Tag: Desert

Top Ten Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon

Top Ten Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon

America has some amazing natural wonders and the National Park system does a great job of preserving them for us to enjoy. Here are ten essential tips for visiting the Grand Canyon National Park.


1. Plan ahead for lodging

Do plan way in advance and stay at one of the park lodges.  (They fill up early, so it’s essential to get reservations as far out in advance as possible.) The only other hotels nearby are going to be ridiculously expensive and lacking in amenities (a 2-star hotel for a 4-star price). The park lodges are less expensive, provide shuttle service around the park, and have a wide variety of restaurants either on site or nearby.

2. Allow (just) enough time

Don’t plan to be there more than a day or so.  You can see all of the majesty and nature that the Grand Canyon has to offer in one day.  You just don’t need more time than that, unless you’re planning to do some serious hiking or exploration.

3. Save money on meals

Don’t eat outside of the park.  The restaurants in the hotel area just south of the park are mediocre at best and ridiculously expensive.  If you must eat at a restaurant outside the park, I recommend Wendy’s or McDonalds (which will still be more expensive than they are elsewhere in the US).

4. Water is your friend

Do stay hydrated.  The Arizona air can leech every bit of moisture out of you, even if you aren’t sweating away in the sun.  Keep a refillable bottle of water with you and/or stop to buy beverages often.

5. Limit photo-taking…

I cannot stress this one enough: Don’t go overboard with picture-taking.  I have approximately 450 photos from the Grand Canyon.  Most of them fail to capture the vastness and beauty of it.  Many are barely distinguishable from the others.

… except, perhaps, at sunset

tips for visiting the Grand Canyon - take photos at sunset

Do take pictures at sunset.  The lighting is better and the colors more vibrant.  You can even book a relatively inexpensive “Sunset Tour” that will take you to various lookout points by bus at the right time for awesome photos. 

6. Catch the bus

Do utilize the park’s shuttle service.  It is fast, free, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get an entertaining driver who will share some tips about seeing the park.

7. Broaden your horizons

Do take time to look at more than just the canyon/rocks.  There are California condors, ravens, and mule deer throughout the park. There is also a Tusayan Museum and Ruin that sheds light on the Native Americans who once called that area home. And do check out the Desert View Watchtower.  It’s an amazing, beautiful building.

grand canyon national park desert view watchtower

8. Keep the kids busy

If you have school age children, do have them complete the Junior Ranger program.  It’s free, and it will keep them from getting bored by having them attend a ranger-led program, write their observations, draw pictures, and create poems. You can pick up the Junior Ranger activity booklet at the visitor’s center, and return it there when they have completed the activities.

9. Hike wisely

If you’re hiking down into the canyon, don’t do it on a whim and don’t underestimate the distance or time you will travel.  We saw a chilling poster in one of the visitor centers about an athletic young woman, age 24, who had run in the Boston Marathon, but died on a hike into the canyon.  Why?  She under-calculated the length of her hike, and didn’t carry enough water with her.

10. Get the back story

If you venture into to the money-sucking town south of the canyon, do see the IMAX movie about the canyon and its explorers.  You’ll be impressed with the one-armed Civil War veteran Major John Wesley Powell, who was responsible for mapping most of the canyon. His story is remarkable!


I hope that you will find these tips helpful in planning your Grand Canyon visit. Let me know what works for you and what doesn’t in the comments below!

Top ten tips for visiting the Grand Canyon - Pinterest graphic
Bucket List: Canary Islands

Bucket List: Canary Islands

Imagine a place with an average temperature of about 72 degrees, with no extreme cold or heat.  Nearly every day there is sunny – 27 days each month of nothing but sunshine!  The terrain is so varied that it includes volcanoes, ancient forests, dramatic cliffs, and waterfalls. The skies are so brightly lit with stars that they are considered the clearest and brightest in Europe.

Do you want to go yet?  I know I do.  The place described above is the Canary Islands, and I am ready to go!  This archipelago of islands is an autonomous community of Spain. Even though I will refer to it as being Spanish, you should be aware that it is actually located off the western coast of Africa.

canary islands.png

The islands are:

El Hierro

The westernmost island and also the smallest. It is about 104 square miles and has only 10, 000 inhabitants.  It is a marine reserve with 46 dive sites, so if SCUBA is your thing, this is the place to be.

El Hierro Diving.jpg


This is the island for beach lovers.  White sand, turquoise waters, and (of course) plenty of sunshine make this the island to be on for swimmers, surfers, and sun-bathers.

