Category: US National Parks

The Ultimate US Road Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway

The Ultimate US Road Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway

A Tale of Two Travelers…

For Thanksgiving this year, we decided to head out of town for a break. Our destination was Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tennessee. If we had ridden solely on interstate highways, we could have arrived there in ten hours. That’s my preferred way to drive. The quicker you can reach your destination, the better – that way you have more time to go places and see things and do stuff.

Road trip Blue Ridge Parkway so you have a better view than this.
My usual view as we travel along the Interstate.

Hubs, however, is my polar opposite when it comes to driving. He can’t stand driving on big highways and prefers long, circuitous, and scenic drives instead. He had been on the Blue Ridge Parkway earlier this year with his motorcycling friends and insisted that we drive at least part of the way to Tennessee on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We knocked out about four hours of the drive the very first night and got a hotel room in Charlottesville, Virginia. As we were discussing what time we wanted to get up in the morning, my husband said to me, “Well, we need to get up early. We have 12 hours of driving to do tomorrow.”

I just about had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I was thinking that with six hours left to travel via interstates, his route would take us eight or nine hours at most. But twelve?!?!? I was so flabbergasted I could not even speak. When I recovered my ability to form sentences again, I calmly informed him that being in the car for 12 hours was neither practical nor desirable.

Fortunately, he revised his plans and pared down our road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway to a 50 mile stretch. I was quite relieved.

But First, History!

I am nothing if not a history geek. Please bear with me…

The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long, running through the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. (If you’ve never heard of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s helpful to know that they are a section of the Appalachian Mountains.) The parkway runs from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The parkway actually continues on through Shenandoah for an additional 105 miles, but the name becomes Skyline Drive.

The original name for the route was the Appalachian Scenic Highway, and it was begun as a project in Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal. During World War II, conscientious objectors serving in the Civilian Service Program worked on the project.

Over 50 years passed before the construction of the parkway came to an end. The route has:

  • 26 tunnels constructed through the rock (1 in Virginia, 25 in North Carolina)
  • Six viaducts
  • 168 bridges
  • Elevation of 6,053 feet at its highest point (Richland Balsam – Mile Post 431)
  • No tolls/fees for usage

Our Drive

Even though I was reluctant to go from 70 mph on the interstate to 45 mph on the parkway, once we got on the parkway and started driving, I kinda fell in love with the scenery.  The roads were a bit twisty and 45 was probably the safest speed at which to travel. Some of the trees still had leaves, but most were bare.  I couldn’t help but imagine how gorgeous it must be in peak autumn foliage season (mid to late October, depending on the elevation).

Our first stop to pull over and admire the scenery was a rocky overlook with a couple of big boulders and a view of the valley below.

Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway - there are many opportunities to stop and admire the scenery.

As I looked out at the patches of green fields and the blue-purple mountains, I realized this was waaayyy better than anything I could have seen on the interstate.

If you look at this shot, you might notice a spot of blue just below and to the right of the center.  That’s a river running through the valley.

Beautiful scenery abounds on a road trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway

We drove along through the Peaks of Otter, where my husband stopped on his previous trip through the area.  (Fun fact: you can get one of those oval shaped abbreviation stickers here. It says POO for Peaks of Otter.  He totally got one the last time he was there.) We didn’t stop at Peaks of Otter, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is a lodge right there, with mountains behind it and a lake in front of it.  What a gorgeous setting!

We stopped a little farther along at another overlook. This one reminded me of Yorkshire, with the patchwork of fields decorating the valley.

Stopping at scenic overlooks while on a road trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway will provide you with many beautiful vistas.

We even got to see a dam!

Taking a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway will provide you with many interesting sights, like this dam.

If you’re traveling north or south between Virginia and North Carolina and/or visiting either the Great Smoky Mountain National Park or Shenandoah National Park, I highly recommend taking the Blue Ridge Parkway, even if only part of the way. The views were breathtaking, the weather was gorgeous, and it was a much nicer drive than I-81!

 

Traveling through Virginia and/or North Carolina? Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains and/or Shenandoah national parks? The Blue Ridge parkway is a great road trip, showing off some of the Appalachian Mountains' most beautiful scenery.
60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

60+ Washington DC Free Attractions

Anyone who has been to Washington DC knows that it can be a pretty expensive city to visit.  Most studies rank it somewhere in the top ten list of the most expensive American cities. For someone who is making a non-DC salary and visiting the nation’s capital, the expense of everything can be daunting.

Fortunately, Washington DC free attractions are plentiful.  Here are over 60 places you can explore without paying for admission, listed by neighborhood:

The National Mall Area

Washington DC Free Attractions

  1. Abraham Lincoln Memorial
  2. World War II Memorial
  3. National Museum of American History
  4. National Air & Space Museum
  5. Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden – modern art
  6. National Museum of African Art
  7. National Museum of Natural History
  8. Smithsonian Castle
  9. Washington Monument – currently closed for elevator upgrade – check before you go
  10. National Archives
  11. National Gallery of Art
  12. Multiverse Light Sculpture between National Gallery East & West Buildings
  13. Freer Gallery – Asian art (closed until October 14, 2017)
  14. Sackler Gallery – Asian art
  15. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  16. Korean War Veterans Memorial
  17. Vietnam War Veterans Memorial
  18. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  19. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  20. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial
  21. US Holocaust Memorial Museum – free but requires timed tickets March through August
  22. National Museum of the American Indian
  23. National Museum of African American History & Culture
  24. Albert Einstein Memorial
  25. Bureau of Engraving & Printing (free, but reservations required through September 1)
  26. National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden

 

Brookland Area

Washington DC free attractions in Brookland area

  1. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
  2. Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

 

Capitol Hill

Washington Dc free attractions capitol hill

  1. National Postal Museum
  2. Library of Congress
  3. US Capitol
  4. US Botanic Garden
  5. Folger Shakespeare Library
  6. Historic Congressional Cemetery

 

Capitol Riverfront

Washington DC Free attractions capitol riverfront

  1. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
  2. National Museum of the US Navy
  3. Yards Park

