Minnesota: Days 24-25

Mi-knee-soo-tta!  What a lovely state.  They didn’t come up with the slogan “Minnesota Nice” from no where.  People are actually really nice there!  On my way to Minnesota, I was feeling really sad about leaving my ice cream back in Ohio; however, I have great friends who didn’t let me miss out on more ice cream!

Day 24

View from above looking over Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.

View from above looking over Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.

I got in to MSP around midnight where I was met with a small baggage issue in which the airline lost the cover of my hiking bag, the same cover that made it through several states and two continents but okay.  After hassling with the baggage folks for a while, I finally found my friend and we made it back to her place by 2 am.  We blinked our eyes and got up at 7 am to make the 2.5 hour drive to Duluth in northern Minnesota.  There we watched our dear friend and her crew run Grandma’s Marathon.  She finished just under her goal of four hours yayy!  We met up with the group where we were invited to a lovely lunch at the home of the parents of one of the gals in our friend’s college crew.  It was so sweet and nice getting to know all of these people – I still don’t know how they stayed upright after that race but I appreciated their hospitality!

Enger's Tower in Duluth, Minnesota.

Enger Tower in Duluth, Minnesota.

Our gracious hosts suggested we check out Enger Tower to see a little bit of Duluth history.  What a nice spot!  The tower goes up about five stories where we were able to get a bird’s eye view of the city.  It is a nice lookout, although it was difficult to see much because of the fog.  We walked around the accompanying garden and sat and talked for a while.  Such a beautiful afternoon.  There was Japanese garden near the tower as well – apparently Duluth is a sister city to a city in Japan and they have great amount of influence on one another.  We found a gong there so naturally we had to ring it.

This was the gong in the Japanese garden near Enger's Tower

This was the gong in the Japanese garden near Enger’s Tower

After Enger Tower, we headed back to Canal Park in downtown Duluth to grab some snacks.  These included delicious Chicago dogs and…drum roll please…ice cream!!  I tried rum cherry ice cream which was everything and then some.  Simply amazing.

Grandma's ice cream at Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota.

Grandma’s ice cream at Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota (yes, this is from Snapchat, don’t judge).

All of our goodies came from Grandma’s.  Pretty much everything in Canal Park is owned by this ubiquitous Grandma.  And it is all great!  As we were wrapping up our treats, the aerial lift bridge began to go up.  A huge freighter was coming through and the whole town came out to see it.  The whole bottom half of the bridge lifts up to allow the ship to pass underneath it.  It is an engineering marvel really.

Barge going under Aerial Lift Bridge at Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota

Barge going under Aerial Lift Bridge at Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota

I felt so incredibly accomplished after watching the freighter go under the bridge; of all the times to be in Duluth, Minnesota, I happened to be there at the exact right time!  Mission accomplished.  After being amazed, we headed back to our host’s home where we were surprised with news that homemade coconut curry shrimp was on the menu for dinner.  Of course we had to stay.  One delightful dinner and eight ice cream options later, my friend and I had to shuffle out to make it back to her home in St. Paul.  It was an absolutely great way to spend the day and I was so sad to leave!

Day 25

New high speed rail line in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

New high speed rail line in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Leaving Duluth around 10 pm and having a 7 am flight made for another short night.  My very kind, patient friend woke up at 5:30 am on a Sunday (bless your soul!) to get me to the high speed rail that I would take to the airport.  Being from a family of engineers, I found this to be pretty neat.  It took me right into the airport where I caught my flight in plenty of time to surprise my dad for Father’s Day.  I was originally supposed to get home the next day but Southwest heard my father’s desires and dropped the prices on flights so I could make it home.  It was perfect.

And just like that, the Great Western Adventure was over!  It was an awesome experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.  There are some real gems in these United States and I’m glad I caught a small glimpse while connecting with people I love along the way.

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Ohio: Days 20-23

What state is round on two ends and high in the middle? That’s right, Ohio!  After an extremely long day/night in the airport with a redeye flight, I finally made it to the Buckeye State.  I had an awesome friend guide who showed me all the gems of Ohio…especially the ice cream!  If there is a way to ship ice cream from Ohio, PLEASE let me know.

Day 20

Oregon District in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

Oregon District in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

I immediately crashed in a bed upon my arrival to Dayton on that early morning.  After my much-needed super nap, we headed downtown for some delicious food.  Of course it was dinner time by the time I revived myself, so we grabbed an some yummy Thai Nine.  After burgers and eggs for the past two weeks, I had never been so happy to see Thai food.  From there, we headed to the Oregon District, a nice area of downtown with boutiques and restaurants lining the street.  We stumbled upon a used book store that was absolutely awesome.  This place was packed with books from all walks of life and at a great price.  My friend and I could have spent the rest of the night.  But we had more important things to accomplish: we needed ice cream.

