Tag Archive | travel blogger

Lake Agnes Teahouse

Alberta, Canada

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Let me start by saying I am not a very athletic person. I am not competitive and never have been. I am an out-of-shape, almost sixty-year-old female with an artificial knee. Keep that in mind as I share this story that happened last month when my husband and I visited Canada and we will call it “Susan vs the Mountain.”

We stayed in a lovely little hotel in Lake Louise and decided for our first full day in Canada to hike up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse that was located on one of the mountains behind the Fairmont Chateau. This is a very popular hiking trail and we were told to arrive early due to limited parking. So at 7:45 a.m. – carrying our backpacks, water supply, and bear spray – we pulled into the parking lot and headed towards the trail head beside the shore of beautiful Lake Louise.

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Our research told us that this is a half-day hike (1-2 hours one way) with a total distance of  7 km (4.5 miles). Our elevation gain would be 1300 feet (which soon seemed like 1300 miles!) and we would end up at 7005 feet. The trail began along the wooded lake shore and soon started leading upwards. When I say “leading upwards”…..I mean leading UPWARDS  (body bent in half, head forward, toes digging in) upwards. The trail zigzagged back and forth through the trees at a pretty steady incline. The trail was well-maintained, though we had to be mindful of loose rocks, gravel, and tree roots. Immediately the altitude became an enemy. Every few yards I had to grab a tree or sit on a rock and wheeze a little to catch my breath. Whose idea was this?

During these multiple moments of trying to breathe, I would look up and be amazed at the gorgeous scenery around me. We were in dense evergreen forests with colorful wildflowers,  scrambling chipmunks, and silence…..except for my wheezing. When the trail would switch back in one direction, we had gorgeous views of the turquoise Lake Louise which was now below us as we rose higher on the mountain.

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About halfway up this trail with a racing heart rate, burning thighs, and parched throat – my attitude changed. I went from “oh, how lovely” to “who in their right mind would build a  @%$#&*!  teahouse on the side of a mountain?” I was sweating, my face was bright red, and a cup of hot tea was not what I wanted at this particular moment in time. Tequila? Maybe. Chamomile or Earl Grey? Nope.

Being the hard-headed ole broad that I am, I pushed on and finished the hike in a little under two hours. The trail had been long and difficult but I was determined not to give up – I had come too far to quit at this point. We soon heard voices through the trees and knew that we were close to the end of our hike. A beautiful waterfall appeared around the final bend and the views below us were amazing. We stopped and caught our breath only to discover that the only way up to the teahouse from this point was a wooden staircase with what seemed like a thousand steps. Really? We hadn’t suffered enough? Once again I thought – who in their right minds would do this?

 

After a little more (okay, a lot more) griping, pulling and pushing – we made it up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse.  I was not prepared for what awaited us. The scene was breathtaking! The teahouse is a very rustic, two-story log structure situated on a scenic mountain lake and is surrounded on three sides by snowy mountain peaks. There were dozens of people here ahead of us (these crazy people hiked up here too?) and everyone was chilling and enjoying the place. We found a table on the teahouse porch, dropped our backpacks, and ordered lunch.

The Lake Agnes Teahouse was originally built as a shelter for hikers and began serving tea in 1905.  There is no running water or electricity so the menu is quite simple. All supplies and foods are transported manually by workers, by horseback, or flown in by helicopter. Staff members bring supplies up and carry garbage back down. They offered loose leaf teas, hot chocolate, soups, scones, sandwiches, salads and chips – nothing fancy and cash only.  We sat outside with views of the Canadian Rockies and Lake Agnes and enjoyed a pot of tea, scones, and sandwiches and it was all delicious. This was another of my life’s “pinch me moments.” I have never felt such a sense of accomplishment and contentment as I did at that very moment.

After enjoying our refreshments, a brief rest period and the views here for an hour or so, we decided to head back down the trail. Getting up there was the hard part but was well worth it. Walking down was going to be a breeze. Right?

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The first part of going back down was very pleasant and the trail was so much easier. I was riding on an emotional high – I had completed the uphill hike and had my bragging rights for one of the most difficult things I had ever attempted. All was well until I took a step and my left hiking boot felt “odd” and heavy. Lo and behold, the front sole was detaching from my boot! I found the nearest boulder to plop down on to examine the damage while David searched our backpacks for a cord or something to tie my boot back together. He found his earbuds and did a quite nice job of wrapping them around my foot and held the boot sole on for the remainder of my hike. David’s Boy Scout training had paid off. All was well.

