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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!

Visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Winter

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Finally! I can’t believe it took me this long, but I am now able to cross off “Grand Canyon” from my travel wish list. An American icon and a truly miraculous natural wonder, the Grand Canyon is only a four-hour drive from Las Vegas. Yet it wasn’t until our second year as Nevadans that we visited this popular National Park.

Take a peek at a few of our photos:

Grand Canyon, south rim, in winter

Grand Canyon in winter

Grand Canyon, south rim on a chilly day

Hopi House, Grand Canyon National Park

Hopi House, Grand Canyon National Park

It’s always fascinating to visit such a famous place. I’d seen photos and heard about it so much that it almost felt like I’d been there before. It’s interesting how your expectations compare to the reality.

The Grand Canyon was exactly what I expected it to be, yet it was also awe-inspiring. Comprehending it’s size and depth was difficult, even in-person.

Have you visited the Grand Canyon? Did it meet or exceed your expectations?

Making the Most of 24 Hours in Palm Springs

Palm Springs, CA

Week-long vacations are great, but our family ends up doing a lot of quick, one- or two-night trips. With work and school schedules, it’s difficult to carve out 7-10 days to travel. We would rather go on a quick road trip than not go at all, which has lead us to explore places like Houston and Seattle in just a few short days.

Our trip to Palm Springs was no different. We spent a mere 24-hours in the Coachella Valley. Here’s how we made the most of our time exploring the area:

Day 1: Morning
We hit the road and drove from Las Vegas to Palm Springs in about 4.5 hours. We stayed at the Renaissance Esmeralda, which is located in Indian Wells.

Day 1: Afternoon
We arrived at the Renaissance Esmeralda, and I immediately knew I’d picked the right hotel. The grounds were immaculate, and I loved seeing lots of colorful, blooming flowers in the middle of winter. (Believe it or not, Las Vegas gets pretty cold in the winter. The Coachella Valley is consistently warmer than Southern Nevada.)

Beautiful grounds at the Renaissance Esmeralda in Indian Wells

The resort is absolutely beautiful: airy and light and luxurious. Although our assigned room had a balcony, we upgraded to a pool-view room for an additional fee. It was worth it. This is the view we enjoyed from our room:

View from our room at the Renaissance Esmeralda

After we arrived at our room, it took about 30 seconds for five-year-old E. to see the pool from the balcony and decide that she wanted to join the fun. Although it was late afternoon by this point and starting to get a little chilly in the shade, the pool was heated and didn’t feel too bad. Besides, there isn’t much that can deter a kid from swimming.

E. and her dad went swimming while I sat poolside and had a drink. Eventually the sun set, and we decided to call it a day and get ready for dinner.

Day 1: Evening
I hadn’t scoped out any restaurants prior to our arrival, so we did the “drive around and look for a place to eat” routine that night. We headed to Palm Desert, the town just west of Indian Wells. We drove through the little downtown area filled with shops (most of which were closed for the day) and restaurants. We decided on an Italian restaurant and enjoyed some pasta before finding a frozen yogurt shop and then heading back to the hotel.

Day 2: Morning
Another hotel guest had mentioned to me that the breakfast place at the Renaissance Esmeralda was pretty good, so we decided to give it a try. I’m so glad we did! The breakfast buffet was outstanding and included a juice bar, omelete station, waffles, and fresh fruit. We sat out on the patio and enjoyed the beautiful weather. It was a great spot to discuss our plans for the day.

After breakfast, we took a quick walk around the resort grounds and then gathered our things and checked-out. Afterall, we had some exploring to do!

Day 2: Afternoon
Our main objective before heading home was to explore the Living Desert. This is a zoo that features desert animals from around the world. We saw everything from giraffes to panthers. We also enjoyed a camel ride, for an additional fee. It was worth the money for one lap around the camel enclosure.

Camel Ride

My view from aboard our camel

Living Desert was really the highlight of our trip. We don’t have a real zoo here in Las Vegas. It’s strange to think that something that was a staple from my own childhood is more of a rare occasion for E. We need to get her to a zoo more often even if it requires a drive to San Diego or elsewhere.

After our visit to the Living Desert, we began to make our way home…kind of. We stopped for lunch on our way out of town in downtown Palm Springs. We decided to try Maracas Cantina. I ordered something there I’d never eaten before: a mango salsa and brie quesadilla. It was just as delicious, of course. (How could it not be? Brie is the best!) After we ate, we walked around, checked out some of the stars along the sidewalk, and then drove back to Las Vegas.

downtown Palm Springs

I hope our travels will take us back to Palm Springs again. This isn’t the most kid-friendly place we’ve visited, but Living Desert is certainly worth a visit, and the city is filled with resort-style accomodations that are great for families.

