Robb and Melissa Hoch

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That title might seem a little awkward.

Let me explain:

Last December, we announced to our kids that we were taking a family trip to Hawaii. But since this was a big deal, we decided we wouldn’t go with the boring approach of simply wrapping the tickets, so as they were playing with their just-opened presents downstairs, we quickly set up a Hawaiian-themed breakfast.  When we invited them upstairs, it was a little taste of Hawaii.  We quieted them and played a song we wrote to the tune of “Mele Kalikimaka.” We changed the lyrics (“to say Merry Christmas to you”) to “on our trip to Hawaii, Oahu.”

There was no letdown to the hype when we traveled there three months later.

We flew Hawaiian air and were impressed. The prices were among the lowest, the seats were a little roomier than the average airline, and our 9-year-old twin boys probably enjoyed the all-you-can-drink beverage service at the rear of the plane about as much as anything else on the entire trip.

We landed at Hawaii International airport, rented a car, and drove to the North Shore. We liked it so much, we spent most of our time there.  A few recommendations nearby:

Ted’s Bakery. Even if your home base is Waikiki, this is worth a drive to the other side of the island. If you go there in the morning, try some of the huge and delicious pastries.  Stay there through lunch for some of their specialty plates and sandwiches. And don’t leave until you’ve tried a slice of the macadamia nut cream pie or the chocolate haupia (coconut cream) pie. I’ve heard the cakes are amazing, but I couldn’t separate myself from my very unhealthy but wonderfully tasty relationship with the pies.

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Waimea Falls. Waimea means “Valley of the Priests,” and for hundreds of years, this land was lived on and cared for by a priestly line. Approximately ten years ago, it was purchased by a private company who now charges a reasonable fee for patrons to walk on a paved path through beautiful terrain and botanical gardens to a 45-foot waterfall.  Some of our group swam across a small lake to the falls, while others waited on the shore, enjoying the scenery.

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Turtle Beach. Turtle Bay on the North Shore is a well-known resort, and turtle (or “honu”) sightings are a possibility there.  A more sure bet is to the south (near Waimea Bay, 1.5 miles north of Haleiwa) at Laniakea Beach—also known as Turtle Beach.  Nearly every morning, our boys begged us to go see the turtles again, and nearly every morning a turtle or two was laying on the beach.

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Haleiwa Joe’s. Mom and Dad needed a little alone time, so we left the kids for an evening and enjoyed the fare at one of Haleiwa’s finer restaurants—a polished but breezy eatery where “sandy feet are welcome.” We enjoyed the Ka’ena Sunset Salad, coconut shrimp, and New York steak.

North Shore won our hearts, but there are a few must-sees at other locations on the island. Of course, Pearl Harbor, Polynesian Cultural Center, Mormon Temple, Dole Plantation, and Waikiki Beach are premiere attractions for the approximately 5 million annual visitors.  But try these two lesser-known and very cool places:

Lanikai Beach. Not to be confused with Laniakea Beach mentioned above, Lanikai (meaning “heavenly”) Beach is a ½ mile beach east of Waikiki in the town of Kailua. Ranked “one of the best beaches in the world” by U.S. News, Lanikai Beach has virtually no tide and is renowned for its crystal clear water and soft, white sand.  The kids enjoyed swimming, playing volleyball, and building sand castles; Mom and Dad just enjoyed relaxing in their lawn chairs, watching the action.

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Maunawili Falls. Slightly northwest of Waikiki is the Maunawili Valley which hides a 3.2 mile trail more natural than the one in Waimea. Be prepared for a more challenging, potentially muddy experience which culminates in a water hole and waterfall. Wear a pair of sturdy walking shoes.

After a week in paradise, we reluctantly returned home. However, a little paradise is recaptured every time we overhear the kids talking about how much they loved the trip.

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www.waimeavalley.net, www.haleiwajoes.com, www.tedsbakery.com, www.polynesia.com, www.kailuachamber.com/beaches, http://www.portaloha.com/SecretsOfHawaii/Laniakea.htm.

