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Roars and Snores and So Much Mores!

Last weekend, I went camping. With lions.

Despite being only about an hour and a half away from my home, I felt as if I had somehow been transported to an African safari. I rode around in safari trucks with guides who knew a lot about the dozens of animals we passed. And before falling asleep in my tent, I listened to the carols of a pride of lions.

In reality, I was at Wildlife Safari near Winston, Oregon. I’ve been to this drive-thru safari experience a few times, but that wasn’t in the plans for this trip. I was there to take part in Roars and Snores, which involves a sleepover inside a lion enclosure, plus a jam-packed itinerary for animal enthusiasts. The event description on their website was somewhat vague, so I knew I was in for a weekend of surprises!

I arrived at Wildlife Safari an hour before Roars and Snores began. This was the perfect amount of time to enjoy the free Safari Village, which has a petting zoo, taxidermy room, and dozens of animals you can’t see in the drive-thru safari. There’s also an overlook to the lion enclosures, where I saw staff setting up for the night’s experience. Then I went to the gift shop to check-in. I was told to have a seat in the restaurant where guests would soon enjoy dinner and a presentation.

The barbecue-style dinner was delicious, with enough food and variety for everyone to eat as much as they wanted. Several zookeepers showed us slideshows about two animals we would see that evening: lions of course, and also bears. I learned a lot about these beasts, like how lions “carol”, which is a sort of role call using roars.

After everyone was stuffed, we walked it off on the way  to the nearby lion enclosure. The keepers explained how they don’t train Wildlife Safari’s animals to do tricks like a circus might. However, they do need to train the creatures in some ways to make sure that they stay healthy. For example, we got to watch the lions mimic their trainers by lifting up their paws, and that way they could be inspected for injuries. Each lion who did this was rewarded with raw meat kebabs. However, no one at Wildlife Safari forces the animals to do anything. These snacks were a good encouragement to get inspected and go into their nighttime shelter, but if a lion chose not to do this one night, then the staff would record this and try again the next day, but otherwise let the lion be.

Since these aren’t truly “trained” lions, we got to see some of their wild instincts up-close through the safety of a fence. When the lions saw the children in our group, or even adults squatting down, they would pace in front of that person. In the wild, lions often go after smaller prey because it’s a more guaranteed victory for them. But some of these lions’ habits weren’t the same as a wild lion. In this pride, a female was in charge. Typically a male would be the head of a pride, but since the two adult male lions were rescues, the females had more skills. The adult males are also kept separate from the cubs so that a male cub doesn’t try to overpower an adult male like they often do in the wild.

After the lions went to bed for the day, we hopped on the safari trucks and headed over to the bear enclosure. On the way, we passed through parts of the African and North American sections of the safari, so we got to see several species along the way. When we got to the bears, I watched them eat watermelon, play with boxes, and take their medicine. It was a great experience, but I hope I don’t get that close to a bear in nature!

By the time we were bussed down to the lion enclosure with all of our camping gear, it was getting dark. I don’t think I’ve ever set up my tent after sundown before, but it was accomplished! We were rewarded with a campfire and s’mores. Maybe the event should have been called Roars, Snores, and S’mores!

I really liked how the staff thought of everything to make the stay as pleasant as possible. Besides dinner and s’mores in the evening, ice chests full of beverages were available. This was especially helpful since I had left my water bottle in my car parked a mile away. An outhouse was places in our lion enclosure to use at night, but there were a few opportunities to use the Safari Village restrooms before that. (As a note, Safari Village is really cool after the park closes and the usual guests have left.) Even a continental breakfast was provided, which wasn’t mentioned in the information online.

Although this event is called Roars and Snores, neither of those happened until after I had crawled into my sleeping bag for the night. Lions use their roars as a way to keep track of everyone else, so when one lion roars, the others roar back. When the lions listen to this “carol”, they are able to tell if someone is missing, or if a stranger participated in the carol. They did this roll call (or is it a “roar call”?) several times at night before the roars of the lions were replaced by the snores of the other campers.

I awoke the next morning to more lion carols- quite the alarm clock! I got ready foe the day, tore down my campsite, and leisurely enjoyed the continental breakfast. Two African cranes noticed that all of us humans were caged up and walked over to the outside of our fence. It was like they had gone to the zoo to see the people exhibit!

Our first activity that morning was to go inside the enclosure that the lion cubs would use that day. We took cardboard boxes, spritzed them with perfume, and placed them around the enclosure. Apparently lions love playing with boxes and the scent of perfume interests them, but I think it also helped that the keepers placed meat in some of them! Once we were all safely outside of the enclosure, the lions were released and had a blast!

The last activity of Roars and Snores was with a big cat that can’t even roar. Everyone had the opportunity to get their picture taken with a cheetah. 

It’s hard to believe that thia all took place in less than 24 hours- they packed a lot into this short vacation! If this sounds like something you would like to do, check out Wildlife Safari’s website regularly for announcements about upcoming Roars and Snores sleepovers. They also sometimes offer an event that includes dibner for both you and the lions, bur without the campout. Your group could also book a private event that includes a lion encounter. Even if none of these are available for the date you want to visit, I’m sure you’ll still have a great time at Wildlife Safari at the drive-thru or in an animal encounter. 

PS- Discounted tickets are often available on Groupon, good for either drive-thru admission or an elephant car wash!

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Road Trip Weekend, Part 3: Explore Old Places in New Ways

It’s the weekend! What a great time for a road trip! Each day of this weekend, I’ve shared a recent road trip I took. My hope is that, even if you don’t take the route I did, you’ll get some tips and inspiration for wherever you go! Friday gave advice on things like how to meet your role models on the road. Then on Saturday, I shared tips for overcoming fear and having fun. Today brings us to new places never mentioned on this site before, as well as a few that we mentioned recently. But all these places will be explored differently.