On blogging, travel, and life

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Being a blogger requires a certain amount of confidence. You have to believe that people will find your words helpful, entertaining, funny, or whatever it is that you strive to be through your blog. You also have to be willing to share with your readers.

However, despite my willingness to share, there are certain things I won’t discuss here. That is why this post is difficult to write. Our family is going through a transition. We’re about to take on a challenge. Unfortunately, I can’t share with you what that challenge is exactly.

2012 was such a wonderful, happy year for our family. Now we have to pay the price for that happiness, in a sense. Life is full of peaks and valleys; having enjoyed the peak that was 2012, it’s only fair that we endure a valley. And that’s ok with me. We enter this new phase knowing a couple of things: 1. We know it will eventually end and that good times will be here again. 2. We know that we enter this new phase with no regrets.

We don’t have to sit around thinking about how we should have taken the time to go on that weekend trip to Palm Springs or about how we wish we’d gotten to Valley of Fire again before summer. We don’t have to wonder what E. would have thought of Huntington Beach or about how great it would have been if we’d gone on that Disney cruise.

We did what we wanted to do, keeping those peaks and valleys in mind. If you don’t enjoy the peaks to the fullest, you’ll be even more sad as you make your downward crawl into the valleys.

I shouldn’t make it sound as if the last year has been all about fun. We work hard. My husband works long hours, and I volunteer for two organizations and am an active part of my daughter’s education. But despite it all, we make travel a priority. We make each other a priority.

So, please send us your good thoughts, but don’t fret. And then GO! Go somewhere with your family, whether it is near or far, and know that you are making the right decision. Afterall, your “someday” could be today.

Four Awesomely Fun Things

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I really don’t like writing these kinds of posts. I’d rather let each of these adventures have the spotlight, and write four nicely-composed, detailed posts rather than lump these experiences into one entry.

But this is the way it goes when you’re busy. (I also hate saying that “I’m busy” as if that’s an excuse because, really, everyone is busy.)

Excuses aside, I know that if I don’t write about our four recent adventures, I will never write about them, so here they are: four awesomely fun things that we have done recently.

Charlie Parker’s Diner: Springfield, IL

Checking out the menu at Charlie Parker's Diner

While we were in St. Louis for the holidays, we took a side-trip to Springfield. Being fans of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, we had to check out Charlie Parker’s, a breakfast and lunch place that is housed in a quonset hut. Famous for their “horseshoe” breakfast and lunch dishes, this diner serves classic American fare in a unique environment. And it’s definitely kid-friendly, so keep it in mind if you ever travel to Springfield.

Keepers of the Wild: Valentine, AZ

I have become obsessed with Groupon, which is always filled with interesting deals and discounts. I saw a “use it now” groupon for Keepers of the Wild, and we decided to give it a try. We love anything that has to do with animals. Keepers of the Wild is a non-profit that seeks to rescue exotic animals. During our visit, we saw lions, tigers, monkeys, and llamas, just to name a few. And of course we had to stop at Cracker Barrel when we drove through Kingman, AZ on the way. It’s a road trip staple! (My daughter is now better than I am at that triangular game with the pegs.)

Gondola at the Venetian: Las Vegas, NV

If you’ve ever researched a trip to Vegas, you’ve come across references to the gondola at the Venetian, I’m sure. Even though we’ve lived here for over a year, we didn’t take a ride on the cute little boats until recently. It’s not a cheap adventure, but it was fun. An added bonus was the fact that our gondolier sang for us and had an amazing voice.

Living Desert Camel Ride: Palm Desert, CA

Camel Ride

Of these four fun adventures, this is probably my favorite! We went to the Coachella Valley for a weekend and visited the Living Desert, a zoo that focuses on desert animals of the world. For an extra fee, visitors can ride a camel. At first, I thought my daughter would be riding alone, but at the last minute I decided I couldn’t resist joining her! (I’ll be writing more about our Palm Springs trip in future posts, so stay tuned.)

Writing about these latest excursions makes me think it’s time to plan a few more. Have any suggestions for us?

Day trips from Las Vegas

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NV road trip

You don’t have to drive far to go from the flashing lights and gigantic video-boards of the Strip to the isolated roadways that cut through the Nevada desert. Located in the southern corner of a vast and mostly rural state, Las Vegas is a neighbor to northern Arizona and southern Utah, two places that seem equally remote and sprawling.

