Monthly Archives: May 2016

Aloha from Oahu

I’m a morning person. I enjoy rising early and walking on the beach before all the bodies are packed blanket to blanket in the hot sun. If I can find a cup of coffee to accompany my exploration, all the better. This is my reflection time. My meditation.

Our first morning on Waikiki, I was greeted with this pink-tinged sky over my water view.

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Morning has broken on Waikiki

We had only a “partial” ocean view from our room and the sunrise was actually behind us so I wanted to get down to the beach to see more.

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Waikiki morning

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Early morning view of Diamond Head from Waikiki

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Here comes the sun on Waikiki

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Early morning view of Outrigger Waikiki

We checked out of the Outrigger Waikiki well before the noon deadline in hopes that we could check in early at the Marriott but we had no luck in that regard. We stored our bags at the hotel and headed to the bus stop to go to Diamond Head. While we waited for the bus, a taxi came by and offered us the same rate as bus fare so, needless to say, we hopped in. I noticed the meter wasn’t running for our ride, however, so I can’t guarantee the rates.

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Entrance to Diamond Head

Diamond Head is a state monument with a 560 feet climb on a .8 mile trail from the bottom of the crater to the summit. Go early to beat the crowds and the heat.

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Before our climb, we found a stand near the entrance selling shave ice, the iconic Hawaiian treat that everyone must experience while on the islands. We decided a cold sugar energy jolt was just what we needed before we hiked the trail to the summit.

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Rick and Jim posing with their shave ice

This is a strenuous climb according to signs posted to warn those with heart or respiratory conditions not to attempt it. It’s deceptive, however, because the trail begins on the crater floor where it’s flat and paved.

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The crater floor at Diamond Head

The ascent includes dirt paths, switchbacks, stairs, and tunnels.

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Hikers on the trail ahead of us at Diamond Head

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Tunnel along the trail

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Stairs along the trail

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Spiral stairs on the trail

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Low ceiling overhead in WW2 bunker

But the views were spectacular!

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View from the trail at Diamond Head

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View from the trail at Diamond Head

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View from the summit of Diamond Head

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View of Honolulu from Diamond Head

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Diamond Head Lighthouse

We worked up an appetite and we were ready for lunch after our hike. We’d planned to have a plate lunch of authentic Hawaiian food at a well-known local restaurant. Our taxi driver suggested we try Haili’s instead, a less well-known local place that he claimed served much better food at lower prices. He finally convinced us and we’re glad he did. This family-owned and operated restaurant deserves rave reviews. Mahalo (thank you) to our driver and Haili’s.

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Jim at the counter placing his order

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Traditional Hawaiian foods: poke is marinated ahi tuna, lau lau is pork cooked in taro leaves, and poi is mashed taro.

 

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top row is kalua pig, lau lau, rice; bottom row is lomi salmon, haupia (coconut milk dessert), and poke

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The same as above with poi instead of rice

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Purple sweet potatoes

 

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One of the family members who told us about each of the dishes and how to eat them with Jim, Lori, and Rick

We walked a little over a mile back to the Marriott and after an additional wait, we finally checked into our rooms. The view was definitely worth the wait.

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View from our room at the Marriott

As much as I enjoyed the early morning on Waikiki, it was nothing compared to sunset. Watching the sun sink into the Pacific is an unforgettable experience and one of the highlights of Waikiki for me.

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Sunset view from our hotel room at Waikiki

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Waikiki Sunset

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Last ride at sunset

An extra special addition was the free hula show offered on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights at Kuhio Park on Waikiki Beach. With authentic live musicians and dancers, this show is a must see. Beginning at 6 or 6:30 pm depending on sunset, the show lasts just an hour so get there early with a blanket to sit on and your camera.

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Hula show at Kuhio Beach Hula Mound at sunset on Waikiki

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Audience at hula show at Kuhio Park

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Hula dancers at Kuhio Park

Here’s a bit of video from the show to whet your appetite.

Check back next week for another highlight: Pearl Harbor.

Based on events in November 2015.

Categories: cruise, Food, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cruising Hawaii

I’ve been looking at Hawaiian cruises for years. In 2003 we travelled to Oahu with our children for spring break and I’ve wanted to return ever since but I wanted to visit more islands than just Oahu. Hawaii is expensive and island hopping takes the price up quickly. I was looking at Hawaiian cruises in 2014 when I found a trip to a safari lodge in South Africa for less money so we went to South Africa instead. When a South African safari costs less than a Hawaiian cruise, you know it’s expensive. Read about it in my first blog posts in February 2014.

