The Bonneville Salt Flats- Utah
People ask, "Can't you just see the salt flats from the highway?" And yes, you can. But the state has made the effort to provide a lovely rest area so you can visit them and see them for yourself, because it makes SUCH a difference to see and touch them up close. And yes... I tasted it... it's salt.
This area, just off highway 1-80 near the Utah/Nevada border is considered part of the Great Basin. It's said this entire area was once covered with water and as it began to dry up, it became more of a desert-like environment. It is believed that it covered about 1/3 of the entire state of Utah, and of course spilled over to the surrounding states.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are only about 10 miles from Great Salt Lake- which was once part of Lake Bonneville.
This area specifically, once used to be Lake Bonneville. It was named for Captain B.L.E. Bonneville who was an explorer in the 1830 and spent most of his time studying the Great Basin region.
The lake slowly dried up and left depsosits of salt behind. So much so that it strangled out any (or most) forms of vegetative life.
There are some Native American tribes that managed to work around the dry barren lands (& I bet their food tasted amazing...!) but most others moved on to a more hospitable climate.
This area covers more than 30,000 acres and is now protected and state owned. So... even though you may see vehicles driving across the salt flats... it is frowned upon. So please don't. Nothing lasts forever and it would be nice to preserve this precious piece of land and its history.
In my research on the Oregon Trail, I kept hearing the stories of the dreaded salt flats over and over again. And when I followed the trail in 2021, I somehow skipped right by them, without stopping. I saw remnants as I went along (from the highway) but I missed the rest stop to get the full experience. I was so happy to have this second chance!!
(These four photos below were from my first trip. At first, I thought I was seeing snow! But then realized I passed the main rest stop entirely.)
The Native Americans didn't really leave us much documentation about the salt flats, so as early as I could find was the notes from Jim Bridger. He was a mountain man and travelled the area extensively. He would document it around 1824.
But it wasn't until people started looking West that the salt flats became an... issue. The first crossing (now... imagine that you don't have a paved highway to navigate the best way around it or the shortest distance through it. Remember your'e in covered wagons and most people were walking. They had no idea what they were coming up to or what it would take or how long it would take to cross it.)
In 1845, with scouts Kit Carson, Captain John Freemont would document the area in his narratives published in several books. The very next year, working on Freemont's notes alone, not visiting the area himself, persay, Lansford Hastings,a 23 year old, self-proclaimed explorerer would create the Hasting's Cutoff to entice those heading west to follow his path toward California.
He didn't really know the dangers of the route and explorer Joe Walker did his best to try and warn others NOT to follow it.
The most famous tragedy that probably comes from those not heeding that warning would be the Donner-Reed party. Their adventure West was riddled with tragedy and hardship but then they had to cross the salt flats. Where it is blazing hot during the day and the sun beats down on the bright white land causing a temporary blindness. And then at night, the temperatures plummet to freezing. There was no vegetation for the oxen, no water, no game to hunt... near the edge of the flats, the Donner-Reed party would end up abandoning most of their supplies and four of their wagons because several of their oxen had perished.
(Spoiler alert: Their story only got worse from there.)
And, in case you were wondering... The salt surface contains potassium, magnesium lithium and sodium chloride (common table salt).
Talking Rocks Cavern
423 Fairy Cave Ln.
Branson West, MO 65737
Open Year Round except for Christmas Day and Thanksgiving!
I am always looking for fun things to do with the grandkids! They aren't little anymore, so on the good side, we can start doing more interesting, complex things that don't always involve loud noises and blinking lights! Lol
On the other hand, as they eek closer to their teenage years, it becomes a bit more tricky to find things they will WANT to do and come away still thinking I'm the best Grammy ever.
I happy to say, the Talking Rocks Cavern delivered and I still claim the title of Best Grammy... as of this writing, of course... it's a slippery slope! Lol
There are guided tours through the cavern every 30 minutes or so and the guide talks about the history and the geology of the area and not in a boring way.
Talking Rocks Cavern is vertical in nature. You enter at ground level and are guided down, down, down into the depths. It has concrete handrails and steps throughout the cave, but you have to be aware of your surroundings. Sometimes the steps are slick and other times you have to duck because the rock formations extend out over the walkways. The guides are really great about letting people know about what's coming up as far as liabilities are concerned but also the best places to grab some awesome photos!
People of all ages can enjoy this fun afternoon adventure and it's a comfortable 63 degrees year round!
We survived our encounter and made it to the tower...
Wild Lights at the St. Louis Zoo
The St. Louis Zoo is one of my very favorite places to visit and it's the perfect activity any time of year!
You may think the only time to visit a zoo would be in the summer, and while that's a great time, St. Louis makes sure there are activities happing all year round.
The St. Louis Zoo is free every day of the year, but then they have fundraising events to help support the massive undertaking that is running a top rated zoo.
