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Hot Springs

Arkansas

natural hot springs

My husband and I just visited Hot Springs for the first time. We have driven past the exit to Hot Springs on I-30 dozens of times going to visit family in Tennessee and Mississippi but never actually stopped there. It was finally time to check it out.

Lookout Point Lakeside Inn – lake view

I researched hotels and rentals before finding the perfect place for us. Reviews for the Lookout Point Lakeside Inn caught my attention and ended up being a fantastic place to stay! They are ranked the #1 Hotel in Hot Springs (Trip Advisor), #2 Most Romantic Hotel in the U.S. (Trip Advisor), #3 Small Hotel in the U.S. (Trip Advisor), one of the Top Ten Most Romantic Hotels in the U.S. (NBC Today Show), a Top Ten Best Lakeside Hotels (Good Morning America) and #9 Hotel for Service in the U.S. (Trip Advisor). It didn’t take too long for us to see why this beautiful inn had received all these accolades. The service, staff, location, amenities, design, food, rooms, gardens, and views were all exceptional.

our balcony view at the inn

My husband and I particularly enjoyed the gourmet breakfasts in the beautiful dining room and the fresh gluten-free cookies brought to our room each day. Our second floor room and balcony looked out over the manicured gardens, waterfalls, bird feeders, grassy labyrinth, fire pit, boat dock and lake. It was perfect for relaxing. We had a paddleboat, canoe and kayaks for our personal use. The inn also provided us with bug spray, beach towels, DVD movies, hammocks, emergency flashlights, soft drinks, cookies & chocolates, and a Keurig for coffee/tea/hot chocolates. The kitchen was open each day until 7:00 p.m. for snacks, meals, cocktails or wine. The staff was friendly, attentive, and very professional. We had a wonderful stay and I highly recommend this charming, quiet and well-decorated inn.

Our first full day was set aside to explore the Hot Springs National Park. This is an urban park located in the heart of downtown Hot Springs and is surrounded by shops, diners, busy roads, gangster museums and tourist attractions. The bathhouses lined up on Bathhouse Row seem to be the park’s most popular attraction. The grand architecture of these eight bathhouses and the stories of the healing waters continue to attract curious visitors as they have since the early 1900s. The therapeutic spas, ancient thermal springs, mountain views, unusual geology, forested hiking trails, and abundant creeks all make this “park” quite unique.

We stopped by the Fordyce Bathhouse which houses the National Park Visitor Center and toured the museum. The three-story bathhouse has informative exhibits, original spa rooms (with equipment) and a short film about the history of the area and Bathhouse Row. We got a more detailed glimpse into the history, grandeur and attraction of this special place. Afterwards, we joined a 45-minute tour led by a National Park Ranger.

the beginning of Bathhouse Row

Ranger Lisa was great! She was a Hot Springs native and her walking tour was both interesting and entertaining. We learned about the geology of the area, tasted the 140 degree water, walked the Grand Promenade (on the hill behind Bathhouse Row) and saw a momma groundhog and her baby. We were told that the thermal waters contain potassium, magnesium and sodium – these were the medicinal properties that prior generations found to be so “healing” (today we just take a multivitamin!). Generations ago, most people had poor diets and dirty drinking water. Regular bathing was labor intensive due to large amounts of water having to be carried from the source and then heated. It was quite obvious what was so appealing about these natural springs with clear, clean, nutritious, and heated water just bubbling out of the ground.

the Hot Water Cascade

Only two bathhouses along Bathhouse Row are currently operational. One of the bathhouses, Superior Bathhouse is now a restaurant and brewery. This is the only brewery in the world that uses thermal spring water to create craft beers. We chose this as our lunch spot and it didn’t disappoint! The other bathhouses currently function as a hotel, a park store, a cultural center, and office building.

After lunch, we continued touring the park and drove up the winding Mountain Tower Road and West Mountain Road. Both drives provided scenic forested drives and great mountain lookouts. We had clear, beautiful views of Hot Springs and the Ouachita Mountains. For the more adventurous, there are almost 30 miles of hiking trails within the park boundaries that wind up, down and around these mountains overlooking the city. We decided to bypass hiking this time and just enjoyed the scenery from the comfort of our air-conditioned car (it was a humid 97 degrees in late September!).

view from the West Mountain of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Day Two – we decided to beat the heat, get an early start and canoe from our inn’s dock on Lake Hamilton. After another wonderful breakfast, we grabbed lifejackets, paddles and loaded up in a canoe. It was a beautiful day and the water was clear and calm. We explored the part of the lake and small islands scattered just off the shore from our inn. It was fun!

A couple of hours later, we were off to Garvan Woodland Gardens, a 200-acre botanical garden that is sponsored by the University of Arkansas. It was a short drive away and we got there early to beat the heat and the crowds.

Garvan Woodland Gardens was most enjoyable. The paved pathways through the flower gardens, waterfalls, dense ferns, towering pine canopy, rocky inclines, koi pond and the wooded shoreline provided beautiful sights at every turn. There are 4 miles of trails covering this entire garden so wear comfy shoes! We didn’t see every nook and cranny but hit all the major points. It was a fun spending the day outdoors.

I particularly enjoyed viewing the Anthony Chapel (just didn’t care for the two snakes that greeted us on the way there!). This stunning chapel appears to “be one” with the forest. The lofty pine columns, high ceiling, tall glass windows and oversize skylights all are designed to blend in with the surrounding pine trees. It was quite impressive – both inside and out. I could only imagine how beautiful a wedding ceremony would be here and certainly understood the popularity of this venue.

One of my favorite parts of any trip is the food! We began each day with a great breakfast at the inn. We had one lunch at Superior Brewery where I had a delicious Sweet Potato Salad and a Root Beer Float (with house-made root beer). Another enjoyable lunch was at Rolando’s Restaurante (near Bathhouse Row) where we enjoyed Ecuadorian food and flavored margaritas. Yum!

We found a couple of very good dinner spots in Hot Springs. The Vault (my favorite) was located in an old bank building near downtown Hot Springs. It was classy, dark and well-decorated. The menus had a backlight, which I thought was ingenious! David and I thoroughly enjoyed a delicious steak dinner here. The ambiance, service and food were all topnotch. A dinner at 501 Prime was also a standout. This restaurant and bar (known for its bourbon) served some great oyster dishes and we had exceptional service. A very special “treat” was a cupcake from Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe. I knew of this bakery from the Food Network Cupcake Wars competition. There were dozens of flavors to choose from and it was very difficult picking out just one. Decisions, decisions. Ooey Gooey Butter Cake was my final choice. OMG, it was good!

a backlit menu – so cool!