So, when my friend Lori and I happened to see a 7 night Norwegian cruise of the Hawaiian Islands on the internet for a mere $1299 per guest, we jumped on it. By the time fees and port charges were added, the total was $1445 each but that’s still way cheaper than I’ve ever  seen. And get this!!! The price included 2 additional nights at the Marriot Waikiki before the cruise and transportation to the cruise port. Incredible!

Norwegian is the only cruise line that stays overnight in ports in Hawaii. They spend a week just cruising the islands rather than sailing from the mainland to Hawaii like other cruise lines.  Then the other cruise lines spend just part of each day in a port of call and sail to the next port overnight. NCL’s itinerary especially appealed to us so we could explore each island a bit more than the typical cruise allows.

This was our itinerary:

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Always one to arrive well ahead of schedule to allow for unforseen delays, I wanted to arrive a day early for our stay in Honolulu. The rates at the Marriot were over $300 per night so I checked the Outrigger Wakiki where we stayed in 2005. As luck would have it, I found a rate for a partial ocean view for $212 so I booked it. We would have to change hotels after the first night but that wasn’t a deal breaker for us. The Marriot is just down the street so we’d walk our luggage over in the morning.

Finallly, we booked airfare at $777, not bad considering the distance from Iowa to Hawaii. Our flight arrived at 6:30 pm and after a taxi ride to the Outrigger Waikiki and a quick and efficient check-in, we settled into our room with this view.

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Partial ocean view from the Outrigger Waikiki

This hotel was as welcoming and luxurious as I remembered. The rooms are beatifully decorated and they even provide a welcome insulated gift bag filled with goodies.

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Our room at the Outrigger Waikiki

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Bathroom at the Outrigger Waikiki

We were soon off in search of food. My pre-trip restaurant research revealed that some of the best food in Waikiki was actually to be found at Duke’s, the restaurant on-site at our hotel. That was easy.

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Mai Tai at Duke’s

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Our friends Lori and Rick at Duke’s

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Duke’s patio seating

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Jim and Laura relaxing at Duke’s

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Palms at night on Waikiki

Drinks and food were both expensive, but that’s expected in Hawaii. After a day of travel with no meals served on our flights, our meal hit the spot.

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I was thrilled to be back in Oahu. I’ll never forget our first visit and I loved it as much or more the second time around. Check back next week for more coverage of Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, and so much more.

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Based on events from November 2015.

Categories: cruise, Food, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“Totally Unique and Unexpected!” Great Sand Dunes National Park

“Totally Unique and Unexpected!” proclaims the sign at Great Sand Dunes National Park  quoting an unnamed visitor. Indeed. That says it all, accurately and succinctly. The 30 square mile dunefield at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is unlike anything I’ve seen before.

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Approaching Great Sand Dunes NP

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Entrance to Great Sand Dunes NP

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View of the visitor center, dunes to the left, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind

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Mule deer along the road in the park

When I saw the dunes, two questions immediately came to mind: Where did all that sand come from? What keeps it there? The simple explanation is the sand originated in the San Juan Mountains to the west and around 440,000 years ago prevailing winds blew the sand from the San Luis Valley to the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The sand was trapped there forming the largest dunes in North America. Countervailing winds occasionally push back keeping the dunes in essentially the same position. In fact, a display in the visitor center of photos taken 138 years apart shows hardly any overall movement of the dunes. It’s actually more complicated and new research continues to change and refine our understanding. You can read a more in-depth explanation here.

You, like me, may have visited beaches where signs admonish the visitor to stay off the sand dunes. The delicate ecosystem is easily disrupted and the sand dunes erode more quickly when disturbed.  Due to this prior experience, I was surprised to have full access to hike and explore these dunes. What an amazing experience that was!

To access the dunes, we first had to cross Medano Creek, which was virtually dry in September.

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Nearly dry Medano Creek bed

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Jim crossing the dry Medano Creek bed

Compare my photos to the ones with water in the park brochure here.  In springtime, when the water is flowing, the creek is another favorite feature of the park.

Walking across the flat creek bed was easy with the sand packed down, but the hike became more difficult as the sand got looser and the incline steeper. The highest dune is over 750 feet tall (228 meters) and the elevation at the visitor center is 8170 feet (2490 meters) so the air is thinner here, too.

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Great Sand Dunes

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Great Sand Dunes

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The Sangre de Cristo Mountains

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We’re going to climb THAT?

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Jim hiking the ridge

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Onward!

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Are we there yet?