So to attend the Wild Lights event, you must purchase tickets. You can usually buy them in advance, online and if it's not too crowded, you can purchase them at the gate. (And, head's up, the closer you get to Christmas and New Year, the ticket prices go up!)
Along with entrance to the park- and the amazing displays of lights, which made me happy all by themselves- also included with the ticket price was free parking. (That was certainly a treat because by the time you are finished with the park you're probably freezing and want your car as close as possible!)
You also get admission to several of the houses, like the Penguin/Puffin Coast and the Insectarium. The sea lions cove was open, but the sea lions were all sleeping elsewhere.
They had lots of projects for the kids scattered in various areas and plenty of holiday snacks available along the way. (The lines were crazy long, but, it was cold!). One of the snacks available were S'mores kits, and they came with, you guessed it, two graham crackers, a piece of chocolate and a marshmallow plus a long stick! Around the concession stand, small propane fire pits burned low for marshmallow melting and to warm cold fingers.
They of course, had hot chocolate, but they also had the adult version as well!
This year, I was able to make it out to enjoy the holiday lights they call Wild Lights at the Zoo. A small portion of the zoo is lit up with Christmas lights in various scenes and decorating the walkways. I love Christmas lights! And this satisfies even my need for colorful Christmas decorations. (Let's be real, I'm not decorating the camper like this!)
I didn't have any "littles" with me, but there were also several photo stops to get perfectly precious pictures to commemorate the holiday season.
So, before you ask, nope, the animals were not in any of the outside enclosures. While the zoo wasn't necessarily closed off, it was discouraged to venture further than the decorated areas, but just in case, all of the animals were safely tucked away. The lights bother them and cause them to be agitated.
Holiday music and even a few street entertainers could be found to make everything perfect. If you can't find the holiday spirit while you're here, you're in big trouble.
Extra bonus for me this year, I went with my bff, Tonya. We've been friends for over 30 years. The holidays are such a great time to get out and enjoy these hometown events and create new memories.
If you're interested it is usually open just after Thanksgiving until the New Year. They continually out-do themselves every year, but since I travel (and try to escape being cold), I've missed out the past few years.
For more information about Wild Lights or other events held at the St. Louis Zoo, click here to get all the details.
Garden of the Gods
Colorado Springs, Colorado
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Colorado.
The Beer Garden without the Beer...
In 1859,Colorado City was on the verge of being plotted out. Surveyors, M.S. Beach and Rufus Cable were sent out from Denver to checkout this unseen vast, rocky area. They came upon this space where colorful rocks seemed to have jutted up and out of the ground, leaning and shaped in so many different ways. In actuality, they were formed from erosion, as softer sand shifted about over the years (many, many years) and these beauties are what is left behind.
The story goes, that M.S. Beach mentioned that the space would be perfect for a beer garden... I mean, they WERE planning out the city...but it was Rufus that saw the capabilities. Not just any beer garden, says he... "Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods!"
And... history and it's name sake had been made.
Minus the beer part... when the property was donated to Colorado Springs, inside that agreement was an addendum to not serve alcohol... ever...
But Garden of the Gods it truly is. My daughter and I were able to visit in August with the sun shining bright and the blue skies framing every view, you'd think it would be smoldering hot, but it wasn't terrible. Every where you looked, it was absolutely breathtaking!
What was terrible was that I did that thing that everyone warns you not to do... I wore BRAND NEW hiking boots for the trail. While it was not a treacherous uphill climb and most did it with normal tennis shoes, there were even some sandals, I chose to break in my new shoes here instead of on the hikes reserved for another day. (It hurt that next day as well!)
Oh... my feet hurt.
The 1.5 mile path is paved and smooth to make it perfect for walking at whatever your comfortable speed but also perfect for other modes of transportation. It is also wheelchair accessible. (see below!)
At the time I was there, they were reconstructing the parking lots which will be super nice when they get finished, but when your feet hurt (even if it was my own fault) every extra step was grueling.
I was happiest out among the jutting rock sculptures but they also had an impressive Visitor's Center complete with a massive Souvenir shop and the Bean Sprout's Cafe!
I do not mind spending money inside because the entire park is free. Yes, that's right, no fees. No parking fees, no hiking fees, no bathroom fees. (They do charge for other services though) I am happy to support them with the purchase of a souvenir or a snack. (Yes! They even had a small snack bar!)
Choose Your Experience
They have so many ways for you to view this amazing park. I chose to walk, but I did also do a drive through to get one last glimpse of everything before leaving the park. You just don't want to leave because you know once you're gone, the pictures (all 346 of them) just won't do it justice.
Don't let anything stand in your way from seeing this place. It is absolutely breathtaking!
For those more adventurous, there's also rock climbing (with permits) and horseback riding options as well!