 

Anacostia

Washington DC Free Attractions Anacostia

  1. Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
  2. Anacostia Community Museum

 

Upper Northwest

Washington DC Free Attractions Upper Northwest

  1. National Cathedral

 

Georgetown

Washington DC Free ATtractions Georgetown

  1. C&O Canal Paths
  2. Old Stone House (the oldest home in DC)
  3. Theodore Roosevelt Island
  4. Rock Creek Park

 

Penn Quarter/Chinatown

Washington DC Free Attractions Penn Quarter Chinatown

  1. National Portrait Gallery
  2. Smithsonian American Art Museum
  3. Lunder Conservation Center
  4. Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
  5. Archives of American Art Gallery

 

Dupont Circle

Washington DC Free Attractions Dupont Circle

  1. Anderson House

 

Woodley Park

Washington DC Free Attractions Woodley Park

  1. National Zoo

 

Foggy Bottom

Washington DC free attractions Foggy Bottom

  1. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts (free tour)
  2. Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center (free performances)

 

Downtown

Washington DC Free Attractions Donwtown

  1. White House Visitor Center
  2. White House tour (request through Congressional representative at least 3 months in advance)
  3. Renwick Gallery – American contemporary art

 

Shaw

Washington DC Free Attractions Shaw

  1. African American Civil War Memorial
  2. African American Civil War Museum

 

H Street NE

Washington DC Free Attractions H Street NE

  1. US National Arboretum
  2. National Bonsai & Penjing Museum – inside National Arboretum

 

Arlington, Virginia (technically not DC, but just across the river)

 

  1. US Air Force Memorial
  2. US Marine Corps Memorial (aka Statue of Iwo Jima)
  3. Arlington House, former home of Robert E Lee
  4. Arlington National Cemetery
  5. National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial

 

As you can see, there are plenty of Washington DC free must-see attractions… and a few that are a little off the beaten path.  With so many choices for things to see and do at no expense, Washington DC can be an affordable vacation destination after all.

 

The 50 Most Romantic Places in the US

The 50 Most Romantic Places in the US

the most romantic places in each state

Valentine’s Day is coming up, and you may be trying to choose the perfect place to celebrate.  If you’re about to get engaged, or if you’re married with children and looking for a child-free getaway, read on!  Here are my picks for the 50 most romantic places – one  in each of our glorious 50 states.

Alabama

Gorham’s Bluff in Pisgah is a luxurious inn that offers spectacular mountaintop views of the Tennessee River Valley.

gorhams-bluff-view most romantic places alabama
View from the gazebo at Gorham’s Bluff

The lodge has six suites, each with a massive stone fireplace, soft down pillows, and whirlpool tubs. There are also five cottages if you’d like something bigger. If a stay isn’t in your budget, you may want to consider just dining there. Gorham’s Bluff also boasts an outstanding restaurant that offers everything from boxed lunches to four course dinners. The surrounding area boasts many places of natural beauty, including caverns, waterfalls, and forests. Gorham’s Bluff‘s address is 101 Gorham Drive, Pisgah, AL 35765.  Telephone 256-451-8439.

Alaska

Denali National Park offers stunning views that look like they just might have inspired a Bob Ross painting. Can you think of a better backdrop to declare your love?

denali-national-park most romantic places alaska
Denali National Park, Alaska

If you’re the adventurous type, you can enjoy a snowmobiling trip, take a guided dog sled trip. With its extreme northern location, you can also spend a great evening of stargazing… perhaps even catch the aurora borealis if you’re lucky. What could be more romantic than that?  Denali National Park is about four hours north of Anchorage and two hours south of Fairbanks. Telephone 907-683-9532.

Arizona

The Desert Botanical Garden features beautiful trails of colorful desert plants.

Desert Botanical Garden - most romantic place in ARIZONA
Sunset at he Desert Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden occasionally offers themed dinners. Sip wine and dine al fresco on customized menus from talented chefs while taking in the desert scenery.  The Desert Botanical Garden‘s address is 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85008.  Telephone 480-941-1225.

Arkansas

The Bell of Hot Springs is a riverboat on which you can take a lunch or dinner cruise around Lake Hamilton, including a sunset dinner & dance cruise.

belle-of-hot-springs most romantic places arkansas
The Belle of Hot Springs Riverboat

As you cruise around the lake, you will see million dollar mansions, natural islands, quaint resorts, and panoramic views of the Ouachita Mountains. The Belle of Hot Springs‘s address is 5200 Central Avenue, Hot Springs, AR, 71913. Telephone 501-525-4438.

California

In the Marina district of San Francisco, there is a temple-like building known as the Palace of Fine Arts. It was built in 1915 as one of ten buildings for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, and was supposed to be demolished after the event. People found it so beautiful, though, that it stayed.  You can certainly see why:

Palace-of-Fine-Arts-San-Francisco most romantic places california
The Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

The Palace of Fine Arts’ address is 3601 Lyon St & Marina Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94123.

Colorado

If you’re looking to be pampered with your love, look no farther than The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

the broadmoor most romantic places colorado springs
The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs

Not only do they offer beautiful, richly decorated rooms and cottages, but they also have a lake on premises, a full service spa, a top notch golf course, and a dozen or so dining options. You and your love can enjoy horseback riding, scenic mountain trails, rock climbing, fly fishing, golf, tennis, zip lining over waterfalls, and more. There’s something for everyone to enjoy at the Broadmoor. The Broadmoor address is 1 Lake Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80906. Telephone 855-634-7711.

Connecticut

The historic village of Stonington Borough (simply called “The Village” by locals) is a postcard perfect New England small town. The Inn at Stonington is a beautiful waterfront 18-room inn that would be ideal for a romantic getaway.

inn-at-stonington-borough-most romantic places connecticut
The Inn at Stonington

Just a short stroll from the lovely Dubois beach, several excellent restaurants, antique shops and galleries, the Inn offers uniquely decorated spacious rooms with balconies, fireplaces, and scenic views of the village or Fisher’s Island Sound. The Inn at Stonington’s address is 60 Water Street, Stonington, Connecticut 06378.  Telephone 860-535-2000.

