How to Find Cheap(er) Flights

Life is short and the world is wide”

So Many Places, So Little Time . . . and Money

You know how it is – you have a destination in mind.  Maybe you want to visit Hawaii, with its beautiful beaches and volcanoes; maybe you want to catch a few waves on the North Shore. Or maybe you have always dreamed of visiting Italy, seeing the statue of David up-close and personal; or maybe you really want to try authentic Italian cuisine.  Or maybe it’s Ireland that’s in your heart – the land of leprechauns, green hills, and scones with cream and jam.

Whatever your coveted destination, you know that lodging is going to take a big bite out of your budget (unless you’re staying in hostels or with a friend), and you know that you want to have money left for all of that new and delicious food you want to try, and you also need money for transportation and experiences in/at your destination.  But you have to get there, right?  And you don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of money on just getting there.  Do you?  I know that I don’t want that!

Hence, the age-old (as old as my age, anyway) question – “How can I save money on my airline ticket?”  Every time I am planning a trip, that is one of the foremost questions on my mind.  I have approached this question in several different ways over the past years.  A few of my money-saving approaches have been:  airline miles from business & personal travel, non-cash awards from my husband’s job, and signing up for new credit cards that give away free airline miles, or that give you cash-back towards travel.

All of those aforementioned ideas aside, I have also used different websites that help to find the cheapest options for airfare, and that’s mainly what I want to cover in this post. There are a couple of websites that are worth mentioning.  I also joined an email list for a small yearly fee that I want to share.

View of the inside of a large airplane about half way back with 8 seats across


Until very recently, I had primarily used  This website is a great way to look for flights because it includes a component called “agony.”  When you look up a flight to a destination, Hipmunk automatically sorts your choices by “agony.”  You can choose to change your sorting options to something else, namely – price, duration, takeoff, or landing. But the “agony” setting takes all of those other options into consideration and will list first the options with the least agony.  Therefore, if one ticket option is $50 more than the next one, but also has a much shorter flight duration, or less connection hassles to deal with, etc., then it may be listed first, because overall the agony is less, even though the price is a little higher.

In addition to the agony sort option, Hipmunk has some other ways to help.  One is by offering different filters in your search.  You can sort by # of stops – nonstop, 1 stop, 2+ stops.  So, if having connections in your flight is a deal-breaker for you, you can look for only non-stop flights.  You can also choose filters such as airlines, airports, classes of service, and booking providers.

I want to stop here a minute and say that even though I have used Hipmunk to find the best deals on flights, I always go directly to the airline I am booking with to actually buy my tickets.  I have found that finding a deal and then buying directly with airline, rental car, and in a lot of cases, hotel companies gives you some benefits that you don’t get when you book through third-party sites.

Ok, back to Hipmunk.  Once you put in your search parameters and get your results, the information is laid out in a type of grid pattern that makes it very easy to read and to compare one flight to another.  You can see which trips are longer or shorter than others, lengths of connections, and whether the flight has wifi or not.  There’s also a section over on the right (when you are looking at the desktop version) that lists the amenities on the flight.

One last thing I want to share about Hipmunk is a handy tool that they offer called “Price Drop Alerts.”  While you are waiting for your flight results to load, a small screen pops up and gives you the option to enter your email address for their alerts.  This is very helpful if you are watching a flight to see if the prices go down or up.  Instead of having to check back all the time, the website will alert you through email when the price changes up or down for the dates and cities that you entered in your search.  I used this when we bought our tickets on Aer Lingus for our trip to Ireland a couple of years ago.  I have also put in some other cities and dates just to watch the timing of price drops for places that I wanted to go.  It helped me get a feel for the best timeframes for buying tickets before an upcoming trip.


This brings me to my most recent discovery, and the app that I think is the best that I have found for buying tickets.  It’s called Hopper.  I am really excited about this one.  How did I not hear about this earlier?  I mean, I’m always reading travel articles and searching for the best way to save money on everything travel related.  A friend of mine told me recently that her husband bought a ticket for somewhere in the western US, and he had watched the ticket prices on Hopper, and she said it really worked for him.

After hearing my friend’s glowing review, I knew that I had to check this out.  So I went to the App Store and downloaded Hopper.  This appears to be the only way to use Hopper, if you go to on your desktop, it just gives you the option to send the app to your phone.

I really, really like the way this app works.  Here’s what Hopper says about itself, as seen on their website – “Relax – booking travel just got easy – Hopper tells you when to book and when to wait for both flights and hotels. Oh, and it’s free!”  Also, “Know When to Buy – Hopper predicts prices with 95% accuracy up to 1 year in advance. No ads, no spam, no stress — just accurate predictions and travel deals.”  And, “Plan Less, Travel More Hopper has helped 30M travelers track prices and book trips around the world. The Hopper app will monitor prices for you and you can book in just a few taps.”

Here’s how it works:  When you open the app, the first screen asks where you are going from and to.  Once you enter your cities, it takes you to a page that looks like this (I chose London Heathrow):

On the second page, you see a calendar with colored squares corresponding to the prices at the top.  This gives you a visual aide in deciding when you want to take your trip.  I personally haven’t seen any other programs or apps out there that have this type of functionality.  It’s so great because it allows you to plan your trip based on flight costs without having to go in and enter different dates time and time again to figure out when it is the cheapest to fly.

But, you may say, what if I have fixed dates?  What if I don’t have the ability to plan my travel based on cheapest days to fly?  Well, Hopper has help for you, too!  If you have a particular place and particular dates that you need to go, then once you get to the second screen shown, pick your dates of travel – for this demo, I’ll pick December 9 for leaving and December 15th, for returning.  So, I’ll tap December and it takes me to the next screen, I’ll tap the 9th and the 15th, taking me to the next screen:

As you can see, once you have selected trip dates, the app gives you advice.  In this case, it advises to go ahead and book because you’re unlikely to find a cheaper price down the road.  But this isn’t always the case.  Sometimes it may tell you to wait for a few weeks.  If you decide that you want to wait, just select “Watch This Trip” and it will notify you if there’s a change in price.

I have played around with the app, putting in different destinations and dates, and it has given me some pointers on places that I have searched for in the past, as shown here:


What a great app, right?  We are hopefully going to England with some friends sometime in 2019 and I plan on using Hopper to help us get the best price on our tickets.

Next Vacay

The last thing I want to share with you is a program called Next Vacay.  I had gotten some advertising through Facebook or somewhere else for this program and it intrigued me.  It boils down to this – you pay $25 for a year, and anytime they come across a good deal on airfare from your closest airport, or a bigger, major airport a few hours from you, they send you an email with the info and a link to finding the tickets.  Next Vacay doesn’t make any money from selling you tickets, you get those on your own, they just give you the info.

The catch is that as soon as you get the email, you need to act.  Sometimes the deals only last for a couple of hours, and sometimes they last for a day or two.  I thought it would be fun to watch for places that I would like to visit.  I started keeping track of their emails after I had gotten a few.  I will share with you what  they have sent me so far.

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This program works great if you have money set aside for travel and you can jump on the tickets when they notify you.  Also, it helps if you have an adventurous side.  So far, I haven’t gotten info on anywhere that I really, really want to go.  But maybe there’s a place on this list that appeals to you?  You never know what destination will show up in their emails!

In conclusion, I hope that this info on different ways to get cheap(er) airline tickets has been helpful.  I know that I am always looking for a way to make my dollar stretch, so I can visit allll the places!  There’s so much of the world that I have not seen, and so much that I want to see.  How about you?

If you have some way of finding great discounts on airfare, please feel free to comment below.  I would love to hear them!

