Anchorage: Starting point of Alaskan adventures

Glacial cruise near Whittier, AK.

The name Alaska is derived from the Aleut word “Alyeska”, meaning “great land”. Very fitting for this land in terms of size but also the majestic mountains, glacial streams and miles of forested hills. Any time you set foot on this land, you can truly get swept away with the beauty here. Almost every Alaskan adventure starts with a flight to Anchorage.  Anchorage is the most populous city in Alaska: of the approximately 710,000 Alaska inhabitants, half live in Anchorage and the surrounding areas.

Anchorage is home to about 1,500 Moose

So the minute you land at the Anchorage Airport, you know you are not in any typical airport. The airport is filled with examples of animals that are readily seen throughout the state: bear, moose, wolves and a variety of water birds. Also on display is a variety of beautiful Native Alaskan artwork. Of course, included are several shops you can purchase the “usual” souvenirs from mugs to t-shirts and gourmet chocolates. However, I want to emphasize again…this is not your typical airport. I happen to see a vending machine that sells mittens and gloves. (Are you prepared for being “up North”?) That alone is unique, but it was pretty cool that they were made from Bison hair. I just thought it was pretty amazing to see gloves sold in a vending machine. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

 

459 lbs Halibut-That’s alot of Halibut steaks!

After descending the escalator to go to luggage claim, on display you will see another characteristic example highlighting the fishing industry in the state (both commercial and recreational) : a HUGE Halibut. This is the record holding Halibut at 9′ 5″ long and weighing in at 459 lbs. That must have been an exhilarating catch to watch them bring it in. (perhaps he was thinking: My name is Ishmael) Our family did go Halibut fishing a few years ago in Homer and had a very successful trip with several impressive catches. Then we had them fillet, frozen and shipped back home. It was exciting to have a whole freezer overflowing with Halibut. Halibut are sooooo delicious even though most people will admit, they are pretty creepy looking.

 

Anchorage Visitor’s Center

Once arriving, a very good start to getting familiar with the area and what’s available for the type of adventure you want to pursue, stop in at the Visitor’s Center. In the heart of downtown Anchorage, amidst the office buildings is a little log cabin with grass growing on the roof. This is the Anchorage Visitors Center. The building itself is so quaint and photo worthy and very easy to find: at the corner of Fourth Ave. and F street. The staff is so helpful there and can fill in the details of any questions you may have and they are also able to provide several different brochures about anything and everything within the state of Alaska. A definite place to stop by when in Anchorage and also a good starting point. The growing season in Alaska may be a little shorter, but they make up for it with beautiful displays of flowers all over the city. From block to block in Anchorage there are hanging pots with cascades of flowers. One of my favorite flowers, the Fireweed, gets its name because it is the first vegetation to appear after newly cleaned and burned areas.  It is a perennial  wildflower that is found in Canada, parts of Minnesota and of course Alaska. The purple and pink flowers light up the hillsides with color. Then in the autumn, they change to a soft, white fluff looking like lambs wool.

Ship Creek Fishing~Photo from Fish Alaska Magazine

Depending on the time of year you are visiting Anchorage, there are a few summer time activities you really should check out. Alaska is known for its abundance of wild salmon. Near the heart of downtown Anchorage is Ship Creek: an amazing place to watch the “salmon runs” and watch the anglers try their luck.  There is also a nearby fish hatchery. Not only do the local fisherman go to the shores, but the shorebird viewing in this area is amazing. When the locals say “the Kings are in”, you know the King Salmon have started to run. King Salmon are present in late May, then Coho Salmon run from August to mid- September. The best place for information is found on this link: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=viewinglocations.shipcreek

Another fun summer festival and Farmers Market that includes great food, music and an abundance of arts and crafts is the Saturday Market, held on Saturdays outside near 3rd Ave. by Buttress Park.  (summer months only) The craftsmen there provide many authentic Alaskan made products that are very unique and provide a wonderful remembrance of your Alaska trip. I remember when my boys were young we found some wooden toy frogs with washboard backs that made a “Ribbitt…Ribbitt” sound when the small dowel was racked across them. So cool! I believe they still have those. Also, at Saturday Market was the first time ever I had eaten a reindeer corn dog….Yum! Don’t knock it till you try it, and I actually like them better than the traditional Frankfurter dog.

