2013 Gratitude Project – Travel: Zoos, Aquariums and MoreThis month will be a celebration of travel. I am so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had over my nearly thirty years to explore the world. Click here to read about my 2013 November Gratitude Project – Travel
People love seeing animals. That’s why just about anywhere you go, you will find animal-related attractions such as zoos, aquariums, wildlife parks and preserves. I’ve been to more than two dozen such places with multiple visits to a handful of them like The Dallas Zoo, Fort Worth Zoo and Dallas World Aquarium.
While in China I visited the Hong Kong Zoo, Hefei Wild Animal Park, Louyang Zoo, Hefei Aquarium and Giant Panda Preserve. Two summers ago I shared my adventure to the world famous Monterrey Bay Aquarium.
I consider myself a bit of a zoo connoisseur. My criteria for a good zoo or aquarium exhibit include:
So, today’s entry for this year’s gratitude project is all about the many animal attractions I’ve experienced along the way. I may or may not have images for some, but I’m only going to highlight a few of the places I think are worth a visit and do it right.
In 1993, I was on a tour with The Texas Boys Choir. Of course when you’re traveling with a bunch of school boys you try to find educational yet entertaining places to visit. This is one of those places.
In Eastern Tennessee at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains is a small town that everyone’s heard of because of a 1940’s era song. Once home to industry, Chattanooga became one of the forgotten American cities when the major factories moved causing dilapidation and ruin to the local economy and downtown. However, in the early 1990s a plan was made to revitalize the city and it all started with a world-class aquarium.
Not only did the Tennessee Aquarium revitalize its own city, but it brought about a new era in the design, size and possibilities of aquariums. The aquarium tells the story of the Tennessee River, which is right outside its doors, from the source in the mountains to where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. And, they do a spectacular job telling that story.
After entering you ride an escalator to the very top of the building, which has been dubbed a “cathedral to conservancy” because of its large pointed glass roofs. The escalator lets you off in one of those four greenhouse type spaces with enclosures all around with flora and fauna from the mountains where the river starts its journey.
Your visit slowly spirals around the building heading down while passing through various other habitats eventually reaching the ocean. Along the way you’ll see fish, frogs, turtles, alligators, birds, otters and more.
Since I was there, they have added another couple of buildings including one that just focuses on the ocean and another with a 3D IMAX theater.
Just outside the city I lived in as an exchange student was a wildlife park with all of the marvelous Australia animals. It was one of the first places my first host family took me and one of the last places I visited in Adelaide before I left.
Just about anywhere in Australia you will find a similar wildlife park or zoo. When in The Gold Coast with the Young Ambassadors in 2008, we visited a very similar place with kangaroos and koalas and wallabies and more. I even got to participate in one of the educational shows by throwing a mouse head in the air for a bird to catch.
Suffice it to say, visiting this kind of attraction is a must for anyone visiting Australia. It may be the only way to see the iconic animals unique to Australia. And, it is the only way to pet and feed kangaroos and hold koalas.
Some of the animals you may not see at these parks like crocodiles, platypuses and sea life like sharks. So, you can go to the fantastic Sydney Aquarium found around Darling Harbour. I went there with my brother just before we left the country (he came to pick me up). Besides the shark tunnels, my favorite part was watching the little platypuses swimming around.
Some people may think zoos are cruel and wrong, but I think they are very important tools in educating people about the world, about conservation and about nature. Unfortunately, many zoos fall short of the care they should be giving to the animals by means of enclosure size and quality.
I am grateful for the many amazing creatures I’ve been able to see because they are at zoos and aquariums. Some of them have inspired me in my travels and encouraged me to learn more about places, animals and cultures. Hopefully, I will have a chance to visit many more in my life.
On that same day trip to San Antonio during the Christmas holiday in 2009, we made a pit stop in Austin on the way home. Here are a few pics from the Texas State Capitol Building at night from that trip.
This is another place I’ve been to multiple times – with The Texas Boys Choir, my high school choir and with family. With both choirs we sung somewhere in the building, once in the rotunda and another time in a big staircase. I am very grateful to be from Texas. Growing up in Texas made me who I am today. I am grateful my parents decided to take the job in Dallas instead of Wyoming after my dad graduated college. I am grateful for the amazing place and unique culture that is Texas.
2013 Gratitude Project – Travel: San AntonioThis month will be a celebration of travel. I am so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had over my nearly thirty years to explore the world. Click here to read about my 2013 November Gratitude Project – Travel
Growing up in Dallas, San Antonio was relatively close, so over the years I made the trip for various reason and with various groups. Of course I toured there with The Texas Boys Choir and with my high school choir we took two trips to San Antonio. When it was my dad’s turn to plan his family’s triennial family reunion, we chose to host it in San Antonio. I took a day trip there with my brother, sister and her husband.