Until next time . . . . happy traveling!

stone wall with green ivy, country road, church ruins

Charming Irish Bed & Breakfast in County Kilkenny

“Let’s find someplace beautiful to get lost”

When we arrived in Ireland, we spent our first few nights in what would become my favorite Irish B&B, Lawcus Farm Guest House, in the area of Stoneyford, in County Kilkenny.  Why was it your favorite, you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you:  It was a small working farm in the countryside, with quite a few farm animals – pigs, cows, goats, chickens, and a dog or two; it had the nicest, most welcoming, friendliest, most helpful, informative, down-to-earth, delicious-breakfast-cooking hosts; the accommodations were comfortable, quaint, charming, and well-thought-out; the other guests that we met were friendly and fun to get to know; the property was great fun to explore; it was close to a little town with a small pub with really good food; it wasn’t far from Kilkenny; there were some great ruins nearby to explore; and staying there gave us a taste of what it would be like to live in Ireland.

a two story stone building with a slate roof and windows outlined in red brick with green bushes in the front
An outside look at our favorite Irish B&B

We felt so welcomed and cared for while staying at Lawcus Farm Guest House.  As I am sitting here writing this, I am really yearning to go back . . . . . maybe next year . . . . . I can dream, can’t I?  Anyhow, I had learned about this B&B while researching on TripAdvisor, and it had really good ratings, and they had availability for the three of us – the room included a queen bed downstairs and a loft with two twin beds – perfect for my husband, myself, and our college-aged son.

stone lodge with brown wooden door and window on the left and a lantern on a post across the walkway from the door
The door to our room is on the left
a queen sized bed with a plaid quilt and floral bedspread in a room with orange walls, two nightstands and two lamps
The lower floor of our room had a queen sized bed on one side of a divider
a small kitchen with a table and four chairs, a sink, wooden cabinets, a dorm sized refrigerator and a microwave
There was a kitchenette on the other side of the divider, and also a bathroom
a small room with angled ceilings and two twin beds with red bedspreads and floral sheets
Our room’s top floor had two twin beds – perfect for kids or teenagers (or our adult son)

Part of the fun of staying in B&Bs in Ireland is getting to meet fellow travelers from other parts of the world.  Every morning, our hosts, Mark and AnnMarie would fill up our bellies with an amazing breakfast.  In the breakfast room, we met people from Australia, England, and also others from the USA.  Some of our favorite new friends were from Australia and we are now connected with them on Facebook.

a kitchen with windows on the walls and clear glass panels on the roof with a smiling man and a pleasant smiling woman wearing an apron
Mark and AnnMarie were so lovely, warm, and welcoming
Image may contain: 2 people, including Douglas Joseph Botello, table and indoor
Enjoying the full Irish breakfast!
an open room with tables and two smiling men and two smiling women sitting at one table with dishes and breakfast items on the tables
Our new friends from Australia – beautiful people, inside and out!

Before coming to Ireland, I did a lot of research about things to do and see, but once we landed at this B&B, we opted to change our plans and enjoy a little bit of down-time.  It was fun to walk around the farm and watch the animals and hang out by the peaceful water that flowed by.

two white pigs with big black spots, one laying in a rocky yard and one standing and eating in the yard
The resident pigs
a little black goat with horns standing on rocky ground and looking at the camera
This little goat kept us laughing. He was either climbing on top of the pigs or butting them while they slept.
a young man standing in an overgrown green bank looking at a dog that is scratching the sand at the water's edge of a small river
The farm dog, Bruce, followed us as we explored. He was also pretty amusing

Besides the lodging found in the stone house, Lawcus Farm Guest House also has a tree house nestled among some trees at the back of the property.  I think there were some honeymooners staying there at the time.  It was a little more expensive than the other rooms, but is quiet and private and would be a great place for a couple to stay. Image may contain: tree and outdoorImage may contain: tree and outdoorImage may contain: tree and outdoor

Image may contain: tree and outdoor
Lawcus Farm Guest House tree house

I can’t say enough about how much I liked this place.  But I am not the only one.  When we were there, one of the couples from Australia was on a return trip and they brought a gift for Mark and AnnMarie to show their appreciation for everything.  Also, TripAdvisor just ranked this B&B #2 in all of Ireland, and #18 in all of Europe.  But they are #1 in my book!

two women and one man sitting down on a deck outside while the man looks at a framed picture with one man standing and watching
Our friends from Australia presenting Mark & AnnMarie with a piece of artwork

When we first arrived at Lawcus Farm Guest House, Mark pulled out an artistically hand-drawn map and sat down with my son and I (my hubby wasn’t there yet, as he got a stomach bug right before our flight to Ireland, as mentioned in my last post, How Do I Love Thee, Ireland? Let me Count the Ways) and showed us all the things of interest in the surrounding area.  Now, I can tell you that not all hosts go to this much trouble, and Mark was able to direct us to things that I hadn’t really noticed in my guidebooks, or hadn’t noticed in my online research.  Some of the things he pointed out were a local artisan studio, a mill (historical landmark), and a ruins called Kells Priory.  He also told us where to get a meal locally and some interesting things to visit in the bigger town of Kilkenny.  That first day, my son and I headed over to visit Kells Priory and then into the tiny town of Kells to the local pub for dinner.

Kells Priory was amazing!  Some people may look at it as kinda boring or just a pile of rubble, but my son and I had the best time exploring.  It’s the kind of place where, if you were a child with an imagination, you could have played there for days, inventing stories about knights and kings and all kinds of adventures.  But I will share more about that in my next post.  I have so many pictures to share!

After the priory, we ventured into Kells and visited our first Irish pub.  I didn’t really know what to expect.  We don’t really do pubs here in the states.  I mean, we have bars, but there’s a whole different expectation with bars than with pubs, I came to realize.  When I think of a bar here, it seems to be all about the alcohol.  But a pub in Ireland is more about community.  Sure, they serve beer – Guinness to be exact – but it’s not just about the beer.  Pubs are like community centers where you can get a good meal and connect with your friends.

inside a building with dark walls, a sign that says "Guiness for strength" and shows a man pulling a cart with a large horse riding inside it. a sign that says no bloody swearing
Funny pub signs

In hindsight, I wish that I had taken a few more pictures inside the pub.  I had my first fish & chips meal and had mushy peas for the first time.  I didn’t know quite what to expect with the mushy peas – it didn’t sound that appealing.  But they were surprisingly good!  Overall, we were very pleased with our meal, and it was a great ending to a very long and tiring day.

I have so much more to share about our time in County Kilkenny, so I will have to save that for my next post.  Our introduction to Ireland and the Irish countryside was beautiful and brilliant.  We were just beginning our Irish adventure, and were looking forward to all of the excitement that was to come.

Please come back and visit for my next post about County Kilkenny.  Until next time, happy traveling!

Do you have a favorite Irish B&B?  If so, please comment below!


How Do I Love Thee, Ireland? Let me Count the Ways

“Don’t listen to what they say, go see” ~ Chinese Proverb

Whenever I think back to my family’s trip to Ireland, it brings a swell of love and excitement in my heart.  And a yearning to return.  Ireland welcomed us with open arms, warm locals, and believe it or not, sunny skies.

What do I love about Ireland?  Let me count all the things – the people, the scones, the green grass, the rolling hills, the stone walls, the sheep, the wild coast, the history, the ruins, the castles, the B&Bs, the pubs, the other visitors that we met, the chocolate, the ice cream cones that every shop seems to sell, everything, all of it.

Beautiful rolling hills and a sheep farm

Why Ireland?

It all started with a sort of medical reason.  My college-aged son needed a procedure done on his eye that was not covered by insurance and was about half the price in Dublin as here in the states.  So we decided to take the amount we would save on the procedure, and spend that amount on traveling to Ireland.  What a deal!

We needed to be in the country for a little over two weeks, due to a follow-up visit with the eye doctor, so we ended up in Ireland for about 17 days.  In preparation for our trip, after booking our tickets on Aer Lingus, I did a ton of research on TripAdvisor.  I read a lot of advice on the message boards about the must-see places to visit, how long it takes to see everything, and the types of places to stay.  It seemed like staying in bed and breakfasts was the best bet, so that is where we tried to stay at each stop, when possible.  In America, staying in a bed and breakfast is usually more expensive than staying in a hotel, but in Ireland, happily, the opposite is true.

Our Favorite Irish B&B
Our Favorite Irish B&B – Lawcus Farm Guesthouse near Kilkenny

We made plans to traipse around Ireland in a general clockwise direction, beginning in the eastern side and ending in Galway, with a visit to the Dublin eye doctor near the beginning and at the end of our journey.  It was a real struggle for me to not over-plan.  I tend to want to cram as much as I can into our journey, while my husband, who has a stressful job, likes to enjoy a lot of relaxing along the way.  So, keeping that in mind, we did not attempt to see any of Northern Ireland, or really anything north of Galway in Ireland.  We also weren’t really able to visit the area of Cork, which had some really cool stuff to experience.  I guess we will have to work those places into our next sojourn!

