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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: gatewayarch.com
Saint Louis Zoo: stlzoo.org
Saint Louis Art Museum: slam.org
Saint Louis Science Center: slsc.org
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard: teddrewes.com

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?

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?

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