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Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a beautiful park that is run by BLM and is located on Pueblo de Cochiti land in between Albuquerque and Santa Fe New Mexico….

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a beautiful park that is run by BLM and is located on Pueblo de Cochiti land in between Albuquerque and Santa Fe New Mexico. This park has a few miles of hiking trails with the most popular including a slot canyon and a collection of cone-shaped rocks. We did the 3-mile trail through the slot canyon up to the overlook, and it was a great adventure, here is all the information.

Details

  • Cost: $5 to enter the park or free with a National Parks annual pass
  • Busy on the weekends and in the summer with limited parking. They only let people in when others leave, so get there early or be prepared to wait 30-90 minutes when it is busy.
  • Closes at 4 and they have rangers on the trail to get people out of the park when they close.

Getting There

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is located about 45 minutes from Albuquerque or Santa Fe. Once you get to the park, you will wait in line to pay then drive 4 miles into the parking area to begin the trail.

The Trail

After parking, there are pit toilets near the lot if you need them, then you can head out on the trail.

The Cave Loop portion of the trail is about a half-mile and is relatively uneventful with some nice views of the mountains around you. You can head back on the other part of the loop after doing the slot canyon if you want and it adds about a quarter-mile to the total trail.

If you do decide to do this extra portion, you can see a large cave in the rock and get close to some of the cone-shaped rocks that sit alongside the trail.

From the split for the slot canyon trail, you will be heading back into the canyon on a 1-mile trail each way that is an out and back (2 miles total).

This part of the trail is beautiful though, as the canyon gets more and more narrow as you head back. Eventually, it is a full slot canyon that gets so narrow that it is hard to pass by people in a few sections. It is a ton of fun and provides some great photos.

After exiting the slot canyon, you will start the uphill portion of the hike to the overlook. This part is not shaded, so do note that if it is hot out and bring a lot of water.

The hike bends around as it heads up with a few small sections that require a little scrambling.

You will also see some of the best tent rocks on the trail here, especially when you look back at what you came through.

This was my favorite section and even better than the overlook at the top.

The trail switchbacks up and gains more elevation until you get above the canyon and can see out over the vast land surrounding you.

At the overlook, you have a 360-degree view of the area, but I will say that you can’t see many of the tent rocks as easily from here. You will have had so many amazing views on the way up though that it is not a huge deal and you will be excited to have gotten to the end of this trail.

We enjoyed our time in Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, and I highly recommend that you check it out if you are in the area. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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How to Spend Two Days in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As the most visited national park in the USA, the Great Smoky Mountains are on many peoples bucket lists to explore. I had never gotten a chance to see them…

As the most visited national park in the USA, the Great Smoky Mountains are on many peoples bucket lists to explore. I had never gotten a chance to see them until a recent trip to Tennessee brought me to the town of Gatlinburg, which is right at the doorstep of the national park. I spent two days exploring the park, and if you are looking for what to do while there, I figured I would share my itinerary.

Day 1

Gatlinburg

We left from Knoxville after lunch and did the one hour drive to Pidgeon Forge / Gatlinburg. These towns remind me of Las Vegas without the gambling, and there are all sorts of crazy stops to see along the way, including many museums and attractions like the largest Titanic recreation in the USA. I am sure these attractions would be a lot of fun if traveling with a family but we wanted to get into the park, so we skipped most of them and made our way to our first stop, Rainbow Falls.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls was our main stop on day one as it is the largest waterfall in the park and one of the parks most popular hikes. We were able to get a parking spot in the small lot, and we set out on the 5 mile and 1,500 feet of elevation trail.

This trail is beautiful, following a creek and shaded most of the way. Don’t underestimate it though as it is a lot of uphill and can be tough in the humidity depending on when you go. Read all about the hike here.

The waterfall was great though, and we spent about 45 minutes just hanging out before making the trip back to the car. From there we drove back into Gatlinburg to our hotel.

