Category: U.S. Travel (Page 1 of 6)

The Island of the Blue Dolphins: What’s The Big Deal About San Nicolas Island?

island of the blue dolphins

From Pixabay

I’ve been in love with the Channel Islands of California since I first read Scott O’Dell’s The Island of the Blue Dolphins as a little kid. The first time that I glimpsed them in person was on the horizon while on a family vacation. I was so fascinated in the shadows that came and went out on the ocean that I convinced my dad that we needed to see if there was a way to get to them, and a few days later we were on a day trip to Anacapa.

Since then, I have gone to camp on Catalina, snorkeled on Anacapa, kayaked on Santa Cruz, and hiked across Santa Rosa. But there are two Channel Islands that are off limits to visitors, San Nicolas and San Clemente. These are both owned by the Navy, and have active bases on them. So, going there as a casual camper or explorer is simply out of the question. Even so, I have been just as fascinated and in-love with these islands as the rest of the chain. This year I made a monumental effort to work as a short-term environmental contractor on San Nicolas so that I could finally experience this unique and amazing place.

But why drive for two days, volunteer three work days, and fly out into the middle of the ocean where no phones were allowed (for our group)? What’s so special about San Nicolas?

THE ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS

island of the blue dolphins

Juana Maria from Wikimedia commons

The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell is one of the first chapter books that I remember reading. More importantly, it is the first book that I ever read with a female, Native American protagonist. This story started to open my eyes to the realities of American expansion on Native people. I also had the chance to look up to a female hero, something, which was rare at the time, particularly among the stories that I enjoyed most.

O’Dell tells the tale of Juana Maria (we will never know her real name), a Nicoleño woman who was left alone on San Nicolas island for 18 years. While his book is historical fiction, the story itself is real. Juana Maria’s people, had been living on San Nicolas for hundreds of years (possibly more). In the 1800s, they found themselves at the center of a brutal conflict when the Russian-American Company fur company targeted their home for its thriving otter populations. At some point, the RAC hunters on the island decided that the local people had killed one of their men and in response they massacred the residents.

After this, Juana Maria’s people were removed from their home, although the reasons for this are not clear. The boat, however, left her behind. Again, no one is entirely sure why she wasn’t taken with the rest of her people. Some say that a strong storm drove the boat away from the island before she could get aboard. Others believe that she leapt from the boat because she thought her younger brother had been forgotten.

A Survivor, Strength Unmatched

island of the blue dolphins

Statue of Juana Maria from Wikimedia commons

Utterly alone, Juana Maria survived for nearly two decades on San Nicolas. She built herself a home, and expertly utilized all the resources of the island to stay alive. A few footprints on the beach sand, and food left out to dry eventually led to her being found. After that, she was brought to the mainland. Sadly, the rest of her people did not await her there. She died only seven weeks after being reunited with society.

Juana Maria’s story is one of horrible tragedy, but as a person, I consider her a hero. While I can’t say what her own people thought of women, I believe that Juana Maria shocked the Europeans and Americans with her strength, ingenuity, and iron will to survive. She did what none of those people thought that she could. I will always see her as one of the great figures of female survivors and outdoor experts.

It was amazing to walk in her footsteps (so to speak) and see the island that she once called home.

OTTERS IN THE SOUTH

island of the blue dolphins

From pixabay

Otters were once common across the long coast of California. Thousands of them made their homes along the beaches that are now so famously loved by the West-coast enthusiasts. They played an essential role in the ecosystem of the coast. In the 18th and 19th Century, however, hunters killed them in such extreme numbers that they were considered extinct in California by the 1900s.

Luckily, this was not the case, as a single small population remained after the hunting efforts were ended. All of the current otters that live in California now came from those few that managed to survive. From a conservation scientist’s perspective this makes California’s otters vulnerable. Those left don’t have much by way of genetic variation. When genetic variation is low, diseases and environmental changes are more dangerous for a species. For example, more variation means that there is a greater chance that more individuals will have a natural immunity or ability to recover from an otherwise fatal disease.

Welcome Back To San Nicolas

island of the blue dolphins

From Pixabay

In order to address this problem, US Fish and Wildlife decided that a second population of otters was needed. They chose San Nicolas Island for this purpose, and brought several otters there. They thought that the animals would be safe from any problems that arose in the north there. Unfortunately, everyone underestimated how far otters could travel. Most of the animals dropped off on San Nicolas actually swam home, across the open ocean and up the coast. Pretty amazing, if you ask me!

The project didn’t go as smoothly as wildlife managers were hoping, but there is a small population of otters on San Nicolas now. These little guys are some of the most  special animals that anyone can see in southern California. It’s only fitting that they can now make the Island of the Blue Dolphins their home once more.

My Journey to San Nicolas

Last week I posted about my trip amazing trip to San Nicolas and the great work that the Channel Island Restoration team does.

