Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World

Star Wars Weekends

Star Wars Weekends

In May, Anthony and I traveled to Orlando for Star Wars Weekends and a chance to see friends and hang out at the theme parks.  An avid member of the 501st, Anthony was anxious to march in the Star Wars character parade at Hollywood Studios – still MGM in our heads.

Because it is tough for me to get time off during the school year, we scheduled our trip over Memorial Day weekend.  Even so, extensive snow days caused my work to reschedule school on Memorial Day!  I had to take a personal day, but we were limited to three days instead of the four we originally planned.  As always, we packed a lot into our three days.

Our first stop, after driving the 9 hour trek the night before, was Ethos.  This is our favorite place to eat in Orlando – and one of our favorite vegan restaurants in general.  Every time I have been, it seems that the breakfast special is french toast – which makes me very happy.  French toast and Canadian bacon is my breakfast of choice there.  Anthony almost always get biscuits and gravy.  We met friends at breakfast, and then eventually made our way to Epcot for the day.  It was already very hot – in the 90’s and humid all weekend.  We rode many rides and wandered through the country galleries, Japan was especially neat.  One ride that none of us want to repeat is Mission: SPACE.  Afterwards, we all felt wonky, since it simulates blast off and a trip through space.  We don’t get motion sick, but it was the simulation of the G forces that made us feel so gross.  Besides that, we had a blast.  Disney is always fun.  I also ran into old friends there.  I had no idea they were in Orlando, and running into them – and their four month old baby whom I hadn’t met yet, was great.

Epcot

Epcot

The following day, Sunday, was Anthony’s day to march in the parade.  I dropped him off early to meet up with the other 501st members, and then sat and waited for the parade.  I had to get a good spot in order to take photos.  At least I had friends to chat with while waiting in the sun.  Finally, the parade began.  Anthony dresses as a Tie Fighter, and there were several others lined up with him to march.  Thousands of people watched and cheered them on as they walked down the main street at Hollywood Studios.

After the parade, we spent the day riding the rides and hanging out with friends.  It was a busy weekend, but we had fun with everyone, even waiting in line.  Monday meant we had to drive back to Asheville, but we managed to stop for lunch at Ethos first!

 

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Congaree National Park

 

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park

Though Congaree National Park is only about three hours from our home, we had yet to visit it together – and I had never been there.  Congaree is a smaller National Park, but full of diverse plant and animal life.  Designated to protect wetland and old growth bottomland forest, many of Congaree’s visitors see the park by boat.  Since this was not an option for us, we planned our visit around camping and hiking.

Arriving midway through a Saturday, we quickly set up our tent in the Longleaf Campground.  Camping is free, with a permit, and the sites in this campground were nicely spaced and easily accessible by a short trail to the parking lot.  The weekend we chose to visit in May was perfect weather for camping, and the campground was almost full.  The group campground was overrun with a very boisterous group of Boy Scouts.

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park

After camp was set up, we took a walk on the boardwalk to observe the swampland and the knees of the Bald Cypress trees, as well as the trees themselves.  Many sections of the boardwalk were flooded and we sloshed through several puddles on our hike.  Chatting with other park visitors, we made our way off the boardwalk and took a longer, circuitous hike through the woods.  Almost entirely flat, the trails were well maintained, and wove through and around trees, waterways, and swamp.  We connected the Weston Lake Trail to the Kingsnake Trail for a quiet, peaceful hike by Cedar Creek.

The next morning we woke up to cloudy skies and a forecast for rain.  As soon as we packed up our tent, the rain hit and we decided to spend the day hanging around Columbia, South Carolina, the city closest to Congaree.  Our first stop was to try a restaurant we’d never been to before, Arabesque on Devine.  Advertising Lebanese cuisine, we were excited to try their falafel (Anthony) and grape leaves (me).  It turned out to be super tasty and reasonably priced, with a cozy interior seating area full of pillows and colorful artwork.  We left stuffed.

On our way through town the previous day, we had seen signs for The South Carolina Book Festival.  Curious, since I love books just as much as I love National Parks, we drove down to the convention center.  The festival was free, and there were many vendors set up including antiquarian booksellers, new authors, independent publishers, and writer workshops.  We wandered through the aisles and spent a lot of time looking through old books in the antiquarian section.  There were a lot of fun old pamphlets and documents to peruse, and first editions that we’ll probably never be able to afford.  We managed to make minimal purchases, but really enjoyed looking at the old texts.

Our last stop before heading home was at Heroes and Dragons, a comic book store.  We happily spent a lot of time searching the cases and shelves.  Anthony was looking at vintage toys, while I was searching the bookshelves.  They had a huge selection of used books, and an entire room dedicated to books that only cost a dollar.  Happy with new purchases, we headed back to Asheville after a quick, nice weekend away.

