Our Beautiful National Parks in The United States
Favorite thing: Fortunately, for all of us in the United States, there have always been citizens who realized the value of keeping at least a portion of our vast land in as close to a natural state as possible.
In our cities & our suburban areas, people need a place to escape pressure & to enjoy the fresh air, open space, clear streams, & stunning landscapes. These places deserve to be protected because they contain plants, animals, & scenery found nowhere else in the world. What are these places. Why, the United States National Parks, of course.
Although, unlike many of my friends on VT, I have visited very few of these wonderful parks. I will list the ones I know something about because I've been there:
Everglades National Park in Florida This huge (2,185 square miles) park is still in danger. Its an open, flat land of prairie grass, pine trees, & swamps with water that flows slowly to the sea. Importantly, there are beautifu herons, egrets, storks, pelicans, spoonbills who come here to hunt fish. In addition, alligators prey on anything they can find.
Here you are able to hike backpack, camp, boat, bicycle, fish, go birding, or take a guided boat tour.
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona (1,903 square miles). This is the "Cadillac of National Parks" with its gorge carved by the Colorado River. From the canyon's top to the bottom, you can experience 4 life zones. 2 billion years of earth's geological history are here for us to see in the layers of rock. Here you are able to hike, backpack, camp, take river raft & mule trips.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee (813 square miles). This is indeed my all-time favorite. There's a smoky haze that covers the land; the hills are pink with rhododendron blossoms in spring. In the fall, the fall colors are spectacular. Here you are able to hike, backpack, camp, horseback ride, bicycle, fish, cross-country ski, sled, toboggan, or just enjoy the scenery.
Fondest memory: Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas (9 square miles) Although it is small, it is wonderful with its thousands of gallons of hot (143 degrees F) water that flows daily from 47 natural hot springs. You are able to bathe in the water in handsome old bathhouses to seek relief from pain or just to relax. There's also beautiful woodlands. Here you are able to hike, backpack, camp, horseback ride, swim, boat, or bathe in the hot springs.
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky (81 Square miles) It's the world's largest known underground cave system with more than 330 miles of mapped passages. Here you are able to hike, backpack, camp, fish, boat, and explore the caves.
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia (305 square miles) The dense hardwood forest balanket the Blue Ridge here. The fall is spectacular. Here you are able to hike, backpack, camp, snowshoe, downhill & cross-country ski, climb mountains, horseback ride, and fish.
All the national parks were created to protect our irreplaceable land. Each has its own special value. There are 350 sites in the system, but only 50 are national parks.
These special parks have the highest mountains, tallest trees, longest cave systems or some other unusual landscape feature that is not found anywhere else in the world. These parks are dazzling.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- Family Travel
Historic Grand Resort in CALIFORNIA
Favorite thing: Hotel del Coronodo is too expensive to suggest as a hotel to stay in; however, it is a place in California that is a great place to visit.
It's affectionately known as The del and has recently been renovated and is an example of Victorian architecture at its finest. This hotel enjoys fame because it was the setting of one of Marilyn Monroe's movies and because of its historical/architectural significance.
When you first see the hotel, it "leaps" out as a huge white edifice with red roofs with many turrets. It is lovely set against the sugar-white sands and the aqua-blue Pacific Ocean.
The inside is quite elegant with stately solid furniture, subdued fabrics, and subtle lighting.
It was recently voted "Best Hotel Dining" by the California Restaurant Association. Here are some of the places that you may choose to eat at while you visit the hotel:
1. Prince of Wales is romantic fine dining either inside or outside.
2. Sheerwater has casual California coastal cuisine. It is an oceanfront restaurant with lots of outdoor dining terraces and a giant fireplace.
3. Babcock & Story Bakery & Bar offers tapas and light fare. Also serves gourmet coffee, tea, & freshly baked breads & pastries.
4. Crown-Coronet Room is world famous because of its crown-shaped chandeliers which drop from a glowing sugar-pine ceiling. Marvelous views of California can be seen from the large windows that circle the room. Sunday Brunch is served here.
5.Cabana Bar is a Poolside Bar.
The employees see to every detail, and you are treated as though you were royalty.
Fondest memory: It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. Besides all the wonderful places to eat, endless white sand beaches (named one of top ten beaches in USA), and incredibly beautiful scenery, the Hotel Del Coronodo has two swimming pools, a nearby boathouse, and programs especially for teenagers.
Be sure to visit the Hotel del Coronodo, even if you don't go inside. But, it does not cost one penny to have a look!
