Viewing the Sunrise at the Grand Canyon National Park

When we visited the Grand Canyon this past December we were very happy that the Grand Canyon National Park is open 24 hours a day so we could watch the sunrise. For two mornings in a row we dragged ourselves out of our comfy warm bed, to spend time in the freezing morning air to watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon. It was so worth it. The canyon itself is jaw dropping but watching it light up with the sun was stunning.

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View from Lipon Point

The first morning we woke up late (surprise, surprise) and hustled out the door leaving our map of the National Park behind. Our plan flew out the window! We drove fairly aimlessly through the park trying to find the sunrise viewpoint recommended by our hotel, Yavapai Point. Fun fact Yavapai Point is not right next to Yavapai Lodge. Eventually we found a public parking area with a trail sign leading to the Rim Trail. We scurried along the path reaching the canyon’s rim just in time to see the sun rise on the horizon! Though we didn’t make it exactly where we meant to, the view from the Rim Trail was perfect for us.

 

The second morning we aimed higher, we wanted to reach one of the further out viewpoints to watch the sunrise, Lipon Point. Waking up late (again), we raced to get to the National Park before the sun rose. We had much better luck this morning. We ended up stopping before our destination at Grand Trail View Point worried we wouldn’t make it all the way to Lipon point. We walked around and watched the first hints of the sunrise before heading the rest of the way to Lipon Point.

Arriving at Lipon Point, it quickly became my favorite spot to view the Grand Canyon. There is a fantastic panoramic view with the Colorado River winding through the Canyon. We could also spot the Desert View Watchtower in the distance! With the entire place to ourselves we watched until the sun rose high into the sky.

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If you are planning to see the sunrise here are a few things to note:

  1. Get there early! You can find the sunrise time easily online but that’s the time the sun actually peeks over the horizon. To see the full transition arrive to your viewing spot about 30 minutes early.
  2. It is cold! With the Grand Canyon’s high altitude, it is very cold before the sun rises. For us visiting in December the temperatures were below freezing, around 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit

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I hope these tips help you see the sunrise, it is a Grand Canyon experience I’m glad I didn’t miss!

 

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Visiting Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona

When planning our Arizona road trip, there was one photo that kept popping up during our research that we couldn’t resist, the beautiful Horseshoe Bend! Horseshoe Bend is a piece of the Grand Canyon near Page, Arizona where the Colorado river “bends” in a U shape. Since we had already planned to visit Page to hike the Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons, we were excited to learn that Horseshoe Bend was only 5 minutes away!

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Horseshoe Bend is actually relatively easy to find. It lies just off of route 89 between mile marker 544 and 545. Take the exit lane onto a small dirt path and you’ll find a dirt parking area complete with public restrooms. We went in mid December around sunset and the lot was fairly full, so parking may be difficult in the peak summer months. The best part about visiting Horseshoe Bend is there was no entrance fee!

After you park there is still a 0.5 mile hike on slick sand to reach the cliffs edge of Horseshoe Bend. The trek does have a good amount of uphill portions and is slow going due to the sand. If you get tired, there is a pavilion to stop and rest in about halfway to the cliffs. After the short hike, you’ll finally be able to see the bend in the Colorado river from the cliffs 1,000 feet above it.

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Wandering the cliffs above you’ll see that Horseshoe Bend is breathtaking. There are no guard rails obstructing the views so be very careful around the edges. Many other tourists were taking great risks climbing out on rocks to take the perfect photo and they almost gave me a heart attack!

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Visiting Horseshoe Bend was simple and free. If you are in the area Horseshoe Bend is a must see natural phenomenon!

 

 

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Visiting the Upper Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona

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During our stop in Page, Arizona on our Arizona road trip we knew we had to visit Antelope Canyon. There are two separate canyons, the Upper Antelope Canyon and the Lower Antelope Canyon. On the afternoon of our arrival we visited the Lower Antelope Canyon (read about it here) after a night’s rest it was time to see the Upper Antelope Canyon.

Today, the Canyons are both located on Navajo property so they can only be visited with a tour guide. There are five different tour groups with which you can visit the Upper Canyon, we visited through Antelope Canyon Tours for $45 each. Our group of about 12 piled into a covered truck bed, packed in tight, and rode the six miles from our meeting point to the canyon. Three of those miles are not on paved roads and were very bumpy and dusty, or as our tour guide Cindy called it, a Navajo massage.

