A Day at Valley of Fire State Park

I drive by the Valley of Fire State Park I-15 exit every time I’m going from California to Utah or vice versa and never realized what an amazing place it is. Sure, you can see red rock just about anywhere, but the variety in the rock formations here is pretty amazing.

As you drive into the park, you’ll see plenty of barren red landscape:

View of red mountains from the road

Venture past the visitor center and down Mouse’s Tank Road, however, and the rocks start to change color. There are two trails in particular that offer some great, colorful views. The first stop is the Fire Wave Trail, which is comparable to the permit-only “The Wave” in Arizona. Of course, everyone who’s been to The Wave says that one’s more impressive, but the final view of the Fire Wave here is no slouch:

Swirled rock textures at the Fire Wave Trail

At the end of Mouse’s Tank Road is another trail called the White Domes Trail. The beginning of this trail is a little steep, but afterwards it’s an easy loop that takes you through some amazing and ever-changing scenery, including a brief walk through a slot canyon.

The beginning of the White Domes Trail

The end of the Fire Wave Trail is perhaps more iconic, but the White Domes Trail wins overall just for how diverse it is. To get the most out of it, though, make sure you stop and take a closer look at the rocks along the way. Many of them have interesting colors, layers, textures, and patterns in them:

Rock textures seen along the White Domes Trail

There are other trails and scenic spots in the park, too, so if you have more than a few hours to spare (unlike me), you could probably spend an entire day here.

A Week in Kauai, Hawaii

I based my itinerary to the island of Kauai on The Belle Voyage’s recommendations and feel like she was spot on for the most part. My wife and I stayed four nights in Princeville in the north and two nights in Poipu in the south. Ideally, I think you’re better off spending more nights on the south shore than the north, though, despite Poipu hotels being more expensive.

One of the reasons why we opted for more days in the north was because we wanted to tour the Na Pali coast departing from Hanalei Bay. Supposedly, the northern boat tours let you see more of the coast and, in good weather, will venture into some of the sea caves. We went with Na Pali Catamaran. They were great. The coast was amazing. But tickets were also really expensive. That said, I would probably go for a southern tour if I could do it over.

View of the Na Pali coast from the boat

The other part of the trip I would have done differently was our visit to Ha’ena State Park. There are two things to do here: Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau Trail. The Kalalau Trail is notoriously difficult and requires a camping permit to hike the whole thing. You don’t need a permit for the first two miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach, but the first two miles are still very strenuous. It’s rocky, muddy, and up-and-down the whole way. My wife and I didn’t even make it all the way to Hanakapi’ai Beach before needing to turn back to catch our parking deadline.

Unfortunately, to park at Ha’ena State Park, you need to make reservations ahead of time, and if you aren’t quick enough on the draw, all of the back-to-back time slots will be taken. There’s also a shuttle that goes to the park, but a guaranteed seat still requires a reservation. It’s too bad this area of the island has become so congested, because Ke’e Beach and the few glimpses you get of the Na Pali coast from the Kalalau Trail are definitely pretty:

View of the Na Pali coast from the Kalalau Trail

But don’t worry; if you have to skip Ha’ena State Park, there’s still some great hiking in other areas of the island. The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail near Poipu Beach offers some beautiful (and scary!) views of the rocky coastline. This hike can be as hard or easy (and as long or short) as you want to make it.

View of the coast from the Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail

The other hiking you’ll want to do is within Waimea Canyon. Billed as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” this was probably the highlight of the trip for me. It’s a beautiful and impressive place. Go early and go straight to the first scenic overlook before driving to the top for overhead views of the Na Pali coast. Clouds tends to roll in by afternoon and can obscure views at both locations.

When you’re ready to hike, the most popular trail seems to be the Canyon Trail. Unfortunately, getting there requires parking on the side of the highway and walking down the Halemanu dirt road before the trail even starts. Like the Kalalau Trail, the Canyon Trail is also rocky and muddy and up-and-down the whole way, but you won’t be as pressed for time. And the view at the end is worth it:

Looking down into Waimea Canyon

Finally, it wouldn’t be a trip to Hawaii without some snorkeling. We tried snorkeling in a few different places. The catamaran boat tour included a snorkeling stop, which was… okay. Lydgate Park on the east coast was disappointing albeit non-swimmer friendly. Anini Beach in the north had some really cool snorkeling, but you had to swim pretty far from shore to see it. The tree in the following picture of Anini is about how far out you have to swim for the good stuff:

A dead tree sticks out of the water far from the beach

And then there’s Poipu Beach, which was both very accessible and booming with sea life. If you’re gonna snorkel at all in Kauai, skip the other beaches and go straight to Poipu!

Things to Do on a Second Trip to New York City

My wife and I first went to New York City in 2012 and loved it. When we had the chance to go again in 2019 as part of a three-day business trip, I was less excited since we’d already seen the major highlights. If you’ve never been to NYC before, you can pretty much do everything the CityPASS recommends and have a great time. Many of those attractions would probably be fun to see again a second time, too, but if you’re wanting to experience entirely new parts of New York, you have to dig a little deeper.

On our second NYC trip, my favorite attraction was the Gulliver’s Gate museum near Times Square. I know, I know, a museum of miniature models doesn’t sound that exciting, but the detail that went into these tiny cities from around the world is truly impressive. If you look closely, you’ll find all sorts of fun, little Easter eggs hidden throughout.

Miniature people stand in front of Stonehenge

My next favorite memory is probably walking across the Brooklyn bridge. The Dumbo, Brooklyn area on the South side is a quaint starting/stopping point, and the walk itself gives you some nice, 360-degree views of the surrounding skyscrapers. It’s a refreshing change of pace from what you might normally do in New York.

View of New York from the Brooklyn Bridge

Another interesting walkabout tucked in between the buildings of New York is Roosevelt Island. The island itself doesn’t really have much to see on it, except for a small lighthouse and statue of FDR. I just found it really interesting that such a place—an island in the middle of a busy city—existed at all. Plus, you can take an aerial tram from Manhattan to the center of the island! If you buy a MetroCard during your visit, the tram is included.

An FDR statue in the Four Freedoms State Park on Roosevelt Island

Lastly, if you haven’t had your fill of museums yet, New York City has plenty of others to explore. Seriously, you can stand anywhere in the city, look up “nearby museums” on Yelp, and find something interesting. The Mmuseumm, for instance, is a 10-minute experience at most but is one of the weirdest museums I’ve ever encountered.

The most notable museum we visited this time around was the Color Factory pop-up museum. If you’ve been to any other pop-up, you can safely skip this one. The Color Factory was a bit on the expensive side and was only mildly amusing, but if you’re in the area and itching for some cute photo ops, it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. Hey, at least they give you lots of treats while you’re there:

An assortment of macaroon cookies in the Color Factory museum