Hotel

For hotels, I booked one a little out of town but right along the river. It was well priced and had a fantastic balcony that overlooked the water. Find out more about the hotel here.

Day 2

Day 2 was our long day, and we spent pretty much the entire day in the park. We grabbed breakfast and coffee at Starbucks then headed out on the 50-minute drive to Cades Cove.

Cades Cove is the parks most popular area, and it is an 11 mile one-way road with lots of historical points of interest and a chance to see wildlife.

Note that this road is extremely popular and you probably should plan at least a half-day for it. We found that people often go very slow and even stop in the middle of the road for photos, which means that you may be stuck often on the one-lane road and have to wait for them to start going again.

We did enjoy the drive though and saw a bear in the trees while heading around the loop.

There are many historic cabins, mills, and churches to see on this drive, so make sure to get a $1 map before you head in. When we left Cades Cove, we stopped at the campground store for some snacks and then headed back towards Gatlinburg.

Laurel Falls

From there we made a stop at Laurel Falls which is a cascading waterfall that is accessed via a 2.5-mile trail with 500 feet of elevation. Because the trail is relatively short, it is popular, and you will see a lot of people on the trail and may also have to wait for parking.

The trail is beautiful though, going uphill most of the way and ending at a stunning set of two waterfalls. It is an excellent introduction hike to the park if you only have a little bit of time.

After that, we stopped at the Sugarland Visitors Center to check out the exhibits they had on the animals in the park before heading into Gatlinburg for food.

We ate dinner at Five Guys, a popular burger chain, and then went over to the newly opened sky bridge.

Sky Bridge

This bridge is the longest pedestrian bridge in the USA, and you get to it by taking a ski lift up the hill to a viewing platform. There is a restaurant up there, good views of the Smoky Mountains and of course access to the bridge.

The bridge takes about 10 minutes to walk across as you want to take your time and enjoy the views. Do note that it is 140 feet up at its tallest height and that it has glass floors in a few sections so it may be scary if you are afraid of heights. After getting off the bridge, we made our way back down where we parked and headed out on the 45-minute drive to Clingmans Dome, which is where we were planning to spend sunset.

The drive was beautiful, and you will want to plan some time to stop at a few of the viewpoints on the way, especially the Newfound Gap.

Newfound Gap

The Newfound Gap is the tallest part of the road that goes through the park, and it is on the state line, so it is a popular stop with great views. This is also where the Appalachian Trail runs through the park so you can see some signs for this famous east coast trail as well.

From there it is about 15 minutes up to Clingmans Dome.

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome is a well-known part of the park that you have certainly seen in photos which has a big circular cement walkway that leads up to an observation deck.

Note that to get to the base of the cement walkway you do have to take a half-mile, 250 feet of elevation, steep hike though.

It is worth it when you get to the structure, it is one of the most unique spots I have seen in a national park, and the views from the top are incredible.

When we got there about 45 minutes before sunset there were only four people at the top, but by sunset, there was a good 40, so note that you will be with lots of others and that it is a relatively small space, but it is worth it for the fantastic sunset views.

With that, we headed back to our hotel and ended our time in the park. It was an incredible two days (but it was rushed as well), and we can’t wait to go back and spend more time there. Let me know what your favorite spot is in the park in the comments.

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Lost Sea Adventure: Largest Underground Lake in USA

While in Knoxville, I was looking at the advertisements in my hotel and saw one for the Lost Sea Adventure, which was only 45 minutes south. It stated that this…

While in Knoxville, I was looking at the advertisements in my hotel and saw one for the Lost Sea Adventure, which was only 45 minutes south. It stated that this cave tour took you to the largest underground lake in the USA and the 2nd largest underground lake in the world. Amie and I were in, and the next day, we drove down to take a tour of this popular tourist attraction. Here is all the information.

