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

The Most Beautiful Taco Bell in the World

Taco Bell isn’t exactly known for being a fine dining destination, and is definitely not a place to go out of your way to visit. However, the Taco Bell in Pacifica (which is about 20 minutes South of San Francisco) might make you reconsider.

The food at this Taco Bell is exactly the same as any other Taco Bell. But you don’t go here for the food- you go for the location.This particular Taco Bell is located right on the beach and features a wrap-around porch with ocean view dining. Follow the steps down from the porch, and you will be in the sand. The outside patio even features a walk-up window so sandy-footed, bathing suit clad patrons don’t have to get all cleaned up to go inside.

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This is the view from the outside seating area. Nothing like your average Taco Bell, that’s for sure.

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The idea of eating Taco Bell on a beach was too wonderful to pass up. But apparently we weren’t the only people who had that thought. The place was absolutely packed, and we waited in line about 45 minutes to order our food (tip: the employees seem to give preference to the outside walk-up window line, so you’ll get your food much faster using that one if the line inside is outrageous). In addition, the employees moved really slowly despite the huge line, and were very unapologetic about it. I would go as far as to say it was by far the worst service I have ever experienced in any fast food restaurant anywhere. So don’t go here expecting great customer service. Go here because it is funny, a very different experience, and you can get pictures like this:

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Ocean breezes and Taco Bell: what a delightful way to spend an afternoon! My only regret is that we didn’t have enough time to hit up the beach after. I would’ve loved to soak up some sun with a Mountain Dew Baja Blast Freeze in hand…

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The Taco Bell in Pacifica is located at 5200 Coast Hwy, Pacifica, CA 94044.

Summertime Fun at Pier 39

Few things make me think of summer as much as a visit to a pier. The cool ocean breeze, the scent of salt water and fried food in the air, and the sound of street performers, merchants, and happy people all around you…yep, definitely summer. There are dozens of piers along the coast of CA, but one of my favorites is Pier 39 in San Francisco.

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Pier 39 is filled with shops and restaurants, and there are always tons of street performers out in front of the pier playing music, dancing, doing magic, or demonstrating their artistic talents in some way. It’s like attending a free variety show (though the performers do appreciate tips!). There is even a carousel in the middle of the pier that kids (who am I kidding…adults too!!) will enjoy riding.

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The end of the pier provides the best views of Alcatraz you can get from the mainland, and you can also see the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Pier 39 even comes with complimentary wildlife viewing! Dozens of these guys hang out near the pier, and you can hear their barking from yards away.

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Look at those faces… they are just too cute!! I could easily spend hours watching them slide on and off of the docks, pulling their fat little bodies along with their flippers. It is cuteness overload.

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But of course no visit to a pier is complete without buying some saltwater taffy! The Candy Baron, located near the end of the pier on the first level, has tons of flavors to choose from, and you can fill a bag with any flavors you want (price is per pound). Hand selecting the perfect flavors is possibly even more fun than eating the taffy, even though by the time I got it home, I could no longer remember which flavors I had chosen. But that just adds to the fun, as every piece you eat becomes a mystery…

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Pier 39 is conveniently located near the harbor cruise docks, vintage trolley car stops, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square. It is just a few minutes walk between all of those destinations.

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For a complete listing of the shops and restaurants, as well as hours of operation, location information, and a schedule of events, check out the Pier 39 website. If you are looking for summery family fun in San Francisco, there is no better place to go!

Boudin Sourdough Bakery and Fisherman’s Wharf!

It seems like every trip I take to San Francisco ends up being a culinary tour of sorts. From fresh seafood in Fisherman’s Wharf, to Ghirardelli chocolate, to dumplings in Chinatown, the wide variety of food available in San Francisco will keep you feasting during every moment of your trip. Of course there are plenty of chain restaurants available, but I like to go to the places that are unique to the city by the bay. And so, I always end up at Boudin Sourdough Bakery, located in Fisherman’s Wharf.

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Boudin has been baking sourdough at this location in the wharf since 1849, and this bread is awesome. Since then, a restaurant and gift shop have been added to the bakery, but visitors can still watch bakers make the bread through demo windows, or take a tour of the sourdough museum and bakery.

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I usually get the soup in a sourdough breadbowl (which is absolutely fantastic) but when we were there this last time, San Francisco was in the middle of a freak heat wave. Definitely not soup weather. So I tried the sourdough garlic and herb pizza. And it was awesome!

