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Wordless Wednesday: Starfish

Starfish at Hole in the Wall

Pacific Northwest Trip Recap

Clouds over Crescent Lake

Our trip to the Pacific Northwest this summer checked off two more states, one Canadian province, and two more national parks in an unforgettable nature-filled two week trek. We visited Seattle, Vancouver, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, Haines, and the Olympic Peninsula.

I would love to take another Alaska cruise, but I think it would have to be on a larger ship. Sure, the Serenade can get into smaller ports that the big ships can’t, but there just wasn’t much going on during the sea days. I would look at ships that were purpose built for Alaska like the Norwegian Bliss that have more indoor areas for people to hang out on sea days.

Serenade of the Seas in Juneau

Cruise Ships in Juneau

I definitely want to explore different ports on my next Alaska cruise and I think I would look for a cruise that visits Glacier Bay. I’ve heard that park rangers get on the ship and talk about the nature. And it would cross off another national park! Ketchikan is another Alaska port I really wish we got to see!

I would definitely plan strategically if I ever cruise out of Vancouver again. I would make sure to pick the earliest check in time and arrive maybe even an hour before that. I might even look at cruises that start in Seward (Anchorage, Alaska) before looking at cruises out of Seattle.

Cruise ships in Sitka Sound

Cruise ships in Sitka Sound

You can call me crazy, but I would fly in/out of Seattle for a Vancouver cruise again. Amtrak is running the Cascades route again so the train is an option to get from Seattle to Vancouver again. Yes, it was two additional border crossings, but Quick Shuttle was easy and comfortable and honestly, you can’t beat the price of Greyhound. Is it my new preferred means of travel, no, but it got the job done!

I would definitely wait until later in the season to really get to explore Washington’s National Parks. I really don’t know if I can count visiting Mt. Rainier if I couldn’t see the mountain! I’ve been told the fog is less common later in the summer so that is when I would plan my return trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Hoh Rainforest

Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park

All-in-all, our 2-week Alaska cruise, Olympic National Park trip was another epic vacation! There were many firsts and experiences I can’t believe we got to do! Where will we explore next? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Rainier Waterfall

One Day in Mt. Rainier National Park

Fog at Mt. Rainier

On our last day in Washington, we had to be out of our AirBNB at 10:00 am, but our flight didn’t leave until 11:00 pm, so we had a full 12 hours to kill. So, we decided to do what any National Park chaser would do with a day in Washington and we headed to Mt. Rainier National Park. Mt. Rainier is a three-hour drive from Port Angeles and an hour and a half from Seatac, so this was definitely a good way to kill time.

Our foggy view of Mt. Rainier

At over 14,000 feet above sea level, Mt. Rainier is the tallest peak in Washington State. Mt. Rainier is an active volcano and with its proximity to Seattle, it is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Near Mt. Rainier, I saw a volcano evacuation route sign for the first time. Mt. Rainier became the nation’s 5th National Park in 1899. Popular activities in the park include hiking, biking, and mountain climbing.

Like most of our time in Washington, the fog was so thick on our visit to Mt. Rainier that we couldn’t see it! With limited time to explore the park, we entered the park through the Nisqually entrance and drove to the Henry Jackson Visitor Center, and walked around the historic Paradise Inn (left). Once again, I was blown away by the amount of snow still on the ground in mid-June. There were still feet of snow up there at 5,400 feet above sea level!  The Paradise Inn is a beautiful building, built in 1917. The Parkitecture-style of the building reminded me a lot of the Old Faithful InnObviously, with such a short time to explore the park, it barely counts as a visit. I will have to come back later in the season so I can actually see Mt. Rainier!

After leaving Mt. Rainier, we still had extra time before our flight. We didn’t want to head back to downtown Seattle and have to worry about getting in and out of the city so we did some digging and found Kubota Garden in Seatac. It’s not in the nicest part of town and there are signs in the parking lot to keep an eye out for “car prowlers” but there was no one else around when we were there. There are a lot of trails to explore throughout the beautiful garden. It would be a great place to walk around on a sunny summer day. The parking lot is currently under construction and some of the trails are closed which did cause us to get a little lost, but we made it out of the garden and to the airport in enough time for our flight!

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop by next week for my final recap of our summer trip to Alaska and Washington! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Mt. Rainier Pinterest Graphic

Snorkeling Virgin Islands National Park

Honeymoon Beach

When I booked this cruise with two ports in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the first thing I did was look up Virgin Islands National Park and see how possible it would be to get there from St. Thomas or St. Croix. As it turns out, the National Park is located on St. John and there is no airport on the island. The only way to get there is by boat, with a ferry running from St. Thomas.