Graeter's, the ice cream shop in Dayton with the BEST chocolate chips.

Graeter’s, the ice cream shop in Dayton with the BEST chocolate chips.

We bought a few books and headed to Graeter’s ice cream shop.  Graeter’s is known for its chocolate chips and I immediately learned why.  I got a raspberry chocolate chip situation that was divine.  It had chocolate chips that were the size of dimes and they were made of actual, genuine, perfect chocolate.  Well worth the trip!  After indulging our sweet tooth we headed back to my friend’s house and had an early night.

Day 21

The only picture I took on this day was a half-full martini we grabbed at a happy hour that was a severe disappointment.  So disappointing that I felt posting it would only bring back it’s power to destroy other martinis.  How did we end up with these horrible martinis?  We tried to be cool.  I slept in while my friend went to work and when she got home, we decided to go watch Spy with Melissa McCarthy.  The movie was hilarious and inspired us to be exciting people.  How to invoke excitement you ask?  Find $5 martinis at the local bar!  Big mistake.  We didn’t even finish them.

After our deep sadness and defeat, we had to salvage the evening by getting ice cream.  We headed to Ritter’s for yet another magical ice cream experience.  Ritter’s actually had frozen custard, of which I’ve never been a huge fan.  Ritter’s swiftly changed my mind.  I could eat that every day and be happy with life.

We wrapped up the night as any respectable person should, with Red Box.

Day 22

No pics from today because we went shopping!!  We trekked over to the Cincinnati Outlet Mall to buy all of the pretty things.  We did some serious damage at Banana Republic and Nine West getting things we didn’t need but absolutely had to have.  What a great time.  We made it back to Dayton in time for me to try the Italian Chipotle-style restaurant, Piada.  Their salads are pretty darn good.  My friend had planned a great cookout for that evening but rain and others’ schedules led to three of us having burgers and lemonade while hanging out.  It was really nice and of course, we capped the evening with another Red Box.  No ice cream today but Piada made it alllllright.

Day 23

Cheese Curds from Yeung's Dairy in Dayton, Ohio.

Cheese Curds from Young’s Farm in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

We got up and headed down to Young’s Jersey Farm for home grown burgers and cheese curds.  Yes, cheese curds.  As a non-Midwesterner, this did not necessary sound appetizing to me.  However, I must say I was convinced.  They taste almost like small mozzarella sticks without greasy breading and much better cheese.  At the farm, they had a whole video showing the process of making cheese and cheese curds.  All in all the food was tasty.  We wrapped up our meal with – you guessed it – ice cream.  The must have had 30 flavors of ice cream and 29 of them I had never heard of or tried.  We both had apple dumplings a la mode.  I wanted something a little different so I tried mine with sweet potato ice cream. Delicious!  We walked around a bit and checked out the cows on the farm.

After Young’s we went to the Air Force Museum on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.  The museum has a total of three hangars (and a fourth under construction) with the full history of the Air Force, beginning with the Wright brothers’ work in Dayton and North Carolina.  Part of the base is actually located on their land which was interesting to learn.  We made it through about one quarter of one hangar before leaving – it was huge.  There were models of the first planes along with the history of the first Black military pilot, Eugene Jacques Bullard.  Bullard was born in Georgia in the 1890s and was able to escape to Europe and grew to be a prizefighting boxer and nightclub owner.  He then became an accomplished combat pilot for France in World War I; he tried to join the United States Army Air Service (as it was called then) but was rejected because he was Black.  His story was remarkable; the museum had a case of about 30 different awards Bullard received during his career as a combat pilot.

After leaving the museum, we journeyed back home to finish up leftover brownies and other assorted desserts (no ice cream).   I parted with my dear friend at the airport where I hopped on the flight for the next stop: Minnesota!

Arizona: Days 16-19

This must have been my 25th trip to Arizona in my lifetime and I discovered some new corners of The Grand Canyon State.  Being a swamp girl, I’ve always been highly skeptical of the desert life; however, Arizona successfully convinced me of its beauty and charm on this trip.  This must be what my parents have been trying to show me this whole time…

Day 16

View within the Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ.

View within the Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ.

Views within the Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ.

