Jul 20

Stone Arch Bridge –  Minnesota

Stone Bridge and skyline
There is only one like it over the entire 2,320 miles of the Mississippi River.  Built in 1883 by a railroad baron, the Stone Arch Bridge is truly unique.  2100 feet long with 23 bricked arches the Stone Arch Bridge has the distinction of being a National Civil Engineering Landmark. It is also one of the Twin Cities most iconic symbols.
Old Stone Bridge Minneapolis
The railroad stopped using it in 1965 and the bridge now serves as walking/biking path.  It has great views of St. Anthony Falls, the Minneapolis skyline, and overlooks the Mill Park Ruins.  There are lots of things to see in area, but if you have the time visit the Stone Arch Bridge and the waterfall.  It was a great place to get out and take a stroll.  There are some nice restaurant options just a stone’s throw away from the bridge.  As well as the highly rated Mill City Museum.  This is the place to see where Minneapolis was born.
Stone Arch Bridge
My girls and I took a lovely walk across the bridge.  It was fun to see them enjoy the outdoor walk in the city.  Just talk about the things they had seen and enjoyed on our trip.  Of course, we have those walks and talks in our neighborhood all the time.  However, there is just something extra special about building those bonding memories on vacation.

For more of our reviews of Minnesota attractions, click here

Stone Arch Bridge
Located at 100 Portland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 54401
Hours of Operation: 6 a.m. to midnight 365 days a year
Cost as of this Posting: Free
For more information visit their website at  https://www.minneapolisparks.org/parks__destinations/historical_sites/stone_arch_bridge/

 

Jul 17

Great Zoo Exhibit: Tropics Trail

Tropics Trail
As my oldest daughter said, “it is a never-ending rainforest.”  The Tropics Trail is a wonderful immersion exhibit found at the Minnesota Zoo. It’s my daughters favorite exhibit.  Easy to see why.  Lots of fun entertaining animals to see.  Tons of variety as well as a large aquarium enclosure.  The Tropics Trail really had it all or at least it seemed that way.  Making this great zoo exhibit a never-ending rain forest.
Monkeys enclosure
I could imagine that during the height of winter in Minnesota the Tropics Trail is a popular destination.  A way to escape the frozen North.  Also, a way to add a bit of color to what is a white winter.  From the green flora to the bright tropical colors of the animals.  A quick trip to a warmer climate during the doldrums of a Minneapolis wintertime.
tropics aquarium
The Tropics Trail is a 21st century exhibit that is one of the better rainforests that we have visited.  Any exhibit that recreates an immersive like feeling is a real treat.  Much better than the old bars and concrete of yesteryear.  The large variety of animals on display already puts the Tropics Trail into a must-see category. Then add the small touches like a crawl through log with windows into an animal’s enclosure, the large tropical pond and reef to see, and just the sheer size of the exhibit help make the Minnesota Zoo one of the best.
Dwarf Caiman
Animals from Asia and Africa are well represented at the Tropics Trail.  Red river hogs, lemurs, tapirs, and African fruit bats just to name a few.  Birds and monkeys also have a strong presence along the trail.  Most species seem to have a pretty decent space, free flight areas, or lots of room to climb up.  The only one that I felt a little apprehensive about was the tapir.  Such a large animal to be in an entirely indoor area, though it seemed happy.  As well as willing to mate having a baby born in 2015.
Flamingo Cove
My eldest liked it all.  She loves all things rainforest.  We go to the library a lot and nine times out of ten she is checking out at least one book on the rainforest.  More like two or three.  So, this was a fascinating visit for her.  Mine and our youngest daughter’s favorite was the tropical reef.  You see it from walkway above it.  Where it actually looks a little small then you take the trail down to eye level and it’s really a nice size tank filled with lots of tropical fish.  The only thing missing was a sea turtle.  My wife enjoyed the large pond area with the gibbons and tropical birds.
Tropical Bird
The three immersive exhibits at the Minnesota Zoo make this a fine zoo to visit.  Hard to pic which one is the best I liked the Grizzly Coast, my daughter liked the Tropics Trail, and the Minnesota Trail is another good one.  Take a trip to the Minnesota Zoo to find out which one you think is best.

