Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Time I Drove a Horse-Drawn Wagon and Other Pioneer Tales

Mama horse and her newborn foal


I was a bookish kid who was completely enthralled by The Little House on the Prairie series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. While there was also the TV show based on the novels that depicted pioneer life, it was the books that kept drawing me in. Laura's storytelling is so vivid that my young mind was convinced it was an autobiography, not made up tales based on her childhood in the American frontier. I wanted to be just like Laura.

I remember pulling out my student atlas, flipping to the page for South Dakota and finding De Smet on the map. There it was. A tiny dot that represented the little town where the last few books of the series are set. And I'd sit there and wonder what that town looked like. When we started planning our Great Big Western USA roadtrip, I explained to my husband that De Smet was "only a four hour detour" from the Badlands/Mount Rushmore stop on our itinerary. I begged. I pleaded. I explained how we were never going to be that close to Laura's little town on the prairie. I channeled all the stubbornness that my inner-Laura could muster. So, that's how I finally found my feet firmly planted in the real life, 21st century De Smet, South Dakota. It's still a small town of only 1100 people, and a visit there is like being transported back in time.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Outdoor Fun in Jackson Hole



I'll admit that visiting Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park was a post-Yellowstone Park afterthought. We were in the area... so, why not? Located just south of Yellowstone, this area holds its own against its more famous neighbor. As soon as Jackson Lake came into view with the Teton Mountain range rising up behind it, I knew that we were in for a scenic treat. Our few days based in Jackson Hole were filled with all sorts of outdoor adventures followed by evenings relaxing in town. It's an admittedly touristy place, but all the wide open space keeps it from ever feeling overly crowded.


Fur trappers and mountain men first entered this valley between the Teton and Gros Ventre mountain ranges by descending its steep slopes, feeling as if they were climbing into a massive hole. The area is named after David Edward "Davey" Jackson,  a beaver trapper who was one of the first white men to spend an entire winter in this valley in the 1820's. It would be another 50 more years before Jackson Hole was regularly inhabited year-round.


FUN FACT: The area is expecting record high crowds on August 21, 2017. Why? It's a prime viewing area for a total eclipse of the sun beginning at 10:17AM and peaking at 11:35AM.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Under the Thames

50 feet below the surface of the River Thames


I like to visit oddball attractions when we travel. London is no exception. That's how my family came to find ourselves taking a walk under the Thames. Sure, some people head straight for Westminster Abbey or the Tower of London. Not us. On our first full day in this historic town, our first stop was the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Close Encounters on Devils Tower




Two men loom large in my mind when I think of Devils Tower — Richard Dreyfus and Frank Sanders. Steven Spielburg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind was one of the hit movies that came out in 1977. (A little cult classic called Star Wars was another.) I watched it in the theater during some friend's birthday sleepover party and spent the rest of the night decade worrying that I'd be abducted by aliens. I clearly remember spreading out my sleeping bag under my friend's baby grand piano in hopes that it would offer a small measure of protection in the event of an extra-terrestrial visitation. Richard Dreyfus' character briefly encounters a UFO and is then strangely compelled to keep building models of an unusual, mountain-like image he sees in his mind. An iconic scene occurs at the dinner table when he heaps mashed potatoes onto his plate as his puzzled family looks on, then sculpts the mound with his fork.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Everglades National Park: Focus on the Details

Alligator lurking in the Everglades

Most U.S. National Parks wow visitors with the massive, awe-inspiring scale of its landmarks. Stand on the brink of the Grand Canyon and gaze down at its depth  Cast your eyes upwards to take in the height of towering Sequoia trees.  Admire how Yellowstone Valley is framed by Bridalveil Falls plunging downwards on one side and the imposing El Capitan on the other. Breathe deep and greet the day as the sun's rays touches the United States for the first time every morning atop Acadia's Cadillac Mountain. These are the grand vistas visitors expect from national parks.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Keeping it Real

Slumped on a bench instead of looking around

My friends tell me that my kids are lucky to be so well traveled. If you read my previous post about Villa Vizcaya - Old World Opulence in the Heart of Miami, then you know more about Vizcaya than my kids do. My daughter will most likely get around to reading the Vizcaya post, but my boys never read this blog because, as they claim, they experienced it in real life.

We had just disembarked from our cruise that morning after staying up late the night before for a special 10:45PM, Thursday night release of the live action Beauty and the Beast. If you've ever been on a cruise, you know that they kick you out of the cabins super early so that they can prep for the next round of guests. The whole family was sleep deprived.

In any case, the kids could not muster up any interest in all the elegance surrounding them. When we were upstairs in the villa, they parked themselves on a bench in the passageway and didn't move. (I suppose this is better than having them touch every single breakable antique which is what I had to watch for when they were younger.)




They perked up in the fresh air of the Formal Gardens, drawn towards a Maze Garden where the hedges only reached as high as their thighs. So, it wasn't a total wash. 


Entering the Secret Garden

I just wanted to keep it real in case if you envisioned my kids being completely enthralled by everything we visit. I suppose they did repeatedly thank us for taking them on the cruise, so that's something.

If only I had figured out the Iron Man 3 connection beforehand.

What do you do to keep kids engaged?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Villa Vizcaya - Old World Opulence in the Heart of Miami

Vizcaya as seen from the Boat Landing


The great Jay Gatsby would approve of Vizcaya. I can picture it as his temporary home when escaping the unseemly cold that wraps itself around Long Island and his mansion in West Egg during the winter months. Vizcaya was built to impress. It screams Old World opulence and money that has been passed down for generations. Its antique-filled rooms and stately formal gardens mentally transport visitors to Europe despite the fact that they are just across the bay from Miami's famed South Beach.
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