Where to Camp in Kings Canyon National Park (Sort of)

I don’t know how it works in national parks (or state parks for that matter) in other states, but here in California, good luck getting a campsite on a holiday weekend. You have to be waiting on your computer the very first day reservations become available for your desired dates, and then attempt to reserve your site the very moment the link goes live. Sorta like trying to register for classes back in college. And even then you still might not be successful.

On the one hand it’s awesome so many people want to visit and support our parks, but on the other, it sure makes life difficult.

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By the time we decided to make this Kings Canyon trip happen, that narrow window to book a site within the park had long since come and gone. Everything within the park was already booked, and all the sites in Sequoia were gone too. However, the park is surrounded by Sequoia National Forest, and it has tons of campgrounds of its own. We were lucky and found a spot at Big Meadow Campground, which is only a 20 minute drive from Grant Grove.

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The campground ended up being pretty cool. Lots and lots of space, plus less rules and regulations than the campgrounds inside the park. They actually allowed firewood gathering!

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It came with a picnic table and fire ring, plus a bear locker to store your scented stuff (this park is probably one of the most bear infested parks in the whole country). Tons of room for tents, easy access to bathrooms (pit toilets), and firewood sold onsite by the campground host.

There is no running water though, which isn’t a big deal to me, but is something to keep in mind.

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Gathering firewood, just because we can.

Despite its more primitive nature, this campground was really pleasant and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay there. I would definitely recommend this spot to others.

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To check out all of the available camping options in and around Kings Canyon, visit the park website.

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To check for available sites in any of the campgrounds and to make a reservation, click here.

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Two of the best scents in the world: coffee and bacon!

All the spots in Kings Canyon full? Click here to looks for availability in the national forest, near Hume Lake (which is what we did).

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And if you want to check out Big Meadow campground specifically cause it’s awesome, click here to make reservations.

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There is no shortage of campgrounds and lodging options near Kings Canyon, and even plenty of first come, first served sites available in case you couldn’t get a reservation. And the national forest area even allows people to set up camp outside of designated campgrounds (we saw tons of tents practically right next to the highway). So no matter what, you will be able to find a place to stay. But the longer you wait to get a spot, the worse your options become.

I mean, who wants to camp next to a highway? That just feels like tempting fate. Definitely not as fab as our spacious and secluded campground. So plan ahead and make those reservations folks!


 

 

Kings Canyon: Hiking in Cedar Grove

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In case this is my first Kings Canyon post you’re reading, I should start by saying that Kings Canyon is divided into two halves, Cedar Grove and Grant Grove, with a long scenic drive through Sequoia National Forest connecting them.

Cedar Grove is the much bigger half, but it’s also less developed and less accessible. But you have to go in order to have the complete Kings Canyon experience. Each half contains very different features of the park, and it is the combination of both that makes Kings Canyon such a unique park. Grant Grove is full of the enormous sequoias, and Cedar Grove has waterfalls, granite canyons, and rushing rivers.

Here are my top picks for hikes in Cedar Grove:

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Roaring River Falls, <0.25 miles

“A very short, shady walk to a powerful waterfall rushing through a granite chute. 3 miles (4.8 km) east of the Village road. Paved, relatively accessible.” (NPS website)

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You can’t visit Cedar Grove without stopping at Roaring River Falls. The parking area for this “hike” is right next to the main road, and the trail is very short and easy. It’s so short, there isn’t even mileage listed for it on the park website. You can do it all in less than 10 minutes if you’re pressed for time, but you may find yourself mesmerized by the waterfall and lingering longer than that.

The waterfall itself is just ok. I mean it’s obviously cool, but nothing spectacular. The thing I found most interesting about this waterfall is how turbulent the water at the base is. It was actually a little scary. Definitely no swimming at this one!

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Zumwalt Meadow, 1.5 mile loop

“This 1.5-mile (2.4 km) trail passes high granite walls, lush meadows, and the Kings River. Trailhead parking is 4.5 miles (7.2 km) east of Cedar Grove Village road. Purchase a trail guide at the visitor center. Allow 1 hour. ” (NPS website)

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This hike was a lot of fun! It’s mostly flat, and the views change drastically throughout the short 1.5 miles. Zumwalt Meadow provides a good sampling of all the things that make the Cedar Grove half of the park cool, so if you only have half a day to spend there, this is the hike you should do. And if you have more time, then you should still do this hike. It is a very peaceful stroll through breathtaking meadows, forests, and canyons. Super cool.

