Tag Archives: family

Arizona: Tallest Christmas Tree in the Nation

Tonight my parents and I walked around the outlets in Anthem. We normally don’t frequent the shopping center but they had something special to offer: the tallest Christmas tree in the nation. I find it odd that a city in Arizona would be able to get the tallest tree, but hey, at least we have the ability to admire and appreciate the tree since we are not stuck in feet of snow or have to bear freezing temperatures and wind chill to enjoy it. Let me tell you, this tree was massive.  I was unable to fit the tree in its entirety into any picture (I can’t wait to get my panoramic camera under the tree – yes, I know that I’m getting one, I had to pick it out). It towers over the tops of the shops and can be seen from miles down the highway that the outlets are located beside. Underneath its limbs are giant presents and toys for kids and families to stand in front of for picture-taking opportunities.

It is good to see it in the daylight, not only for the picture-taking, but because you get the chance to see the huge ornaments that decorate the tree. At night when it is lit up, all you can see are the twinkling Christmas lights, which are still a beautiful sight to behold and definitely get you in the holiday spirit.

According to the details:

  • The 110-foot tall tree came from Northern California.
  • A huge crane was used to hoist the tree into place.
  • In total, 120 strings of lights and 3,000 ornaments decorate the massive tree.

nation's tallest christmas tree

standing under the tree with the presents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

reflection in the giant ornament

nation's tallest christmas tree lit up

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Activities, Arizona, Facts, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Travel, United States

Basic Tips for the Long-Term Traveler

THE ViSA: Start the process as soon as possible. Each visa has its own list of requirements that must be fulfilled before your passport can be stamped. Individually, those requirements may take quite a bit of time to be completed. Such as, obtaining the police report to show that you are in good standing (this took me about a week), or the medical form from your doctor stating you are in good health (this required shots to prove I didn’t have illnesses, the time it took to get results back from the lab, as well as having a notary come to the doctor’s office to notarize that form). I also had to have my contact in Ecuador sign me up for school and fax me the school registration forms; and also had to go to my bank and get a form (had to be notarized) to prove I had the economic means to support myself.

make a list to keep you organized

The biggest tip to keep in mind while trying to obtain your visa in time is to consider where your consulate is located. There may not be one in your state. You may have to fly, like in my case, or drive to an outside state to get your visa. Check this out first, because it will lengthen the process in order to  purchase airline tickets and set aside travel time.

MONEY: If you have bills that need to be paid every month, write out checks (leaving the date area empty) and have some family member or close friend send those every time the bill arrives.

CURRENCY: Find out if a bank close by can exchange your currency so that you may avoid the higher fees associated with exchanging currency at airports or in the country where you’ll be traveling. Major banks, such as Wells Fargo, can complete exchanges.

PASSWORDS: Give your closest family member the passwords to your e-mail, credit card and bank providers so they can help you if you should find yourself in need of immediate help.

ADDRESSES: Write down the addresses of your hotel, apartment, hostel that you’ll be staying so you’re friends and family have a place to send care packages (i.e. health products that may not be your preference in the country you are traveling, or your favorite snacks that you’ve been missing).

ACTiViTATE CARDS: Do not wait until you are outside the country and are going to the market to buy your first week’s or month’s groceries to have your card declined. Make sure you call your credit card company and notify them that you will be traveling for an extensive period of time and give them the dates.

If you plan on using a debit card, go to your bank and let the people there know that you’ll be out of the country for a long while. They should give you a toll-free number and activation code that will allow your card to be used outside the country.

CELL PHONE: Suspend your phone immediately. Most countries outside the states have internet cafes or places that will allow you to phone home. Trust me, you won’t be phoning home that often anyway because you’ll be so busy. And if you must, download SKYPE on your computer before you leave and tell your family or friends to do the same. If you happen to be on at the same time (since they’re living their lives and you’re traveling) or have setup a SKYPE date, you can TALK and SEE each other for free.

HEALTH iNSURANCE: Purchase travel insurance or check to see if your current health-care provider covers you while you are traveling. To help prevent high-cost, consider keeping the basic plan you are on and relying on your insurance just for emergencies. Those from the U.S. tend to live in fear that any health-care providers outside the country do not have the same standards of practice. However, many travelers say otherwise. Of course, it is up to each individual traveler’s experience to make their own judgment call.

