My Life: Summer Travel Part 2 - Utah and Nevada

Part 1 of this post describes the first four days of our adventures in Arizona.  Click here.

Day 5 - Zion National Park - The Narrows

After driving in from Arizona, we knew we wanted to hike The Narrows in Zion National Park.  So we drove through the scenic road within the park and eventually arrived at the Visitor's Center.  We didn't really know what to expect, and we got information from a park ranger who suggested visiting an outfitter to rent neoprene socks and walking sticks since the water can be cold and the bottom is like walking on bowling balls.  So we headed into town, which is literally right outside the gate of the park. and not only got neoprene (like wet suit material for those unfamiliar) socks and walking sticks, but we also got water shoes too! 

This was one of the most incredible hikes I've ever done.  In most cases the water was up to ankle or mid-calf height.  We had taken the shuttle bus out to the stop for the hike, then hiked the paved trail for about a mile, and then enjoyed hiking up and back in the canyon.  Could we have done it in normal sneakers? Sure.  But the warmer shoes allowed us to be more comfortable and really enjoy, rather than worrying about cold feet!

Day 6 - La Verkin, Kanarra Falls, and Toquerville Falls

Instead of staying right in the town immediately outside of Zion, we selected an airbnb in the nearby town of La Verkin.  Day 6 was originally earmarked for a day trip to Bryce National Park.  But the kids were exhausted from many late nights, and we were off to a late start in the morning.  Also, our hosts had a book in the apartment with some pictures and instructions for some more local hikes. 

That morning, Kay knocked on the door and delivered a bag of apricots hand picked from his tree in the front yard!  So we got to talking, and ended up deciding to do two local hikes.  One to Kanarra Falls, and one to Toquerville Falls.  For the first, it was another mile or so of hot desert hike, and then a hike similar to the narrows, walking in and out of a rocky creek. ending in a shorter narrower canyon, that was like a cross between Antelope Canyon and The Narrows.  There was a waterfall and a scary metal ladder that the kids and I climbed to further explore a natural rock slide!

Toquerville Falls was in a super remote area that can really only be accessed by ATV, which our host and his friend offered to take us to, and we couldn't refuse!  Once we arrived, we enjoyed the natural swimming hole.  At the end of the day, we got to watch as our host harvested the chicken eggs we had been enjoying for breakfast during our stay.

Day 7 - Las Vegas - M&M World, Coca Cola Store, NY NY Arcade, O Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio

We arrived in Vegas and checked into the hotel, then spent some time on the computer researching and purchasing tickets for a show later that night.  We explored M&M World and the Coca Cola Store which were down the block from our hotel.  Then we met up with my college bestie and her family whom we vacationed with 2 summers ago in Colorado.  They live in LA, so Vegas was just a road trip for them that morning.  

The boys enjoyed the game room at the NY NY Hotel, and we all had dinner together.  Then their family went to bed, and our family went to see O Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio. It was an incredible experience, with acrobatics in and out of the water, and a dynamic stage that transformed between covering the water, to being deep enough to allow dives from great heights.  It was only my second cirque show, the first being one my parents took me to on our trip to Vegas in 1995.  It was unforgettable, and I'm grateful I was able to pass that unforgettable experience onto my children.

Day 8 - Hoover Dam and Las Vegas, The Orleans Hotel

On our final day of vacation, we explored the Hoover Dam with our friends.  I think if I had known more about it, I would have wanted to plan some water time on Lake Mead.  Now I know, and will plan to explore should I return to the area.  We had planned to return to town and explore some of the hotels.  On the way into town, our friends' eldest wasn't feeling well, so we broke plans to spend time together.  My family saw a billboard for Incredibles 2, so I used my Flixster app to purchase tickets for the next showing.

The movie theater turned out to be inside of a ginormous off-strip casino called The Orleans.  And after the movie, we followed the signs to the Bowling Alley that we'd seen on the way in.  It was the biggest bowling alley I've ever seen!  70 lanes!  And that was on the second story of a part of the hotel.  Unreal!  We bowled a game together, and then decided to stay for dinner at the buffet for the full Vegas experience!  It was fun to explore this off the beaten path Vegas spot.  Our next stop was to check out Circus Circus, but the timing didn't work out for us to see one of their free shows, and we were kind of done by that point, so didn't do the rides or games.  We did end the day with a beautiful sunset on the way back to our hotel!

Day 9 - Travel Home

We woke up and had breakfast in our room as we had every other day of the trip.  We arrived at the airport only to find out our flight had been cancelled!  This had not been communicated to us prior to arrival at the airport, so we got in a short line, which ended up being long because it wasn't moving.  I called the airline in parallel, and received the 30-45 min call back before we reached the front of the line.  The airline had put us on another flight with another carrier approximately an hour later, so we were able to make it home on the same calendar day as originally planned.  In hindsight, I think it was just one final adventure to make it exciting to get home.