Packing for Ireland

Since I knew we would be doing a whole bunch of walking, and because in Ireland it usually rains a lot, and because it can be chilly in May, I tried to get us prepared for those conditions.  I searched out comfortable rain-repellent or rain-resistant, easy-to-pack pants for all of us, waterproof walking/hiking shoes, light, packable raincoats, and tops and warm but light fleece jackets that we could layer and re-use.  The goal was to fit everything we needed for two and a half weeks in our suitcases, without over-packing or over-stuffing.

In the process, I found the absolute best walking shoes for me.  They are so comfortable – like instantly comfortable – and waterproof and a color I love.  They are from Ahnu, and i can’t say enough good things about them.  The soles are made by Vibram.  They have held up very well – from our two and a half weeks of miles of walking around Ireland, to a week and a half of hiking trails in Utah and Arizona, to just every day use.  I usually wear them when it is raining here at home, too. My husband and son got Merrell hiking shoes for the Ireland trip and they have done very well for them, also.


Image result for ahnu purple walking shoes
My favorite hiking shoes – Ahnu Women’s Sugarpine Waterproof Light Hiking Shoe

After getting some unsolicited advice from an avid hiker that we should avoid packing jeans, we found some light, easily packable water-resistant pants from Eddie Bauer.  Thankfully, they were running a 40% off of everything sale at the time, and it wasn’t too hard on the wallet.  We wanted to be able to wash some of our clothes in a sink or something if we didn’t have access to a washer and dryer and have them dry out pretty fast.  I’m happy to report that it wasn’t really necessary, as we either had a washer and dryer available nearby or used a service to wash our clothes.  Most towns around Ireland have something like that available.  You drop your bag of dirty clothes off and a few hours later they are folded and ready for you to pick up.  Very helpful!

For our tops, we tried to stick with things that we could easily layer on and off, including some fleece zip-ups that we purchased – Columbia brand for me and Eddie Bauer for the guys, and a light rain coats.  I did quite a bit of research on rain coats and found some Marmot brand for the guys that had good ratings, yet didn’t cost hundreds of dollars.  I think theirs were right around $100 a piece.  With all the preparation for rainy Ireland, it ended up only raining for one full day and one half day – we were so happy about that!

Our Travel Plan and First Day

After landing in Dublin early in the morning, and getting our rental car along with a portable wifi device to power the GPS app on our mobile phone (Google maps), the plan was to head to the Powerscourt Estate and Gardens in Enniskerry and explore, then head to our first B&B.  You know what they say about the best laid plans.  Ha!  The night before our flight to Ireland, my husband got an awful stomach bug and couldn’t leave the same day with us.  When my son and I got our stick shift rental car without him, that’s when everything got very challenging.

Driver’s seat on the right, stick shift on the left!

First of all, my husband was supposed to drive, and I was going to navigate because I knew exactly where we were heading.  Without him there, the roles shifted, and I became the driver of the left-handed stick shift, and my uninformed son became the navigator.  Two strikes. Wait!  I forgot to mention that we were driving on the left side of the road!  Yikes!  Three strikes!

I was a little freaked out by the stick shift.  It worked differently than any I had ever driven because you had to push down to shift it into reverse.  Well, I didn’t realize that, so I avoided the far left gear, thinking that was reverse.  Every time I thought I was putting it in first, it was actually in third.

Then, I asked my son to put “Powerscourt” into the GPS so we could get to our first destination.  But since he didn’t understand that we were going to Powerscourt Estate & Gardens, and I didn’t know that there was something else named Powerscourt in downtown Dublin, we ended up heading to an entirely wrong destination.  In Dublin.  Through freakishly narrow streets.  On the wrong side of the road.  In rush hour traffic.  With lots of college students crossing the streets in front of us.  Lots of stop and go traffic.  And I couldn’t get it into first.  So we kept stalling.  Stalling at red lights.  Stalling at stop signs.  Stalling when we slowed down for the down town, rush hour, college student pedestrian traffic.  It was a nightmare.  A nightmare.  I though I would die of stress.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that when you are new to driving on the left side of the road and you are new to driving from the right hand side of the car, your perception is all thrown off and you keep hitting curbs with your left front tire.  And you come dangerously close to any object on the left side of the car – other cars, car mirrors, stone walls, etc.  Can you see it?  Can you feel my stress?

When we finally figured out the mistake with the GPS and got the correct place lined up, we were able to begin heading out of the city and into the country side.  And even though I still didn’t have the whole stick shift thing worked out, at least we weren’t stopping every few minutes for a red light or a stop sign and stalling out.  Whew!

When we finally rolled into the parking lot at Powerscourt, my son and I were both SO relieved!  I don’t think I have ever been so happy to get out of the car!  But we were here.  We had to wait a few minutes for the place to open and we were hungry after our long flight so we headed straight for their little cafe.  And I purchased my first Irish scone with cream and jam (along with hot tea).  When I took my first bite I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Oh. My. Goodness.  Why don’t we serve this deliciousness in the USA? What is wrong with us?  (We do serve scones here, but not the same!)

After refreshing our bodies and souls we walked around the magnificent gardens of Powerscourt.  Unfortunately, we were in somewhat of a daze as we walked around, fueled by lack of sleep, so I am sure we didn’t enjoy it as much as we would have if we were fully awake.  It was lovely.

Japanese Gardens in Powerscourt

After touring the gardens, we were so ready to find our B&B, that we tanked the other item on the agenda, which was visiting Glendalough, a beautiful valley with a Early Medieval monastic settlement.  I’m sorry we missed it, but sometimes you can only do so much, plus it meant more driving.  So, it was on to Lawcus Farm Guesthouse!

When we finally dragged our weary bodies to our B&B, we were so glad to take a short nap, find a pub for some dinner and then head to bed for the night.  We absolutely loved our stay at our first Irish B&B.  I will highlight this lovely lodging place in greater detail in my next post.

Before our trip to Ireland, I had read somewhere that when you travel, and the unexpected or challenging happens (and they inevitably will), just go with the flow, relax, and don’t get upset.  So, with that mindset, all of the first day’s challenges didn’t get us down.  We were in Ireland!  I was so happy to be here.  After all the planning and preparing, we were here, and looking forward to our future adventures.

Please come back for my next post about our Kilkenny adventures.  Until next time, happy traveling!


Nashville Music and Fun

“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life” – Michael Palin

Did you ever think about taking a trip to Nashville?

Did you ever wonder if it would be worth your time?

Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s worth the drive, or the airplane ride, or the bus ride, or the horseback ride, or whatever your mode of transportation happens to be.

The Most Amazing Hotel in Nashville

Last month my husband and I took our second trip to Nashville and stayed at an Airbnb, celebrating our anniversary a little early.  But our first trip was a few years ago for our 25th and that time we stayed at the same hotel that we visited on our wedding night – the Opryland Hotel.  It’s been called the Gaylord Opryland Resort for quite a few years now.  But the grandeur from many years ago is even greater these days.  Many of the hotel rooms have balconies overlooking one of several vast atriums containing tropical vegetation, waterfalls, lazy rivers, restaurants, and more.

Tropical vegitation, Christmas lights from balcony
Lovely views from our private balcony

Since it was our anniversary, we opted for one of the balcony rooms and loved keeping the door open.  It was soothing to hear the sound of the waterfalls in the atrium and we enjoyed gazing out over the cheery Christmas decorations and lights.


The location was also very convenient – right behind the hotel is the Grand Ole Opry House, and behind that is the Opry Mills Mall.  I spent a little too much money in the mall.  On myself.  But that’s another story.

Nashville – the Country Music Capital

We all know that Nashville is the county music capital of the world, right?  There are a lot of great music options all around, in the city and in the countryside.  A few places you can check out while you are in the area include:

The Bluebird Cafe – This is an unlikely little place in the middle of a shopping center that you would never notice when driving down the street.  You would just pass right on by.  But if you are in the know, you will look for it.  You will make reservations ahead of time, or stand outside in a line, hoping for an empty seat to become available.  This place is famous.  It’s been featured on the show, Nashville, quite a bit.  It showcases song writers “in the round,” and up-and-coming artists that are hoping for their big break.  Sometimes music celebrities pop in for a surprise treat.  We visited there on our first trip to Nashville and it was a fun and unique experience.  You can tell from the picture below that we didn’t have the best seat – we were looking at the backs of their heads – but you sit where they put you and since we only had a party of two, that’s where we ended up.  Despite our seats, we had an enjoyable night.