The Forgotten Caribbean: Travel to Vieques

Last week we covered some history and attractions on the small island of Culebra, and this week I am going to sum up Nightborn Travel’s coverage of Puerto Rico with Culebra’s sister island, Vieques. This is the larger of the two Spanish Virgin Islands. It faces many of the same challenges that we talked about in regards to Culebra. This includes a history of military exploitation, and small local communities struggling against impending buy-out from expats and the larger tourism industry. At the same time, Vieques and Culebra are utterly unique. When you travel to Vieques you will have the opportunity to see beautiful low-land forests, free-range horses, and one of the best bio-luminescent bays in the world. There’s an almost endless list of things to see on this little island and it’s time that it was forgotten no more.

travel to vieques

EARLY HISTORY

Before the arrival of the Europeans, Vieques was home to indigenous peoples such as the Taino, who left archeological remains throughout Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the Spanish colonizers went to war with the native people here and enslaved everyone left when they were done claiming the land for themselves. The Taino people currently live on through modern Puerto Ricans who still incorporate some of the traditions of Taino culture in the unique Puerto Rican way-of-life.

As with much of the Caribbean, and mainland Puerto Rico, sugar plantations were a major aspect of life on Vieques. This activity led to immigration onto the island as workers, investors, and slaves moved or were moved to take advantage of the small island’s fertile soils.

travel to vieques

The Fortin on Vieques (c) ABR 2018

RECENT HISTORY

In the 1940s, this changed when the US military purchased more than half of the island. This had large-scale negative impacts on the economy of the island. It put many local people out of work, and forced physical relocation for anyone that lived on the land that was now owned by the US government. The land purchased was utilized for the testing of weaponry, and much like Culebra, the island is still haunted by this legacy. Although this is something that you pick up more from talking to local people when you travel to Vieques, as there aren’t tanks laying around here.

This misuse and mistreatment of the island and its residents came to a tragic head when David Sanes was killed by military activity in 1999. This event led to ongoing protests that were spearheaded by local people but supported by activists from all over the world. By 2001, there was a presidential guarantee that the military would begin leaving in 2003, and on May 1, 2003, the process began.

travel to vieques

A map of military impacts on Vieques (c) ABR 2018

While the protests led to the ceasing of the US government’s activities on Vieques, the road to recovering the island has not been easy. Cancer rates on Vieques are high and many local people believe that this has to do with the tests that took place there. Furthermore, health services are not readily available on Vieques and what there was was all but destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Environmental and social recovery is still underway. Bu many Vieques natives have had to move away from their home due to lack of resources, jobs, and health care. This leaves the island vulnerable to a new kind of exploitation from the mass tourism industry.

GETTING THERE

As with Culebra, you can travel to Vieques via a ferry or a plane ride.

The most affordable way to get there is the ferry, which runs from Fajardo/Ceiba to Vieques multiple times a day and the fare is under $10. However, taking the ferry has its risks as the schedule is not 100% dependable and tickets can sell out. Check the Guide to Vieques for more information.

travel to vieques

Getting off of the tiny airplane on Vieques (c) ABR 2018

Personally, I traveled there with Vieques Air Link, which flew from San Juan to the island. These flights leave from the much smaller domestic airport in San Juan, and use very small planes, so if you are scared of 4-6 seat planes, you might opt for the ferry. If you have the extra cash for this mode though, the views from the plane are absolutely amazing and Air Link was on time for all of the flights I took with them. The only difficultly with this mode of transportation post-Maria was that the companies were a little hard to contact and we had some difficultly getting our tickets and confirming our seats. I would hope that this will consistently improve as things get repaired in Puerto Rico.

travel to vieques

View of San Juan from the tiny plane to Vieques (c) ABR 2018

WHERE TO STAY

There are lots of places to stay and different kinds of experiences, from AirBnb to hostels and luxury hotels. As always, my main suggestion would be to stay somewhere that’s smaller, and locally owned. You will even have some options in terms of whether or not you stay near the town centers or out in the more rural areas of the island when you travel to Vieques.

WHAT TO DO

Hiking

No, surprise, but my first suggestion would be to go hiking. There are tons of trails, but here are a couple that I enjoyed.

Cayo de Tierra: This short, little trail goes out onto a beautiful peninsula that is just right outside of town. Day Trips says that it is unusable since Hurricane Maria, but I had no trouble hiking it in April. You just need to follow the red markings along the trail.

travel to vieques

Looking through the forest and out to the land bridge (c) ABR 2018

Playa Negra is the black sand beach of Vieques. It takes a bit of hiking to get there, down through a small creek bed, but it is well worth the walk. Just expect your shoes to get wet and be prepared. I will also note that there is not a lot of parking at the trailhead, so please be sure that you move your vehicle out of the road when you head out.

travel to vieques

Playa Negra (c) ABR 2018

The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is another hot spot for hiking, although when I visited, it was closed down after the hurricane. Hopefully it will be opened again soon.

