Why I Can’t Recommend Mount Rushmore

Mount, Mt., Rushmore, SD

Guest Post: By Jess Roberts

Most of you know Jess by now. She's my trusty travel companion & agreed to write about our Mount Rushmore experience. It's slightly different than other Mt. Rushmore posts ...

Let me start by making a confession. I…am…Canadian.

Yes, I said it. Whew. Now that I’ve come clean about that, I have another (not so little) secret. I love the US. Seriously. I have been obsessed with the US since I was a teenager and traveled to Philadelphia for the first time. I was pretty sure I belonged there and planned on moving across the border as soon as I could.

That didn’t work out. Turns out it’s kind of hard to move to America, and it’s a lot easier to just stay wherever you call home. But I still had dreams of seeing the things that the US had to offer. I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, the Space Needle, the Golden Gate Bridge, and yes…I wanted to see Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore always represented the epitome of American sightseeing to me. It’s faces of presidents carved into a mountain. Like really. How much more American can you get? So, as we started our journey toward the Dakotas, I was starting to get really excited.

Unfortunately, there were several factors that slowly let the air out of my proverbial tires until I came to the conclusion that I just can’t recommend going to see Mount Rushmore.

4 reasons why I can’t recommend Mount Rushmore:

1. The drive 
Mount Rushmore is smack dab in the middle of nothing and zilch. If you’re going that way anyway (like we were), then you might as well stop by and check it out. But I definitely would not suggest going out of your way just for that.

Taken after paying for parking ... $11 to park!
Taken after paying for parking ... $11 to park!
The free view of Mount Rushmore.
The free view of Mount Rushmore.

2. The price 
Technically, seeing the monument is free. But parking is $11.00.  So if you don’t bring your car and decide to start your hike up the mountain at 3 am to make sure you catch a glimpse of it before they close it down for the night, then it’s totally free.

I’m exaggerating a bit. But it felt a little like extortion to charge that much to park in a lot for 15 minutes. And they know that nobody is just going to turn around and be like “Nope, screw the faces in the mountain … that’s too gosh darn much.” Everyone is going to grumble about it and then hand over their credit card because there’s no point in even being there if not to see this monument.

A viewpoint (free) before getting to Mt. Rushmore
A viewpoint (free) before getting to Mt. Rushmore
Mt. Rushmore map
Mt. Rushmore map

That being said, on the drive up the mountain, there’s a few areas to pull off the road to see Rushmore before you make it to the place where they will ask you to empty out your life savings to pay for parking. The last pullout that you hit before the parking lot has an awesome view, and is totally worth stopping and taking a picture from there (for free) and skipping the $11.00 view.

3. Dogs aren’t allowed
This has been a problem all along and I’ve come to expect it now; but it’s still frustrating every time I see that “No Dogs” sign. You can have them outside the actual monument area but don’t even think about trying to get a picture of Fido in front of those faces.

Dog, Mount, Mt., Rushmore, cheap, free
Barney checkin' out the monument from the free/dogs-allowed spot.

4. It’s only average
The fourth and final reason why I can’t recommend Mount Rushmore was that it’s a little underwhelming. Yes, it’s a feat of human perseverance and all that. It is quite picturesque, but it’s a lot smaller than I realized and honestly…

…it’s just okay.

It didn’t take my breath away. There wasn’t a really awesome story behind it. It was fine. And if someone asked about it, “fine” is pretty much the only word that I could really come up with for the entire experience.

** A Bonus Rant!

Crazy Horse, free, photo
15 mins from Mt. Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Memorial. This picture is free if you have a zoom lens. All you have to do is get out of your car before the pay booths, snap a picture and then turn around. This little trick will save you $11/person or $22/car. Ah hahaha!!! HA! Ah ahhaha! Alright that's all.

6 Ways to Discover Upstate New York

Upstate New York
– As in NOT New York City –

Elmira College
Elmira College

Well, let’s just be honest … Upstate New York has been living in the shadow of New York City for quite awhile now. It’s hard to compete with 8.3 million people, Broadway shows and the Statue of Liberty!

But …. Let’s slow it down a bit and head to the north and west of New York STATE … and see if there’s anything worth checking out! If you ever drive to NYC there is a good chance that you will drive through New York State and there are some pretty awesome things to see along the way!