 

For many years, when I heard “San Diego” four things came to mind: (1) Sea World; (2) Chargers; (3) Padres; and (4) Utah winters are too cold, and I wish I could move to San Diego where the average temperature is 57 degrees to 72 degrees.

Having visited San Diego this summer, I have a few things to add to the list:
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U.S.S. Midway Museum. I’ve seen aircraft carriers before but haven’t ever been that interested in a tour. However, my kids were, so we changed our itinerary to include it. It was fascinating. Often called “a city at sea,” the U.S.S. Midway was “home” to 225,000 sailors during its 47 years of commission. During that time, the Midway saw action in Vietnam and was the Persian Gulf flagship in Operation Desert Storm. Most visitors spend 3-4 hours on the Midway, and there are a lot of kid-friendly things to do while aboard.
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San Diego Zoo. The San Diego Zoo boasts over 3,700 animals (with more than 650 species and sub species) and pioneered the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that recreate natural animal environments. The kids especially enjoyed the Koalafornia Adventure, the Skyfari gondola, and the guided bus tour. However, no one was more pleased with the Zoo experience than my eight-year-old son, Chase, who has always dreamed of seeing live panda bears. The San Diego Zoo (one of the few zoos in the world which houses pandas) was happy to oblige.
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Anthony’s Fish Grotto. For nearly 70 years, Anthony’s has been satisfying customers with delicious food and seaside ambience. Attached to the restaurant is Anthony’s Fishette which doesn’t require a reservation. We decided to go this route and were favorably impressed with the famous fish and chips, as well as the succulent clam chowder.
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Bahia Resort. We stayed in a number of hotels during our trip, but none was nearly as stunning as the Bahia Resort. Located on the intriguing Mission Bay, Bahia has offers a unique resort destination—close to a number of great beaches and near Sea World. Our particular bayside suite was clean and spacious. The outer wall of the suite was a big window—giving us a beautiful view of the ocean.

La Jolla. Because of its fantastic natural scenery, La Jolla (Spanish for “the jewel”) is one of most unique locations in the San Diego area. Several “must sees” include: La Jolla Cove (which boasts a picturesque beach and tons of sea caves for snorkelers and kayakers); Sunny Jim Cave Store (for $4 a person you can descend to the Sunny Jim Cave via a manmade tunnel); Children’s Pool Beach (a favorite spot for children, divers, and swimmers—courtesy of a wave wall which protects the beach from crashing waves); and Seal Rock (100 yards north of Children’s Pool Beach and a hangout for a significant seal population).
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Old Town San Diego. San Diego was the first European settlement in California, and Old Town San Diego (a historical site) gives visitors a feel for what life might have been like in the mid-1800’s. There are 17 points of historical interest—including museums, galleries, and shops. At one of the venues, we had a great time feasting on authentic tacos while watching some entertaining Mexican dancing. While you’re in the Old Town, don’t miss out on the impressive, newly-renovated, and interactive Mormon Battalion Museum.

Coronado Island. Coronado is actually a peninsula, but it has a definite island feel. In fact, there are only two practical options for getting onto it: (1) the stunning and arching San Diego-Coronado Bridge or (2) ferry. Since its incorporation as a city in 1890, Coronado has been attracting visitors because of its quiet simplicity, beautiful views of the downtown San Diego skyline, family-friendly and remarkably uncrowded beaches, Hotel Del Coronado, Coronado Island Park, and Ferry Landing marketplace (with its more than 30 restaurants, shops, and art galleries).

San Diego is often referred to as “the birthplace of California.” It is the eighth largest city in the United States, the second largest in California, and one of the fastest growing in the nation. After a very pleasant visit there with my family, it’s not hard to see why. http://www.sandiego.org/, http://www.midway.org, http://www.oldtownsandiego.org, https://www.lds.org/locations/san-diego-mormon-battalion-historic-site, https://www.gofishanthonys.com, http://www.bahiahotel.com, http://www.lajolla.com, http://www.coronado.ca.us

I’m a die-hard Disneyland fan. Always have been. And I assumed everyone else felt the same way. That was until a good friend of mine, Dave, told me he didn’t like D-land and even suggested that my twitterpation with “the happiest place on earth” was a hit on my manliness.