Of course there is a whole diversity of fantastic dining in Anchorage besides corn dogs, with a diversity of price ranges. Simon & Seaforts boasts a beautiful view of Cook inlet and a great selection of Alaskan seafood. Beautiful restaurant with wonderful food, a bit pricey but worth it as a treat.  For a little less formal restaurant, and a place that is known for their wood -fired pizza try the Fat Ptarmigan. They are located in downtown Anchorage at W. 5th Ave. Great food in a casual, but very nice atmosphere. The Ptarmigan is Alaska’s state bird. Whenever I hear that, I think of a funny quip about the town of Chicken, Alaska (SE Alaska near the Canadian border). The founders wanted to name it after the state bird, but remembering how to spell Ptarmigan was a pain so they settled on Chicken…Ha. Probably not true, but a cute story. Last restaurant I want to mention is NOT known for Alaskan seafood, but surprisingly enough is a fantastic Mexican restaurant: Hacienda. I guess when I think of good Mexican cuisine, I thought one needed to head south (not north to Alaska?),…but this particular restaurant is really good and most of the locals are familiar with it. Not really on the beaten path of the tourists. And the Margaritas were perfect! Highly recommended fantastic Mexican food.

Are you craving chocolate yet? World’s Largest “waterfall” of chocolate

I know it’s “touristy” but one of my favorite places to go in Anchorage is the Alaska Wild Berry Products store. Not only does it have a wonderful array of “wild berry” products like jellies, candies and specialty teas…they have jewelry, clothing and just about any type of sought after souvenir you might like. AND….they have the World’s Largest Chocolate “waterfall”!(but it’s chocolate….Mmmmmm)  It is a 20 foot fall with 3,400 pounds of real liquid chocolate cascading down several buckets and ending up in a glistening pool of chocolate. Wow, you gotta love that. Here’s a picture, it really is neat and makes you crave a trip to the candy counter. Just for show, it’s really chocolate, but you can’t dip your pinkies in for a sample.

Well, this just scratches the surface of all the experiences that await in Anchorage.  There are also two awesome museums that really warrant looking into: the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum.  Additionally, exploring nature is easily accessible to the city with fantastic wildlife and bird watching at  Potter Marsh.  A hike up Flattop Mountain, in Chugach State Park, brings you to a dramatic, skyline view of Anchorage.  For more information on these features and much more about Anchorage, be sure to check out this helpful site: http://www.VisitAnchorage.com

So I hope I have whet your appetite for an Alaskan Adventure and don’t forget: Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Just Because its FREE, Doesn’t mean its Lame

We Americans frequently adhere to the adage: “You get what you pay for.” Sometimes in certain circumstances this is true, no denying that. Yet I am here to lift up the virtues of seeking out and enjoying FREE STUFF! Of course there are the many free things in life like love, friendships, holding a soft puppy, enjoying the sounds of soft spring rain and….well you get the idea. These things are all well and good, but I’m talking about less esoteric things, like entrance to a free museum.

So many people have the impression that things can’t be very good, or worth taking the time to look into, unless you have to pay an admission fee. I am here to strongly denounce that misconception. I have seen so many interesting museums and “freebies”, yet have also seen ones that were indeed lame. It’s always a gamble, but look at it this way, you haven’t paid money up front so you are not out anything. Yet, if it turns out to be an interesting and worthwhile place, you can almost always donate money on your way out the door. Museums and centers need donations to keep places running and also appreciate positive feedback….tell your friends, they might enjoy the place too!

In my area, there is a county museum that has an amazing collection of stories, artifacts and documentation on the settlement and growth of several communities within our county. The Polk County Museum in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin is housed in a majestic, red brick courthouse. The building itself is quite a sight to behold. Originally built in 1899, it was used as a courthouse until 1975 when it was converted to a museum and is operated by volunteers. It has been included in the National Register of Historic Places.   Inside the museum, there are three floors of galleries with some of the exhibits dating back to the Revolutionary War.  There is an impressive exhibit about the logging industry and its impact on the area. Logging and lumbering were the primary attractions that brought early settlers to the area in as early as 1837. I never knew that the logs were “branded” (just like cattle) before being sent down the river…neat.

The building also has unique and beautiful stained glass and interesting architectural details on every floor. Here is a stained glass window that is beautiful, but also informative: it shows a map designating the townships within Polk County. I thought this was so beautiful and I bet it looks very different depending on the time of day.

Not only do they have an impressive permanent collection, the museum also hosts traveling exhibits. Late summer, they hosted a fantastic exhibit about John Muir, the conservationist and one of the men instrumental in founding the National Park Service. John Muir spent much of his youth in Wisconsin.  The Museum has limited hours in the summer time, and frequently hosts private and school tours the rest of the year. The museum is at 120 Main Street Balsam Lake. For more information you can contact them at: (715) 485-9269

Another free and very interesting museum that I had the pleasure of visiting is the Bayfield Maritime Museum. Located in Bayfield, Wisconsin near the Apostle Islands, it is a treasure trove of cool stuff all related to the maritime industry, the history of the area and the wonders of Lake Superior.  Many topics are covered including boat making and the development of the maritime industry, shipwrecks on Lake Superior, lighthouses, and an impressive collection of historical photographs and artifacts related to the area. It is staffed by very helpful and knowledgeable volunteers, who are happy to answer any questions.