Other Stuff to Do

Vieques is also home to one of the best bio bays in the world, although it has been badly impacted by Hurricane Maria and climate change. I would still suggest checking it out, as at worst you will get to go on a nice, guided night kayak on a beautiful bay. There is a nice list of companies to consider going out with here.

Fortin Conde de Mirasol is a great historic location on the island, which is a must-see for any travel to Vieques. It is both a great place to learn more about the story of the island, and it is home to an organization that supports local education. There is a great little museum here as well as a lovely gift shop.

travel to vieques

The Gran Ceiba (c) ABR 2018

Make sure that you stop by the absolutely beautiful Gran Ceiba tree. It is said to be about 300 years old. Just make sure that you don’t step on the roots! Keep your distance.

Finally, there are tons of tasty restaurants right on the beach in Esperanza. The village is a great place to stop by for a relaxing walk through the town. There is plenty of Caribbean fusion, Puerto Rican, and American food on offer, so there is something for everyone.

TIPS FOR THE ISLAND

(1) Use your travel to Vieques as a tool for supporting local people. You can do this by supporting locally owned hotels, restaurants and guides. You can also learn more about the culture and history of Vieques and share it with other people. The more the world knows about the struggles of this little island and the strength of its people, the better!

(2) There is still unexploded ordinance on Vieques, and although rare, sometimes people still find things while exploring. If you find anything that you can’t identify, do not touch or move it, just report it to the authorities.

travel to vieques

The closed National Wildlife Sanctuary (c) ABR 2018

(3) Vieques has a very high amount of murder, statistically speaking. For the most part, this is not something that visitors need to worry about. The residents of Vieques are kind people and the island overall has a small-town mentality. That being said, stay out of trouble and don’t go looking for drugs, etc. (not something I condone anywhere).

(4) When you drive on Vieques remember that this is a small island; there are often people and horses walking along the road (sometimes turtles even try to cross!). Embrace island life and drive slow and respectfully. If people want to pass you, just pull out of the way. Enjoy the scenery!

(5) Hiking, traveling and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends. It is your responsibility to travel and explore responsibly and take care of your own safety. (Adapted from www.hikearizona.com).

Cave Creek Hiking: Go John Trail

There is alot of variety to Cave Creek hiking, and Go John Trail is one well known trail in this area. It was previously showcased by Sweat Magazine as reader’s choice best hike.

go john trail

Sonoran desert from Go John Trail (c) ABR 2018

General Information

Location: Cave Creek Regional Park
Run By: Maricopa County
Fee: $6 per car
General Difficulty: 2.5 (1 being easiest and 5 being hardest)
Round Trip Length: 5.4 miles (8.7 km)
Accumulated Gain: 1,260 feet (384 meters)
Crowd Levels: Moderate
Other activities: Camping, picnicking, visiting the nature center

Recommendation

Go John trail is a good place to visit if you are a local who hasn’t been, or a visitor looking to experience lots of Sonoran plant diversity. There are better trails for scenery and work outs. This trail is also fairly far from the city center.

Description

First Half

go john trail

Sonoran desert from Go John Trail (c) ABR 2018

The Go John Trail starts at the parking lot at the very end of the road in the recreation area. It is a loop hike that you can start heading north or east. The first section of the trail (if you head north on the Maricopa Trail) rises up over a saddle in the mountains. It’s not a particularly steep incline, but it was sustained enough to get my heart rate up. This is the hardest part of the trail, in my opinion, and after you make the top of this rise, Go John will take you down into a valley where you will meander through fluffy, desert washes.

Before you descend onto the main length of the trail, however, I would suggest pausing to enjoy the view. The saddle is a great place to snap some pictures of the valleys to either side, one with the heart of Phoenix and one still wild. The rest of the trail is fairly low elevation, so there aren’t tons of other spots for pictures until  the end. That being said, the mountains in Spur Cross will  be at eye line for most of your trek, so the horizon-to-horizon beauty is there.

Second Half

go john trail

Sonoran desert from Go John Trail (c) ABR 2018

Once you hike down into the washes, you will have some wonderful opportunities to see Sonoran desert biodiversity, with a multitude of plants growing in this relatively lush part of the Phoenix valley. Birds abound as well, and if you know where to look (and how to be both safe and respectful of the animals) there is also come good herping here.

The way back towards the trailhead goes require you to gain some elevation again, but it is much more gradual than the first half of the trail. The descent to the parking lot is really nice and gradual as well.

go john trail

5 Things I’ve Learned from Getting Stuck at Airports

I’ve gotten stuck waiting at a LOT of airports, so naturally I’ve picked up a few things that have made it a little easier for me when faced with traveling inconveniences.

1) Travel delays are less of an ‘if’ and more of a ‘when’, so try to plan accordingly.