This article is for Dave, a.k.a. Mr. Cranks.

Our recent trip to The Magic Kingdom was the fifth in fifteen years. I wish we could get there more, but on a school teacher budget every three years is the best I can do. Each time we go, we have our share of frustrations: figuring out finances; packing; traveling many hours to southern California in the car; hauling luggage to and from the hotel room; hot days in the park with tired kids; long lines; disagreements about the best way to see all the attractions; and pushing the stroller.

So far, my fellow-Disneyland goers are empathetically smiling. And Dave is likely nodding his head, still confused why so many make an annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of Magic.
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I believe the magnetism of Disneyland is that it provides a unique opportunity to leave the outside world behind and immerse in imagination. Girls who struggle with self-esteem at school feel like princesses as they ride the canal boats in Storybook Land. Men who are having mid-life crises laugh out loud on the Jungle Cruise. Women who don’t feel valued at their places of work escape to Neverland as they ride Peter Pan’s Flight. Boys who aren’t selected first on the soccer team at recess are absorbed in the adventure of Indiana Jones. Families join with other families from around the globe as prejudice and misunderstandings are forgotten on It’s A Small World.

If that’s a little too philosophical for you, I can simplify. I enjoy being with my family and making memories. I’m not saying you don’t, but when you dis on Disney, I think you’re dismissing the potential for extra powerful memories. Simply put, there is something really special about this place—something that transcends the usual family trip. And my guess is most of the 650 million visitors who have come to Disneyland since 1955 agree with me.
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We normally stay at a hotel outside of the Disneyland Park, but this time we were able to stay a couple of nights at the Disneyland Hotel. We’re glad we did, as this gave us access to three hotel pools, an early entry into each Park (Disneyland and California Adventure), bonus time with the characters, and close proximity to the park entrances.
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One of the amazing amenities in our hotel was the beautiful leather headboard in the bedroom which showcases a Sleeping Beauty Castle outline that lights up and quietly plays Disney-themed music. When we came home from the Park each night, we would turn it on. The final night we were there, as my kids were drifting off to sleep, I turned it off, assuming it would prevent them from blissful sleep. One of my daughters groggily asked if I would leave it on, which I did. A few minutes later when I finally went to bed, I noticed my daughter sound asleep—and smiling.

Dave, I don’t need any other reason than that.

My children weren’t exactly thrilled when we announced that we were taking a road trip to Rock Springs, Wyoming. Fortunately there was no mutiny.

They became a little interested when we crossed the border into Wyoming and began seeing “Little America” road signs advertising ice cream cones. Since 1934, Little America has been an oasis in the middle of Wyoming that offers a fuel center, hotel, and restaurant. Their marketing was genius, and we felt compelled to stop there. We would have made a pit stop there again on the way back—were it not for the even more famous ice cream cones in Farson. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Following the Little America refreshment, we traveled a little further and were just about to the city limits of Rock Springs when we took a detour south. The kids were unimpressed with the lazy landscape—until the stunning Flaming Gorge burst into view. In 1869, when he saw it for the first time, Major John Wesley Powell described it as “flaring, brilliant, and red.” My kids, when they saw it for the first time, described it as “cool” and “awesome.”

We finally made our entrance into Rock Springs which was founded as a mining town in Sweetwater County in 1888. We stayed two evenings at the Holiday Inn Express–a great little property. Dinner was out on the town, and we enjoyed the charming ambience and the delicious fare at the Coyote Creek Steakhouse. The sirloin was excellent, but if you’re feeling a little adventurous you might try the Four Pepper Sirloin or the Buffalo Burger (made from 100% bison).

