Alternatives to Riding Elephants in Thailand

I grew up loving and riding horses. I cleaned stalls, bathed horses and swept barns at 12 years old in exchange for riding lessons. I loved being around the animals and others who loved the clip-clop of hooves and smell of hay.

During my many hours in the barn I watched young horses become accustomed to having humans touch them, place saddles on their backs and eventually, have those humans climb into the saddle. Most resisted at first, but all horses came to trust the humans. Trainers gained the horse’s trust through positive reinforcement – treats, head scratches and kind words. There is a stark contrast between this process and the process used on elephants.

Alternatives to Riding Elephants in Thailand

We spent 7 days in Thailand. Elephants were on my “to-do” list while in the country. Initially, I assumed I would ride one; it sounds amazing actually. I loved riding horses, why wouldn’t I love riding an elephant and feeling close to it. Just one hour of research while planning the trip changed my mind, immediately.

Some elephants work in forests, helping to drag trees for lumber production while others live their lives with tourists climbing onto their backs. Neither of these “jobs” are particularly horrible at first glance; but there is more than meets the eye.

There are host of reasons not to ride an elephant in Thailand, or elsewhere. Here are my reasons:

  1. Harsh and cruel methods are used in order to “break” an elephant so they can be “saddled” and ridden. “The crush” is the method used on baby elephants. The calves are taken too soon from their mothers, kept in a solitary place too small for them to move and then, they’re beaten by humans. The process is called “the crush” because the purpose is to crush, or break, their spirit. The goal is to force them into submission through starvation, seclusion, physical punishment and fear.
  2. The mistreatment does not end after the elephant is “broken in.” Bull hooks are still used to control the animals as they age.
  3. Asian elephants are endangered species. Some experts believe there are only 2000 wild elephants left. Illegal capturing and trade for tourism purposes happens far too often to meet the demand of tourists and therefore further diminishes these numbers.
  4. Spine injuries are common among elephants that are ridden.

Thankfully, tourists have alternatives to riding elephants.

An Alternative to Riding Elephants in ThailandThese alternatives can lead to much more positive interactions between humans and elephants and honestly, a much more “close up” encounter with the beauties. These alternatives are healthy and sustainable options for the elephants, mahoots (elephants handlers) and tourists.

These alternatives come in the form of rehabilitation or retirement centers. These centers offer visitors close up and personal experiences with the animals. There are safety parameters, but visitors are allowed to feed, wash and in some instances, touch the animals. Positive reinforcement (food) is used by the mahoots, and the animals are free to roam large areas of land. There are not any cages or bull horns in sight. Luckily, no matter where you are traveling in Thailand, you are likely near one of these great facilities and have an alternative to riding and elephant.

Notable centers in Thailand include:

  1. Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai
  2. Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary – Sukhothai
  3. Elephant’s World – Kanchanaburi
  4. Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand – Petchaburi

Elephant Rescue Centers in Thailand

Elephants are working animals in Thailand, and other countries in the region. I see nothing wrong with an animal working; I do think it is one of the reasons animals exist. That being said, humane treatment of animals is paramount. Can humans ride elephants in Thailand? Yes. Should they? I think the answer is no based on the methods of “breaking” the animals and the health risks associated with riding elephants. Humans should never wield their power without regard to the animals’ physical and emotional well-being. Sadly, this is the case for many elephants in Thailand. Choose an alternative to riding elephants when in Thailand; there are plenty to choose from!

48 hours in San Francisco

Michael and I have popped in and out of San Francisco 4 times now. I say “popped in” because the longest we have stayed in the city is 48 consecutive hours. We seem to fly in, spend a little time exploring and then head out of town for a road trip; there are so many places to explore in and around of San Francisco. Nonetheless, despite our quick trips here, it is my favorite American city.

48 hours in San Francisco

Click the photo for a live Google Map

I am not a city dweller. I am typically overwhelmed by the traffic, one way streets, smells and litter; San Francisco is different. Don’t get me wrong, the city has all of traffic, litter and odors one can tolerate, and then some, but I am inexplicably drawn to the city.

One thing that I have learned from our brief trips to San Francisco is that you can pack a lot into your time there, even if it is only 48 hours. The perfect quick trip, layover or weekend in the city by the Bay would go like this!

Day 1
8:00 am – Workout at Arena Ready Crossfit. Duh! You guys know we love to drop in to other CrossFit gyms while on the road.

