I am going to be honest, I was not expecting too much from CCNP. Growing up less than two hours from Mammoth Cave, I thought, “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!” WRONG! Carlsbad Caverns was awesome!
On Day 7, as I stated in my previous post, I was going to explore Guadalupe Mountains, but there were bad storms in the forecast. I already had purchased a tour for Day 8, so I decided to do the self guided tour at CCNP. The self guided tour is free with your National Parks pass and took me about an hour to two hours to walk the entire path. I took the Natural Entrance into the caverns and the elevators back up. However, you can take the elevator both up and down is you do not want to walk 750ft down.
On Day 8, I woke up early and headed to start the Ranger led tour I had purchased. I decided to go on the Lower Cave Tour, and I am SO glad that I did! The tour lasted around three hours total and the Rangers were extremely knowledgable about the cave. For this cave, everyone is required to wear sturdy ankle boots (must bring your own), and a helmet with a headlamp and gloves (provided) the entire time.
To start the tour, you must use a knotted rope and walk backwards down 15 ft of smooth flowstone. After this, there are three sets of ladders that take you an additional 50 ft down. I did not have a problem with the rope or the ladders, but some of the other people on the tour did freak out a little bit because of the way the ladders were angled.
Once off the ladders, the tour begins! I am not going to go into detail of the tour, because it is something you all just need to get out and experience! I do highly recommend this tour if you are planning a visit to Carlsbad Caverns. There were no sections that required crawling, but there was an optional route you can take where you get to crawl, and of course we all did!!! A man on the tour also spoke highly of the Left Hand Tunnel Tour, which is another ranger led tour where everyone uses lanterns instead of head lamps.
I do not think you could wrong with any tour at Carlsbad Caverns! Just make sure you arrive early for the tours and wear the appropriate footwear, or they will NOT let you participate in the tour.
Alpine, Texas to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
The drive from Alpine to GMNP was only 3-ish hours, so I took my time driving and stopped quite a bit along the way. I was looking forward to seeing the Marfa Prada, but there were several other surprises along the drive. The movie “Giant” was filmed in and around Marfa in 1956 and there is now a roadside pop art installation to pay homage to the film and one of its filming locations. The murals were painted by California based muralist John Cerney.
Now, nobody told me this (AKA I did not research this), but Marfa Prada is NOT in Marfa, nor is it really close to Marfa. It is a 35 minute drive northwest of Marfa on 90. Regardless, it is very cool and worth the stop to see!
Finally, I arrived to Guadalupe Mountains National Park! (I had planned on camping here but storms were rolling through the area the next couple of nights. This was the same time Texas was having some nasty tornados tearing through the state so I got an AirBnB). When I arrived to the visitor’s center, I overheard the park ranger telling other hikers that they did not advise to hike to Guadalupe Peak tomorrow (MY ONE PLAN) due to storms coming in during the early afternoon hours.
Well, now that I wouldn’t be able to really hike the next day, I asked the park ranger which hike was short enough for me to do that day. It was around 1:30, and she advised the Devil’s Hall trail. I am so glad I followed her advise, because it was an amazing hike! A lot of rock scrambling and towards the last half of the hike, you kind of make your own path climbing over rocks. This hike only took me around 2 hours and 15 minutes counting the walk to and from the visitor center parking lot. I would rate the trail easy with some moderate areas along the trail.
I really wish I could have explored Guadalupe Peak and more of the park, but hey, I can always go back! The rest of the day was spend getting into my AirBnB and meeting Mrs. Pauline and her two sweet puppies.
Cusco is the “hub” city to stay in while visiting Machu Picchu. Cusco is a 7-ish hour van ride (on very curvy roads; not suggested for people who are easily car sick), and then a 2-3 hour hike to Aguas Calientas. If you do not want to spend that much time traveling, you can take a 20 minute taxi ride to Poroy then take a train to Aguas Calientas. But while you are in town, here are 8 other activities in and around Cusco other than Machu Picchu.
