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One Day, Two Ports: Skagway & Haines

Foggy Morning in Skagway

After our long day in Juneau, the next day we visited two ports: Skagway in the morning and Haines in the evening. This was our first time visiting two ports in one day. We had planned to take a dogsledding excursion through the cruise line for Skagway, but we just planned to explore the town of Haines on our own.

Skagway is a town with a lot of history. After the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, the border between Alaska and Canada was only vaguely defined. When the Canadian government requested a survey in 1871 after being united with British Columbia, the United States thought an examination of the land would be too expensive. In 1896, gold was discovered in the Klondike region of Canada’s Yukon Territory prospectors began heading to the Last Frontier to make the 500-mile trek in search of their fortunes.

Their journeys began by crossing the mountains over the White Pass or the Chilkoot Trail near Skagway. It is estimated that in the spring of 1898, 1,000 prospectors came through Skagway each week. Of all the people who flooded north in search of gold, no more than 4,000 prospectors found any, and only a few hundred became rich.

Foggy Morning in Skagway

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad opened in 1900 over one of the routes the prospectors took in search of their fortunes. The railroad still exists today and is a popular shore excursion for travelers visiting Skagway. This summer, because of Canadian border restrictions, the train was turning around before crossing the U.S./Canada border. I think this would be my first choice the next time we find ourselves in Skagway.

Downtown Skagway features about 100 buildings remaining from the Gold Rush days and is the home of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, so of course, we had to stop in and get our National Park Passport stamped and watch the video about the area’s history. Of course, we also stopped at Klondike Doughboy for their famous Alaska Fry Bread.

All-in-all, Skagway was my least favorite port. I know the town is rooted in history, but it felt the most inauthentic of all of our stops. Everything there exists for tourists in a way that was different from Sitka and Juneau (Haines is the other extreme and you can read about that below). When I travel I really look for authentic experiences and that felt hard to find in Skagway.

Haines from the Water

Haines is just south of Skagway and refers to itself as the adventure gateway to Alaska. Haines is known for its bald eagle preserve and Historic Fort Steward (its not there anymore but you can read a plaque about it). If you haven’t made plans for Haines, there really isn’t much to do there. It felt like they stuck a cruise port in small-town America. We walked around for about an hour and just got back on the ship. One of my biggest regrets about this trip is that we didn’t book the evening canoe safari or another excursion in Haines because this ended up being a wasted stop for us.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop back next week when I recap our dogsled excursion in Skagway! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Mt. Rushmore at Night

Avenue of Flags at Night

Mt. Rushmore

Avenue of Flags

Mt. Rushmore, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is probably one of the most iconic sites in the United States. The image of Mt. Rushmore has been used in countless films and is seen to many as a patriotic symbol of the United States.

We used the GyPSy audio guide for our exploration of the Black Hills. The guide recommends approaching Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road, which is a road that was designed to give you views of the famous memorial as you approach it. I really appreciated this drive and without the GyPSy guide, I don’t know that I would’ve planned our visit this way. If you plan to visit the Black Hills, definitely spring for the audio tour, it really does enhance the experience.

Washington from belowMuch like the Alamo, I had heard from several people that they were underwhelmed by Mt. Rushmore so I went into this visit with pretty low expectations. No, Mt. Rushmore is not as big as a lot of National Parks and there are not a wide variety of things to do when you visit and it can get crowded, but you can escape the crowds by getting away from the Grand View Terrace. Personally, as a history buff and a proud American, I enjoyed the experience.

We visited Mt. Rushmore in the early evening and the crowds were fairly low. We took the .6 mile long Presidential Trail that gets you closer to the Memorial. I enjoyed one of the first viewpoints where you get to look at Washington through an opening in the rock (left). The trail takes you to the Sculptor’s Studio where you can see a scale model of the Memorial and learn more about what it was like to make such a large rock carving.

Mt. Rushmore lit up at nightWhile admission to Mt. Rushmore is free, parking costs $10 but it is good for a year. While I doubt many people return to Mt. Rushmore multiple times throughout a year, we did come back a few days later to see the monument lit up at night. The lighting ceremony is very moving and is something everyone should see.