Details

  • Price: $22 (As of July 2019)
  • Tours ran as they filled up and they told me there were no specific times for the tours.
  • The tour took about an hour and a half.
  • Address: 140 Lost Sea Rd, Sweetwater, TN 37874

Getting There

From Knoxville, it is easy to get to the Lost Sea Adventure on Highway 75. After getting off on New Highway 68, you will be only 10 minutes from the attraction. Utilize Google Maps for the last 10 minutes, and when you get there, there is a large parking area that had a lot of spots.

The Tour

When I checked in, they told me the next tour was at 12:35, which was ten minutes from then, so that was the one we signed up for. I do imagine that on the weekends and in the summer this is a very busy spot and you may have to book your tickets in advance.

There were 30 people on the tour when it began and we started by heading down a long yellow tunnel into the cave itself. I have been on many cave tours over the years, and the thing that most struck me about this tour was how massive the cave was.

You were basically always in a huge room, and even those with claustrophobia may be able to do this cave tour.

Along the way, our guide told us about the many different formations that we were seeing, but if you are looking specifically for formations, there are much better caves to explore.

The highlight for this cave is the water aspect, which appeared many times on the tour, including small pools in the cave and even a waterfall in the middle.

Our guide was knowledgeable about the history and the cave itself as we headed further down underground to get to the lake.

When we finally got there, it was imposing to see as it was a big 4-acre lake in the middle of the cave. They had put a bunch of lights under the water as well, which made it much easier to see the size.

We were broken into groups to get into the boats, and then we set out on the water.

I have never been in a boat in a cave before, so this was a super cool experience even though there is not a lot to see on the lake.

There are some massive rainbow trout that were introduced into the lake a few decades back to see if there was an exit to the lake. The fish never found the exit though so they just got big and stayed in the water here.

It was crazy to see them swimming around as it was pretty clear and our guide fed them when they came near the boat. After making our way around the lake we finished our tour by hiking uphill back to where it began.

Both Amie and I enjoyed our time at the Lost Sea Adventure; taking a boat on an underground lake is certainly not something you get to do every day. If you are in the area or taking a road trip through Tennessee, be sure to add it to your list. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Rainbow Falls: The Tallest Waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Rainbow Falls is the tallest waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and one of the most popular trails in the entire park. It is a beautiful and lush trail…

Rainbow Falls is the tallest waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and one of the most popular trails in the entire park. It is a beautiful and lush trail that goes along the creek most of the way, but that gains a lot of elevation and has a tough uphill grind. It’s well worth the effort though, and the waterfall payoff is an excellent introduction to the park. Here is all the information.

Details

  • 5.2 miles
  • 1,500 feet of elevation
  • Limited parking, especially in the summer.

Getting There

Rainbow Falls trailhead is not in the central part of the park that most people drive through, it is off by itself with Grotto Falls and a few other trails on Cherokee Orchard Road out of Gatlinburg. It is easy to find with Google Maps though, and there is a small parking area and an overflow lot about a quarter-mile down the road.

The trail

From the parking area, the trail starts a gradual incline and keeps it for the entire hike. There are some sections with wooden stairs that add more to the slope as well.

I would rate the hike as moderate, but some people turned around and said it was too hard. I am sure it depends on how much you do this type of thing though as there were many children at the waterfall who had made the hike.

For us, the toughest part was the humidity, which we are not used to in California, and which made it feel like you were swimming in your clothing. Make sure to bring a lot of water as you will be sweating it off.

The trail is beautiful though, and it goes along a creek and stays in the shaded trees most of the way.

Everything is a lush green, and there were a few moments where the trees gave way to some excellent views of the mountains as well.

As you get towards the end the trail crosses a fun old bridge with handrails only on one side, and a few stone step creek crossings as well.

Eventually, you will hear the sound of the falls and will get your first glance.

I was surprised by how pretty the waterfall was when we finally made it. It wasn’t roaring, but it had a beautiful stream of water falling into the pools below.

There are lots of rocks to climb around on to get different views of the falls, and you could even go behind it if you were feeling brave.

