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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fall and Winter Plans

I wish upon a star that I can just find a way to parlay my love of travel, life-long learning and exploration into something more....

Well, autumn has arrived!  A few leaves are starting to turn in the DC area.  I don't know if I am ready for this.

  • Denver
  • New Orleans
  • Arkansas
  • Victoria, Canada
  • NYC/NJ
  • Caribbean

We are well into fall, and I have already ran though a few corn mazes!  The air is crisp and I am hankering to get to an apple orchard for some fresh fall produce to cook up in my kitchen.  I recently purchased a pumpkin pie scented oil diffuser that is making my place smell like I have baked something yummy... now I need to do it!

Fall also means that I want to get out for a last bit of fresh air - I want to hit a trail and soak up the colors, feel the sun on your exposed skin and enjoy the sites and sounds of the changing of the season.  And for some reason, DC's fall is lack-luster AGAIN!  So, off I go... I had a few things planned early, and some trips will be last minute.

In October, I had a few weekend trips planned to Colorado and Louisiana to see friends and loved ones.  Short trips, but important ones since I don't get to these areas for work any more.  New Orleans is one of my favorite cities and part of my heart... I am excited that I got there before Halloween again!  And Denver is beautiful in the fall - the yellows are always spectacular.

In November, I am headed out for a big National Park visit in Arkansas - Hot Springs National Park!  This is a big one!  With the Parks Centennial, I made an effort to get to a few new (to me) parks and park units, and an Arkansas   weekend gives me a chance to see Hot Springs and Little Rock High School Historic Site.  And then will flip around to Seattle to visit the best friend for her Birthday celebration, where we mark the occasion in Victoria Canada.  She runs an amazing web site called What's up Northwest, and with her connections, we will have an epic weekend! 

In December, I have am trying to find time to visit Florida again (we will see if I can get this to work)... and I will return to NYC!  I will be headed to Broadway to see my fav, Sutton Foster in Sweet Charity with my good friend before I embark on a 12 day Caribbean trip on the Queen Mary 2.  I may not have been on the New Kids on the Block cruise this year nor did I get to my final state, Hawaii, but this cruise may just make up for that... this cruise will stop by a few new places for me - including St Kitts, St Marteen, Tortola, and Dominica as well as a return trip to St Thomas (I have not been there since my 30th birthday).

Caves, Trails, History and Muscle Cars

I am back from Kentucky... it was a trip of national parks full of caves and history, some interesting oddities and the National Corvette Museum.  Science, History, and America's Great Sports Car, its an eclectic mix for sure.  I can't say I got bored.  It was a feast for the mind; geology lessons were everywhere (even in the Corvette Museum) and Lincoln's past was part of the area's identity.  It was a feast for the eyes; the topography is gorgeous, filled with rolling green lush mountains and interesting rock formations.  And it was a challenge for the ears; cave sounds are faint, but present and walks through the woods were filled with wind blown leaves and scurrying creatures busying themselves for the cold months ahead.  Not once did I lack for something to see or do. 

I have wanted to return to Kentucky for at least 10 years... it is such a pretty area.  As I make my way through the National Parks, Cave Country was a necessity.  Mammoth Caves is a behemoth ... its gigantic and its still being explored.  Already, it stands (expands) as the largest cave system in the world.  There are over 400 miles of explored cave in the park; the park service estimates that over 600 miles still exist unexplored (by man) still to come.  While you do not need to be a spelunker to see the caves today, you can sign up and help map new areas with special outings in the park service (experienced spelunkers only - this is not the cave to get your feet wet, literally).    Me?  I am not a cave crawler... now, I have bobbled my way through some caves through the years, but those were always pre-explored trails... maybe one day before my old dancer knees completely go out I will have to get down and grimy.  For now, I hike!  And hike I did!

I came here for the Caves and I was going to see them.  So, I signed up for the longest hike they offered through the system - a 4 mile trek that the parks called extremely strenuous!  Yikes! And only 4 miles - how was that a possible designation?  I have been on hikes that that parks called strenuous before and survived them all (some better than others), but "extremely strenuous"?  What was that?  And earlier this year, I was on a hike in Cornado that was painful, and yet that was marked moderate (realized much later that I was at elevation - oops).  I worked myself up about this hike.  And once I arrived to sign in, I had a ranger suggest that I sign up for another limited opportunity at Great Oynx Cave (within the park).  "I was here for the caves"... I kept repeating that mantra in my head as the pre-cave lecture told us over and over again that we could die in the cave.  Again, just what as I doing?  The ranger spoke of over 700 stairs and steep incline, of tight passages and no way out after mile 1.  AGHHHH.  And then we got in there and going... and it was fine.  I was fine.  It was not a killer trail.  It was just one NOT for people that do not get outside.  It was not for people that do not move.  It was not for people with claustrophobia.  Yes, there were lots of stairs and plenty of switchbacks, but we rested after each steep assent.  No big deal... but I could see how it would be, because if you got hurt or overestimated your abilities, it would take you hours to get help.  And that is a YIKES!

