Category Archives: Weekend Getaways

Natural Bridge Caverns

 

We had the chance to explore the Natural Bridge Caverns just north of San Antonio, Texas – and we were delighted! They were beautiful! The caverns had towering ceilings covered in stalactites, bacon ribbons, and other amazing formations! The Natural Bridge Caverns are different from many other caverns in that the farther we walked into the cavern, the warmer it got! If you have any experience with caves and caverns, you are aware that they usually get cooler as you walk further into the cave. Our tour guide explained to us that Natural Bridge Caverns was considered a ‘living’ cavern because they installed doors to maintain the temperature and humidity. Whereas most other caverns, have a vent hole that allowed an air current to pass through it thereby cooling the overall temperature.

Caves are so cool to explore! It is amazing to think that one drop of water over hundreds and thousands of years can create such magnificent sculptures of art that look so strong but are in reality so fragile.          

 

What’s in your bag?

 

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Everyone has rituals or particular ways they do things to stay organized and keep the chaos of life at bay. One thing I like to keep organized and ready to use – whenever I can – is my travel carry-on. True, this is not something that I use every day or even every week, but when I do need it, I want the little things done so I only have to think about the big things, like, which shoes should I wear with this outfit?
So, how do I keep my travel carry-on organized and what are the little things, you ask? I am so glad you did!
WHAT’S IN THE LITTLE BAG?
To start with – I always keep my toiletry bag in my carry-on full of TSA-approved bottles and accessories. There are the basics, such as toothbrush; toothpaste; floss picks (because when you have killer BBQ ribs that are just to die for, it is inevitable that some will get stuck in your teeth!); razor; hairbrush; deodorant; Q-tips; lotion; simple inexpensive costume jewelry for dress (see below) and Shine eye makeup remover cloths from Younique which also doubles as a face cleanser with sunflower, olive, vitamin E, and just a hint of rosemary. You can purchase them here from Haley Ragsdale.  Don’t leave home without it!

 

Additionaly, I also have a fragrance lotion; hair gel or mousse; a duplicate set of my makeup; shampoo and conditioner – because you never know if there will be some waiting for you at your destination, also, if you get bumped and have to hang-out in the airport for more than 10 hours, it is nice to freshen up in the bathroom… just sayin’. Speaking of having to freshen up in the airport, I also keep a pack of non-fragranced baby wipes in a sandwich Ziploc bag. ‘Yeah, we all do that, duh’, you say? Well, do you also add some of your favorite perfume or cologne to the wipes? Give it a try!
WHAT’S IN THE BIG BAG?
First off, let’s cover the carry-on luggage its self. My favorite carry-on has lots of pockets – little ones, big ones – you really can’t have to many. Also, must haves for a carry-on is a strong telescoping-handle and 360-degree turning wheels. I just hate it when I am running to catch a flight and my bag does not make the turn when I do and then tips on its side and slides outta control and wipes out the person next to me. That is so annoying and embarrassing!
Ok, so now onto what I keep in there. First off, I will put a few unused dryer sheets in the bottom of the carry-on so my clothes will not get that stale smell. Then I will keep a pair of very comfy flats; a ‘waddable, wrinkle-free’ dress that I can dress up or down; a tank top and pair of shorts that are multi-use (PJ’s, work-out clothes, or wearing out on a warm day – I love multi-use items!); swimsuit; a cover-up (yup, multi-use – one that I can use as a cover-up, layer with the tank top and pants, casual dress, you get the idea.); and a light-weight jacket. Speaking of my love for multi-use items, I came across an amazing item of clothing that will have a permanent home in my carry-on! It is called a Cameleon – like the lizard that changes colors to adapt. This one article of clothing can be a sundress; jumpsuit; cape; poncho; pants; laundry bag; or a light sleeping bag and it folds into its own pocket to take minimal space in your bag! It is mind boggling!


I am never too far from food. So last but not least, I keep a few protein bars in one of the pockets. Something that will have a shelf life of at least a year, will not squish, melt, or need to be refrigerated. When you land at an airport at 2 am and your internal clock is so outta whack that it thinks you should be eating lunch and everything is shut down, you will be glad you tucked them in a pocket! They won’t be as fabulous as a juicy burger from Humpy’s (Alaska reference) or a grande plate of nachos from La Mex that you washed down with a blue margarita (another Alaska reference) but it will keep you from eyeing the leather on your shoes.
Well, that is about what I keep in my carry-on. I keep the pre-packed clothes light because I will have to mix it up once in a while depending where I am going.
What do you keep in your bag?

