Exploring the Canyons of the Ancients

The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is a vast network of ruins in Southwestern Colorado and Eastern Utah. The ruins were built by ancestral Puebloans the 12th century AD.  If you are anything like me, you are thinking “What?? 12th Century ruins right here in the USA?”.  I know, I was surprised too!

 

Discovering the Monument

I had never even heard of the Canyons of the Ancients before planning this trip. I’m so ashamed of my lack of knowledge of ancient American history! My plan was to go to Southwestern Colorado to visit Mesa Verde, another ancestral site (Which I had only just recently heard of as well). While I was planning my route to Mesa Verde, I noticed another area on the map directly to the west labeled “Canyons of the Ancients”. How cool does that sound! The Canyons of the Ancients are super close to Mesa Verde, according to the map.  They are also shaded in green, indicating a National Park. I decided to add it to my itinerary with absolutely no research into what it actually was.

The Canyons of the Ancients isn’t exactly a National Park. It’s not like Mesa Verde or the Grand Canyon, where sites of interest are mapped out and easily accessible. Canyons of the Ancients is 164 thousand acres of land protected by the National Bureau of Land Management with limited access. Many of the ruins protected in this vast stretch of land are still buried!

Don’t let the idea that some ruins are still buried prevent you from going. There are plenty of amazing sites that are excavated and open to the public. They are tucked away off gravel and dirt roads and some can only be reached by foot! Don’t let this deter you, it is just part of the adventure! All of the sites I visited were well worth the effort it took to see them. I only mention this so that you don’t get anxious, as I did, when traveling down a seemingly abandoned dirt road. You are probably heading in the right direction!

canyons of the ancients
Creepy dirt road!

 

Getting Started with the Ancients

If you are going to visit the Canyons of the Ancients, you should start with the Anasazi Visitor Center located near Cortez, CO. The entrance fee is three dollars, which includes access to a museum that houses a rich collection of native artifacts. It also offers fun hands-on display! I played with a real flint stone tool, and I tried my hand at weaving (which is super hard, thank god for modern technology!).  You can get a map of the important sites in the Canyons of the Ancients from the museum staff, and they also give you excellent directions to the many excavated sites.

During my journey through the Canyons of the Ancients, I explored Lowry Pueblo, Painted Hands, Cutthroat Ruins, and Hovenweep National Monument. These are some of the better known, excavated, and easily accessible ruins.

Lowry Pueblo

Lowry Pueblo is fantastic. It is off a gravel road with few signs, but it is a huge pueblo and very well preserved. You can even go inside a little bit!  The site also include a Kiva (a Puebloan ceremonial site) and information on Pueblo life. This site is very accessible and easy to get to. The walk around the Pueblo was paved and mostly flat, so wheelchairs and persons with disabilities should be able to navigate it fairly easily.

Painted Hands

Painted Hands is incredible as well. It is a tower built on top of a small enclave. It is called painted hands due to the cave paintings of hands underneath the tower inside the enclave. These are hard to spot at first, but if you look closely you will see them. It is truly awe inspiring to see artwork that has survived the elements for centuries. Painted Hands is located down a fairly rough dirt road, and although you can see the tower from the makeshift parking lot, it is a bit of a hike to actually get to it and to see the paintings underneath. It is not accessible to wheelchairs.

Canyons of the Ancients
The ruined tower above the Painted Hands
Canyons of the Ancients
Can you see the hands??

Cutthroat Ruins

 After seeing the tower and the painted hands, I continued down the savage dirt road to cutthroat ruins. Hiking to see these ruins was rough! The towers are about a mile hike through high-desert terrain,which is hilly and super hot in the summer.  The hike would have been a lot easier if it wasn’t for the searing heat, so make sure you bring plenty of water. It was worth the effort though, cutthroat ruins consists of multiple towers, some of which are in excellent shape considering their age.  It’s amazing that these towers, which have been abandoned for centuries, are still standing. Preservation efforts didn’t begin until the 19th century, so these towers had to withstand the harsh winds of the desert with no man-made intervention.

