The Corn Palace of South Dakota

Mitchell, South Dakota is home to a quirky and one of a kind attraction –  The Corn Palace. I’ll admit when I first heard about The Corn Palace, I was somewhat skeptical. However, a trusted source from South Dakota insisted it was worth a stop.  She was right. I’m glad we made time for a visit!

South Dakota Corn Palace-2 trip

The Corn Palace has a great backstory. In the late 1800’s, the citizens of Mitchell decided to build a corn palace to showcase its rich farmland to attract settlers. Oddly enough, this was not a novel idea at the time.  In fact, corn and grain palaces were cropping up throughout the plains.  Fortunately, Mitchell’s Corn Palace has stood the test of time thanks to the support of the community.

Corn Palace of South Dakota

Mitchell’s original corn palace was built in 1892 and was the centerpiece of the Corn Belt Expo. It has been rebuilt several times over the years.  Today’s Corn Palace was constructed in 1921 and serves as an entertainment venue as well as a home for community events.

Corn Palace of South Dakota

Surprisingly, there is no charge to visit the Corn Palace!  Several exhibits highlight the importance of corn on the economy as well as the painstaking work that goes into decorating the palace each year. Many of these exhibits are interactive and great for kids! A gift shop on the arena floor sells more corn related merchandise than you can imagine. There is a Corn Palace movie as well as a tour available. I suggest allowing at least an hour for your visit.

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The Worlds Only Corn Palace is a distinctive destination that you’ll not soon forget.  Corn designs and murals are both inside and outside of the facility.  Only natural corn colors are used, and the cobs are split in half to create these designs. These murals are quite intricate.  Each year, the corn decorations are removed and replaced at a cost of over $130,000.  This is truly a labor of love.

South Dakota Corn Palace-10 tripCorn Palace of South Dakota

The Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota is a unique budget friendly destination.  It is awesome to see a community embrace their past and present. They have successfully used a commodity which may seem ordinary and created something quite extraordinary!

Tip & Tee: Driving to Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is arguably one of the most recognizable icons in the National Park System. The massive scale and realism of this sculpture completed in 1941 is mind boggling! It is no surprise that over 3 million people visit this symbol of America each year.

Mount Rushmore Doane Mountain Tunnel

Trip Tip:  Mount Rushmore

For an extra special treat, approach Mount Rushmore from Custer State Park by driving north on Iron Mountain Road (16A). This Scenic Byway is also an engineering feat with its remarkable bridges, tunnels, and switchbacks.  A highlight of this journey is the Doane Robinson Tunnel which perfectly frames Mount Rushmore!

Mount Rushmore Trip TeeWhen it comes to shopping on a trip, I am a total tourist! My favorite souvenirs are travel tee shirts! Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection. In Tip & Tee, I share some of my treasures and a Trip Tip for that destination!

9 Awesome Experiences in Colorado Springs 

Colorado Springs is a great summer vacation destination, and you need not be a hiker or outdoor enthusiast to enjoy what Colorado Springs has to offer. There is such a variety of available activities that literally, there is something for everyone.

If you’re considering a trip to Colorado Springs, here are 9 awesome experiences to add to your itinerary:

  1. Raft the Arkansas River. I’ll have to admit I was a bit apprehensive about my first river rafting experience.  Fortunately, there are several levels of raft trips from which to choose, so whether you’re looking for a big thrill or a more relaxing trip, there are tour companies that can accommodate your needs.River Rafting on the Arkansas River

    River rafting
    We floated with Echo Canyon River Expeditions.
  2. Visit the Royal Gorge. The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is about an hour from Colorado Springs.  This attraction offers an opportunity to walk across the worlds highest suspension bridge which was constructed in 1929. The bridge spans this 1200 foot deep canyon and provides a bird’s eye view of the Arkansas River which continues to carve away at the rock below.  We rode the gondolas over the gorge and then crossed back via the bridge.  The scenery is spectacular.  There is a playground and train ride for children as well as thrill rides for big kids and adults. For more information on visiting the Royal Gorge: Colorado Springs Day Trip: The Royal GorgeRoyal Gorge Park in Coloradoroyal gorge 1-3 trip
  3. Hike Garden of the Gods. Garden of the Gods is an oasis in the city of Colorado Springs.  This public park was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1971 because of its dramatic landscape and sandstone rock formations.  This park boasts a fabulous visitor center with a museum and a restaurant.  Garden of the Gods offers several easy hiking trails from which to view these magnificent formations. Not surprisingly, this Park is quite popular, so you may want to visit in the morning to avoid some of the crowds.Colorado Spring Garden of the Gods TripGarden of the Gods Colorado Springs Trip
  4. Tour the Olympic Training Center. I have always loved the Olympics, so the opportunity to tour an actual Olympic training facility was one I just couldn’t pass up. And let me tell you, it was WAY cool!  The facility reminded me of a college campus but rather than attend classes, the athletes train! We saw several Olympians training during our tour! This attraction can be quite popular in the summer and tour times do sell out, so plan accordingly. Have I mentioned the Olympic Training Center was REALLY cool!?!? For more information on visiting the Olympic Training Center:  Colorado Springs: Olympic Training Center