Delaware

If you like your romance with a dash of intrigue, you can step back in time for a cocktail at the speakeasy-themed Hummingbird to Mars in Wilmington.

speakeasy bar hummingbird to mars most romantic places delaware
Speakeasy-themed bar – CR Hummingbird to Mars in Wilmington, DE

You can only access the bar from outside, and you will need a password.  (Check their Facebook page to find out what the current password is.) The speakeasy is decked out with Victorian furniture, including an antique bathtub filled with champagne bottles. The lights are dim, the cocktails are intriguing, and the patrons are dressed to the nines.  Well worth a visit for a history-loving couple. The address for CR Hummingbird to Mars is 1616 Delaware Ave – Trolley Square, Wilmington, DE 19806.  Telephone 302-654-9700.

Florida

The appropriately named Lovers Key is a state park near Ft Myers that is renowned for its pristine white beach and wildlife viewing opportunities.

lovers-key-most romantic places florida
Lighthouse at Lovers Key Florida

The park features five miles of hiking and biking trails through a shady maritime hammock ecosystem. Visitors can see manatee, gopher tortoises and wading birds along the trails. You may even see dolphins swimming in the distance. Lovers Key State Park’s address is 8700 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931.  Telephone 239-463-4588.

Georgia

The Chateau Elan Winery & Resort is perfect for wine aficionados or anyone who likes a bit of luxury. The resorts is a castle surrounded by rolling vineyards… you will think your’re in the French countryside.

chateau-elan-winery most romantic places georgia
France?  or Georgia?

In addition to a 275-room inn, there is a European spa, championship golf course, award-winning wine and food, and plenty of opportunities to relax in luxury. The Chateau Elan Winery & Resort‘s address is 100 Rue Charlemagne, Braselton, Georgia 30517. Telephone: 678-425-0900.

Hawaii

Seriously? Like just about anywhere!  But if I have to pick just one romantic destination in the island paradise – and I promised myself I would – my choice would be Hulopoe Bay on the island of Lanai’s southern coast.

hulopoe-bay-hawaii most romantic places
Hulopoe Bay, Lanai

It’s a great place for snorkeling and swimming, and there are large tide pools located at the eastern side of the bay. Carved out of volcanic rock, these tide pools are well protected, keeping the waters calm for exploring. Many hermit crabs, sea stars, opihi (limpet) and small fish dwell there. Dolphins can often be seen in Hulopoe Bay, while the winter months bring visits from humpback whales. Also, if you hike about 15-20 minutes from the bay, you will see Puu Pehe, a large rock rising from the sea.  It’s name is Sweetheart Rock.  How appropriate!  (Actually, the legend that goes with the rock is more along the Romeo & Juliet lines, with both of the lovers dead at the end.)

Idaho

Some may consider it cheesy, but I love places that have themed decor.  The Anniversary Inn bed and breakfast in Boise is one such place, with many different themes to choose from.  My favorite is the Lighthouse #19, but there are so many others I would like too.

anniversary-inn-boise-lighthouse-suite most romantic places idaho
Lighthouse #19 Suite at the Anniversary Inn in Boise

Other suites include the Hawaiian, the Presidential, Mysteries of Egypt, Biker Road House, Jungle Safari, Hollywood Romance and so many others. Really, if you’re in Idaho, you should check this place out!  The Anniversary Inn’s address is 1575 South Lusk Avenue, Boise, ID 83706. Telephone 1.800.324.4152.

Illinois

In Chicago, the most romantic restaurant is widely considered to be Geja’s Cafe, which has a low-lit dining room filled with small booths and tables with curtains draped throughout to give an even more intimate feel.

gejas-cafe-chicago most romantic places illinois
The dining room of Geja’s Cafe in Chicago

Premiere fondue dinners are a four-course meal, including cheese fondue appetizer, salad, assorted fresh vegetables, eight dipping sauces, flaming chocolate dessert fondue and freshly brewed coffee. The fondue dining experience lets you cook your food at the table. Live classical and flamenco guitar add to the romantic ambiance. Geja’s Cafe’s address is 340 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60614.  Telephone 773-281-9101.

Indiana

How about a romantic train ride?  The Spirit of Jasper offers a Chocolate, Wine & Dine ride that couples are sure to enjoy.

spirit-of-jasper most romantic places indiana
All aboard!  Take a romantic train ride on The Spirit of Jasper

Featuring chocolate from Jasper’s locally-owned Chocolate Bliss, the Chocolate, Wine & Dine combines taste-tempting treats while you ride the rails in luxurious comfort: scrumptious chocolate, wine tasting, and Schnitzelbank meal with dessert.  The Spirit of Jasper operates seasonally in summer and fall.  The address is 201 Mill Street, Jasper, IN 47546. Telephone: 812-482-5959.

Iowa

The Mont Rest Inn in Bellevue is not only a great bed & breakfast with a rooftop hot tub (!), it also features regular special events, such as murder mystery dinners and other themed evenings.

rooftop-hot-tub-at-mont-rest-inn most romantic places bellevue iowa
The rooftop hot tub at Mont Rest Inn

In addition to their theme dinners, the Inn has several other packages, from winery tours to eagle watching excursions.  There is something for everyone to enjoy here!  The Mont Rest Inn’s address is 300 Spring Street Bellevue, Iowa.  Telephone: 563-872-4220.

Kansas

Surround yourself with natural beauty at Botanica Wichita, a collection of garden landscapes that are the perfect backdrop for a romantic outing.  Botanica features a butterfly garden, aquatic garden, rose garden, and a rock garden.

botanica-wichita-shakespeare-garden most romantic places kansas
The Shakespeare Garden at Botanica

Fans of Shakespeare will find the Shakespeare Garden – a perfect spot to sit and read sonnets to each other.  (I recommend #116.) The address for Botanica Wichita is 701 Amidon St, Wichita, KS 67203-3199. Telephone: 316-264-0448.