Hot Springs was a great weekend get-away for us. I really enjoyed seeing and learning about the bathhouses, the natural springs and the history of the park. Without a doubt, I would stay at the Lookout Point Lakeside Inn again. Heck, I would even drive three hours again for one of those cupcakes!

Happy travels!


Glacier National Park

Montana

view at Logan Pass

I have an unhealthy fear of bears. The grizzly bear attack in the book/movie “The Revenant” still haunts me to this day. With that being said, why in the world did I choose Glacier National Park as a vacation destination? This is the one park where your chances of running into a grizzly bear or black bear on a trail, on the road, or in a parking lot are well above zero. Bear spray is a necessity at all times. Just great. What had I gotten myself in to?

I planned an itinerary, booked a cabin and rental car, got our park passes, purchased our vehicle registration, reserved our park road permits, booked flights to Kalispell, and my husband and I were off to great adventures. Montana, here we come. A canister of bear spray would become my newest and most valuable accessory.

West Glacier entrance

Why did we choose to visit Glacier National Park in spite of the bear population? Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful of the US national parks and is nicknamed the “Crown of the Continent.” The park encompasses over one-million acres of glacier-carved peaks and valleys, two mountain ranges, pristine turquoise lakes and streams, meadows full of wildflowers, numerous waterfalls and ancient evergreen forests. It was established as a national park in 1910 after the Blackfeet tribe ceded the area to the government. Glacier National Park is the 10th most visited park (3.1 million annual visitors) making it not only one of the most beautiful, but also one of the most popular national parks to visit in the United States.

Grinnell Lake in Many Glacier

More park visitors over the last couple of years caused restrictions to be put in place that prevent overcrowding within the park, hence purchasing vehicle passes/registrations was necessary prior to our trip. We appreciated that the crowds were very manageable throughout our visit and we never had long lines or traffic problems.

tunnel on Going-to-the-Sun Road

There is one main highway that cuts through the center of the park, the Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTTSR). The scenic GTTSR connects the west entrance to the park with the east entrance (50 miles/2 hours drive time). We drove it easily and without any access issues due to the pre-purchased passes that were required for each vehicle driving within the park boundaries.

our cozy little cabin

I found us a great little Vrbo rental in Essex, Montana that bordered the southern edge of the park, perfectly located about halfway between the west and east entrances to the park. The cabin was clean, cozy, comfortable and well-stocked. We cooked breakfast each morning, packed up our picnic lunch, went on our daily adventure, and returned each evening to cook/grill our dinner. A large mule deer welcomed us on our very first morning and a mink and chipmunks scampered around near our firepit each day. We had found a great little “home away from home.”

behind Lake McDonald Lodge
the beautiful lobby at Lake McDonald Lodge

Day #1 – We drove through the West Glacier entrance that morning and headed to Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park. We explored the historic Lake McDonald Lodge (built in 1914) and grounds before taking a boat ride on the beautiful lake. After a picnic lunch, we drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road and stopped at several turn-outs to view McDonald Creek and the amazing scenery along the way. Mid-afternoon, we parked and hiked The Trail of the Cedars. This was one of our favorite hikes! The trail was a raised boardwalk or gravel trail that winds its way through a thick forest of towering cedar trees. The highlight for us was the view of Avalanche Gorge from the trail with its turquoise water tumbling down colorful moss-covered rocks. The damp weather made it feel like we were exploring a rainforest. Even though it was a drizzly afternoon, nothing could take away from the beauty of this trail. We loved it!

Avalanche Gorge as seen from the Trail of the Cedars
hiking the Trail of the Cedars

Walking back to our parked car after our hike, we heard our names being yelled from the parked car at the crosswalk. Really?! The people in the car were actually close friends from our hometown in Texas. One million acres of national park, 1749.5 miles away from home, and we happened to be at the exact same place at the exact same time. It was just plain weird! All you math geniuses can figure out those odds – it hurts my head just to think about it.

Mick & Lisa Tune, our friends from Rockwall, Texas
McDonald Creek along the GTTSR

Day #2 – We got an early start and drove east to the park’s St. Mary’s entrance. We had a morning boat ride scheduled on beautiful St. Mary’s Lake that included a hike to a waterfall. It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed our morning adventures. David and I found a little restaurant nearby in the park and had a great lunch (huckleberry pulled pork stuffed baked potatoes!) and continued our drive on The Going-to-the Sun Road with a few scenic stops along the way. We found ourselves at Logan Pass that afternoon, the highest point of the Going-to-the-Sun Road (6646 feet) and located along the Continental Divide. The road in this area had only opened 4 days prior to our visit due to the difficulty of snowplowing such late, heavy snows. The scenery at this high elevation was amazing! We parked and hiked the Hidden Lake Trail as far as we could but it was quite difficult with the packed, icy snow underfoot. Seeing all the snow, the jagged mountains, fields of wildflowers, waterfalls, marmots, ground squirrels, and big horn sheep made for a very memorable afternoon and gave us some great photo ops!

ready for our St. Mary’s Lake boat ride
selfie at Logan Pass
Bighorn sheep at Logan Pass

Day #3 – David and I ventured to Two Medicine, a less-popular part of the park that we entered not far from East Glacier that feels off-the-beaten-path. This day actually turned out to be one of our favorites. The drive in had beautiful views and the crowds were sparse. We hiked to Running Eagle Falls, a sacred Native American burial site that celebrates an infamous female warrior and tribal leader. It was easy to feel the spirituality of this place. The double falls were very unusual and we spent quite a bit of time here. We hiked for a bit on a nature trail and soon decided it was lunch time. We drove a short distance to Two Medicine Lake and found a table at the General Store overlooking the picturesque lake with Sinopah Mountain towering in the background. Good food, great views.

Running Eagle Falls in Two Medicine
Two Medicine Lake and Mount Sinopah

After our picnic lunch and a cold huckleberry soda, we were ready for our next hike. We parked at a trailhead and headed up to Apikuni Falls. This was a tough hike for me due to the incline and it was very hot and humid. There were very few people on this trail and we were on a constant lookout for bears. Luckily, we made it to the falls and back without getting eaten. By late afternoon, we headed back out of Two Medicine admiring the scenery and the colorful wildflowers that lined the road and meadows in this scenic valley that is adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation.

hiking at Two Medicine

We stopped for huckleberry bear claws near East Glacier when we saw our first bear! It appeared to be a younger bear and we spotted it running through a pasture near some horses. The horses seemed a little nervous at first but soon went back to grazing. The bear found a pizza box in the pasture that fully captured his/her attention for quite a while. This is exactly how I wanted to see a bear – from a distance and from the safety of my car!

bear near East Glacier

Day #4 – This was the day we ventured to Many Glacier, located on the farthest side of Glacier National Park from our cabin. Many Glacier is on the northeast side of the park and was the most difficult to get to. With that being said, I felt it was the most scenic part of the park. We arrived at Many Glacier early in the morning to secure a parking place, which worked in our favor. We spent the morning exploring the historic hotel and grounds and enjoyed a coffee while waiting for our scheduled boat tour.