Fuerteventura Beaches.jpg

Corralejo is one of the most stunning of the beaches on the island, and also one of the most touristy.  A more secluded beach experience will be found on the sand of Cofete.  Gentle waves are the norm on Playa Esmeralda. La Escalera beach, formally called  El Aljibe de la Cueva, is a hidden beach just south of El Cotillo, a fishing village that has become more resort-heavy over time.

Gran Canaria

This large island has a population of close to 850,000 inhabitants. One of the most unique places on this island is the Maspalomas Dunes (which would look like the Sahara Desert if it weren’t for the water in the distance).

Canary Islands Maspalomas Dunes.jpg

Pico de las Nieves (the highest peak on the island), and if you make the trek to the top, you will be rewarded with some stunning views:

Pico de las Nieves.jpg

Pico de las Nieves means ‘peak of the snows’ in Spanish.  Several covered pits for holding snow were built directly into the mountainsides here. The first of the pits was constructed in 1694 by order of the Church. Laborers collected snow and placed it into the pits, packed in rectangular boxes of wood or cork separated by layers of straw. The snow was used for alleviating disease, to lower the temperature in the epidemics of yellow fever and cholera, as well as anti-inflammatory and analgesic. It was also used to cool water or other beverages that were offered to the authorities or upper class individuals.

La Gomera

This island is home to 22,000 people and also Garajonay National Park, a lush, subtropical forest. This is a place where the clouds hang low over the ground, providing an atmosphere of constant humidity, which encourages growth of this lush and leafy forest.

La Gomera - Garajonay


This is the easternmost island in the archipelago. One of the main attractions on this island is Mirador del Rio, which is a scenic overlook which allows visitors to gaze out upon the turquoise waters and other islands in the distance.

Canary Islands Mirador del Rio Lanzarote

Also on this island is the Timanfaya National Park, where the main attraction is the volcano. The surface temperature in the core ranges from 100 to 600 °C at the depth of 43 feet.  Park employees impress tourists by pouring water into the ground, resulting in a near-immediate geyser of steam.  LagOmar, a museum/bar/restaurant described as New Mexico-meets-Morocco is another popular attraction on Lanzarote.  Great fun for art and architecture enthusiasts.

Canary Islands LagoMar.jpg

La Palma

The island of La Palma is a fantastic place for star gazing and astronomy.  The clear and protected night skies of La Palma are among the world’s best for looking at the stars. Take advantage with a guided night tour or a star gazing session at a viewpoint. To get as close as you can to the cosmos, head to the Roque de los Muchachos observatories at nearly 8000 feet above sea level.

La Palma Stargazing


This island has an area of 785 square miles and a population of over 900,000.  On this island is the Teide volcano, which at nearly 12,200 feet is the highest mountain, not just in the Canary Islands, but in all of Spain. The volcano and its surroundings make up Teide National Park, which is the most visited national park in Europe.

The park is home to 14 species of plants found nowhere else, including this striking plant:

tenerife summit rose bush

Geologically, it is also pretty unique.  Visitors can see eighty percent of the different types of volcanic formations here.  (My favorite is the pahoehoe, which looks like it’s still molten and flowing even when it isn’t.)

Tenerife Pahoehoe

And while on Tenerife, be sure to visit the amazing Auditorio, which I think is every bit as stunning as the Sydney Opera House, inside and out.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Iles Canaries, Espagne

Tenerife Auditorio Interior

Think mummies are just Egyptian?  Think again.  At the Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (which translated means Museum of Nature and Man), you will see mummies and so much more.  This museum will give you a great picture of what the islands were like before Spanish colonization took place.  Another museum, Casa de los Balcones (House of the Balconies), will give you some insight into the local craftsmanship in embroidery.

Tenerife is probably more well known as a destination than some of the other islands.  As a result, it is also more built up with tourist hotels and restaurants.  If you’re looking for more of a wine & dine, nightlife kind of getaway, this would be the place to stay.

The next time you’re planning a dream vacation, why not consider the Canary Islands as your destination.  With such a variety of things to see and do, and near-perfect weather, it’s an ideal location!


Out of Africa Wildlife Park – Camp Verde, AZ

Out of Africa Wildlife Park – Camp Verde, AZ

I love to go to zoos and other places where visitors can get an up close look at animals they might not otherwise see. When we were looking for things to do in Arizona, I happened upon the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde and almost immediately added it to our list of must-see places. After all, they had tigers, which are my very favorite.