Hovenweep

My last stop was Hovenweep National Monument, located on the Utah side of the Canyons of the Ancients. Hovenweep is the most well- known of all the sites I visited. It even has a bathroom and small visitor’s center! 

Hovenweep has three tiers of hikes to chose from. The first is a leisurely tower overview hike. This is a short walk on a paved path that leads to an overlook of the towers from across the canyon. This hike is perfect for people with mobility issues. The second tier is a tower walk, which is a short half circle around the canyon. This hike takes you close to the towers.  It was an easy walk with no elevation changes, but it probably isn’t very accessible for people with mobility issues. The third option is a more strenuous hike all the way around the canyon, which I did not even want to attempt after my difficulty with Cutthroat Ruins.

canyons of the Ancients

The Mysteries of the Ancients

There are many other sites protected under the Canyons of the Ancients monument. Getting to some of them requires vigorous hiking, and getting to others requires insider knowledge, since their locations aren’t on the map. The sites I visited are all doable together in one day. If you have more time (and are adventurous), you might want to hike deeper into the canyons to uncover more of the mysteries within.

You’re Traveling Alone?

“You’re Traveling ALONE?”

I’m amazed at how many people are shocked that I would dare venture off in this world on my own. What is wrong with traveling alone?  Apparently, a lot of people have a lot of opinions about it.  

Funnily enough, my sister is the biggest culprit. I don’t mind so much when she does it though, because it isn’t meant to be sexist. She worries about everything, all the time, no matter what. That’s just who she is. So when I first told her I would be traveling by myself, she was horrified, as expected.

Related: Check out my epic solo adventure taking the train from Bangkok to Krabi

But she’s not the only one who questioned me. I was surprised at how many questions I got from so many different people. Is it really that shocking that a woman would travel alone? Is the world such a dangerous place that we should be protected from such independence and nonsense?

Here are the most common questions that I was asked when I first decided to explore this world on my own, and my (in my humble opinion) reasonable responses.

traveling alone

“Is it safe? Aren’t you scared?”

Yes, it is safe, and no, I’m not scared. This question is the easiest for me to answer. You see, I am from Chicago. For the past few years, Chicago has been known for its ever increasing gang violence. People are shot and killed every weekend in the rough neighborhoods of Chicago. But for some reason, nobody ever questions me when I tell them I’m going to Chicago.

I get that there are differences. Chicago is familiar. I know where the dangerous areas are, and I know to avoid them. I also know a boatload of people who live in and around Chicago that I could call if something went wrong.

My sister’s biggest worry when I travel on my own is that no one would know if something happened to me. No one would know to even start looking for me. Since my sister worries (a lot) I’ve agreed to a system that helps calm her down. I have agreed to post at least once per day on Facebook when I’m traveling overseas. I usually post my pictures from the day before I go to bed at night. This way, I get to show off my grand adventures, and she gets to know that I made it back to my room safely.

The truth is though, that the United States is more dangerous than most other developed countries. It’s also true that I’m more likely to get hurt in an accident driving home from work than in a plane crash. And my attitude is that I’d rather live life to the fullest than live life in fear. If you live life in fear, are you really living life?

Traveling Alone

“Why don’t you wait and go with someone?”

I am not going to give up my dream of traveling the world in the hopes that one day, someone will be willing and able to go with me. I’ve even tried to include other people in my travels. I’m not opposed to traveling with company. I’ve taken quite a few girls trips! However, there are four huge limiting factors for others.

Related: I went with the girls to see Germany’s oldest city; check it out!

Unable to afford the trip

A plane ticket to Europe generally costs over $1000. After you factor in food, lodging, and fun, the cost of a trip could soar to over two grand. Many people just don’t prioritize travel the way I do, so they would not be willing to pay this much for a trip. And that’s ok!  Everyone has their own ideas of what makes them happy, who am I to force others to prioritize travel?

