To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Stopping to the Smell the Roses in a Convention Center Filled With National Parks

The Philadelphia Flower Show is an institution in the City of Brotherly Love.  Unfortunately, I never made the time to go when I lived in that area and have missed it for various reasons over the years (as it has grown in popularity).  This year, when I learned that the theme would be based on the national parks, I knew I had to go.  And the fact that I had yet to do a Philly weekend with my boyfriend... well that was a perfect excuse.

The best way I could describe the scene in the convention center is master gardener/landscape architects interpreted some of the parks greatest hits and unknown gems through botany.  Half the convention hall floor was filled with large scale exhibits of scenes in the national parks.  Here you would gaze upon the famous of Yellowstone and Yosemite, walk along the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and NJ Coastal Heritage trails, Look upon the mountains in interpretations of the Rocky Mountain and Smokey Mountain, see some lesser known gems like Lincolns home, enjoy the water views of Acadia, the views in trees like at Redwood, and we got into the urban parks - Independence, Gateway, Golden Gate, the National Mall.  And if these installations were not enough, the rest of the flower show had more.

There were pressed flower designs done by students to represent park badges and postcards.  There was a miniatures exhibit to showcase tiny flowers and skills with scale, you had arrangements with colonial dishes and others to interpret national monuments.   The National Park Service was out in full force with scenes showcasing the nation's best idea in short film format in what was like a cabin in the woods (surrounded by a babbling brook, a Bison (the Department of Interior's official seal) and a bear).  Rangers gave lectures on park features and were all around to answer question about the parks displayed and depicted.  I was in park lover's heaven!  An added plus - all the parks of my youth got plenty of love - I was so excited to see Delaware Water Gap get some love.  And Sandy Hook made a special showing and didn't get overshadowed by the Statue of Liberty (the share a park designation)!

The flowers were overwhelming in their beauty even after a week of showcasing it was hard to know where to turn.  It was a rainbow of color.  There were so many cascades of color that my camera quickly ran out of battery.  And the crowds?  Wow, the place was packed.  But beyond waiting in lines to walk through some of the parks, traffic moved... no one exhibit hogged (though a few did skip the line to snap a picture here and there).  And if you needed to rest your feet - you had choices beyond park lectures... the Philly Zoo was there for animal demonstrations for the kid in all of us. An artist was on hand painting detailed flower watercolors. Food was everywhere (yummy Philly pretzels and Little Italy's cannoli)  You could go upstairs to the specialty booths - where we headed to visit the butterflies!  And then there was the market place... lots of venders.  You could rest you feet in any number of places selling patio gear.  You could buy plants and flowers galore.  You could buy art for your garden.  Gardening gear?  Check!  Tools?  Check!  Need a sauna?  Check!  Walking stone?  Yep, that too.  It was all there.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Winter Break - Seeking Out Desert Heat

I escaped the sudden brutal cold in the mid-Atlantic and traveled to the dry heat of the desert.  I when I say heat, I mean it, as the thermostat read over 90 once of the days on my visit to Southern Arizona.  I love to take advantage of a good United sale and snatch up reasonable fares ... a this trip to Phoenix fit that bill perfectly.

My first stop (after the insanely long lines at the rental car center), Saguaro National Park in Tucson.  That's roughly an 1 1/2 hour drive from Phoenix.  And that meant I got there just in time to watch the sun set over the desert and mountains.  I love how accessible this park is - one of the 2 units is right outside the city limits.  There is no excuse to miss this park when in the area.  And while it has been a few years since I have looked upon this stretch of the southwest... it is majestic, it is magical.  Walk among the cacti and listen-there is life all around you.  As the sun sets, the sky lits up in beautiful strips of pink and purple.  The mountains glow and then dim into a black outline in the sky.  The towering saguaro freckle the landscape casting shadows to show how anthropomorphic their forms can look.  I love visiting this park, because even if you only have 2 hours there, you can still walk away feeling like you visited another world.  It was the perfect spot after spending all day in a plane and a car.