Kentucky

Couples who enjoy adventure travel will love Cumberland, Kentucky. At Cumberland Falls Resort Park, you’ll see the second-largest waterfall east of the Mississippi and, if you’re there at the right time, a rare lunar rainbow.

cumberland-falls-moonbow kentucky most romantic places
A lunar rainbow, also called a moonbow, at Cumberland Falls KY

There are also 1,200 miles of shoreline to explore, and 70 miles of wilderness trails. Often, the park offers special romance package, which may include dinner theater, dancing and resort lodging. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park‘s address is 7351 Hwy. 90, Corbin, KY 40701. Telephone: (606) 528-4121.

Louisiana

Nothing evokes the romantic antebellum south like Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie. Can you imagine how lovely it would be to stroll up to this house, holding hands with your loved one?

oak-alley-plantation-louisiana most romantic places
Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana

Those oak trees are 300 years old, buy the way.  The plantation features a variety of exhibits on the Civil War era, including a tour of the house and a self-guided tour of the grounds. Oak Alley Plantation‘s address is 3645 Highway 18 (Great River Road), Vacherie, Louisiana 70090.  Telephone 800-44-ALLEY.

Maine

The Norumbega Inn is a beautiful stone mansion in Camden that has a fancy-yet-unpretentious vibe.

norumbega-inn-maine most romantic places
The Norumbega Inn of Camden Maine

Whether you choose a room that has a view of Penobscot Bay, or the Library Suite for bibliophiles like me, you will enjoy your stay at the Norumbega.  And you will definitely eat well while you’re there!  Co-owner and executive chef Phil Crispo is a classically trained chef who loves to use his creative finesse in the kitchen. Prior to moving to Maine, he was a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America and succeeded in scoring a ‘win’ on the Food Network’s “Chopped”. (His credentials prior to that are noteworthy, as well.) Hi partner Sue is “a business exec who screwed up making mashed potatoes in a ‘Boot Camp’ class she took at the CIA a while back. Phil fixed her mashed potatoes and love ensued.” The address for The Norumbega Inn is 63 High Street, Camden, Maine, 04843.  Telephone: 877-363-4646.

Maryland

The Grammercy Mansion bed and breakfast in Stevenson is the most romantic place I have ever stayed. I think the Tudor Room is probably my favorite, but each room is luxurious and well-appointed.

grammercy mansion tudor-room marlyand most romantic places
Grammercy Mansion’s Tudor Room

If you feel like venturing out (but, seriously, why would you?), there are plenty of museums, restaurants, and shops in Baltimore, just a short drive away.  Grammercy Mansion‘s address is 1400 Greenspring Valley Road, Stevenson, MD 21153.  Telephone 410-486-2405.

Massachusetts

Sweet Brook Farm offers horse drawn sleigh rides in the winter and hay rides in the fall.

horse drawn sleigh massachusetts most romantic places
Over the river and through the woods…

Nothing could be more romantic than snuggling up with your loved one on a sleigh for 45 minutes or so and taking a break for hot cocoa in “The Old Sap Bucket Inn,” a cozy cabin in the woods. Sweet Brook Farm‘s address is 580 Oblong Road, Williamstown, MA 01267.  Telephone: 413-884-4246.

Michigan

Nothing says romance like the majestic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, with its extended waterfront porch and uniquely decorated rooms – none of the 300+ rooms are alike!

the-grand-hotel-mackinac island michigan most romantic places
The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island

You will never forget the spectacular views from a rocking chair overlooking the Straits of Mackinac from the world’s longest porch. Here, meals are an event and traditions such as Afternoon Tea in the Parlor and nightly dancing remain a noteworthy part of the guest experience. And while you’re on Mackinac Island, you can enjoy horse & carriage rides – no cars are allowed.  The Grand Hotel’s address is 286 Grand Ave, Mackinac Island, MI 49757.  Telephone 800-334-7263.

Minnesota

For literary-minded couples, The Rivertown Inn in Stillwater offers exquisitely decorated rooms based on famous world authors. I’ve tried to pick a favorite but the truth is they are all so romantic and luxurious!

oscar-wilde-rivertown-inn minnesota most romantic places
The Oscar Wilde Suite at the Rivertown Inn

Other rooms/suites offer tributes to Lord Byron, Agatha Christie, Lewis Carroll, Jane Austen, and other notable authors. If you can bear to leave your literary accommodations, you  can spend a day with your loved one exploring the unique shops and galleries of Stillwater, taking an old-fashioned trolley for an architectural tour, or enjoying any of the cafes and fine dining restaurants in town. The Rivertown Inn’s address is 306 Olive Street West, Stillwater, MN 55082. Telephone: 651-430-2955.

Mississippi

There are not many activities that have as sultry a sizzle as Latin salsa dancing.  If you’re in Jackson on a Saturday night, stop by Salsa Mississippi for a quick lesson at 9:00, followed by a Salsa Dance Party from 10:00 pm – 2:00 am.

salsa_mississippi most romantic places
Couples dancing at Salsa Mississippi

If you like it, sign up for some classes! The address for Salsa Mississippi is 605 Duling Ave, Jackson, MS 39216.  Telephone: 601-213-6355.

Missouri

Who needs Paris when you have the Old Red Bridge in Minor Park, Kansas City? Couples in Missouri are celebrating their love just like so many visitors to Paris have done – placing a lock on the bridge and throwing the key in the water below as a symbol of their enduring, unbreakable love.

red-bridge-love-locks missouri most romantic places
Love locks on the Old Red Bridge

Locks can be purchased at the Minor Park Golf Pro Shop, or ordered online with custom engraving. Click on the link for details: The Old Red Bridge runs between Holmes and Blue River Road on Red Bridge Road in Kansas City, MO.  