With a limited time in port for the day and the number of steps needed to get to the National Park (taxi from the port to the ferry dock, ferry to St. John, taxi/tour around the island), we decided to book a St. John Island Tour excursion through the cruise line. Unfortunately, that tour was canceled due to lack of interest so, with one day’s notice after we had boarded the ship, we had to figure out a new plan. We decided the easiest way to the National Park was through the one available excursion which they called “Champagne Catamaran Sail and Snorkel”.

Boats at Honeymoon Beach

Boats at Honeymoon Beach

From the port, we took an open-air bus to Red Hook where we boarded our catamaran for St. John. After tossing anchor at Honeymoon Beach, we got a snorkeling safety talk and tips about where to view the coral and the turtles and we jumped in the water. For one of my friends, this was the first time she had swam in saltwater, so it was a shock for her!

Turtle Swimming at Honeymoon Beach

Snorkeling with Turtles

I enjoyed snorkeling through the reef and seeing all the interesting sea life, for me, but the highlight of this snorkeling adventure was seeing a turtle! It was easy to tell when someone had spotted a turtle because there were a bunch of people in a circle around it. We watched it swim to the surface and then go back down to the sand.

After our snorkeling adventure, we got back on the boat and sipped champagne and cocktails on the way back to St. Thomas. It was a great excursion and I am glad we chose it, but I am disappointed that we didn’t get to see the rest of the island. I guess we will have to go back sometime and get to spend some time on the land!

Fish seen snorkeling

We originally didn’t have any snorkeling booked for this cruise, so I didn’t end up buying a new action camera or waterproof housing for my phone as I had planned. So, the first night after booking this excursion, I had to go to the photo studio and pay cruise prices for a waterproof phone case, so I would have photos to share with you from this excursion. Learn from my mistake! If there is a possibility of snorkeling and you want photos to remember it (or if you’re like me and wear glasses and take photos while snorkeling so later you can see what was down there), buy your gear before your trip!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Island a Day Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Norris Geyser Black & White

Norris Geyser Basin Black & White

Epic National Park Road Trip Recap

Tetons

Whew! It only took six months, but I have finished the recap of our epic 3-week trip out west! This trip taught us a lot, especially about what we need to work on the road. Of course, we saw some amazing sites and the ones that I can’t wait to return to may surprise you!

For most of this trip, the weather was much hotter than I had expected. I feel like I wrote the phrase, “we were planning on hiking at X, but it was too hot” at least five times throughout the recap of this trip. The middle week at Yellowstone and Glacier was really the only one where it wasn’t oppressively hot. I would love more time to explore Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt without dying of heatstroke.

One thing that really surprised me through my recapping this trip is that three days in Yellowstone really seemed to be enough to see the highlights. Yes, with more time we could’ve gotten off the beaten path and explored some of the backcountry, but I feel like I saw what I wanted to see. I would love to return to Yellowstone someday, but it’s not going to be high up on my list.

On the other hand, with three days at Glacier, we barely scratched the surface. Yes, we managed to visit each of the areas in the park, but we were only able to do a few short hikes. I would love to go back later in the season and spend more time in the Many Glacier area and maybe even hike to Grinnel Glacier. I will definitely do my planning in advance to get a room at the Many Glacier Hotel!

Mountain in the Clouds

But the area that I really want to return to is South Dakota’s Black Hills. The other day, I was trying to figure out if we could manage a camping trip to Custer State Park next summer (no, I don’t think we can). Even though we had a full week there, it didn’t feel like enough! Of all the stunning National Parks we visited on this trip, it’s funny to me that this is the place that stands out the most in my memory.

I know I have mentioned this a few times already, but if you are looking to stay inside a National Park, lodging can be found less than a year out as long as you are flexible. I still hear people saying “I didn’t plan this trip a year in advance so I know I’m not going to be able to get a room in the park” and that is just not true. Keep checking for cancellations and subscribe to the park’s email list. We got our room at Rising Sun Motor Inn two months out and Old Faithful Inn two weeks out. Don’t give up!

Needles Highway

This was the first trip we took where Chris was working remotely and we learned a lot from that too. If you are working remotely from a hotel with at least one other person, spring for a suite with a door that closes. It was really nice when we were at the Roosevelt Inn and Suites in North Dakota and I was able to go in the bedroom and close the door when he was in meetings. Country Inn and Suites is a chain hotel that has this feature as well. The full kitchen at Roosevelt was nice to prepare lunches while he was working too. An AirBNB would also be good for this purpose.

