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.

Ten Tips for Traveling with Children

My daughter has been to Aruba, Greece, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, the western and eastern parts of Canada, Mexico, and about 40 states in the United States, and she’s only 11 years old. She’s been traveling for as long as she can remember. She began flying before she was 2 years old. When she was around 9 or 10, she told me when she was younger she thought everyone traveled as much as she did, and only recently had she begun to realize that wasn’t true.

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My daughter with her own backpack at the Minneapolis airport

I know traveling with children can be more hassle, more expensive, more things to pack, and logistically more difficult to plan, but the rewards are absolutely worth any negatives. Many of my daughter’s teachers have told me that her travels have allowed her to see first-hand places they’ve studied in school. Her travels have enriched her education in a way that I never could have imagined. She’s seen and done things that it took me 30 or 40 years to do and that many people will never see or do. This is truly priceless.

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Learning about physics at the Koch Family Children’s Museum in Evansville, Indiana

Over the years I have learned a few things about traveling with children and I’d like to share my top ten here.

  1. Pack plenty of things to entertain your child on the airplane and in the car. Even if you’re flying to your destination, chances are pretty good you’ll still be spending some time driving to places. Pack things like a portable DVD player, tablet, or other electronic games/devices. Books, coloring books and crayons, paper to draw on, and sticker books were also big hits when my daughter was younger. Now that she’s older, her tablet and some books are enough to keep her entertained when we’re in transit. Audible books are also a great thing to have for children, especially in the car.
  2. Start out small. Go on a road trip then take a longer one and see how it goes. You’ll quickly find out your child’s limits for time spent in the car. For your child’s first airplane ride, you probably wouldn’t want to take them halfway around the world. Take a short flight, say 2 hours, and build up from there. You’ll learn as you go what works for your child and what doesn’t work.
  3. Introduce your child to travel early. Children adjust pretty much to anything, travel included, far better if they’re younger. If traveling is something your child does regularly, it will become “normal” for them.
  4. Pack comfort items like your child’s favorite stuffed animal (unless it’s a giant one), a nightlight, and sound machine. We found having a nightlight and sound machine in hotel rooms to be very useful and they’re both small enough to easily pack.
  5. Call the hotel in advance to ask if they provide cribs or pack n’ plays (portable cribs popular in the US, if you’re not familiar). Many do provide these but sometimes for an extra fee, but many also do not. Some hotels also have other baby-related items they offer; just ask ahead of time to save you the trouble of bringing something you might not need to.
  6. When they are old enough, ask your child to research the place(s) you’ll be going to and find some things they would enjoy doing. Your itinerary  doesn’t have to be all planned out by mom or dad. We also get books from the library before our vacations so our daughter can learn about the places we will be going to.
  7. Don’t over-do it on your excersions. Americans especially tend to try to pack as many activities as they possibly can, but when you have young children you need to slow down a bit. Don’t forget to schedule activities around nap times (don’t skip them just because you’re on vacation).
  8. Try to stay at a hotel that has a swimming pool.  Children love swimming pools and if you schedule a pool break in your day, your children will thank you for it.
  9. Although this can be difficult to match with number 8 above, try to find a place through Airbnb that’s family-friendly. Often, places on Airbnb will have a full kitchen, living area, and separate bedroom(s). This of course will feel more like home and will help everyone relax a little more. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a place that will also have a swimming pool; if so, score one point for your great find and book it immediately!
  10. Allow your child some indulgences on your vacation, but don’t go crazy. What I mean is, let them have that piece of cake from the bakery but don’t let them have three pieces of cake plus skip their nap and stay up late at night. You’ll have a seriously cranky child and everyone’s day will be effected by it.
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Fun with bubbles at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta
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Eating a beignet in New Orleans

I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states, and my daughter has been with me for every single half marathon I’ve ran since she’s been born (39 states so far for me). I did run some half marathons before she was born, but she’s been with me for the majority of them. She’s been at the start, with a hug and “Good luck!”, and she’s been waiting for me at the finish, also with a hug and “Good job!” I can’t imagine not having her with me at all of those races.

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Most of all my advice for parents traveling with children is just have fun and roll with the punches. Things can and do go wrong on vacations, just like life when you’re not traveling. The more you can go with the flow and the less you stress out about things, the more fun you will have. Isn’t having fun the main reason we all go on vacation anyway?

Three Places to Stop if You’re Driving from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon

When planning a family vacation to Utah and the Grand Canyon in late winter, I wanted a place or two to break up the drive between Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon. Page, Arizona came up as an option. To drive straight from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon takes about 5 hours (depending on weather and how busy the roads are), which isn’t awful, but to drive from Bryce Canyon to Page, Arizona is about 2 hours, 40 minutes. That sounded like a better idea to me, considering we would already have a 4 hour drive from the Grand Canyon to the airport in Las Vegas. Plus, I discovered “The Wave” and fell down that rabbit hole which turned out to be a bit complicated. Alas, hiking in the Wave was not to be (that deserves a post all to itself).

