Tag Archives: Adventures

Window Trail

Entering Big Bend National Park

Our Monopoly board brought us to explore Window Trail which lies inside of Big Bend National Park. This is a moderately difficult trail which covers 3.6 miles in total and covers some beautiful scenery along the way. We were fortunate to be there during the spring when many plants were beginning to bloom and the temperatures were ideal for a hike in the desert. Not to cold and not to warm.

Walking through the desert

Along this trail we enjoyed a number of great sights including Yucca’s and cactus in bloom, a couple of white tail deer, colorful birds, and a friendly road runner. This trail follows the bottom of a canyon most of the way where water drains during heavier rainfalls.

Taking a quick break on the trail

About halfway to the end of the trail we decided it was time to explore a place to take a few minutes to relax and take in the great desert mountain scenery. What’s the first thing kids want to do when stopping near rocks? Well climb them of course and this we did as some of the nicest seats were higher up. This is not recommended by the park although we were definitely not the first ones to do this as I found an orange peel in one of the crevices left by a previous climber.

Window Trail through the canyons

Once entering the canyon portion of the hike there were stairs built to make the trail easier to traverse as during other times of the year there can be water flowing through here which is, of course, the way this canyon was created.

The window where the trail ends

At a couple of points along the way we wondered if we were at the end of the trail. I can say definitively now that the end is very obvious because of seeing the window it was named after and it drops off to the desert floor very abruptly. I’m not sure a person would survive a drop from the window.

Rocks smoothed by years of water and debris sanding them down

As you get close to the window the rocks become extremely slippery due to the running water carrying debris which has sanded down the rocks giving them a polished appearance and feel. It was interesting, especially in this dry season, to see how high the water can get in this canyon and how fast it must rush through to wear down the stone underneath.

The end of the trail with a steep drop to the desert floor

Carefully climbing near the end there is just a narrow slot with a large drop-off which is all very slippery requiring some care to get to. It would be interesting to see this area from the other side after a heavy rain. There must be an interesting waterfall for a short time.

A road runner encounter on the trail

During our trek back we encountered this road runner that didn’t seem to care we were there as it walked right next to us on the trail. Other hikers behind us had the same experience. This particular bird must be use to hikers on this trail and understand prey can be found scurrying as hikers pass by making them easier to find. It gave us the opportunity to all see a road runner finally as each time before the birds would be gone before everyone could see them running across roads in front of the car.

The Frozen River

After a day snowmobiling through Northern Wisconsin we (my cousin and I) wanted to take in a waterfall or two coated in fresh snow so off to Gooseberry Falls we drove. That was the last weekend of the season the trails were open for snowmobiling as it worked out. How fortunate for us?! I was expecting the river to be flowing freely surrounded by fresh snow for some very picturesque landscapes. To my surprise the ice was still well intact over much of the river and waterfalls. For a comparison I’ve included a photo of these same waterfalls during the summer.

Surrounded by Ice

I’ve never been to this area during the winter to see what the waterfalls look like iced over so this was interesting to explore in a completely different perspective. Seeing the waterfalls frozen made me wonder what the process looks like during the winter as the ice gets thicker and thicker. I was also surprised how many people were visiting the falls and taking in a beautiful winter day exploring this state park.

Gooseberry Falls in the summer

Most of the visitors were hiking around the falls, which is what we were doing while some were there to photograph the ice covered waterfalls and one individual was climbing up and over the frozen portions of the falls. Taking some time to talk with him, he says this is his winter version of rock climbing, an activity keeping him out and about enjoying life. It was fun to watch as he picked through the ice with axes and cleats.

Climbing the ice walls

While hiking through the state park I discovered trails in locations I wasn’t aware of trails before. I’ve been to this state park a number of times and never discovered a trail on the opposite side of these waterfalls on top of the cliff overlooking this gorgeous landscape. The views from this newly discovered trail are well worth the extra distance required to get to them. That’s were many of these pictures were taken from. You can see the different angles between most of the waterfall photos and the summer shot.