We hung out for about 45 minutes just taking it all in; it was our first hike in the park and a great introduction into this beautiful area of Tennessee. You can read about how we spent two days in the park here and let me know what your favorite spot is as well.

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17 Things to do in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico is a beautiful and historic city in the United States. With over 400 years of history, the city has so much to offer the traveler from…

Santa Fe, New Mexico is a beautiful and historic city in the United States. With over 400 years of history, the city has so much to offer the traveler from museums and food to culture and art. We spent four days exploring Santa Fe and here were our favorite spots. Let us know what we left off in the comments.

Santa Fe Plaza

Santa Fe Plaza is the main area that most people begin their time in Santa Fe at. The plaza has shopping and restaurants, all within walking distance of many of the cities most popular stops. If you are feeling up for it, you can even grab a famous Frito Pie at the Five and Dime off the plaza; I am told they sell 30,000 of these famous treats a year.

Museum of History / Palace of the Governors

Off the plaza is the Museum of History and the Palace of the Governors, this museum is an excellent introduction into Santa Fe history with exhibits on the area and even on its nuclear history as well. You can also visit the Palace of the Governors, which is an adobe structure that served as the home of the New Mexico government for centuries. It is currently closed for renovations, and I was told it might not be open till 2020.

Cathedral of St Francis of Assisi

This famous cathedral is a must visit for many people when they come to Santa Fe. It was built on the site of an older church in the late 1800s, and it features stunning architecture with large arches and columns. We happened to be there when they were celebrating the end of easter with a concert of bells, and it was a beautiful time to be in the church.

Loretto Chapel

Loretto Chapel is home to the miraculous spiral staircase, which is an engineering marvel with no supports and has a fun history that you can read online. It is a stunning church and a great quick stop in the city to visit and one of Santa Fe’s most popular tourist attractions.

Oldest Church and House in the USA

Santa Fe is one of the oldest cities in the USA, and because of that, it also has the country’s oldest church. It is another quick stop and a unique old church which reminded me of the California mission churches. It is also located next to the oldest house in the country as well, so it is worth visiting both of them.

Cross Of The Martyrs for Sunset

My last recommendation in Downtown Santa Fe is the short hike up to the Cross of the Martyrs. This hike is only a quarter mile long, and on the way up there are many plaques which tell the history of New Mexico. At the top, there is a cross that is dedicated to 21 friars who lost their lives during a revolt in 1680, and it is a favorite spot in the city for sunset.

Santa Fe Railyard and Farmers Market

Moving out a little from the downtown area, the Santa Fe Railyard is a great stop. There are a few restaurants here and a great coffee shop, but if you visit on the weekend then be sure to check out the farmers market. On Saturday it is a traditional farmers market with food, and on Sunday it is often an artisan market.

Jean Cocteau Cinema House

This recommendation is not for everyone but if you are a fan of indie cinema or the Game of Thrones book series, then stop by the Jean Cocteau Cinema House. This theater is owned by George R R Martin who wrote the Game of Thrones book series and they often have signed copies of the books for sale in the lobby. Plus the lobby has Game of Thrones inspired drinks, and of course, the movie theater is great if you want to catch a film as well.

Canyon Road Galleries and Sculptures

Canyon road Is a half-mile area full of art galleries and restaurants. While I can’t afford anything on this entire street, it is still fun to walk around, pop into a few galleries and see all of the beautiful sculptures that line the street. Parking can be a little difficult here though, especially on the weekends.

Meow Woof

Meow Wolf is the city’s most famous attraction and one that is great for visitors of all ages. This art installation was created in an old bowling alley, and it is hard to describe as it is just a crazy experience that you have to check out yourself. Plan to spend a couple of hours exploring all of the rooms and get there when it opens as it fills up quickly and can often be a long wait during the summer.