Franklin D. Roosevelt NHS and Cumberland Gap NHP

As always, we spent the Christmas season traveling. We spend Christmas Eve in Asheville with Anthony’s family, and then take a flight Christmas Day up to Connecticut to see my side of the family. It’s exhausting for us, but at least we get to spend some time with everyone throughout the holidays. This year was rough though, because I had a bad cold right before Christmas and then while up north, Anthony came down with the flu, which he then gave to me and my parents! How rude.
In between illnesses and family time though, we were able to get to one National Park Site and eat at a couple of great restaurants. One was It’s Only Natural, where I have been eating in Connecticut since I was in high school. It’s the first restaurant where I tried vegan food, and helped lead me to vegetarianism at age 14, then later to veganism a few years later. So there is some nostalgia for that, as well as the fact that we always meet our friends Kate and Bowen, and now their baby Wes, there for lunch the day after Christmas. We also tried a new place in New Haven, Da Legna. Near Yale University, it caters to vegans with a separate pizza menu. The pizza was really tasty, thin crust, piled high with vegan bacon and pepperoni. Yum!

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site

We spent a day with my parents at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. Since there are several National Park Sites in the area, we had planned to go to at least two of them in one day, but we enjoyed this one so much that we ended up spending the entire day there. We toured the home and learned all kinds of interesting facts about FDR and his home life. Then we were lost for hours in the comprehensive museum on the property. So many exhibits, films, and relics – it was truly amazing. We wandered and wandered, eventually left to grab some lunch, and then went back for more! There is also a piece of the Berlin Wall on the property, which was really cool to see.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

After returning from our winter vacation, and spending New Years in bed ill, we managed to squeeze in one more park site in honor of my birthday before Anthony departed for what is proving to be an incredibly busy spring with work. We drove to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park on a Sunday. It was chilly, but not too cold, so we were able to walk around a little at the site. There are some extensive hiking trails as well. Cumberland Gap commemorates the early European settlers who first traveled through this gap in the Appalachian Mountains in order to settle the west. There are beautiful views from Pinnacle Overlook, though Daniel Boone did not look into any civilization like we did – he saw pure, undeveloped wilderness. We also were able to check out some earthworks, from the strategic forts built during the Civil War. Cumberland Gap changed hands many times during the war, but no battles were fought here.

Veterans Day in Florida

Over Veterans Day weekend, we decided to visit our favorite veteran – Anthony’s grandfather – in Florida. Papa enlisted at age 17 in the Navy and was a pilot during the Pacific Campaign of WWII. He has some amazing stories from his time serving, and loves to share them with us, so it was only fitting that we spent most of the weekend with him.
His home in south Florida is about a twelve hour drive from us, so we set out after work on Friday. We drove through and arrived exhausted in the middle of the night, but it was in the 70’s so I was especially delighted. We also have friends in south Florida so we spent time with them and with Papa throughout our visit – eating at favorites like Darbster, which I know I have written about before on this blog! We also made sure to indulge ourselves on some authentic Cuban food.

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park

We snuck in two park sites while visiting. The first was Biscayne National Park. Most of the park is actually underwater, so we weren’t able to fully appreciate it. I would love to go back sometime and snorkel. There are so many shipwrecks that you can take a boat out to and then snorkel around the reefs and such. We were only able to walk along the paved trail and appreciate the warm weather and sea breeze from land. You can also camp out on the keys, but again, you need a boat to get out to them. Still beautiful, we enjoyed the sun and calm waters of the bay.

Canaveral National Seashore

Canaveral National Seashore

On our way north, we stopped at Canaveral National Seashore. We spent a few minutes wandering around Playalinda Beach. Whenever we are near the ocean, I feel the need to spend as much time as possible there, since I no longer live nearby. I spent years on the East Coast, always within a few miles of the ocean, and then was on the West Coast – in San Diego – so again, not far from the ocean. It feels good to be back! We also went to a manatee overlock, and spotted a few of them diving in the water. I was especially excited to see a even a couple.
Then our quick trip was over – back home!

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Our next stop was Yosemite National Park.  We spent over a week there, part of it backpacking, and part of it with my parents – who were gracious enough to plan a vacation to Yosemite and then invite us along!  Yosemite is crowded, the valley is mobbed, especially in the middle of summer, but there is a reason that it is so full of humanity – and that is the sheer, unadorned beauty of the monolithic granite rising up out of the valley.  No one can deny the heart stopping views, and it is not surprising that people flock here, clogging the roads and filling the lodging.  Unfortunately, some people do very stupid things here – you put together a lot of humans who do not go out into nature often, within arm’s reach of animals and hiking trails, and you tend to have clashes.  I like to think that most people though, leave Yosemite with a renewed sense of the importance of preserving nature, and a reverence for the sublime – John Muir called this area the “range of light”.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