To see our other reviews of Minnesota attractions, click here
Tropics Trail Sign
Minnesota Zoo
Location: 13000 Zoo Boulevard, Apple Valley Minnesota
Hours of Operation: Summer Months May through September 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with extended hours on Saturday and Sunday and October through April 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. closed Thanksgiving and Christmas
Cost as of this Posting: Ages 13-64 $18.00 Ages 3 to 12 and 65 and over are $12.00
For more information visit their website at http://www.mnzoo.org/

Jul 16

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
One of the iconic views of Minneapolis can be found at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.  The Spoonbridge and Cherry with the Minneapolis skyline in the background.  Albeit it was not the best conditions to see that beautiful skyline on a cloudy day.  Sometimes you just have to make the best of the situation which we did.
Minneapolis Garden
We had already had a jam-packed morning with seeing Minnehaha Falls, waiting out a storm, and the Minnesota Zoo.  We grabbed a quick bite to eat for lunch and made the drive up to see Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.  By the time we got there our youngest was fast asleep in the car.  Not wanting to disturb her rest. My wife who was pregnant at the time volunteered to stay in the car while I took our oldest out to see the sculpture garden.  It is always fun to spend time with my girls, but it is extra special when I get some one-on-one time with them.
M art
Once again, I am not the greatest appreciator of art.  I can enjoy it, like seeing it, but to dive into who made what, why, what is the deeper understanding goes to a level I do not want to go.  Some of it, at least to me, is downright strange and beyond my humble level of understanding.  The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden brings out all of those things.  Seeing the big blue rooster that was interesting.  Trying to figure out why somebody would make a giant rooster and paint it blue that is where the world of art leaves me in the dark.  Watching my oldest and seeing what she liked and did not like made walking around the area a lot of fun.
Big Blue Rooster
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is an 11-acre park that showcases more than 40 works of art.  Its most popular piece is the giant spoon with the cherry on top.  Though I found other pieces much more attractive to my art cultural sense (or lack thereof.)  It had just been reopened at around the time of our visit, but since we had never been there before not for sure exactly what had changed.  Though the website says it is better than ever.  I guess I will just have to take their word for it.
LOVE
Another part of our visit to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden that I found interesting was the people.  It was fascinating seeing the tourist and locals having a good day at the park.  Being born, raised and raising a family in a deeply conservative state then going to a place like Minneapolis and seeing how the other half lives was thought-provoking.  I am sure there is one out there and if not there needs to be of just an American cultural study of different areas.  Social norms, cultural acceptance, what is deemed appropriate in the different regions of the country.  In this political, cultural, and economic divide that seems to be gripping America ever since the turn of the century.  It would be a fascinating read.  I think more people should travel because it sharpens our viewpoint of reality to see things as they are instead of thinking how things may be.

To see our reviews of other Minnesota attractions, click here
Spoon and Cherry
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Located at 726 Vineland Place, Minneapolis, MN
Hours of Operation 6 a.m. to midnight 365 days a year
Cost as of this Posting: Free
For more information visit their website at https://walkerart.org/visit/garden

Jul 12

Minnehaha Falls – Minnesota

minnehaha waterfall
One of the most visited and must see stops in Minneapolis is Minnehaha Falls Regional Park.  With close to a million-people visiting the area every year.  Minnehaha Park offers lots of things to do from running and biking trails, a wading pool, dog park, outdoor concerts and restaurant dinning.  This is Minneapolis at its finest.
Top of the Falls
We only had a day in Minneapolis so spending it at Minnehaha Park was not in the cards for us.  I wanted to make the most of our time in the city.  My plan was to get up early and head to see the centerpiece of the park its 53-foot waterfall. Luckily (heavy sarcasm in most cases just not on this day) our kids are up at 6 on the dot every morning.  So, after our early morning wakeup call, a few quick trips to the hotel lobby area to get everybody breakfast, and a nice “yeah, its ok if you want to go see the falls now” from my wife and I was on my way.
minnehaha falls
As soon as I got on HWY 55 I get a call from my parents.  Now normally this would be a bit of a strange call coming this early in the morning.  But this particular trip was a big family trip with them meeting us later that day in Minnesota.  So, I answered and the first thing out of their mouths is “are you watching the weather?”  A natural reaction of why and they inform me there is a tornado warning in some unknown town to me in Minnesota.  Not the biggest help there, but I look up at the sky see that it is grey and not too menacing.  I told them I would keep an eye on it and continue on my way.  As soon as I got off the phone I flipped through several local radio stations and nothing.  Figuring everything is ok I continued on my way.
Stairway
After a few minutes, I arrived at the park to see Minnehaha Falls.  Still wondering where the bad weather is at and how close.  But I get a false sense of comfort as I see several people going out for their morning jog in the park.  Not 100% sure where the falls is located I drive around looking for some place to park.  Once finding what looks like one of the larger areas to park and figuring it should be close to the falls I park.  Lucky guess.  I went through a large pavilion like place saw the bridge that sits directly over the falls and took the path down to its base.
minnehaha falls mn
Minnehaha Falls is a gorgeous waterfall.  Set in a little limestone gorge area with a scenic bridge that is just right to sit on to take in the falls.  It almost made me forget that it was located in one of America’s largest metropolitan areas.  I stayed for several minutes just soaking it in took several pictures and then followed the trail to the other side.  Knowing that I had my family waiting back at the hotel for me.  I hurried back up the stairs got back in the car when the radio was telling me a storm was on its way.

