Wandering the Wildflower Wonderland All Along the Watchman Trail, Zion National Park

With its grand vistas, this short hike is lovely any time of year, but it is a special treat in the Spring when the wildflowers are blooming. I’ve never seen so many varieties in 1 hike! Note it can be a bit of a snow/mud fest in the winter.

Distance: 3.1 Out and back

Elevation: 636 ft

Difficulty: Easy to moderate depending on your fitness level

Now for the winter vibes

Happy Trails!

Discovering Discovery Cove, Orlando, FL

While I’m not one for “attractions” per se, how could I say “No” when my boyfriend, Bernie, invited me to join him for a day at Discovery Cove? It’s been voted the Best Marine Mammal Park, the Best Theme Park in Orlando, and the Most Romantic Thing to Do in Orlando. It’s all that and more. The experience exceeded my expectations across the board.

We entered the park through the grand entry pavilion with its high beams, straw-thatched ceiling, and magnificent floating dolphin sculpture.

The moment we stepped out to begin our all-inclusive experience, we were transported into a lush tropical wonderland with magnificent colorful flora, waterfalls, streams, and lagoons. Apologies, I didn’t take many pictures of the grounds because I was in experience mode (versus documentation mode).

The Grand Reef

At the Grand Reef, we immersed ourselves in a colorful kaleidoscope of ~6,000 tropical fish, ~50 stingrays (barbs removed), 3 giant rays, and reef sharks (those behind glass). While I’m a PADI-certified diver, this is the most sea life I’ve ever seen up close and personal. If you prefer not to swim or snorkel, the water is clear enough to see while wading.  

Explorer’s Aviary and the Freshwater Oasis

Next, we strolled Explorer’s Aviary, where exotic birds flit and call through the lush canopy of trees and plants. For a closer look or photo op, you can lure them closer (even onto your arms) with tiny bowls of their favorite treats.

If you’re up for a cruise on a noodle floatie or a swim, there’s a “Freshwater Oasis” lazy river that winds you through a tropical forest with waterfalls and features playful otters and marmosets.

Dolphin Encounter

Saving the best for last, Bernie splurged on our add-on “Swim with a Dolphin” experience, which is more of a “pose with a dolphin” experience. Sure, I’ve seen dolphins up close while surfing, but touching, hugging, and looking one in the eyes is something else entirely. And there is a short “ride” with the dolphin, about 10 feet. Dolphins can swim 25 mph and leap 20 feet, but they go slowly and stay horizontal with guests onboard. Yes, these are captive mammals, but most are rescues, and it is an educational experience. We learned that the dolphins are “invited” to participate in the interactions and can and do refuse at their whim. Each dolphin has its own signature sound, like an audio fingerprint, which they use to greet each other and the guests. We also learned that dolphins breathe only through their blow holes. They have 2 stomachs split into 3-chambered like cows and deer, which is needed for digestion because they swallow their food (fish) whole They get their hydration (water) from the fish they eat, and they consume as much as 30 pounds of sushi per day. Their skin is soft and sensitive like ours. Reduced fish populations due to global warming pose a risk to dolphins.

Satisfy your appetite and quench your thirst

How were the food and beverages, you ask? (A tasty and varied breakfast and lunch buffet to satisfy any appetite). The coconut-encrusted salmon was a lunch highlight. Plenty of casual options include burgers, pizza, pretzels, desserts, and hot chocolate chip cookies—oh, my! (I know.) Perhaps fast the day before (and after), lol. And if you like to quench your thirst with “adult beverages,” the upgraded drink package ($40) includes cocktails and is worth it! The colorfully tattooed, friendly bartender added 2 super generous splashes of Grand Marnier to my margarita—decadent and delicious— the best I’ve ever had.

Those who know me know I’m not a theme park or “attraction” person. I’ve never understood those adult Disney World/Land fanatics whose idea of a “best day ever” is a crowded theme park with endless lines and nonstop noise.  I detest loud crowds— fortunately, there were none here. It seems they limit the number of guests per day to optimize the experience for everyone.