Gypsum Flowers
Cave Cricket!
Inside the cave, I will be honest, is not the prettiest cave system you have seen.  This is not famous for its formations (there are some)... it is famous for its size.  We stood in one cavern that was over 900 feet tall.  We saw a few great formations... but for me, the coolest cave feature was the gypsum formations.  Sadly, the overwhelming majority of them had been poached from the cave walls well before the site became a national park, but there were a few around to see.  Many formations looked like delicate flowers, some more like spindly flowers and there was one room with a popcorn ceiling full of the element.  You would think museums all over would have specimens of this cool formation - NOPE!  Gypsum is highly sensitive.  The cave environment is stagnant... once outside, changes in temperature and humidity could lead to them to "melt".  Just leave the cool stuff in the cave people!  And that goes for the amazing cave creatures that evolved to live in this completely dark environment.  On our tour, we learned we could not go down to the river since there were species unique to the cave (i.e. the only ones anywhere); eyeless shrimp and fish that were also translucent.  On the trails, we saw some cave crickets that looks like something out of a scifi movie when then mated with daddy-long-legs, and some spiders.  No bats!  The bat population at Mammoth has been decimated from White Nose Fungus... Don't carry those spores around people - wash your shoes.  And the park made sure we did after each cave entry - walking us down a Woolite filled pathway.  White Nose is nasty; it suffocated the bats, covering their airways with a fungus. And while there are reports on successful ways to cure infected bats, the question remains in just "how to administer to them" in the wild; you could take at more than the fungus.  It's a sad conundrum. 

I needed clean shoes for the rest of my trip... because although White Nose is present in Mammoth Cave - it is not in other locations, so you have to be diligent.  After my day hiking above and below ground at Mammoth, I was faced with the wrath of Mother Nature... she rained out my evening Ranger talk... and she wasn't done because her storms the night before did not die down; I woke up looking at a massive thunderstorm.  Ugh - it always rains on my trips, without fail.  I had planned my history excursion to go according to Lincoln's timeline... but "best laid plans."  A quick look on my weather apps told me I had a half day window to get up to Indiana and explore Lincoln's birthplace ... and off I went to see the place Lincoln grew up in. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Heading Off To Visit Another Park - Kentucky is Calling!

There are 59 National Parks (as of this moment), and well over 500 units in the park system (including monuments, historic sites, sea/lakeshores, recreation areas, battlefields, etc).  I have visited 37 parks, about 155 units in total.  After this weekend, those numbers will tick up slightly.  I am off to visit Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, along with Lincoln's Birthplace and Boyhood homes in Kentucky and Indiana. 

The caves have been on my list for quite a while.  I started reading up on them before my first and only trip to Kentucky in the early 00's. I did not know much about Kentucky, so out came the maps to study up ...  With that trip, I was in Moorehead for work and wanted to explore the area.  Mammoth was too far away for a weekend journey, so I used my time to explore eastern Kentucky. And explore it, I did!   I traveled down the Daniel Boone National Forest in late autumn, hiking some trails while enjoying the rolling topography; I took in the colors, the geological features (stone arches) and soaked in the views.   The end of the trails brought me to  Southeaster Kentucky.  I ended up at Cumberland Gap and Cumberland State Park for one of the most spectacular natural phenomenon I have ever witnessed, moonbows!  Think rainbows but at night using the light of the full moon.  Cumberland Falls is the only place in North America you can see a moonbow and one of only 2 places in the world to see one consistently.  Of course you need perfect full moon conditions to see one - and I got that and more.  That night, I got a perfect moonbow, followed by a lunar eclipse with a meteor shower, followed by the return of the full moon for a double moonbow. I saw bows in basic colors to a white halo glow.  It was glorious.  You can't make this stuff up... and as I stood in the falls mists, on that cold late autumn evening, I knew I was gonna get seriously sick (and I did), and it didn't matter because the stars aligned for one memorable shows of nature. I still recall this lunar opportunity with awe.   I ended my journey  with something completely different, by traveling back to Lexington (where I started), celebrating horses and their power.  I was able to pay respects to Secretariat.