Unable to take time off of work

Unfortunately, the United States does not have any laws which mandate time off. I have a few friends and family members who would love to take a trip with me, but their employers won’t let them have two weeks off in a row. My coworkers and I have a job with great benefits, but we all can’t be off at the same time. That makes it impossible to plan a trip with them, which really sucks because we’d love to travel together! We usually do weekend trips instead.

Fear of flying

For some reason, this is a huge problem in my family. My sister won’t fly over water. My father needs to be drunk to board a plane, and my brother refuses to fly in general. I’m so grateful that this fear skipped me, but it does limit my ability to plan trips with family. I would love to take a family vacation (with a few of them at a time, not all of them, that would be miserable!) but given their limitations, we are probably going to meet up in Chicago. 

Desire to go elsewhere

Everyone has their own idea of a dream vacation. Some of my friends only have two paltry weeks of vacation per year (or less!) and they want to spend it checking off their own bucket lists rather than mine. I say go for it! (And use skyscanner…it’s one of the best places to find cheap flights!*)

 

I’m not going to hold the fact that they want to go someplace else against them. I’ll check off my bucket list while they check off theirs, and we can compare notes when we get home!

“Won’t you get lonely by yourself?”

Yes, I do get lonely. I’m a people person, I like people, and I like having friends around. But I am comfortable being by myself too. I am comfortable eating a meal by myself, relaxing in a room by myself, or exploring ruins by myself. Sometimes I do get lonely, but I don’t NEED someone to be with me. I would love to have someone experience the world with me, but I’m not going to limit myself because I don’t have that.

There’s one more tactic that many of my family members use to deviously try to discourage me from traveling solo: 

“You should find a tour group and go with them”

Good advice, on the surface. Tour groups are wonderful ways to see all of the super touristy attractions. They are a great option for people who just want to see those things, and are happy going with a big group. However, they are not for everyone, or for every situation. They tend to be over-priced and don’t leave a lot of room for individual exploration. I didn’t want to be stuck with a group for my entire vacation. I wanted to get out there, do my own thing, and explore the world! So that’s exactly what I did.

I’m not mad at them for suggesting it though. I know they just care and want me to be safe. I think I managed to stay safe traveling alone very well though, thank you very much!

Bottom Line

The bottom line here is don’t let anyone or anything hold you back. The world isn’t always a terrifying place that we need to be sheltered from. Accidents can happen anywhere. Terrorism can happen anywhere. We have an illusion of safety where we live because it is familiar. Familiarity doesn’t always equal safety. So live the life you want to live, for you, your way.

Viator 

 

*Links with this next to it are affiliate links. That means I’ll receive a small commission if you decide to click on it and buy something. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything extra!

Three Hokey Tourist Attractions in Prague

Hey folks! Transparency Disclosure- Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. That means I’ll receive a small commission if you decide to click on it and buy something. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything extra!

I love hokey tourist attractions! Every city that I visit usually has something silly to do, and Prague was no exception. I found three incredibly hokey tourist attractions in Prague that were absolutely amazing. Some were fun, some were educational, and some were outdated and incredibly strange. I loved it all! Here are the three hokey tourist attractions in Prague that I visited, I hope you find them as ridiculous and fun as I did!

Related:  Heading to Prague soon?  Check out the awesome tours available on Viator*!

Museum of Torture

The Museum of Torture, located just off of Old Town Square, was my favorite of the three hokey tourist attractions in Prague. This museum is located in the underground, a network of caverns underneath the modern day city. Some of them date back to the 14th century!

The ambiance of the underground enhanced the eeriness of the museum, ensuring a macabre experience. The museum housed real artifacts of medieval torture, with posters describing how these items were actually used. It also had drawings and reconstructions which illustrated (sometimes in graphic detail) the implements being used on victims. This museum is not for the faint of heart. Its terrifying to think that real people treated each other this way. It’s also good to know this history though, so we don’t make the same mistakes.  The only down side to the museum was that it had a recording of a woman screaming on repeat, which lost the spooky appeal quickly and was just annoying.

museum of torture
This one was pretty eerie!

