conversation that keeps you lingering at the diner table long after the food is gone.  Despite controversy surrounding the hypocrisy of the historical origin of Thanksgiving, the lesson of the story is still an important one (even if the story is a bit murkier in reality).  If you can embrace the experience with an open mind, there is a lot to be thankful for when sharing a meal with strangers.

Bluegill Lake Mecosta County

Sun breaking through over Bluegill Lake.

Find a theme that suits your travel goals and book your 2017 stay today!

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Ferris State campus

A Ferris Homecoming

Although we did not make it back this year to Ferris’ actual Homecoming, the hubby and I chose to plan a customized Big Rapids homecoming all our own.  With the transition back to school, we were itching for an adventure and in an effort to protest the end of summer, started mapping out our plan.  Playing by our own rules, it always seemed unfair to me that football gets to hog the Homecoming festivities, so we made arrangements to get our sporting event fix in by way of hockey (conveniently this is also the best way for both of us to actually enjoy the sporting event).  Instead of staying in a hotel, we looked into campgrounds as a more budget-friendly option, and also because one of my favorite things about Big Rapids is its accessibility to the outdoors.

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Top 5 Eats near Altoona, PA

Altoona, or even small town Pennsylvania in general, may not be on every traveler’s bucket list of places to see; but, if there is anything to be learned from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, there are many culinary experiences well worth a try hiding in small town America.  Experiential Travel 101 and spokesmen like Anthony Bourdain swear that in order to fully understand a region, you must eat like the locals.  Even though I’ve never personally been a resident of the Altoona region, I still consider myself to be somewhat in-the-know when it comes to the local eats.  With both of my parents originally from the area, every trip back to visit relatives became an opportunity for them to educate my brothers and I on all of the favorite hometown eateries they had growing up.

Although this may be disguised as a travel post, it undoubtedly also doubles as another unexpected legacy post.  The entire reason for taking a recent trip back to PA was so that my husband and I could attend a celebration of life for my grandma after she suddenly passed away.  Yet again, the opportunity for travel presented me with time for reflection on the legacies left behind from a grandparent.  However, this time, the decision of which legacy to write about was a lot tougher because in the case of my grandma there were a lot of contenders: genetically, there’s our strong chin, the inherited family obsession with the Pittsburgh Penguins, or maybe the lessons in probability she taught me while watching The Price is Right.  What initially seemed like a daunting task became obvious during a stop at my parent’s house to tend to the dog for them while they were taking care of funeral arrangements in PA.  In that lightbulb moment, I realized Grammy’s legacy is a candy jar.


Visiting cousins at Grammy’s. My brother is holding me, and the candy jar can be seen on the coffee table.

Soon after hearing about Grammy’s passing, I made a pitstop at my parent’s house to help feed and take care of our aging family dog.  Instinctually, right after walking through the door, I made my way into the kitchen stopping at the candy jar, noticing my mom had recently refilled the it with her traditional fall candy corn/caramel combination.  While taking comfort in taste of home, it hit me; the candy jar is actually Grammy’s legacy.  My mom inherited the candy jar idea from her years ago, and quite strategically I might add.  Visits to Grammy’s house always meant unlimited access to candy, and as a kid who was always up against people trying to limit sugar intake in youth (even back then), this was always something to get excited about.  Grammy firmly believed that every home should have a jar full of candy, and not just because candy makes the world taste good, but also because it was a welcoming gesture that reminded all family members that they were home. Long before the Double Tree’s warm cookie upon check-in, Grammy saw the impact that comfort food could have on making everyone feel at home.

The candy jar wasn’t the only way Grammy defined her home base.  On our visits back to PA, I always remember my dad just walking in the front door, no knocking or ringing the bell first, those were actions reserved only for guests.  It was the open door policy Grammy insisted on, a reminder that no matter how far you may roam, you are always welcome back home.  Although never inclined to turn down the opportunity to travel, Grammy knew the importance of also establishing that home base.  She and my Grandpa were always up to the challenge of adventuring out to see us no matter what state we were currently calling home, or would take trips on their own to see different parts of the country.  And despite all of these experiences, home base never changed because such a place gave the family a spot gather and Grammy knew that was the glue needed to keep us all together.  Now that I’m the adult coming back home to my parent’s house, I see this viewpoint as a legacy adopted by my mom, since many of the comforts that I now feel in their house mimic the comforts of Grammy’s: an abundant supply of candy, food and drink offered minutes upon entry, and an expectation to make yourself at home.