So while my travels through eastern Kentucky was thorough, Mammoth Caves has always been out there calling me to return.  I have visited the other cave systems in the park system, including Carlsbad, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, but this one is the longest system in the world (over 400 miles explored). It was unique and I needed to go.

I finally bit the bullet! 

I have a 4 hour cave tour scheduled and a plan to visit the area.  Calgon, take me away... Actually the National Parks are taking me away (and I need it). I need to recharge.  I am  looking forward to seeing what Mammoth Caves and the surrounding area has to offer... and I will report back! I am ready to learn something new and my camera is packed.  See you on the flip side.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Classic Crooner, Boy Bands, Pop Stars, Broadway, and a Living Legend!

Summer is unofficially over (the equinox is not here YET)... I am not sure how it is September already.  I was so caught off guard that I missed my first post-Impressionism lecture at the Smithsonian - I knew it started in September, and I knew Labor Day just passed, but I just failed to connect the calendar dots.  Time flies too quickly.  It is scary. 

I would say where did the time go, but I have the answers - at work, weekend getaways, and in the many moments I had this season enjoying live music.  It has been an amazing summer for music.

 I found myself at quite a few Broadway shows (I love me some Broadway belting).  Looking back, this might be one of my best Broadway viewing seasons in a long while.  This summer, I saw shows solo, with friends, and with family.  There was my 4th of July bender where I saw Finding Neverland, She Loves Me, and Beautiful; and then near the end of August I saw American in Paris and Waitress.  Before the summer season even started, I grooved to Disaster the Musical and tapped along with Dames at Sea.  In DC, I finally saw the classic orchestrations of Bridges of Madison County.  (And there were more this past winter with Bright Star, Allegiance)  In those shows, I saw some Broadway legends and legends to be... I could not contain my excitement to see Gavin Creel along with Zachary Levi, Laura Benanti and Jane Krakowski (She Loves Me) and was giddy before Waitress with Jessie Mueller and Disaster packed with stars including Faith Prince and Adam Pascal. I saw Star Trek legend George Takei and legendary Lei Salonga in the gut wrenching WWII flashback (Allegiance).   I left shows in awe of Keale Sette (Waitress), Lesli Margherita  (Dames at Sea), Carmen Cusek (Bright Star) and Jennifer Simard (Disaster); these are names I will seek out in the future, easily.  All told, I saw 11 shows... and the year is not over.  Many new cast albums have been added to my collection - keeping me dancing in my seat while at work looking over paperwork!

The Lawn at Wolf Trap!
Broadway did not end there... Wolf Trap, National Park for the Performing Arts  had an incredible season.... and one of the shows I attended was with stage and screen siren Kristen Chenoweth (you know her - Wicked, Charlie Brown, West Wing, Glee, Pushing Daisies...)  So, braving the rain (not for the first time), a friend and I picnicked on the lawn to hear jokes and stories along with Popular, Fathers and Daughters and covers from many Broadways shows .... she even stumped us with a little known number from Flora and the Red Menace (leaving many of us to random google searches). 

Wolf Trap delivered more rain and more fantastic moments when I got to see Tony "freaking" Bennett!  My boyfriend and I sat through an epic thunderstorm, with lightening flashing too close for comfort, under a tablecloth, to see this crooner.  I refused to leave... he is Tony Bennett, and he turned 90 years old.  How many more opportunities would be have to see this living legend?  Don't know, but I do know that neither of us had seen him yet, so we weren't going to let wet asses keep us away from this show.  Acknowledging the storm, he cracked a few jokes as the classics he sang referred to weather, rain and sun. We were not exactly in a smoky room at small round tables with candles (how else you think of the old jazz singers with their bands preformed)... but man was it worth it to hear how he can still swing that voice. 

Tony was not the only legend we saw this summer... I got to see a Beatle!  A Beatle!  We went to see Paul McCartney.  And the boyfriend still gets giddy about this show, calling it the best we have ever seen.  He played for over 2 hours, pounding the keys and working the strings - singing songs from Pre-Beatles to his most recent song with Rihanna and Kanye.  It was an honest and true rock concert with lights, lasers and speaker issues... he joked that we all wanted the Beatles stuff and he could prove it with all the cell phones that came out at those moments; he admitted that he likes singing more than that... and that he likes to push.  And the crowd ate it up.  He could have played all night.  Sometimes, he didn't even need to sing because the crowd did it for him... like the entire place singing Hey Jude "lalalalala." It was an amazing, transcendent experience.