These days, it feels like a delay at some airport is almost inevitable, if even for a short amount of time. Unfortunately, sometimes even the slightest delay can throw everything off schedule. I know it’s not always possible, but for big events (usually weddings), it’s a good idea to give yourself a couple days leeway before the occasion to account for any hiccups.

For example, I was traveling from the U.S. to Manila for a cousin’s wedding. All of my connecting flights went smoothly, until the very last one at the Narita Airpot. I was supposed to board at six, which turned to seven, eight and nine and when we finally boarded the plane, they herded us back off because by the time we would arrive in the early a.m., there would be no crew to welcome us. Oh, and the next available flight? Not until 1 p.m. the next day.  I lost nearly an entire day, making me extremely glad the wedding was later in the week.

2) Travel as light as you can…

Good advice for when:
a) Your gate suddenly changes after your last flight delay made you late, and you have to haul your butt across three airport concourses to make it to you connection in time.
b) You’re traveling solo and need to drag your bags everywhere with you. There’s nothing like trying to cram yourself into an airport bathroom with a bunch of luggage.
c) Your connecting flight, for whatever reason, doesn’t transfer your bags with you and you have to go through the whole rigmarole of baggage claim and check-in AGAIN.

3) … But, bring back-up essentials in your carry-on.

This has come through for me AT LEAST twice. I mentioned my sweet stay at the Narita Airport up above – after spending more than 12 hours at the same airport gate, I’m SO glad I had clothes to change into and toiletries to refresh myself. The second time, having learned from Narita, I was flying to Manila again with maybe two or three days worth of extra clothing in my backpack. It served me well after my having to switch flights – I arrived fine, but my baggage took three days to find me, having flown on my ORIGINAL connecting flight.

Things to Keep Handy:
– Extra clothing (especially undies)
– Toothbrush/toothpaste (just remember to keep that tube small enough size for TSA approval)
– Face wipes (good for make-up removal/other face gunk and generally TSA-approved)
– Small stick of deodorant
– Portable phone charger/power bank (in case you’re faced with full or broken outlets)

4) Learn about the airport beforehand, especially if you have multiple connections.

It’s just a great idea to know the layout of the airport(s) you’re traveling to you’re not surprised by what you’ll find when you arrive. If you have the time, then you’ll know where you want to eat, shop and relax. If you don’t have time, then you can move around with ease and book it to your next destination. It also helps to know some other miscellaneous details like if the airport has wi-fi (and is it free?), what currency the airport will accept if you’re traveling to another country (Narita actually accepted USD, which was pretty convenient) and if they have places to stay inside the airport should you need a rest (Narita actually had hotel rooms available – but when I was delayed we were asked to remain by the gate – booooooo).

5) Don’t panic.

If delays happen, if you get stuck in an airport like I did, try your very best not to freak out, take a deep breath and then figure out your next steps.

When I ended up chillin’ like a villain in Narita I:
a) Used the wi-fi to use my messaging apps to see of my family members was online so I could get in contact with them and let them know what’s up and not to worry.
b) Didn’t get mad or berate the staff for a weather delay they couldn’t control, but stuck around, listened to what updates they had and did what they asked of us.
c) Made the best of it. I got to try consommé-flavored Pringles (which I didn’t even know existed) and learned how to make a curry MRE (which actually tasted pretty dang good), I talked to an extremely nice missionary couple that ended up watching out for me while I got some nap time in (still using my carry-on as pillow so I would know if anybody was trying to mess with it) and explored the Narita Airport while purchasing enough green tea Kit-Kats to keep me happy.

1621905_10151874411601196_393278566_n

Mmmmm. Soup.

Really, my hope for every flight and for you is that you don’t get stuck with your buns warming an uncomfortable airport gate seat for hours. However, if you do, remember my advice and perhaps it’ll make things a bit more bearable.

Bisous,
Katie

The Un-Planner’s Guide To: New York City (Day 2)

Hello, wonderful person! If you’ve made it here, that means you’ve made it to the second and final part of  Un-Planner’s Guide to New York City.

I hope my itinerary, and I use that term VERY loosely, for Day 1 serves you well. Now, let’s get the show on the road for Day 2, we don’t have much time to waste.

Day 2:

Herald Square

20170602_093106.jpg

  • Plan to meet up with family for breakfast, but start your day off a little bit earlier so you have time to wander.
  • Realize that you’re a block from Herald Square and its Macy’s of Miracle on 34th Street fame. Use store as a landmark to return to because it’s impossible to miss, considering it takes up an ENTIRE city block.
  • Pick a completely random direction to go in and enjoy strolling at your own leisure while watching sleepy businesses open and traffic buzz by.