When we reached the entrance, our group stood outside as Cindy explained some of the history of the canyon. This unique canyon was created by 180 million years of wind and water coming through the canyon. Even today during the summer months there are chances of flash flooding due to heavy rainfall. Throughout the canyon you’ll see logs suspended in the canyon above your head which were carried in by high waters.

 

We visited in mid December, during low tourist season, and the Upper Antelope Canyon was still fairly crowded. We were told its much worse in the summer months. Cindy showed us the places throughout the canyon to get the best photos and the names of different rock formations. My personal favorites were a point where the light coming through the ceiling was shaped like a heart and a spot where you could stand to have angel wings!

We walked leisurely through the 0.25 mile long canyon stopping along the way to take photos before coming out on the other side. Before I mentioned that you can only visit this canyon through a tour, this is mainly to prevent vandalism. On the sides of the canyon walls at this exit you can see bullet holes! With most all of our photos take we walked the entire way back to the truck just enjoying the views. Another dusty, bumpy ride in the back of the truck and we concluded the tour right where we started.

Visiting the Upper Antelope Canyon in December was breathtaking but in April through September at mid day beams of sunlight stream through the canyon making incredible photos. Check them out on google here! This phenomenon only happens once a day so tours at this time a more expensive and fill up fast. If you want to see it make sure to book early! Even without the stunning sunbeams, our visit to the Upper Antelope Canyon was definitely worthwhile.

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Visiting the Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona

During our week long Arizona road trip, we spent two nights in Page, Arizona. When we arrived we immediately went to do a tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon. Located on Navajo tribal lands, access to the canyon is permitted only through two tour groups. We visited with Dixie Ellis Lower Antelope Canyon Tours and booked the tour for $25 plus an $8 Navajo entrance fee when we arrived. If you are coming in the summer months you should definitely book ahead, but as we were there in mid-December we didn’t have any issues.

 

 

We were very fortunate that there were only four of us in our group plus our tour guide, Kendrick. We descended five flights of stairs into the canyon about 80 ft underground. The sandstone caverns were incredible, we explored the canyon mostly at our leisure with Kendrick helping with camera settings for the best quality pictures. Luckily for us Kendrick also leads a photography tour so he understood how each person’s camera should be set and the opportunities for the best pictures. One of the photos might look familiar as the Microsoft screensaver called Sandstone Waves, which was taken here in the Lower Antelope Canyon!

 

We spent about an hour in the canyon, practically having it to ourselves. However, in the summer months our guide described a much different scenario. Apparently the canyons can get filled up from elbow to elbow with tourists and the wait to get into the canyon can take hours! Next year it sounds like both tour groups will be raising their prices to visit the Canyon in the hopes of offering quality tours rather than a large quantity of tours.

 

Overall we really enjoyed our experience in the Lower Antelope Canyon, but the situation would have been very different had we visited in the summer months. If you can, try to visit during the low season to enjoy this natural wonder!

 

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World Malaria Day & Birthday Celebrations in Liberia

Last Wednesday was my birthday! Here’s how I celebrated here in Liberia…

As my actual birthday was a Wednesday, it was a regular school day so I had school in the morning. But not only was it my birthday, April 25th is also World Malaria Day. Here’s a few facts about malaria: Globally there were over 200 million cases of malaria in 2015 and 438 thousand deaths. 70% of malaria deaths are in children–every two minutes a child dies of malaria. Here in Liberia, malaria is the leading cause of death so it’s especially relevant and what better day to talk about it than World Malaria Day. So instead of having regular math lessons in class, I spent my time with my 10th and 11th graders talking about malaria and playing a game to learn about how to prevent malaria.

The game was called “Race to Prevent Malaria” and I split the class into two teams who were racing up their ladder I’d drawn on the chalkboard. The teams took turns drawing cards that had an action on it that determined if they got to move forward. Teams climbed up the ladder if they drew a positive prevention action like “you and your family slept under a mosquito net last night” and “you referred a big belly woman to the clinic” (“Big belly” or pregnant women are at a greater risk for malaria. If a pregnant woman were to get malaria, it could lead to placental malaria which can block nutrients getting to the baby and cause severe complications during childbirth. Pregnant women can receive a free mosquito net and prophylaxis, a preventative treatment, by visiting their local clinic).

However, they had to move back down if their action was negative like “you thought you had malaria but didn’t go to the clinic to get tested” or “you have a hole in your mosquito net that you still have not fixed.” I also included a few cards addressing common beliefs that actually have nothing to do with malaria either way. For instance, avoiding plums (Liberian English for mangoes) because you saw mosquitoes on them doesn’t matter–yes, you get malaria from mosquitoes but only by them biting you and transmitting the parasite into your blood stream, not from eating plums! For these cards, teams didn’t move either way.

