Valley of Fire Dos and Don’ts

If you ever visit Valley of Fire, be sure to bring enough water. And make sure you’ve got plenty of gas.


Valley of Fire State Park | Ken Lund/Flickr
Valley of Fire State Park | Ken Lund/Flickr

I’ve been away from this blog for quite a while, and I thought it was time to check back in. As of June, I became the Las Vegas contributor to The Culture Trip, a travel and culture website. Keeping up with that, and my regular job/life has been a little bit of a learning curve. But it’s been fun, and I’m so happy to finally expand my horizons.

I decided to go to Valley of Fire on the fly a couple weekends ago. I’ve kicked the idea around in my head for a while, but could never muster the energy to make the drive out there.  These are the types of things one normally plans out well in advance, with supplies and water and…a plan. But not I, dear reader, not I.

I packed my dogs in the car that morning, initially intent on going to one of the few dog parks near my apartment. As I came upon the freeway entrance, I made a last minute decision (not a last minute turn, I’m not that warped) to jump on the freeway and see the park I haven’t been to since I was a child.

Do leave early

This will be subjective, but I’d recommend seeing Valley of Fire early in the day if you’re visiting in the summer. If you’re staying in Las Vegas, it takes about an hour to drive out to the park, and by 8 a.m., it’s already hot. By the time my dogs and I got out there, we were panting. All of us.

Fill Up Your Tank

This is a no-brainer, but there aren’t many gas stations on the way to Valley of Fire from Las Vegas. As stated earlier, most people do their due diligence and plan for this in advance, but for the fly-by-night, seat-of-your-pants people like me (if there are any), it bears repeating.

Take Your Time

Valley of Fire is a slap in the face of anyone who thinks the desert can’t be beautiful. Whether it’s the Beehives, White Dome, The Cabins or Elephant Rock, Valley of Fire is like an outer space oasis in the middle of the desert.

Bring Extra Water

If you’ve decided to be rebellious and visit the Valley in the middle of the day, take extra water with you, especially if you’ve got pets with you. I wouldn’t recommend taking pets with you to the Valley (mine and I only lasted about 45 minutes in the park total) in the summer, but in cooler weather it shouldn’t be an issue.

 

Let me know if you’ve ever been to Valley of Fire, and what you thought about it.

Happy travels!

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Five Things to Do Outdoors in Las Vegas

Paris Hotel & Casino / © Ken Lund/Flickr
Paris Hotel & Casino / © Ken Lund/Flickr

When people come to Las Vegas, drinking and partying are generally at the top of the list. Whether it’s in a nightclub or by the pool, people come to relax and have fun. During the summer, sometimes it’s too hot to do anything else. If you’re looking to venture beyond the Strip, here are ten places and things to do that will let you see a different side of Las Vegas:

Visit Red Rock Canyon National Park

If you’re a camper, a hiker, or a rock climber, you will fall in love with Red Rock Canyon. Just a thirty-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock offers a different kind of Las Vegas experience. There are 19 trails for hikers, and 6 climbing areas available for permits. Red Rock Canyon Campground is the only developed camping area, which is closed during the summer months because of the high temperatures. If you just want to take in the scenery, you can drive or bike along the 13 mile-loop that cuts through the park.

Go Paddle Boarding

Las Vegas doesn’t seem like the place for water sports, but you’d be surprised. Located off the 95 South in Henderson, Lake Las Vegas offers its guests a wide range of amenities and activities both on and off the water.

You won’t see many speedboats on Lake Las Vegas or find many surfers, but you can do a number of other things on Lake Las Vegas. Introductory paddleboard lessons are available, as well as yoga on the paddleboads, wake boarding and flyboarding. You can also rent a Duffy boat to take in the in views of the lake, or go kayaking.

Visit The Neon Museum

The Neon Museum, or the Neon Graveyard, is one of the more unique museums to visit in Las Vegas. The Neon Museum pays homage to the signage and hotels of Las Vegas’ past. You’ll find signs from old businesses offering “free aspirin and tender sympathies”, and original signage from hotels that are still standing today.

Because the museum is located outdoors, it’s important to keep the weather in mind when you go. If you go in the summer months, be sure to bring plenty of water; temperatures can be as much as 10 degrees higher inside the museum.

