Tag: The Great Outdoors

Where the Heck is Guam, Anyway?

Where the Heck is Guam, Anyway?









In the News

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about Guam. North Korea has been eyeing the small island in the western Pacific for target practice. I have no desire to talk about politics or Kim Jong-un. However, this is a great opportunity to learn about a place that is relatively unknown.

guam tourism flag

Who (Lives There)?

There are almost 163,000 people who reside on Guam; they are called Guamanians. Because Guam is a US territory, anyone born on the island is an American citizen.

The indigenous people, who settled there roughly 4000 years ago, are called Chamorro. The ancient Chamorro society had four classes: chamorri (chiefs), matua (upper class), achaot (middle class), and mana’chang (lower class). The upper class were located in the coastal villages, which meant they had the best access to fishing grounds, whereas the lower class were located in the interior of the island. These two groups rarely communicated with each other, and often used the middle class as intermediaries.

guam tourism indigenous people natives chamorro
Chamorro performers (source)

To greet someone in Guam, say “Håfa Adai,” which sounds very similar to “half a day.” This greeting is widely used on the island, even by those who do not speak Chamorro.

The population of Guam includes a large segment of US military members, as there are several bases. The US military bases on Guam cover nearly 30% of its total land! But as you will see in the “When?” section below, the island was of great military importance during and after World War II.

What (is it Like)?

Guam is the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands and the largest island in Micronesia. It is considered part of the continent of Oceania. The surface of the island is approximately 210 square miles, and most of it is surrounded by a reef.

The weather there does not fluctuate much.  The average high is 86 and the average low is 76. The highest temperature ever recorded on Guam was 96 degrees, and the lowest ever recorded was 65. The rainy season runs from July to November. August-October are the most likely months for a typhoon.

When (Did Guam Make History)?

Famed explorer Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to visit the island on March 6, 1521. He was sailing for the King of Spain, so his “discovery” of Guam led to Spanish colonization in the years that followed.

Centuries later, during the Spanish–American War, the United States captured Guam on June 21, 1898. Under the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898), Spain ceded Guam to the United States. It has been a US territory ever since then.

On December 7, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese captured the isand of Guam. During their two and a half year occupation, Guamanians were subjected to beheadings, forced labor, rape, and torture. American forces recaptured the island on July 21, 1944; Liberation Day is celebrated every July 21 to commemorate the victory.

Where (Should You Visit)?

Two Lovers Point

Once, long ago, during a time when Spain claimed the Mariana Islands, there was a family who lived in the capital city. The father was a wealthy Spanish businessman and the mother, a daughter of a great Chamorro chief.

Their oldest daughter was a beautiful young woman, admired by all for her honesty, modesty, and natural charm. One day, against her will, the girl’s father arranged for her to take a powerful Spanish captain as her husband. But the girl met and fell in love with a common Chamorro man, and they promised each other their love.

When the girl’s father learned of the couple, he grew angry and demanded that she marry the Spanish captain at once – but she found her lover and escaped. Her father, the captain and all the Spanish soldiers pursued the lovers up to the high cliff above Tumon Bay. The lovers found themselves trapped between the edge of the cliff and the approaching soldiers.

The daughter and her lover tied their long black hair together and kissed for the last time before leaping to their deaths. No one saw or heard from them again.

guam tourism - two lovers point - scenic overlook

Today the place where they jumped is known as Puntan dos Amåntes or Two Lover’s Point. Visit there to learn about the two lovers, and enjoy one of the most breathtaking views of Guam’s coastline.

Asan Bay Overlook

Aside from stunning views of the water, there is also a memorial wall. Often monuments and memorials contain the names of the leaders of nations or high ranking military officials and rightfully so. This memorial wall of honor, sacrifice, and remembrance, however, includes the etched names of ordinary men who fought with extraordinary bravery on the front lines and the names of the civilians; the men, women and children, who as neighbors, friends, and families, suffered the consequences of nations at war, many paying the ultimate sacrifice.

guam tourism asan bay overlook

The Asan Bay Overlook Memorial Wall contains the names of 1,880 U.S. servicemen who died in the 1941 defense of Guam against the attacking Japanese armed forces and those who died retaking the island from Japan in 1944. It also lists the names of the 1,170 people of Guam who died and 14,721 who suffered atrocities of war from 1941-1944.

Latte Stone Park

A latte is a stone that the Chamorro used as foundations for their homes. It consists of a pillar with a half-sphere cap (flat side facing up).

guam tourism latte stone park

Latte stones were first used around 800 AD, but fell out of use in the 17th century due to Spanish colonization. They vary in size from 18 inches to 15 feet. Some historians theorize that the taller the latte stones, the more important the person who lived in the house it supported.

Gadao’s Cave

To see excellent examples of ancient Chamorro art, head to Inarajan and Gadao’s Cave. Inside, there is a group of about 50 pictographs. The drawings range in size from one inch in height to almost eight inches. The designs vary from geometric shapes to representational figures depicting human-like or animal-like forms.  The most well known drawings in Gadao’s Cave are located on the east wall.  There, you can clearly see two human figures side by side, one of which appears to be holding something under his arm.

guam tourism gadaos cave art

Some have suggested that these figures represent the legendary Chief Gadao who challenged and outsmarted the northern chief Malaguana in a test of strength.

Namo Falls Park

Not only does Namo Falls Park in Santa Rita have some breathtaking waterfalls, it also has a stunning variety of plants in the botanical garden there.

guam tourism name falls waterfalls park

A guided tour takes visitors through the botanical garden, which is a showcase for various species of ginger and heliconius. The bright flowers bloom in an assortment of colors. Hibiscus, bougainvillea, orchids, bamboo and coconut trees among other various plants saturate the surroundings.

The park features two waterfalls. The Grandmother Falls can be viewed from this footpath. To reach the larger terraced Grandfather Falls, walk down a set of stairs.

After taking in the beautiful park grounds and flora, visitors can watch a cultural demonstration. Activities include basket weaving and rope making. The show concludes with making and sampling coconut candy.