It is such a fascinating city with rich history both from the Spanish missions to the Alamo. Running through downtown is a beautiful river walk lined with restaurants and hotels. Boats travel up and down the river giving tours with dinner and mariachis.
I’ve always enjoyed visiting San Antonio again and again. Not only does it have the wonderful history, historical architecture and energetic downtown, but it also is home to Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Sea World San Antonio. Both are fun places to go!
Enjoy a few images and always remember the Alamo!
I ran out of time today with so many adventures including the Phoenix Reptile Expo, visiting ancient ruins in the heart of Phoenix (I’ll write about that soon), and folk dancing with friends. It has been a busy day without much time to write, so this post will be mostly images.
As you know from following my blog, I was the stage manager for the BYU Young Ambassadors for three years. You can click here to find out more about them. With this amazing group I toured Australia, Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, Illinois and surrounding areas, and all over Utah and Idaho. We also had a tour to the Nordic Countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. I loved this tour even though I got really sick and a little frustrated at our venues.
Here’s why I loved it.
I got to know some amazing people!
Okay, these aren’t real people, but I did meet some fantastic people on this trip including a couple dozen host families who had talented children, introduced us to Eurovision and took care of me when I was sick. I also worked closely with some local crew members including a group of students who traveled with us through Sweden helping us set up and strike each performance.
I also got to know Henrik Ibsen, Norwegian trolls, Swedish Dala horses and Edvard Grieg through visiting their homes, and learning their stories. Perhaps the one deceased Scandinavian I most enjoyed learning about through his art was Bertel Thorvaldsen. So much that if you ever go bowling with me, I will use Thorvaldsen as my bowling name. He was the sculptor of the magnificent Christus statue and 12 apostles in a small Copenhagen church.
I also saw some magnificent scenery including the majestic fjords of Norway, cascading waterfalls on Hardangervide, beautiful Swedish and Finnish forests and more. As we drove over and under the fjords, I noticed several small rock islands only reachable by boat with a single little cabin or shack on them. I decided then that if I am ever uber-rich I will buy a little house in a Norwegian fjord to live in during the summer.
Traveling through four amazing countries took us through some fabulous cities too. My favorite was Stockholm. It felt like home. I really loved the old architecture in Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Bergen. The old stave churches were absolutely stunning. However, my favorite church of all we saw was an old church in Stockholm with a metal spiral steeple. You could see it from all over the city.
Overall, I just loved my time in the Nordic Countries. The people were so warm and inviting, the culture fascinating, and the experiences unforgettable. I hope to return someday. In every country people asked if I was from there. I do have Danish ancestors and feel akin to Finland speaking one of the only other languages in their language family.
I am indeed grateful for my opportunities to travel with the Young Ambassadors. I am so thankful to experience new cultures and places. It just reinforces one of my life philosophies taken from Dr. Seuss – “a person’s a person no matter how small,” meaning that we are all people no matter where we come from. There are nice people and mean people, generous and selfish, quiet and loud people from everywhere. We are all of the same fabric even if our cultures, languages and histories may be different. We all want to be loved and find a little bit of happiness and peace in this life. I hope everyone gets a chance to leave their homes and explore different lands and cultures. This will only help the world be a better place.
Two other adventures I made as a reporter for the Daily Universe were to Fillmore, Utah, the former territorial capitol, and to Cove Fort, a frontier fort built to protect settlers and travelers during the Black Hawk War.
Found in pretty much the middle of nowhere Utah and just a short distance off Interstate-15, this beautifully preserved piece of history is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members of which built the fort in 1867. Senior missionaries interpret the fort telling the story of the frontier Utah Territory and its settlers.
The fort is very well kept with many original furnishings. However, other than the stories unique to the fort, the shtick is pretty much the same as any other pioneer-era historic site. They tell you about “sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite” and all of the other little things about that age as if people who visit such sites aren’t already familiar with these anecdotes.
I found the architecture very fascinating. The structure itself was very similar to other Mormon forts like that at Pipe Springs National Monument being larger to serve a community as opposed to a single family. What was truly cool about the architecture was its material – it is made out of volcanic stone gathered from the region. With the storms being dark and the mortar nearly white, the building is quite cool looking. Also impressive is how thick the walls are – I don’t remember the dimensions, but they are pretty thick.
