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Author Archives: Sarah V.

Don’t Forget the Nevada State Museum

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Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas

We’ve been to Springs Preserve several times. Our routine is the same every time: head to the playground first, then take a stroll through the gardens, and once we can’t stand another minute in the blazing sun, we head into the Origen Museum to cool off, and then outdoors again to visit the desert animals exhibit before heading home.

However, before our last visit, I decided that we would start someplace else: the next-door Nevada State Museum.

Tickets to the museum are included in the general admission price for Springs Preserve. If my own experience is any indication, the museum is, unfortunately, an afterthought for most visitors to Springs Preserve. This is a shame because it really is a fascinating museum, and it managed to keep my six-year-old daughter and her two friends entertained for almost two hours.

As you enter the exhibit hall, the first thing you will notice is the gigantic woolly mammoth. Although this display is made of fiberglass and plaster, it’s an impressive demonstration of the size of these prehistoric animals. Visitors will also find all kinds of taxidermied and preserved desert animals, from pumas to bats to butterflies.

But the Nevada State Museum isn’t all about the animal kingdom. The museum also takes visitors on a journey through Nevada history, from the early pioneer days to modern life on the Las Vegas Strip. A glittering display of showgirl costumes is arranged on the back wall, a strange juxtaposition to the desert creatures who roamed closer to the museum’s entrance.

While the museum’s collection seems a bit disjointed in terms of continuity, it does an excellent job of engaging both children and adults. This is not a “children’s museum,” yet the displays are designed in a way that makes them accessible to kids.

Another plus is the friendly staff at the museum. Rather than lecturing us on behaving in the gallery, a staff member at the front desk greeted us with a smile. My daughter is well-versed in museum etiquette, so I’m always taken off guard when museum employees seem horrified at the prospect of my daughter wandering through their collection. However, we felt welcome at the Nevada State Museum, which helps put everyone at ease.

A visit to the Nevada State Museum is a great option for the almost-unbearable Vegas summers. And if you think you can handle the heat, perhaps stop by Springs Preserve after you’ve explored the museum.

Budget-Friendly Ideas for a Weekend Getaway

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Budget-friendly ideas for a weekend getaway

Planning a weekend getaway with the family this summer? Keep costs down by choosing budget-friendly activities like these:

1. Parks: national, state, and local parks are all great budget-friendly options for families. No matter where you travel, there is likely to be a park or two nearby. Remember that members of the U.S. military are eligible to receive a free National Parks annual pass. We’ve used ours several times in the last year and are ready to renew it for another twelve months of adventures.

2. Ghost towns: not only are they fun to visit, ghost towns are also a great way to get kids interested in history. Each ghost town has a story, and learning about their rise and fall can help kids learn about about local lore. Also, ghost towns are perfect for photographers, both young and old. (Check out photos from our trip to the ghost town of Rhyolite.)

3. Small museums: large, comprehensive museums are a fantastic educational resource for families. However, smaller museums shouldn’t be overlooked and are often reasonably priced compared to their larger counterparts. Two small museums in Nevada that we enjoy are the Lost City Museum in Overton and the Clark County Museum in Henderson.

4. Scenic drives: besides paying for gas and snacks, a scenic drive can be an inexpensive way to explore. Check out this scenic byways guide from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation to find scenic drives in your neck of the woods.

5. Military and local discounts: Even if special military rates aren’t posted, it is always a good idea to ask about military discounts before buying tickets or booking a hotel room. We’ve found that military rates aren’t always advertised. Also, many attractions offer discounts for locals, especially in tourist destinations like Las Vegas.

Please have a safe weekend wherever your travels take you.

Photo Friday: a bridge

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The Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge overlooks Hoover Dam and crosses the state line between Arizona and Nevada. The bridge honors two men: Mike O’Callaghan, who served as Governor of Nevada from 1971-1979, and Pat Tillman, an NFL player who joined the Army and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.

View of Memorial Bridge from Hoover Dam.

The Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Hoover Dam as seen from the Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

The bridge provides a stunning view of Hoover Dam

These photos don’t do the bridge justice. Looking at it from Hoover Dam, the bridge soars to an impressive height of 880 feet above the river and 280 feet above the dam. It is beautiful in form, function, and significance.

No matter what your plans are this Memorial Day weekend, I hope you will take a few moments to think about those who have served our country.

To see photos from other travel bloggers, stop by Photo Friday.

Photo Friday: pretty yellow flowers at the Henderson Bird Preserve

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Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. Henderson, Nevada

I’m sure that there are people out there who absolutely love the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. They probably wake up early, arriving at the park before the desert heat sets in. Armed with their field guides and binoculars, they are able to see and identify a vast array of feathered wonders.

However, we did not have such a successful trip to the preserve.

We went in the heat of the afternoon, despite the fact that the preserve opens quite early. That was our first mistake. We hadn’t walked far before our daughter started complaining about being hot and tired. And to be quite honest, we don’t know much about birds. But hey, we wanted to give it a try and explore someplace new. It might not have been our most exciting outing in Las Vegas, but I’m glad we went even for a short time.

My favorite part of the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve was the collection of beautiful trees draped in yellow flowers that met us at the entrance.

To see photos from other travelers, stop by the family travel blog Delicious Baby and check out Photo Friday.

Travel and fear

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Open Road, West Texas

Our summer travel plans are starting to come together. We’ll be going to not one but two islands we’ve never visited before, and we’ll be making a return trip to one of our favorite cities on the planet.

These destinations are firmly planted on the “beaten path.” They will be incredible, but we aren’t exactly exploring new territory. Don’t get me wrong: I’m so thankful that I’ll have the chance to spend time with my husband and daughter, and I think we’ll have a wonderful time. However, there’s something about heading off into the middle of nowhere, leaving the well-trodden trail, that is particularly rewarding. And it’s something I’m hoping to do again soon.

A couple of years ago, my daughter and I went with another mother/daughter pair into the vast West Texas wilderness. It was certainly an adventure as we dodged tumbleweeds and wondered when we’d see a gas station and convinced ourselves we may or may not be abducted by aliens. The middle of nowhere, unfamiliar surroundings, no cell phone service…my daughter and I were out of our comfort zone, and it was one of the more memorable trips we’ve taken.

So, as summer approaches and I try to make plans to fill my daughter’s school-free time, I find myself daydreaming about girls-only adventures with my daughter in the rural expanses of Nevada, Utah, eastern California, and northern Arizona.

There are so many places I’d love to explore: Cathedral Gorge State Park near Pioche, Nevada. Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah. The ghost town of Chloride in Arizona. The historic, possibly-haunted Mitzpah Hotel in Tonopah, Nevada (about halfway between Vegas and Lake Tahoe). I could go on. These are the kinds of places that I love. I like the fact that these are not “typical” tourist destinations. And I love the thought of driving down an open road, without another car in sight.

But something makes me hesitant to embark on these adventures alone with my daughter: fear.

I can’t help but imagine everything that could go wrong. These trips don’t involve hopping on a plane and heading to some help-is-always-nearby, highly-populated area. Most of these destinations mean driving through areas with little or no cell phone service and hikes in lesser-known parks. For some reason, that makes me nervous.

And then there is the fear of the unknown. It is always easier to visit a place you’ve been before, to know what is coming around the next bend in the road. However, it’s the trips to the places we haven’t been before that become the most memorable.

Nothing good in life is without risk. I’m trying to remember that as I plan a girls-only trip for me and my daughter. I will be smart and well-prepared, and I will trust that everything will turn out just fine. After all, The Hills Have Eyes is just a movie, right?

Exploring St. Louis with kids

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Gateway Arch, St. Louis

St. Louis might be one of the most underrated family destinations in the U.S. With world-class museums, professional sports for every season, and a stunning monument to 20th-century design and engineering, St. Louis offers families a host of affordable entertainment options.