In 2017, I made a 2 week trip to Peru. Could I have planned better and moved around more? Yes! I felt I totally failed on this trip and did not see what all Peru has to offer. However, it did give me a chance to really explore Cusco and the surrounding areas and other Incan ruins. Don’t get me wrong, you definitely need to visit Machu Picchu; it is breathtaking and every one needs to visit. However, there is so much more to see in and around Cusco than Machu Picchu.
Make sure when you arrive to Cusco, you buy a “boleto turistico” which is a Cusco Tourist Ticket. This ticket is similar to the America the Beautiful Passes for National Parks in USA, except it is just for areas near Cusco. You pay for the ticket and when you get to a point of interest included on your ticket, they will punch a hole in your ticket. The ticket is good for 10 days and one visit per place. I will let you know below if the point of interest was included on my ticket.
Quoricancha is a nice place to stop when you first get to Cusco. I would suggest getting a tour guide so you can really learn all about the history associated with Quoricancha and the surrounding area. Quoricancha is included in your boleto turistico.
8. Shop and buy from locals
I do not know the exact location or name of this place, but we stopped here on one of our tours and had time to walk around and shop at a local market. They sold beautiful scarves, blankets, ponchos, and so much more. They even had demonstrations you could watch.
While this is a very small ruin, it has one fact that I still remember and will never forget (hopefully). If you look closely to the picture on the right, there is a “hand” pointing to the left. The index finger is under the third window from the left and the hand is under the last window from the left. The tour guide said the rock was purposefully set this way to point out where the spring was located. I have not researched to determine if this is true, but I hope it is true! Tambomachay is included on your boleto turistico.
This Incan ruin was most likely used for agriculture. Due to the terraces at different elevations and the different temperates at each terrace, it is believed that the Incans were able to grow a vast amount of different crops in one location. It also has an irrigation system and steps built into the terraces. Moray is included on your boleto turistico.
5. Pisac ruins
I don’t know why I did not take more pictures of the Pisac ruins. This was one of my favorite places I visited! There was a lot you could explore on your own and get away from the tour group. Much like Machu Picchu, there are ruins of an ancient Incan village you can walk through. I even got lost for a little while at this place because there is so much to see! This is a must do when in Peru! Pisac ruins are included on your boleto turistico.
4. Plaza De Armas
Plaza De Armas is the “center” of Cusco. This place is always packed with tourists and locals alike. Most of the town’s gatherings are held here and there is beautiful architecture to enjoy. While it may not be as exciting as other places on this list, it is definitely a must!
3. Maras Salt Mines
These salt pans were delibertaly dug into the moutain side to produce salt. Do not ask me the process and the how, because I could write a whole post just on this place and how the salt process takes place. Anyway, this place is COOL. It is NOT included on your boleto turistico, but it is worth the extra money to visit and walk around the salt pans.
Yes, you pronounce this very very very similar to “sexy woman” and yes you must visit this ruin overlooking the city of Cusco. I wish the pictures really showed how massive these stones are at Sacsayhuaman. This was another ruin I enjoyed a lot because after the tour guide gave you history of the site, you were able to explore the site on your own. There is also an overlook, where you could see all of Cusco. This is also a MUST DO! Sacsayhuaman is included on your boleto turistico.
Ollantaytambo is a HUGE (not as big as Machu Picchu) Incan ruin that definitely deserves the number 1 spot. There are many areas to explore, but be warned, it is A LOT of climbing! Directly across (seen in 3rd picture) is a large storehouse in the mountain side you can also check out.
Bonus: Zip Line
If you love a good adventure, here is another option for you! I had to check out of my hostel at 11am, but my flight was not until late that afternoon. Luckily, my hostel held my luggage and I was able to go zip line! This company picked you up in Cusco, drove you to the zip line site, and brought you back to your hostel/hotel. All for $45 American dollars! I even was able to fly like “superman” on the longest line!
I hope you visit Peru soon and see much more of the country than just Machu Picchu! I hope this list gives you an idea of what all Cusco and Peru have to offer.