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Of course one of the best parts of the visit is watching the bakers in action behind the demo windows… they make some of the cutest shaped breads! And everything looks and smells amazing.

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The bakery and restaurant is located in Fisherman’s Wharf, and it is easy walking distance to see some other cool San Francisco sites from there.

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The main cable car station is just a couple blocks away, but be prepared for a long wait to hitch a ride on one of these iconic San Francisco cable cars. The wait was over 45 minutes when we were there this past visit, and we couldn’t spare that kind of time, but if you can, do it. And ride it standing up, holding onto the hand rails outside of the car. It is totally exhilarating, and makes you feel like you are flying.

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These are some photos I took while exploring the wharf:

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There is so much to see and do in Fisherman’s Wharf. Tons of restaurants, shopping, and bars with live music. I have been all over this beautiful city, but Fisherman’s Wharf will always be one of my favorite areas, and I can’t go to San Francisco without stopping by.

For information on visiting Boudin Bakery at the wharf, click here.

The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop

While the official “San Francisco Treat” might be Rice-A-Roni, to me, it will always be Ghirardelli chocolate. A San Francisco landmark, Ghirardelli has been producing some of the most delicious chocolate in the world since 1852. It has resided in its current location in Ghirardelli Square since 1893, and opened up to the public as an ice cream fountain and chocolate shop in 1964.

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Ghirardelli’s claims to fame are their chocolate bars and ground cocoa powder, but the reason I trek to Ghirardelli Square whenever I pass through San Francisco is for the ice cream. I have a deep addiction to chocolate sodas, and it is hard to find an ice cream shop that knows how to make them, and of those shops, no one does it better than Ghirardelli. (For anyone wondering, a chocolate soda is club soda, chocolate syrup, and chocolate ice cream, similar to a float. And more delicious).

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The ice cream shop is open late on weekends, but the place stays packed till the last minute. It was an absolute zoo in there when we stopped by around 10 p.m. on a Saturday night! The wait was long, and there was no place to sit inside the shop, but the ice cream sodas, floats, and sundaes are absolutely worth the mild suffering you must endure to get them.

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It is ice cream perfection.

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Even if inside the ice cream fountain is unpleasantly crowded, there is plenty of seating outside. The Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop is located in Ghirardelli Square, which is comprised of specialty shops and restaurants, and is host to many events and live music performances. You could easily pass an entire afternoon or evening here.

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This factory/shop was opened during the gold rush, survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and is still standing today, serving up some of the best ice cream and chocolate treats you can find anywhere. By 1982, the government acknowledged the importance of the original Ghirardelli location, and added it to the National Register of Historic Places. As if you needed any more reasons to pay it a visit. A delicious treat and historic sightseeing, rolled into one!

DSCN8914For additional locations, information about the company, or to buy Ghirardelli products online, visit their website.

Original San Francisco location in Ghirardelli Square hours of operation, location, and additional information can be found here.

When Trash Becomes Treasure…

In Northern California, near the wine-country city of Mendocino, lies a beach that seems almost too surreal to actually exist. But it is real. The town of Fort Bragg is home to Sea Glass Beach- a beach where instead of sand, there is sea glass.

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When the town of Fort Bragg was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1906, there was too much rubble and debris to burn, so residents began dumping their garbage into the ocean, expecting it to be carried away by the currents. But it wasn’t. Instead, the trash gathered in the bay and over time, the power of the ocean turned the trash into treasure.

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But in 1967 the North Coast Water Quality Board realized the dangers of dumping trash into the ocean, and put an end to it. Now, what remains of the former ocean dump doesn’t resemble trash at all. Rather, the old tail lights, beer bottles, lotion jars, prescription bottles, and soda bottles have become millions of pieces of sparkling sea glass, shimmering in the sunlight.

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The Northern section of Sea Glass Beach is protected by State Park Services, and therefore, visitors are not permitted to remove any of the sea glass. However, the Southern section is a public beach, and it is OK to take home a couple pieces as a souvenir.

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From Highway 1, turn west on Elm Street (Denny’s is on the corner) and drive a few blocks to Glass Beach Drive. There is a small parking lot, but you might have to find street parking. Follow the path down towards the ocean, and turn left when it forks. Soon you will see a staircase on the right leading down to the cove. This takes you to the public section of the beach, and admission is free.

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This really is one of those places you have to see to believe.

DSCN8897For more information on visiting Mendocino, Fort Bragg, or Sea Glass Beach, visit the Mendocino tourism website.