They also have a small amount of books and souvenirs about the area and the Apostle Islands. I purchased a nautical print of  Bayfield and the Apostle Islands and another print showing all the Lighthouses of the Apostles.  Both prints were very suitable for framing and it made me feel good knowing that my purchases went towards helping to operate the museum. This museum is only open during the summertime and is staffed by volunteers. For more information, check out their website at: www.bayfieldmaritimemuseum.org

 

My son Dan in seventh heaven @ the Spam Museum: Austin, Minnesota

Some FREE museums, like the SPAM museum in Austin Minnesota, have an ulterior motive like promoting and extra marketing of their product. But so what?!….if it provides an entertainment value and a diversion for weary highway travelers, more power to them.  Many people react with the comment: “There’s a SPAM Museum, seriously?” Yes, seriously. If you are passing through southern Minnesota, don’t forget to go. However…I’m kind of embarrassed to say I have been to the SPAM museum three times, with various family members so they too can enjoy that fun place. I’m not even a big fan of SPAM (except with mac&cheese), but it really is a fun place and a lovely gift shop too! (One can never have too many SPAM refrigerator magnets.) For more details about the SPAM museum, their website is: www.spam.com/museum

So next time you are out and about, or even in need of a local excursion, don’t forget the local small museum. You may be surprised of what new wonders await within.

Let the Season Begin!…Fall Colors in the Midwest

    So we are just on the brink of Fall and the beauty of the season is just beginning. Many of the trees in my neighborhood are still mostly green, but there are splashes of amber and dark red here and there.  Like it or not, the cooler nights and the changing of the leaves are coming.  If you live in an area that Mother Nature presents to you all four seasons, the trees are just starting to show a little color and all the pumpkins in the fields are being gathered up and making their way to the grocers and people’s porches. The sunny days are making way to cooler nights as we ease into Fall.  As the summer flowers are also saying their last hurrahs, the petunias, lilies and geraniums are making way for the golden tones of mums and purple asters.

Living in the Midwest, the colors of autumn can put on quite a display.  Sometimes right in your own backyard. However, sometimes a weekend trip this time of year is not only a great way to get away for a “mini vacation” but also a great time to soak up the splendor of the colors before the snowflakes fly.  There are so many great places in the Midwest to visit that have the perfect backdrop to display fall foliage. Residents in the northeastern states also have a bounty of colorful landscapes this time of year.  Living in the heart of the Midwest, there is always an array of colors to enjoy as the season gets underway. The Ash and Locust trees start the transition followed by various fruit trees and the spectacular displays put on by the Maples.  The mighty Oaks are usually the last to go and generally not as vivid a display as the Maples.

It is amazing that there is even a web site dedicated to fall foliage: www.foliagenetwork.com/ It is a delightful diversion to visit this site and even if you can’t have a fall trip away, the photos on the site are beautiful. It covers all areas of the United States and separates it by region. The site also provides information for travel planning for viewing the colors of autumn with information such as lodging and suggested routes for scenic drives in the area you have selected. They even have web cams of the various locations. It is a great place to be inspired by the changing of the seasons and saying good-bye to summer with a smile. Check out this interesting site at: www.foliagenetwork.com/ 

 

My home state of Wisconsin, full of beautiful Maples I might add…..has a terrific site to plan those leaf viewing travels in the state. Check out the site at: https:   http://www.travelwisconsin.com/fall-color-report

The beauty of the Fall season is an inspiration to photographers and artists as well. Yet, also an inspiration for poets. Here is an ode to Autumn penned in 1896 by Emily Dickinson:

 

So embrace the beauty of the changing season, enjoy the palette of colors and say good-bye to summer with a smile. No Regrets. She will return again.

 

Adrift in the Land of Lost Luggage

Traveling about this beautiful country by car, camper or motorcycle is a fantastic way to see the sights of this gorgeous country of ours. Yet sometimes the convenience and timely efficiency (and I use that term loosely) of airplane travel is a great way to get where you need to go in a WHOLE lot less time than if you were to drive. However, there are a few caveats that I would like to throw out there for anyone about to embark on the fun adventure of air travel.

I was prompted to write this essay based on a recent trip to upstate NY to visit family. My visit with them was wonderful and that surely made up for the craziness of the getting to and fro nature of the trip. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Murphy’s Law. Both coming and going, my connections were missed (through no fault of my own…flight delays) forcing me to stay in a hotel in a city that was not my final destination. On the return trip out of Charlotte, after spending the night in a hotel, rushing to the airport the next morning, changing gates 3 times and waiting patiently to board….the unbelievable happened: a message on the board appeared: FLIGHT CANCELLED.  Unbelievable.  My fellow weary travelers and I went into shock. Those of us who were in more of a stupor, hung out by the gate. Yet, the seasoned travelers who knew JUST what to do, had disappeared in the blink of an eye, or whipped out their cell phones to immediately book a flight out of there. This was approximately 60 people…all looking for flights. It was heavy competition. The first and foremost thing to do is to get in line at the customer service desk for your particular airline.  More than likely you will be automatically booked on another flight (I was) but you have to go to get a new boarding pass.  Also while waiting in line, many travelers called the airlines customer service to choose other flights that might be better. They were booking up fast! Now please refer to my previous indication about Murphy’s Law…right about this time that law kicked in: my cell phone started acting up and before I got on the plane, it had completely died. No, it wasn’t the battery, another problem.