Peering inside the layers of ice covering the river.

Because one of my goals for 2016 was to photograph snowflakes, I’ve started to look more closely at some of the details in the ice and snow this year. Especially melting ice and snow. The picture above shows the layers that make up ice covering the river as portions are beginning to melt. Some of the freshly fallen snow was beginning to melt and gliding down the ice creating interesting trickles across the several inches of ice still coating the river.

More layers of melting ice.

As we continued our hike around a portion of the Gooseberry River I found a few other locations providing a snapshot into the layer upon frozen layer of water making up this thick sheet of ice. In the above photograph you can see the layers underneath the top layer which is still coated in snow. The darkest portions are running water flowing underneath all of this ice. I believe the water depth in this area is several feet so while it looks relatively shallow, that look is deceiving.

Waterfalls frozen in place

Making our way to the lower falls you can see the magnificent rocks covered in all of this ice. in our explorations we confirmed water running under much of this as there were a few spots open to the water underneath as well as sounds of rushing water muffled by layers of ice. There were some great shapes created from the freezing and thawing during the recent days. It’s interesting to look at all these little details that combine together to make this amazing ice walls. Sometimes I forgot I was standing over running water as I was attempting to photograph these small icicles and crystals and their curious shapes.

One of the many icicles making up this huge ice wall.

Darkness was approaching on this already cloud covered light and the wind was growing colder so it was time to exit this beautiful ice river and falls. Before we did I was amazed further by the resilience of trees that grow out of these rock ledges as in the winter they are also ice covered. How they continue to grow surprises me and I work with plants almost every day. These tree roots and icicles clinging to the side of this stone wall made for a sight you don’t expect to see.

Tree roots growing through ice and rock

Gooseberry Falls State Park has a beautiful visitors center with great information about the North Shore of Minnesota but was unfortunately closed as we were exiting. In the absence of park personnel, we were sent on our way by some of the park residents. Although they seemed to prefer our departure instead of wanting to be interacted with.

Local resident deer sending us on our way

Houston, We Have a Problem

The problem was our time here was too short. We were in Houston for a couple of days before boarding a cruise ship to the Caribbean and were looking for something interesting to explore. Researching things to do in Houston, NASA was at the top of the list and reading different people’s experience here we decided that’s how we wanted to spend one of the days.

Exploring the Moon

General admission gains access to a days worth of exhibits which include different space capsules, informational movies, multiple types of space trainers, equipment used on different space travels, and even a lab situation where moon rocks were examined all put into settings made to give you a good idea of what it’s like going into space. In addition, you can visit Independence Plaza which holds a shuttle carrier holding a shuttle, Rocket Park were there are several different rockets used to travel into space, as well as a couple of other buildings showcasing some of NASA’s current work via a tram.

Experimenting with Moon rocks

We were in Houston visiting Johnson Space Center and this could be our only chance to experience this with our children so we decided we wanted to take in the full experience and went on the VIP tour. With this tour you get to visit areas not available to any other tour such as the underwater training center as well as get up close and personal in some of the areas were the tram does go such as historic mission control and building 9 where you can view new technology that may be used in future space endeavors along with lunch which can be a little expensive at a place like this.

Skylab Space Station Trainer

Our first stop was the underwater training facility. Here they have a life-size International Space Station for astronauts from around the world to train on. Luckily for us, there were a couple of astronauts training so we could see how they prepared to work in space. It’s very interesting because while underwater they each have at least two assistants for training and safety. This pool is massive as you might imagine to hold a replica of the Space Station. With space suits on these astronauts can’t get themselves into or out of the pool so they have a small crane to get them in and out.