After the meal, we enjoyed a couple of local activities: the Natural History Museum (at the Western Wyoming Community College) and the City of Rock Springs Museum. Both were interesting and educational.
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The next morning we headed slightly northeast for some activities including the Killpecker Sand Dunes (touted as “one of nature’s largest sand boxes”), Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop Tour (home to a large population of Sweetwater County wild horses), and White Mountain Petroglyphs (where hundreds of ancient Native American figures are etched into the sandstone bedrock). A few miles more, and we were in Farson—home of the “world’s largest ice cream cone.” My kids are still talking about that highlight.
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We went back to the hotel at Rock Springs (where we all crashed from our Farson-induced sugar high) and awakened the next morning for an adventure to the east. Wyoming is a state rich in pioneer history, and there are a number of related trails and monuments to these brave men, women, and children. According to tourwyoming.com, “no other place in the United States has more miles of still-visible pioneer trails than Sweetwater County.” The Historic Trails Driving Tour (along Highway 28) gives you access to the Oregon Trail, Pony Express Route, Mormon Trail, Overland Trail, Cherokee Trail, and Outland Trail. Just outside Sweetwater County (in neighboring Carbon County) is Martin’s Cove where two groups of ill-fated Mormon pioneer companies suffered through a bitter winter. This historic site has a great museum, informed guides, and actual handcarts for visitors to pull—all of which give a feel for what the pioneers might have endured 150 years ago. From this location, you can also see two natural landmarks of the pioneer days—Devil’s Gate and Independence Rock.
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An old-timer from Sweetwater County said, “The best view of Rock Springs is from your rear view mirror.” My family and I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, we wouldn’t mind seeing Rock Springs from the front windshield of our car again real soon.

A few years ago I wrote an article for a local newspaper called “Spending quality time with your kids.” In it, I reviewed some compelling research that such a pursuit produces long-lasting and happy memories for children and is necessary for children’s proper growth and development. Unfortunately, like many, I sometimes lose sight of my priorities and become consumed with activities that aren’t family related. Earlier this summer, I said, “Enough!,” and decided to take my twins on a trip.

Having had a great previous experience with Red River Adventures (www.redriveradventures.com), I contacted them again and asked for the best option for a dad and two eight-year-old sons. They recommended the Fisher Towers Overnight experience.

A few weeks later, we arrived at the Red River Adventure office in downtown Moab, were fitted with PFDs (personal flotation devices—formerly known as life vests), got instructions, and boarded a bus which took to the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (SR 128). “River Road,” as the locals call it, is described as “spectacular” by National Geographic Magazine. After passing through the Castle and Professor Valleys, we launched at the historic Dewey Bridge. The boys spent some time in the rafts, but they much preferred the inflatable kayaks (also known as “duckies”). I ended up doing most of the rowing, but the kids enjoyed it so much, it was worth the workout.

After running the Onion Creek Rapid, we briefly disembarked on shore for a tasty lunch of turkey wraps. The guides became instant heroes to my boys when they informed them that they could eat as many cookies as they wanted. In addition to being great with kids, the guides were hilarious, informative, and skilled.
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In the evening, we camped across from Castle Valley and Fisher Towers on a spectacular Colorado River beach. Fisher Towers are made of sandstone and caked with red mud stucco. The Towers, named for a miner who lived near them in the 1880s, are world renowned as a subject for photography and rock climbing. Dinner consisted of spaghetti, salad, bread sticks, and gourmet cheesecake. After dinner, the boys had a blast exploring, climbing rocks, and hanging out with me on the beach. Later that night we climbed into sleeping bags and a tent provided by our guides. Story time was interrupted by a lightning storm. We opened the tent door to watch, but even a temperamental Mother Nature couldn’t keep the boys awake for long.
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After a great night’s sleep, we awoke to the smell of breakfast—sausage and egg sandwiches, yogurt and orange juice. We launched again onto the River. Day 2 saw the majority of the seven Class 2 rapids—which made the boys happy. Later that afternoon, we disembarked, had a nice lunch, boarded the buses, and headed back to Red River headquarters.
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It was a quiet ride home, as the boys fell asleep before we had left the city limits. When they awakened a couple of hours later, they asked when we were going back to Moab.

Enough said.

A recent report published by Ernst & Young concluded that the nation of Israel provides “a very high density of experience” for its tourists. Many agree. In 2012, 3,499,998 visited this V-shaped country in the Middle East, flanked by Egypt to the west and Jordan to the east. We decided to join that group to make it an even 3.5 million.