Many Glacier Hotel from Swiftcurrent Lake

The Many Glacier boat tour was a “two-parter.” The tour began on the shores of beautiful Swiftcurrent Lake. We cruised across the lake, docked, disembarked and then walked 0.2 mile (over a steep hill) to the shores of Lake Josephine. We then boarded another small boat and cruised to the head of Lake Josephine. We disembarked there to do a self-guided hike to Grinnell Lake. This was a beautiful trail that led us through wooded areas, over streams, along narrow hillsides and over a swinging bridge before we arrived on the shoreline. Grinnell Lake had beautiful turquoise waters and was surrounded on three sides by towering mountains and snowy glaciers. It was breathtaking! David and I sat and ate a picnic lunch on a fallen log and took in all the beauty around us. We were even lucky enough to spot a grizzly bear loping through snowfields on the opposite side of the lake before it disappeared into a valley on the far side of the lake. Bear sighting number two….check! We also saw a huge bull moose standing waist-deep in Lake Josephine on our return boat trip. Wildlife abounds!

selfie at Lake Josephine
Lake Josephine with Salamander Glacier and Grinnell Glacier in background

We returned to the Many Glacier Hotel later that afternoon after an amazing day. We located the bar and treated ourselves to a Huckleberry Margarita, a snack, and a short rest before the long ride back to our cabin. Another unforgettable day was in the books.

hiking to Grinnell Lake from Josephine Lake

Day #5 – We woke to another cloudy, drizzly day but decided not to let it stop our exploring. We headed back to West Glacier and spent the day at Apgar Village on the shores of Lake McDonald. We walked the shoreline, snapped a few iconic “colored rock” photos, hiked a wooded trail, shopped in the gift stores, and enjoyed coffee/lunch/huckleberry ice cream during the hours we spent there. It was a very relaxing day. On the way back to our cabin, we stopped at the Goat Lick overlook to see a herd of mountain goats that hang out on some rocky cliffs. We saw several of them!

the iconic “rock photo” at Lake McDonald
baby mountain goat

We then returned to the cabin, cleaned up, and drove back to West Glacier where we had dinner reservations. David and I wanted a nice meal on our final night and we enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Belton Chalet Restaurant. It was delicious and made for a great ending to a great trip. We returned our unused bear spray, packed up, and left for home the following morning.

We made memories that will last a lifetime. GNP, thanks for an unforgettable trip!

See you on the trails!

cloudy morning on Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald selfie
near the entrance to St. Mary’s
on the Trail of the Cedars
McDonald Creek from the GTTSR

West Glacier entry

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Glen Rose, TX

One day, a long time ago, a family of plant-eating longnecks was walking along the muddy water’s edge grazing on yummy plants and ferns. Unbeknownst to them, a herd of hungry meat-eaters was hot on their trail. Let’s just say the day ended quite poorly for the plant-eaters.

What we are left with today at Dinosaur Valley State Park is the fossilized footprint evidence of this journey and the encounter. The round, elephant-like footprints were the plant-eaters and the three-toed prints were the meat-eaters. Over 100 million years ago, many types of animals lived in this shallow Mesozoic sea area. Tidal pools and coastal swamps covered what is now the state of Texas. Today, these lower Cretaceous rocks are where we find the Paluxy River and its shoreline containing hundreds of dinosaur prints.

One area within the park contains so many preserved footprints that it is named “The Ballroom” due to hundreds of tracks moving in all directions – as if they were all dancing (or trying to keep from being eaten!). Some of the prints are on the dry limestone creek beds, some are in shallow water, and some have (unfortunately) eroded over time. The park provides detailed maps showing all the track sites.

When I stood looking at some of these well-preserved footprints, I could barely wrap my head around seeing something from 105 million years ago. How is that even possible? It was the highlight of my trip, for sure.

Besides seeing the dinosaur prints in the park, my husband and I did quite a bit of hiking with our yorkie “trail dog.” There are over 20 miles of hiking trails running all through the park and the beautiful Paluxy River Valley. Trails lead into and along the river, up over limestone ridges, through shady cedar brakes, and beside grassy prairie lands. I really enjoyed our walks alongside the clear, shallow river spotting unusual rocks, dinosaur tracks, crawfish, and fish. We also saw lots of lizards, animal tracks, and beautiful wildflowers along the grassy and wooded trails.

A few of the trailheads start near the popular and more crowded attractions within the park. The Blue Hole (definitely green) looked like a family-friendly swimming area, as there were quite a few people there. The Main Track Site had the most visitors with ample parking and easy access to prints on dry land for close-up viewing. When we ventured off on many of the other trails, there were fewer people.

I suggest wearing good hiking shoes for all the varying terrain (rocks, dirt, roots, gravel) and bringing a pair of water shoes to get up close and personal to some of the tracks in shallow water and for river crossings on some trails. Pack a picnic lunch, bring plenty of water, and enjoy the park and all it has to offer!

Reservations are highly recommended as the park limits the numbers of visitors per day. The cost for a one-day pass is $7 per car. Overnight camping is also available with reservations.

See you on the trail!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Montrose County, CO

Another Covid-19 vacation is in the books! My family is vaccinated but we are still trying to avoid crowds when traveling. We have spent the past year renting homes/cabins and cooking most of our meals when out of town. This rural southwest part of Colorado seemed like the perfect place to check out a National Park and visit with our adult children for a few days. It turned out to be a great trip.

We took a morning flight from DFW to Montrose. The direct flight was only an hour and thirty-eight minutes – quick trip! The Montrose airport was small (4 gates) and very easy to navigate. Getting our rental Jeep was a breeze. Our Vrbo house actually ended up being a convenient ten minute drive from the airport. So far, so good! We were ready to explore the area.

The first excursion to check off our list: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This area has only had National Park status since 1999 and I was not that familiar with it prior to our trip. After seeing a few pics on a National Park social media page recently, it got on my radar. Though not as popular as the Grand Canyon, it certainly seemed less crowded and had some spectacular views with towering walls, spiky peaks, narrow openings and startling depths. I put in a little bit of research, found out how to get there, and off we went!

