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North to Alaska Roadtrip: One Day in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is one of those places I’d heard about my entire life but really had no idea what to expect. I did know that it is most certainly not a park to visit in one day! It truly deserves days and probably multiple visits to really experience it correctly. However, we knew going into this trip we’d have to make do with our brief stay and luckily, picking the top places we’d see was fairly easy. First, we had to stop at the most famous geyser in the world, Old Faithful, and then, we’d swing by the other-worldly and technicolor Grand Prismatic Spring. 

We drove up from Jackson Hole via the scenic route on US-191, giving us more of the park to see. As we were there in July, the traffic definitely wasn’t ideal. However, the slowness allowed us more time to look out the window. After a quick picnic lunch, we went to the geyser area. 

Highway to Yellowstone

I have to admit that I had no idea that Yellowstone contains the majority of the world’s geysers and the largest concentration in one area! In the Old Faithful area alone, there are multiple geysers to view. Prior to the eruption, we checked out the Old Faithful Inn, the Visitor Center, some of the other geysers and grabbed some ice cream to eat on the boardwalk. Sure, it was all a bit touristy, but also one of those things everyone should probably experience once!


Geothermal pools and springs along the boardwalk

Good Old Faithful


Old Faithful Erupting

After visiting the Upper Geyser Basin, we continued along the road to our next stop, the Grand Prismatic Spring. I had seen photos of this on Instagram and it looked incredible. The parking area but was full, so we parked along the road. Although I would’ve preferred to do the Fairy Falls Trail hike that overlooks this area, my children weren’t feeling up for it. Instead, we simply hiked straight to it from the road, which is a dead easy walk over a bridge and to a boardwalk. I carried our littlest one in the Ergo because I was worried he might be tempted to dive into the steamy, colorful pools. Despite not getting the best photo op from above, I’m so glad we saw it. It’s such an incredible wonder of the world!

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Finally, we got back in the car and headed to our hotel in West Yellowstone. This was one of the places that was well-booked in advance, so we didn’t have many options. The Days Inn hotel was our least favorite on the trip, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. Honestly, nothing looked too spectacular in this small town. We walked down for a casual pizza dinner at the Wild West Pizzeria, came outside to a beautiful double rainbow and then called it a night.


Definitely not taking anything from this hotel. HA!
 

Up next– Day 4: Yellowstone to Glacier National Park

Alaska: Flying over the Alaska Range

One of my favorite things to do when I’m back home is to go flying with my dad. He has been a bush pilot since 1970 and over the years, he has shown me the world from many different vantage points. I grew up flying with him to remote areas of Alaska and depending upon the season, we’d land with floats on water, skis in the winter or we’d bump along in tundra tires on a rough, homemade runway in the middle of nowhere. At the time, I didn’t realize how special this was because it was simply what we did — but as an adult living in the “Lower 48” now, I feel especially grateful for such a unique experience. It definitely helped shape my love of travel and flying!

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Alaska has multiple mountain ranges spanning across most of the state, but the largest and perhaps most well known is the Alaska Range. It houses North America’s highest peak, Denali (aka Mt. McKinley @20, 310 ft. high) and on a clear day, it’s truly a magnificent sight to see. Last summer we flew around it and landed in the park (photos coming soon), so this year we decided to go slightly east, along the Wood River towards Mount Deborah and Yanert Glacier. Finally, we stopped for a picnic near Gold King, an old Air Force communications site.

180360_flyingovertananaflatsAfter leaving Fairbanks, we flew over the Tanana Flats. (above) 

180360_flyingtoalaskarangeAfter the flats, we crossed over creeks and valleys on our way towards the mountains.

180360_alaskarange5Taking photos in a small plane is pretty challenging! It’s bumpy; the windows are reflective; there are often wings in the way, etc. Even so, I like the way it creates an almost painterly effect in the images.

180360_alaskarange4The Wood River.

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180360_alaskarange10Heading into the range.

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It’s easy to feel really small and insignificant amongst these massive mountains.

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Peaks for days.

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A wider view of Mount Deborah and Yanert Glacier.

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Meltwater from the glacier that feeds into the Wood River.

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 Following the Wood River back out.

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Taiga (aka boreal forest) covers much of this area.

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A quick stop near Gold King for lunch and a visit with some of my dad’s friends who have a cabin here.

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Below is my dad’s Piper Super Cub — a 2 seater, single-engine monoplane.

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Flying back to Fairbanks.