Side or back view of multiple people in chairs on a stage
Our seats were behind the stage of the Bluebird Cafe

The Grand Ole Opry – Nashville is pretty much synonymous with this place.  The Grand Ole Opry has been going strong in one form or another since 1925.  There are two locations you can visit – the older one, now known as the Ryman, or Opry at the Ryman, and the newer bigger stage, known as the Grand Ole Opry House.  I have had the opportunity to visit both locations.

During the Christmas season, all Opry shows are held at the Ryman, due to other shows being held at the Grand Ole Opry House.  The first time we visited Nashville, the Rockettes were performing their Christmas show on the big stage, thus our visit to the smaller one.  There is something special about that older, smaller stage.  When you visit, you can feel the nostalgia and sense of history there.

People sitting in long pews and a view of a stage and the balcony above
We enjoyed the vibe of the older Opry at the Ryman

There are several acts that perform through the course of the night and the headliner the night we visited was Rascal Flatts.  They put on an outstanding show.  We just loved it!  All the other acts were great, too.  I think one group was called Striking Matches, if I remember correctly and I am really surprised they haven’t hit the big time yet!

View over heads of a stage and people performing with GrandOleOpry in the background
Rascal Flatts put on a great show!

The bigger stage of the Grand Ole Opry is located behind the Gaylord Opryland Resort and the seating is set up the same as the original location.  The smaller location has long benches, and so does the larger venue, only they are more plush.  The drawback to this type of seating in both locations is the closeness you have with your neighbors.  There are no boundaries between individual seats, so if you end up next to a large person or someone who likes to spread out you may have personal space issues!

Our most recent trip to Nashville included a visit to the Grand Ole Opry House, the bigger location, and made for a nice evening out.  There were several entertaining acts during the evening, Lonestar being one of the better known.

View of a stage with people playing stringed instruments
We enjoyed the show at the Grand Ole Opry House

Wildhorse Saloon – We visited this joint the last time we were in town.  It had been on my list on our first Nashville trip, but the night we had free was the night they were closed that week.  I was disappointed!  I don’t really know how to line dance but I was looking forward to learning some steps.  So this time around, we made sure to make it a priority.

Wildhorse Saloon is located in the downtown area of Nashville, so parking can be challenging.  Of course, we look hard for free parking, so that makes it a little more challenging.  There are free spots on the street and there are paid parking garages, the latter being a little easier to find but a little harder on the wallet.  It’s easier if you are going with a friend, because one of you can hop out and grab a table and the other one find a spot.  And that’s what we did.

When you visit, you need to decide if you are going to eat a meal here or not.  There’s so much great food in Nashville, we decided to reward our palate elsewhere and just come here to dance and observe dancing.  If you eat here, you get a better table.  But there are some available next to the bar and some upstairs where no food is required.  We did order some soft drinks and appetizers to make the waitress happy and tipped her well for taking up her space.

large room with people at tables and a stage in background
Views from our seats at Wildhorse Saloon

Different local (I’m assuming local) groups perform on different nights and the night we were there we heard a band called Cumberland Gap.  They provided nice entertainment, but what I was here for was the line dancing.  I convinced my hubby to join me out on the floor. We were both wearing new boots we had just purchased at a discount a few doors down and were looking forward to trying them out.  Well, after around 100 ladies and one other man joined in my husband decided it wasn’t for him and left me there.  Alone.  From that time on he just watched me from upstairs.  Oh well.  I had fun.  It actually was a blast.  Even though I messed up quite a bit, there were others messing up too, and no one was really watching me except my man.

There are quite a few other venues for catching some great country music in and around the Nashville area.  One musical venue that was on my list, but that we didn’t make it to, is Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant in the tiny hamlet of Leiper’s Fork.  We did get to visit Leiper’s Fork a time or two during our stay, but not during times that music is featured at Puckett’s Grocery.  Leiper’s Fork is a quaint and charming little place with a couple of restaurants and very interesting little shops that are fun to browse.  Since our Airbnb was only a couple miles from the town, we had an easy time stopping by on our way to other places.

A Lovely Little Airbnb

Fish pond surrounded by stone and two seats with house in background
We loved our Airbnb!

In the past, I haven’t really shared information on the individual, non-hotel places we have stayed since there is only one room available per night.  But I had quite a few friends who wanted the info on the Airbnb that we enjoyed in Leiper’s Fork, so I decided to go ahead and tell about it here.

I highly recommended this location.  It is a studio space over the garage of a private home and is in such a lovely setting.  If you are wanting to be in the heart of the action of Nashville, this place is not for you.  However, if you are looking for a peaceful, out-of-the-way place, this is a contender!  It is located a couple miles from the sweet little town of Leiper’s Fork, it is about 20 minutes from the Loveless Cafe, and farther than that from downtown Nashville.  We really enjoyed driving through the countryside and past many horse farms on our way to our Nashville and other destinations.  It is beautiful country!

If you are interested in booking some time there, it is listed on Airbnb as The Loft at Quest Ridge, located in Franklin, Tennessee.  Just click on the link in the last sentence and it should take you to the listing.  I don’t make any money from the link, just wanted to make it easy for you!  The host, Robert, is listed as a “Superhost” and the place rents for around $125 a night.  We had plenty of privacy and our host even left a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls for us on our arrival!  Yum!

Last Words

Nashville has so much to offer!  The downtown area has many restaurants and music venues (mostly inside bars) to visit.  There are also a lot of country music related museums downtown and even one outside of Nashville to see.  There are a bunch of places to buy boots!  And restaurants – oh my goodness!  So many mouth-watering restaurants.  You could visit Nashville just to try the restaurants.

I’ll be writing one or two more posts about Nashville – one covering amazing food – mostly comfort food, and maybe one more that discusses unique things to do in the area.  I hope you’ll join me on the journey!

Until next time – happy traveling!



National Forest Fun

“To travel is to live” – Hans Christian Andersen

There is so much lovely terrain right in our backyard, in the state of Virginia.  So my better half and I decided not to waste our beautiful Saturday on boring things like house work or yard work or household projects, and instead ventured out to enjoy the beginnings of the autumn colors in our region.  If you are ever visiting southwest Virginia, this day trip is a wonderful way to spend a day.

First I am going to tell you how to get there.  And make sure you eat before you go, because it is a bit of a drive.  On a previous trip to the area, I was starving, and the drive over two mountains made me a little car sick, so this time I made sure we ate breakfast right before leaving.  But I digress.  If you are in the Roanoke, Virginia area, leave Interstate 81 by Exit 141 and go west until you reach a traffic signal.  Turn right at the light onto 311.  This will take you over the first mountain pretty quickly.  After the first mountain, you will pass the Homeplace Restaurant on the left.  Sidebar – if you’ve never visited the Homeplace, you are missing out on a fantastic family-style meal.  Do yourself a favor and try it out!

Back to the directions – after passing the Homeplace, you will drive for 12 or 13 miles and then drive through the small town of New Castle, Virginia.  Keep on driving.  After an additional 16 miles of curvy roads while crossing over another mountain, you will reach the little crossroad known as Paint Bank.  Currently Paint Bank offers up a general store/restaurant combination, a lodge, and a gas pump.  There’s not much to see right at the crossroad, but what is there is very quaint.

Two story red brick building with two story porches on front and waving American flag with hanging flower baskets
Paint Bank General Store and Swinging Bridge Restaurant

The Paint Bank General Store, pictured above, also hosts the Swinging Bridge Restaurant in the rear of the building.  But we will come back to that later.

old train depo turned into a lodge that is two story grey building with metal roof and bikes in front
Paint Bank Depot Lodge

I’ve never stayed at the Depot Lodge, but this building is not the only accommodation available in the area.  In addition to the lodge, there is an amazing caboose, two “glamping” tents, two cabins, an airstream trailer, a house, a cottage, and “coming soon” the Lemon Hotel.  You can check out all of the lodging available at The Depot Lodge.  Seems like it would be a great place to host an extended family get-together.

Country road street corner with Waiteville Rd street sign, State Road 600 street sign, trees in background and metal guard rail

The picture above is what you will see immediately after the General Store.  Make a left here onto 600, or Waiteville Road. As you drive along, you will probably see buffalo grazing in one of several pastures along the left hand side of the road.

Green grass, buffalo in the distance against backdrop of autumn trees and mountains behind

Drive about 10 – 11 miles, and you will see a small sign on the left that says Hanging Rock.