Located on Island of Coronado in San DiegoRelated to:
- Historical Travel
Favorite thing: The Everglades are located at Florida's southern tip, and this vast area (5,000 sq. miles) is comprised of swampy grasslands that are fed by the Kissimmee River & Lake OKeechobee. Sadly, today this area is 1/2 of what it used to be because of an ever-growing population & extensive drainage.
To preserve the region, in 1946, President Harry S. Truman, established Everglades National Park.Its also been designated a World Heritage Site, and International Biosphere Reserve, & a Wetland of International Significance. The Native Americans called the Everglades "grassy waters" because tall, grasslike plants grow here. This sawgrass is a razor-sharp, saw-toothed grass 10 to 15 feet tall that can cut human flesh like a knife.. The Everglades really is a very wide, slow-moving river of freshwater; it's sometimes 70 miles wide but only one foot deep!
The American Indians in the Florida region fled to this area once the White Man appeared and tried to exterminate them. There are about 200 Seminole Indians who still live in the Everglades. The Miccosukee Indians have lived here since 1820. The Florida panthers still live here, but they are close to being endangered.
Fondest memory: If you visit the Everglades, you should go sometime between late fall & early spring. Otherwise, this swampy region's many insects will make your visit uncomfortable. In the Everglades, you can walk on long wooden boardwalks, or you can explore in a canoe or take a tour on an airboat. Many of the airboat tours are done by Native Americans who grew up in the region. While there, DO NOT INTERACT WITH THE WILDLIFE!
If you visit via airboat as I did, you will learn about the hammocks which stand a few feet above the high-water level. Hammocks are small islands covered with trees & shrubs. Hopefully, you'll be able to see tree frogs, blue herons, white ibises, and alligators.
Sadly, the Eveerglades are threatened by land development and farming. A major rescue effort is needed to save our Everglades, but some experts think that it is already too late.
If you visit, do not add to its destruction!Related to:
- National/State Park
- Adventure Travel
Checking Email on the Road
Favorite thing: We were in some pretty desolate places--like i mentioned in other tips, no houses for 20 miles at a time, much less any businesses. So we could only check email every few days. The best places to check email are public libraries. You can find one in about every single county in the US. And it's free. We went to a cafe to do this in Jackson Hole because it was the weekend and it was $10.00 for one hour. Public libraries are definitely the better option here. The nicest one we came across was in Cortez, Colorado...a small town outside of Mesa Verde, but what a great library!Related to:
- Road Trip
Favorite thing: I put most of this information in a tourist trap tip, but it's as important to list it here, too. We have so many places that glorify junk, it's great;-)
Fondest memory: I don't think I would have had as great of a time without that barbed wire museum. (just kidding, but it helped!)Related to:
- Road Trip
- Family Travel
Beaches, Extinct Volcanoes, and an Exotic Palace
Favorite thing: Honolulu is Hawaii's largest city and the state capital, but it is quite popular because of the white-sand beaches at Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, and the sheltered harbor. Honolulu is a friendly location with a slow pace and balmy weather.
It's perhaps most noted for the military installation of Pearl Harbor Naval Base. (That's the reason we stopped here on our way to Maui).
But, Waikiki Beach is, by far, the main attraction with its white sand, clear blue water, swaying palm trees, and locals surfing. Now, the "down side" to Honolulu is the fast-food joints and wall-to-wall hotels lining the beach. Most people ignore that negative factor and concentrate on the beauty of such natural wonders as Diamond Head and Punch Bowl, the two imposing extinct volcanoes.
Tourist also enjoy visiting the Iolani Palace and Queen Emma Summer Place, in the vicinity.
But, I noticed that many people just stayed on the beach or around the pool of the hotel just soaking up the glorious sun and relaxing in this slow-paced Paradise.
Fondest memory: My favorite memories of Honolulu concern the day we visited Pearl Harbor, saw the Arizona Memorial, and visited all the other WWII-related places. We took a special tour with four other people in a van that picked us up at our hotel, took us to Pearl Harbor (where we did not have to wait in any lines), showed us the other military installations, treated us to lunch at the Officer's Mess Hall, and showed us the military cemetery. The tour guide was dressed in uniform, played music from the 1940s, gave us a detailed account of that horrid day, and then drove us back to our hotel. Although I was drained at the end of all that emotional turmoil, I was so glad we had seen it; that moment in time is forever branded in my memories.Related to:
- Castles and Palaces
- Historical Travel
A Month in Paradise
Favorite thing: Maui is the second largest island of the Hawaiian Islands, and it has 80 beaches! Pineapple and sugar production contribute to Maui's economy. But, it's really tourism which provides the most toward the island's economy because Maui is a resort destination. We stayed for one month in Maui right on the beach in a great condo.