Guided tours are the only option available to see the museum, so be sure to book your tickets in advance.

Take a helicopter tour

If you’re really interested in seeing a different view of Las Vegas, the best view is from the air. Helicopter and balloon rides are very popular in Las Vegas for both locals and tourists. You can take a tour of just the Las Vegas Strip, or venture into the desert toward Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon.

Viator offers a number of tour options at affordable prices, some of which include champagne and dining options. Sundance Helicopters is another popular tour company, which also will include limousine pickup.

Go to a beach concert

You might not think of “beaches” when you think of Las Vegas, but Mandalay Bay has that covered. The Mandalay Beach has become a tourist favorite since its opening; from its topless beach club to its wave pool, Mandalay Beach offers entertainment for all ages. The concerts on the Beach are an added bonus.

The Beach Concert series takes place throughout the summer months, with acts ranging from Ringo Starr to Keith Urban. This year’s acts include UB40, Dirty Heads and Salt N Pepa. You can bring blankets to sit on in the sand, but you’ll have to leave the coolers and the glass containers back in your room; no outside food or drink is allowed.

 

 

 

 

Five Popular Shows on the Las Vegas Strip

Bally's Las Vegas/ © Ken Lund [Flickr]
Bally’s Las Vegas/ © Ken Lund [Flickr]
Long known as “The Entertainment Capital of the World”, Las Vegas has been home to some of the most popular stage shows in history. At one time, Las Vegas was home to Elvis and The Rat Pack; today it’s the home of Cirque du Soleil, Britney Spears and Celine Dion. It’s still the home of more “adult” entertainment acts, including Chippendales and Zombie Burlesque. If you want to see a show and don’t know where to start, check out some of the following recommendations:

Mystere

Mystere is one of the longest-running shows on the Strip, and with good reason. Gracing the stage inside Treasure Island since 1993, Mystere is the longest-running Cirque du Soleil show in the company’s history. Brian Le Petit, Mystere’s resident clown, opens the show with his mischevious antics, from throwing popcorn at guests to stealing their wallets. From his debut, the show takes its guests on a journey throughout the “mystery” that is life itself.

Purple Reign

Purple Reign is a show for anyone that loves the 80s, Prince or both. The Prince tribute show, led by musician Jason Tenner, has wowed audiences in Las Vegas for nearly ten years. Located inside the WestGate Resort & Casino, Purple Reign pays tribute to The Artist (Formerly Known as Prince). With beautiful dancers befitting The Revolution, Jason Tenner brings back the spirit of the beloved singer.  If you go on a Friday night and purchase a VIP ticket, you can attend the after party, Purple Reign After Dark, with the performers.

Beatles LOVE

If you like the Beatles or breakdancing, you will love LOVE. The award-winning production explores the history of the Beatles, from their early beginnings in Liverpool, all the way to their final rooftop concert. There’s more dancing than acrobatics compared to its sister shows, and acts like the Russian swing and skaters give the show its distinctive style. If you decide to see the show and worry about getting a good seat, rest assured; there isn’t a bad seat in the entire LOVE Theater.

Beatles LOVE performs Thursday – Monday.

Tournament of Kings

You won’t find many dinner theater shows on the Las Vegas Strip, which is why Tournament of Kings is so special. The tale of King Arthur comes to life six nights a week inside the Excalibur, complete with pyrotechnics, jousting, and sword fighting. It’s one of the few kid-friendly shows left on the Las Vegas Strip, and allows children under 3 to attend for free.

JabbaWockeeZ

The Jabbawockeez are one of the newer acts to grace the Strip, and perhaps one of the most recognizable. The all-male dance crew first rose to prominence as the winners of America’s Best Dance Crew, and now perform five nights a week inside the MGM Grand. Their track suits and white masks have become their trademarks, as well as their commitment to pushing boundaries with their choreography and special effects.

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Five Things to Do in Santa Monica

venice-beachLos Angeles is one of my favorite places for a weekend getaway. If you’ve been there before, I don’t need to tell you it is practically perfect in every way (except for the traffic, of course). One of my favorite things about it is – you can go to the greater Los Angeles area a hundred times and still not see everything they have to offer. This list just scratches the surface of all that Santa Monica has to offer; I encourage you to venture off this path and find your own adventures as well.