Stop 1:  Page, Arizona- Antelope Canyon

The biggest reason you may want to add a stop-over in Page is to visit Antelope Canyon. You can take an Antelope Canyon Boat Tour that takes you along Lake Powell, or you can take a guided walking tour. We opted for the walking tour with Ken’s Tours and it exceeded my expectations. Not only was the tour just our family, so we got our own private tour, we also got photography lessons along the way. The tips our guide showed us were invaluable and worth even more than what we paid for the tour itself. Not only did he physically show us how to adjust our cameras for different settings along the tour, he also took photos of us on our cameras. He also gave us advice and tips for future times. I am definitely a novice photographer so any and all tips were greatly appreciated.

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The tour took us one hour from start to finish, but our tour guide told us in the busy summer months, it often takes an hour just to get from the main building where you check-in to the start of the tour (it took us maybe 10 minutes at the most). This is another reason why visiting during the winter can be the best time of year to visit the area.

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There are two types of tours, the general tour, which lasts an hour and costs $25 per person for ages 13 and up, $17 for children ages 7-12, and children 6 and under are free. The photographer tour lasts 2 hours, 15 minutes and during the summer you need to get a special use permit from from Navajo Parks and Recreation (another reason to visit during the less-busy winter). This tour is only for ages 16 and up and costs $47 per person.

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Where to stay and eat in Page, Arizona

We stayed at Comfort Inn & Suites and found it to be comfortable, clean, and the suite I reserved was enormous. There were two rooms, one with a king bed, TV, and patio off it, and the other room had a sofa bed, desk, TV, refrigerator, and microwave. We swam in the indoor pool and relaxed in the hot tub after we took our tour of Antelope Canyon. The location was convenient to restaurants and shops in Page. We ate lunch at Mandarin Gourmet, a Chinese restaurant that we found to have a surprisingly delicious and affordable buffet. We had dinner at Big John’s Texas BBQ, and while my husband liked his brisket, I didn’t care for mine, but our daughter said her pulled pork sandwich was good. I guess overall that’s a pretty good rating.

Our tour guide from Antelope Canyon told us about a place where the rich and famous stay when visiting the area, and I looked it up; it does look pretty amazing. It’s Amangiri in Canyon Point, Utah, and the room rates when I checked were around $2000-$3000 per night before taxes and fees. Our guide told us actor Hugh Jackman once stayed there and took a tour with their group of the canyon.

Stop 2:  Glen Canyon Dam

Just outside Page, Arizona is the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which includes the Glen Canyon Dam. The recreation area encompasses hundreds of miles from Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry in northern Arizona to southern Utah, including Lake Powell. There are trails for hiking, boat tours, and tours of the dam. Dam tours are 45 minutes long and cost $5 for adults, $2.50 for children 7-16, and free for children 6 and under. Adults 62 and older and members of the military are $4. Tour times vary by season, so check the website for details.

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View from Glen Canyon visitor center
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Glen Canyon Dam
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Views from Glen Canyon visitor center

Stop 3:  Cameron, Arizona

Another option for a place to break up the drive between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon is Cameron, Arizona. Cameron is smaller than Page but is an unexpectedly unique little place to stop for lunch or dinner. We stopped at Cameron Trading Post and had Navajo tacos for lunch. Not only were the tacos delicious, it was interesting just looking at all of the handmade blankets and other artwork on the walls and around the dining room. There were also shelves upon shelves of pottery, dreamcatchers, clothing, and many other souvenirs in the gift shop. Touristy? Yes, but still interesting.

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In addition to the gift shop and restaurant, Cameron Trading Post also has an art gallery, convenience store, and garden. You can also spend the night at the motel here. Although the single and double rooms look pretty simple, the luxury suites look a bit nicer and the prices seem reasonable. If you have an RV, there’s also an RV park here for $35/night.

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Cameron is a great place to stop to fill up with gas, have lunch, and stretch your legs for a bit before you finish up the drive to the Grand Canyon. A word of warning, there are long stretches along the drive from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon where there is nothing but Navajo- or other government-owned land on either side of the highway with no businesses or gas stations for miles upon miles. Make sure you fill up the car with gas before you leave Bryce. You definitely wouldn’t want to run out of gas on this road. Cameron Trading Post is about 57 miles from Grand Canyon Village, so you’re in the home stretch at this point!

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!

 

How to Apply for a Permit to Coyote Buttes North in Utah and What to Do If You Don’t Get In

If you want to hike in Coyote Buttes North (where The Wave is located), you need to obtain a permit from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Twenty people are granted access per day; of this number, ten are issued online and ten via walk in lottery the day before. Obviously, permits are extremely difficult to obtain. The BLM estimates the odds for obtaining a permit during April-June and September-November were about 4-5% for 2013. For other months (off-season), the odds vary from 8% (August) -25% (January).