Underwater training pool

Next we explored building 9 and got to see many of the new creations meant for use on the moon and beyond such as advanced rovers and other exploration vehicles. There were different types of space suits on display, Robonauts which can be used to explore areas not as hospitable to people, and the Orion capsule being built for possible missions back to the moon. Surprisingly, this Orion Capsule has much the same design as capsules already used to go to the moon. The technology to operate them, however, is much better and so is the equipment that can be used to explore more of the moon. Also in Building 9 there is a Soyuz capsule currently used to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and parts of the space station for these capsules to connect to. Seeing these in person is really interesting.

NASA's nxt Lunar rover

Something we got to experience, that very few get to be a part of, was the launch of astronaut Scott Kelly live. While his launch took place in Kazakhstan, the people at Johnson Space Center prepared an area for their VIP tour guests to view the launch. Because of this launch our trip to see the new Mission Control needed to be delayed as a number of NASA officials were in Mission Control as this trip began. Our experience watching this brought the United States involvement in the International Space Station to life more than any news story could. This post was not intended to coordinate with his return almost a year later. That is just a lucky coincidence as I had planned on this post a week or so before realizing Scott Kelly was returning home from his year at the space station.

Watching Scott Kelly's launch at NASA

After watching the launch to the International Space Station, our tour continued on to Rocket Park where there are several different rockets used to propel people into space. The highlight of Rocket Park is the Saturn V rocket which was used to take people to the moon. In the photograph above you can see a person walking under the rocket on the far side to indicate just how massive this rocket really is. You could stand inside one of the rocket engines and there are five engines that powered this rocket from the Earth. Walking around Rocket Park you can start to put together the timeline from the first rockets to Saturn V and even see the equipment that went into making the shuttles. Most of this rocket was used to get it off the ground and to the moon. Very little was needed for the return trip.

Saturn V

On to Mission Control. Here we were able to sit at the actual desks used to control these missions to the moon and some of the earliest Space Shuttle flights. It really felt like going back in time and humbling to be in this amazing and historic control center. There was a few minutes of presentations by NASA officials and then we had some time to look around this piece of American history. How much better could our experience get?

NASA's old Mission Control

How about witnessing the new Mission Control as they maneuver the International Space Station for the docking of the Soyuz Capsule with Scott Kelly aboard? Here I learned information I was unaware of before such as NASA is the organization that actually flies the space station and a trip from Earth to the International Space Station takes mere hours. I always imagined a trip of this distance would take a day or more. One other surprise to me was how ordinary a launch appears in Mission Control. Not all the desks were filled and people appeared to just be doing their everyday business and having conversations with colleagues just as many of us do only they’re in control of vehicles thousands of miles away and responsible for the lives of those aboard. I’ve seen more chaos in a grocery store. This was the end of our day at Johnson Space Center which required relaxing by the pool of our hotel the rest of the night just to absorb all of the information and experiences from this day. The night sky has a little different appearance now.

NASA's new mission control

Fireflies in the Smoky Mountains

While exploring Great Smoky Mountain National Park we came across a brochure explaining the synchronous fireflies. Fireflies are visible  in many areas and we’ve enjoyed and evening or two watching these interesting little insects near our home. I’ve even taken some time to try and photograph their nighttime dances with some success. It was decided that a trip to Elkmont, which is the best location for viewing this nightly light show in June, that night would be an enjoyable way to end a great day in the Smokies.

A Dobson Fly also waiting to see the light show.

According to the brochure, the peak days were already behind us but that there were great light shows for several weeks still to be seen. As we arrived in the Elkmont area our first challenge was to find a spot to park which proved more difficult than expected as we were there a couple of hours before nightfall. Apparently we weren’t the only ones wanted to witness these synchronous fireflies. Eventually we followed others and parked alongside the road and walked back to the viewing area which was being descended on by hundreds of other people. This must be a good show if there are this many people here this early in the evening.