I made it all the way through June without going on a single overnight trip. You could say I was having road trip withdrawals. After getting my new car, I was really itching to put some pavement behind me. I looked at my next weekend, and my only commitment was a chiropractic appointment on Saturday morning. I couldn’t change it to an earlier time, and I didn’t want to cancel it, so I wasn’t sure if travel would be a possibility that day. But when I woke up Saturday morning, I decided that I’d just work some travel around that.

There was an interesting-sounding hostel in Eugene, Oregon that I had never stayed at before. On the morning of, there was only one bed left to book, which just so happened to be in the female dorm. I quickly got ready (not packing much at all), made a rough plan of stops I would make, and headed off to the chiropractor. The doctor typically asks if I have anything exciting planned for that day, so it was nice to go in and tell him something interesting for a change!

Seven Feathers
Leaving Seven Feathers… after about five minutes!

My first stop was at Seven Feathers. I’ve only stopped there once, and that was back when my sister was underage, so I never actually walked through the casino part of the resort. However, I didn’t gamble. It was just a quick stop to use the bathroom, get on the WiFi, and take a picture with the world’s largest cast iron eagle.

Eugene Whiteaker Hostel
The front of the hostel. My room is the one with the balcony!

After a couple more hours of driving up the I-5, I checked into Eugene Whiteaker International Hostel. While on the medium-to-small side as far as hostels go, this became one of my top hostels in the character and comfort categories.

Owen Rose Garden
Flowers coincidentally matching my shirt.

I didn’t stay long, however, because I only had the afternoon to explore Eugene. Thankfully, everything I wanted to see could be access from the Eugene Riverwalk, which was just a few blocks from the hostel. Before I got on the trail, I smelled the Owen Rose Garden.

Eugene Riverwalk
On the Riverwalk, which went by parks, businesses, and natural areas.

After walking towards downtown for a bit, I came across a planet. Saturn, to be exact. This was a good sign, since my goal was to make it to the sun. Okay, maybe I should explain. The city of Eugene displays a lot of permanent public art.  One of those is a scale model of the solar system. The sun, moon, and all the planets (including Pluto!) are all the correct size and distance from each other… if they shrunk to a billionth of what they actually are! While I would have loved to see Neptune and Pluto, they were miles away from the other planets distributed through a park and along the Riverwalk. After Saturn, I had to walk quite a bit further before I reached Jupiter. Then it would be a long time before I saw Mars.

UO duck walk
Following the footprints to University of Oregon. Go Ducks!

But before I saw the small planets, I made a stop at University of Oregon. I didn’t end up in the central part of campus, but I enjoyed walking through an art department. Due to summer break, it seemed like a ghost town. If you want to visit Eugene for the culture, I would recommend going during the school year!

Peace Pole in Garden
One of the U of O student gardens had a peace pole.

I should mention how beautiful the parks lining the river are. It’s neat that even a semi-large city like Eugene purposely sets aside prime locations for the public to enjoy. At one point, I was walking through a forested area! It was a long walk of many miles, but the beautiful urban nature and finding the planets kept me going. On my way back, I even walked further than I needed to so that I could see Uranus!

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The sun in comparison to the moon and Earth.
Back at the hostel, I ate, relaxed, and did something artsy for the first time in a long time. Most importantly, I rested up for an even bigger day following.

Hostel Bunk
Despite me supposedly booking the last bed, I ended up with just one roommate in our four-bed dorm. That meant no one on my top bunk!

On Sunday morning, I got ready, enjoyed the free hostel pancakes, and looked up where I needed to go that day. It all started with over an hour of driving to the Oregon Coast. I headed up to Yachats to begin my day at Thor’s Well. I had seen pictures of this blowhole online over the past few years, and I wanted to be able to see it for myself. Most of the pictures online were taken at high tide, which just could not work with my itinerary that day. But it was still a fantastic sight when I saw the water shoot up from the ground. And I had the added advantage of being able to walk right up to it!

Thor's Well
A beautiful blowhole by the name of Thor’s Well.

Thor’s Well was the only planned attraction of this trip, but there was more to see on the Central Oregon Coast. While I’ve been to much of the Oregon Coast, I’m most familiar with the Southern part since it’s the most accessible from my home. I think the last time I was on the Central Oregon Coast, I was in middle or elementary school!

Heceta Head
Hiking up to Heceta Head Lighthouse.

It was surprising how many stops I ended up taking just between Yachats and the neighboring town of Florence. There was Heceta Head Lighthouse which I of course had to tour, which was right next to a beach that was perfect for eating lunch at. Then I decided that, while expensive (at $14 a head!), I should check out the Sea Lion Caves.

Sea Lion Caves
See the sea lions?

In the past, when I told a former coworker about my solo travels, she would say that the only solo trip she’d ever done was driving out to the Sea Lion Caves by herself. That was what sold me on going here, just following in her footsteps I suppose. I was surprised at how many other people traveled out here; some were even from other countries! After entering through the gift shop, I ended up on a trail outside facing the Pacific Ocean. To the left, there was a lookout point where you could look down and see dozens of sea lions enjoying the sun and sea. Then to the right, there was an elevator that went deep down into the cave.

Sea Lion Cave
Inside the cave. If you look closely, you’ll find sea lions on the rock in the middle of the water.

The cave had a looping video, skeletons of sea lions, and informational panels about the different species. Of course, there was an opening to look into the part of the cave where the sea lions were, all piled on a rock. It was fairly distant, and at first I was a little disappointed in this place when you can see the San Francisco sea lions a lot closer, and for free. But then I found out that the staff member overseeing that area had a pair of binoculars that she loaned out to visitors, and she had plenty of stories to tell about the sea lions that I could now see up-close!

Sand Dunes
I watched some sandboarders play around on this dune for a bit.

