The German Connection

I had been wanting to visit Germany for a very long time. In 1984 my family would participate in a student exchange program that would bring a German female student to live with us for a year. Her name was Sabine and she was a senior while I was a freshman in high school.  We had some great times

Germany me and Sabine
Me and Sabine in Bad Homburg Germany

while she was here and I hated to see her leave.  So I always wanted to visit her in Germany ever since she left. We would stay in touch through the years and my mother would visit her during a military operation in Belgium. Sabine would also travel to the US a couple of times with her family. However, I had never been over there to visit.

Finally in 2009 the opportunity came for me to visit my friend in Germany. In part I had one of my fellow Rangers from work to thank for this opportunity. His brother was stationed in Germany with the military and had introduced us to each other while he was in the States visiting the year before.  We had become friends and he had also encouraged me to visit Germany. So one of my friends lived in Bad Homburg outside of Frankfurt, the other one lived in Vilseck in the Bavarian region near the Czech border.

Rothenburg Germany town
Town of Rothenburg Germany

So I flew into Munich, the Bavarian capital in Germany, first and met my military friend at the airport. Munich is a wonderful city however, we went on to another town first and would come back to Munich later on in my visit. One of the first places we went to was this small medieval tourist town called Rothenburg. It was such a cute little town. It almost felt like some kind of fairy tale walking around.  We ate at this restaurant called Michelangelo’s Restaurant and Cafe and it was delicious! There are several good restaurants, hotels, and activities here in this town so be sure to make a stop here. The road leading to the town is one of Germany’s most popular scenic drives called the Romantic Road. It runs from the Franconia Wine Country to the German Alps.

Next we headed to Nuremberg. Those who know history will remember this city for the Nuremberg Nazi Party Rallies of the 1930’s, it’s destruction in WWII, and the Nuremberg Trials after the war. However, the city has so much more to offer than the painful

Germany church and lamp
Frauenkirche Nuremberg Germany

memories of war and Hitler. There is much to see and experience here in this city from food, to ancient breweries, to the architecture, to the markets.

Frauenkirche is a church famous for its clock in the square or Hauptmarkt but it is as beautiful inside as the architecture is on the outside, so be sure to take a tour. There are several churches in the Hauptmarkt and nearby that are worth looking it. Whether you are religious or not, the churches in Germany are  magnificent and should be on anyone’s list to tour.

The Hauptmarkt is also famous for it’s Christmas Market from the end of November through Christmas Eve. If you plan on visiting during this time frame don’t miss out on this tradition.

Germany bells
Schöner Brunnen 14th century fountain in Hauptmarkt of Nuremberg Germany

Another famous piece of art is the Schöner Brunnen, which is a beautiful 14th century fountain in the Hauptmarkt.  They have a fence around the fountain so no one can get in or too close to the spire to protect it from damage.

One thing you must try before leaving Nuremberg is the Drei im Weggla (3 in a roll). It’s Nuremberg’s favorite snack, Nuremberg sausages, 3 of them, sliced on a roll with mustard.  I asked for it without mustard as I hate condiments but if you like that then get it the way it’s intended. They are pretty famous for their type of sausages here in the Bavarian region so be sure to try one. You can find them all over the city from street vendors and I bet you can’t stop at one.

The Old Town is also very fascinating, rich in history and dates back to the Middle Ages.  This area was the heart of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.  The old city walls are still there and the Imperial Castle. You will feel like you have transported back in time walking through the cobbled streets.

Germany moat
Heiliggeist Spital, hospital on the Pegnitz River in the Old Town of Nuremberg Germany

I don’t know if it’s just Americans or not but traveling overseas and seeing these beautiful cities, monuments, architecture etc. that are sometimes thousands of years old is just breathtaking. Maybe because in the US we don’t have anything older than a few hundred years. I have several friends from other countries and they just don’t seem as impressed with these ancient cities as I am.

There is so much to see in this city so plan on staying here at least a couple of days to get all the sites in. I prefer the fall and winter in this country because of the festivals and events they have but there are also some great festivals and events during the spring and

Germany fountain
The Ehekarussell or Marriage Merry-Go-Round fountain that details the stages of dating, marriage, and death

summer such as the beer festivals, art and music, medieval, food and wine, traditional dancing, and history festivals in most of the cities throughout Germany.  Check out the sites below that lists all the festivals and events going on throughout the year all over Germany.

Next my friend took me to the US military base near Vilseck known as Grafenwoehr and consisting of the Rose Barracks, which are near Vilseck. The base is about an hour northeast of Nuremberg in Bavaria.  The US Army has used this area for training since 1947 and it is the largest NATO training area in Europe.

During the time I was there in Vilseck, the military base had some kind of an antique market going on for a weekend. They had some beautiful antiques and artwork at this market along with some great food. This particular market was for military personnel only, however there are other antique and art markets throughout Germany for civilians.

My friend was pretty big into gambling so he wanted to take me to a famous casino nearby in the Czech Republic.  They actually have several nice casinos just across the border.  So we took the train over to

Charles Bridge in the Old Town of Prague, Czech Republic
Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic

indulge in a little gambling action.  This is another city that is full of rich history, beautiful architecture, and some pretty fantastic festivals and markets of its own. I wish I had more time to spend in this country but it wasn’t to be on this trip. Maybe the next time I visit Germany I can spend more time in the Czech Republic as well.

Next stop was the ancient castle ruins of Lichtenberg. This castle was first constructed in the 12th century and expanded around 1170-1180.   There is quite a history about the castle at Lichtenberg.

Germany Vilsick
Lichtenberg Castle

Parts of Germany were occupied by French Revolution troops in 1792, and then by 1795 the French would dissolve the old German borders to create new ones. These new borders would place Lichtenberg Castle in the Saar District. The castle would be plundered on numerous occasions over the course of the French occupation and eventually would mostly be destroyed by fire.

Once Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated and the French withdrew from Germany, this area was turned over to the Duke of Saxony-Coburg-Gotha in 1816 and became a Princedom of Lichtenberg. This arrangement did not last long and in 1834 the area was sold to Prussia. The castle would continue to decay and finally in 1895 it would be placed under historical monument protection. By the end of World War II the Prussian government was no longer and again Lichtenberg would change hands to the new state of Rhineland-Palatinate in 1945. By 1971 Rhineland-Palatinate would hand over the castle and the area to the Kusel district in Germany. There are some beautiful countryside views and small towns in this area so worth the drive out there.

From a famously ruined castle to a castle that inspired Walt Disney, The Neuschwanstein Castle or ‘New Swan Castle’ near the Bavarian town of Fussen.

Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria Germany

The castle was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria and fashioned after Richard Wagner’s, a world renowned composer, characters in his operas. Even though the castle is a medieval design, the construction did not begin until 1869 and upon Ludwig II’s death in 1886 the construction continued and oddly enough it still continues today.

“Mad King Ludwig” as he was known, was consumed by romantic literature, opera and perfection. This would explain the modern touches such as flushing toilets and central heating throughout the castle. King Ludwig II also picked a beautiful spot to build his fairy tale castle. Don’t leave Germany without visiting this enchanting place and the foothills of the German Alps. Also if you have the time and inclination, the town of Fussen is about a 25 minute walk to Austria.

I took a break from Bavaria and rode the train to Frankfurt next to visit my other friend Sabine. On the ride I had to take a connector at one point which was a little confusing

Frankfurt Train Station
Train Station in Frankfurt Germany

and there were no signs in English or anyone around that could speak English.  I knew a little German but not really enough to discuss the train situation. Finally I figured it out on my own and made it to the Frankfurt station. I had contacted Sabine through WhatsApp to let her know what time I would be arriving and I made it with no real issues.

After we left the train station she took me around some places in Frankfurt before we headed out to her home in Bad Homburg. Frankfurt was about what I expected, a beautiful old city with plenty of modern touches mixed in with the architecture that is

Germany square
The Fountain of Justice was reproduced in bronze in 1887 and stands outside of City Hall in Frankfurt Germany

hundreds of years old.

One of my favorite places in Frankfurt was part of the old town with traditional style  German buildings, beautiful architecture, statues, fountains, and churches.  One of the statues was this one to the right called The Fountain of Justice in the square outside of City Hall.

I have always steered clear of tour groups, in my mind they are a nightmare, however when you have a good friend that’s a local in one of the places you visit, a friend tour can’t be beat! I prefer to take my time, look at everything I want to as long as I want to with no interference. I don’t want a stranger taking me to what they think is cool or interesting and giving me a time limit to look. You can’t put a time limit on a moment or a vision while visiting other countries.

Sabine took me to some great places, restaurants, bakeries, and squares. It was great getting to hear the history of the city and the country from a local, as well as opinions on the government and political past as a German.

Germany square 3
Frankfurt Germany

I love to get the insight from people who actually live in the countries I visit. Not only on the country we are in but I’m always curious how people in other countries view Americans and the relationship of the US with the country I’m visiting. More times than not the answer is “We love Americans but we hate your government”.

One thing I found fascinating in Germany, as well as other countries I have visited, is just how far the Roman Empire reached.  Their presence is felt and seen in so many places and remarkably preserved in many locations. Romans wanted to conquer the world and wanted to be remembered and while

Germany Roman statue
Roman Barracks at Saalburg in Bad Homburg Germany

they did not succeed in conquering the entire world, they did succeed in being remembered. Their culture, art, philosophy, government, and lust for life live on today in many countries and cultures.

After touring Frankfurt we headed to Bad Homburg where Sabine lived with her family. Her neighborhood was a very modern one although the houses were closer together than I would have expected in such a nice neighborhood but still each had a fairly good sized yard with them.  I was so excited to get to meet her entire family as this would be the first time meeting her parents, sister, husband, and three children.

As I expected they were all as nice as she has always been.  Her children were relatively young when I visited on this occasion all of them still in primary and secondary school at the time.  Her daughter Katharina was the youngest and I think she was in 3rd/4th grade at the time.  Not sure why but Katharina really liked me and wanted to hang out with me the whole time I stayed with her family.  She couldn’t speak English, and I could only speak very limited German but it didn’t matter. Funny how you can communicate with people without speaking the same language.

Germany me and Kathrina
Me and Katharina Bad Homburg Germany

Children don’t usually take to me. I have no children of my own and I really don’t like being around children. I don’t know how to react to them or their questions.  But she hung on to me as if I were her best friend while I was visiting.

Next Sabine took me to the Saalburg Museum which is an archaeological site of Roman buildings, forts, ruins, and a lot of artifacts within the museum that were found onsite. The Romans left this area in 260 AD and left the site abandoned. The site was later refurbished and became a UNESCO site in 2005. I have always loved the history of ancient civilizations, how they began, how they lived, and how they ultimately fell or adapted and merged into new civilizations. To me the three big ones were the Egyptian, Greek, and of course the Roman Empire. I have been lucky enough to visit Egypt and Greece, however I have not been to Italy…yet!  So getting to see the Roman ruins in several other countries I have visited has been a treat.

Germany Roman barracks
The Roman Barracks at Saalburg in Bad Homburg Germany

The Romans were a prolific military force and getting to see one of their forts and military barracks really put into perspective just how focused they were on creating such a military and empire.

Next my friend took me to the Schloss Bad Homburg vor der Höhe, or Castle of Bad Homburg. This castle was built in the 12th century by the Landgraves of Hesse-Homburg and in 1660 most of it was demolished by Frederick II, Landgrave Hesse-Homburg. He rebuilt the castle to his liking between 1680-1685 and had it designed by Paul Andrich. His son Frederick III and his wife Victoria would later add

Germany castle
Schloss Bad Homburg vor der Höhe Germany

electricity, telephone rooms, and some beautiful gardens.

Unfortunately you are not allowed to take any pictures on the interior of the castle and mansion only on the outside. I was able to take some in the torture tower though which was very interesting.

The interior was very beautiful, ornate, and over the top as most of these places are from past kings and queens that built them and lived in them. They had a guided tour that takes you through the castle and mansion. Some of the areas were off limits and the guide did not speak English so my friend had to translate for me what she was saying.

Bad Homburg Castle
Schloss Bad Homburg vor der Höhe Germany

Hopefully they have adapted to international travelers by now, otherwise it will be difficult to understand the history of the place.

After spending a few days with Sabine and her family, it was time for me to head back to Vilseck. Once back my military friend took me for a ride to the Autobahn so I could drive his brand new BMW the way it was intended…fast! I can’t remember where we exactly got on the Autobahn, but boy did I have a great time driving on it.  I had heard so much about it and how there were no speed limits at all. That is very enticing to someone with a lead foot.

autobahn bmw
Driving on the Autobahn Germany

However I would find out that there actually are ‘suggested’ speed limits in areas and ‘actual’ speed limits in other locations along the Autobahn. But make no mistake you can drive your vehicle how you really want here and it is exhilarating!