Phillipsville: Hobbits and Fried Food

One of my friends had memories of visiting Phillipsville as a child back in the 80’s. Back then, there used to be a short trail full of life-size scenes from JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” constructed into the mountain, and my friend wanted to see if they still existed. As avid Lord of the Rings fans, we were all game to check it out!

Located in Northern CA along the HWY 101 just South of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, it was easy to find and perfectly situated to serve as a pit stop on our way to San Francisco from Redwood National Park. Information on the Hobbit Trail was hard to find however. We tracked down the location to this restaurant, The Chimney Tree Grill, which was perfect since we were all starving. We soon learned that the trail officially closed years ago, but some of the scenes are still visible from the road. So we parked our cars and went to see what we could find.

We started at the restaurant.

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I got these tasty deep fried jalapenos. Not to be confused with jalapeno poppers… these were just straight up fried jalapenos. They were good though!

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After feasting, we went to check out the restaurant’s namesake. The Living Chimney Tree is a hollow redwood tree (still living) that you can go inside and see all the way up through the top.

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Definitely interesting to see. And more importantly, it was free and right next to the restaurant, so we figured, why not?

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And then, it was time to find the Shire. You could see the beginning and end of the trail, but they were chained off and completely overgrown. There really wasn’t much you could see from the parking lot, but we were able to see a couple hobbit holes and the most frightening Gandalf I have ever laid eyes on.

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I mean yikes. Look at his face! It is the stuff of nightmares.

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Without a doubt, Phillipsville has got to be one of the most random and odd pit stops I have been to. So if you are in the area and are looking for a place to stop for food or a bathroom and want to see something more interesting than a fast food place, Phillipsville and the Chimney Tree Grill are a great choice!

I Love Weed (CA)

Far up North in California, resting beneath the shadow of Mt Shasta, lies the little town of Weed. Never ones to pass up a town with a funny name, my friends and I decided to stop by and pay Weed a visit on our way up to Oregon…

Not that you can really see it in the pictures, but this was my first time seeing Mt Shasta so I was pretty excited. Dang clouds. Though a shop owner we spoke to in Weed said the views are spectacular on a clear day.

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I love when stores take advantage of clever/funny naming opportunities!! Naturally we had to go in.

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The shop did not disappoint. It was filled with delightfully touristy souvenirs, emblazoned with Weed-related jokes and puns. Who can resist a baseball hat that reads “I Love Weed (California)”?

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For those who are interested in Weed as more than just a joke on clothing items, this shop does indeed sell supplies intended for the use of tobacco that you could use for enjoying the town’s namesake.

The bottom line, is if you need to make a pit stop on your journey through Northern CA, it may as well be somewhere with stunning mountain views and bad jokes all around you. A little humor sure helps during those long drives!

I will leave you with this picture of a magnificent iron dragon who guards the roads near the Oregon border. One of the many, many reasons I am a strong advocate for road trips!

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Enjoy Weed!

The Garlic Capital of the World!

The scent in the air announces your arrival before you even realized you’re there. The delicious aroma of garlic is all around you… welcome to Gilroy, the “Garlic Capital of the World” and home to the famed Gilroy Garlic Festival, held every year in July.

You don’t have to travel off the beaten path in order to experience all the garlicky-fun Gilroy has to offer though. One of the biggest garlic shops in Gilroy is located right off of the 101 freeway and provides everything garlic you could possibly want.

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Garlic World is an amazingly fun store. It even has the World’s Longest Garlic Braid! That, plus all the garlic arts and crafts on display, make Garlic World feel part museum, part grocery store. You can buy all sorts of garlic merchandise, and they sell garlic prepared in every way imaginable: minced, pickled, crushed, fresh, dried, stuffed into olives, cooked in sauces…

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And the best part is, they have a station where you can sample all the goods. Yes!! I came home with a jar of habanero garlic stuffed olives.

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But the real piece de resistance is the garlic ice cream. It sounds kind of weird, and in all honesty, it tastes kind of weird too. But you have to try it, if for no other reason than to be able to gross out your friends and family back home. The chocolate has a much milder garlic taste than the vanilla, but both leave you tasting garlic in your mouth for the next couple hours.

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So if your travels take you along the 101 freeway in central California, roll down your windows, take a deep breath, and spend a few minutes trying some of the best garlic in the world.

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Garlic World, 4800 Monterey Highway (U.S. 101), Gilroy, CA 95020, http://www.garlicworld.com/