Montana

Located near the beautiful Glacier National Park, the Izaak Walton Inn has a variety of unique and romantic lodgings to offer couples.  Guests can stay in a railroad caboose or a luxury train car.  Or, if you prefer more traditional digs, a room in the lodge.

izaak_walton_inn_montanta most romantic places
The lodge and one of the luxury rail cars at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, MT

(I do not recommend renting a cabin for a romantic outing here as the cabins are very close together.)  Because of the location and the age of the property, rooms do not have televisions or telephones, and cell phone service is not available within a 30 mile radius. You will be blissfully cut off from the world and able to focus entirely on your mate.  The Izaak Walton Inn’s address is 290 Izaak Walton Inn Rd. Essex, MT 59916.  Telephone: 406-888-5700.

Nebraska

If your love is too big for just one state, be sure to walk hand-in-hand across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in Omaha.

bob-kerrey-pedestrian-bridge omaha nebraska most romantic places
The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge cross the Missouri River between Nebraska and Iowa.

When you stand in the center of it, you’re half in Nebraska, half in Iowa. Share a kiss, gaze out at the river, and plan your next adventure together. The address for the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is 705 Riverfront Dr, Omaha, NE 68102.

Nevada

There is a restaurant at the top of Las Vegas’ version of the Eiffel Tower, and not only does it have great food, it also provides an outstanding view of the fountain show at the Bellagio.

eiffel-tower-restaurant las vegas nevada most romantic places
The Bellagio Fountains, as seen from the Eiffel Tower Restaurant

My goodness, the only way it could be more romantic is if you could get there via the gondolas from The Venetian!  The Eiffel Tower Restaurant’s address is 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV 89109.  Telephone: 702-948-6937.

New Hampshire

Look no further in New Hampshire than the historic hotel Wentworth by the Sea on the island of New Castle, one of New Hampshire’s oldest settlements.

Wentworth-by the sea new hampshire hotel most romantic places
Wentworth by the Sea

This luxury Marriott-owned hotel blends historic elegance with 21st century convenience. It features 161 rooms and suites,many of which have ocean views. In addition to attractions in the surrounding area, the hotel has intimate restaurants with imaginative cuisine, pampering spa services, indoor and outdoor pools, and fitness centers.  Wentworth by the Sea‘s address is 588 Wentworth Rd, New Castle, NJ 03854.  Telephone: 866-384-0709.

New Jersey

Creating things together can be one of the most romantic things a couple can do.  If you’re in your relationship for the long haul, why not try your hand at making wine together at The Grape Escape?

wine-and-romance grape escape new jersey most romantic places
The Grape Escape offers couples a chance to custom make their own wine

Your and your love will choose the region, grape type, barrel type, and the amount of aging it receives. You actively participate in the four key steps of wine making. You personally crush the grapes, press the must, rack the wine and, finally, bottle your own premium wine!  To finish, each bottle is customized with a label you create yourself. It’s a lengthy process, but at the end of it you will have a one-of-a-kind creation that you made with your partner, and that’s very romantic, indeed!  The Grape Escape’s address is 12 Stults Road, Suite 101, Dayton, NJ 08810.  Telephone: 609-409-WINE.

New Mexico

A trip on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway will take you along nearly three miles, soaring above canyons and breathtaking terrain.

sandia-tramway new mexico most romantic places
The Sandia Tramway offers stunning views of the wilderness.

See some of nature’s more dramatic beauty unfold before you, and visit the observation deck atop 10,378 foot Sandia Peak in the Cibola National Forest. Try to time your visit so that you will be there at sunset, when the desert skies produce a spectacular array of color. Sandia Tramway is on the eastern edge of Albuquerque in the Sandia Foothills at the end of Tramway Road. Telephone: 505-856-7325.

New York

Decades ago, it was considered THE honeymoon destination on the East Coast.  Niagara Falls is amazing to see in person, especially at night when the falls are lit up in different colors.

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Night time view of Niagara Falls

In the warmer months (May-October), they also have fireworks several times a week.  The best address to use for GPS purposes is 24 Buffalo Avenue Niagara Falls, NY, 14303.  Telephone the state park visitor center for more information at 716-278-1796.

North Carolina

Treehouse Vineyards is a North Carolina family owned Vineyard and Winery.  It also has, as you might have guessed, treehouses.  But the really cool thing here is that you can actually rent/stay in the treehouses.

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Papa’s Dream Treehouse at Treehouse Vineyards

Papa’s Dream Treehouse is tiny (only 100 sq. ft. living space), but it has all the necessities you might need – plumbing, electricity, heat and air conditioning, efficiency kitchen and even a deck with a grill. Cozy, unique, and romantic!  Treehouse Vineyards’ address is 301 Bay St, Monroe, NC 28112. Telephone: 704-283-4208.

North Dakota

The International Peace Garden is over 2300 acres spanning the US-Canada border. There are sunken gardens, a peace chapel, a 9/11 memorial, conservatory, Westminster chimes bell tower, a floral clock, and more.

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International Peace Garden

The park also offers picturesque picnic areas,  modern campgrounds, hiking trails, and bike paths. There is a wildlife refuge, too, where you are sure to spot deer, moose and other animals in the natural environment. The International Peace Garden is north of Dunseith, North Dakota, at the northern terminus of U.S. Highway 281 in Rolette County. A passport is not required, but recommended to speed the re-entry process when you leave the garden. Telephone: 888-432-6733

Ohio

The Marblehead Lighthouse is the oldest continually operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Visitors can take in panoramic views of Lake Erie from the tower, and it’s a popular spot to take in a sunrise or sunset.

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Marblehead Lighthouse in Ohio

The grounds surrounding the lighthouse offer excellent picnic spots when weather permits. The Marblehead Lighthouse‘s address 110 Lighthouse Drive, Marblehead, Ohio 43440.  Telephone for park office: 419-734-4424

Oklahoma

Visit the tiny town of Medicine Park, known as America’s cobblestone community. The round red cobblestones – an abundant, native geological phenomenon of the area – are found in most structures and give the town with a distinctive look.