So we drove back to Munich where I initially flew into to spend a little time exploring what the city had to offer. As with all the cities I had visited in Germany, Munich was full of history, beautiful architecture, fantastic restaurants, shopping, and a vibrant market square.

new town hall munich germany
New Town Hall in Munich Germany

What stood out the most to me was the beautiful New Town Hall built between 1867-1874. This is where the mayor’s office and the city council are as well as the headquarters of the city administration.

Their Christmas Market is one of the oldest dating back to the 14th century. However it has only been held in Marionplatz in the center of the city since 1972. This is definitely something to see if you’re visiting during the winter months at the end of the year.

Next we drove to Amberg a city that is not as popular as it’s neighboring cities but every bit as rich in culture, history, and beautiful architecture.  The old city walls are well preserved and date back to the Middle Ages. Is is said that the settlement of Amberg could date back to the 8th or 9th century, however the first written record is from the 10th century.

Germany Vilsick old fort
Nabburger Tor Gate to the Old City Amberg Germany

Amberg was a mining town of local iron ore deposits and shipped them down the river Vils to other major rivers.  The town also saw quite a bit of religious turbulence during the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation between the Protestant followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin. The town ultimately became completely Catholic and expelled all the Protestants.

Walking through this town feels as though you are walking back in time. It felt like the epitome of an old German village. The town is small enough to walk the entire area and shop all the way.  Beautiful German gifts can be found around every corner with very friendly and helpful shop keeps. This town may be small but it is worth the visit.

After Amberg it was time for me to return home. Germany was a great trip only like so many other trips, it never last long enough and it leaves you wanting more.

Be sure to check out the sites below for places to visit, activities to do,  hotels, restaurants, and more for each city I visited while in Germany.

 

Germany garden
Church of the Redeemer, Bad Homburg Germany

Germany Roman ruins 2

Roman Ruins in Frankfurt Germany

Germany Vilsick canal

Amberg Germany

Germany tower and fountain
Landgraves Castle and Gardens in Bad Homburg Germany
Germany Vilsick wall
Old City Walls of Amberg Germany
Germany tudar
Bad Homburg Germany
Germany church doors
Die Erlöserkirche or Church of the Redeemer in Bad Homburg
Germany church
The Gothic Lorenzkirche or St. Laurence Church in Nuremberg Germany

Munich Germany

  1. https://www.ratskeller.com/
  2. https://www.hofbraeuhaus.de/de/hofbraeuhaus.html
  3. https://www.steinheil16.de/speisekarte
  4. http://www.zumduernbraeu.de/
  5. https://www.residenz-muenchen.de/
  6. https://www.erzbistum-muenchen.de/pfarrei/st-peter-muenchen
  7. http://www.deutsches-museum.de/
  8. https://www.schloss-nymphenburg.de/
  9. http://www.bayerisches-nationalmuseum.de/
  10. https://www.getyourguide.com/-l26/?cmp=ga&campaign_id=6647995905&adgroup_id=80712238002&target_id=aud-295254369966:kwd-12324918821&loc_physical_ms=9013448&match_type=e&ad_id=388159960531&keyword=things%20to%20do%20in%20munich%20germany&ad_position=1t3&feed_item_id=&placement=&partner_id=CD951&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIzY-3rKqJ5gIVDoTICh13IAggEAAYAyAAEgJr_vD_BwE
  11. http://www.inside-munich.com/munich-festivals.html
  12. https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/germany/festivals
  13. https://www.muenchen.de/int/en/events/christmas-market/character.html

Rothenburg Germany

  1. https://www.michelangelo-rothenburg.de/
  2. http://www.hoell-rothenburg.de/
  3. https://www.hotel-reichskuechenmeister-rothenburg.de/en/home.html
  4. https://www.rothenburg-restaurant.de/
  5. https://www.hotel-sonne-rothenburg.com/
  6. http://www.tilman-riemenschneider.de/index.html
  7. http://www.kriminalmuseum.eu/
  8. https://www.getyourguide.com/-l93125/?cmp=ga&campaign_id=6656031594&adgroup_id=79053673877&target_id=aud-295254369726:kwd-60612107588&loc_physical_ms=9013448&match_type=e&ad_id=388206501011&keyword=things%20to%20do%20in%20rothenburg&ad_position=1t1&feed_item_id=&placement=&partner_id=CD951&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIp_al8KOJ5gIVBaSzCh3UIQftEAAYASAAEgLdhvD_BwE

Nuremberg Germany

  1. https://www.kaiserburg-nuernberg.de/
  2. https://www.frauenkirche-nuernberg.de/
  3. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g187310-Activities-Nuremberg_Middle_Franconia_Franconia_Bavaria.html
  4. https://www.nuernberg.de/internet/stadtportal/schoener_brunnen.html
  5. https://theculturetrip.com/europe/germany/articles/7-foods-you-need-to-try-when-youre-in-nuremberg/
  6. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g187310-c21-Nuremberg_Middle_Franconia_Franconia_Bavaria.html
  7. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotels-g187310-Nuremberg_Middle_Franconia_Franconia_Bavaria-Hotels.html
  8. https://tourismus.nuernberg.de/en/experience/events/festivals-markets/

Neuschwanstein Castle Fussen Bavaria Germany

  1. https://neuschwansteincastle.net/
  2. https://www.travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/neuschwanstein-castle-germany
  3. https://curiosity.com/topics/neuschwanstein-castle-is-a-disney-inspiration-designed-by-a-mad-king-curiosity/
  4. https://www.bavaria.by/visit/fuessen/
  5. https://en.fuessen.de/

Amberg Germany

  1. https://tourismus.amberg.de/index.php/festivals-and-events.html
  2. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g229474-Activities-Amberg_Upper_Palatinate_Bavaria.html
  3. https://www.european-traveler.com/germany/top-sights-in-amberg-in-the-oberpfalz-germany/
  4. https://www.hotels.com/de381279/hotels-amberg-germany/
  5. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-world-s-smallest-hotel-eh-hausl-amberg-germany
  6. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g229474-Amberg_Upper_Palatinate_Bavaria.html

Vilseck Germany

  1. https://www.bavariannews.com/blog/2019/01/23/top-things-to-do-in-vilseck/
  2. https://home.army.mil/bavaria/index.php/calendars

Rozvadov, Czechia

  1. http://www.pokerroomkings.com/index.php/home-en.html
  2. https://www.tripadvisor.com/RestaurantsNear-g7620223-d8682124-King_s_Casino_Hotel-Rozvadov_Pilsen_Region_Bohemia.html

Prague, Czechia

  1. https://www.casinoambassador.cz/cz/casino-ambassador/
  2. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotels-g274684-zff14-Czech_Republic-Hotels.html
  3. https://www.google.com/travel/things-to-do?g2lb=2502405%2C2502548%2C4208993%2C4254308%2C4258168%2C4260007%2C4270442%2C4274032%2C4285990%2C4289525%2C4291318%2C4296668%2C4301054%2C4303479%2C4305595%2C4308216%2C4308984%2C4313006%2C4314841%2C4315873%2C4317816%2C4317915%2C4322338%2C4324289%2C4329288%2C4329496%2C4270859%2C4284970%2C4291517%2C4292955%2C4316256&hl=en&gl=us&un=1&otf=1&dest_mid=%2Fm%2F05ywg&dest_src=ts&dest_state_type=main&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiOgbDYrJHmAhXSdd8KHTO7DZEQ6tEBKAQwEnoECAsQCw#ttdm=50.075291_14.439549_13

Frankfurt, Germany

  1. https://www.booking.com/city/de/frankfurt-am-main.html?aid=336408;label=frankfurt-am-main-s7cVr0*Hw4sVX2oHqmiu9QS392971281341:pl:ta:p1260:p2:ac:ap1t1:neg:fi:tikwd-154799277:lp9013464:li:dec:dm;ws=&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIi9aEkcOp5gIVjZOzCh2LVQSaEAAYASAAEgJgJ_D_BwE
  2. https://www.visitacity.com/en/frankfurt?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI9qC0rMSp5gIVBZ-fCh3O-ANYEAAYAyAAEgLyU_D_BwE
  3. https://www.frankfurt-tourismus.de/en/Information-Planning/All-Roads-Lead-to-Frankfurt/Public-Transport
  4. https://www.raileurope.com/place/frankfurt-hauptbahnhof

Bad Homburg  vor der Höhe Germany

  1. https://theculturetrip.com/europe/germany/articles/the-top-things-to-do-in-bad-homburg-germany/
  2. https://www.schloesser-hessen.de/badhomburg.html
  3. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187334-d534800-Reviews-Bad_Homburg_Palace_Landgraves_Castle_Castle_Park-Bad_Homburg_Hesse.html
  4. https://www.bad-homburg-tourismus.de/en/entdecken/freizeit_schlosspark.htm
  5. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g187334-Activities-c40-Bad_Homburg_Hesse.html
  6. https://theculturetrip.com/europe/germany/articles/the-top-things-to-do-in-bad-homburg-germany/
  7. https://www.booking.com/searchresults.html?aid=336408;label=bad-homburg-vor-der-hohe-Zb7gGg_COtSxFMo7YXN8aQS151854494858%3Apl%3Ata%3Ap1%3Ap2%3Aac%3Aap1t2%3Aneg%3Afi%3Atikwd-1217091222%3Alp9013464%3Ali%3Adec%3Adm;sid=9d716b5427d3dc3ac6c070a8deb6d8c4;city=-1743152;hyb_red=1;redirected=1;redirected_from_city=1;source=city;src=city&

The Last Frontier

Alaska 4
Denali National Park Alaska

I have always wanted to go to Alaska. The mountains, the snow, the Northern Lights, the wildlife, and the idea of very few people per square footage compared to wildlife and nature. It has always been a lure for me. I had made plans when I was around 24-25 years old to move there but ultimately it did not work out. Life went on and years went by. I was actually working as a law enforcement Park Ranger for the State of Tennessee and had just graduated with my Master’s in Science/Paleontology when my parents surprised me with a graduation gift of a trip to Alaska.

Finally I was getting the chance to go to this majestic state and run wild. I flew into Fairbanks and downtown for starters. I went to Alaska in early spring so it was daylight for most of the time. I went walking downtown my first night at midnight and it was completely daylight. I did have a questionable man approach me while out walking, not sure what he wanted and I didn’t give him a chance I just said “don’t even start with me pal” and he scurried off. Even though it was daylight out, there were some usual suspects that lurk after midnight.  After staying in downtown

Alaska hostel
Billie’s Backpackers Hostel in Fairbanks Alaska

Fairbanks, I then went to a hostel called Billie’s Backpackers Hostel just outside of town for a few days.

Now if it were me planning this trip I would not have stayed at a hostel. Not that there’s anything wrong with hostels. They can be very affordable, very social, and you can meet some interesting characters staying there, however I am a very unsocial person, hate crowds, hate sharing a bathroom, and rooming with strangers is a nightmare for me. So you can imagine the look on my face when I arrived and was taken to a room with 2 bunk beds and a roommate. Turns out my roommate was a welder from Michigan working in Alaska for the season and had a vehicle. The first day I was at the hostel I rode the bus all over the area just to see the sites and get a better feel for where everything was.  The next day my roommate offered to drive me around in his vehicle so that worked out pretty good from there on out until my departure. 

McKinley Resort
McKinley Chalet Resort Alaska

Next I headed to McKinley Chalet Resort just outside of Denali National Park on the Nenana River. It was roughly 2 miles to the entrance of the park from the resort.  They do have a shuttle service that will take you to the park just check with the front desk for details.  The resort was a beautiful place, rustic and modern qualities complimented each other. It was so quiet sitting outside just listening to the river running, the birds chirping, and the wind whistling.

McKinley has a fine dining and a casual dining restaurant so you can choose what you prefer. There is a gift shop at McKinley but there is also shopping just across the main road where you can find all kinds of great art, jewelry,  local art, Native and Alaskan art. There is also a white water rafting company nearby along with all kinds of ATV tour companies, horseback riding outfits, fishing excursions, back country hiking/camping tours.  I have listed a few below. Just talk with someone at the front desk and they can help you set up any tours you would like to take.

While I was staying at McKinley I took a tour of Denali National Park and boy is that a beautiful park!  It brings to mind what North America must have looked like before the people arrived and how peaceful that must have been. There is so much wildlife running around; wolves, caribou, grizzly and black bears, moose, Dall Sheep, and more.

Alaska 2
Dall’s Sheep in Denali National Park Alaska

So visitors will never be disappointed here, everyone will have the opportunity to view wildlife in this plentiful Arctic wonderland. Mt. Denali is North America’s highest peak reaching 20,320 ft and it is still growing about 1 millimeter per year. The origin of Mt. Denali is due to the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. These plates are still actively pressing against each other.  The park itself is 6 million acres of wilderness and 16% of that is glacier. The region has been inhabited by humans for over 11,000 years. Some of its residents include the Dena’ina, Koyukon, and Tanana people.  The Koyukon would be the ones to call the mountain Dinale meaning ‘tall one’.