9:30 am – Since you’ve worked out, do not feel guilty, at all, for enjoying sunshine, coffee and breakfast at Martha and Bros Coffee Company in Noe Valley. Their lattes and breakfast burritos are amazeballs!

Martha and Bros Coffee Comany Noe Valley San Francisco

10:30 am – Alamo Square Park and The Painted Ladies. Take in the view, snap pics and sing the theme song from Full House.

11:30 am – Catch the Trolley at California and Van Ness. Ride (one way) over Nob Hill, through Chinatown and end in the Financial Building. This line in less “touristy” and drops you a few blocks from the Ferry Building!

San Fran Trolley Ride California and Van Ness Line

12:30 pm – Stroll around the Ferry Building and find lunch looking at the water, boats and hustle and bustle. There is so much to see in the city, but this a must while in town for 48 hours.

2:00 pm – Coit Tower is a mile walk or ride away. Visit this tower for bird’s eye views of the city and bay.

3:00 pm – Pier 33 is a few blocks away and where you will depart for your Alcatraz Tour. Book these tickets ahead of time and enjoy!

6:00 pm – Head down the pier to Pier 39 to wander shops and take pictures of seals.

6:30 pm – Leave the mayhem of the pier behind for the Marina District, via Lombard Street (aka the curviest street in the US). Wander the Palace of Fine Arts Gardens and day dream about living in one of the multi-million dollar mansions near by.

Palace of Fine Arts 48 Hours in San Fran

8:00 pm – Sushi during your short trip to San Fran is a must! Saru Sushi Bar is a favorite of ours, and critics!

9:30 pm – It is time to go back in time and enjoy Bourbon and Branch. Do not forget the house rules. Don’t worry, we will believe you go, even if there is not a picture on social media to prove it! (*Note: Contact Bourbon and Branch prior to arriving in the city to set up your experience.)

Day 2 –
8:30 am – You are only half way through your weekend in San Francisco. Start your day right with a little caffeine and yumminess. A breakfast pastry and coffee will fuel your morning. Stop at Henry’s Coffee House on Noriega between 25th and 24th Ave to fuel up

9:00  – Get your coffee in a to-go cup and climb the 16th Avenue Tiled Stairs to Grand View Park.

10:00 am – Rent Bikes to explore the relatively flat park paths of Golden Gate Park at your leisure. Strawberry Hill, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Bison Paddock and the Conservatory of Flowers are a few favorite spots in the huge park.

11:30 pm – Admire the Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Fields. You can walk, fly kites, picnic, open a bottle of wine or just snap photos.

12:30 pm – Drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin Headlands. Roll the windows down and enjoy the ride over the GGB; it is amazing. Exit the highway quickly for the best lookout points in Marin Headlands.

1:00 pm – Continue to Sausalito for lunch at Bar Bocce for lunch. Their outdoor space and menu are both top notch.

3:00 pm – Cross the Golden Gate Bridge back into San Francisco. Head west to Baker’s Beach for a walk in the sand, maybe a swim in the water and a great view of the GGB.

Baker's Beach Golden Gate Bridge

4:00 pm – Keep driving along the coast to Land’s End. You can walk trails in this park, check out the Labyrinth and yes, take more picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. The views of the bridge are all beautiful! Do not miss the Holocaust Memorial or the Legion of Honor either!

6:00 – Are you tired yet?! Good, you should be! You only have 48 hours in this great city! But, take a moment and relax with a drink and delicious dinner at the Cliff House. Your view will be worth a million bucks. Depending on the time of year, you might even get a sunset over dinner. If you don’t, you can always walk the beach before of after dinner to watch the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean. (*This restaurant is semi-fancy pants, so you might consider having a change of clothes in the car with you, or freshening up at your hotel if it is convenient.)

8:00 – If you still have a little gas in your tank and are up for one more little adventure, check out Smuggler’s Cove for a craft cocktail. It is well known, so it might be busy, but the menu is funky and the drinks are delish!

There is no time for sitting around when you only have 48 hours in San Francisco. I hope this post gives you an idea of how to manage your time and where to spend it. I love this city. I cannot wait for another 48 hours (or more out there)!

A Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Road Trip

Hitting the road to explore a new, or familiar, area is our favorite way to travel. We might fly to a region, but then we are back in a car to explore. We’ve investigated Iceland, navigated Namibia, searched Switzerland and plowed down the Pacific Coast Highway in California. We loved renting a car, or using our own, to see, do, taste and experience the world around us.

How to plan a road trip

If you are leery about driving around while on vacation, or driving as a vacation, here are tips for planning a road trip. This is your guide, as a beginner or seasoned traveler, to making it an easy planning process and a wonderful vacation.

This is first, because it is the most important to any road trip: Pick your car wisely. This car will be your home away from home, your constant and your home base for the duration of your road trip. Here are some guidelines:

  • Pick a car that has room for you and your luggage.
  • Pick a car that you are comfortable driving. Can’t drive a manual? Do not think saving a few bucks will make ii worth it, pay for the automatic.
  • Pick a car with decent gas mileage.
  • Make sure to go with a reputable rental car company.
  • Splurge when and if you can. For example, you HAVE to rent a convertible when driving the PCH, it’s a non-negotiable.

Tahoe Rental Car

Budget your MONEY for a few more details than you typically would when staying in a small area. Road trips tend to be a little more spontaneous. Gas stops turn in to snack stops. Random signs that point to a waterfall require 20 mile detours and muddy back roads might warrant a car wash.

  • Gas
  • On the road snacks
  • Car washes
  • Spontaneous stops at random road side attractions

Budget your TIME with more flexibility. As mentioned above, road trips are about spontaneity.

  • Spontaneous stops are a given. You will stop more than you expect. You will drive less than you expect. Plan accordingly.
  • Hotels can be a factor too. If you book your hotels ahead of time, make sure that they are not entirely too far apart. The last thing you want is to miss a great coffee shop, hike or town square because you have to make it to your bed and breakfast that is 100 miles away before they close.

PCH Road Trip in a Convertible

Navigating the trip can be fun, but also stressful. Having a rough idea of your route will help in picking hotels, stopping points and points of interest.

  • Map apps are great for road trips.
  • Good ol’ paper maps still work and can be fun to use for navigating.
  • Use road signs more than maps. There were more times than I can count when we’ve gotten out of sticky situations just by following the highway signs instead of the map.
  • If you are a party of two, the “co-captain” should use clear language. I can’t tell you how many arguments I have had with Mr. Wife with Baggage because I say things like “turn here.” I am learning to say “you will turn right in 1 mile.” Then, “turn right at this stop sign.” “Now we are looking for Saltwater Lagoon Road.” Seriously! I am like Google Maps navigating us through foreign roads … I was not always this thorough, but 27 fights later, I am learning! 🙂
{Note: Mike and I turn off cell service when traveling abroad and rely on paper maps to navigate. It is sometimes scary, but hugely beneficial to our overall communication and connection throughout the vacation. You should try it too; but that is just my two cents!}

Plan for physical activity throughout your day. Sitting in a car all day can cause lower back pain, stiffness and lethargy. Plan to move around at a few points each day.

  • Whether it is a stroll down to the beach, around a park, down city sidewalks or even at a rest stop, make sure you move around a little bit each day.
  • Stretch, walk, even get in some push ups. Keep your blood pumping and muscles relaxed.

Stay comfortable. Road trips do require sitting, a lot of sitting. 

  • Wear comfy clothes; nothing too tight or restrictive.
  • Wear shoes that you can slip on and off for quick exits at the random places you pull off to see.
  • Consider packing an ice pack if you know you will experience pain.
  • Consider packing nausea remedies if you get motion sickness.

Beautiful Deserts in Namibia

Stay fueled – you and your car.

  • Consider packing a cooler in your car with water and healthy snacks.
  • If your route takes you through desolate areas, buy a gasoline can that  you can fill with gain case the worst happens and you run out of gas during your road trip.
  • Use apps to locate the closest gas stations in your areas.
  • Fill up before leaving a populated area, even if you are not close to being empty.

Stay entertained.

  • Create playlists for when the radio signals fade
  • Download audio books.
  • Write a list of 10 questions or conversation starters to use throughout the road trip.
  • Play games such as the license plate game, I spy or others to pass the time.
  • Look out the window, not at your phone. (This one is hard for me! But what is the point if you aren’t looking at what you’re passing?)

