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Texas Sunset
Travel

Lost Maples State Park: A Taste of Texas Fall

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I’ve always said Texas has two seasons – hot and not so hot. It’s almost a stretch to say that we have more than one season, let alone four. But tucked away in Vanderpool, Texas, 85 miles northwest of San Antonio, I discovered an oasis of fall foliage that is Lost Maples State Park. Growing up, my grandparents who lived in the Smoky Mountains would tell stories of the tourists bringing too much hustle and bustle to their quiet town during peak fall foliage season. 

I thought it was silly that people planned vacations around the leaves changing; that was until I laid eyes on Lost Maples State Park. Once I discovered this taste of Texas fall, I was planning my own trips around the changing of the leaves. Over the past few years I have perfected a trip to Lost Maples and I am sharing those tips with you.

Best Time To Visit Lost Maples

It varies from year to year, but you can typically see fall colors in the last week of October through the first two or three weeks of November. For real-time updates, check out the Lost Maples Fall Foliage 2020 report, which is updated weekly with the status of the leaves. The park is busy at this time of year, so be sure to plan ahead and reserve a day pass on the Texas State Parks Reservations site.

Best Places For Pictures At Lost Maples State Park

There are two main hiking trails at Lost Maples State Park and both share the western part of the East Trail. The best fall colors I’ve seen at the park have been on the shared portion of the two trails. The one-mile stretch where the east and west trails merge is an easy, flat trail with a scenic pond at the one-mile mark. This is an excellent route if you’re shooting family portraits and need a route for all skill levels.

East Trail

Distance: 4 miles, 4.7 miles if you include the overlook 
Difficulty: Easy

The trail is mostly flat and easy, but there is a short steep and strenuous stretch that requires climbing up large rocks. Monkey Rock, located on the eastern side of the east trail, usually has some nice fall foliage; even without the vibrant colors, this familiar shape is sure to be a hit anyway. At the north of the loop is a small cove with a bench that’s had vibrant fall foliage every year I’ve gone. The bench and scenic backdrop make this spot the perfect place for a family portrait.

West Trail

Distance: 5 Miles, 7 miles if you include the West Loop Trail
Difficulty: Moderate

Most of the west trail follows along the creek where you’ll find plenty of opportunities to capture leaves collecting in a stream or a canopy of trees. The West Trail is less popular, so this route is perfect for landscape photographers seeking one of a kind photos.

Where To Stay

I discovered Lost Maples RV and Camping after a state park reservation mishap; we stumbled upon this unassuming gas station offering tent camping near Lost Maples. I’ve had the opportunity to watch this business grow from bare-bones tent sites to a community of tent sites with bathrooms and showers, RV sites with hookups, and cabins. I couldn’t recommend this place more!

Images of Lost Maples

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Chihuly Glass Art frames Seattle Space Needle through glass ceiling
Travel

How To Enjoy Seattle In 3 Days

Seattle has been on my bucket list for years and every attempt to visit has been thwarted. On a whim, I decided I would use an upcoming 3-day weekend to finally mark Seattle off my bucket list.  Well sorta. A 3 day weekend is simply not enough time to cross off all the items on my Seattle to-do list. I kept this trip to the city slicker style and saved the outdoor adventure activities for a longer trip.

Seattle has an amazing public transportation system and everything on this list is easily accessible without a car or taxi. First on the itinerary: Chihuly Garden and Glass. I grew up with an appreciation for glass art so naturally, Chihuly’s was on the top of my list and I headed straight there from the airport.

Heart Shaped Foam in Morning Coffee
Close up of a morning beverage with impressive foam art.

But first, coffee. With a 3am wake up call to make my flight, I was in desperate need of coffee and Seattle is the perfect place for such desperation. Just a few blocks from Chihuly’s I made a pit stop at Citizen Coffee for some Koreixan (Korean and Mexican Fusion) Tacos and a cappuccino.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

Best for: Art lovers

Chihuly Glass Art Museum

You’ll begin the tour in a dark room where only the light from the glass and its reflections illuminate the room.

You’ll marvel at the details in each room containing bowls, aquatic life, flowers, and abstracts. There will be fixtures hanging from the ceiling, eye-popping reflections, or installations filling the entire room.

Chihuly Glass Art

As you make your way through each room, you’ll begin to wonder how one man was able to make so much art in only one lifetime.