“All was well” until five minutes later when my other boot came apart. Yep! The thick rubber sole almost completely detached from the bottom of the right boot as well. It felt like I was walking downhill on a rocky trail in swim fins! We didn’t have any more earbuds or anything string-like. The best thing to do at this point was go ahead and pull this sole completely off and hobble on down the trail on the thin leather bottom. That is exactly what I did. It felt like I was walking down a steep mountain while wearing one cheap house slipper and one utility work boot, with one leg much shorter than the other.

This was one of those days that covered a full range of emotions. We laughed, I cried, we worried, and then we laughed some more. I may have even cursed a little. When all was said and done, this day will forever be etched in my brain as one of the most memorable days of my life. I was so proud of myself for not giving up and pushing myself to my physical limits. I was so proud of my husband who deserves a medal for his patience and kindness. I felt so privileged to be able to see “in person” the breathtaking sights we saw that day – scenes that cannot be replicated by videos or photos. After all was said and done…it was simply The Best.

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I hope you get the opportunity to visit Lake Louise and take this hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. Words cannot describe it and photos cannot come close to capturing the real-life experience. I do have a few words of advice for you though: travel with a great partner, take drinking water & bear spray, wear new hiking boots (with stitched – not glued – bottoms), be in decent physical shape, and ALWAYS take duct tape with you wherever you go!

One final chapter to our adventure – David left me at the trail head when we finally finished the hike and volunteered to go get our car. He did not wish for me to continue walking unevenly and risk another knee injury, which I very much appreciated. So I sat….for a long time. After walking back to find our car and trying to get back to me through heavy traffic, David made an illegal u-turn to shorten his driving time back to the start of the trail to pick me up. Unfortunately for him, he turned right in front of a Canadian policeman. A $155 traffic ticket became the “cherry on top” of this day.

I always did love a bad boy.

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Louise

Alberta, Canada

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Banff has always been on my radar. It was not until our dentist visited there and passed on her experiences that we decided to make this trip happen sooner, rather than later. Dr. Williamson, our long-time family dentist, painted a detailed picture in my mind of towering peaks, gorgeous mountain lakes, ancient glaciers, the perfect hotel, and delicious foods.  I was sold. Plans were made. Passports were dusted off. Bags were packed. Canada, here we come!

My husband and I flew into Calgary and rented a car to drive the two hours into Banff National Park. Needless to say, most of the drive was breathtakingly beautiful as we headed towards the heart of the Canadian Rockies on a warm August afternoon.

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on the Post Hotel grounds

Over one hundred years ago, Lake Louise (named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria)  was just a wild outpost at the end of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was mainly a base for outdoor enthusiasts, thrill-seekers, and hunters.  Today Lake Louise is a luxury resort area that is famous for its gorgeous lakes, mountain tea houses, grizzly bears, and hiking trails.  This area attracts large crowds of tourists from all over the world in the summer season. I was not surprised to hear Spanish, Farsi, Norwegian, German, French, Japanese, and Chinese all spoken around me in the span of 15 minutes at the Fairmont Chateau. We had all come together in this place to share in one of the most unforgettable and spectacular sights in North America.

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Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

In the early afternoon, we arrived in the town of Lake Louise and checked in to the Post Hotel. Once again, Dr. Williamson had given us excellent advice! This was a small, boutique hotel located steps away from The Village (main shopping center with small grocery store, deli, bakery, visitor’s center, grill, etc.).  The Post Hotel was situated along the shores of the Pipestone River in a beautiful area with wonderful views. It was luxurious, quaint, and had wonderful amenities – including afternoon tea and a five-star restaurant. We loved everything about it – even the bear spray you checked out each day from the front desk! 

Ours plans the first day were to drive to the “actual” Lake Louise and hike up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. This is a popular hiking trail that begins on the edge of the lake near the iconic Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau. This mountainous trail leads 5+ miles (round trip) to a lovely little rustic tea house that was built in 1905 and sits on the shoreline of another idyllic alpine lake, Lake Agnes.  This hike ended up being newsworthy enough to get a blog all to itself!  More of this excursion to come at a later date………

We headed to Lake Louise very early this particular morning to procure parking as it fills up very quickly. We grabbed our hiking gear and walked a short distance from the parking area to the shoreline. We stepped out of the treeline onto the shore and I was speechless.