Stay safe by asking yourself these questions:

  • What side of the road do people drive on?
  • Can I drive on the opposite side of the road?
  • Does the car have a spare tire, and tire changing tools?
  • Do I need to have an international drivers license to rent a car here?
  • Is this a safe place to drive?
  • Can I drive in city traffic? snow? mountainous areas?
  • Can I parallel park?
  • Do I know this country’s driving laws? Can I read their road signs?

CrossFit 9 Drop In Review

Even a quick weekend away can wreak havoc on my diet and exercise routine. I am not fanatical, but I like eating a certain way and maintaining an active lifestyle because I feel better when I do. I sleep better. I have more energy. My skin is brighter. I’ll stop; you get it. And, if you’re reading this post, I’m likely preaching to the choir!

CrossFit 9 Drop In Review Nice Facility

We spent this 4th of July with friends and family in St. Petersburg, Florida. We ate, drank, swam and laughed. Finley and I also worked up quite the sweat at CrossFit 9. He laid there, I did muscle ups and snatches and loved the whole vibe of the gym!

Pricing: A+
$15 dollars gets you a class here. Phenomenal value!

Depth of Knowledge and Quality of Coaching: A+
I, personally, love when a chick (ahem! lady) kicks ass as a coach. That was the case during the class at CrossFit 9. Despite being sore she walked us through a warm up, barbell movement specifics , technical movement requirements and modifications for a very varied class. Not many coaches can coach a muscle up or snatch, well. She did.

CrossFit 9 is Dog Friendly

Intensity of the WOD: A+
I am not sure if it was the noon time July heat, but holy heck! CrossFit 9’s WOD kicked. my. butt. In the best possible way. I totally went for it and did RX … 3 rounds in I questioned my choice. But, I appreciated the weight and the toughness of the workout – especially as I downed my fair share of margaritas and chips later that weekend!

First:
10 Minute EMOM (Every Minute on the Minute):
ODD: 5 Muscle-up (2:1 Dips)
EVEN: 20 Pistols (10/10)

Then:
12 Minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds as Possible):
30 Double Unders
5 Squat Snatch
RX: 105/75

Appearance and Function of the Facility: A+
As with most CrossFit gyms, from the outside they are nothing special. CrossFit 9 has a large sign outside, so you know you’re in the right place, but the real magic is inside. Lots of rigs, open space, and “toys” for everyone. There were over a dozen people in the class I attended, but we all seemed to have plenty of space. CrossFit 9 and their community take care of their space and equipment and it shows.

CrossFit 9 in St Petersburg florida drop in

Overall Impressions: A+
Clearly with perfect scores across the board, you can tell that I am a fan of CrossFit 9. I think my favorite aspects of this gym are 1.) they are dog friendly and loved on Finley! and 2.) they are close to family, so returning for another workout in the future is a good possibility. I also recommended the gym to a fellow Gardens CrossFit member who will be in St. Pete for work. Not that I am the end-all-be-all for recommendations, but if you feel strongly enough to recommend a box, you must be impressed. And I am!

CrossFit 9 Drop In Dog Friendly

Belize or Costa Rica

Small, but uniquely different countries, make up Central America. They share borders, but that is about it. We have traveled in two of these countries and since then have answered countless questions about which is “better.”

Belize or Costa Rica Vacation

That is a tough question.

Rather than pick a favorite, here is a side by side comparison of Belize and Costa Rica. Slightly similar, but mostly amazing countries that offer food, fun, sun and adventure in their own way!

First up is cuisine. The food of a location is paramount to Mike and I when we travel, so I will just assume we are not strange and others share our same views. There are definitely some cross over in the cuisine with their strong Aztec, Mayan and Caribbean influences. However, the mountains of Costa Rica gives them coffee and the islands of Belize lend to more seafood in their diet.

Belize

Costa Rica

Diet Staples: rice and beans, seafood, poultry, tamales wrapped in plantain leaves Diet Staples: Gallo Pinto, rice and beans, local tropical fruit, pork, beef
Unique Dishes: Gibnut meat (small rodent), ceviche, boil up, black dinner Unique Dishes: Casado, Arroz con Pollo, Olla de Carne
Local Drinks: Belikin Beer, fresh juices, Belikin locally produced Guinness Stout, seaweed shake Local Drinks: Refrescos (fruit smoothie), Agua Dulce, Horchata, Guaro Sour, Imperial Beer, coffee

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The next most important feature, for us, of a location is its capacity to entertain us. While museums and city lights attract some, adventure and outdoor activities are king for us.