We got up early and had a smorgasbord of tacos and eggs for breakfast – explained in previous post – and headed to Page, Arizona to check out Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.  The drive was about 2 hours and 15 minutes from Duck Creek Village in Utah.  Antelope Canyon is on the Navajo reservation and visitors are required to book a tour to enter the canyons.  We took Ken’s Tours in the Lower Antelope Canyon and had an excellent tour guide by the name of Cody.  To get into the canyon, you climb down about five flights of stairs and wind through narrow passages.  Cody helped us take cool pictures like the ones above and told us some of the history of the canyon.  He also showed us distinct features of the canyon and they were formed.  The tour was only about an hour but so interesting and beautiful.  I would go again in a heartbeat!

Me sitting on the edge looking over Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ.

Me sitting on the edge looking over Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ.

After checking out the majestic Antelope Canyon, we took the quick ten-minute drive to Horseshoe Bend.  From the parking lot, we walked about three-quarters of a mile to get to the lookout at Horseshoe Bend.  It was an amazing canyon with blue-green water at the bottom and people were even camping down there.  It was quite a sight.  Such a sight that I got my Beyoncé on and starting posing.  A lot.  I had a blast!  Not sure how my friend/photographer felt 15 poses later (hehe <3).

We left Horseshoe Bend and drove about two hours to Munds Park where we stayed for the remainder of our time in Arizona.  We had a sweet cabin fully stocked with food thanks to some overambitious grocery shoppers in our group.

Day 17

The view from close to two miles down into the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

The view from close to two miles down into the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

We got up at a somewhat decent time to take the hour-long drive to the Grand Canyon.  It was packed.  We had to park near the market at Parking Lot B and take a shuttle down to Bright Angel Trail.  This was a really nice trail that took us down into the canyon.  Two of us split from the group and did the only appropriate thing to do in the Grand Canyon: have a photo shoot.  There are soooo many more pictures floating in my cloud from this trip.  But those shall be reserved for scrapbooks and family parties.  Us two photogenic hikers made it about 1.75 miles down the trail before we found the spot pictured above and sat for a while to take it all in.  The rest of the group headed down almost three miles before making the trek back up.  OMG going up was HARD.  For every five minutes you spent going down, it took nearly ten minutes to go back up.  Definitely something to consider when deciding how far down into the canyon you want to go.  Make sure you can get out!

California Condor spotted at Grand Canyon in Arizona.

California Condor spotted at Grand Canyon in Arizona.

On our steep incline out of the Bright Angel Trail, we were treated with a California Condor sighting.  California Condors can get up to 26 pounds and boast a wingspan 9-10 feet, the largest of all North American birds.  A kind couple shared that there are only 200 of these birds left in the world and we were blessed enough to see one on this trip.  Just another sign this was the right place to be at the right time.  We headed back to our glampsite and had delicious fish tacos for dinner, in honor of the condor of course…

Day 18

Making it across Devil's Bridge in Sedona, AZ.

Making it across Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, AZ.

One of our breakfast aficionados finally figured out how to make a delicious breakfast for everyone by this day – we were so proud!  We headed out to Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, Arizona, which is only nine miles away but took an hour to reach because there is no direct route between Munds Park and Sedona.  After that exciting discovery, we hiked only about an hour to the Bridge – about 1.8 miles roundtrip.  The Bridge trail starts at 4,600 feet elevation and you climb another 400 feet up to get to the Bridge.  The heat combined with my general out-of-shapeness made this a bit uncomfortable for me but definitely worth the hike for the views.  The picture above is from the peak.

After our hike we dropped off one of our comrades at a nearby hotel to take the shuttle back to Phoenix.  We then headed back to our cabin for a very intense game of Jenga and even more intense Game of Thrones Season 5 Finale.  I think it’s fair to say we are still recovering from that episode.

Day 19

What a doozy you were, Day 19.  We got up nice and early to wash dishes, lock up the house and drive about two hours to Phoenix from where all our flights left.  The Costco enthusiasts of the group had to stop by the Phoenix Costco and somehow found a slab of bone-in lamb.  With the temperature being around 115 degrees that day, we probably could have cooked it on the sidewalk.  Instead we opted for Chik-fil-a and drove to the airport to drop off the car and sadly, part ways.  My flight was a full 9 hours later than everyone else’s so I had a lovely time hanging out in the airport by myself. Alone. No one there. Not even workers.  But it was worth it to make it to Ohio by 10:30 am the next day!

Utah: Days 11-16

Oh, Utah.  The wonders I did not know you possessed, you desert state you.  Wow.  All I can say is wow.  Just the drive alone would have been enough for me but then you overturned rocks and blew wind through mountains to create some breathtaking scenery.  Our first night in your presence was at Arches National Park where stars lit the sky much prettier than any street lamp I’ve ever seen – and boy, have I seen street lamps.  It was so magical we had to go back to the park the next day.  And so began our Utah adventure with its ubiquitous beauty.

