Yurts Amongst The Sequoias

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About five hours from my home lies the Giant Sequoia National Monument. It is located in a relatively unknown part of the Sequoia National Forest and it is magnificent. Here at the Trail of 100 Giants you will find over 125 giant sequoias with bases in excess of 10 ft in diameter along with hundreds of lesser bodied trees. The tallest tree rises 220 ft into the air and many of these beauties are over 1,000 years old. They are truly a site to behold as their leaves dance in the soft breezes that flow through the grove.

If you venture up along the Western Divide Highway you will arrive at  The Trail of 100 Giants which is approximately 45 miles from Kernville or 15 miles from California Hot Springs. It has an easily accessible paved walking trail that is almost 1.5 miles in length. Quaint bridges and interpretive signs dot the trail and wildlife can be found feasting on the leaves of the plants growing alongside the trees.

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This is a place our family likes to come. The walk is lovely and when the summer sun is scorching the valley you can count on it being 10-15 degrees cooler. There are also camping and toilet facilities across the road at the Redwood Meadow Campground that have been there for years unchanged. So this past week we were in for a surprise when we entered the campground to find yurt camping available. The yurts had been brought in the previous week and they sat in amongst the trees with glorious views of the nearby meadow.

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According to the manager the yurts were renting for $75 per night and sleep 4. I have to say they are a wonderful addition to the park and they provide another interesting way to experience the beauty of this glorious area.

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To reserve a spot call:

IMG_8519FYI: The Trail of 100 Giants is only accessible during the summer and sometimes early fall before the snow falls.

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Railtown 1897-Jamestown, CA

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Okay, all you railroad buffs, today we are going on an adventure extraordinaire. It’s time to climb aboard the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, California. This 26 acre site offers a freight depot with an incredible roundhouse which you can explore until your hearts content.The original turntable still works and there are many passenger cars along with other interesting and rare railroad equipment. But best of all there are several powerful steam engines, including the famous Engine #3, which has appeared in many movies and TV shows including Little House On The Prairie, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and Lassie.

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Railtown 1897 is a place to venture back to days gone by. It’s a place to bring young and old a like. Here you can climb onto steam locomotives, stroll vintage passenger cars, and walk the floors of the waiting room at the depot.  And if you are really lucky “Grandma Jean” will give you a personal tour of everything you need to know about this unique and exciting State Park including these tidbits:

  1. The drier the steam the more powerful the engine
  2. The taller the wheels the faster it goes

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But perhaps one of the most interesting things about this State Park is the fact that it has a fully functioning engine repair and restoration facility and you can actually watch as they fix the old engines that arrive for an overhaul. That is worth the price of admission alone!

If you want to ride the trains the best time to visit is in the summer for summer time brings wildflower train rides and steam train excursions. From April to October, trains operate every Saturday and Sunday, departing from the Railtown Depot at 10:30 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Excursion tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for youth 6-17 and children 5 and under ride for free.

For further information go to:

http://www.parks.ca.gov/railtown

You are going to love this place!

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Shipwrecks

 

If you want to see some wonderful old shipwrecks and some gorgeous scenery too then you must visit Munising, Michigan on Lake Superior. Here you will see three different wrecks via a glass bottom boat during your two hours ride aboard Shipwreck Tours. Perhaps the most impressive is the wooden ship built before the Civil War that sits only a few feet down on the bottom of the lake. Because of the perfect cold water temperature of Superior the wrecks have been preserved naturally and are amazingly intact and easy to see.

Over 30 ships have gone down in the bay around Grand Island and the Picture Rocks. The natural beauty of the rocks, caves and waterfalls are spectacular. You might even spy a Bald Eagle or two like we did on our visit.

And if you are into lighthouses the historic Grand Island East Channel Light is worth the cost of the trip.Opened in 1868 is was used to get ships from Lake Superior into the harbor of Munising . Its a rare wooden lighthouse and with fundraising from the community it will be saved as a lasting treasure of the area.

Admittedly, tickets for this little adventure are a bit pricey at $32 per adult and children under 12 are $12.00. But this is a very different and rare excursion that cannot be found just anywhere.

After the ride we drove 5 minutes to the U.S. Park of Munising Falls. With a paved hiking trail to this 50 ft. waterfall.; it is a great way to spend a little time before or after your boat tour. Waterfalls are plentiful around this area so I recommend you take some time to explore these natural wonders.