Little River in Elkmont

As darkness began to fall over the area we wondered into the forest next to Little River and found what appeared to be a nice relaxing spot to lose ourselves in the increasing darkness along with others hoping to witness a firefly spectacle. While waiting for these insects to begin their show we explored the river’s edge until a flash caught our attention back in the woods. And then another, and another. The show was beginning! As the minutes went by there was some firefly flashing but nothing more spectacular than we would see near home. After about 20 minutes we decided it was time to retire for the evening as it was a long and eventful day leaving us ready for our pillows.

A single firefly lighting up the night

On our way out of the forest we stopped to talk with another couple who lived in the area. During the conversation they explained that the show had not really started yet and we should stay awhile longer. Soon after there were golden streams of light blinking all over. It was beautiful and exciting to watch. They were all over the place showing off their tricks of flight and color. Now it makes sense what all the publicity was about. We couldn’t imaging what the show would be like during the peak season. Now this was about as perfect as it could be to end a day full of adventures.

The show is getting better

And better

This is definitely worth seeing

Waterfalls at Tettegouche

High Falls on the Baptism River

While hosting a student from France this summer we took a couple of days to head to the North Shore of Minnesota to see Lake Superior. A great place to stop is Tettegouche State Park to see both Lake Superior and the highest waterfalls entirely in Minnesota (there’s one slightly taller but it borders Minnesota and Canada). This was in the middle of August so the waterfalls are not gushing with as much ferociousness as earlier in the year but still a beautiful sight. It was raining and nearing nightfall during our time here which actually allowed us to have these falls all to ourselves. A rare opportunity this time of year.

Jumping into the Baptism River at High Falls

The Baptism River is cold (yet warm when compared to Lake Superior) people like to swim near the falls and jump from a nearby cliff. A dry towel to wipe the water from your skin and warm clothing to put on shortly after was a good idea on this day as the temperature was not very warm and there was no sun to warm up in so hypothermia was certainly a possibility. If you’re ever in the area I highly recommend a stop at Tettegouche State Park to explore the high falls. There is a short hike of just under a mile to get there from the nearest parking lot which is worth it if you can make it. There are a couple of smaller waterfalls to see if you have the time to hike to them. Darkness was approaching so we were unable to check out the rest of the smaller waterfalls. That will have to wait for another time.

Up the River to The High Falls

Vacation Style

Going to the Ocean on Vacation

What’s your vacation style? No, not vacation in style. How do you like to spend your time away on vacation. Just a quick internet search brought some entertaining results which centered around luggage styles and travel fashion. I’ve gone through three different styles as I’ve gotten older and my choice of vacations is an indication of that. They are: Beach Bum, Whatever Happens, and Adventurer.

The first vacations I had decisions in was crossed between ‘beach bum’ and ‘whatever happens’. Spring Break in Daytona Beach is what I consider my first independent vacation where I primarily just wanted to lounge on the beach with the biggest decision to be made for the day was what to eat. A second vacation on a cruise ship brought more of the same as I never wanted to leave the ship even while at port. Apparently there is enough adventure when you’re a college student between classes, homework, working, and activities that vacation was all about R & R. Of course, spring break usually came after difficult exams and large projects requiring a mental vacation.

Beach Bum

That first vacation along with several after did include a bit of ‘whatever happens’ as Daytona Beach was the sight of Mtv’s Spring Break broadcasts and I took part in those from time to time along with a quick trip for my first time to Disney World. Planning is not a priority for these types of vacations but you still decide to take advantage of an opportunity or two when they happen to go on an adventure. Maybe a snorkeling trip or a ride in a submarine for something to talk about later.

Currently I reside in the adventure vacation style which can take quite a bit of planning. As daily life now involves a lot of routine, vacations need to be more fulfilling to me. The need to just catch some sun has passed and actually feels like wasted time away from work. It usually takes 3 – 4 days away to begin to mentally get a break from the grind of everyday events so just using my vacation time a day at a time does not accomplish its purpose of refreshing me. My goal often times is to return from a trip needing to catch up on sleep but with many great memories packed into a short time.

