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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

History, High School and Victorian Bathhouses

On the hiking trail in
Hot Springs National Park
Did you know that this year marked the centennial of the National Park Service?  Do you know how many national parks there are?[i]  How about total elements in the Park Service?[ii]  I do, and I am on a mission.  If you have read any of my musings, you know that I LOVE getting outside and enjoying these bits of natural treasure.  I wanted to make sure I celebrated the Park’s Birthday by visiting a few new places… I wanted to up my park number a bit.    At the same time, my boyfriend wanted to join me on one of my park visits.  He was new to this type of trip-quest.  He wanted to see what I saw and enjoy the beauty and the history, yet he is not a hiker.  (Heck, I have not got out enough the last few years).  So looking over the list of parks, I decided the perfect spot was Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. 

I have been to Arkansas only one time before, and it was a side trip off a trip in Texas.  On that Arkansas visit, I focused on the southwest quadrant of the state – visiting Hope (Clinton’s birthplace) and the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro.   I wasn’t that far from Hot Springs the first time, but I just ran out of time.   That heat while in the park, in June, was awful and wiped me out.  But I also was gobsmacked, Arkansas was beautiful.  It was nothing like I pictured in my head as a flat dead brown land– instead I saw beautiful waterways, rolling hills and plenty of green.  So a special trip to Hot Springs in late autumn sounded like a good plan.

To get there, we flew to into Little Rock.  For a three day trip, I planned to spend 1 full day in the capital city and a day and a half in the resort town.  We had a plan, and we needed one if we were going to fit all of it in.  I fully admit that I have in intense pace when I am power touring, and that is not for everyone.  I have gone easy on prior trips with my partner, but he was warned that we had a mission.  So, from the moment we stepped off the plane until the moment we got back to the airport, we were cooking.  It was funny (for me).  I think he is still tired from the experience!

Walls of plates at the Flying Saucer
Our first stop, once we got off the plane, was the Flying Saucer for a late meal and relaxation.  This place came highly recommended from some plane seat neighbors, who told me it was an eclectic “must- see” locale that was casual, open late and in a great area of the city that we could not miss.  So, we headed straight to the UFO pub for some grub.  Immediately upon entering, you notice that the walls are lined with plates – those cheesy decorative plates.  And they are from all over the place.  We were seated in front of a HUGE big screen television showing the game, and I could not stop scanning the walls looking at all the places the plates illustrated.   Mixed in, and on the ceiling, were color ringed plates with names – and this was where their “wall of fame” was enshrined.  The Flying Saucer is known in Little Rock for its beer list - Over 200 kinds.  And if you register, and finish the list (NOT in one setting, but many), you are immortalized on a plate.  So, as we chowed down on loaded tots and an arugula and prosciutto pizza, I read crazy plate sayings.  This place is a trip.  And it has spunk – it was that perfect casual meal in a place with character. 

Junction Bridge
After food and drinks, we headed to the waterfront to walk over Junction Bridge, mosey down some pathways and settle our food.  We were lucky it was a gorgeous evening.   For once (in a blue moon) the weather cooperated with me and the sky was clear.  So we were able to walk across the river to take in our first real views on downtown Little Rock.   Thanks to historical preservationists and green space planners, efforts to keep bridges over the River standing and make them pedestrian accessible, have been a huge hit. This area was one spot everyone told us to visit when hearing about our weekend adventure in Arkansas.  The three bridges over the Arkansas River are one of the most iconic views in the city.  Postcards are littered with these views...Especially at night when their colors play on the waters.  Wandering the pathways to look at the sculpture art by the river was another story.  We did not see much outside of the pavilion and one of the main things I left on the table in Little Rock was finding the “Little Rock” that the city was named for… it was down that path somewhere. 

Little Rock Skyline
from the Clinton Library
The next day began our power tour of Little Rock.  We needed clockwork precision to make this all work.  I wanted to fit in 3 museums, a park, a distillery and a damn bridge before we headed to Hot Springs that evening.  I am a bit ambitious, I admit. 