Museum of Sex Machines

Yes, this a real thing. The Museum of Sex Machines is located in Old Town Square. I didn’t know what to expect, but it caught my attention and I had to check it out. The museum was actually really interesting! They even have an artifact (dildo) from pre-historic times, which anthropologists believe was really used for…stimulation. They also had an artifact from Ancient Greece. The proprietors of this museum did their homework, which was really impressive.

The majority of the artifacts were from 20th century, but I give the museum credit in that it had real artifacts on display. I thought they would only have illustrations and descriptions! The focus of the museum is BDSM (apparently that particular sexual activity lends itself to machines better than others, who would have thought?) and there were a few graphic machines, photographs, and descriptions. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it sure wasn’t a BDSM museum! I would totally recommend this museum to people who are interested in human sexuality. Maybe those folks could figure out some of the more confusing contraptions. Some of the exhibits were really intense though, so I wouldn’t recommend this museum to someone who is easily embarrassed or grossed out.

Museum of Sex Machines
I don’t even know what’s happening here

Museum of Ghosts and Legends

Prague is a very old city, and as such has a plethora of myths and legends surrounding ghosts, monsters, and other supernatural creatures. Many locals will say that it is the most haunted city in in the world! Given this rich history of things that go bump in the night, I had high hopes for the Museum of Ghosts and Legends, located across the Charles Bridge.

Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed. This museum was incredibly outdated. The few interactive displays they did have were very old and didn’t work properly anymore. I do love hokey, so I would have loved the old contraptions had they been operational! They had some figures and displays set up, but due to their age and upkeep most of these were more sad than spooky. Most of the museum was dedicated to pages and posts of text. I enjoyed reading the legends, but it was time consuming and I was hoping for something a little more interactive and a little spookier. This museum was definitely the hokiest of the hokey tourist attractions in Prague that I had time to check out.

Museum of Ghosts and Legends
Trying to hard to be Creepy

There are many other hokey tourist attractions that you can visit in Prague, which I unfortunately didn’t have time for. There is a mirror maze, a virtual reality ride, and even a second torture museum. I’d love to hear your experiences with any of these attractions!

 

Want to learn more about Hokey Prague? Check out the 8 ways Prague is like a Renaissance Faire!

*Links with this next to it are the affiliate links that we talked about above. We appreciate your readership!

Bar Hopping Nashville

Bar Hopping Nashville

After all the amazing things I’ve heard about Music City’s nightlife, I had no choice but to spend my first night bar hopping Nashville! Broadway Street in downtown Nashville is filled with clubs, bars, and, oddly enough, boot stores. It’s a perfect place for a bar hop! Most of the bars have live bands that play country rock all night long. Another great thing about Nashville (for me) is that Angry Orchard is a huge thing out there. Most bars have it in the bottle, and some even have it on tap! I wasn’t expecting to find my beloved cider in Nashville, but I was thrilled!

Big Bang Bar

We began Bar hopping Nashville at one of the first bars on the strip, Big Bang Bar. This place was huge, and also had a burger joint attached so you could start (or finish) your night of drinking with some greasy carbs if you so desire. Even with its large size, this bar was pretty packed. They had an awesome live band playing, but the crowds made it difficult to find a seat. The front of the bar has a beat up car with no roof on display which you can use for pictures. It was a fun atmosphere, but since we didn’t like the crowds too much, we decided to move on.

Bootleggers Inn

Our next stop on our Nashville Bar hop was the Bootleggers  Inn, about a block and a half down Broadway from the Big Bang. This place was a lot smaller, with a very divey feel to it. They also has a band playing, and the female singer was fantastic. She had an amazing voice that we were all completely sucked into. Her name is Justine Blazer, and I highly recommend you check out her website and facebook page. What an amazing talent!