Belize

Costa Rica

Jungles: Cave Tubing, Mayan Ruins, jungle walks Jungles:  waterfall repelling, ATV rides, jungle hikes, hanging bridge walks,
Water: snorkeling, SCUBA diving, fishing, Water: white water rafting, surfing, hot springs of Arenal, zip lining, fishing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When beginning your research, you will face the daunting task of narrowing down your exact destination(s) for your vacation to Central America. Here are some top locales within both countries for your to learn more about.

Belize

Costa Rica

·         Ambergris Caye

·         Caye Caulker

·         Placencia

·         Cayo district

·         Monteverde /La Fortuna

·         Jaco

·         Tamarindo

·         Corcovado National Park

Costa Rica Colorful Frog

Both countries offer jungles, beaches, culture, great food and friendly people. A few other general observations include:

  • Costa Rica can feel “Americanized” but it can also be wild and rural.
  • The official language of Belize is, get ready, is English.
  • Driving your own rental car is easy in most parts of Costa Rica as much of their infrastructure near popular destinations is new(er).
  • Getting to and from the mainland of Belize is easy and you have options. Just plan ahead.

Why Traveling to Washington DC is on Top of My Wish List?

Today’s article is a guest post from Frank Lee of Artful Club. We “met” via the internet after he featured Wife with Baggage on his website as travel blog to follow. He obviously knows his stuff, so I jumped at the chance to feature some of his writing! This guest post is written by Frank Lee, he works at Rebates Zone, and you can follow him on Twitter at @franklee84.

Founded in 1791, Washington DC is the capital city of the United States. The city is named after George Washington, one of the founding fathers and the first president of the United States so it should come as no surprise to anyone that the city is mired in history. The area is under federal jurisdiction so it is not a part of any state of the United States. Owing to the delicate mix of history and government, Washington is a great place to visit throughout the year.

Travel Wishlist The White House DC

Apart from being a place of history, Washington DC is also a great place of culture and learning. There is so much more to the city than what meets the eye. There are different reasons why anyone would want to visit the city of Washington DC; this is my list of why it is on top of my list.

United States Capitol – The Capitol is recognized as the symbol of United States Democracy for others all around the world. This beautiful white structure with a high dome holds the sessions of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. All 540 rooms are connected by a swarm of hallways and tunnels. You can also the house or the senate in action by getting a pass, US citizens can directly get a gallery pass by contacting their representative or the senator, though. More than viewing a session, it is the building itself which is worthy of the visit. The Hall of Statues has a great sense of grandeur attached to it.

Library of Congress – The library of Congress is the best place on earth for any bookworm. This largest library in the world holds more than 150 million items in its vaults, though most of which are not accessible to the general public but some of the important documents have been put on the display for the visitors such as one of the original copies of the Gutenberg Bible of which only three are known to be in existence in their original condition.

Library of Congress Visit in DC

National Archives – Any bookworm or a lover of history who has visited the Library of Congress must head to the National Archives. From the outside, it is a pompous monster – an example of neoclassical architecture which hides great truths behind its majestic façade. The importance of National Archives is that it is the place where all documents related to the American history are collected at one place. Three of the most important documents, in the history of mankind, which furthered the cause of democracy more than anything else, are housed in this building – Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

Georgetown – Georgetown is one of the areas of the city which predates the city of Washington itself. The area is filled with high-quality restaurants and handsome Victorian houses made of red bricks have a distinct look of their own. The refined atmosphere of the area makes it particularly stand out from the usual destinations. There are some amazing places for shopping in the area. Wisconsin Avenue is one of the most visited areas as it houses many classy boutiques. It is a great place for a sunny afternoon stroll. Groupon can provide you with great discounts at many of these fantastic locations.

Visit Georgetown near DC

The Smithsonian Museums – In 1829, a British scientist with the name of James Smithsonian left his estate for the establishment of an institution which would serve the purpose of diffusion of knowledge among the masses. This happened nearly two centuries ago but the Smithsonian has been growing ever since its creation and every year millions of people enter the gates of 19 museums of the Smithsonian Institution, without any fee, and learn about the world’s history, culture, arts, and the sciences.