The Black Canyon National Park entrance was only twenty minutes from downtown Montrose and the drive up to the park was quite scenic as our elevation changed (and ears popped!). This route took us to the park’s visitor center that featured cool displays, info on the canyon, picnic areas, restrooms, a gift shop, campgrounds, a nature trail and a great observation platform. It was well worth a stop. I got a map, a walking stick and went on my merry way.

The route through the park along the South Rim Road was easy to drive and well-marked. It allowed us beautiful views of the Black Canyon from many overlooks, most of which only required short walks. I loved seeing all the different landscapes, plants and trees along the way. Hiking there can be as simple as strolling to the various viewpoints and overlooks or as challenging as a 2,700 foot descent down into the inner-canyon to the Gunnison River, which we didn’t do (because we are sane people!).

The Black Canyon itself was breathtakingly beautiful with its dark, solid granite canyon walls that tower almost 3,000 feet above the greenish river snaking far, far below. The canyon gets its name due to the fact that certain parts of the gorge only get thirty total minutes of sunlight per day. The walls literally look black due to the shadows. It is very, very narrow and very deep! For you geology nerds, the canyon has some of the world’s oldest exposed rock that dates back two billion years to the Precambrian era. Today the impenetrable, steep cliffs provide homes and protection to the world’s fastest bird, the peregrine falcon.

We enjoyed many of the twelve lookout points along the rim with Pulpit Rock, the Painted Wall and Dragon Point being my favorites. The Painted Wall is the highest cliff (tallest vertical wall) in Colorado. From the rim down to the river, it stands 2250 feet high and as my daughter described it, “it looks like a big ole slab of marbled steak.” It is a huge, dark granite wall with wide, white “marble” streaks running through it. The size is somewhere in the neighborhood of ginormous!

At Dragon Point, the Painted Wall was across the gorge from us and far below was the Gunnison River. The river actually looked very curvy and small from our vantage spot so high above. Our view was quite deceiving. The Gunnison River actually drops an average of 43 feet per mile through the canyon, which is six times more than the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon – just to put it in perspective.

If we had more time, I would have liked to experience the canyon from the bottom up. There is a road at the park entrance that follows a steep, switch-back route into the canyon’s depths. This would certainly be a memorable day for hiking, fishing, kayaking or rock climbing. I would have loved to have seen the mighty river up close and personal. Maybe next time…

The Ute Tribe that inhabited these tribal lands for thousands of years referred to this area as “much rocks, big water.” I don’t think anyone could have said it any better.

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The Vampire Grave

Lafayette, CO

My daughter at the Vampire Grave

Want to hear about a vampire grave in Colorado? Cool! This is how the story goes.

In the early 1900s in Lafayette, Colorado (near Boulder) a pale, lanky man living in the area was pretty much a loner with no friends or family. No one knew much about him other than his name, Fodor Glava. When he died in 1918, townspeople took notice of his headstone at his gravesite. It was discovered that he was from Transylvania. Rumors spread through the town like wild fire that he was, of course, a vampire!

No one had ever seen him much during the day when he was alive. He had always been very pale. He was originally from Transylvania. The facts were undeniable.

Several townspeople dug up Glava’s grave and found blood by his mouth, his teeth seeming bigger than normal, and his nails long, pointed and still growing. The frightened and superstitious settlers drove a wooden stake through his heart and reburied him.

Of course, we now know that all of these physical changes are natural for a decaying body.

Shortly after his second burial, a tree “unlike any other in the area” grew straight up through the grave plot. Folklore claims it “grew from the wooden stake in his heart.” Red rose bushes suddenly sprang up around his grave. These wild roses were thought to be growing from his fingernails. They knew roses had some importance in his life since the word was on his gravestone. It was black magic at its best!

Back to present day:

My adult children live in Colorado. They always have fun things planned for us to see and do when we visit. Our most recent visit a couple of months ago was no exception. The first day there, we were off to see the Vampire Grave in Lafayette. My daughter and son-in-law had been given a book by a family member regarding “odd and interesting” places to visit in the state. We found ourselves marching through a wet cemetery in the rain to find this unusual tombstone. The folklore story is actually much more interesting than the actual gravesite.

Now for the truth: Theodore “Fodor” Glava was a very pale, tall and lanky Transylvanian immigrant who came to America for a better life. He lived a very quiet and modest life as a coal miner before dying from the Spanish flu during the 1918 epidemic that ravaged Colorado. He was buried in the poorest section of the local Lafayette cemetery in a pauper’s grave. It wasn’t until after his death that he gained his notoriety.

Glava’s headstone was carved/chiseled by a stonemason with his personal info, birthplace, and year of death. Among the inscription is the word “trandofir” which is the Romanian word for “rose.” Not much was known about Glava’s life in this area during this time, but the mention of his birthplace on his headstone actually sparked the rumors that he was a vampire. Many locals knew that Transylvania was home to Count Dracula and Vlad the Impaler, therefore he must also be a “creature of the night.”

The truth is most likely that this is the gravestone for Fodor Glava and his wife Trandatir (Rose). Both probably died from the influenza around the same time. He was from Transylvania (part of Romania today) and Rose was from Bucovina (part of the Ukraine and Romania today). They were both very poor and he worked as a miner, probably another reason he was so pale. He could also have been sickly and/or had a poor diet.

Unfortunately, Glava was an easy target for these uneducated settlers who tried to explain away natural happenings with superstition.

Rumors of this vampire still exist to this day. Local residents have claimed for many years that they have seen a mysterious figure walking near the gravesite late at night. Yikes!! If you do plan a visit to the Vampire Grave, go in the day time. It is also a sign of respect that you take and leave a small gift – a coin, rock, token or a bouquet of roses.

No garlic, please.

Note: This is what is actually engraved on the headstone. A vertical line divides the sections. The right side reads –

FODOR GLAVA, BORN IN TRANSYLVANIA, a small cross, AUSTRO-UNGARIA (should read Austro-Hungarian, which Transylvania was a part of), DIED DECEMBER 1918

The left side (that people seem to ignore) reads – + 2 ROMANION (two Romanians buried here), TRANDATIR (Rose), BORN IN PAR-HAUTIBOCVINA (from Parhauti Village in Bocvina, an area also in Austro-Hungary).

May they both rest in peace.

Palo Duro Canyon

Canyon, Texas

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I have found the perfect trip to take during these days of Covid-19!

Why not check out Palo Duro Canyon State Park and visit our nation’s second largest canyon? Consider it a mini Grand Canyon and one of Texas’s best kept secrets. This park covers 30,000 acres and is located a few miles outside of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. Palo Duro Canyon offers spectacular views, fun outdoor activities, lots of fresh air and few social interactions with others. Why not get a change of scenery, have a great time and enjoy nature  – all while social distancing? Win, win!