Jess, Barney and I headed to Elmira, NY to visit a friend who we taught english with in China.

Here’s what we discovered:

Wine-Tasting … mmmm
New York is home to some huge wineries and all of them want you to try their wine. The Finger Lakes have tons of wineries! So get some friends together, book a limo or cab and taste your way through Upstate New York. 

Wine Tasting

Visit a Small Town
There are tons of cool little towns in New York. They all have a unique culture and atmosphere that is worth checking out. There’s an interesting blend of cultures in small town New York. People have the efficient business culture of New York City, but it is combined with the down-to-earth mentality found in small town america.
Some places to start with: Cold SpringAuroraCorning, or Skaneateles 

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls separates the United States and Canada and it is undoubtedly an impressive site. If you have time (and your passport), swing on over to the Canadian side … it’s just better.

Niagara Falls - US side

The Finger Lakes
A group of 11 huge & narrow lakes make for a great place to go swimming, boating, kayaking, wine tasting or sailing! These lakes are a popular tourist destination and beautifully portray the outdoors of Upstate New York.
Random Suggestion:  Rent a cabin on the Lake, swim during the day and go wine tasting in the evenings. 

River

Glass Blowing in Corning
The Corning Museum of Glass is awesome! You can see over 3,500 years of glass blowing history along with some really cool shows. Corning Glass is a massive glass business in the United States and the museum shows the fascinating process of shaping and working with glass.
It costs $18-25 and kids (under 17) are free. You can see actual demonstrations and shows of real glass blowing and they even give you the opportunity to blow your own glass … it’s a pretty cool experience!

glass, blowing, corning, museum
cool, glass, display, corning, museum, beautiful

Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen State Park is as good as it gets for camping and hiking. If you are the outdoors type, plan on spending a night or two immersed in Watkins Glen … you will be surrounded by lakes, mountains and forests worthy of any outdoor enthusiast. 

A Christmas Story – Visit The Leg Lamp!

A Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and “this thing which tells time.” That’s all that Ralphie Parker wanted for Christmas!

 And what about the Old Man ranting and swearing a stream of profanities that “is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.”

Of course this is all from that great film, “A Christmas Story”
YOU can see it all in real life!
Cleveland, Ohio

A Christmas Story, leg lamp, house, ralphie

This house was renovated and restored to resemble the house in “A Christmas Story.”

Most of the movie was actually filmed in a sound studio, but the outside shots, back yard scenes, and the infamous  Lamp in the Window scene were indeed filmed at this house in Cleveland, OH. 

leg lamp

Tickets and Admission

Adults: $10.00
Children 7 to 12: $6.00
(Children 6 & under: FREE)
Seniors: $8.00

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During the tour, you can go into the house, take pictures and check out some of the most famous props from the movie! It was all very exciting! 

Quick Tip!  Don’t park in the lot right next to the house … it will be the one with guys waving flags and directing you into their driveway so they can screw you out of $5. Just drive 10 more seconds and park on the street … it’s free! 

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Yes … you too can take your picture next to the leg lamp in fishnet stockings!
For more information  on the house, the movie or the museum check out:

AChristmasStoryHouse.com

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A Fun Day in Chicago

Chicago, night, skyline

For this post I’m not going to give you a “Top … Things To Do” list or a bunch of suggestions of things to see and conquer during your trip to Chicago. This is partly because Jess and I are still on the road, I’m completely backed up with articles to write and … well, perhaps I’m feeling rather lazy today.

BUT!!!!! ………  The biggest reason for this lackadaisical post is because Chicago is a city that must be experienced. Chicago is a city that you can only love by walking the streets, eating pizza, meandering the water’s edge, sitting in parks and in front of fountains. Chicago must be felt!

The Bean, Chicago, self, portrait
Cloud Gate (the bean)

Chicago is the 3rd largest city in the US by population (Fun Fact: the 3rd largest by size is Houston, TX) and there is no doubt about that when you first arrive. The skyline is 2nd only to New York City (Another Fun Fact: I am writing this post from NYC) and the architecture and scope of museums, parks, fountains and buildings is overwhelming and awesome!

