Good Day at Red Rock Canyon

There’s a movie called “Bad Day at Black Rock” from 1955 where one of my favorite actors of all time, Spencer Tracy, finds himself in a hostile western US town.  If Tracy had only gotten his colors mixed up, he could have had a lovely day in the desert instead.

Red Rock Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas, is a national conservation area with ancient rust colored rock formations. It was one of the few “must dos” on my list for this trip: getting off the strip to see nature. The park’s small entry fee per vehicle is good for a full day and allows for re-entry  if you want to take a second loop through (we did).

The one-way road is well paved making it highly accessible for all with a number of places along the way to pull off to soak in the views or for hiking. I usually ignore visitor centers, but this one was worth the stop. The building was a modern eco-friendly design containing family friendly hands-on educational activities and displays with a focus on the environment and nature conservation.

Winding around Red Rock the landscape continuously morphs and the rock formations are always captivating.  Dog friendly walking, hiking, biking, and horse trails of various lengths and difficulties are everywhere for you to explore. At one location there was even a group of rock climbers repelling down the side of cliff face. For many though, the big draw of the park are the ancient petroglyphs  tucked back along one of the trails, and we definitely agree this is one thing not to be missed.

For a good day outside the hustle of Las Vegas visit Red Rock.



Adventures in Navigating a Ropes Course


Not far from the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, the 1,300 acre U. S. National Whitewater Center provides family-friendly fun for all ages and fitness levels.  This amazing outdoor facility offers whitewater rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, rock climbing, ropes courses, zip lines, and more than 30 miles of mountain biking trails.  On a Thanksgiving weekend, my family embarked on  a family endeavor to mitigate the potentially damaging intake of holiday food.

Our quest began as a desire to zipline, but after comparing ticket bundle options, my brother,  sister-in-law, nephew and myself all opted to encompass the precursory adventure of a ropes course. Learning the ropes always means embracing a new adventure,  but re-learning how to walk again, afterward, was not on our agenda.

Although you have an a la carte  choice to zipline only, my family chose to heed the advice of Johnny Cash and “walk the line.” The first time stepping from a solid platform to unstable rope lines is intimidating, but there’s a lot to hang onto on that first pass across the treetops. What lie ahead  – a single line with a single overhead rope – was a true test of balance, muscle, and confidence. I did well at the start, but on the final stretch, I faced failure. And had to laugh.

As I hung there dangling in the trees, awaiting rescue by a muscular, fair-haired knight, I grinned, shook my head and silently kicked myself for listening to the advice change my footing to side step. While this was the way THEY successfully navigated the tightrope, I took a spill to oblivion.  In retrospect, I should have walked that line the way this aged-out gymnast would conquer a painted-on parking lot line; with previously trained turned-out feet, and shoulders held high. Why did I not do that?

The camaraderie and encouragement felt through a day of ropes course teamwork is something all families should take a moment to experience. And, our inability to walk up and down steps the following day proved to  be an unexpected secondary team-building experience.But laughter ensued. We endured both the challenges and the aftermath – together.

Whether you are near Charlotte, North Carolina or plan a visit to the area, I highly recommend an excursion to this fabulous family playground. And, check out their calendar of special events. Why not challenge your family to a fun run or watch a competition from the water’s edge?


Hiking, Wine, and More in Shenandoah

In August of 2014, Mum and I met for a week in the appalachian region of Virginia. Neither of us had been to the area or new what to expect and both of us left wanting to return and explore more of the area.






We stayed in the small town of Basye near Bryce ski resort. Being there in the off-season turned out to be a good idea, not only because it was significantly cheaper. The ski resort, like many others across the country, offered activities to make the best use of the green hills like golfing, mountain biking, and tubing. Mum jumped at the chance to go zip lining and fly down the mountain through the tree tops. The whole idea frightens the ba-jezes out of me, so I sat on the condo balcony and knitted, watching her slide in at the end.

Shenandoah County offers a number of state parks with excellent hiking trails. Hondo and I hiked in a few of the local offerings and enjoyed the great views. Of course, Shenandoah National Park is also a prime local destination. The winding Skyline Drive offers amazing views of the valley and connects different peaks, waterfall, and amenities. There are a great deal of hiking trails, but not all are dog friendly, so be sure to follow signs and check your map. Thankfully the trail to the highest peak, Hawksbill Mountain was, and we enjoyed a long look over the patch-work countryside.

Nearby small towns of Mt Jackson, Quicksburg, Edinburg, Woodstock, and Harrisonburg make for great side trips . We made our way around some of the antique and thrift stores, family owned restaurants, and I picked up some local alpaca yarn. We even stopped at local potato chip factory, Route 11. They have large windows to the production floor where you can watch the potatoes at every stage from washing and peeling to seasoning and bagging. Their shop offers tasting of their regular flavors as well as a few unique offerings.