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Jim’s enthusiasm is still evident

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I’m ready for a rest

On the photo above, note the kids on the ridge behind me. They’re sand boarding down the slope. Rentals are available nearby for sandboards and sand sleds.  The surface of the sand in summer can reach 150 degrees so this is better attempted  early or late in the day or in spring or fall. Watch my short video of these kids sandboarding here.

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View of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Great Sand Dunes National Park was the last stop on the Epic Road Trip of 2015. After two weeks on the road traveling 4300 miles (6900 km) visiting 12 national parks and monuments as well as 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites, various state parks and other points of interest, it was time to head home. Until the next time.

Based on events of September 2015.

Categories: National Parks, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Hiking to History at Mesa Verde

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was the farthest point from home on our epic western road trip of September 2015. As we turned back toward home, Colorado offered us a couple additional sites we hadn’t visited before. We thought we’d check out the “four corners” where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado meet. At the risk of sounding super cheap,  when we heard the entrance fee was $5 per person, we decided to pass. It just had the feel of a tourist trap.

On the other hand, Mesa Verde National Park, established in 1906, and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978, is no tourist trap. This amazing park contains nearly 5,000 archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings that were home to the Ancestral Pueblo people (Anasazi) from 550 AD until the late 1200s.

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Entrance to Mesa Verde National Park

The visitor center is located in a valley at the foot of a winding road up to the mesa. Stop here first to plan your visit and purchase tour tickets.

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Visitor Center at Mesa Verde NP

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Visitor Center at Mesa Verde NP

The approximately 21-mile drive up to Chapin Mesa delighted us with breathtaking views.

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View from the park road into Mesa Verde NP

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View from park road into Mesa Verde NP

Five dwellings were open to the public in 2015; Spruce Tree House and Far View allowed self-guided tours but Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House required tickets for ranger-led guided tours. In September, Cliff Palace and Long House were already closed for the season but fortunately for us, Balcony House, the “most adventurous cliff dwelling tour” (Mesa Verde National Park Visitor Guide) was still open. We paid the $4 per person ticket price and scheduled our tour for the following morning. In 2016, only four dwellings remain open to the public. Spruce Tree House closed because of safety issues related to falling rock and will remain closed for the foreseeable future. How lucky for us to see this cliff dwelling before it closed.

Spruce Tree House is the third largest and best-preserved of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. The trail is short but steep, changing elevation by 100 feet in a quarter mile.

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Trail to Spruce Tree House

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View of Spruce Tree House

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Spruce Tree House

We saw only a fraction of the 120 rooms and 8 kivas at Spruce Tree House. A kiva is a chamber below ground that in modern day pueblos was used for religious, social, or ceremonial purposes. Because the Ancestral Pueblo people had no writing system, we can’t know for certain but archeologists believe the purpose was the same in prehistoric times.

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Kiva in Spruce Tree House

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Jim climbing down the ladder to a kiva in Spruce Tree House

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Inside a kiva at Spruce Tree House

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Spruce Tree House

As I said, Cliff Palace was closed for the season when we arrived. The largest and most well-known cliff dwelling in North America, Cliff Palace contains 150 rooms and 21 kivas and was inhabited by around 120 people. Fortunately for us, we could view it from a distance and photograph it even though we couldn’t tour it.

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Cliff Palace

Our ranger-guided tour of Balcony House the next morning was as much about the journey as the destination. The strenuous hike included steep stairs, three ladders, and a tunnel.

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Getting ready for the hike to Balcony House

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Our park ranger briefs us

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Trail to Balcony House

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One of the ladders on the trail to Balcony House

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My hips aren’t as wide as Jim’s shoulders and it was a snug fit for me going through the tunnel.

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We both made it without getting stuck!

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Bringing up the rear, quite literally.

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Catching my breath and taking a photo

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Jim nears the top

The destination was well-worth the effort, however. This cliff dwelling consists of 38 rooms and 2 kivas. Our ranger knowledgeably shared information about the site and the Ancestral Pueblo inhabitants.

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Balcony House

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Balcony House

 

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Kiva at Balcony House

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A room with a view at Balcony House

Because Long House was closed for the season, we decided not to drive the 12 miles over to Wetherill Mesa where it’s located. We did, however, hike the Far View area. The Far View sites are farming communities on top of the mesa rather than cliff dwellings.

National parks in the United States preserve and protect historical and cultural sites like Mesa Verde as well as our amazing and abundant natural resources. For a couple history nerds like us, Mesa Verde was a place to immerse ourselves in the history and culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people. As a result, we are better educated about and appreciative of the time and place of these early people.

Based on events of September 2015.

 

Categories: History, National Parks, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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