Art Deco in abundance at
Little Rock Central
To meet our goals, we made sure we were at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site the moment it opened.  You can’t come to Little Rock without seeing this bit of civil rights history.  We arrived before it opened and I was able to beg our way into the first tour of the day. (Note for future visitors, make a reservation)  The fantastic ranger walked us through the history of the Little Rock Nine – beyond anything we learned in our few paragraphs in a school text book.  Sitting in the visitor center, we spoke as a group discussing the doctrine of “separate but equal” and what it meant here; uncovering nasty truths of
This HS remains state of the art
how city and state leaders conspired to ensure that students would not integrate even after the Brown vs Board of Education ruling (ruling that separate was not equal), and then hearing the accounts of everything these children and their families endured just so they could attend the best public high school in the city.  Did you know that city leaders actually shut school down for a year?  No, neither did I.  They fail to mention that in the textbooks.  And just when you thought the city had reached a low, we walked through the Little Rock 10 (yep, it started as 10)’s walk to school.  The experience was enough to make you cry, feel disgusted  and be fighting mad at the same time.  You can’t visit this place without being inspired by the bravery of these students.  I am in awe – pure awe.  It touched me deeply. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

We Swear We Had That Trip Planned BEFORE The Election

Best Friends on an Adventure

My best friend and I planned a trip to Canada for her birthday.  She lives outside of Seattle, and after several visits to see her, we explored Seattle to death.  So, we ventured to Olympic National Park one year.  Last December we visited Vancouver Canada.  This year, the plan was Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.  When we planned it, we did not consciously make the decision to plan around the election, nor did we know how it was going to turn out... so imagine 2 vocal Hillary supporters now headed to Canada the weekend after the election.  It was comical.  It was sad.  And it was a good break for the craziness going on at home.

Honestly, I did not know much about Victoria before this trip.  I did not know it was the capital of British Columbia.  I did not know that it was heavily British influenced.  And I did not know that it was so small.  I was able to guess about its greenery and weather from our trip to Vancouver.  Locals swear it does not rain as much there as it does in Vancouver, but the weather report said it would be dreary.  We were also told to plan for a fancy city, that with its European influence, that we had to dress the part.  So, packing for this trip was a nightmare.  We looked like we were moving in!

My bestie did all of the planning this time around.  I can't tell you how amazing that felt - normally I am the planner. But she looked into everything and made all the arrangements.  I got to relax for the ride and just enjoy.  She is not just a planner but a serious regional blogger.  She runs a successful site - WhatsUpNW.com - that highlights things to do and see in the Pacific Northwest.  And with this, her first trip to Victoria, she reached out her feelers and got us incredible access to some fun things to do.  So, heading in, we had arrangements for museums and food.  Our whole trip will be reviewed on that site, in detail... seriously, check it out! 
Olympic Mountains from the
Straits of Juan de Luca

Harbor and Parliament

So our trip began with a 2 hour road trip to the land of Twilight fame - Port Angeles.  How can anyone plugged into pop culture not think of that series when in that region, yet alone a place that plays a specific part in the lore... so, I warned my friend to watch out for sparkly vampires and giant werewolves as we drove along the edges of Olympic National Park to get to our ferry.  Alas, the sun was never out to test strangers with a sparkle view, but we did pass several locations for the local Native American reservation along the way. [I should make a note that I am not a huge fan of this series but while on a road trip, stuck in bridge traffic, it passes the time.]   The town itself is a gateway area - filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, pubs, motels and other necessities around a ferry line and outside a park.  We didn't have much time to wander, but we found a quaint place for something warm to drink, and to buy another warm hat (it was freezing that day).  Once on the boat, it was smooth sailing on the Straits of Juan de Luca to Victoria.  The light drizzle and low hanging clouds made from some gorgeous scenery as we pulled away from the States. 

Fountain in front of Parliament

Once we docked in Victoria, our AirBNB host picked us up, drove us to her condo while giving us a quick overview of the city streets.  We stayed on the fringe of OldTown/Downtown in an adorable condo, that was perfect for our weekend. It allowed us to dump our bags and hit the streets.  We headed directly to the iconic harbor (yes, where we just came from). 