MORE: If you have any tips you’d like to add, please feel free to post a comment and I will edit the posting.

2 Comments

Filed under Facts, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Tips, Travel, United States, Worldwide

Becoming ant-sized while crawling through Mammoth Caves in Kentucky

mammoth caves is known as one of the best interpretive national parks

About three hours from Indianapolis is Cave City, Kentucky, which is located off Exit 53 on Interstate 65, passing through the capital city of Louisville. Since its founding in 1835, the area thrived, but has recently undergone some depletion after being hit hard during the country’s economic recession. However, it still has much to offer the adventurous traveler.

Most of the businesses that closed their doors were not worthy of your time or money, essentially the typical tourist trap. The quality attractions, such as the Green River Canoe or the Jesse James Riding Stables, which take you horseback riding on what they deem the most gentle horses around throughout the hillsides and valleys where Jesse himself rode while fleeing the law, are still going strong and provide memorable moments during your visit.

Nonetheless, the number one tourist attraction in the caves region is Mammoth Caves National Park. The caves are the world’s longest, running more than 390 miles in length with still more to be discovered. There is no entrance fee to the park, which is home to  over a dozen endangered species and has as much to see and do above ground as there is beneath. You can horseback ride and hike over 80 miles of trails or mountain bike on over 20 miles of trails.

the map of over 390 miles of trail, with more still being discovered

In the summer of 2010, the park opened the doors to its new visitor center, where people can purchase gifts, souvenirs, books and tickets for more than 10 different cave tours.

Note: Some do sell-out quickly and others are only offered once a day, depending on the season. I highly suggest checking the Website for Mammoth Cave to make reservations online for most of the tours. A few are not available by reservation and must be purchased at the Visitor Tour on the day of the tour.

Before every tour the guides explain the physical and mental considerations that must be taken on your part. Yes, mental considerations. The caves can play tricks with your mind. There are points in tours where you have to bend down and almost walk on your knees to get through passages. At other times, you are walking across a bridge or up/down a staircase, look over to the side and see a never-ending drop. The mere fact that you are hundreds of feet below the surface is another hurdle to overcome. I can honestly say it is worth it all though. Groups, depending on tour, range from 12 to 120 in size.

It should be known that Mammoth Caves National Park has highly knowledgeable and passionate guides. Every question you ask them will get an in-depth answer with an eager tone. These people look forward to spending their days underground sharing the stories of the caves, its history as well as their own personal experiences in the caves. One of the girls first visited the park when she was eight and now she is leading tours.

Tip: Choose to either be at the front of the pack or at the end  if you want to have the chance to ask the guide leading the group or the guide at the back of the group specific questions you have regarding things you notice in the caves or have in general about the history of them while you walk. Trust me, you will have many questions pop up in your head and they are more than willing to answer.

I took two tours: New Entrance Tour & the Historic Entrance Tour.

walking down stairs in a narrow passage

New Entrance Tour:

Length: 2 hours, 3/4 mile.

Tour Limit: 114 people

Total Stairs: 500, including 280 on initial descent

Difficulty: Moderate

The New Entrance Tour has the guides shuttling you to an entrance that appears to be a random steel door in a hillside, resembling a portal to a bomb shelter. The opening was created after a man, who wanted his own cave, had purchased land with a sinkhole above a portion of the caves that he knew were linked with Mammoth Caves. He used dynamite to blast a new way into the caves and started exploring.

On the initial descent, you walk down 280 steps that become extremely narrow and steep, winding through passages no wider than your hips. Once you reach the stopping point you make your way through the caves. At one point you reach a big room, and the group will take a seat while the guide explains some history and tells stories about the caves. This is also where they turn all the lights out, showing you what some of the earlier explorers faced during their time down in the very passageways you are walking through.

During your entire time down in the caves, the guides will be explaining various things such as the writing on the walls, how the rooms got their names and prominent people whose names will be forever associated with the caves.

Frozen Niagara Falls

The main attraction of the New Entrance Tour is the Frozen Niagara, which is 130 feet below ground surface. You enter a room of formations rising from the ground or hanging from the ceilings like icicles. These columns are called stalagmites and stalactites. They are created by calcium salts and the dripping of water. The bigger formations, such as the Frozen Niagara take thousands of years to form by the slow drip, drip, drip of water and is a sight to marvel. After this stop, you make your way out of the cave via the Frozen Niagara Entrance, completing a two hour and 3/4 mile trip.