Most of the native people in this area were excellent trappers and made money doing this through trade with Russians.  Unfortunately with this contact of foreigners they were exposed to smallpox and other diseases from which many died as a result. In 1876 a gold prospector named the mountain McKinley in honor of President William McKinley and the name became official in 1917 a few years after President McKinley’s assassination. However, the locals never stopped referring to the mountain as Denali. The mountain’s name was finally officially changed by President Barack Obama in 2015 back to the native Denali.

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Moose in Denali National Park Alaska

There is a lot of history at Denali National Park and if you want to learn more on its history there is a tour for that. The park has several different tours you can sign up for depending on what you are more interested in or if you have the time take all the tours.  The history tour will vividly describe the long human history of the region as well as about the park. There are wildlife tours, gold rush tours, hiking tours and more. There is a link below where you can sign up for tours before you go to make sure you get one.

For the next part of my trip I headed to the town of Healy just North of Denali. There I met up with my pilot of a bush plane to fly me to my next destination, Denali Wilderness Lodge* on the Wood River. When I first got there and saw the plane I thought wow that’s small! The pilot said I could only take one small bag because he had supplies for the wilderness lodge. This plane was only big enough for 3 people and it was packed with supplies and a few plants so one small carry on bag was all I could take with me.

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The Bush Plane I rode in

My pilot was a retired military man and had been flying helicopters and planes for a very long time. Not that I was worried I love to fly large or small. I love the feeling and honestly it’s better in the smaller ones.  First of all you can really feel what it may feel like to fly yourself, every movement and turn with all those windows to look out of as you’re flying. My pilot asked me If I wanted to get some really good pictures while flying, of course I said yes. So as we flew over the snow capped mountains with Dall sheep, and the long, winding frozen rivers, he would tilt the plane sideways on my side so I could get some really nice shots. Fantastic!

Alaska wood river
Wood River Denali Alaska, taken from the bush plane ride

Now I realize this type of acrobatic flying probably isn’t for everyone but if you can take it then you will get some wonderful pictures and have a great time doing it. I think it took us a little longer to get to my destination because of all the trick flying and picture taking but it was so worth it. It also gave me the chance to talk with my pilot about his life in the military and his retirement to Alaska. He was such an interesting man.

So upon approaching Denali Wilderness Lodge I happened to ask my pilot, “where do we land the plane?” as there was no airstrip or anything. I never really thought about it before.  He said ‘oh we’re going to land on that old dry river bed”. Well that sounded a bit crazy but ok I was ready. This was definitely the roughest part…landing and it was very bumpy but he did a great job.  So finally we made it to the lodge where I was met by some of the workers there so they could show me to my cabin and then show me around the camp area.

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Landing strip at Denali Wilderness Lodge

This would be my longest stay of anywhere else while I was visiting Alaska and by far the best time I had the whole trip.  It was so remote, very few people, no roads coming in or out and it was so peaceful. The only sounds were nature, the wind, the river, animals, birds that’s all you could hear. Just my kind of place.

My tour of the camp was a few cabins, the lodge where you could get a drink or hang out by the fireplace and play some board games, a theater cabin, the main lodge where meals were served, a horse corral and barns for them, and the observation deck down by the river.

During my stay in Alaska was the time of the ‘midnight sun’ so there was plenty of daylight to explore the area each day. One of the workers there was a hiking guide so he and I went hiking up Mt. Anderson one day. He had to give me some tips on wilderness hiking and about what to do if we ran into a grizzly on the hike. So up the mountain we went. Every time he showed me scratched up dirt near small animal dens he would say ‘that’s from a grizzly trying to get food, they are hungry right now’ I would think great, but I hope they won’t eat me I’m a very bad eater and I probably don’t taste too good haha. It was a little nerve wracking to think at any moment we could come across one.

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Marmot on the lookout on the hike up Mt. Anderson at  Denali Wilderness Lodge

We never did see any grizzlies on that hiking trip but we sure did see a lot of other wildlife out looking for food;  Dall sheep, marmots, Willow Ptarmigans, porcupines etc. But every time I saw those scratch marks a grizzly had made my heart starting racing again thinking ‘well any time now we are going to walk up on one and be lunch’  The hike was so rocky and actually pretty dangerous with a lot of loose rocks so if you ever visit and plan to hike be prepared with the proper clothing and equipment. Once we got to the top and sat down to eat a bite that we had packed in our backpacks, it was so beautiful, quiet, and the air was so crisp. I wish I could have stayed longer.

The next day I decide to hike out on my own to the nearby Wonder Lake. I had talked with some of the workers and they were telling me about how far it was and to look out for moose, grizzlies, and mosquitoes on the hike out.  So I set out with my camera to see what all I could take pictures of. This was an easy hike and not too far from the camp area.  As I was walking, cautiously, I had my camera ready for anything. All of a sudden I heard something large walking nearby over a small hill.Alaska porcupine I thought ok get the camera ready this could be a grizzly and I wanted to be ready for it, before it attacked me I thought.  My hands were getting clammy, heart racing again and there it was..At first I thought it was a young cub from the color and size so I immediately thought, this is bad the mom will be close by. However when our eyes met I realized it was a very large porcupine and he realized I was human and took off running, but not before I snapped this picture of him. The staff workers had also mentioned the mosquitoes as you got closer to Wonder Lake.  They were correct, by the time I reached the lake I could hardly see for swatting at these pest they were everywhere.  Note to self; lots of bug spray next time I visit!

Another tip from staff was if a grizzly comes through camp just run into the closest cabin possible for safety. I asked about locks on the cabins and they said ‘there are no locks on any building or cabin for such reasons as grizzlies coming into to camp’. They wanted visitors to be able to get to safety quickly if they needed to. Interesting I thought, of course you could latch it at night while sleeping with a cool antler attached to the door.

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My cabin at Denali Wilderness Lodge Alaska

The cabins were small but had everything you needed, a bed and full bathroom and black out curtains as well so you could sleep since it stayed daylight so long. I loved my little cabin! Mine was close to the river and a beautiful view out in front of me. I had a little porch I could sit on but most evenings I walked down to the wildlife observation tower on the banks of the Wood River where the views were fantastic and it just felt so good to sit atop the tower with the wind blowing, listening to the sounds of nature and watching wildlife just live their lives.

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Wildlife Observation Tower on the banks of the Wood River Denali Wilderness Lodge Alaska

As you can see in the picture to the right, there was still a lot of snow on the mountains during my visit in May. I’m generally a hot natured person so I thought it felt great outside but the wind was a little chilly in the evenings. The Wood River that ran through the camp also had quite a bit of ice on it still during this time frame.

Be sure to check the weather for your trip because this can limit what type of activities you will be able to do and can also affect where you stay as it does at Denali Wilderness Lodge. Alaska is definitely one of those places that it’s difficult to decide when to go, winter or summer, as the two are so different and both equally fantastic.  The ideal solution is to go on a trip here during both if you can.

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The Wood River Alaska iced over

You may not be able to canoe a river during May here but they did have a horse corral where you could take a long ride through the countryside which will give you the feeling of living back in the 1800’s riding into the wilderness with no sign of civilization only nature. I Loved It!

After a long day of hiking or riding horses, one of the nice things was to unwind at the lodge bar by the fireplace.  It’s a very cozy set up like a private hunters club. The bartender that was there when I went was also quite the character. He said he was a former green beret, had an eye patch over one eye, and was a little rough around the edges for sure.  Full of great stories so he can keep you entertained for quite awhile. He also told me he was the caretaker for the lodge in the off season. He said the bush pilot would bring supplies for him for the 8 months he was there alone because the plane could not get to him during bad weather. A tough character indeed.

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Horses at Denali Wilderness Lodge Alaska

He also invited me to go porcupine hunting. I can only imagine what some of you may be thinking, and yes this is a delicate process to keep from getting injured. Apparently the porcupine are such a problem there and are literally eating the buildings down. So we did catch 2 of them on our hunt this one night and honestly I did not realize they were so big.  Once caught they had dropped a few of their quills which were fascinating to me so I picked up a few to bring home. I was told that these quills were used in the past by local natives to sew clothing, shoes, bags, jewelry, artwork, and household items.

After spending a wonderful week at Denali Wilderness Lodge, I flew back to Healy where I would get on the Alaskan Railroad for a trip down to Anchorage. The train ride is a Coastal Classicgreat way to see the countryside especially if you’re not much of a hiker or prefer to stay warm and safe looking through the glass windows instead of being out in the wilderness. The seats were comfy, the food was great, and the views were outstanding. I did see a large black bear on the side of the tracks but it happened so fast I couldn’t get a good picture of him.  Finally I made it to Anchorage which is a lovely city right on the water. I stayed close to the Anchorage Market which was a fantastic food market, flea market, arts and crafts festival kind of place. This market is huge and there is so much to see. One of the best food items I tried was Halibut on a stick so seek it out if you’re in town.  There are also some great restaurants in the area of the market and the hotel I stayed in. I have listed a few of those below.

Anchorage Alaska at night
Anchorage Alaska

Be sure to look at the Native Arts here, they really have some beautiful pieces of art both modern and traditional. If you want to know more on the process or the meaning behind the native art then check out the Native Arts and Heritage Center. Anchorage was the end of my Alaska tour. I left feeling very relaxed and ready for whatever comes next.

*The Denali Wilderness Lodge was closed due to the death of the owner in 2006 and stayed abandoned until new owners bought it and fixed it back up in 2018. They also changed the name to Wood River Lodge.

Fairbanks Alaska

  1. http://www.alaskahostel.com/
  2. https://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Billie-s-Backpackers-Hostel/Fairbanks/4230?source=adwordsdynamic&network=g&campaign=373120958&creative=338934392790&adposition=1t2&uniqueclickID=11682290262193723854&sub_keyword=&sub_ad=b&sub_publisher=ADW&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI8oGCvbnD5QIVSZyzCh1EEgLcEAAYAiAAEgIC-vD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
  3. https://www.booking.com/hotel/us/billie-39-s-backpackers-hostel.html
  4. https://www.explorefairbanks.com/
  5. https://www.travelalaska.com/Destinations/Communities/Fairbanks.aspx?utm_content=2006&utm_source=Google&utm_medium=cpc&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-f2azI3F5QIVCbSzCh0wlgn1EAAYASAAEgLdd_D_BwE
  6. https://www.google.com/destination?q=fairbanks+alaska&output=search&dest_mid=/m/0qf5p&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjR8ZLMjcXlAhVokeAKHQK4A_UQ6tEBKAQwDHoECA0QCw#dest_mid=/m/0qf5p&tcfs=EhUKCC9tLzBxZjVwEglGYWlyYmFua3M
  7. https://www.travelchannel.com/destinations/us/ak/photos/how-to-see-the-northern-lights-in-fairbanks-alaska
  8. https://alaskatours.com/alaska-natural-attractions/alaska-northern-lights/
  9. https://www.alaskarailroad.com/

McKinley Chalet Resort

  1. https://www.westmarkhotels.com/destinations/denali-hotel/
  2. https://www.alaska.org/detail/mckinley-chalet-resort
  3. https://www.tripadvisor.com/AttractionsNear-g11914881-d230207-McKinley_Chalet_Resort-McKinley_Village_Denali_National_Park_and_Preserve_Alaska.html
  4. https://www.westmarkhotels.com/denali-food/

Denali National Park

  1. https://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm
  2. https://www.reservedenali.com/
  3. https://www.google.com/destination?q=denali+national+park+alaska&output=search&dest_mid=/m/01nb6p&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjl6dP39cXlAhUGTt8KHWPDDSMQ6tEBKAQwDXoECAoQCw#dest_mid=/m/01nb6p&tcfs=Ei4KCS9tLzAxbmI2cBIhRGVuYWxpIE5hdGlvbmFsIFBhcmsgYW5kIFByZXNlcnZl
  4. https://www.travelalaska.com/Destinations/Parks-and-Public-Lands/Denali-National-Park-and-Preserve.aspx
  5. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g143022-Activities-Denali_National_Park_and_Preserve_Alaska.html
  6. https://www.westmarkhotels.com/destinations/denali-hotel/#image-5

Wood River Lodge

  1. https://woodriveralaska.com/
  2. https://www.alaska.org/detail/wood-river-lodge
  3. http://www.flydenali.com/wood-river
  4. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g31007-d15856082-Reviews-Wood_River_Lodge-Healy_Denali_National_Park_and_Preserve_Alaska.html#REVIEWS

Anchorage Alaska

  1. https://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/alaska/hilton-anchorage-ANCAHHF/index.html?SEO_id=GMB-HI-ANCAHHF
  2. https://www.historicanchoragehotel.com/
  3. https://anchoragemarkets.com/employment/
  4. https://www.anchorage.net/things-to-do/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIz9bSzbr55QIVzZ6zCh1huwJ9EAAYASAAEgL4Z_D_BwE
  5. www.humpysalaska.com/
  6. http://www.orsoalaska.com/
  7. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g60880-Anchorage_Alaska.html
  8. https://www.alaskanative.net/
  9. https://www.anchorage.net/things-to-do/shopping/native-art/
  10. https://www.alaska.org/detail/alaska-native-arts-foundation

From Sea To Shining Sea

 

SMNP mtns
Smoky Mountains National Park

Have you ever wanted to drive from one side of the United States to the other? Stopping in every state to see what they are famous for or just to try the food and talk to the locals? When I was in college working on my bachelors degree, myself and a couple of girls that I was in school with decided when our semester was over in the spring we would drive across country…just because we could.  We were all in different programs; Anthropology, Geology, and Paleontology but we were in the same division and all of us loved camping and National Parks so this was our goal…hit every National Park we could from one side of the States to the other in a three week long trip. So since I was the planner I wrote up an itinerary, map, highlighted the Atlas, (this was before everyone had cell phones or GPS) figured up the cost of gas for every state, cost of camping at each National Park, rough estimate of food etc. Gas at this time was $1.89 if that gives you an idea of when this was.