Tata for now! Donna

Kayaking Laguna Madre in Port Mansfield

Recently we (my husband and I) were able to Kayak the Laguna  Madre in Port Mansfield, Texas. It was – what I would consider – a very easy kayaking trip. It was easy to put in right from the shore. The waves were very calm and gentle with an occasional splash over the tip of the kayak. The water was also very shallow, perhaps 2-feet deep about 500-feet from the shore. You could stand up and walk back to shore. I would recommend this trip for a beginner kayaker because of its simplicity and the shallow water.

streatching our legs compressed pelicans on pier compressed remnants of boarwalk compressed nilgai antalope-compressed launch area compressed my man compressed donna compressed beach compressed heron compressed antalope tracks compressed

The Travel and Adventure Show in Dalllas

 

After 12 years and 61 shows, the Travel & Adventure Show Series has established itself as the premier consumer marketing platform in the travel industry. Since 2004, the Travel & Adventure Shows have helped over 1.1 million travelers find, plan and book their dream vacation.

 nicaragua- buen viaje

This past weekend I was thrilled to attend the Travel and Adventure show in Dallas, Texas at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. There were over 100 amazing travel related booths showcasing the most amazing destinations that spanned the globe. There were travel specialists and tour operators from cruise lines, photo safaris in Africa, Yoga tours in Nicaragua, and trekking in Nepal. There were large, well-known companies as well as small private owner/operator tour companies such as Buen Viaje Tours in Nicaragua which offers small, personable tours for families as well as individuals, ranging from cultural tours, birding tours and photography and art workshops.

rick steves

The show hosted several guest speakers that gave talks aimed at helping you in your travels with advice on planning your next trip – what is new for 2016, and suggestions on where to go. The guest speakers included; Rick Steves – traveling through Europe through the back door, Pauline Frommer – What you need to know before you plan your next vacation, Peter Greenberg – The brave new world of travel in 2016, and Patricia Schultz the author of 1,000 places to see before you die.

The savvy traveler is always looking for new tips and techniques to enrich their travel experience. The Travel and Adventure Show did not disappoint! There were presentations on the challenges and rewards of traveling solo around the world on a motorcycle, how to travel smart and pack light, and how to take better travel photography.

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Not only could you plan your next dream vacation get-away at amazing show only prices, there were also activities that you could participate in and shows that you could watch to give you a feel of the exotic destination that you would soon be headed to. Some of the fun, and even unusual, activities were camel rides, ride a segway, climb a rock tower, or practice your diving in a 18,000 gallon heated dive pool.

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Throughout the weekend you could watch colorful dancers from Mexico, Hawaii, Bulgaria, Bahamas and the Middle East performing elaborate traditional dances on the Cultural Stage.

 

In addition to cultural dance and music demonstrations, there were also cooking demonstrations from local chefs and chefs from Maui who created mouth-watering recipes such as Ahi Tuna Cruda with grilled pineapple; pan roasted brussel sprouts with sweet chili vinaigrette and goat cheese; seafood tostadas and more.

MY 2 CENTS – All in all, it was an exciting show with a fabulous turn out! Travel excitement abounded and dreams to explore new places were fostered and born. This was a great local event to learn about activities and cultures in distant foreign lands, learn about available adventures in your own backyard, and even meet your tour operators before you go on the tour! I highly recommend you attend one in a city near you! The Travel and Adventure Show currently has venues in Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Diego and Dallas.

 

Till we talk again!

Donna

Pleistocene Epoch in Waco, Texas

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Waco Mammoth Monument Visitor Center

On the outskirts of the bustling city of Waco, Texas is a partially hidden piece of paleontological history of mammoth proportion. Waco is a comfortably sized city, conveniently situated between Dallas and Austin just south of Ft. Worth. Waco is home to many sights and attractions that thrill both the young and the young-at-heart alike.
One such attraction is the Waco Mammoth Monument. Situated on 107 acres the Monument became one of the newest additions to the National Park System on July 10, 2015 by Presidential proclamation from President Barack Obama.
A BIT OF HISTORY
On a balmy spring day in 1978, two young men set off on an afternoon adventure in search of arrowheads, fossils and other interesting finds near the Bosque River. As the men were walking down a ravine looking under shrubs and digging in the dirt examining small pointed rocks for the deliberate chipping pattern on the edges in hopes they had found an arrowhead when they discovered a bone.

ravine where the leg bone was found
ravine where the leg bone was found

When they first came across the bone they may have thought, “Cool, an old bone, but it probably came from a cow.” The land that they were walking on was, at one time, an old dairy farm. As they started uncovering the bone, it became rather obvious that what they had found… was no cow bone! This bone, which they rightly assumed, was part of a leg, a very big leg because that bone by its self was 3′ tall, nearly half of their height!
human vs mammoth femer
human femur vs. mammoth femur
The young men took the bone to Strecker Museum at Baylor University. There, staff member David Lintz came to the realization that the bone was part of a leg bone from a mammoth, a Columbian Mammoth to be precise.