Koreatown

20170601_093930.jpg

  • Be lucky that Koreatown is close enough to Herald Square that you can stumble upon it by accident.
  • See a street sign for Korea Way. Follow the sign.
  • Decide that Korean food would be an AMAZING breakfast. Meet up with your people and tell them so.
  • Find that there’s an abundance of Korean (surprise, surprise) places to eat that you know nothing about.
    • We interrupt this guide for the Un-Planner’s Mini-Guide to: Selecting a Restaurant (A guide within a guide. Guide-ception.)
      1. Yelp it.
      2. Be indecisive.
      3. Walk up and down the street looking at menus.
      4. Wonder how you ever make any decisions in your life.
      5. Say “to heck with it” and just walk into a random place.
  • Fortune smiles upon you and the restaurant you’ve chosen is New Wonjo, a popular Korean BBQ eatery that also happens to serve a really dope breakfast.
20170601_101007.jpg

This beef and kimchi soup was as delicious as it was enormous. Pictured in the background are all our side dishes or banchan, plus some excellent fried veggie dumplings.

  • Be thoroughly stuffed, but it’s fine, because you’ll need all those calories for all the walking you’re about to do.

American Museum of Natural History

  • Take your first subway trip of the day.
20170601_105359

For this iconic blurry subway train picture, I stood just a little too close to the platform edge and got the breath sucked out of me as it went by extremely quickly.  100% DO NOT RECOMMEND. Seriously, take your blurry photo from a distance.

20170601_110727.jpg

KNOWLEDGE.

  • Buy the Super Saver pass because you want to do all the things and then realize you may have made a mistake because you have roughly three hours and 5 floors of museum. TRY TO DO IT ALL ANYWAY.
  • Run around from floor to floor ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ at things, but mostly getting lost because seriously, how is this place so large.
  • Pause to watch a planetarium show about the universe. Or more accurately, watch two minutes of the show and fall asleep because the chairs are comfy, the planetarium is just the right amount of dark and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s voice is really soothing.
  • Spend the rest of your time enjoying the dinosaur exhibit the most because they are GREAT.
20170601_110902.jpg

SO MAJESTIC.

Central Park

  • Morning has somehow quickly bled into afternoon. Head over to Central Park, which happens to be just across the street.
  • Walk through Central Park while thinking, “I think I’ve seen that in a movie.”
20170601_133818.jpg

I can’t tell you what part of Central Park this is, but you’ve probably seen it in a movie.

  • Keep walking a find yourself amidst a lot of hubbub you don’t understand. Tourists are standing in a circle and taking photos of the ground (and of themselves and the ground).
  • Make it to a break in the circle and it suddenly all makes sense. You wandered into Strawberry Fields, an area paying tribute to late Beatles member, John Lennon.
20170601_134304.jpg

Imagine all the people… trying to take a photo with this mosaic. It was a lot.

Chelsea Market

  • It’s time to regroup with the rest of the family, so back to the subway you go.
  • Really experience the ride. People watch. Read the poetry that the MTA has put up in the cars, or the other fascinating literature other passengers have left behind.
20170531_200306.jpg

Uh, where exactly is this train going, again?

  • Decide on Chelsea Market because your group cannot agree on dinner. Thankfully, the market is a block long and chock full of a variety of restaurants and shops.
  • Let the smell of french fries take you to the Creamline for a burger and fries that you practically inhale. Then for dessert, the mini-donuts that your brilliant father has gotten from the Doughnuttery.
  • Roll out of Chelsea Market.
  • Struggle to find the right train station with machines to refill your metro card.
  • Arrive at correct station.
  • Zombie walk to hotel because you’re full of a combination of sun, food and exhaustion.
  • And finally, sleep.

That’s all she wrote, folks. Thanks for joining me for this brief and devil-may-care tour of NYC!

Happy Un-Planning,

Katie

The Un-Planner’s Guide To: New York City (Day 1)

Welcome to the first installment of the Un-Planner’s Guide, a wholly un-serious and unusual approach to travel itineraries.

I’m Katie, and I’ll be your host through approximately one-and-a-half days of New York City, NY.

20170603_185811.jpg

Yes, this hat is part of our required tour guide uniform.

 Trip Pre-work:

  • Know about the trip, in my case, AT LEAST a year in advance.
  • Book your flight accordingly, apparently for domestic flights the magic number is 54 days for cheapest fares.
  • Have ample time to pack and let that dwindle down to months, weeks, days and mere hours before your trip.
  • Go out to dinner with friends and/or family the night before your flight.
  • Struggle to pack within the window of 12 a.m. to 2 a.m. (Stop mid-packing to justify your procrastination.)
  • Sleep for 2 hours.
  • Wake up to leave for airport and hate yourself a little bit.

Day 1 (or Day 1/2):

Getting There

  • Be at airport.
  • Go through security rigamarole.
  • Fly.

20170604_171801.jpg

  • Land and realize you lost half your day because of time changes. Curse.
  • Rideshare from the airport to your hotel and get stuck in traffic. Learn your lesson and take the subway for the rest of the trip.