I needed a good sleep that night because I knew I wanted to stuff my next day with places further
south... as in right up to the border.  I left the next morning and headed to Coronado National Memorial.  The park unit honors the explored Coronado and his quest to find the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola but really explored and mapped the area north of central Mexico.  The terrain is rough, the elevation is high and it is dry.  Nothing say great hiking like those conditions, but he did it in armor, I could do it in my Merrells and my LLBean backpack.  So, off on the trail I went (after driving up the mountain, cuz we don't have donkeys at our disposal) and I hit the trail to the Mexican border.  The whole
way down into the canyon I cursed myself and my sense of adventure knowing I was going to have to climb back up.  And as I neared the border, I was certain I was losing my mind, I heard cows "moo'ing"!  This was not terrain that I would think to find cattle but eventually I was able to spot them down at the bottom of the canyon once I turned on a switch-back toward the border.  I took my border selfie (as the park ranger wanted proof for my park pin award), snapped too many pictures of the landscape and the starting line of the Arizona trail, rested and drank some water before I headed back up.  And then I rested again and again... I had forgotten how high up I was, that incline was hard.  I am not going to lie.  In fact, I had to talk myself into forging on but once I got through that last switchback I was golden.  And that was good, because I was keeping my eye on my watch - I still needed to get to Tumacacori. 

Once safely down the mountain, and awarded with my hiker's pin from the Park Service, I watered up
and headed out to the historic missions site.  It was only 50 miles away BUT being in the remote location I was in, this translated into a 2 hour drive.  I got there with an hour to spare and that was perfect, that was all I needed.  The park site is the historic missions and surrounding structures.  It preserves the local Native American and Spanish missionary interactions, the Mision structure, the orchard ... oh, who am I kidding, it preserves the site where missionaries destroyed a native culture by reeducating them.  Off with those pagan customers and onto the new enlightened ways of the catholic church.  I have such a hard time stomaching these stories.  It angered me in Italy to see how the "my religion is better than your beliefs" destroyed culture and scientific advancement, and I angers me to see it here too.  We never learn from history. And these poor people, whom survived with the land were forced change because newcomers thought they knew better.  Would the world not be a better place if we did not destroy, but instead understood?  I don't know.  I didn't live this.  But I do know that we all need to learn from each other.  Preserving these places is important to tell these stories and remind each other that we can learn/understand and not vilify each other belief systems.

Okay - off my soapbox.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The NorthEast Had Some Snow, I Went to The Big Apple

Winter Superstorm Jonas hit the mid Atlantic on Friday, January 19th.  I had been planning a funfilled theatre weekend for that very weekend in New York; I had shows on my radar that were closing.  I figured I could get out of DC and head to NYC, where the snow count would be less significant and the city was better equipt to deal with the snow dump.  Well, a few things went wrong:  (1)  NYC ended up getting WAY  MORE than the 6 inches predicted and (2) because of the extreme snow the mayor shut the city down.  Yep, NYC was shut down on Saturday, and I was there to play.

I grabbed one of the last trains out of DC on Friday and headed north for a wild ride.  The train was standing room only as we headed into Penn Station  - looks like I was not the only one getting out of dodge.  And while is was only mildly snowing, the train was delayed and train doors froze shut in transit.  Every stop the crew had to pry open a few doors.  And even with all the drama we arrived in the Big Apple only 1 1/2 hours late... enough time for me to drag luggage through the city, to Times Square straight to the TKTS booth.  I wanted to see Allegiance before it closed February 14th and this was my chance.  And lucky for me the show still had some available seats.  I was able to grab a ticket, dash to my hotel, check-in, dump my luggage and run back out to the show.