I stopped for some s’mores flavored ice cream at a Florence ice cream shoppe called BJ’s, and then went behind the Fred Meyer to enjoy the sand dunes. (I wish I brought a sandboard or toboggan!) I continued driving south. I got a tip when planning for my NorCal road trip to San Francisco last summer that, if you go on a one-way trip along the West Coast, make sure you go south. That way, your side of the road has better views of the ocean. Good advice!

Coast Mirror
Mirror selfie! (With a lighthouse in the background!)

I stopped at another lighthouse (though the tour was too expensive for this one) and an ocean overlook. I even went on a little nature walk through a patch of darlingtonia, which is a carnivorous pitcher plant. I tried stopping at an old favorite coffee shop in Coos Bay, but it was closed by the time I got there. Finally, I made it to Old Town Bandon.

Old Town Bandon
My booth at the Mexican restaurant overlooked all the boats in the harbor.

I enjoyed many of the same places as I did the last time I stopped in Bandon, including the delicious Cranberry Sweets. But for some reason, I was craving Mexican food. Maybe it was because a favorite place to go when I worked in Bandon was El Jalepeno, a restaurant with big, unique, tasty burritos. Sadly, that closed down years ago. So I searched on my GPS to see if there were any Mexican restaurants still standing in Bandon. There was, and it just happened to be in Old Town! I walked there and enjoyed a feast. I think it was my first time eating solo at a sit-down Mexican restaurant, and it was a revelation to realize that I could double-dip my chips in the salsa!

Kissing Rock
The sun setting over Kissing Rock in Gold Beach.

With a full belly, I pondered where to go from here. Everything south of Bandon would just be a repeat of my trip to Brookings a couple months prior. It would be faster to head back to the I-5, but that would also be a repeat but with less scenery. I decided to take the long way home so that I could enjoy more of the coastal views. Most of it was drive-by enjoyment, such as through the Mount Humbug and Prehistoric Gardens area. But I did make a quick stop at Kissing Rock in Gold Beach as the sun was setting. I even stopped at Oregon’s highest bridge, which I’ve driven over several times but never actually stopped to look at. I took an even longer break in Brookings so I could explore Azalea Park, which was too rainy to enjoy the last time I was there. When I was a kid and camped near Brookings, the Azalea Park playground was like a castle. I played on it for a few seconds for old time’s sake, but was now more impressed with the garden and the capella.

Capella
Inside the Azalea Park Capella

After that, it was a dark, eerie-but-fun drive through the redwoods. I work the overnight shift between Sunday and Monday, and I made it there with ten minutes to spare!

Other than Yachats, I had already been to all the towns that I stopped at on this road trip. Yet it felt like an entirely new experience. Enjoying different attractions or seeing the same attractions in different ways (such as different times of day or even different ages!) made it a whole new experience.

Have you ever visited a destination more than once? What felt different on subsequent trips? Let me know in the comments!

This trip was made possible because I found a reservation for Eugene Whiteaker International Hostel on Hostelz.com. I recommend Hostelz.com to find the biggest selection of hostels out there. Click here to save money on accommodations while simultaneously helping this site!

Road Trip Weekend, Part 2: Leave the Comfort Zone

It’s the weekend! What a great time for a road trip! Each day of this weekend, I’ll be sharing a recent road trip I took. My hope is that, even if you don’t take the route I did, you’ll get some tips and inspiration for wherever you go! Yesterday, I shared a coastal road trip built around meeting my favorite speaker. Today, I’ll tell how a road trip allowed me to face my fears and overcome pain. 

Exactly one week after my car was hit, I was still overcoming fears that were brought on the night of the crash. Since I was turning left when it happened, I had to psych myself up every time I needed to turn left. (I have heard of people who make three rights to avoid ever turning left, but I knew right away that I didn’t want to live in fear or make big adjustments to my life from one crash.) I was already starting to overcome my fear of the intersection where it occurred, since I drove through it almost every day. Because the driver that hit us was from California, to be honest I was a little nervous about California drivers.

Thankfully, my car insurance provided a rental car for one month. It was a blue Hyundai Sonata. I took it one one road trip during the time I had it. Within the first five minutes of that trip, I decided that Sue would be the perfect name for this car. Sue Sonata was my Sue-bstitute for my Sue-baru. But that road trip involved a lot more than just naming a car.

I had been considering taking a road trip all that week, but wasn’t sure if I was up for it. I was still in a lot of pain, not to mention the mental obstacles that come with driving long distances so shortly after an emotional crash. So when I decided on Saturday morning that I should face my fears and have some fun along the way, I was scrambling for where to go and places to stay. Several ideas I had resulted in finding no nearby accommodations that were both affordable and available, but I eventually found an AirBnB in Redding, California.

Redding has been a stop on several of my trips, but never a destination. I’ve enjoyed several walks across the Sundial Bridge and around the surrounding Turtle Bay Exploration Park. In middle school I even had fun on a Girl Scout trip to the Redding Water Slides. But one popular thing to do in Redding,  especially for Christians, is attend a worship service at Bethel Church. That would be at the top of my to-do list for this trip.

Redding is about three hours away from my home in Southern Oregon. Since I didn’t leave until after lunch on Saturday, I only had the late afternoon and early evening to spend in Redding. I started out by checking into my AirBnB. The hosts attend Bethel, and many of their other guests also come primarily to attend Bethel, so they gave advice on when to leave in the morning. I was surprised that people are waiting to get into the sanctuary over an hour before service starts! I also learned that the 8am service was the least crowded, so I set my alarm to get up for that.

Then, I headed off to explore Redding. The waterslides weren’t in my budget, but I still enjoyed the (very Northern) California May weather by going to the local YMCA, which has both an indoor and outdoor pool. At the time, I had a membership to my local Y, which allows for free access to just about any Y location in the world. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have a sauna, though. The Ys near me have them, and since I hadn’t started chiropractic work yet, the heat was really helping my injured shoulder and other sore muscles. But I still got a decent workout in.