Inajaran Natural Pools

A coral reef in this area of Guam prevents large, powerful ocean waves from reaching the shore.  The reef turns those big waves into mere ripples in a series of natural saltwater pools.

guam tourism inajaran - natural pools - great for snorkeling
See the difference between the waves in the background and the still pond in the foreground?

The stillness of the water makes it a great spot for snorkeling.  However, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all shallow.  Some of the pools are still deep enough to dive into, and a concrete tower provides you with the means to do just that.

Why (Go There)?

Why consider Guam as a travel destination? Well, in addition to all the cool places I’ve already described above, there are a couple of great reasons:

  • You don’t need a passport to go there
  • You can call home without having to pay international phone rates
  • The weather will be neither too hot nor too cold
  • It has the world’s largest K Mart (not really a draw, but a fascinating piece of trivia)
  • It’s the perfect place to scuba dive or snorkel (or learn to snorkel)

How (Do I Get There)?

There is an international airport on Guam, and it serves as a hub for United Airlines. Or, if you would prefer to travel by sea, the Princess Cruise line does have ships that go to Guam. (But fair warning – they last for 32 or 60 nights!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Guam as much as I have! Would you like to go there some day?

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

For my post on the first ten new UNESCO World Heritage sites, click here.

11. Taputapuātea, center of the “Polynesian Triangle”, French Polynesia

The Marae, or burial site of Taputapuatea in French Polynesia - one of the new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The marae of Taputapuātea.

Taputapuātea on Ra’iatea Island is part of the Polynesian Triangle – the last part of the globe to be settled by humans. The property includes two forested valleys, a portion of lagoon and coral reef and a strip of open ocean. At the heart of the property is the Taputapuātea marae complex – a political, ceremonial and funerary center. The site has a paved courtyard with a large standing stone at its center. Widespread in Polynesia, the marae were places of learning where priests and navigators from all over the Pacific would gather to offer sacrifices to the gods and share their knowledge of the genealogical origins of the universe, and of deep-ocean navigation. Taputapuātea is an exceptional testimony to 1,000 years of mā’ohi civilization.

12. Tarnowskie Góry, lead-silver-zinc mine, Poland

The mines of Tarnowskie Góry and the underground water system there - are one of the new UNESCO World a Heritage sites.
Today, you can tour the mines of Tarnowskie Góry.

Southern Poland contains one of the main mining areas of central Europe.  The site at
Tarnowskie Góry includes the entire underground mine with adits, shafts, galleries and even a water management system. According to UNESCO, Tarnowskie Góry represents a significant contribution to the global production of lead and zinc.

According to legend, in 1490 a local peasant-farmer named Rybka found a strange, heavy, metallic stone while plowing the field near village of Tarnowice. He presented his find to a local priest; within three decades the town became the largest silver mining center in the area. Its population rivaled in size some of the major cities of the Renaissance world. Prospectors were coming from all corners of the continent, some as far as Spain. They were spurred on by the massive amount and quality of ore, so high that on many occasions it was said to be practically pure, metallic silver. Silver, lead and zinc were bountiful in these grounds and the evidence of an early metal production dates back to at least 3rd century AD. Sadly, in the beginning of the 20th century, the source of the silver ore dried out and the mining stopped completely.

13. Sambor Prei Kuk temple zone, Cambodia

The temples of Sambor Prei Kurt, Cambodia are one of the 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A temple in Sambor Prei Kuk

Sambor Prei Kuk is a Khmer name meaning “the temple in the richness of the forest.” The archaeological site has been identified as Ishanapura, capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished there in the late 6th/early 7th centuries. The vestiges of the city cover an area of over 15 square miles and include a walled city center as well as numerous temples. Ten of the temples are octagonal, unique specimens of their kind in southeast Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site include lintels, pediments and colonnades – they are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period.

 

14. English Lake District, United Kingdom

The Lake District in England is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Located in northwest England, the English Lake District is a mountainous area whose valleys have been modeled by glaciers in the Ice Age. From the 18th century onwards, the Picturesque and Romantic movements celebrated this area in paintings, drawings and words. It also inspired an awareness of the importance of beautiful landscapes and triggered early efforts to preserve them. Interestingly, only one of the lakes in the Lake District is called by that name, Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others – such as Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater and Buttermere – are meres, tarns and waters.

15. Valongo Wharf, archeological site, Brazil

The Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janeiro is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.
The Valongo Wharf, now surrounded by the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site encompasses the entirety of Jornal do Comércio Square in the center of Rio. It was the landing site and center of trading of African slaves from 1811 until the banning of the transatlantic slave trade in 1831. An estimated 900,000 Africans arrived in South America via Valongo.

16. Venetian Works of Defense, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro

The Venetian defense work of the 15th-17th centuries are one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Aerial view of the Venetian defense system in Palmanova, Italy.

This property consists of 15 components of defense works in Italy, Croatia and Montenegro, spanning more than 600 miles between the Lombard region of Italy and the eastern Adriatic Coast. The fortifications throughout Venice and its mainland territories protected the Republic of Venice from other European powers to the northwest. Those of Venice’s overseas territories protected the sea routes and ports in the Adriatic Sea to the Levant. They were necessary to support the expansion and authority of Venice. The introduction of gunpowder led to significant shifts in military techniques and architecture. These changes are reflected in the design of alla moderna bastioned fortifications, which spread throughout Europe.

17. ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape, South Africa

The Khomari Cultural Landscape of Botswana and South Africa is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage site.
Bushmen in the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is located at the border between Botswana and Namibia. The area contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present. They developed specific knowledge, cultural practices and worldview related to the geographical features of their environment. The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region over thousands of years. In fact, a set of tools almost identical to that used by the present-day inhabitants of the area was discovered at Border Cave in 2012. Those tools dated to 44,000 BC!

18. Landscapes of Dauria, Mongolia, Russia

Dauria Landscape, an area in Russia and Mongolia, is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A Daurian hedgehog.

Shared between Mongolia and the Russian Federation, Dauria is a sea of grass that forms the best and most intact example of an undisturbed steppe ecosystem. Because of the climate’s distinct wet and dry periods, Dauria contains a wide diversity of species. The steppes serve as habitats for rare species of animals, such as the White-Naped crane and the Great bustard, as well as millions of vulnerable, endangered or threatened migratory birds. It is also a critical site on the migration path for the Mongolian gazelle.