Ice Cream Break

IMG_20170531_172551_500.jpg

It has to be soft serve. From a truck. No exceptions.

  • Wrangle large group of Filipinos (who are your family so it’s okay) and proceed.

Oculus – World Trade Center Transportation Hub

  • Take subway to get to the Oculus, which is the World Trade Center’s transportation hub.
  • Exit train and enter Oculus. Be impressed. Take a moment to admire the architecture.
20170531_180603.jpg

The structure of the Oculus was like being inside the skeleton of great beast.

National September 11 Memorial

  • Cross the Oculus, meaning just walk straight across it and up a flight of stairs, and you’ll find yourself back at street-level and able to walk right over to the National September 11 Memorial. There’s a museum there, as well.
  • Visiting the memorial, as you would imagine, is a truly sombering experience. But beautifully moving, too, if you take in not only the construction of the memorial but the fact that they place white roses next to the names of the people being remembered on their birthdays.
20170531_181224

The day we visited, there were two birthdays.

One World Observatory

  • Check out One World Observatory. It’s just a short trip across the street. The building itself if stunning, but it also offers you 360-degree views of the city from 100 stories up.
  • The trip up to the observatory does require admission, so expect to pay about $30+ for a single person.

20170531_180718

20170531_191003.jpg

If you were to ask me what part of the city this way or what any  of those buildings were, I couldn’t tell you. They had these tablet thingies for purchase that you could point out at the city, like a virtual tour guide, but I was more keen on just looking.

Chinatown (And Little Italy, Sort Of)

  • Find that after all the subway riding and walking you are famished, as one ice cream alone cannot hold you down.
  • Fumble through the subway with your herd and somehow make it to Canal Street.

20170531_201703.jpg

  • Arrive late enough that most of the shops are closed, but just in time for the restaurants to be bustling with business.
  • Let your dad pick the place, though his relationship with Google is tentative at best, and then let him lead the way (???).
  • Walk into an unfamiliar neighborhood almost to the point of concern until you reach Shanghai Asian Manor. Note that this restaurant only accepts American Express or cash.
20170531_205405.jpg

Eat delicious food and not realize until later that this is actually a really popular place.

  • Leave and enjoy the light sprinkles of rain as you walk. Let your family make ill-advised hat purchases at a souvenir shop about to close.
20170531_214640.jpg

Pass up Little Italy (sad-face) because majority rules to go to Times Square.

Times Square

  • Arrive in Times Square and be baffled by the fact that the city is still buzzing at 11:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. Assume that maybe all the huge electronic billboards are making people think it’s still daylight.
20170531_222545.jpg

SO BRIGHT. MY EYES.

  • Be horrified by the discount store-looking nightmares that are parading around as notable characters. Pull your unsuspecting aunts away from a particularly disturbing Minnie Mouse and Woody.
  • Decide you’ve had enough of these shenanigans and decide to turn in so you can get up early for more exploring tomorrow.

Well, that’s it for the first part of The Un-Planner’s Guide to NYC! Come back next week for part deux.

Your Humble Host,

Katie

 

Backyard Discoveries: The Shrine on Chihuahua Hill

If you’re up for a little bit of hike in Bisbee, AZ, the jaunt up Youngblood and Chihuahua Hill is an excellent way to get the heart pumping and to see life in this former mining town in a different way.

Like we mentioned in our handy itinerary, you can take OK Street up to the base of Youngblood Hill and take time to check out all the local homes (trust me, you’ll want to – they have a lot of character). If you start your journey earlier in the morning (maybe around 7 a.m.), you’ll benefit from pleasant temperatures and having the town (and trail)practically all to yourself before the sleepy town becomes a bustling tourist stop.

Blue Jesus (I’ve called him this because he is both literally painted blue and because of his sorrowful expression) is the marker of your trail up Youngblood, but also a good wake-up call for groggy hikers because from a distance you can’t tell if it’s a statue or a person waiting at the trail.

IMG_9918

A couple important notes before you ascend:

  • Beyond Blue Jesus is private property, so be polite and don’t go exploring a local’s front yard.
  • The path up to the hills is steep, narrow and slippery. If you’re not a strong hiker or don’t have appropriate shoes, it’s best to come back another time. There is also a bit of incline when getting to the top of both hills, so stay hydrated and listen to your body to stop when needed.

If you do make it up Chihuahua Hill, you are rewarded with a great view of the town below and are privy to a shrine that’s maintained by its residents. You can see some of our photos from the site below, but it’s really worth a visit in person. There’s a sense of peace, joy and love you get when you look at these colorful tributes.

Pay your respects and please move around with care.