My Life: Summer Travel 2018 Part 1 - Arizona

Day 1 - Flight to Phoenix, Cosanti, Arizona Science Center, Taliesin West

This year's trip took us out West.  We flew into Phoenix late Thursday night.  You can see how I rocked baggage claim in the middle of the night when we arrived early Friday morning!  We spent our first day exploring Scottsdale, AZ, with a stop at Cosanti to see the wind chimes by designer Paolo Soleri and a visit to the Arizona Science Center.  We concluded our day with a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, which was just as I remembered it from when my parents took me in 1995!

Day 2 - Sedona

Day 2 was spent exploring Sedona.  We started off the day at the Chamber of Commerce to get some information about hiking.  We wanted a hike with rocks and water, so after a mile or so in the incredible heat of the Baldwin Trail, we were rewarded with the cool waters of Oak Creek and the vortex near Cathedral Rock.  I have to say, I'm definitely a believer in and senser of the Earth's energy, and my family definitely got back in the car happier.  We finished our day with an off road jeep ride, where we were blessed with a driver who also knew how to handle my camera, and was able to get some lovely sunset family photos of us!

Day 3 - Grand Canyon

On Sunday, we explored the Grand Canyon.  First we biked around on the South Kaibab Trailhead.  We were so busy stopping to enjoy the sights along the way, we didn't even make it out to Yaki Point!  After we returned the bikes, we stopped in the General Store within the park for some snacks and drinks.  We finished up the evening taking the shuttle bus out to Maricopa Point, walked to Powell Point, and finished enjoying the sunset at Hopi Point.

Day 4 - Antelope Canyon, Kayak Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend

Lower Antelope Canyon was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.  It was a good almost hour (with stopping to take many photos along the way, of course) of walking through seemingly endless twists and turns of incredible colors and rock formations in this incredible slot canyon.  We spent the afternoon kayaking on Lake Powell, and the evening enjoying the sunset at Horseshoe Bend.

Part 2 of this blog post, highlights our adventures in Southern Utah and our road trip conclusion in Las Vegas!!  Click here.

Winter Break Family Camp 2017 - Ramah Darom - Clayton, GA

Last week, we had the pleasure of attending Winter Break Family Camp (WBFC) at Ramah Darom in Clayton, GA (about 2.5 hours North of Atlanta) for the second year in a row.  When I have vacation time, I like to travel, and travel days are filled with a morning activity, an afternoon activity, and an evening activity.  No naps, little rest.  I want to see each city as though I'll never return.  

Family camp is different.  It gives us a chance to slow down a bit.  I like to describe it as a cruise, but on land.  That's the easiest way to explain it to someone who's never been.  There are activities for the kids, activities for the adults, family time, 3 communal meals a day, and more adult time after the kids are in bed, all in the beautiful mountains.

Last year I did the Odyssey Ropes Course challenge during the day.  When I went to sign up this year, the day group was full, so I went on the first night!  Not being able to see where I was going in the dark definitely added a new layer of challenge!  After that, there was lots of singing and dancing, some spiritual time, yoga, sports, arts and crafts, and a camp fire with s'mores. One family even celebrated a Bar Mitzvah up at camp!  A New Year's celebration rounded out the week and was a great way to finish camp and head home into 2018. 

My Life: Halloween Trick-or-Treating

I've always enjoyed Halloween.  I love the anticipation of deciding what you're going to be this year, the challenge and creativity of making costumes (most years), watching as your neighbors' Halloween decorations go up, dressing up and getting ready to go, more anticipation as the sun sets and the air cools, walking around in the dark, knocking on doors, that moment of mutual appreciation when they open the door, the sound of the candy hitting your bucket, how that sound becomes less hollow as the night goes on, how your bag becomes heavier, dumping out your candy when you get home, the bright fun colors of your candy pile, the sweet taste of candy on your tongue, taking your costume off, showering, and going to bed completely satisfied. 

As a photographer, I enjoy trying to capture the feeling of Halloween, of trick-or-treating, of community, of hospitality, of meeting new neighbors, of joy.  While my camera can't capture the sound, or the cool air, or the sweet taste, I think it can capture this.  And I like to shoot Halloween with available light and capture how that light changes from house to house, how it changes when the door opens, and fun that goes with it!

My Life: Tennessee Family Vacation to Nashville and Gatlinburg

Every year, we like to explore a new city as a family.  So far we've done Boston / Newport, RI / NY, DC / NY, and last summer Denver / Breckenridge, CO.  This summer, I was drawn to Tennessee.  I feel like a lot of people have been visiting there lately, and it has intrigued me, and seemed interesting and fun.  We decided to spend 2 days in Nashville and 2 days in Gatlinburg.  It's kind of a whirlwind, but enough to give us a feel for the city.  I typically plan a morning, afternoon, and evening activity, so we really pack it in and make the most of our travels!

Day 1 - Travel to Nashville

I started off the trip shooting!  With my kids having been at camp all summer, I was excited to capture them just being themselves.  We got great direct flights on Southwest.  It happened to be my youngest's birthday, and they really made him feel special.  They turned down the cabin lights, had everyone turn on the flight attendant call light so the cabin was illuminated, sang happy birthday, and had him blow out the 'candles'.  His in-flight birthday celebration was completed by a crown they made out of peanuts and coffee stirrers.  I'm sure it's a happy birthday we'll never forget! 