The backpacking portion of our trip included 50+ miles over five days and four nights in the backcountry.  We applied for our permit months in advance.  In fact, we had our permit in hand long before we even had plane tickets!  Still, we had to wrangle our hike because so many permits had already been taken.  We hiked out of Wawona on the Chilnualna Falls Trail.  That meant we gained approximately 3,000 feet on our first day of hiking.  We started around 4,000 feet and on our third day, topped Red Peak Pass at a little over 11,000 feet.  Our first night was spent at Johnson Lake, falling asleep to the gentle plopping of fish in the otherwise still lake, where we awoke to frost on the ground.  As the sun rose, it quickly melted, but I still registered my complaints and refused to leave my sleeping bag until the sun hit our tent.  Late on our second day of hiking, we spotted our first views of the high Sierra, where the peaks are barren and covered in moraines.  Through fields of wildflowers and forested hills, we spent the day rolling up and downhill until we reached the final push to the Ottoway Lakes.  We spent the night camped on the shore of the lower lake, enjoying the tinkling of a small creek through the evening.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Day three took us up and over Red Peak Pass, and though the temperature hovered in the 60’s the mountain sun was intense.  That, combined with the altitude, made for slow going up the pass.  The area is above tree line, therefore completely exposed.  We arrived at the summit around noontime, and while Anthony huddled in the shade, I tried in vain with my camera to capture the sun on the rocks and the view of the various tarns dotting the horizon.  The hike down from the pass seemed to take much longer than it should have, but we did stop several times to dip our feet in mountain streams, or swim in lakes.  Anthony swims, I am the toe dipper.  The freezing cold glacier meltwater does not seem to bother him.  Our third night was spent next to Triple Peak Fork, which eventually dumps into the Merced River.  We hadn’t seen another human since the night before, and we were camped completely alone out in the woods.  It’s amazing to be able to do that in a park that sees over four million visitors a year.  The following day we followed Triple Peak Fork down to the trail junction at Merced Lake, where there is a campground with platform tents.  We spent some time resting on the shore of Merced Lake, enjoying the quiet beauty.  From this point on, we were on a highly traveled trail down to the valley, so our days were not as peaceful.  Up until we arrived at the Merced Lake area, we’d seen less than a dozen people total.  After Merced Lake, I stopped counting as we ran into people backpacking up to the platform tents, mule trails, and as we got closer to the valley – day hikers.  I found a secret camp spot up above the Merced River that night, and we enjoyed a warmer night in the shadow of a granite dome.  Our hike out was stunning, even though we had to share the trail with so many others.  Following the Merced River was magical, and we found many places to cool off in its waters.  We hiked down the grueling steps by Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls, admiring the views with literally thousands of other people, to end our hike back in the valley.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

We spent the next couple of days with my parents, enjoying the less rigorous pursuits in Yosemite – a short walk to Lyell Fork in Tuolumne Meadows was a highpoint.  We also took a drive up Tioga Road, and then down to Mammoth to visit Devils Postpile National Monument.  60 foot high towers of basalt rock, that look like french fries to me, are the reason this was declared a protected area in 1911.  Another day we drove to Glacier Point for unobstructed views of Half Dome and the valley below.  It was a wonderful few days in an amazing park and I am glad we spent an abundance of time here, especially since we were able to enjoy such a wonderful place with my parents.

Upon leaving Yosemite, we made our way back to the San Francisco area.  We spent a morning at John Muir National Historic Site.  It was really fun to go there right after being at Yosemite, since John Muir loved Yosemite and was integral in pushing to get it protected.  He adored Yosemite, and spent days upon days wandering footloose through the peaks, with barely any supplies and a carefree regard for the natural world.  At the site, we were able to walk around his family home and read much of his original work.  As always, the park rangers were helpful, friendly and talkative.

Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park

Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park

Our next stop was Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park.  When Anthony and I first met, our first date began at the Oakland Airport.  We had planned a backpacking trip on the Lost Coast.  Before we headed up north in our rental car, Anthony suggested we check out the new National Park Site that had just opened – Rosie the Riveter.  A memorial sculpture had already been built, which is what led to the designation and participation by the NPS.  We both remember going to the site, and wandering around the memorial, but at that point, in 2007, there was nothing else there yet.  Now there is a gorgeous visitors center, with amazing exhibits, films, and photographs – all commemorating the women who worked and toiled in the war effort of WWII.  The Rosies are inspiring and the history presented and the care given to preserving it, make this site a very special place.  Dinner was at Souley Vegan, in Oakland, where we ate piles and piles of starchy goodness.

Our last day on vacation began with a visit to Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site.  Open rarely, and only accessible by park shuttle, we had made reservations the previous morning, but the shuttle never appeared – so we waited the next morning, a Saturday, for a shuttle that did not require reservations.  In the meantime, we discovered Ike’s Place, an amazingly tasty sandwich shop.  It’s not an all vegan place, or even vegetarian, but they have an extensive vegan menu that includes all kinds of meats and cheeses.  I think both of us would agree that these were some of the best sandwiches either of us has ever had.  Back at the site, the lives of Eugene and his family made for an incredibly interesting tour of his house.  Being an English teacher, I was of course fascinated to see his library and hear about his writing practices.  He was very reclusive while writing, and “trained” his wife Carlotta to ensure his privacy while working.

Our last stop of vacation before flying a red eye out of SFO, was Jelly Belly, where we took a factory tour and bought a lot of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans.  Anthony spent a lot of our visit on the phone with his work, because within the hour of us arriving home from vacation the next morning, he left for Alaska with work!