Typically a musical about Japanese internment camps would not be my first choice for a musical.  I typically love my high flying dance numbers, fun stories and happy endings.  But this show has been on my radar.  The subject matter is timely - in today's political environment there is a lot of talk of people as groups, registrations and citizenship.  When you stop and think about it, there are many similarities to draw.  In this time of the gazillionth revival of LesMis and endless shows based on movies, such a daring show needed to be seen.  It is frustrating that the theatre community wants new material, yet, this show is closing after only a few months.  Come'on people Lea Salonga hasn't graced the stage in a while - she alone is a reason to see this moving show.  And if you need more, Telly Leung will blow you away.  Or you can see George Takei (yes, the guy from Star Trek).  The story is 2-fold: a moving portrayal of how a family was ripped apart by internment, and a wider discussion of internment as an answer to fear.  Again - you need to see this musical.  Its not the strongest new show of the season, but it just may be one of the most raw and real things on the stage in a long while.

After the show,  I left the theatre to snow!  It had caught up with me.  But a little snow does not stop NYC.  A friend met me for one of those awesome after show dinners - the kind of stuff that just doesn't happen in DC because nothing stays open!!!  Oh how I love heading home!  After a yummy meal, we parted ways at the subway, making plans for the next day - we had tickets to see Mathew Morrison's last performance in Finding Neverland... or at least we thought we did.

Woke up the next day to the city bustling in the blizzard.  Looking out my 42nd story hotel room, I could make out little people wandering the streets in white clouds.  My friend called to say that she was stuck and could not make it to the city - bummed!  More like, super bummed!  But the show must go on... so I bumdled up and headed outside and back to Times Square.  The sidewalks were clear, the road crews were staying on top of the streets... it was fine.  It was just the sheer amount falling so fast, BUT TKTS was still selling.  All the theatres were open.  Just to be safe, I hopped on over to the Lunt-Fountaine to make sure we were still on... and with that yes, I went to walk and enjoy the views.  The city looked so pretty.

Well, the snow kept falling and the mayor closed the city... that announcement happened less than 1/2 hour before curtain call.  No show for me.  No show for anyone that came to the city for that matter.   Didn't matter that the theatres assured everyone they would go on.  The mayor called it.  And with the announcement that all cars had to be off the streets, he created a playground for anyone willing to walking in Winter Storm Jonas.  So what is a New Yorker to do?  Well, you head to Central Park obviously!  Where else are you going to walk down an urban jungle into the vast park and see people sledding on pizza boxes.  I swear I love this city!  I wandered endless paths, always retracing my steps, because visibility was so bad, I did not want to take a wrong turn.  I mostly stayed on the upper end of the park but did walk to a playground, a picturesque bridge, Strawberry Fields, and down the opposite side to the zoo.  I froze my phone taking pictures of snow covering railings, benches, building and other park structures.    It was truly an iconic city winter moment.

And on my way back through the city canyon/wind tunnel (where you had to walk head first into the blizzard) - I stopped into on of the city's delis that stayed open to feed the masses.  Many cups of tea, the most amazing meatloaf sandwich ever, and some red velvet cheesecake fortified me to walk more in the storm and back to the hotel.

I left the Big Apple Wonderland the next morning - dragging my suitcase 21 blocks to Penn Station  and onto Amtrak.  After stopping many times to de-ice, we were dropped off at Union Station and find DC in worse condition than NYC.  That was to be expected.  I grew up in that region - and we just handle the snow better.  DC could learn a thing or two! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Beach, 2 Parks, A Science Center and some Funky Golfing

The first 3 day weekend of the year... it's a great way to get away for a few days after the craziness of the holidays. This year, I didn't go too far (but far enough). Just 4 hours down the road to Virginia Beach. I know, I know, heading out to Virginia Beach does not make much sense in January, and typically it would not. This year, however, its been warm. Say it's El Nino, blame climate change, say it's a weird quirk... we all know it is NOT normal to have 60 degree weather in January, but that is what we had (on Saturday).

