Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park is definitely at the top of my favorite national parks list. The national park is a volcano divided into two sections. The summit district is at the top of the volcano with a mars looking landscape and the Kipahulu district is on the backside near the ocean and has the most gorgeous rainforest that you get to by driving one of the world’s most beautiful drives. The drive isn’t for the faint of heart but it’s bucket list worthy for sure.

Haleakala National Park

We flew in from the Big Island in the afternoon and picked up our rental camper van from Campervan Hawaii. This van itself was a highlight of this trip! We then stopped at Safeway to purchase the most expensive groceries of our lives and finally hit the road for the campground near the top of Haleakala.

Our sweet campervan!

Summit District

There are only six campsites at Hosmer Grove Campground and reservations are really hard to get. We were hoping for two nights, so that we could spend more time at the summit, but were only able to secure one night. We got to the campground after dark and left before the sun so I have no idea what anything other than the bathroom looks like. One of the coolest things about the campervan is that we didn’t have to set anything up. We pulled into our parking spot, put the shades in the windows, and went to sleep. I get the van life movement.

Lights of all the other cars driving up the Haleakala switchbacks for sunrise

One of the top things to do in Haleakala is to watch the sunrise from the top of the volcano. You are above the clouds so the sunrise is magical. The internet had lots to say about this and I was a little nervous about whether it would be as epic as it was made out to be. It was. The top of the volcano is really cold and windy, so bring as many clothes and hand warmers as you can. We bundled up in as much as we could and walked over to grab a spot. Getting in the park before sunrise requires a permit but there were still a lot of people there for sunrise. Don’t let that scare you though. I actually thought that is part of what made it so moving. We were standing next to strangers waiting and hoping to catch a beautiful sunrise. Eventually everyone starts chatting with each other, sharing hand warmers, holding each others cameras. You learn what brought people to such a moment. Some for fun, some to remember loved ones.

Sunrise in Haleakala National Park

Before the sun rose the sky started changing colors and the second the sun peeped the clouds someone started singing a Hawaii chant which they continued until the sun was fully above the clouds. Talk about a magical, beautiful, moving moment. It’s one that will stay with me forever. We waited a bit to watch the sky a little longer but by this point we were frozen. Another perk of the campervan is we could make more coffee in the parking lot!

Heading out on a cold & windy hike into the crater

We sat in a the van for a bit, drinking coffee and warming up, while waiting for the temperature outside to rise. Eventually we got out of the warm van and hiked into the crater. I walked a little ways. The Husband walked a little farther than me. The elevation at the top of Haleakala is 10,000 feet so walking out of the crater is no joke.

Haleakala National Park crater from the Sliding Sands Trail
Haleakala National Park crater from the Kalahaku Overlook

Kipahulu District

While we were only able to get one night at Hosmer Grove, we were able to secure two nights at Kipahulu Campground which is in the section of the national park near the ocean. It’s one of my all-time favorite campgrounds. Getting there is not for the faint of heart though. First, we had to drive down from the top of Haleakala which is a very windy road full of tight switchbacks. Once we got down from the mountain we had to drive around the island of Maui to get to Kipahula. To get there you take the famed Road to Hana! Honestly, it was a lot to drive in one day because both driving down the volcano and driving the Road to Hana requires a lot of intense concentration.

Sunset from the Kipahulu Campground

The campground is a grassy area with picnic tables. One of the coolest things is that the campground is right on the ocean. There’s no beach, just lava rocks, but you are probably 30 feet from the ocean, and serenaded by the ocean every waking moment. Heaven on earth. And if that isn’t enough, there is an epic hike that starts just outside of the campground.

Kipahulu Campground

The next morning we walked a short distance from the campground to the start of the Pipiwai trail. We started the hike first thing in the morning and I’m glad we did because the trail was busy as we were walking back. If you plan to hike this trail, please wear proper hiking footwear and take your 10 essentials. The trail is wet, muddy, and steep in some parts. We saw people in all kinds of craziness, like flip flops and a 16oz bottle of water.

Pipiwai Trail

This is one of the most magical trails I’ve hiked. You start out in the rain forest, a thick rainforest with not a lot of air flow, and a decent incline. At this point I was questioning my life choices. Eventually we made it to the banyan tree and took a quick picture break.

Banyan tree on the Pipiwai trail

Sometime after that we entered the bamboo forest. Coolest part of the hike for sure! The bamboo clanking around sounded like wind chimes. And there was air flow again!

Epic bamboo forest on the Pipiwai trail

After the bamboo forest we crossed a few water falls and eventually made it to the end to see more waterfalls. It felt like a scene from Jurassic Park. You’re able to get closer to the falls than this picture and we did. The canyon walls are so high you have to be pretty far back to get multiple falls in one shot. Waimoko Falls on the left is 400 ft.

Waterfalls at the end of the Pipiwai trail

On our way back to camp we swung by the Pools of ‘Ohe’o near the visitor center. Apparently back in the day you could swim in these but that is no longer the case. We visited in March which is the rainy season and all the water looked liked chocolate milk.

Pools of ‘Ohe’o

We loved our time in Haleakala National Park. We wanted to spend more time at the summit exploring the crater but will have to save that for another trip. Camping in Kipahulu was epic and such a perfect location. Not only were we within walking distance from trails and the ocean, Hana is just down the road and we were able to leisurely explore the area. Overall a fabulous few days.

A Visit to the Big Island of Hawaii

The Island of Hawaii, or the Big Island as most everyone knows it by, has so much to do. It made for a perfect start to our (rainy) Hawaii trip.

We started our Big Island visit by visiting Hawaii Volcanos National Park and stayed at the Volcano House hotel in the park. We had a blast and you can read more about that in my post.