The region has given its name to various animal species including Daurian hedgehog, and the following birds: Asian brown flycatcher (Muscicapa daurica), Daurian jackdaw, Daurian partridge, Daurian redstart, Daurian starling, Daurian shrike and the red-rumped swallow (Hirundo daurica).

19. Los Alerces National Park, Argentina

Los Alerces National Park in Argentina is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.

Los Alerces National Park is located in the Andes Mountains of northern Patagonia. The park is vital for the protection of some of the last portions of continuous Patagonian Forest. A number of endemic and threatened species of flora and fauna make the park their home. The park was created in 1937 in order to protect the alerce forest, and other plants of the Patagonian Andes. The National Park has the largest alerce forest of Argentina. The slow growing alerce is one of the longest-living trees in the world; some in the park are around 3,000 years old, with many of them over 1,000 years.

20. Qinghai Hoh Xil, China

Qinghai Hoh Xil in China is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Qinghai Hoh Xil is the largest and highest plateau in the world. This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500 m above sea level, where sub-zero average temperatures prevail all year round. Despite the harsh climate, Hoh Xil is home to more than 230 species of wild animals, 20 of which are under Chinese state protection.  Protected species include the wild yak, wild donkey, white-lip deer, brown bear and the endangered Tibetan antelope, or chiru. The abundant plateau pika, a small burrowing rodent, is the main food of the region’s brown bears; the bears also feed on the yak and antelope.

21. Historic city of Ahmedabad, India

The historic walled city of India is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage site.
Entrance to Bhadra Fort in Ahmedabad

The walled city of Ahmedabad, founded in 1411 by Sultan Ahmad Shah presents a rich architectural heritage from the sultanate period. This is nowhere more evident than in the Bhadra citadel, the walls and gates of the city, and numerous mosques and tombs. The city consists of densely-packed traditional houses in gated streets with features such as bird feeders, public wells and religious institutions. The city continued to flourish as the capital of the State of Gujarat for six centuries, up to the present.

Looking for Diamonds at an Arkansas State Park

Looking for Diamonds at an Arkansas State Park

How cool is this?

Not only is there a state park in Arkansas that lets the public go looking for diamonds, they also let visitors keep any diamonds they find!

looking for diamonds arkansas

Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro, Arkansas contains over 37 acres of plowed field in which diamonds are found daily. For an admission fee of $10 per adult, you can search through the soil, looking for diamonds to take home.

And yes, you can take them home, because the state park has a “finders, keepers” policy. Whatever you find is yours to keep.

The History

For years, locals wondered about the unusual green dirt two miles south of the small farming community of Murfreesboro, Arkansas. Geologists examined the soil in the late 1800s and found it to be similar to diamond-bearing volcanic material elsewhere in the world.

A local farmer named John Wesley Huddleston purchased land near Murfreesboro which included part of this volcanic material. In August 1906, he discovered the first diamonds on his property. Known as Arkansas’s “Diamond King,” Huddleston soon sold his land to a commercial mining company for $36,000. A diamond rush developed as soon as word of the finds got out. The Conway Hotel in Murfreesboro is said to have turned away more than 10,000 people in just one year who could not be accommodated.

The property changed hands many times after that, ultimately being sold to the state in 1972.  It was developed into the state park at that time.

What should I bring?

Where can diamonds be found within the park? Visitors have found plenty of gems both on top of and in the soil. Tools are not necessary for diamond seeking, and a good way to search is to walk up and down the rows looking for diamonds lying on top of the ground. However, most diamond hunters like to dig in the soil. Therefore, you have the options of bringing your own tools from home, or you may purchase or rent tools here at the park.

How can I tell if it’s really a diamond?

Diamonds found at the Crater are typically smooth and rounded. Their shape resembles a polished stone with smooth sides and rounded edges. The average size of a diamond is about the size of a paper match head, approximately 20-25 points weight. (Points are a measurement of diamond weight. There are 100 points in a carat.) Look for something small. A 1-carat diamond is about the size of a green pea, based on its crystal shape.

Diamonds may feel like they have an oily film on them, and because of this characteristic, they tend to not be very dirty. Diamonds also have a metallic luster like new steel or lead. They will not be clear like glass, but translucent. You can typically see into them but not through them.  The colors of diamonds found at the park are white, brown, and yellow.

looking for diamonds color variations
Diamonds found at the park range in color from white to dark brown.

The park offers free rock and mineral identification at the Diamond Discovery Center. Diamonds are weighed and certified free of charge for the finder.

Has anyone actually found a diamond here?

On average, two diamonds are found at the park every day. Most are small but an 8.66 carat white diamond was found at the park in 2011… not that long ago!  The biggest diamond found to date was 16.37 carats, found in 1975.

Looking for diamonds crater of diamonds state park arkansas
The 8.66 carat “Illusion Diamond” found at the park in 2011

From 1972 to 2016,over 32,000 diamonds have been found in the Crater of Diamonds State Park, and 963 of those have weighed more than one carat.

What else can I do there?

If looking for diamonds doesn’t yield any results, there are other things to do and see in the park. There is a wildlife observation blind that offers great opportunities for photographing wildlife.  In addition, visitors can go fishing for large mouthed bass and/or catfish.  And there are three hiking trails in the park to explore.

The Crater of Diamonds State Park is located at 209 State Park Rd, Murfreesboro, AR 71958. Telephone: 870-285-3113. The park is open daily throughout the year with the exceptions of Thanksgiving Day, last half of the day on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Hours vary by season.

Why You Should Go to Finland

Why You Should Go to Finland

Finland? Really?

Is Finland travel something you’ve never considered?  Well, perhaps it’s time you should.  Here’s why:

For starters, Finland will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its independence from Russia this year on December 6.  There will be a year-long celebration full of special events and exhibitions that you might not be able to experience at any other time.

Also, consider the romance! Nick Viall spent a couple of weeks showcasing how romantic Finland could be on The Bachelor. Wouldn’t you love to re-create one of those romantic fantasy dates with your sweetie?