DC’s Spring – Visiting Washington DC during spring is a great sight to behold. The city, especially the Tidal Basin, turns pink during springtime. The reason behind this change of color is the Japanese gift of 3000 cherry trees they gave to the US in 1912. When the springtime comes, all 3000 of these cherry trees blossom in all their glory and warm the hearts of the onlookers. This window of around two weeks between March and April is often celebrated like a festival which makes it the best time to visit the great city of Washington.

Spring in DC

The White House – No visit to Washington can be complete without mentioning the White House. 1600 Pennsylvania Street is arguably the most famous address in the world. Even though the White House doesn’t look as huge in real life but it is every bit as impressive as it looks on the television or the movies. The visits to the inside of the White House have become difficult ever since the 9/11 took place but visitors can stare from the gates. The White House visitor center is a great place to know about the history of the place and the changes different presidents made.

Frank has piqued my interest for Washington, D.C. I know I’ve always wanted to go back after spending one day here during a family vacation as a small child. Frank is right, the ideal time of year is spring, when those famed cherry blossoms are in full bloom. At least now I have a game plan of what to see, and why, after I’ve taken one million pictures and walked under those blooms!

My All American Travel Wish List

Happy July 4th! If you are an American (or even if you aren’t!) I hope that you are celebrating the fact that we are free to blog, protest, fight, love, pray, not pray and VOTE in this crazy country of ours.

All American Travel Wish List

Traveling the world feels like a need to me. I would like to think of it a nice little hobby, but I am inexplicably drawn to getting out of my comfort zone and seeing the beauty of this entire world. I get a high from learning, tasting, seeing, experiencing and touching the scary, the fascinating, the beautiful and the uncomfortable.

That being said, my own country is part of this amazing world. My vacations in America might not have the same “edgy” feel of international travel, but let’s be honest, that is sometimes nice. It is nice to drive and know the driving laws or eat at a restaurant and know the tipping amount. It is nice to not have to research the heck out of a place to feel like you fit in – or to at least not stick out!

Different from our Travel Bucket List of experiences, this wish list does have specific places to see, as well as general experiences to have. But, like our Travel Bucket List, this list is meant to inspire, ignite and inform! So, get out there and explore the world – your own backyard included!

The Grand Canyon – While we drove through The Grand Canyon when we drove in a zigzag from San Diego to Las Vegas, we did not truly experienced the canyon. I want to raft down the Colorado River, admire the layers of colored dirt and even (maybe, possibly, kind of) camp until the midnight stars. If anything, I’ll gaze at them for a while then head back to my comfy hotel room!

Grand Canyon American Bucketlist travel!

Ice Fishing – I am not sure why I want sit in the freezing staring at ice and holding a pole, but it sounds so completely different that what I know, that I am so curious. Fishing to me is a boat, sunscreen and as little clothing as possible. The fish we catch in Florida are colorful. None of this is true of ice fishing. I imagine there are belly warmer drinks too, which are always fun too!

Walk out on to a Skydeck (Sears Tower or The Grand Canyon) – While the views are drastically different, this item is more about getting over the fear of heights and walking out onto a ledge that is very (very!) high up. I plan to look down and then, most likely, weep with fear. I’m sure my legs will shake and I’ll need reminders to breath, but I want to do it!

Yellowstone National Park – Because why not? The geysers, hot springs, rainbow colored pools, roaming bison and more!

Explore Big Sur California (More!) – We drove from San Francisco to San Diego a few summers ago. Our vacation was filled to the brim with wine tasting, photo ops, hiking and lots of driving. We pulled to the shoulder of the 101 many times while driving through Big Sur because every turns offers a million dollar view. What we did not do, and what I want to do, is to explore more! I want to go to the water’s edge and into the forests. I want to take in a sunset over the Pacific and stay in an uber expensive hotel deep within in Big Sur. I want to do it the “right way”

PCH Road Trip Through Big Sur

Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C. – This might be the end-all-be-all is “All American” wish list items. The country’s capitol in all of its spring time grandeur. I’ve seen photos of DC while the trees are at their peak of blooming and it is spectacular. Can you imagine it in real life?

Skagit Valley Tulip Field – Speaking of flowers in bloom. If you are not sure why I want to see this just simply Google “Skagit Valley Tulip Field.” If you are not blown away and tempted to book your flight we cannot be friends. Just kidding. Kind of.

“All of Utah” – We’ve hiked The Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and skiied Park City, but there is So. Much. More! The Wave, Horseshoe Bend, Heber Valley, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon Zion, Bryce, Salt Lake City. UGH! There are so many places I’d like to see in Utah. Yea, I need to book that ticket now!

