Archive for the ‘ Featured Destinations ’ Category

 

Exploring Page, Lake Powell and beyond

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Page, Arizona is located in northern Arizona near the Utah border and is home to one of my favorite recreational lakes…Lake Powell.  This stunning body of water has more coastline than the entire west coast…with finger inlets of turquoise blue water stretching for miles.

Lake Powell is encompassed within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and is at the mouth of the Grand Canyon.  The lake is extremely scenic with tall canyons, red rock formations and sand dunes—it’s a wonderful place for recreation such as house-boating, water skiing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping, exploration and so much more.

Recently, over the Memorial Day weekend, I took my girlfriend Terri to Page, where I had a fantastic time showing her around this wondrous area in which I’ve explored many times. While there are a number of lodging options in Page, we opted to camp under the stars since we both really enjoy the outdoors. Whether you want to camp by the water, in a developed campground, or in a remote area like we did, there are plenty of options.

Our first two days were spent right in the Page and Lake Powell area, where we toured the Glen Canyon Dam, a local museum and took a cruise of the lake. The next day, we hopped aboard a converted transport vehicle en route to Antelope Canyon,  a popular sandstone slot canyon made up of unique formations and light castings that only nature can provide. On our third day we headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, about a 2.5 hour drive from Page. The North Rim is only open a few months out of the year, with far fewer people visiting. While my girlfriend hails from Canada, she’s lived in Arizona most of her life and had never seen the Canyon before. Her expressions of the awe-inspiring sight were priceless—I was excited to share the experience with her. As the afternoon waned, we left the park in search of a new spot to camp…this time at nearly 8000′ where the landscape contrasted that of our previous two days. We found a remote site nestled among tall pine trees, where we quickly hung a hammock and relaxed as we watched a gentle breeze move clouds past the swaying the tree tops.

The next day we headed back toward Page down highway 89a, where in what seemed like only a matter of moments, we dropped from the dense forest, to a vast vista of red rock. Along the way are some really interesting Navajo sites to see, including an area with giant eroded boulders in which the native people utilized by laying smaller rocks to create walls, while the boulder acts as a roof. These structures are open to explore, while you’ll often find Native Americans selling their handmade jewelry. As we continued, we veered off and took a road down to Lee’s Ferry, which is located on the banks of the Colorado River. This area is popular with folks interested in fishing and to be near the water…while also being the starting point for many rafting expeditions.

It was a fantastic introduction to Northern Arizona for Terri, however we clearly have to go back as there are so many activities and sights to explore.

Here are 10 ideas of things to do when visiting Page Lake Powell:

  1. Rainbow Bridge – Access is by boat only…if you don’t have your own, there are a couple of tour companies offering excursions.
  2. Tour the lake – Again, if you don’t have your own boat, do yourself a favor and hop on a tour boat for the Antelope Canyon Cruise…a short introduction to the lake.
  3. Dam tour – You can visit the Glenn Canyon Damn both atop and below…both are very interesting.
  4. Lone Rock – Located at the north-end of the lake with great access for boats with sand dunes and cliff-jumping, this is a cool place to explore.
  5. Hiking - You can chose from difficult routes like West Canyon or the White Canyon hikes, or, enjoy a more leisurely stroll along the beaches and into side canyons. There are a number of hiking tours companies available…depending on skill level and duration desired.
  6. Fishing - Catch small-mouth bass, striped bass, walleye, catfish and bluegill in the lake’s various canyons and bays.
  7. Kayaking – Renting a kayak or taking a tour and exploring some of the remote canyons is a great solace experience.
  8. Antelope Canyon - You’ve probably seen the amazing pictures of Antelope Canyon before, but probably didn’t know where it was located. This is an fantastic experience and a must when visiting Page / Lake Powell. Tip: for photographers…try and get on a tour that puts you in the Canyon around noon for the best light. Also, there are tours for both upper and lower Antelope Canyon…I’ve done both and would give the edge to the lower.
  9. Wesley Powell Museum – Learn about the canyon before, and, after the damn was built.  John Wesly Powell was the first person to traverse down the mighty Colorado River.
  10. Relax - Don’t forget to just relax and take in all of the scenery.  Take lots of pictures and video. The sky is always changing, so no two pics are ever the same.

If you’ve ever been to Page and/or Lake Powell, please leave a comment below and share your favorite activities.