 

waco mammoth
Mammoths were much larger than us!

Mammoths were quite large animals. They stood 14′ tall at the shoulders, weighed an impressive 20,000-24,000 lbs.! The daily diet of a mammoth consisted much of the same as what modern day elephants eat today, but in much greater quantities. A single Columbian mammoth ate as much as 300-700 lbs. of grass, leaves, and other plant matter and drank as much as 50 gallons of water a day, and in turn, produced about 400 lbs. of dung daily! The tusks of a mammoth could reach lengths of 12-14′ from end to end.

Waco Mammoth
The concrete base is about the size of an adult mammoth foot

MORE PRESENT DAY
For the next 23 years museum staff members and volunteers explored the ravine, uncovering 23 unique Columbian mammoths. Columbian mammoths have been discovered throughout North America, what made the Waco mammoths unique was that eighteen of those remains were from a nursery herd, a herd that contained only adult females and juveniles, the first and only recorded evidence of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths.

Mammoth remains
Mammoth remains

As the paleontologists and volunteers began uncovering the remains of the mammoths, they discovered three separate natural disasters that caused the demise of the mammoths. The first event drowned the entire nursery herd between 65,000 and 72,000 years ago. During the second and third flooding events the remains of a bull mammoth, juvenile, a female mammoth, a camel, a tooth from a saber cat, and at this time, an unknown animal were also discovered.

The Monument is a unique destination to view paleontological finds such as the mammoths because the bones have been left “in situ”. Meaning, that the original bones were kept in their original position found within the bone bed.

dig site for students
dig site for students

Although the Waco Mammoth Monument is comprised of 107 acres with a visitor center, preservation hall, gift shop and facilities to host amazing school tours and special dig sites for students (learn about them here!), only 2 acres have been explored at this time. Because of the amount of specimens found in that 2 acres, it is thought to contain a substantial amount of hidden knowledge and information below the layers of dirt that will help us understand in greater detail what life was like, what lived and an how interactions were made in the Pleistocene Epoch.
The City of Waco, The Waco Mammoth Foundation, Baylor University, and the National Park System have collaborated in an effort to preserve the mammoth remains and to expand the Monument.

Mural showing an artists depiction of a flood
Mural showing an artists depiction of a flood, notice the stairs that had to be relocated

The preservation hall at the Mammoth Monument is climate and humidity controlled. The walls of the structure extend 25-40′ into the ground to the bedrock below the water table. In addition, the windows are situated so as there is no direct sunlight into the building to degrade the mammoth bones. There are at least two additional mammoth remains located within the walls of the preservation hall that are waiting to be re-uncovered. At the time that the hall was being built, one set was discovered where a staircase was being built causing a slight relocation of the staircase. The other set was discovered were one of the exterior walls was being built causing that wall being pushed back an additional 17′. In order to protect the bones they were reburied in soil.
The future of the Waco Mammoth Monument is full of excitement and anticipation. Due in part to the combined partnerships and donations from individuals and businesses, efforts to build an on-site lab are being developed. Once the lab is built, excavations can begin again to discover what life was like in Texas in the Pleistocene Epoch, most likely, and hopefully, starting with the two mammoths that had to be reburied.

For more information about scheduling your own tour, please visit their website, here or call (254) 750-7946.
Operating Hours:
• Tuesdays –Fridays: Open 11:00 a.m. –5:00 p.m.
• Saturdays: Open 9:00 a.m. –5:00 p.m.
• Sundays and Mondays: Closed
• (Also closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day)
Guided Tour Fees
• Adults: $5
• Seniors (over 60): $4
• Military (with ID): $4
• Educators (with ID): $4
• Students (7th grade through college): $4
• Children (preK through 6th Grade): $3
• Infants (ages 3 and under): Free
National Park passes do not apply to guided tour fees. Please support our preservation mission, access to the Dig Shelter is by guided tour only.

How to have an Unforgettable, Adventure-packed weekend in New Orleans

New Orleans

New Orleans is a truly amazing city! It is incredibly diverse and eclectic offering a wide range of activities for every interest from historical landmarks to new age vape shops and haunted tours to shopping for antiques or listening to live music in any one of the many bars or on the street corners and dancing in the street to getting married and parading down Bourbon St.

street dancing wedding procession

10 ACTIVITIES THAT SHOULD BE ON YOUR LIST

  • GO ON A TOUR!