Next, I headed to 7 Eleven with a popcorn bucket. It was Bring Your Own Cup Day, after all! I try to take advantage of good deals like this, no matter where I am. It’s just one way to enjoy yourself while still saving money for travel.

I must confess: when traveling, I often replace a meal with ice cream. The Slurpee wasn’t filling enough for a meal, so I dined on Rita’s ice and custard. The last time I ate this was when I lives in Ohio three years ago, so it was definitely a treat.

Then, I attempted to spend the evening in Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Unfortunately, when I got there, it was really crowded. I realized that there was a rodeo going on next to the park, and attendees were parking miles away since the nearby lots were full. I had no interest in attending the rodeo, and I didn’t want to walk so far just to get to the park, so I left. I wasn’t that upset for a few reasons. I had already been before, I might be able to go after church the next day, and my AirBnB had a great view of the Sundial Bridge from the back patio. I spend some time looking over the cityscape while munching on my giant Slurpee.

I spent the quiet evening trying to write and learn about Bethel. Other than hearing the occasional Bethel Music song on Christian radio, I didn’t know too much about the church doctrine or leaders.

Up before my alarm went off, I got ready, packed up, and headed off to Bethel. My plan was to attend two services back-to-back, and visit the Alabaster Prayer House. I had no trouble finding parking or a seat for the 8am service, though the front half of seating was already reserved.

While the song selection and pastor’s message were the same in both services I attended, there were still differences. The worship in the second service was more experiential, with flag wavers and more complex lighting. That service also had a baby dedication that seemed more like a walk down the red carpet. Instead of just one or two babies, there were over twenty being paraded by their parents as their names were announced and pastors lined up to pray for them.

The first service seemed more like a church service I would typically attend, but because of its smaller attendance, it offered something that the other one didn’t: the opportunity to wait in line after service to be prayed over for physical healing. I had heard about Bethel’s physical healing ministry on Saturday mornings, but didn’t think there would be the opportunity on Sunday. I am not sure if it was a normal thing or because the theme of the morning sermon was healing, but since I still had all the pain of a recent collision,  I decided to take them up on this offer! Unfortunately I didn’t receive immediate healing like some people do, but my chiropractor has been saying that I am recovering quickly, so maybe these two are connected.

Between services, I was hungry due to only having leftover Slurpee breakfast. So I headed to the church cafe, called HeBrews. I ate a muffin on the patio, then got into the line for second service. When I got into the sanctuary, I didn’t see any available seats. Lots of people were standing against the side walls, so I joined them. I later learned that these standing people could join live worship, but would then sit in another room while the service was streamed to them. I didn’t join them, however, because a woman came up and told me there was an empty seat next to her.

After the second service, I went to the greeters who welcomed first-time visitors. They gave me a calendar and a coupon to download free sermon, which I still haven’t taken advantage of.  Then I walked over to thw Alabaster Prayer House.  This was a cute little building offering communion, books, a fountain, and other resources that contributed to a mindful place to pray. Outside of that  was a garden that I decided to walk through, especially after looking down at the driveway and seeing all the cars coming and going as slow as molasses!

When I did leave, I headed over to Turtle Bay. One thing I have wanted to do here for a couple years now was hike the trails. So after the mandatory sundial selfies, I started down a trail, but stopped at a bench overlooking the water. A couple with a thick accent asked to sit next to me. It turns out they were from Paris, but were visiting Redding for several days to attend a Bethel conference as well as church this morning. So we talked about church as well as my trip to Paris two years ago. Then I continued down the path.

I saw deer and a lot of beautiful spots along the water before I ended up next to the freeway. I then turned and walked a path that had the freeway on one side, and a marshy preserve on the other- quite the contrast! I walked some on the other side of the water, but the scattered path, hot sun, and hunger eventually forced me to turn around.

Back on the road, I sipped some soup from a mug as I listened to music and enjoyed the forested Shasta Lake area. Soup was not appeasing my hunger, though. When I saw a sign for The Pizza Factory, I recalled how in high school my youth group once went there after a houseboat trip. I guess I was too busy remembering the past, because I missed the exit for it. Fortunately, there are three Pizza Factory restaurants along the NorCal I5. I stopped at the Weed one, which turned out to be the same one that my youth group had gone to anyway. I enjoyed a delicious taco pizza.

The rest of the drive home was pretty mundane, although I did feel a little accomplished safely driving past the town where the other driver in the accident lives. In just one quick weekend trip, I drove long distances, drove among many California drivers, turned left in plenty of intersections, started the physical healing process, and even enjoyed most of it. I wasn’t sure if I would get my car back, but it was even better to have my life back!

What fears have YOU overcome while traveling? Tell me in the comments!

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On the Hunt for the Mysterious Bill Cipher

This winter, when I didn’t have the money, the warmth, or even the desire to travel much, I went on more virtual adventures. I read lots of books, and I caught up on some great TV shows. I finally finished what I thought was the greatest cartoon of all time, Phineas and Ferb. I was actually pretty sad when I finished the final episode. Those boys and their pet platypus knew how to make the best of each day and circumstance, and were able to have so many adventures! I was able to turn some of the show’s situations into real-life experiences, such as going to Mount Rushmore, dressing up as Perry the Platypus, and of course, climbing up the Eiffel Tower! Would I ever find such an inspiring cartoon again?

I did. And I didn’t even have to look outside of Disney. It was called Gravity Falls.

I first heard about Gravity Falls before it came out in 2011. All I knew was that it was about boy/girl twins and took place in Oregon. I was moving away from Oregon at the time, and combining the fact that I did not want to miss Oregon with the fact that I would not have access to cable, I did not watch Gravity Falls at the time. I actually forgot about it for awhile, but it had a way of finding me. Just a month before the series finale, I got hooked and binge watched every episode. I was looking forward to the finale just as much as the long-term Gravity Falls fans.

In February I watched the series finale, and then tried to move on with life.

Then came Easter.