And, if you’re a statistics person, you can also consider the following:

  • Clean air.  According to the World Health Organization, Finland has the third cleanest air in the world.
  • Safety. The World Economic Forum recently published its 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report and Finland was once again ranked as the safest country to visit worldwide.  It also achieved the highest ranking for environmental sustainability.
  • Lonely Planet chose Finland as one of its top three destinations for 2017.
  • Finland is the most heavily forested country in Europe; forests cover more than 70% of its land.

Finland = Funland

Okay, so you’re thinking maybe Finland travel could be cool after all. But what would you do there? The answer is plenty!  Here are a few of my suggestions.

Northern Lights

In the Finnish Lapland (the northern section of the country), the aurora borealis appear about 200 nights out of the year. The best months to see them are September through March.  If you are in the southern part of the country, your chances of seeing them go down drastically:  there the frequency drops to 10-20 times per year.

While on the hunt for the Northern Lights, you can stay at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel in Rovaniemi, which has suites that offer views over the treetops through the glass wall. Or, if glamping is more your thing, you can stay in an Aurora Dome – luxurious (heated!) tents with a transparent side.  A third option are the glass villas of Kemi which have 2 glass walls and a glass ceiling. What could be more romantic than lying in bed with your love, gazing up at Mother Nature’s light show?

finland travel aurora borealis northern lights muonio
A view of the Northern Lights through one of the Aurora Domes in Muonio Finland.

Saunas

I don’t think it’s even possible to overestimate how much the Finnish love saunas. In fact, many Finns think you cannot grasp Finland or its culture without bathing in a sauna. Getting invited to a sauna in Finland is an honor, it is not a sexual proposition.  The Finns view the sauna as a place for physical and mental cleansing, and many suggest one should behave in a sauna as they would in church. Likewise, do not expect a spa-like experience with relaxing music, colorful lights, and fragrances.  Real Finnish saunas are dimly lit, and there’s no music or smells except for fresh birch and natural tar.

Finns go to sauna in the nude, even with strangers. If you the thought of stripping completely makes you uncomfortable, Finns will understand if you want to wear a swimsuit or a towel. In groups, women and men go to sauna separately, but families go together. When in a mixed group that is about to go to sauna, it is perfectly fine to ask people and discuss who should go with whom.

In sauna, you may seem people smacking themselves with a bundle of leafy twigs. That is called a vasta or vihta, and it is made of fresh birch twigs.  The Finns swear that whipping yourself with the vasta is very good for your skin, leaving it soft and smooth.

finland travel finnish sauna
A typical Finnish sauna with vastas

Be sure to drink plenty while you partake in the sauna experience.  You’ll be sweating a lot, and it will be important to stay hydrated.

A New National Park

Finland will be opening a new national park in June of this year as part of its centennial observances. The new park will be in Hossa, an area along the Eastern border of Finland.

There are about 130 lakes and ponds in Hossa, most with clear water. It is a popular destination for hiking, with 55 miles of marked trails. In addition to hiking, the area supports fishing, hunting, camping, canoeing, and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in winter.  A favorite spot for canoeing is the Julma-Ölky canyon lake, which is not quite 2 miles long.

Another popular attraction is the Värikallio rock paintings. Discovered in 1977 by two skiers, it is one of the two northernmost sites of rock art in Finland, as well as one of the largest collections with over 60 figures discerned. The human images at Värikallio are notable for exhibiting triangular heads (seen at only two other sites), and for a human figure with horns. As at other sites, the most numerous images are of animals, including one that may be the only bear depicted in Finnish rock art. Hand print and paw print pictographs are also represented. Another unusual aspect of the Värikallio paintings is the lack of boat images, which are common at other Finnish sites.

Värikallio rock paintings finland travel hossa national park
Värikallio rock paintings

A New Place to Explore

The island of Vallisaari in Helsinki was recently opened to the public for the first time. In the Middle Ages, Vallisaari was known by the name of Lampisaari (“Pond Island”), because seafarers replenished their drinking water supplies from the ponds on this island.  Later (mid-nineteenth century), the island was the site of military fortifications. It maintained its status as a military site during and after the Russian Revolution and Finnish independence. In fact, it was used by the military until 2008, and for the following eight years it was off-limits to the public.  So the island is a beautiful nature reserve, offering a rich range of species in the metropolitan area, including bats, badgers, and lush vegetation teeming with birdlife.

finland travel vallisaari island helsinki
Vallisaari Island

Santa Claus and Reindeer – All Year!

Open each day of the year in the city of Rovaniemi, children and adults can visit Santa’s office, enjoy a private chat with him and revel in the enchanted atmosphere. As we all know, Santa’s annual mission is to deliver happiness around the world with the help of his team of furry reindeer friends.

Santa may only visit your home once a year, but he welcomes everybody to visit him during the rest of the year. Don’t pass up the invitation!

 

santa claus reindeer finland travel
Santa and his reindeer, ready to welcome visitors

So, what are you waiting for? Visit Finland – it’s got something for everyone!

Top Ten Things to See in the Rest of Peru

Top Ten Things to See in the Rest of Peru

Ten Fantastic Peru Destinations

The first time I planned to go to Peru, I noticed that most people asked the same question when they found out where I was heading: “You’re going to Machu Picchu?” Like that’s all there is of interest in Peru!  While Machu Picchu is magnificent – it is, after all, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – there is so much more to see and do in Peru! Here are the top ten Peru destinations that aren’t Machu Picchu – but are just as amazing:

1.  The Nazca Lines

These are a series of large ancient (500 BC – 500 AD) geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert of southern Peru. The figures vary in complexity, from simple lines and geometric shapes to designs of animals, such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, and monkeys, or human figures.  The largest figures are up to 1,200 feet long!

hummingbird nazca lines Peru destinations
The Hummingbird, one of the animals depicted in the Nazca Lines of Peru.

A few caveats:  the Nazca lines are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so there isn’t likely to be much else to do once you’ve seen them. Also, you can only see them from above, so you will need to book a short sightseeing flight for this Peru destination.