First stop on this weekend journey was the Coastal Virginia Wine Festival at the Convention Center. Friends know, I am not a drinker and I can't say that I have ever been to a wine festival before.. sure I have be to more than a handful of wineries before, but never something as big as this. I thought it would be fun to check out, taste a few of the sweeter ones (those are my style), look at crafts, listen to music and watch the grape stomp. Well, I found an awesome sangria with Athena Winery - just the winery name alone makes me want to visit - we are talking about my favorite Greek God people! There were some yummy fruit wines from Top Hill Berry Farms (we got a raspberry and a melon) and a great white and red semi sweet Breeze from Davis Valley. It was a great way to sample, because the pours were really just a small sip (just my style). Now, that small sip times 30+ venders times at least 4 tastes per winery meant there were plenty of drunk stumbling people all around. And that leads me to my major gripe of the festival - where was the food? There was a definite lack of food in a place where alcohol was being poured so freely. Not good! Some dip people with free pretzels, one crab cake guy and the convention center snack shop did not provide too many options. So, when my date and I got to the hotel - we headed out to eat. PRONOTO.

Friday, January 15, 2016

First Road Trip of the New Year

We are headed into Martin Luther King weekend. For a while now I have been using this weekend to explore on quick trips - I have headed to Florida, Memphis, took a bunch of trips to Vegas and had a great roadtrip last year to Palm Springs (from Vegas). I have seen a few national park sites - Death Valley, Joshua Tree and Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park.

This year, I am skipping the plane. Instead, I am headed to Virginia Beach and northern North Carolina. Virginia Beach is hosting the Coastal Wine Festival this weekend, and while I am not a wine connoisseur, my date loves a good glass of wine and I do enjoy the sweeter stuff. Besides, the festival also is host to arts & crafts, specialty foods and live entertainment. So, while it will again warm up this weekend, it is not warm enough to sit and enjoy the beach... we are headed inside to the convention center. If we are lucky, we can walk the "boardwalk" (I call it the cement walk) and listen to the waves.

I can't hang out in a convention center all weekend... I have my eye on the northern outer banks. I have spent my virtually entire life on the east coast, yet I have never been to the outer banks. It was never our thing. Growing up in Jersey, we had our own awesome beach. With family in southern Florida, a completely different type of beach awaited me there. We just never stopped in between. And now that I have lived in the DC area for 15 years, I find I still haven't made time to visit the banks. I have spent time in VA Beach, Ocean City Maryland and even the Delaware beaches. I haven't made time. That ends this weekend... We are taking the short 2 hour drive from VA Beach to Kitty Hawk and the surrounding areas. I have my sights on visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Fort Raleigh. Neither will be like the 2 desert parks I have visited the last 2 years, but that is good - this is a change of pace. Fort Raleigh recognizes the mysterious site of the first English attempt at colonization (1585-1587). The Wright Brother site preserves the location of the first successful airplane flight in 1903. And if the weather cooperates, maybe I can drag my date on a few trails where I can put my camera to good use.

Have a great weekend everyone - Get Outside. Appreciate diversity. Enjoy life.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Time To Start Planning

I bought my first plane ticket of the year this week. It is not to Hawaii (the place I must get to this year) and it is not somewhere in the Caribbean (the place I am trying to convince my boyfriend to join me for a weekend getaway), instead, I booked a trip to Phoenix, Arizona.

Yeah, I know, I have been there several times. But, there are over 21 main national park units in that state. I have only been to 6 of them, and in reality, I need to spend more time at the Grand Canyon. My trips to Arizona have been scattered- I have visited the south eastern section the most, with multiple visits to Tucson and Saguaro National Park. I have stopped off to see Case Grande ruins while driving between Phoenix and Tucson, and driven out to the Chiricahua's to escape the heat during a heat wave of over 120 (where I went for a hike in 90+degree temps). I have been up to Flagstaff and saw a crater. I have detoured for the Petrified Forest, on a road trip based primiliarly in New Mexico. And I have visited the Pipe Organ Cactus but missed the visitor center. And yes, there is more to do in Arizona then parks - I have spa'ed it, spent some time in Scottsdale's old town, seen historic towns (Tombstone), visited art towns (Bisbee, Sedona and Tubec) and shopped all around. Still, I feel Arizona is incomplete... and a United sale was a good reason to head back.