Why visit “the Holy Land”? For one, this country houses Jerusalem—one of the oldest and most eclectic cities in the world. In addition, Israel offers historical and religious sites, beach resorts, archaeology, ecotourism, and the highest number of museums per capita in the world. Israel is unique because it is the spiritual center for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. However, even if you’re not religious, Israel is a place that should on every bucket list. Since we’re Christian, we will emphasize that perspective in this piece, but we will point out items of interest for the other groups previously mentioned.

We landed in Tel Aviv (Israel’s second largest city and the nation’s economic hub) at Ben Gurion International—one of the most secure airports in the world. Most nations recognize Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel and have their embassies there, but most Jews claim Jerusalem is the capital. We didn’t have much time to tool around in Tel Aviv, but many tourists enjoy their time in the self-proclaimed “party capital” of Israel.
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Instead, we went north to the Gallilee region. This is the location where Jesus is presumed to have spent much of his life. In 2011, Israel unveiled the “Jesus Trail”—a 40-mile hiking route which links many sites from his life, including Nazareth, Tzippori, Cana, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Tabgha, and the Mount of Beatitudes. An alternate return route features the Jordan River, Mount Tabor, and Mount Precipice. Non-Christians might enjoy some of these sites as well as the Horns of Hattin, the Mount Arbel cliffs, and the Golan Heights. We particularly enjoyed the relaxing moments on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and as we took a boat ride on the waters. Also memorable was a fish dinner at one of many restaurants on the waterfront. In the Galilee area we were introduced to two popular local menu items—schnitzel (a breaded chicken) and falafel (a pita filled with hummus). However, we ate them so frequently we began referring to the latter as “feel awful.”
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We next travelled south to Masada–Israel’s most popular paid tourist attraction. This impressive ancient fortification on top of a rock plateau overlooking the Dead Sea is the location where Herod the Great built palaces and fortifications from 37-31 B.C. Tourists have two options to get from the base to the top: walk or tram ride.

The Dead Sea, the lowest elevation in the world, has attracted visitors for thousands of years. This location has become a major center for health research and treatment (including climatotherapy, heliotherapy, and thalassotherapy) due to its climate, location, and 33.7% salinity. We aren’t quite that sophisticated and instead just enjoyed floating in the dense seawater.
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The next stop on our tour was the Jerusalem—a UNESCO World Heritage site. Jerusalem means “City of Peace” which is ironic because it has been besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, and destroyed twice. The oldest part of Jerusalem, which is walled, is only .35 square miles is often called “the Old City.” Today, it is divided into four quarters: Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Each of these quarters has a distinctive flavor and all offer shops and restaurants to tourists. Must-see sites in the Old City include the Temple Mount and Western Wall (significant to the Jews), the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque (important to the Muslims), and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (sacred to the Christians).
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Just west of the Old City is the Mount of Olives. There you can visit the Garden of Gethsemane and the Chapel of Ascension—priority points of interest for the Christian. And you won’t want to miss a 45-60 minute tour of the impressive Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center—a beautiful building on Mount Scopus which provides one of the most stunning views of the Mount of Olives, the Kidron Valley, and the Old City. Particularly impressive is the special events auditorium which houses one of Israel’s finest organs.

Surrounding the Old City is modern Jerusalem. Here you will want to visit the sobering Yad Veshem—a memorial to the victims of the Jewish Holocaust. Other intriguing tourist attractions are the Bible Lands Museum, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, and the Israel Museum (which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls).

Less than 10 miles southeast of Jerusalem is the city of Bethlehem. The “House of Bread” is believed to be the location where Jesus was born and is home to one of the largest Christian communities, although this population has diminished. In fact, the city is governed today by the Palestinian National Authority and has a Muslim majority. While there, be sure to spend some time at the Shepherds’ Fields, the Church of the Nativity, and Rachel’s Tomb.

One website touts “3506 things to do in Israel.” Unfortunately, our trip wasn’t lengthy enough to encompass that, but the hundred or so things we did see were inspiring, educating, and amazing. And we look forward to returning again to work on the 3400 things we missed.