All in all, an amazingly wonderful three week vacation – lots of memories, good food, and beautiful scenery.  An added bonus was spending time with my wonderful parents!

Northern California

Whiskey Town NRA

Whiskey Town NRA

We left the cool weather of the Bay Area behind, and headed north to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, where temperatures soared over 100 degrees.  Most come to Whiskeytown to enjoy the lake, and we were no exception.  We went swimming twice, once at Crystal Creek Falls, and then again in Whiskeytown Lake.  Since the temperature was so hot, it was a welcome relief.  We also took a short walk to a few relics of the mining past surrounding the area.  Even walking less than a mile was taxing in that weather!

Lave Beds National Monument

Lave Beds National Monument

Our next stop took us on a drive up to Lava Beds National Monument.  We spent two nights camping there in the Indian Well Campground.  A smaller park, we had a great time exploring.  Lava Beds is known for the extensive system of caves located beneath the surface of the park.  We trekked through three of them, some of the easier ones to walk through.  We didn’t attempt any of the more serious caves.  Golden Dome is so named for the glowing bacteria on the ceiling.  It really does glow golden in the light!  We also walked the length of Sentinel Cave, and climbed down into Skull Cave.  There is a permanent ice floor when you get all the way to the base.  The temperature in the caves is a cool 50ish degrees all year, a welcome relief from the sun and heat of the rest of the park.  While staying there, we also experienced a hail storm so severe we feared for the paint job and dinging of our rental car.  One night we ventured down to the amphitheater to listen to a ranger led discussion of the Modoc people who have lived in the area for thousands of years.  We also visited the remaining petroglyphs at Petroglyph Point, which were actually created by people on boats, though now the area is dry.  We didn’t know what to expect from Lava Beds, and were greatly impressed by the array of landscapes to be explored within its borders.  Far from other cities, it is also pretty secluded, so we took a ride up to Klamath Falls one evening for dinner and the movies, something we both enjoy doing anytime.

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

While in the area, we were also able to explore one unit of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  A relatively newer site, set aside in 2008, the Tule Lake Unit encompasses sites were both prisoners of war and Japanese internees were housed during World War II.  A sobering part of our history, it was powerful to stand on the grounds where Japanese citizens were kept and basically imprisoned during the war.  As the wind ceaselessly poured down from the hills, we read inscriptions about the difficulties the POW’s and Japanese had adapting to this harsh environment.  The visitors center has a comprehensive museum of the area, that includes many exhibits and relics from this time period.  Fascinatingly, after the war was over, and the interns sent away, many people repurposed the barracks into homes.  As we drove around Tule Lake (sometimes written as Tulelake), we were able to pick out these houses by their characteristic rectangle shape.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Our next drive took us to Lassen Volcanic National Park.  Beautiful, remote and not very crowded, Lassen was a direct contrast to other, more popular National Parks.  We were both amazed and surprised by just how stunning the scenery was in Lassen, and by how calm and quiet it was compared to other National Parks.  We camped at Manzanita Lake for two nights, and though the campground was full, it was still pretty peaceful and did not feel overly crowded.  Upon arrival, and acquiring our stamps at the entrance station, we set up our tent, and then embarked on a drive around the park.  There is one long road that goes from entrance to entrance.  Within the park, there are also many miles of backcountry hiking, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada along the spine of the Sierra Nevada in California.  It is a life-long dream to hike this entire trail, which is 2,650 miles long.  Unable to climb to the top of Lassen Peak (which is only open a few times during the year), we settled for a walk down to Bumpass Hell, a geothermal area.  It is a fascinating, smelly area with steam rising into the air and muddy sludge bubbling out of the ground.  You can hear the hiss of the steam and the burping of the water as it boils beneath the surface, as well as observe the varicolored ground and impressive array of features within a small area – all accessible by boardwalk.

The next morning we went on another short hike, this time to Paradise Meadow.  The climb to the meadow was well worth the effort, as the view was stunning.  We spent some time laying in the meadow, eating snacks, and chatting with other hikers.  It was an absolutely beautiful spot, and I think we could have laid there for hours.  We truly enjoyed our time in Lassen, and we would love to return and spend more time there.

To be continued…

San Francisco and the Bay Area

This summer, Anthony and I were able to take a three week vacation out to California.  We began our trip in San Francisco, and spent several days in the city before heading farther north.  We of course visited National Park Sites – 14 in all!  We unfortunately could not visit Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial because it was closed to visitors.  On an active base, visitors must receive permission from the Army for a tour.  Even though I contacted them several months prior to our visit, we were not able to gain access.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Our first morning after flying into SFO, we walked from our hotel to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.  It was only a couple of blocks, and so we spent a while meandering through the extensive museum, checking out the exhibits.  There are several ships to be toured along the pier.  The site is located right next to Fisherman’s Wharf, so many tourists were perusing the area and examining the ships along with us.  San Francisco has a rich maritime history, and this museum and pier detail the power held within her bay.  I found several penny smashing machines too!  Along we passport stamps, we also collect Pressed Pennies.  I even have an app on my phone that finds the machines for me.  Since there are so many tourists in Fisherman’s Wharf, there were over 50 machines!  I did not get to every one, but did manage to hit up several during the day.

Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point National Historic Site

After a quick lunch at a Thai restaurant we stumbled upon, we took a walk along Crissy Field and the Presidio.  Both part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, we walked with the foggy bay as our backdrop towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  There were many others walking along and enjoying the area, families flying kites, cyclists pedaling along the paths, and dogs playing frisbee.  Also, the America’s Cup was going on while we were there, so we viewed several of the boats sailing through the bay.  Once at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, we visited Fort Point National Historic Site.  Fort Point was constructed beginning in 1853, and was meant to guard San Francisco during the Civil War.  The enemy never showed up.  One Confederate ship did plan to attack through the harbor, but on the way there the USS Shenandoah learned that the war had ended.  The fort never fired a shot, and though was randomly used for other purposes, it was basically abandoned afterwards.  Preservation became important when the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed, and the span of the bridge arches directly over the fort.  Existing in the shadow of the bridge, Fort Point now demonstrates an example of the thick masonry characteristic of the period before proven ineffective against rifled artillery.

After Fort Point, we walked a couple of miles to dinner at Golden Era, a vegan Asian restaurant serving a wide variety of Thai, Chinese, and Indian delicacies.  My favorite part was the vegan blueberry cheesecake at the end of our meal!

All in all, in one day, we walked about 8 miles through the city!

The following day, we picked up our rental car.  As fun as it was to explore the city on foot, we were excited to be able to drive to some other places hard to reach when walking.  We drove over the Golden Gate to the Marin Headlands.  We stopped by the visitor center for more passport stamps, and lighthouse stamps, before taking a short hike to Point Bonita Lighthouse.  The walk to the lighthouse is only open at certain times.  Volunteers lead tours through the tunnel in the rock to the precariously balanced lighthouse.  There is a short suspension bridge now, but when the lighthouse first opened, keepers used a buoy pulled through the water to transport themselves and supplies across the water!  Still an active lighthouse, though automated, Point Bonita is a great little spot.

Heading back into the city, we stopped at Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant, where we had a fantastic lunch.  We then drove south, searching for NPS stamps at the various locations of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  We ended up at The Cliff House and The Sutro Baths, two fascinating historical structures frequented by the wealthy of the past.  The Sutro Baths are all ruins now, but the Cliff House built in 1909 still stands – though it is the third such structure by that name on the site.

That evening we drove into Berkeley for dinner at Herbivore.  An all vegan establishment, we were delighted with the food.  I had a chocolate shake and beef stroganoff.  Just looking at the menu now, as I write this later, my mouth is watering!  We do love to eat!

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

The following morning found us on the early morning ferry to Alcatraz Island.  Part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Alcatraz has a varied history that does not just encompass the famous prison.  I had visited the island when I was young, though mostly I recall my father becoming target practice for a seagull.  The ferry ride is quick, and once on the island we were given a briefing by a park ranger, then into the first building for the introductory film.  Alcatraz was first built upon with a lighthouse in 1854, and contained the first lighthouse on the Pacific Coast.  With threat of war, Alcatraz then housed a fort.  Though, with advancements in weaponry, the defenses quickly became obsolete.  It was decommissioned in 1907.  But Alcatraz had already held its first prisoners.  In fact, when the first permanent garrison arrived, 11 soldiers came with them.  Deserters, Indian warriors, murderers, and Confederate soldiers were all confined at Alcatraz before it was opened as a Federal Penitentiary in 1934.  Only 1,545 men did time there, including Al Capone and George Kelly.  They were unruly escape risks, prisoners that were troublesome in other locations.  We both found it very interesting that Alcatraz’s prison was considered so secure, that the families of the men stationed there as guards and prison workers rarely locked their doors, and in fact many of the children recall a halcyon youth.  In 1963, Alcatraz was closed due to the intense operating costs.  Then, in 1969, a band of Native Americans from many different tribes, occupied Alcatraz for 19 months, taking a stand against poor treatment they felt they had received from the government.

Now visitors can tour the cells and barracks, as well as bird watch.  When we were there thousands of birds were flying and walking around the island, seemingly unruffled by the thousands of tourists also walking the island.  In fact, some of the island is closed to visitors because of breeding habitat and nesting.  I was also delighted by the gardens.  Inmates, bored by the lack of activity on the island, gained permission to create gardens.  These gardens are currently maintained by volunteers interested in restoring them with historical accuracy.  The varied history of Alcatraz is fascinating and we happily spent several hours wandering around the island in the gorgeous sunshine.

Lunch was spent at Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant in the Mission District.  Anthony had the Nopales, while I had tacos.  Really yummy, though a little pricey, we were able to sit outside and enjoy the warm weather and entertainment on the streets.  If you know us, or have read our blog, you know we love to eat!  So after a relaxing afternoon wandering through Haight-Ashbury, where we visited Super7, a store owned by acquaintances, we went to Nature’s Express in Berkeley for dinner.  Serving mostly sandwiches and burgers, we both enjoyed a pretty simple, tasty burger dinner.