Before heading to church on Easter Sunday, I was inspired to write a travel article. This one would be about places around Oregon that had a Gravity Falls-style feel. Of course one of those places would be the Oregon Vortex, a house of mystery that even the producers admitted they visited and took inspiration from for the show’s “Mystery Shack”. In fact, if you type “Gravity Falls, Oregon” into Google Maps, it will take you to the Oregon Vortex! Wanting to make sure that little fun fact was correct before I incorporated it into my article, I plugged it in and watched it zoom into my neighboring town of Gold Hill. But then, I noticed something interesting off to the side of the screen.

A marker labeled “Bill Cipher Statue” had been placed there. At first I thought it was really cool. Since Bill Cipher is the main antagonist of Gravity Falls, maybe I should head over there after church to see it for myself, take some pictures, and add that into one of the destinations in my article. But as I read the reviews, it seemed like they were all joke reviews and no one had actually been there. I did some further research.

At the end of the series finale, the post credits were slightly different, including a brief filmstrip of (spoiler alert!) Bill Cipher after he had turned to stone in the episode. I didn’t read too much into it, as the grainy film made me think it was just really good animation. But I didn’t realize with the brief clip that it was indeed a lifelike statue, and that there were ciphers in this episode that got the internet buzzing with the belief that this statue of Bill Cipher was somewhere out there, and it was up to us fans to find it!

Other than a clue about it being “beyond the rusty gates”, the only hint in the show to its location was that there was a fern nearby. Ferns don’t grow just anywhere, so that was actually a better hint than the gate!

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It’s a rusty post for a gate! The gate itself was actually torn off and down the hillside a bit.

I actually searched for the Bill Cipher statue in this location three separate times. Although this location was on BLM land right across the street from the Oregon Vortex, the problem was that there was private property blocking off a direct path. That meant I had to drive several miles up the road, and then swing back around until I reached some logging paths. (It was encouraging to go from a fern-free Gold Hill to a hillside covered with ferns, though!) I got out and started hiking these trails, but never made it to the GPS coordinates of the alleged Bill Cipher statue.

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Yeah, just parking in the middle of nowhere to look for a scary statue!

The first time I had come alone and unprepared, and it was going to get dark soon.

The second time I went with my mom, and while hiking she made me realize that we should have bear spray and maybe a larger hiking group.

The third time my dad joined us, and we made it a little farther than I did the first time, but we realized that if there was a trail going to the statue area, it would have to wind for several miles on steep mountains. The trail we thought might lead to it was very overgrown, and we had a hard time imagining Hollywood crew lugging a stone statue this entire way.

IMG_20160416_155629
It sure was a beautiful hike, though, that even most locals don’t know exists!

So I gave up for awhile, but whenever the opportunity presented itself, I kept my eye out for something unusual in the woods. Like I went on the Bigfoot Trap hike a couple weeks ago, and instead of looking for an ape-like creature, I was looking for a triangular one among the ferns.

Last week, a global scavenger hunt for Bill Cipher officially began. It’s already gone through Russia, Japan, and parts of the US, so it’s pretty fun to follow as a virtual adventure. Unfortunately, the next clue has come to almost a standstill as it’s been stuck in Los Angeles for four days now, but I have a feeling that it will pick back up soon. I also have a feeling that the hunt will pass through Gold Hill, either as a clue or (hopefully) the final stage that leads to the statue. And I’ll be shocked and impressed if it’s in the same location I thought it was in this entire time! I guess I’ll just have to wait until a clue leads to my area, and then I’m ready to jump on it!

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Until then, I’m going to be real observant whenever I hike near ferns!

For France: Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

In light of recent events, I’m going to postpone my original posting plans and spend today talking about Nice, France.

Nice

On this day exactly one year ago, I was spending my final day in the United States before embarking on a three-month journey which I’ve come to refer to as my Mediterranean Trek. My first destination actually was Paris, France, which made the attacks late last year feel more personal and devastating. After Paris, I spent a few weeks in three cities in Spain before returning to France, this time through the southern part and to Nice.

Nice is a beautiful city with exquisite art, architecture, and natural beauty. Like Paris, they also have a Notre Dame Cathedral near the center of the city, which I loved seeing lit up at night. I even attended an evening mass there. (Though since I don’t speak French, I have no idea what they were saying!)

Much of Nice’s art was related to other famous pieces around the world. I found decorated architecture that was made by Gustave Eiffel himself! I also found replicas of statues outside of France, such as Michelangelo’s David and The Statue of Liberty. Of course there was some completely unique art with unique history in Nice as well.

Old Town is a big tourist attraction to visit, but I went to an even older town and headed to the northern part of Nice, where I ended up walking along some ancient ruins!

But the best reason to visit Nice is for the beach lining the Promenade des Anglais. While the beach itself isn’t very comfortable for sunbathing (it’s made of chunks of rock instead of sand), the Mediterranean Sea is so blue and perfect for swimming in! And while it is a strenuous hike, going to the top of the hill to overlook the city is definitely worth it!

I missed Bastille Day in France by just a couple of days, but I did get to attend a French event that is known around the world. I wrote an article for TravelingMom with tips based on my experience witnessing the final stage of Le Tour de France. I sent it in for publication before news of the most recent attack broke out, but I do hope that Le Tour enthusiasts are kept safe and that it doesn’t deter anyone from watching the race in person. I think one of the best things we can do after an attack is show that we are not afraid, and getting involved in Le Tour de France is just one way to do it! Click here to read my tips for watching the final stage of Le Tour de France in person. 

How to Watch Le Tour de France Live in Paris

For more photos of Nice, check out the Instagram hashtag I used when I was there, #wouldntitbenice.

 

4 of the Best National Parks in the US that Hikers Must Visit

The US is a vast and varied country. There is a lot to see and do. A lot of people that live here love to camp and explore the great outdoors. There are a lot more national parks and reserves to see than you might think. 