The fort isn’t the only thing to see at Cove Fort. They also have a cowboy’s bunk house, barn, blacksmith shop, garden and another historic home moved from Northern Utah. During one weekend each year, there is a festival with games, entertainment and crafts, sort of like a mild mountain man rendezvous for families.
The county seat of Millard County is right in the center of the old Utah Territory, as many capitols were founded in the past. It was named after the president of the time and was supposed to seat the territorial government. However, Salt Lake City was the major city in the region where the government had been since colonizing and where the major power and influence was.
Since Fillmore was supposed to be the capitol a grand capitol building was designed by Utah’s greatest architect Truman Angel who designed the Salt Lake Temple, Beehive and Lion Houses, St. George Temple and many private homes and buildings. The renderings of the building are beautiful with a magnificent rotunda and four wings.
Unfortunately, only one of the wings was constructed leaving Utah without this magnificent edifice. That wing is now a state park and visitors can learn this small part of Utah history, which is fascinating.
The main level is divided into many rooms that were offices and sitting rooms. The territorial legislature only met in the building for one session before the seat of government moved back to Salt Lake City. After that the building was used for a school and community center. The rooms on the main floor were classrooms.
One interesting story from Fillmore: most of the teachers at this school were non-Mormons come to Utah to teach the kids how wrong they were, their parents were and their church was. Back then it public schooling wasn’t really a big thing, so kids didn’t all go to school. However, to be good neighbors, the Mormons sent their kids to these teachers knowing they were trying to indoctrinate them. However, the parents just made sure they taught their kids at home about their values, principles and faith so they would be strong enough to think for themselves about what their teachers taught them.
The upper floor of the building is one big open space. This is where the legislature met. It is also where community meetings and social events took place.
What was built isn’t what Angell had intended, but it is a brilliant piece of history and a fantastic part of Utah’s story, which during the first several decades of settlement was a constant fight between the locals who made the desert blossom as a rose and outsiders who discriminated against them because of their faith and tried to dictate how things should be in the territory and eventually state.
I enjoyed these sites. Each offered a unique view into Utah’s past. I am grateful for places like this that are preserved to tell us the story of things gone by. I am also grateful for the lessons we can learn from these stories and the places used to tell them.
I wrote this as a student at BYU for the student newspaper “The Daily Universe.” It took a bit of convincing to get my editor to let me do a series of day trip articles for students. This is one of a few I did that semester and my first real travel writing experience. It was published on Sept. 10, 2008.
Bison crossing signs line the side of the road, giving the largest animals on the Great Salt Lake the right of way. The lake’s largest residents and the island they live on provide a perfect venue for the adventurous student who wants to have a truly unique Utah experience, just an hour and a half away from campus at Antelope Island State Park.
The oldest ranch in Utah, Fielding Garr Ranch, is located at the south end of the island overlooking Salt Lake City. Thousands of migrating birds stop at the island on their way to and from summer and winter nesting grounds.
The island has many options for those interested in hiking, biking or other outdoor recreation. There are over 10 trails ranging in difficulty and length, depending on experience level and available time.
One trail leads a hiker up the spine of the island to Frary Peak, the highest point on the island. Another trail winds around the western side, providing grand views of the lake.
Each trail provides ample opportunities to experience the wildlife of the island, such as a coyote looking out of the ‘sagebrush or small lizards that seem to be following on the side of the trail during a hike.
Bikers can ride past grazing animals on trails available for mountain biking and over 15 miles of roadways.
A beach is also available for visitors who want to experience the buoyancy of the highly concentrated salt water. The beach may not meet the standards set by the beaches of Southern California or Hawaii, but it offers a truly unique experience in the clear, shallow water of “America’s Dead Sea.”
Visitors may experience dry skin or a stinging sensation because of the high salt content, which just enhances the overall experience. Showers are offered to visitors who want to rinse off, after swimming in the lake.
Early pioneers and explorers found that life on the island was supported by a series of fresh water springs. Fielding Garr set up a ranch at the most consistent spring in response to a call from Brigham Young to set up a tithing ranch on the island. He settled there just one year after the pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley.
The ranch operated as a tithing facility until the 1870s and then as a private ranch until the 1970s. The original ranch house and buildings still stand, surrounded by shade trees, and are open for visitors to explore.
The island visitors’ center and ranch are open year round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.
Antelope Island also houses a state marina and the Buffalo Point Outdoor Bistro. The bistro serves bison burgers and sits on a bluff overlooking the island and lake.
Horseback riding is available as well as scenic or dinner cruises on the lake and ranger led walks and talks.