Adventurer

There are definitely downsides to the ‘adventurer’ vacation style. Usually these trips can be more expensive because everything costs money and they require more time planning and making reservations. Along with the planning can often come additional stress because of trying to figure out if you’ve taken care of everything in preparation and needing to be at a certain place by a certain time once on vacation.

These vacation styles kind of came to me recently because of our next trip coming this spring break which happens to be a Caribbean Cruise. Cruising has lost its appeal to me because I want to spend the time in port doing things instead of be on a ship most of the time with all that food. So why am I going on a cruise you ask? It’s has become part of a family trip to celebrate my mother and father in-laws 50th anniversary and they would like that trip to be on a cruise ship. Our initial plans where to visit Padre Island and Hot Springs Arkansas for spring break which falls into the ‘Adventurer’ category. That will happen another time as a 50th wedding anniversary is an incredible milestone to me. I can only try to imagine it.

Going on a Cruise Ship

Back to my vacation style realization. When booking this next trip the portion I really was having a difficult time with is spending all that time on the ship. That has become kind of boring to me and I’m not all that attached to food so there is not as big of an appeal there either. That enlightenment helped me understand that I’m no longer a ‘beach bum’ and have moved further from the ‘whatever happens’ style as well. For this trip being in the ‘whatever happens’ category would be most beneficial but I’m not able to let myself and my family be that type of traveler because I know I’m missing an opportunity to create life long memories with my wife and children and the chances to do that are diminishing as the children get older.

It’s interesting to me to recognize changes in how I spend my vacation time from when I first started taking vacations to now. I’m sure that will continue to change as things in life continue to evolve. I know several people who like to be in the ‘beach bum’ or ‘whatever happens’ categories and that is a great place to be, just not for me at this point in my life. Is there a benefit to classifying vacation styles? Probably not. Just something I did without realizing it and decided to put out there. Enjoy you’re vacation any way you can!

Creating Family Memories

A Week at the Ridge

Going Through the North Woods

Recently there was an opportunity to join my daughters class on a trip to Northern Minnesota for a week at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. There was some hesitation about going for me due to a couple of reasons. First, many of the activities are outside and spending a week outdoors in the cold of a Minnesota winter was not overly appealing and secondly, a couple hundred students talking, screaming, and goofing off is difficult for me to take in. I decided to continue on with the trip because I love new adventures and, even more, sharing those adventures with others. Watching another person experience something new and exciting and find skills they didn’t know they had is fulfilling to me.

Looking for Fresh Tracks in the Falling Snow

In the days leading up to this northern adventure I got things situated at work for me to be gone and finished picking up appropriate gear as the weather forecast called for temperatures to be below 0 degrees F most of the week. Finally I got all my stuff packed and ready to go still a little uncertain of how the week would go with these kids. Monday morning came and it was time to head up. I was joined by another parent who would be sharing this adventure and off we went on our 4 hour journey to Wolf Ridge. We arrived a little before the kids got there on their buses giving time to settle in before the chaos started.

The Students Arriving

The kids all arrived, unloaded their luggage and went to their assigned rooms to put it away before heading to their first class of the week. Unfortunately the snow depth was on the light side meaning cross country skiing would not work and snowshoeing was questionable. Who would have guessed a thin snow base in Northern Minnesota in January? We began to figure out the routine for the week and let the learning begin. Each group consisted of 12 –15 students most of the time with 2 – 3 adults assisting them which made the week very manageable and a lot of fun. You get to know this group and these kids become almost like your own in a short period of time.

Learning About Renewable Energy

There were so many activities planned that each day felt like a week because of how busy it was. the fact that it was pretty cold became less of a concern because of the fun and education taking place. We all just knew we had to dress correctly for the conditions and we’d be fine. It helped remind me that subzero temperatures are not a good reason to forego outdoor adventures and that I am able to stay comfortable in these types of environments. Continually checking the forecast and outside temperatures became useless for me because it didn’t matter. I would go where I was asked to and do what was needed to help facilitate as much learning for these kids as possible.