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My husband and I recently drove to Palo Duro Canyon (6 hours from DFW) and stayed in a wonderful cabin (Skyhouse @ Dove’s Rest Cabins) five minutes away from the park entrance and spent two days in the park. If you go, be sure to purchase your State Park day passes on-line a few weeks in advance due to limited availability. Tickets are only $8 per vehicle per day and the park is currently open 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.

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The morning we arrived, there were only a couple of cars ahead of us checking into the park. After entering through the main gate, there were 16 miles of paved roads ahead of us that descended 800 feet to the canyon floor. We stopped along the park road several times and enjoyed fantastic scenic views, historical sites and markers, picnic tables, miles of hiking trails and the visitor center (with limited hours). There were also public restrooms, biking trails, horseback riding trails, a souvenir shop with grill, camping areas suitable for day trips, and overnight tent camping. Several areas were closed due to the pandemic, including the outdoor amphitheater and park cabins, but there was still plenty to see and do.

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We were there on a Sunday and Monday and may have seen two dozen people – tops! The parking lots, trails and roads were nearly empty. We passed a couple of people on each trail we were on. The most people we saw in one place happened to be at a snow cone stand at one of the major trail heads. It was great!

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Our first morning hike in the park was on the Pioneer Nature Trail that looped down to the river and back. It is a popular place to spot Texas horned lizards/toads/frogs (my daughter graduated from TCU so I will hereafter refer to them as horned frogs!). We found three snake skins (yikes! lots of rattlesnakes in the canyon), small lizards, tons of red ants (horned frog food), and a half-eaten coyote pup skeleton.  Near the end of our hike on this trail, lo and behold, we came across a Texas horned frog. He froze, we took pics, and went on our merry way. I was a happy camper!

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We then hiked a short distance off-trail around the site of the historic Battle of Palo Duro Canyon where the high red walls and percolation caves (caused by wind and water) reminded us of the rock formations in Sedona. This whole area has that eerie “battlefield” feeling I have felt other places – it just makes me feel sad and uneasy remembering the history and loss of life here. The vibe is unsettling and disturbing. You can read more about what happened here at the end of this article.

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Back on the main road, we chose the Sunflower Trail for our next hike and it was my favorite of the trip. This trail led us alongside a creek on one side and a large red, Permian wall on the other. This 300 million-year-old wall had beautiful horizontal veins of shiny white gypsum running through it. Most of the trail was shaded by tall cottonwoods and the clay-like ground underfoot was filled with animal tracks. We recognized raccoon, deer, rabbit, bobcat, coyote, and mountain lion tracks. I don’t think I would want to be on this trail at night! We also had to avoid stepping in piles of wildlife scat along the way that was teeming with iridescent dung beetles. The circle of life is alive and well in the canyon!

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The following day began at the visitor center where we enjoyed the scenic view from the overlook at the canyon rim. We drove halfway down into the canyon and hiked off-trail again to climb a large prominent rock that overlooked the canyon floor. The views from there were amazing. This trail was full of cacti and the climb was not easy but I made it! We had to be very careful where we were stepping and constantly be on the lookout for snakes, scorpions and centipedes. Many things were ready and willing to stick, bite or sting!

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We hiked back to our car, drove a little further into the canyon and parked near the Kiowa trail head. We walked along the Kiowa Trail and followed a dry creek bed through mesquite groves for great views of another prehistoric Permian wall formation that gives the river its red color. We didn’t spot any wildlife here but saw many animal trails and tons of grasshoppers that would suddenly fly up and scare the bejesus out of you!

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Later that afternoon we found ourselves at the Lighthouse trail head. This is the most popular trail and leads to the iconic Lighthouse Rock “hoodoo,” the symbol of the park. This is a six-mile hike round trip and where most of the park’s heat-related injuries and deaths for people and pets occur. We were warned to not start this hike if the temp was above 80 degrees (it was) and not unless you have at least one gallon of water per person (we didn’t). We decided to hike down the trail far enough to see the Lighthouse, take a pic, and head back – which is what we did. We then made a beeline to the snow cone stand in the parking lot! 

Note: the canyon floor is always 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the temperature on the canyon rim. It was hot! hot! hot!!

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Afterward our much-enjoyed snow cone, we made a couple of brief stops at pull-outs and had a picnic lunch. We saw more beautiful rock formations, a big green lizard, and a turkey.  After two full days of exploring the park and canyon, our trip was coming to a close. We enjoyed it immensely and I would love to visit again in the spring or fall when temps are a little cooler. One major highlight of our trip (besides the gorgeous scenery) was that the lack of crowds could not be beat!

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More information on the park itself:

People have been a part of this scenic canyon for 12,000 years where they hunted large herds of mammoth and giant bison. More recently, the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa Native American tribes called this canyon home. They left behind rock art, arrowheads, and pottery shards that clue us into their way of life here. Early Spanish adventurers exploring the canyon, named it Palo Duro, Spanish for hard wood. The visitor center has a video and some of these artifacts, fossils and relics if you are interested.

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For you history buffs – a large part of this canyon’s history centers around the Red River War and the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon (mentioned above) which was an ongoing battle between the U.S. Army and the Plains Indians. In 1874, the U.S. Calvary attacked a large camp of Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyennes at dawn. Many in the camp fled throughout the canyon while the army attacked the surprised natives, captured 1,500  horses (and killed 1,100 after taking their picks), burned all the teepees, food, clothing, tools, and provisions. With no horses or winter supplies, the remaining Native Americans had no choice but to surrender themselves to the reservations. A marker now stands in the far end of the canyon and details this battle. As you stand in this spot, it is easy to visualize the haunting event that took place on these grounds and to imagine the sounds of the guns and the screams of the frightened people and horses. It is a bitter pill for me to swallow.

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 With the Native Americans out of the way, the canyon and surrounding area quickly moved into the “ranch era.” The resident buffalo were hunted almost to extinction for their hides and their carcasses were left to rot and be eaten by scavengers. The few small buffalo herds that remained were run out by the ranchers to make way for longhorns. The State of Texas bought this land for the park in 1933 after it had been used as a cattle ranch since the late 1800s.

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Currently Palo Duro Canyon State Park is ranked the “number one” State Park in Texas and ranks in the “top twenty” of U.S. State Parks according to several travel guides. No surprise there!

My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our days spent in the park. It was a great little trip and a nice change of scenery. If you are a fan of the outdoors and enjoy hiking, rock formations and wildlife and don’t mind red dirt, cacti, and being up close and personal with nature – plan your trip today. I hope to go back soon so maybe I will cross paths with you there.