Veterans' Memorial

The City lights up the waterfront so that it looks like something out of a Disney Park.  It is simply stunning and obviously the heart of downtown.  The main tourist street - Government Street branches off from the harbor; harbor cruises and whale watching tours dock there, the major city sites are within a few blocks.  It is a hub.  And like a moth to a flame, we headed right to it, to stare at the pretty lights all around the area and explore the grounds.  We found Veteran's Memorial surrounded by flowers for Remembrance Day - both of us saps, we teared up at the beautiful words on the plaque  "To Our Glorious Dead - "They died the noblest death a man may die, fighting for god, and right and liberty, and such a death is immortality" listing the World Wars, Korea, and Afghanistan.  We took pictures by the Native Canadian totem pole and worked our way through the crowd staring into the lit fountain.  The whole area was packed with people trying to get that postcard worthy shot of iconic Victoria. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Working My Way, Backwards, Through Some Fall Trips

Well, here we are again.  I was doing so good.  I caught up with most of my summer travels... and now, here I am behind again.  One of the dangers of travel is time loss.  I am convinced!

Hot Springs, Arkansas Sunset
So, we are 1 day from Turkey Day, meaning November is almost over.  I am looking down the gauntlet at a HUGE winter trip with 2 friends, cruising through the Caribbean for the holidays.  We are going to St Marteen, Tortola. Dominica, St Kitts, and St Thomas.  I have only been to St Thomas (on one amazing weeklong 30th Birthday trip with a girlfriend), so this trip means I will visit 4 new places.  I have plans to see the famed Gordo Beach (huge boulders), to swim to sea turtles (as long as they show up) in St Thomas, to take an open air train ride in St Kitts, to take a hike in St Marteen... I have plans... And I had to shop because we are going in style on the Queen Mary 2.  We have balls on this boat... 4 balls. 2 weeks!  4 Balls.  Lots of outdoor activities.  Fancy clothes for the fancy boat. Before the cruise, I have plans with my New York girlfriend to see Sutton Foster in Sweet Charity's special 50th Anniversary showing.   Ugh!  Packing will be FUN!

Of course, to gear up for this, I have been resting and planning... hahaha, NOPE, who am I kidding?  I have been hopping all over.  I visited fantastic friends in Denver, New Orleans and Seattle.  I went with my best friend to Canada.  I went to a "new" national park with the boyfriend for an old fashioned bath in Hot Springs.  In between, I squeezed in a few shows and concerts because life is more exciting with live music!  And then I got sick... I think all the running around caught up with me.

Now, I have to play catch up with the blog again.  And the best way to tackle this will be to go backwards.  So, in the coming weeks leading up to my Caribbean cruise, I will be reviewing some of the amazing weekend trips I have taken. 

Lesley and I in front of Parliament
I will look back on my timely trip to Victoria, British Columbia and relive the beauty of the waterfront, tale tales of wonders about bugs and art, and the extreme niceness of every local we met.
Little Rock Skyline!

Pere David Deer at Global Wildlife Preserve
I will walk you through a traditional bath at the Buckstaff, and for a hike around the Hot Springs Mountains as well as revisit some serious history lessons in Little Rock. 

I need to write about the great conservation efforts to for grazers on the North Shore.  I love how every time I visit New Orleans, my friend and I do something new while still honoring my love of all things art, music and good food.

Autumn in Golden
And that Denver/Golden autumn needs to be showcased.  While I only visited to see a few friends, we did take in some stunning colors in the cities.  And while there, I helped a friend of a friend build a Day of the Dead alter, my first! 

I had a fun and busy fall.  Lots of fun things happened in between those great trips, that I would ideally like to highlight. We had a fantastic trip to Fredericksburg for pumpkin picking, we saw a few great shows at area theatres/venues to see Elle King and a new Disney Musical - Freaky Friday, and enjoyed the changing of the seasons locally!  Ideally, all that stuff deserves a write-up, I just don't see all that happening.   So I will focus on these 4 trips.  I just need some time (and a new computer). 

So expect posts to come flying... promise!!