IMG_9883IMG_9885IMG_9893IMG_9894IMG_9895IMG_9896IMG_9898IMG_9905IMG_9903

Five Reasons to Love National Monuments

A MONUMENTAL STORY
Reasons to Love National Monuments

Many national monuments across the west are currently under fire from the federal government, but I think there are plenty of good reasons to support the continued protection of these areas, no matter what side you’re on. Here are some of mine:

  1. Monuments keep the American culture alive. National monuments (and the US’s many other protective parks) are a great way to maintain a beautiful country for ourselves and future Americans. Ours was a country built on the frontier and exploration, and national monuments play a key role in keeping that culture alive through the ages.

    Natural Arches NM, Utah (c) ABR 2017

  2. Monuments provide a long-term source of economic growth. Many of the alternative uses of monument land only provide short-term gains. Let’s take uranium mining as an example. This is a finite resource, and once it is removed, there is no way to renew its value to the communities involved. Furthermore, the land left behind is permanently (in the scope of a human lifespan) degraded (an example from Navajo lands). Alternatively, an industry like tourism does not consume a finite resource, and while it can degrade the environment in a variety of ways, these effects can be mitigated by policy and repairs are possible.

    Agua Fria NM, AZ (c) ABR 2017

  3. Monuments are a source of American pride. Did you know that the concept of national parks were developed in the United States? The system of land protection that we have has been one of our most successful legacies around the world. National monuments are a part of that, and it is something to be proud of. People travel from ALL OVER THE WORLD to see our beautiful country.

    Sunset Crater NM, AZ (c) ABR 2017

  4. Monuments protect American history. The Antiquities Act was designed to protect relics of the past, and landscapes are a part of that. Some of the best stories from our history, especially in the West, comes from the harrowing tales of women and men trying to make their way in an unforgiving and wild environment. Having the opportunity to see those landscapes as our ancestors did keeps our history alive and helps us appreciate what it took to build our country.

    Cabrillo NM, CA (c) ABR 2017

  5. Monuments provide many different services and resources to local people and visitors alike. I’m going to go back to the uranium example here (just because it is relevant to several of the western monuments). Mining provides jobs to miners, can support a community while the resource holds out, and it provides taxes as well. It is unlikely that many other services (e.g. clean water, recreation, etc.) will come from land used for this activity, and the companies selling this resource will take the lion’s share of benefits from uranium’s extraction. Monuments, on the other hand, provide jobs through tourism and management, revenue from fees, recreational opportunities, and a variety of services that support human health and happiness.

    Wupatki NM, AZ (c) ABR 2017

    If you’d like to let the government know what you think about national monuments, public comments are open until July 10th, 2017. You can comment here or through Monuments For All.

A Weekend in Bisbee: A Three-Day Itinerary for Nature and Culture in Southern AZ

Bisbee is a former mining town (current artist colony) south of Tucson near the AZ/Mexico border. It is the perfect place to experience historic, small town America.

Starting Point: Phoenix, AZ

Day One: Travel to Bisbee

The drive from Phoenix to Bisbee is about 3.5-4 hours depending on traffic.

Take your time driving down to scenic, little Bisbee.

If you leave in the morning or early afternoon; Tucson is a great place to stop by on the way.

20160730_154639.jpg

If you have time, the Mission San Xavier Del Bac or “White Dove of the Desert” is peaceful and great cultural stop in Tucson.

Day Two: Exploring Bisbee

IMG_9971.JPG

Can we tell you a little secret? 7 a.m. is prime strolling time around downtown Bisbee – not much is open, but the weather is wonderful and you get to walk around before the crowds.

 

If you are up for a morning stroll, walk up OK Street which will lead to the base of Youngblood Hill and will take you by some adorable Bisbee homes.

IMG_9879.JPG

You can a nice view of the town from either hill.

For strong hikers, there is also a trail at the end of the street that climbs up Chihuahua and Youngblood Hill. This path is steep, narrow and slippery, however, so hike at your own discretion. Be safe.

IMG_9896.JPG

There’s a shrine up on Chihuahua Hill that is definitely worth seeing. However, these are tributes to people’s loved ones so we cannot stress enough that the site needs to be treated with the utmost respect.

After going for a walk in the cool morning, head over to Lowell’s Bisbee Breakfast Club (http://bisbeebreakfastclub.com/locations/bisbee) for a diner experience, complete with massive portions.

20170422_103447.jpg

These pancakes are delicious and as big as your head – we’re not joking.

Head back to downtown Bisbee for a tour of the Copper Queen Mine (http://www.queenminetour.com/), where you will get to ride a little train into the heart of the mountain and learn about old copper mines from former miners. There are several tours throughout the day.

IMG_9492.jpg

These are our excited faces. But seriously, the mine tour is a must-see (especially if you’re a REALLY big fan of mining, or a history buff or just want to cool off.)

Spend the day strolling through Bisbee, checking out galleries, visiting historic hotels, and enjoying this small, colorful town.