Well about a week before we were to leave, the Geologist backed out on us and threw my calculations for the trip off. Not being one to give up on what was sure to be a fantastic trip, I decided to compromise and accept the offer from my friend to bring along her ‘on again, off again’ boyfriends’ brother whom I had never met or knew anything about. I regretted that decision almost immediately!  I thought this guy would be a ‘replacement’ for our friend that couldn’t make it and pay his share just like our friend had planned, but no this guy never paid for anything, no gas, no food, no camping fees or park fees-nothing! And as I would find out later in our trip, all his money was going to marijuana that he was buying off random people as we drove across the county.

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Black Bears are seen quite often in the park.

So away we went into the unknown of our  country. Our first stop was The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the #1 visited National Park. This park borders Tennessee and North Carolina and is abundant with diverse wildlife, flora and fauna. There are many places to hike, bike, ride horses, swim, ski, camp and more.  The Appalachian Trail runs for 71 miles through the park as well. There are several small towns in the area on both the Tennessee and North Carolina side of the mountain.  There you will find hotels, cabins, chalets, restaurants, crafts and art work and plenty of things to do in all of these towns. On the Tennessee side Gatlinburg is right in the middle of everything, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Wears Valley, Pittman Center, and Townsend. On the North Carolina side you have Cherokee, Bryson City, and Waynesville.

Elevation Sign SMNPCherokee is actually a Cherokee Indian reservation that is definitely worth visiting if you’re in the area.  They have a wonderful cultural heritage museum, several plays they do throughout the year, a native village where they demonstrate how the Cherokee used to live and a pretty famous casino in the area called Harrah’s. Check out the sites below for more information on The Great Smoky Mountains National park, the local towns, and all the things to do here. Well worth the visit.

Our next stop was Buffalo National Wild and Scenic River in Arkansas. This is America’s first national river and is one of the few rivers that has not been dammed up. There are many fun outdoor activities in this park, canoeing, kayaking, camping, hiking, horseback riding, and historical homesteads. If you don’t have your own canoe or kayak you can always rent them here. The Buffalo River has 151 miles of freely flowing access for a very enjoyable ride. There are good whitewater areas as well as slow riding areas of the river so assess your abilities before getting on the river and make sure you get the right maps and information for your skill level to ride on the river.

Buffalo River
Buffalo River Arkansas

No permits are required at this time to get on the river like many others, however be sure to check out their website below first to see any updated information.  You are also allowed to do back country camping along the river as well. Check out the parks Preventative Search and Rescue page for information on back country camping and a list of what to bring.

There is also a lot of history and culture in this area. The Buffalo River runs through the Ozark region which has a very long human history going back to the Paleoindians 10,000 years ago. If you really want to learn more about the history and culture here, rangers do free interpretive hikes from Memorial Day to Labor Day to educate visitors on the region.

Buffalo River waterfall
One of the many waterfalls in the Buffalo River area.

Be sure to bring a camera along with you if you have one.  Smartphones these days take great pictures but they still can’t compare to an actual camera. There are so many beautiful areas to take pictures so don’t miss any opportunities.  The Buffalo National River is also home to at least fifty-nine different species of fish. Twelve of these species are considered game fish and it’s a favorite spot for those looking for Smallmouth Bass, Rainbow and Brown Trout. Check out all state license information on their website. Anyone 16 and older must get a license.

The park encompasses over 95,000 acres that surround the Buffalo River area and 75 miles are designated equestrian trails. If you plan on bringing your own horses, be aware that this state does require proof of a negative Equine Infectious Anemia Test ( otherwise known as a Coggins Test) upon entering the park. You can also read about all rules and regulations concerning horses on their Preventative Search and Rescue page to make sure you are prepared.

Our next stop was Oklahoma City National Memorial. Depending on how old you are you may or may not remember what happened here on April 19, 1995.

Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City Memorial

The deadliest domestic terrorist attack happened here on that date and remains today the worst in American History. A former military veteran of the Gulf War became disillusioned with the military and the government due to the incidents that occurred at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and Waco in 1993. He conspired with three other people to carry out his terror attack killing at least 168 people and injuring over 680 more. One terrorist would be put to death by lethal injection in 2001, one sentenced to life in prison, one to twelve years, and one would receive immunity for their testimony.

Oklahoma City 2
Oklahoma City Memorial

At the time when we visited this memorial, I had never been to such a tragic site before and the silence there was deafening. It was the calmest and saddest place all at once, until that is 9/11 in 2001. I would visit that memorial years later and have that same feeling.

I think it’s important to remember our history good and bad to hopefully help us prevent issues and threats for the future. It seems today people forget so easily the tragedies that occur and there appears to be an escalation in those tragedies.

Cibola National Forest in New Mexico was our next stop. This is a 1,633,783 acre forested area that stretches from New Mexico, through Texas and parts of Oklahoma. The word Cibola is said to be from the Zuni Indians meaning tribal lands. There are many activities within the National Forest including hiking, camping, skiing, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, and backpacking. There is a tramway here as well that takes visitors to the top of Sandia Peak to a restaurant and the ski slopes.

Cibola NP (2)
Cibola National Forest

The park includes four ranger districts; Mt. Taylor, Mountainair, Sandia, and Magdalena, four wilderness areas; Apache Kid, Withington, Sandia Mountain, and Manzano Mountain and four National Grasslands; Kiowa, Rita Blanca, Black Kettle, and McClellan Creek. Be sure to check their website below before you plan your trip for fees and permits.

Next stop, Petrified Forest National Park. This place was very fascinating and surprising. When you come up on the park you may not think there is much here and decide to just drive on to the next big thing but trust me this place is worth stopping for and going for a hike.  It was absolutely beautiful the different colors in the sand and rocks made for some fantastic pictures. There are many different hikes to take throughout the park, there is a list of those on the website below. The Petrified wood here dates back to between 211-218 million years.

Petrified Forest 1
The Petrified Forest

We were there in early May and I would advise if going during that time frame, to have plenty of water and sunscreen when hiking. There is also a museum there that shows the many fossils that have been found in the region. If you love history, geology, paleontology, climatology or any other related field you will love this park.  Most of the hikes are under 4 miles and fairly easy at that. If you want to see the Hoodoos Tower at the Devil’s Playground you will need to get a permit at the Painted Desert Visitor’s Center. These permits are few per week so try to hit up the VC early because it is first come first serve.  They will give you instructions on how to get to the Devil’s Playground at the visitors center.

petrified forest hoodoos in the Devil's Playground
Hoodoos Tower at the Devil’s Playground in Petrified Forest National Park

This is one of the more eroded parts of the park hence the need for permits to limit the amount of people treading here.  It looks like an alien planet and you will not want to miss out viewing it for yourself. Also the actual petrified trees there are a really beautiful rainbow kind of color. I knew what petrified wood was before going to this park however, when you are standing there looking at it, touching it and knowing it used to be a tree but now has been transformed into rock, it kind of blows your mind just how mesmerizing mother nature can be.

petrified forest lizard
Petrified wood with a guest at the Petrified Forest National Park

I was also doing some research on this trip so I arranged to get soil samples at each of the National Parks to bring back to University. Be sure to call ahead to arrange for this type of research in the park you are planning on visiting as taking anything from parks without permission is illegal otherwise. So on to our next destination which is actually part of the Petrified Forest, The Painted Desert. Or rather the reverse is true, the Petrified Forest is within the larger region called The Painted Desert.  This area is a desert badland that runs from the east end of The Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest.

The Painted Desert
The Painted Desert

The rocky badlands in the Painted Desert area encompasses 93,500 acres and part of it does run through the Navajo Nation. The area definitely proves the volatility of the Earth over millions of years with volcanic activity, earthquakes, floods, and even sun exposure that have created this magnificent area of geologic formations.

Both the Navajo and Hopi Indians have lived in this regions for hundreds of years, however it was the Spanish Colonists in the region that gave it the name we still use today; El Desierto Pintado.  There are also some beautiful displays of ancient Native American rock carvings or paintings on the rocks so pay close attention to these areas and see if you can spot them.

The Painted Desert 4
The Painted Desert

There are many options for places to stay in the area. Camping being the preferred by many travelers that really want to experience The Painted Desert at sunset and at night. This is when the beautiful colors come to life right at sunset for the best pictures and the stars at night here are unbelievably clear and crisp so camping should be your first choice, however if camping is not your thing there are plenty of other options around that I have listed below.  Find what suits you best.  Flagstaff is the closest largest town that has anything you will need but there are some smaller towns nearby that can function for your needs as well.

Our next stop was a little off the beaten path and seamed like we were aimlessly driving through the desert for awhile but it was so worth it and served as a prelude to Arizona’s pride and joy The Grand Canyon. Our destination was

Canyon de Chelly
Canyon de Chelly National Monument on the Navajo Nation Tribal Lands in Arizona

Canyon de Chelly National Monument which is entirely within the Navajo Nation Tribal Lands. Families live within the canyon so please be respectful of their space and remember this is their home not just a tourist attraction.

There is a beautiful contrast when standing at the top of the canyon before you descend to the bottom. The reddish brown cliffs artfully eroded from the river below and the green trees that grow so lushly along the river banks. If you look closely you will also see some of the native residents tending to their goats along the river banks as well. There are also ancient ruins along the cliffs as you get to the bottom of the canyon floor you can get a real good look at those and just how amazing the Navajo ancestors were at building these homes within the cliffs.

Canyon de Chelly 2
Canyon de Chelly National Monument ancient ruins of the Pueblo on the Navajo Nation Tribal Lands in Arizona.

These cliff dwellings are approximately dated between 1250 C.E.-1300 C.E. and are some of the best preserved ones in Arizona. You will also find some great artwork here that the Navajo make themselves, paintings, jewelry, and my favorite the sand art paintings. I bought several of these from a Navajo local that I treasure most from my tour of the western part of the United States. Speaking of the locals, we were on the rim at night overlooking the canyon waiting for sunset when a local approached us talking about artwork that he does and wanted to know if we would like to see what he had back at his place. So the three of us took a small hike with him back to his house. Once I got a look at his place it was really more of a one room mud hut type of place.

There was a really old native man sitting outside who by the way never spoke a word as he followed us inside the mud hut.  There in the middle of the floor was an old wood burning stove, a bed, a table & yes lots of artwork that this younger native had drawn. He offered us to smoke with him and I’m guessing his father in this peace pipe type of instrument.

sand painting (2)
Navajo Sand Painting

My two companions gladly participated but I have always had an aversion to smoking, whatever the substance was I was not a smoker. From the smell it was definitely not average ol’ tobacco though. Then he offered us a drink from a bottle that he said they make themselves, a type of alcohol. Now normally I would have participated in this type of friendly gesture but again I declined as I was thinking of all kinds of possibilities at this point and I thought to myself; someone needs to remain sober to get us out of here if something goes wrong. Before leaving though I did buy some of his artwork that I thought was very good.

Now to the grandest of them all, The Grand Canyon and my friends it is Grand indeed. It was breathtaking standing there looking out over the canyon for the first time. It is so beautiful that it’s difficult to comprehend what you are looking at or if it’s real or a painting that somehow you ended up in.

Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon, Arizona

I felt frozen looking out over the rainbow geologic formations, watching the river flowing at the bottom, listening to the sounds of nature and imagining all the humans that had come before this most Grand hole in the ground and felt the same emotions that I was feeling. It must have been awe inspiring to the first natives and first pioneers to witness this beauty and I wondered what they thought about it, how they reacted to it and what other stories this area could tell.

When arriving at The Grand Canyon we actually got there at night and went straight to a campground at the park. Boy does it get cold at night in a primitive tent in these parts so pack accordingly when making your plans.

Grand Canyon 2
The Grand Canyon, Arizona

This is not a trip to plan lightly but with great thought, research, and planning. If you want to just visit the canyon from the top at the overlooks then you really don’t need to plan too much but if you plan on hiking the canyon then this takes some time. You need to first be in shape to get down and back up. Find the right place to stay while in the canyon. Have the right tools and essentials needed when hiking, and prepare for the weather no matter what time of year it is.  It doesn’t hurt to learn about what wildlife is in the canyon especially while hiking to be aware of what is possible.