At one point the trail forks and you have to choose which direction to do the loop. There is no wrong choice; they both circle back to the same place. But I think the progression of sights you see is more impressive when you start on the left fork, heading across the meadow on boardwalks first.

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Mist Falls, 9 miles round trip

“This sandy trail follows the glaciated South Fork Canyon through forest and chaparral, past an impressive show of rapids and cascades, to one of the largest waterfalls in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The first part of this 8-mile round trip is relatively flat; during the last mile to the falls, the trail gains 600′. The average time for this trip is 4 to 5 hours.” (NPS website)

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This looked like a perfect spot to swim. The water was so calm and clear!

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Ok, the website says it’s 8-miles round trip, but every other map and sign in the park calls it 9. So I’m going with 9 too, cause I say it’s always better to prepare for a longer hike and be surprised if it’s shorter, than to plan for a shorter hike and be stuck out on the trail for longer than planned, for safety reasons.

Despite its length, it’s actually a pretty easy hike and it goes quickly. We finished it faster than the website estimates, and we never felt rushed and took several breaks. I wish we had started it earlier in the day though, cause there were a couple spots that would’ve been PERFECT for swimming, but we didn’t have time. So my recommendation? However long you think you’ll need to do the hike, add an extra hour and bring your swim stuff!

Also, there were more little gnats on this trail than I have ever seen in my whole life. Be prepared, and take whatever you need to repel insects- bug repellent, face shrouds… trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

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All of these trails can be done easily in one day. Get an early start though! I would suggest starting with Mist Falls, do some swimming on your way back from the falls, break for lunch, do Zumwalt Meadow, do Roaring River Falls, and of course, stop at all of the scenic viewpoints along the drive! That would be my perfect day in Cedar Grove.

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For a complete list of all the hiking trails in Cedar Grove, visit the official park website.


 

 

Kings Canyon: Hiking in Grant Grove

So as I mentioned in my Scenic Drive Through Kings Canyon post, the park is split into two sections, with a big stretch of national forest dividing them. Grant Grove is the considerably smaller of the two, and also the more easily accessible and more frequented. But don’t let its smaller size fool you; some of the coolest sights in the parks can be found here, like forests full of majestic sequoias, the largest trees in the world.

Here is a list of what I consider to be the best things to see and do in Grant Grove:

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General Grant Tree Trail, 1 mile loop

“One of the world’s largest living trees. President Coolidge proclaimed it the Nation’s Christmas tree in 1926. Visit the historic Gamlin Cabin and the Fallen Monarch along this 1/3 mile (.5 km) paved trail. North and west of the Kings Canyon Visitor Center.” (NPS website)

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If you are looking for the most iconic or most popular sight in the park, this is it. This trail is unbelievably crowded, complete with giant tour buses and all, but the General Grant Tree itself does not disappoint. It is GIGANTIC, and beyond impressive to see. And incredibly difficult to photograph. There is no good way to capture the enormousness of these trees on camera… you just have to see it. It’s an easy loop, with lots of spur trail options to add on to your hike if you feel like doing more exploring. Despite the crowds, it’s definitely worth a stop.

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North Grove Loop, 1.5 mile loop

“This lightly traveled, 1 1/2 mile trail provides an opportunity for a close look at the big trees. Enjoy a quiet walk past meadows and creeks, through mixed conifer and sequoia forest. The trailhead is at the Grant Tree parking area.” (NPS website)

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The North Grove Loop starts in the same parking lot as the General Grant Tree Loop, so if you have an extra hour or so and want to see more trees, this is a good choice. It is much more secluded than the General Grant Loop and is a great place for a quiet walk through the forest. The views aren’t that spectacular though, so I wouldn’t go out of your way to do this one. This hike is perfect though if you have spare time and want to seek some peace and quiet. Maybe some woodland meditation or yoga?