Finland fascinates; winter activities thrill

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

I’ve been to Europe several times, but my recent trip to Finland was the first to a Nordic or Scandinavian country. I have lived most of my life in the Southwest of the U.S. and have little experience with winter activities, however several had been on my bucket list…such as snowmobiling and staying in a snow/ice hotel.

Finland is farther north than I realized and the Lapland region is located all the way in the southern part of the Arctic Circle.  Rovaniemi is the Lapland capital of Finland, which is the official headquarters for Santa Claus himself! I also learned that Lapland is not just in Finland, but is spread across the northern parts of Sweden, Norway and Russia as well. One of the things I absolutely love about travel is what an amazing educator it is.  I learned a great deal about Finnish culture, cuisine and history during my visit, some of which I will share with you in this post and video below.

The bulk of my time in Finland was spent in the Lapland region for an organized press trip called, “Winter on Wheels,” where many of the activities were organized by the amazing folks at Lapland Safaris. No matter what time of the year it is, Lapland Safaris (a regional tour company), has something for everyone. The operation is quite impressive in both scope and scale.  More on my excursions in a moment.

HELSINKI

My trip to Finland began with a flight from Phoenix to London, then a flight to Helsinki (the capital of Finland) where I would spend a few days. The flight duration, time change and jet lag took its toll my first day and I ended up sleeping well past noon.  I stayed at a chic hotel called Glo right in the heart of Helsinki…everything was within walking distance, or, a short transit ride away.  While European accommodations are typically modest in size, the amenities are often quite luxurious. I really gravitate toward more contemporary décor and my room at Glo was certainly impressive with its solid surfaces, modern materials and masculine colors.

After taking a shower and getting ready, I left the hotel with an elated sense of discovery. I absolutely love the thrill of exploring new places. It was a glorious day and quite warm for this time of year (around 28 degrees fahrenheit). I strolled the cobblestone streets of Helsinki and began to get my bearings. I ambled through a farmers market and observed some talented street performers along the way. I was armed with brochures and a map and decided to hop aboard a ferry to an island known as the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, which is a World Heritage site and popular area to visit just outside Helsinki. Here, visitors can explore the historic military architecture while enjoying the many views from different vantage points. The ferry ride across the harbor was quite unique for me, while the surface was not frozen solid; the chucks of ice blocks blanketed the surface of the water like giant cotton balls.

As I returned to Helsinki, I navigated the streets to the center square where I ran across an outdoor ice skating rink…here I donned some blades and skimmed across the slippery surface with my fellow novice skaters. I managed to avoid falling, but graceful I was not. Helsinki offers a wide range of activities for its visitors, from world-class museums and architecture to hip nightclubs and fine dining. On one of my evenings in Helsinki, I was treated to an extraordinary meal at a local restaurant called, Juuri, which translates to “root,” and is a bit of a double entendre in that the food is prepared using traditional Finnish methods (Finnish roots), and that roots, are a common food staple in Finland.

One thing that can’t be missed while visiting Finland is a Sauna experience. As a matter of fact, the word “Sauna” is the most popular Finnish word to make it into the English language. I have quite the Sauna story for you, but you’ll have to read on.

Rovaniemi

After a few days in Helsinki, I boarded a plane to Rovaniemi, which is located in the northern part of the country. As I mentioned, Rovaniemi is situated in the southern part of the Arctic Circle and is the official headquarters for the “real” Santa Claus.  As I made my way to my hotel, named for Ol’ Saint Nick himself, I met five other travel journalists who would be joining me for the “Winter on Wheels” press trip. Two of the journalists were from France, one was from Russia, and, the other two were from Ukraine. The Ukrainian conflict had just begun, so I was fascinated to see how the Russian and the two Ukrainians would interact…ended up, everyone got along swimmingly. As I pointed out earlier in this post, travel continues to be my greatest educator. It’s one thing to listen to news on television; it’s an entirely different perspective when you get it straight from the source. I really enjoy my conversations with my fellow journalists who hail from other parts of the world, it’s fascinating to learn of their heritage and perspective on America.

After getting settled in our hotel, we all headed to a seasonal restaurant called, Snowland, which is an igloo restaurant. Snowland is not just a restaurant, but rather a snow/ice experience. In addition to the dining portion of the evening, there are many sculptures to admire as well as other structures on the property to explore. There is even a fire pit to cozy up to while sipping some Finnish vodka from a glass made of ice. While taking in all the intricate details of Snowland, I glanced at my Russian colleague who had a bemused look on his face…I inferred that he thought it odd how enamored we all were with Snowland, that from his land, this was commonplace. I remarked when I noticed his facial reaction to our excitement and we both had a chuckle.