2. Lake Titicaca

The mountain lake with the funny name lies between Peru’s Puno Region and the country of Bolivia. At 12,000+ feet, it is the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake contains several “Floating Islands,” which are small man-made islands constructed by the Uru people from layers of a cut reed that grows in the lake. As of 2011, about 1,200 Uros lived on an archipelago of 60 artificial islands.

Arch at Taquile Lake Titicaca Peru destinations
View of Lake Titicaca from the island of Taquile.

Be sure to visit the island of Taquile, which features pre-Inca ruins and a tradition of beautiful hand-crafted items. It also makes an ideal location for stargazing as there is very little light pollution at night.

3. Trujillo & Chan Chan

Trujillo is located on the Pacific coast, in the northwestern part of the country. It is considered one of the primary cultural Peru destinations due to its association with prominent writers, dances, festivals, gastronomy, etc. Three miles to the west of Trujillo lies Chan Chan, the archaeological site and former capital of the Chimu civilization. It is the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas, and the largest adobe city in the world.

chan-chan adobe ruins Peru destinations
The ruins of the Chimu capital – Chan Chan

The Chimu inhabited the area from roughly 900 AD until they fell to the Incas around 1450 AD. Because Chan Chan is basically built from mud, the site has suffered some erosion, and there is a serious concern that climate change could destroy what is left.  Therefore, if you’re interested in visiting, you might want to do so sooner rather than later.

4. Huascarán National Park

Situated in the Cordillera Blanca, the world’s highest tropical mountain range, the center of this park is Mount Huascarán, which rises to over 22,000 feet above sea-level.

huascaran national park Peru destinations
The rugged beauty of Huascarán National Park

Hundreds of glaciers and lakes in the park include the shrinking Pastoruri Glacier and the brilliant blue Llanganuco lagoons. Trails lead to the high-altitude Laguna 69, known for its turquoise waters. The park is a haven for pumas, Andean condors and spectacled bears.  If nature is your thing, you should definitely put Huascarán National Park on the top of your list of Peru destinations!

5. Lima’s Historic Center

In the capital of Peru, you will find a beautiful historic center with many places of interest. The Church & Convent of San Francisco, for example, is a stunning example of colonial architecture that also boasts a 25,000 volume library and some spooky catacombs.

catacombs San Francisco lima peru destinations
An artful display of skulls and bones in the catacombs of San Francisco

There is also the Presidential Palace, which you can tour.  Alternatively, you can stay outside and witness the changing of the guard. In addition, you might want to see the tomb of conquistador Francisco Pizarro at the Cathedral of Lima, take in the beautiful courtyards at the convent of Santo Domingo, and/or look for ornate wooden balconies on the older buildings in the city. There are many fascinating sites in the capital for anyone who enjoys history, art, or architecture.  Since Lima is the port of entry to Peru for most travelers, it can easily be paired with your other Peru destinations.

6. Iquitos

Iquitos is a Peruvian port city and the country’s largest jungle town. Surrounded by water on one side and thick Amazon rainforest on the rest, the only way to reach Iquitos is to either fly there or travel by boat. While there, you can take a trip into the jungle and can view wildlife such as monkeys, alligators, giant lily-pads, baby caimans, anacondas, boas, tarantulas, and more.  (Just make sure you are using a reputable tour guide and not a scam artist!)

victoria lilies amazon rain forest peru destinations iquitos
The giant lily pads of the rain forest near Iquitos

Alternatively, you can partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony.  Ayahuasca is a powerful psychedelic brew made from local plants and used by shamans for thousands of years.  It seems like something that could be a little risky, though, so please be careful if you do!

7. Colca Canyon

This massive canyon located about 100 miles northwest of the city of Arequipa is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and has more diverse scenery. The Andean condor calls the canyon home; you are likely to get an up close view of them soaring past the canyon walls if you visit here.

colca canyon peru destinations
Colca Canyon, Peru

The town of Chivay, located in the canyon, is the site of hot springs. Elsewhere, visitors can see the Infiernillo Geyser.  There are numerous archaeological sites as well, including 6000-year-old rock art that depicts the domestication of alpacas

8. Paracas National Reserve

The reserve is located about 165 miles south of Lima on the Pacific Coast, and is home to an abundance of wildlife like sea lions, dolphins, and many birds, especially near the water’s edge.

paracas national reserve peru destinations pelicans
Pelicans at Paracas National Reserve

The Paracas Reserve contains the largest concentration of birds on earth. The terrain is diverse as well,  spanning desert, ocean and islands. In addition to the wildlife, visitors will enjoy red sand beaches, a museum of ancient artifacts from the Paracas culture, a necropolis, and a geoglyph called the Paracas Candelabro.

9. Chiclayo

Located in northern Peru, Chiclayo was once the home to the Moche civilization, who were prolific pre-Columbian artists.  The Lord of Sipán is the most famous archaeological discovery to come out of the area – he was the first of several mummies discovered in 1987. Amazingly, the tomb was completely intact and did not appear to have been disturbed at all.

lord of sipan peru destinations tomb archaeology
A replica of the Lord of Sipan’s tomb.

Much like ancient Egyptians, the mummy was buried with treasures, animals, and other people. As a result, the Lord of Sipán is known as “The King Tutankhamun of the Americas.”

10. Huacachina  

If you’ve ever wondered what a real-life oasis in the desert looks like, go to Huacachina and see for yourself. The city is built around a small natural lake in the desert.

huacachina oasis sand dunes peru destinations
Huacachina – an oasis in the Peruvian desert.

Called the “oasis of America,” it serves as a resort for local families and also as an attraction for tourists who want to try sandboarding on the massive dunes. Other popular activities include dune buggy rides, making this one of the favorite Peru destinations for people who don’t mind sand.

So as you can see, Peru has a lot more to offer tourists than just Machu Picchu. If you’re planning a trip there, why not take a side trip to visit some of the other destinations? There’s something for everyone in Peru!

 

Machu Picchu for Non-Hikers

Machu Picchu for Non-Hikers

Is seeing Machu Picchu without hiking even possible?

Recently, I learned that most people who visit the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu do so at the culmination of a two- to five-day hike on the Inca Trail.  Said trail goes through both the bug-infested jungle and rugged mountain terrain.