Now, when talking about Mt. Rushmore, I think it is important to talk about the controversy surrounding the monument. The first issue with the monument is that it is located on sacred Lakota land that the United States government may not have acquired legally. The other controversy surrounds the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. Borglum was working on another controversial carving of Confederate leaders in Georgia that was backed by the Klu Klux Klan and Borglum himself was most likely a member. The third is that Mt. Rushmore was designed to be a tourist icon. The original idea was to carve famous figures from the wild west, but someone in South Dakota leadership at the time decided that it would have more broad appeal if they chose American leaders instead. For a lot more information about these controversies, I recommend this article from National Geographic.

If you are in South Dakota, you really have to stop at Mt. Rushmore. You don’t have to spend a ton of time there, but I think it is something that everyone (especially Americans) should see at least once. But, go into it with your eyes wide open and understand the history and contention that surrounds the monument. Mt. Rushmore isn’t the only attraction in the area. There is a lot of natural beauty in the Black Hills to explore, especially Custer State Park.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Blacksmith at Work


I-80 Road Trip

Herbert Hoover's Birthplace

We left for our road trip after work on a Friday and drove down to Ottowa, Illinois. From Ottowa, we continued on I-80 through Iowa to our next stop at Dakota Dunes, South Dakota. Using RoadTrippers, I had planned a few stops along our route to get out and stretch our legs and break up this 7 hour driving day. The first stop was very close to our hotel, Starved Rock State Park. From there we planned to see the world’s largest truck stop at Iowa 80, with a final stop at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.

Frenchman's Canyon

Frenchman’s Canyon

Starved Rock State Park is frequently described as the most beautiful State Park in Illinois with 13 miles of trails through 18 canyons. We left our hotel early in the morning and headed to the park and even though it wasn’t that hot when we arrived, I want to say it was in the 70s, there had to be 100% humidity. It was like trying to hike through a swamp. The first place we headed to was the Starved Rock Overlook which is about a half-mile trail from the visitor center. The trail takes you to the top of Starved Rock with a view over the very industrial Illinois River. We decided to explore some of the canyons the park is known for and headed to the Frenchman Canyon. It was much cooler in the canyon but because of the hot and dry conditions, the waterfall was practically nonexistent (left). With much more of the park left for another trip, we headed back to the car and continued our drive to Iowa.

Inside the Trucking Museum

Right around lunchtime, we pulled into Iowa 80, the World’s Largest Truck Stop. I have to say, if it wasn’t for the See America Podcast, I don’t think I would’ve stopped here. I’m not a trucker and I’m not really into tourist traps, so I probably would’ve driven right by this. But, it was a perfect spot for lunch with a full-service restaurant as well as a food court with seven fast-food options. After eating lunch, we decided to check out the free trucking museum. I have to say, it was more interesting than I expected and if you have kids who love trucks, they would probably be able to explore this small museum for hours. It reminded me a lot of a smaller version of the Henry Ford Museum, with historic trucks from around the world, all with different purposes. All in all, I was very glad we stopped here to eat and explore a little bit before continuing our drive westward.

Isis Statue at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

Isis statue was a gift to Hoover for his humanitarian efforts to Belgium during World War 1.

After a half an hour drive from the truck stop, we arrived at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. This is a small National Park Service Site honoring the early years of the 31st president. The highlight of the park is the tiny one-room cottage where Hoover was born (top). Nearby, you can explore the blacksmith shop where a ranger was stationed to explain how Jesse Hoover, Herbert’s father, made horseshoes and wagon wheels. Probably one of the most interesting buildings was the friend’s meetinghouse where the Hoovers attended Quaker meetings every week. Also in the park, you can visit Herbert and Lou Hoover’s final resting place. I remember learning about President Hoover in school and not much positive was said about him in our textbooks. It was good to learn a little bit more about the man and to understand where he came from and how his early life shaped the president I read about in school.

After visiting the site, we continued on to Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, just outside Sioux City, Iowa. After spending the night, we took a jaunt into Nebraska before continuing on to Badlands National Park and Custer, South Dakota. Be sure to stop back next week as I continue recounting our western expedition!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Happy Independence Day!