Many visitors arrive at their beachfront hotels (concentrated in West Mauri from Kapalua to Lahaina and at Kihei in South Maui), and they remain there to swim, surf, sailboard, ocean Kayaking, snorkeling, sailboating, and ocean rafting. They also take diving expeditions to Molikini Crater.
Lahaina has a historic district with great shopping.
Whale-watching can be done from mid-December to April. We took a whale watch trip while there, and we did see whales!
Also, many resorts have world-class golf courses. However, it was way too expensive for us.
But, Maui's premier attraction is Haleakala National Park. By all means, be sure to take the famous Drive to Hana via the Hana Belt Road. Here, you'll see lovely roadside waterfalls. Take your time and absorb it all. Beware: it's a "hair-raising drive of incredibly winding roads. Hopefully, you will experience the "real" Maui.
Visit the Hana Cultural Center to learn about this marvelous area.
Fondest memory: My favorite memories of Maui is taking walks on the beach, visiting Hana, going out to dinner, going to the weekly markets, playing tennis, and having coffee each morning on the balcony watching the whales!
Maui is a glorious destination, but be prepared; prices are steep!Related to:
As Far As You Can Go in Florida: The Keys
Favorite thing: I've visited The Keys twice. The 1st time, about twelve years ago, I was not impressed. While in Key West, everything seemed overpriced; the town itself seemed "tacky" and somewhat dirty; and the hotel where we stayed was less than acceptable.
However, the 2nd time that we visited was just two years ago, and I was amazed at the improvements. It was no longer dirty; still somewhat weird, but no longer "tacky".
As the southernmost settlement in the United States, unique, artistic people are attracted to Key West.
While there, I really enjoyed that most everything was within a few blocks of Duval Street (main thoroughway).
I visited the Hemingway House and really found the six-toed cats to be fascinating. I also took a Trolley Tour where I learned the history and the architecture of the area.
I would also suggest seeing the Heritage House Museum on Caroline Street (probably because the Robert Frost Cottage is there!)
One cannot go to Key West without seeing a sunset at Mallory Square (on the northern edge of Old Town). It a real celebration.
I did not think that I would like the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum (shipwreck treasures), but I sure did/
The most fun, however, was simply walking around this unique town, going in and out of the many shops, stopping for refreshments, and watching all the people...and you will see some strange people!
Fondest memory: Learning about the "shot-gun" houses; seeing the places where the
cigars were made, and partaking in the nightly Mallory Square Celebration honoring the stunning sunsets.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
San Diego, CALIFORNIA Zoo
Favorite thing: If you see one zoo in the UNITED STATES make sure that it is in San Diego, California, at the San Diego Zoo. It is ranked as the number one zoo in the country and for good reason. It is so large, so well-organized, so diverse, and so entertaining that you just have to visit it.
The smart way to visit is to purchase a BEST VALUE TICKET which includes admission to the zoo, unlimited use of the Skyfari Aerial Tram Ride, a 40-minute Bus Tour, and unlimited use of the double decker or one level express bus, which you are able to get on and off at will.
This zoo is open 365 days a year!
There are great shows to see at this zoo:
Sea Lion Show
Dr. Zoolittle Show at the Children's Zoo
The Wild Ones
Some of the great areas in the zoo:
Gorilla Tropics where you can see the rare and darling Pygmy Chimpanzee.
Polar Bear Plunge where the bears entertain.
Rain Forest Aviary
Tiger RiverIturi Forest
Panda Bear Habitat
Fondest memory: Plan to spend the entire day, use the Best Value Ticket, take your time, stop often for a drink or a snack, use the Skyfari Aerial Tram ride at least once, use the Express Bus often, and let your inner child surface. You'll be glad that you did.
2920 Zoo Drive in Balboa Park
(619) 234-3153Related to:
Circus Master's Home:Ca d'Zan, Sarasota, Florida
Favorite thing: Inspired by the Doge's Palace in Venice, John Ringling and his wife Mable had Ca d'Zen (Venetian dialect for "house of John) built in Sarasota, Florida. Sarasota was the winter location of the Ringling Brothers Circus.
