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Mount Roberts

Juneau, Alaska

 

 

I was so glad that I finally got to check Alaska off my bucket list. We went on an Un-Cruise adventure a few summers ago and it was one of my most favorite travel experiences…ever. We arrived in Juneau a couple of days prior to our cruise and had lots of fun touring the downtown area, riding up Mount Roberts and exploring the Mendenhall Glacier (see earlier blog posts).

 

 

The Mount Roberts Tram near downtown Juneau was built in 1996 and travels 1,800 feet up through the tall trees of the mountainous rain forest. The ride is very smooth and only lasts a few minutes. Each car carries up to 60 passengers but we were the only passengers onboard the afternoon that we booked our trip. The expansive views as you ascend up the mountainside are spectacular!  The main streets of Juneau, the cruise ship docks, Gastineau Channel, the thick evergreens, and eagles sitting in the treetops are just a few of the sights we saw on this clear summer day.

 

 

The tram car docks at the Mountain House and Nature Center, about halfway up the mountain. You quickly disembark and have the opportunity to visit a gift shop, grab a snack, shop in the art gallery, or use the restrooms. We stopped by the Nature Center and saw a couple of live eagles – one named Lady Baltimore (pictured above) is in permanent rehab here due to an almost fatal gun shot wound. There is plenty of educational info detailing the geography, history, wildlife, plants, and the Native Americans of this area. We also found information about the hiking trails and located maps that helped us decide which route would be best for our ability and time allotment.

 

 

Most of the hiking trails were very well-marked and considered a “moderate” level due to slight inclines in certain areas.  The trail we explored took us by wild-life viewing platforms, colorful wildflowers, gorgeous views, and native tree carvings. We walked through mountain meadows, hiked up dirt paths into the forest, and walked single file along trails that hugged the side of the snow-topped mountains. One of our destinations was Father Brown’s Cross, a very scenic stop with amazing views of Juneau below. This cross is a replacement for one placed here in the early 1900’s by a Roman Catholic priest who made Juneau his home.

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Photo op at Father Brown’s Cross overlooking the Gastineau Channel and Juneau docks

Mount Roberts Tram is the most popular tourist attraction in southeast Alaska with over 200,000 visitors each summer. It runs May through September and tickets are $33 per person. In my opinion, it was worth every penny! Don’t miss these spectacular views and gorgeous hiking trails if you have the opportunity to visit Juneau.

 

 

 

Chautauqua

Boulder, Colorado

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Chautauqua National Historic Landmark sign at the park entrance

If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself near Boulder, Colorado with some free time, make your way to Chautauqua National Historic Landmark. Located in the shadows of the Flatirons on the southwest side of Boulder, you will find picturesque views, hiking trails, a dining hall, and over 60 lodges or accommodations for overnight stays.

This is a favorite place for locals and visitors alike. There is a Visitor’s Center at the park’s trail head where you can learn about the plants and animals in the area and also pick up a map showing the 151 miles of trails. There seems to be a trail for every level of hiker. Most of the trails start out on the large meadow in front of the Visitor’s Center and go up into the Flatirons. You can hike for 30 minutes or all day. Some trails meander along the base of the mountains through dense forests. Other trails have moderate to steep inclines and wind up well into the Flatirons for breathtaking views. Trail markers are visible all along the way. According to the season, you may see many types of flowers, flowering trees, tall pines, boulders, streams, cacti, birds, chipmunks, deer, and sometimes – black bears.

Chautauqua is where the locals go for their daily exercise. While many “flat-landers” like myself have to stop every few yards to catch their breath in the higher altitudes, locals come running by or hurriedly walk past with one baby strapped on their front and a toddler on their shoulders – moseying along like it takes no effort whatsoever. Really?! Embarrassment on the trail is when a couple, likely to be in their eighties, scamper by at a quick pace and smile at you as you sit on a boulder gasping for air. I do admit, as hard as some of the hikes have been – it has ALWAYS been worth it!

Another thing I love about Colorado and Chautauqua in particular – it is a dog’s paradise. All the trails are dog-friendly and you see all shapes and sizes of canines. All the dogs seem to be smiling, have pep in their steps, and are loving every minute of their life!  We actually parked by a “doggie van” last time we were there that picks up dogs at their homes and then takes the dogs for hikes or runs at Chautauqua. What a great idea for “doggie day out!” This could easily be my dream job….if I was in a little better shape.
Not only humans and canines enjoy hiking up Chautauqua. On one visit, I actually saw a guy coming down from the Flatirons with a big ole yellow tabby cat riding on his shoulders. Yep, it is the truth….only in Colorado.