Learning to Work Together Regardless of the Temperature

The coldest day during the week, I had heard, was –26 degrees F with a brisk wind creating a wind chill of –43 degrees F. Yes, we still ventured outdoors on that day but not as long as other days. For those unable to imagine such conditions let me provide an example. After a meal in the dining hall I would grab a hot cup of tea to drink back at the dorm we were staying in. On the short 4 – 5 minute walk back I would almost be drinking iced tea in my room. That’s a slight exaggeration but not much. Another example was using my mobile phone to take a few pictures. I could only take a few because as the phone became colder it actually froze up and would not work again for almost an hour until it warmed back up.

Ropes Course at Wolf Ridge

While there were several different classes with a lot of learning going on surrounded by this beautiful landscape, the most talked about classes were the ropes course and climbing wall. These were the most challenging to complete and required students to push through their fears and often be surprised by their abilities. It was such a privilege to be able to witness these kids figure out what they could really do and complete either the ropes course or rock wall or both. A new experience for many. I was certain I could complete the ropes course but I’ve never taken the time to climb a rock wall so this was my first time doing it. Yes, I did make it to the top twice.

Preparing to Climb the Rock Wall

As the week began to wind down towards the end a little sadness entered that we’d be leaving. Several adults that have gone before me and encouraged me to take this opportunity all said I’d have a great time and they were right. It was so much fun spending time with these great kids and seeing what they could achieve along with meeting a bunch a great chaperones and having fun getting to know many of them. We’ve all gone back our separate ways but the memories will continue to be with me.

Sunset at Wolf Ridge

Driving in New York

Lower Manhattan

Driving in New York, specifically Manhattan, is an experience all of its own. There are people everywhere. In the street – crossing the street. When doing research about getting around Manhattan when visiting you come up with the same advice over and over again – use public transportation. That’s great advice for a couple of reason. First, you’ll get to where you want to go faster. Second, less stress. And finally you don’t have to worry about a place to park. But where else will you get to experience this unique type of adventure?

An adventure it is if you’re not a usual driver in New York. Vehicles everywhere going in different directions faster than you can determine which lane you need to be in. No other driver is going to just let you change lanes or take a moment to figure out if you’re going the right way or if there is an available parking spot. Being an aggressive driver is required in order to get around in Manhattan. Being aggressive does not mean being stupid. The other drivers are watching out for you whether you realize it or not but there is a catch – you need to watch out for them too.

Vehicles Everywhere

I decided to go against all of the advice and drive in Manhattan as a tourist. There was a car full of people and using our rental car, paying tolls, and paying for parking was slightly more economical than using public transportation. In addition, theoretically we could visit more sights in less time by relying on our own vehicle going from Lower Manhattan to Mid Manhattan. After driving for a short time it became obvious that using our own car was not going to make getting from one area to another faster.

The streets seem tighter, the parking areas are smaller, and staying focused on driving is a challenge as there are recognizable sights all around trying to take away from that focus that is required to keep from crashing into someone or something else. Every block is stressful and requires a lot of energy to get where you are going without incident. After 45 minutes of driving in Manhattan I had mixed feelings about the experience. On one hand it was exhausting. On the other hand, it was fun. Driving in New York is unlike driving anywhere else.

One of the Many Distractions

Prior to being in New York I’ve had the privilege to drive in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and several less populated cities. In fact I drive in Minneapolis on a regular basis. Minneapolis may not be as intense as other cities but it does provide larger city experience. None of these cities compares to New York.

Streets packed full of cars that feel as though they are all honking at you and traveling at 60 miles per hour if they are going 20. After some time you begin to realize that all the honking may actually be in an effort to help instead of nagging and distracting making you feel like you have no idea how to drive. Many of the honking sounds were just an announcement that another car was going to be moving over a lane behind you or in front of you. The warning actually becomes helpful after figuring out what they mean.