A quick drive home and back up to the hotel room just as the deluge of rain that was headed our way started.  I don’t recall the previous time I saw rain flying in sideways but it did that day.  Fortunately, it was not as bad as it could have been.  Some parts of the city got some decent sized hail, but no tornados. We waited out most of the rain before we ventured out to see what else Minneapolis had to offer.

To see reviews of other Minnesota Waterfalls, click here

Minnehaha Falls
Located at 4801 South Minnehaha Park Dr. Minneapolis, MN
Minnehaha Falls are near the NW corner of the park just south of Godfrey Parkway
Pay lots at the park
Park Hours 6 a.m. to midnight
Easy paved hike a few hundred yards with stairs down to the base of the falls.

Jul 09

Great Zoo Exhibit: Grizzly Coast

grizz
The Grizzly Coast is one of three total immersion exhibits found in the Minnesota Zoo.  An incredible exhibit that swept us to the Russian Far East.  This was our second trip to the Minnesota Zoo. Thanks to exhibits like the Grizzly Coast it still holds up as one of our favorite zoos we have ever visited.
Amur leopards
Opened in 2008 The Grizzly Coast exhibit has won many awards and accolades since its completion.  It is definitely one of our all-time favorite exhibits.   Home to grizzlies, Amur leopards, sea otters and wild boars.  It is not so much the number of animals on display but the quality of their enclosures.  Each of their habitats are large by any zoo standard.  They also went above and beyond when it came to the visuals of the Grizzly Coast.  With steaming geysers and bubbling mud-pots the only thing was missing was the stink of sulfur.  I am glad they left that stone unturned.
grizzly enclosure
This was my favorite exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo.  My eldest would say the “never ending” rainforest was better.  While my wife liked their Minnesota Trail area because it is an indoor-outdoor exhibit.  Usually it’s a great zoo visit when they have one great zoo exhibit.  The Minnesota Zoo has three of them.
boar
The grizzly exhibit is very impressive.  Large swimming hole with live trout. Geysers, mist, and smoke to make it look like the Kamchatka Peninsula.  The wild boar pit is large, rocky, and muddy.  The boars were huge and when they stood up on their hind legs climbing up the side way to reach the branches above.  They stood as tall as a man.  The Amur leopards in their large enclosure were playing a cat and mouse game with each other.  Chasing from one side to the other.  Of course, one could not forget the sea otters.  Otters swimming around are always a crowd favorite.
mn zoo sea otters
The immersion exhibits are always a real treat to see at any zoo we visit.  It is great to see animals in as close to a natural space as can be had at a zoo.  Watching grizzlies hunt for fish or go for a swim is an incredible experience.  Even if it is in a controlled setting.  Getting a chance to visit a zoo with high quality exhibits just gets us excited about the next time we can head to the wild and see the real thing.

To see our other reviews of Minnesota attractions, click here
Grizzly Coast
Minnesota Zoo
Location: 13000 Zoo Boulevard, Apple Valley Minnesota
Hours of Operation: Summer Months May through September 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with extended hours on Saturday and Sunday and October through April 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. closed Thanksgiving and Christmas
Cost as of this Posting: Ages 13-64 $18.00 Ages 3 to 12 and 65 and over are $12.00
For more information visit their website at http://www.mnzoo.org/