The next day we walked down the street to Lapland Safaris where we were outfitted with Arctic attire and then boarded a bus en route to a nearby frozen river where an ice track had been set up for our driving pleasure. The excitement level was high, first up were the rally sport cars, which were a pair of souped-up circa 1980s Ford Escorts. Since I was filming for my video, I opted to go last. Our tour guide, along with three of the journalists, were all from cold weather climates—so I fully expected them to be highly proficient on the ice, but what I observed was a high level of trepidation. I actually had to speed up the footage on the video because everyone was going so slowly. I don’t know if it was a false sense of confidence, but when I got buckled into the car, I was off like the wind! I can’t describe how exhilarating it was to push the limits of the car on a slippery surface, while improving precision through the track cones around each lap. After about ninety minutes or so of practice, it was time to race! A timekeeper boarded the car and we had two laps to post our best time. With great enthusiasm, I came in first place. Note: I’m only slightly competitive [insert sarcasm].

Our next event was four-wheeled ATVs along a different track set-up. Coming from the southwest, I have a lot of experience with ATVs, however none of which is on ice. It was a different experience to say the least, but like the rally cars, it was simply a blast. After an hour or so of practice, it was time to race. Again, we had two laps to post our best time. Again, I posted the best time. I absolutely love racing and competitive sporting activities, so for me, I was in my element.

After the ATV race, we headed to a teepee of sorts where some traditional cuisine was prepared. There was a fire in the middle of the structure where we warmed up and enjoyed our Finnish lunch fare and conversed about the morning activities. After lunch, we headed back to the track, this time we were racing some high performance go-carts. These too were so much fun to drive, however the track conditions and performance of the carts proved to be more challenging as traction was hard to come by. There had been a lack of snow the pervious few days and we had pretty much cleared any existing layers with the rally cars, so now it was shear ice. Again, after having some time to practice, it was race time. This time, I came in second place, just behind our local Finnish tour guide.

That evening we headed to Nili, a well-known local restaurant serving some wonderful Lappish cuisine. Lappish ingredients often consist of reindeer, salmon, white fish, various root vegetables and regional berries.

Our next day was a long one, but equally exhilarating…we ventured off on a snowmobiling excursion with the folks from Lapland Safaris. Riding a snowmobile was one of those winter activities on my bucket list, so I was so excited to hop aboard and get started. After our guide provided an overview of the tour and explained some operational and safety procedures, we were off. We left right from downtown Rovaniemi where we rode along the river bank for a short while, then worked our way onto the frozen river where we rode for several miles, eventually veering off onto a snowmobile road system that led us up into the forest. It was so awe-inspiring…the beauty surrounding us was stunning. The way the tree-filled branches were weighted down by snow and the views below were sights to behold. As we gained a bit of separation from one another, we were able to give the snow machines more throttle, just to see how they performed. The power and agility these machines possess was extraordinary…I was so surprised by the precise handling. During stretches on straight-aways, atop smooth frozen rivers, I imagine we must have reached speeds near 70mph.

As we meandered through a network of snow trails we eventually stopped at Northern Gate Safaris for our first break when we had an opportunity to dog sled and ride in a reindeer sleigh, both were also new experiences for me. The husky dogs were so full of energy and genuinely excited by the idea of running. After our sled ride we got to meet some of the dogs and learn more about the sport of mushing.

Adjacent to the dog sled area was a reindeer farm where we took turns riding/navigating a reindeer sleigh. Afterwards, we walked to a structure and sat around a warm fire where we listened to a native cultural story being told by a woman in heritage clothing as she talked about the importance of the reindeer to the Lappish people.  We then walked to a traditional Lappish building where we were treated to lunch…which of course consisted of reindeer meat.

Soon after, we were back on our snowmobiles for more of our scenic journey through the forests of Finnish Lapland, far removed from civilization. After a few hours, we arrived at our next destination…a private lodge called; “Bear’s Den” situated along side a river and nestled by nature. At the Bear’s Den we enjoyed a traditional Finnish sauna and tasty dinner among its legendary surroundings. The Bear’s Den became famous by former Finnish President Kekkonen, who hosted such dignitaries as Golda Meir, Leonid Brezhnev and Lady Bird Johnson.