Finally, this brings me back to the reason for this type of post.  Many of Grammy’s comforts of home were in the form of food, so what better way to celebrate this legacy than with a post about the hometown favorites, many of which she introduced me to long ago.  So, influenced by some of my favorite locals, here are my 5 top classic Altoona area eats:

Gardner’s Candy- Tyrone

One of my favorite memories of Gardner’s Candy occurred during an Easter visit to Pennsylvania to spend the holiday with relatives.  I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I know it was still young enough to get overly excited about the basket of goodies that were waiting for me that morning.  Peaking down the stairs, I started salivating like a cartoon character at the sight of the familiar pink, purple, and green patterned basket on top of Grammy’s dining room table.  The traditional reaction came to a halt when I noticed that one item of particular importance seemed to be missing.  My solid white chocolate bunny was nowhere to be seen.  Hoping that the mix up was just an unfortunate consequence of my vantage point, at my parents signal, I made a mad dash towards my basket to investigate.  Peering down into the basket, there was no sign of my traditional chocolate bunny, however, in its place was a large chocolate egg with my name on it (literally).  The egg was no ordinary chocolate egg, it marked the beginning of a new family tradition since it was my very first Gardner’s Peanut butter Meltaway chocolate egg.  Growing up on Gardner’s Candy themselves, my parents knew that taking a trip back to Pennsylvania during Easter time presented the perfect opportunity to introduce their children to this unique holiday staple.  To mark the special occasion, my mom even paid extra to have them decorate each of the eggs in icing with our names.  I may have outgrown getting an Easter basket (or so they say, I’m pretty sure such a thing is impossible), but luckily with help from the internet, my mom is still able to give all three adult children an egg for Easter each year. peanutbutter meltaway

While recently passing through Tyrone, my husband and I couldn’t resist the urge to branch out and try some of Gardner’s other Peanut Butter Meltaway concoctions.  Gardner’s Candy just seemed like the perfect choice for dessert considering we were on a trip celebrating the life and legacy of the grandmother who I shared my first Gardner’s egg experience with.  In the effort to relive a favorite old memory, I was able to make a new one watching the joy sweep over my husband’s face in the same way Grammy had watched it sweep over mine.  Even though it may not have actually been Easter this time (although the Deacon claimed during the funeral that in a way, it sort of was) and Grammy wasn’t there to share in this new memory with us, in a way, it still felt like she was.

Texas Hotdogs- Altoona 

Pennsylvania Altoona chili dogs

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On casual evenings spent catching up with relatives on visits back to PA, Texas Hotdogs have always been a staple.  For proximity reasons, it always made sense that my parents try to plan their hotdog fix while visiting members of my dad’s side of the family.  In all the states we’d lived in, my parents had never managed to find an adequate replacement.  The unique taste is one that I now find myself craving from time to time, but know there is no remedy for like the original.  Since the entertainment for this competitive side of the family always involved a game at home, Texas Hotdogs made the perfect pairing.  Whether we were all gathered around the TV cheering on the Penguins or learning how to strategically destroy each other in various board or card games, Texas Hotdogs To-Go completed the picture of our Pennsylvanian home base.