See you on the trails!

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Reykjavik

Iceland

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Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland and the northernmost capital in the world. It is only 40 minutes away from Keflavik airport, where all international flights arrive into Iceland. Over 60% of Iceland’s entire population lives in the community of Reykjavik, and there is much to see and do here in this very modern European city. 

I visited Reykjavik this past October with four other couples before we embarked on a bus tour of southern Iceland. We had two full days here and tried to see and do as much as we could in a short period of time. The morning our flight arrived, we checked into our hotel and immediately hit the streets to get our body clocks adjusted to the time zone. We had blue skies and temperatures in the high 50s. What perfect weather! We walked a few blocks from our hotel to the well-known Braud & Co. for some delicious, buttery pastries – all locally made. After some coffee, sugar, and a brief stop, we were off to a explore Reykjavik!

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Where to next? Reykjavik’s town center was relatively small, which made it easy for us to explore on foot. We continued walking down Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavík and not far from our hotel. This street is well-known for its boutiques, brightly painted houses, restaurants, artistic graffiti, and bars. We strolled down Laugavegur all the way to Hallgrimskirkja church, which prominently stands on a small hill in the downtown area. A huge statue of Leif Eriksson, the Icelandic Viking that sailed to North America, stands in front of the church. Hallgrimskirkja is a beautiful, architectural church and a tourist “must see.” We paid a small fee to ride an elevator and then to climb a few stairs to the top of the church for stunning views of Reykjavik. Hallgrimskirkja stands 244 feet tall and is the largest church in Iceland. It is visible from almost everywhere in the city and is very recognizable by its “step” design that is made to mimic the glaciers of Iceland and the basalt columns that are found throughout the countryside.

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After exploring the church, we visited a few of the many museums located in the downtown area. We walked to the Tales from Iceland Museum where we watched some beautiful videos that gave us a unique perspective of the country. There were two floors of exhibits here with 14 screens, each with a set of sofas in front of them. They provided us with free coffee, hot chocolate, drinks and snacks while we enjoyed the exhibits. This was the perfect place to fight the jet lag and “chill” for a bit, while still learning about the “Land of Fire and Ice.”

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Our next stop was the Icelandic Phallological Museum (giggle if you must!). This museum is pretty small, and we didn’t spend a lot of time there, but it was well worth a visit just so we could say we have been there! There were over 200 penile parts from land and sea mammals in Iceland (from a tiny hamster member to a 6-foot-long specimen from a sperm whale). Some parts of the museum were very scientific, some were laughable. It was something I will never forget!

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As the day and time change began to wear on us, we retreated to the hotel for a little rest and some dinner. Later that evening, we decided to walk a few blocks down to the harbor to see if we could see the Northern Lights. The day had been clear and we were hopeful that the night skies would be. The chances of seeing the lights is always slim – but we thought we would give it a try. 

All I can say about this first evening in Reykjavik is  – OH, MY! The skies did not disappoint!

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How lucky were we? It was just our first night in Iceland and the Northern Lights started showing off for us. It was around 10:00 p.m. as our group sat on huge rocks that made up the harbor seawall. We watched as the skies swirled and danced with greenish gray, windswept lights of the aurora borealis. We were in disbelief seeing this phenomenon on of very first night! What luck!!

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We actually saw the Northern Lights again the next three nights in Reykjavik. The second night, they were not only visible from the harbor again, but we could actually lie in our hotel beds with the curtains open and watch them from our room. They covered the night skies and were more colorful this second night. The third night, we drove out to a secluded church yard, away from the city light pollution, and once again got a marvelous light show. This sight was incredible and an experience I will never forget. I could now officially check “see the Northern Lights” off my bucket list.

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Day 2

Our second morning in Reykjavik brought more clear skies and warm temperatures. Our group decided to take the “Hop-on-Hop-off” bus since it picked up right in front of our hotel and went all over Reykjavik. We boarded the double-decker bus and headed down to the harbor. Our first stop was the cruise ship dock where we saw the John Lennon Memorial. We rode the bus for a brief time before heading off on foot down the seawall and harbor walkway. Our next stop was the famous Hofdi House. This house, built in 1909, sits on the shoreline and is considered to be one of the most beautiful and historically important buildings in Reykjavik. It is best known as the location for the 1986 summit meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev that marked the end of the Cold War. We stopped here for a photo op before heading on down the paved harbor walkway.

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IMG_0313As we continued to explore this area of the city along the sea wall, we took in the gorgeous sights of Reykjavik on this beautiful morning. There were many sculptures and works of art along our way, including one of the highlights of my trip – the Sun Voyager. The Sun Voyager is a large, abstract, metal sculpture resembling a Viking longboat. We took some great photos here with a view of Mount Esja on the other side of the bay. It was most impressive!

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Our group continued down the seawall and headed to the Harpa Concert Hall. Sitting on the bay in Reykjavik, this glass and steel, architectural building is nothing short of breathtaking. It is an impressive, contemporary structure with colorful, honeycomb-type windows that change colors in certain light. The Harpa is a city-owned building that hosts concerts, cultural events, movies, and exhibitions. We stopped in for refreshments, restrooms, and shopping at the high-quality gift shops. 

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We continued our walking tour and headed away from the bay to locate the Hard Rock Cafe (for shirts!). We also had plans to find a local lunch spot. I was leaning towards the Icelandic hot dog stand that Bill Clinton made famous on his visit to Reykjavik years ago. After a couple of inquiries from locals, we found Baujarins Beztu (translates as “the best hot dog stand in town”). We stood in a long line before ordering our hot dogs and cokes. We found outdoor seating nearby and sat and enjoyed our lunch. The hot dogs were unique and delicious!

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After lunch, we found ourselves in a very popular shopping area. A few of us wandered into the Flea Market, a large, indoor shopping area where the most interesting section was a fish market in the back building. The vendors here were entertained by tourists trying samples of the local delicacy “hakarl” which is the national dish of Iceland. It consists of a Greenland shark that is cured by a fermentation process and is hung to dry for 4-5 months before being cut into bite-sized cubes. Two brave souls in our group actually tried a sample and described it as tasting like urine, ammonia, and rotten fish. No thank you! I passed.

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Our group then walked around a nearby historic area that housed the Old Harbor, the Parliament Building, City Hall, the Pond, and the Cabinet House. We saw some very beautiful buildings, gardens, and  interesting local architecture. The next stop on our agenda was the Settlement Exhibition. This was an unusual, underground museum (due to it being built around an actual archaeological dig). In 2001 when nearby buildings were being renovated, relics were found and archaeologists were called in. This area turned out to be the oldest remains of human habitation in Reykjavik and included a tenth-century Viking longhouse. This was a most impressive museum and the site was very well-preserved. The longhouse dated back to 1000 AD where Iceland’s first settlers made their home. This was a very informative exhibition with original artifacts, iron-works, carpentry, etc. We enjoyed our time here and learned a lot about the Viking way of life.