The Appalachian region also happens to be Virginia’s wine region. The “Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail” connects 22 local vineyards and you could take over a week just traveling to all the different options. Our favorite nearby stop was the Cave Ridge Winery. This small, family owned winery has daily tastings and live music on weekends. They’re also dog friendly and we felt very welcome to sit and sip our bottle while Hondo lounged by the vines.

The Appalachian region of Virginia has so much to explore and we only got a taste of it. I can’t wait to go back and see what else we can discover among the hills.




Damajagua and 27 Charcos

Last year, September 2016, Mum and I were drinking in the peace of the Dominican Republic… and Presidente.

img_2439Besides intense relaxation, there was one thing I knew I wanted to do: waterfall slides. Not water slides, waterfall slides.   Just south of Puerto Plata there’s a series of 27 waterfalls that flow from the Rio Damajagua  down a mountain, forming natural water slides or jumps into deep pools (charcos). There are a number of different tour companies that offer packages which include transportation, and I opted to  reserve our spot ahead of time through Iguana Mama.  Even though we chose a group option, low season meant we got our own private tour. They picked us up down the street from our flat and the guide drove us to the falls, reciting some memorized facts.

Some little time later we were at the base of the mountain, being given helmets and life jackets by our 27 Charcos guide. There was a drought, so we were told we’d only be able to do 12 of the falls as the water levels were too low at the others.  The bonus of this was a
shorter, very pleasant hike half way up the mountain. Then came the trip helmetsdown. Sitting at the edge of a rock, I held on for a second with the cool river rushing around me.  I assumed the water park position, legs crossed at ankles, arms folded over chest, and…

Sliding down the short section of smooth rock, I fell into the pool, dropping deep before resurfacing.  The adrenaline of anticipation and the shock of hitting the water were direct opposites and fantastic in every way.  I swam off to the side of the pool and watched as Mum had her turn, surfacing from the water laughing.

There were also a few pools where the rock was not long enough to slide, but instead were straight drops. This honestly scared the #$%& out of me. Mum, always braver,  went first and then with her encouragement from the pool below (far, far below) I took a deep breath and…

The slap of the pool was like waking up all over again.  We swam, hiked, slid, and jumped all the way to the bottom.  The day was a once in a lifetime experience that was as amazing and fun as it was exhausting.  We definitely earned our Mamajuana drink that day!

Did I mention that it happened to be my Birthday? Since I’m not a fan of cake, Mum made sure I had a celebratory drink. Best birthday ever. Thank you, Mum!drbday3


The Calle Less Traveled (by tourists)

If you’re doing research into a trip to Cabo San Lucas there’s one place all of the guidebooks, websites, and bloggers will tell you is a must do: El Arco aka The Arch. This is a natural rock formation off the western side that is only viewable and reachable by boat. Everyday there are tons of tours that take visitors out to the landmark, some adding snorkeling, open bar, buffet lunch, access to Lover’s Beach, or a romantic sunset. We didn’t go. Here’s what mum and I did instead:

abandoned tuna cannery
We walked. Cabo San Lucas is a walkable town with sidewalks on both sides of nearly every street. The first two streets that run parallel to the marina are adapted for tourists. You’ll find a ton of bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. This is also where you’ll find the infamous “Cabo Wabo Cantina.”  We stopped there once for coconut shrimp (best cooked all week) and a pair of over-priced margaritas.

The main beach is Medano Beach. Many of the hotels back onto its soft sand. Its fully of restaurants, bars, tourists, and locals selling small souvenirs. We went the other direction, past the naval station, to the beach that the locals use. It had a definite laid back feel and very soft sand. The bonus for Mum and I was that you pass by the abandoned tuna cannery. The ruined building behind a chain link fence is just the kind of thing we like to take far too many photos of.

blown glass artist
On the east side of town, about a 1.5 miles from the marina, is Vitrofusion Glass Factory. If you have the time its a place where you can watch the artisans making everything from figurines of dolphins to tableware. Its an amazing process and they might even let you take a try at glass-blowing.

If you dare to wander a few blocks off the tourist blocks on the west side you find some great things. The town square has the old church off to one side (still active today) and the museum on the other. Its quiet, calm place where children were playing tag.

A little further we found something that was not on any map we had seen: the botanical garden. Set on a hill in town and surrounded by homes, the large open gate beckoned us to explore. There are no green houses, but instead is a series of winding paths up and down the hill with a variety of unmarked desert plants left to grown naturally with little winding shrubs and saguaro cacti.  On the top of the hill is a real treat – sweeping panoramas of the city and surrounding desert.

While it would have been enjoyable to take a boat tour, do we regret not seeing the arch? Not in the least.