Where to Begin: the Gateway Arch

Perhaps the best place to start a St. Louis adventure is the famous Gateway Arch. At 630 feet, this monument’s grace ascent gives the city a skyline like no other. Visitors can experience the Museum of Westward Expansion before climbing into a pod-shaped elevator and making the journey to the top of the Arch. There, visitors can look out the small windows and see the city to the west and the Mississippi River and Illinois to the east.

Educational Adventures

No trip to St. Louis is complete without a visit to the zoo. The Saint Louis Zoo features over 19,000 animals, a zoo train, and a lively sea lion show. Surprisingly, admission to the zoo is free. Visit soon to see the zoo’s newest resident, a baby Asian elephant that was born in April 2013.

Another free option in Forest Park is the Saint Louis Art Museum. From ancient Egyptian artifacts to paintings by modern masters like Paul Cezanne, Georges Braque, and Andy Warhol, the museum’s comprehensive collection can help inspire young artists and their parents.

For families who prefer science to Cezanne, the Saint Louis Science Center is a fun and educational option. Cross the pedestrian walkway and watch the cars zip by on the highway below, or watch a movie on the five-story screen at the OMNIMAX theater.

In addition to its impressive museums, St. Louis also boasts a well-deserved reputation as a sports town. During warm summer nights, families can take in a Cardinals baseball game at the 2006-reincarnation of Busch Stadium.

Relax and Refuel

Once you’ve experienced the art, culture, wildlife, and sports of St. Louis, you’ll need to recharge with something scrumptious. Fans of Italian food should visit “the Hill,” a predominately Italian-American neighborhood known for its wide array of old-school Italian restaurants. Local favorites include Cunetto’s House of Pasta and Charlie Gitto’s.

After dinner, consider a stop at the St. Louis staple Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. Known for their so-thick-you-can-turn-the-cup-upside-down “concretes,” this ice cream shop is a must-visit for kids (and their parents) who have a sweet tooth.

St. Louis is a fantastic budget-friendly summer destination for families. We have visited many, many times, and we always find new things to try.

Helpful Planning Resources:

Gateway Arch:
Saint Louis Zoo:
Saint Louis Art Museum:
Saint Louis Science Center:
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard:

Helicoptering Over Southern Nevada

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Seven days ago, we lifted off on our first helicopter ride. I’m still having trouble describing the experience, except to say that it was insanely beautiful and nerve-wracking. It was nothing like riding in an airplane. It felt like we were so small and vulnerable up there in the little four-seat helicopter.

helicopter ride near Red Rock

there's the Strip!

over Hoover Dam

Our shadow

just to prove I was there...

Flying in a helicopter is one of my bucket list goals. I was surprised to look back at a post from January 2012 and see that I can cross off several items from my “before I turn 35″ list: I’ve traveled to British Columbia, published travel stories at places other than this blog, and have done a pretty good job of pursuing my 50-states goal.

Maybe this means it’s time to start formulating my post-35 bucket list…

Vegas Day Trip: Lost City Museum in Overton

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Lost City Museum. Overton, NV

Last week was a mess at our house. Sleepless nights with a sick kid meant that by the time the weekend rolled around, I was determined to sit at home and do absolutely nothing.

As it turned out, we got bored with doing nothing pretty quickly. By Saturday afternoon I was getting antsy, and by that evening I had decided we’d be going on a short road trip the next day.

The Lost City Museum is located in Overton, Nevada, not too far from Valley of Fire. Normally my daughter wouldn’t be too excited about a small museum, but when I explained that the museum focused on the Anasazi, the same people who had made the petroglyphs at Valley of Fire long ago, she perked up. Valley of Fire is one of E.’s favorite places to visit, so the connection was enough to make her curious.

Reconstructed pueblos. Lost City Museum. Overton, NV

Although the museum focuses on the Anasazi people who used to live in the area (and in parts of Utah and northern Arizona), it also highlights the excavation process that took place on the site. Outside, visitors will find reconstructions of pueblos and a pithouse, one of the earliest types of structures that has been found in Southern Nevada.