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This area of the UP is unique so pack a lunch or stay in the area awhile.Either way you are sure to come away with some amazing memories of a great time and some beautiful scenery that can only be found in this unique area of the Mid-West.

OH HECK YES! The New Pengiun Center-Detroit, MI

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Okay, I’m cheating. Big time. Why? Because I have never been to the Penguin Center at the Detroit Zoo although I have been to that particular zoo when I was a child. I remember watching the polar bears in awe and my fascination with the penguins when I was a kid; so I was stoked to read about this new edition to the struggling city of Detroit.

Yesterday, the Detroit Zoo opened it’s new state of the art penguin center which now holds the title of “Largest In The World.” Known as the Polk Penguin Conservation Center it features a multitude of penguins living as they would in the wild. These four species of birds are living the high life as they swim at breakneck speeds, nest, and rear their chicks in conditions that mimic the wild.

The Center is inspired by the Antarctic crossings of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. According to zoo officials visitors will experience 4-D effects while watching the adventurer’s exploits in a wrap around movie.

Visitors can see these aquatic wonders from all sorts of vantage points including an underwater walkway. Along the way icebergs and ice sculptures can be seen.

On the Detroit zoo’s website you can take a walk through the center. While I have not yet visited I plan to someday soon. Take a look here and you will see this amazing exhibit for yourself: http://detroitzoo.org/support/give/polk-penguin-conservation-center/

 

 

 

Free Entrance Days

Almost all National, State and local Parks have annual free or reduced price entrance days. Museums usually do to0. Here is a list of some of my favorite free admission places to visit this year.

 

Because it is the 100th birthday of  National Park Service there are several days this year where no admission is charged. These include:

  • April 16 through 24: National Park Day
  • August 25 through 28: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 24: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day
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CHICAGO

Art Institute of Chicago: Free for all Illinois residents from 5-8 p.m. Thursdays. Kids 13 and under are always free.

Chicago Children’s Museum: Free 5-8 p.m. every Thursday and the first Sunday of every month for kids 15 and under. Always free to children under 1.

The Field Museum: Several days have already come and gone this year but June 21-23 remains

Museum of Science and Industry: The following days in 2016 remain

June: 1-3, 6-8; September: 6-9, 12-16, 19-23, 26-30; October: 4-6; November: 3,10 December: 1

Several other Chicago attractions also have free days.

NEW YORK CITY

New York Aquarium: Friday 3 pm-closing (pay what you wish)

Whitney Museum of American Art: Friday 7-9:30 pm

Bronx Zoo: Wednesday (pay what you wish)

Metropolitan Museum of Art (always free or pay what you wish)

There are plenty more attractions in and around NYC that offer these deals.

SAN FRANCISCO

Asian Art Museum: First Sunday of every month

de Young: First Tuesday of every month, first full weekend of every month for Bank of America Card Holders

San Francisco Railway Museum: Always free

Bat Area Discovery Museum: Great for kids. First Wednesday of every month.

BALTIMORE

The Walters Art Museum: General admission is free

National Aquarium: Dollar Days are December 3 and 4 this year. Admission is just $1. 1/2 Price Nights after 5 p.m. on Fridays. There is also a Pay What You Want Day every year.

DENVER

Denver Museum of Nature and Science: April 23, May 9, June 5, August 29, September 11, October 24, November 13, December 12

Denver Art Museum: May 7, June 4 and other days throughout the year

Children’s Museum of Denver:May 3 4-8 p.m., June 7 4-8 p.m.

SEATTLE

Seattle Symphony: Various dates. Check schedule.

Museum Of Flight: Free 5p.m.-9 p.m. the first Thursday of the month

Museum of History and Industry: First Thursdays are free and have extended hours (10 a.m. to 8 p.m.).

Washington State Parks: May 8: Sunday Spring Day, June 4: National Trails Day, June 11: National Get Outdoors Day, Aug. 25: National Park Service Birthday, Sept. 24: National Public Lands Day, Nov. 11: Veterans Day

ST. LOUIS

St. Louis Zoo: There is no entrance fee. It is FREE. There are some charges for special events like the sea lion show.

Contemporary Art Museum: is free for all visitors on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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As you can see there are plenty of free things to do in and around where you live. Just google FREE DAYS in your area for a list of adventures.