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Medicine Park, Oklahoma

You can take a stroll on scenic trails by Medicine Creek or Bath Lake, dine in fine restaurants, or bask in the glow of the sun setting over the surrounding Wichita Mountains. Make a weekend of it by booking a place to stay, and visiting the shops that sell all manner of arts, crafts and gift wares. Medicine Park is near the cities of Lawton and Fort Sill.

Oregon

Snuggle up and watch a movie together at Cinetopia.  This theater chain offers stadium seating in all of their theaters, but the type of seating varies on which theater you visit. The Living Room, for adults only, offers the most romantic seating with couches and oversized chairs you can share to sit in.

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The Living Room theater at Cinetopia

Not only can you lounge on an oversized couch, but you can also order food right from your seat. Cinetopia is in Progress Ridge Townsquare, 12345 SW Horizon Blvd #231, Beaverton, OR 97007. Telephone: 503-597-6900.

Pennsylvania

Proclaim your love at the Smith Memorial Arch’s whispering benches in Philadelphia.

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Smith Memorial Arch, Fairmount Park

One sweetheart takes a seat on the stone bench in the curve of the Smith Memorial Arch while the other sits on the bench across the street. When you whisper into the monument, you will be able to clearly hear each other, despite the distance. The Whispering Benches are located in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.

Rhode Island

Block Island is located 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, in the Atlantic Ocean.  It has 17 miles of beach, a gorgeous red brick lighthouse, a few sites of historic significance, and many lodging and dining options.

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Southeast Lighthouse on Block Island, Rhode Island

If you’re lucky, you might find one of the 550 glass floats hidden on the island – a perfect souvenir from your romantic day.  Block Island can be reached via ferry boat in Point Judith, Rhode Island.

South Carolina

SkyScapes of America, based in Anderson, provides romantic sunrise balloon rides. Trips are available in spring, summer and fall, and include champagne.

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Fly off into the sunset in a hot air balloon.

The company requires a minimum of four people to make the tour, so if you want to book a private flight – for example, to propose to your partner – be prepared to pay extra. Skyscapes of America operates their balloon rides in Anderson, SC.  Telephone: 864-221-0552.

South Dakota

Book yourself a stay at Audrie’s Bed & Breakfast in Rapid City.  Audrie’s has cozy cabins with all the comforts of home in a tranquil setting.  Most are log cabins, some have hot tubs, and all of them have big comfy beds you won’t want to leave.

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August Haus at Audries B&B

What could be more romantic than snuggling under the covers in a tiny log cabin?  Audrie’s Bed & Breakfast’s address is 23029 Thunderhead Falls Road, Rapid City, SD 57702. Telephone: 605-593-9361.

Tennessee

Beautiful caverns, sculpted by nature, and a charming underground lake are yours to explore at The Lost Sea in Sweetwater.

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The underground lake at The Lost Sea in Sweetwater, TN

Your visit will begin with a guided tour of the caverns in which you will learn about the cavern’s exciting and colorful history.  At the bottom of the cave you will board a glass-bottom boat for an exciting trip on the Lost Sea, America’s Largest underground lake. The address for The Lost Sea is 140 Lost Sea Road, Sweetwater, TN 37874.  Telephone: 423-337-6616.

Texas

The Riverwalk in San Antonio is not just shops and restaurants, although those are great places to begin a romantic evening.

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One of the waterfalls tucked away along San Antonio’s Riverwalk

If you walk the length of the Riverwalk, you will find many semi-secluded spots with hidden waterfalls, artwork, or other beautiful settings.  Where better to steal a kiss? The San Antonio Riverwalk is one story below the vehicle-traveled streets of downtown San Antonio.  

Utah

Watch the colors of Bryce Canyon come alive as the sun appears above the horizon at Sunrise Point.  Grab a blanket and some snacks, get up really early, and wait for sunrise to happen.

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The view of Bryce Canyon from Sunrise Point (at sunrise)

Bryce Canyon National Park is about 210 miles south of Provo. Telephone: 435-834-5322.

Vermont

The Inn at Round Barn Farm is a beautiful scenic weekend getaway in the Mad River Valley, a unique Vermont destination. The property features ponds, meadows and its own organic garden.

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The Richardson Room at the Inn at the Round Barn Farm

Each guest room is unique and has views of the surrounding trees, gardens, meadows and mountains. For some extra romance on your weekend vacation, request a room with a gas fireplace and a whirlpool tub. The Inn at Round Barn Farm‘s address is 1661 East Warren Road, Waitsfield, VT  05673. Telephone: 802-496-2276.

Virginia

The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg was voted one of the 50 most beautiful college campuses in the country.  One of the reasons why is the romantic Crim Dell Bridge.

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The Crim Dell Bridge on the campus of the College of William and Mary

Legend says that if two lovers cross the bridge together and kiss at the crest of it, they will be together forever. If that couple separates at any point thereafter, however, the lady must throw her ex-lover off of the bridge and into the water to break the curse of being forever single.  Choose wisely!  The Crim Dell Bridge is on the campus of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Washington

Nothing says romance like Victorian ginger-bread style architecture, and Port Townsend Washington has got plenty of it.

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Port Townsend, Washington

The town is a “Victorian Seaport and Arts Community,” which not only has many beautiful buildings, but also several festivals held throughout the year.  Boating and maritime life are central elements in this port town, with regattas, weekly races and a multitude of recreational opportunities.  And you’ll enjoy all of it against the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains. Port Townsend is about 75 miles southwest of Bellingham.

West Virginia

A getaway to the romantic Hillbrook Inn has everything from lodge rooms to cozy cabins and luxury suites.

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The Hillbrook Inn in West Virginia

The on-site restaurant offers four- and five-course gourmet dinners.  Your stay includes a gourmet breakfast at no extra charge.  The inn also has a spa, offering facials, massages, and an array of services to pamper and relax you. The inn even offers a proposal package with roses and champagne for couples who get engaged there!  The Hillbrook Inn’s address is 4490 Summit Point Rd Charles Town, WV 25414-4682.  Telephone: 800-304-4223.

