Traveling Through Each State’s Quarter

Are you a coin collector? Do you practice numismatists, the study of coins? Or maybe you just like to collect United States quarters, you know, the ones made for each state?

Though we started collecting quarters when our kids were little, not long after the U.S. Mint started the State Quarters Program in 1999, I still enjoy looking at them and wondering about the place, object, or person which was chosen to represent each state.

State Quarters

I haven’t been to every state, nor have I seen everything depicted on each state’s quarter, but I have seen Oregon’s Crater Lake and hiked up Vermont’s Camel’s Hump, I’ve driven by Nebraska’s Chimney Rock and climbed California’s Half Dome. I’ve seen New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain, walked around New York’s Statue of Liberty, and even seen a grizzly bear in Alaska. But I haven’t been to Kentucky’s Bardstown Mansion nor have I eaten a peach in Georgia. I’ve seen many American bison but never in North Dakota or Kansas. I haven’t crossed West Virginia’s New River Gorge Bridge nor been to the Indy 500 in Indiana.

SD Quarter

Here’s a list of states with the elements depicted in each of their designs. Where have you been and where do you need to go?

When National Parks Become Monopoly Properties

Before our kids could read, they could play Monopoly. Recognizing the properties by their colors and learning to count the money, they loved to play, especially my oldest, quickly learning to bargain with other players and create his own monopolies.

We never played the Monopoly Junior version. Instead, we played National Parks Monopoly, where Yosemite replaces Park Place and Yellowstone takes over the Boardwalk.

With my canoe, bear, tent, or ranger hat token, I traveled around the board, from national park to trail to national monument, paying $75 to eat dinner at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Lodge or becoming park ranger of the year. Although equivalent to the least expensive dark purple properties, I couldn’t resist buying Mount Rushmore, but I always hoped to be the first to land on the magenta properties of Hawaii Volcanoes, the Grand Canyon, and Glacier Bay.


Playing National Parks Monopoly is always an adventure. Once I stepped on a cactus at Saguaro National Park. Another time I got caught looting an archaeological dig and had to go to jail. But when I discovered fossils at Agate Fossil Beds, I got out of jail free.

So when our family was planning a drive from Colorado to South Dakota, we were excited to find Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, one of the red properties on our Monopoly game, located in the northwest corner of Nebraska. With only a slight detour, we spent a morning exploring the park.

Agate Fossil Beds

When we returned from our trip, we played the game with a renewed interest.

Playing  Monopoloy

Over the years, I’ve visited only 12 of the 27 properties on our Monopoly game board, but the places I haven’t been still intrigue me: the Everglades, Isle Royale, Mesa Verde, the Limberlost Trail. Which park, or which property, should I explore next?

Trip to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument taken in 2005.

Cool Off in Jewel Cave

If you’re hot and in the Black Hills of South Dakota, there’s an easy way to cool down: enter one of the area’s caves. The national monuments of Wind Cave and Jewel Cave are both located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, not too far from Mount Rushmore. We visited Wind Cave on a previous South Dakota trip in 2005. This trip we focused on Jewel Cave, the third longest cave in the world.

While there is a visitor center which you can visit at no cost, to really see the cave’s jewels, you need to take a tour. Jewel Cave National Monument offers four tours which range in time, price, and strenuous ability: the scenic tour, discovery tour, historic lantern tour, and wild caving tour.

Jewel Cave jewels

Although my spelunking experienced husband would have preferred the 4-hour wild caving tour, we chose the scenic tour, a moderately strenuous 1.5-hour tour.

Jewel Cave Sights

After descending deep underground (in an elevator), we (and about 25 others) followed our tour guide on a paved trail through chambers decorated with calcite crystals and other speleothems.

Scenic Tour

Although we traveled only 1/2 mile, there are over 170 miles of mapped and surveyed passages. If you want to do more, the wild caving tour takes you along a 2/3 mile route, but you will have to belly crawl through a passage 8 1/2 inches high by 24 inches wide.

Jewel Cave Visitors

Tickets are only available on a first come first served basis and, except for the wild caving tour, must be purchased the day of the tour. My advice – get there early to choose the time of your tour. The entrance to Jewel Cave is located 13 miles west of the city of Custer, South Dakota.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Trip taken July 2013.

When the Badlands Aren’t So Bad

Thunder in BadlandsIf you were driving a stagecoach or on horseback and came across this expanse of arid rock, you might call it a “miserable gully,” but if you’re interested in geological features and you have plenty of water, this 244,000-acre national park in South Dakota is worth exploring.


I’ve been to Badlands National Park several times in my life, but the most interesting and rewarding experiences have been the times I’ve stayed in the park. Last summer, we stayed in brand new cabins with AC.

Cabin IMG_1963

When the sun’s rays are not quite as intense, the light colored formations are not as blinding. I no longer have to squint.

And when the sun sets (as late as 8:30 p.m. in the summer), the spires take on their own personality. There is an evening program every night at 9 p.m. followed by night sky viewing through large telescopes. Every morning, just before it gets really hot, there is a ranger-led walk at 8:30.