The views were surreal.

Lake Louise is simply a postcard that you step into.

 

Lake Louise is what makes Banff National Park such a popular destination. I find it impossible to describe without resorting to shameless cliches. The lake is most famous for its glacier-fed, mirror-like, turquoise water. It is surrounded on three sides by soaring snow-capped mountain peaks and a stately shoreline chateau (The Fairmont) on one end. When you stand next to this serene lake and gaze out onto Victoria Glacier, the glassy water, and the towering mountains – it is no wonder that this breathtakingly beautiful place is the most photographed sight in the Canadian Rockies. Unfortunately, photos really can’t do it justice. The 360-degree views seem unreal. Words are lost as your senses take over.

Our first full day in Lake Louise turned out to be amazing! Now we needed to plan the remainder of our stay. Luckily, the town of Lake Louise turned out to be the perfect base for our summer trip. What to do next? There was plenty of hiking, kayaking, cycling, and canoeing opportunities in the area. There were also more sights to see than we had days to see them! We had to prioritize and plan our agenda for the remainder of our stay.

We visited Lake Moraine, another spectacular mountain lake with stunning views and well worth a visit. We drove the Icefields Parkway. This is a beautiful drive from Lake Louise to Jasper that takes you by glorious lakes, waterfalls, mountain views, a glacier field, hiking trails, lookout points, etc. The scenery was amazing! 

One sunny afternoon was spent riding up one of ski slopes in the Lake Louise Gondola. This proved to be another fun activity and the views were great. Another day was spent in Yoho National Park hiking around Emerald Lake, seeing the Natural Bridge, and hiking up to Takakawa Falls. There was so much natural beauty surrounding us – too much to see and way too little time! At the end of each day, it was so nice to return to our quiet, little hotel. We enjoyed afternoon tea, wine on the lawn, and delicious four-course gourmet meals. I really did not want to leave at he end of our stay.

We thoroughly enjoyed our wonderful stay and visit to the village of Lake Louise. I will never forget the scenery and the experiences we had here. Great memories were made! Now we were off to the towns of Banff and Canmore and then on to Calgary for a few days. More stories to tell!

Stay tuned.

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Bow Summit and Peyto Lake

 

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Colorado Springs, CO

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My family and I just returned from a trip to Colorado and a visit to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The zoo was absolutely spectacular!

This zoo is located 6,800 ft. above sea level and is built on the side of a forested mountain with breathtaking views. It was founded in 1926 and is the highest zoo in the nation. It has recently been voted the 4th best zoo in the United States.  There are 15 main exhibits that cover over 140 acres and house over 170 different species of animals.  Each exhibit “mirrors” natural habitats in the wild and makes you feel like you are transported around the globe. 

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One of the first areas after you enter the gates will be Encounter Africa. This award-winning exhibit puts you face-to-face with a dozen or so reticulated giraffes. These gentle, long-necked animals are eye-level and you can hand-feed them zoo-provided lettuce ($2-$5 purchase). Beware the long, slimy tongues but try to enjoy all the surprised looks when lettuce-feeders are freaked out! The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has the largest giraffe herd of any zoo in the country (16 of them!) due in part to their prolific breeding program (200 births in 6 years). This was an unforgettable experience for everyone in my family.

There are a number of other animal feedings that are offered throughout the park. We happened upon the elephant feeding ($15 for an apple and carrot).  This a once-in-a-lifetime experience and great photo op! We also fed seed-encrusted, peanut butter sticks to rooms full of parakeets in the Budgie Buddies exhibit. There was another feeding exhibition we happened upon in the Rocky Mountain Wild area. A zoo attendant was illustrating what one specific grizzly bear preferred to eat (she liked meat, watermelon, and peanut butter but did not like cucumber!). These bears were HUGE and frightening! We watched as this one female bear swatted away undesirable food offered by the attendant while the other grizzly swam, ran around, and scratched itself on a dead tree.  They were pretty entertaining….but still scary as hell! 

The one experience that my family will not soon forget was our animal encounter at the Australian Walkabout. This habitat houses emus and a tree kangaroo and is located on the uppermost part of the zoo. This is a fairly steep, though gradual, walk (beware calf muscles!). The main section is a grassy, gated-off area where adult and baby wallabies hop all around you. They recline, bask in the sun, dig in the grass, take baths, sit next to you, and jump all around with no fear whatsoever. Being up close and personal with wallabies is not something I get to do everyday in Texas! We loved this!!