During the sauna portion of the festivities I learned that the activity is performed a bit more modestly in the States. Unbeknownst to me, sauna is not just where you go to sweat, but rather where men go to bond…in the buff. Men casually hang out (figuratively and literally) in an extremely hot room, putting water on the hot rocks and waving towels to circulate the air (with junk in full view!). I was the last one to arrive in the dressing room before entering the Sauna. As I was getting undressed, I was about to put on my swimming trunks, but thankfully, one of the guys came out and I noticed he was not wearing any. I can only imagine how embarrassed I would have been walking in with an article of clothing on. While in the Sauna we drank cold Finnish beers, presumably a healthy way to replenish the fluids that are being lost [insert sarcasm]. After we were sufficiently toasted, we ran down a snowy path (naked mind you…with strangers no less), where conveniently, a hole had been cut out of the frozen river—inviting us to further humiliate ourselves with the additional reduction in our manhood…some know this as, “shrinkage.” Suffice it to say, this form of “Sauna” was a new experience for me. I’m always willing to try something once…twice, if I like it.

After a shower and getting dressed, we made our way to the dining room where we enjoyed a wonderful meal in the incredibly cozy lodge.  All-in-all, it was a fantastic day that included, excitement, relaxation and bonding with new friends.

The next day was all about culture as we toured the Arktikum Museum, where the exhibitions take guests on a journey of Finnish Lapland and its Arctic region, while providing a comprehensive look at its history and culture.  Another culinary journey followed with an amazing meal at SKY Restaurant, where not only is the local cuisine expertly presented, but the view is pretty spectacular as well.

Next was a trip to the official village headquarters for Khris Kringle, otherwise known as, “Santa Claus.” Visiting the Santa Claus Village is really a special experience, with lots of activities for the kids, and a reminiscent time for the adults. For me personally, Christmas as a kid was a wonderful time and I have many fond memories.  Also located within Santa Claus Village is a unique Lappish venue called, Santamus that caters to groups and special events. Santamus is an unforgettable restaurant experience that tempts all the senses. The glow of burning firewood and the sounds of a creek’s water cascading gently over river rocks, create a warm and soothing ambiance.

Kemi

The next day I parted ways with my fellow travel journalists and boarded a train heading south to the seaside town of Kemi. Kemi has two very popular tourist attractions in the winter…the SnowCastle and the Sampo Icebreaker. Staying in an ice hotel was another winter activity on my bucket list…click here to read all about it and see my video. An icebreaker cruise never even occurred to me before, but let me tell you, it was quite an experience…something not many have ever had the chance to do. I also wrote a separate post and produced a video on my experience, don’t miss it…click here.

After a couple of days in Kemi, I boarded a plane back to Helsinki where I would spend another day before heading to London for my international flight back to the States.

My trip to Finland was simply extraordinary…the activities and experiences have forged memories that will last a lifetime.  If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind winter travel experience, you should really consider a trip to Finland. If you’ve ever been to Finland in the winter, please share your experiences and favorite activities by leaving a comment below.

NOTE: If you plan a trip to Helsinki, and you have the time, I would suggest planning a trip to Saint Petersburg, it’s just a short train ride away. I wish I would have had the time myself, but the visa process takes more time than I had when this trip came about.

Sampo Icebreaker cruise

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

While visiting Kemi, Finland in the northern part of the country, I had an opportunity to go on an extraordinary excursion…the Sampo Icebreaker cruise. The Sampo is the only icebreaker in the world dedicated as a tourist attraction. This mighty icebreaker takes passengers around the northern Gulf of Bothnia (part of the Baltic Sea) out of Finnish Lapland. After serving for thirty years in demanding Arctic waters,  the vessel has been given a new task—to provide an unforgettable experience for winter enthusiasts!

Once on board the Icebreaker, passengers are given a presentation of the ship and a guided tour takes you to the massive engine room, as well as the bridge. After getting acquainted with the ship, a three-course meal is served in the ship’s cozy galley. During my cruise, I had a creamy salmon soup for the first course. The entree was a fillet of beef with vegetables and blue cheese potatoes mixed with a red wine sauce. For dessert, we had a chocolate parfait served with choice of coffee or tea.