Ca d'Zan has 31 rooms and is said to have cost 1.5 million dollars in 1926. The center of the house is dominated by a Moorish-style tower that's 61-feet-high and is reached via an elaborate curving staircase. From the tower, one looks out over Sarasota Bay.
Inside are several unique features such as windows that are adorned with Venetian Gothic trefoils and quatrefoils. There's a good deal of glazed terra-cotta in many colors also. Beautiful tinted glass, lovely balconies, and enchanting gargoyles abound.
Most impressive is the 200-foot-long marble terrace that's bedecked with marble statuary. A grand marble stairway leads from this marvelous terrace to the dock where John Ringling actually kept his genuine Venetian gondola along with his 125-foot yacht!
How impressive it is to walk through 12-foot-high Walnut doors into the Great Room with its tinted Venetian lead glass. These arched French doors are really stunning. (see photo)
Once inside the Great Room, you are aware of the black Belgian marble and white Alabama marble in a checkerboard pattern. The walls are made of Italian Walnut, the ceilings are painted & guilded, and the furniture is antique, of course.
In the center of this elaborate house is a two-and-a-half-story living room with colored-glass skylight, a gigantic crystal chandelier (from the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City), and huge paintings of Greek & Roman Mythology.
Of interest is an Aeolian organ ($50,000) located on the balcony overlooking this enormous room.
Fondest memory: The state of Florida inherited this mansion along with Ringling's European art gallery in another building on the estate.
The state of Florida operates it as the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art at 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, Florida 34243, (941)359-5700
This is a house not to be missed!Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
Indianapolis: Patiot, Artist, Athlete, & Historian
Favorite thing: Click for a better view
Indianapolis, Indiana, capital city of Indiana, is a surprisingly cultural city...it has some of the finest War Memorials, Historic Districts, Top-Notch Museums, and spectacular Sport's Venues.
I don't think that the locals realize what an exceptional city it has become in the last 20 years.
My parents lived here for many years, which was during a time of turmoil and decline for the inner city. I attribute sports as a major influence on the "turnaround" of this town. I remember the Pan American Games being held (surprisingly) in Indianapolis, and the rest is history. Sports became a focus; sporting venues were built; the Convention Center was built; and the city came "alive" again.
During the time that my friend Jill and I were there (from April 1-7), the Final Four in Women's College Basketball Finals were held. At the same time, there were trials in swimming competition going on.
After the city began to reclaim its splendor, the arts also became a focal point. The city's Children's Museum is one of the biggest and best in the nation, perhaps the world. The new Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Oldfields-Lily House & Gardens, a 26-acre estate & historic house museum is highly admired and respected. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art (alliance partner of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution!) is "eye candy" both inside and out. Of interest, too, is the gigantic Crown Hill Cemetery.
There are more than 140 parks that range from thousands of acres of nature preserves to modern recreation complexes. They have a system of greenway trails, or linear parks, that is supposed to eventually link 175 miles of neighborhoods, parks, & recreational, historical, & natural areas.
What they have right now is certainly impressive.
Fondest memory: The architecture in Indianapolis is also impressive. There are several historic districts that have been lovingly preserved. The homes range from German immigrant cottages to Federal/Italianate, Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, and Late Federal styles.
If the only spectacular architecture were the Scottish Rite Cathedral with its Gothic tower that holds a 54-bell carillon, the city would be worth a visit. However, it's not the only fantastic building or memorial.
There's also the Anthenaeum, an imposing and massive German structure, that now houses the city's oldest restaurant (Rathskeller) and a YMCA!
In addition, there's the remarkable Murat Centre, an Arabic-styled temple in the Massachusetts Avenue Arts District. Besides being one of the largest Shine Temples in North America; it is also a Theatre.
But, as far as I'm concerned, the "Crown Jewel" of Indianapolis is Veteran's Memorial Plaza at Meridian & North Streets. It encompasses five blocks in three separate areas that include University Park Fountain monuments; Obelisk Square; and American Legion Mall.
It's truly awe-inspiring!Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
I was into photography then
Favorite thing: I was studying (freelance) photography at that time, so I was obsessed with framings, light, film grain and all that stuff.
To take this photo I had to wait more than 10 minutes for the man in black to get in the right corner in front of the right scenary...
Favorite thing: I can't remember if it was in Minnesota or in NYC, but this architectural detail caught my eye. Among all those brick buildings I saw... an egyptian bas-relief!!! I guess it was the wall of a museum or something similar, but there was that egyptian bird in the concrete jungle!