    Olympic Training Center Campus
    View of the Olympic Training Center campus from atop the Visitor Center.
  5. Tour Cave of the Winds.  The main attraction at Cave of the Winds is, of course, a cave. It offers a fun tour of this cave which has an interesting back story.  This cave has been entertaining visitors continuously since 1881 making it one of Colorado’s oldest tourist attractions.  But, you’ll find more than just a cave here. The ropes course and gemstone panning were just a couple of the other opportunities for fun! For more information on visiting Cave of the Winds:  Colorado Springs: Cave of the WindsCave of the Winds Colorado Springs
  6. Visit the US Air Force Academy.  Wow! This is one of those proud to be an American experiences.  Don’t miss the movie in the visitor center which provides a glimpse into the daily life of these brave men and women.  And the chapel? It is simply spectacular! For more information on visiting the US Air Force Academy:  The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs

    The Cadet Chapel at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
    The Cadet Chapel
  7. Ride the Cog Railway to Pikes Peak. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway is just plain fun.  The views are outstanding as the train climbs to over 14,000 feet far above the treeline.  You might even get to see some bighorn sheep. This train ride is a really neat experience! At the top you are given time to walk around and take photos.
  8. Explore the Western Museum of Mining and Industry.  Colorado has a rich mining history, and the  Western Museum of Mining and Industry provides a glimpse into this history with several interactive exhibits and gives you the opportunity to see industrial machinery from the past  in action.  There is also a panning station to practice your gold panning. And while we didn’t find gold, we had a blast trying!Western Museum of Mining and Industry

    Colorado Springs Travel-29
    Unfortunately, we found only fool’s gold!
  9. Hike Red Rock Canyon Open Space. This is a neat recreational area in Colorado Springs which makes for a great picnic spot.  You can also go hiking or biking while you’re there. It’s a nice place to enjoy the outdoors without leaving town! Red Rock Canyon Open SpaceColorado Springs Travel-5

Did I leave something out? I know I did! I’ll just have to check out more of the incredible adventures in and around Colorado Springs on my next visit!

The BEST National Park Visitor Center

I absolutely love our national parks, and for me, spending time in the park’s visitor center is a MUST! While there are some great national park visitor centers throughout the park system, there is one that really stands out: the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center!

Hot Springs National Park is located in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It is about an hour’s drive from the capital city of Little Rock.

What makes the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center so special? It’s cool (or shall I say hot) backstory!Hot Springs National Park Bathhouse Row

In the 1800’s, the natural hot springs located in this area became a tourist mecca.  During that time, people believed that these springs had healing properties. People from around the nation would travel to this area to spend time soaking in the springs, drinking the water, and receiving other treatments to cure their ailments. The town of Hot Springs developed around this natural resource to provide the many visitors with much needed services.

Hot Springs National Park Spring Water
The spring water from Hot Springs National Park is still flowing.  Visitors are welcome to fill containers of water to drink or take home.

Hot Springs was the first public land to be set aside for protection based on it’s natural resources.  In 1832, Hot Springs National Reservation was established.  It became known as the “American Spa.” This area was designated as a National Park in 1921.   This designation led to the development of the Bathhouse Row that we see today. By the 1960’s, the heyday the hot springs had come to an end and many of the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row began to close including the Fordyce Bathhouse.Hot Springs Reservation

The elegant Fordyce Bathhouse operated from 1915 to 1962.  It remained closed until it opened as the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center in 1989.  It has been lovingly restored to its original glory.  Hot Springs National Park Fordyce Bath HouseHot Springs National Park

Today, the Fordyce Bathhouse offers visitors a glimpse into what it was like to come to a glamorous bathhouse and to be pampered with a true spa experience during the first half of the 1900’s.

Some of these spa experiences aren’t too far removed from what you may enjoy in today’s spa visit.  Visitors in the early 1900’s could enjoy a hot bath, pedicure, hair and beauty treatments, steam treatments, and a custom developed workout regimen.  Some treatments, on the other hand, are in much less demand today.  Certainly many of us would say “no thank you” to an electric shock massage.Hot Springs National Park Fordyce Bathhouse

This National Park Visitor Center is a real gem. The Fordyce Bathhouse has 4 floors of bathhouse history to explore. It is fascinating to see and to imagine what it might have been like to visit this elegant spa in the early 1900’s.Hot Springs National Park Fordyce BathhouseHot Springs National Park-12Hot Springs National Park-14Hot Springs National Park-23

The Fordyce Bathhouse is just one of several beautiful structures on Bathhouse Row. Many of the bathhouses have been restored as the area has undergone a period of revitalization.  Buckstaff Bath is still in operation today offering spa services with the famous thermal waters of this National Park.  Superior Bathhouse has recently reopened as a brewery and distillery as well as a full service restaurant which utilizes the thermal waters to produce its craft beverages.Hot Springs National Park Bathhouse Row

A visit to Fordyce Bathhouse great way to spend a leisurely afternoon. Take a stroll along Bathhouse Row or simply spend some time in a rocking chair on a bathhouse front porch.  Then, take a bath just like visitors to Hot Springs have been doing for over 100 years!Hot Springs National Park Bathhouse Row

Turret Arch: Short Hike, Big Payoff

One thing I love about Arches National Park is there are several short yet spectacular hikes. The hike to Turret Arch is one of them. This hike doesn’t require much of your vacation time but still has that WOW factor you’ll remember long after the trip!Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park- 5 trips

You may actually be more familiar with Turret Arch’s neighbors – the North and South Windows, aka the Spectacles. And while the Windows might be the more well known kids on the block, don’t discount Turret Arch.