Before and after lunch are great opportunities to head toward the bow or sides of the ship to witness the Sampo work her way through the thick ice. The ice conditions are extraordinary to observe and vary greatly in texture (as the ice is broken and frozen back in place). While I was in Finland, the weather was unseasonably warm (right around freezing, about 20 degrees above normal) and thus the water took longer to freeze back together after the icebreaker had carved a path—the warm weather condition caused the ice to pile up in areas, creating large mounds on the surface of the frozen water.  It was such a unique experience to look ahead and see nothing but solid ocean surface, then look below and see the ship breaking the ice to create a path. The tour teaches you how the icebreaker functions, as well as its role at sea. The cruise is as educational, as it is fascinating. I found myself peering over the edge of the ship just observing the blocks of ice float by after the ship had cleared its path…I was mesmerized, like one becomes when looking into a camp fire.

As a member of the media, I am very fortunate to be offered special treatment on occasion. During my cruise on the Sampo, I noticed a boom with a bucket at the bow of the ship—I then recalled a colleague who’d been on the cruise a few days prior, tell me that he was able to go inside the bucket and be lowered over the side of the ship for some extraordinary photos. So, I asked the captain if it would be possible for me to get inside with my tripod and video camera, and to my delight, he happily obligated. If the entire cruise were not exciting enough, the chance to be hoisted over the side of the vessel to get close-up footage of the ship breaking ice right at the hull level, certainly elevated the excitement. It was simply amazing! After several minutes over the edge, I was raised high above the ship getting almost an aerial view. As the boom continued to rise, I was now level with the bridge deck where the captain waved at me…it was a surreal moment. If you watch my video in this post, you will see some of the great footage I was able to capture. [I have to extend a big thank you to Captain Petter Tähtinen and the Cruise Director, Oskar Van Ieperen for accommodating me as they did.]

Before we returned to port, the ship stopped for about an hour to allow passengers (who wanted to take part) a chance to don an arctic dry-suit and jump into the frozen waters.  This was just an amazing experience…here the ship is stopped in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by frozen sea and passengers are allowed to disembark and walk on the solid surface of water to take pictures. At the stern of the ship was an opening in the water for those in their dry-suits to jump in. I actually swam out a bit and played around with the huge chunks of ice. I was having so much fun I did not want to get out, but I also realized there were other people waiting. So, reluctantly I got out and got back aboard for the final journey back to port.

As the Sampo reached the dock and we all began to disembark, the ship’s Captain presented each passenger with a certificate. The four-hour Sampo Icebreaker cruise is something you have to put on your bucket list…it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. If you’ve ever been on the Sampo, please leave a comment below and share your favorite aspects of the cruise.

Arizona Renaissance Festival

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

The Arizona Renaissance Festival is is one of the largest such festivals in the nation. This year festival organizers are celebrating its 26th season, which runs from the beginning of February through the end of March. The 30-acre park is located just outside of Apache Junction, about 50 miles east of Phoenix.

If you’re not familiar, the Renaissance Festival is a medieval amusement park full of entertainment, reenactments and mischievous antics, which are performed throughout the park on 13 different stages, including a jousting venue.

I attended the festival a few weeks ago and just had a blast, it seems each year it gets bigger and better. All the participating actors take the festival very seriously…you can’t help but feel you’ve been transported back in time some five hundred years.

The village marketplace has over 200 shops offering an array of goods. You’ll find circus events, arts and crafts, a jousting tournament and a feast, all rolled into one non-stop, day-long adventure.

If you’ve ever been to the Arizona Renaissance Festival, please leave a comment below and share your favorite activities or events.

Arizona Renaissance Festival Information:

When to go: Open Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6pm (rain or shine)
Dates: Early February to the end of March
Website: RoyalFaires.com
Directions: Google Map to Arizona Renaissance Festival
Address: 12601 East Highway 60, Gold Canyon  AZ  85118

Kemi SnowCastle is downright cool

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

For years I’ve been enamored by the idea of a seasonal and temporary hotel made of snow and ice. I recently had an opportunity to visit one of the most well-known snow and ice structures in the world…the Kemi SnowCastle. While the unusually warm weather and overcast skies did not help showcase the SnowCastle’s beauty in its best light, it was an experience I will not soon forget.

