We stayed in Moab while we were visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Moab is a charming little city that is very close to both of these awesome national parks. I liked the murals on this little bridge.
For a small city, Moab had great restaurant options for me. Our whole family loved Peace Tree Juice Cafe. We took advantage of the extensive outdoor seating, and the little one enjoyed coloring on the kids menu during the very short wait for our food. All of our food was delicious – cheese pizza for the little one, a peanut butter wrap and salad for Jeff, and I enjoyed the greenest (literally) meal of my life: the quinoa bowl with avocado, Brussels sprouts, and spinach. Our waiter was also really unfazed and helpful when our daughter randomly sprung a severely bloody nose at the table.
We also had a great lunch at Love Muffin Cafe, and refreshing post-hiking treats at Moab Tropical Sno Shave Ice Truck.
After our day in Arches National Park, we decided to push our luck with our five-year-old daughter by spending another day hiking in the heat and admiring rocks. Canyonlands is a huge national park, so we only saw a small section of it, called the Island in the Sky. Below is the view as you enter the Island in the Sky – spectacular!
We enjoyed a short hike to Mesa Arch, admiring the blooming prickly pear cacti along the way. Mesa Arch may very well be one of the most amazing natural sights I’ve ever seen. A huge arch like this, formed along the edge of such a canyon, can only be described as incredible.
We also went on a slightly longer hike to overlook Upheaval Dome, a meteorite impact crater. It is difficult to appreciate the scale and scope of many of the views at Canyonlands through photos; Upheaval Dome is about 5 km in diameter.
After the Upheaval Dome hike, our daughter was just about done with hikes to see more rocks. We stopped to enjoy a few more amazing views along the road, and then headed to Moab for some well-earned shave ice.
We visited Arches National Park at the beginning of June. It was rather hot, surprisingly uncrowded, and of course, spectacular.
We spent the longest time climbing around and enjoying Double Arch.
We also spent quite a while enjoying Sand Dune Arch. Our daughter loved playing in the sand and exploring the hiding spots between the rocks.
Delicate Arch, the most famous of the arches, looked pretty amazing from a distance, but required a significant hike that we did not have the time or energy for. Maybe next time!
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 spent about a week in Quito, Ecuador in May. It was a work trip, so we only had a little time to explore the city, but I loved what I saw. At an elevation of 9,350 feet above sea level, it may be a surprise to some that much of the city is in a valley, nearly surrounded by volcanoes and mountains. The photos below are from my hotel and near my work site.
We had a chance to explore Old Town Quito one night. The beautiful historic center of Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with some buildings dating back to the 16th century!
We also had a brief stop at a tourist market. As we left Quito for our next adventure, we got a great overview of the sprawling city.
I had some concerns about finding vegan, gluten-free food I could eat in Ecuador, but I ended up really enjoying most of my food options. Below are photos from my lunches at work, and I also really enjoyed a Korean restaurant near the hotel for dinner one night.
There were also many unique fruits and juices available. Apparently, because of the many microclimates in Ecuador, you can find a huge variety of produce from different locations. We found the tamarillo, or tree tomato, served in different ways in a number of our meals.
Bright Nights in Springfield, MA is a great holiday activity for a cold night. Since we went a few days after Christmas, it wasn’t super busy – we arrived about five minutes before it opened for the evening and only had a few cars ahead of us waiting to get in. The last time we came to Bright Nights was about three years ago, and it seemed to have grown considerably since then. We were able to drive steadily at our own pace, and spent about 30 minutes enjoying the many detailed light displays.
If it hadn’t been such a brutally cold night, it would have been nice to take advantage of the place to park, get out of the car, and ride a carousel and enjoy warm drinks. Maybe next year!
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.
On our Christmas vacation, we visited the Springfield Museums. This museum complex includes five museums and a sculpture garden, so you could definitely spend the whole day exploring (if you can handle that much museum time in one day). The Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden has been here since the 1990s. In 2017, it was joined by the newest museum in the complex, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss.
Housed in a beautiful old home, the first floor of this museum includes many rooms with interactive kid-friendly exhibits and lively, colorful representations of characters and scenes from popular Seuss books such as The Lorax, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, and Horton Hears a Who!.
The upstairs of the museum has more adult-oriented biographical and historical information about Seuss himself, and the basement offered some hands-on craft opportunities for children.
I went to Phoenix, Arizona for a few days in October for a conference. First of all, the short flight from Denver to Phoenix was beautiful. As we flew over the mountains in Colorado, I could see Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Shortly after arriving at my hotel, I went for a walk to Nami, a vegan ice cream and pastry shop. The menu was full of enticing options, but I settled on a decadent “fluffernutterin tSoynami.” This amazing vegan and gluten-free treat was made of swirled chocolate and vanilla soy/coconut soft serve ice cream with peanut butter, banana, rice mallow fluff, and toasted marshmallow syrup stirred in.
Throughout most of my conference, I ate at or got take-out from Kaleidoscope Juice. Despite the juice-centric name, this restaurant has all sorts of great food. The protein bowl with tofu, brown rice, and ginger miso dressing was fantastic, and so was the gluten free protein waffle with fruit and coconut whipped cream.
I also enjoyed several kinds of Kaleidoscope’s gluten-free muffins (almond, blueberry, and pumpkin) and one of their smoothies. It was a relief to find a restaurant in downtown Phoenix that worked so well with my dietary restrictions.
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?