I was also quite impressed with the Reptile House. I have never seen such artistic and beautiful reptile enclosures – backdrops, shiny tiles, glass sculptures, etc. It was most unusual and very interesting. A few of my other highlights included seeing a baby meerkat and wallaby, taking a selfie with a giraffe, getting up close to a moose and grizzly, and stopping every now and then to catch the gorgeous views of Colorado Springs below us. It was prefect weather and made for a great day!

There is so much more to write about this zoo, but I was just impressed by how extensive the park was and how well it is constructed. I honestly do not like even calling this a “zoo” since it doesn’t have that feel to it. It is rather compact, easy to navigate, and feels more like a wildlife sanctuary.  All the animals appear to be healthy and happy – though I certainly can’t speak for them. There are none of the small, concrete enclosures with distressed, pacing animals that have always bothered me and given many zoos a bad name. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo seems to give people a real sense of a natural habitat and doesn’t simply enclose the animals in cages for viewing. My family was impressed.

I hope that you get to visit Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in the future. If you get the opportunity, I suggest you wear comfy shoes, take water and apply plenty of sunscreen. You will be glad you did!

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The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a non-profit and does not receive any local or public tax support. They participate in more than 30 Cooperative Species Survival Programs. The zoo is open 365 days a year.

Magnolia Table

Waco, Texas

On a visit down to the Magnolia Market and Silos in Waco with a friend a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t think a “Chip & Joanna Gaines / Fixer Upper” excursion would be complete without a visit to their newest endeavor – the Magnolia Table.

Waco’s old Elite Cafe is now the Magnolia Table and the latest money-maker in the Fixer Upper empire. Built in 1919, the Elite Cafe was a very popular stop for people driving to and from Dallas and Austin for many decades. It was famous for being the first air-conditioned building in Waco and was rumored to be where Elvis dined with friends on his way to Fort Hood. Elite closed its doors in 2016. Many Waco residents, including Chip and Joanna, hated to see this designated historic landmark fall into disrepair and ruin.

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Chip Gaines had always dreamed of owning a “breakfast joint” and the timing seemed to be right. This location, only 10 minutes from the Magnolia Silos, became the couple’s next big investment. They were beginning to film the last season of their show and were figuring out their next move.  They purchased the Elite and began renovations. Magnolia Table ended up being a two-year, two-million dollar project when all was said and done. They opened the doors on February 26, 2018.

All renovations had to comply with Texas Historical Commission guidelines due to the building’s historic landmark status. Joanna needed to design a plan that preserved the building’s history while giving it a fresh start – I think she did a great job!  The restaurant’s new interior has clean lines, stunning natural light, black & white tile floors, shiny subway tiles, stylish lighting fixtures, beautifully vaulted ceilings, and redwood beams. Joanna Gaines did not try to reinvent anything – she just came up with a great, open design and put thought into every small detail (I particularly liked the hooks for your purse and leather pockets to stash your phone in that are at each table). Old black & white Elite Cafe photos, mirrors, decorative water carafes, vases with greenery, and fresh flowers add to the ambiance and the farmhouse charm. Metal signage reminds you “the good ole days are still to come” and “everyone has a seat at the table.” 

 

Magnolia Table is only open for breakfast and lunch. They do not take reservations so be prepared to come and chill for a while. Fortunately, there is a nice outdoor waiting area with a covered patio, an open patio, a coffee and pastry bar, a kid’s play area, and a takeaway market and gift shop on site. When you check in, you are given a phone app that updates your place in line and is very handy. It is all very efficient and the staff is super friendly.

Once you get into the restaurant, the menu is simple. Magnolia Table serves old-fashioned, down-home cooking – think diner food. They advertise that they try to use only fresh, homegrown ingredients and state that most of the produce comes from Joanna’s farm or from local vendors. My friend and I dined here for brunch/early lunch and wanted to split some choices. We ordered the Silos Baking Co. Bread Basket (butter croissant, chocolate croissant, zucchini bread, blueberry muffin and lemon poppyseed bread) for starters. This fresh pastry basket was well worth the $10 cost and we had leftovers!  I then had the Avocado Toast for my meal and it was delicious. The creamy avocado was spread on multi-grain toast, served with microgreens and a side of sea salt and red pepper flakes ($8). My friend ordered the French Toast Breakfast that came with two slices of toast, strawberry butter, two eggs, peppered bacon and tater tots for $12. The Alabama Sweet Tea was the perfect addition to our meal and everything tasted fresh and delicious. It was most enjoyable and inexpensive for the quantity of food served. Other menu items include burgers, sandwiches, salads, desserts, etc.