There is such a variety of tours available you may not be able to decide between going on one or multiple tours! To give you an idea of the variety available, there are ghost tours, grave yard tours, historic haunted tours, plantation tours, whiskey tours, haunted bar tours, swamp tours, trolley tours, bicycle tours, foodie tours just to name a few!

Three tours that we went on that are definitely worth mentioning are Dark Crescent Tours Plunder & Booty Tour, Haunted History Tours and Jean LaFitte Swamp and Airboat Tours.

dark crescent tours dark crescent tours tour guide

Dark Crescent Tours offers a plunder & booty tour which is a drinking tour that is both very informative and fun. On this tour we walked (yes, this is a walking tour) to an assortment of bars and historic buildings and heard engaging and mysterious tales about the pirates, scallywags, thugs and call girls that lived in New Orleans, some of which are rumored to haunt their old hang-outs. Our tour guide for this 2 1/2 hour tour was a very animated and entertaining woman by the name of Angel who whole-heartedly embraced her role as a pirate, dressed in pirate garb complete with the 3-point hat, cape and fingerless gloves and, of course, plenty of arghs and aye’s mixed into the stories of piracy, plunder and even love. This tour includes 1 drink from each of the 5 bars that are visited during the evening.

Haunted History Tour     historic tour

Haunted History Tours is a locally owned and operated tour company that offers a wide range of tours from garden district, to voodoo, vampire, and ghost tours. They also offer a special tour, 5 in 1 ghost and mystery tour, for those who only have time for one tour but want to get a taste of several tours. Our tour guide for the 5 in 1 was the very knowledgeable, friendly and captivating Natalie who delighted us with tales of mystery, intrigue and murder in the French Quarter from the reins of both the French and the Spanish rulers. Natalie regaled us with many stories, one of the most mysterious was of the Sultans Palace where there was a massive massacre of all the inhabitants of the house, every man, woman and child had been hacked up and their body parts strewn through every room of the house. It was a very bloody and gory scene, but who did it and why has never been discovered and remains a mystery to this very day.

Jeanlefitte tour  Jean Lafitte tour  Jean lafitte tour Jean Lafitte Tour

Jean LaFitte Swamp & Airboat Tours will take you on an almost 2 hour adventure in Louisiana’s murky bayou’s meandering through floating islands of marsh grass and flowers in yellows and blues. As the trained guides expertly maneuver the boats smoothly through the ever-moving and changing channels of the bayou they will tell you about the wildlife that lives in the swampy bayou. They will point out the alligators as they sun themselves on the grass or as they glide through the water looking for a morsel to snack on. They will point out the egrets as they are gingerly walking over the floating islands and shallows looking for fish. The airboat ride was surprisingly smooth and gentle as it glided over the water.

  • DRINK ABSINTHE

Have a glass of absinthe at the Pirate’s Alley Cafe at 622 Pirate’s Alley and learn how this anise and fennel or black liquorish flavored distilled spirit drink is made by dripping ice-cold water over a sugar cube to create the swirled creamed look while you hear about the history of this illustrious drink that was favored by many famous artists and dates back to the 1800’s. Surprisingly, this drink really did help settle our queasy stomach from too much imbibing the night before!

Old Absinthe Old absinthe Old Absinthe Old AbsintheTHE old absinthe

  • GO TO FALULKNER BOOKSTORE

After you have your drink and lesson in absinthe, meander next door to the Faulkner Bookstore and check out their selection of poetry, unusual books and newly published books.

Faulkner book store

  • EAT OYSTERS!

New Orleans has some of the best tasting oysters that I have ever tasted! You can get them on the half-shell, fresh and clean with a bit of lemon juice or tobacco sauce, stuffed with fresh crab, breading and a buttery garlic topping, or Rockefeller with parmesan and garlic baked to perfection. My favorite was a slightly smoky, mouth-watering grilled oyster from The Royal House Oyster Bar. Just talking about it makes my mouth water!