What’s all the fuss about? Well, just look at this place!

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You can apply up to four months in advance but you have the entire month to apply. For example, if you want to go the end of February, you can apply October 1. The application fee is $5 per group (non-refundable) and if you win the lottery you will need to pay $7 per person for the permit. You will receive an email from the BLM a month after you apply to let you know if you won the lottery or not.

If you missed the online lottery deadline or did not get chosen and are visiting the Southern Utah/Northern Arizona area, you can obtain a walk-in permit for Coyote Buttes North (the Wave) at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. From mid-March to Mid November, walk-in permits can be obtained seven days a week. From mid-November through mid-March, walk-in permits are issued Monday-Friday, except for federal holidays. During this time, permits for Saturday-Monday are drawn on Friday.

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Coyote Buttes North

Fees for online permits can only be paid by credit card. Fees for permits issued by phone can be paid by credit card or check mailed to the BLM Arizona Strip District Office; checks must be received before a permit application is authorized and a permit number is issued. If you are lucky enough to win a permit through the lottery (or even if you are not chosen), you will be notified via email on the first day of the following month. Walk-in permits must be paid for with cash or checks only.

My personal experience

So I submitted my application for a permit and waited anxiously to hear something. When I put in my application, there were only 6 people from 2 groups including my group of 3 people that had submitted applications, but then again it was early morning and there was still a lot of time left. When I checked about 12 hours later, there were 22 requests submitted for the date I wanted to go, for 57 people (there could have been more submitted after I checked, too). Fortunately, the date I chose was the least popular one of the month. For the most popular date of the month, there were 43 requests for 149 people. This was just day one of the application, which meant there were 29 remaining days to go!

I got an email exactly one month later stating:  “Unfortunately the dates and entries you chose did not become available to you in our lottery application process for a Coyote Buttes North permit. It is remotely possible the dates and entries selected for your trip will be forfeited by the winners because of nonpayment or release. If that happens, the dates and entries will become publicly available via the calendar application process.” I didn’t get in. I was disappointed but not surprised given the odds.

This brings me to Plan B if you are unable to obtain a permit to Coyote Buttes North: apply for a permit to Coyote Buttes South. For Coyote Buttes South, on-line permits can be obtained using the calendar option only. Just like for Coyote Buttes North, you can obtain a permit up to four months in advance. If you are planning a trip less than four months in advance, you have two options: you can check the calendar on the permit page to see if any slots are available, or you can try to obtain a walk-in permit the day before you wish to hike.

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Coyote Buttes South

The downside to Coyote Buttes South is the roads to the trailheads here are more treacherous than the roads to Coyote Buttes North and a 4WD vehicle is required if you’re going to CB South but not necessarily for CB North (depending on the weather). If the roads are wet, that makes them even less safe. Personally, I didn’t feel comfortable with that option- driving to Coyote Buttes South trailheads. However, tours are available and cost around $200 per person, but that was not something I was willing to pay for our family.  I’m sure it’s spectacular but I just didn’t want to spend that much money.

So now this brings me to Plan C:  arrive the day before from 8:30-9 a.m. at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah and apply for a walk-in permit to Coyote Buttes North for the following day. The lottery for Coyote Buttes North runs at 9 a.m. I did this, and guess what? I didn’t get in. The first name that was drawn was part of a large group, so that automatically took up most of the 10 slots.

Well, this put me at Plan D:  take a tour of Antelope Canyon. First, a little background on Antelope Canyon. Located on Navajo land just east of Page, Arizona, Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon that includes two separate sections, “Upper Antelope Canyon” and “Lower Antelope Canyon.” We chose to take a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon with Ken’s Tours and it turned out even better than I expected.

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There is a General Tour and Photographers Tour. We chose the General Tour and ended up getting far more for our money than I expected. For $25 per adult and $17 per child plus $8 Navajo Park Permit Fee per person, we got a private tour for just the three of us, plus photography tips from our guide. Our guide, Dezi, told us that he, along with the other guides, are all of Navajo decent and are all trained photographers. The tour and the canyon both definitely exceeded my expectations.

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So after all of this, would I do it again? Would I try to get a permit for the Wave or just go to Antelope Canyon? I would definitely try for the Wave again and if I didn’t get in, I’d probably take the Antelope Canyon boat tour and see which one I liked better. Either way, you can’t go wrong. It’s all worth a visit.

Has anyone else been to the Wave (or tried to get a permit) or Antelope Canyon? If so, what was your experience like? Is anyone else ready to go to Coyote Buttes or Antelope Canyon after seeing the photos?

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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!”