The national park is closer to the town of Hilo and there is lots to do and see in the area. The Wailuku River State Park was a fun surprise. There are two viewpoints in this park and both are right off the parking lots. The first viewpoint is an 80-foot waterfall called Rainbow Falls. We happened to visit in a very rainy season and the waterfall was raging. There weren’t any rainbows but the sheer power of the water was even better.

Rainbow Falls

Right next to the water fall is a huge banyan tree. I don’t know that this was the biggest we saw but it definitely had the most branches.

Just up the road from Rainbow Falls is Boiling Pots. The name comes from when the water is raging, like it was, the water looks like it’s boiling. There was no charge for this park and both sections were worth the stop.

Boiling Pots

Lava Tree State Monument was a cool stop. This was one of the first places we stopped in Hawaii and we were blown away by the flora. It’s a little out of the way but I’m glad we made the drive.

Lava Tree State Monument

Just around the corner from Lava Tree is an area where recent lava flows covered the road. The location is on Google and is known as End of the Road. It’s a crazy thing to see. In general there is lots of this in Hawai’i, in particular on the big island, so if you’ve already seen lots of lava this may not be as exciting. For us it was at the beginning of our trip and was so cool.

End of the Road

The Panalu’u Black Sand Beach was one of our favorite stops. It had been raining for a few days and sunshine was predicted for a few hours so we drove to the beach. We got there early in the morning and were two of four people there. The beach was beautiful and peaceful and just perfect. Not only is the sand black and the beach lined with coconut palm trees, it is known for green sea turtles sun bathing on the shore. Because we were there so early the turtles were still making their way to the beach. We watched them slowly swim to the shore and work their way up the beach. It was a site I will never forget. Eventually more people showed up, including the life guard who created barriers around the sea turtles because they are protected and tourists don’t have boundaries. For whatever it’s worth, the black sand is beautiful but is not comfortable to walk on. It’s crushed lava rock.

Panalu’u Black Sand Beach

We had some time to kill on our way to the airport so we stopped at Pu’uhonua o Honaunu and Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Parks.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunu National Historic Park was fascinating and gorgeous. A section of the park was a sanctuary for people who broke sacred laws (kapu) but first they had to make it there by swimming across the bay and walking across the lava rocks. That’s crazy to think about. I’m definitely grateful to be living in this century.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunu National Historic Park

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park was interesting too. We didn’t have as much time here but walked down to the beach where we saw lots of sea turtles (!!) and a fishpond and fish trap. Native Hawaiians created a fishpond where they could capture and hold fish until they were ready to eat them. Within the pond were fish traps built out of rocks. During high tide the water would bring in the fish and as the tide would leave the fish would get stuck in the traps as the water lever went down. Genius. I love learning how people used to lived.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Parks

We stayed at the Volcano House most of the time except for the last evening when we stayed at a treehouse in the jungle. The treehouse was a neat experience but probably not something I would do again for a number of reasons. You have to climb a 15 foot ladder to enter or exit. I knew that when I made the reservation but my brain didn’t really process what that meant. I don’t love heights so climbing a wet, wooden ladder with a bag on my back wasn’t my favorite. The rain forest was gorgeous though and we were surrounded by the sound of the rain forest….coqui frogs included. Like all night long. It was neat for one night. The treehouse was off the grid, cool idea, but the lead acid battery for the solar was inside the treehouse (which is tiny) and did not have a vent to the outside. That’s dangerous and it made sleeping a little unnerving. We let the host know but I’m not sure if they made any changes. For that reason, I would not recommend the Air BnB but it was a once in a lifetime stay.

And a random shoutout, the macadamia nut milk lattes at Kona Coffee & Tea are AMAZING!

I’ll leave you with a funny tidbit. Hawaiians love Toyotas. In particular, lifted Tacomas. Their police vehicles are 4Runner’s. We’re Toyota fans so we support their love. I’ve just never seen so many lifted Tacomas in one place. It’s pretty comical.

After the Big Island we hopped over to Maui for a few days. It’s not a bad way to spend a week if I do say so myself. 🙂

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

The Hawai’i national parks have always been on our bucket list but weren’t something we expected to visit anytime soon. We were planning to take a trip somewhere in March and still trying to figure out where to go. I casually suggested Hawai’i if we could do it cheap and next thing you know I was trying to figure out it. Spoiler alert: Hawaii and cheap cannot be used in the same sentence. We did it as inexpensive as we could but honestly, once I had researched everything there was no way we weren’t going to make it happen.

We flew into Kona and rented a car through Turo. It was my first Turo experience and I loved it. I’m all for anything I can do myself. We left the airport, picked up our car which was waiting for us in the airport parking lot, and hit the road to Hawai’i Volcanos National Park. It’s a two hour drive which after a 5.5 hour flight was a little long, but sometimes that’s how ya roll.

Drive to Hawaii Volcanos National Park

We stayed at the Volcano House because we wanted to be near the crater so we had the best chance of seeing lava. Unfortunately for us, the volcano stopped erupting several days before we arrived. We saw a tiny orange glow the first night but then it stopped. The Volcano House made a great home base though.

When I first started planning for Hawaii, so many of the top things to do lists were suggesting visiting active lava flows. I eventually learned that lava flows come and go, which makes sense, and seeing active lava is not something you can really plan for. Just an FYI if you are planning a trip and expecting to see lava flowing into the ocean like I was. Prior to our trip, I followed USGS Volcanoes and Hawaii Volcanos National Park on social media so I could stay current on the lava situation. Between when we booked our trip and arrived, Mauna Loa erupted once and Kilauea started and stopped multiple times. Basically, don’t get your hopes up.