Oysters

  • HAVE A BONE SHOOTER

Only in New Orleans have I seen or even heard of a bone shooter!  Of course, if most people cringe, I am going to try it! Go to Meauxbar on Rampart St. First of all, this is Not listed on their menu, you have to request it. Order the savory escargot that is served in the bone as an appetizer, this is not the shooter but part of the shooter, you have to tell the waiter that you want to do the shooter when you order the appetizer.. Don’t let the server get your bone (slight pun) because the waiter will bring a shot of absinthe that be poured through the bone to your mouth.

bone bone shot

  • HAVE A DRINK AT THE REVOLVING CAROUSEL BAR

The Hotel Monteleone has a fun and entertaining feature in it called the Carousel Bar. The bar revolves in a circle, no, it is not like a carnival ride, it is very slow so you barely feel the movement, unless of course you are already toasted then you will feel the room move if you are sitting in a stationary chair!

carousel2

  • EAT AT TROUP’S MEATERY

For all the foodies out there you have got to order the meatery board and the covey rise vegetables at Troup’s Meatery! They offer a delicious selection of patés, cracklins, sausage, boudin balls, cured sliced meats, seasonal vegetables and heirloom tomatoes grilled in a bacon vinaigrette. Truly unique and flavorful!

troups meatery       troupsvegies

  • HAVE A DRINK AT LAFITTE’S BLACKSMITH SHOP

LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop is reputed to be the hang out of the pirate Jean Lafitte in the late 1700’s, yes, some think he may still be there from time to time, the building its self is thought to be the oldest structure that is used as a bar in the United States! This is a hopping place to be in the evenings for a drink and the patrons spill into the street as is common for nearly every establishment in New Orleans!

lafitte blacksmith lafitte blacksmith

There is so much to see and do in New Orleans that no matter what is on your list to do, there will always be more to see and do! There is no way to do even half of the activities available in one weekend. So, my advise to you…. just plan right now to make a return trip or two! You will be glad you did!

How to explore Ft. Worth like a local

Sundance Square is the heart of downtown Fort Worth. It is a 35-block area filled with restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries, and hot nightspots. It buzzes with activity day and night as thousands of feet crisscross its red brick streets, courtyard, and plaza filled with lush landscape making Sundance Square a destination within Fort Worth.

If people watching is your thing, then you will want to hang out at Del Frisco’s Grille for dinner. It is located in the heart of Ft. Worth in the Sundance Square Plaza on E. 3rd st. and Commerce. Ask for a seat outside where you can watch people meandering with their dogs, couples walking hand in hand and children playing in the distant waterspout fountain garden. Del Frisco’s Grille has a delicious menu with some palette tantalizing plates such as cheesesteak egg rolls drizzled with sweet & spicy chili sauce, ahi tacos with tuna tartar and a spicy citrus mayo sauce for the appetizers.  For the main course, the lamb burger with roasted tomatoes, arugula and tzatziki sauce or the juicy and tender filet mignon, available in either an 8oz or 12oz option! They are all excellent choices! With such a savory dinner menu, of course they also have a decadent dessert menu as well! My recommendation would be the Nutella bread pudding with coffee ice cream and a caramel sauce or the lemon doberge 6 layer Cake with lemon buttercream icing and lemon glaze.

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Scat Jazz Lounge

No trip to Sundance Square is complete without experiencing some of the live entertainment available within the square. The Scat Jazz Lounge is a favorite for live music. The Lounge, located in the basement of the historic Woolworth building carries on the traditions of the old speak-easies of the 30’s in New York City with the dark wood trim, dim lights and swanky atmosphere. When we first learned of the Lounge, the directions that we were given to get there were, “go to Sundance Square, look for the alley with the red neon light, then take the elevator down”. With directions like, that how can you not have your curiosity peeked and just have to check it out! Check it out we did! There are no tv’s on the walls, no neon signs to disrupt the swanky feeling you get when you are sitting there listening to the musicians and sipping on your Whisky Sour, Martini or Old Fashioned. With live shows on every night of the week except Mondays, there is a jazz style for everyone.

 

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Jazz band
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Jazz band

Another amazing Sundance Square must see is the Four Day Weekend comedy group. This uproarishly funny comedy group is the longest-running show in the southwest. They perform live shows Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and 10pm from audience suggestions and participation. They have been called the “Whose Line is it Anyway” of the Americas. Four Day Weekend’s 212-seat theater is located at 312 Houston St. within steps from many eating establishments both casual and upscale.

 

Before you leave Sundance Square take a few moments to watch the light show on the massive umbrellas while you are sipping your latte from Starbucks, which is located conveniently in the Square. Sit at a table in the square and watch the water jets shoot vertically in rhythmic patterns to music and lights. It is common to see children playing on the outskirts of the fountains trying to dodge the next spray of water. It is a good spot to people watch and carry on a quiet conversation.

 

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Sundance Square

Not ready call it a night? Never fear! Sundance Square is reminiscent of New Orleans in that there are many open-air bands with a wide range of music genres belting out their tunes encouraging people to get up and dance! So, there is no reason to rush back to your car and house, meander, take your time and enjoy the sights and sounds of Sundance Square.

 

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Street band