Alright, I think that’s all I have to say about this trip! Check back next week when I share about some of our other explorations this summer!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Maltese Cross Cabin

Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin

Heading Home

Indiana Dunes National Park

After three weeks on the road, exploring the western United States, it was finally time to head home. We left Watford City, North Dakota, and started on I-94 towards Detroit. The first night we stopped at a hotel in Moorehead, Minnesota, which is basically a suburb of Fargo, just on the other side of the border. I don’t know how you determine which states you have visited, but in my mind, I need to spend a night to make it count, which is why I chose Moorehead as a stopping point.

Inside the Mall of AmericaIn the morning, we continued heading east to one of the places I desperately wanted to visit as a child, The Mall of America. The Mall of America is the largest mall in the United States at 5.6 million square feet. The mall is home to 550 stores including 2 mini-golf courses, SeaLife Aquarium, and a 7-acre amusement park. It really was a sight to behold. It was a great stopping point for us to get out and stretch our legs during a long driving day and a place to find unique lunch options. If you are in visiting twin cities, The Mall of America is a good place to explore on a rainy day, but be aware that a lot of the attractions do require reservations in advance. I’m not as into malls as I was in my teenage years, so this isn’t really a place I wanted to spend that much time.

Wisconsin DellsAfter stretching our legs at the Mall, we continued on to the Wisconsin Dells where we were meeting some friends. Since we were just driving through, we didn’t have a ton of time to explore the Dells, we mainly just stuck to walking down the main drag. We did stop in a cheese shop and got some cheese curds because I think it’s a requirement in Wisconsin. I do wish we had time to explore the water and actually see the Wisconsin Dells. After meeting our friends, we continued on to Madison for the night.

The next morning we decided to hit the road early and we were actually able to avoid traffic in Chicago, which is unheard of. Our first stop of the day was at the final National Park of the trip, Indiana Dunes. Being the Fourth of July, the beach was already packed when we arrived so we really just did a drive-through and saw the Century of Progress homes on Lake Front Drive (top). The park is much smaller than the other ones we visited and (I’m sure I’ll get some flack for this) is primarily a beach on Lake Michigan. It was great to get a peek at my Great Lakes again after being away for weeks! Before being designated a National Park by Congress, Indiana Dunes was protected as a National Lakeshore (the same as Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks) and I really feel like that is a better description of what this is. It does not feel the same as a Yellowstone or even a smaller park like Theodore Roosevelt. In my opinion, this was a political move to bring tourist dollars to the state. If you are looking for a beautiful Lake Michigan beach outside of Chicago, definitely check out Indiana Dunes. If you are wanting a traditional National Park experience, go out west.

Alright, that is the end of coverage for this epic three-week trip! Next week, I will do my final recap and then I can move on to telling you about the other fun things we got to do this summer!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

2021: Year in Review

Logan Pass

Glacier National Park in June

2021 goes down as one of our best travel years yet. Despite COVID and all the precautions that go along with it, we were still able to get out there and explore these United States. Yes, my passport has been gathering some dust (that’s the nature of traveling during a pandemic) but I was able to see some sites this year that I have been dreaming about for a long time!

This year started off with a bang, and by bang, I mean snow and a cold snap in Texas.  We tasted Texas wine and visited the home of a former president. Of course, the fun was only just beginning when our connecting flight got canceled and we were stuck in Orlando for two days! This whole ordeal still has me kind of nervous to fly. Not so nervous that I won’t do it, but nervous enough that I build in extra time and buy trip insurance before I get on a plane.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring – Yellowstone National Park

Of course, in 2021 we took the biggest trip of our lives spanning three weeks. We visited 7 national parks, 4 other National park service sites, and 4 state parks spanning 12 states (8 of which were new to us). We saw Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Glacier, places I have been dreaming about seeing for myself for a long time. It was a wonderful journey, but I hope I can say that it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I want to continue traveling like that and seeing all the places that make America beautiful!

Disney World 50th Anniversary

I don’t know if I can call the big trip the highlight of the year though, because I also got to be in the Magic Kingdom on October 1 for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. This has been a dream of mine for the last 10 years. It was a whirlwind trip where we had a hotel room we barely saw and got by mainly on caffeine. We also got to see Galaxy Edge in Disney Hollywood Studios. I know it’s not super new, but this was the first time I had seen it. I’m not a Star Wars fan, but I have to say, it was so cool! I still have to recap it officially on the blog, so that is all I will say about it for now. Stay tuned in the next couple of weeks for the details!

Runaway Camper Setup

We took some weekend trips around Michigan in the spring and summer and spent some time in our new mini camper. We finally kayaked out to Turnip Rock and walked across the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day. We have some big plans for 2022 as well! I can’t wait!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about our latest trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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