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On a side note: I found this impressive video about 2 guys that climbed Mt. Deborah last year. I like to think I’m adventurous, but then I see something like this and realize I’ve got a lonnnng way to go… 🙂

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Shine On: Ghimire Family

These are my friends, Mercie, Vivek and Harper. Last November, they drove out to Las Vegas to do another family session with me (their first shoot can be found here). We always have fun together and this time was no exception. I love all of the movement and laughter in the following images. It contrasts perfectly to the unusual and austere backdrop of the Las Vegas Wash. And most importantly, these photos reminded me that not taking things too seriously always allows our true personalities to shine through.

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Puerto Rico: The Gallery Inn

Perhaps it was the unmarked entrance or the greeting of exotic parrots and masses of trailing plants.
Whatever it was, we knew from the moment we walked in that this was no ordinary hotel. 

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Online reviews touted varying opinions such as:
“It’s like walking into a Fellini movie.” “Charming & Romantic.” “Spooky!” “Not for everyone.” “You get it or your don’t.”
It sounded like the perfect place for us to spend our 11th Anniversary and final days in Puerto Rico. 

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The children took off within seconds of arriving, following a labyrinth of stairs and hallways to secret rooms and passageways.

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Our generously sized family room, the ‘Balcon’, overlooked a courtyard and the sea. It was quite fun to stay somewhere so different from the usual minimalist or modern accommodations I tend to book.

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Every ounce of space is filled with something; a piece of art, greenery, color, anything to grab your attention for half a second before your eye is lead to the next thing.

GalleryInn8GalleryInn5GalleryInn7This sprawling 300 year old hotel is owned by American artist, Jan D’Esopo and her Puerto Rican husband, Manuco. Along with creating and maintaining this incredible, museum-like space, she also invites varying “artists in residence” to stay and work at the hotel. We enjoyed chatting with the current artist and painter, Bart Lindstrom, and his girlfriend, Kathy.

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When you’re not busy wandering the streets of Old San Juan, there are plenty of activities to do around the property;
from swimming in the unusual sculptural pool…

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Lounging poolside in an old world daybed…

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To getting a massage in an historic kitchen…

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Or playing a song on a vintage Steinway in the Venetian-style music room. (Chamber music concerts are performed throughout the year by local musicians.)

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 Even better, hop on a golf cart with Jan, the artist in residence, the server and possibly a parrot or two and be whisked away to the beach house for Happy Hour. It’s the perfect place to watch the sun set and to chat with Jan (who is fascinating) or the artists and other guests. A parrot might even pluck out a song for you on the guitar! 

GalleryInnBeachHouseGalleryInnBHGalleryInnBeachHouse2GalleryInnBeachHouse3GalleryInnBHHappyHourWhen you return from the beach, head straight to the patio overlooking the pool (if weather permits) or into the ornate dining room where a delicious meal will be prepared and served to you. You’ll likely be intoxicated by the breezes of jasmine while an unexpected classical guitarist serenades you as you dine.

GalleryInn4As night falls, you may lie in bed replaying the magical day while listening to the calls of the Coqui Coqui frogs outside the open windows.
Perhaps it was all a surreal dream.

If you find yourself wide awake, unable to sleep, climb up to the rooftop deck to catch the sunrise.

GalleryInnRooftopRainAnd if you’re lucky, the artists will already be there studying the first light of day and how it hits the clouds. Maybe you’ll be graced by an early morning shower and instead of washing away the mystique in the early morning light, it somehow only adds to it. This place will be forever embedded in your soul.

The Gallery Inn 
204-206 Norzagaray,
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico: East Side Story

On any given day, I could dole out a list of places I’d like to visit and prior to last month, Puerto Rico wasn’t on it. It’s not that I had anything against the island — I simply knew very little about it. The oddball connotations I had with Puerto Rico were: West Side Story(!?), birthplace to J. Lo and Ricky Martin, and cruise ship port. Luckily, my travel “To Go” list is easily expandable, as is my willingness to learn! When my husband booked a job there in May, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to discover more about this United States territory.

PuertoRicoBoricuaFounded by Christopher Columbus in 1493, Puerto Rico is comprised of Spanish, African and indigenous Taino cultural influences with a heavy dose of American colonization. It’s an easy destination for US travelers as there’s no need for a passport, most everyone speaks English, the dollar is accepted, cell phones work as they do back home and there’s a Walgreens (or Walmart, McDonalds, KFC, CVS, etc.) every so many miles. Luckily, for all of the interspersed American-isms, there are plenty of areas that still feel foreign. And on a positive note, it was a comfort that driving there was more like The States than say Mexico or India!