Let me start this by saying I could write 100 posts on Glacier National Park, and I would still have more to say about this wonderful place. Glacier is hands down my favorite place on this planet and nothing will ever change my mind. Go ahead and try, but you will be wasting your time.
Here are the top 6 places of interest (in my opinion) you need to visit on your first visit to Glacier National Park.
6. Cattle Baron Supper Club
When heading to the Many Glacier side of GNP, you will pass briefly through Babb. Where the road forks to head to the park or continue to Babb, there is a place you MUST stop and have dinner: Cattle Baron Supper Club. Is it a little pricey? Sure is. Is it worth it? SURE IS. Vegetarians, skip to number 5, sorry. This is probably the best steak I have had in my life, and your girl here loves a good steak. I even took a picture of the food before I ate, and that is something I NEVER do. Definitely check this place out when you visit Glacier National Park.
5. Avalanche Lake Trail
This is the most liked trail in the park, per AllTrails, and for a very good reason. Most of the time, hikes to a point of interest can become monotonous. However, on the Avalanche Lake Trail, there is constantly small points of interest for you to relax, catch your breathe, and enjoy the views. AllTrails gives the hike a moderate rating, but I would rate is somewhere between easy and moderate. We hiked this trail in the morning, around 10:00am, but I would suggest hiking this trail in the afternoon. As you can see from my picture of the lake, the sun’s positioning is just not ideal in the morning. My parents went during the afternoon when they visited GNP, and their pictures had much better light quality. Also, prepare to circle and circle and circle the parking lot for quite a while to find parking.
4. Baring Falls | St. Mary Falls | Virginia Falls
I grouped these three together because you can visit all three falls in one hike! We started at the Sun Point parking area. First stop is Baring Falls. The hike to Baring is very short and sweet. After that, you head towards St. Mary Falls along St. Mary Lake. After a good little hike, (nothing too strenuous!) you make it to St. Mary Falls. Once you cross a bridge, take a few photos, and eat a little snack, it is time to head to your last destination. After a little uphill hiking (again, nothing too strenuous!), you make it to Virginia Falls. Personally, I think if you make it to St. Mary Falls and want to head back, that would be worth the hike. St. Mary’s is for sure the best out of the three waterfalls. There are several different starting points for these waterfalls, but I feel this is the most efficient way to see all three in one hike. For some reason, I do not have a picture of Virginia Falls, but pictures of the other two falls are below.
3. Boat Ride | Hike to Twin Falls
On our last full day, we headed down to the Two Medicine section of Glacier National Park. We were curious and asked how much boat tours cost. We were surprised they were only $13(ish) dollars. We had not taken a boat ride yet, so why not!? The boat ride included a ride across the lake and a short, easy hike to Twin Falls. The hike was nice and we learned a lot of facts and history about the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park. There are several different boat/hike combination tours throughout the park. However, I suggest this one because there were no crowds and it was one of the least expensive tours.
2. Ptarmigan Falls Trail
Ptarmigan Falls is a stop along the trail to Ptarmigan Tunnel. Unfortunately, the trail to the tunnel was still closed due to snow and there were bears on the way to Ptarmigan Lake, so this is as far as we could go. Even though the waterfall is a little lackluster (you can not really see it from afar, only from the top of the falls), the hike itself gives you some AMAZING views of the park. The first section of the trail is steep and a little rough, but once you are finished with this first section, the hike is a breeze. Once to the top of the falls, there are plenty of areas to rest and enjoy the sound of the waterfall. This is definitely a must do hike when at Glacier National Park.