Now for the honest part of this dining and travel blog.    Did I enjoy my visit here?  I did, very much so.   Am I a fan of Fixer Upper and Chip & Joanna?  Most definitely.   Did I mind an hour wait for a decent meal?  Not really, since it was my first visit. I enjoyed exploring the TakeAway Market and the grounds.  Would I want to rush back anytime soon for the same experience?  Probably not.  Would it be worth the 2-3 hour wait that we heard was normal on the weekends?  No way. Not ever.  Would I suggest that you visit the Magnolia Table?   You bet! Especially if you are a fan of Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna Gaines. It is a must see. A visit to Waco and the Magnolia Market and Silos wouldn’t be complete without a stop here for a meal.

Will I go back anytime soon? Maybe when friends or family come to visit and want to make a trek down to Waco in the far-off future. I learned a long time ago – never say never!  After all, if the Elite Cafe/Magnolia Table was good enough for Elvis…..it is good enough for me…..again!

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La Jolla

California

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If you are looking for a beautiful seaside resort for a vacation getaway, look no further than La Jolla, California. This little town north of San Diego is located on seven miles of gorgeous Pacific Ocean coastline.

 

The name La Jolla actually comes from the Spanish words “La Joya” which means “the jewel”. Once you see this area – you will understand how it earned this name. There are gorgeous ocean views at every turn. Luxury shops, waterfront restaurants, boutique hotels, art galleries, and parks are located steps away from beautiful blue waters and breathtaking sea cliffs.

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My husband and I recently visited La Jolla after a vacation that included Palm Springs and Temecula. San Diego and La Jolla were the last stops on this California trip and all are within easy driving distances. We stayed at a little boutique hotel in La Jolla (Pantai Inn) just steps away from the coastline and in walking distance of shopping and restaurants. It was a perfect location!

 

The La Jolla Walking Trail was located right in front of our hotel property. This paved walkway runs from the La Jolla Shores Beach to the La Jolla Cove. It is favored by locals and tourists alike and is enjoyed by joggers, dog walkers, families, bikers and casual walkers – like us! We walked this trail several times and enjoyed the grassy parks, the spectacular ocean views, the hidden beaches, the rocky shores, and the sandstone cliffs.  We encountered numerous sea birds and sea lions along the way. One of the most popular spots along the trail is the La Jolla Cove. This is a very scenic, ecologically protected beach for swimming, snorkeling, and diving.  If you keep following the trail past La Jolla Cove, you end up at the La Jolla Sea Cave. This is a very unique, natural formation with heavy surf, crashing waves, and clear ocean water. This is also a popular area for divers and kayakers.  

 

One of our La Jolla excursions was to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. This park is located north of San Diego between La Jolla and Del Mar, along the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline. There are miles of hiking trails, odd-shaped pine trees, sandstone canyons, sea cliffs, ocean views, wide beaches, and championship golf courses. The park’s namesake, the Torrey pine, is the rarest native pine tree and is an endangered species that grows only in this park. You may recognize its familiar, wind-blown, asymmetrical shape.

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If you like outdoor adventure, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is definitely the place to visit near La Jolla. Just lace up your shoes, pack your sunscreen and water, and bring your camera! The hiking trails are all well-maintained and are well-marked. Some are easy, some are more difficult. There is plenty of parking and a ranger station to visit for info before heading out on the trailheads. All of the trails provide breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean from high vantage points. A couple of trails have beach access and will lead you to the cliff-lined, sandy beaches. Other trails are lined with huge sandstone structures, pine trees, succulents, and beautiful wild-flowers. I will never forget the picturesque views we encountered on the trails here.

 

At the end of these busy days of exploring, we were always extremely hungry and ready for a great meal. We found restaurants very close to our hotel – most in walking distance. The first night we dined at 910 Restaurant and had a most exceptional meal! We sat on the patio and had cocktails and one of the best culinary dishes I have ever had. The next night, we ate at the Crab Catcher and had a great ocean-view table that looked over the Sea Cave. We drank local California wine and dined on fresh seafood – delicious!

