Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva (National Park in Chile)

The Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva is in the Bernardo O’Higgins region but good luck finding it on your own unless you’re from the region! You will be unable to find directions using Google maps. The best you can do is what we did, find the closest town and hope you see signs from there. We drove to Coya and from there you can easily follow the signs to the park. Fortunately for us, the signs for the park are well-marked and plentiful so once we found the first sign, we had no problems getting to the entrance. There was a tourism office in Coya but no one was there when we tried.

Admission to the park is $5000 Chilean pesos, or about $7.50 US for adults and $2500 Chilean pesos per child, valid for one day. There are six trails, from the best I can tell. A portion of the main access road through the park was closed (no idea why) the day we visited so we couldn’t get to some of the trails but we went on all  of the ones we could access.

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Trail is “sendero” in Spanish. We went on Sendero La Hacienda, Sendero Las Arpas, Sendero Los Tricahues, and Sendero Los Puemos, but Sendero Puente La Leona was closed. All of the trails have a unique aspect to them from one another. There is a waterfall along the Sendero Los Puemos, Sendero Los Tricahues has an almost fairytale like feeling, and Sendero Las Arpas has what seemed like a resident fox that followed us around the trail curiously watching us, but was truly the most friendly fox I’ve ever seen. It must be used to seeing people, some of which probably feed it.

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All along the park, we had views of the Andes Mountains towering above grandly. There are also picnic areas so you can have lunch with views of the mountains, which makes for one scenic lunch. Although they didn’t appear to be open when we were there, there are camping areas available. In addition to the friendly fox, there are pumas in the area. We never saw one, but there was the pungent odor of cat urine by one of the water crossings, which could have been from a puma. We also came across a very large wooden crate that looked like one used for capture and release. I probably don’t want to know what that was used for. There are also many types of birds, trees, and flowers native to the area.

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Translation: I do not love man less, but nature more. Quote by Lord Byron.

There’s a funny story that happened to us. We were on our last trail for the day, Sendero La Hacienda, and saw hoof prints again. We had seen them on other trails and had followed them when in doubt of where to go if the trail became not so well marked, thinking they were from horses with riders. Then my daughter said, “Hey, there are actually other people on this trail too!” We hadn’t seen a soul on any of the previous trails we had been on all day. As we got closer, she realized what she had thought were people were cows. We also realized what we had thought were horse hoof prints had really been cow hoof prints. No wonder we got pretty far off the trail at times!

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We didn’t expect to see cows at this national park!

Although this park isn’t the easiest to get to, I highly recommend spending a day here. Parking is pretty scarce, so it would be best if you arrive relatively early to make sure you can find a parking spot. Also, there is a place that advertised having food right by the administration office, but it didn’t look like it was open when we were there. We always like to pack a picnic lunch when we go on all-day hikes, so it wasn’t a problem for us. You should also bring sunscreen and plenty of water. There are bathrooms along several areas in the park. They close just before sunset so if you arrive in the morning you’ll have plenty of time to go on all of the trails (or at least most of them) and have a nice picnic lunch.

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More details on the trails:

Sendero La Hacienda is 5000 meters, highly difficult, is about 1 kilometer from the administration building, and takes approximately 1 ½ hours.

Sendero Las Arpas is 1000 meters, easy, approximately 3 kilometers from the administration building, and takes approximately 30 minutes.

Sendero Los Tricahues is 200 meters, minimally difficult, approximately 5. 5 meters from the administration building, and takes approximately 20 minutes.

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Sendero Los Tricahues

Sendero Los Puemos is 1700 meters, is medium in difficulty, approximately 6 kilometers from the administration building, and takes approximately 45 minutes.

Caminata a Maltenes is 6000 meters, is highly difficult, approximately 6 kilometers from the administration building, and takes approximately 2 hours.

Sendero Puente La Leona is 7000 meters, is highly difficult, and takes approximately 3 hours.

Find (slightly) more information here. And the official site (in Spanish) here.

Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, Chile

Other than our self-guided walking tour of Santiago, the only other thing we wanted to do during our short stay in the city was to go up Costanera Tower in Santiago, the tallest building in Latin America. However, because the fog was so bad that day the women at the desk selling tickets advised us not to go up because we wouldn’t be able to see the mountains, we decided to save our money and skip it.

We said adiós to Santiago and set off in our rental car for Viña del Mar. For the 2 1/2 hour drive we opted to skip the toll roads, and boy what an adventure that was! The roads were some of the most curvy, winding mountainous roads I’ve seen since driving around in Greece but they were all paved and in good condition. There was almost nothing in sight for miles and miles other than beautiful countryside. We also almost ran out of gas too but with fumes left in the tank we made it to a gas station in the nick of time.

I had reserved a condo through Airbnb and the place was even better than I expected. For much less than we would have paid for a comparable condo overlooking the beach back in the United States, we had four bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining room, living room, washer and dryer, swimming pool, huge balcony spanning the length of the condo, all in a safe, gated community. Check out the view from our balcony:

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When I was planning our vacation I was trying to decide whether we should stay in Valparaiso or Viña del Mar. I read that Valparaíso has more charm than its neighbor but Viña del Mar is safer and more of a beach getaway. After seeing Valparaíso I could see what people mean. Valparaíso has more of an edge to it that some people prefer, while Viña del Mar is full of high rises and shopping centers. That being  said, the view from our condo was stunning whether it was day or night (see above photo and last photo) and I felt completely safe at all times.

Before leaving our hotel in Santiago, we had been warned not to leave a single thing in our rental car while in Valparaiso or thieves would break the window to steal it. We took this to heart and didn’t leave anything in the car when we parked in Valparaíso. However, we walked and drove all over Viña del Mar, even after it was dark and never once did we feel like we were in an unsafe area.

One thing I do feel the need to mention is the huge amount of stray dogs in Chile. As an animal-lover, it’s heart-breaking. This sad-looking little dog followed us steadfastly one evening for a couple of miles, hoping to join our pack. We called her “Chile.” She ultimately left us just before we entered the gate to go up the funicular to our apartment.

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“Chile”

Of course one of the first things we wanted to do when we arrived in Viña del Mar was go to the beach. Although it was a bit chilly for lying on the sand in a bathing suit and the water was far too cold to swim in, it was perfect weather for walking along the beach, which we did on multiple occasions. There are a few restaurants along the beach but since it was off-season it was pretty quiet when we were there. We also took advantage of the workout equipment along the beach to have the best workout at the most scenic “gym” I’ve ever been to!

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The most fun I’ve ever had doing leg press!

Of course a must-do while in Valparaíso is to take a tour of the famous poet and Chilean diplomat Pablo Neruda’s former house, “La Sebastiana.” Neruda had three houses, one in Santiago, one in Isla Negra, and this one in Valparaíso. It seemed to me that La Sebastiana had the most character of the three houses, so we chose this one to tour. This was definitely one of the most unique homes I’ve ever been in, from the design to the furnishings and choice of decor. The bar area with the unique knick knacks and bathroom with the clear glass door by the bar particularly come to mind. It’s definitely a place you have to experience in-person to fully appreciate.

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Pablo Neruda’s former home
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View from inside Pablo Neruda’s former home

The website is here for La Sebastiana. Entrance fees are 7,000 Chilean pesos per person or about $10.50 US with discounts for Chilean students and Chilean adults over 60. The self-guided tour takes roughly an hour, includes an audio guide for each floor and is available in English, Italian, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish.

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Some colorful houses in Valparaiso

We also visited Palacio Rioja, a beautiful historic home in Viña del Mar built in 1907 where you can take a self-guided tour for free. Palacio Rioja has been declared a National Monument and later a Museum of Decorative Arts. Guided tours can be arranged (although not in English) and more information can be found here. I highly recommend visiting here if you’re ever in the area.