 

So if you are planning a hiking trip, where are the best places to visit? It can be difficult to know where to start, especially if you are coming from abroad. Locals have friends and family recommendations that they can go on. So if you are coming from abroad, I have got some advice for you. First of all, check out a page like https://www.trails.com/toptrails.aspx. It is a great place to start. It will narrow down your search of the areas you want to be in and the distances that you want to travel. Remember if you are coming from abroad, you need to have the necessary visas in place as you plan your trip. You will most likely need an ESTA visa for the time you are on vacation. You could look at https://www.official-esta.com/our-services for any questions that you might have. But anyway, here are a few of my ideas to help get you started on deciding where to go.

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Image of Grand Canyon

 

Grand Canyon, Arizona

I think one of the most obvious hiking trails that are known worldwide is the Grand Canyon. If you have never been in your life, it needs to be on your bucket list! There is so much to explore, and it is a stunning area of the world. It is a mile deep which is pretty epic to hike in. You can also hike around the top of it, too.

 

Zion National Park, Utah

There are a few awesome national parks in Utah. One of the best has got to be Zion National Park in southern Utah. There is a river that runs through it which is great if you feel the need to cool off a little. The river leads to an area called Emerald Pools that is full of waterfalls. It is a beautiful area to hike.

 

Yosemite National Park, California

This national park is set in the Californian Sierra Nevada mountains. It is the park most known for its giant, and I mean giant, Sequoia trees. The ancient trees stand proud, and it is pretty epic that you can close to such historical lifeforms. It isn’t too far from Sacramento and San Francisco in California. So if you do want to experience some of the USA’s great shopping and burgers, you can while you are close by!

 

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina

This park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and is one of the greatest national parks on the east coast. The forests are lush, and it is full of amazing flowers all year long. There are of course streams and rivers that follow along the hiking trail. It is one of the prettiest national parks that you could visit.

 

Hope you enjoyed this collaborate post! While I have only seen a couple of the parks listed above, stay tuned as I return to some of my favorite national parks and visit new ones, too!

Across the Ocean and Right Next Door

My recent guest posts took me all around the world!

Across the Ocean

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If you’ve ever been to Disneyland or Walt Disney World in the United States, you may wonder if it’s worth going overseas to international Disney parks. Even die-hard Disney fans may want to stick to the original two! When I went to Disneyland Paris, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome!

My second article on TravelingMom has been posted! It’s all about what you can expect at Disneyland Paris! Click here to read 4 Reasons Why Disneyland Paris Should Be On Every Disney Fan’s Bucket List

Right Next Door

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Do you have a tourist attraction near where you live that you just haven’t visited yet? I’m not above playing tourist in my hometown. I’ve enjoyed historic Jacksonville, hiking places like the Table Rocks, and even Harry & David (although I enjoy that last one less since I worked there). But one attraction I just haven’t made it to is also one of the most widely known: the Pacific Crest Trail. I got to explain why in this collaboration with other travel writers. Do you think what I said was a good reason, or just an excuse?

I will try to hike the PCT soon. (Not the whole thing; just the part near me.) I’ll let you know what I think when I get there!

Places Change

A little over a year ago, I made a stop at the historic Butte Creek Mill. It hadn’t changed much since it opened in 1872.

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But recently, I was driving through Eagle Point, and decided to make a quick detour to go by Butte Creek Mill. Here’s what it looks like now:

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Christmas morning brought many surprises as usual, but an unexpected and unwanted surprise was hearing the news that this beautiful historic mill caught fire. It was shocking to comprehend that something that had stood the test of time had so suddenly disappeared as it literally went up in smoke.

In the following weeks, residents from my area kept up on the news of what would happen to the site where Butte Creek Mill once stood. I was filled with hope when the owner announced that just enough survived to justify rebuilding and restoring the mill. However, it would take a lot of help. I made a small donation within the month of the fire, but after seeing the burned-down mill with my own eyes, I recently made another donation. You can help rebuild Butte Creek Mill, too! I look forward to the day when Butte Creek Mill once again resembles the top photo!

Two Days, Two States, Two National Park Sites!

It has been quite the weekend! In addition to Earth Day on Friday  and celebrating the entire weekend with Earth Day-themed posts, I was out celebrating nature as well! Just between yesterday and today, I took two trips, both to National Park Service sites. And one of them even called for hopping the border between Oregon and California!

Saturday: Lava Beds National MonumentDSCF5020

For several weeks, my friends and I have planned to go on a trip to Northern California this Saturday. We were supposed to go to the Redwoods, but people and plans changed, so my friend Steph and I made a last-minute switch and headed to Lava Beds National Monument instead, which is east of the Redwoods in Northern California. Although both of us had been here many years ago, with the length of time since our last visits and flying by the seat of our pants, we weren’t sure what to expect. Yet we left incredibly impressed with all that there was to do!

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  • We admired all the volcanic rock we passed on the way in the monument.
  • We watched an informational video at the Visitors’ Center about the history of the lava tube formation and American Indian tribes that were forced out of this area.
  • A park ranger taught us about the white-nose fungus that is killing bats and quizzed us on our past caving experience to see if any of our clothes needed to be decontaminated. Once we passed, she gave us a caving permit.
  • We drove around the Cave Loop and stopped at any caves that were open. (Some were closed to protect the bats living inside.)
  • Since caves are 55 degrees year-round, I was glad I had left a coat in my backseat! We ended up getting warm from all the exercise we did, anyway.
  • Although the Visitors’ Center loans out free flashlights since battery-powered lights are required to enter the cave, we decided to use our cell phone flashlights just so we’d have one less thing to lug around. I learned that my phone flashlight turns on and off by shaking it. Typically I might think that was convenient, but it wasn’t so helpful when I stumbled around caves!
  • One of my favorite cave names was called “Hopkins Chocolate”, which is named because some of the lava coating inside looks like dark chocolate is dripping down the cave walls!
  • There were other neat-looking things in other caves. Some of the caves had what looked like moss growing on it. (Not sure if it was something living or just the way the rock was colored.) When scattered among the dripping moisture creating stalactites, shining a flashlight on it makes the green specks look like fool’s gold, and the white looks like specks of silver!
  • The next time I go, I’ll probably want to bring a helmet, a headlamp, and maybe gloves so I can go further into some of the lava tubes. Since we weren’t equipped, we decided not to go anywhere that required crawling, but there were quite a few areas that involved ducking down!
  • There were some nice places to walk, too! Both Steph and I really wanted to hike up Schonchin Butte, a .7-mile uphill trail that leads to a fire lookout. The lookout itself is closed for the season until tomorrow, but we got some great views!
  • Although there was so much more we could have done, we decided that the last activity for the day would be to walk around Captain Jack’s Stronghold. This was an area where the military fought against the natives to force them out of this area. Although the history is sad, it was neat to see some of the rock structures that they built that are still standing today.DSCF5028