Wisconsin

The historic Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee originally opened in 1893 and continues to operate today.  It has a grand interior with one of the largest Victorian art collections found in any hotel in the world, sweeping staircases, painted ceilings, twinkling chandeliers… you will feel like a royal couple!

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The lobby of the Pfister

Be sure to get access to the Pfister Club lounge, which is located on the 23rd floor of the hotel’s expansion tower.  There, you will find views of the city, hot breakfasts, and snacks/drinks throughout the day. The Pfister‘s address is 424 East Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53202.  Telephone: 800-558-8222.

Wyoming

In Jackson Hole, you and your love can ride an aerial tram 10,500 feet up to Rendezvous Peak and enjoy waffles at Corbet’s Cabin.

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Corbet’s Cabin at Rendezvous Peak near Jackson Hole.

Their waffles are famous, and include such gourmet flavor combinations as peanut butter and bacon or Nutella and strawberries. Although the interior of the restaurant lacks romantic ambiance, the tram ride and breathtaking mountain views offer great opportunities to snuggle close and be romantic.  Corbet’s Cabin is atop Rendezvous Peak, Teton County, WY.  Telephone: 307-739-2688.

So, there you have it: one romantic place in each state. I could have included so many others! However, I’d be remiss to end this post without saying that romance is, first and foremost, a state of mind. You don’t need a fancy hotel or a breathtaking view in order to create a romantic moment with your loved one. (But it does help!)  😉

National Park Service Free Admission Days for 2017

National Park Service Free Admission Days for 2017

US National Parks Free Admission Days 2017

Every year, there are specific days designated for national parks free admission. (However, it is worth noting that the admission charges are not exorbitant to begin with. Typically, national park admission runs $25-ish per car at most, and it’s good for seven days.) So, if you’re traveling near a national park in 2017, these are the days you can visit them for free:

  • January 16th: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 20th: Presidents’ Day
  • April 15th-16th & April 22nd-23rd: National Park Week weekends
  • August 25th: National Park Service birthday
  • September 30th: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11th-12th: Veterans Day weekend

Also, other properties in the National Park system observe the free admission days, including my personal favorite, Assateague Island National Seashore.  The National Park system totals 417 properties, at least one in every state and territory.

Because most of these days fall on a Monday or Friday, it’s the perfect opportunity for an extended weekend trip.  So what are you waiting for?  Be sure to check out a national park this year!

 

 

Travel Trivia

Travel Trivia

I often joke that I can remember a fact that I learned in fifth grade, yet I can’t remember why I walked into another room.  It’s not quite that bad, thankfully, but I do have a knack for holding on to useless knowledge.  So I thought I would share some of my favorite bits of travel trivia.  I hope you find them as interesting as I do!

  • One state in the US has more national parks than the other 4 – California is home to nine national parks. (Alaska is a close second with eight.)
  • The largest active volcano on earth is Mauna Loa, in Hawaii. Its last eruption was in 1984.
  • The Philippines has the only national flag flown differently depending on whether it is at war. The blue portion is on top in times of peace and the red portion is on top during war time.

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  • At 5772 miles long, the Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest railway in the world. It crosses 3901 bridges.
  • The Republic of Nauru, an island nation in Micronesia, has no capital.
  • South Africa, by contrast, has three capital cities:  one administrative/executive, one legislative, and one judicial.  Fourteen other countries have two capitals.
  • Three countries in the world are completely surrounded by only one other country:  Lesotho, San Marino, and Vatican City. Lesotho lies within the country of South Africa, whereas San Marino and Vatican City are within Italy.
  • In the list of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only one still stands today – the Great Pyramid of Giza.

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  • Many people have heard that the city of Venice Italy is slowly sinking. However, it may surprise them to learn that Mexico City is also sinking – at 10 cm per year, a rate that is ten times faster than that of Venice.
  • The world’s oldest subway is London’s Underground. At its opening in 1863, it measured four miles long. Today, it is approximately 250 miles long.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these bits of travel trivia! If you have a fun fact to share, please comment below.

A Century of National Parks

A Century of National Parks

Today, US National Parks celebrate the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service.  If you’ve read my posts for any amount of time, you know that I am a big fan of our country’s national parks and have visited many of them.

The Park Service has designed a video with interactive 360 degree technology to show you some of the lesser known locations in five of our national parks, and it is outstanding.  To view “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks,” click here.  You will see:

Trivia: The Statue of Liberty, NY

Trivia: The Statue of Liberty, NY

The Statue of Liberty has graced New York Harbor since 1886.  Most people know that it was a gift to the United States from the people of France.  Some (those who have seen National Treasure: Book of Secrets, for instance) know that there is a smaller version of the same statue in France.  Some may know that the date July 4, 1776 is inscribed on the tablet she holds.  But here are some things that most people might not know at all:

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  1. The statue’s full name is Liberty Enlightening the World.
  2. The female figure is Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.
  3. To climb up into the crown on her head, you must ascend 354 stairs.
  4. Once there, you can look out at the harbor through 25 windows.
  5. Approximately 4 million people visit the statue each year.
  6. Gustave Eiffel, the man who designed the Eiffel Tower, also designed Liberty’s ‘spine’ – four iron columns supporting a metal framework.
  7. Three hundred different types of hammers were used to create the sculpture.  Not 300 hammers, mind you, but 300 types of hammers.
  8. Although you cannot see Lady Liberty’s feet clearly, she is in fact standing among a broken shackle and chains, with her right foot raised.  This is to depict forward movement away from oppression and slavery.
  9. The statue has been destroyed on the big screen in at least three movies – The Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, and The Day After Tomorrow.
  10. Since 1984, the statue has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  11. In high winds (50 mph), the statue can sway up to three inches.  Her upraised arm can sway up to five inches.
  12. Several people have attempted suicide by jumping off the statue.  Two were successful.
  13. In 1944 the lights in the crown flashed “dot-dot-dot-dash” which in the Morse code means V, for Victory in Europe.
  14. In 1982, it was discovered that the head had been installed two feet off center.
  15. From the time it was installed until 1902, the statue also served as a lighthouse, with visibility up to 24 miles away.