This bar also had the most amazing drinks of the night – bootleg whisky margaritas in a variety of flavors. I ordered a strawberry banana (yes, they will mix flavors for you!) and it was one of the most delicious drinks I’ve ever tasted. It tasted like candy, so dangerous! The only drawback is that these margaritas were a bit pricey, at $7.5 each. When Justine’s band finished playing, we decided to find another place.

bar hopping nashville

BB Kings

We continued to Bar hop Nashville and made our way to BB Kings Blues Club.  This club place was so much fun that we ended up closing the place out! BB King’s Blues club is about a half a block north of Broadway on 2nd Avenue. This was the first bar that we encountered which had a cover, but it was only $5, and well worth it. The ambiance was fantastic, it was a comfortable lounge which was an elegant step up from the whisky dive bar that we had just enjoyed.

BB King’s has a professional stage built ready for the band, and also has a pretty decent sized dance floor. The band played a lot of blues which easily got the audience into a groove, and also played a nice mix of funk to keep the energy up. We had planned to just check out the bar for a few minutes then continue on to the Ugly Coyote next door, but we had so much fun dancing and grooving at BB Kings that we stayed there until last call.

Bar Hopping Nashville

Next Time

Unfortunately, since we had too much fun at BB Kings, we also missed out on bar hopping Nashville’s famed Printer’s Alley, which is a small pedestrian street filled with gritty country dive bars. I kind of made up for it by checking it out the next day (during the day) to see what all the fuss was about, and it actually looked very interesting! I think the next time I head out for a Bar hop in Nashville, Printer’s Alley will be at the top of my list!

Bar hopping Nashville

4 Pros (and Cons) of Sleeping in the Car during your next Road Trip

Will I have to sleep in the car???

Your road trip has been going great, but there is a small hiccup. It’s getting late, and all the hotels are flashing “No Vacancy”. Panic sets in,  you can’t possibly sleep in the car! What will you do for a bathroom? Is it even safe?

Relax! Would it really be all that terrible? I don’t think so. In fact, I planned my entire road trip around sleeping in the car! Although sleeping in the car has some limitations, it also has some pretty great advantages! Read on to check out the pros and cons:

Pro: More Money for Adventures!

Gas costs a lot, especially when you are driving across the county. Why pay an extra $100-150 per night to stay in a hotel? Even camp sites can cost up to $50 per night. You can avoid this altogether if you sleep in the car. It’s technically free! So if you are low on cash and still want to experience some great things that the world has to offer, consider spending your nights in the car.

Con: Safe, Legal Parking

The biggest snag to sleeping in the car is finding a safe, legal place to park. It can be difficult at times, but it is not impossible. Most truck stops allow overnight parking, and if you are on the federal interstate system (USA), these are pretty common. Check out this handy guide for truck stops on your route!

 If you are traveling on state routes and back roads, this can become a little tricky. Most Walmart stores allow overnight parking, especially in smaller rural areas. Walmart stores with overnight parking and truck stops are the safest places to sleep in your car, because there are often others doing the exact same thing. However, in a pinch, you can sleep on roads with residential parking or in other parking lots with lots of cars. On the last night of my road trip, I ended up sleeping in a Day’s Inn parking lot. I was terrified that I would be found out and towed!

Many hotels frown upon car sleepers, and some even take down license plates to prevent it. However, if it’s just for a night and you wake up early you should avoid detection. Also, the worst thing they will do is try to tow you, but if you are with the car, they will generally just ask you to move. The bottom line is that in a pinch, it’s doable. Safety is also a concern, but as long as you are parked with other cars and keep a low profile, nobody will notice you.

Safe Parking
Probably Not the Best Spot for Overnight Parking

Pro: Easy

Sleeping in the car is a lot easier than setting up a new camp site every night or checking into a hotel. Camp sites are cheaper than hotels, but they take a lot of work. You need to set up the tent, stake it, and get everything ready for the evening. Even checking into a hotel can be a hassle. When you sleep in the car, once you find a safe legal place to park, all you have to do is crawl into your bed. There are no forms to fill out, no lines, no tents to set up, and there are no beds to check for bedbugs…it really is a lot easier.