1. Polebridge | Bowman Lake
Mark my word, I will live here one day. The only thing stopping me is that my body does not like to function when it is less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and it gets COLD in northern Montana in the winter. This teeny, tiny town in Glacier is the most magical place I have ever seen. There is not much here other than a bakery, restaurant, and a few places to stay. We stayed at the North Fork Hostel & Square Peg Ranch. I LOVED this hostel, and it is completely different than any other place I have ever stayed. It is important that you research this hostel ahead of time though because it is not for everyone. There are outhouses and limited times during the day when there is electricity. Back to Polebridge, it is a rough ride to get here. There were small sedans that were driving to and from Polebridge/Bowman Lake, so it is possible for almost any car to make the drive, slowly. We drove to Bowman Lake and spent a bit wandering around. It is a very peaceful lake and we only saw a handful of people around the lake/camping area. Back in town, we checked into the hostel and headed to eat dinner at Northern Lights Saloon & Cafe. The next morning, before leaving Glacier and heading to Yellowstone, we stopped at the Polebridge Mercantile & Bakery. Even if you only make it to Polebridge for a day visit, go to the Mercantile & Bakery and buy something sweet! This is definitely the best kept secret of Glacier!
Hope you make it Glacier National Park soon! Let me know if you visit any of these points of interest!
If you despise traffic, chain restaurants, and high rise hotels as much as I do, then my Small Town Shoutouts will be must reads for you!
Any time I am planning a vacation/getaway/road trip/etc., I always try to find those small town gems. The towns that are overlooked or forgotten and away from the interstate. This town checks all the boxes.
What town is it, you ask? Greybull, Wyoming.
I am from a small town, and while I will most likely never move back to such a small town, I do love staying in them while on trips. I do not even remember how I found this place. If I had to guess, I was trying to find somewhere to stay between the Black Hills and the entrance to Beartooth Highway. Whatever I did to find this town, I am sure glad it happened!
The first thing I look for in a small town is a quirky motel or an old hotel. Let me tell you, I hit the jackpot when I found the hotel I stayed in while in Greybull! We stayed in The Historic Hotel Greybull & Speakeasy.
This hotel was once a speakeasy during Prohibition. The speakeasy area, located in the “basement” area is now restaurant: “The Speakeasy Restaurant.” The rooms are decorated with vintage decor and are all unique in their own way. Some rooms have bathrooms and showers, some have just a sink. There are bathrooms in the halls if you room does not have a bathroom. There are even a few rooms that have full kitchens. Here is link to their website if you are interested in learning more about the accommodations and/or restaurant: https://www.historichotelgreybull.com/
We did not stay in Greybull but one night. We got to town around 3p.m. and immediately checked in. Once we were settled in our rooms, we went and had dinner at the Speakeasy. After that, we walked down the main road and took some pictures. Of course, with Greybull being such a small town, nothing was open. However, we did get some pictures of vintage signs throughout the town.
There are a few points of interest close to Greybull. One of these is Shell Falls Interpretive Site. At Shell Falls, you can park and take a short walk on a paved pathway to see a gorgeous waterfall.
Greybull is also only about an hour drive to Bighorn National Forest. It was raining while we drove though Bighorn NF, but it is a beautiful area. I would love to go back to Bighorn NF and spend some time camping and hiking in the forest. Greybull is only 53 minutes to Cody, Wyoming and 1 hour and 50 minutes to Red Lodge, Montana. It is an excellent choice, in my opinion, to stay in this charming town if you are on a road trip in the area. I hope you enjoyed this Small Town Shoutout.
In between Badlands National Park and heading to the Beartooth Highway, my friend, Sara, and I were lucky to spend 24(ish) hours in Black Hills National Forest. Was it enough time? Definitely not. Did we make the most of the 24 hours? Yep! Here are the top 5 things I feel everyone should see while in the Black Hills with limited time.
5. Mt. Rushmore
I debated putting this on the list. Is it something you should see in your lifetime, yes. Did I think it was cool, eh. Personally, I felt that we could have spent that time more wisely, but when in the Black Hills for the first time, you go to Mt. Rushmore. https://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm
4. Sylvan Lake
Jumbo rocks and water, what’s NOT to love? We did not get to explore as much of the lake as we would’ve like for two reasons: There was a wedding in progress by the lake (#goals) and we had limited sunlight left. I definitely want to spend more time here when I come back to the Black Hills, on my Harley, of course. https://custerresorts.com/lodges-and-cabins/sylvan-lake-lodge/
3. Needles Highway
Holy Moly, what a drive! We took the drive up Needles Highway during sunset. I am sure the drive is still amazing with gorgeous views during anytime of the day, but when you go at golden hour, and the sun is hitting the rocks….that is something you can not beat! We had to park the Jeep several times because the views were too amazing to continue driving. You also get to drive through some awesome (and narrow!) tunnels!