Chicago, America, flag, US flag flying

I love Chicago and it’s one of the few places I could almost see myself living. There’s a personality to the city that seems to almost challenge you when you get there … it’s almost like there is an invitation that hangs over you in Chicago, as if to say, “So … do you think you could cut it in Chicago?” Well if you can, it’s a city that will never stop giving!

Whew! Well that building tour was something eh?

If you want to see all those buildings check out the Free Walking Tour for Chicago! They do a pretty good job and it will give you a chance to hear some of the cool history and how Chicago burned to the ground in 1871.  It’s definitely worth learning about while you’re there.

Chicago, skyline, dog, pics, photo, stares
Nature, City, birds, geese, taking, flight, fly, urban

Alright, well now that you know next to nothing about Chicago, but you’ve seen some pretty awesome pictures!! … Let’s close with some words of wisdom from Dan:

  • Don’t Park Downtown! Holy crap it is soooo expensive, I was mad for a week about the parking downtown. Take the L-Train and avoid parking at all costs!
  • Do a Walking Tour – It’s good exercise, free and a good way to orient yourself and learn something about Chicago.
  • Go to the Adler Planetarium – I’m not going to recommend going inside, but go there for the awesome view of the Chicago Skyline. Barney is viewing the city from the Adler Planetarium (2 photos above).
  • See the Art Institute of Chicago – Whether you’re into Museums of not, this is massively famous and they have some really cool stuff in here! Even if you’re a Proud-to-be-Philistine … even you will recognize a few things here 😉
  • Eat Pizza – Chicago’s deep dish pizza really is delicious.
  • Don’t Park Downtown! – Did I mention that already? Yeah, seriously don’t do it; you’ll be mad for a week.
Buckingham Fountain
Crown Fountain

5 Things That Make Minneapolis Unique!

Searching For Your Zen’s:
100th Post!

Thanks for everyone who has followed the journey and read along … it really does mean a lot!
Today’s post comes to you from Jess (Searching For Your Zen’s biggest fan)!

Minneapolis

For this Guest Post, Jess tells us about some of the highlights of passing through the Twin Cities during the Great American Road Trip. 

Drinking From a Coconut

Leaving Montana felt like leaving a friend. It was comfortable, warm and welcoming, and I felt connected to it for some reason. We made a quick stop in North Dakota for a night to visit Dan’s brother, and then headed on to Minnesota. I was a little hesitant as we rolled into Minnesota. The midwest is often portrayed on TV and in movies (ie. Mashall’s family in “How I Met Your Mother”) as really boring, nerdy, and basically uncool.

Luckily, Minneapolis proved to be the exact opposite of that! It was lively, fun, and cool … Super cool! The people there have pride in their city, but also seem humble … as though years of TV shows making fun of them has made them feel under-appreciated.

So, here are a few reasons why Minneapolis is a gem of a city, worthy of praise, and well worth stopping in next time you’re driving through:

1. Coffee Shops, Bars and Restaurants
We only spent about a day and a half in the city, but the coffee and service at Sovereign Grounds coffee shop is worth raving about. The beer selection and board games at Chatterbox Bar are also top notch, and the fish and chips at Brit’s Pub couldn’t have been better. If only we could have stayed to try more…

Sovereign Grounds

2. Arts and festival culture
Our visit was surrounded by festivals and art exhibits. There was an India festival before we got there, an exhibit on Da Vinci’s notebook after we got there, and there was supposed to be a music and food festival while we were there (it ended up getting rained out). It seemed like no matter what time we picked to be in Minneapolis, there was something artsy and fun going on. Our couch-surfing host took us to see a silent movie that was made in the 1920’s that was scored by a live band in the theatre that night. It was a really fun experience and from what I could tell, it was just one of many events that they do in the city to try to engage the residents.

Oh, and there’s also this sculpture garden that you should go check out. It has the famous “Spoon and Cherry” sculpture among other fun and sometimes interactive sculptures.

Minneapolis

3. Bike culture
Bike culture is huge in Minneapolis. It’s one of the most bike friendly cities in the USA and I don’t think I’ve seen that many people on bikes since Amsterdam. They offer bikes for rent that can be returned to stands in many other places in the city and have made the city very easy to navigate on a bicycle.