Con: Comfort

The back seat of a car doesn’t offer the comforts of a hotel bed. I’m a fairly short person, and I still couldn’t fully stretch out in the back seat of my small SUV. I tried sleeping in the back with the seats down, but that was even more uncomfortable. It was like sleeping on a slightly uneven floor. I didn’t bring enough cushions to make it cozy. Although the car wasn’t as comfortable as a normal bed, it wasn’t so uncomfortable that I couldn’t sleep. I got between 5-6 hours of good, uninterrupted sleep each night, and was well rested enough to continue my adventure each morning.

Pro: Wake up time!

It is not easy to oversleep in the car. I was up each morning when the first rays of sunshine alighted upon my face. Rising early gave me head start on the day, which gave me time to pack in more fun. Who wants to sleep until noon when the entire world is out there waiting for you to explore it?

Road Trip
Getting Ready to hit the Road!

Con: Hygiene

All hotels and campsites have easy access to bathrooms and showers so you can do your business, brush your teeth, and keep yourself clean. Most cars don’t have these thing (weird, huh?). The worst thing about sleeping in the car (for me) is that I generally have to pee really badly when I first wake up. Because of this annoying fact of my life, I had to find a place to sleep that was close to a toilet. Walmart stores and Truck stops worked the best. I also borrowed their sinks (and random gas station sinks) to brush my teeth. Many truck stops have cheap showers too, if you need it (after a few days in the car, trust me, you need it). It’s actually pretty easy to take care of your basic hygiene while sleeping in the car. One pro tip is to bring some wet wipes, so if you are off on a state route or back road, you can keep your most sensitive bits clean if you don’t have access to a shower.

Pro: Freedom!!!!

The freedom of sleeping in the car is unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Imagine not being glued to an itinerary. Envision not having to get to that pre-booked room or campsite. Think about how it would feel to be able to stop wherever you want, and be able to change your plans at a moment’s notice. Imagine being free. And imagine not worrying about any no vacancy signs! Experiencing this freedom makes the small discomforts barely noticeable. This immense freedom comes with the small decision to forget about modern conventions and sleep in the car.

I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to plan a road trip around sleeping in my car. I was nervous, and on that last night I even asked about hotel vacancies (there were none, which is why I ended up in the parking lot). I’m glad there was no vacancy though. I’m glad I was forced to stick to my original plan and sleep in the car. I learned that I don’t need a comfy bed every night. I learned to make the best of what I had, and as a bonus, I saved a lot of money. Live free. Sleep in the car.

Road Trip
The Open Road Awaits!
                                                                                               

Exploring the Culture of Fandom through a Supernatural Convention

I got an amazing peek into the culture of fandom when I went to a Supernatural Convention in Nashville, TN. It may seem odd that a travel blogger is writing about a television show convention, but one of my favorite things about travel is getting a glimpse into a variety of cultures around the world. Sometimes though, we forget that there are a variety of cultures right here in the US. Going to the Supernatural Convention gave me the opportunity to experience the American culture of Fandom. more “Exploring the Culture of Fandom through a Supernatural Convention”

Prepare for the Worst – Preparing for loss and theft while traveling

How can we prepare for the worst while traveling? We can follow all sorts of advice, do all the right things, and still be a victim of a pickpocket or mugger. We are also human, and may at times misplace our wallets and purses, never to be seen again. These situations suck, but these things happen.  If we aren’t prepared for them, they can turn what was supposed to be a wonderful adventure into a torturous nightmare. more “Prepare for the Worst – Preparing for loss and theft while traveling”

Our Erroneous Attempt at a Detour through the Black Forest

The Black Forest is magical and mysterious, it’s the inspirational back drop to the Grimm Fairy Tales, which was the primary reason that I wanted to go.  Our originally itinerary was to go from Brussels to Zurich via train, and as it appeared on the map, the train basically went through the Black Forest, so I thought it would be easy to take a short detour through it before continuing on our route.  more “Our Erroneous Attempt at a Detour through the Black Forest”