We visited in March and it was really rainy. The side of the island where the national park is is more rain foresty so that means it rains often. Be sure to bring a rain jacket but don’t let the rain prevent you from planning a trip. Granted I live in the desert and rain is a treat, but the rain added to the adventure.

We don’t own rain jackets so we borrowed some from friends for this trip. On our first full day on the island we woke up to rain but were really excited to use our rain jackets so we hopped in the car and set out to adventure in the rain. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Our first stop was Crater Rim Drive to see into the crater. It was pouring rain so I’m not sure why we actually left the hotel but we thought our rain jackets were going to save us. They didn’t. Turns out, the rain jacket I borrowed was actually a wind breaker, and rain jackets don’t protect your pants from the rain. We were sopping wet in about 60 seconds.

We got back in the car, went back to the hotel, and changed into dry clothes. Because my rain jacket was actually a wind breaker, the down jacket I was wearing underneath ended up soaking wet. Overall this was a hilarious and humbling experience. Just a reminder of how little we can actually control in life. After using a hair dryer to dry my down jacket, we drove into Hilo so I could buy an actual rain jacket. We learned two lessons in this experience. 1. Exploring in light rain is fun. Pouring rain does not make for a good experience even if you are fully waterproof. 2. Make sure your gear is actually waterproof.

Over the next two days we explored as much of the park as we could in short bursts. Rain was is the forecast so we didn’t want to do anything that would leave us out in the elements for hours on end. That meant shorter adventures but we still saw so much and had a blast. The Chain of Craters Road is 18.8 miles and takes you from the visitor center all the way to the ocean. It’s a beautiful drive with stops all along the 18 miles. Some of our favorite stops were:

Thurston Lava Tube. The lava tube itself was a little anticlimactic but the area is beautiful. Oh, and it was raining so being in the tube gave us a quick rain break.

The entrance of the Thurston Lava Tube
Inside the Thurston Lava Tube

The parking lot for the lava tube is on the opposite side of the road of the trail…just a little FYI. There is a trail right in front of the parking lot so we started down that. Eventually we turned around and figured out where to go. The walk to the lava tube is through the rain forest and the flora is just gorgeous.

Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder Cone Hike. This hike starts at the Mauna Ula Trailhead parking lot. It takes you through a lava flow from the 1969 – 1974 eruption of Kilauea and to the top of the Pu’u Huluhulu cinder cone. The trail is marked with cairns so be sure you’re paying attention.

We were hiking in a drizzle so we basically had the trail to ourselves. The contrast between the lava and flora is beautiful. The lava carrot below is one of my favorites. Nature is the coolest.

Holei Sea Arch. The Chain of Craters road ends at the parking lot for the Holei Sea Arch. It’s a 90 foot arch carved cut into the lava flows by the sea.

Holei Sea Arch

The drive down to the sea is gorgeous. Prior lava flows ran all the way to the ocean and you can see it on the drive. When it was active it looked like a lava water fall running off the cliffs.

The sea arch is a short walk from the parking lot. In general there isn’t much to do down here but it is gorgeous.

Just passed the arch we noticed a small grouping of coconut palm trees so we walked over. I’m not sure of the story behind them. They either grew out of the lava or the lava somehow missed them. So random.

On our way back up the road we stopped at the top of the hill to eat lunch and take in the view one last time. The reflection of the clouds on the ocean was breathtaking. I could have stayed there all day.

Our final night in the park we ate dinner at the Volcano House. Exploring and hiking all days works up an appetite and the food was fantastic. The restaurant overlooks the crater so we were treated to sunset with dinner.

We had a great time and are glad we made the trip to Hawai’i Volcanos National Park.

A Wonderful Week in New York City

I was in New York City in October and had the best time! Technically, I spent my time in Manhattan. I was there for a work conference but naturally packed in as much as humanly possible outside of work hours. That’s how I typically roll anytime I go somewhere but the three hour time change killed me. The first couple days were fine but by the end of the week I was dying. And since I overpacked my schedule and paid for things in advance, and let’s be honest I don’t see myself back in the Big Apple anytime soon, I kept going sans sleep.

When I heard I was going to NYC I knew I wanted to see a Broadway show and take an in person Peloton class. I couldn’t decide which show to see so I saw four. And I did get in a Peloton class! It was an epic trip and quite possibly the highlight of my year. Life has so many beautiful moments and it’s important to make the best of them.

We flew into La Guardia on Sunday and landed late afternoon. La Guardia is the nicest airport I’ve been to. Apparently there are no trains directly from this airport so you have to take a bus to the train station. I was with several coworkers and since this was our first time in NYC we opted for a taxi. The pickup area is in a parking garage full of taxis honking. It was hilarious and the perfect welcome to New York.

We got checked into our hotel, dropped our bags, and hit the town for dinner. We were all excited to be in the city and decided to walk around for a bit after dinner. We stopped to get ice cream at Van Leeuwen and made our way over to Times Square. It was rather disappointing as it’s just an outdoor mall with neon advertisements all around. Not sure what I was expecting but not that.

Monday was our only totally free day and we started the day by hopping on the subway to Lower Manhattan to see the 9/11 Memorial. My Google Maps app made the subway seem really easy and I had grand plans for going all over Manhattan via the subway. My co-workers and I got into the train car and were having a great time, taking pictures, and living up our first subway experience. Next thing you know, we look out the window and are going over water and Manhattan is becoming smaller by the second. We ended up in Brooklyn and had no idea what to do next. Most of our phones were not working (because we were underground) and none of us knew what we were doing. It was hilarious for the most part. Starting our trip to the Big Apple by getting lost on the subway. The timing was perfect because we didn’t have anywhere we had to be. We got off the train at the first stop we could and eventually figured out we had to leave that train platform to get to the other side of the tracks to go back. We eventually got back to Manhattan and made it to the 9/11 Memorial. It was a humbling experience nonetheless.