Be sure to check out the Ben Reifel Visitor Center where, besides learning about the rock formations and nearby floral and fauna, you can see real paleontologists working on fossils.

Badlands Visitor Center

The gift store at the Cedar Pass Lodge is one of the best in the area for finding unique and quality South Dakota items, everything from books to jewelry to herbal tea.

If you’re hungry, check out the Cedar Pass Restaurant. In addition to the Sioux Indian Fry Bread and Taco, the restaurant includes South Dakota steak and fish and many gluten-free items.

Trip taken July 2013.

Faces We Know and Love

Setting the table as a kid meant using the laminated photograph placemats. Linens were kept for holidays and special occasions when the look was worth the risk of spills, but during the week, I ate my spaghetti while gazing at the steeple of Old North Church, the paintings of Charles Russell, or (my favorite) at the faces of Mount Rushmore.

The chiseled gray faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln poked through the Needles Highway tunnel on our way to Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Needles highway

We hurried to get there, parking in the giant parking lot, and following the streams of people to the front entrance. This trip we arrived at dusk. It wasn’t our first visit, and we were squeezing it in. Despite visiting many times during our childhood, it was a priority not for only me, but for my brother, my sister, and their families as well.

One of the most popular tourist attractions in the U.S., Mount Rushmore National Memorial is visited by 3 million people a year. What attracts us? Is it the immensity of the faces? The beauty of the area? The evidence of man’s dominance over nature? The appreciation of the artist?


Although the Black Hills are a sacred place for the Lakota Nation, the lure of gold brought thousands of men into the hills in the late 1800s.

In 1923, Doane Robinson had a vision to create a national monument to bring people to his state of South Dakota, and Gutzon Borglum knew where to sculpt it. When confronted with the massive granite outcrop of the Black Hills, he saw beyond its natural beauty and the potential for a monument to the men who “best represented the foundation, expansion, and preservation of the U.S.” The sculptor continued blasting and carving from 1927 until his death in 1941 when his son took over, finishing the project a year later.

The Faces

Today, Mount Rushmore is one of South Dakota’s biggest tourist attractions. There are museum exhibits, a trail, ranger walks, and an evening lighting ceremony held nightly during the summer. Mount Rushmore is located in Keystone, in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, just a short drive from Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park.

Trip taken July 2013.



10 Reasons to Visit South Dakota

Growing up in California, my friends could never understand why I wanted to go to South Dakota. As far as they were concerned, it was in the middle of the country where there was nothing to do. But I knew they were wrong. Besides the fact that my grandparents lived there, I loved it. South Dakota offered things my hometown and home state didn’t: prairies of undulating grasses, buffalo, real cowboys, Native Americans, and lots of space.

IMG_1692 IMG_0130_MG_1922


In South Dakota, I could ride horseback on my uncle’s horses, pick choke cherries along the Missouri River, go swimming in the Oahe Dam, eat buffalo burgers, go to a rodeo, and visit a palace made of corn.

So, here’s a list of 10 places to go and things to do in South Dakota, listed from east to west across the state. Written by someone who’s got roots in South Dakota. Stay tuned for more details in future blog posts.

  • The Corn Palace: Over 275,000 ears of corn are used each year to create a mural on the exterior of the Corn Palace located in Mitchell. The palace is open year round and is free to visit.
  • Pierre and Fort Pierre: With its two lakes, the Missouri River, and over 2,200 miles of shoreline, the area offers plenty of swimming, boating, fishing. Learn about South Dakota’s history at the South Dakota Heritage Museum or the Casey Tibbs Museum and be sure to visit the Fort Pierre Rodeo on the 4th of July.Pierre
  • Wall Drug Store: Originally just a drug store, this rambling place now sells everything from laminated placemats to cowboy boots. If you’re hungry, you can get a buffalo burger or ice cream along with a free glass of water and a 5 cent cup of coffee.
  • Badlands National Park: Visit this expanse of mixed grass prairie and geologic deposits, where ancient animals once roamed. Here you can see buffalo and prairie dogs. You might even see archaelogists at work in one of the world’s richest fossil beds.
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial: One of the more famous sculptures in the world, Mount Rushmore includes the faces of four American presidents in its granite face.IMG_0110
  • Crazy Horse Memorial: In addition, to the actual sculpture of Crazy Horse, the memorial includes museums and collections of Native American art and artifacts.
  • Deadwood: In this national historic landmark, you can see a reenactment of the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok, visit the grave of Calamity Jane, gamble in its gaming halls, and visit Tatanka, Kevin Costner’s tribute to the buffalo.
  • Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument: If you like spelunking, South Dakota has two easily accessible caves worth a visit. Both offer a variety of ranger led tours, some more adventurous and more strenuous than others.Jewel Cave
  • Custer State Park: Located in the Black Hills near Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park has 1,300 buffalo on its 71,000 acres. You can camp or stay at a lodge, swim in Sylvan Lake, drive the twisty Needles Highway, or hike the state’s highest peak (Harney Peak).
  • The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD: The Mammoth Site is an active paleontological dig site and includes the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world. On your visit, you can see real paleontologists at work, dig for fossil replicas, learn proper excavation techniques, or learn an ancient paleo Native American hunting technique.