If you need to move over a lane because there is a bus or truck stopped in your lane a block ahead or construction has closed down a lane or two in your direction you just have to use the blinker and go. Most of the time the cars around you will make room rather quickly. When we left Manhattan for the last time I was completely surprised we made it through without a single ding in the rental vehicle. I was very nervous every time we entered a parking garage because the ramps and spaces were all very tight. I thought I was going to hit the wall or pillar in each place. It feels like an accomplishment to have successfully driven in Manhattan on multiple occasions without crashing. Those that drive trucks and buses in downtown amaze me. Those individuals have earned my respect. They also make me question their sanity. What’s next? London, Paris?!

Driving a Bus in Manhattan?

Exploring Louisville Kentucky

Louisville Kentucky

At first thought, Louisville Kentucky is not in a lot of peoples list of places to go. That is except for one day a year – The Kentucky Derby! We took a weeklong trip recently and once we started looking at what there is to do, we found plenty to keep us busy. The number one attraction on TripAdvisor is the Mega Cavern. This was certainly on our list but we never did make it. If you’re looking for a unique adventure, this would appear to be it with underground ziplines and ropes course. For sports enthusiasts there is the Louisville Slugger Museum and factory. That was something I forgot about until getting to Louisville and seeing signs with the bat on it.

Walking Bridge Over the Ohio River Connecting Kentucky and Indiana

Moving on to areas to explore that we personally experienced. In the past few years Louisville has put quite a bit of emphasis on rebuilding their riverfront and they have done a great job providing a place to relax and get out and enjoy an afternoon or sunset along the Ohio River. Currently they are still working on improvements to make it an even better experience. You can walk across the river on an old rail bridge and go from Kentucky on one side to Indiana on the other. It’s a great bridge to enjoy the sights with the beautiful Louisville skyline in the background. The only thing that would have made it a little better would be to have a Kentucky State sign on one end and an Indiana State sign on the other. There really isn’t a good place to take your picture by state signs as the entrances to the states are over a river.

Henry's Ark Tour Guide

If you like animals, Henry’s Ark in a Louisville suburb is a nice place to spend a couple of hours. This is a nice place especially if you have kids. For our tour we had a special tour guide that the kids really enjoyed – one of the resident turkey’s. For a little faster paced adventure there is the largest go cart track in the world at Kart Kountry. Their track is 1.5 miles long and quite challenging. They offer two different types of go carts. Most are the average cart while you can upgrade to their Thunderbolts and pass many of the other drivers on the track. Warning: you have to have a driver’s license to upgrade as these definitely go faster and you need to know how and when to pass the other carts. We all enjoyed the challenges this track offers.

Kart Kountry

While in the area, a visit to Churchill Downs should be on your list if for no other reason than the historic nature of this place. There are tours offered throughout the week with visits to different areas of the racetrack. I couldn’t believe the amount of money horse racing is worth. I’m not a big horse racing fan but there was much to learn about the sport at the museum. We were able to pet one of the retired race horses at the completion of our tour making this more interesting and fun for the younger people. Along with the numerous education displays there is an area in the museum where you can practice betting on taped races and even a game area where you can get on a simulated race horse, select your type of horse and race against others. After a visit, watching the Kentucky Derby (or watching Secretariat) will be more fun and interesting since you’ve seen this place in person.

Churchill Downs

For those older explorers, there is another item Kentucky is famous for – Bourbon. There is the bourbon tour if you are willing to travel to many different distilleries. Louisville is considered the gateway to this tour with many distilleries requiring quite a bit of travel. There are 10 places to stop on this tour to complete the bourbon tour and is recommended to take all these in over 3 days or more. Apparently at the end of the tour there is a free gift with a completed passport. We didn’t get the opportunity to experience this first hand but looks interesting if we get the opportunity again.

Mammoth Cave

For natural wonder seekers, a few hours away resides Mammoth Cave National Park. You can read about our adventure here…..