After walking around the pools and taking in the magnitude of the situation, we decided we needed lunch and a drink. We ate at Eataly and the food was fantastic! I’m not sure I ever really have a bad meal in big cities. I had an arugula salad with grilled chicken and a lemon vinaigrette dressing and I would like another right now.

9/11 Memorial Reflecting Pools

Our next stop was the pier to hop on a Circle Line sightseeing cruise. We took the 1.5 hour landmarks cruise and had the best time! I’d highly recommend this cruise. The guide was knowledgable and fun and we learned so much about New York. It was the perfect start to our trip.

On the cruise we went by something called Little Island and one of my coworkers wanted to check it out so we walked back to it. Had I know how far away it was I would have opted for a mode of transportation other than my feet but it was an enjoyable walk. The island is so cute and was a fun stop. I am impressed with how many nature retreats are on Manhattan.

By this point in the day it was late afternoon and our feet were tired. We took a cab back to our hotel and headed off to dinner. I wanted to try Thyme and Tonic and it did not disappoint! It’s an adorable restaurant and the ambiance is on point. It was a perfect end to a fun day.

Our conference started on Tuesday and we had a little downtime for lunch so we went to Rockefeller Center to try a restaurant I had read about online. If you ever travel with me know that I will have researched all the restaurants in the area and will likely go to random places to try things I read about on the internet. I had quite a list for NYC but that list was squashed when I realized the subway was not as easy to use as I assumed when I was route planning on Google maps from my couch in Arizona. We got lost inside Rockefeller Center multiple times (seems to be a theme for this trip). There is a mall or something underneath the building and that’s where the restaurant we were going to was. Colleen Hoover was launching a book that day and we stumbled upon the book launch party. That was fun to see even though we didn’t get a book or coffee from the coffee truck.

Tuesday evening was the first of my four Broadway shows and I started off with the Music Man. I picked this show because I wanted to see Hugh Jackman. I loved him in the Greatest Showman and was so excited to see him on stage! I knew nothing about the Music Man and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was.

Wednesday was mostly a work day but it ended with Hamilton! A couple of my coworkers opted to come with me and we had the best dinner before our show. We were a little pressed for time and the hotel concierge recommended Trattoria Dell’Arte. I don’t travel via hotel much but the concierge recommendations are almost always on point. We sat outside and it was super cute. We didn’t think we were going to have enough time to get our food but we let our waiter know of our time crunch and our food came out super fast. Not only was it fast (for us in our rushed state) but it was phenomenal! It might, quite possibly, be the best chick and potatoes I have ever eaten. After dinner we made our way to the theater for Hamilton! I saw Hamilton when the tour came through Tucson earlier in the year but seeing it on Broadway was so wonderful!

We had a little down time Thursday morning so we opted to walk through Central Park on our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Central Park was gorgeous and the Met was out of this world!

Central Park
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

We had to do some work in the middle of the day but we had another show to catch that evening! We didn’t really have time to get dinner at a restaurant so we decided to try a street vendor near our hotel who always had a line. The Halal Guys was good and apparently a very New York thing to do. Rather than walking to the theater we decided to take a bike taxi. If you think taking a normal taxi is crazy, don’t get into a bike taxi. They are just as crazy weaving in and out of traffic but you’re in a cart on the back of a bike. It was an experience and I’m glad to have checked the box but I’m not sure I’d take one again. Our performance of the evening was A Strange Loop. I had heard good things about the show and was glad to have been able to see it. It is such a powerful and important story.

Friday was my last full day in the city. Once again I barely slept the night before. The only good thing about not sleeping is that Taylor Swift dropped her new album at midnight so I was able to listen to it at midnight. As such, I earned a Spotify badge for being in the first 1% of streams of Midnights. Thanks, jet lag. I started the day with an in person Peloton class! Honestly, I was exhausted by this point and would have skipped the class if I hadn’t been telling people about it for weeks and everyone I know with a Peloton was planning to ride live with me. In the end I’m glad I went but there was a moment, or 10, where I was questioning my life choices.

After my Peloton class I headed back to the hotel because I had my final conference sessions of the trip. I may or may not have skipped a conference session to attend the Peloton class. 😬Once the conference wrapped up I tried to take a nap but that didn’t work. My coworkers and I had our last dinner on the town. It was good but not as good as the one earlier in the week. I was also exhausted and was feeling like I was going to fall asleep in my food. 😂 My last Broadway show was Friday evening and I had saved my favorite for last – Hadestown! I was contemplating skipping it but my wonderful coworkers convinced me to go. They told me I could leave at intermission if I still wasn’t feeling it. In the end I went, didn’t leave, and am so glad to have seen it on Broadway.

I had the best time in NYC and am so grateful for all the memories. This trip was epic and one I will cherish for a very long time.

How To Get In A Peloton Studio In-Person Class

If you follow me on social media or we’ve spoken in person in the last year you are probably aware of how much I love my Peloton bike. I was in New York in October and was lucky enough to get in an in-person studio class! It was so much fun and a bucket list item for any Peloton fan. My friends with Pelotons took the class live at home and were sending me pictures of their screens when I showed up. I’m in the pink tank top in the picture below.