We have been to Chautauqua during all seasons. In summer, you need to get an early start before the sun beats down on you. In the spring, the wildflowers are glorious and the trees and grass are all shades of green. In the fall, all the trees turn golden yellow, orange or red and the views of Boulder from the mountain are a burst of colors. In the winter, the snow turns the Flatirons into a silent, winter wonderland (and people are still hiking!).

Chautauqua actually became a place of refuge for me several years ago. My son, a CU college student, had spinal surgery and I lived with him in Boulder for several weeks following his surgery. When he was well enough to return to classes, I would drop him off at campus and head directly to Chautauqua. Most times I hiked short distances- other times I sat on rocks and reflected, prayed, read books, or just enjoyed the solace. It became my calming getaway and will always hold a special place in my heart.

I recently came across a travel magazine article on Chautauqua that explained in detail the history of this wonderful place. It seems there is a very strong Texas – Colorado connection. Who knew? In Austin, Texas in 1897 the Texas-Colorado Chautauqua Association began. Its purpose was to conduct a summer school for Texas school teachers. Boulder, Colorado was chosen for the location due to the cooler summer temperatures. A $75 fee covered the 6-week session for each teacher. The tuition included room and board, lectures, entertainment, and round-trip rail fare from anywhere within a 100-mile radius of Ft. Worth. The “continuing ed” for these early teachers included cello, guitar, mandolin, piano, vocals, math, chemistry, botany, physics, psychology, education, English, Latin, Greek, French, German and English Literature. When not in class, the participants enjoyed symphonies, motion pictures, burro rides, horseback rides, hikes, and stagecoach rides. This association was very active for over 30 years before the attendance began to decline. If you go on the property today, you see many of the original buildings from this era. The Dining Hall has many old photos depicting some of the summer sessions – very interesting for history buffs.

For those of you who are wondering, “Chautauqua” is an Iroquois word with a few meanings— “a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together,” and describes the shape of Chautauqua Lake, located in southwest New York. This area was the setting for the first educational assembly (Chautauqua Institution) and provided the name for the movement.

I hope you get the chance to visit Chautauqua one day and enjoy it as much as my family does. Go early, dress comfortably, and take plenty of water to drink along the way. Enjoy your hike and then afterwards, have a meal at the Chautauqua Dining Hall. Ask to sit out on the veranda and have a great meal while overlooking the park.  Order the “Rachelette” and tell them Southern Savvy sent you!

Cosanti

Scottsdale, Arizona

When an opportunity presents itself to see an art gallery – count me in! On a girl’s trip this past year with my daughter and sister-in-law to Scottsdale, my research kept turning up a place called Cosanti – a Paolo Soleri Studio. This artist’s studio is internationally known for lovely bronze windbells. I had never heard of the place, but I was sold.

Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) was an Italian born architect and craftsman artist who came to Arizona as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright. Soleri popularized the term “arcology” – architecture and ecology as one. His Cosanti gallery and studio near Scottsdale is an Arizona Historic Site and a perfect example of his innovative architecture.

As I first entered the studio property, my first thought was – this is very different. It was a unique and imaginative environment with an almost “enchanted” vibe.  Odd shaped domes, columns, arches, pathways, native symbols, etc. give the whole place an other-world feel. Words really cannot describe it – my best analogy is a cross between a giant Smurf’s habitat and Luke Skywalker’s home planet! It is not large, but spacious enough to display hundreds of gorgeous bronze windbells that hang in domes, corners, and alcoves throughout the property.

Not only is Cosanti visually stimulating, but the sound coming from all the windbells is unforgettable. Some bells had deep, base tones – others were light and airy. Some were quite loud, others were very quiet and delicate. All around us, a light breeze stirred the windbells and the sounds were amazing – an unrehearsed, impromptu concert in a very fitting environment. 

On certain days, visitors can actually see the bronze bells being poured in the on-site foundry. Unfortunately, we arrived late one afternoon and did not have the opportunity to see this. Visitors can witness the silicon bronze ingots being melted in the foundry’s furnace and and see the melted bronze poured into reusable bell-shaped molds (each bell-piece was originally designed by Soleri). The Cosanti Hallmark design is then pressed into each bell impression to make it authentic. When cooled and removed from molds, each artist then creates their own personal designs. Each bell is unique – some have an oxidized bronze finish while others  have the greenish, patina finish. Approximately 50,000 of these windbells are hand-poured each year. (Prices ranged from $30 – $7000.)