Touring Washington D.C.–The Monuments

The US Capital

Our first stop was to get the rental car and head towards the National Mall. We wanted to go up in the Washington Monument so the first thing to do was get tickets which prior research suggested that they are gone by mid-morning. I dropped off my wife close to the ticket window and drove off to go around the mall and pick her back up. After getting some of the last tickets available we headed towards the capital with reservations for morning tour. The United States Capital Visitor’s Center is quite impressive once you find it under the Capital Plaza. Your tour begins with a short film about the Capital and then a tour of the Rotunda area. I was a little disappointed that was all the tour covered as the last time I toured the Capital Building we were able to find our Congressman’s office. That was pre 9-11 and much has changed regarding security so it is understandable.

The US Capital Visitor's Center

Under the Rotunda

The Rotunda Under Maintenance

After the Capital, the kids wanted to see the Library of Congress as it was difficult to imagine a building that can house all of these books. Most of the collection is kept behind locked doors so there isn’t as many books to see as they had hoped. A brief walk around the lobby which is quite ornate and then a quick view into the research area which resembles most libraries with shelf upon shelf of books. This area is protected with glass surrounding you as you walk through the observation balcony. There are a number of exhibits to see highlighting music and movies as well.

Visiting the Library of Congress

The Research Center of the Library of Congress

Being satisfied with exploring this library we decided to continue on to our next destination which was the National Archives. Getting something to eat from one of the nearby food trucks we stopped briefly before entering the line waiting to go in this building. At first there really didn’t appear to be much of a wait until we reached the entrance area. After finding the back of the line we weren’t sure if we should wait as it looked like it could take an hour or more to get in. Fortunately we stuck it out because the line moved fairly quick and we got to see the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence as intended for our Constitution Tour. Time to head back to the hotel for an hour of relaxing before heading back towards the mall for more exploring. The National Archives

Upon returning the the National Mall, we grabbed a quick bite from one of the numerous food trucks lining the streets and hurried to the Washington Monument for our chance to ride the elevators to the top and look out over Washington D.C. Just a reminder of you go to tour Washington D.C., there is a security check at most of the sights so don’t plan on bringing a lot with you. Through security and it was up to the top to view this area from the highest point in Washington D.C..  We enjoyed seeing so many historic buildings and monuments from this centrally located observation area giving a different perspective on the layout of this city. After spending time looking out in each direction and taking in the views from this point we descended and moved on to the night walking tour of the monuments ranger program.

Visiting the Washington Monument

North East South West

Our night tour began at the World War II Memorial which is relatively new. This was the first time I’ve seen it as it did not exist on my last visit to Washington D.C.. It is definitely a beautiful and peaceful memorial enhancing a solemn atmosphere surrounding it. As darkness continued to fall we approached the Vietnam Memorial which has added to the original memorial to honor those that served in Vietnam even though they may not have died during combat since I was last here. One of my uncles is named on this wall adding to its’ significance to me personally and has a profound impact on me each time I’m here. Our next stop on this walking tour  was the Lincoln Memorial. This is an impressive memorial just because of the shear size of it. Adding in the reflection pool and the Washington Monument in the background almost insists that you sit for awhile to contemplate our history that each of these monuments stands for. The last memorial on our night tour of the monuments was the Korean War Memorial. Another relatively new memorial that was being constructed on my last visit making this the first time I’ve seen it. During the day it captures imagines these soldiers endured but at night it looks quite different. I think the impact is higher when viewed at night because of the lighting and reflections that lighting creates.

World War II Memorial

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Reflection Pool at the Base of the Lincoln Memorial

Korean War Memorial

That concluded our one long day of touring Washington D.C.. There are so many other sites to take in that one day is not nearly enough time to take in all that is offered here. Again, our purpose was not to see everything possible but merely to get a taste of what’s to see. Also, there were plans to return for anther day or two later in our East Coast adventure.