 

 

Note: We are grateful to our guides—Larry & Jynene Johnson of Johnson Family Tours—for their professionalism and care while we visited Israel.

If Olive Garden ever cancels their trademark slogan “when you’re here, you’re family,” the city of Moab should snatch it up. Wherever my family and I went during our recent trip there, we felt like we belonged.
Sometimes called “Utah’s Adventure Capital,” Moab is home to two national parks: Arches and Canyonlands. We took a self-guided tour of Canyonlands (www.nps.gov/cany) and were absolutely stunned. One of our favorite sights was Dead Horse Point—which, in our opinion, rivals the Grand Canyon in beauty and majesty.
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Our tour of Arches was guided by Tag-A-Long Expeditions (http://www.tagalong.com). This company has been in business for fifty years, and it’s not hard to understand why. The kids are still talking about our guide, Tim, who was very personable and particularly attentive to them. We had the unique experience of traveling in a 4×4 through the park, balancing time between driving through wild backcountry and stopping to hike to familiar sights—including Balanced Rock, Delicate Arch, and Double Arch.
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One highlight of our Moab adventure was a rafting expedition on the Colorado River with Red River Adventures (http://redriveradventures.com). The trip began with a bus ride from downtown Moab to the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (SR 128). “River Road,” as the locals call it, is described as “spectacular” by National Geographic Magazine. After passing through the Castle and Professor Valleys, we got into rafts and spent the remainder of the day on the River—rowing, swimming, and enjoying the thrill of the rapids. In the afternoon, we briefly disembarked on shore for a tasty lunch of turkey wraps. The guides became instant heroes to my young twin boys when they informed them that they could eat as many cookies as they wanted. In addition to being great with kids, the guides were hilarious, informative, and skilled.
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Another Moab “must do” is horseback (and muleback) riding at Hauer Ranch (http://moabhorses.com). Owners John and Sena Hauer took us on a half day ride along the Colorado River, across creeks, and into the backcountry near the famous Fisher towers. I’ll never forget my kids squealing with delight whenever the equines they were riding started to canter. The Hauers are incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the area and communicate that information in an interesting and memorable way. I’ll never forget my wife, Melissa, squealing with delight when it was pointed out that Jon Bon Jovi filmed his music video “Blaze of Glory” on a nearby butte called “The Rectory.”
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As we left town, heading north, we were encouraged to stop at a little cove near the junction of Route 128 and Route 191 to fill our water bottles at Matrimony Springs. The legend is that if you drink the spring water there, you will come back to Moab. Unfortunately, it was getting late, and we needed to get the kids back home for school the next day, so we weren’t able to stop.
No matter. We don’t need a drink from the Springs to get us back to Moab.

My trip to Tampa, Florida, with my sixteen-year-old daughter, Ashley, was destined to be a good one: the evening before the flight, I saved 40 bucks at carrentals.com. The staff at Tampa Bay & Company (http://www.visittampabay.com) had more to do with the delightful trip, though. We contacted them for advice prior to the vacation, and they steered us in the right direction. Upon arrival in “the Sunshine State,” a boy seated near us, obviously a tense flyer, screamed as the plane touched down. I rolled my eyes. The next day at Busch Gardens Theme Park a man my age, obviously a tense roller-coaster rider, screamed. Everyone on the ride rolled their eyes…at me. In addition to a number of thrilling rides, Busch Gardens (http://seaworldparks.com/en/buschgardens-tampa) also boasts several great shows and an incredible variety of live zoo animals. I’m aware of a fairly well-known amusement park 40 miles to the northeast of Tampa, but Busch Gardens is a pleasant place that will please families too, especially family members who want to scream a little. There are a number of hotels that cater to Busch clientele; we chose Holiday Inn & Suites (http://www.histampa.com) and were impressed.
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Downtown Tampa was also memorable, and we enjoyed our time at the Tampa Museum of Art (http://www.tampamuseum.org) –which regularly hosts exhibits from around the globe. Ashley especially enjoyed the ceramics from the ancient Mediterranean world.