Classes are hard to get into so if you’re wanting to take an in-person class at the Peloton Studio, here’s what I learned:

  • The class schedule opens six weeks in advance and fills up almost immediately. The most popular instructors and class types, like cycling, filled almost instantly. Be ready to book as soon as classes open. To view the schedule or book a class visit the Peloton website.
  • You can see a general schedule ahead of opening but the actual schedule isn’t posted until the booking page is live. Know your availability or have it written out so that when classes are live you can quickly figure out what works for you. I was in NYC for a conference and had limited availability. I knew which classes I could attend based on the general schedule, which I didn’t realize was general, and was caught off guard when what went live was different from what I had planned to. I didn’t have my availability handy and ended up having to grab whatever I could. The class I got in was during a conference session but after all that there was no way I missing the opportunity to ride in person.
  • Per my above story, I wasn’t sure of my availability, and didn’t have time to figure it out, so I was trying to be greedy and grab a couple classes so that I could later figure out what worked with my schedule. Turns out Peloton is smarter than that. You can’t add multiple classes to your cart and check out. You have to register and pay for each class before you can book something else. If you’re trying to grab multiple classes, register for the one you want most first and then go back and try to grab others. I registered for my first class, it took me no more than 30 – 60 seconds, and when I tried to grab a second everything was full. I honestly do not know how people get in back-to-back studio classes. They either have connections or know something I don’t, because classes filled up almost instantly when I registered. Granted, I visited in October which is a popular time in NYC so maybe that made it harder to take a class.
Peloton Studio New York

Once you’re in the studio:

  • Read the entire confirmation email they send you prior to heading to the studio. I know that sounds like a no brainer, and I probably read mine when I initially received it, but didn’t refer back to it. When I visited in October 2022 they were requiring proof of a negative COVID test or your vaccine card. I haven’t had to show those items in a long time and wasn’t prepared to need them. I was standing in line outside of the studio and someone next to me mentioned their card and I was like what?! I frantically called my husband (it was 5am his time) and had him send me a copy of my vaccine card. Don’t be like me – review the confirmation email a few days before your class so you know what is needed to get in the door.
  • From the moment you walk in the door they will be giving you instructions. I was so excited to be there, probably a little nervous too, and kept zoning out on their instructions. I was just looking around the studio in awe and was like crap, what did they just tell me? Try to pay attention to what they are telling you. I’m sure I missed some good stuff.
  • The most important thing to remember, in my opinion, is your locker number. I threw my things in a locker, set the combination, and headed off to class. About halfway through my class I realized I had no idea which locker my items were in. Fortunately I remembered the area but I had to try a lot of lockers before I found mine. Don’t be like me. Take a picture of your locker number.
  • Once you’re in the class, they tell you no pictures/videos although they don’t seem to enforce this. People had their phones out when the instructor walked in but I didn’t see any during the actual class. It is a live TV production so just keep that in mind.

And if you’ve made it this far, here are a few memorable moments from the day:

I love 90’s music and it just so happens I was in Emma Lovewell’s 30 minute 90s ride which means I knew all of the songs. This Is How We Do It by Montell Jordan came on and by that point in the ride I was jamming and having a blast. The music is really loud so it feels like a concert. Emma was encouraging singing if you know the songs, which I was obviously doing. There’s a part of the song where Montell says to throw your hands in the air. I was singing along and threw my hands up only to look up and realize I was the ONLY one who had done so. Shortly after that Emma threw her hands up and the class followed. This means one of two things, either no one in the class knows that song and was not prepared to throw their hands up or I was a little too ambitious. I’m not sure if Emma followed me or if I jumped the gun but there was definitely an awkward moment where I had my hands in the air and it felt like everyone was looking at me. 😂 In that moment I had to remind myself that it’s is a live TV production and I needed to settle down and follow the instructor’s lead.

When you check in for the class you are given a card with your group number for entry into the class. I somehow ended up with group A which means I was one of the first into the room. I’m a back of the class type of girl so I immediately went to a bike in the back of the class. One of the security guards seemed confused by this and made a reference to sitting in the front of the class. I guess most people want to be in the front. I gave in to the peer pressure and selected a seat right in front. This also meant that I would be in the camera view for the production so I had to make it through the entire ride. This isn’t normally a problem for me but knowing that I would be in the camera view added a little pressure. The class doors opened 30 minutes before the live class started and there’s really nothing to do except pedal. So we were pedaling for almost 30 minutes prior to the 30 minute class. It was easy pedaling but pedaling nonetheless. Long story short, during the actual class I kept my resistance lower than what Emma was suggesting so that I would look like I was keeping up with the class. That’s dumb, I’m sure, but I didn’t want to be on camera dying or having to take a break. Lol.

Some other fun facts from the class, Emma came in 10 minutes before the class started. She is so sweet and was telling stories and talking to us. She went through all the milestones and birthdays in the room, so everyone got a classroom shoutout, she talked about her cats, told us that the instructors really are all BFFs, and we took a few pictures for the class image that is displayed in the app. There are cameras all over the room and the light on them turns red when that camera is on. That’s how the instructor knows where to focus. Overall, it was really neat to see how the production works. After class we were able to take a picture with Emma in the lobby. The studio takes the pictures and later in the day emailed our photos. Again they told us no phones but some people were still using theirs.

My picture with Emma is below. I’ve always wondered why everyone is in their socks in their pictures and I finally have an answer. It seems less weird once you’re there. The bikes require cycling shoes and you can borrower shoes from the studio if you do not want to travel with your own. They take your shoes once you leave the class and the picture line is immediately after you exit the class. So you go from class, to dropping off your shoes, to the picture line. Once you get your picture taken you can head to the locker room where your shoes are.

Picture After Class with Emma Lovewell

If you’re a Peloton fan, I definitely recommend trying to get into a live class in the Peloton studio. It’s fun to meet the instructors and see how the productions are made. Feel free to drop any questions in the comments or share tip or stories if you’ve been. Happy riding (or whatever your preferred activity is)!