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Buena Vista Peak, 2 miles round trip

“The 2 mile round-trip hike up this granite peak begins just south of the Kings Canyon Overlook on the Generals Highway, 6 miles southeast of Grant Grove. From the top of Buena Vista Peak, a 360-degree view looks out over the majestic sequoias in Redwood Canyon, Buck Rock Fire Tower, and beyond to a splendid panorama of the high Sierra.” (NPS website)

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Ok, this was easily the best hike in the Grant Grove area. I love hikes that pack a lot of bang for your buck, and this was definitely one of those hikes. Only 2-miles round trip, but look at those views!!! Pro tip: skip the King Canyon Overlook and just do this hike instead. The views are 100 million times better.

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And all of these hikes can be done in half a day, leaving plenty of time for other adventuring!

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For a full list of hikes in the Grant Grove area, visit the Kings Canyon official website!


 

 

Touring Lehman Cave!

If you’re like me, you’ve probably never heard of Lehman Cave. Nor did you know there were any caves in Great Basin National Park. Or have even the slightest idea what is in Great Basin at all. It has somehow stayed under the radar, which is surprising after discovering how seriously cool this park is. It has so many distinct features that are unexpected to be found all in the same park, let alone in the middle of nowhere in Nevada.

Lehman Cave is one of these features. The only way to see the cave is by booking a tour, so here is what you need to know:

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Behind the visitor center, where the cave tour begins

Cave tour options (from the NPS website):

Lodge Room Tour

Lodge Room Tours are approximately 60 minutes long. The Lodge Room Tour travels 0.4 miles, and is ideal for families with young children. The Lodge Room Tour highlights the Gothic Palace, Music Room, and Lodge Room sections of Lehman Caves. Tours to the Lodge Room are limited to 20 visitors. White Nose Syndrome screening is mandatory.

Grand Palace Tour

Grand Palace Tours are approximately 90 minutes long. The Grand Palace Tour travels 0.6 miles, and children must be at least 5 years old to join the Grand Palace Tour (except on tours November through February). This tour visits the Gothic Palace, the Music Room, the Lodge Room, Inscription Room, and the Grand Palace sections of Lehman Caves, including a chance to view the famous “Parachute Shield” formation. Tour is limited to 20 visitors. White Nose Syndrome screening is mandatory.

 

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The natural entrance to the cave

All of the following photos were taken on the Grand Palace Tour. Cause in my opinion, if you’re gonna tour the cave, you may as well go all in and see as much of the cave as possible! It’s only a couple bucks more than the Lodge Room tour, and covers almost twice as much of the cave. Worth it.

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General Cave Tour Tips:

  • There are some stairs and narrow passageways, so visitors should be in somewhat decent shape.
  • It can get pretty cold (in the neighborhood of 50°) inside caves, so dress in layers!
  • The ground can also get wet and slippery, so wear shoes with tread.
  • They won’t allow you on the tour if you’re wearing clothes that you have worn inside any caves or mines at any point in time, so if you do frequent caves, wear something different this time to prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome.
  • Leave all bags, food, and drinks in the car, but be sure to bring your camera!

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Cave Tour Schedule*:

Fall Tour Schedule: September 5 to October 31, 2017
Grand Palace Tour (90 minutes, ages 5 & up)
9:00am & 1:00pm
Lodge Room Tour (60 minutes, all ages)
11:00am & 3:00pm
Winter Tour Schedule: November 1, 2017 through March 8, 2018
Grand Palace Tour (Open to all ages during winter schedule only)
1:00pm Monday – Friday
9:00am & 1:00pm Saturdays and Sundays
There are no tours available on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years Day.Spring Tour Schedule: March 9, 2018 – May 24, 2018
Grand Palace Tour (90 minutes, ages 5 & up)
9:00am & 1:00pm
Lodge Room Tour (60 minutes, all ages)
11:00am & 3:00pmSummer Tour Schedule: May 25, 2018 – September 3, 2018
Grand Palace Tour (90 minutes, ages 5 & up)
9:00am | 11:00am | 1:00pm | 2:00pm | 3:00pm
Lodge Room Tour (60 minutes, all ages)
8:30am | 10:30am | 12:30pm | 2:30pm | 4:00pm

 

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According to the park website, tickets can either be purchased in person at the visitor center on the day of your tour, or in advance online. But here on The Whiskey Wanderer, I’m going to say the only way to get tickets is to make a reservation online. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I saw get turned away at the visitor center, being told that the tours were not only sold out for that day, but also for the following two weeks.

