Closing Down the National Parks

Our plan when we left our boat in Mexico was to slowly meander north, hitting as many National Parks as we could. We made it to a few in the beginning, but work and play pulled us in other directions until early September.

With a budding Paleontologist on board, the promise of fossils pulled us toward Alberta. Over the Canadian Rockies, we went, stopping at Lake Louise, Banff and Cave and Basin National Parks along the way. We were blown away at how busy everything still was, even after school had started, with the smoke and with the weather cooling down. But, even with the heavy traffic, the place was closing down for camping.

Lake Louse was beautiful even in the smoke


We have had a lot of laughs lately about us closing places down. It seems that every campsite that we leave, we have to move the barrier with the note “This Camp Ground is now Closed” on our way out. We even caught Dinosaur Provincial Park on one of its last weekends.

A typical road block for us.


Most Western Canadians know all about Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Royal Tyrell Museum. They are national treasures and almost every kid makes the pilgrimage with their school or family. We had heard of this spot by word of mouth from other Canadians while we were living here and decided to make it a priority.

Out in the middle of the Alberta prairie, there is a huge expanse of badlands. The theory is that an enormous glacial damn broke about 12,000 years ago during the last ice age, causing the lake behind it to drain rapidly, forming a huge whirlpool that essentially dug down and caused enormous amounts of erosion in a 4 hour period. This erosion exposed and continues to expose yearly, treasures from a world 72 – 76 million years ago. Through guided tours, you can go into these badlands, learn about the history, learn to identify fossils and see areas where important Paleontological discoveries have been made. It was a total trip to look down and begin to discover your own ability to find fossils just lying all over the ground.

Field day with a great guide
fossils! just lying around!

These are ALL FOSSILS found in all of about 10 minutes… it is crazy!


After a few days in the field, we drove north to Drumheller where the Royal Tyrell Museum is located. This place is AMAZING. About an hour in we realized that we were going to have to pick up the pace because we had only seen about 1/8th of the museum. We were soaking up each panel and exhibit. The girls joined a class where they were able to learn from a Paleontologist how to make fossil casts. It was pretty cool, for all of us.

We booked back to the Okanagan for a few days of business meetings and then before harvest hit too hard, we planned our last escape. We beelined to Yellowstone. The girls and I had never been to Yellowstone, so it was an awesome adventure for us.

Just driving there was beautiful. All the little fishing towns and meandering rivers in Montana made me want to become an Angler. As we drove into West Yellowstone we were hit by the first winter storm of the season. Sleet, snow, and hail met us head-on. We were not deterred though! We were extremely pleased to be able to meet up with our friends the Duvals who happened to also be exploring Yellowstone. Remember them? This is the couple who have that ridiculously cool tricked out sports-mobile.

The Duval’s house

Fun times ensued and along with the snow came the “closing down” nature of the season which made it much more enjoyable than the height of summer with the crowds. We went to the Bear and Wolf Discovery Center (a must if you are in that area) then trekked into the park for hikes, bear spotting, geyser viewing, visitor center exploration, ranger talks and cold climate camping. It was so fun for the girls to wake up to snow.

We all caravanned south into Grand Teton National Park. Again, we caught visitors centers on their last open day, listened to ranger programs, took little hikes, spotted moose, elk and viewed the amazing changing colors of the fall against the backdrop of the most stunning mountains I’ve ever seen.

We literally closed this visitor center down this night

With harvest starting to kick into gear in Napa, I hopped a flight from Jackson Hole over to San Francisco then ran up to the Napa Valley for a week of work with my trusted colleague Jennifer Rue. Jen handles all the day to day operations with the wineries that I work with in Napa. She and I have more fun running around together tasting grapes, deciding on pick dates, sorting fruit and just generally getting stuff done. I stayed with my other good friend Jennifer Putnam. Jennifer was my partner in crime earlier this year while foxhunting in Ireland. Since I introduced her to a dangerous equine sport that I love, she felt lead to introduce me to her dangerous equine sport that she loves. Naturally, I loved it. She helped me to sneak in a few polo lessons while I was there … the day before the polo season closed!