Santa Monica Pier

You can spend an entire afternoon on the Santa Monica Pier. From riding the Ferris wheel, paddleboard competitions, to lunch or dinner at Bubba Gump’s, Santa Monica Pier is one of the top spots to visit in the greater Los Angeles area. The pier originally opened in 1909, and has seen become an iconic

Parking can be a pain at the pier, just as it is at any beach. You can plan in advance and reserve a parking spot for a discounted price, which might be useful if you’ll be in the area for multiple days.

Stop at the Camera Obscura

If you’re into anything vintage or offbeat, you’ll want to visit the Camera Obscura. The Camera Obscura allows its patrons to see Santa Monica through the lense of the past. Located near Palisades Park inside the former Senior Recreation Center, visitors can look through one of the oldest optical inventions known to man at the surrounding city. Another perk to visiting the Camera Obscura is –it’s free.

Visit California Heritage Museum

The California Heritage Museum celebrates the diverse aspects of California culture and history through its engaging exhibits and commitment to community preservation. Located inside the home of Santa Monica’s founding grandson, Roy Jones, The California Heritage Museum is a quaint little gallery right by the beach. Past exhibits include “Mexican Calendar Girls”, “Every Tattoo Tells a Tale” and “Awkward Family Photos”.

Take a Bike Tour

Bike tours are incredibly popular in Los Angeles, especially during the summertime. Biking is an ideal way to explore not only the beaches, but the surrounding neighborhoods and shops also. There are a number of tour companies to book through, but Santa Monica Bike Center and Pedal or Not come highly recommended.

Take a Stroll along the Boardwalk

From Santa Monica, you can take the boardwalk along the beach and over to Venice Beach. The boardwalk has multitude of sights along the way, including: artists, musicians, performers, food stands, and artisans selling anything from hula hoops to flower crowns.  Along the bike path you’ll find Muscle Beach and its

Sights in the Southwest – 7 Magic Mountains

If you find yourself driving into Las Vegas from Interstate 15, you might have seen signs for Seven Magic Mountains. The name doesn’t make the landmark easily identifiable; at first blush it sounds more like an amusement park attraction than any tourist destination. However, the totemic rock installation, described as “symbolically midway between the natural and the artificial” welcomes travelers with pops of color among7MM-3-web.jpg a brown and barren landscape.

When I first heard about Seven Magic Mountains, I wasn’t aware of exactly what it was or its significance. Mentions of the exhibit kept popping up throughout my social media feeds, and even made an appearance once or twice in my Google News Feed. There were stories of the project getting vandalized and praise for its creative ingenuity. I decided to visit the installation on my way to Joshua Tree National park a couple months ago.

When I got out of my car and made my way to the imposing artwork, I realized that there was literally nothing around it. Unlike similar land art installations of the past, Seven Magic Mountains was designed to stand out amongst its landscape. And once you pass the town of Jean, there’s little in the way of human population until State Line. There wasn’t a large crowd when I went, which made finding a parking spot and getting close to the display much easier.

Getting to the exhibit is fairly easy, but the turnoff can be easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. You’ll have to park in the dirt since there’s no paved parking lot or parking structure. I recommend going either in the morning or the early afternoon, especially if you’ll be visiting in the summer. The only nearby shade are the rock totems themselves, so I’d also recommend taking sunglasses and plenty of water. Security patrols the display on a regular basis, but there is no easy access to food or water in the immediate area. Since the display is in the middle of a dry lake bed, I would also advise keeping an eye out for your average “desert life”, including snakes and scorpions.

The exhibit opened in the spring of 2016, and will be on view until 2018.

Tips on Taking Dogs to the Beach

20150418_174354Puppies Looking Out Window

It was always my dream to take my dogs to the beach and watch them play on the shore. I wanted them to sit beside me after hours of running through the sand, while we took in the sunset and the sound of gently crashing waves. My first trip to the beach did not go this way at all.

I took my dogs to San Diego with me when I decided to visit the Whaley House. I had learned that San Diego had many dog friendly beaches, unlike my experiences further north in Venice/Santa Monica. I settled on taking them to the Original Dog Beach, since it was the closest to my hotel. We arrived at the beach just at sunset, and I thought everything was going to be cool. It wasn’t. That’s not to say it was terrible experience; it was just more stressful than it needed to be. If I had planned better, it would have been more enjoyable for me and my dogs.