But travelers sharing the same agony frequently bond and we helped each other on a quest to get out of Charlotte.  A very sweet older couple graciously allowed the use of their phone so I could contact my husband with an update. I was on standby for a flight with 22 other people and I was #12 in line. I wasn’t too hopeful, and a few tears of exasperation and exhaustion rolled down my cheeks. I went through a lot of Kleenex that day, trying to keep my composure. Well, by some little miracle I made the flight. I sat next to a lovely couple from Charlotte who were exactly in the right place at the right time. (Hi Ronda and Irv!) God’s little helpers who were sent to help me retain my sanity. She lent me her cell phone to call my husband right away to let him know I made the flight. What wonderful people who helped to make a tense situation more bearable. Things like that help to restore one’s faith in humanity. Even after I landed, they stayed with me to get my luggage (which was delayed, of course) and I was able to call hubby again on Ronda’s phone. When we parted ways, they even reached out for a big hug and wished me well. If I am ever in Charlotte again, under more favorable circumstances I will have to look them up. You guys are the best!

Now some delays like this are weather conditions and of course they can’t do a thing about that, I want to fly safely. Yet, some delays are “crew availability”. I had heard there is a shortage of pilots these days, perhaps that is a big part of the problem.

Air travel was never the same after the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In response to those events, the Transportation Security Administration was formed to help battle security threats that sadly lurk in our world today. Most everyone is familiar with what is expected from passengers as to what they can and cannot have when boarding an airplane. If you need a refresher course, the TSA website is very helpful and spells out the specifics of the “3-1-1” rule for transportation of liquids,etc. The site can be found at: http://www.tsa.gov  

Nevertheless, even being familiar with these regulations confusion still arises. Take for example the time I was bringing back from Alaska a delightful collection of jellies made from a variety of fresh berries locally produced there.  It was a gift for my Mom, who appreciates jams and jellies on her English Muffins. They were small sealed jars, in a gift pack, that apparently exceeded the 3.4 oz. limit and the TSA perceived them as “liquid”. The only way I could get them home was to put them in a “checked” bag, as opposed to a carry on and pay an additional $25.00. Well, you can pretty much guess what happened: I paid the $25, didn’t want to give up my jelly. It’s the principle of the thing. It did make it safely home, and the TSA agents were not able to enjoy muffins and jelly that day. Now that was some expensive jelly. Luckily is was worth the trip and a great souvenir.
So put your traveling shoes on. (and remove them for the TSA) JES

Clarification Please!….Park, Monument or……?

Whenever I visit a place operated by the National Park Service, it never fails….there is confusion among my fellow park goers as to if this is a “Park” or not. A recent visit to the Apostle Islands, a “national lakeshore”, prompted me to find out just where the distinctions lie in the park service classifications. It is understandable that there would be some confusion in this arena, because our National Park service manages 417 parks and sites with areas covering 84 million acres. Within the 417 sites, there are 58 of those that are classified as a “National Park”. When people think of the National Park Service, they usually think of just the “biggies”: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, The Great Smokey Mountains. These are fantastic places to visit, but there is so much more to the NPS than just the 58 parks. Whenever you see the arrowhead logo, you know you are in for a treat.  There are just so many things to discover and experience. So for clarification, the National Park Service website (www.nps.gov) has provided a few guidelines to help us understand the classifications:

“–Generally, a national park contains a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources.

–A national monument is intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource. It is usually smaller than a national park and lacks its diversity of attractions.

–In 1974, Big Cypress and Big Thicket were authorized as the first national preserves. This category is established primarily for the protection of certain resources. Preserving shoreline areas and offshore islands, the national lakeshores and national seashores focus on the preservation of natural values while at the same time providing water-oriented recreation.

–National rivers and wild and scenic riverways preserve freeflowing streams and their immediate environment with at least one outstandingly remarkable natural, cultural, or recreational value.

–National scenic trails are generally long distance footpaths winding through areas of natural beauty. National historic trails recognize original trails or routes of travel of national historical significance.

            Although best known for its great scenic parks, over half the areas of the National Park System preserve places and commemorate persons, events, and activities important in the  nation’s history.  

            –In recent years, national historic site has been the title most commonly applied by Congress in authorizing the addition of such areas to the National Park System. A wide variety of titles—national military park, national battlefield park, national battlefield site, and national battlefield—has been used for areas associated with American military history.  