The tours WILL SELL OUT (each tour is limited to only 20 people), so if you want to be sure you get to go on a tour, plan ahead and make a reservation.

Click here to book a tour.

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Ticket Prices:

Lodge Room Tour
(60 Minutes)
Grand Palace Tour
(90 Minutes)
Adults
(16 & older)
$8.00 $10.00
Youth
(5-15 years old)
$4.00 $5.00
Infants & Toddlers Free N/A
Golden Age/Senior Pass
(cardholder only)
$4.00 $5.00
Golden Access Pass
(cardholder only)
50% off 50% off

 

Lehman cave, lehman cave tours, great basin, great basin national park, Nevada national parks, Nevada tourism, Nevada sightseeing, things to do in great basin, things to do in great basin national park, family outings in Nevada, outdoors, Nevada road trip stops, lehman cave tour schedule

Early visitors to the cave would write their names on the ceiling in soot

Lehman cave, lehman cave tours, great basin, great basin national park, Nevada national parks, Nevada tourism, Nevada sightseeing, things to do in great basin, things to do in great basin national park, family outings in Nevada, outdoors, Nevada road trip stops, lehman cave tour schedule

Seriously though, this is one of the must-see sights in Great Basin National Park, and for good reason. This cave is super cool, and no visit to the park is complete without seeing it. Great Basin has four features that make it a ridiculously cool park, and this is one of them (the others are coming in other posts… stay tuned!). It’s definitely worth the time and money.

Lehman cave, lehman cave tours, great basin, great basin national park, Nevada national parks, Nevada tourism, Nevada sightseeing, things to do in great basin, things to do in great basin national park, family outings in Nevada, outdoors, Nevada road trip stops, lehman cave tour schedule

Lehman cave, lehman cave tours, great basin, great basin national park, Nevada national parks, Nevada tourism, Nevada sightseeing, things to do in great basin, things to do in great basin national park, family outings in Nevada, outdoors, Nevada road trip stops, lehman cave tour schedule

Lehman cave, lehman cave tours, great basin, great basin national park, Nevada national parks, Nevada tourism, Nevada sightseeing, things to do in great basin, things to do in great basin national park, family outings in Nevada, outdoors, Nevada road trip stops, lehman cave tour schedule

For more information on Lehman Cave and Great Basin National Park, visit the official website.


 

Exploring the Streets of Old Town Munich

My first morning in Munich I woke up with two thoughts: it was way too cold, and way too early. Adjusting to a different time zone is rough…I woke up at like 6 in the morning without the help of an alarm clock, which believe me, absolutely never happens at home. Normally I would just stay in bed anyways, but not today. I was in Munich!! And super excited to take on the city. So with my trusty map in hand, and a general idea of what I wanted to see, I set out.

More or less, my plan was to get to Marienplatz, the heart of old Munich and where the majority of the top, must-see sights are located.

I got distracted pretty quickly though. There is gorgeous architecture everywhere you look in Old Town Munich, and I wandered off of my path to check out this building. No idea what it is, but it was beautiful!

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And then around the corner from the pretty building was this pretty park.

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I had only been exploring for a few minutes, and I was already in love with the city. I loved the sound my boots made when they hit the stone sidewalks. I loved feeling the cold air on my face. I loved the way classic architecture was mixed in with modern establishments (yeah, I stopped at Starbucks. You can take the girl out of LA, but you can’t take the LA out of the girl).

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Things like that might be commonplace for a lot of people, but for a girl from southern CA where basically everything was built post-1900 (except for the missions and a handful of places built in the 1800s), it felt incredible to be surrounded by so much history.

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If this park was in Los Angeles there would be homeless people on every bench and the whole place would smell like pee.