Folk Art Museum / Museum Hill

Museums are prevalent in Santa Fe, and there are a lot of great ones all over the city. The best museums though are located in the Museum Hill area though which is south of the town. This spot has the Folk Art Museum, which is my personal favorite, and which has a ton of miniature scenes to check out in one large room of the museum. Across the way is the Native American museum as well, you can’t take photos inside but it is worth checking out also.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

I also wanted to highlight the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in downtown Santa Fe. Georgie O’Keeffe is one of the area’s most prominent artists, and the museum has a lot of her famous works, as well as a lot of information on who she was If you are a fan of the artist or art in general it is certainly worth the stop.

Kakawa Chocolate House 

I am making an entire video on food in Santa Fe, but this was fun enough to deserve a spot on this list as well. Kakawa Chocolate House is a local chocolate company in Santa Fe, and they make a vast collection of drinking chocolates that you can get a flight of. The chocolates are mixed with everything from chili to almond milk, and I was surprised by how fun they were to taste.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

These last four recommendations are more active and they are all outside of Santa Fe proper. First up, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is in between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and it has a great 3-mile trail that takes you through a slot canyon and around a collection of unique rocks that have cone-shaped tops. It is worth the visit just to see these rocks as I had never seen anything like it before. The slot canyon is certainly impressive as well though, especially if you have never been to one before. Do note that there is limited parking here and if you get there when it is full, you have to wait outside the pay station for someone to leave.

Pecos National Historic Site

West of Santa Fe sits Pecos National Historic Site, which is another great park. This park has a 1.5-mile trail that takes you through the ruins of a church from the 1600s and some old pueblos. It’s interesting to explore with a lot of plaques that tell you about the area’s history. They also have kivas, which are large circular holes in the ground that had religious significance to Native Americans, and that you can climb the ladders down into. You can explore this park in an hour or so, but it is worth checking out, especially if you like history.

Los Alamos

About an hour north of Santa Fe, Los Alamos is the birthplace of the atomic bomb and one of the three Manhattan Project sites. The city still has a large active research facility and a lot of history on the creation of the atom bomb. If you are interested in this, then spend a half day going to the science museum, walking around the national historic park and taking the city’s self-guided walking tour. I learned a lot during my time here, and even though it is an intense part of history, it is well worth the experience.

Bandelier National Monument

If you decide to go to Los Alamos, you should also go to Bandelier National Monument. This park is fantastic and features many Native American cliff dwellings that you can climb into on old wooden ladders. It is unique, and not something I have experienced before in a national park. The highlight of the 2.2-mile trail though is the Alcove House which was is a cave that was used as a home, and that is perched high up on the cliff side. To access this area, you have to climb multiple ladders that make up over 140 feet of vertical gain. The narrow path hugs the side of the cliff, and it feels very adventurous as you make your way up. Do note that you have to take a shuttle into this park in the summer though as it is jam-packed and parking is hard to come by.

That’s it, my list of spots to explore in Santa Fe. Let me know what I left off in the comments!

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Petrified Forest National Park Guide: How to Spend a Day in the Park

Petrified Forest National Park is a fantastic park in northeast Arizona that preserves some of the United State’s best collections of petrified wood. This massive park’s central area can be…

Petrified Forest National Park is a fantastic park in northeast Arizona that preserves some of the United State’s best collections of petrified wood. This massive park’s central area can be experienced in a day, but of course, there is so much more to explore if you have more time. If you only have a day though, here is what I recommend you do starting from the north entrance and leaving from the south entrance.

Details

  • $30 to enter or free with the national parks pass
  • Became a national monument in 1906 and a national park in 1962
  • Only national park to have a portion of Route 66 running through it

Getting There

The park is about an hour and a half east of Flagstaff. I started from Highway 40 and then exited on Highway 180.

The Park

From Highway 140, you will enter near the Painted Desert Visitors Center. There is not a lot to see at this visitors center but they have some petrified wood on sale, and you can ask any questions you have about the park.