Our first stop upon entering was a short safari ride. We were given carrot sticks to feed to the giraffes as we boarded a converted school bus. Giraffes were the first stop, and they were waiting for us!  As soon as the bus stopped they came over, eager for their treats. Everyone stuck their carrot stick out the window, and we watched, fascinated, as their extremely long prehensile tongues came out, wrapped around the carrot stick, and carried it back to their mouth.  Chomp, chomp, chomp, repeat.

I have no idea what this woman was thinking, but I was almost too horrified to take the picture:

And that’s just the TIP of its tongue!

The big draw at the park was the Tiger Splash Show, where you can see Bengal and Siberian tigers interact in a predator-and-play relationship, romping and splashing in a large pool as they play with their caretakers and various colorful toys. It’s a lot like playing with your average house cat – dangle a toy in front of them, shake it a little bit, and watch them pounce. The big difference here is that there is a pool of water, which the tabby wouldn’t dream of entering, and the cat in this case could kill you.

It was such a unique experience, watching the handlers play with this massive tiger.  And make no mistake, he is a fearsome creature:


I don’t have any action shots of the Tiger Splash show because I was just too fascinated to try and watch it through my camera view finder. It was at turns funny (when  you realize that your pet acts exactly the same way), scary (oh my gosh be careful!), and awe-inspiring (there is a tremendous amount of power in the tiger’s body).

After the show, you could pay a small fee to feed a tiger a hunk of meat (on a stick, through a fence, at a respectable distance).


We saw all sorts of animals at Out of Africa. There was a white tiger, lions, zebras, rhinos. and more. I highly recommend this as a family outing.

BARGAIN ALERT:  Visit during your birthday month and your admission will be free, according to their website’s FAQs.

Out of Africa Wildlife Park is located at 3505 W. SR-260, Camp Verde, AZ 86322   Telephone 928-567-2840.  The park is open 9:30 am – 5:00 pm, 363 days per year (closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas). Onsite parking is included with your admission.  

Tortilla Flat, AZ – Population: 6

Tortilla Flat, AZ – Population: 6

Once upon a time, there was an Apache Trail stagecoach stop at Tortilla Flat, Arizona. Located in the Tonto National Forest, the town is now just a remnant of what the old west was like.

The welcome sign at Tortilla Flat, AZ

Originally a camping ground for the prospectors who searched for gold in the Superstition Mountains in the mid-to-late 19th century, Tortilla Flat was later a freight camp for the construction of Theodore Roosevelt Dam.  Nowadays, the population of Tortilla Flat isn’t even enough to form a baseball team.  There are only six residents in the town.

As you might imagine with a town that small, there isn’t a whole lot to do and see. There is the Superstition Saloon and Restaurant, whose bar stools are made from real saddles, and the ladies room stalls are comical.

stall door

The unique “wallpaper” is made from real dollar bills from visitors all around the world.  It’s interesting to see how some people decorated their dollar bill and what was written on all of them.

dollars 2

dollars 1

Tortilla Flat is a nice diversion in between other activities.  Stop by and check it out!

To get to Tortilla Flat from the Phoenix area:

  • Take US 60 East (Superstition Freeway), to Apache Junction
  • Take the Idaho exit and go north to State Route 88.
  • Take a right on SR 88 and travel 18 miles northeast to Tortilla Flat.  The town is located 2 miles past Canyon Lake

Telephone 480-984-1776.


Up, up and away… in Sedona AZ

Up, up and away… in Sedona AZ

When we travel, I am all about experiences. Not just seeing things (which I also love), but doing things. Preferably things that we would not even think about doing at home.

So, while in Arizona, of course we went for a hot air balloon ride!  As with the London Eye, I was a little nervous because I do have a fear of heights, and this would be wide open. But I’m happy to say that it was slow and steady, and didn’t make me nervous at all once our flight was underway.

in flight 1

We flew with Northern Lights Balloon Expeditions in Sedona, AZ. Our pilot was very friendly and knowledgeable and has been flying hot air balloons for a long time. (This went a long way toward calming my nerves, too.) There were five balloons going up together that morning, and each balloon held about six people.

We were picked up at our hotel very early (it was still dark) and rode to the launch place. Then there was a good deal of waiting as the balloons were unfolded, hooked up, and inflated. Then we climbed into the basket and took off.

Flight is controlled by a propane tank that is also in the basket. If we wanted the balloon to go higher, the pilot would fire up the burner. To go lower, he would turn it off.