            –The title national memorial is most often used for areas that are primarily commemorative.”

So there you have it…just goes to show you that the NPS is involved in so many ways of preservation, education and recreation for many visitors at a diversity of sites. Another reason, the park or monument designations are so important is because policies, funding legislation and land usage can and ARE profoundly affected by the designation.  For more commentary how that is currently affecting the parks in the recent administration, see my blog entitled: “Parks and Politics: Trying (so very hard) to keep politics out of the discussion.”  Published 12/5/2017Link:https://travelingamericablog.com/2017/12/05/parks-politics-trying-so-very-hard-to-keep-politics-out-of-the-discussion/

So look for that arrowhead in your travels and Put your traveling shoes on. JES

 

 

The Diversity of the Apostle Islands

“Sea stack” in the Apostle Islands

Sea Caves, Lighthouses, Shipwrecks and breathtaking Sunsets…..all these amazing attributes are found among the 22 islands above the northern tip of Wisconsin in the chilly waters of Lake Superior. These unique islands were sculpted out of sandstone and formed towards the end of the glacial period 10,000 years ago. The amazing colored agates and rocks found in the area were deposited as the glaciers melted.

Many stories surround how the Apostle Islands got their names, but the commonly agreed upon one, involves the biblical parallel to the 12 Apostles.  Early explorers to the area were missionaries and tended to name new areas based on Biblical names. Counting the islands loosely, many believed that there were only 12, so the name: the Twelve Apostle Islands seemed appropriate.  Even though there are 22, the name Apostle Islands remained.

It’s interesting that there are only four areas protected by the National Park Service as “national lakeshores” and the Apostle Islands is one of them. President Nixon signed the bill establishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in 1970. There are 22 islands in the Apostle Islands, but one is omitted from the inclusion in the National Park protection: Madeline Island. This island is the largest of the islands and was omitted due to extensive residential and commercial development already existing on the island.

NPS Visitors Center

When visiting a National Park, my mantra has always been: “Let’s go to the Visitor’s Center first!” A visit to these islands is no exception to that rule. The Visitors Center is in an old courthouse; a historic building in it’s own right, but gives you a real overview of the islands and any information you my need while visiting.  The Visitors Center Park Headquarters is found at 415 Washington Ave. in Bayfield,  north from WI. 13 near 5th street. It resides in an old courthouse building that has been beautifully restored.  It was constructed from Brownstone mined from the Apostle Islands. Inside the center, are numerous displays of historical and also present day features of the park. The folks that work at the information desk have an abundance of information to help with any questions and suggestions about the surrounding area and lakeshore.  There is also a terrific film, 20 minutes long, explaining both the geology and human history of the area surrounding the Apostles entitled: “On the edge of Gichi Gami, Voices of the Apostle Islands.” Most people are familiar with Longfellow’s spelling of Gitche Gumee from his Hiawatha poem (1855). However, today in Ojibwe language class, you are more likely to see gichi-gami, gitchi-gami or kitchi-gami for Lake Superior. Loosely, it does indeed mean “Big Sea” or “Huge Water,” but just about always refers to Lake Superior.

Bayfield Wisconsin is a lovely town right on the south shore of Lake Superior and hails itself as the gateway to the Apostle Islands. Bayfield is the smallest incorporated city in Wisconsin, but it is brimming over with activity near the beauty of Lake Superior and the surrounding hillsides. The area is known for an abundance of recreational pursuits like hiking, kayaking and of course sailing.  When we were there, the town was host to a sailing race. Many of the sailing teams congregating at the local restaurants…you could just tell by the snippets of overheard conversations. Some of the sailing terminology that was bantered about is completely foreign to me, but the great thing is you could tell they were having a terrific time sailing among these beautiful islands.  Also, fruit and apple crops are abundant in this climate and area restaurants highlight locally grown produce. The Bayfield Apple Festival, always starting on the first Friday in October, is a weekend filled with farmers markets, fish fry and culminating with a parade. It’s quite the event in Bayfield. For more info. about Bayfield, check out: http://Bayfield.org

Lights of the Apostle Islands

Having an interest in lighthouses, I really came to the right place: The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has a larger concentration of lighthouses than any other National Park Service site. There are six lighthouses within the Apostle Islands, but there are even more in that area of Lake Superior, including Ashland Harbor. On the map here, you can see how the lighthouses are positioned among the islands. We only viewed the Raspberry and Devil’s Island lights, so perhaps another trip would be warranted.  After speaking with boat tour personnel and others, I found out that those two lighthouses are perhaps the most photographed and visited of all the lights.  Perhaps due in part to their easier accessibility to the mainland, but they are also possess their own unique characteristics. The building of the lighthouses between 1857 and 1915 ushered in the rise of modern shipping on Lake Superior.