Since 1956, Soleri windbells have been hung on patios, in courtyards, and gardens throughout the world. I can attest that two of these beautiful bronze windbells now hang on a back porch in Rockwall, Texas. I will never tire of their clear, peaceful notes and will fondly remember my visit to Cosanti Studios.

Check out this gallery if you are ever in the Phoenix or Scottsdale area and have a few minutes. Pick up a nice windbell souvenir for yourself…..or better yet – bring me another!!

Water Mill, NY

The Hamptons

After watching several television series and movies that featured The Hamptons and Long Island, I was ready to check this area out for myself. After a bit of research, I settled on staying in Water Mill, NY.  This little village is a hamlet of the Town of Southampton and was settled in 1644. It was the perfect location from which to explore East Hampton, Westhampton, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, Montauk and Sagaponack – all just minutes away.

My first bit of luck was choosing The White Fences Inn. This was a wonderful little Bed and Breakfast with a perfect location. Liz and Eric were most hospitable hosts and their goldendoodle Bailey stole our hearts!  The White Fences Inn was originally built in 1740, and the new owners did a fantastic job renovating and remodeling this historic home. It was cozy, comfortable and had all the latest modern amenities. We were served a delicious three-course breakfast every morning on the back patio (weather permitting) or in the lovely modern dining room. We had a great stay here and especially enjoyed getting to know our hosts and meeting some of the other guests.

Just down the road from The White Fences Inn sat what looked like a most unusual and very long barn. This just happened to be the Parrish Art Museum. Being an art major and having free passes from our B&B, we decided to check it out. This unique building houses a very nice modern art collection. I do admit that the building’s architecture – interior and exterior – was as interesting as the art collection. We enjoyed our morning visit here and saw some very thought-provoking paintings by local artists.

This area of Long Island is very beautiful with its green rolling hills, floral gardens, corn crops, and meticulously planted vineyards. It is very similar to Tuscany and Napa Valley. Who knew that this area of the country was known for winemaking? I certainly did not!

There were several wineries and vineyards in this area, and we visited three of them during our stay. Our favorite was the Wolffer Estate Vineyards down the road from us in Sagaponack. The main Wolffer Estate building was quite elegant – built in a Mediterranean style with lush landscaping and stone terraces. We sat on the back patio terrace on a lovely afternoon and enjoyed a Tuscan board with artisan cheeses, breads, fruits and nuts. We sampled several of their chardonnays, rose’ and red blends. The wines were all delicious and we purchased several bottles to take back home with us. This area of New York is known for their award-winning rose’ wines and now after drinking a few, I can attest as to why!

Another thing that surprised me about this area was the lovely beaches. Our B&B gave us parking passes to the local Flying Point Beach just minutes from where we stayed. Our hosts loaded us up with towels, chairs, umbrella, drinks & snacks and sent us on our way. This beach was gorgeous – fine white sand, sand dunes, sea oats, and more sea birds than people! We had such a quiet, relaxing day here and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was an absolutely perfect day at the beach.

At the end of each day we would go back to The White Fences Inn, clean up, and drive a few minutes into the downtown area of the Village of Southampton for dinner. This neat little town had clothing shops, chic cafes, fancy restaurants, cheese shops, bakeries, delicatessens,  and coffee shops. We had some delicious meals each evening and really enjoyed the local seafood. One night we dined at the Red Bar, a favorite restaurant of the locals, and sat a few tables over from Howard Stern and his wife! You never know who you will see here since so many famous actors, designers, musicians, models, etc. have homes here and live a relatively quiet life. Water Mill, NY is the 14th most expensive zip in the U.S. with the median home price at $2,965,000. I don’t think we will be relocating any time soon.

We had an absolutely wonderful time in The Hamptons and were pleasantly surprised by all there was to see and do.  An earlier blog of mine covered Montauk and the Montauk Lighthouse which is just a few minutes drive from here also.  There were antique shops, old churches, ferries, charter boats, stables, horse shows, pumpkin farms, historical museums, art galleries, sailing, surfing, beaches, etc.  – literally something for everyone. It was a great vacation destination and one that I had not heard much about. After we spent a few days here, we then drove the two hours back into NYC for the second leg of our trip. Great time – great memories! 

 

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Garden of the Gods

Colorado Springs, CO

Garden of the Gods is a National Natural Landmark located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This is a great place to spend part of a day or a full day. You can choose to hike, go rock climbing, bike, ride horseback, or take a leisurely drive (like we did). There are 15 miles of well-marked trails (22 total) throughout the park.