Hoagies from East End Pizza- Tyrone


Forgive me if I get any of this wrong, but it is my understand a local school rivalry exists between Tyrone and Bellwood Antis.  My mom’s alma mater was Tyrone, and my dad’s Bellwood Antis.  It should come as no surprise to locals that I was introduced to East End Pizza mainly through my mom’s side of the family.  Applebee’s may pride itself on being a neighborhood restaurant, but it has nothing on a this literal hole in the wall community staple.  Although I’d eaten East End hoagies several times prior to this recent trip, I’d never actually Middleswarth chips been in the building.  Walking in, I didn’t initially feel welcome. There was an uncomfortableness to having everyone look at you wondering what planet you come from since this is the type of town where everyone knows everyone, but these are the hidden gems of travel.  Eating where the locals eat is crucial, even if it means feeling slightly awkward throughout the experience. Not knowing how to order a hoagie using the appropriate lingo, like we experienced, will be a dead giveaway that you are not a local.  In my defense, the hoagies had always ordered in large quantities and brought back to family gatherings for all to share, so I’d never really been given the option.  During this visit I learned that Green is the way to go, and don’t forget your Middleswarth potato chips (another regional staple).

Delgrosso Spaghetti Sauce

family pasta sauce

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My first experience with Delgrosso sauce was when having goulash at Grammy’s.  When time didn’t allow for homemade sauce, Delgrosso’s was the only acceptable substitute.  In the days before the internet, my parents would stock up on the sauce during visits back to PA.  Nowadays, you can get the sauce just about anywhere.  My MI audience members can pick up a jar at the local Meijer.  The Delgrosso story is one that every local knows in much greater detail than what can be found on the website.  The entire Delgrosso family are treated as celebrities whose latest happenings were typically reported as news rather than gossip when catching up with family.  Delgrosso foods further secured its place in the community by purchasing the local amusement park.  This amusement park employed both of my parents as teenagers, and was the reason they ever met.  The definition of family owned and operated, Delgrosso foods is crucial to the locals, and even to this non-local.  Without this business, who knows if I’d even exist.

Penn State Berkey Creamery

Line outside Berkey Creamery

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I will never forget the first time I had ice cream from the Penn State Berkey Creamery because it was also the only time I’ve ever had it, but that hasn’t stopped the experienced from setting the standard for all the other ice cream I’ve tried since.  To this day, I can say with confidence, that although I’ve had some great strawberry ice cream, none has ever superseded the bar set by the first Berkey Creamery cone I had while touring my mom’s alma mater.  I feel a massive amount of guilt for not disclosing this information to my husband during our most recent visit.  Ice cream is his vice, Kryptonite, and possibly even his true soul mate.  I thought about strategically sharing this memory with him while we were on the road so that later on I could let him think that he had the brilliant idea to stop there when we passed through.  Unfortunately, both time and diet concerns stopped me.  In an effort to make amends, I’m sharing it with the world now, and as far as my husband is concerned, ice cream is always better in the summer.  We now have an excuse to plan another trip back (no one tell him it can be ordered online).

I can’t write an entire post and neglect the educational component to Destination Legacy, so here’s how to learn about the 12-step ice cream making process.

So if you ever find yourself passing through the area, don’t miss the opportunity to try some local favorites.  I’m grateful for Grammy’s home base, which allowed me to share these experiences with my family and you, just like she did with me.


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An Olympic Impact on My Decision to Blog

It is time to face the inevitable.  Summer is officially over.  I know a few of the technical types out there are probably protesting my claim, arguing that Labor Day has always been the official end to summer.  And I get it, because you are also the people who just want to squeeze in every bit of what the season has to offer, a club I’m definitely also a member of (hence the somewhat random blog post). But unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that this year summer has just ended and the proof is in the closing ceremony of the Olympics.  Despite how disinterested or distracted from the competitive triumphs a majority of the American population seems to be in regard to the games in Rio, my competitive, athletic-enthusiast of a father taught me appreciation for all that the games represent.  It is with this appreciation that I claim: It is impossible to have summer after the Olympics have ended, and in order to explain why, we will need to go back to 1996.

1996 was the first year I actually remember watching the Olympics.  I think for all of us the first memorable Olympics is housed in a special place of our hearts.  But this year was an especially important Olympics for all Americans, because they were actually being held here, in Atlanta.  I could even tell that this was a big deal as a kid, but only because of the way all the adults’ voices seemed to change in order to emphasis that particular detail.  They were setting us up to remember a significance that we were not yet mature enough to understand.  It wouldn’t be until much later that I fully comprehended the actual geographical significance (my husband may joke that I still don’t fully grasp it…I’m not great with geography).  However, this really isn’t why the 1996 Olympics became historically epic, it was the US women’s gymnastics team.  Every little girl was glued to her television screen busting at the seams with dreams of being one of those gymnasts.  Unfortunately for the Internet, I was one of them.  