It’s not until you enter the SnowCastle than you really appreciate just how large the snow structure is. I was really struck by the amazing level of artistry that is around every corner—you’ll see relief art in the walls, as well as ice sculptures throughout the Castle. At one end there are two large halls with dozens of tables made of ice, each with several wooden stools and reindeer hides for restaurant patrons to sit. On the opposite end is the SnowHotel, where guests can stay the night…like I did. While there is no question the freezing temperatures make it a bit uncomfortable getting in and out of bed, it’s actually quite a cozy experience. The thick snow walls create massive insulation, and therefore the rooms are extremely quiet and peaceful.  Once you get situated inside your arctic sleeping bag, which lies atop a layer of lambskin, it’s very warm and comfy. Thankfully I opted for the wake-up knock at the door, otherwise I would have continued sleeping well past check-out. As it were, I slept a solid nine hours.

Next to the SnowCastle is a warm structure where visitors and hotel guests can hang out, grab a cup of hot coca or lunch and warm up before returning to further explore the Castle. This structure also plays host for the morning breakfast for SnowHotel guests. A few hundred hards away is another facility where guests can shower, sit in a sauna or take a dip in the very large pool.

Other activities outside the SnowCastle include snowmobile and Olokolo (translation: cozy nest) tours. I took one of the Olokolo tours and it was fantastic. Simply described, an Olokolo is like a small camper on sled rails in which a snowmobile tour guide tows you. The Olokolo is full of windows (including the roof) to ensure that no sight is missed. If you prefer warmer sleeping accommodations, you can even rent one of the Olokolo for the night verses staying in the SnowHotel. Each Olokolo nest is equipped with a heater, warm sleeping bags and soft lamb skins. With the Olokolo glass roof, you might even get to see the Northern Lights during the evening. If you are going to visit the SnowCastle, I’d recommend staying two nights…one inside the SnowHotel, the other in an Olokolo.

The SnowHotel is of course not a luxurious lodging experience, it’s more like staying at a camp site, but it is absolutely a unique and memorable experience. And, a story you’ll enjoy telling your friends and family about.

If you’ve ever stayed at the SnowCastle or a similar structure, please post a comment below and let my readers and me know what your experience was like.

SnowCastle Information:

Rates: 125 to 190 EUR based on day and occupancy
Phone: +358 16 258 878
Location: Kemi, Finland
Email: sales@visitkemi.fi
Website: VisitKemi.fi/en/snowcastle
Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (during the season).
Season: Late January through mid April (depending on weather).
SnowRestaurant: Open 10 am – 7 pm – Lunch is served at 12 noon and at 2 pm (reservations must be made in advance)

Chihuly exhibit at Desert Botanical Garden

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Located in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona is one of the city’s most popular and illustrious attractions…the Desert Botanical Garden. No matter when you visit, you’ll be awed by the diversity of the Sonoran Desert. However, if you go now until May 18th, 2014, you’ll be dazzled by the outdoor Chihuly Exhibit. As you stroll the beautifully maintained garden trails, you’ll be wowed by the vibrant works of art on displayed, each thoughtfully created to enhance the desert garden setting.

Chihuly and his team are renowned for their ambitious architectural installations around the world. It was back in 2001 when Chihuly had the audacious idea to display delicate works of glass art in an outdoor setting. For more than a decade now, Chihuly’s ever-changing outdoor display tours the best gardens around the world. This is the second time the Chihuly Exhibit has been on display at the Desert Botanical Garden and I can tell you that is certainly worth a visit. My recommendation is to go in the late afternoon so that you can see the exhibit in both the daylight, as well as the evening. As soon as night falls, the exhibit is transformed as strategically placed lights accentuate details of the glass that can be minimized during the day.

If you’ve been to a Chihuly Garden Exhibit before, whether at the Desert Botanical Garden or elsewhere, please share your experience below by posting a comment.

Desert Botanical Garden Chihuly Exhibit Information:

Time Periods: There are three time periods per day to choose from: 8 a.m. – Noon / 12 – 4 p.m. / 4 – 8 p.m.
Ticket Prices: Adult: $22, Senior: $20, Student: $12, Child: $10
After Dark: Special day/times 8pm-midnight March 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 | April 5, 12 and 19
Address: 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, Arizona
Phone: 480-941-1225
Website: Desert Botanical Garden

The Watchtower; best Grand Canyon view

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

The Grand Canyon is a distant second to the Smoky Mountains as the most visited National Park in the country, with over three million visiting annually. The vast majority of visitors come through the South Rim entrance, each in search of the best place to see the awe-inspiring sight. Few are aware that there is actually an East Entrance to the Grand Canyon, also known as Desert View. The Desert View (or East Entrance) is home to probably the best and most expansive single view of the Grand Canyon, it’s located at the Watchtower observation platform.