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Palacio Rioja
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Inside Palacio Rioja

On subsequent days in Viña del Mar we walked along the beach, walked to nearby restaurants and shops and relaxed thoroughly. The sunsets here were spectacular and many evenings we would find ourselves just gazing out the window at the fading sun and lights from the cars and stores below. This is a place I could definitely see myself returning to. The people here are friendly, traffic isn’t bad, and there are plenty of shops and restaurants and other things to do in the area.

Alas, our time in Viña del Mar was coming to a close, and we packed up and headed off to the next part of our adventure in Chile- to a more remote section called Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region. This would prove to be the most challenging portion of our vacation yet but we had no idea of that at the time!

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Long Weekend in Morristown, New Jersey

I recently ran a half marathon in Morristown, New Jersey and decided to check out the area for a few days before the race. Although I have been to New Jersey a few other times, I had never been to this particular part of the state. Morristown is about an hour to hour and a half from New York City, depending on traffic and it’s a very beautiful area full of huge houses, farmland, and trees and flowers everywhere.

We had a rental car that we picked up at Newark Airport, so we could explore the city easily. When we first arrived, we were looking for a restaurant for lunch but had wandered into a residential area and saw enormous homes with huge lawns that must have cost millions of dollars. There were rolling hills and beautiful gardens everywhere, which seemed fitting given the state nickname is “The Garden State.”

On our first day we pretty much just walked around and took in the sights and got our bearings. The following day we went to the Ellis Island Museum and Statue of Liberty, my first time to either. Between the drive to Liberty Station and back, taking the ferry, and touring the museum and statue, that was pretty much a full day for us. We returned to our hotel, Best Western Plus, which was great. They have large rooms with small kitchens, wine tastings Monday through Wednesday, a Caribbean-themed restaurant, and a good central location. We really enjoyed the made-to-order omelette station for breakfast in the mornings.

We decided to check out Fosterfields Living Historical Farm in Morris Township for something a little different. The 1920s farm sits on over 200 acres and includes the Gothic revival style home built in 1854, although it has been a working farm since 1760. Previous owners include Jonathan Ogden, followed by the grandson of Paul Revere, General Joseph Warren Revere, and later the Foster family. There are docents walking around the grounds dressed in period clothing and performing tasks similar to what would have been done when it was still a working farm.

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There are pigs, cows, sheep, horses, chickens, and turkeys, some of which may have babies there if you’re lucky like we were. My daughter and husband took part in weighing the piglets using a scale that would have been used by the Foster family. I don’t know how many of you have ever been around piglets but they are really loud when they squeal! There are also cow milking demonstations and you can help grind the corn and feed the chickens, churn butter, and collect eggs. This farm is great if you have young to tween age children because of all of the hands-on experiences.

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See the runt on the far right? That’s the one we weighed.

If you want to go inside the Willows, the Foster family home, you have to pay extra and take an hour-long tour. You can go inside the small cottage near the Willows, however, for no extra fee. There is a lovely flower garden in front of the cottage as well. Finally, there is a transportation exhibit full of antique automobiles.

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The Willows
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Cottage by the Willows

You can easily spend a couple of hours here. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for kids ages 4-16, $2 for children 2 and 3. Children 2 and under are free. This is a fun way to spend some time with your family and let your kids see what farm life was like in the early 1900’s.

My half marathon was the following day so that took up the morning. We went to Swiss Chalet Bakery & Cafe for lunch and had some paninis followed by some dessert. My daughter got this adorable cupcake which was almost too cute to eat.

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Finally we drove back to the airport to begin our next adventure- our first time to South America, beginning in Santiago, Chile.

How many of you are like me and think New Jersey gets a bad rap?  The parts I’ve been to have been very nice. Sure, there are bad sections, but every state has some bad sections.

Grand Canyon National Park in Late Winter- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is so heavily visited, the National Park Service even has a web page about crowding at the South Rim and how to avoid it. There are tips on how to make the most of your visit and avoid crowds. My family and I visited during late winter, and found this is one way to at least lessen the crowds; however, visiting the Grand Canyon during the winter is not all rosy.  There are some advantages and disadvantages to coming to the park in the winter.