After all our hiking, camping, and traveling it was time for a little rest so Sin City here we come! The road to Las Vegas, Nevada from The Grand Canyon at this time was a real treat to be able to drive across the Hoover Dam. This is a masterful dam and something I was quite interesting in seeing as my maternal grandfather, Charles E. Hathaway, was an

Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam

engineer for TVA in Tennessee whom designed and built dams during the 1940’s-1960’s and retired in the late 1980’s. I had also done a research paper in University about dams in Tennessee so it was a thrill for me to get to drive across this famous dam.

The year we went out west on this trip was just a few months after 9/11 happened in New York and law enforcement agencies were scrambling to tightened up security. Some bad choices were made I’m sure by many agencies in the beginning by profiling people that fit a certain idea in their head of who was a threat and who wasn’t.  Unfortunately we did witness some of this profiling while crossing the Hoover Dam. There were law enforcement officers and agents everywhere when we arrived and they were pulling vehicles over and searching them before you crossed the dam. We were not pulled over but the vehicles that were on the side and being searched personally and their vehicles being searched, appeared to be Middle Eastern and East Indian descent. Honestly it was a sad sight for me watching these people being violated simply for their looks. This may have been one of the reasons I became a law enforcement officer soon after this trip.

Las Vegas Aladdan
Las Vegas Nevada

Finally we reached Las Vegas Nevada and decided to get a hotel here and try a little gambling. Although none of us were really into that scene we thought we should try it while we were in town resting up for the next leg of our adventure. We didn’t stay long enough to really enjoy all Las Vegas has to offer as this was not what our trip was about, however a dedicated trip back to Las Vegas is on the menu.

After our ‘rest’ in Las Vegas it was on to Death Valley California. Believe it or not this is a beautiful place despite it’s name. ‘Death Valley’ actually came from the first pioneers that came through here and were not prepared for such a desert climate and many of them died on their trip.  Camping in the desert meant freezing at night so again be prepared if you plan on visiting any desert areas and camping.

Death Valley
Death Valley California

There is a really nice resort in Death Valley. When I was there it was called Furnace Creek Ranch, however the name has changed to The Oasis now.  It was a welcomed site for sure after driving in the desert to come across this place.  At first it looked like a ghost town of Old West legend with the broken down wagons, the tumble weeds blowing through the buildings, the dust tunnels stirring the ground, and all the black crows hanging around cawing with their feathers all ruffled up like they just flew through a tornado. So we parked and walked into the Saloon area looking pretty dusty and ruffled ourselves and had a nice cold drink to get the dust taste out of our mouths. We had a conversation with the bartender for a while about the area and what we needed to do and see before we left that region.

Scottys Castle
Scotty’s Castle, Death Valley California

One of the places he mentioned was Scotty’s Castle which construction began back in 1922 by a millionaire Chicago couple,  Albert and Bessie Johnson. The name actually comes from a gold prospector and con man, Walter Scott who coaxed the couple into building the mansion in Death Valley near his ‘gold mine’ which did not exist.  The two men however, became good friends in the end. The home is truly a marvel and is a beautiful mansion that still stands today, however there has been some flash flood damage in recent years so currently the site and tours are closed until further notice.

Another interesting place was a Borax mine when we were there. We drove out to the mine and I did a soil sample on the natural Borax there. If you have ever heard of the 20  mule Borax team then you know that exporting the Borax was an incredible feat when it began back in 1883.

20 mule borax team
20 Mule Borax Team during the 1880’s hauling Borax Ore across Death Valley to the nearest railroad spur.

These mules were incredible and in the history of the Borax mine there was never a wagon that broke down on its usually 160 mile trek through the desert. Be sure to either read up on this amazing outfit or visit the visitor’s area and see for yourself in person.  Unfortunately today the old Borax mine has been shut down and is no longer operational but you can still visit the site near Furnace Creek. You can read more about the 20 mule team on the sites below.

It’s hard to believe that such a desolate place with a name like Death Valley would beckon so many to visit, but this is truly a remarkable place. The history, the climate (one of the hottest places on Earth, it has registered 190 degrees Fahrenheit on the ground), the unusual geology in the area, the salt flats in the Badwater Basin, the Racetrack

Salt Flats 2 (2)
Salt Flats in Badwater Basin, Death Valley California

where rocks appear to float across the dry, cracked earth below your feet, The Ubehebe Crater, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and the endangered pupfish that adapted to life in the desert 250 million years ago can be seen in salt water ponds, springs and caves throughout the valley.

We visited one of those salt water pond areas where the pupfish were and we noticed the sky in the area all of a sudden looked very dusky. We kept looking at it, standing there starring and then realized real quick it was a sand storm. Did not expect that and boy did we run quickly back to the vehicle. There are also many other outdoor activities you can do within Death Valley if you’re up for the challenge. Be prepared with good shoes and a lot of water!

Next stop was on to Utah to Zion National Park. Unfortunately while we were visiting there was some sort of event going on and all the campgrounds were full, so we had to get a hotel here. The cliffs were so tall it actually felt as though they were falling in on you while walking around.

Zion NP
Zion National Park, Utah

This was a majestic park from the rusty red and purple sandstone cliffs, to the lush river banks that flowed through them. There were so many unusual flowers growing in this park I wish I had thought to bring a pocket guide (no cell phones when we were there).

The region that is now Zion National Park has been inhabited or visited by humans for 10,000 years and archaeologists have also studied artifacts here that prove there were humans in this region as far back as 300 B.C.E.  Some of the inhabitants were Ancestral Puebloan or also known as Anasazi, and Southern and Fremont Paiute.  The Mormon pioneers were the most recent culture to have left their impact on Zion Canyon before the land became protected.

Zion NP 2
Zion National Park, Utah

One thing about Zion when you visit during the peak season, from March-November, is the park service provides free shuttle service and it is also required. This means you are not allowed to drive your personal vehicle just anywhere you want during this time frame. There are a couple of places you are allowed to drive but you will need to talk with the Visitor’s Center upon entering to find out where.  We hiked and drove to the places we could without the use of the shuttle just because we did not want to be told when to stop and how long we had to view, hike etc.

The closest town is Springdale and it was such a quaint town. Reminded me of a ski town or a spa resort town with all it’s cool, artsy, and eclectic shops, restaurants, boutique hotels, and pet friendly establishments as well.

After leaving Zion National Park we were feeling the effects of being on the road and camping for too long so we started to drag a bit at this point.  We had planned to stop at several more national parks but we skipped a few out of shear exhaustion. We drove straight to Arches National Park next but there are 3 more beautiful parks in-between and hopefully next time I drive out I can visit those; Bryce Canyon NP, Capitol Reef NP, and Canyonlands NP. We actually drove right through all 3 of these but only stopped briefly to take some pictures on our way to Arches NP.

The Arches NP 3
Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Here is a peek at Bryce Canyon National Park. As in all of Utah there are these beautiful red sandstone, eroded, geological formations, but at this particular park they look a little more like fingers protruding up from the Earth below as if reaching for the sun.

The Arches National Park is definitely a red rock wonderland and is even more beautiful at sunrise and sunset. The red formations look as though they are on fire in the heat of the day. If you are looking towards Colorado, you will see the snow capped mountains in the background which provide a nice contrast to the red rocks.

The Arches NP
The Arches National Park Utah

As with all of our national parks there is a lot of history and culture behind their story. The land that would be The Arches National Park was first home to natives in the region that would leave fascinating rock art behind or Petroglyphs (pecked images) and Pictographs (painted images), giving us clues to their past. Civil War veteran John Wesley Wolfe would later operate a cattle ranch here from 1898-1910 that would eventually be established as a National Park by President Herbert Hoover in 1929.  If you want to visit the museum for the park it is primarily located in Moab Utah.

The town of Moab is another really cool small town with all kinds of interesting shops, restaurants and opportunities for some great outdoor adventures. Make sure you have time to visit downtown while visiting the parks in the area.

Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado was our final destination on this trip. This is an archaeological park for the Pueblo people in every sense of the word.  There are almost 5,000 archaeological sites here and 600 cliff dwellings.

mesa verde NP
Mesa Verde National Park Colorado

The Pueblo people lived in this region for 700 years from 600-1300 C.E. and some of the best preserved sites in the United States can be found here at this park. Unfortunately they have closed the Spruce Tree House dwellings for tours indefinitely due to rock slides/falls, however you can still view them from afar and get some pretty good pictures.  There are also a couple of cool little towns nearby; Durango and Cortez.  Durango is a little bigger and had more things to do but Cortez is the closest town to Mesa Verde NP.

Well we finished our National Park tour from coast to coast, for this trip anyway, and we were ready to get back home to Tennessee where the grass and trees are as green as far as the eye can see. We were tired of seeing flat lands and desert, even though it was beautiful to see all these places, nothing feels as good or looks as good as your home after 3 weeks on a road trip.

I hope you enjoyed my quick trip across the United States and will join me again for the next adventure!

I have listed a lot of websites for each location we went to in order below if you want to do some research and plan your next adventure.

 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

  1. https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm
  2. https://www.gatlinburg.com/
  3. https://www.pigeonforge.com/
  4. http://www.lecontelodge.com/about/hiking-trails/
  5. https://visitsevierville.com/
  6. http://visitcherokeenc.com/#points-of-interest
  7. https://www.greatsmokies.com/downtown/
  8. https://www.tnvacation.com/smokies/townsend

Buffalo National Wild and Scenic River National Park, Arkansas

  1. https://www.nps.gov/buff/index.htm
  2. https://www.arkansas.com/articles/discover-crown-jewel-buffalo-national-river
  3. https://www.google.com/travel/things-to-do?g2lb=2502548%2C4208993%2C4253230%2C4254308%2C4258168%2C4260007%2C4270442%2C4274032%2C4276661%2C4282066%2C4282188%2C4285990%2C4288513%2C4288815%2C4291318%2C4296668%2C4301054%2C4308984%2C4309596%2C4311897%2C4312827%2C4270859%2C4284970%2C4291517%2C4292955&hl=en&gl=us&un=1&otf=1&dest_mid=%2Fm%2F01rpqd&dest_src=ts&dest_state_type=main&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiUiaaIk47lAhXic98KHU6TA_0Q6tEBKAQwAHoECAoQBw#ttdm=35.939866_-93.014532_10&ttdmf=%252Fg%252F1pp2t_fvd
  4. http://www.upperbuffaloriver.com/things-to-do/
  5. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/united-states/arkansas/top-ten-10-things-to-do-arkansas/

Oklahoma City National Memorial, Oklahoma

  1. https://www.nps.gov/okci/index.htm
  2. https://www.chickasawculturalcenter.com/
  3. https://nationalcowboymuseum.org/
  4. https://nationalcowboymuseum.org/
  5. https://www.sciencemuseumok.org/
  6. https://www.okcmoa.com/
  7. https://www.okhistory.org/historycenter/
  8. https://www.oklahomarailwaymuseum.org/
  9. https://www.facebook.com/snakemuseumokc/
  10. http://www.bricktownokc.com/
  11. https://www.woolaroc.org

Cibola National Forest, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma

  1. https://www.fs.usda.gov/cibola/
  2. https://www.stateparks.com/cibola_national_forest_in_new_mexico.html
  3. https://www.alltrails.com/parks/us/new-mexico/cibola-national-forest
  4. https://www.hipcamp.com/discover/new-mexico/cibola-national-forest
  5. https://sandiapeak.com/
  6. https://backpackers-review.com/trip-reports/la-luz-trail/

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

  1. https://www.nps.gov/pefo/index.htm
  2. https://www.nps.gov/pefo/upload/Devil-s-Playground.pdf
  3. https://www.nps.gov/pefo/planyourvisit/nearbyattractions.htm
  4. https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/experience/america/national-parks/2018/03/28/petrified-forest-national-park-10-tips-your-visit/463822002/
  5. https://www.national-park.com/welcome-to-petrified-forest-national-park/

The Painted Desert, Arizona

  1. https://www.inspirock.com/united-states/petrified-forest-national-park/painted-desert-a73902905?ad_acc=iphk&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIvc-gvL2v5QIVBJ6fCh1vbQUmEAMYASAAEgI82_D_BwE
  2. https://www.visitarizona.com/uniquely-az/parks-and-monuments/the-painted-desert
  3. https://www.visitarizona.com/places-to-stay
  4. https://www.nps.gov/pefo/learn/historyculture/pdi.htm
  5. https://www.google.com/search?q=painted%20desert%20camping&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwit4teQ5LDlAhWBVN8KHXoSD1cQvS4wAnoECAoQMg&biw=1920&bih=937&npsic=0&rflfq=1&rlha=0&rllag=34987943,-109962461,18603&tbm=lcl&rldimm=8536117487796710935&phdesc=0mZl5pF0UMs&rldoc=1&tbs=lrf:!2m1!1e2!2m1!1e3!3sIAE,lf:1,lf_ui:1&rlst=f#rlfi=hd:;si:8536117487796710935,y,0mZl5pF0UMs;mv:[[36.388996399999996,-108.92609159999999],[34.3907457,-112.2933881]];tbs:lrf:!2m1!1e2!2m1!1e3!3sIAE,lf:1,lf_ui:1