*All information provided is subject to change. Verify details before going.

 

Best Place For A Joust-Linlithgow Palace, Scotland

When we were in Scotland one of the things our kids loved the best was the jousting tournament that was held at Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian. While the Palace is a place to remember in of itself, it is the jousting event that captured our imagination.

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The first thing that takes your breath away is the castle itself and the cobblestone walkway leading up to it.  Huge stone gates greet you and inside them you will find people dressed and acting as if they were locals of the area living in the 1400 and 1500’s. Once in the courtyard you will meet beggars and huntsmen, ladies in waiting and squires. Set against the backdrop of this magnificent 15th century palace in which Mary Queen of Scots was born; all the action that surrounds you makes you feel as though you have stepped back in time.

Exiting to the tournament grounds one of the first things you will notice is the enormous and sparkling Linlithgow Loch. Deeper into the venue you will see tents of the horsemen and find the living history camps. It was here on the grounds that we met this archer who shared with us his handmade arrows. Did you know that the feathers on an arrow must be from the same bird in order to fly properly? Neither did we.

Then it was time for the action to begin as magnificent and regal steeds flew across the valley their hoofs shaking the ground as they thundered across. The children were invited into the Children’s Army before the action began.Then men wearing armour and using weapons of the era battled it out on horseback and on foot using the chants of the crowd to spur them on.

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All in all a great fun-filled and educational day.

 

This year’s tournament will be held July 2 and 3, 2016. Admission is£6.30 for kids up to£10 for adults.

Conquering The Fear

 

Okay, I am not a big spender. I prefer things that are FREE and I plan my vacations to take in as many of these as humanly possible. But today I splurged. After an eight hour doctor visit I decided my son had earned a big reward so we went to iFLY- the place that gives you a taste of skydiving courtesy of HUGE indoor wind tunnel.

I had not planned on going. It was against everything thrifty in my nature but after arriving I decided “Damn, I am going!”

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There was a reason for my reluctance. I am deathly afraid of heights.  Relinquishing control in any way, shape or form to someone else is also a big NO-NO in my book. But I decided that this would be a way to kill two birds with one stone….or just me anyway. So I shelled out $139 for two people (which includes your two videos) and watched the group before us take to the sky. Frankly, watching them scared the living **** out of me and several times I almost went back up to the cashier to get my money back. But my mind was changed for me when K said, “I am so glad we are doing this together. It will be a great memory.” GULP. There was no way I was going to back out now!

One half-hour before our 6 p.m. fly time we were called back to watch the instructional video where hand signals were discussed as well as the way to enter and exit the tunnel. It appeared to be easy peasy! I just prayed I didn’t knock the guy unconscious with my big feet and float to the top slamming my body against the walls all the way up. After all, there must be a reason they make you sign a release stating you have never dislocated your shoulder!

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Next we suited up and were provided with goggles and helmets. A few quick selfies and it was into the chamber we went looking like lambs being lead to slaughter.  I was the last to go and by then I had watched who flew well and who didn’t so I had the position engraved into my mind. WHOOSH! I was in. Chin up. Check. Arms bent and out in front of face. Check. Legs split. Check. And off I flew…kind of. At first I would say I vibrated and rocked like a baby on a rocking horse. After a few seconds though I got the hang of it…all except that drooling thing. I think spit must have been flying everywhere!

All in all it was a lot of  short time indoor fun for a lot of hard earned money but I am not complaining. Nor am I looking to go skydiving from a plane anytime soon. I am just happy to have had the experience and to have let go of a few of those fears. In that vein, iFLY is cheaper than a session with a shrink!

iFLY has multiple locations throughout the United States and the world. HINT: Coupons are available to make your first fly cheaper. Costco has discounts available.

 

 

 

 

World’s Biggest Truck At Sparwood, British Columbia-Canada

Two years ago, Dave and Kullen were traveling through British Columbia, Canada, on their way to Waterton. Along the way, they came across the world’s largest truck…the Terex Titan 33-19 … which was once used in mining operations on the west coast of California and at the Kaiser Steel Mine located in Sparwood, B.C., Canada. Today it sits as a roadside tourist stop after being decommissioned in 1991. Sadly, it no longer holds the title of the World’s Biggest Truck which was been passed on to some other behemoth steel creature but who cares! This is one big fella in its own right and the engineer in you will love to go inspect it and kick a tire or two.