Enjoy your trip to South Dakota!

Multiple trips taken, most recently in 2013.

When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).


Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.


Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.


Making History Come Alive For Teens | National Park Foundation

Making History Come Alive For Teens | National Park Foundation.

Gettysburg National Park

Are you interested in the Civil War or looking for a teachable moment for your kids? Check out the National Park Foundation’s blog, Trail Talk, (see link above) for tips on visiting National Parks. This month, I’m the author of a post on visiting Gettysburg National Park with teenagers.

Gettysburg National Park is celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The park offers Civil War events commemorating the anniversary throughout 2013. Be sure to visit the Gettysburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for information on upcoming events and help in planning your trip.

Surmounting the Beehive

Should we climb the Beehive? My 11-year old son wanted to; my 9-year old daughter was game. But my husband and I weren’t too sure. We read the Acadia National Park’s book of hiking trails’ description. We talked to a ranger and examined her photographs. Through binoculars we watched from below as little bits of color moved along the edge of the mountain. We knew there were iron rungs and exposure, rocky ledges and an iron bridge. The kids insisted they could do it. We decided to go for it.

We began to walk up the trail, pausing to read the sign. “Caution!” it warned. My husband and I looked at each other. Were we doing the right thing? We took a photo of the sign and continued as the trail turned from an easy meander to rock scrambling, boulder stepping, and hand grasping. The trail wasn’t as bad as I had feared. I followed my son with my daughter behind me, occasionally catching glimpses of my husband’s worried face below.  The kids were doing fine and seemed to enjoy the challenge of the mountain. We crossed the narrow iron rung bridge climbing the iron rungs up the pink granite as we would a ladder. Only 30 minutes later, we stood at the top, ready to take our photo with the town newspaper, my husband visibly relieved that it was over, I amused that the elevation was only 542 feet.

That evening, after more hiking, a walk out to some tide pools, and a lobster dinner, we stopped at our campground’s store for some ice cream.  As we licked our ice cream, preparing to play a game of Uno, I noticed a laminated newspaper article posted on a map of Acadia on the store’s bulletin board. The headline read, “Man Dies In 200 Foot Fall Off Beehive.” We laughed knowing we never would have climbed the Beehive if we’d seen that article the night before.

How Do You Make History Come Alive for a Teen?

I pondered that question one spring as my family planned a trip to Gettysburg. Here’s what worked for us, including a 12-year old girl and a 14-year old boy.

Find at least one book or movie that is age appropriate and relevant to your destination. After reading Michael Shaara’s book, “Killer Angels,” I rented the movie, “Gettysburg.” Filmed onsite, the movie is engaging and not too graphic, rated PG. We all watched it and found ourselves especially interested in the location of the Little Round Top, one of the battles on which the movie focuses.

Check out the area for information on special events. While reading about a local cultural fair, I discovered that a 5K road race, the Spirit of Gettysburg, was scheduled to take place on our first morning in town. Upon entering Gettysburg the night before, we drove right to the school to pick up our race packets. Besides giving us something to do, participating in the event provided us with our own pre tour of the place as well as an insight into part of the community. We left the race with a souvenir t-shirt and coupons to local restaurants.

Consider the weather. Bicycle tours of Gettysburg exist for families, and camping is available as well. Since we planned our trip for the summer, we opted for the air conditioned car tour and the hotel with the pool.

Look for child friendly tours or activities. We chose to hire a licensed tour guide through the National Park Service. For $55, Harry, a retired high school history teacher, rode with us in our car, telling us stories about the various monuments and providing us with an interactive education of the area. We read the park’s newspaper and chose a ranger led talk all about the Little Big Top battle. We saw the site of the battle and the ranger referred to the movie and showed us where specific historical events took place.

Bring in a local or familial angle. With a little research, we discovered that our kids have at least three ancestors who fought at Gettysburg, one great grandfather and two great, great grandfathers. We read aloud letters from my son’s namesake the night before we left. At the visitor center, we spent time on the park’s computers, exploring databases and finding all three ancestors.

Souvenirs. Be sure to allow time to explore gift shops. Consider giving your child a set amount of money in advance so they can choose what they want to buy rather than continually asking you for money.

Gage the family mood. Allow some flexibility in your itinerary. If everyone is tired of museums, take a break. Go for a swim, get an ice cream or take a walk or a nap. If you’ve all seen enough, it’s ok to leave before you planned to. Although we’d planned to stay three nights in Gettysburg and check out the following morning, after two full days of learning and intense heat and humidity, we decided to move on at the end of the second day. We were not charged by the hotel, and we left all wanting to return another day.

Trip Taken July 2010