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona Navajo Tribal Land

  1. https://www.nps.gov/cach/planyourvisit/index.htm
  2. https://www.nps.gov/hutr/index.htm
  3. https://www.nps.gov/cach/planyourvisit/upload/Planning-Your-Visit.pdf
  4. https://www.americansouthwest.net/arizona/canyon_de_chelly/national_monument.html
  5. http://nativeamerican-art.com/navajo-sandpainting.html
  6. https://navajopeople.org/navajo-sand-painting.htm

The Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

  1. https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
  2. https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/lodging.htm
  3. https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/cg-sr.htm
  4. https://www.thetrain.com/the-train/schedule-route/
  5. https://archive.archaeology.org/0911/abstracts/grand_canyon.html
  6. https://www.grandcanyontrust.org/hikes/bright-angel-trail
  7. https://grandcanyon.com/planning/grand-canyon-mule-rides/
  8. https://grandcanyonwest.com/explore/west-rim/skywalk-eagle-point/
  9. https://www.eater.com/maps/best-restaurants-grand-canyon-arizona
  10. https://explorethecanyon.com/grand-canyon-trail/fossil-beds/

Hoover Dam, Nevada

  1. https://www.nps.gov/articles/nevada-and-arizona-hoover-dam.htm
  2. https://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/
  3. https://www.bchdmuseum.org/hoover-dam-information?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIkpOd_LS05QIVzJyzCh3FcQdKEAAYASAAEgLtDPD_BwE
  4. https://travelnevada.com/discover/32593/hoover-dam
  5. https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/hoover-dam

Las Vegas, Nevada

  1. https://www.visitlasvegas.com/
  2. https://www.lasvegasnevada.gov/
  3. https://www.getyourguide.com/-l58/?cmp=ga&campaign_id=733293971&adgroup_id=38196342877&target_id=aud-609316728402:kwd-12548211&loc_physical_ms=9013448&match_type=e&ad_id=250111258000&keyword=las%20vegas&ad_position=1o3&feed_item_id=&placement=&partner_id=CD951&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIoNvCz7a05QIVzJyzCh3FcQdKEAMYAyAAEgLTcPD_BwE
  4. https://www.triphobo.com/places/las-vegas-united-states/things-to-do?utm_source=5412&utm_medium=123&utm_campaign=dsa-things-to-do-usa-d-76543&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIoNvCz7a05QIVzJyzCh3FcQdKEAMYAiAAEgL-VvD_BwE
  5. https://www.vegas.com/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIoNvCz7a05QIVzJyzCh3FcQdKEAAYASAAEgJh-_D_BwE

Death Valley National Park, California

  1. https://www.nps.gov/deva/index.htm
  2. https://www.oasisatdeathvalley.com/?xfunnel=bottom&xmedium=search&xsource=adwords&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3-S_orq05QIVipOzCh366AV2EAAYAiAAEgIGzPD_BwE
  3. https://www.npca.org/articles/1767-some-like-it-very-hot?s_src=g_grants_ads&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3-S_orq05QIVipOzCh366AV2EAAYBCAAEgIBEvD_BwE
  4. https://www.bishopvisitor.com/activities/death-valley/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3-S_orq05QIVipOzCh366AV2EAAYASAAEgInNfD_BwE
  5. https://www.visitcalifornia.com/destination/spotlight-death-valley-national-park
  6. https://www.nps.gov/deva/learn/historyculture/scottys-castle.htm
  7. https://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/death-valley-national-park?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI85Cxgry05QIVFqSzCh3fOAQ3EAAYASAAEgJgxvD_BwE
  8. https://www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-boraxmining/
  9. https://www.visitcalifornia.com/attraction/desert-pupfish

Zion National Park, Utah

  1. https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm
  2. https://utah.com/zion-national-park
  3. https://www.zionnationalpark.com/
  4. https://www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/parks-outdoors/zion/
  5. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/zion-national-park/
  6. https://www.inspirock.com/united-states/zion-national-park-trip-planner?ad_acc=iphk&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI8fvE2PG25QIVi5OzCh0jJAiTEAMYAiAAEgIb__D_BwE
  7. https://www.triphobo.com/places/zion-national-park-united-states/things-to-do?utm_source=5412&utm_medium=123&utm_campaign=dsaperttdjusinb&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI8fvE2PG25QIVi5OzCh0jJAiTEAMYASAAEgJmb_D_BwE
  8. https://www.springdaletown.com/
  9. https://utah.com/top-things-to-do-in-springdale

The Arches National Park, Utah

  1. https://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm
  2. https://www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/parks-outdoors/?&gclid=EAIaIQobChMItoSEh7S45QIVzJ6zCh1OXAf1EAAYASAAEgJBt_D_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
  3. https://www.discovermoab.com/arches-national-park/
  4. https://utah.com/arches-national-park
  5. https://www.moabadventurecenter.com/arches-national-park-tours
  6. https://www.hotels.com/de1667585/hotels-near-arches-national-park-moab-united-states-of-america/?rffrid=sem.hcom.US.google.003.00.04.s.kwrd=c.303233695339.65377845568.183500319.1o1.aud-312071203386:dsa-549810705345.9013448..0.EAIaIQobChMItoSEh7S45QIVzJ6zCh1OXAf1EAMYASAAEgIl0_D_BwE.aw.ds&PSRC=G21&gclid=EAIaIQobChMItoSEh7S45QIVzJ6zCh1OXAf1EAMYASAAEgIl0_D_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
  7. https://mountainbased.com/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMItoSEh7S45QIVzJ6zCh1OXAf1EAMYAiAAEgJxh_D_BwE

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

  1. https://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm
  2. https://www.visitmesaverde.com/
  3. https://www.google.com/destination?q=mesa+verde+national+park&output=search&dest_mid=/m/01q75f&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi-_sLUjLnlAhWhTN8KHQW7A0wQ6tEBKAQwFnoECAkQBw#dest_mid=/m/01q75f&tcfs=EiUKCS9tLzAxcTc1ZhIYTWVzYSBWZXJkZSBOYXRpb25hbCBQYXJr
  4. https://www.colorado.com/articles/mesa-verde-national-park-itinerary
  5. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/27/
  6. https://www.durango.org/
  7. https://www.durango.com/
  8. https://www.cityofcortez.com/
  9. https://www.colorado.com/cities-and-towns/cortez

Going back to Cali….

GG
Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

California can bring up many different ideas and visions, some love it, some not so much but either way it’s hard to deny that California is a unique state with progressive and innovative ideas. Not to mention the varied beauty the state has to offer from Southern Cali on the Mexican border to the mountains of Northern Cali.  I was actually born in Stockton California but my parents moved to Tennessee when I was so young that I didn’t remember anything at all about being there.  The first chance I had to return to Cali was in 1995.  I had went for several reasons, one my brother was living in Mammoth Lakes, two I was going with a couple of friends that I worked with and one of them was getting married soon to a man who lived in Alameda, an island just across the bay bridge from Oakland and San Francisco, and three I wanted to see where I was born.

We flew into San Francisco where my friends fiance picked us up at the airport.  He lived out on the island of Alameda so we drove across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to our

san fran
Lombard Street in San Francisco

destination.  It seems much bigger in person than in pictures but the feeling of driving across
the bridge was the same…fantastic!  I really enjoyed staying on the island of Alameda, it had a lot of great shopping, restaurants, and easy walking to everything that you need or want. After checking out the island for a couple of days we rented a car so we could branch out. First stop San Francisco proper.  I absolutely loved it here there was so much to do and see, the museums, art galleries, parks, the sites were incredible and for such a large city the people were really nice and very artsy.

One interesting site is the most crooked road, Lombard Street. You can actually drive down it although in looking at it you would think it is a walking or biking road only.  All along Lombard Street are beautifully manicured homes with some of the most beautiful plants from top to bottom. So be sure to seek out this quirky street on your trip to San Francisco.  Another interesting new thing we discovered on the streets was a stainless steel round pay toilet.  Really it was quite fascinating and looked like something on a spaceship.  The city had worked a deal with a French company to install quite a few throughout the city starting in 1995. We paid to go inside (about 5 of us) to check this out.  It actually would clean itself and was pretty neat to watch.  The downside is I have read some articles recently that have talked about the problems that these pay toilets have caused.  Mainly drug addicts, prostitution, and homeless people even the occasional overdose so if you check them out be very cautious and never use these at night.

Don’t pass up the chance to visit Fisherman’s Wharf! This place is alive with life, seafood, and cultural diversity. I personally do not eat seafood but there is plenty of different

sea lions
Pier 39 on San Francisco Bay

types of food in this area.  There are also all kinds of special events, theaters, museums, attractions for kids just an all around great place to spend a weekend by yourself or with family. Pier 39 is a great place to watch sea life bask in the sun so be sure to take the family down on the pier to watch.  Pier 39 is also the place where many of the tour excursions meet whether it’s touring the city, museums, food tours, art and architecture tours, famous people’s homes or the infamous Alcatraz prison island. You can find many different types of interest here to satisfy yourself or the whole family.

Speaking of tours of Alcatraz prison, we decided to take this tour because how often do you get the chance to see inside of such an infamous place without suffering the consequences of being sent there.  Of course Alcatraz has long been empty of inmates but some very famous residents have lived there in the past including Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, Robert ‘The Birdman of Alcartraz’ Stroud, George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly, James

alcatraz
Former Alcatraz inmate Jim Quillen #586 and me at Alcatraz San Francisco, California

‘Whitey’ Bulger, Mickey Cohen, and Alvin ‘Creepy Karpis’ Karpowicz of the famous Barker gang during the 1930’s he was also labeled as ‘public enemy no. 1’ by the FBI. Another inmate from 1942-1952 was Jim Quillen who on this particular day that we visited the island was actually there in person signing his new book about being an inmate at Alcatraz. Of course I could not pass up the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Quillen and ask him a few questions like ‘what did you do?’ he said ‘robbery, kidnapping, you know’ haha then he gave me a big ol’ squeeze while my friend took our picture.  My friend would later visit the gift shop while I was still talking with Mr. Quillen and get his book for me knowing how I love such things.  Mr. Quillen would die just a few years later after our meeting on Alcatraz island in 1998.

alcatraz island
Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz island was such a great tour overall from the extremely rough ride on the ferry over to the island where I could just imagine how isolated the inmates and the guards must have felt there.  While walking around on the island that day looking into the cells of former infamous residents that once paced back and forth in such small confined areas, it felt as though you could feel them there and feel their loneliness, their anger, their desperation, and their hopes just slipping away. I don’t know what it might have felt like during the days of operation but now it just felt so cold, dark, and helpless there.  Those that were unfortunate enough to be sent to Alcatraz were usually those type of inmates that were more aggressive, dangerous, or disruptive in the prisons they came from. Alcatraz has been described as a hell that unruly inmates were sent to with very few privileges, bad treatment, beatings and even with the first warden there was no talking amongst inmates hardly ever or they were sent to the dungeon in very harsh conditions. They were not allowed to see newspapers or magazines because they were not allowed to know what was going on in the world.

alcatraz cliffs
Cliffs on Alcatraz island

Life was tough both physically and mentally difficult on these inmates. However there was much beauty on the island despite the harsh conditions of the inmates. Alcatraz island was discovered by a Spanish explorer in 1775 named Juan Manuel de Ayala (1745-97) who called it La Isla de los Alcatraces, or Island of the Pelicans, due to the large population of sea birds. There is also some very beautiful plants and flowers that grow on the island giving it a nice contrast against the rugged cliffs.

Next it was time to drive out to visit with my brother who was living in Mammoth Lakes California but on the way there you had to drive through Yosemite National Park to get there so what a nice surprise.  We took this trip the end of June first of July and my brother said the mountain pass had just re-opened from all the snow they had. In July really?? I was quite surprised that the snow lingered so long.  The drive getting to Yosemite was just as beautiful with the rolling hills covered with wind mills that seemed to just blend into the California sunset in the evenings then gradually the hills became mountains with snow caps glistening in the sun. If you do plan a trip to Yosemite be sure to set aside several days because you cannot see all the beauty the park has to offer in one day.

Upon entering the park at Yosemite there was a $20 fee which the park ranger told us that we had a total of 7 days or we would be charged again.  I explained to him that we

yosemite
me in Yosemite National Park California

were just traveling through to Mammoth Lakes to visit my brother but he wasn’t interested in my family reunion and told me if we were not back through in 7 days we would still be charged another $20 fee. Not the friendliest of park rangers but some just can’t wear the uniform. However on the drive through who could not stop and enjoy all the beauty of the park, it was fantastic, mesmerizing mountains, cliffs, waterfalls, and wildlife. Here is a picture of one of the lakes inside the park and yes this is the middle of summer with snow and even some ice on the lake remaining from the long winter.  Scenes like this were abundant within the park and driving through there you felt as though the nature around you would swallow you up it was everywhere.