Grand Canyon East is where you’ll find the authentic looking 70′ Hopi Watchtower. This replica was design by famed architect, Mary Colter, and was the last of the visitor concession structures to be completed at the park in 1932. The most architecturally impressive section of the tower has to be the interior of the building. The space is an open shaft surrounded by circular balconies edging the walls and small staircases that lead up to subsequent levels.  The walls are covered with beautiful murals, hieroglyphs, pictographs and petroglyphs painted by Hopi artists.  Experiencing the multiple levels and circular balconies will fill visitors with an overwhelming sense of the southwest.

Grand Canyon East begins below Glen Canyon Dam, which creates the magnificent Lake Powell recreation area. Access to the East Entrance is off highway 89, south of Lake Powell by nearly 80 miles. After turning west onto highway 64, you have another 50 miles until the Grand Canyon East Entrance. If you’re already at the South Rim, you can just drive east along the edges of the canyon for 26 miles of scenic views.

If you’ve ever been to the Watchtower at Grand Canyon East, leave a comment below and let me readers and me know what you enjoy most.

Santa Fe Farmers Market

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

Santa Fe, New Mexico is well known for its rich history, diverse culture, world-class art, chili-inspired culinary dishes, and, distinct Southwestern style. One stop worth making on your next trip to Santa Fe has to be the Farmer’s Market, located in the relatively new, Railyard Park.

The market began with just a handful of farmers in the late 60s and is now New Mexico’s largest farmers’ market with over 150 active vendors, featuring hundreds of different agricultural products. The Santa Fe Farmers Market is truly a local market…they take great effort to assure that all the products sold by vendors are always locally grown by the people selling them.

When I was at the market on a Saturday in late spring, the entire Railyard Park was bustling with people, street performers and vendors selling an array of colorful produce and handmade goods (see video). There are also many nearby galleries, shops and restaurants for visitors to enjoy. Located right across the street is the Santa Fe Sage Inn, the place I stayed. This modest hotel is very affordable, walking distance to just about all the Santa Fe attractions, and, offers a number of free amenities.

If you’ve ever been to the Santa Fe Farmers Market, please leave a comment below and share your experience.

Santa Fe Farmers Market Information:

Hours:

  • Saturdays open year-round 8am-1pm
  • Tuesday Market May through November
  • Railyard Artisan Market at the Market Pavilion; Sundays: 10am-4pm
  • Farmers’ Market Shops; Saturdays: 8am-3pm – Sundays: 10am-4pm

Website:
SantaFeFarmersMarket.com

Address:
Opens in Google Maps
740 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, NM 87505

Cherry Springs; a celestial state park

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

This past summer I road tripped through Pennsylvania, along historic Hwy 6. I spent about five our six days zig zagging north to south, hitting historic sites and state parks along the way. I had been listing to the radio when I heard about an extraordinary meteor shower that would be happening that evening. As I made my way atop a 2300-foot mountain (this is high for the east coast) I came across a sign for Cherry Springs State Park. I thought I would stop for a spell and soon discovered that it is one of the darkest places on the East Coast…perfect for stargazing and observing the Perseids meteor shower. Talk about being at the right place at the right time!

As I strolled around the park looking for a place to camp, I learned that across the street was a field for astronomers and celestial photographers. This field has wi-fi and electrical hookups for those needing power and communications for their telescopes and other astronomical equipment. After paying the camp fee I found the perfect spot to set up. To my surprise, there were few people there, however that would not last. As darkness descended, so too did the locals. The astronomy reports said to expect up to 60 shooting starts an hour, but I’m not sure I saw anywhere near that many. I did capture a few as you will see in the video.

Cherry Springs park is a wonderful place for stargazing and astronomy lovers.  If you’ve ever been, please leave a comment below and share your experience.

Cherry Springs State Park Information:

Address: 4639 Cherry Springs Road, Coudersport, PA 16915.
Phone: 814-435-5010
Website: www.dcnr.state.pa.us
Cost: The park’s public programs are free. Private stargazing with Nawrocki costs $20 for adults, $10 for kids 10 and over; call 814-848-5037 to arrange.
Bring: A jacket or blanket (nights get cool here) and a flashlight with a red lens (or a regular lens covered with red cellophane and a rubber band).
Don’t bring: Pets. They are not allowed.
Size: 82-acres, but the park is surrounded by 262,000-acres of Susquehannock State Forest land.
Staying over:

  • Cherry Springs has 30 primitive camp sites (no electricity). If you have equipment, you can camp on the astronomy field, where there is electricity and a nicer bathroom.
  • Lyman Run State Park, 9 miles from Cherry Springs, has showers and some electrical hookups and a lake.
  • Millstream Inn welcomes guests with free breakfast, complimentary WIFI, plus free popcorn and cookies in the lobby at night.