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Eventually I did get back on my originally journey. I passed through Karlsplatz, which was a wide open square with some shops around the perimeter, and went through the gate to enter Neuhauser and Kaufinger Straße.

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Neuhauser and Kaufinger Straße is a pedestrian zone connecting Karlsplatz and Marienplatz and is the busiest shopping area of Munich. Here you can find mostly mid-range shops, like those you would find in a mall. They even had a Forever 21 and an H&M! I was there too early to shop, but I knew I must return…

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Strolling along Neuhauser and Kaufinger Straße

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But I made it to Marienplatz! The predominant architectural feature of the square is the Neues Rathaus, or New Town Hall. Built between 1867 and 1909 in the neo-Gothic style,  the Neues Rathaus stands 255 feet tall, and the 300 foot long richly-decorated facade features almost the entire line of the house of Wittelsbach in Bavaria. It is still a functioning government building today, as the Neues Rathaus is the seat of the mayor’s office, the city council, and the headquarters of the city administration.

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It was easily the most incredible building I have ever seen. The attention to detail, the carved statues, the flying buttresses, the stained glass windows…just amazing.

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Inside the courtyard of the Neues Rathaus

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When visiting the Neues Rathaus, make sure to be there in time to see the world famous Glockenspiel. Since 1908, statues dance and twirl in the tower, telling stories of Munich’s history featuring Coopers dancers (a dance originally performed in Marienplatz in 1517 to commemorate the end of the plague), the angel of peace, and the Münchner Kindl (symbol of the city’s coat of arms). The 12-minute long spectacle occurs at 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. daily, and also at 5 p.m. during the months of March-October.

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The Neues Rathaus Glockenspiel

In the center of the square you will see the Column of St. Mary, erected in 1638 to celebrate the end of the Swiss invasion. At the corners of the base of the statue are four puttis, symbolizing the city’s overcoming of war, pestilence, hunger and heresy.

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The gilded statue at the top of the column is the Virgin Mary, and was sculpted several years prior to the rest of the column in 1590.

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And this wonderful man was playing traditional German music at the base of the statue. Yep, I was definitely in Germany!

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My journey soon took me out of Marienplatz and along Orlandostraße near the Hofbräuhaus. Orlandostraße is the best place to shop if you are looking for touristy souvenir shops. I couldn’t help picking up a ceramic beerstein. The Hofbräuhaus itself is one of the most famous beerhalls in Munich, but I actually did not visit it. Drinking alone in a beerhall at 11 a.m. seemed a little sad haha. Maybe on my next trip to Munich!

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Orlandostraße

At this point my journey took a turn for the I-don’t-know. I didn’t know where I was going, I don’t know what I saw along the way. I just wanted to explore. So together with my map, I spent the majority of the afternoon just walking, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of Munich.

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It felt so amazing to be out in the world with no plan and no one else to worry about. I could do whatever I wanted, and take however long doing it as I wanted. My time was my own. I have never felt so completely free as I did that day exploring Munich.

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The Maximilianeum…the mosaics on this building are incredible.

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If you visit Munich, take a day to just walk around and surround yourself with all the art and beauty the city has to offer. It doesn’t cost a dime, and the things you will see are incredible.

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I did, however, want to return to Neuhauser and Kaufinger Straße to do some shopping! Could I shop at all these same stores at home? Of course! But there is just something so delightful about seeing some of your favorite places from home while abroad. I bought some awesome plaid pants at H&M. I consider them to be a souvenir. Hehe. Oh, and the roasted nuts sold by street vendors are delicious! They are warm and toasty, and make a wonderful shopping snack on a cold afternoon.

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They were street performers all over Neuhauser and Kaufinger Straße, as well as in Marienplatz. Which was awesome! I particularly loved these guys. I wish I would have bought their CD. They were really talented, and so much fun to watch. I stood there and listened for a really long time.

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I ended up only seeing a tiny portion of the sights I had originally hoped to see on my first day, but that was ok with me. I had instead spent the day just being in Munich and enjoying the world around me. And that was even better.