 

Great views, great adventures, and great food – what is not to like? La Jolla, you were truly a “jewel” to me! I enjoyed every moment – even the extremely smelly sea lions.

 

Food for thought – Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel, lived in La Jolla. I wonder if the strangely shaped, wind-blown Torrey pine trees were an inspiration for some of his crazy, whimsical, cartoon trees? There are reports that his Lorax tree was actually inspired by this tree we walked by in Scripps Park at La Jolla Cove. Who knew?!

 

 

Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, CO

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Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to head to one of Mother Nature’s brightest stars – Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only is this one of my favorite places on earth, National Geographic agrees and named it “one of the best trip destinations in the world.”

The park entrances are located 75 miles west of Denver and on the edge of the scenic town of Estes Park, Colorado. The drive to Estes Park has some stunning views and once inside the park, the scenery is even more breathtakingly beautiful. This vast mountain wilderness is a natural masterpiece with views of jagged peaks, high mountain lakes, waterfalls, wooded forests, grassy tundras, and 130-million-year-old glaciers. The Continental Divide runs right through the center of the park and the headwaters of the Colorado River begin here. It is a very impressive place, to say the least.

Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915 and covers 415 square miles. It is one of those places that can be enjoyed by all ages and activity levels. You may choose to see the entire park while riding in the comfort of your vehicle. Drive along the Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved highway in North America, to the Alpine Visitor Center (elevation 11,800 ft.) and you will feel like you are on top of the world! If you are a more active person, you can take advantage of all the hiking, rock climbing, camping, fishing and winter skiing that the park allows. There are almost 400 miles of maintained hiking trails throughout the park that go through the grassy valleys, aspen and pine forests, and around mountain lakes. Some of the more challenging trails run along rock slides, waterfalls and on up to several mountain peaks. How about a hike up to the 14,260 ft. summit of Long’s Peak? Yep, me neither!

I have had the opportunity to visit this park in spring, summer and fall and I must admit that each season was very unique in its own way. Early spring had many of the park roads closed due to snow and ice – but it was wonderful hiking around frozen lakes in the snow and watching locals suit up for cross county skiing and snowshoeing. It was truly a winter wonderland with pristine snow, bright blue skies and few people. Summer brought out the green grasses, new forest growth, and fields of beautiful wildflowers. The temperature was great and the streams and lakes were crystal clear and very cold from the icy snow melt. Fall was a burst of colors. The trees turned every shade of yellow, orange and red and stood out from all the green pines, spruces, and firs. Animals were more visible as they were “chowing down” and storing fat before the winter came. Each season brings something new and different to the park and I was lucky to witness the various stages.

I have many favorite memories from my visits here. I loved hiking at a couple of the lakes with my husband last April. We trudged through deep powdery snow and followed trails through the forest along the water’s edge. The weather was mild and the sky was bright blue. John Denver’s music played in my head, “the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake” could not have been more appropriate. We sat and drank it all in. On another visit the following year, we hiked over a field of granite boulders and enjoyed a picnic at the Alluvial Fan. The waterfall here was amazing! One of the best experiences I had at Rocky Mountain National Park was a late summer morning when my friend Britten Echols and I arrived early to spend the day there exploring. Our first stop was at Sprague Lake. We were immediately shocked at the sight of a nearby momma moose, a baby moose (hidden in the grass close to us) and a young male moose  – both calmly standing in the lake eating moss. It was a “pinch me” moment and certainly not something we were used to seeing everyday in Texas! We walked around this entire lake and had a great picnic lunch before heading off for an afternoon hike around Bear Lake. By the end of this magical day, we had encountered several chipmunks, mule deer, a huge rutting elk, and a whole herd of bighorn sheep. It was an unbelievable day.

If you enjoy wildlife, adventure and nature – add Rocky Mountain National Park to the top of your bucket list! This whole park encompasses a breathtaking collection of mountains (most with elevations over 12,000 ft.), high tundras, gorgeous vistas, dense forests, 7 glaciers, 2 waterfalls, 147 lakes, and a treasure trove of animals. You can camp, rent a cabin, book a hotel in nearby Estes Park, or drive from the Denver area for a day trip. The park is open 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Cost can range from $20-$70 per day, depending on the season, and I can promise the trip will be priceless!

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

Me too, John….me too.

Please feel free to leave comments regarding this blog. I love to hear about your experiences and insights pertaining to the places I write about. I would also appreciate you subscribing to my Southern Savvy Blog so that you can continue reading about my travel and dining adventures. Thank you!