We began at the Visitor & Nature Center and Museum at the park’s entrance. This is a wonderful building with geology, ecology, and cultural history exhibits. (Be sure to read about the 125 million-year-old, one-of-a-kind dinosaur fossil found here in 1886.) There are many hands-on exhibits and activities for adults and children. The visitor’s center also houses a gift shop, restrooms, a cafe, theater, and an information desk where you can pick up a free full-color trail map of the park. Step out of the center onto the observation deck for spectacular views of Garden of the Gods. This is the perfect spot to take a photo of the dramatic 300′ towering sandstone formations with the foothills of the Rockies and Pike’s Peak in the distance.  What a backdrop!

When you leave the visitor’s center, the entrance to the park is across the highway. There is not an entrance fee – the park is free. 

All the roads, trails and parking areas are well-marked and easy to find. Each turn seems to bring a different, amazing sight. All these rock formations were created by a geological upheaval 300 million years ago. The bright red, pink, gray and white rocks are various shapes and sizes – all motionless and silent. Many were tilted vertically and formed into “fin-like” spikes. Others have been toppled, slanted, pushed around, overturned and eroded.  Most of the rocks are sandstone, limestone or conglomerate and each one is a true masterpiece of Mother Nature.

As the road winds through the park, you can stop for photo ops and explore “Balanced Rock,” located right next to “Steamboat Rock.” Cathedral Valley houses the “Three Graces,” “Gray Rock,” “Sleeping Giant,” and “Kissing Camels” to name a few. There are plenty of pull-offs and parking areas throughout the park. We actually stopped at one trail head and hiked a short distance before having lunch at one of the many picnic areas. There are many trails for easy hikes if you want to check out all the natural flora and fauna. There are also more difficult trails for the athletically inclined people who want to do some actual rock climbing. 

We chose to drive the park on our own this particular day. If interested, there are several other options for exploring the park: private car tours, bikes, jeeps, segways, ATV’s, luxury buses, or horseback. The Park Program also offers 45-minute Nature Walks and Nature Talks daily through the Visitor’s Center. Your call!

We truly had a wonderful day here and I will always remember the sight of those gigantic rock formations. The colors, shapes, and prehistoric-looking landscape will be difficult to forget. It reminds me of how powerful this earth can be, how old this planet actually is, and how land is constantly changing. I sincerely hope you have the opportunity to visit Garden of the Gods.

 

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The Freedom Trail

Boston, Massachusetts

If you find yourself lucky enough to be in Boston for a day or two, the Freedom Trail is a “must see – must do.” Just follow the red brick line on the sidewalks throughout Boston and you be led on the 2.5 mile tour of 16 American Revolution sites. This is a great outdoor activity perfect for most ages and especially suited for history buffs. Just wear comfortable shoes and plan on spending 2-5 hours walking, exploring, visiting historic sites, and best of all – getting to know the city.

They are several ways to enjoy the Freedom Trail. My suggestion is to do it on your own so that you can spend as much or as little time as you choose at each location. If you get too tired the first day, stop. Pick it up the next day where you left off and do different parts on different days. For the techies, there is a phone app you can download ($4.99) that can be very helpful. There are also paper maps (for us old folks) that you can get from stops throughout the city or from your hotel. The National Park Service has a visitor’s center at Faneuil Hall where they offer tours and give out free maps. There are also several independent tour companies that offer 1-hour guided tours, private tours with a driver, or photowalks. (Photowalks are led by someone helping you capture each historic site in the best light and from the best vantage point.) You will see various tour groups at several of the stops. They are hard to miss since the tour guides are dressed in period costumes, wigs, stockings, shoes, tricorn hats, etc. 

My husband and I have always preferred walking the trail on our own. That way, we can stop for a lobster roll, a bowl of clam chowder, and maybe even a pastachio cannoli  – whenever the mood strikes! The trail takes you by some fabulous places to eat or stop for a “spot o’ tea”, a cup of coffee, or a cold brew. We actually had lunch with Benjamin Franklin one day! How many people do you know that can say that?

Most of the Freedom Trail guides will start you at Boston Common – America’s oldest public park and in front of the gold-domed Massachusetts State House. It will end at the Bunker Hill Monument. You see famous sites, old buildings, interesting people, the North End (Little Italy), the financial area, markets, eateries, churches and graveyards. Some of the streets are very quaint and narrow since they were first made in the 1600’s for horses, carriages and wagons – not the heavy city traffic we all know today. All of the historic sights are very well conserved and attended. Thirteen of the sixteen stops are free, and three require a small admission fee (Paul Revere’s House, the Old South meeting House and Old State House).

