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From coming around the bend to find a beautiful lake, to taking a bush plane through Alaska, to stumbling upon the best state park in the United States, sometimes the best parts of the journey are the surprises that find you along the way. Here are a look at some of Grandpa Points best travel surprises…
This is a guest post from my dad, Grandpa Points. He and my mom are in their 60’s, are (mostly) retired,and are ticking off “bucket list” destinations quicker than they ever thought possible thanks to miles, points, and travel deals. They have an intense love of this country, of its National Parks and treasures, and have no problem with a clean budget hotel room and an economy airline seat on a budget airline as long as it gets them where they want to be. A photographer by trade, his adventures are usually captured not just in his mind, but in his camera.
In the past few years we have happily watched our trips increase both in frequency and in duration. The reasons are multi-fold, but the most meaningful factors are our retirement eligible ages, our desire to experience, and our realization that bucket list opportunities have only so much shelf life. Good current health and the acknowledgement and awareness that tomorrow is neither promised or guaranteed is also an ongoing motivation. These reasons aligned with a prudent and dedicated miles and points plan (that largely came about when we transitioned from primarily using cash and checks to using rewards credit cards) allows us the opportunity to maximize our resources and to make these trips possible.
We so appreciate both the trips we have taken, and the ones that are yet to come. Our trips are mostly planned, researched, and thought out before departure. We do this not so much as to eliminate spontaneity but to assure we maximize each adventure by having direction and a highlighted plan. This gives us a working outline and the first and last paragraph of a journey’s individual chapter. We have found it to be a rewarding and successful formula as it insures that we see the “biggies”and the “must sees” that by themselves can make for memorable travels.
Yet, it is also so fascinating and so meaningful to discover the unknown and to experience the new as an unintended consequence of the pursuit of your original plan. Some of these bonuses come tangentially from research on other venues such as the fabulous “Best State Park”, otherwise known as Letchworth State Park, while studying Niagara Falls.
Some extras come from taking the road less traveled and others from sheer serendipitous happenstance such as when a peregrine falcon joined us for lunch on a cliff in Canyonland National Park and then dove off into the open air like an F18 fighter jet. The right place at the right time kind of occurrence.
We would like to share with you some of the Surprises Along The Journey that we have been privileged to experience and enjoy these past few years.
The Best Surprises Along Our Journey
In no particular order of importance or significance, we begin with HEARST CASTLE.
We first learned of Hearst Castle during a conversation with a friend about a trip we were planning to California. We had never heard of it so it was obviously not on our agenda. A little research followed and this magnificent structure and its story were soon added to our trip. Very few places, if any, in my life have demonstrated such a confluence of fortune and dreams as does The Hearst Castle.
The opulence and wealth are inarguable and on display throughout. Randolph Hearst had a vision, although one subject to change, of creating a house/mansion/palace of unparalleled quality that captured and recreated the very best of what his worldwide travels had introduced him to. Money was no object. Let me repeat that, money was no object.
Hearst Castle will impress you with its history, its excess and its grandeur. Hearst Castle is now a California State Park and is located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, just off the Pacific Coast Highway.
A little further north on the same highway we came across another unexpected jewel, the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The journey up Hwy 1 is a visual treasure chest and this State Park encapsulates and highlights the beauty of the journey. A view from a hundred foot overlook gives you a dynamic postcard type scene of what a beautiful and active coastline should look like.
Deep blue water, crashing waves, glorious white sand, calm lagoons, tropical vegetation and a long cascading waterfall present you with photo ops to die for. This is a popular viewing area for the annual whale migration and is also popular for the reasons that we have outlined. It is just that beautiful.
Our 2015 trip to Alaska brought with it many unanticipated memories and moments. The first being our introduction to the midnight sun. We were certainly aware of its existence but to experience it in real time was just incredible. We flew out of Seattle in the dark and as we flew further and further north we watched in amazement as time seemed to reverse itself and as the obscure gave way to the visible.
It was indeed a pleasant and revealing educational moment. One of our absolute Alaskan high points was our bush plane fly in and our two night stay at Kennecott.
Kennecott was another “find” we discovered through our homework and planning. I mean, Kennecott had never before crossed our lips or graced our ears or caught our eye in our 67 years on this planet. Kennecott, as we learned, was a legendary, massive copper mine and mill operation located quite a distance from convenience and comfort whose closest neighbor was the isolated rugged beauty of the Alaskan wilderness.