Temecula

California

I have heard rumblings regarding Temecula for the past couple of years from friends who have visited the Southern California wine country. My husband and I had a tennis trip planned to Palm Springs and decided to add this excursion and La Jolla to the end of our California vacation. I must say – it was a great decision and we thoroughly enjoyed our day spent in Temecula. I just wish we had planned to stay longer, though it does gives me a reason to return in the future!

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The Temecula Valley Wine Country is located a short distance from Palm Springs (90 minutes), San Diego (90 minutes) and Los Angeles (2 hours). The name is actually a Native American word meaning “the sun that shines through the mist.”  This Mediterranean micro-climate with morning mist, warm midday sun, and cool evening ocean breezes makes this area perfect for growing all varieties of grapes.

For those of you who have visited Napa and Sonoma further north in California, the major difference is the landscape. Temecula has mostly hillside vineyards and more picturesque views with mountain backdrops. The wineries seem more casual, less commercial, less crowded, and are not spaced as far apart. This area reminded me more of Tuscany than the northern California wine country.

Though we did not have the time to experience all that Temecula had to offer, I would still like to share what we learned from friends. The Old Town area has historic 1800s buildings, antique shops and restaurants “fit for foodies.” There are over forty wineries in the area. Some are small & boutique, some are full-service wine and food resorts. There are spas, clothing shops, a casino, gourmet restaurants, golf courses, bike trails, horseback riding and hot air balloon rides. With three million visitors per year, there are a wide variety of places to stay. Choose from brand-name hotels, quaint inns, motels, vacation rentals or Bed & Breakfasts. Several of the wineries we saw also had their own lodging on-site.

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With only one day in Temecula we had to choose just a few wineries to explore. We began at Wilson Creek Winery and enjoyed their beautiful outdoor patio and sampled their high quality sparkling wines. This winery had come highly recommended from friends due to their Almond Sparkling Wine – delicious!  I also give two thumbs up for their Sparkling Sangria,  Sparkling Peach Bellini and Sparkling Rose’. This is one of the larger wineries with gardens, private tours, tasting rooms, and a restaurant.

Our next stop was Maurice Car’rie Vineyard (another friend’s suggestion) which was housed in a large Victorian-style farmhouse. We sat at a table on the front lawn overlooking the rolling hills and sampled their Chardonnays (oak and non-oak) and ate lunch. They serve up a huge crusty round of sourdough bread with fresh-baked brie inside. It paired perfectly with their crisp white wine.  This little winery was friendly, relaxed and unpretentious.

Next on our agenda, and only a couple of minutes away, was Bel Vino Winery. This was a little boutique winery sitting high on a hillside with great views from their back patio. I enjoyed their sense of humor with liitle signs leading up the walkway with sayings such as,”Wine not?” and “Get Merloaded This Way!” It was here that I enjoyed a most delicious port served in an edible chocolate cup. Perfection! This was a a very casual winery with picturesque views.

Our final stop of the day was chosen strictly because of location and the beautiful scenery surrounding the winery. Callaway Vineyard and Winery sat high on a hill surrounded by twenty acres of vines in the heart of Temecula.  This was a very modern, multi-storied building with lots of glass and clean lines. The outdoor seating areas were gorgeous with spectacular views below. I enjoyed something new here, a white wine called Roussanne. It was cool, dry, and tasted like a full-bodied chardonnay. My husband and I sat outside, drank our wine, snacked on mixed nuts, and hated that we had to leave this beautiful wine country so soon.

Though we didn’t have time to visit all the wineries and vineyards that we would have liked to, we enjoyed seeing many on our drive (this area is not too spread out). Architecture ranged from authentic farm settings, to Victorian style, to Spanish influences, to Tuscan inspired buildings.  All were unique and most were inviting. Besides the four wineries I mentioned in this blog that we experienced – other popular wineries in this area include Vindemia Vineyard, Avensole, Carter Estate, Gershon Brothers, Hart Winery, Foot Path, Lumiere, Miramonte, Falkner, and Fazeli Cellars. 

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I hope if you are a lover of travel and wine that this blog inspires you to take a trip to this little hidden gem in Southern California. I would recommend at least a two or three day stay here in Temecula. It is the perfect trip to add on to if you find yourself in the Palm Springs, San Diego, La Jolla, Orange County, or Los Angeles area. You will be glad you did!

Cheers!