A Magical Visit to the Floria Keys

Some friends of ours used to live in Florida and have been trying to get us to visit the Keys for a while. I’ve not spent much time in the ocean so I didn’t get the hype. I do now. I’m mentally trying to figure out when to suggest a return trip to the Keys.

Flying into Key West

For all of you desert rats who, like me, know nothing about Florida, at the southern tip of Florida is a grouping of islands referred to at the Florida Keys. The Keys span 113 miles and there is a highway (Highway 1) connecting all the islands. We spent our time in the southern Keys.

I’ve struggled to write this post because part of what made this trip so fun was the company. Spending 10 days with your best friends, exploring new places and in particular, the Keys, definitely makes for a good time. Everything about our time in the Keys was perfect. We rented a house on Little Torch Key and it made an excellent home base. The house had a pool, its own private dock, and a beautiful (screened in) wrap around porch where we watched the sunrise almost everyday.

Sunrise over the Keys from the porch

Every morning we’d wake up, have coffee, eat breakfast, pack some drinks and snacks, put on our swimsuits, and hop on the boat. The first stop was always snorkeling and eventually we’d go farther into the ocean to go fishing. Who knew that could be so much fun! I see a picture of that gorgeous water and am instantly taken back to those moments.

Snorkeling in the Florida Keys

Snorkeling was a new experience for me and one I do not particularly enjoy. For starters, I couldn’t figure out how to get my mask and snorkel to work. Seeing the fish and coral was incredible but the open water freaked me out. Not so much the animals but the fact that you can’t put your feet down and the ocean current moves fast. I’d put my head in the water and when I’d look up the boat was (what felt like) way far away which caused panic and then made it 10x harder to swim back to the boat. I decided to do my own thing and spent the week floating in an inter tube while my friends snorkeled around the reefs. It was glorious. At the beginning of the week I was tying my tube to the boat but towards the end of the week I was more comfortable floating untethered. But still close enough to swim back pretty quickly, obviously. Don’t be afraid to do you.

Floating in the Florida Keys

I’m not a big fisher but held a fishing pole a few times. Day 1 I caught all the fish! Somehow there are no pictures of this. I did enjoy ocean fishing more than lake fishing. Not all the fish we caught were large enough to keep but you basically cast your line and something almost always bites pretty quickly. I have a short attention span to this was nice.

Some other memorable moments while fishing: one of our friends caught a fish and as he was reeling it in, a barracuda was chasing it and jumped out of the water to get the fish off his line. It was a scene straight out of a movie. Another day we had a pod of dolphins swim under us. We saw a dolphin swimming towards us and next thing you know, it and all its buddies were swimming under our boat.

Our boat

We did a mix of things in the afternoons. Some days we stayed out on the boat longer, other days we came back and got in our pool, and some days we drove down to Key West.

Key West is lots of fun and there are so many things to do. Museums, cool architecture, restaurants, bars, shops, people watching. There’s a little something for everyone. One of my favorite places in Key West is Caroline Street. For obvious reasons. If I could have a house anywhere in the world, it’d probably be on that street. Just throwing that out into the universe. 😉

Caroline on Caroline Street in Key West!

As I was researching things to do for this trip, I learned of the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. In 1985 Mel Fisher found $450 million worth of treasure from a 1622 shipwreck. Have you seen the movie Fools Gold? The story in that movie is loosely based on the story of Mel Fisher. I love that movie and after researching Mel Fisher’s history, I had to visit the museum where some of the treasure is on display.

Mel Fisher Martime Museum

While in Key West we took a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. I wrote a separate post on that trip so be sure to check out the link if you’re interested. It’s a fort in the middle of the ocean. Not much is cooler than that. You can only get there by plane or boat and reservations for both fill up fast so be sure to book as early as you can.

Dry Tortugas National Park

We went in late June and it was warm but not unbearable. Definitely bring bug spray though. I didn’t notice the humidity much in the Keys but it was horrible in Miami. Speaking of Miami, If you’re wanting to go to Maimi and the Keys, start in Miami and end in the Keys. Do not start in the Keys and end in Miami. That’s what we did and it was a terrible decision. After spending a chill week in the Keys, Miami was a bit much. Overall, I’d highly recommend a trip to the Keys. The gorgeous warm water, chill vibe, and fun things to do all make for an excellent vacation.

Biscayne National Park

I’m not sure if our visit really counts as a visit but I did scratch the circle off on our national park map afterwards. Everglades and Biscayne National Parks are really close to each other so we planned to visit both while in Miami.

Biscayne National Park

We were running out of time in Miami and were trying to cram in the last few things I wanted to do. Mostly, making sure we visited all national parks in the area. We planned to take a kayaking tour through the mangroves at Biscayne but after our mosquito tour of Everglades, we decided kayaking would likely be a terrible idea. Instead we stopped at the visitor center and planned to do whatever we could without hopping a boat to explore the ocean. There is a trail near the visitor center that goes along the beach and through the mangroves but much to our disappointment, it was closed for repairs to the boardwalk. So we just walked around the visitor center and left. It was definitely a disappointment and I’m still not sure I can properly say I visited Biscayne but I guess I have a picture with the sign so it counts. 🙂

Boardwalk at Biscayne National Park Closed for Repairs

95% of Biscayne National Park is underwater so it requires more time to properly visit. There are boat tours, lighthouses to explore, snorkeling/scuba/kayaing tours, there’s even an underwater scuba trail that takes you through reefs and shipwrecks! Maybe one day we’ll be back and visit the park properly for but now, we’re checking the box.

Everglades National Park in June

When you think of Everglades National Park in June what comes to mind? Humidity and swarms of mosquitoes? Yup. Me too. Except never actually having experienced that, I was like how bad can it be? It was bad. Like I was literally running from swarms of mosquitoes. While I’m not sure I want to relive that experience anytime soon, have you really lived if you haven’t ran from mosquito swarms? I think not. Crazy adventures make for the best memories/stories.