Mt. Rushmore Faces

Wordless Wednesday: Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

Texas Hill Country Road Trip Recap

Mission Concepcion Sign

This trip took us to two national historic parks from very different times in American history. We had some of the best German food I have had in my life and I went to Germany in high school. We toured a bunch of wineries and had some of the best wine of my life. We experienced Texas’ first cold snap of the year. Locals were very excited to tell us Northerners about the “snow” they got. I feel like I got a taste of the real Texas on this trip.

If you are planning to explore the Hill Country, the most convenient airports to fly in or out of are Austin and San Antonio. We had flight credits from our canceled 2020 spring break trip on Spirit so we went with Austin. It is less than an hour and a half drive from Austin to San Antonio so no matter which airport you fly into, you would be able to see both cities.

The Alamo from the front

Between the two cities is the historic German town of New Braunfels which is home to Naeglins, the oldest bakery in Texas. Nearby, Greune is a fun place to step back in time and explore in the area. In San Antonio, exploring the Riverwalk and taking a boat tour are a must as well as touring the Alamo (but be sure to get your tickets in advance). If you have time, head a little outside the city to San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

From San Antonio head north to Fredericksburg. Along the way, stop at Cascade Caverns in Boerne and have lunch at Little Gretel which is where we had the best German food of the trip! A litter farther north in Comfort, I recommend a stop at Newsom vineyards tasting room.

Fredericksburg Pioneer Memorial

Once you get to Fredericksburg, there is so much to do and The Museum of the Pacific War is one of the highlights of the city. We had great meals at Austlander and Pasta Bella as well as AMAZING pastries at the Old German Bakery. There are many wineries right downtown, but if you have time, I recommend you head out of town and check out William Chris Vineyards, Lewis Wines, and Kuhlman Cellars.

On the way back to Austin, stop in Johnson City and visit the LBJ National Historic Site where you can experience LBJ’s ranch and see and the Texas White House as well as the original 19th century Johnson Settlement. If you need to get out and stretch your legs some more, I recommend a hike at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.

In Austin, I recommend you take a tour of the city and enjoy Ladybird Lake. It might seem silly, but check out the Austin Public Library. In Austin, I had more restaurants on my TripAdvisor list than things to do and every single one we went to was amazing. If you are in Austin, I recommend Chuy’s for Mexican food, Torchy’s Tacos, Terry Black’s Barbeque, and Ramen Tatsu-ya. If you want to get away from the city for a bit, I love getting coffee at Mozart’s and enjoying it by the water.

Some of the most popular attractions in the Hill Country are state parks. Enchanted Rock, just north of Fredericksburg is one of the most well-known. One thing I did not anticipate before this trip is that Texas State Parks require reservations to get through the gate. I don’t know of any other state that does this and being that we visited during the week between Christmas and New Years, all of the parks near where we were staying were booked up. If you are planning a trip to the Hill Country and want to see some of the natural features, be sure to book them in advance so you’re able to get in. I guess this just means I have a reason to return to the Hill Country!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Johnson Family Cabin

Log Cabin built by LBJ's grandparents

Texas Hill Country Road Trip

Cow at LBJ State Park

A little over a year ago we took our last getaway before everything shut down and the world changed. February 2020, we scored cheap flights for a long weekend in Austin, Texas and even though it was unseasonably cold (although not as unseasonably cold as Texas this February) we fell in love with Austin.

While we were stuck at home social distancing, we found a new love, travel shows, and one of our favorites is Samantha Brown: Places to Love. Since we had recently took a tour of Austin and the Texas Hill Country, one of the first episodes we watched was about the Texas Hill Country and we realized that the tour we took didn’t even scratch the surface of the Hill Country. When we were looking to use up our flight credit from our canceled spring break trip, we found a deal to fly back to Austin to fully explore the area.

After what may possibly have been too much research, I came up with with following itinerary:

This ended being a great trip and we have been looking back on it a lot since it has been so cold here. You might notice in my above itinerary that our connecting flight home from Orlando got canceled and the earliest flight they were able to get us on was two days later. This cancellation resulted from flight delays due to the closure of Jacksonville air traffic control due to a COVID outbreak. Needless to say, it has made us nervous to take any other flights right now.

Be sure to check back here every week as I tell the stories of our road trip around the Hill Country! Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, click here. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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