Um, no.

No, thank you.

I learned from my first trip to Peru that altitude can really kick my butt, and surgery on my Achilles tendon three years ago has left me unable to walk for more than a few hours. I can’t possibly be the only one for whom this multiple-day trek on foot is impractical, if not impossible. What about people with young children in tow? What about people who, due to injuries or age, just don’t have the stamina to walk through rugged mountain terrain for several days? Are we out of luck? Do we need to resign ourselves to the fact that they only way we will see Machu Picchu is through someone else’s photos?

Thankfully, the answer is no. You can see Machu Picchu without hiking. It just takes a little more planning in the way of logistics, and in all honesty, more money. Are you ready to plan your trip to Machu Picchu? I know I am, so let’s get started…

Cusco

First, let’s talk about the places you will travel to or through in order to get to Machu Picchu. Cusco is a city of about 435,000 in southeastern Peru. Regardless of where you are beginning your journey, you will most likely get to Cusco via Lima. The flight from Lima is about 1 hour and 15 minutes, and there are at least 20 flights every day. There is generally not a huge price difference between booking straight to Cusco or booking to Lima and then making a separate reservation to Cusco. If you want to do some sightseeing in Lima and you have the time to do so, you could book your trip to Cusco separately.

I recommend spending a few days in Cusco to get acclimated to the higher altitude. (Cusco has an elevation of 11,000 feet.) Beyond that, Cusco happens to be a great destination in its own right. Inca walls topped with colonial Spanish architecture, people dressed in traditional Peruvian garb, ruins dating from Pizarro’s conquest of the Inca, and many unique museums are among the things you can see there.

One of the must-see Cusco museums is Museo del Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco, located at Av Sol. No. 603. This free museum inside El Centro’s textile store features a gallery containing displays of traditional Quechuan and Andean textiles. The museum explains the historical significance of the textiles and the techniques used to make them. You can also buy high quality, authentic textiles here.

Plaza-de-Armas-Cusco Machu Picchu without hiking
The Plaza de Armas (town square) in Cusco.

Aguas Calientes

From Cusco, you will go to Machu Picchu Pueblo, also called Aguas Calientes.  There are multiple ways to do this. Here are a few possibilities but as always, you should check to make sure all services are running prior to your travel day:

  • Cusco to Aguas Calientes:  From Cusco, travel by car approximately 25 minutes to the Poroy Station. From there, take a bus to Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado.  Take the Hiram Bingham Train to Aguas Calientes. The entire journey will take about 5 hours. **The Hiram Bingham is the top-of-the-line luxury train and is quite expensive.  As of this writing, it is the only train operating a bus+train service from Poroy.  Additional services are expected to run from Poroy after April 2017.**

    hiram-bingham train from Poroy to see Machu Picchu without hiking
    The Hiram Bingham train
  • Cusco to Ollantaytambo and Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes: From Cusco, travel to Ollantaytambo by taxi, minivan, or by bus. Taking a taxi or minivan will take about 90 minutes. Going by bus will add an extra hour to the journey, but it is considerably cheaper. Once in Ollantaytambo, you can sightsee a little if you’d like. It is the site where the Incas retreated after the Spanish took Cusco. When you are ready to move on, take a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. This train ride will take about 90 minutes.

It is important to get your train tickets and admission tickets for Machu Picchu as far in advance as possible. Under no circumstances should you wait to buy your tickets the day before you want to travel.

Once you’re in Aguas Calientes, you can either proceed straight to Machu Picchu, or stay the night and plan to go see Machu Picchu the next morning. I recommend the latter, with one caveat. As with most towns set up near major tourist attractions in remote areas – Grand Canyon Village comes to mind – everything will be far more expensive than it should be.

If you want to go immediately to Machu Picchu, you can take a short walk and get a bus. The busses depart every 20 minutes, from 5:30 AM to 3:30 pm.

Map of Aguas Calientes for seeing Machu Picchu without hiking
The route from train station to bus stop in Aguas Calientes.

As with the train, if you’re planning on spending a night in Aguas Calientes, you should book accommodations well in advance.  There are about 15 different hotels in the little town, but that doesn’t mean many will have vacancies.

I recommend getting out of bed early and being ready to catch the first bus that leaves at 5:30 AM, which means getting to the bus stop around 5:00 AM. I know, it’s brutal for folks like me who aren’t morning people, but it isn’t as though you’re doing this every day. Getting there early will allow you to be one of the first people at the site.  That ensures that you will get better photographs with fewer tourists in them. If you’re lucky, you may also get to see the sun rise over the Incan ruins.

machu-picchu-without hiking - take bus to get there for sunrise
Sunrise at Machu Picchu

The bus to Machu Picchu takes about 20-30 minutes and involves a lot of zigzagging around the mountain. Consider yourself forewarned if you’re prone to carsickness.

bus ride from Aguas Calientes Machu Picchu without hiking
The bus route from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu entrance

Machu Picchu

The bus from Aguas Calientes drops you off right at the entrance to the Machu Picchu ruins. From there, it’s a fairly flat five minute walk to the ruins where you have an excellent view. Once in the ruins, there are steps up and down; however, you can do as much or as little walking as you want.

And again, booking in advance is an absolute necessity.  Machu Picchu tickets are NOT sold at the entrance gate, and they are limited to 2500 per day. Advance purchase tickets are available from the official government website (www.machupicchu.gob.pe). Can you imagine traveling all that way only to be told you can’t get in? Don’t let that happen to you!

Also, bring your passport to Machu Picchu with you. You will need it to get in.  And you can get it stamped, which is pretty cool.

passport-stamps-machu-picchu without hiking
Machu Picchu passport stamp

Some things to consider when determining the best time to go:

  • High season is May to October
  • The site is especially busy during periods of national holidays – roughly from July 28 to August 10
  • Solstice days (June 21 and Dec 21) are also busy – everyone descends on the ruins for a glimpse of the dazzling effects of the sun’s rays.
  • The rainy season is November to March.  During this time, you are likely to get rain for brief periods during the day, and clouds obscuring the site in the mornings.