First, a few statistics about the Grand Canyon NP. The gorge is 1 mile deep and 277 miles long, with the Colorado River running through it. The North Rim is separated from the South Rim by the 10 mile wide canyon in between. The entire park is 1,217,403.32 acres but surprisingly this is only the 11th biggest US national park by size. There are six national parks in Alaska alone that are bigger than Grand Canyon National Park.

In 2016 almost 6 million people visited the park, with the vast majority of visitors during the summer months and the least visitors during December, January, and February. We chose to visit in early March and found it was definitely not as crowded as during the summer. It also wasn’t as busy during the week as it was on the weekend, not surprisingly.

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What are some advantages of visiting Grand Canyon National Park during the late winter? (The Good)

Obviously, the main advantage is crowds are less. However, there was a big surge of visitors on Saturday that we didn’t see on the days before that. So, even during the winter, it’s still best to come during the week if at all possible.

Along with the trails and roads not being as crowded, restaurants also aren’t as crowded during the winter months.

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One of many elk along the trails

It’s also nice to see the Grand Canyon when it’s snow-covered, and see the park in a way many people don’t get to experience.

Because it’s cooler during the winter, it’s more conducive to hiking if you plan on going on some long hikes down into the canyon. The temperature rises 5.5 degrees for every 1000 feet you lose in elevation, so the floor of the Grand Canyon is often as hot as 106 degrees Fahrenheit in July. If you plan on going to the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the West Rim, the average daily high in July is 116 degrees. July and August are also when monsoon rains occur here. In contrast, high temperatures during the winter are usually in the 30’s and 40’s.

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What are some disadvantages of visiting Grand Canyon National Park during the late winter? (The Bad)

If you have your heart set on going the North Rim, it is closed during the winter months, so your only option is the South Rim.

It can get quite windy during the winter months and a cold wind on top of a high around 35 degrees can make for a chilly hike.

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Can you tell it was windy?!

During the winter, most of the trails often have at least some areas where they are slick with ice and/or snow. Even on the popular Rim Trail, the majority of the trail had slick spots and we had to watch our footing.

Any other disadvantages? (The Ugly)

Mules are on Kaibab Trail during the winter and in fact year-round. During the winter the top of the trail is snowy and icy, and further down the trail where it is warmer, there are areas where it can be extremely muddy. This combined with piles and piles of mule poop leads to one smelly, messy trail. I’m not sure which was worse, the ice and trying to not fall at the top of the trail, or the mud and mule poop later on the trail. My daughter was actually cheering when we came upon ice again after going through the thick, heavy mud for a while. At least the ice wasn’t trying to pull her shoes off her feet like the mud was! We did, thankfully, reach parts of the trail further down that were neither ice- nor mud-covered, and that was awesome!

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This part of the trail was actually not hard to walk on. The mud was the worst.

Trails at the South Rim

There are five day hikes at the South Rim, with four being steep or very steep and only the Rim Trail is flat and easy. We spent most of our time on the Rim Trail and South Kaibab Trail but I’ll discuss them all briefly here.

The Rim Trail runs along the South Rim of the canyon, as you might guess by the name and is undoubtedly one of the more popular trails because of its accessibility. You can hop on a shuttle and take it to the next stop and hike as little or much as you want, before getting on the next shuttle. The Rim Trail runs from the village area to Hermit’s Rest for 13 miles and is mostly paved and flat. There are 13 shuttle stops from South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest Trailhead. Shuttles run March 1 to November 30.

Bright Angel Trail is a steep but maintained dirt trail that begins near Bright Angel Lodge and is 12 miles long roundtrip. Park rangers recommend you turn around after going 3 miles at 3 Mile Resthouse and during the summer not going past 4.5 miles one-way at Indian Garden. There are mules on this trail.