For couples and families, Discovery Cove is an excellent way to escape it all and spend the day in an engaging tropical paradise. Sure, it’s a simulated experience, but it is executed exceptionally well. When in Orlando, I’d say it’s a must-do. And a must-do again for me. I can’t wait to take my niece and share it with the rest of the family. Guess that makes me a Discovery Cove fanatic.

Practical stuff:

Lockers are available to store your belongings while you explore.

The bathrooms are immaculate and include showers and fresh towels.

There are plenty of beach chairs and towels by the lagoons, but if you prefer a more exclusive experience, you can upgrade to a private cabana.

Mask and snorkels are provided.

Exploring East Zion Backcountry–Watch out for the Quick Sand! (No, really!)

It’s been a minute since I’ve posted, I know. I’ve lost my mojo for it. It seems I’d rather be out in the wild adventuring versus reporting my adventures per se. Also, I’ve taken to off-the-beaten-path explorations, the kind that require a backcountry guide or advanced GPS and navigation skills to demystify. While my zeal for verbal show and tell has waned, I’ve become quite keen on photography. For now, my posts will be picture focused. Sorry, not sorry.

East Zion is magnificent, vast, and remarkably people-free. It’s also free of official trails, which makes navigation a challenge, except for those intrepid, experienced back-country types with finely honed navigation skills. This territory is not for families, recreational hikers, “tourons”, instaorons, or tikorons, if ya know what I mean. It’s potentially dangerous with hazards like quicksand and near vertical scrambling on slick slickrock with precipitous drops. Yep, you read that right—quicksand. “Did you see where little Timmy went?” Oops, that first step can be a doozy. I didn’t realize they had quicksand out here either. Not something you want to find out the hard way. Another reason to hike with a buddy and to have some kind of emergency alert system.

Sound scary? It should. It seems weekly, there are rescues and deaths in the ravishingly beautiful, but harsh playground of Southern Utah. A simple reflecting pool in a wash can turn into your worst nightmare. Quicksand can be lurking in the glistening sand next to a puddle in a wash like the one below. Your foot may sink up to the ankle or in a split second you could be submerged up to your waist and immobilized as happened to an experienced backcountry hiker I know. On the same hike, another experienced backcountry hiker I know slipped on the slickrock and fractured and dislocated her shoulder. Sure, accidents can happen walking out your front door, but you’re particularly vulnerable to the elements when you’re out in the backcountry.

Enough doom and gloom. Just be careful out there. Adventure and explore, but don’t get in over your head so to speak.

Happy & safe trails!

Zion on Ice, That’s Nice (and Freezing Cold!)

Turned into a human popsicle to get you this glimpse of Zion’s winter wonderland.

If you do venture out in the winter, be sure to over prepare. There have been many rescues and unfortunately too many deaths in Zion – mostly from hypothermia and exposure (even in the warmer months). The elements are no joke out here. Crampons are a must in icy conditions. Adequate layers, gloves, hats, etc…Hydratation is just as critical though harder to swallow in the winter (I know).

Happy (and safe) trails to you in 2023!

Seems as if rescues like these happen weekly. Be smart. Don’t become a statistic! https://www.fox13now.com/news/local-news/watch-intense-rescue-of-hikers-stuck-for-over-24-hours-in-zion-national-park?fbclid=IwAR1xGiB7Mai42xjwRNGCItYWpVKNmOBr4D4OSYmWEh2M53CLsyYyg3aZIuw

Fresh Perspectives on Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Slick rock explorations yield new perspectives on the park with the added bonus of big horn sheep sightings. My previous VOF post was luke warm. Let’s just say I’m warming up to VOF. I’ll let the pics speak for themselves.

So fortunate to be graced by my spirit animal on this adventure! Note, my camera has amazing zoom power. I kept a respectful distance from them.

Happy Trails!