Once you’re there, walk at your own pace and see as much or as little as you want to see. You will get little in the way of printed materials telling you what you’re looking at, but guides are available to hire on site for about $30/two hours. Alternatively, you can bring a guide book with you.

Points of Interest

machu-picchu-without hiking points of interest map
Map of Machu Picchu Points of Interest

Once you get through the main entrance, there is a path up to the left that takes you to the spot above the ruins, near the Caretaker’s Hut and Funerary Rock. This is where you will get the classic view of Machu Picchu that you see on so many postcards. If you are here early enough for sunrise (6:30-7:30am), you should do this first.

Afterward, explore as much or as little as you want. Some of the points of interest are only accessible by steep paths and/or stairs, but you will have all the time you need if you arrived early, so pace yourself. Some of the major areas within the ruins are:

  • Temple of the Sun (also called the Torreón) has extraordinary stonework, the finest in Machu Picchu, with large stones that fit together seamlessly. However, it is accessible only by a steep set of stairs, and entry inside the temple is not permitted. I would skip this unless you’re feeling particularly energetic – there are other areas with impressive stonework that are not as difficult to reach.
  • Below the Temple of the Sun, there is a section of cave called the Royal Tomb, although no human remains have ever been found there. It contains a meticulously carved altar and series of niches that produce intricate morning shadows.
  • To the north, just down the stairs that divide this section from a series of dwellings called the Royal Sector, is a still-functioning water canal and series of interconnected fountains. The main fountain is distinguished by both its size and excellent stonework.
  • Back up the stairs to the high section of the ruins is the main ceremonial area. The Temple of the Three Windows has views of the Andes in the distance across the Urubamba gorge. This is likely to be one of your lasting images of Machu Picchu, so it should be on your short list of places to visit within the ruins.

    machu-picchu-without-hiking-temple-of-three-windows
    The Temple of the Three Windows
  • Just behind the Main Temple (to the left if you’re facing the Temple of the Three Windows) is a small cell, termed the Sacristy, renowned for its exquisite masonry. It’s a good place to examine the way these many-angled stones (one to the left of the doorjamb has 32 distinct angles) were fitted together by Inca stonemasons.
  • Up a short flight of stairs is the Intihuatana, also known as the “hitching post of the sun.” It is a carved rock or a type of sundial, which in all probability was an astronomical and agricultural calendar.
  • Follow a trail down through terraces and past a small plaza to a dusty clearing with covered stone benches on either side. A massive, sculpted Sacred Rock fronts the square. This area likely served as a communal area for meetings.
  • To the left of the Sacred Rock, down a path, is the gateway to Huayna Picchu, the huge outcrop that serves as a dramatic backdrop to Machu Picchu. Each day, 400 people are permitted to climb Huayna Picchu.  I’m assuming that, if you’re reading this article, it’s not something you would be keen on doing.  🙂
  • Returning back down the same path (frighteningly steep at a couple points) is a turnoff to the Temple of the Moon, usually visited only by Machu Picchu die hards who don’t want to miss a single thing. The path takes about 1 to 1 1/2 hours round-trip from the detour. I don’t recommend pursuing it.
  • The lower section of Machu Picchu consisted mostly of residential and industrial buildings. The most interesting part of this section is the Temple of the Condor. Said to be a carving of a giant condor, the dark rock above symbolizes the bird’s wings and the pale rock below quite clearly represents its head.

Exploring Machu Picchu is not just for hikers, backpackers and mountain climbers. So plan your trip and go see it! The mountains of Peru are nothing short of awe-inspiring, and the ghostly remains of the Inca civilization are unforgettably beautiful.

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.

niagra-falls-night most romantic places new york
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.

vineyard-treehouse north carolina most romantic places
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.

international-peace-garden north dakota most romantic places
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.

marblehead-lighthouse ohio most romantic places
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.

medicine-park-oklahoma most romantic places
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.

cinetopia-living-room-theater oregon most romantic places
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.

Smith-Memorial-Arch-Fairmount park philadelphia pennsylvania most romantic places
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.

Southeast Lighthouse, Block Island, Rhode Island most romantic places
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.

sunset hot air balloon south carolina most romantic places
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.

audries august haus south dakota most romantic places
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.

Lost sea sweetwater tennessee most romantic places
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.

San Antonio Riverwalk Texas most romantic places
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.

Bryce Canyon Sunrise Point Utah most romantic places
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.

round-barn-inn-vermont most romantic places
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.

crim-dell-bridge williamsburg virginia most romantic places
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.

Port-Townsend washington most romantic places
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.

hillbrook inn.jpg
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!

pfister-hotel-lobby milwaukee wisconsin most romantic places
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.

corbets-cabin
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!)  😉

Beachcomber’s Paradise: Metompkin Island, Virginia

Beachcomber’s Paradise: Metompkin Island, Virginia

You Want to Do What?

I’ll be honest, when my husband told me that he wanted me to join him on a long canoe ride the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I was not too excited.  Canoeing is definitely not my kind of fun. Faced with unseasonably warm weather and a promise that I would enjoy it, I begrudgingly agreed.  We began our Saturday morning with a very long drive to the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is the third and southernmost part of the Delmarva Peninsula (Del=Delaware, Mar=Maryland, Va=Virginia). The Delmarva Peninsula has the Atlantic Ocean to its east and the Chesapeake Bay to its west.  The Virginia portion of the peninsula is so isolated from the rest of its state that I’ve often wondered if its residents feel like everyone else who calls the state home doesn’t even know they exist.

metompkin island map best seashell beaches
The Eastern Shore of Virginia – everything south of the gray dashed line.

You Want to Go Where?

We drove and drove until we reached an area called Gargatha. There is a public boat ramp at the end of Gargatha Landing Road, and that’s where the water leg of our journey would begin. It would end on Metompkin Island, which I had never heard of before.

metompkin-island-map-zoomed-in best seashell beaches
This map is the zoomed in version of the one above.  In both cases, the red pin marks Metompkin Island – our destination.

So this is fun?

We got the canoe in the water and headed out.  The wind was blowing against us, which is pretty much my worst nightmare when I’m in a canoe.  You have to paddle twice as hard to cover the same distance in the same time.  Basically, for every two strokes, we were only advancing one. Adding to the difficulty was the fact that we kept getting pushed off course.