The game seemed to be a hit–the students got very competitive and enjoyed it, and hopefully also learned something too!

Continuing my birthday, after school, my friend Patience made me Liberian spaghetti for lunch and one of my students came over to play scrabble on the porch. He recently got a scrabble game complete with a scrabble dictionary but didn’t know how to play. So I taught him and we’ve been playing during recess and after school every now and then too!

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The only picture I managed to take on our walk… we stopped to buy cold water from one of my students and he had it in this Ohio State cooler! I tried to explain to him that Ohio State is my team just like his football team is Chelsea!

To finish my birthday, later in the afternoon, I went for a walk (or as they say here a “walk about”) to a neighboring community with my friend Patience. My school is the only high school in the area so even though it’s a pretty long walk, many of my students live in this community. I’d seen it from the car driving past or just stopping briefly but it was nice to spend more time there and see where some of my students live–and get a reminder of how far they walk to school!

Over the weekend, I got to celebrate with some Peace Corps friends in Monrovia! It was another volunteer’s birthday a couple days after mine so a group of us met in town for the weekend. We got to have some of the foods we can’t get at site, like pizza and ice cream! And on Saturday we took a day trip to Libassa, a resort not far from the city, and spent the day relaxing in their many pools and floating around their lazy river!

And I can’t forget everyone else that I didn’t get to celebrate with in person… Thank you to my family for my birthday package which was waiting for me at the office when I arrived in town! And to all my friends both here in Liberia and back at home for the birthday wishes!

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Hiking into the Grand Canyon on Bright Angel Trail

With a day and half at the Grand Canyon we decided we had enough time to hike part of the way down into the canyon. We decided to take the most heavily traveled trail, the Bright Angel Trail. The entire trail descends 4,500 ft in 7.8 miles and leads hikers to the Colorado river. It is not advised to attempt to reach the river and hike back on the same day, so we walked for a few hours (2.5 miles) then turned around.

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View of Bright Angel Trail from above

Optimistically we began our descent. The trail zig zags down with beautiful views of the vast canyon the entire way. After a mile and a half, you’ll run into the first of four stops along the trail with restrooms (and water in the summer months). The bathrooms were nicer than I expected. While it was essentially a hole in the ground covered by a toilet, I didn’t need to fervently hold my breathe because of the smell. One downside is there wasn’t anywhere to wash hands in the winter so you might want to bring some hand sanitizer.

 

We decided to walk another 30 minutes before turning back, wanting to get back before dark. Unlike most hikes, the second half was the hard part. As inexperienced hikers, traveling back up the canyon was definitely difficult for us but there was never a steep climb and the trail is well maintained. Surprisingly the ascent looked completely different than the way down. Though our legs were angry and our breath was short we had no regrets in the 2.5 miles we trekked down.

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If you are planning to hike down into the Grand Canyon here are some things to note: Bring lots of water and salty foods. We thought we had plenty of water but found ourselves rationing it on the way back up. Also take plenty of breaks, something we probably should have done more of. The elevation at the Grand Canyon is 7,000 ft above sea level so it was very easy to be short of breath. Lastly, DO NOT attempt to hike to the river and back in one day. There are many warning signs posted but park officials have to assist over 600 hikers a year plus an additional 150 helicopter rescues.

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Hiking into the Grand Canyon was definitely a highlight of our visit. We hope to come back someday to do the entire trail and camp at the bottom!

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One Week in Denmark: A Copenhagen Based Itinerary

In the fall I was lucky enough to stay in Copenhagen, Denmark for an entire week. There were so many things I wanted to do during my time in Denmark, but here is what I was able to fit in to just one week:

Day One: Arrive in Copenhagen

Full of jetlag, I arrived in Copenhagen in the morning and decided to simply explore the city and enjoy the atmosphere without any particular destinations in mind. I window shopped on the pedestrian street, Stroget and visited the tourist information center for maps to plan out the rest of my week. After mingling in the hostel, I was off to bed early to be well rested for my first of three day trips!

Day Two: Day Trip to Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod

After a 45 minute train ride I arrived in Hillerod, and made my way towards Frederiksborg Castle. While the skies were clear, I decided to explore the baroque style gardens before visiting the interior of the castle which houses Denmark’s National History Museum. Read all about my day trip here!