I had heard of many stories of Yosemite National Park how it was helped to be preserved by Teddy Roosevelt after he fell under it’s spell during a camping trip with John Muir. The cliffs where climbers risked their lives just to reach the top because they can, the ancient Giant Sequoias that you could drive a whole vehicle through one of them, the abundance of wildlife roaming free.  This place looked like a painted picture that I had seen somewhere and somehow I ended up inside of it.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  The Sequoia groves were incredible as well. You read about how old and large they are but until you see them in person it’s difficult to imagine just how impressive they truly can be. 

Yosemite 2
me and the mighty Sequoia Trees

Next stop was Mammoth Lakes where my brother was living. This is a beautiful area of California if you ever get the chance to go there. It’s also a famous ski resort for the rich and famous. My brother told me many stories of seeing celebrities at the ski resort or in town at the local restaurants and bars.  There is also a lot of beautiful sites in the area for hiking, canoeing, several natural hot springs are also nearby. There is a natural geologic phenomenon close by as well called The Devil’s Post Pile National Monument that is very interesting. These are caused by volcanic activity and this is one of the best examples of this phenomenon.  I have included the website below so you can read more about this geologic wonder and the park area.

Another fun activity around the Mammoth Lakes area are the dude ranches and pack outfits.  The one we visited was Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit. It has been in operation since 1915 and has some great packages for riding horses and mules to discover the beautiful region. Check out their website below for pricing. My brother’s roommate was working at this ranch which is why we chose this one but there are many to choose from in the area.

Related imageMono Lake is another very interesting geologic wonder that you shouldn’t miss while visiting California.  This particular lake is a saline soda lake that was formed at least 760,000 years ago. Just looking out over the lake and the formations, you would think you’re on another planet. Be sure to stick around at sunset, that is when you will get the best pictures of this lake that will truly look like another world altogether.  This is a great lake to explore by canoe or kayak so you can appreciate all it has to offer. Mono Lake is actually called Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve.

Hot Springs CA
me at the hot springs area in Mammoth Lakes
Devils Post Pile CA
Devil’s Post Pile California
Yosemite
Yosemite National Park
  1. https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm
  2. https://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm 
  3. https://www.visitcalifornia.com/destination/spotlight-sequoia-kings-canyon-national-parks
  4. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g61000-Yosemite_National_Park_California-Vacations.html
  5. http://www.alcatrazislandtickets.com/?gclid=CjwKEAjwrMzHBRDW3saA88aT80MSJACbvo1TK19loQyZH0D_j-qPMJeb-7IR4DvDm12t2nLzLOdS0RoCru7w_wcB
  6. http://www.historicalcrimedetective.com/msm-jim-quillen/
  7. https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=514
  8. http://www.visitmammoth.com/
  9. https://mammothpack.wixsite.com/mammothpack?fbclid=IwAR27Hcznt7UlFkNR3nejqlC8v53qt5nAD4yPyh5A8JnsJzattuQB4RM2hlc
  10. http://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/about/
  11. https://www.nps.gov/depo/index.htm
  12. https://www.nps.gov/thro/learn/historyculture/theodore-roosevelt-and-conservation.htm

Rio Grande on the Mexican Border

Things sure have changed along the Mexico/US border and things seemRio Grande like they may change even more if Trump has his way.  The Rio Grande is a beautiful scenic area for canoes and kayaks. Not necessarily the water because it is usually very muddy looking but the entire scene around the river is so breathtaking, awe inspiring, and  so relaxing looking out at all the beauty.  All that could change very soon if Trump gets his way and ruins the natural beauty of this area.  Most of this area is within the Big Bend National Park in Texas.

It was 1998 the last time I was at Big Bend.  I had went on a camping and canoeing trip with some fellow college mates.  We drove down and camped at one of the primitive camping areas within Big Bend National Park.  I almost froze that night in my tent.  I had no idea it got so cold in a desert climate at night so the next day I went on a search for wool knee socks and slept great after that.

The whole purpose of this trip was to canoe the Rio Grande on the Mexico/US border. First we had to apply for a permit to get on the river and that is not always easy.  They only hand out so many permits and sometimes you have to wait to get on the river a looong time. To speed the process up we crafted a deal with the rangers of the park to work for one day in exchange for the permits and work us they did!  In the heat of the desert our job was to dig a gigantic hole who knows what for but it felt like a scene from Goodfellas when Joe Pesci’s character was digging his own grave in the field. Down in the hole we were sweating our faces off and all the while being hyper aware of the wildlife, mainly the Javelinas (looks like a wild boar but they are not in the pig family) that would run up on you from time to time.  The rangers said ‘don’t worry they are a little aggressive but you have a shovel use it if you need to’ great so the thought of being mauled by a pig like animal down in my own grave was a nice vision.

Rio Grande canoe
Canoeing the Rio Grande. I’m in the back.

After our long, hot, and miserable work day had come to a close, we finally received our river permits.  We planned to stay on the river for 2 weeks so we had to pack our tent, sleeping bag, food etc but not too much because we had to put everything in the canoes.  I was surprised when I first saw the river, it was so muddy you couldn’t see anything and it stayed that way the whole 2 weeks.  Apparently that is how the river always is.  The bad thing was we had planned to take our baths in the river but it was so muddy we mainly used water bottles and body wipes so none of us smelled too good I guess by the end of the trip.  The first time I washed my hair in the river, it felt dirtier afterwards so that was the last day in the river to try and get clean.

Other than the Javelinas, another critter to watch out for is scorpions!  You never know where they may be lurking so if you are primitive camping always be sure to zip up your tent completely, be mindful if you have to use the restroom during the night as you walk outside and be sure to keep your shoes inside the tent.  Also if you plan on taking a canoe trip be sure you check the canoe every time before you step inside it.

rio grande campsite
Camping along the Rio Grande

The canoe is where I found scorpions lurking twice during this trip. The roadrunner or chapparral bird is a fascinating bird to watch.  They won’t bother you but if you see them take the time to watch them for awhile.  They can run up to 20 miles per hour and can take down a rattlesnake so fast you may miss it.  Check out this video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LE78eJx5hg

If camping is not your thing then there is a beautiful lodge within the park called Chisos Mountains Lodge along with a restaurant and gift shop. We went to the gift shop to check it out while we were there. There are hiking trails all around and the local deer would even come right up to you and eat out of your hand.  There is also an RV park here as well so no matter what you are looking for you can find the type of lodging that best suits you.  I can’t really suggest any food there since we were on a camping and canoeing trip, I had all my food packed in, mainly MRE’s from the military.  Those really are the best if you plan on doing any camping.

rio grande 3
The US side of the Rio Grande river.

Which ever type of lodging is best for you, remember to bring plenty of water as this is a desert park and drinking water will be difficult to find.  Since the desert has such polarizing temperatures you will need to be sure to pack appropriate clothes for the cold weather at night but also cool clothing during the hot days as well as a hat and sunscreen.

I was rather shocked at the lack of border patrol in this particular area, in fact we never saw any border officers for the entire 2 weeks that we were on the river.  Granted for the most part along the Big Bend National Park river access it is such a deep gorge that it would be practically impossible to cross there and highly ineffective and dangerous for anyone trying to cross, however there was one area that we came across where you would see pickup trucks full of Hispanic migrant workers driving back and forth from Mexico to the US and vice versa.  I thought how odd since you always hear how that doesn’t happen.  We stopped at this spot to get a drink at a local place right on the river. I asked one of the workers inside how these people were able to

rio grande drive thru
The Mexico side of the Rio Grande and Mexicans crossing the border after a work day in the United States.

travel across the river. She said they just drive over to work here then they drive home to Mexico in the evening.  Wow didn’t realize that was so easy.  Then she told us there was a boat down by the river with a sign that read “$5. for a ride across the river to Mexico”.  She said that there was a really good restaurant in Mexico not too far in country that visitors love to go to.  It was such a cool set up but still surprising.

Now I realize border control is a hot and touchy subject for many people right now and I’m not against border control, however the manner in which Trump is going about it is very distasteful, threatening, and damaging to international relations not only with Mexico but with other countries as well and putting the United States in a bad light.  It has been estimated that the wall Trump wants to build will cost our country and our citizens $21.6 billion dollars.  Think of where that money could be better spent.  Do you know how many border control agents there are right now?  In 2012 there were 21,000 agents and that number has only grown since then.

When I went on this Rio Grande expedition of mine it was 1998, pre-9-11 era and yes the world was very different. Of course illegal immigration has always

border
 Mexico and United States separated by the gorge of the Rio Grande.

been an issue here in the US but I can’t say I blame these people for wanting a better life for themselves and their families when you consider the horrible conditions they come from.  Not only from Mexico, Central and South America but all over the world.  Illegal immigration is a problem and we do need to work towards a better system, but a ‘great wall of Trump’ at the cost of $21.6 billion dollars to me is not the answer.

What is the answer? Well I can’t tell you what the answer would be to such a complex issue, but I can offer an opinion so in that spirit, my opinion is several steps.  I think as far as the border wall is concerned, we should leave it the way it is.  We already have a wall for most of the ‘crossable’ border so why spend $21.6 billion to just extend it a few feet upward, ridiculous! Border agents? We already have border agents, 21,000 of them. What we don’t have is better training of those agents, better technology to assist those agents, more trained search and drug dogs, and better education for immigrants when they do come here legally.

rio mission
The United States side and an old movie set from a John Wayne picture.

These really speak for themselves but allow me to expand on what I mean by better education for immigrants when they come here.  I believe we should put forth a greater effort to make sure that immigrants get the proper information they need, tutoring for learning English, basically an assimilation process to help them ease into their new lives here so that they can become productive citizens and love their new country.  This would benefit everyone and I believe we would have less issues with immigrants later on that feel like outcast or like they are not wanted here.  This type of treatment towards immigrants only solidifies their preconceptions that Americans hate foreigners.  Hmmmm maybe I can work towards building such a facility in the future.

So back to the trip. After our 2 weeks on the Rio Grande of being exhausted and sunburned we decided to treat ourselves and headed to San Antonio for a local art

river walk
The river walk in San Antonio.

festival that was going on.  What a beautiful city it was.  So much talent in the area with all the traditional Mexican artwork.  The food was fantastic! More authentic Mexican than we were used to coming from Tennessee.  We walked all over the city trying to take in as much as we could.  The river walk was very nice with all types of shops and restaurants along the river that ran through town and another place I always wanted to see was the Alamo.  When we first walked up on the Alamo I was completely shocked that the it is in the middle of downtown San Antonio surrounded by high rise buildings. Not at all what I expected.  I thought it would be out away from civilization by itself, even the pictures I had seen of the Alamo looked as though it was in the middle of nowhere but once I was there in person I realized that those pictures were just cleverly taken to give that illusion of being secluded. The encroachment of the Alamo has been aggressive and has continued to grow since I visited there, however there have been recent efforts to stop encroachment, restoration of the actual Alamo and the Alamo plaza.  It was amazing to visit this historical site famous for the 1836 battle where David Crockett fought for freedom in the Texas Revolution and ultimately died there.

At the time I had no idea just how famous David Crockett was or about all his

alamo
The Alamo Mission in downtown San Antonio Texas.

accomplishments for the State of Tennessee and for our nation.  It wouldn’t be until about 6 years later that I would end up working at Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park in Tennessee and would remain there for the next 13 years as a park ranger.  I had many good times there getting to know the wonderful community and our visitors that would come from all over the world even the Director of Cultural Resources from Northern Ireland.  We of course do law enforcement as Tennessee State Parks are required to be commissioned law enforcement officers to work there, but I also enjoyed doing a wide array of diverse programs and activities with the public both historical and recreational as this park is a very diverse one and so are the employees there.  Or at least they were.  The park manager, the rangers, including myself, have moved on since the department at the time decided to change their way of dealing with

alamo 2
The Alamo and plaza with fellow Rio Grande trip buddies. I’m on the far right.

the park and in my opinion have destroyed a lot of the great community relations that we worked so hard to develop. I truly hope in the future when the administration for the department changes that the incoming overseers will see what a detriment the policies were from the previous administration and will work hard to change those mistakes.

San Antonio has so much to offer and is rich with cultural diversity, local artwork, and delicious food.  It really has everything that you could need or want.  I would definitely recommend visiting this city if you ever get the chance and really soak up all the culture the city has to offer as well as all the history. Of course there are many Spanish speaking people here and with good reason, this used to be part of Mexico before the United States took over and eventually made it a state so don’t be surprise if you need to know a little Spanish when visiting.  Today it’s easier than ever with technology to help with anything you need, even learning a new language.  I have several apps on my phone (iPhone) that assist with any language that you would like to learn or just help you understanding others with the audio so take advantage of these apps before you travel, not only along the Mexico border but anywhere you may travel to in the world this is a great way to help you blend in.

san antonio
San Antonio

Some other suggestions, if you do plan on doing a canoe trip down the Rio Grande, you might want to contact the state of Texas to inquire about a permit and to check to see if access is still available with Trump pushing to build this hideous wall it may completely block the United States from having access to the river or to certain parts of Big Bend National Park in the future. Below are some websites on Big Bend, San Antonio, and an article about the proposed wall to help you with any ideas you may have about traveling here in the future.