Rural road green grass and autumn leaves in background with sign pointing the way to Hanging Rock

Turn right here onto Limestone Hill Road.  It is a lovely drive up this winding, curvy road.  We saw some beautiful leaves along the way.

rural road surrounded by trees with autumn leaves

Stay on this very narrow, paved road for almost 4 miles and you will come to the parking area on the left.  You’ve arrived!

One of the great things about this trail is that the small parking area is never crowded, at least not when we have been here.  We had passed by the trail heads of several other well-known hikes in southwest Virginia and they were packed out, but not here.  And it was a beautiful October day.

Okay, so now that we are here, it’s time to secure our valuables in the trunk, grab the backpack with water bottles and light snacks, and hit the trail!  The trail is probably rated as moderate, at least that’s what I think.  It is short and has some steeper areas, but also some flat places.

Smiling man in blue shirt standing at beginning of trail to Hanging Rock Observatory with tree with yellow painted square

Follow the yellow marks on the trees!  One of the steepest parts of the trail is right at the beginning, but it’s not bad.

Wooden sign for Allegheny Trail marking distances to Hanging Rock Lookout, Appalachian Trail, and Sugar Camp Farm

We’re headed for the hanging rock lookout.  I think the sign says it is .6 miles.  So, 1.2 miles round-trip.  Not very long!

Man in blue shirt walking ahead in rocky area in the woods on a trail

There are some rocky stretches along the trail, and in a couple of areas we will need to do some scrambling over rocks.  We keep walking until we get to this sign:

Wooden sign in the woods pointing the way to Allegheny trail and the fire tower and raptor tower

If we stay to the right we will join the Allegheny Trail, and if we go left, we will reach the fire tower.  Just a little farther and we will be there!

Wooden sign with blue backpack hanging on it in the woods and a trail leading upwards

When we reach the top, there’s a fire tower to the right and the hanging rock to the left.  In the past, we’ve only been up in the tower, so I wanted to try to take a selfie from the rock.  It would have been so nice to have a selfie stick in this situation!  None of our selfie pictures worked out.  Oh well!  But I did get a couple of shots from the rock, including this one:

Blue sky with puffy white clouds, wooden building with windows, and angled rock slabs with autumn trees
The Hanging Rock and the Fire Tower Observatory

Next, it’s on to the fire tower.  The views are amazing from up here.  You can see mountain ridges for miles and miles.

Deck railing with sign that says EL 3812 with mountains in the distance and blue skies with white clouds

Man in blue shirt standing in shadow at deck railing looking over colorful trees and mountains in the distance with blue skies and white clouds
Looking Over Miles of Mountains

Woman in blue leaning against deck railing with mountains in the background, autumn leaves, and blue skies and white cloudsMountains in the distance, blue skies, lots of white clouds and tops of trees in the foreground

Here’s a panoramic:

Panoramic picture overlooking tops of mountains and autumn trees, blue skies and white clouds

If you are a bird-watcher, this is the place to be.  The tower is right along the flight path of predatory birds.  Unfortunately, we forgot our binoculars this time but we’ve seen several bald eagles in the past without binoculars.  Red-tailed hawks and other large birds are known to pass by.  The tower is at an elevation of 3812 feet.

I failed to mention earlier, that not long after leaving Paint Bank, we crossed into West Virginia.  Most of the area we are looking over is West Virginia.  It sure is scenic!

Squinting man and woman in blue facing camera on deck of fire tower with tops of mountains, trees, and blue sky with white clouds in background

By this time, despite the little snack we brought with us, I was getting really hungry!  After filling our eyes with wonder, it was time to think about filling our bellies with delicious food!  So we grabbed our pack and headed back down the trail.  The return trip was a lot easier, with the exception of a little bit of knee strain.  We passed some young families with several young children who were heading up.  This trail can be trekked by just about anybody, as long as they have no mobility issues.

We got in our car and drove back to Paint Bank, arriving at around 3 p.m.  We were relieved to be able to walk right in to the Swinging Bridge restaurant and get a table.  The last time we had visited, there was a two hour wait!  Wow!  The restaurant does not take reservations unless your party has 8 or more people, and I think that sometimes large tour buses come with huge groups, but that’s not what we encountered this day.

In the picture below you can see the bridge crossing over the dining room:

Inside of open two story building with bridge across the middle of room, a christmas tree, taxidermy animals, old Texaco signs, people sitting at tables, log walls
Inside the Swinging Bridge Restaurant

The restaurant had a steady flow of customers but it wasn’t crowded.  The Swinging Bridge offers a varied menu, with buffalo options.  We decided on the ribs.  We saw them cooking outside on the smoker earlier and they smelled so good!  We also had baked potatoes and side salads and they brought a basket of rolls and cheesy cornbread to the table.  Every time I have eaten here the food has been very good.  We split the apple crumb pie with a generous scoop of ice cream for dessert.  We both had drinks (non-alcoholic) and our tab came to around $42 (we had plenty of left-overs to take home).

After our late lunch, we explored around the gift shop upstairs, the general store, and outside for a bit.

Then it was time for the long-ish drive home.  It was a fun and scenic adventure and we were glad that we put off the things we needed to do at home to enjoy a warm October day in the mountains.  It was time well spent.

Until next time, happy traveling!



Our Dam Trip (Hoover Dam)

“There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it” – Charles Dudley Warner

When my husband and I visited Las Vegas for a few days in May, we just had to make a trip to that most famous dam.  We had heard about it all of our lives, read about it, had seen it in movies, and had seen it in documentaries and on news stories.  Since we were so close and had a fun convertible to use, we couldn’t not visit the Hoover Dam.

We got up early that morning, which was easy to do since we were still pretty much on east coast time, looked up our driving directions on Google maps, and headed out to a hearty breakfast to start our day.  As usual, I did my research for restaurants on TripAdvisor, and we settled on an eatery named Mr. Mama’s.  When we arrived, we were seated and then greeted by Mr. Mama himself.  He was very friendly and eager to share favorites from the menu and some history of the restaurant.

Soon our food had arrived and we were not disappointed!  I now wish that I had taken pictures of our food and the restaurant so that I could show you here, but at the time I didn’t know I would be writing a blog about it.  Anyway, we ordered a Cali omelet and a pancake and shared them both and left very satisfied.  The food was delicious!  My husband wanted to come back for breakfast the next day, but our plans didn’t allow it.  Next time, Mr. Mama!

After leaving the restaurant, we headed out to the dam, which was about a 45 minute drive.  We were aiming to get there at 9 a.m., when the dam ticket line opened, so we could get into the first Dam Tour of the day at 9:30 a.m.  Let me pause here a minute to give you some info:  There are two different tours offered – the Dam Tour and the Powerplant Tour.  The Powerplant Tour is less expensive (currently $15 for adults) and just about anybody can participate – no age restrictions or physical ability restrictions.  It lasts about 30 minutes.  The Dam Tour is currently $30 and includes everything in the Powerplant Tour plus passageways down in the dam itself, but is not available to kids under 8 years old or people in wheelchairs or on crutches.  Both include admission to the visitor center.  The Powerplant Tour tickets can be purchased ahead of time but the Dam Tour has to be purchased in person since it is sometimes unavailable.

So back to the story.  We ended up getting to the dam around 9 and parking and walking a little ways to the ticket counter.  When we got to the counter, there were only a few people in line ahead of us, so I thought we would get the 9:30 Dam Tour for sure.  Well, I was wrong!  The first three or four Dam Tours had already filled up and we got into one starting at 10:30.  I was really surprised, but the dam employee told us that there is always a long line of people waiting for the doors to open at 9 a.m.  Those dam tourists!  Geez!  All kidding aside, waiting until 10:30 worked just fine for us because we could walk around the visitor center and see the exhibits and walk outside and look around and take pictures, etc.  Warning – if you wait until after lunch to get your tickets for the Dam Tour, they could be sold out and you may end up not getting in!  You could still likely get a Powerplant Tour, but if your heart is set on the Dam Tour, go early!

We took some pictures outside while we waited:

Concrete walls of Hoover Dam with hills behind
A Close View of the Hoover Dam

It was a beautiful morning and the weather was nice with clear blue skies.

Arch bridge spanning the Colorado River
The Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge next to Hoover Dam

I thought it was crazy how the transmission towers were hanging at such an angle!

After wandering around (or maybe before? it’s been 3 months) and before our Dam Tour began, we gathered with a bunch of other dam visitors in a theater room and watched an informational video about the Hoover Dam.  It was very interesting to hear about how the dam came about and how it was built and how many people died during its construction during the Great Depression.  It was built during a terrible time in our country and men came from all over the USA just to get a paying job, dangerous as it was.  We really don’t realize how easy we have it these days.