Kennecott is amazing for what was achieved there and for the cutting edge engineering, construction and mechanization that was designed, built and used at the site. Tours are available through the 14 story mill and the property is now under the auspices of The National Park Service. A nice lodge is available on site. While there another fun surprise was finding beautiful small blueish green copper ore scattered about on the ground like candy after a parade.
And the excitement was the same.
The sighting of the Alaskan Pipeline when it surfaced from its mostly subterranean route through Alaska was another of those “wasn’t planning on seeing that” moments. Without getting into any pipeline/environmental issues, its physical presence was impressive and inspiring.
And if you personally knew of those that were intimately involved in its construction, the vision of those sleek cylindrical transports helps fill in the blanks for a part of that person’s life story.
An innocent day trip out of Boston a few years ago resulted in us walking on the Lexington town green where the first shots were fired in our Revolution…
…spending an afternoon at Walden Pond (bigger than we had imagined)…
…and seeing the graves of American literary giants, Alcott, Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne.
We all use the highways and byways of our great country to get us to a desired destination. This is so true when traveling. However, we have often found that the road itself can become a source of unscheduled and unanticipated entertainment and enjoyment. We experienced this on Nevada Highway 95 south of Tonopah when the road became a long series of quick dips and rises that felt like the tame, but fun, part of a roller coaster.
A similar thrill was found on the 9 mile Artist’s Palette drive in Death Valley. This was/is a narrow, undulating, twisting, turning, diving and climbing artery that takes you through a multi colored display of Death Valley’s intriguing beauty. And, it was/is FUN! Another unexpected road delight was in Utah on Scenic Highway 12 when that road rose to and then traversed a narrow ridge, Hogback Ridge. You are amazed that a road sits on that skinny and sloped apex and its sheer existence is a testimony to both man’s need to connect and his ability to do so..
Another road in Utah led us to discover an encyclopedic collection of petroglyphs drawn on the walls of Parowan Gap.
This geologic split is about 1/4 mile long and was for centuries a route taken by Native Americans and Spanish explorers. Thousands of rock drawings were left on these historic and natural panels as the ancients sought this short cut on their journeys. As they passed through, they left images of their life and their experiences to be seen by those that would follow.
A lucky moment recently occurred when we were strolling around The White House and Marine One flew in and landed on the south lawn and picked up The President and flew back over our location. Right place, right time.
A willingness to explore has led us to a few rewarding hikes that we new nothing of when the dawn broke on the day of the hike. One was the truly invigorating, challenging and rewarding Navajo Trail in Bryce National Park.
It is of a relatively short distance ( 2.5 miles ) but it is very unique in character, visually stunning and fun to do. Another happenstance hike was walking past and above the lake at Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado.
This opened up an entirely new and exquisite view that is usually overlooked for the more traditional and iconic image of the peaks and the lake. The scene from the backside is one of our favorite mountain views.
After taking a wrong turn in Grand Lake, Colorado, we came upon an “aspen house”.
This accidentally found treasure was painted in the colors of the aspens in the fall and our timing coincided with the leaves in full and appropriate color. While knowing of the elk migration into the the city of Estes Park, we had no idea of the volume involved in the visit and the degree to which the elk made themselves at home.
And perhaps our biggest and most exciting discovery made from being willing to exit the asphalt and take the gravel road, was stumbling onto the epic ghost town of Bodie, California.
Bodie is on the California/Nevada border about 100 miles south of Reno and is recognized as America’s best preserved and most extensive ghost town. It is mesmerizing and romantic. It is an open book examination of the life and death of a town built around the rise and fall of mining. We cannot wait to go back and take that gravel road again to this town frozen in time.
It is strange how once a location, a word or a saying comes into your repertoire of experiences that you keep seeing it mentioned, referenced or said. It is as though your receiver is now tuned to the right frequency and you pick up the corresponding and appropriate signals easily and clearly. We love when that happens!
So, all trips have a story to tell and a journey to enjoy. We hope our excursions continue to offer “bonus footage” and added features to make them ever grander. And we wish the same for you.
Happy and safe travels!
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