Knowing I will have a few big trips this year, this could not be a long trip, so as much as I still yearn to make it up to Canyon de Chelly, I can't this time around. I will have to stay in and around Phoenix and Tucson again - That is not a problem since there seems to be some great cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle only a few hours north on the city. To date, the only Native American cliff dwellings I have visited on my travels have been at Mesa Verde (CO) and Bandelier (NM). Both were beautiful. I would love to see more. These sites leave you with distinct impressions of what life was like for these communities - its an amazing experience. And a few hours south of the city, I hope to visit Coronado and get in a good first hike to start the year taking in the expansive views of Sonora, Mexico and the San Pedro River and San Rafael Valleys.

Of course, this is just hopeful planning right now - I have to map it all out to make sure it is doable in my time there. As much as people think I rush through these trips - I don't. The Griswolds, I am not. My camera and I need this time away from the computer to just soak nature in. I need to stretch my legs from the constant sitting at work. And its hard to deny the lure of the SW in the middle of an east coast winter (even if it only hit this week).

Of course, I love connecting with friends I have all over... and here, I have 2 friends in the Phoenix area. It would be great to see them too! So, Paige and Megan - head's up! If I plan this right, maybe we can head to the spa.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Year End Summary 2015 - 2 more states, a new list and Lots of Great Travel

It’s the end of another year and while I started out strongly, writing about some key adventures, I lost momentum in the middle of the summer. I need to go back and fill in those holes because I had a truly amazing travel year. The end of my “See The Country” bucket-list is almost near; I did 2 more states, and only have 1 left. I started my new bucket-list obsession – “See Our Neighbor To The North” with 2 quick visits to key cities. I spent some serious time exploring our national parks and monuments – seeing a few “new to me” ones in my new states as well as revisiting a key childhood park. Though out the year, I visited friends scattered across our vast country, saw my fair share of concerts, art exhibits and special events and even the Mouse. I went on another New Kids cruise to a “new to me” Caribbean island and soaked up the sun in the Art Deco’est place in the USA. But the biggest trip of all was to Iceland its northern most capital in the world, Reykjavik.

Year End Summary
States Visited: NJ, NY, PA, DE, MD, VA, FL, LA, CA, WA, CO, MN, ND, SD
Countries: Canada, Turks & Caicos, Iceland

Key Cities: NYC, Philly, Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Minneapolis, St Paul, Duluth, Fargo (does that count?), Denver, San Diego, Seattle, New Orleans, Richmond. Montreal, Vancouver, Reykjavik
Art Towns – Palm Springs, Golden

Parks: Joshua Tree NP, Delaware Water Gap NRA, Voyageurs NP, Teddy Roosevelt NP, Pipestone NM, Grand Portage NM, Cabrillo NM, Shenandoah NP, Great Falls NP, Eisenhower NHS, Maggie L Walker NHS

Concerts: Frankie Vallie, Stevie Wonder, Pat Benatar, Kool & the Gang, Shaka Khan, Weird Al Yankovik, Maroon 5, Sutton Foster and the National Symphony Orchestra, and New Kids on the Block plus a few new Broadway shows

New Aquariums: Great Lakes Aquarium, Miami Seaquarium, Vancouver Aquarium, Minneapolis Sea Life Center, Sea World San Diego

Ghost Tours: Reykjavik, New Orleans, Williamsburg

Iconic or Plain Ole’ Amazing Sites: Disney CA, Gulfoss, Geographic Center of North America, The Geysir, Mall of America, Lake Superior scenic highway, Mississippi River (the headwaters and the endwaters), Vancouver Harbor and the site of the Olympic Opening & Closing Ceremonies, the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Delaware State Fair, USA National Bike Race in Golden, Luray & Skyline Caverns, Roadside Americana in ND and MN…. And so many waterfalls! (falls in Delaware Water Gap, though out MN, Iceland, Canada and here in Great Falls).