Everglades National Park sign taken from the car with the windows up because mosquitos

I’ve always wanted to visit Everglades and am not sure when we’ll be back that way so we decided to ignore the warnings and visit in June. I was really excited for Everglades because the terrain is so different from anything I’ve ever seen.

We arrived at the Shark Valley visitor center at 9am when it opened. Everglades is divided into several sections and we chose the Shark Valley area because we wanted to take an airboat ride which is in the northern section of the park. Shark Valley is a neat area with the chance for lots of wildlife sightings. There is a 15 mile path/loop that follows a river where alligators and other wildlife live. It’s really pretty. You can walk the path, rent a bicycle, or take a tram to complete the 15 miles. We didn’t have time for the tram ride so we opted to walk for a bit.

Shark Valley Loop Road

As all good visitors do, we stopped at the visitor center and asked the park ranger for a hike suggestion. He must have not liked our group because he gave no warning for the suggestion. Honestly, I have no idea why he suggested it in the first place. It was not appropriate for June.

Entrance to Otter Cave Hammock Trail

The loop the ranger suggested was Bobcat Boardwalk Trail, Shark Valley Loop Road, Otter Cave Hammock Trail, and then back along Shark Valley Loop Road to the car. The mosquitoes weren’t too bad to start but then we made the brilliant decision to hike the Otter Cave Hammock Trail. Sounds like a cute trail, right? I have no clue what the trail looks like because we were being eaten alive and trying to run out of there as fast as possible. Turns out walking into a heavily wooded area in the middle of the summer is a terrible decision. Two of the six in our group knew better and didn’t follow us in. The four of us from Arizona foolishly kept going.

Once we exited Mosquito Cave Trail, several of us literally ran back to the car, being chased by swarms of mosquitos (you probably think I’m exaggerating but I’m not), jumped in and declared we were done with the Everglades. My skin is itching just thinking about how many mosquito bites I had. We had 11am tickets for an airboat ride, which it was not yet time for, but had no more interest in exploring so we drove to the airboat place and sat in the car until it was time for our ride. Since there were six of us, we had booked a private tour and our tour guide was able to start our tour a little earlier than planned.

Everglades Safari Park Airboat Tour

The best decision we made was to book an airboat tour. If you visit in the summer, this is a must. Summer is wet season in the Everglades and the rain refills the grasslands. During the winter, or dry season, the ground dries up in many places. Ecosystems are so cool. In my next life I want to become a environmental scientist. Is it too late to change careers?

We thoroughly enjoyed the breeze in our face and lack of mosquitoes. Our tour guide was a lot of fun and shared lots of cool information. I could have spent hours out there. The area was gorgeous and gliding through the water and grass was a blast. There are airboat tours all over the area but only a few are licensed to operate in Everglades National Park. If that matters to you, be sure to look at who’s authorized to operate in the park.

Airboat tour in the Everglades

We didn’t see much wildlife because who the heck wants to be out in the middle of June. We were there to ride in an airboat so any wildlife was a bonus but we did happen to see one alligator. A mother guarding her nest of eggs. In the picture below, there is a dark circle in the middle of the picture. What looks like a rock is her head. Her nest is in the grass somewhere in the back.

Mama alligator in Everglades National Park

The views were incredible. I’m not sure if the water is always that still or if we were there on a good day but everywhere we turned, the sky perfectly reflected on the water. Hence why I could have stayed out there all day.

Evergaldes National Park

In the middle of the picture below is a pond apple tree. They’re all over this area. The crazy thing about these apples is that the seeds are poisonous. What?! So basically don’t eat pond apples.

Pond apple tree

I know I’ve complained a lot about the mosquitos but I’d do it all over again if given the chance. If you are planning to visit in the summer, I’d suggest minimizing your walking. Take the tram, rent a bicycle, or take an airboat tour. You want to be moving faster than the mosquitos. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the area but that just means we’ll have to go back (not in June)!

Airboat ride through the Everglades

Dry Tortugas National Park

I love the national parks and would love to visit them all eventually. Some are harder than others to get to and those I assume I may not get to. Dry Tortugas was one of them. It’s 70 miles off the coast of Key West and Florida has never really been on my list. Nothing against Florida but there’s just so much to do between Arizona and Florida that it’s way down on the list. A friend of ours is from Florida and convinced us to take a trip to Key West and boy am I glad we said yes! When we started planning and I realized how close we’d be to Dry Tortugas, I knew I had to make it happen.

Dry Tortugas National Park

The Dry Tortugas are a group of seven islands west of Key West. The islands were named Las Tortugas (The Turtles) in 1514 but later changed to Dry Tortugas to signify that there is no fresh water on them. The United States started building Fort Jefferson on Garden Key (one of the seven islands) in 1846 as a way to control navigation of the Gulf of Mexico and protect Mississippi River trade. During the Civil War, the fort was a prison for captured deserters and also held the four men accused of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Most notably, Dr. Samuel Mudd. (We’re huge fans of the National Treasure movies so seeing Dr. Mudd’s cell in real life and learning even more about the story was exciting.) Eventually the Army left the fort and in 1908 it became a wildlife refuge. In 1992 it became a national park and is home to endangered sea turtles, birds, coral reefs, ship wrecks, and Fort Jefferson.

Garden Key

There are two ways to get to Dry Tortugas – a 2.5 hour ferry boat ride or a 30 minute seaplane ride. I guess the third option is to take your own boat but that’s only for local boat owners. Of course no option is perfect. With the ferry you get to spend four hours on the island. With the seaplane you only get two and a half hours. I really wanted to take the seaplane to see the area from the sky but our group opted for the boat. As long as the sea isn’t too rough, you can stand on the front of the ferry which was fun for a little bit but so windy as we were going 30+ MPH.