Devil’s Island

Devil’s Island light opened in 1901 and sits atop the island that is the northernmost point of land in Wisconsin. I thought that alone was an interesting bit of trivia! This lighthouse is an impressive 80 feet high and is found above the beautiful sea caves that undercut the shoreline. The sandstone cliffs make a picturesque view with hardwood forests as the back drop. The incredibly rocky and treacherous shorelines, especially by Devil’s Island, make one realize why the lighthouses marking the way were so very important to the early mariners.

Raspberry Island Lighthouse

The Raspberry Island Lighthouse opened in 1862 with a height of 42 feet. The light was installed to mark the west channel in the islands. It is said to be one of the few remaining wood framed lighthouses on Lake Superior. Even though it is rather large, by lighthouses standards, it has a certain charm to it and has been lovingly restored in recent years. The property includes the attached lighthouse keeper quarters, a fog signal building, barn, brick oil house, two boathouses, two outhouses and a dock. When we were there, we saw a few people ascending the huge staircase from the shoreline and dock to the top landing: wow there’s your workout for the day.

There is so much beauty in the Apostle Islands to experience that one visit there will not suffice…looking forward to my next trip there. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

“Big things happen here”…..Dallas

Dallas city skyline: Dallas, Texas

“Big things happen here”. So this is the official slogan of the city of Dallas, not surprising coming out of the Lone Star State that boasts about the grand scale size of things. Texas is the second largest state in the US, but the largest in the “lower 48”. Alaska weighs in at 663,267 square miles, Texas at 268,580 and California is in 3rd place with 163, 695 square miles. Yes…Texas is very BIG. Big with a diversity of interesting things to offer. Visitors to Dallas can get a taste of Texan living with a great eclectic mix of sites and sounds. A blend of big city life and frontier living all rolled into one place that is quintessential life in the Lone Star state: Dallas. Dallas seems so vibrant and youthful. It was incorporated as a city in 1856, but much of the infrastructure is very contemporary. Like many larger cities in the south, Dallas has a large cross-section of people and many “transplanting Northerners” have made a home there. The diversity of accents are as prevalent as the different occupations. Dallas is home to 21 Fortune 500 companies including Exxon Mobil, AT&T and Texas Instruments.

Old Red Museum, 1892

When in Dallas, a great place to start your visit is the Visit Dallas Visitor’s Center located in the Old Red Museum, 100 S. Houston Street. You can’t miss it…it’s the big beautiful red sandstone building with cool looking gargoyles. It is adjacent to the JFK Memorial and Dealey Plaza.  Originally built as a courthouse in 1892, it houses an interesting museum and also the visitors center.  The center is staffed by folks that can help you plan your trip and know everything from great hotels, shopping and where to find the best BBQ around. The “Dallas City Pass” tickets are also available for purchase here for discounts on many major attractions.  When we were in Dallas, I did purchase them and saved quite a bit. (you can buy them on-line prior to your trip at: http://VisitDallas.com/CityPASS A word of warning, you have to use them up within 9 days, can’t carry over for your “next” trip.

 

View of some “spaghetti bowl” expressways from the Reunion Tower

Dallas is ranked as the 3rd largest city in Texas. Houston being the largest, than San Antonio. Like many big cities, negotiating traffic is a challenge. Roadways in the city are well-marked, but there seemed to be a preponderance of “access roads” running parallel to the major expressways which frequently begs the question: How do I get over there? I can see where I need to go but how do I get there? Hence the U-turn spot in Dallas in quite common. Granted, helpful….but I think the roads could have been laid out better to begin with. Once you get a feel for it, you’re fine but navigating some of the “spaghetti bowls” can be tricky. We had a rental car so we felt compelled to drive everywhere, but it is my understanding Dallas does have a good public transportation system: DART: Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Then you wouldn’t have to deal with the highways. Yet, it is interesting to note that Dallas is the largest  metropolitan area in the US that does not on a navigable body of water, hence the development of all those roadways. Four major interstates converge in the city. Providing transportation is also enhanced by the railroad system: you gotta move all that cattle somehow.

Pioneer Plaza~Dallas

This leads me to the next feature about the state that is  highlighted in the city of Dallas.  Texas happens to hold the record as the top producer of beef cattle in the U. S., with 2.42 million head of cattle. That’s alot of beef! The proud history and heritage of cattle drives is documented as a public art exhibit in downtown Dallas at the Pioneer Plaza (1428 Young Street). An entire herd of longhorn steers and cowboys on horseback are depicted in beautiful bronze statues. Situated in the heart of downtown in the convention district, it is odd to see an entire herd of life-size cattle making their way through a stream with buildings rising up on all sides. They seem so real, that it seems they should be grazing across fields of grass, instead of surrounded by towering high rises. Yet, that is what makes the exhibit so stunning and a wonderful tribute to the trail riders. Also, adjacent to the plaza is the pioneer Park Cemetery which includes the Confederate War Memorial.