The following morning we went to not just one, but two vegan bakeries.  It was our second wedding anniversary after all!  We began at Pepples Donuts.  We were both under impressed with the offerings.  They were slightly dense, and very, very heavy.  I always want to support vegan donuts, because they are the number one thing I miss being vegan, but these were just ok.  So we continued to Timeless Coffee Roasters, an all vegan coffee shop with lots of yummy baked goods.  In Oakland, we were able to get vegan cake sandwiches (“Twinkies”) and drool over all of the other offerings.  Sadly, we could not eat every single one!

We then spent some time with a friend who has an office in the Financial District, right on the edge of Chinatown.  Afterwards, we ate at another location of Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant where one of the owners recognized us from the other day!  We tried different dishes and again loved everything we ate.  On our way out of the city, we stopped at Lucasfilm, so that Anthony could stand next to the Yoda statue and walk around the lobby.  There are guards at the entrance to the parking lot, but Anthony told them we were there to see Yoda and they invited us in.

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument

Our next NPS site was Muir Woods National Monument.  A very popular destination for residents and visitors to the Bay Area alike, it took a while to find parking in the busy lot.  In 1905, the Kents bought the land in order to preserve the Redwoods.  They then donated the land to the government so that it would remain protected.  Wishing to name it after John Muir, who was well known for his conservation efforts, Kent had not yet met the man but admired him greatly.  We meandered along the two mile loop walk through the trees, craning our necks to see the tops, while fastidiously trying to avoid the children rushing around our legs.  Though crowded, Muir Woods still manages to be peaceful.  Something about the giant trees inspires reverence.

To be continued…

NYC and Roosevelt Birthplace NHS

NYC

NYC

In May, we were able to make a very quick trip to New York City.  We usually spend a day there in winter, when we are visiting my parents in Connecticut for the holidays, but this year I was pretty sick over winter break, so I didn’t think I would do too well wandering around NYC for a day.  We flew out of Charlotte with our friend Jordan on a Friday afternoon, arriving around dinnertime.  Once checking in to our hotel and meeting up with another friend, Dave, we began our eating tour of NYC.  There are so many amazing vegan restaurants in New York that it is impossible to eat at them all, but we always try to take advantage of as many as possible while visiting.  So our first restaurant was Wild Ginger.  An Asian restaurant, it was very hard to choose what to eat since everything looked so good!  I had Tofu Skin Wraps and Tofu Teriyaki.  The food was fantastic, as was the company.  Besides Dave and Jordan, we were also able to meet up with another old friend, Alie, so we chatted for a long time into the evening.  We then took a walk to try to go to Lula’s Sweet Apothecary, but it was closed for repairs.  I was almost in tears because I could not get my hot fudge sundae.  Lula’s is my favorite dessert place, ever!  Dave was pretty excited to go to Big Gay Ice Cream though.  Sadly, they have no vegan flavors, but are still pretty awesome.

Cinnamon Snail

Cinnamon Snail

The next morning, Jordan, Anthony, and I went first to find Cinnamon Snail, a vegan food truck.  They have vegan donuts and baked goods, so we gorged ourselves on sweets first thing in the morning.  It almost made up for the disappointment at Lula’s the night before.  I had a cinnamon roll and a turnover.  Nothing like a sugar high first thing in the morning!  Then we had a nice surprise.  My parents came into the city for the day to see us!  We thought they’d have trouble coming in because the Metro North train they were planning to take was running irregularly due to a huge accident the day before.  But miraculously, they made it into the city exactly when we planned!  It was great to see them, and we spent a really nice day with them.  We went to lunch at Eisenbergs Sandwich Shop, which holds the motto “Raising New York’s Cholesterol Since 1929”.  Perfect.  Still stuffed from lunch, I just had some onion rings and fries, but my parents were very pleased with their sandwiches.  We then went to our only NPS site visit of the trip, Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.  We had a great tour, learning a lot about the early life of Teddy Roosevelt.  I did not know, for instance, that he was a sickly child.  We think of him as this iconic man, on a horse, the Rough Rider and explorer, but he started out life pretty sick and weak.  Through exercise and diet, he became the man we know today.  He also read at least two books – a day!!  I loved that fact.  Seeing the preserved house, mostly recreated, was pretty cool.  They were a wealthy family, and the furnishings were rich, but also understated.

Sadly, it began to rain after our visit.  We stumbled upon a dance parade and then made our way down to Rockefeller Center.  We met up with Anthony’s family.  His mom and stepdad had come to the city to celebrate a big birthday, and various other family members came in as well to join in the festivities.  The first thing we all did together was go to the Top of the Rock.  The observation deck is really neat, and even though it was raining and foggy, we could still see pretty far across Manhattan, and especially into Central Park.  The views were stunning and though we were chilly, we still enjoyed the experience.