If you only have one day, be sure to see the Old North Church, the site of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s House, Faneuil Hall,  and Granary Burial Ground. The last time we stayed in Boston, our hotel was right across the street from the Granary Burial Grounds. This cemetery is one of my favorite places in Boston. It dates back to 1660 and houses the remains of Samuel Adams, victims of the Boston Massacre,  Peter Faneuil, Mary “Mother” Goose, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. If you remember your history lessons, only 5 civilians were killed in the Boston “Massacre.” The Revolutionists’ great PR team made it seem a much more tragic event to play up the role of the evil, murdering British. 

There is a small pub across the street from Granary Burial Grounds. We were told by our Duck Tour guide that “this is the only place in Boston where you can drink a cold Samuel Adams while looking out over a cold, dead Samuel Adams.” Tasteless – but still kind of funny!

There is SO much history in Boston. Take it all in. It makes you proud of those early Americans who rose up against a mighty nation and demanded their rights and civil liberties. Walking the Freedom Trail puts it all in perspective – at least it did for me. It is hard to stand on the hill in the North End and look up at the tall steeple of the Old North Church and not think about Paul Revere and his midnight ride….”one if by land, two if by sea.” When you walk the Freedom Trail, you are truly walking in the footsteps of our forefathers. Walk tall and walk proud….and please do not forget that cannoli!

 

 

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Mendenhall Glacier

Juneau, Alaska

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Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

 David and I had the opportunity to go on a small Alaskan cruise (Un-Cruise) two summers ago and this trip remains one of my all-time favorite vacations. We flew into Juneau a couple of days early to do some exploring before setting off on our adventure cruise. One of the excursions we took while staying in Juneau was to the beautiful Mendenhall Glacier. 

On a gorgeous morning at the end of May, we loaded up on a city bus and rode the 12 miles from downtown Juneau to the nearest bus stop for the Mendenhall Glacier. From the bus stop, we walked approximately one mile to the entrance to the park. This was a very easy walk and we enjoyed it. We saw beaver dams, thick alpine forests, mossy boulders, and scenic views all along the way leading up to the glacier. The weather was perfect.

We soon  arrived at the entrance of the U.S. Forest Service’s historic Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. There is an upper entrance with a ramp and lower entrance with elevators. The views from here were stunning! There are many viewpoints on the outside of the center where you can observe the marvelous river of ice, the alpine ridges, Mendenhall Lake and floating icebergs – all in the distance. 

The Visitor Center was very nice and was well worth a visit. There is an educational movie every 20 minutes (very informative), exhibits, rangers, maps, and a bookstore. One of my favorite exhibits contained photos of the glacier and its progression/recession throughout the years. There is also a glacier bear (taxidermy) which was very unique with its pale blue/silver color – most unusual. Mother Nature adapted this color change to camouflage these brown bears who live on the ice. Very interesting.

We looked at the area maps and picked a couple of trails to explore. We chose Trail of Time and Nugget Falls Trail – both of these trails were easy to walk, took us through a segment of the forest and meandered along the lake. We followed the trails through moss & lichens, skunk cabbage, blueberry & salmonberry bushes and beautiful flowering plants. Our goal was to end up at the base of Nugget Falls. 

After walking a half-mile or so, we started hearing the roar of the falls in the distance and were anxiously anticipating seeing it “up close and personal”. We soon did!

The sight of Nugget Falls cascading down the mountainside near the glacier was breathtaking. The sound was immense! We were dwarfed in comparison to the size, scope and power of these falls (see photo below). We approached the falls, got covered in the cool spray and took lots of photos. As we walked along the rocky beach – we had even better views of the glacier, ice caves, and small icebergs floating in the lake all around us. This was one of those special “pinch me” moments!

We took our time and explored the beach here for awhile. The weather and the scenery were both perfect and we knew we needed to treasure this moment and imprint these sights & sounds in our memory. We collected some small glacial rocks. We pulled icebergs (“bergies”) out of the water and played with them. We watched a group of canoers paddling out to the glacier. We watched small areas of the huge glacier “calving” and releasing more small broken chunks of ice into the clear blue, icy waters. We spotted turquoise blue ice caves at the glacier’s edge. This was Mother Nature at her best.

Experts tell us that by the end of the century, the Mendenhall Glacier will no longer be visible from the current Visitor’s Center. This 13 mile long glacier is melting at a rapid rate due to global warming. Decades ago, there was not even a Mendenhall Lake – this lake was formed due to the glacier ice melting and receding. I highly suggest that if this is something you would like to see, go sooner rather than later! You can visit on your own as we did – or book a guided solo trek,  a helitour, a guided walk or a canoe tour. It is truly a fantastic place to experience first hand. Photos and words cannot do it justice. See it for yourself!

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