All of this made for a good, educational outing. But the highlight of the visit for me was…

mummified giant sloth poop.

Yes, for some reason the Lost City Museum features a piece of mummified poop in its display of prehistoric fossils. Apparently giant sloths roamed the area around 11,000 years ago.

(And if you’re thinking, “Gee, hasn’t Sarah mentioned giant sloths before?” the answer is yes, yes I have.)

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I have a photo of the giant sloth poop. However, I’m not going to post it here. Oh, no. You just have to go to Overton and see it for yourself.

The Lost City Museum is located at:
721 S. Moapa Valley Blvd.
Overton, NV

NV road trip

How to Have an Awesome Day at Springs Preserve

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Springs Preserve

Ask any Vegas local about family-friendly activities, and Springs Preserve is likely to be one of the first places they mention. With garden trails, a unique playground, desert animals, and history exhibits, the park goes above and beyond to teach kids about Southern Nevada.

Thinking of adding Springs Preserve to your Las Vegas itinerary? Here are a few tips to help make your visit as fun as possible.

Visit in the Afternoon

Obviously, this isn’t the best option during the summer, however spring and fall are perfect seasons for an afternoon visit. From what I’ve observed, Springs Preserve seems to be most crowded in the morning. By early afternoon, most of the families with young kids have headed home for nap time and the park seems much less busy. (We also noticed this during our last trip to Disneyland. Lines for the rides seemed significantly shorter during the afternoon as opposed to mid- to late-morning.

Try the Cafe

If you’re at the preserve around midday, consider trying the Springs Cafe for lunch. Run by the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, the food here goes beyond the standard kid-friendly fare (truffle pizza, anyone?). Take a look at their current menu before you go to see if the cafe offers options that will work for your family.

Find the Flash Flood

We normally don’t seek out flash floods, but in the case of Springs Preserve, you’ll want to find the rushing water of this dramatic exhibit. Housed in the Origen Museum, the flash flood room does an excellent job of demonstrating just how powerful and dangerous this natural phenomenon can be.

Flash flood exhibit at Springs Preserve

Don’t Forget the Discounts

When you purchase your tickets, remember that Springs Preserve offers military and Nevada resident discounts. If either or these apply to you, don’t forget to bring your military i.d., Nevada driver’s license, or other proof that you qualify. This is a great way to save money on your visit to the park.

If you have any additional Springs Preserve tips you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment. Happy trails!

Exploring the Historic Railroad Trail at Lake Mead

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Historic Railroad Trail, Lake Mead

Thanks to a recommendation from Oh Mah Deehness!, I decided a recent spring Saturday would be the perfect time to try a hike at Lake Mead’s railroad trail.

I’ve heard there are several cool tunnels along the trail. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to even the first tunnel.

But that’s life with a strong-willed kid whose attention span is a mile long.

Even though we didn’t come close to completing the trail, there were plenty of things for us to see along the way.

Historic Railroad Trail, Lake Mead

Spring is a perfect time for this hike, not only because the weather is great, but also because the wildflowers are in bloom. We also enjoyed some great views of Lake Mead and got to see an interesting bit of history. Along the way, we saw a sign pointing out several concrete plugs that rested next to the trail that had once been used in the construction of Hoover Dam. That’s certainly not something you see every day!

Historic Railroad Trail, Lake Mead

So, you may be wondering why we didn’t make it to any tunnels despite the fact that we were having a great time. Well, five-year-old E. wanted to stop and examine everything. Every wildflower, every view of the lake, every interesting rock. She also wanted to record her findings in her journal. She made plenty of nice sketches of her surroundings: the flowers, the boats docked in the lake, the mountains. I was happy to let her take her time…although eventually we had to call it a day and start heading home.

Historic Railroad Trail, Lake Mead

historic railroad trail, lake mead

Be sure to read up on this hike and Lake Mead in general prior to your trip. Have fun!


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