It was back on the plane where, this time, I flew to Spokane Washington, jumped in the RV as it careened by and sailed on up to the Okanagan for business meetings with our new consultant, Olivier Humbrecht!!! If you don’t know Olivier (and I wouldn’t expect you to unless you were really into wine) he is a font of knowledge and experience in Biodynamics, Riesling and Pinot Gris (among many many other things). We met with him and the winemaking team just in time to bring in some of our first red fruit.

We have decided to settle in a bit in Canada. The girls have had a very educational and rather long “summer vacation”. There has been lots of learning happening, but it hasn’t been so formal. These days we are getting back to some of our daily learning practices and have found an amazing spot to park the RV on a vineyard property up here. It has an amazing view and… it is closed for the season.


The view from our RV


P.S. I wrote this last week and since then, you may have heard about the devastating wildfires in Napa and Sonoma. This event caused me to head back to Napa at the end of last week to run support and logistics in dealing with the harvest amidst concerns of smoke damage, limited access to vineyards and all sorts of challenges. It’s been a full week but today we harvested our last vineyard and we are “in the barn” as they say.

Fortunately, the home that we lived in during our time in Calistoga survived while all the properties surrounding it went up in what the owner described as “an inferno of flames”. She and many others were on their knees praying for the safety of the trapped animals during the fire. They all survived with only minor cuts and scrapes. This was a true miracle and we are so grateful for it.

Sadly we do have close friends who have lost their homes. It truly is devastating. But as social media says #napastrong and generosity abounds in a way that shows our community’s combined resources and humanity.


now THAT is a classroom!



  1. Ren Harris says:

    Ann & Family

    We survived the fires without incident other than short term power outages. There’s a lot of talk about “smoke taint” but we pressed three lots today that were picked after the fire had raged for two days and we can’t detect any off character. The wildlife took a heavy hit and we are working with Napa Wildlife Rescue to replace lost infrastructure.

    • Cameron Vawter says:

      That is great to hear Paradigm and team survived without incident. You guys were definitely in our thoughts and prayers. I was wondering how the wildlife fared after learning a lot recently about the Yellowstone fires in 1988. The animals in those fires did remarkably as they were able to access the meadows. Hope to see you guys soon!

  2. Marianne McGriff says:

    Anne and Cameron,
    WOW…spectacular scenery and experiences! Speaking as a teacher, Adelaide and Isa are learning more than could ever be taught in a classroom! SO proud of the way you are incorporating life into their education…love to ALL, Marianen

    • Cameron Vawter says:

      Thanks Marianne! As I looked at that last photo (the view of our table with the bison in the background) from Annie’s post, I thought to myself the description should be “now that’s a classroom”. I’m really happy that I can be a part of their education! It’s also nice to review long division every once in a while………

  3. David & Susan says:

    Anne and Cameron,
    We are also enjoying your blog posts and vicariously enmeshing ourselves in your travels. It’s been wonderful to watch the girls growing up and to see all of you wandering through and to your many wonderful destinations. BTW, if you’re truly interested in paleontology, you might want to consider visiting Dinosaur National Park here in beautiful northwest Colorado. A bit out of your way, but worth every mile.
    keep on travelin’

    • Cameron Vawter says:

      It’s funny you mention that…… We’re still trying to decide how we’re getting back to Indy at Christmas and we’re contemplating driving. If that happens I think we’ll have to make the detour. It looks like the Colorado portion is closed but the Jensen UT, Quarry Visitors Center is open. Thanks for the suggestion!

  4. Barbara Vawter says:

    Love hearing all about your experiences, the photos are fantastic! I remember the beautiful views in Canada, really a treat every day! Anne, glad you were able to spend some time in Wine country before & after the fire. The people of Napa Valley are amazing and so welcoming, a great place to visit & stay. Prayers continue for Napa & Sonoma County!

  5. Phil Burton says:

    Mary taught Isa in kindergarten class up in Calistoga not too long ago. We’re having coffee and looking at your post. Say hi to her from Mary.

  6. Debi Vawter says:

    I so agree with Marianne about your girls and the classroom they have. I’m so amazed every time I read Anne’s posts and so glad she shares your experiences. God has blessed you and your family in so many ways. I look forward in seeing you this Christmas.. give hugs to everyone and don’t forget the hug to you also!!! Love you all from afar…Aunt Debi

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