Yankee Freedom ferry ride to Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson is massive and was constructed with 16 million bricks. The color contrast between the red bricks and the different shades of blues in the sky and water make for absolutely stunning views everywhere you look.

Moat wall around Fort Jefferson

It’s so hard to decide how to spend your four hours because there is so much to do. Snorkeling, swimming, exploring the fort, walking on the beaches. We started with a dip in the water and a picnic lunch on the beach. Off in the distance in the picture below, you can see the lighthouse on Loggerhead Key.

Lunch views at Dry Tortugas National Park

After lunch we decided to explore the fort. There are three levels and throughout are signs explaining how the fort was constructed and operated. Every hall looked like the picture below. Some narrower than others but so perfectly constructed. Are all forts like this? This is the first I’ve been to so maybe this is normal.

Inside Fort Jefferson

In between each pillar is a window and I’m pretty sure I took a picture out of at least half of them. Jaw. Dropping. They each so perfectly frame the gorgeous sky, sea, moat wall, and beach. I could have sat there all day but only had four hours so we had to keep moving.

Looking out of Fort Jefferson to the ocean

You can walk on the top of the fort which is a little crazy as there are no rails. There are a bunch of cannons up there (I don’t know if they are original or replicas) and more signs explaining the history. The fort is so large that we didn’t have time to explore the entire thing.

Walking on top of Fort Jefferson

Inside the fort walls there used to be several buildings. In the left of the picture below you can see what remains of the barracks. The right side is the armory which is still largely in tact.

Interior of Fort Jefferson

After exploring the fort we headed back to the beach for more swimming and snorkeling before having to board the ferry back to Key West.

This was such a fun day and one of my favorite days on our trip. I cannot get over the insanely gorgeous water colors. I’m mostly a mountain girl but I can see why people love the beach and this part of the world. If you ever get a chance to visit Dry Tortugas, I highly recommend it. It’s a little pricey but worth every penny.

A Few Days in Miami, Florida

It’s been so long since my last post, I almost don’t remember how to use WordPress. Our last proper summer vacation occurred in 2019 so we are well overdue for a good trip. We still camp all the time but have mostly been spending our time closer to home lately. Our kids are all grown up so this year we took an epic trip with friends. We started the trip in the Florida Keys and ended in Miami. If I’m being honest, I mostly didn’t enjoy Miami so I’m going to start with that and save the best for last (in a different post).

You are probably aware that I want to see all the things and cram in as much as possible on any trip. Of course that happened when we started planning a trip to Key West. Being so close to Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, we added a couple days in Miami to the end of our trip so that we could hit up those parks.

Ocean Drive, South Beach Miami

We decided to stay in South Beach Miami, Florida. It sounded like a good idea when planning but the reality was not as good. We stayed at the Moxy Miami South Beach and our group definitely bumped up the average age (and we’re not even that old!). We felt very out of place and hilariously, when we were out and about and told bartenders/servers where we were staying, they all laughed and agreed that we didn’t belong at the Moxy.

There were a few things we enjoyed. One being the Havana Vieja Cuban Restaurant which was across the street from our hotel. The food was amazing and worth every penny. If you find yourself in the area, check it out.

Our hotel has dedicated beach chairs on South Beach. When we were planning our trip, I envisioned us relaxing by the beach in the hotel chairs napping and reading. What was not in my dream were 10,000 of my closest new friends. The picture below looks more like my dream but this was taken very early in the morning. The rest of the day it was packed and there was hardly anywhere to put down a towel. Needless to say, we didn’t spend any time on the beach relaxing.

South Beach Miami Florida

Many of the hotels in South Beach were built in the 1930s so it’s fun to walk around and admire the Art Deco architecture.

Since our plans to relax at the beach were squashed, we instead explored Miami. The first stop was the Wynwood area to explore the murals. Wynwood is Miami’s arts district and there are murals on almost every building. It’s a fun area to walk around and there are so many shops, restaurants, and breweries to explore. J Wakefield Brewing received 5/5 stars from our group and was our most favorite beer stop on this trip. The walls are decorated in Star Wars and Marvel murals and they were playing Star Wars movies. Definitely a fun vibe and the beers were excellent.

After Wynwood, we drove over to Little Havana which is Miami’s famed Cuban neighborhood. This is such a cool area and I loved walking around. The La Colada Gourmet coffee shop is phenomenal. I wasn’t sure what all the drinks were on the menu but I was hot (Miami in June was not our brightest idea) and wanted something cold and dairy free. They asked me a few questions and surprised me with a drink. And for a fun bonus, they added a shot of hazelnut liqueur! 5/5 stars for both customer service and taste. There are several good restaurants in the area which we didn’t eat at but wanted to. Overall, it’s a great place to walk around and explore. Lots of shopping, food, and cigar shops.

I was so excited to see Domino Park! I have no idea how to play dominos but the place was packed and everyone was having a good time.

Domino Park, Little Havana Miami

Miami in June is hot and humid. I’ve lived in the desert my entire life. This was my first experience with real humidity and heat so now I understand everyone who says they prefer a dry heat over the humidity. I am in that camp now as well. A little PSA if you are planning a trip to Miami, so many restaurants and stores are not open on Mondays and Tuesdays. For real, like half of the places we wanted to visit were not open.

Fun fact: On our way home from Miami, I learned the new Father of the Bride movie dropped. Father of the Bride was my favorite movie growing up. The new movie is set in Miami and all the places we had just been. It was so fun watching it.

So that’s a wrap for Miami! Up next, Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas National Parks and the Florida Keys…