Chihuly Glass Art
Chihuly Glass Art
Seattle Reflections

Step outside to the garden and experience the essence of Seattle in one spot – art, The Space Needle, and of course, a little rain.

Pike Place Market

Best For: people who love shopping, antiques, trinkets, or fresh produce

Pike Place Market - Seattle Washington

No Seattle bucket list is complete without Pike Place Market. Listen up early birds, this is a case where you don’t get the worm. The farmer’s market hours are 9-6, but many of the shops and stalls don’t open until 11 and close around 6. To ensure you don’t miss a thing, the best time to head to Pike Place Market is around lunch.

Pike Place is 6 stories of antique shops, souvenir shops, art exhibits, and restaurants. Surely, there is something for everyone.

A better name for The Gum Wall is Gum Alley as gum decorates the walls, windows, and pipes of a small alley. It’s quite impressive and a sight to see if you are in the area.

Seattle's Elliot Bay at sunset

Even if shopping is not your style, Elliot Bay provides great views and is an important part of Seattle’s history. If you love birds as much as I do, then Elliot Bay is a great place for endless bird watching.

Starbucks Roastery

Best for: Coffee Lovers

Starbucks Reserve Roastery
Light, medium, and dark roast coffees stored in hoppers at the main coffee bar. Starbucks Reserve Roastery – Seattle, Washington

Delicious food, coffee, and cocktails all under the Starbucks Roastery’s roof. Once you’ve had your cup of joe and filled your belly with food you can roam the store admiring the roasting machines and roasting process. 

At the specialty bar, you can have the option to try different coffees with one brewing method or see how the flavor of one coffee changes with different brewing methods. For an extra dollar, you can try a premium coffee such as Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. 

Kubota Japanese Gardens

Best for: People looking to escape the crowds, hidden gem seekers, photographers, & budget travelers (entrance is free!)

Escape the crowds and enjoy one of Seattle’s lesser-known gardens. Even in January, this place is gorgeous! I can only imagine what spring brings to this place. 

I spent hours in Kubota Garden and still did not see all it had to offer. It’s sprawling with ponds, waterfalls, and flowers, but my favorite was the moss-covered trees.


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3 Day Weekend in Seattle
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Chicago's Cityscape View by the Bay
Travel

The Perfect 3 Day Weekend in Chicago

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I have to admit that Chicago was not on my list of top places to visit, but we had a perfect weekend in Chicago! I had let the mafia-ridden reputation of the 1920s influence my opinion and I couldn’t have been more mistaken. We stayed at an adorable Airbnb in The Ukrainian Village, the weather was ideal, the pizza was on-point, and the activities were enjoyable. 

Lou Malnati’s Pizza

You can convince me to do anything as long as Pizza is involved.  “But there’s pizza in Chicago” are the exact words my husband used to convince me to go – and Lou Malnati’s was the ultimate taste of Chicago-style pizza. I have a bottomless pit when it comes to pizza and the medium-sized Lou was more than enough to feed 2 people. 

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the best zoos I’ve been to, and we didn’t even pay to get in – admission is free! Parking, however, costs $35, so I would recommend taking a Lyft or public transportation. There are a variety of species, each with an exhibit tailored to their needs. There were many animals I had never seen before including a bald eagle, vultures, snowy owls, storks, polar bears, a baby rhino, antelopes and kangaroos. Birds and primates are my favorite animals and Lincoln Park Zoo definitely delivered! 

Believe it or not, you can actually take pretty good pictures of zoo animals. If the subject is far enough away from the fence you use a large aperture (low f-stop number), and the fence will be out of focus enough that it will hardly be visible. 

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The cost to get in is a little steep ($40/adult, $30/child), but I’ll gladly give money to an organization devoted to improving animal care and conservation and reducing plastic pollution. Besides, with 4 floors of more aquatic species than I can name, the Shedd Aquarium exhibits are sure to entertain for the entire day. Jellyfish, starfish, crabs, sharks, dolphins, whales; the list goes on. There were so many seahorses, you had to drag me away! Did you know seadragon is a thing?! Am I the only one who sings “under the sea” to themselves while at an aquarium? Maybe it’s because I watched the Little Mermaid on repeat as a kid (sorry mom!)