We herded the family, minus my parents who had to get back to Connecticut on the train, through the subway to eat dinner at La Mela.  A staple in Little Italy, La Mela has some great gnocchi that we happily munched on, as we enjoyed the people watching from our table on the sidewalk.  The family had a great, relaxing dinner, enjoying each other’s company.  Shortly though, Anthony and I had to head out to get to a show at Webster Hall.  A reunion show for Judge, a band that both Anthony and I have loved from a young age.  The show was packed and we both saw lots of people we knew from all over.  Lots of people traveled for the show, and when Judge finally came on, people went crazy.  It was an awesome show, and they sounded fantastic.  Afterwards, lured by a promise of tasty Brussels sprouts (seriously) we ate a late meal with some friends at The Smith.

Brooklyn Mac

Brooklyn Mac

Sunday it was rainy and cold, all day unfortunately.  We took the train over the Brooklyn to go to Brooklyn Flea.  The outdoor vendors were shutting down because of the rain, but we spent time in the indoor area.  Then we went to Brooklyn Mac a mac and cheese restaurant that has vegan options.  It was seriously amazing.  You can custom order your mac and cheese, I had broccoli, vegan bacon and steak, and Cornflake topping.  Then they bake it.  I enjoyed every single bite.  I was full, but tried to stuff in a donut at Dun-Well Doughnuts, while chatting with our friend Kim, who was also in town for the Judge reunion.  We spent the rest of our day in the East Village, wandering in toy shops and such, especially in Toy Tokyo.  We then had a late lunch/early dinner at Mamoun’s.  A staple in New Haven, CT, they have other locations and we happened to be near the one in NYC.  Still stuffed from lunch, it was hard to eat another meal, but we all managed somehow.  Then it was on to the airport, and eventually, after multiple delays, home.  A quick, but very fun, packed trip!

The Outer Banks

Over my spring break, we had a chance to take a few days off together.  Because of family and work obligations we only had from Monday morning until Thursday morning to spend together.  We decided to drive to the Outer Banks.  Though the Outer Banks are in North Carolina, I am always surprised that it takes longer to get there than to the beach in South Carolina.  We can be in Charleston in four hours, while it takes us about six to get to Kill Devil Hills.  Our first stop, on a very rainy afternoon, was Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.  It was pouring outside, so we spent most of our time in the museum, learning about the history of the site and, most intriguing to both of us, the story of the Lost Colony.  Set up by Sir Walter Raleigh, he had to leave the colony for a period of time.  When he returned they had simply vanished.  Much study and theorizing has gone into the fate of these colonists, but no conclusion has been reached.

Wright Brothers NM

Wright Brothers NM

After a filling lunch at a South American eatery, we headed to Wright Brothers National Memorial.  Still raining, again we had to spend much of our visit inside the extensive exhibits in the visitor center.  We really wanted to venture onto the field where the first flight took place, but the cold rain kept us indoors.  We did manage to make it back in the sunshine a few days later.  We both loved the stories about the brothers at the field, and enjoyed looking at the iconic photographs.  In one, a young boy is depicted, but he apparently left right before the flight because of the loud noise.  Could you imagine being the boy years later and realizing that you’d missed out on such an amazing moment in history?  Also, we found it interesting that the brothers tossed a coin to see who would attempt flight first.  Wilbur won, but trashed the plane as it left the ground, so it was Orville a few days later who first left the ground.

The following day the weather began to clear up, but we had cloudy skies for the entire day, and sometimes it did rain on us, but the weather was vastly better than it had been the day before.  We spent the day at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  Both of us had been there before, but we still enjoyed our trip very much.  We began our trip at the Whalebone Junction Information Center, a quick stop for a cancellation stamp.  Our first real stop was the Bodie Island Visitor Center, where we were able to climb to the top of the lighthouse!  It had been previously closed as it was undergoing repairs and a makeover, but had just opened that week.  We were therefore one of the first groups to go to the top.  Unfortunately, we could not go out on the top because the wind speeds were over 50 mph, but we did get a good view from the doorway.  Our tour guide shared the history of the lighthouse with us as we climbed the steps.  We could still see pretty far, even though we were fogged in to some extent.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

As we drove along the narrow strip of land, we enjoyed beach views and sound views.  The island narrows so much as some points that the road is bordered closely by water on both sides.  Often the road is covered when storms or extra high tides come in.  We stopped for lunch at Frisco Sandwich Company, a welcome surprise with incredibly tasty black bean burgers.  Our next stop was Hatteras Island Visitor Center, so that we could climb the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.  We went up our second lighthouse of the day, and again could not go out on the top because of the high winds.  We could peer out over the water though, and since the skies were clearing, we had a good view of the very dangerously famous area containing the ghosts of many shipwrecks.  Our last stamp location and visitor center on Ocracoke Island is only accessible by ferry.  It is free, and takes cars and foot passengers.  We had to wait for a bit, but then rode  the 45 minute ferry across.  It was pretty clear and warming up by then, so it was fun to get out of the car and enjoy the ride.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

At the Ocracoke Island Visitor Center we picked up more lighthouse stamps and NPS stamps, then drove around the tiny village of Ocracoke.  The Ocracoke Lighthouse is pretty small, and though you can walk right up to it, it is not open for climbing.  All three lighthouses were very impressive and we had fun visiting them and finding their stamps.  We then commenced the long drive back to our hotel, including a wait for the ferry again, and a relaxing ride across the water.  We stopped to visit the wild horses, who are sadly no longer truly wild.  They had to be penned because so many were getting hurt by cars and other human interactions.  So they are not domesticated really, but they are corralled in a large area and protected.  We also took a walk along the beach, since the weather had cleared up by then enough that we could watch the colors of the sky change at the end of the day.  Cape Hatteras is a truly gorgeous place, and feels more and more beautiful as you travel farther south.