At one point, we ended up stuck in some tall grasses. We were so tired and frustrated that we decided to just sit there, eat our sandwiches that we had brought with us, and rest for a few minutes. Then it was time to paddle some more. We hadn’t gone much farther when I saw this:

metompkin-island-danger-sign best seashell beaches

This was most definitely not what I wanted to see, especially since there were no details offered. What danger? Dangerous for whom? Hubs assured me that it was for larger boats, not canoes or kayaks. Apparently the water isn’t very deep there.

I could hear a very loud but distant noise and we seemed to be moving toward it. It turned out to be the ocean, which meant we were close! I was so relieved to see the beach ahead of us! We pulled our canoe up on the land and went out to explore.

Surprise! It was worth going after all.

I couldn’t believe how many shells there were – the beach was absolutely littered with them!  It has to be one of the best seashell beaches in the mid-Atlantic, and certainly the best I had ever been on!

best seashell beaches metompkin island virginia

I told Hubs that I hoped I would find a piece of sea glass while we were there. Three steps later, I found myself looking at a spot of cobalt blue off to my left. It was roughly 2 inches square, part of an old glass Milk of Magnesia bottle.

Sadly, I didn’t find any other pieces of sea glass that day.  However, I hit the jackpot when it came to seashells, as you might have guessed. There were clam shells, oyster shells, whelk shells (at least two kinds), periwinkles, scallops, limpet shells, cockle shells, and sea snail shells. I also found some non-shell items like a mermaid’s purse and a whelk egg case.

Fortunately, Hubs thought to bring one of my extra big Thirty-one utility tote bags, because when I got out to the water I was running all over the place and picking up shells like a kid who had (a) never seen a beach and (b) had consumed a week’s worth of sugar. “Oooooohhh, look at this one,”  I’d yell, and hold it out for him to see. I wouldn’t even wait for a reaction before I’d start looking for more.

There were really big shells:

metompkin-island-big-shell best seashell beaches
Women’s size 9 flip flop shown for scale.

And there were tiny little ones:

metompkin-island-tiny-shell best seashell beaches

For some reason, I always said “Awwwww!” whenever I found a tiny one. Like it was a puppy or something.

After just an hour of combing the beach and gathering cool shells, our bag was full – and heavy:

metompkin island bag of shells best seashell beaches

We left it at the canoe and headed off in the opposite direction, determined to not pick up any more shells.

Well, that resolve faded faster than most New Year’s diets! By the time we spent another hour on the beach, all of our pockets were full, we were carrying some in our arms, and we had even filled an empty tortilla chip bag full of shells.  Clearly, it was time to leave. If we had stayed longer, we might not have had room in the canoe for us!

Yeah. It’s a little addictive.

I cleaned, dried, and sorted all of my new shells after I got home. Curious, I decided to count them too. I picked up close to 300 shells! Now, all I have to do is figure out what to do with them.  🙂

Not that a lack of ideas will keep me from going back. It’s at the top of my list for things to do once it gets warm again.

Metompkin Island is part of a 60 mile chain of barrier islands on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Some of the islands are not public lands, and regulations prohibit certain activities on the public ones. Check before you go.

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!

 

 

Janes Island State Park – Crisfield MD

Janes Island State Park – Crisfield MD

Trying to find some great Maryland getaways?

I’ve lived on Maryland’s Eastern Shore most of my life, and until last week, I had never been to Janes Island State Park in Crisfield. I was pleasantly surprised by what this park had to offer.

We went there with the plan to canoe out to the beach. Thankfully, it was an unseasonably warm day for mid-November. It turned out to be a great afternoon, so I thought I would share the top five things that impressed me most about the park.

1. The waterway.

It’s called Daugherty Creek, but it looks more like a river. It’s quite wide; certainly much bigger than I expected for a creek. The water is calm and smooth, as you can see below. As we were about to leave and head home, the sun was setting. I snapped this picture to show the beautiful colors of the sky and the calmness of the water. There is NO filter on this picture – just nature at its loveliest!

maryland getaways janes island crisfield sunset.jpg

2. The marsh.

On either side of the creek, and around the beach, you will see wispy tall grasses that mark the marsh lands. Sometimes there were so many “layers” it seemed to go on forever: water, marsh, water, marsh, water, marsh.

maryland getaways janes-island-marsh crisfield

It was in one of these marshy areas that my daughter noticed the presence of a Great Blue Heron just ten feet away from us. I quickly fumbled for my phone to take a picture and just managed to catch him as he took off in flight. That was a very cool moment.

janes island great blue heron maryland getaways crisfield

3. The facilities.

We didn’t take advantage of them that day, but I noticed that there were some nice facilities there at Janes Island. The park includes a conference center, full service cabins, campsites specifically designated for youth groups, boat ramp, water trails, and more. The cabins and conference center will be renovated in 2017, so that may limit their ability.

4. The beach/the island.

Janes Island is about one mile from the park’s boat ramp. We canoed straight there (see the dark blue line on the map below).

janes-island-map maryland getaways crisfield

Now granted, it was November, but we had the beach all to ourselves and it seemed to go on for miles!  The only sign that anyone had been there before us were these footprints in the sand:

janes-island-md-bird-tracks maryland getaways crisfield

We had our dog, Kingston, with us, so I took off his leash and let him run around like a maniac. (And he absolutely loved it!) We spent some time walking on the beach, soaking up the sunshine, and looking for interesting shells/driftwood.

janes-island-md-sunny-beach maryland getaways crisfield

Even on this side of the land, the water (Tangier Sound) was relatively calm.

5. The boating opportunities.

Canoe, kayak, or powerboat… all can enjoy the water at Janes Island and everything that it offers. From exploring 30 miles of water trails to fishing to bird watching – all are easily enjoyed from this state park with its waterfront location.

Kingston says you should definitely check it out!

janes island md maryland getaways crisfield

Janes Island State Park is located at 26280 Alfred Lawson Drive in Crisfield, MD 21817. Telephone 410-968-1565. Opening hours vary by season; park closes at sunset daily.