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The Titan 33-19 was built by a division of General Motors who expected the Titan to become “THE” mining truck used by the top operators in the world. Yet, the Titan never did enter into regular production because shortly after it was introduced at the 1974 World Mining Congress in Las Vegas; prices for coal decreased dramatically resulting in mine closures or significantly decreased outputs. Thus the truck with a $1.5 million dollar price tag in 1976 was just too expensive for companies to invest in and plans for it to become “The Top Model” serving the industry were scrapped.

Some of the more impressive facts concerning the Titan33-19 are:

It has a wheelbase of 29 ft 11 in with an overall length of 66ft. 9 inches. It stands 22ft. 7 inches tall, her width is 25ft. 7 in  and she weighs in at  over 548 tons.

The truck has served as a tourist attraction since 1993 after being decommissioned in 1991.

According to Kullen, “The truck was bigger than I expected it to be and one tire is bigger than the length of your entire body. I would love to visit it again sometime.”

The Titan is located off HWY 3 in Sparwood, British Columbia, Canada.

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Exploratorium-Embarcadero at San Francisco

Billing itself as a public learning laboratory the Exploratorium encourages kids and adults alike to use science, art, and their senses to explore the world around them. Located on the Embarcadero this stunning location on the wharf is worth the cost of admission in and of itself.

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The kids will easily want to spend the entire day visiting the hands-on exhibits. During one hour they may spend their time learning how neurons react while actually working with them and perhaps learning about Mars while investigating its many up close and personal images. Many times throughout the day children can take classes in subjects such as model plane building and flying. Rotating exhibits often include astonishing art which encourages visitors to use machines that allow sculptures to change shape and purpose. And using a vocal visualizer will delight your kids as they use their voices to transform laser lights into incredible shapes and patterns. With both inside and outside venues it allows the little ones to burn off some energy easily.

This place is science as it is meant to be explored but mostly it is just a place where your kid can engage in FUN!

When everyone gets in need of their own fuel you can head down to the eatery. The food is good but be prepared to shell out some dough for fresh salads and homemade mac and cheese. After noshing down head out to one of the decks where you can glimpse the bridge and watch the boats ply the waters.

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The Exploratorium also sponsors “After Dark Nights” programs for adults only. Here you can have a lesierly dinner and sip a few cocktails too. Pairings are also offered featuring some of the best organic foods in the area. Obviously, this is a great place to meet like minded folk and I suspect it is probably a better pick up place than the local grocery store!

HINT: Yes, I agree completely that ticket prices of  $29 for adults is a bit pricey but if you invest in a CITY PASS in which discounts are provided to some of the areas favorite tourist sites then you can save 44%. Prices are a little less for youth and FREE to kids 3 and under. But smart San Franciscans wait until the six annual FREE days to visit and California Public School Teachers can receive free entry by filling out a form online. Check the website for dates.

Trainland USA-Colfax, Iowa

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If you are a train aficionado then this is the place for you. Set out in back hills of Iowa this is one man’s model train dreamland and after your visit it will be yours too.

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In 1964, Red Atwood began collecting Lionel O gauge trains and like most hobbies it took on a life of its own. Soon Atwood was building a new home to house his Lionels and then he decided to create one of the world’s largest model railroads museums in order to display them. And display them he does. Using various backdrops visitors can see the progression of the railroads across the USA using steam, diesel and frontier trains. And with over 60 interactive buttons to push and operate different displays the kids (and adults alike) load freight cars, turn ferris wheels, make broncos buck and take the trains down steep passes. Along the way you can “see” Mount Rushmore, The Statue of Liberty and The White House and over 4,000 ft. of track. This place is amazing!!!

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Along with the museum there are several old train cars set up as shops where you can purchase old Lionels and the necessary supplies until your heart is content.

Trainland gets a five star rating (out of 5) from this family. With so many things to see, touch and explore our original “lets stop for a 1/2 hour” turned out to last much longer than we originally anticipated. Sure it’s a short drive off the freeway but it is worth it!

FYI there is a small entrance fee to help with the upkeep of the 25,000 ft of wire, 600 lights and 120 automatic switches. It’s a small price to pay for such an educational and entertaining museum.

Trainland USA

Colfax, Iowa