Once we arrived back in Kill Devil Hills, dinner that night was at Plaza Azteca, a Mexican place that had some pretty good vegan options.  I had fajitas, and they were fantastic.  We also had a chance to meet up with friends who had recently moved to the area and catch up.

Moores Creek National Battlefield

Moores Creek National Battlefield

The next day dawned sunny and clear, so before leaving the beach, I took a run along the sand.  I love going for a run in a new place, it seems to make my run a lot more enjoyable.  And the sun shining and the warm air did wonders for me before we got back in the car to drive some more.  Moores Creek National Battlefield was our next stop.  A small site, it took us several hours to make the drive to Currie, NC.  The drive was pretty though, mostly on back roads.  And we actually found a really good Thai restaurant for lunch, a surprisingly exciting option.  We really did luck out with finding vegan food on this vacation.  At Moores Creek, the sun was shining and it felt like summer, so we were happy to wander the paths of the monument and enjoy the warm weather.  You can follow the paths through the swampy area and see the historic bridge area where the action of Moores Creek took place.  Though a turning point in the Revolutionary War, the battle at Moores Creek was pretty small in size.  Still an amazing place to visit though, and it again makes us very happy that the Park Service has saved this little piece of history.  We enjoyed our walk, as well as the monuments, not only to the men who served, but also to women who had leading roles in the Revolution.

Moores Creek was our last real stop on our trip.  We made it back to Asheville early the next morning in time for Anthony to make a meeting at work.  A short trip, but a very fun one. We only have one more NPS site to go to in North Carolina now!

Springfield Armory National Historic Site and Ninety Six National Historic Site

The Christmas season is always quite busy for us.  We have family in Asheville and in Connecticut, so we usually spend Christmas Eve in Asheville and catch an early flight on Christmas Day to Connecticut.  That way we get to see everyone, though usually we’re pretty tired by Christmas night!  This year the travel was compounded by the fact that I was sick.  It passed relatively quickly, but did inhibit us from doing a few things over the vacation.

We were able to spend a fair amount of time with friends and family, drive through a snowstorm, and visit a few pretty cool places.  We discovered a very tasty Tibetan Restaurant in Middletown Connecticut.  Tibetan Kitchen has not been open that long, and has a separate vegetarian menu.  I just had soup, and it was incredibly good.  Anthony really enjoyed his meal too.  We’ll have to return there the next time we are in Connecticut.  We also went to It’s Only Natural in Middletown – a restaurant I have been frequenting since I went vegetarian over 20 years ago.  It has changed somewhat over the years, but one thing that remains the same is the fresh bread and carrot spread they always bring to the table.  Anthony had mac and cheese, and Kate had pierogis, both dishes I would have ordered had I felt better.  My soup was good, but not the same!

Springfield Armory NHS

Springfield Armory NHS

The only National Park Site we were able to visit in New England was Springfield Armory National Historic Site.  Springfield Armory developed and engineered weapons for the US military from 1794 to 1968.  A long history encompassing the Civil War and Vietnam, with many conflicts in between, the Armory now displays a fraction of its collection for the public to see.  We were told that only 15% of the collection is shown in the museum.  The rest is preserved in other areas of the building.  There are also displays on the machinery and workers from different time periods.  I enjoyed that the most, while Anthony favored the history of the weapons.  The volunteers and park rangers were super friendly, and we spoke with them at length about various parks and our quest to visit all the National Park Sites.

Our next stop was completely different.  We visited the Pez Factory in Orange, Connecticut.  Both of us have always loved the taste of Pez and enjoyed the collectible toys included in their sale.  The factory is a really cool place to spend some time.  There are tons of displays of different dated dispensers, as well as posters detailing the history of the company.  Originally marketed as an alternative to smoking, Pez candies are now recognized all over the world.  You can watch the factory floor, but unfortunately it was not open when we visited.  We did help ourselves to plenty of Pez products while we were there though!

Ninety Six NHS

Ninety Six NHS

Once back in Asheville, we had a couple of days before we had to go back to work, so we took a day trip down to Ninety Six National Historic Site in South Carolina.  An American Revolutionary site, Ninety Six had to defend itself twice before being deserted.  The first time is considered the first major battle in the South, loyalists attacking patriots.  Though it ended in a truce, a siege occurred on the same site in 1781.  The loyalists, who had built a fort next to the town, won the siege, but shortly after abandoned the settlement.  Now, visitors can walk out to the earthen fort, which still stands to some extent, and also see where the town was.  It was a beautiful day, especially for winter, and we took our time walking through the site, enjoying the sun.

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