Quebec City Music Festival

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

In the summer of 2013, I road tripped from Arizona all the way to Québec. I had never been to the province or the city of Québec, so I really did not know what to expect. What I discovered was a part of Canada rich in its European roots…full of history, iconic architecture and a passion for food and entertainment. While I spent nearly two weeks in the province of Québec, my guiding objective was to visit Québec City for the 46th annual music festival.

Earlier in 2013, I attended a Jesse Cook concert in Wickenburg, Arizona, which was fantastic. I will digress for just a moment to say that if you get a chance to see Jesse Cook live…do it. Jesse is a guitarist, composer and producer who is widely considered to be one of the most influential figures in “Nuevo Flamenco” music. The band integrates many instruments that will likely be foreign to you. The sounds are upbeat, soulful and energizing.

Back to the story: I was invited backstage after the concert where I had an opportunity to strike up a conversation with Mr. Cook. During our conversation, Mr. Cook asked me what I did. I proceeded to tell him I was a travel blogger and that I had plans to spend a good part of the summer in the northeast. When he learned of my geographic destination, he suggested that if I could, I really should visit Québec City—that it was one of his favorite cities in the world. This, coming from a well-known musician who has traveled the world, told me it was something I should take to heart.

A few weeks later I was in New York City for a Canadian travel conference where I met tourism representatives from Quebec City. It was fate…I would be going to the French settlement of Québec!

After a few months of road tripping, I had finally made it to Québec City. I stayed at the Hilton Hotel which was located right in the heart of the action…I was able to walk to every venue/stage.  The Hilton was the communications and entertainment hub for all Festival d’été de Québec activities, which meant that I was staying at the same place as all the other media representatives and musicians. The buzz in the hotel was euphoric.

This was the 46th annual Quebec City Music Festival (or Festival d’été de Québec) and so they’re able to attract some pretty big names to the event. This year the headliners included; Bruno Mars, Rush, Weezer, Foreigner, Def Leppard, Emylou Harris, Stevie Wonder and the Black Keys just to name a few. There were many lesser known bands that were quite incredible too, some of my favorites included Lisa LeBlanc, Nomadic Massive and Rod Le Stod.

The festival had more than 300 performances, on 10 different stages, over an eleven-day period. All the stages are located in the downtown area and are within walking distance from one another. You’ll also find an array of street performers throughout the winding streets of Old Town Québec: from a drummer using trash cans and buckets, to traditional French artiste de rue. The city is so alive and bustling with excitement during the festival that the energy is contagious.  The kids will also find plenty of cool activities to keep them busy at Place de la Famille—games, activities, ziplines, live performances. The kids will have a blast.

Québec City is one of North America’s oldest and most splendid settlements. Its picturesque Old Town is a living museum of 17th and 18th century houses, narrow cobblestone streets, and soaring church spires. The architecture in both the new and old parts of Quebec City is quite remarkable.  Overlooking the St. Charles River is the enormous and elegant, Château Frontenac towering above Old Town. There’s more than a glimmer of Old Europe in the sidewalk cafes, classic French bistros and inviting squares. The city’s compact size makes it ideal for walking and exploring all the nooks and crannies hidden throughout.

I was really drawn to Old Town, which is split between the Haute Ville (Upper Town), perched above the St Lawrence River on the Cap Diamant cliffs, and the Basse Ville (Lower Town), where Samuel de Champlain (a heroic figure) established the first French foothold in 1608. Old Town is clustered with museums, mansard-roofed houses and cobblestone streets…all of which beckon visitors to explore.

Québec City goes to great lengths to entertain visitors during the summer music festival. I was so impressed by how well-organized the event was, not to mention the quality of the talent. I would highly recommend making your travel plans soon if the Festival d’été de Québec sounds of interest as hundreds of thousands of folks will descend on the city.

Québec City Music Festival information:

Dates: The 2014 festival is scheduled for July 3-13
Price: Ridiculously cheap…the entire 11-day festival pass is only: $76 CAD
Website: Visit: http://www.infofestival.com/The-Festival