Utah is Amazing

Do you live in Utah?  I am so jealous.

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Have you been thinking about visiting?  Stop thinking.  Go.

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Last month, Jon and I spent 8 days in southern Utah, and it was amazing.  Every expectation for our trip was met and blown out of the water.  Tons of new birds.

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Incredible hiking and views.

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Petroglyphs of adorable ancient puppies (far left).

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And possibly the best vacation location in the United States.  I look forward to sharing our photos with you!

Blue Springs Gap

For this trip, I did not want to go tent camping.  Jon’s compromise was a Virginia cabin in a secluded area with no water.  But it did have a toilet.  Toilets are not guaranteed in our adventures.

IMG_5524The drive through the Virginia countryside has gorgeous views of farms, horses, and unique houses.

IMG_5578Many of the farms were growing Christmas trees.

IMG_5540Our cabin on Mount Rogers NRA was great (US Forest Service), even if occasionally frequented by zombies.  Thank you, random creative guest.

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IMG_5799We planned to spend some time in the Mount Rogers area, and I do recommend a quick visit to Homer’s Rock for the amazing view.

IMG_5481Those plans quickly changed when we discovered Grayson Highlands State Park.  We were more impressed with this park than many of the national parks that we have visited.  Grayson Highlands has an amazing mix of wooded trails (including a section of the Appalachian Trail), wild ponies, streams for wading, and rocks for scrambling.

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IMG_5753IMG_5816Next Stop:  Where it all began… Continue reading

High Museum of Art

This year, Jon was asked to visit the holiday display at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.  We stayed downtown at the Hotel Indigo, which is right near the Fox Theater, and some great restaurants.  (Have you tried The Vortex? If you’re over 21, try The Vortex).  This visit, we ate at Publik Draft House, which was also fantastic, http://www.publikatl.com/

DSCN1353Then we were on to the High Museum of Art.  http://www.high.org/.  They had an amazing installation of speakers – each an individual voice singing a complicated piece by Thomas Tallis.

DSCN1362For some reason, I spent a lot of time photographing people during this visit.  Look at the hugely different reaction of these two groups of visitors.

DSCN1374I had a good time watching the reactions of visitors to the modern art installations.

DSCN1388DSCN1392Hey, there we are.

DSCN1425I had no idea that the High had a huge collection of my favorite art – where crazy awesome sculptors make hard marble look like delicate cloth.

DSCN1416DSCN1410We didn’t make it to an entire floor, so I guess we’ll need to return someday.

Next stop: Blue Springs Gap, Virginia

Kachemek Bay State Park

Our last stop in Alaska was a ferry ride over to Kachemek State Park (other than the awesome Bear Tooth Theaterpub in Anchorage while waiting for a very late flight).

Day 10 (29)You have to hire a private boat company, but the process was very easy.  Disclaimer:  this was not their busy season.  We saw more sea otters, and really, can you have too many sea otters?

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The ferry staff was happy to help us choose a trail, and we arranged our drop off and pick up point.  This was a little more structured than we like, but we did not want to miss the boat and spend the night with the bears either.

Day 10 (47)The Grewingk Glacier Trail is beautiful, and the glacier is about halfway around.  We were able to stay by the lake for a nice rest and lunch.  Not a bad view!

Day 10 (162)Pieces of ice are continually breaking off, and they form really interesting shapes as they melt.  I particularly liked Puff the Magic Iceberg…

Day 10 (204)The trail back to shore was steep in places, but it was lovely.

Day 10 (300)I hope you enjoyed our trip to Alaska.  Our travels will continue in no particular order…

Next stop:  The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA

Kenai Fjords

The southern coast of Alaska makes it ridiculously easy to take good pictures.  Seward is a wonderful postcard of a town.  I highly recommend eating there and visiting the Alaska SeaLife Center.  This is the view from our restaurant – the flowers are in a box outside the window.

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While on the coast, we took a couple amazing hikes.  The first was the famous hike to see one of the few accessible glaciers in the area.  Never ask an Alaskan if a hike is easy.  “I’m an old woman, and I have no problem!”  It’s not easy.

Day 6 (48 2)But it’s worth it.  You can see the glacier from the parking lot, but the trail is a series of switchbacks with a constant incline.

Day 6 (110)There are some worthy sights along the way (if you’re not preoccupied blaming your husband for dragging you up the mountain).

Day 6 (48)We passed several trail runners (awesome crazies) carrying absolutely nothing but their spandex.

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I almost got blown off the mountain photographing these cutie hoary marmots.

Day 6 (113)And then you get to the top.

Day 6 (208)Day 6 (131)And then you remember that going down is always much harder than you think it’s going to be.  Fortunately, our next stop was the boat trip departing from Seward.  Make sure to make reservations ahead of time.

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We started seeing sea otters right away.

Day 7 (14)Several colonies of Stellar sea lions.

Day 7 (169)Mountain goats way up on the cliff side…

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My first whale sighting (only got a short video), and a glacier falling into the ocean.  The boats take turns getting close to the glacier, and it was nice to get some alone time with this force of nature.

Day 7 (128)The boat was a good size, and I really appreciated the option to go inside and sit down.  We spent most of the time on deck, but the wind gets to you after a while.  We also heard that the boat’s dinner was not worth the expense, so we packed snacks and sub sandwiches.  Neither of us felt left out at dinnertime.

Next stop – Ferry ride to Kachemak Bay State Park

Denali

Chronologically, I should start with our travels in Minnesota and Canada.  Or with the Mega-honeymoon.  Could we have a destination honeymoon?  No.  We had a coast-to-coast, visit eleven national parks honeymoon.  How we managed it on our salary, I still have no idea.

I’m going to start with Alaska.  For our ten year anniversary, Jon and I planned to go to Peru.  I still have the travel books, and I would love to travel there someday.  But Jon has always wanted to visit Alaska.  Did I say visit?  Jon has always wanted to move to Alaska.  I suggested a change in plans, and it did not take much convincing.

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Alaska is a big place, and we had to focus.  Jon wanted Denali.  I wanted the coast.   We settled on Denali and Kenai.

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When you drive north from the airport in Anchorage, you start to get used to the mountains.  Everywhere mountains.

Day 2 (223)Could this be “the Mountain”? (This is not the mountain).  People in Alaska talk about Denali like a person.  “The Mountain did not come out today”, like it did not feel like visiting us.  Turns out, Denali is covered in clouds most of the time.  When it came out, we felt very privileged to see it.

Day 5 (48)See that mountain range in the front?  We saw those huge monsters for days.  Denali appears twice as big (rear of same photo).  The Mountain indeed.

Day 2 (208)Everyone who travels to Denali hopes to see the Big Five – Dall Sheep, Grizzly Bears, Moose, Caribou, and Wolves.  We were warned that it is difficult to see bears and wolves, but we would probably see moose.  We hardly saw any moose (not a huge disappointment after four years in Minnesota), but we saw 23 grizzlies!

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Day 4 (90)You can get off the bus anywhere, unless there is wildlife present.  They have conditioned the animals to ignore the buses.  Watching the bus drive away, knowing you are on your own for at least a half hour, was an interesting experience.

Day 4 (214)Some visitors were not brave enough to do it, and were impressed when we flagged down the next bus.

Day 4 (321)We took a challenging ranger-led hike and had to take a detour around this male grizzly.

Day 3 (25)The visitor centers are a good place to warm up, and they have some beautiful artwork.

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It is a long drive to the northern end of the park.  It’s worth it.

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Next stop – Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park.