When we arrived, we wanted a snack, and were told Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams was the place to go, so we did!

Day 2 - Nashville

On quick trips, I've found bus tours to be a great way to get a feel for a city.  In my research of Nashville, I found that JoyRide offered these cool golf cart tours, so we started off the day with one.  We had lunch at Dick's Last Resort.  Totally touristy, but totally humorous, which is right up our alley.  We're not big fans of country music, but were told the Country Music Hall of Fame was a must-see, so we visited, walking along Broadway on the way.  We had dinner, I did some line dancing, and we experienced some of Nashville's music scene at Wildhorse Saloon.  

We really lucked out, because the Thursday night we were there, was the first night of the free Live on the Green Music Festival, which runs Thursdays in August, through Labor Day weekend.  We walked in that direction, stopping in a fun old timey candy store called Rocket Fizz.  Then, we walked into Museum Hotel because we had to use the bathroom, and it turned out we'd stumbled upon another gem, because it was a free modern art museum!  Apparently there was more to see on the floor above and below us, but we only had time to explore the main floor.  Then we headed over to the park to listen to Michael Franti and Spearhead.  The kids weren't interested in standing in the concert crowd, but did enjoy some cornhole, giant Connect 4, and a photobooth.

Day 3 - Cheekwood and Paddleboarding

Since we explored downtown on Thursday, on Friday, we wanted to explore some of Nashville outside of downtown.  We had breakfast in the lovely airbnb we stayed in, where the light in the kitchen was amazing every morning, so of course I had to take a pic.  Our morning activity was exploring the Cheekwood Mansion and gardens.  The mansion was slightly underwhelming compared to the gardens, where the kids enjoyed throwing rocks into the lake, watching leaves flow down a stream, and model trains, but we enjoyed our visit overall.  

For our afternoon activity, we went out to the Hamilton Creek Recreation Area for Stand Up Paddleboarding, a sport I have enjoyed in several cities.  It's always interesting to explore the water, as well as the land when travelling.  The water was the perfect calmness for SUP, and the perfect temperature for swimming.  We headed back for showers, and then to East Nashville for the Tomato Art Festival.  The festival was to take place on Saturday, with a preview Friday night.  There was a bandstand, music, and a bunch of people trying to break the Guinness World Record for most people dressed like fruits and vegetables in one place, but not much art set up yet, so we had some dinner, and hung out at Soda Parlor and played games.  We introduced the kids to Cards Against Humanity, censoring some inappropriate cards, and answering questions about others, and they really had a blast with it.

Day 4 - Drive to Gatlinburg, White Water Rafting

On Saturday, we woke up and drove to Gatlinburg, stopping for lunch on the way, and headed straight for our white water rafting excursion.  I had gone once on a family vacation in North Carolina when I was my kids' age, and my husband had gone a few times with his sleepaway camp in North Carolina, and it was the kids' first time.  Our guide with Smoky Mountain Outdoors was excellent, and we were treated to some serious rapids, since the river had seen much more rain this summer than they usually do. 

We had dinner in downtown Gatlinburg.  Now, I chose this city for this trip b/c I had heard about the interesting kitschy things here, but holy tourist, it is well beyond what I could have imagined, and I have quite an active imagination.  Basically the entire strip is restaurants, souvenir shops, and tourist activities.  We had dinner on the roof of a Mexican restaurant, and headed back to our cabin, where I enjoyed looking at the stars, and the boys enjoyed some pool before bed.

Day 5 - Laurel Falls Hike, Zipline, Alpine Coaster, Island

We started our morning with a hike to Laurel Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We were slightly fearful of seeing bears on our hike, but were excited to see a baby bear on the drive in!  We chose this hike because it wasn't too deep into the park (and we had to be at our ziplining appointment early in the afternoon), it was one of the shorter trails, and it was paved.  This made it very popular, and there were a lot of people there.  It was steep and uphill, and didn't feel terribly adventurous because of the paved path and tons of people, but, the humans did frighten away any bears.  

In the afternoon, we ziplined at Foxfire Mountain, and then enjoyed some of their rope bridges.  They had more hiking trails which would probably be lovely to enjoy in the fall or spring or first thing in the morning, but by that point we were a bit burnt out from the heat and our morning hike, so we stopped at the Alpine Coaster, which we'd done the previous summer in Colorado and loved, and headed over to The Island in Pigeon Forge to enjoy their musically choreographed fountain, and dinner.  

Day 6 - Lane Motor Museum and Home

Since any flight from closer to Gatlinburg would have required a layover and pricier tickets, we made the drive back to Nashville for our flight home.  By now, you can tell I like to pack it all in and see everything, and the Lane Motor Museum had been on my radar, and something we missed in our 2 days in Nashville.  It was also close to the airport, so we were able to swing by for a quick visit before heading out of town.