This tour does not require a jacket and is a great basic introduction to the Mammoth Caves. It takes you down and up stairs, crouching through tunnel passages, provides a glimpse at the river below you and a stroll through a room full of formations.

the Historic Tour path

Historic Tour

Length: 2 hours, 2 miles

Tour Limit: 120 people

Total Stairs: 440, including 155 at Mammoth Dome

Difficulty: Moderate

Warning: This is tour is not for those who suffer claustrophobia or are afraid of heights. You will experience steep stairs, bridges and crawl spaces. Again, it is worth it to push yourself!

On this tour you get to enter the original opening to the caves and walk to a large room at 140 feet below the surface, called the Rotunda, which still has artifacts from the early days when these caves were mined.

After this you walk yourself through tunnels that make you feel like a tiny ant in an ant hill, and over a bridge that crosses the Bottomless Pit. Take a peek over the edge and see blackness for as long as your eyes can see.

the giant's coffin

You will have the chance to pay respects at the Giant’s Coffin. A large granite form is laying in front of you and appears to be the final resting place of a large person. This is also where the guides will tell a story about a slave woman who was the only one buried in the Mammoth Caves in this spot on the tour. They believe she may have held a prominent position for having been brought all the way underground to be placed.

The biggest attraction on this tour, in my opinion as well as my mom’s, is Fat Man’s Misery. They even have a tiny sign to let you know that you have arrived to this portion of the tour, which is a passageway that has you going from a standing position, to a crawling position in a narrow space that has you squeezing your way through to make your way into the Relief Room, where you can stand and go to the bathroom.

At last you’ll make your way to The Tower in Mammoth Dome where you’ll climb up five levels of stairs that also get more narrow along the way before making your way back to the Rotunda Room and into daylight once again. Although you won’t see any formations, you’ll get a rich taste of history and stories about the people who walked before you in these caves.

squeezing through Fat Man's Misery on Historic Tour

I survived both tours. Granted, it took me some deep breathing and support from my parents to get me in there, it was well worth it like I’ve mentioned in this blog post. To feel smaller than ordinary and see the vastness of these caves is astonishing.

The passion the tour guides possess for the caves is inspiring. Some are the next in their generation to walk underground, and now their kids are working themselves up the hierarchy ladder to become a guide.

Both tours I went on are excellent introductions to the caves. The New Entrance Tour is on the opposite end of the Historic Tour, so you get to enter from both sides of the cave system.

For the more daring, there is a tour offered at night, Violet City Lantern Tour, where the only light you have guiding you for 3 hours and 3 miles is a lantern you are holding. As for the cave explorer,  the Wild Cave Tour is about six hours and 5 miles in difficult and strenuous situations.

Note: Some pictures in this post were taken by my mom.

3 Comments

Filed under Facts, Kentucky, Nature, Outdoors, Tour, Travel, United States

Oriententing Myself

I’m at that point where I am nervous and excited about my move to Ecuador. I have to continually remind myself that I’m leaving this weekend to visit family in Indiana, with a side-dish road-trip to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky.

It will most likely be filled with ups-and-downs because my grandpa just went through a quadruple bypass surgery after a minor heart-attack and, well, let’s just say that side of the family still seems to be going through World War II, which is where the seed for the family-tree was planted.

This will be my only vacation taken all summer and I haven’t even started doing laundry. In my opinion, once you’ve traveled internationally, you lose the excitement of packing for any trip. You wait until the very last night before or the day you leave — depending on the time of departure — to actually put the loads of laundry in the washer and toss a pile of disheveled, wrinkled clothes into a suitcase.

For Indiana and Kentucky, I’ll most likely revert to an Adidas duffel bag and wing it:

  • Shirts – check.
  • Cargo pants than can become shorts with one quick zip – check.
  • Converse – check.
  • Toothbrush – check.

No stress. No worries.

My mind is more focused on Ecuador than anything else. I mean, why wouldn’t it be? I’m practically moving to a foreign country. I’m thinking about money. I’m thinking about the internship – what if I’m not cut out to be a travel writer. I’m thinking I need a full-time job. Why can’t I be normal like my older sister and twin sister. One has been a crime-scene technician for more than a couple years now and loves it. My twin sis just started her career as a teacher today — and I’m still here, going from internship to internship still trying to get the big break.

But isn’t that part of the excitement in not knowing what’s going to happen? Stepping off that airplane and into an entirely different part of the world brings out that adventurous spirit in myself. This is the job I want. This is the office where I want to work. I admire those like my sisters who can take pictures of dead people and have the patience to mold the minds of our future.

However, I want the opportunity to bring cultures to people in all corners of the planet, whether it be in the pages of a geography book, in an online article or in the pages of a travel guide I may have written or contributed to.

At this point, I have to stop wanting and actually do it. This is the dreaming turning into reality.

I will educate people about a variety of languages, food, cultures, music and places they may never have heard about, because maybe, just maybe they’ll think of traveling there one day because of the pictures I have taken and the words I have written.

2 Comments

Filed under Ecuador, International, Internship, Travel

Six people you always see at airports but wish you didn’t

The Luggage Lunatic

In an age where seat pitch and width are shrinking, carry-on rules are getting stricter and free check-ins are quickly disappearing, you still see the luggage lunatics the second you roll up to the curb. Unless you’re moving to Ouagadougou for good, there is no reason to pack like this. Ever. You’re not Imelda Marcos. Let’s tone down the luggage.

The Octopus Parent

You know who I’m talking about. Poor man/woman carrying two kids in the dual configuration, holding hands with yet more kids of walking age – multiple wheelie suitcases and back-packs in tow; at least one kid crying at all times almost acting as a siren warning you to get out of the way. I have nothing against this group of people and the only reason they make this list is that I want them to get some relief.

The Muse

Lack of experience? Lack of knowledge? Lack of a clue. This species of traveller is fascinated and confused by everything. They usually stand around gawking at things – one hand scratching their head, while their heads bob up and down between airports signs and their travel documents. Hint: there are no directions to your gate on your boarding pass. Do not ever line up behind one of these people and follow at a distance, as they are known to perform Crazy Ivans at random.

The Voyageur Idiot Savant

I don’t know what it is about these people but they are everywhere. Usually they are men trying to impress their kids or the significant other with their wealth of aviation and travel knowledge. I recently overheard a guy telling his girlfriend/wife how revolutionary the 747 was “blah, blah, economies of scale, blah, blah hub to hub” and so on. When she asked which plane he was talking about he pointed and said that one over there! The real kicker was that he was pointing at an A320, which wasn’t even the biggest plane in sight.

The Turnstiles

I’m not sure who created these jobs or why they are still around but you see them at every airport; people whose entire role it is to direct travellers to various line-ups – be it customs, security or check-in. I’m baffled. Where does one even go to apply for such a job? Surely a well-placed sign would do the trick… then again the patent lack of logic and flailing hand gestures some of these folks exhibit is worth the price of admission. On second thoughts, let’s keep these people.

The Blackberry Ninjas

These lovely individuals spend every free second they have looking down at their mobile devices furiously thumbing away. Luckily half of this genus consists of business travellers so they at least know where they’re going and how to get there without obstructing other travellers. These folks look up occasionally and grunt when asked questions but beyond that are a waste of space. If you happen to be seated next to one on the plane there is a more than 50% chance that (s)he will still be hammering away during take-off.
Source: airceo.com
The Editor

Leave a comment

Filed under Facts, Tips, Travel

The Northwest Valley of Arizona

Ten years ago, the settlers of the Northwest Valley would never have dreamt it to look as it does now: bustling intersections, a brand new football stadium, a man-made lake and an antique shopper’s paradise.


The city of Glendale has seen its fair share of transformations. Some of which include a prominent grammar school in the early years to today having Arizona State University West, Glendale Community College and the Thunderbird School of Global Management within its borders. The Santa Fe Railroad that once steamed through the city will look toward the future as the Valley Metro Light Rail is completed in 2011. The more modern part of the city consists of the Arrowhead Mall, the new Westgate shopping and dining region right next to the Cardinal’s University of Phoenix Stadium and the Jobing.com Arena, where concerts and hockey take spotlight. However, with so many changes, the community has been able to hold onto its heritage in the tiny downtown district. Some of the historic homes are actually antique shops full of books, furniture, clothing, dolls, paintings and more while other homes have been turned into restaurants with eclectic menus. Winter brings the traditional Glendale Glitters attraction, where lights sparkle in the trees and shops stay up late, booths overtake the lawn with food and merchandise, kids enjoy rides as dancers and singers perform in the amphitheater. Do not forget to visit the Cerreta Candy Company and take the factory tour, where visitors can get a first hand look at how the fudge and fine chocolates are made.


You won’t ever find yourself indoors while in the city of Peoria. It is a mecca for those who love nature, sports activities and those who want to learn something new. The Peoria Sports Complex hosts the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners for their Spring Training and is also the site of the Dolly Sanchez Egg Hunt, 4th of July All-American Fest, and Halloween Monster Bash and Balloon Illumination events. The ice skating rink and roller rink are located close by, as well as the Rio Vista Recreation Center and Park where a gym, sand volleyball courts, fishing lakes, playgrounds, baseball fields and skate park can be found. Those who can’t get enough, head up north to West Wing and Sunrise Mountains where new hiking trails have just been constructed, or even farther up north to Lake Pleasant Regional Park for boating, fishing, hiking, camping, and picnicking. The park itself sponsors many activities from scuba diving, stargazing, nature tours and even running events. If adrenaline is still pumping, enroll in Turf Soaring School, and glide through the blue skies or watch the speedsters at the Canyon Speedway Park.


Surprise, surprise, surprise…it just keeps multiplying and multiplying and it isn’t any wonder because the city already has an active shopping center and sports complex. The White Tank Mountains are the backdrop of Surprise and provide hiking trails, the Waterfall Trail being amongst the more popular and numerous events suitable for every age. For the more artistic bunch, The West Valley Art Museum offers collections of over 4,000 items from around the world, exhibitions, musical performances, and activities such as classes and workshops. If you like straying from the pack, visit the Speedworld Motorcross Park where you can practice or watch the throttles reach their maximum performance.


1 Comment

Filed under Activities, Arizona, History, Sites, Tips, Travel, United States

The Southwest Valley of Arizona

It is not debatable that the Southwest Valley has been growing faster than a saguaro’s arm ever could. Developments have sprouted up and spread as far as the White Tank Mountains and beyond with the lure of affordable land and homes bringing thousands just like the Gold Rush. The cities and towns of Buckeye, Goodyear, Litchfield, Wickenburg and Gila Bend comprise most of this area that is filled with activities for those interested in the arts, outdoors, sports or indulging themselves in the many shopping centers that are springing up.
Buckeye was once the home of author, Upton Sinclair, but is now known as one of the largest growing neighborhoods in Arizona with 22 master planned communities and the future site of a 900-acre Buckeye Town Lake. Head south on the State Route 85 toward The Buckeye Hills Regional Park, which is composed of 4,474-acres to hike trails in the lush desert landscape, pitch a tent for camping, enjoy a family picnic or try for a bull’s-eye at the shooting range.
Goodyear is a prime living arrangement for the family team. The Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds host their Spring Training in the city, which is conveniently located 20 minutes from Downtown Phoenix. Take the family out to a game or visit one of the many community parks: the Splash Pad, the Skate Park, Roscoe Dog Park, or any of the other neighborhood playgrounds. The outdoor sports enthusiasts can enjoy the Estrella Mountain Regional Park, which provides bikers, horseback riders and hikers miles of trails to blaze in a perfect desert landscape. The surrounding area, Casey Abbot Recreation Area, has volleyball courts, an 18-hole golf course, picnic areas and a jungle gym for the kids. Every two years, Goodyear hosts the Luke Days, an air show that draws many crowds and if you want to see the largest collection of bibles, look no further than in the Grand Lobby of the Hampton Inn and Suites, and in the summer cool off with Movies in the Park and Dry Heat Comedy. For those not interested in recreation, stay tuned for Estrella Falls, the newest mall will be opening in fall 2011 and spans 105-acres in the budding city that still has reasonably priced land available.
A small suburb is maturing within the farming community of Litchfield Park, situated 16 miles from Phoenix near the 1-10. The city is recognized for its family atmosphere and easygoing lifestyle. Throughout the year the Recreation Services holds “Arts in the Park Live”, a free concert series with performances by diverse bands that play everything from blues, jazz, country to even big band swing. Art festivals are always marked on calendars and the recreation center provides a variety of programs for the youth, adults and senior citizens so everyone can become involved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Activities, Arizona, Facts, History, Sites, Tips, Travel, United States