I visited Antelope Island twice while living in BYU and wish I had gone more. The first time was for this article with a friend. We spent most of the morning hiking, exploring the ranch and eating bison burgers. The second time I went with my dad and hiked most of the way to Frary Peak. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to turn back to make it on-time for an appointment.
I am grateful for my editor who let me do what I really wanted to do. I am grateful she published my stories. She also taught me a lot about writing and enjoying life. I’ll share a couple of my other day-trip adventures over the next couple of days.
As mentioned in my last post, after my adventure in Latvia I spent time with family in London and The Netherlands. You saw the pictures of me in Trafalgar Square and at St. Paul’s Cathedral yesterday. London was great. However, it was spring and we went to The Netherlands!
When people think of Holland they think of windmills, canals in Amsterdam and tulips. All for very good reasons. We didn’t spend any time in Amsterdam or The Hague, but we did get to see millions of blooming flowers and the giants from Don Quixote’s skirmishes.
Besides visiting some windmills and getting wooden shoes, one highlight was Keukenhof – the world’s largest flower garden. This once royal hunting ground is home to millions of varieties of flowers in spectacular arrangements in hundreds of flower beds. This isn’t where there are fields of tulips like you see in movies, though you pass by them on your way, but it is completely worth the trip when it is open in the spring. They also have graceful swans and a small menagerie.
We also got to watch the flower parade. It has floats covered in flowers and marching bands on bicycles. Most amazing is that this parade travels for about 40 kilometers. It must be one of the longest parade routes in the world.
We were staying with family who was living there, so we got to experience some of the real-side of Holland too. Behind their house was a canal that we boated on, and we rode bikes into town for my first taste of European ice cream. That’s where I learned that lemon ice cream is delicious!
At one point, the parents went to Bruges leaving the kids in the care of an elderly babysitter. During the day when my cousins were at school, I joined this local on my favorite adventure of the trip. We hopped on the bikes and rode to the North Sea. It was such a pleasant experience riding across the Dutch countryside and arriving at the seaside. I don’t remember how far it was, but it took us a few hours in each direction.
I am very grateful for the extra time we spent in Europe to see some spectacular sights and do a few unorganized things, non-touristy things. I am very thankful for my parents who made the sacrifices to make the trip happen. I can’t wait to make a return trip.
In 2008, I returned to Australia with The BYU Young Ambassadors. We toured through several cities including the capitol of Canberra. We visited a few sites including touring the house of parliament. The highlight for me though was the Australian War Memorial. Today being Veteran’s/Remembrance/Armistice Day I thought I would share that experience. I am so grateful for men and women who serve their countries to defend freedom and liberty especially those who see battle. Thank you to all of you!
The Australian War Memorial is beautiful. In the center of the entrance courtyard is a fountain that seems to come from the beautiful rotunda at the end or Hall of Memory where the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier is. Lining the walls on either side are the names of men and women who gave their lives in various conflicts Australia has been involved with. Scattered among the names are red poppies looking as if they are growing out of the wall.
The Hall of Memory at the end of the courtyard is stunning. I have a thing for rotundas, and this one so magnificently serves its honorable mission. In the center of the hall is the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier. The ceiling and walls are covered with more than six million enameled glass tiles creating a truly beautiful sight. For figures are in the mosaic representing service men and women from World War II. There are also fabulous stained-glass windows.
The crown jewel of this space is the rotunda itself acting as crown to the tomb. The tiles are golden and shimmering in the light and a most glorious fashion.
After paying respects to in these serene yet magnificent spaces, it is only fitting to visit the museum that is under and behind this memorial. The museum takes visitors through various conflicts and battles that Australians were a part of with a heavy focus on the two world wars. The largest museum hall has actual aircraft that were used in battle.
Each year on this day set apart to remember those who have served, I don the red poppy pin I got at the Australian War Memorial. It is a small thing I can do to pay tribute to men and women who sacrifice their lives in honor of their country, their family and their liberty.
When I was fifteen I was an exchange student in Adelaide, Australia. Over the six months I spent there I lived with two host families. With one of them, I participated in the Barossa Balloon Regatta. The Michells, my host family, had a balloon named Brainwave that we took to the event.
Over the festival I helped set up and put away the balloon, I played ground navigator as we followed through paddocks in South Australia’s wine country during the couple of balloon challenges, and I had the amazing opportunity to go up in the balloon.
It was wonderful floating gracefully over the vineyards below. I never imagined getting the chance to fly in a balloon like that. The landing can be a bit shaky with the basket sometimes tipping as it hits the ground, but that’s completely worth the experience of flying in hot air balloon.