Uptown Minneapolis
Minneapolis Spoon

4. Lakes
The lakes seemed to be the thing that residents of Minneapolis were most proud to show off. There is a chain of lakes within the city that have paths around them with tons of people walking, riding their bikes, and jogging. They also have docks that you can fish off of, and places to swim or hang out on the beach.

Calhoun Lake Minneapolis

5. Mill City and the Mississippi River
Mill City is a flour mill with a troubled past. Built in 1874, it exploded in 1878 killing 18 people. It was rebuilt, but then over 100 years later it almost burned down again. The remains from the fire can still be seen from the Mississippi River as you walk down the Stone Arch Bridge. It has been turned into a museum which runs tours Tuesday-Sunday and costs $12.00 for adults.

Mill City Museum

Bonus! 
The Mall of America is in Minneapolis, but don’t tell the locals you went there :/

Minneapolis has so many great things and a ginormous mall has a way of taking the limelight away. Check it out, but really try to experience all those other things that make Minneapolis a unique city!

Mall of America

Barney’s Version – Missoula, Montanta

My mom and Dan packed me up after we were done in Glacier National Park and we headed off to Missoula, MT. I think we left in such a hurry because I started a fight with a Great Dane and showed him who’s the boss around these parts and we had to keep moving in case there were other monstrous dogs to keep in line.

*Jess side note – Barney tried to show the Great Dane who’s the boss, and was instantly shown that the Great Dane was indeed the boss.

Dog Camping

The first night in Missoula, we drove around a lot because we couldn’t find a campground. We finally found one but they made us camp out in a field in front of the office … we didn’t even have our own site! The parentals were pretty upset but I didn’t see what the big deal was, there were plenty of good pee places!

The next night we stayed at a KOA though… we really like KOA (Kampgrounds of America)! They have big sites to pee on, pools (but I’m not allowed in), wi-fi which keeps Dan happy and they even had a dog park for ME!

Either way, I’m finally getting used to this whole “camping” thing. We had a spot in the middle of some trees and a squirrel kept coming down and taunting me, but I couldn’t have a squirrel lunch because Mom tied me up. Apparently “camping” means being tied to things all day and sitting around something hot that makes my eyes burn called a “campfire” … I think I’m still afraid of it :/

The Big "M"

Missoula, Montana

Missoula was my favourite place that I have ever been. As we drove there, I stared out the window and watched all the mountains go by. Once we were there, we went to a carousel (which I couldn’t ride, but I watched). People who were riding the horses kept trying to grab for some rings that were beside the carousel. Apparently if you get a special one, you win a free ride on the horses.

Missoula Carousel

Missoula Carousel

The Buttercup Market Cafe

The Buttercup Market Cafe

We went to coffee shops and as I was laying on the sidewalk at one of the coffee shops, a mail lady went by and gave me a cookie!! Can you believe it? The people in Missoula are so nice! We also went to my favourite dog park in the world called Jacob’s Island Dog Park. I got to run through trees, hop over rock beds and splash in the river. All in the same park!

Orange Acres Farm

Orange Acres Farm

At Jacob's Island Dog Park in Missoula

Barney by the River

Flathead River

Flathead River, Montana

We decided to give camping a break and stay on a farm! There were two other dogs, some chickens (real ones, not like my  toy Chicken), sheep, rabbits, and a bunch of people who stayed and helped on the farm and who pet me whenever they saw me. I loved it on the farm. My mom and Dan helped out too while they were there.

So there I was, hanging out with Dan by the rabbit hutches when, completely unprovoked and out of the blue, a wasp stung me! I took it like the big tough dog that I am. (Dan side note – He actually did not handle it well) But my eye got really sore and itchy. My mom gave me something to help with the swelling and it knocked me out so I spent most of the rest of the day pretty out of it and napping. When I would go outside, I was kind of jumpy around other little creatures. Who knew that something so small could hurt you so much?

Poor Barney Got Stung By a Hornet

Dog Stung by Bee

Anyway, the other people on the farm thought I was a good boy and well behaved and they invited me back if I want to come be a farm dog for awhile. Oh and I guess Jess and Dan were invited along too.

And before I forget! I am a swimmer now. No big deal really, I just swam in the river for the first time …. ALONE!

Barney's First Swim!

Dog Learning to Swm

Barney Can Swim!

Barney Swims

See you at the dog park,
Barney
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