Windows Trail sign showing the trail to Turret Arch.
Windows Trail sign showing the trail to Turret Arch.

The trail to Turret Arch is a short spur off the Windows Loop Trail.  The whole loop trail is only a little over a mile with minimal elevation gain, so it is quite family friendly.  While Turret Arch is purported to be smaller than the Windows, it didn’t seem that way to me. Perhaps its the arch’s vertical shape that makes it seem so massive.Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park-18 Trips

The path to Turret Arch includes an easy set of stairs.  Once you reach the top, you can walk through the arch and view it from the other side.  This is a great place to just sit and enjoy the scenic view of rock formations and the La Sal Mountains.Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park-11 trip

Turret Arch is a castle-like rock formation which actually contains two significant openings. While walking through the large arch, you’ll notice a second smaller opening. The smaller more circular arch is adjacent to the large vertical one.Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park-9 trip

While Turret Arch might not be the most famous arch in Arches National Park, it is one of the one of the most dramatic.  Standing under this massive rock formation you can appreciate its scale while taking in outstanding views of this unique National Park.

5 Reasons to Get Out of Your Car and Hike Balanced Rock

One of Arches National Park’s most iconic formations is Balanced Rock.  Perched precariously atop a mudstone monolith is a 3600 ton perfectly balanced rock…or so it seems.  In reality, the rocks are attached.Balanced Rock Trailhead Sign

Balanced Rock can be seen from a distance when driving the park’s main road.  The parking lot also offers an outstanding view. So, it might be tempting to just pause, snap a photo, and skip the trail. Don’t.

Here are 5 reasons why it is worth your time to get out of the car and take the hike:

  1. The Trail is Short and Flat: There aren’t many excuses that hold water for not hiking this trail.  At only .33 mile with very minimal elevation gain, it is suitable for the whole family.  It doesn’t take much of your vacation time to enjoy this wonder.Balanced Rock Trail
  2. It’s All About Perspective: Many photos of Balanced Rock are from the same angle. Yet, it has a distinctive and unique shape. To appreciate this feature of Balanced Rock, you must walk around it on the trail. Balanced Rock
  3. Appreciate the Scale: Balanced Rock is big… really big!  It is proported to be the size of 3 school buses… although I suspect that this is an approximation.  Walking around this well-known balancing act helps you better appreciate its uniqueness. Balanced Rock Trail
  4. Stop and Smell the Roses: While there are no actual roses, there are plenty of plants to enjoy. And while I wouldn’t suggest getting close enough to a cactus to smell it, I do recommend stopping to observe the many creatures which call this small section of the park home.Tree on Balanced Rock Trailimage
  5. It Might Be Your Last Chance:  Not to be overly dramatic, but someday it will fall. Like all of the formations in Arches National Park, over time the forces of nature change the landscape. This means that Balanced Rock will eventually come crashing down.Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock is just one of the many special things that makes Arches National Park a great place to visit.  The best way to enjoy this natural wonder is slow down and appreciate this spectacular sight!

Balanced Rock

You CAN Tour Antelope Canyon!

Antelope Canyon is located near Page, Arizona and Lake Powell in the north central portion of the state.  This iconic canyon is a photographers dream with ribbons of sandstone curving in many directions and light streaming in magically from above.  I’d seen many eye-catching photos of this amazing canyon and knew I’d LOVE to see it in person.   Initially, I assumed that this hidden wonder was only accessible to those adventurers who are willing to don special climbing gear.

When planning our spring vacation to the Page, Arizona, I was thrilled to discover that I could actually tour the world’s most famous slot canyon without wearing a helmet or dangling from a rope!  Talk about excitement!

Taking pictures in Antelope Canyon.
I’m on cloud 9 here in Antelope Canyon!

Approximately 5 miles from Page, AZ, Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo Tribal Lands.  Therefore, you are not allowed to go through the canyon on your own.  You must be accompanied by a licensed Navajo guide.

There are two sections of Antelope Canyon that you can tour:  Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Which did I choose?  Why, both of course!  Several Navajo tour companies offer the experience, so I used travel review sites to select companies for each tour. Most tour companies offer a general tour and a photography tour.  We selected the general tour – no tripods were allowed on this tour.  (The rules on the photography tour stated that family cannot participate along with the photographer.)

Upper Antelope Slot Canyon

Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are completely amazing and share many similarities.  However, there are distinct differences which might influence your choice if you only have time to see one.  In my next post, I’ll share our experiences touring both sections of the canyon.