Day 3: Day Trip to Roskilde

Since I purchased a 24 hour train pass the day before, I figured I might as well do a second day trip 25 minutes away to Roskilde. The UNESCO World Hertitage Site the Roskilde Cathedral is located in Roskilde. It holds the world record for most royals buried in a single church. Roskilde is also home to the Viking Museum. The indoor/outdoor museum houses 5 salvaged original Viking ships plus many Viking ship recreations tethered on the docks.

Day 4: Explore Copenhagen

For my first full day in the city center, I spent the morning exploring Nyhavn, walking down “Pusher Street” in the free town of Christiania, visiting the Church of our Savior and observing the exterior of Christianborg Palace. After a quick lunch break my new friend and I headed to the Guinness Book of World Records Museum and the Hans Christian Anderson Museum to round out our afternoon.

Since I visited in October, I was just in time for the Halloween themed reopening of Tivoli Garden‘s! We spent the evening traveling around the world, riding rides,  and enjoying the Halloween festivities.

Day 5: Carlsberg Brewery and more exploring in Copenhagen

To begin my day I headed out on a short bus ride with my new friend to Carlsberg Brewery! There we saw a history of Denmark’s beer brewing companies, the Guinness World Record holding largest beer collection, and tasted some delicious brews in the Carlsberg tasting room. Last but not least we took a horse drawn carriage ride through the picturesque streets of Valby!

 

Once we arrived back in Copenhagen’s city center we visited the Marble Church and the royal residence Amelianberg Palace. After the changing of the guards, we made our way towards the famous Little Mermaid statue. Just around the corner, we ended our day exploring the 16th century star shaped fortress called Kastellet or the Citadel.

Day 6: Visit the Kings Garden and the Botanical Garden

After a quick breakfast, I headed out to explore the King’s Garden, just outside the Rosenborg Castle. Designed by King Christian IV in 1606, it is Denmark’s oldest national palace garden.

Just up the road lies the Botanical Garden, a part of Denmark’s Natural History Museum. The garden is arranged by types of plants that live in each biome. Overall there are over 13,000 species of plants!

Day 7: Day trip to see Kronberg Castle and the Louisiana Modern Art Museum

For my last full day in Denmark I decided to embark on one final day trip to see Kronborg Castle otherwise known as Hamlet’s Castle located a 40 minute train ride away from the city center in Helsinger. The renaissance castle is considered the setting for William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, “Hamlet.” Luckily when I visited there was a Renaissance Fair going on! Read all about it here!  On the way back to the city center I stopped in Humlebaek to visit the Louisiana Museum on Modern Art. The museum features both indoor and outdoor exhibits of all mediums.

Day 8: Fly home

This trip was especially different for me, I’ve very rarely visited one city for an extended period of time. I made very lose plans, then when I made a friend at the hostel I followed along seeing places she wanted to see! While I’m sure there is plenty more to see in and around Copenhagen, this is how I made the most of my time in Denmark!

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Attending the Renaissance Fair at Kronborg Castle: A Day Trip from Copenhagen, Denmark

On my last full day in Copenhagen, I decided to venture out of the city center to Helsinger to visit Kronborg Castle, otherwise known as “Hamlet’s Castle”. It is theorized that William Shakespeare was inspired by the lavish banquets hosted by Danish King Frederik IV and Queen Sophie when writing his famous tragedy “Hamlet.”

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After a 40 minute train ride, I could see Kronborg Castle immediately after exiting the train station. On my short walk along the water towards the castle, I found a silver merman statue, similar to the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, peering towards the ocean. Also along the waters edge were two cute, brightly colored light houses and the statue Herakles og Hydraen or Hercules and the Hydra.

Normally the castle grounds are free to explore in the winter, only the interior has a cost, but I quickly realized today was different. I had stumbled upon a Renaissance fair! There were people dressed in the Renaissance fashion of royalty, guards and common folk alike, plus tents lining the moat selling sweets and handmade items.

After looking at the day’s schedule, I decided to tour the inside of the castle first before attending any Renaissance fair events. While it definitely wasn’t as ornate as the Frederiksborg Castle I visited earlier in the week, the Kronborg castle stemmed from a simpler time period. Visitors were free to explore the bed chambers of King Frederik IV and Queen Sophie, see the King’s elaborately woven tapestry collection and walk through the expansive great hall where banquets were held.

Another feature of the castle itself was the “Casemates”, elaborate tunnels beneath the castle. I stumbled around the dark passages for around ten minutes before reaching the surface. After going underground, I next went to one of the highest points of the castle, the canon tower. After 145 steps up a winding staircase to the top, I could see views of the surrounding city as well as the courtyard below.

