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Astonished by Lake Tahoe – One Year Later

A year ago today we crossed the Nevada state line into California at the tail end of an 8-day cross country drive. Our first taste of California as residents was Lake Tahoe, and all three of us were smitten. Our dog Balthasar celebrated by swimming for the first time. He then introduced us to his “Tahoe Face” – a look of astonishment we had never seen before. Living in California this past year he has been astonished by the Pacific, coyotes, and mountain lakes. We wondered whether we’d see the Tahoe face again on his trip, our first one back to Tahoe in a year.

Well, reader, here it is. I introduce Balthasar’s Tahoe Face.

DSC_7116-02.jpegFor more about what astonishes our bouvier, follow him on Instagram @BouvierBalth.

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Why National Forests Are Better Than National Parks

National parks are one of our nation’s treasures, but I’d like to introduce you to national forests. Our forests, with the tagline of “Land of Many Uses,” are in many ways better than parks.

Here are 5 reasons you should visit a national forest instead of a national park.

1) DOGS ALLOWED!

If you’re a dog owner, you might know that the National Park Service doesn’t really roll out the red carpet for our pups. Most parks don’t allow dogs on trails and basically only allow dogs on paved roads and parking lots and in some campgrounds. National Forests, on the other hand, are extremely dog friendly. Your dogs are invited on trails and most forests have very few dog-related restrictions. You and your dog are free to explore the lands of many uses.

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Happy boy hiking in the Eldorado National Forest

Honestly I could end the post here (because dogs!), but I will keep going…

2) No Crowds

Last year, there were 331 million visitors to national parks. The top ten parks had between 3 – 11 million visitors. That equals a lot of crowds. Lines for spots in parking lots, traffic in Yosemite Valley, elbowing your way around large groups on trails – these aren’t really things you’d expect when visiting protected natural lands. National forests on the other hand, had an estimated 140 million annual visits (and more than double the amount of acreage of the national park system). When you visit a national forest, chances are you won’t see another soul. Or you’ll only see a handful of souls (and several of them will be furry!).

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Desolation Wilderness – we hiked for 7+ hours on this trip and probably saw 5 people on the trails?

3) Save Money

Personally I love paying the entrance fee to a national park. It’s a simple, monetary way for me to show my appreciation for the work of the NPS. But, those fees can add up so if you’re looking to save some money, a national forest is a free option.

4) More Adventurous

Similar to point number 2, the lack of crowds lends itself to a more adventurous feel than, say, driving the south rim of the Grand Canyon. But not only are you often by yourself, you will also come across slightly less groomed trails. Sometimes the markers won’t be clear or you might take a wrong turn or two. If you like the idea of “getting lost” you’ll probably enjoy hiking a national forest more than a national park.

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Sequoias, man. The Trail of 100 Giants is on the side of the road in Sequoia national forest.

5) It’s Basically the Same as the Park

The greatest thing about national forests is that they often surround national parks. Love Yosemite but hate traffic? Head up to the surrounding national forests and you’ll get the same exact rock formations, waterfalls, and views of valleys. If you’re visiting a park this summer, check out some of the national forests nearby and give it a try.

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This is the trail to Mount Whitney. The first part is through the Inyo National Forest. The second half is in King’s Canyon National Park. You literally walk into a national park from the national forest. Fun fact: Dogs cannot be on the national park portion of the trail, but can do the first portion in the forest (go figure…)

What national forests have you visited? Why do you love the land of many uses?

Picture + 100 Words: Walking Through the Valley of Death

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Death Valley National Park boasts the highest air temperature ever recorded (134°) and routinely hits 120° in summer in the shade. Why would anyone go here? Well, it’s your closest chance of experiencing Mars on Earth. Cracked salt flats flanked by colorful striped hills and badlands. A valley that you both want to walk farther into and also run far away from. In December we thought the park would be empty. It was packed, parking lots teeming. But on our way out, we pulled off the perfectly paved road and watched dusk descend on the valley without another soul in sight.

The Day We Gotcha: One Year With Our Bouvier

A year ago today we drove three hours through the mountains of Maryland and West Virginia. It was a drab December morning, but we were filled with anticipation.

Santa was riding on a fire truck near your home, so our first shared moment consisted of listening to you whine at the sound of sirens while you had a dingleberry removed.

We didn’t even know what a dingleberry was back then.

Now we do.

And we also now know that whine of yours can range from frustration to discomfort to just looking for some attention.

Back on the ground and out the door you took off, running on impossibly short legs through the grass, jumping, weaving around our feet, latching on to loose pant legs. Within 20 minutes you were passed out in the car and basically slept through the 3-hour ride to your new home.

Played a bit. Now we're headed home!! #bouvier

A post shared by Balthasar the Bouvier (@bouvierbalth) on

A year with Balthasar. It has consisted of taking you to 12 states (plus D.C.), to four national parks, and you’ve already dipped your paws in both the Atlantic and Pacific.

PhotoGrid_1502326741931You’re living quite the charmed puppy life.

Some things haven’t changed much over the past 12 months – you still have puppy dreams and make adorable noises before falling asleep. You hate closed doors (especially to the bathroom when one of us is in it) and you don’t want us to be in separate rooms. You love running on grass and cleaning out peanut butter jars. You have been tearing up cardboard boxes with zeal since day one with us.

Other things have changed – you now love cuddling and getting “scritches.” You’ve developed quite the obsession for tennis balls and got rid of your habit of stealing other people’s newspapers. You love the water now and can’t imagine not at least testing the temperature by getting your tummy wet (it’s never too cold).