**NOTE: The health and well-being of animals is a top priority which is why I only visit zoos and aquariums with a World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) accreditation. WAZA and its members are committed to high standards for animal care and welfare, environmental education, and global conservation.

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Frederick C. Robie House

As the daughter of a residential construction foreman turned realtor, I was born with a love for architecture stored in my DNA. I have been fascinated with Frank Lloyd Wright since 6th grade when I built a model of his renowned Falling Water. So, there was no question that the Frederic C. Robie Tour was on my must-see list. I enjoyed learning how the Robie House interior is filled with Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature touches and how the prairie school style continues to influence today’s architecture. I couldn’t believe the house was 109 years old because parts of it still felt so modern.

Chicago is where you go to break into the comedy scene, so there is no shortage of quality laughs.

*The Second City

*Laugh Factory

*IO theater

You can’t go wrong with any comedy act in Chicago, but I highly recommend Improvised Shakespeare; an improvised play in the language and style of Shakespeare. The theme spouted out at the beginning was “The Real House Wives of New Jersey”, as events unfolded it turned into a backstabbing murder mystery of wives trying to overtake the thrones of all the “new” states (New York, New Mexico, etc.). We laughed until we cried and then we laughed some more.

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Washington Monument
Travel

See All of Washington DC In 3 Days

With an exorbitant amount of museums and attractions, Washington DC is a photographer’s paradise. Be sure to bring backup batteries and SD cards! Between memorials, museums, and photogenic streets I had my shutter clicking so frequently I ran out of battery before lunch!

The Smithsonian’s

Elephant Statue In Washington D.C.'s Natural History Museum Lobby
Sometimes a travel destination makes my bucket list for a single photo opportunity. Washington DC made my list for the elephant in the lobby of the National Museum of Natural History. I am pleased with how my bucket list photo came out.

The Smithsonian’s are 100% FREE and pictures in the museums are allowed! There are so many museums and so many photos to take, it could take weeks to see it all. Is a 3 day weekend really enough to see all the museums in Washington DC? Well, that depends; there are two ways to see DC.

       1. pick the highlights you want to see at each museum and go to as many museums as possible.

       2. Dedicate a half-day or more at each museum and take the time to appreciate the art, history, science, and landscape.

You can see a lot in just 3 days if you pick the first option. If you have time, I would recommend adding more days to your trip. But if you’re like me, and constantly trying to find the right balance between corporate life and travel life, a 3 day weekend may be all you have.  Worry not! The sample 3 day itinerary will show you what to see with what little time you have!

Regardless of your style, the Smithsonian’s are full of Instagram worthy photos in every square inch of each building.

The Memorials

The memorials are scattered everywhere! You’ll come across ones you weren’t even looking for. Give yourself a history lesson by googling the memorials while you are there.

Aimlessly Roam the Streets

Seriously, DC is a gorgeous city. I couldn’t get enough of the architecture and spring flowers. It was quaint and enjoyable to roam the streets with no real purpose in mind.

Sample 3-day Itinerary 

Day 1

*Arrive midday and head straight to the museum you were looking most forward to. For me, that was the National Museum of Natural History.

*Head to the Adams Morgan Neighborhood and have dinner at Donburi.

*Finish the night off with an adult beverage at The Jug and Table

Day 2

*Have breakfast at the all gluten free bakery, Rise Bakery

*Begin your day of Museum hopping: See the National Capitol Columns and the National Bonsai Museum at the Smithsonian National ArboretumNational Postal MuseumUnited States Botanic GardenNational Air and Space Museum,  HirshhornNational Museum of American History. Don’t forget to eat lunch at food truck and stop at memorials along the way.

*PHEW! Now that the museums are closed, it’s time to hit up the rest of the memorials. The Washington MonumentWWII MemorialLincoln MemorialKorean War MemorialVietnam Wall Albert Einstein Memorial.

*You’ve earned yourself a large dinner and some sake, so head on over to Bul

DAY 3

*spend the first half of the day at the Smithsonian National Zoo. If you get there early, you won’t need to fight crowds for a glimpse of the animals.

*Spend the afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery. Entrance is free, but I recommend the optional train ride that drops you at highlights such as Kennedy’s eternal flame, the tomb of the unknown soldier and Korean War Memorial.

*Take Lyft to the airport and decide that Washington DC deserves way more than a 3 day weekend. 


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