Practicing to be the world's best gymnast in '96.

Practicing to be the world’s best gymnast in ’96.

See, watching all of the inspiring athleticism, changed the rules when it came to playing with your friends.  For instance, a friend of mine who lived up the road was an actual gymnast, and by that I mean her parents’ signed her up, paid for and drove her to classes some fraction of every week, even setting up a practice balance beam in their basement, all because they believed in her athletic abilities.  So naturally, when we were sent off each morning in the summer with the generic instruction from our parents to, “Go play,” my friend and I would find each other to pick up where we left off in our own version of the Olympics of ‘96 that took place in her basement.  Typically, it went something like this:

First: We plugged in the boom-box and turned up some Jock Jams (and yes kids, I mean turned up not turnt, it was a more civilized time)

Second: Decide who was doing what routine first.  We had a mat set-up for the floor routine, and on some occasions ribbons were involved.  We had a trampoline that when used with the balance beam became a vault, but only if there wasn’t already an event going on at the beam.  Once we’d taken our places at the first event, it was time for the next phase.  

Third: Be the Olympic gymnast.  In our imaginary gym, sometimes we’d just reenact regurgitations of what we’d seen in reality.  Other times, we’d flip the script and throw in some twists and turns of our own devising just so that we would have to problem solve our way out of them (this was called playing kids, it existed before the Internet).  Individually we’d often provide the commentary for our own event, but not loud enough to be heard by our teammate or the blaring boombox.  That part, dreaming up the commentary, was always what I loved most about doing gymnastics.   

Last: All the brothers would come barreling down the basement stairs, mine both taunting that our mom needed me to come home right away, and just like that, I’m snapped back into reality.

Now, 20 years later (shocking I know, but I’m a math teacher so you can trust me), I can’t help but notice all of the similarities between my summer of ‘96 and ‘16.  Maybe it’s the competitive nature of the Olympics, or perhaps we should carefully consider the possibility of some kind of brainwashing, but either way something about the games just inspires us, humanity, to be better.  On an individual level, the games in ‘96 inspired me to be the world’s best gymnast.  Even though I always had a sense that my parents didn’t actually believe me when I swore to them that I would be the next Dominique Moceanu, they would still feed me the stereotypical good parent you can do anything you want to line.  But as it turns out, they were right, and not from a statistical or logical perspective, but because they knew what I hadn’t yet figured out for myself.  My heart was never in the gymnastics part of being an Olympian.  I never asked to go to a class, or worked on form, strength, and flexibility.  What I dreamed of, and was inspired by, was the idea of being the world’s best.  But honestly, it could have been the world’s best anything (yes, even cup of coffee).  The flaw in my plan was not going after the part of playing gymnastics that I loved.  

So as the summer winds down and it comes time again for dreams to give way to a more practical reality (the reason why summer ends with the closing ceremonies, btw), I start to question whether this whole blog thing is just me being another idiot on the Internet who likes to hear her own voice.  And even though that very well may be the case, I can’t help but feel closer to my dream now than I did during the Olympics of ‘96. At least this time I’m chasing the right part of my dream, where the passion was.  But if I’m really ever going to stand a chance at reaching Olympic status, all the athletes would agree, that now begins the hard part, the season of working to make it happen.