South Kaibab Trail is a steep but maintained dirt trail that begins south of Yaki Point (a shuttle stop) on Yaki Point Road. There are great views along the trail, including one with the funny-named “Ooh-Aah Point” at 0.9 miles into the hike. By this point, you’ve lost 600 feet in elevation, from the start at 7260 feet. Cedar Ridge, at 1.5 miles one-way is where park rangers recommend people who are not used to hiking or have gotten a late start to turn around and are adamant that summer hikers not go beyond this point. You don’t get your first real view of the river until Skeleton Point, 3 miles into the hike, at an elevation of 5200 feet. This is your recommended turn-around point for a day hike, presuming you’ve gotten an early start, are used to hiking, and it’s not summer. Again, there are mules on this trail.

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Hermit Trail is steep, strenuous, rocky, and unmaintained trail that begins near Hermits Rest shuttle stop and during the spring, summer, and fall is only accessible by shuttle bus (no private vehicles). This is definitely a trail for experienced hikers. You have two options on this trail for day hikes, either go to Santa Maria Spring, 2.5 miles one way or go to Dripping Springs, 3.5 miles one way. The advantage to this trail is there are no mules.

Grandview Trail is similar to Hermit Trail, in that it is also a steep, strenuous, unmaintained dirt trail with tougher conditions than either Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail. The trailhead can be reached by vehicle (not shuttle) at Grandview Point, 12 miles east of the village on Desert View Drive. Day hikes are to Coconino Saddle (1.1 miles one way) or Horseshoe Mesa/Toilet Junction (3 miles one way). However, day hikes to Horseshoe Mesa are not recommended during the summer due to strenuous conditions of the trail beyond Coconino Saddle.

Regardless of which trail you choose, do not attempt to hike from the rim down to the river in one day during the summer months. Even during the cooler months it’s not recommended unless you start very early in the day and are an experienced desert hiker.

There are several trails at the North Rim, none of which we did since the North Rim is unaccessible during the winter months. You can read about North Rim trails plus South Rim trails here.

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How to Get Here

Most people fly into Las Vegas, Nevada and drive the approximately 270 mile route to the Grand Canyon or fly into Phoenix, Arizona and drive the approximately 232 miles from there. Rental cars abound at both of these international airports. Tours can also be arranged at both places if you feel unsure or uneasy about driving that distance on your own and/or are from another country and are uneasy about driving in the States.

Where to Stay

If you want to maximize your time inside the park (which I highly recommend), there are several options for lodging in the park. At the South Rim, you can stay in the more crowded Historic District and choose from five different lodges, or you can stay in the quieter Market Plaza near the Visitor Center at Yavapai Lodge or Trailer Village RV Park. We chose to stay at Yavapai Lodge and found the motel rooms outdated but quiet. You can read more about the rooms in the park, including what’s available at the North Rim here. All of these places tend to fill several months in advance, especially during the summer months, so make sure you make reservations as far in advance as possible.

Where to Eat

Inside the park, there are several options for meals as well as groceries. Most of the lodges have a restaurant and there are some coffee shops and taverns scattered throughout the South Rim. The Canyon Village Market General Store is a pretty decent-sized grocery store that also has firewood and souvenirs. Prices didn’t seem too terrible here either. You can also get snacks at Hermit’s Rest Snack Bar at the end of Hermit Road. Although closed during the winter, you can eat at the Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room or Deli in the Pines at the North Rim. Outside the park, you can find groceries and restaurants 7 miles south of Grand Canyon Village in the town of Tusayan.

Other Things to Do

Depending on the weather, how much time you have to spend here, and your interests, there are many options of things to do at Grand Canyon NP. As outlined by the National Park Service, you could take a mule trip and go along the canyon rim or down to the bottom and stay at Phantom Ranch, or take a bicycle tour, go whitewater rafting, or even participate in a Grand Canyon Association Field Institute Learning Adventure.

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Fees

Admission to the park is valid for seven days and includes both the North and South Rim. A Grand Canyon National Park Vehicle Permit is $30 and admits a single vehicle (non-commercial) and everyone in the vehicle.