If you need a break from the happy chirping noises of the slot machines, hop in the car and head to one of these Las Vegas day-trip destinations:

Valley of Fire: A favorite in my family, Valley of Fire offers visitors rocks to climb, trails to hike, and petroglyphs to decipher in an other-worldly landscape. You can read about family-friendly places to visit within the park here.

Death Valley: Not for the faint of heart, Death Valley is like a minimalist’s dream come true. Dramatic vistas meet visitors who choose to walk up the short path to Zabriskie Point. The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and the Badwater Basin salt flats are other great stopping-off points within the park. Historians will want to drive north to Scotty’s Castle, a Spanish-style home from the 1920’s.

Ghost towns: Two ghost towns that are a reasonable drive from Las Vegas are Rhyolite (to the northwest, near Beatty) and Nelson (to the southeast, near Boulder City). Both sites offer a glimpse at Nevada’s mining history. Rhyolite boasts a house made of glass bottles in addition to other old buildings, and it is located adjacent to the Goldwell Open Air Museum. Meanwhile, Nelson offers an old-fashioned general store and lots of historic cars and signs.

Boulder City: If you have children who are train fanatics (the transportation method, not that awful band), you’ll want to visit Boulder City and take a ride on the Nevada Southern Railway. This is a great stop on your way to check out famous Hoover Dam.

Zion National Park: This is one of those destinations that would work better as a weekend getaway from Las Vegas, however a visit can be accomplished in only one day. Located in southern Utah, Zion National Park is filled with beautiful cliffs and winding roads. Opportunities for hiking abound.

No matter which Las Vegas day-trip you choose, remember to be prepared with plenty of drinking water (especially if you’re traveling in summer), food, and other essentials. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun!

Year in Review: Our Best Travel Moments of 2012

Looking back at 2012, I realize that this was a pretty epic year of travel for our family. With a new starting point (Las Vegas), we were able to visit destinations like San Francisco and Los Angeles that are much closer to us now than they were when we lived in Texas and the Midwest. However, that isn’t to say that we stayed close to home. This year also took us to Florida, the Bahamas, British Columbia, and elsewhere.

I’m in the mood to relive some of those great travel moments. Want to come along? Here are six highlights from the past year:

San Francisco

My husband and I started out 2012 with a parents-only trip to San Francisco. We are always a little sad to travel without our daughter, but having time to ourselves is essential. We enjoyed a fantastic dinner at Flour + Water, visited Alcatraz, and did our share of drinking at the hotel bar.

What I learned: Sometimes Mama needs a break! Be thankful for friends and family who are willing to babysit.

At a wine bar, Ferry Building, San Francisco.

Death Valley

We had been told that Death Valley was rather boring and that we should try another nearby national park, like Joshua Tree. Ever the contrarians, we decided to try Death Valley anyway. Dramatic vistas, huge sand dunes, and the expansive salt flats kept us entertained for an afternoon. The park makes a fantastic day trip from Las Vegas!

What I learned: Bring sand toys for the kids…and the grown-ups.

Death Valley NP sand dunes


We love Chicago, and in a way it is like a second home to us. We try to visit once a year, and this year’s trip was particularly fun. We did a few new things that we hadn’t tried before like a Wrigley Field tour. If the winters weren’t so long, I’d move to Chicago in a second!

What I learned: Even if you’ve attended a game at Wrigley Field, you should consider going back for a behind-the-scenes tour.

View from press box, Wrigley Field Tour

Disney Cruise

Although my husband had been on a cruise before, this was a first for my daughter and me. Our trip was filled to the brim with adventures: swimming with a dolphin, rushing down the Aquaduck slide, and meeting all of the popular Disney characters.

What I learned: The line for Disney Dream’s Aquaduck slide might look long, but it’s worth the wait.

The Aquaduck circles the deck of the Disney Dream


We visited Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park in September with my husband’s extended family. Our group shared a house for a long weekend, giving my daughter plenty of opportunity to play with her cousins. Sometimes travel is just about fun…but sometimes it’s more than that. It’s about the simple pleasures in life, connecting with family and with nature, and taking a deep breath of that lovely mountain air.

What I learned: Winter or summer, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Colorado.

Estes Park, CO

Seattle and Victoria

Usually when we travel during major holidays, we go back home to St. Louis to see family. However, for Thanksgiving we tried something new and traveled elsewhere. During our visit, we ate at some really wonderful restaurants like Toulouse Petite Kitchen in Seattle and Mo:Le in Victoria.