I hope you will comment or share your own travels to the Rio Grande so others may benefit in your adventures and expertise.

 

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/445973/trump-wall-mexico-               border-texas-big-bend-national-park-natural-beauty-local-republicans 

  1. http://digitaledition.chicagotribune.com/tribune/article_popover.aspx?guid=217af126-c132-4145-9cb4-188b08b82a7c

2. http://www.thealamo.org/visit/index.html

3. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel_Guide-g60956-San_Antonio_Texas.html

4. https://www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm

 

 

Zambia and Zimbabwe

My very first big trip abroad was in 1989 when I was still a teenager.  I was sent to Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa to stay with some friends of my grandparents.  At the time I was not too excited about going as it wasn’t my choice and I thought how much fun could I have staying with friends of my grandparents.  However, on the plane ride over things were looking up.  I was seated next to an Indian man that had been in the United States going to Penn State University and was on his way home to visit with his parents.  Turns out his parents had moved to Lusaka Zambia, the same place I was going, and his mother taught in an international school at the same school of the people I was going to be staying with, what were the odds of that?!

So he offered to be my guide while I was staying in Zambia and I thought what better way to see the area than with a local.  I was surprised that most of the expats living there were British and had introduced a lot of British customs to the natives. Zambia is where I watched my first polo game and had my first ‘tea’, well hot tea that is which I wasn’t too fond of at that time, and goose pate (goose liver) that was actually delicious to my surprise.  Another very noticeable cultural oddity to me was that women were not allowed to go out alone, which being the extremely independent female that I am and having quite the adverse reaction to authority I found this totally unacceptable. However I did have my new guide to take me around so it felt more like two friends having fun than being forced to drag a man around with me or face a fine.

One night I was invited by my new friend to his parents house for a dinner party. I didn’t think it through completely as they were originally from India and curry dishes were always a staple. I decided to give it try and as I suspected curry is something for me personally to stay very far away from.  I have never been so sick on food before in my life!  The point is I do try new things, if you don’t try then you will never know if you like it or not.

Africa 5
On a walking safari in Zambia

Some other new food items I got to try include some interesting native ones such as nshima which is a type of cornmeal mixed with water and boiled to be a thick substance that the natives use to eat other foods mainly soupy types. This dish was too dry for my taste and really didn’t have much flavor at all. Another one that I enjoyed immensely is called Samosa, which is actually an Indian dish. It is a fried pie sort of meal stuffed with different ingredients such as potatoes, chicken, beef, pork etc. The beef one was so good I couldn’t get enough of them. I have actually recreated these at home and they were pretty good but still not as good as what I had in Zambia. (see recipe below)

There was one dish that I will never forget however, I did forget the name, maybe because I blocked it from memory it was so cringe-worthy.  It reminded me of seaweed and I think what did it for me was the fact that while I was still holding the end of it with my fingers, I could feel the rest of it in my throat and stomach.  Not a pleasant experience on that one. For the most part the people I was staying with had their butler cook most of the meals at home and he cook a lot of American type of dishes.  We did however go to one really nice restaurant, I can’t remember

Africa 2
This elephant was quite intolerant of us taking his photo, he began to charge us so we had to speed away.

what I ate there I just remember a sign on the wall as we entered that read “Animals are welcomed, Children are not”  ah yes welcome to Africa, my kind of place!

The next place I went was a wildlife refuge and stayed in a hut with elephant grass for a roof and a mosquito net over the bed for very obvious reasons I would find out later. What a joy lying in bed and listening to the calls of the zebras, elephants, and hyenas while monkeys ran across the roof playing with one another. I had the best time here getting to see so much of the African wildlife by a walking tour as well as by vehicle. (see below the type of hut I stayed in at the park)

While on a night move in our safari vehicle I got to see one of my favorite African animals eating their favorite meal with the family…hyenas. Call me crazy I think they are beautiful and the way they sound like they’re laughing just cracks me up.   Another favorite, the beautiful leopard which I was told was one animal that was very elusive and that we probably wouldn’t see one. Well on the same night seeing the hyenas we were riding along and I looked down on the road where we were driving and there were two baby leopards.  Our guide stopped the vehicle so we could get a good look and I don’t know what came over me I jumped out of the vehicle to pet them! Our guide went insane, screaming at me in a foreign language and grabbing his rifle haha when he calmed down he said in English “are you crazy? the mother could be lying in the trees waiting to jump out and kill you!” Well I wasn’t thinking about that.

On our walking safari our guides carried rifles

Africa 3
About to cross the river infested with hippos and crocodiles.

just in case the wildlife got a little too wild. We got to the river where we had to get into a canoe to get across and made a few attempts. We ended up turning around and coming back at least three times due to all the hippos and crocodiles in our path.  If you know anything about the hippo, they may look like they are cute and slow but they are actually one of the most vicious and fast animals on land and water.  There was quite the anxiety there thinking we would be thrown out of the boat and eaten by multiple predators at any moment.

Later on my friend would take me to the bazaar where the locals had their handmade items. There was such an abundance of talent with beautiful artwork, sculptures, and basketry and the best part was my friend said they like to trade their work for items like ink pens and fishing flies which was very hard to believe but most would trade for items not money. I bought some fantastic artwork there along with several hand carved masks and beautiful baskets.  Definitely worth visiting the bazaar if you make it over.

I also was able to go to one of the native villages where people lived in a type of mud hut with elephant grass on the roofs.  The people were dressed in typical native dress and jewelry which their ancestors had probably worn something very similar thousands of years before.  They were so friendly and welcoming and couldn’t wait to show us everything in their village, their food, the jewelry, how they made their artwork, how they made the roofs on their homes.  All the children would run up to us and they loved touching my hair.  It was a good visit for a day.

The friends of the family I was staying with later decided to take me over to Zimbabwe to show me the famous Victoria Falls.  The drive there was quite the adventure in itself. Turns out there was some sort of civil war going on in the region and in those countries when the military stops your vehicle and tells you to drive them somewhere you have to comply or risk some unpleasantness shortly after saying no.  I also found out one night after being stopped by a military tank that there was a curfew and I had violated it, how interesting.  These are the things you should find out about before you violate laws in foreign countries.

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Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

So once we get to the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, we had to check in with the border guards and answer a bunch of questions about why we were crossing the border, how long we were staying and so on.  One of the guards asked to see my passport, I said passport? why would I need a passport on me to cross the border? Well that set off a bad reaction with the guard and before I knew it they were threatening to arrest me. Luckily the people I was staying with had a small discussion in the corner and probably some money exchanging to keep me out of the pokey.  Anyway when we finally arrived at Victoria Falls it was absolutely breathtaking and as many natural wonders are pictures cannot do it justice. They told me that the water had been up in recent months and this was one of the fullest they had seen the falls in years so I went at a good time.  They had a bridge that connected two areas of land in front of the falls so you could get fairly close to it, however to get close to it was to be drowned in water from the mist.  A fun fact is this particular picture of the falls is of a scene that was actually used in the movie The Last of the Mohicans.

Another fun thing for me was being able to drive a stick shift on the left side of the road. I thought it would be harder driving but it wasn’t.  Using the left hand to shift the gears was definitely a different feel but I did it surprisingly well.  I was a little apprehensive driving on the other side of the road due to all the native people that walked and when vehicles went by them they would get out in the road and try to force you to stop and give them a ride, that is until my friend said ‘oh don’t worry about it you can run them over here and not worry about a ticket’ WHAT??!! are you serious I said but apparently that is a socially acceptable attitude there.  Very strange just how different social norms and cultures can be from country to country.

Africa 4
Zebras on the run!

Some other things to be mindful of while visiting this area of the world, besides the military and police, is thieves who routinely will steal where they can, of course this is no different than traveling to any country, local thieves will always target tourist as they feel the tourist are carrying a lot of cash or may have a lot of jewelry thinking they are very rich to be able to travel.  Spiders! Very large spiders will be lurking around inside buildings, hotels, homes and so on.  One night while lying in bed I felt something large and rather heavy crawling on my blanket towards my face. I immediately grab the top of the blanket and shook it very hard and then heard something hit the wall. I hollered for the people I was staying with, when they came into my bedroom I said could you turn on the light a minute please.  When the light came on there was no sign of the spider however my door had been open so he could have ran out before my host came in. That’s when they were telling me about these large spiders and told me they were harmless but they said the lizards will bite…great but back to sleep I went anyway.

Another minor issue is water for showers.

Africa 1
Monkeys at play with the mist of Victoria Falls in the background.

I don’t know if things have really improved that much since I was there as this area remains to be a very poor country that has suffered from violence, war, and dictatorships.  Water was something you could only get twice a day and only during certain times of the day so you had to schedule your showers.

Monkeys are so fascinating to watch and can be quite funny, but be very careful around them while visiting here.  They will appear friendly and will come up to you with no fear, they will even take food right out of your hand but when the food runs out, these monkeys have an attitude to rival a 2 year old brat and they will attack you!  The larger baboons are not only rather vicious they are also quite the little thieves. They will steal from your vehicle and from your person so watch out and be aware when they are around.

If you have children make sure if you visit the local crocodile farm where they raise them from babies that you watch your children carefully.  When I visited there it was very fascinating to see them up close. They were so much bigger than I expected.  The workers there explained that there had been several children that had died at this facility due to parent negligence. Eaten alive by the crocodiles!  Remember this is a foreign country and you cannot sue everybody for everything there as people do in the

Africa 7 b
Crocodile Farm

United States.  They will tell you it was your fault and you should have been watching your children better.  Well they do have a point. They do allow you to hold the babies though which was pretty cool.  Notice this small crocodile I’m holding in this picture, he may look very small and nonthreatening however, they are quite strong and I had a hard time holding on to him plus he beat me to death with his tail.

I would advise anyone traveling here to take extra care of not only what you say and do but take care that you don’t hurt yourself bad enough to seek medical care at the hospital.  I took a tour of the hospital to see the conditions. When I visited here so many years ago I had never traveled outside the US before and really didn’t know much about the world and the conditions in which people lived outside the US I mean after all I was only 19 at the time.  The hospital was quite an eye-opening experience for me.  Aids/HIV was just really getting to a fever in the country, remember this is in the 80’s, no one knew much about it and when I went through that hospital I could not believe what I was seeing. Hospital beds would have 2 and 3 people in them, blood would be all over the floor, people were walking through it. Fluids were draining out of people everywhere onto the floor, people would have already died laying there but no one had removed them yet, which brings me to the unforgettable smell of death and disease.  What a site it was and something I will never forget.  If you want a reality check then visit the hospitals in some third world country to get a better perspective on your own life and just how great you have it living in the United States. If you are a little squeamish then I wouldn’t recommend it.

As far as religion goes, many people have been converted to Christianity in this area due to the high number of missionaries. Ancestral native religions however are still noticeable and practiced throughout the country.  People seemed to be very tolerate overall and the interactions I had from civilians were very pleasant.  As I said before the military and local police were a different story but this was during a civil war skirmish when I was there.  It is definitely a trip worth taking if for nothing else than to go to the wildlife refuges and to Victoria Falls.  I would love to go again and I’m sure I would have different perspectives now compared to those of visiting as a young gal of 19. Things are very different than that of a full grown mind.

Please feel free to share your experiences wherever you may have traveled or ask questions about something you want to know more about. Thank you and I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences.

  1. https://www.finedininglovers.com/article/how-make-samosas-chef
  2. https://www.kafuenationalparkzambia.com/
  3. https://www.zambiatourism.com/accommodation/listing/hippo-lodge/185/
  4. https://victoriafallstourism.org/
  5. https://thebestofzambia.com/orgs/kalimba-reptile-park
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/1990/07/01/world/failed-zambia-coup-weakens-leader.html

The World Awaits…

How much do you really know about the world we live in and the people we share it with? Have you always wanted to see the world and enjoy the different cultures but have never got the chance?  Hopefully I can help you explore the world and the people here if traveling is not in your future and if you are a traveler then I hope you will join me and share your experiences, good and bad, with others so that they may live through our eyes.

I have traveled to a lot of different places and some were so far from my own culture that I wasn’t sure what to expect but ended up loving it, tried some new weird food, experienced things I never had before and enjoyed it all. So my goal is not only to just share my travel experiences with you but to discuss these places, the culture, the food, the religion, the politics, the people, and their beliefs in these different places and hopefully by doing so I can help people understand the differences, explain why some people believe what they do and discuss those differences in a meaningful way.

Please feel free to ask questions, share your experiences, recipes from your travels, different religious views around the world, different cultural experiences you may have had, and just your overall thoughts on where you have been or where you would love to go.