A Grand Canyon National Park Annual Pass is good for 12 months and costs $60. The America the Beautiful Annual Pass costs $80 and allows free entrance to all national parks and federal recreational lands. The Annual “Every Kid in a Park” 4th Grade Pass is free (!) for US 4th graders who have obtained the paper voucher through the Every Kid in a Park website. Active duty military are eligible for a free annual pass. The America the Beautiful Senior Pass is $10, and the America the Beautiful Access Pass and Volunteer Pass are both free.

My advice is get an America the Beautiful Annual Pass and combine a visit to the Grand Canyon with one to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. That’s what we did, and it made for one spectacular family vacation!

 

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, “Save Them All!”

In a word, this place is AMAZING. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is the site of the largest no-kill animal facility in the United States. There are nearly 1,600 cats, dogs, horses, pot-bellied pigs, wildlife, goats, rabbits, and I’m probably forgetting something, but you get the gist.

My family and I went to the Sanctuary, which is in Kanab, Utah, and had a free tour of the facility, followed by a delicious buffet lunch for only $5 per person, then we volunteered at the puppy facility for a few hours (who wouldn’t want to play with puppies?!!), and we also took one of the puppies back to the cottage we were staying in on-site for the night to help with his socialization skills. Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this place. They are a top-notch facility from the ground up, so to speak.

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After playing ball with this little guy, we took him for a sleepover with us
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View from the lunch area at Best Friends
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Playing with puppies!

Ready to go? Here are some details:

Getting to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

By airplane:
McCarran International Airport (LAS), located in Las Vegas, Nevada, is the closest major airport to Kanab. Driving from Las Vegas to Kanab takes roughly four hours. (Please note Kanab is on Mountain time, an hour later than Nevada and California, which are on Pacific time).

St. George Municipal Airport
Shuttle flights operate between Salt Lake City, Utah, and St. George Municipal Airport in St. George, Utah, as well as Los Angeles, California, and St. George Municipal Airport. The drive from St. George to Kanab is roughly an hour and a half.

Car rental
There are a variety of car rental companies in Las Vegas and St. George. Xpress Rent-a-Car offers rental cars in Kanab.

Shuttle service
St. George Shuttle: between Las Vegas and St. George

Public transportation
There is no public transportation in Kanab.

Grand Sanctuary tours

These free two-hour tours begin at the Best Friends Welcome Center every day of the week. You’ll watch a brief video and then board the van for a 90 minute ride to interact with a few cats. A dog will be brought out to visit in Dogtown. You will see other Sanctuary sites from the tour van. You need to register in advance online or by phone. You can also take specialized tours or even a guided hike, all of which the information for is here.

Where to Stay

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary has cottages, cabins, and RV sites, all located on the Sanctuary grounds. We stayed in a cottage and found it even nicer and bigger than we expected. The cottages are in the red cliffs of Angel Canyon near the Welcome Center, and have nice views of the horse pastures. They are reasonably priced at $120-$140/night March through November and $95/night December through February. The cabins are smaller and cheaper at $60-$95/night, depending on the time of year. There are two RV sites, which I imagine fill up quickly, and they are $30-$50/night, open only March 15-October 31. Even if you aren’t staying at the Sanctuary, you can still arrange to have a sleepover with one of their dogs at your dog-friendly hotel/motel in the area.

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Living room area of the cottage
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Bedroom with comfy beds
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Nice, clean and big bathroom
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View of the canyon and pasture from the back porch of the cottage

Other Things to Do in the Area:

Besides play with puppies or cats, you can also hike on the grounds of the Sanctuary. There are two trails right on the grounds. We hiked one of the trails with the puppy we took back to the cottage with us, and he absolutely loved it (as did we).

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Zion National Park is only about 30 minutes from Best Friends, so you could also hike at Zion in between other activities at Best Friends. However, dogs are only allowed on the Pa’rus Trail at Zion, which is a 1.5-mile long trail. I recommend staying at either Zion or Best Friends for at least 3 nights if you’re going to combine both places in one visit. I have a post here on Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon National Park is about an hour and 20 minutes from Best Friends (my post on Bryce Canyon is here), but you could still visit both places as long as you were staying more than one night at either Bryce or Best Friends. Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails at Bryce Canyon. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is only about 30 minutes from Best Friends, and would be an option to bring a dog from the Sanctuary during the cooler months.