What I learned: Food is awesome.

Victoria, BC at night

I’m so thankful that this has been a travel-filled year for our family. I hope you were able to enjoy some adventures in 2012. Thank you so much for reading Wandering Off.

Rainy Day in Seattle? Visit the Aquarium

When we planned our recent trip to Seattle, I was prepared with a list of indoor activities in case we found ourselves in the unusual circumstance of trudging through the city in the rain.

What?! It rains all the time in Seattle? Well, that would explain a few things.

outside the Seattle Aquarium

Ready to dive into the Seattle Aquarium

Our first day in Seattle, we drove through the unfamiliar streets in a complete downpour. This was followed by a day of cold temperatures, wind, and rain. Cue the list I had formulated earlier.

At the top of that list was the Seattle Aquarium, and I’m so glad we gave it a try.

The Seattle Aquarium is the perfect size for an outing with young kids: big enough to keep things interesting, but manageable, since you don’t feel like you need to move-in with your sleeping bag and toiletry kit in order to see all of the exhibits.

The first thing you’ll see as you enter the aquarium is the large floor-to-ceiling “window” that houses an array of fish. We could have stayed there all day…except that the angle of the glass made me dizzy if I looked at it for too long.

sea horse at the Seattle Aquarium

A sweet little sea horse

We enjoyed the touch tanks that are home to star fish and sea urchins. We also saw an enormous octopus, played with a felt board and tried on scuba gear in a small kids’ play area, and gazed at the tiniest, sweetest sea horses.

We also saw this guy (below) who seemed to take a liking to us. He floated around near the glass staring at us for ten minutes!

Quit looking at me like that...

Quit looking at me like that…

We love visiting aquariums when we travel, and the Seattle Aquarium is smaller than some of the ones we’ve seen in other cities. However, I felt like we got our money’s worth during the time we spent there. Don’t expect any large sharks or elaborate displays. This is a peaceful, easy-to-explore attraction.

Looking for a few tips for visiting the Seattle Aquarium with kids? Here ya go:

–Bring a jacket. Although most of the aquarium is indoors, there is a section that is exposed to the elements and can be quite chilly.

–Remember that the aquarium cosists of two buildings, so don’t forget to venture over to see the other side.

–Visit the gift shop…or not. The store has a particularly cute array of sea-themed stuffed animals, so your child will probably ask for a souvenir.

–Need help? Ask the friendly staff.

–Admission is free for kids three and under.

Have you been to the Seattle Aquarium? Have any advice for those visiting with kids? Please share in the comments section!

Take it from the top: our visit to the Space Needle

View from the top of the Space Needle

View from the Space Needle on a spectacular November day

We just returned from a wonderfully-fun trip to Seattle, WA and Victoria, BC. To be honest, I was much more focused on the Victoria portion of the trip in the days leading up to our getaway. And we did indeed have a great time in Victoria. (More on that later.) What surprised me was that fact that I completely fell in love with Seattle.

Yes, the girl who loves warm weather and sunshine is suddenly smitten with that caffeine-fueled, rainy city up north. Who would have guessed?

What was it, exactly, that made me decide Seattle is awesome? Mostly, it was the incredibly friendly people. Everyone we met there–from cab drivers to waitresses to hotel employees–treated us kindly and went out of their way to be helpful. And so many strangers were sweet to our daughter. Smiles, polite conversations on elevators, and customized meals at restaurants were par for the course during our two days in Seattle. What a kid-friendly city!

On our last afternoon in Seattle before flying home to Las Vegas, we took a look at Seattle’s most famous attraction, the Space Needle. Come along on our outing…

Space Needle, Seattle, 2012

Space Needle from below: retro-fabulous

View from the top of the Space Needle

Beautiful view from the Space Needle

View from the top of the Space Needle

See that city down there? It’s filled with friendly folks.

Top of the Space Needle...windy!

It’s a little windy up there at the top…

My daughter decorating a cookie at the Space Needle

Five-year-old E. decorates a spaceship-shaped cookie. We lucked out and were able to enjoy cookie-decorating and a visit with Santa on the Sunday afternoon when we visited.

Space cookie. Space Needle, Seattle

My daughter’s cookie creation. Yes, I stole a bite or two.

Stay tuned for more on our trip to Seattle and Victoria! In the meantime, check out these family travel bloggers who really know their stuff when it comes to exploring Seattle with kids:

Delicious Baby

Walking on Travels

Family Trek: Falling in Love with Seattle



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