Never Say Second City About My Chicago!
Favorite thing: Click on PANORAMIC PHOTO
When speaking about Chicago, Illinois, NEVER refer to it as "second city around me!
It's far from second...with its phenominal Lakefront, its extraordinary famous landmark skyscrapers, its renowned beautiful & much-used parks, its exciting, though often controversial, sport teams, its multitude of diverse neighborhoods, Its world renowned museums, its classy array of shopping opportunities, its legendary musical venues, its innumerable and highly-regarded restaurants where you discover delicious cuisine, and its deserved reputation as a friendly, welcoming city. There's NOTHING second-rate about Chicago!
Come see for yourself.
Make sure you visit during the Spring, Summer, or Fall. You could come during the Christmas Holidays, too. Why those times? That is when Chicago is at its best...when the fountains are running, when the various flowers are in full bloom in the parks & on the sidewalks, when you are able to walk unencumbered by layers of clothing, when the sailboats & other boats fill the harbors, when you are able to walk the neighborhoods, meet the people to find out for yourself why Chicago is a First-class city!
taking an architectual tour via the Chicago River
seeing a game at historical Wrigley Field
trying Chicago deep dish pizza
taking a ride down Lake Shore Drive
shopping the famed Magnificent Mile
shopping at world renown Marshall Fields
walking in grant Park or the new Millennium Park
taking in the vibrant Navy Pier
Visiting one or all of the museums such as
the Art Institue, the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, the Museum of Science & Industry
take in Lincoln Park Zoo
Fondest memory: tour the Chicago Children's Museum
the Museum of Broadcast Communications
Be sure that you see The Loop and its 1892 Elevated Train that makes a 7-block-long & a 5-block-wide "loop" of the city. Better yet, take a ride on the elevated train, but not during rush hour!
By all means, don't miss the Pullman Historic District
DuSable Museum of African American History
Go to the Outreaching Areas to see:
The Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright
Oak Park to see Ernest Hemingway Home, Hemingway Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio, & the Unity Temple
At least SEE the architecture:
old Water Tower, the Drake Hotel, the Newberry Library, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Sears Tower, the Harold Washington Library Center, the John Hancock Center, the Marina City Towers, The Rookery, the Chicago Theater
Most of all, immerse yourself in the neighborhoods to see variety beyond compare. Stay a week, and you'll just "scratch the surface". Then, return again and again. I assure you, you'll never think of this town, my Chicago, as a "second city" again.Related to:
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
Country Boulevard: Branson Missouri
Favorite thing: Who would believe that Branson, Missouri, was once quite a remote spot, just miles from the Arkansas border. Today, it's one of the nation's prime tourist attractions. In the early 1900s, Harold Bell Wright wrote a novel called The Shepherd of the Hills about this area and its homespun characters. People came to see if it were real, and many of them stayed!
Branson's main draw today is its music scene. The 2-lane section of 76W that runs through Branson is known as""76 Country Boulevard" or "The Strip". There are well over a dozen music theaters that host top regional and national artists from May through October and during the Christmas Holiday Period. Yes, the emphasis is on country music, but other styles are also offered such as rock, gospel, jazz, and pop.
We stayed 12 miles from Branson at a golf resort.
We were there for one week, and we saw three shows, played golf four times, browsed the many craft and antique shops. Bought a handmade quilt, tasted wine at The Stone Hill Winery, and really enjoyed Shepherd of the Hills Homestead. It is a working homestead that has a preserved cabin, a sawmill, smithy, and other shops. You can take a guided tour, visit the scenic lookouts, and see shows at the outdoor amphitheater (they bring the "Shepherd of the Hills" novel to life).
We also saw Silver Dollar City which is a combination of a historical pioneer village and a modern theme park. The cool thing about it is the admission includes entrance to Marvel Cave whose 3 miles of passageways lie beneath the complex.
With all the lakes in the area, you can go boating, fishing, swimming, and even scuba diving!
Fondest memory: One of the shows that we saw was called Legends in Concert Live!. We had seats on the front row, and when the singer dressed as Elvis was performing, he threw me his scarf; later, he came into the audience, and he sang to me and gave me a kiss. "Oh, be still my heart!"
The Blues Brothers, Elton John, Patsy Cline, Neil Diamond, and Faith Hill were the other featured singers. It was a terrific show. We both really enjoyed it.
I still have the blue scarf and will always remember the kiss!Related to:
- Theater Travel
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