A quarter before 2 am Heath slammed the van in park and sped into the gas station to use the restroom. I got myself all woken up and assumed the drivers position. We had about ½ a tank or more of gas and Heath joined the car load of sleepers. I had a good cell signal so turned on Pandora and listened to it on my very easy drive. It was dark everywhere and not much traffic or construction or anything. I drove pretty slow and it was about 4am when we ran out of gas and I pulled into a rest stop. The GPS said we were only 30 minutes from the falls and I didn’t really want to be there at 4:30 in the morning so after I filled the tank I pulled into the parking lot and took a break. I didn’t think I would be able to fall asleep so checked on times for when things opened at Niagara and then just rested a bit. I did fall asleep and was out for about 2 hours. I waited around until 6:30 then went into the station for coffee, breakfast sandwiches for Heath and I and donuts for the kids. Then I hit the road. Heath woke up as we started driving and we ate our sandwiches and made plans for the day. We got near Niagara and then drove around a while as nothing was open and we needed to use a bathroom. Eventually we found a port a potty and a free parking spot. Peanut woke up and then Pumpkin and they ate donuts. Then we drove over to Goat Island and went for a walk and looked at the water from there.
Then we walked to the horseshoe falls and checked it out from there.
Then things started to open and we rushed though the visitor center and over to the maid of the mist area. We waited about 5 minutes for them to open then bought some of the first tickets for the first boat on the US side. We worked our way down to the dock and got on our free ponchos.
Pumpkin was ready to go back to sleep and not real excited about any of it.
We waited a few minutes then boarded the boat and got on the very front of the second level. Everyone else got on and then we left the dock and headed toward the falls.
I held Pumpkin and she was interested in the seagulls around but otherwise not having fun. Peanut was excited until we were getting dominated by the mist then he covered up and waited it out.
Pumpkin and I got soaked and I had a good time. Once Pumpkin started shivering we headed below to the first floor on the back of the boat and watched the falls as we left from there. It was a much calmer area.
After the boat got back to the dock we took some pictures then walked up close to the falls on a little path and took more pictures.
Then we checked out a few different gift stores for about an hour. We changed any wet clothes and shoes then hopped in the van and headed for lunch and Cuyahoga. We drove a while then got hungry and Peanut had to use the bathroom. It was urgent so we pulled over in a rush and then a Subway was the most convenient and it sounded good so we ate there. We did the drive through so Pumpkin could continue to sleep and it took forever to get our sandwiches. It felt like a slow drive to the National Park and ate up most of the day. I think it was around 3pm when we got into Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
We had the park map up on the computer and the GPS running but we were totally lost . This was a really weird park and the national park was all mixed in with city and state and commercial areas. All the buildings were regular old buildings and were not really labeled as National Park offices. We ended up calling and getting directions part of the way to the campsite and then finding what we thought was a visitor center on the way. It turned out to be just offices but they directed us the rest of the way to a real visitor center. At the visitor center we got a good map and ranger booklet and directions to campsite 5 in the one campground that consisted of 5 campsites. You would think we were home free at this point but we still had a tough time finding the campsites and they were less then ½ a mile away. Eventually we found the trail that would lead to the sites and a little map.
I grabbed the tents and we parked the van alongside the road and we hiked over to campsite 5. Both sides of the trail were 5ft high plants in a wild field. There were not really any trees and we could not see anything but the wild grass. We found our site, it was a sign with a 5 on it, a picnic table, a little post to hang food from and a circle of mowed grass.
It was late afternoon and the sun was being really mean. There was no shade in our brutal spot and we really needed a good night of sleep and we were sure we would get roasted early in the morning.
We decided to check on spots 1-4. 4 was right by us and just as bad but the other spots were slightly better and they were all empty (on the picture of the map they are just above the picture on the black trail. We found 3 had a group of trees on the east side of it.
I think it was also around this time we realized the mosquitos were 10x worse here than anywhere we had been. There were swarms of them all over and we were constantly swatting at them and smashing them on us in little splatters of blood. Heath made some phone calls and talked to a random person in a nearby building and we discovered something was wrong with our paperwork and our reservation was for a completely different day. However no one seemed to care and no one seemed to care if we moved sites but everyone thought a ranger may care or something at some point. After some family council we decided to set up the 2 tents in site 3 as fast as we could and then get away from the sun and bugs asap.
Everyone chipped in and got the gear to the site and tents ready. Then we left the area and cranked the AC. We did some ½ lost driving around looking for a shady place to cook dinner with no bugs and a place to swim off all the sweat for a vacation shower. We saw some waterfalls on the map that were close and decided to check them out. We parked there and walked straight down a hill to them.
We thought about swimming in them but it would have been pretty tough and rude to other people there to see them. Also the bugs were no better here so the search continued.
We had no luck for a while but then Heath remembered seeing a pool/splash park on the way into the park and we headed there. It was a bit of a drive but well worth it. There were a few horse flies to kill but it was cool and in the shade and we got a deluxe vacation shower playing in the chlorinated clean water.
It started to get a little late and we needed to cook our dinner somewhere but was still pretty hot out. It was our last night and we were losing some steam and none of us really wanted to find a picnic area and cook and eat in a swarm of bugs. We decided to go out for dinner (our 3rd meal eating out that day). I knew to boost everyone’s spirits we needed chips, salsa and some live Spanish singing/guitar playing. I found a Mexican place close by that just happened to be called Dos Coronas.
A little background info: On last year’s big road trip and on our spring break ski trip the last night driving on our way back to KC we stopped for Mexican at a great placed called Coronas outside of Denver. So Dos Coronas on almost our last night seemed like a perfect fit. The place was packed and we got nearly the last table. The kids tore into the chips and the guy with the guitar sounded great. Heath got a strawberry margarita and I got this giant beer.
We stuffed our faces good, Peanut tipped the musician and we headed out. It was getting dark and the sun was not as mean so we headed back to the campsite. We pulled up on the road outside the trailhead and filled up our air mattress from the car compressor and loaded a bag with some water and bug spray and a few essentials. As we were getting ready a park official came up and checked in with us. He did not seem to care that we moved sites and we didn’t mention our reservation being for the wrong day. He walked with me as I took the bag and mattress to the site so he could see if anyone else came out. We were getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes but he was not in a hurry like me. He pointed out a bunch of bats in the sky doing their part to help with the mosquitoes. Eventually he said we could get out of the bugs and take our car to the visitor center. (parking at the trail head was not allowed) So we drove over to the visitor center and parked and walked to the site. The trail was nice, easy to follow in the dark and we had lots of company. First it was like 6 deer just off the trail eating.
(this deer is from earlier in the day)
Then dozens of bike riders came towards us 1 or 2 at a time. The kids had a blast trying to say “hi” to each on as they zipped by and got excited when they said “hi” back. Anytime we stopped moving the bugs moved in so it was a quick paced walk. Once we made it to the site we peed and quickly jumped in our respective tents. The chance of rain seemed really low so we never bothered to put up the flys on the tents and Heath and I laid back and appreciated the open view of the sky. The kids did not mess around much before passing out. It was a little warm as we first went to sleep but quickly was the perfect temp to be in a tent with just a small blanket on. We all slept good from about 10pm till 5am when Peanut called over to our tent asking permission to use the bathroom. It was fine with us but his tent zipper was stuck. Heath had to go to so got out to help. Both of them were attacked by the mosquitoes and brought a few back into the tents. We all got back to sleep through and our perfectly placed trees got us another 4 hours of sleep.