Relax.

Taking a dog anywhere can be a lot like taking a child anywhere. Both can be difficult to get in the car, and both can be difficult to manage once in the car. In both instances, you have a better chance of success if you don’t freak out. Not only that, dogs can pick up on our emotions and respond accordingly. If you keep your wits about you, you have a better chance at directing your dog. Before you leave, keep in mind that you’re going somewhere calm and fun. There’s no set time when you have to arrive or when you have to leave, so take your time and remember to take a deep breath.

Take them to the car first.

Dogs can get excitable when they know they’re going somewhere. If your dog gets wild right before you go on a car ride, get them in the car first. I tried to leave with them and my bags all at once, and I ended up forgetting the bag with their treats in it. To make up for it, we had to make an impromptu stop at Walgreens. If you take your dogs to the car first, that will allow you the few extra seconds to ensure you have what you need.

Make sure they poop before you leave.

If you don’t, you run the risk of them pooping as soon as you arrive. This isn’t quite as bad if you are with another person, and you didn’t forget your dog bag. That said, it is difficult enough to walk through sand by yourself, back and forth to get tissue and to pick it up, then proceed to your spot on the sand.

Introduce them to the water slowly.

The waves can be rather intimidating to a dog, especially the smaller ones.  Mine were curious initially with the wet sand and algae, but once the tide rolled in they ran off in a hurry.

Be mindful of leash laws.

The Original Dog Beach was the first leash-free beach, but some beaches do have leash requirements so keep that in mind before you travel. Some beaches have certain areas where dogs are allowed off-leash as well.

Have fun.

Let them explore along the shoreline, play with them, let them run and kick up sand. Bringing your dog to the beach is meant to be fun for both of you; if you focus on that and not on what you forgot or what’s gone wrong, everything else will fall into place.

Sometimes, taking just one dog to the beach can be stressful. Taking multiple dogs to the beach can be especially stressful.  But, if you plan ahead and take your time, it can be a lot of fun for the entire family.

 

Vacation Guilt?

I’m not sure why, but I always get nervous before going on vacation. I love to get on planes and go on adventures, but somehow I always turn into a nervous wreck in the days before I leave. Of course some of it is pure excitement over going somewhere new, but every time I feel happy about the impending adventure ahead, anxiety inevitably follows.

A lot of this has to do with the prospect of getting from A to B, but more than that – I think I feel guilty for leaving my dogs behind. I already feel like I don’t spend enough time with them, so when I decide to venture out for a few days (without them) I feel like I’m abandoning them.

I did a lot of research in how to combat these guilty feelings before my last trip to New Orleans. For some reason, this time it was more difficult to leave them behind (it was just one day longer than my last trip, but it felt like two weeks longer). I hired a dog sitter to come check on them in the evening, and my roommate agreed to check on them in the mornings. I made sure to bring them souvenirs when I brought very little back for my human family members. Still, I couldn’t shake the guilty feeling no matter what I did.

Have you ever felt guilty before going on vacation? I thought it was just me at first but after a couple Google searches I realized that I am not the only one. What was your reason(s) for feeling guilty? What did you do to combat those feelings? How did it affect your time away?

Chicago Travel: Five Must See Exhibits of The Field Museum

In a city full of museums, art galleries and skyscrapers, The Field Museum stands out as one of Chicago’s top tourist attractions. Founded in 1893 as the Colombian Museum of Chicago, The Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. It is also the home to the most complete T. Rex ever found. With roughly 1.39 million visitors last year alone, the Field Museum has proven time and time again to be popular with tourists of all ages.

The Field Museum continues to be at the forefront of scientific education for all ages with four different learning centers dedicated to conservation and research. Visitors to the Field Museum can spend an entire day combing through its collections, with exhibits dedicated to world cultures, endangered animals, and fossils. Below are five of the resident highlights of the Field Museum that every visitor should see:

  1. SUE the T. Rex. Sue is the most popular attraction at The Field Museum. Her massive frame greets you as soon as you step into the lobby, cementing her place as the crown jewel of The Field Museum. Her head is on the second floor in a glass case; weighing in at over 600 pounds, it’s far too heavy to be with the rest of her fossil. She has been on display since 2000, and since then has drawn over 16 million visitors.
  2. Ancient Egypt. The Ancient Egypt collection is set up inside a replica of an Egyptian tomb. The tomb spans all three stories of the museum and is full of hieroglyphs, sarcophagi, and even a Book of the Dead. The Egyptian marketplace exhibit details what daily life in Ancient Egypt was like. You can even peer inside the remnants of an actual sarcophagus. The museum shows a companion film to the exhibit, but you don’t have to see the film to enjoy the collection.
  3. Tsavo Lions. The Tsavo Lions may not be as well-known as SUE, but theirs is a story draped in both blood and infamy. The Tsavo Lions were famous at one time; the pair terrorized a Kenyan railroad camp for over ninth months in the late 19th century. People claimed the lions ate over 130 people at the time but scientific testing estimates the final number was closer to 35. Their skins and skulls were donated in the 1920s by Lt. Col. John Patterson, the British Army officer who killed them and ended the threat.
  4. The Mesoamerican and Central American Collections. These exhibits contain thousands of pieces of pottery, weapons, statues and textiles that highlight the rich and dramatic history of the Americas. One thing that stands out about these collections is the sheer size of many of the pieces; there’s a replica of an Aztec calendar stone on display that takes up an entire wall, and wood carvings that stand from floor to ceiling. Most of the items are in cases, but even through the glass you can see the detail in the works and the excellent care each piece receives.
  5. The Fossil Collections. The fossil collection at the Field Museum is nothing short of awe-inspiring. From dinosaurs to modern species, the fossil collection is one of the most impressive collections of the entire museum. The dinosaurs are the highlight of the fossil collection, with an entire room dedicated to the extinct predators and herbivores of yore. If you’ve never seen a dinosaur fossil up close, this is an experience that can’t be passed up.

 

 

My Experience at Venice Beach

 

Venice Beach was one of those places I just had to go to. But every time I went out to Los Angeles, I Googled how long it would take to drive to Venice and it always seemed to be a little too far for the amount of time I had available. Like San Francisco and Seattle, it seemed to call out to me from a very young age. It was a city full of hippies and creative types, according to my parents and everyone I knew that had been there. Two summers ago, I was finally ended up on the famous Venice Boardwalk for the first time. And it was magical.

venice-beach

Go to Venice early in the morning or late in the afternoon

 

Venice Beach is next door to another iconic California tourist spot – the Santa Monica pier. If you’re walking along the boardwalk, you can see the famous ferris wheel in the distance. My friend and I decided to kill two birds with one stone, and stop at both before we hit the road for home. Because we went later in the day, parking wasn’t an issue. If you decided to visit Venice in the summer (or any beach, really) I recommend going either first thing in the morning or close to sunset. I employed this tactic in Venice and San Diego, and it worked like a charm.

Pets Aren’t Allowed on Venice Beach

 

We tried to walk on the sand with my dogs, but we were quickly guided back to the boardwalk by lifeguards on duty. Venice Beach does not allow dogs on the sand, but Santa Monica does. You can, however, walk with your pets along the shore on Santa Monica Beach. While we were on the Venice side, we strolled up and down the boardwalk, past the (actual) freakshow, marijuana tents, dancers, artists and characters that make Venice so famous. We even got to witness a few beach goers try their hands at the rings, poles and ropes that make up the infamous Muscle Beach.

Tips aren’t required but appreciated

 

If you decide to venture down the boardwalk, keep plenty of cash on you. You never know what treasures you’ll find, and it’s the easiest way to do business with the artists. Plus, you’ll want to have tip money if you find a character or performer you’d like to take photos with. During our visit, I met a man who, for a penny, handed me a sticker with the words “Who is John Scott?” printed on the front. I was so curious, I went and Googled him. He’s also known as “L.A.’s Oldest Vandal”.

Venice Beach is a must-see if you’re in the Los Angeles Area. If you’re looking for a unique beach experience, Venice is guaranteed to give that to you. You never know what may happen on Venice Beach, but you know that whatever it is, it’s going to be interesting.