Goth Panda

February 9, 2016

Traveling Pandas Tuesday – On the Train to Paris

Train to Paris

February 4, 2016

Arizona 2014 Wrap-Up

Why I Wanted to Go

Does anyone else remember this set of Disney books from their childhood? I think I can trace back my obsession with the National Parks to the America book, which was the first introduction I had to them. In retrospect, it seems clear that they were intended to make kids want to go to Disney World, but that’s not the effect they had on me. I’m pretty sure both that the reason the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone were at the top of my travel wishlist had a lot to do with these books.

Mike had been to Flagstaff many times and loves it. He’d also been to the Grand Canyon, but he had never hiked to the bottom. Since I didn’t think I was up to the Grand Canyon hike, we decided to split our time, with a few days in Flagstaff together and then going our separate ways at the Grand Canyon.

The Plan

I usually do almost all of the travel planning, but this time Mike could give many recommendations, especially for restaurants. In the end, we did some things that were new for him, like the Wupatki National Monument and Petrified Forest National Park, and some things he had done before but i hadn’t, like the Meteor Crater and the Grand Canyon.

Another unique aspect of the trip was that we split up for part of it, and I ended up spending the time at the Grand Canyon by myself. Although I’m not opposed to the idea of traveling by myself, I haven’t done it much in the past. The only times I can think of were a few roadtrips to New England to do research for my dissertation. I wouldn’t mind doing solo trips in the future, if there is someplace I’d like to visit and Mike doesn’t want to go. I definitely identify as an introvert, so spending time alone doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t mind going places alone or even eating alone, as long as I have a book to read. I felt a little weird about having lunch by myself at El Tovar, since it is a fancier restaurant than the cafeteria where I ate most of the time, but it was something I really wanted to experience, and so I did it anyway and it turned out fine.

What I Would Do Differently

I would have brought a flashlight! We also forgot one at Yellowstone. If you will be walking around in a National Park at night, even just from the restaurant or grocery store to your hotel room, it helps to have a flashlight.

Surprises

Since you go to the Grand Canyon expecting to be overwhelmed, I wasn’t sure if my reaction in real life would measure up, but it did. It also surprised me that there was a lot to do in the park. It doesn’t seem unusual for people just to drive out and look at it for a few hours and then leave, but I’m happy I stayed around for a few days. I never felt at a loss for something to do, and looking at the views never got old.

I hiked most of the rim trail, and it completely surprised me how after you get past the designated viewpoints, there are long stretches where there are no fences or guardrails, and nothing to stop you from tumbling over the edge. Another surprise on the rim trail: my first real-life sighting of a tarantula, but unfortunately I don’t have a picture to prove it. It was only when I described it to Mike’s guide and he told me what it was that I realized I should have taken a picture. At the time I was more focused on not stepping on it. I was also astounded to see people hiking down into the canyon with inappropriate footwear (think ballet flats) and no water, paying no heed to the many, many warning signs.

Disappointments

I didn’t have time to see the North Rim, but we are planning to make up for that by stopping in June.

This is the first time we flew on Southwest, and it was kind of stressful because at first we didn’t understand the lining up process, and we were worried about not getting seats together. I think if I were flying by myself, I wouldn’t mind flying with them again, but flying together, I prefer to have assigned seats. Everything else about the flights was fine.

I think my biggest disappointment was Sedona, because I had been expecting to like it more. Don’t get me wrong, the location is beautiful.

Sedona

Sedona

But other than the landscape and the views, I wasn’t very impressed with the town itself, which had a resorty, touristy feel. I much preferred Flagstaff, which has more of an outdoorsy, college town vibe. People always tout Sedona as being some kind of spiritual nexus, but I don’t consider myself a very spiritual person, so maybe that’s why we didn’t connect.

On the Road to Sedona

On the Road to Sedona (via Instagram)

We did splurge and have dinner at Che-Ah-Chi, a restaurant at the Enchantment resort that Mike remembered fondly, and that was the best part of Sedona for me.

Rainbow at the Enchantment

Best Parts of the Trip

The food! I love visiting the southwest for the food, and because it is easy to find vegetarian options.

The Grand Canyon at sunrise and sunset, which Mike urged me to do, and I would recommend to others. Set your alarm and grab your camera.

I also really enjoyed Petrified Forest National Park, which although it was not what I imagined as a kid, still turned out to be pretty cool.

Most Difficult Parts of the Trip

My trip wasn’t difficult at all, but the Grand Canyon hike ended up being much more physically demanding than Mike and Rob were expecting. But afterwards when we were back in Flagstaff, they were exhilarated and called it a life-changing experience.

Worst Parts of the Trip

This had nothing to do with the trip itself, but I had a lot of work stress right before leaving, and as a result it took a few days for me to get into the vacation spirit.

Overall

Mike wants to go back. As I mentioned, he loves Flagstaff, but he also wants to hike the Grand Canyon again, this time on a slightly easier trail and with more people. I think is one of his favorite areas of the world. We will be visiting the North Rim for an overnight stay in June, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up out there again in the future. I personally wouldn’t mind going back so I would have the chance to stay at El Tovar.

February 2, 2016

Traveling Pandas Tuesday – Bar Harbor, Maine

Bar Harbor

January 28, 2016

Long Term Travel Goals

By the time a new year starts, I usually have my travel plans and destinations in mind. But I also have a running list of long-term travel goals. What can I say, I am a planner by nature.

My number one goal for the next five years is to finish the 50 States Project, which is to say that both Mike and I will have visited all 50 states. The current state of our map is below:

VisitedStatesMap 01.14

I figured out that although we didn’t set out for this to happen, we have ended up going to most states together. I think the only one we have both visited, but at separate times, is Florida. Every other state we have been to together at least once. I am still counting Florida for the purposes of the project, but I do want to go back with Mike, at the very least for Harry Potter World.

My plan to finish up the states involves four separate trips:

  • an Oregon roadtrip. I envision this as a loop down the coast from Portland and then back up through Crater Lake.
  • a Great Lakes roadtrip. This will include Mackinac Island, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Isle Royale National Park, and the Northern shore of Wisconsin, the last remaining Midwest state.
  • a Dakotas roadtrip, which will hit the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, with a short detour into Wyoming for Devil’s Tower.
  • Alaska, which I’d like to do as half cruise, half land, but Mike is not enthusiastic about the idea of a cruise. We might end up just flying there and making that a roadtrip, too.

My 10 highest priorities after that, at this moment, are:

  • Italy
  • Switzerland
  • Glacier National Park
  • Europe River Cruise
  • Scotland, especially the Highlands and Outer Hebrides
  • Mediterranean Cruise
  • Canadian Rockies
  • Japan
  • Galapagos Islands
  • New Zealand

Runners-up: Yosemite, Vienna, Ireland.

I say “at this moment” because things can move on and off this list depending on my mood. It will interesting to see if this list is the same in 2017.