Mt Timp by Mark Anderson

Crater Lake, Oregon – I learned about this place in the 4th grade. More than two decades later and I still am curious. It is a lake at the top of a mountain, in a crater. Pictures of the lake look beautiful, but it has just always been a point of interest I would like to explore more.

Camp in Yosemite – In case we’re just meeting. I don’t camp. I will glamp; I do not camp. But, for Yosemite, I will make an exception. The non-humid air, ruggedness and relative ease of camping in a national park make me less apprehensive, and even a little excited, about the possibility!

One Tank Trip San Fran Yosemite National Park

America has a stigma of greed, ignorance and Disney World-obsessed people, but it is home. Yes, those are good descriptors, but I KNOW that we are more. We are canyons, rivers, oceans, lakes, cities, small towns, river walks and city side walks. We are home town charm, city grit, a rainbow of colors, ideals, faiths and opinions. We are not perfect, but we are the UNITED States of America.

Northern Utah Vacation Ideas

Utah was an accident. Utah was a means-to-an-end. Utah was not on our “list.”

Utah was an amazing discovery!

Northern Utah Mountains and Canyons

Our final destination was Grand Junction, Colorado. We could have flown into Denver, but Salt Lake City is a Delta hub and we’ve never been to Utah, as opposed to Denver and the Rockies which we’ve visited many times.

Grand Junction, Colorado is a dot on a map but now holds a very special spot in our hearts as we bought our adorable, lovable, smart, handsome and clever little pup there. Our adventures in Utah started as a mission to pick up our French Bulldog, but turned into an exploration of Northern Utah’s peaks and valleys.

Finley The French Bulldog Utah

We drove out of SLC to Park City, a picturesque mountain town with ski slopes, cutesy shops and cafes. It took us a few hours to figure out lift tickets, ski rentals and slope locations. Looking at a ski map is like looking at a map of Beijing; so many roads, errrrr slopes! Once (finally) on the slopes, we understood why so many are drawn to the peaks and slopes of the area each year. The views are beautiful and the snow was powdery and fresh – even in mid-March.

Park City Ski Slopes

We skied another half day the following morning, despite the sore feet, legs and butts. I complained the entire way to the lift, but was then happy to attempt skiing again. I admit that I have natural athletic ability with most sports, but skiing is just not one of them! Maybe we will splurge on lessons at some point?

Following a second night in Park City, we drove east to Moab through the barren deserts and valleys of northern Utah. The scenery looked straight out of wild, wild west movies! Droves of Jeep Wranglers greeted us in Moab. Mike was in heaven, but we were both confused! We later found out there was a “Jeep Safari” in town – that explains the expensive hotel rooms! Needless to say, every restaurant and bar and parking lot was packed, but the town was buzzing with energy.

Canyonlands National Park topped our list and it did not disappoint. The national park is so easy to see as you can drive and stop at different look at points along a paved road. There are easy, quick hikes to do at most of these parking lots as well. There were a ton of campers and people who were staying in the park for multiple days. In true “Mike and Diane fashion” we were there for only a few hours! (I know! It’s a beautiful place – but we have LOTS of beautiful places to see!) But, the hours we were there were magical as we watched the sun set over canyons that rival the Grand Canyon.

Northern Utah Sights

We spent the next day in Moab driving and hiking through Arches National Park. You will see why the park is so aptly named within a few minutes after you arrive.

That last stop in our trip was actually across the state line in Grand Junction, Colorado. We met Finley’s breeder, mom and sister before whisking him away to Florida. Mike is still my favorite travel buddy, but Finley is a natural travel companion and a perfect fit for our family. We are now a party of 3, and that’s fine by me!

Heber Valley, Utah: Every Season of the Year

Michael and I have a surprise to tell you all about! The most handsome, playful and sweet four-legged little boy rocked our world 2 months ago. We flew to Utah, bought a French Bulldog, named him Finley and fell absolutely, irrefutably and unconditionally in love.

Finley The French Bulldog Utah

Here’s the thing. We love Finley. He’s perfect (Proud mom brag #1, check!), but we also really loved our vacation in Utah. We flew in and out of Salt Lake City, but you guys know by now that we escaped the concrete jungle quickly. We headed up in elevation and spent two nights in Park City. We drank wine by firelight and skied for two days. I use the term “ski” loosely here. Michael skied; I plowed my way down at a snail’s pace trying not to bust my face.