Next it was time for some Renaissance fair activities! First up was the “sea battle.” Two tiny row boats with Danish and Swedish soldiers “fought” in the castle moat. It was very much organized chaos but hilariously (possibly drunkenly) done. They even had miniature canons to “shoot” at each other! Kids and their families lined the moat taking in the spectacle.

Next up was the horseman and gentry training, where different weapons of the Renaissance period were demonstrated including the lance and the saber. To follow up what we just learned we got to watch a riding tournament. Although I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying as it was in Dannish, it looked to be another face off between Denmark and Sweden. Two champions from each side competed in various tests of skill such as speed, accuracy of a lance, and use of a saber by cutting apples all while still on horseback! In the end the tournament was won by popular vote so unsurprisingly Denmark took home the victory.

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Although my trip to Kronborg Castle was not exactly what I was expecting, the Renaissance fair added quite a bit of excitement! It was so fun to see the towering castle in a Renaissance setting. If you can, the Renaissance Fair at Kronberg Castle is definitely worth the visit!

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A Visit to Kennedy Space Center

We have had many chances over the years to visit the Kennedy Space Center. Kathryn had an internship a few summers ago in Cocoa Beach, FL, which is just 15 minutes away from the Kennedy Space Center. And we spent a summer in Cape Canaveral, FL, when I was 11 and Kathryn was 8, while our mom spent 10 weeks working at NASA. And yet we still had never been to Kennedy Space Center.

We finally made it there during a weekend trip (the same one where we went skydiving!), and finally got to experience everything we had been missing! It was great – there was so much to see and do and learn! What I liked most was that there were so many mediums to learn, from a bus tour to interactive displays and 3D multi-media presentations.

The staff at the ticket booth recommended that we start with the bus tour because it departs every 15 minutes and you don’t want to leave it until later and miss out. So we headed to the bus depot, and got on the next bus for a tour of the Space Center grounds. We saw the Vehicle Assembly Building where the rockets and shuttles are built, a couple of the launch pads and a bonus of local wildlife – an alligator and a bald eagle nest!

The bus tour ended at the Apollo/Saturn V center, where the main attraction is the Saturn V rocket that was the length of the entire building. We also touched a moon rock and saw a Lunar Module that had to be hung from the ceiling because it was built to land on the moon and can’t support it’s own weight in earth’s gravity.

Atlantis Space Shuttle

Then we headed back to the visitor center to the Atlantis exhibit, where the retired Atlantis Space Shuttle is on display. Besides the shuttle, highlights of the exhibit were the Shuttle launch experience simulator ride and the memorial honoring the crews that lost their lives on the Columbia and the Challenger.

I’m glad we finally made it to Kennedy Space Center – there was much more to do than I expected and so many different ways to engage. We had a really fun day!

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Traveling Misadventures: Lost Luggage

When traveling with checked luggage there is always the chance that the airline will lose your luggage. In fact, according to the SITA Baggage Report 2016, a historic low of 6.5 bags per 1,000 passengers were lost in 2015.  I assumed I was one of the unlucky ones when we landed in Montreal, Quebec on a family trip. Waiting at the luggage carousel in the Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, everyone in the family found their bags easily until it was just me left without a bag. After no new bags started coming out I went over to the help desk to try to figure out what happened to my bag; no one was there.

After 20 minutes of not so patiently waiting, an airline worker came back to his desk to help me. He had been helping a little, old lady in a wheel chair get her bag and into a cab to her hotel. That’s a fairly good excuse for being gone I suppose. I explained the problem and handed the guy my luggage tracking receipt. After a few clicks on the computer the attendant informed me that my bags had in fact made it to Montreal just as it was supposed to.

We checked the carousel again and noticed a large red bag similar to mine. Close enough that they could have been confused. The bag had a tag with a name and number, which we called to no avail. After a little while the attendant’s face started to turn red — he had a realization. Remember that little old lady he helped? Well she had a large red bag and that name had sounded familiar… A little old lady inadvertently stole my bag!

We made our way to our hotel as the airline continued to try to get ahold of the accidental burglar. We were leaving for a cruise the next afternoon and the airline was going to bring it to the dock if they got it back. After our walking tour of Montreal that next morning, we headed to the cruise terminal. I inquired about my bag as we checked in and the attendants didn’t know anything about it! Downtrodden we winded through the many decks of the ship to our cabin. Low and behold my bag was there waiting for me!

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