Sunday: Crater Lake National ParkDSCF5042

I had so much fun on Saturday, I decided to continue the National Park and volcano-themed weekend my closest National Park, Crater Lake. Since this wasn’t as long of a drive, I decided I could make it to church (although I did attend the 9 am service instead the 10:45 service I normally go to), and then head out. With only slightly more planning today than yesterday, I ended up going alone this time. I went to Crater Lake almost exactly a year ago, and it was so odd to see how different it looked this year!DSCF5031

  • It was already a rainy day, and I was praying that it wouldn’t rain while I was at the park. That prayer was answered, but not in the way I expected! As I crossed the park boundary line, I noticed that all the trees were covered in snow. In fact, it was actively snowing most of the time I was there! It’s late April!
  • My first stop was the Visitors’ Center, where I watched the video about the surrounding nature and how Crater Lake was formed by a giant volcano eruption followed by years of collected rain and snowfall. I had to enter and exit the Visitors’ Center from the side entrance because the front entrance was covered with snow all the way up to the roof!
  • I then drove up to Rim Village (being careful in the Avalanche Zone), and parked next to the lodge.
  • After browsing the gift shop in the lodge, I went up to the top floor, which is supposed to have an observation window. Maybe it works on clearer days, but with all the snow and clouds, it was impossible to see the lake from here! Instead I read the museum-style informational signs.
  • I decided that the only way I would have a chance at seeing the lake was to walk through the snow myself. Fortunately, I still had my coat in the back of the car, although I definitely would have benefited from more winter gear!
  • I followed the others who were also outside to the farthest point that could be reached without crossing the safety line. As I looked out, I could barely see Wizard Island, the large island in Crater Lake. After a few minutes in the cold, the air cleared up for some precious seconds where we got to take pictures. It still didn’t display the bluer-than-blue color I’ve seen on sunnier days, though!
  • I warmed up in the lodge for awhile longer, when a park ranger told me to look out the window. You could barely make out part of the back rim, but he said that was the clearest it had been all weekend. Yesterday they basically couldn’t see the lake at all!
  • I went out to the safety line for one more photo shoot, but then decided to turn back and head home. In the summer you can usually drive around the whole lake, but since it snows year-round at Crater Lake National Park, they limit their snowplowing in the winter to only the roads to the South Entrance, Visitors’ Center, and Rim Village.
  • On the way back, I stopped for a short walk by Union Creek. My family used to go camping there when I was a kid. I walked by the Rogue River Gorge and saw the Living Stump!
  • My family had a dinner all together tonight, and since I knew my sister had gone to Crater Lake National Park last weekend, I asked her how well she could see the lake that day. She looked at me confused as she told me it was a perfectly clear day and that many of the visitors were wearing shorts! It’s funny how much the weather can change from one week to the next!DSCF5036

Where to Next?

Hmm…good question! I had been admiring the National Parks Passport for some time now, and finally decided to purchase one at Lava Beds National Monument. This is an informational book about all the National Parks in the United States. Every time you visit a National Park, Monument, or Historic Site, you can get a page of the passport stamped. Since I knocked out two parks in just this weekend, I already have two stamps! Now it will be used as encouragement to visit more National Parks.

The Oregon Caves National Monument is fairly close to me, so I may go there sometime soon. Of course, we need to reschedule our trip to the Redwoods that we had originally planned for Saturday! Although we were going for the Trees of Mystery and the Tour-Thru Tree, I can stop by a Redwoods National Park center for a passport stamp.

Although I would love to become a National Parks junkie, it was really only financially possible for me to visit two National Parks in just one weekend because it was part of National Park Week, and the National Park Service allowed all parks and monuments to have free entrance. Normally Lava Beds and Crater Lake each have a $15 entrance fee per car. I would definitely love to take advantage of the upcoming entrance days in August, September, November, or any of the other free days listed here. To save money on National Parks in the future, I may consider getting an annual pass (I can’t wait until I’m 62 and can get the discounted lifetime pass!), or I may try to find out which of my friends have a fourth-grade child, since a car with a fourth grader in it can enter National Parks for free! Some National Parks and Monuments are always free, which thankfully, the Oregon Caves and Redwoods both fall into the free category!

A Tale of Two Parthenons

I have visited two Parthenons. What, you didn’t know there were two of them? You’re probably aware of the most famous Parthenon sitting atop the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. I visited that one a few months ago as part of my three-month Mediterranean Trek.

But this wasn’t the first Parthenon I’ve been to.

Several years ago, I took my first “official” solo trip to Nashville, Tennessee. Like most visitors to this city, I enjoyed the music scene, but I also explored other elements of Nashville, like its history, its Bible belt Christianity, and its parks. Yes, Nashville has some excellent parks that alone may be enough to warrant a trip! There’s the huge Bicentennial Park, the Riverfront Park along the Cumberland, and Centennial Park. The centerpiece of Centennial park is a full-scale replica of Athens’ Parthenon. Seeing this Parthenon is what initially motivated me to visit Greece.