So, after the movie, our tour group lined up and got into (packed like sardines into, I should say) a big elevator and rode down to the power plant area.  During this part of the tour, we were mixed with people from the pp tour.

Big room with seven generators and American flag
Power Plant in Hoover Dam

They told us that the Hoover Dam was all about the water.  Several states were arguing over who could use the water from the Colorado River, and they came to an agreement that included the HD.  But a side benefit of the dam is that it supplies electricity to a huge amount of people.  The picture above shows several large generators that capture energy from the flowing water and send electricity out through the transmission lines.

After we left this generator room, our group continued on for the rest of our tour, and the Powerplant Tour people headed out.  There were a few sneaky ones who tried to merge in with our group, but our tour guides would have none of it!  They were constantly counting us as we switched around and knew just how many should be with us.  The offending suspects were quickly ousted and sent on their way!

The rest of the Dam Tour included an elevator ride in a smaller elevator that took us waaaay down into the dam.  As we walked around, our guide entertained us with some humorous and some fascinating stories about the building process.  We also walked down a low and narrow tube to one of the vents in the wall of the dam.  I’ve included some pictures below.

A couple more from inside the dam:

Our guide also told us that if the elevator broke down, he would just wait for it to get fixed, because he wouldn’t be climbing all those dam stairs to get out!  He obviously had no issues with claustrophobia.

After our tour, we visited the road that goes over the top of the Hoover Dam.  Remember that movie called Fools Rush In starring Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek?  If I remember right she was caught in an ambulance on top of the dam and had to deliver her baby there.  For some reason, that scene always comes to mind when I think about this road!  Anyway, traffic is now diverted to a new, really high bridge due to congestion, etc., and I don’t think this road gets much traffic any more.


Road and people walking
Hoover Dam Road

Also, below are pictures of the reservoir.  Looks like the water is pretty low these days!

Water and hills and blue sky
Water level line in reservoir at Hoover Dam
Water, concrete wall, blue sky, and road with people and a truck
A view of the Hoover Dam Road & Reservoir

After we were done touring the dam, we headed up the Lake Mead road to Valley of Fire State Park, which I wrote about in a previous post, A Gem in Nevada.  But first, we decided to stop in Boulder City for a quick and inexpensive bite to eat.  After reading the reviews, we chose to visit The Chicken Shack.  Once again, TripAdvisor didn’t steer us wrong!  We both went with the meal with three chicken fingers, fries, and a drink for $6.99 and neither of us could finish it all.  I was happy to see they served shoestring fries, and the chicken and dipping sauces were delicious.  But don’t expect to visit here and have an elegant dining experience!  True to the name, the building is like a shack, and we were able to snag one of the few inside tables on this hot day.  But I would definitely recommend it if you like good food at a very reasonable price.  Below is a picture of the shack:

I hope you have enjoyed our dam journey!  We really enjoyed learning about and experiencing the Hoover Dam.  If you are ever in the area, go and see it for yourself, you will be glad you did.

Until next time, happy traveling!

A Page from Arizona

“Take only memories, leave only footprints” – Chief Seattle

Arizona – a state of diversity

When I say that Arizona is a state of diversity, I’m not talking about skin color or cultural diversity, but geographical diversity.  On our family’s first trip to Arizona, I was amazed by the variety of topography to be found in the Grand Canyon state.  For example, in the Tucson area, you are likely to see cacti, front yards filled with rocks, rolling hills, heat, and desert terrain.  When you drive into the high elevation of the Flagstaff area, you are greeted with Ponderosa Pine, mountainous terrain, and much cooler temperatures.  Sedona, on the other hand, will greet you with towering red rock structures that jut out of the mostly flat landscape.  It is a wonder to behold.

That brings us to the Grand Canyon.  You can’t really think about Arizona without the Grand Canyon coming to mind.  It is a one-of-a-kind experience to gaze upon the vast and many-hued geologic wonder.  But, the Grand Canyon is not the only canyon in Arizona.  The state is also home to quite a few slot canyons.  While the majestic Grand Canyon is massive, experiencing it is a big endeavor.  If you want to explore down into the belly of the canyon, you either undertake a huge hike (much easier on the way down, a killer on the way up), or you can pay a lot to ride a mule in and out, or take an expensive helicopter ride.  In contrast, Arizona’s slot canyons are quite a bit easier to access.

When planning our family trip to Utah, my daughter-in-law mentioned wanting to visit one of those Arizona slot canyons – Antelope Canyon, and said that it was just over the border from Utah.  So we added Page, Arizona to our vacation agenda.  During the course of our planning, we also realized that Horseshoe Bend was located a mere few miles away.  So there you go – two fantastic destinations in one place – making the 2+ hour trek from our vacation rental very worth the drive.

In the past, I had seen some amazing slot canyon photos, although at the time I didn’t realize exactly what they were or where they were taken.  I really didn’t understand exactly what we were planning to see.  But as I did some investigating, I realized that this was going to be one of the highlights of our trip.


So, with plans made and adventure on our minds, we set out from Utah and road-tripped it to Page.  Here I must note that Lower Antelope Canyon and Upper Antelope Canyon are both located on the Navajo tribal grounds and all tours are run by Navajo.  We visited the Lower instead of the Upper due to the lesser amount of visitors and the lower cost.  If we get the chance to return to the area, I would love to visit Upper Antelope Canyon.  But, back to the Lower – there are two different tour groups that you can use – Ken’s Tours, which is the original, and Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon Tours, which I think is run by Ken’s sister.  We took the Dixie Ellis tour, but I really don’t see how one can be much different from the other.

When we reached the Lower Antelope Canyon tour area, the two different tour companies were side by side.  Upon entering the parking lot of the tour company, there was a little building with a walk-up window and a long line of people waiting to check in.  I thought that by buying our tickets in advance, we would have an easy time at check-in, but it was pretty busy.  Upon arrival, each person in our group had to sign on a list of names as a release.  There were many other people doing the same thing and the tour company was not organized in their little office.  This is the part of the experience that I did not like at all!  Additionally, in the parking area there were two different very long rows of stinky port-a-pottys.  If you decide to visit, you may want to hit a restroom before you get there.  When buying our tickets online ahead of time, it seemed that there was a limit to the amount of people touring in each time slot.  This was not the case.  When our time group was called, we were surprised to see a bus group of about 50 tourists from Asia who were given priority over the rest of our time group.  And the last disappointing thing was that once our group was called, we walked down to the entrance of the canyon, surprised to find a huge line of people waiting ahead of us.  So despite buying a ticket for a specific time, we waited for about an hour in this last line until we entered the canyon.  I am relating all of this to you so when and if you go, you will be informed ahead of time, and not be too frustrated with the situation.

Now let’s talk about the good stuff.  As we waited in line to get into Lower Antelope Canyon, most of our wait was under a recently constructed shelter.  It was a big help to have that shade, otherwise we would have waited for an hour in the desert sun.  And our guide was great!

When it was our time to enter the canyon, we descended down some metal stairs where no pictures were allowed.  I guess cameras have been dropped on tourist’s heads in the past!  Yikes!  Then we entered the first big room of the canyon, and our guide was able to move us around the huge bus group of 50 tourists, which was awesome.  That gave us the liberty to explore some of the areas without dealing with a big crowd, and that made the whole experience much more pleasant.

I have to say, once we entered the cool of the canyon and began to explore and take in the beauty around us, the long lines and heat from the wait just evaporated.  It really was worth the hassle to be able to experience Lower Antelope Canyon.  And pictures!  I took more pictures in that canyon than I did in any other place we visited that week.  Around every corner we experienced something new that begged for a picture.  I am including a few below, a mere fraction of the total on my camera!  And our guide helped us so much by suggesting things to shoot, pointing out famous rock formations, and telling us how we could set our iPhones or Androids to capture the best colors of the canyon.

My daughter-in-law captured some great images with her new camera.



When you see all the variations of light and hues of color it almost doesn’t seem real.  I enjoyed snapping some pictures along the way.

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Our guide was so helpful!

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He knew the best places to take some great pictures!  Of course, I think that just about anywhere in the canyon would look great in a picture.