This past year you’ve wowed us with your intelligence and the speed that you pick up new commands. As you’ve grown into an adolescent we have found ourselves questioning our positive-only, force-free training.

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But then you’re so polite, ask permission for everything, and are kind with every human you meet. It’s been a challenge, but the training is working.

We hope to have many many more years with you and celebrate many many more “gotcha days.”

But today we’re thinking back about the 365 days with a bouvier named Balthasar. We’ve gone through thousands of poo bags, had hundreds of ear licks (your “kisses”), taught you dozens of commands, and you’ve taught us to be more forgiving, curious, loving, responsible, and to cherish the moments when the herd is all together.

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Picture + 100 Words: Grant Me The Patience to Shape a Pine

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We’re having a heat wave in Maryland. With temperatures in the 70s in February, many of us wander around delighted and frightened. For those with gardens, the temptation to get back in the dirt is strong. But will we have another frost before spring? After experiencing Japan’s gardens we’re more inspired than usual to prune this, shape that, plant those. When you look at this tree and you imagine the patience that went into forcing this pine to take that shape you remember that gardening is an exercise in restraint. Step away from the shears and wait a few weeks.

Picture + 100 Words: Container Garden Inspiration

One of Cordoba's famous patiosIf you find yourself with a garden space that is horizontally challenged, take a tip from the Spaniards and go vertical. In countless courtyards throughout Cordoba, gardeners are not deterred by limited space. Instead they put plants in containers that climb up the walls toward the sunlight. No need to get fancy with the pots, simple terra cotta will do. Add in some blossoming flowers in coordinating colors, mix up the textures of the foliage, and just keep rising higher and higher. One more thing: consider drought-resistant plants because watering all of these regularly would be bothersome.

Picture + 100 Words: Nature’s Simplicity

Trees growing in a straight line? This is not coincidental. This is what happens when trees grow out and on top of dead, fallen trees. A concept called the nurse log. As you hike through the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park everything feels very alive – the greenery all around is teeming with life that supports more life. And if that weren’t enough to inspire, the local library placed signs with poetry along the trail (including the poem below).

Nature is what we know –
Yet have no art to say –
So impotent our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.
-Emily Dickinson

Picture + 100 Words: Finding Kyoto’s Best Bamboo Grove

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In Kyoto we wanted to visit the bamboo grove Arashiyama. We had seen pictures of rows upon rows of bamboo that looked mesmerizing. We trudged there all the way across town and were, well, underwhelmed. Yes, lots of bamboos. But it didn’t have that dizzying quality we expected. (Plus it was packed with tourists). We had seen more impressive groves elsewhere in Kyoto. On an unassuming detour at Fushimi Inari, we walked by hundreds of bamboos lining the trail. Later at Enko-ji we saw the grove pictured here, which had a major advantage because we were the only people there.

How Others Deal With the Heat

If you haven’t heard, it’s going to be hot the next few days and into next week. H-O-T hot. Like 99 degrees hot here in Frederick. But it’s not just Maryland, a heat wave is in the forecast for much of central and eastern U.S.

I grew up in Louisiana, so I’m no stranger to heat (and humidity!). But how do others handle the heat? Here are a few clever ways I’ve come across.

Dubai

We were in Dubai in January and it was hot. It was about 30 degrees away from summer weather, but it was 85 and I was wearing lots of modest clothes. So how do you escape the heat in Dubai? You go to the mall.

The wonderfully air-conditioned mall.

Let's go to the mall

We joked that Dubai was one huge mall because there were so many of them, but it makes sense. Isn’t there nothing better when it’s ridiculously hot out than stepping into a 65 degree climate-controlled space?

Spain

The other week we were complaining about the heat in Maryland. We were dealing with low 90s here and I decided to check the weather in Southern Spain. It was 110 degrees. Spain was one place where we were fascinated by how they’ve handled hot weather.

You have table misters that keep you cool while dining alfresco or just walking by.DSC_5225

Sun shades that stretch across streets do you don’t have to walk in the sun.DSC_5224

And kissing lanes that are designed to be so narrow for more shade.
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This is also the culture that has perfected the art of the siesta – a midday nap that coincides with the hottest part of the day.

Greece

I was thinking of all of the places we’ve traveled when it was hot, and the only thing that I could think that Greece really got right about the heat was having the sea RIGHT there. You just jump in and immediately cool off. Genius. 😉

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Phoenix, Arizona

When we were in Phoenix this past January it was warm (for January!) and sunny. At one street corner I happened to look up as we waited to use the cross walk and saw the ingenious shade structures on all four corners of the street. It was this convenient little tree-shaped plastic fan that spread out over us and provided shade from the relentless Arizona sun.

I don’t know if it necessarily makes me feel better to know others are dealing with hight temperatures, but I do hope that some of these heat-beating solutions will be implemented more widely here in the U.S.

What other smart ways have you found to beat the heat?

Picture + 100 Words: You Will Know It By the Smell of Sweets

DSC_2560You smell Takeshita Street before you see it. A saccharine cloud descends upon you. It’s not even noon and you find yourself craving ice cream wrapped in a crepe drizzled with syrup. As you walk down what’s supposed to be one of Tokyo’s most fashionable streets your every inhale is tinged with sugar. You expect to see Harajuku-style dresses and cosplay, but the predominant fashion on this weekday is sailor collars on school uniforms. Clusters of school children line up to buy candy, creme puffs and other goodies. Meanwhile you’re wondering whether they could all possibly be skipping school.