Tiponi Point

From here I headed to Tiponi Point, the first viewpoint you get to. This viewpoint and the rest in this area all provide amazing views of the Painted Desert, which is a collection of hills as far as you can see in red, pink and blue tones.

Painted Desert Inn

Next we stopped at Painted Desert Inn, which is a historic landmark built in the early 1900s that used to be a hotel. The building is now a museum that preserves what it looked like when the hotel was in use. It is fun to walk around, to explore the old dining area and rooms and to see the prices that were on the menu when it was in use.

Don’t forget to also go out to Kachina Point which is outside of the inn and another excellent viewing area.

From here we made our way along the park road and stopped at a few of the five more viewpoints that were in the northern part of the park. Each of these viewpoints are quick stops and provide slightly different views into the wilderness area of the Painted Desert.

Route 66

After passing the last viewpoint, you will be at the small part of the park dedicated to Route 66. Route 66’s original road went right through this portion of the park. It is gone now though with the vegetation grown up to cover the road, but the electrical lines still mark where the road would have been.

There is also a small display here with a plaque, information, and an old car. I am a huge Route 66 fan, so it was fun to see this historic area of the park.

After leaving Route 66, you will drive for another 5 or so miles until you pass train track and enter into the middle portion of the park.

Puerco Pueblo

The first stop in this section is the Puerco Pueblo. This quarter mile trail has the remains of some pueblo homes that were built in the 1200-1300 CE and also a vast collection of petroglyphs to see as well. Don’t forget to go into the small building on the trail to learn more about the area.

Newspaper Rock

A quick drive brings you to Newspaper Rock which is one of the most popular stops in the park. This overlook lets you look down on a huge rock that has more than 650 petroglyphs, some of which are over 2,000 years old. You really need a zoom lens or binoculars to see them well since they are far below you, but it is an excellent site and one of the best petroglyphs I have ever seen.

Tepees

From here the drive gets impressive as you enter the badlands area of the park and see the famous Tepees. I was blown away by how cool these colorful mountains were and pulled out a few times to take photos from different angles.

Blue Mesa

It only gets better though as you head into the Blue Mesa, one of the most unique areas of the park.

There are a few viewpoints here, but I recommend you take the short 1-mile hike down into them as you will be able to appreciate better the blue and purple hues of the landscape and will get your first real view of petrified wood.

It was a pretty dreary day when we went but it was still awe-inspiring to see this area, and it was probably my favorite spot in the park.

Agate Bridge

Petrified wood becomes the main draw of the rest of the park, with the first stop being at the Agate Bridge, a 110-foot petrified log that was reinforced with concrete to stay in one piece.

Jasper Forest

Next up is a short stop at the Jasper Forest which has a high concretization of petrified wood that you can look out over. It is not as impressive as I am sure it was in the early 1900s before a lot of the wood was taken though.

Crystal Forest

From Jasper Forest, you will get to Crystal Forest which is the most popular spot in the park. This mile-long trail gets you up close with thousands of pieces of petrified wood.

I was blown away by how much they had there and how cool it was to see in person. The trail just keeps getting better and better as you head further back and see some substantial pieces of wood.

Give yourself enough time for this trail as you will want to spend some time here checking it all out.

Giant Logs Trail

We are now at the southern portion of the park. If you have time, visit the Rainbow Forest Visitors Center, which has some exhibits and information. Also, it is connected to the Giant Logs Trail which has some of the largest petrified logs in the park.

Long Logs Trail

Also, from here you can head out on the Long Logs or Agate House Trail which is about 2.5 miles if you do both of them. The Long Logs Trail leads through another collection of petrified wood, some of which is over 170 feet long.

Agate House Trail

The Agate House Trail continues on to a seven-room pueblo house that used petrified wood for its construction. This house is especially interesting since I had never seen anything like it before. After doing this trail, your one day in Petrified Forest National Park is complete.

Let me know what I left off in the comments that you like exploring in the park.

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