Best Friends Visitor Center

You can also do fun things like bunny yoga or paint your pet’s portrait at the Best Friends Visitor Center in Kanab. I’d like to see the yoga with cats session! I can’t imagine what that would be like. They also have guest speakers, or you can arrange a tour or volunteer time, or even meet your next furry family member when they have adoptable cats or dogs at the visitor center.

Where to Donate

If you’re as inspired as I was by this place and would like to donate to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, you can donate here. With a donation of $25 or more, you receive six bimonthly issues of Best Friends magazine.

As they say at Best Friends, “Save Them All!”

 

Off-the-Beaten Path Things to Do in Del Mar, California

Del Mar is a small town in San Diego County most famous for its horse track and fairgrounds. Just south of Del Mar and north of La Jolla lies Torrey Pines State Park, with one of the most beautiful beaches in the area.  Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve has several trails with mostly short distances but many gorgeous views. We went on several trails before finally taking the Beach Trail, which not surprisingly leads to the beach at the bottom. If you make it to the beach at low tide, you can check out Flat Rock just south of the bottom of Beach Trail, just be sure you get off the rock and back to the beach before high tide.

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Going to the horse races and fairgrounds for events in Del Mar and hiking in Torrey Pines are popular things to do in the Del Mar and La Jolla areas, but if you’re looking for something a little different, I have some suggestions.  For starters, go to Torrey Pines Gliderport.  This is a city-owned private-use glider airport in La Jolla, just a short drive from Del Mar. It is on the cliffs above the clothing-optional Black’s Beach and affords exceptional ocean views and of La Jolla. People have been launching sailplanes, paragliders, and hang gliders here since 1930. The Gliderport also offers paragliding and hang gliding lessons and tandem flights.  Torrey Pines Gliderport

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I suggest going to the Gliderport even if you have no intention of doing a tandem paraglide. This place is beautiful to just walk around and admire the view. When we first arrived at Torrey Pines Gliderport, there was no one gliding off the cliff. However, after walking around for a bit and going down to the beach and back, we saw three people who were suiting up to launch their paragliders. There was a small group of others watching as well, some of whom knew the jumpers but many did not. It was fun just to watch them prepare their suits and check and re-check all of the lines. Finally, the first one started running then jumped off the cliff and was gone just like that.

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To get even further off the beaten path, check out Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary in Del Mar. The mission of Free Flight is “to maintain a sanctuary that shelters, nurtures and re-socializes parrots, while educating the public to inspire a lasting concern for the well being of exotic birds.” What that really means is you get to handle birds one-on-one such as parrots, cockatoos, and macaws and be a part of helping these animals socialize and interact with people.

After paying the admission of $7 for adults and $3 for children, you disinfect your hands and are given instructions on how to handle the birds. You are not only allowed but are encouraged to handle the birds and interact with them. This is no zoo where the birds are locked up in cages. With a couple of exceptions, if a bird is in a cage, it is only because hawks are in the area and they don’t want the smaller birds to become dinner for a hawk. You can open a cage and let out a bird then put it back in the cage when you’re ready to move on.

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We loved the concept of this place and the idea of helping to socialize these beautiful birds. No one in my family has ever had a bird or had much interaction with a bird so this was all new to us. We learned a lot about birds from the people working and volunteering there and our interactions with the birds themselves. We loved how much personality many of the birds had and how unique they all were. One bird, “Peanut” was a real talker and once when she was singing and talking, a bird beside her started dancing, then another bird joined in and was also dancing. It was hilarious!

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We spent an hour and a half at Free Flight but I would plan on staying at least 30 minutes if you intend on interacting with the birds at all. You can also purchase food to feed the birds or fish for a small fee (but you don’t have to; there’s no pressure from anyone there). Oh, there are also Koi fish in a pond near the entrance.

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