Go See Do Photography

A Lot of Travel, A Little Bit of History, and a Whole Bunch of Photos

Category: National Parks & Places (Page 1 of 11)

Planes, Buses, and Boats: Exploring the Pacific Northwest

Juneau from the Air

Cruise ships in Juneau, Alaska

We are back from another amazing trip! This time, we headed to the Pacific Northwest to cruise to Alaska on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas! We went to a lot of places that have been on my list for a long time and I really feel like I just got my toes wet in this beautiful area!

This may not come as a surprise to longtime readers, but we will go to some great depths for a cheap flight. For this trip, we booked nonrefundable flights to Seattle with a cruise leaving out of Vancouver with the thought that we would take Amtrak across the border, but when we went to book the train we learned that it hasn’t been operating since COVID. There was hope that they would get it running this summer, but now it’s been pushed back to the winter. So, after doing hours of research we decided to take the bus across the border. Because of schedules we ended up book Greyhound from Seattle to Vancouver and then QuickShuttle from Vancouver to Bellingham, Washington where we rented a car for the rest of the trip. I will give our thoughts on these options as it comes up in the trip report.

Here’s a little rundown of what is to come on this trip report:

  • Day 1: Seattle
  • Day 2: Vancouver
  • Day 3: Embark Serenade of the Seas
  • Day 5: Sitka, Alaska
    • Fortress of the Bear
    • Alaska Raptor Center
    • Sitka National Historic Park
  • Day 6: Juneau, Alaska
    • Mendenhall Glacier
    • Whale Watching
    • Mt. Roberts Tramway
  • Day 7: Skagway & Haines, Alaska
    • Dogsledding & Musher’s Camp Excursion
    • Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park
  • Day 8: Cruise Tracy Arm Fjord
  • Day 10: Disembark Ship, Quickshuttle to Bellingham, Rent Car to Port Angeles, Washington
  • Day 11: Olympic National Park
    • Crescent Lake
    • Rialto Beach
  • Day 12: Hurricane Ridge
  • Day 13: Sequim, Washington
    • Dungeness Bay National Wildlife Refuge
    • B&B Family Lavender Farm
    • John Wayne Marina
  • Day 14: Hoh Rainforest
  • Day 15: Mt. Rainier National Park

As you can tell from this overview, this was a busy trip and I’m so excited to share it with you! Be sure to check in next week as I detail our day in Seattle!

Thanks for stopping by! 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: Old San Juan

San Juan National Historic Site

One Day in Old San Juan

Castillo San Cristobal

After a whirlwind seven days on the Explorer of the Seas, we disembarked in San Juan. When planning this trip, I had a hard time figuring out where we wanted to stay on this day, especially once American moved our flight the next day from 1 pm to 5 am. Since Old San Juan is only a 20-minute drive from the airport, we decided to stay at the El Colonial, a boutique, adults-only hotel located in the heart of Old San Juan.

We disembarked the ship early and got a taxi to drop our bags off at the hotel, but the taxi driver couldn’t find it, even though he had Google Maps pulled up on his phone. I am not making it up when I tell you that he literally got out of the van and asked someone for directions. Eventually, we made it to the hotel where they offered us a cocktail (before 8 am, I might add) and held our bags so we could explore the city.

Lighthouse on Castillo San Felipe Del Morro

We first headed to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, part of the San Juan National Historic Site. With the construction of the Castillo having begun in 1589, it is the oldest building in the United States. I’ll never forget, back when I was recapping our St. Augustine trip on this blog, someone commented that they were glad I noted that the Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest building in the continental U.S. because Castillo San Felipe is older.

While under Spanish control, the fort was attacked by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, and the Americans. The fort and the territory of Puerto Rico were transferred to the United States in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American war. In 1915, a shot from the Castillo is thought to be the first American shot fired in World War I. During World War II, the military added a Harbor Defense Fire Control Station to the Castillo to keep watch for German submarines in the Caribbean. At 180 feet above sea level, the lighthouse (above) is the tallest point of the Castillo.

From the Castillo, we explored the city a bit. The colorful buildings are very inviting and make the city fun to explore! We enjoyed delicious, homemade popsicles, before setting on a traditional Puerto Rican restaurant for lunch. This was the first time in my life that I had to tell a server I was allergic to bananas and ask what they had that did not contain bananas. If you do not like bananas, you should probably avoid Puerto Rican food. The food was good, but bananas and plantains are a staple of island cuisine and not being able to eat them really diminished my experience. Everyone else loved their mofongo, though!

Castillo San Cristobal

After lunch, we headed to the other section of the historic site, Castillo San Cristóbal (above). Completed in 1783, Castillo San Cristóbal took up 27 acres and featured the gates to the walled city of San Juan. The fortress was built to protect Castillo San Felippe del Moro from a land attack. The walls of the Castillo remained until 1897 until some of them were destroyed to allow the harbor to expand. In 1898 Puerto Rico joined the Spanish-American war when a cannon from the Castillo fired on the USS Yale. During World War II, the Spanish colonial water cisterns were used as fallout shelters. In 1949, together, both Castillos became the San Juan National Historic Site. In 1983, the Castillos and the walled city were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Iguanas on the Castillo Wall

Iguanas on the Castillo Wall

With a 5 am flight, we didn’t stay out too late, although people were still at the hotel bar having a good time when our taxi arrived at 3 to take us to the airport. One day was not enough time for this beautiful city! You can bet that I have Detroit to San Juan flight alerts set up on my phone! You know the song, I left my Heart in San Fransisco? I left mine in San Juan.

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.

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: La Coca Falls

La Coca Falls

Wordless Wednesday: Swiftcurrent Dock

Dock on Swiftcurrent Lake

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.

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