Day 12

DSCN0748

Me climbing an insanely high rock on the way to Double-O Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

We started off this day by heading back to Arches National Park to try our hand at the Double-O Arch trail.  This trail seemed easy enough: 1.2 miles, people of all ages trekking up and down without breaking a sweat.  So tell me why it took us 3 hours to reach the Double-O Arch?  No, I’ll tell you why.  This trail was very flat and easy to navigate for the first three-quarters of a mile.  We were taking it all in, enjoying our brand new Camelbaks and posing for cute pictures.  Then, the trail went UP.  Just straight up.  No warning, no side trail for beginners/people who don’t do up, no other option.  This being the first trail of the trip, I could NOT stop here and chicken out.  So what did I do?  I went up!  We climbed a strip of rocks on our hands and knees (just like the pros of course) and made it to the top of the rock pictured above.  100% worth it.  Scary.  But worth it.

View from the trail to Double-O Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

View from the trail to Double-O Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

Our harrowing climb to top continued as we walked the plank (a narrow strip of rocks) to the rest of the trail.  Most of the time, I was looking down, concentrating on not stepping too far to the right or the left and falling to my graceful demise.  When I felt confident enough to stop and look up, I was blessed with views like the one above.  This is why Utah is great.

The Double-O Arch at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

The Double-O Arch at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

Finally, we made it to the Double-O Arch, the big kahuna.  Once you walk through the lower arch and see the other side, you will understand life and all its glory.  It was a very lovely place to sit and think (or hop on FaceTime if you are like me and need to show someone the magical scenery).  After making it here, part of the group headed down to a different trail that spurs off of Double-O Arch.  It had devil in the name and I wasn’t too keen on walking with the devil during my first hike.  It took us about 2 hours to make it back down the trail with a slight detour since we were going rogue without a map.

We grabbed a delicious lunch at Moab Brewery, complete with tasty gelato.  We got on the road and took the four-hour drive to Duck Creek Village Lodge where we stayed for the remainder of our time in Utah.  The road was riddled with deer.  At least four tried to make our acquaintance; thankfully, we had a skillful driver in the group who got us to the lodge safely.

Day 13

On this day we found the only cave with a waterfall in Utah and went spelunking!  Just kidding. Half of us were so wiped out from the day before that we stayed in and worked all day/watched Game of Thrones. We ran to grocery store – closest one was 45 minutes away in Cedar City.  The other half of the group caught a sweet deal in Escalante Park and went sand boarding for the day.  We reunited over a spaghetti dinner.

Day 14

See that orange dot? That's me. Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

See that orange dot? That’s me. Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

Ahh today.  Today started with the world’s most complicated breakfast.  Let two single men loose in a kitchen and see the chaos that ensues.  We entrusted these two men with cooking the most important meal of the day for seven people.  25 eggs, 14 pancakes, and 16 pieces of sausage later and we had the breakfast of…well… we had breakfast.  We took the hour and a half drive to Zion National Park where half the group did Angels Landing (no thank you) and the other half of us took the safe route of Emerald Pools.

View from the pool, Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

View from the pool, Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

There is a river before getting to the Emerald Pool trails and there are Lower and Upper Pools.  The Lower Pools are a very short hike and feature some beautiful waterfalls and greenery.  We took the hour hike to the Upper Emerald Pool where we climbed rocks and took pictures.  It was beautiful.  You can’t swim in this pool; however, the river at the entrance had plenty of bathers.  We hiked back down the trail to grab food at the Brew Pub located in the park.  Delicious pretzel sticks!  The other half of the group finished Angel’s Landing in about five hours, just in time to meet us and grab dinner for themselves.

Day 15

We ended up really finding that cave for spelunking!  Ok, clearly I like this joke for days where we did nothing.  We were supposed to check out The Narrows at Zion but flash flood warnings prevented us from being great.  We ended up watching more Game of Thrones (had to catch up before the season finale!) and cooked most of what was in the refrigerator, which included every last egg in Utah, burgers, and tacos.  Some of us worked, one of us ran off to see Jurassic World.  All in all a great day.  We even got to meet our AirBnB host Mike – great guy!

Day 16

Sigh, our last day in Utah.  We woke up early for a taco and eggs breakfast but still had to throw out food, unfortunately.  We ended up leaving Duck Creek Village at 8 am to make the two-hour drive to Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona.  I have more on it in my next post!

Seattle, Washington: Days 1-6

Beautiful Red Cedar in Mount Rainer near Seattle, Washington.

Beautiful Red Cedar in Mount Rainer near Seattle, Washington.