PuertoRico_FlowersPuertoRicoPalominoBeachGenerally when we accompany my husband on his photo shoots, we don’t have the luxury of picking our own hotels. While most of his jobs are usually at nice resorts, they aren’t always the character-driven places that I would have painstakingly chosen. Luckily, our accommodation at the historic El Conquistador Hotel was pretty good. For what it lacked in decent dining and perhaps dated surroundings, it completely made up for itself with its private Palomino Island. A short, 8 minute ferry ride whisks guests away to one of the prettiest stretches of beach I’d seen in a long time. (Sidenote: Palomino and the tiny, neighboring Palominito Island (seen in the distance above + below) made appearances in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.)

PuertoRicoPalominoBoatsPuertoRicoPalominoIslandWhile my daughter snorkeled and I floated my 7 months pregnant body through heaven, my son was enthralled with wrangling iguanas, lizards, geckos, snails, mollusks and hermit crabs. My sincere apologies to the various reptile families that were displaced and/or disrupted because of him.

PuertoRicoIguanaPuertoRico_IguanaMIguanaLoveWhen we weren’t lounging beachside (or at the hotel’s Coqui Waterpark), we tried to explore other parts of the island. Just outside of Fajardo, in the Luquillo Mountains, is the only national tropical rain forest, El Yunque. We spent several hours hiking through it one day. On a funny note, I’d read somewhere that Puerto Ricans “don’t really like to walk or get their shoes dirty”, so the whole park has a series of paved hiking trails. It wasn’t the most spectacular rainforest I’ve ever been to, but it was nice to be amidst the greenery and out of the sun for an afternoon.

PuertoRico_ElYunqueElYunqueWaterfallPuertoRicoElYunqueHikeElYunqueLeafElYunqueCocoFrioAs far as dining in Puerto Rico is concerned, there seemed to be three main options: very traditional Puerto Rican fare, American fast food chains and a handful of modern and trendy restaurants (mostly found in San Juan). I played it pretty safe as I wasn’t feeling too adventurous this late in my pregnancy. Sadly, it wasn’t until our last two days that we ate some really good food. If you find yourself in the Fajardo area, I’d highly recommend Pasion por el Fogon. The children and I had a fantastic meal there on our last night at the El Con. And for a little cultural integration, we stopped at the “Luquillo Kioskos” for some authentic street food on our way to Old San Juan. We had driven past them several times and I’m glad we took the time to visit. They’re a series of 60 dilapidated kiosks that serve food and drinks, as well as sell souvenirs and trinkets. They look a bit dodgy by day, but come dusk, they are packed with people and boast loud music you can hear from the road. I didn’t realize they butted up to a public beach, until I wandered out the backside of one of the kiosks and saw a massive string of cars, wave runners and beach-goers lined up all down the coast.

PuertoRicoKiosko1PuertoRicoKiosko2LuquilloKiosko180360CoolCatsPuertoRicoJukeboxAs I’ve said before, I have a tendency to visit a place once and then scratch it off my list as “DONE.” However, I don’t feel like I saw everything I wanted to in Puerto Rico. Some of this was due in part to being so pregnant. Here’s what we missed:

I would have liked to visit Bio Bay with it’s luminescent waters, but kayaking in the dark with two children and an enormous belly didn’t sound so appealing! We also tried to take the ferry to Culebra Island to visit Flamenco Beach, supposedly one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Unfortunately, the public ferry system in PR was akin to a DMV in a Third World country. ¡Ay Caramba! I was also bummed we never got over to the west coast and more specifically, the city of Rincon, which is famous for it’s surf. And finally, I speak for all of us when I say, we must go back to the lovely city of Old San Juan. Our unforgettable stay there deserves a post of its own.

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¡Hasta Luego!

Less is More

Happy New Year, friends! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday break. Our trip to England was everything I needed; relaxation, spending time with the family, cooking big meals for everyone and mostly a chance to let go of all of the stress I’d accumulated in the past few months.

Over the holiday, I sat down and made a list of the things I wanted to change in 2013 and I’m proud to say, it’s my least ambitious list to date!

My #1 priority is: do less.

YAY! It has finally dawned on me that I can’t keep up with the pace I’ve been keeping. Homeschool, photography work and maintaining a home and family are like three full-time jobs. Although I was somehow making it work, it wasn’t as satisfying as much as it was exhausting. I don’t want to feel so harried and hurried this year.

As it is, the universe answered my plea in it’s own ironic way with some pretty shocking news just before we left for England. So, even if I wanted to wear my Superwoman cape for another year, I simply couldn’t. I’ll explain more soon. Until then, here are some images I shot in England.

(PS. This blog is 6 years old today!)

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