MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

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).

I always marvel when I write down these summaries. I know it looks like a lot… and it is BUT there is so much I want to see and experience. More often than not, I walk away from a place thinking of why I need to go back. That is why it was a treat this year to get back to Delaware Water Gap.  I grew up driving around this area and we would head out to the river to picnic.  I would play in one of its tributaries, the Muscanetcong, since it was in our backyard. As far as Mom and Dad tell me, this is one of my very first national parks I ever visited (others being Sandy Hook in Gateway NRA and the Statue of Liberty, also in Gateway).  The area is a wooded and glorious as I remember it.  In fact, this trip began what I have dubbed my Year of Waterfalls.  While I went there for work, I took the time to revisit old memories and do things I couldn’t do as a child, like the red trail at Bushkill Falls, took some park trails to some of the big cascading and horsetail type waterfalls, ate dinner at the Black Forest Inn in Stanhope in an old friend, stopped by Carmen's Pizza for some real pizza pie (oh, how I miss you).  Doing these things I wasn't allowed to do as a kid made me feel like my adult card got stamped.

 It so rare that I visit somewhere and really feel like I saw it, I felt it and I “got” it. In fact the only trip I can say I felt complete with this year was my 10 day excursion through MN and ND. With that trip I drove 3000 miles making a huge circle from Minneapolis to Pipestone (Pipestone NM), to Fargo, to Dickerson/Medora/Watford City (Teddy Roosevelt NP) to Minot to Bottineau (International Peace Gardens) and Dunseith to Rugby (that geographic center) to Bemidji to International Falls (Voyageurs NP) to Duluth to Grand Portage (Grand Portage NM) and back to Minneapolis. Phew… that was a lot. But lest you think all I did was drive, I was able to take in my fair share of roadside Americana (roadside metal art, random roosters and turtles abound), state parks in both states, plenty of hiking to see petrified forests on the edge of national grasslands, pipestone quarries and beautiful waterfalls in the northern woods. I literally walked across the Mississippi in Itasca State Park (but did not drink it even though I was told you could). I saw wild bear cubs at a sanctuary, and got a fabulous boat tour of the boundary waters and walked around a few bogs/marshes. In the cities, I wandered art museums, visited with Charlie Brown and friends in St Paul, learned local aquatic ecology at the aquariums. I asked local in Fargo about the car dealership (only to learn it was in Minneapolis) and was rewarded with the tidbit that the visitor’s center had a wood chipper (See the movie people). And I learned that I could not leave Duluth without eating some pie at Betty’s and Minneapolis without eating a JuicyLucy – and so I did. Good thing I did all that hiking! Oh and did I mention the mosquitos?

In contrast, I spent close to a week in Iceland and don’t feel like I saw as much. This can be “blamed” on several factors: (1) My friend and I decided against renting a car and driving the Loop, (2) we signed up for day trip/excursions, (3) we stayed based in Reykjavik. That is not to say that we did not stay busy. I think we averaged 4 hours sleep a night. And while I would not recommend our tour company for everything we did, I was glad that this was the first way I saw the country. We saw whales (sadly not the minke whale). We soaked in the mineral rich Blue Lagoon and got facials with that silica mud (man, I wish I bought that stuff). We toured the Southern Coast to see glaciers, an iceberg lagoon, waterfalls and the black beach. We learned of troll and little people legends! We visited shooting locations for Game of Thrones (I went on a watching binge before this trip – Daenerys Targaryen will sit on that throne!) And the geology lover in me got a treat when we hiked a trail on the edge of the North American Plate! You can literally see the area when 2 of earth crust’s plates are pulling apart slowly to expand the Atlantic Ocean. We toured the Golden Circle to see the unbelievable Gulfoss (I stood there for an hour in awe) and saw the first named geyser – Geysir – that goes off more regularly and reliably than Old Faithful… guess that is what happens when your entire country is geothermally active! We toured the Harpa, the beautiful concert and conference hall, and attempted to see a show there – in fact that was the only “screw up” of our entire trip when we missed our show because we never looked at our tickets. We were too busy exploring the city and believed our show started an hour later than it did. Opps! The city was decked out for Gay Pride and while we were gone seeing countryside, we did get to enjoy the decorations and after parties. We partook in the Icelandic staple of Ice Cream (ice cream is everywhere) trying several local creameries whenever a local “swore by” one. Ate lots of fish and learned that NO THEY DO NOT EAT WHALE! The whaling industry exists for the amusement of tourists and to export to China and Japan – only 1-3% of their population still eats whale. So when in Iceland, do as the locals and do not support the killing of the minkes to “taste” what whale tastes like – have some cod instead. In fact, I didn’t even see puffin on any menu – my favorite bird may have once been plentiful up there, but locals are noticing what science is saying – that the rise in ocean temperatures is impacting their food source and bird populations have decreased significantly.

Oh Canada – 2 trips, 2 cities, and 2 places I must go back to. I did not get to see as much of Montreal as I did Vancouver (that trip was slightly longer) but I loved each location. Montreal had an older city feel than Vancouver – it’s not true, but that was my feeling and impression. Montreal is not called the City of Steeples for nothing – there were churches everywhere in center city. While there was a large church across the street from our hotel in Vancouver, it did not dominate the landscape. The City of the Bay is greener, lusher and wetter (though it rained on me in both locations); the temperate rainforest was beautiful beyond words – I ended up petting the trees because the lichens were so full and thick.

And because I am travel rain “lucky,” I am happy to report that my luck stands and it rained on every trip I was on… MN/SD – yep, I got poured on in Teddy Roosevelt NP and in Duluth. Iceland – yep – while touring the countryside. In Miami Beach – yep, as soon as my friends got in the cab to leave, while I was staying to see family, the skies opened up for 3 days and all I saw was the hotel room. In Canada – yep – both trips – was dripping so badly in Vancouver I could ring out my jeans and in Montreal, I needed to pack stuff in bags because they were so wet. It poured on my trip to NOLA so much so that we had to limit our time at my favorite festival- French Quarter Fest. Denver – yep, that first day while I was out at museums with a friend. San Diego – arid San Diego got poured on not once but twice in my three day stay. Even on a short trip the Shenandoah NP - it rained just enough to keep us in at night.  So again, I will make my case to any place experiencing drought – sponsor me because I bring the rain!

If you are on Instagram or Twitter – you can follow me for pictures of my trips… I promise you there are some good ones up there… @DCJerseyGirl

So what are my plans for next year? Hawaii, of course… it is my last state and I am itching to see it. Beyond that, I am not sure. I will surely be back to Canada to see another city and some of that famous Canadian countryside – but only when it is warm. I will likely be back to a few states I have completed since my wish list never shrinks…. But beyond Hawaii, I am committing to Charleston SC. I have wanted to see this quaint southern city for years and keep missing it. This fall I was crestfallen when it was devastated by a flood (just weeks after I had to cancel plans to visit for a weekend); I need to get there before the floodwaters rise again. Other ideas I have will depend of sale flights to a few locations – I have my eye on Detroit, MI; Cape Hatteras NS in North Carolina; Monmouth Caves in Kentucky; Hot Springs in Arkansas; Eureka, Glass Beach, Whiskeytown and Lassen in CA; Grand Tetons in Wyoming; and/or Glacier in Montana.

Time to make a tribute to Hermes – the Greek god of travel! Is there a Greek god for the lotto?

Wishing everyone a happy new year full of fun, adventure and exploration (and education) - get outside and explore people!

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