“So….what are you having for dinner?”

Along with being the leading beef cattle producer, comes the wonderful reality that Dallas is one of  the best places for steak! Well, of course. Steak and BBQ, that is. There are so many fantastic places to choose, but choose we did. I found a place that had great food, but when in Texas I have to admit….I looked for the ambiance as well. Nothing says Texas like cowboy boots, whips and a giant steer mounted on the wall staring at you while you dine on steak. Really fun place and it happens to be a chain with a few locations. It was called Salt Grass Steakhouse and I would go back, it was delicious! I know we will probably be making future trips to Dallas.  I missed the Dallas Arboretum this past trip….looks so pretty and of course we need another trip to Salt Grass–Cheers! Put your traveling shoes on. JES

 

 

“Dear Bob and Sue” : A Fresh & Fun perspective on the NPS

If you love the beauty and diversity of our beautiful national parks the way I do…then have I got a great read for you! It’s called: Dear Bob and Sue- One couple’s journey through the national parks, By Matt & Karen Smith. I just recently finished reading it and was delighted with how much I enjoyed it.  They provide such fun insights and information about our national parks, but also so many great stories that make the reader literally laugh out loud. In addition to the adventures, they also include interesting and historical information that really enhances a visit to the parks; interesting without presenting like a boring text book. I really enjoyed reading about the parks I have already been to, then it was great also having the opportunity to find out more on the parks my husband and I hope to visit.

I see myself in the pages of this book and laugh when I see some of the authors behaviors mirrored as my own, especially when it comes to my great interest (or as my family would say: obsession) with the national parks. One of these parallels is my collecting from each and every park I have been to in the NPS the Visitor’s Guide, trail maps, newsletters, etc. Some I scrapbook with my photos, some I just save. Well, in the book Matt has the same idea and a meticulous filing system for each national park.  Good for him! I salute those organizational efforts. In the book, read the hilarious conversation on page 114 about the propensity for saving all those great brochures. I hear you Matt. Another regular habit of park goers, that Matt and Karen regularly adhered to, is the importance of having your PASSPORT to Your National Parks stamped. I didn’t purchase my Passport until after I had already visited several parks. In the interest of documenting ALL the parks I had visited, I went back and filled in the dates with a make shift “logo” of the park. Not the official “stamp”, but at least I documented that I was there. I know….kind of obsessive. Yet, a fun remembrance of my travels.

Even though this book provides information on the national parks, it is not meant to be perceived as a guide book, but rather as collection of stories about the discoveries and beauty awaiting travelers to the national parks. I would highly recommend it and it can easily be found on Amazon.   If you have the pleasure of reading this, I would be interested in your feedback here on my blog. Happy travels! JES

 

San Diego Sunshine

San Diego Harbor

The weathermen in San Diego are pretty much bored. It is the same old song every day: “Sunny and 70, Folks”. Out of the 365 days of the calendar year, San Diego’s average temperature is 63 degrees with 266 sunny days per year. Yet, that is such a lovely kind of boredom…and oh so pleasant. No wonder San Diego is such an intriguing tourist destination and the weathermen have such great job security; they are correct almost every day. The sun and surf are terrific, but you don’t have to be a sun-worshiper to enjoy all the sights and activities that this California city has to offer. An addition to enjoying the beautiful ocean views and beach, there are also many “must-sees” in the city itself.

Old Town Trolley Tours

My oldest son moved there several years ago, so I have been to visit this city many times and have favorites sights that I love to return to time and again. If you are just becoming introduced to the city, a great place to start is the Old Time Trolley Tours. They take you to 10 different stops throughout the city including: Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, the famous Hotel Del Coronado, the Maritime ship museum on the waterfront and many more. The trolleys have a “Hop on, Hop off” system that allow you to see what you want and visit your preferred sites at your leisure. In addition to getting a great overview of some of the key sights in the city, the trolley drivers share a multitude of interesting historical info and trivia.  Did you know that San Diego is actually the “Birthplace of California”. In June of 1769, the first Spanish presidio and mission was established by the San Diego River making it the oldest European settlement on the west coast of the U.S. In tribute to the rich history of San Diego, it’s very fitting that the Trolley Tours would be based out of Old Town. Established today as Old Town San Diego, the site commemorates life in San Diego from 1821 to 1872. It includes shopping, restaurants,museums and the logical start for the trolley tours. You can purchase tickets at any of the 10 stops, but Old Town is the main facility and the starting and ending point for the tours.

Being so close to the emerald waters of the beautiful Pacific, when in San Diego one must really check out several of the beaches there. Coronado, by the infamous Hotel Coronado, is one of the most scenic, pristine beaches in the area. Mission Beach and Oceanside Beach are loved and frequented by both locals and tourists. Of course shops for beach gear and souvenirs are readily found at both.