During our stay in “the Big Guava,” we dined at a standout restaurant with a unique history. Bern’s Steakhouse (http://www.bernssteakhouse.com) has been in business for over fifty years. Our server, Lee, was super suave and treated Ashley like a princess. He was also extremely knowledgeable, adeptly answering all of my queries about the establishment’s rich tradition. Lee was one of many handsome waiters in pressed suits, many of whom have worked there for 30 plus years, serving outstanding fare to smiling patrons. After dinner, you can retire to an upstairs room for some dreamy desserts. Many also come from far and near for Bern’s unmatched wine collection. I agree with one of the locals who described Bern’s as
“more than a meal—it’s an experience.”

Another delightful culinary treasure is a few minutes away from Bern’s in the Ybor section of town. The Columbia restaurant
(http://www.columbiarestaurant.com) is Florida’s oldest restaurant. In 1905 the restaurant began serving immigrants, but over the years the reputation grew, and today The Columbia attracts an international pilgrimage. I think I embarrassed Ashley as I moaned with delight throughout the meal while enjoying the famous 1905 salad, black bean soup, a Cuban sandwich, and key lime pie.
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Greater Tampa includes two cities: St. Petersburg to the south and Clearwater to the west. We explored St. Petersburg, which is home to a professional baseball team—the Rays. I had hoped to root for the home team and buy Ashley some peanuts and cracker jacks, but the Rays were on the road the week we were there. However, St. Pete has enough to keep disappointed baseball fans busy, including the amazing St. Pete beach and (I know this is going to sound random but it’s true) the largest collection of Salvador Dali paintings (www.thedali.org). We also immensely enjoyed a 90-minute Speed Boat Adventure
(http://tampaspeedboatadventures.com) through the St. Petersburg waterways. Ashley and I were in our own speed boat, following a seasoned guide as he gave us a tour from his boat (via a radio communication system). It was fun, informative, and one of the highlights of our vacation.

Clearwater is probably best known for its Marine Aquarium (http://www.seewinter.com). Not ringing a bell? What if I tell you its mission is rescuing and rehabilitating animals? Still not happening? How about if I mention that the Aquarium’s most famous resident is Winter, the dolphin who made waves in the 2010 hit A Dolphin Tale? Now you’re with me!

Close by is the beautiful Clearwater beach, with its warm, clear water and white sand. We spent an evening there, walking along the beach and visiting some shops near the shore. Our trip to Tampa is past, but fabulous memories remain. We’re glad we met this great city and look forward to getting together again real soon.

You can see the Great Wall of China from the Moon, right? Wrong. Despite the myth, you can’t see the Great Wall from that distance*. You can’t see the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine from the Moon either. Regardless, both man-made creations (which can be seen from several hundred miles above the earth) are impressive and worthy of a visit. However, since we’re already contributing enough to the Chinese economy, I recommend you take your tourism dollars to the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine-currently owned by the Kennecott Corporation. You won’t be the first to add this destination to your Salt Lake City vacation itinerary-nearly 3 million have visited since 1992-and you won’t be disappointed.

Over a number of years, various friends encouraged me to go, describing the experience as “awesome,” “stunning,” and “amazing.” I generally rolled my eyes. However, I finally went, was very impressed and renewed a New Year’s resolution to stop being such a cynic.The Bingham Canyon Mine is the deepest open-pit mine and, according to Kennecott, the largest man-made excavation in the world. It has produced more copper than any mine in history–nearly 19 million tons– and has been a National Historic Landmark since 1966.
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My twin boys (age 6) were particularly enamored, as was their Dad, with the massive trucks that transport ore (from which copper is extracted). Each truck weighs more than a jumbo jet; each tire is nearly 20 feet high and costs approximately $20,000.

The Visitor Center is interesting and informative, featuring an optional 15-minute film. Since Kennecott produced the film, it’s a little top-heavy extolling the positives of the company, but it does contain some fascinating information about copper and the extraction process. For instance, the average American uses about 30 pounds of copper each year. Before or after the Visitor Center experience, you can take pictures outside next to one of the enormous truck tires mentioned above. And you will want to spend a few minutes enjoying the breath-taking view of the mine from a vista point above the pit.