The Lonely Dinosaur
In 1878, a professor at Colorado College, James Kerr was doing some digging and discovered some dinosaur bones. He believed them to be of the sea monster variety, and mailed his information of his find to the professors at Yale University.
In 1886, paleontologist, O.C. March came to Colorado and believed the specimen to be that of a Camptosauras. He took the skull and sent it to the Peabody Museum for more tests, but they somehow forgot about it, and the poor dino was left untouched for 117 years!
In 1997, Dr. Kirk Johnson was on the team for the Visitor's Center Museum when knowledge of the Campto was brought to his attention. Dr. Ken Carpenter made a plaster cast of the dino so they could share the news in a new exhibit. The exhibit opened with great excitement and the dino was a lovely addition to the already informative Centre that discussed the Native Americans and the rocks and minerals, but Dr. Carpenter wasn't satisfied. He felt the Capti was mis-identified.
In 2006, Dr. Carpenter and another associate, Kathleen Brill did a deeper study and took another long hard look at their one and only specimen. They ultimately decided that it couldn't possibly be a Camptosauras! They believed they found an entirely new species!
On May 24, 2008 the pair were happy to announce their discovery. It is the only one of its kind. They named the one and only dinosaur, Theiophytalia Kerri.
Theios is of Greek origin, meaning “belonging to the gods” and phytalia means “garden.” Kerri honors the name of the scientist who first discovered this 125 million-year-old skull in Garden of the Gods Park.
You can stop in and see Theios just inside the Visitor's Centre
A Gift to the People
In 1879, General William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs, invited his friend railroad magnate Charles Elliot Perkins to bring his railroad out his way and while he was there, snag up some land for himself. Perkins visited the area and was so enamored with it, he ended up purchasing 240 acres including the massive rock formations. Over the years he would purchase more land to amass 480 acres. He never built on it but it had always been welcoming to the public so they too could enjoy its beauty.
When Charles Perkins died in 1907, he had no plans laid out for the vast amount of property. His children, knowing his heart decided to make a gift of the acreage to the city of Colorado Springs in 1909.
The park was donated to the City of Colorado Springs so long as it would remain free for everyone, forever.
It would be known forever as the Garden of the Gods, “where it shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park.”
The pictures just don't do it justice. If you have the chance to witness the Garden of the Gods, I highly recommend it! As I walked through the twisting trails, I was just in awe with every step. I didn't want to take my eyes away, knowing that their sheer majesty would fade in my memory.
Take lots of pictures and wear comfortable, already broke in shoes!
I have told myself for years and years that I couldn't possible make a living as a writer, writing about my favorite things, travel and history. Huh... well, it just shows that I can be wrong every once in a while!!
I am so excited to finally create this blog for you. It is here that I'll be sharing all of my travel adventures. Look for monuments! Museums! Tourist traps! Hiking! Camping! And everything in between!
This blog is for those who are unable to travel and want to live vicariously through me... this is for those who are wanting to plan their own adventures and are looking for ideas, tips, and maybe even warnings, lol... this blog is for people who just enjoy hanging out and talking about camping and campfires, hiking and canoeing, history and museums... this blog is going to be all of those things. And whatever your reason, and however you found me, I am so happy you're here.
I am smiling so big right now as I type these words because I... we ... have just changed the trajectory of my future.
If you've followed me for any length of time, you may know that my dreams of traveling and camping almost came to an end. I was going to give up everything and attempt to be happy in a home on a some property hopefully near some water.
And I may have been happy.
I may have been very happy and it just might still be in my future. But try as I might, every road block that could go up- did go up right in front of my little cottage future.
It was then, after one broken straw too many and a medical diagnosis that told me that life is fleeting, here I am, pivoting back to what makes me happy.
Travel and history and writing.
I don't have a camper at the moment, but I do have Xander, my Toyota Tundra, an annoying black cat (Oakley) and a passion for adventure, so I'm basically ready to go.
Until I am able to embark on my next adventure in the new year, I'll fill up these pages with many of the adventures I've had this year in 2022 and in 2021. I didn't know I "should" have been blogging, but brace yourself... its purge is coming! Lol! I knew there was a reason I took so many pictures! Lol!
I don't know what the future holds. No one does, of course, but I do know that life is too short not to allow your innermost desire come up and feel the sunshine. I want my final days to be filled with precious memories. Beautiful places. Beautiful faces and I am up for the challenge... however long it lasts.
And, I'm so glad that you are with me, my friend. A journey is always better when experienced with others. Be a part of my memories, won't you, by participating in my present. Let's see what we can trouble we can get into!
Elizabeth Bourgeret is an author, blogger, podcast host and full-time traveller. Here is where you'll find her adventures. Grab your beverage of choice, pull of a chair and dive in...