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Then, he turned my camera side-ways and took an up-and-down panoramic.  I didn’t even realize you could do that!  I’ve taken all my panos from side to side.  Actually, now that I think about it, my DIL took a picture like that earlier in the week.  And it’s a great effect!

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And, the next picture I would like to share is my favorite.  The rock formation is called “Lady in the Wind.”  Can you see her?

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When we reached the end, we climbed out of the canyon on a series of small metal ladders.

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When we climbed out and walked a few feet away, I turned around and could hardly tell where we came out of the earth.  The canyon was almost hidden from the surface.

Next up was lunch and then on to Horseshoe Bend!

When we drove up to the Horseshoe Bend parking area, it didn’t look like it was going to be that exciting.  And from the reviews I read ahead of time, I was thinking that it was a really short walk from the parking lot, but I obviously had the wrong idea.  The walk was about 3/4 mile one-way and hot!  A sign at the beginning of the trail notified hikers to carry water.


Thankfully there was some cloud cover, which helped a bit with the heat.  As we approached Horseshoe Bend, we could see people standing near the edge of a rock.

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What we didn’t realize is that at that edge was a HUGE drop-off down to the river below. This picture doesn’t really do justice to how scary it was!  My husband wouldn’t watch when I got close enough to get this selfie.

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Unfortunately, anyone who wants to get a really good shot of Horseshoe Bend has to get right up next to the edge.  Phew!  It was scary!  I would have felt much better if i had a rope tied around my waist, just in case.  Also, it helps to have a wide lens on your iPhone, because it’s hard to get the whole thing in one picture without it.  I think this one was without the wide lens:


And this one definitely had a wide lens:

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After a long day of breathtaking scenery and lots of photos, we headed back to our rental house in Utah.  We had enjoyed two of the diverse attractions of Arizona and the experiences of the day were definitely worth the lengthy drive.  Thankfully, we had a crock pot full of soup waiting for us at the house, so after dragging our weary bodies in the door, we ate dinner and relaxed until we hit the sack.  It had been a full and rewarding day.

I hope you have enjoyed a Page from Arizona.  Until next time – happy traveling!


Colorful Valley of Fire at sunset

A Gem in Nevada

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories” – Ray Bradbury

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary a gem is defined as:  a jewel, (or) a precious or sometimes semiprecious stone cut and polished for ornament, (or) something prized especially for great beauty or perfection.  Any of those definitions can be applied to the subject of today’s discussion – Valley of Fire State Park.

Where, you may ask, is this gem, this jewel, this stone cut and polished for ornament?  And, what is this place, prized especially for great beauty or perfection?  The Valley of Fire, aptly named, is located in Nevada and is an easy hour’s drive from “the strip” in Las Vegas.  It is a true gem, its brilliant colors rising in sharp contrast to the usual drab landscape of this slice of Nevada.

The picture below is the typical view out of the window of your car as you drive away from Las Vegas:

Bleak Nevada desert

As you can see, it is pretty much tan with a little bit of green thrown in.


Pretty drab, right?  But as you drive up to the Valley of Fire, beauty begins to unfold before your eyes. Out of the dull and uninteresting, rock formations of reds and pinks and whites arise:

Road into Valley of fire

Red rock formations in Valley of Fire

You’ve reached the Valley of Fire!

As I was researching and planning our family trip to Utah this year, I also needed to decide how my husband and I could best spend our extra few days ahead of the official group vacation.  We were spending three nights in Vegas, and since we’re not big gamblers, we were looking for other things to do.  My search of the internet, and the forums on, led me to this little gem in the desert.  And I am so glad!

I had planned on us leaving mid-afternoon from Vegas with a picnic supper and spending a few hours at VoF, enjoying the evening and the twilight hours, away from the worst heat of the day.  However, we got a little carried away walking the strip, ogling the fancy hotels and indulging in a huge lunch buffet at the Bellagio.  By the time we got back to our room we were wiped out and had to recuperate for a while, pushing back our leaving for the Valley of Fire.  By the time we got there, we didn’t have time to do everything I wished, including driving around the park, sightseeing, and taking the two trails I hoped to hike.  But, I must say, the hour or two before sunset are a great time to visit VoF.  The setting sun cast beautiful hues of pinks over the red and white rocks, and the skies were a bewitching cascade of color.  The pictures just don’t capture the splendor that the eye sees.  Here are a few of the evening pictures:

Red and white rock formations in Valley of FireRed rock and road in Valley of Fire at duskWoman in silver convertible in Valley of Fire at dusk

By the way, I rented that convertible as a surprise for my husband, because he loves convertibles and we can’t afford to buy one at this stage of life.  I was so excited and kept it a secret until we picked it up.  We got an incredible price on it from the car rental company named Sixt.  It’s a European company that’s new to the states and they offer prices on luxury/specialty cars that compare to standard cars from some of the other companies.  Check them out when you want to rent a special car!

So, back to Valley of Fire . . . here’s another evening picture – it’s kind of dark, but the sky is so pretty:

Sunset and red rock at Valley of Fire

Well, as I mentioned before, we got to the park a little too late to see everything that I had planned, and the park closes at sunset, so we had to leave.  But, thankfully, my husband was a good sport and he agreed to come back the next day after we visited the Hoover Dam.  When we drove away from VoF that first evening, it was a chilly 57 degrees!  Surprising for the last half of May in Nevada, at least for me.  But despite the chill, we rode back with the top down on our rental convertible (with the heat on), and enjoyed every daggone minute!  And the roads from the VoF back to Las Vegas were pretty empty, which made it even better!  It’s no fun to ride in a convertible when you’re surrounded by semi-trucks.  Ha!

The following day we came back in the afternoon, after visiting the Hoover Dam and taking Lakeshore Road (which comes with a big price tag – $20 – the entrance fee for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area) back to the Valley of Fire State Park.  It’s a prettier drive than the other alternative, although it doesn’t compare at all to the VoF itself.

Couple at Valley of Fire State Park sign

When we reached the park this time, it was not 57 degrees!  It was hot!  Whatever cold front that had been visiting the day before was long gone.  And although the park was still beautiful, the colors were not quite the same with the sun blaring down on our heads and the sweat dripping off of everywhere.  But, like I said, still beautiful.  But I am partial to visiting a little later in the day, when the colors are highlighted by the setting sun.

The main reason we came back the second day was so that we could hike to see Fire Wave, a visually stunning rock formation with flowing lines of red and white.  We hiked out and back, a round trip of about 1.5 miles.  And we felt every step in the heat!  Here are some pictures from the hike:

Desert and red rock in Valley of Fire blue skyRed rock formation and blue sky in Valley of Fire State Park

Man taking picture of

See what I mean?  Still beautiful, with contrasting colors of blue sky and red rock, but not quite as lovely as the night before.  And hot.  As we hiked closer to Fire Wave, we began to see the variegated red and white rock:

Red and white rock striations

And, finally, we reached our destination, Fire Wave

Fire Wave rockFire Wave

Long view of

You can see for yourself that Fire Wave is an unusual and magnificent rock formation.  And despite the walk through the sand and the heat, it was worth the trek and the sweat to be able to see it ourselves and take a few photographs.  My only regret is that we didn’t get to see and photograph it in the evening hours.  But who knows, maybe this particular spot is prettier in the daytime?

So, after our second visit to Valley of Fire, with our camera full of pictures and our hearts full of memories, we were ready to get back in the convertible, put the top down, and head back to Vegas.

I hope you have enjoyed our jaunt through the desert to the little gem in Nevada and that you will get the chance to visit Valley of Fire yourself someday.  Until next time, happy traveling!


Bryce is Nice!

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” – Anonymous

In a previous post, Beautiful Utah, I mentioned different places in southern Utah that my family and I visited in May of 2017.  Part of our epic journey included a day trip from our rental house near Alton, Utah to Bryce Canyon National Park.

But first, after a much needed morning of rest and relaxation, we stopped for lunch along the way to Bryce at a restaurant called Bryce Canyon Pines.  We, of course, picked this restaurant after reading all the restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor.  There are slim pickin’s around Bryce, and we wanted to pause for a somewhat quick and basic meal that wouldn’t break the bank.  I had also read that Bryce Canyon Pines was supposed to have really good soup and pies!  The food was much as we expected – pretty basic but good, not too expensive, and we split meals so we could all eat pie!  The chocolate pie was my favorite, by the way.