The whole festival was fantastic, but one of the more memorable events was the night glow when the balloons set up in a field at night and glow. They don’t leave the ground. With all of the different balloons the field is covered in beautiful colors. It is a magical experience.
During one of the challenges of the festival balloon teams were given coordinates of a drop location that they had to hunt down and try to hit with something they drop from the basket. The team that gets nearest the target
To set up the balloon we set the basket on its side and unfolded the balloon in the field next to it. At that point, two people held open the mouth of the balloon to let the heat in from the flame. This is a really hot job. As the hot air fills the balloon it inflates and raises above the basket.wins a prize. Part of the team is in a vehicle on the ground helping navigate the balloon in the right direction. It seemed much easier for those in the air than for those on the ground since on the ground there were obstacles, fences, gates to open and more. However, they had to deal with air currents and natural forces. It was very exciting.
Also during the festival, I had the awesome opportunity to ride in a helicopter. I did two things over a few days that many people have on their bucket lists for years. I am so grateful for the awesomeness that is flying! I am grateful for both of my host families in Australia that made me a part of their families taking me on vacations and adventures across Australia.
Here are the pages from my Australia scrapbook from the balloon festival. (click on the images to make them bigger)
The organization I interned with in NYC celebrates Pioneer Day on July 24, so I had the day off. I chose to take a day trip to Boston, which was spectacular! I wish I could have spent more time there, but crammed as much as I could into the very short time I had there.
What an amazing city with such a rich history and culture!
My journey began shortly after midnight when I hopped on a bus that only cost $1 somewhere in Midtown Manhattan. The trip was about four hours and got me there just as the city was waking up. Unfortunately, a heavy rain storm welcomed me. Since I had limited time, I chose to go find a few sights before others began to open.
The subway took me within a few blocks of Fenway Park. The rain just got harder as I walked around the corner to see the Green Monster. Since I was drenched and nothing was open yet, I took the subway to a train station and waited around for an hour or so until I got bored and decided to ride the subway for a distance, it eventually became a street-level light rail, and see some of the city that way while drying off.
Once the rain petered out, downtown and the Freedom Trail were calling my name. This walking path through downtown Boston takes you to various sites important to the American Revolution. After all, Boston was the cradle of the revolution. Sites on the trail include 16 sites like the old and new Massachusetts’s statehouses, Paul Revere’s home, the Old North Church, King’s Church and more. I think I made it to most of these fabulous places – each with a great story that weaves itself into the larger story of freedom.
My favorite places on the trail were Old North Church, Paul Revere’s house and King’s Chapel. I didn’t get a chance to go in the USS Constitution, aka Old Ironsides, because the line was way too long.
To walk in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers and be in the places they discussed and stood up for liberty. If only to be in any one of those locations when they had their gatherings to hear John or Sam Adams speak or be in the presence of those people who fought during the battle of Bunker Hill.
“One if by sea, two if by land.” The oldest church in Boston was also the highest point in 1775 so that a signal could be given to patriots telling them how the British were making their approach. Paul Revere was the messenger who put the two lanterns in the tower signaling the oncoming army. The tour of the church takes you up in the tower, not the original since fire has destroyed the tower a couple of times since then, and into the sanctuary.
Ever since my historical furnishings and architecture class, I’ve wanted to visit some of the important structures we discussed. Those structures are important because they were built by architects who redefined styles and created new things. In the class we actually discusses a few buildings in Boston. One of them was the Trinity Church designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. It is the best example of his style – Richardsonian Romanesque.
I’ve admired this style ever since and really wanted to visit the church. So, after my Freedom Trail expedition and getting some dry socks, I made it happen. So worth it!
The Trinity Church is a beautiful building inside and out. The murals inside are beautiful as are the stained-glass windows. I absolutely recommend visiting this piece of architectural history when visiting Boston.
There are many options for guided tours in Boston. I had time to do one. Since I had walked the city and seen many of the sites I opted to go on a harbor cruise. This took us out to see the lighthouse, passed an old star fort and more. I enjoyed it as a nice closing to an exciting day.
I am so grateful for the one short day I could spend in Boston. Just as my trip to Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, this adventure helped me gain a deeper appreciation for the founders of my native land, for the men and women who sacrificed so much for what they thought was right – not right because they thought it was but because they believed what they fought for were rights inherently given to all humans not by man or government.
I am grateful for people who preserve the stories and places of the past. Being there helps the past be so much more real and not just fade into history and legend. As important as it is to move forward, we can’t forget where we came from and what has made us who we are today.