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We ended up walking to the Old Harbor and “hopped” back on the bus. We rode a complete route back to the hotel after seeing most of Reykjavik and its highlights. The next morning we left on our bus tour.

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After a week touring southern Iceland, we returned to Reykavik midday. Several of us checked back into the hotel and spent the afternoon at the Perlan, a well-known sight in the city. The Perlan is a distinctive glass dome museum that rests on five gigantic water tanks perched high on top of a hill. We had a wonderful lunch here in the revolving restaurant that overlooks Reykjavik and enjoyed the great views. This was a very modern museum with many interesting videos, exhibits, and interactive displays. We watched the featured film about the Northern Lights. We learned about Icelandic glaciers, lava, and wildlife. We then dressed in cold weather gear and explored the Ice Cave. It was a most enjoyable afternoon!

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Reykjavik is a very vibrant European city with a diverse cultural scene. There are plenty of parks, museums, restaurants, galleries, shops, and bars to enjoy here. It is very modern but without tall skyscrapers, congested traffic, and crime associated with most large European cities. Reykjavik is also the perfect base from which to experience some of Iceland’s breathtakingly beautiful natural wonders. The famous Blue Lagoon is only 40 minutes away. You can go on a Golden Circle tour that leads you to geysers, valleys, waterfalls, and basalt mountains. Or you may choose to visit the South Coast from here and see the Glacial Lagoon, the Black Sand Beach, and Diamond Beach. 

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I loved my time spent in Reykjavik and would go back in a heartbeat! The sights were amazing, the people were friendly, and the food was very enjoyable. Who knew? We were lucky enough to have great weather, see the Northern Lights, and have some memorable adventures. It was a wonderful experience and we all had a fantastic trip. Two thumbs up for Reykjavik!

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Safe travels!!

 

Diamond Beach

Iceland

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A recent trip to Iceland was filled with surreal environments. I saw moss-covered lava fields, towering volcanoes, basalt walls, gigantic glaciers, powerful waterfalls, and steaming geysers. One of my favorite sights of the entire trip was the beautiful Diamond Beach near Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.

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Diamond Beach is about a five-hour drive from Reykjavik along the southern coast of Iceland. This area is a constantly changing, natural environment and is breathtakingly beautiful. Every minute provides a different experience according to the weather, the lighting, and the number of icebergs and ice chunks that have made their way to the shore.

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Diamond Beach is exactly what it sounds like, except for the fact that there will not be any sunbathers on this stretch of sand! The sparkling black, lava sands are filled with bits and pieces of passing icebergs as they break away from the nearby glacier. These 1000-year-old ice blocks break from the melting glacier, make their way through the glacial lagoon, float down a glacial river, and enjoy their last moments before being washed into the Atlantic Ocean. This is where the smaller bergs come to rest as they are scattered along the coastline and the sand becomes covered in ice. Sizes range from tiny, glittering shards to car-sized behemoths.

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These polished pieces of ancient glacial ice get caught up in the ocean current and end up scattered back onto the black sand beach. Each one reflects the light and they sparkle like “ice diamonds” – hence the name Diamond Beach. The ice takes on may different forms and colors, ranging from clear to white to blue. Walking among the ice chunks was like visiting an outdoor ice sculpture garden. The experience was very unusual, beautiful, and unforgettable.

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My travel group visited the Diamond Beach one morning in early October. Luckily for us, the beach was not crowded. The weather was rather messy (cold, cloudy, and windy) and the tides were pretty rough so we had to use caution (sneaker waves are very dangerous in this area).  Fortunately, we got to take advantage of some great photo opportunities and we enjoyed every minute spent here.

 

It was a truly magical experience.

A few of us may have accidentally gotten our feet very wet and cold. Just sayin! 🙂

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The Blue Lagoon

Iceland

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I recently planned a trip to Iceland with my husband and four other couples to see the Northern Lights. We had an entire week to see some of the famous sights in the Land of Fire and Ice. One thing on our list of “must do” was to visit Iceland’s most famous geothermal spa, the Blue Lagoon.

Located about 40 minutes from Reykjavik, the trip from our hotel to the Blue Lagoon was quite interesting. The highway took us over miles of moss-covered lava fields, beside rocky shorelines, and over barren volcanic wasteland. One common sight along the way on this cold morning was plumes of steam shooting out of vent holes from hot springs far underground. The landscape looked like a movie set from Land Before Time. Cue the dinosaurs! 

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First off – the Blue Lagoon is not a natural spring, though there are many in the area. The landscape is natural, as is the lava that shapes the pool area. The warm water is actually the result of runoff from a nearby geothermal plant in the area. The lava field here was formed in the 1200s and is called Illahraun (Evil Lava). It is currently a very active volcanic area. Yikes!

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The Blue Lagoon compound was much larger than I had ever expected. There was an expansive parking lot and a huge monolith of a sign on the walk to the entrance. A multi-storied, very modern building towered over acres of lava rocks and milky blue streams of water flowing in all directions. I was very impressed. So far, so good!

Check-in was a breeze since we had made reservations and purchased our tickets ahead of time. The cost was approximately $80 for the basic “Comfort” package that included the entrance fee, towels, silica mud mask, and a drink. We were each fitted with electronic wristbands that let us into the locker rooms, lockers, and shower area. The wristbands were also a brilliant way to pay for purchases in the water without having to keep an eye on a purse or wallet.

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Each person was required to strip down, shower nude, use provided shower gel and conditioner, and then put on a swimming suit (showers were private – changing rooms were not). Attendants made certain that no person entered the lagoon without first showering. Several of us females had read how bad the chemicals/algae/minerals/silica could be on our color-processed hair so we knew to bring and apply coconut oil, tie our hair up, and don’t submerge! The water doesn’t really damage your hair – it just leaves a thick, mineral build-up. We were prepared!

After showering and putting on swimsuits, we stepped from the locker area into the lagoon. What a view! Black lava rocks, green moss, black bridges and walkways, and beautiful milky turquoise waters spread out before us in all directions. We hung up our towels and stepped in. The water was not hot – it was more like warm bathwater. Swimming around to different areas, we did find that the water temperature changed from area to area. This particular morning, the temperature was in the high 40s Fahrenheit which made the lagoon nice and toasty and not so cold that walking outside was like a Nordic torture experiment. It was perfect!