IMG_9922.JPG

ALIENS.

After dinner, if it suits your fancy, wander the streets at night and learn about the many ghosts of this small town with Old Bisbee Ghost Tours (http://www.oldbisbeeghosttour.com/). These take place at 7 p.m. each day of the week.

Day Two: Kartchner Caverns and Getting Home

Catch breakfast in Old Bisbee or Sierra Vista.

Stop by Kartchner Caverns (https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/) to see one of the United States’ most colorful, living caves. You will not be disappointed in this special, natural attraction. It is about an hour from Bisbee to Kartchner.

20170423_105115.jpg

In the Visitor’s Center, you can take silly photos in the replicas of cave openings that the Kartchner explorers had to squeeze through and be thankful they did all the work for you.

 

 

Stop for lunch in Benson or Tucson, and then head back to Phoenix. It is about 2.5 hours from Kartchner to Phoenix depending on traffic.

Ending Point: Phoenix, AZ

Prep:

  1. Reserve a place to stay.
  2. Reserve a tour with the Old Bisbee Ghost Tours and Kartchner Caverns.
  3. Learn about some of the historic landmarks in the town to visit.
  4. Know the weather! Stay safe.

Solid Gas/Food Stops Along the Way:

  1. Tucson
  2. Benson
  3. Tombstone

Note: There are numerous small towns that also dot the way to Bisbee, but if you want guaranteed gas stations, fuel up in Tucson or Benson.

Parking

  1. Mostly free parking in Bisbee (there’s like one paid lot in the entire city), but be prepared for the lots (which are small) to basically be full after 10 a.m., at least on weekends.
  2. There’s plenty of street parking available, it just depends on how far you’re willing to haul your butt up and down a hill.
  3. Before you park, check if it’s residential. Don’t be a jerk and park in someone’s spot.

Places to Stay:

  1. Copper Queen Hotel (http://www.copperqueen.com/): This is a historic hotel in the middle of town. Perfectly central to all Bisbee’s attractions, and a great place for ghostly activity (for anyone interested).
  2. Hotel Lamore/Bisbee Inn (http://bisbeeinn.com/): A smaller alternative to the Copper Queen, this place is just as historic and ghostly. But it has traditional shared bathrooms, it will really bring you back.
  3. Plenty of alternatives throughout the town, and some good AirBnbs as well.

I Can’t Believe I Almost Missed That!: On nearly skipping the Kennedy Space Center and why you shouldn’t

(c) ABR 2017

This December I took an epic road trip through Florida, during which I drove from Jacksonville, all the way down to Key West, and then back. I was focused on seeing the state’s national parks (and I saw all but two!), so the Kennedy Space Center was originally an extra attraction that I slapped into my itinerary at the end of one particularly long day of sightseeing.

When I found myself sitting on the beach in the Cape Canaveral National Seashore after waking up early, visiting two different forts maintained by the National Park Service, and walking around in the historic city of St. Augustine, I realized that I wouldn’t make it to the Space Center in time to see it. It didn’t help that tickets were $50 and parking was $10- if I’m paying $60, I’m going to take my sweet time. So, I gave up on the idea, feeling disappointed that I hadn’t managed to get it into my packed schedule.

(c) ABR 2017

At that point, I figured that I simply wouldn’t visit, and I didn’t think about it again until I was staying in a hotel outside of Orlando. I was planning on spending my last day in one of the Disney parks, but it ended up making me feel too sad, since it is a family tradition to visit Disney together. Dismayed that I was feeling unenthusiastic about one of my favorite places, I eventually came to the conclusion that I should spend the day at the Kennedy Center instead. It is unique to Florida, and I wouldn’t feel too guilty about visiting without my folks.

In retrospect, I am so grateful that I made this decision. I would not have known what I was missing, but it would have been very unfortunate to not visit here. When I first got into the park, I wasn’t sure how things worked, but it turns out that there are two main things to do on an average day here, take the bus tour, and explore the visitor’s center.

(c) ABR 2017

The bus tour takes you to see launch pads, the massive building where shuttles used to be built, and a museum that houses an Apollo ship as well as some very amazing relics. I have to say, this little tour was very emotional for me; getting to see so many places that I had seen in movies and read about in American history was amazing. There is also a recreated space ship launch experience, in which you get to sit in the old launch control room.

(c) ABR 2017

Once you get back to the main park, things are a bit more immersive, but no less amazing. The shuttle experience is extremely well done, from the movie covering the story of the shuttle program’s creation, to the reveal of the Atlantic, and the shuttle experience ride. Seeing the Atlantis may be one of my favorite memories from Florida; it is such a marvel of human ingenuity and imagination.

I would highly suggest visiting the Kennedy Space Center, whether you love history, space, or just a great time. It isn’t to be missed and it is nowhere else in the world.

(c) ABR 2017

Page 1 of 6

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén