After concluding our work in Quito, we traveled by bus for a brief tourist visit to the Cotopaxi area. Much of the two hour drive was on a rough cobblestone road, through beautiful farm country.
We stayed at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi, a truly unique hostel/paradise overlooking several volcanoes. Gorgeous flowers and adorable llamas abound. When we arrived, we learned that a baby llama had been born there just that day!
After settling in and having a delicious chickpea and rice lunch, most of our group headed out for a guided waterfall hike. We divided into two groups: the “fun/hard” hike (mostly hiking through a small river to the waterfalls) and the “easy” hike (mostly hiking on land to the waterfalls). I of course opted for the “easy” hike, which honestly wasn’t that easy for me. We still had to hike through part of the river, and there was some steep and slippery hiking on land. With the altitude, all of this was rather challenging for me, but the experience was awesome.
All meals are included when you stay at the Secret Garden, and nearly everything is vegetarian and grown in their substantial gardens. I failed to take any photos of my delicious meals and snacks, but the Secret Garden folks did an amazing job accommodating my vegan and gluten-free dietary restrictions.
I made these adorable sheep cupcakes for Easter, based on these directions.
I used my favorite chocolate cake recipe (German chocolate cake from the Babycakes Covers the Classics cookbook), and store-bought frosting to save a little time.
We visited the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado on a warmish January afternoon. It was amazing to see the lions, tigers, coyotes, wolves, bears, and other animals roaming freely in their large habitats.
It was a pleasant surprise to see two bald eagles visiting the sanctuary as well.
On a cold winter New England day, a warm, humid butterfly house is just the place for me.
The Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens, in South Deerfield MA, is a great change of scenery and climate during the winter. You’ll find yourself immersed in beautiful flowers and greenery, with butterflies flitting all around you (and sometimes even landing on you).
In the main butterfly room you’ll also see uncaged birds (including a hummingbird and parrot), a tortoise in a large open pen, and a small koi pond. An adjoining room contains numerous terrariums housing many species of amphibians, reptiles, and insects.
We had a nice day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park at the beginning of October. It turned out to be one of those fall days that brought some rain, some snow, some sun, and some clouds. We didn’t mind the changeable weather since days like this often mean fewer people and more wildlife out and about. I meant to bring my camera that has a zoom lens, but I forgot it and almost didn’t need it because we were lucky to see so many animals up close. These bighorn sheep were snacking right next to the road as we drove through the Big Thompson Canyon.
As always, the scenery in Rocky Mountain National Park was beautiful. The higher elevations had just been dusted with fresh snow.
And we saw several large elk. Can you spot them in these photos?
We went to the Denver Zoo in early March, and were delighted to find out that an adorable two-day-old giraffe was making its zoo debut that day. We also enjoyed seeing several animals playing with the toys in their habitats, such as the elephant and hippopotamus below.
We watched some amazing big horn sheep and mountain goats climbing on Sheep Mountain, and Bear Mountain had two beautiful grizzly bears.
This is a great zoo with all kinds of animals, but the thing we were probably most surprised to see was a Lego lion sculpture, apparently by the same artist as the Lego sculptures we saw at the McKee Botanical Garden in Florida. These awesome Lego sculptures get around!
During our Florida mini-vacation we visited the Manatee Observation and Education Center in Fort Pierce. When we arrived, we appreciated the manatee artwork on a bench and on the walkway to the entrance.
Inside, there was an optional scavenger hunt for kids, to encourage them to observe the different types of fish inside the building. Our three-year-old loves this sort of challenge, and the possibility of earning a little prize. There were also a few fun crafty activities for kids, and a short movie about manatees and the observation center. The best part of visiting the observation center, of course, is the chance of seeing wild manatees in the creek behind the building. The observation center has beautiful views of the creek and Indian River Lagoon, and we were lucky enough to see three manatees relaxing in the creek!
Admission to the manatee center was only one dollar per person (!), so I highly recommend visiting if you are in the Fort Pierce area.
When I was a college student in Boston and needed a distraction from stressful academic stuff, I often went to the Museum of Fine Arts or the New England Aquarium (both of these awesome places were free with my Northeastern student ID). Now, more than ten years later, we visited Boston for the first time with our little one, and had to hit up the New England Aquarium.
Many things I loved haven’t changed in all these years. Myrtle the sea turtle, now 95 years old, is still swimming laps in the big tank. The little blue penguins are still being adorable alongside the big tank. I was pleased to see that there are now sea lions outside, but I sure missed the sea otters that I used to watch playing out there. [Does anyone know why the otters aren’t there anymore? Google has failed me on that question.]
I couldn’t believe how crowded the aquarium was, but I guess that’s what you get on a cold rainy day during the school vacation week between Christmas and New Year’s. The jellyfish area was probably the quietest part of the building, so at least I was able to get a couple of nice shots of the photogenic jellies!
Well, the horse racing season is almost over in Saratoga Springs, but at the beginning of August we went to watch the horses’ morning workout at the Saratoga Race Course (commonly referred to as “breakfast at the track,” whether you eat there or not). After watching a few of the horses running laps around the track, we took a guided walking tour of the stable area. The tour was a neat way to learn about all of the preparation that goes toward each horse’s performance, and to see many of the horses up close.
We went camping in Colorado State Forest State Park for a weekend in early July. Almost as soon as we turned onto the dirt road that would take us to the North Michigan Reservoir camping area, we saw a tiny baby deer in the road, followed soon after by its mother. I can’t think of a better welcome to a park! As we got settled in our campsite, we had lots of hummingbird and chipmunk visitors. And when we walked down to the reservoir so the kids could throw some rocks in the water, we saw several fish jump up! The reservoir was very lovely, but swimming isn’t allowed. Maybe someday we’ll come back with a kayak or canoe to enjoy the water a little more!
As night approached, our neighbors told us that there was a fox that liked to check all of the campsites for snacks at night and in the early morning. Of course we were careful not to leave any food out overnight, and I heard some little fox-sized footsteps near our tent in the early morning. I also heard an owl, and a friend that we shared the campsite with thinks she heard a moose.
The next morning we took a nice kid-friendly hike around several beaver lodges.
We didn’t see any beavers or other people on the trail, but we saw so many beautiful wildflowers! The flowers along the trail were very fragrant as we hiked.
We had a great time, but this particular state park is well known for having lots of moose, and I hoped that by staying overnight we would have a good chance of spotting a few moose. We will just have to return another time to see some moose!