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We explored for a few minutes and took in the surreal scenery. Steam was rising off the water and the cloudy skies were starting to clear. What a gorgeous day it turned out to be. The water felt awesome! We decided to try our complimentary silica masks from a swim-up bar. Attendants spooned the white silica into our hands and we used  mirrored panels located nearby to smear the mask on our faces. The rules were pretty simple: avoid your eyes, leave the mask on for 10-15 minutes, then wash off for smooth, hydrated skin. We had a lot of laughs while looking like poor imitations of clowns/mimes/geishas with our streaky white faces and oily, slicked back hair! Thank goodness one brave soul in our group brought a phone to snap a few pics (though the steam hampered the camera lens and the photo quality). Note: go outside and take photos with your nice camera or phone before entering the water, then return it to your locker. 

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We explored all the nooksskyr and crannies of the lagoon. There were bridges, overhangs, private coves, and lots of wide open spaces. There were rock “islands” to set your drinks on. The bottom is smooth like a swimming pool so it was very easy to walk or swim around. Most of the water was waist-deep to chest-deep.

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Several of us went to the swim-up bar together after washing our masks off and exploring the area. Our wristbands allowed us one free drink but we could purchase up to two more. I drank the frozen Strawberry Skyr (yogurt) smoothie which was delicious and refreshing. Several in our group had cocktails, Icelandic beer and imported wine. This is the memory I will keep in my mind – blue skies, turquoise water, friends & family standing around – laughing, drinking, and talking.

It was a great day and a very memorable experience!

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The Blue Lagoon was more than just the “lagoon.” It also had a sauna and steam room, spa treatments, and floating massages. There were a couple of restaurants, a coffee shop, a lounge, and a gift shop. Everything was neat, clean and modern. All the service we encountered was very accommodating and friendly. The experience was a little pricey….but so is everything in Iceland! We expected that going in and still felt like it was worth every penny. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I highly suggest experiencing the Blue Lagoon if you ever get a chance to visit Iceland. It was a great place to spend a few hours or all day. It is a memory that I will never forget, especially sharing this wonderful experience with family and friends. LOVED IT!

Safe travels!

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Additional tips: No outside food is allowed in.

Leave all jewelry in your locker to prevent damage from the high silica content of the water.

Don’t wear expensive eyeglasses or sunglasses (or anything you value) in the lagoon. If they fall off, you will never find them in the milky water and the silica can damage certain materials.

Plastic bags are provided for your wet swimsuits.

Hairdryers are provided but you need to bring your own hair products and brush/comb. 

No one can go into the lagoon area in normal street clothes. Swimsuits only.

 

 

Desert Botanical Garden

Phoenix, AZ

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I credit my love of plants and flowers to my dear grandmother. She was one of those people that could grow just about anything and loved all kinds of flowers, caterpillars, bees, and butterflies.  It was from her that I learned names of insects, plants and flowers. She taught me how things grew and how to care for them. Today, I share my grandmother’s love of gardening and currently have a house and yard full of blooming things. Some friends and family might even say that I may have “a problem” (especially with my collection of orchids!).

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While planning a trip to Arizona this past May, the Desert Botanical Garden kept popping up on my “things to do” research. After reading several articles and reviews about DBG, I knew this place was something I definitely wanted to check out. Luckily I had a couple of like-minded friends traveling with me, so a day was set aside for us to check it out. Bags were packed. Agenda was planned. Arizona, here we come!

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The Desert Botanical Garden is located in Phoenix on 140 acres – 55 acres being the actual garden. It is nestled among the gorgeous red rocks of the Papago Buttes in the Sonoran Desert.

The DBG was actually started in 1939 when a small group of concerned citizens saw the need to conserve this area with its flora and fauna in a modern, fast-changing, and destructive world. Hats off to this far-seeing group of conservationists for this is now the home for several rare and endangered species of desert plants found no where else in the world.

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On the morning of our visit, parking was free and plentiful. Beautiful yellow Chihuly sculptures welcomed us at the entrance – that was an added bonus for me! A wonderful volunteer (thank you, David!) quickly approached my group of five women just inside the entrance gates. He gave us a map, some great tips, reminded us to drink our water, and had a joke or two for his captive female audience. He was most friendly and helpful, as were all the other volunteers we met throughout our day in the gardens.

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There were five main thematic trails in the gardens to be explored. Each garden trail was well-maintained with easy-to-follow signage. There were restrooms, water stations, and plenty of shaded places to sit and take a break from the desert sun. Every turn had something new and surprising. We wandered through the 50,000+ plants! All of the cacti, trees, and flowers were showcased in beautifully landscaped, outdoor exhibits – each more spectacular than the last.

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We walked under huge, towering cacti. We gawked at the colorful desert wildflowers. We enjoyed the shade under lush desert trees. We were buzzed by iridescent hummingbirds. We spotted doves sitting on their nests high up in holes of the gigantic saguaro cacti. We dodged huge bumblebees and butterflies that were searching out the brightly colored red, pink, orange, yellow, and purple blooms all around us. It was all wonderful. Mother Nature was alive and well in the desert.

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My favorite memory of the day was our visit to the Butterfly Pavilion. I have visited several butterfly exhibits in several different places throughout the years, but this one was by far the best. You could not step, stand, or walk inside the pavilion without sharing space with a brightly colored butterfly! They were everywhere!! The butterflies were gorgeous and all the flowers were breathtakingly beautiful. It was a sensory overload of colors and I loved every minute of it.

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As we followed the trails through each area, we saw many beautiful displays of plants and flowers. There were huge decorative pots, fountains, water walls, sculptures, native art, sundials, trellises, gardens, etc. We even saw squirrels, lizards, and native birds.  Every area was picturesque and every turn brought something new and interesting.

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My main regret visiting here is that we just didn’t have enough time.  A night-time visit would have been perfect. The Desert Botanical Garden hosts several night events including a florescent “Electric Desert Show” and  a “Flashlight Tour” (here snakey, snakey!). They also offer all types of gardening classes and specialized tours, as well as concerts and musical entertainment. This just gave me more reasons to return in the future!

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The Desert Botanical Garden was truly exceptional. The volunteers were all very friendly and helpful. The cacti and trees were spectacular and some were most unusual. The flowers and butterflies were gorgeous. The gift shops were first class. There is not anything negative that I can report on this fantastic place. It was hot – as are most deserts – so dress accordingly, take water and wear hats.  I would suggest going early (as we did) or at night and certainly not in the heat of summer. I do hope all of you plant-lovers get a chance to visit this wonderful place and enjoy it as much as we did.

For me, it was a lot like stepping into a Georgia O’Keeffe painting – pure desert magic!

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