Although Tennessee’s Parthenon is a copy of the one in Greece, each have their own unique characteristics. If you’ve seen one, you may want to plan a trip to go see the other. If you have yet to see either, maybe this comparison will help you decide which to see first!

History

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The Acropolis in the center of Athens

Athens: Obviously, Athens’ ancient Acropolis and Parthenon has a long, rich history, so I’ll just go over some of the highlights that makes it what it is today. The Parthenon was built in ancient Greece as part of the Acropolis, or “City on High”. However, it wasn’t actually a city, but a mountain in the center of Athens where several temples were erected for various gods. The biggest, the Parthenon, was dedicated to Athena, a goddess who is the virgin patron of her namesake city. After thousands of years, the building is understandably in ruins, but some events, such as thievery and an accidental explosion when it was used for military storage, left it in even further shambles.

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The Parthenon in the center of Centennial Park

Nashville: The Parthenon’s replica was one of many buildings constructed on a piece of acreage in celebration of the city’s 100th year. The land aptly became known as Centennial Park. If you visit today, the only building you’ll find in the park is the Parthenon. What happened to all the other buildings? All of the exposition buildings were made to be temporary, but Nashville citizens fell in love with their version of the Parthenon. They protested until the city officials decided to make some structural adjustments to the Parthenon so that it would stand the test of time.

Location

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Behind me is another temple dedicated to Zeus. If you look in the background, you can see that the Parthenon is visible from most other ruins.

Athens: The Parthenon is located on a hill called the Acropolis, in the center of downtown. Back in the day, it was a convenient reminder for the Greeks to pay respect to their religion, especially since they could only travel by feet or chariot. Today, it makes it conveniently located for travelers, who may not even need to take the subway to reach it! I stayed at two hostels in Athens. Most of my time was spent at Athens Backpackers, but one night was spent in AthenStyle. Both of these hostels had a rooftop lookout where you could see the Parthenon, which was especially beautiful lit-up at night. During the day, it was just a short walk (albeit uphill) from both of these places to reach the entrance.

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Downtown Nashville in the backdrop of the Parthenon

Nashville: Because this park was created one hundred years after the downtown area was established, it’s a couple of miles away from other city sites. That doesn’t mean that the Parthenon isn’t accessible, though! Since many people drive to Nashville, they will appreciate that it’s much easier to park here than it is in the city center. I did not visit with a car, but there were several days when I would walk both in the downtown and Centennial Park areas. I stayed at Music City Hostel, which was at an ideal location between the Parthenon and other Nashville attractions.

Condition

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Scaffolding to help preserve the ruins of Athens’ Parthenon

Athens: As mentioned above, the original Parthenon is in disrepair. However, there are people working on its preservation. Many of the original attached pieces of art were taken by the British. (I would love to see a fight break out in this post’s comments about whether or not they were stolen!) Other remaining pieces were moved to the neighboring Acropolis Museum. Regardless, this is in every sense an ancient ruin, and visitors have to stay behind the roped-off area which is several meters away from the Parthenon itself.

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One of the art pieces inside Nashville’s Parthenon

Nashville: Unlike the Athens version, this replica invites people to come inside! While it’s not made with expensive marble like Greece’s, it is structurally sound and fully intact. In addition, of the original Parthenon’s sculptures were replicated and displayed on this Parthenon’s exterior. In other words, it is not a replica of the Greek Parthenon as we see it today. Other than the material it’s made of, it looks exactly like what the Parthenon would have looked like shortly after its construction.

Features

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I’m standing on Areopagus with the Acropolis entrance on the hill behind me

Athens: Surrounding the Parthenon are several other ancient Greek temples. Because it’s on a hill, the views of the city are stunning from up here. Although you can’t touch any of the buildings, you can walk among many pieces of original marble lying around. On the side of the hill is also a historic site that includes two theaters. If you’re into art, you will only see replica sculptures at the Acropolis, but visiting the Acropolis Museum down the hill may be worth the admission. My favorite thing to do at the Acropolis was listen to Rick Steves’ audio tour, which you can download for free onto your phone. On this tour, he even mentions the merit of the other Parthenon, located in…

Nashville: Entering through the basement of the Parthenon, you’ll find lockers and a gift shop. You can then walk up through the next several floors, which is a history museum. The displayed history is a combination of Nashville history (particularly pertaining to the Parthenon) and ancient history of the Athens Acropolis. When you reach the top level, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a 42-foot statue of Athena, the tallest indoor sculpture in the western world. This is a replica of what was originally found in the Athens Parthenon, but no one knows what happened to that one. It’s even painted in the gold and bright colors that all the Acropolis statues were once painted with. (Though they did use fake gold instead of the real thing!)

Cost

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Athens light up the Parthenon

Athens: Admission to the Acropolis is typically 12 euros, or free for those under 19. I was fortunate enough to be in Athens during European Heritage Days. During this last weekend in September, all visits are free! (A few other Greek holidays also provide free admission.) The ticket also includes admission to other ancient Greek sites around Athens, so this ticket alone may be your only expense in Athens besides, food, accommodations, and transportation. If you don’t want to see the Parthenon up-close (although I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to!), there are several surrounding hills and buildings that offer a great view.

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Nashville lights up the Parthenon

Nashville: Normal admission is $6 for adults or $4 for children and seniors. There are sometimes events outside of normal museum hours that would involve a different rate. However, if you don’t want to go inside (again, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to!), no one can stop you from enjoying the exterior, and the rest of Centennial Park, for absolutely free! Unlike the other Parthenon, you can touch, walk on, and get up close to building at no expense. It’s even lit up at night like the original! The only caveat is that it’s not on a hill, so you can’t see it outside of Centennial Park.

Which Parthenon would you like to visit next? Let me know in the comments!