Brown Pelican~ San Diego Harbor

If the beach scene isn’t quite your thing, you can still enjoy the Pacific with the many day cruises available. Depending on the time of year, a whale watching tour can be an excellent choice because from December thru the beginning of March, the whale migration patterns skirt the San Diego coastline. I recently took a 4 hour whale watching tour with great success: we saw several whales breech. In addition to the grey whales we spotted an abundance of other sea life including dolphins, sea lions, pelicans and cormorants. My bird watching senses were on full alert. It’s hard to capture in a photograph a grey whale breeching, but it is easy to see and photograph the brown pelicans flying around. At first glance they seem like awkward creatures, but in flight they are rather majestic. It is also truly amazing how big some of them get. For more information on the whale watching tour, you can check out their web site at: http://www.flagshipsd.com

Cabrillo National Monument

Having a passion for our National Parks, I would be remiss if I did not mention San Diego’s National Park site: The Cabrillo National Monument.  It celebrates the natural and cultural history of the area.  Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo  was the first Eurpoean, in 1542,  to set foot on a “very good enclosed port”.  In addition to telling the story about the 16th century exploration, a visitor can take in a terrific  view of the Pacific from Point Loma, and also a lighthouse is on the premises. The Point Loma Lighthouse was originally built in 1855.  It ceased operation in 1891, but is open to the public today as a museum.  It may be a small, seemingly insignificant lighthouse, but it has many interesting stories behind it. During the time of its operation, it was at the highest elevation of any lighthouse in the United States. (Impressive!)

 

The California Tower and the Museum of Man~ Balboa Park

So I saved my very favorite feature of San Diego for last: Balboa Park.  It holds the title as the nation’s largest urban cultural park. Every single time I go, it never fails to amaze and awe me. Bird of Paradise flowers, exotic trees, jeweled mosaics in the architectures, fountains and of course an array of interesting people to watch. In addition to the natural beauty found in the park, there are 17 museums. The museums have something for everyone from art and photography to anthropology, aerospace and even a model railroad museum for all the train buffs out there! Also, within the park boundaries is the world famous San Diego Zoo. It is hard to spend only one day at Balboa Park to try to take it all in. I have been there several times, and every time I go there are new surprises and delights.

 

So, San Diego is highly recommended as a travel destination. Remember that travel and tourism is San Diego’s third top industry (behind manufacturing and the military) So they want you to have a great time. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Cabin Fever Cures

Sub-Zero temps, arctic blasts and record-breaking snowfalls have started out the New Year with a bang, and it’s not just the folks in the part of the country who are used to typical January weather. Many parts of the country, even in typically warmer climates, are experiencing drastically cooler temperatures accompanied by snow and icy conditions. cabin-in-snow My son in Dallas the other day,  said it was 20 degrees with some icy roads. Dallas. Wow. This kind of puts to rest the argument of climate change; something is definitely different. Nevertheless, as the cold marches on I think it is good for the soul to get outside, even for a short time, for some of that crisp fresh air to help ward off cabin fever.

Most of us have to face the elements anyway for work, school or errands. However,  modifying your perception of these tasks really helps lighten the load. If you can add a little something special to your trip, it makes even the most mundane task that much better. For example, treat yourself to a specialty coffee or make a stop at that place you have driven by a million times and have always vowed to stop in and check it out. I did just that yesterday with surprising results.

On a routine trip to Walmart, I went a little further down the road to a shop that I have always been curious about called the “Taylors Falls Bead Store”. I always thought it was basically jewelry making, but come to find out it was that and more! Like many women, I enjoy jewelry but this store has a dazzling array of not only semi-precious stones, bead work and jewelry making supplies but they also have amazing rocks and fossils for you rock hounds out there. Who can’t helped but be amazed when viewing the crystal formations inside a geode or amethyst.  It also adds to the fun that the staff is really enthused and knowledgeable about their products. They also offer of a variety of classes if you are interested in pursuing various arts involved with stones, metal and leatherworking. You know those little charms you put on wine glasses? They can even teach you how to make those! I may have to look into that class. If you are interested in checking this place out, it is located in Taylors Falls, MN. They are about 1 hour northeast of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Yet, they also have a website that is fun to check out:http://www.taylorsfallsbeadstore.com

Another sure fire way to cure cabin fever is start planning your warm weather get-away trips.  It’s always fun to looks at green grass, flowers, mountain trails to hike and perhaps sandy beaches to languish on.  Whatever floats your boat.  It may not help with shoveling the driveway, but it may take some of the sting out of the north wind biting your face.  If all else fails, stay home and watch some videos of dogs playing in the deep snow…like this one.  (Shared by my cousin Kay in Syracuse New York….currently dealing with  quite a bit of snow! Thanks Kay!) This is sure to warm your heart and bring you a chuckle.

Stay Warm, Stay Safe–then…Put your traveling shoes on. JES

« Older Entries Recent Entries »