I started off my journey through the Great American West in Seattle, Washington.  Because I am super cool and live on the edge when I travel, I went with my Mom.  It is one of her favorite cities after all so she was the perfect companion to tour this cool corner of America.  Here is a breakdown of the spots we hit!

Day 1

We arrived in Seattle pretty late and headed to Green Lake, a neighborhood in Northeast Seattle.  We had some nice pizza at a restaurant right by the park.  The area was gorgeous and had plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance.  We checked out a market in the area as well to grab breakfast food.

Day 2

Some of the fish offered at Pike's Place Market in downtown Seattle.

Some of the fish at Pike’s Place Market in downtown Seattle.

Well this day started out very non blog worthy – Mom and I worked most of the day because well… that’s just how we operate.  We finally took a break late that afternoon to check out Pike’s Place, the iconic market in downtown Seattle.  First we checked out The Soundview Cafe, a fabulous restaurant overlooking the Puget Sound.  I had a delicious BBQ salmon sandwich and my mom had some fabulous prawns.  We headed to the farmer’s market at Pike’s Place where we had some AMAZING smoked salmon that we were able to buy to take back home.  If you go to Pike’s Place, please get that salmon!!  We ended up walking through the market which was full of huge, fresh fruit and interesting dried fruits.  Due to my severe obsession with chocolate-fruit combinations, Mom and I picked up some chocolate covered cherries which were divine!

View of Seattle skyline from Kerry Park.

View of Seattle skyline from Kerry Park.

After Pike Place, we headed to Kerry Park, an awesome spot for viewing the Seattle skyline.  It is a small overlook but has some great views.  Kerry Park is located in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood which has some gorgeous houses where Mom and I pretended we lived for the day.  The neighborhood had a nice garden in it that mesmerized us.  Fish, chocolate, cherries, skylines, and gardens – a great day!

Day 3

Lake at Mount Rainier near Seattle

Lake at Mount Rainier near Seattle

Mom and I got up and tried to take a drive out to Olympic Park until we realized that it was FOUR hour drive away.  After that slight deterrence, we decided to head to Mount Rainier, which took us oh…four and a half hours to get to our trail.  But that was our fault.  We decided to take the scenic route and jump out for pictures every five minutes since it was so beautiful!  The drive really should have been only two hours.  Along the way we stopped by the lake above.

Reflection Pool at Mount Rainier

Reflection Pool at Mount Rainier

Thanks to some the world of internet reviews, we decided to take the Grove of Patriarchs Trail in the Ohanapecosh area of the park.  The trail was only about a mile and a half and had some of the largest red cedar trees in the state.  It also had a creek running through the trail that a cable bridge where only one person could pass at a time.  Adventure!  Definitely a great trail that was easy to walk with plenty of sights along the way.  Some trees had to be more than 30 feet tall and just as wide.  We tried to act cool – failed miserably.

Red Cedar tree on the Grove of Patriarchs Trail in Mount Rainier Park

Red Cedar tree on the Grove of Patriarchs Trail in Mount Rainier Park

After our indulgence in nature we headed to a burger joint in downtown Seattle and grabbed some ice cream.  Delicious of course because, well… all food in Seattle is delicious.

Day 4

Underground city tour of Seattle.

Underground city tour of Seattle.

We started off the day by going down under!  Well down under Seattle.  There’s an entire tour of underground Seattle.  I won’t spoil the tour since I don’t work for the company who runs it but basically the whole city was built up to make the streets more level and reduce the hill grade.  There are still viable walkways under the current streets where we walked through and heard about the extremely amusing history of Seattle.  Great tour!

After checking out the underground city, we headed to Bainbridge Island.  We took the ferry which was a beautiful 40-minute ride across the Puget Sound.  We ate at Harbour on the Marina – great restaurant.  We had mussels and the Salmon Asian Bowl, all of it absolutely delicious.  We tried to take the Water View Trail that follows the island to get back to the ferry but we got tragically lost.  After much trial and error, we made it back to the ferry and headed to Green Lake for some Chinese food.

Day 5

My visit to the Space Needle

My visit to the Space Needle

On our final full day in Seattle, we had to visit the most important site in the city: the Space Needle!  Of course this was the only day where it rained and was under 70 degrees.  Go up a few hundred feet in the air and it feels like small pieces of ice are trying to make you less than great.  But we were not defeated!  We made it to the top and got some fantastic views of the city.  Definitely worth the harrowing weather we battled to make it up there.

Space Needle

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View from the top of the Space Needle

Day 6

We had an unnaturally early morning (got up at 3 am) to make it to the airport and leave this gem of a city.  I got on a 6 am flight for Albuquerque and Mom got on one for home.  On to Part 2 of the Great Western Adventure!