When we got to the gate of Bryce Canyon National Park, we stopped to pay the entrance fee of $30 for our vehicle.  The entrance fee here is the same as it was for Zion National Park, even though Zion was much bigger and had so much more to see and so many more trails.  Another note on the differences – Zion’s bathrooms were kept up very nicely and there were quite a few of them.  I noticed that the bathrooms in Bryce were not in very good shape.  There were overflowing trash cans and there was toilet paper all over the floor.  I was surprised.


So back to the trip.  I had seen pictures of the park and its hoodoos, and I had done some research about what trails were best for a relatively short and pleasant hike.  My daughter-in-law also had Bryce Canyon high on her list and we pretty much had the same ideas for which paths to tackle.

There are several hikes to choose from in the park, but since we didn’t want to hike for the entire day and wanted to see as much of the hoodoos and beautiful scenery as possible, we settled on the Navajo Loop/Queen’s Garden combo.  The two trails together are just short of 3 miles and are supposed to take around 2 to 3 hours, depending on how many times you stop to enjoy the view, take pictures, or just stop to catch your breath!


When we got to the viewing area over the main “canyon” we suddenly didn’t know which way to go.  We had two choices – we could go to the left, to Sunrise Point and head down the Queen’s Garden trail and come up the Wall Street side of the Navajo Loop, or we could do it in reverse and start at Sunset Point to our right.  I remembered that I had previously read that one way was supposed to be a better option, but could not, for the life of me, remember what to do!

As we were pondering and looking at a map, a fellow traveler told us that Wall Street was closed, and it was much prettier to the left, so we should enjoy the view going down.  She said that when they were walking up, all they could think about was catching their breath and they didn’t enjoy looking around as much.  So we took their advice and set off.

And she was right!  The view as we walked down the Queen’s Garden trail was magnificent.  Absolutely stunning.  What strange figures these hoodoos were – unlike anything I had ever seen.  And so many of them!  And so many variations!


While we are on the subject of hoodoos – let’s talk a little bit about them.  Where does the name hoodoo come from?  Well, I remember from our trip that someone said the word is similar to a Native American word that evolved into hoodoo.  But, going back and searching the internet isn’t turning up that same answer, so . . . . I’m not sure but I’ll stick with my vague memory here.

How are hoodoos formed?  This I remember for sure – they are formed from the freeze/thaw cycle.  Snow melts and gets into the cracks, then the water freezes again which causes it to expand and cracks get bigger and bits of rock fall away.  Eventually bigger parts of the rocks topple over.  In fact, this very thing had happened at Bryce before we got there, and unfortunately was the reason that Wall Street was closed.  Sad face.

So let’s get back to the trail.  As we were descending the Queen’s Garden trail, we were merrily hiking and looking around at the beauty and stopping to take lots of pictures along the way.  The people hiking up, on the other hand, were stopping to catch their breath.  And then they would look at us like, “Yeah, you just wait!”  They looked harried and red-of-face, with their tousled hair and lack of oxygen.  But we were determined.  We will not be dissuaded, we thought, as we marched down, our ankles creaking along the way.


Speaking of lack of oxygen – at this altitude you must not push yourself too hard or you can get altitude sickness.  Thankfully, we had been experiencing the higher altitude for a few days before tackling Bryce, so none of us got sick.  But we could definitely feel the reduced oxygen as we eventually hiked back up.

When we reached the lower part of the trail, the topography began to change a bit – we started to see some trees along with the hoodoos.


After a little while hiking through the bottom of the trail, it began to gradually slope upwards.  Then we came to a crossroads.  If we went one way, it led to Wall Street, part of Navajo Loop that would eventually be blocked.  If we went to the right, we would follow the other part of Navajo Loop back up to the same end point.  Since we didn’t want to tack on a dead end meander, we went to the right.


As we began our steep ascent, I came to understand the harried looks of the hikers we had come across earlier.  Now we were those people.  We were the ones that had to stop and catch our breath (especially me).  This part of the trail consisted of multiple steep switchbacks and an elevation gain of 580 feet.  When I look at the number 580, it doesn’t seem that bad.  But when I experienced 580, it was bad.  Now, I am not the most fit person in the world.  I am probably a pretty average 48 year old, needing to lose some weight, but I walk for exercise regularly.  But not 580 feet upwards in an hour or less, or in a day even.  Phew!

Every few minutes, I had to stop to catch my breath and give my pounding heart a chance to slow down.  Our kids had gone way ahead of us, so it was just us “old fogies” dragging up the trail.  But eventually we made it.

I will say that despite the challenge of the upward part of the trail, it was an experience that was definitely worth the effort.  The sights that are seen in Bryce National Park are unlike anything else that can be viewed anywhere else in the world.  The hoodoos are fascinating and pictures are not the same as the experience.

If you’ve never considered putting Bryce Canyon on your vacation, reconsider!  It’s a sight to see!

Until next time – happy traveling!




4-Wheelin’ in Utah

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind” – Seneca

When you travel with a lot of guys, you try to plan things that will make guys happy.  I have three sons and no daughters, so shopping or spa days have not been part of our family vacation experience.  And as our kids were growing up, our budget was somewhat slim, so each trip usually came with one “big event” that went along with our free adventures such as swimming in the ocean or hiking.  For example, when we went to Arizona one year, I planned a Pink Jeep tour.  The time we went to Cancun (we had free airfare and free hotel), our big-budget item was swimming with dolphins.

Now that our kids are grown and they are helping to pay for all the fun, we can plan more non-free experiences.  So, this year, when we were in Utah, we decided to do a couple of guided activities.  First, we went canyoneering, which I detailed in my previous post – A Catch in my Throat.  Our other big adventure was 4-wheeling.  This particular activity was of genuine interest to my youngest son, and probably my oldest as well.

Months before our trip, I had done some research through TripAdvisor, and found that  Mild to Wild Rhino Tours had high ratings in the Things to Do category.  So, after reading through several reviews, I decided (with consensus from my family) to book a tour.  Buddy, the owner, recommended we take a morning tour because it would be cooler and more pleasant.

I’d like to mention that a few years ago when our family went on the Pink Jeep tour in Sedona, I was the only family member that couldn’t go, thanks to a nasty bug I had picked up the day before.  So, for this year’s vacation I was bound and determined that I was going to have some fun along with everyone else.  I might have been a little crazy with the hand washing for several weeks leading up to our adventure.  And it worked.  Yay for soap and hand sanitizer!

Back to my story – We had gotten an email with instructions on how to find the office.  But I was surprised to find it in a construction zone and even more surprised that it seemed to be a one man show!  But Buddy, the owner and also our guide for the day, was very friendly and easy to talk to.  He took our money and then gave us bandanas and sunglasses to use and keep.  And we were very thankful for them!  It was undoubtedly a dusty experience.

When we left the office, we followed Buddy in our vehicle to another location near Gooseberry Mesa and the five of us loaded up into two ATVs while Buddy drove his own.  He guided us up a messed-up, washed-out road until we reached a parking area with bathrooms and a sign letting us know we had reached the mesa.


The ATVs we had seemed to be pretty new and were fun to drive.




We had some beautiful scenery all around us!


There had actually been some rain, so the dust wasn’t horrible in most places, but the scarves and sunglasses that Buddy gave us really helped.


Buddy was a very knowledgeable guide and took us to scenic locations and pointed out all of the land forms and landmarks in the distance.  He also pointed out plants and gave a history of what native Americans had used some of them for in the past.  He told us that the cactus flower called prickly pear developed into a fruit that is used to flavor some locally-made ice cream.  I really wanted to try that but didn’t find it before we left.



We loved all of the picture opportunities we had!  The sky seemed to go on forever up here!


Buddy took us over some rocky terrain that made me very nervous!  I felt like we could tip over at any minute!  But after we survived the first one, I relaxed and even enjoyed the ride.  It was a hoot!


All in all, it was a great day!  The guys got to have their adrenaline rush and everyone had a wonderful time.  Another family memory in the books!

After our tour, Buddy told us we should check out Grafton ghost town, an old Mormon settlement, and told us exactly how to get there.  So we took his advice and headed over.  It was an interesting place to visit, but there wasn’t very much there.  And it was hot! Whew!  May 22nd in the afternoon.  I can’t imagine what July would feel like!  We read the signs, took a few pictures and we went on our way.


So, if you’re ever visiting this part of Utah, I would definitely recommend Mild to Wild Rhino Tours.  It was entertaining and let us see a part of the countryside we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.  4-Wheelin’ is fun!

Until next time – happy traveling!