2. Devil’s Tower
Okay, so technically, this is not part of the Black Hills, but if you are going to be in the area, this is a MUST. You are driving along a nice countryside in Wyoming, and then all of a sudden, BOOM, Devil’s Tower. You may have to wait a few minutes to get in due to limited parking at the base of the tower, but it is worth the wait. Once you do get in, there is an area where you can stop on the way (you must) and see prairie dogs. If you read my previous post about the Badlands, you will know ya girl loves some prairie dogs. Anyway, back on topic here, go to Devil’s Tower. There is a nature walk that goes around the whole tower so you can see the Tower from many different view points. In my opinion, the best view is when you pull off to see the prairie dogs. If you are feeling super adventurous, you can obtain a permit and climb the tower. https://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm
1. Crazy Horse Memorial
A lot of people may disagree with me, or maybe not, but we had the BEST time visiting Crazy Horse Memorial and seeing history being made. We did arrive a little late in the afternoon and missed the bus that takes you all the way to the memorial, bummer! We did get to take a short ride closer to the memorial, however, and hear the history of its beginning and future plans. After the bus ride, we toured the museums on site. After walking around for a while, we were beginning to leave when we received the best news ever: if you come back before nightfall (times vary throughout the year), you could re-enter the site and watch a Legends in Light Laser Show which is projected on the Crazy Horse Memorial mountain side. I wish I had pictures that could serve the laser show justice! I am glad I don’t though, so you can see it with your own eyes! Fun fact: They have the largest lasers used in the laser-show industry. If you would like more information on the Legends in Light Laser Show, here is a link to their website, it also gives approximate times when the show will start throughout the year: https://crazyhorsememorial.org/visit/special-events/legends-in-light-laser-show
During the summer of 2018, my best friend, Sara, and I took a 3 week road trip of a life time. We drove in a 4 door Jeep from Tennessee to South Dakota to Wyoming to Montana and then back down to Wyoming. We were able to visit 4 National Parks, 3 National Forests, 2 National Monuments, and many more spectacular places. I will give a brief overview of where all we went, and have more detailed blogs in the near future of each location we visited.
Our first stop after two LONG days of driving was Badlands National Park. I was extremely excited about Badlands National Park. I personally feel that the Badlands do not get enough credit. C’mon guys, look at the views!
Next, we headed to the Black Hills National Forest. We only had one night in the Black Hills, so we made the most of it. Within 24 hours, we saw Mt. Rushmore, drove the Needles Highway at sunset, saw a laser show at Crazy Horse (SO COOL), visited Sylvan Lake, visited Sturgis (our dads, both bikers, were extremely jealous), AND went to Devil’s Tower. Needless to say, we had a blast and saw A LOT.
After a couple of days of exploring the Badlands and Black Hills, we were Montana bound! We took a scenic route through Bighorn National Forest, and stayed in a charming small town, Greybull, WY. We then took the Beartooth Highway and stayed the night in Bozeman. I know, weird, but it was the only way we could drive the highways and not have to backtrack.
After leaving Bozeman, we took a long, rainy drive to Glacier. We stayed an entire week in Glacier and WOW WOW WOW. If you have never visited Glacier, cancel your current travel plans and go, now!
The last week of our trip, we visited Yellowstone and Grant Tetons National Park. I have nothing to say about Yellowstone, you will see a whole blog about Yellowstone later on. Grand Tetons were GORGEOUS. Just fab, y’all. 10/10 would recommend.
This post really does not serve a purpose except to set up the next few blogs I post about each location. You at least got to see some awesome pictures taken with an iPhone, pretty impressive for a phone, huh?