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.

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.