From Park City we drove east to Moab where we hiked Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The red rock formations against the blue skies were unforgettable.

The whole trip was unforgettable actually, which has us planning a trip back out to Utah. While we were in Park City, we saw signs for Heber Valley. I googled “Heber Valley Things to do” and was happy with the results; so many outdoorsy and activities for the adventurous, or the adventurous at heart. The tricky part is trying to plan a vacation when you are not 100% sure when to go, but the beautiful truth about Utah is that it is a great vacation destination year round. Our vacation itineraries for each season could be completely different, but all of the options are all in Heber Valley, Utah.

Heber Valley Utah Fun in Every Season of the Year

Heber Valley is only 15 minutes from Park City, so if we go in Heber Valley during the winter we can expect snow. That is perfect for this Florida girl who welcomes the cold (but only for a few days at a time)! And, since I have the attention span of a 6 year old, we can ski a few days, but then mix it up with snow shoeing, snow mobile rides, snow tubing and fire side chats at the Zermatt Resort. Heber Valley has a creamery that makes cheese too. I feel like wine and cheese would be on our itinerary – seems likes an “us” thing to do.

If we return to Utah in the Spring (Should I mention here how jealous of “spring” I am? Florida’s spring is like 3 days long!) I know we will hike and ride horses, those are shoe-ins. I also found a different experience when looking into the Heber Valley Railroad. Even though we are big on driving around ourselves, they have scenic train rides that would probably be the most fun for us. But, the neat aspect of this is that there is likely a train for everyone – your daughter, your son, your husband, everyone! There is even a “cheese train.” I wonder if we can add wine to this ride.

Summer in Heber would keep us the busiest. With cooler temperatures and over 200 miles of trails, we would never go inside. The options seem endless because they are right up our alley: hiking Cascade Springs, kayaking the Provo River and doing paddle board yoga at Homestead Crater. I kind of think the wine and cheese would be on this agenda as well in the form of a picnic.

Mt Timp by Mark Anderson

Even though I am the busiest at work in the Fall, I do not want to miss planning for this season. I picture leaves changing color, a crispness in the air, boots and scarves. Yes, I can be very basic at times! I cannot lie, this girl would definitely break out the two scarves I own and wear them daily! I also picture a midday walk through Wasatch Mountain State Park or a drive to see the changing leaves along the Alpine Loop Scenic Backway, Provo Canyon Scenic Byway or through Strawberry Valley.

Hiking_Fall_in_Heber_Bryan_Rowland

I really never knew how versatile and diverse Utah was until going in March. I kind of just thought it was a barren state with a few big rocks. Oh my gosh, I was wrong! You can golf, hike, shop, relax, adventure, eat (and drink wine!) and more! You can hike in the summer the same slopes that you ski on in the winter. You can see a different view if you drive the same road in April than in October. I am really excited to get back out west.

But, do you want to know the absolute best part of planning this trip though? Finely will be riding shotgun with us as we go! Mike will always be my favorite guy, but he now has a four-legged little boy following closely (proud puppy mom brag #2, check!).

Note: While this is a sponsored post, all opinions and thoughts are ours. We have not visited Heber Valley, but truly hope to, despite of (or maybe because of) writing on their behalf!

Flora of Costa Rica

The animals of Costa Rica blew me away. We saw frogs the color of highlighters, ants that eat trees and, a personal highlight and bucket list experience, sloths hanging from trees. We truly kept our eyes peeled for wildlife everywhere we went. But, as our week in Costa Rica progressed we also started to notice that the animals were not the only show stoppers. The fauna and the flora were different from what we see here in The States and pause-worthy as well.

Flora in Costa Rica

Flowers

Pink Hibiscus Costa Rica Alpinia Flower Costa Rica Parrot Flower (Heliconia) Costa Rica Butterflies in Costa Rica Bird of Paradise Costa Rica Bamboo Orchid (Arundina Graminifolia)

Interesting Plants

Curly Boy Croton crazy Tree branches in Cahuita Coconut growing in Costa Rica

The jungles of Costa Rica are everything I hoped they would be. They are teeming with wildlife, both flora and fauna. Take care of their sensitive rain forests when you visited. Such a diverse and rich ecosystem needs to survive for everyone and everything’s sake.