Once we were up and the landscape became miniaturized, he told us about the area – local animals (some of which we saw while in flight), notable buildings, and the history of the area. While I am not a big fan of the landscape in Arizona, the view was pretty amazing.

view from above 10

After we had been up in the air a while and seen many sights, our pilot began looking for a place to land. He communicated our position to his on-the-ground partner, who began the drive to meet us. We started to descend, slowly. Here’s a shot of another balloon in our party making its landing.

view from above 2

Once we had all landed, we enjoyed a traditional champagne toast. Legend has it that early French balloonists carried champagne to appease angry or frightened spectators at the landing site. The toast goes like this:

The winds have welcomed you with softness

The sun has blessed you with its warm hands

You have flown so high and so well

That God has joined you in your laughter

and set you gently back into the loving arms of mother earth.

Northern Lights Balloon Expeditions operates out of Sedona, Arizona.  Reservations are recommended.  Telephone 1-800 230-6222.

Meteor Crater, AZ

Meteor Crater, AZ

After spending three days of looking at the biggest hole in the ground I’ve ever seen (aka the Grand Canyon), we went to go look at a different hole in the ground. The big difference was that this one was made by a meteor. And it’s said to be the best preserved meteorite crater on Earth.

It is about 3,900 feet in diameter, some 570 feet deep, and is surrounded by a rim that rises 148 feet above the surrounding plains. Scientists believe that the crater was created about 50,000 years ago.


The object that created the crater was a nickel-iron meteorite about 150 feet across. The speed of the impact is believed to have been 8-12 miles per second (28,800 – 43,200 miles per hour). The meteorite was mostly vaporized upon impact, leaving little remains in the crater. Some pieces have been found, however, including this one that was on display at the visitor center.


The Visitor Center at the crater has some interesting interactive exhibits that kids will especially enjoy, including one that allows you to make your own crater by varying different aspects of the meteor and the area where it lands. Naturally, it became a family competition to see who could make the biggest virtual crater.

The Meteor Crater is located 18 miles west of Winslow AZ, about 5 miles from I-40’s exit 233. The visitor’s center is open daily, with hours that vary by season.  Check their web site for hours and admission prices.

The Painted Desert

The Painted Desert

When we finally got out of the Grand Canyon, we headed over to see the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert.  There’s more red rock in Arizona than you can shake a stick at, but the Painted Desert has a surprising range of colors, even including a lavender-mauve.

painted desert 3

The place got its name from the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado on his 1540 quest to find the Seven Cities of Cibola. Struck by the variety of colors in the area as they passed through, they named the area “El Desierto Pintado” – The Painted Desert.

I’ll try to keep the geology lesson short.  The rocks are made of layers of siltstone, mudstone, and shale, and they contain iron and manganese compounds which provide the various colors.

painted desert 9

Much of the Painted Desert is located within the Petrified Forest National Park, where motorized travel is limited. But there are large areas visible from the roadways (these shots were all taken from the road).  The park also offers hiking routes into the colored hills. Do not stray too far, however, as the Painted Desert continues north into the Navajo Nation, where off-road travel is by permit only.

painted desert 6

The Painted Desert is located in the Four Corners area running from near the east end of the Grand Canyon National Park southeast into the Petrified Forest National Park. It is most easily accessed in the north portion of The Petrified Forest National Park.  The park is located at 1 Park Road, Petrified Forest, AZ 86028.  Telephone 928-524-6228.  Hours vary by season; check website for details.

Taliesin West: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winter Home

Taliesin West: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winter Home

While in Arizona, we decided to check out the Frank Lloyd Wright estate called Taliesin West. I’m not an architecture junkie, but I was impressed with how the building and gardens were so well-suited to the natural landscape around them.


Of course, that was no accident. Frank Lloyd Wright once said:

“Arizona needs its own architecture… Arizona’s long, low, sweeping lines, uptilting planes. Surface patterned after such abstraction in line and color as find ‘realism’ in the patterns of the rattlesnake, the Gila monster, the chameleon, and the saguaro, or staghorn – or is it the other way around—are inspiration enough.”

The walls were made of local desert rocks, because Wright favored using the materials readily available rather than those that must be shipped in.


Every part of Taliesin West bears Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal touch, because he not only lived there for part of the year, he also worked and taught there. He constantly changed and improved on his design. All of the furniture and decorations were designed by Wright and the majority were built by his apprentices.


Taliesin West is located at 12345 N. Taliesin Drive, Scottsdale AZ, 85258.  Telephone 480-627-5340.  Hours vary by season, so check the web site or call when planning your visit.