And that’s what the Olympics are all about Charlie Brown,

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Making the Most out of Your Trip Through Videos

In my experiences with traveling, the way you go about planning for a vacation is different from what you might do if you’re hoping to take a trip.  When you go on a vacation, you’re looking to break away from daily routine and unwind through relaxation and fun.  Not to discredit its importance, but vacationing is really the laziest level of the travel planning heirarchy (if such a thing exists).  Which is as it should be because when you plan a vacation, the only decision you really have to make is where are you going to do your relaxing and rejuvenating.  That’s not to say rest and relaxation can’t also be a part of a trip, but the way I think about a trip includes a much broader purpose than just relaxation and fun.  As cheesy as it may sound, going on a trip should be a quest for knowledge and learning, like an indigenous walkabout.  This learning may occur in the form of life lessons, lessons of self-discovery, or connections with humanity as a whole.  Before taking a trip, I try to set myself up for this kind of learning by making time for some reflection.  Taking the time to think about what I’m hoping to get out of the trip means that I’m better equipped to plan a truly personal travel experience that will attempt to achieve those results.  Somewhat reminiscent of the steps a teacher might go through when planning a unit of curriculum.  Although I pride myself on being an avid planner (maybe slightly OCD, have you seen my itinerary, and that’s the abbreviated Internet version), one of the great things about a travel adventure is its ability to serve as a vessel for those unexpected discoveries too.  The purpose of this first post in the Education series for our Yellowstone Road Trip is to highlight the watchable aspects of the curriculum that I prepared prior to our trip, as well as highlighting the unexpected discoveries we encountered along the way.

Watch To Watch: Yellowstone Road Trip Edition

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Sunset behind the mountains in Grand Teton National Park.

Saying Goodbye to the Tetons

For the final video of the series, there is a much more personal connection.  Instead of attempting to capture the driving experience, this video is a collection of shots taken at a few of the various scenic hotspots in Grand Teton National Park.  Although mentioned in the video introduction, I feel the need to reiterate specifically for this video that I’m not a videographer and consider many of the clips included in this video to be rough.  However, the personal importance of creating this last video combined with the beauty of the transitioning sky has persuaded me to suppress my perfectionist tendencies and share this video in spite of all of its technical flaws.  

Continue reading Along for the Ride: Saying Goodbye to the Tetons

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Watching the sunset in Grand Teton National Park

Sunset Drive through the Tetons

Since the footage for the next-to-last video in the series was captured during our last evening in the Tetons, it is fitting for it to be considered the finale, even though it is relatively simple.  Perhaps it was this simplicity that caused it to stand out, as it was actually the first video that I created for the Yellowstone Trip series.  Of all the videos in the series, this one is probably the most literal interpretation of the “Along for the Ride” title, since it only includes footage shot out the window while taking an evening drive through the Tetons.  

Continue reading Along for the Ride: Sunset Drive through the Tetons

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Into the Tetons

Ready for the third video in the series?  Incase you’ve missed one, here is where we left off.  Since both alt-J albums had representation in other videos, the next video in the series required a change in music better suited to our new location.  This shift needed to capture the experiential change of transitioning from the frantic feel of exotic Yellowstone, back to the peacefulness of the mountains.  What better environment could there be for introspection?  

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Lotus at the Canyon.

The Yellowstone Experience

This video is the second in the series, if you missed the Big Horn Drive video I recommend going back and watching it first to get the full experience.  This video begins as we continue our road trip starting in Cody, WY and driving into Yellowstone.  We decided to pick up where we left off in the music department and use alt-J’s second album This Is All Yours as our soundtrack.  However, like in the Bighorn video, another outlier song made its way into the video, but this time a bit more subtly since the band stays consistent.  Fans of the alt-J’s work should understand, how could I not include Buffalo from the Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack?

Continue reading Along for the Ride: The Yellowstone Experience

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Increasing our elevation in Bighorn National Forest.

Bighorn to Cody Experience

Unfortunately, these home videos start 3 days into our trip, so several of our earlier stops are

not documented on video.  Bighorn was the first inspiration I had for filming the drive.  It reminded me of driving through the mountains near Asheville, NC over Spring Break just a few months prior to taking this trip.  On that trip, alt-J’s An Awesome Wave album was the soundtrack for our drive. I couldn’t help but notice how perfectly alt-j works with the scenery of the mountains, so this is my attempt to share that experience the best I can.

Continue reading Along for the Ride: Bighorn to Cody Experience

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