A Step Back in Time… Anasazi State Park

As far back as I can remember, I have been obsessed with ancient cultures, especially ones that just sort of mysteriously disappeared. Of these, one of my favorites is the Anasazi of the Southwestern United States. These village dwelling farmers lived in the Colorado Plateau from roughly 1 AD to 1300 AD, and are best known for their incredible building techniques, including pit houses and multi-storied buildings constructed directly into cliff sides. The fact that many of these structures are still standing today is a testament to the architectural skills of the ancient Anasazi (who are nowadays more often referred to as Ancestral Puebloans, a term which also includes ancient Hopi, Zuni, and Acoma peoples).

Having studied Southwest Archaeology in college, I could go on forever talking about Ancestral Puebloan culture and artifacts. I won’t, however, because this post is specifically about the state park.

Driving through the southwestern United States there are lots of places you can stop to see archaeological sites and Ancestral Puebloan dwellings (Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most well known sites), and if you pass through this area, I highly recommend stopping at any one of them. These people are an important part of North American history, and the things they accomplished, as well as the impact they continue to have on our lives today, is truly incredible. Anyways, located off of Scenic Byway 12 (which connects Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks, and was voted one of the most beautiful drives in the country…more details on that in a future post) you can find Anasazi State Park. Featuring a museum, excavated pit houses, and reconstructed dwellings, it is a fun and informative stop!

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Your stop at this state park begins in the museum, which houses dozens of artifacts found at this dig site. In addition, it teaches visitors about the importance of this particular dig site, and prepares you for what you will see once you go outside.

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Definitely take the time to look at everything and read about the people who once lived here. The state park is home to the “Coombs Site,” which is unlike any other dig site in the southwest.

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There are several interactive stations that tech visitors about archaeology. At this one, visitors can make rubbings of patterns found on Ancestral Puebloan ceramics to demonstrate the study of potsherds and pottery reconstruction.

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Once outside in the heavy air, where the dry heat is only occasionally broken by a slight breeze, visitors can walk around inside reconstructed Ancestral Puebloan homes to see how they lived.

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It was really cool to see the construction techniques up close.

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And then the final stop in the state park is the Coombs dig site. These are the actual pit houses left behind by the Anasazi/Ancestral Puebloans, still standing since 1300 AD.

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Standing that close to something that was part of someone’s life over 700 years ago is truly an amazing experience.

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The state park and museum is very small, and takes no more than about an hour to see everything. But it is so very cool to see a piece of history right in front of you and to spend a few minutes imagining what life must’ve been like for the southwest Ancestral Puebloan people.

For additional information on visiting Anasazi State Park, visit their website.

Cache Valley Cheese Outlet – Beaver, UT

Stopping to buy cheese curds when passing through Utah has become a bit of a tradition for my friends and me. They are so delicious, and that wonderful squeaky sound they make when you eat them just adds to their delightfulness. Then a couple years ago, we discovered that one of the brands we buy all the time has a factory outlet in Beaver, UT. We decided then and there, that the next time we were in Utah, we were stopping.

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Located right off of the 15 fwy, it is very easy to find. Plus stopping in a town called Beaver is full of it’s own reasons to add this in to your road trip itinerary, like eating at Beaver Taco, or buying merchandise that says “I Love Beaver”. Cause we have the sense of humor of a teenage boy haha.

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Woooo!! Made it to the cheese outlet. As we were arriving, a huge tour bus pulled up and dropped tons of tourists off at the factory. So the store was CROWDED.

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Fun fact: this was actually our second attempt trying to stop here. The first time, it was closed. So when we saw the “open” sign, we were beyond ourselves with excitement! We really love cheese.

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Oh the glorious things you could buy!!!

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Definitely had to stock up on cheese curds. They had all sorts of cheeses here, as well as other dairy products, such as ice cream. I was happy with just my cheese curds though. Finding good cheese curds in southern CA is nearly impossible.

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Cache Valley Cheese is a totally fun store, and if you are heading along the 15 fwy through Utah, definitely take a few minutes to stop in and try some cheeses! The random stops on road trips are always the best.

For a listing of products, visit the Cache Valley website.

The DFA Cache Valley Cheese Store is located at 330 W. 300 South
Beaver, UT 84713, phone: (435) 438-2421