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is located on Liberty Island near New York City. Telephone 212-363-3200.  Liberty Island is open every day from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM, except December 25 (closed). Hours change seasonally.  To assist you in planning your visit, there is a free app for the Statue of Liberty & the nearby Ellis Island Museum of Immigration.

Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah

Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Shenandoah National Park, there is a mountain known as Old Rag. It is a popular place for hiking and rock climbing because it is not like most of the mountains in that part of the country. Old Rag has an exposed (rocky) summit and large granite exposures similar to those found in Sierra Nevada, Yosemite, North Carolina and New Hampshire.

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For bouldering, it is rather undeveloped, but there are bouldering challenges along the trail.

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For hiking, there are two routes. The longer one is 9 mile circuit hike and the shorter one is a 5.4 mile mile out-and-back hike to the summit.

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At the summit, you are treated to amazing views of the valley below.

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Old Rag is a great destination for folks who love to explore nature. It has aspects that will appeal to all hikers, regardless of experience level. Highly recommended for adults and families with teens.

Old Rag is located in the Shenandoah National Park, near Sperryville, VA. For full information on parking, fees, and safety precautions, please click on the preceding link.

 

The Gateway Arch, St. Louis MO

The Gateway Arch, St. Louis MO

The Gateway Arch is one of those iconic “must see” things. If you go to St. Louis, you must see the Gateway Arch. So when Hubs and I were in St. Louis, it was our number one stop. Thankfully, unlike the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, this was actually worth seeing.

The Gateway Arch is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in the US National Park System. And in case you’re wondering, the name refers to the westward expansion of our nation, which began in St. Louis. In fact, there is a Museum of Westward Expansion located in the underground facility beneath the Arch.

When Hubs and I visited the Arch, we purchased the “Journey to the Top” admission tickets, which not only allowed us to ride up to the top of the Arch, it also provided us with admission to a documentary film called Monument to the Dream.

Normally, I would frown upon the idea of watching a documentary about something when I am about to see it in person. However, I learned that the film was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary short when it was debuted  1967, and I could certainly see why. It gives the story of the Arch from its initial design to completion, and all of the challenges met along the way. I found the documentary to be extremely interesting and I was really glad that we saw it. It certainly made me appreciate my visit to the top a lot more than if I had gone without knowing the background.

As for the ride to the top, you enter one of these little tram-pods:

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They are tiny and they hold up to five people.  I don’t recommend it for people with severe claustrophobia. Thankfully, the ride does not take a long time. When you get up to the top of the Arch, you can look out the windows for an amazing birds-eye view.

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Off to the right in the above photo is Busch Stadium, home of the St Louis cardinals. Here’s a better view:

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The tower in the foreground of the stadium picture is the Millennium Hotel, which unfortunately, closed in 2014. The top level of the tower was a restaurant that revolved and offered great views of the Arch and other city landmarks.

I really enjoyed our visit to the Gateway Arch.  Here are some of the interesting things that I learned:

  • The Arch is as tall as it is wide – 630 feet.
  • It is composed of 142 steel sections.
  • The Arch weighs over 43,000 pounds.
  • There are 16 windows on each side of the observation deck, and they measure 7 inches high by 27 inches wide.
  • The official name for the shape of the Arch is a catenary curve.
  • It is the tallest monument in the United States.
  • You are permitted to stay at the top as long as you would like (but there are no restrooms or other facilities there – just windows).
  • The viewing area at the top can hold up to 160 people.

I highly recommend visiting the gateway Arch if you find yourself in St Louis – it was an excellent experience for us!

Gateway Arch 1

The Gateway Arch is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and is located at 100 Washington Ave, St. Louis, MO 63102. Telephone 877-982-1410.  It is open daily, but hours vary by season. Check the web site or call when planning your visit. 

Who is Buried in Grant’s Tomb?

Who is Buried in Grant’s Tomb?

The answer, of course, is no one. The body of former US President and Civil War general Ulysses S Grant and that of his wife, Julia, are both interred at Grant’s Tomb (more properly called the General Grant National Memorial), but neither was buried.

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I know. It’s a technicality.

Anyway, when Hubs and I took a trip to New York City, we did so with very limited spending money. We determined we would see as many free attractions as possible. And due to the age-old riddle above, Grant’s Tomb made our short list of places to visit.

I was surprised to see how big it was:

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I had no idea US Grant was such a big deal. The fact that it’s called the General Grant Memorial and not the President Grant Memorial gives some insight into why the citizens of this country thought highly enough of him to create a memorial in his honor. He served as a Union general in the Civil War and definitively made his mark on US history as he led the Union army to victory over the Confederate states. At the time, it was said that his initials (US) stood for Unconditional Surrender.

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Interestingly, as you can see from the photo above, he cared deeply about peace. In fact, he said:

Although a soldier by profession, I have never felt any sort of fondness for war, and I have never advocated it, except as a means of peace.

The tomb was finished a mere twelve years after his death. It is the largest mausoleum in North America.

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I can think of few historical figures who are remembered for equal measures of good and bad as Grant is. The consensus seems to be that he was a brilliant general but a poor President.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Grant implemented Congressional Reconstruction, often at odds with Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson. Twice elected president, Grant led the Republicans in their effort to remove the vestiges of Confederate nationalism and slavery, protect African-American citizenship, and support economic prosperity nationwide. On the other hand, his presidency has often come under criticism for protecting corrupt associates and, in his second term, leading the nation into a severe economic depression.

The Visitors Center at the General Grant Memorial is full of information about Ulysses Grant – his military career, presidency, and his death. I recommend spending some time there if you would like to learn more about this enigmatic man.

The General Grant Memorial is located at 122nd Street and Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10027. Telephone 212-666-1640. The mausoleum and visitor center is open Wednesday through Sunday, with varying hours. See website for full details as it’s a bit confusing.