Jul 08

Vermillion Falls – Hastings, MN

Vermillion Falls
While headed to Minneapolis we decided to make a quick detour on our way to the hotel and visit Vermillion Falls.  This waterfall is located in downtown Hastings just on the outskirts of the Twin Cities.  A factory on one side the city park making up the other.  Vermillion Falls is not the most scenic Minnesota waterfall we have visited but was one of the quickest to get to.
Path to the waterfall
Vermillion Falls is a 35-foot waterfall that is about as wide as it is tall.  From the parking lot head, directly straight across to pick up the short trail to the falls.  Unfortunately, the observation deck only has an semi-obstructed.  Supposedly there is a well-worn but unofficial trail that will led to the base of the falls.  I was with my youngest daughter who was not quite three at the time we saw the Vermillion Falls.  So, I was not planning on looking for any trail that would take us down into the gorge.
Grace at Vermillion Falls
Out of all the waterfalls that we saw in Minnesota this one would rank down towards the bottom of the pack.  Not to say I regret going or it was disappointing.  There was just a lot of things going against it.  Some of them being not the waterfalls part.  First it was after a long day of driving the wife and kids were getting just a bit anxious to get to the hotel.  To their credit when asked if they would rather skip it they all said no. As long as it was a quick visit.  Second the view from the observation deck is not the best.  Third the large factory located right next to it takes away some of its beauty.   Still if you are a fan of waterfalls it is worth a stop.  Just think of Vermillion Falls as an appetizer to the full course meal of waterfalls that await you in the state.

To see our reviews of other Minnesota attractions, click here.

Vermillion Falls
Located at 215 21st ST E Hastings, MN
About 200 yards away from the parking lot
Cost to visit Free
For more information visit the cities website at http://www.hastingsmn.gov/Home/Components/FacilityDirectory/FacilityDirectory/46/485?npage=2

Jul 03

Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens – Des Moines

Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens
The Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens is a fabulous freebie in Des Moines, Iowa.  Created by an endowment by the Chinese Cultural Center of America.  This small stunning riverside downtown garden is worth a stop.  It won’t take long.  The Chinese pagoda coupled with the Des Moines skyline is a visual treat.
Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens Entrance
Des Moines is a city full of surprises. The Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens like the sculptural garden were unexpected hits for us.  The Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens sits on the east bank of the Des Moines River on 1.7 acres.  It is small public garden that has a single path that goes from end to end.  Each part of the garden represents different positive character traits.  For example, the Path for Peace or the Bridge for Friendship.
Garden
The manicured paths, bonsai-like evergreens and other green perennials, the stonework and boulders all made this a nice Asian garden.  The large pagoda overlooking the river makes the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens a nice visit.  We were in and out in just a handful of minutes, but it was a great scenic stop.  Fun to photograph.  What more could you ask for in a free visit.

To see our reviews of other Iowa attractions, click here
Des Moines Asian Gardens
Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens
Located on Robert D. Ray Dr. between University and Grand Ave, Des Moines, Iowa
Hours of Operation Open 24/7
Cost as of this Posting: Free
For more information visit their website at http://www.cccaiowa.org/files/riverfront.htm

Jun 30

Dunnings Spring – Decorah Iowa

Dunnings Spring Falls
Dunnings Spring, Iowa’s most breathtaking waterfall.  Located in the small town of Docorah in the northeastern part of the state. A bit out of the way from the interstate but worth it.  Dunning Spring is a cascading waterfall that drops 200-feet over its course.  With the main part of the falls dropping 40 feet.
Adventures
It was a hot day in June during our visit.  Walking up to those falls and feeling the cool mist of Dunnings Spring was a refreshing treat.  They have a nice stone bridge at the parking lot that leads to the top of the falls which comes out of the mouth of a cave. It is roughly a hundred yards or so up to the top of the trail.  I took my eldest up to the top and she did great with it.
Family Time
Dunnings Spring is found off a small narrow road that leads to the base of the falls.  There is a small parking lot with only a few spots. We were there on semi busy day and it was a bit of a hassle.  We lucked out and were driving up just as somebody was leaving.  Others were not so fortunate.  However, any issue you might have with parking Dunning Springs is worth it.

To see our other reviews of Iowa attractions, click here.
Dunnings Spring Park
Dunnings Spring
Located at 203 Quarry St, Decorah, Iowa
Hours of Operation: Dawn to Dusk
Cost as of this Posting: Free
For more information visit their website at http://www.visitdecorah.com/business/dunnings-springs

Jun 29

Pappajohn Sculpture Park – Des Moines

Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Home to towering works of art.  The Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines was an interesting and fun visit for my family.  Around four and half acres to roam around in and over 2 dozen works of art by different artists.  It was the perfect blend of something unique for my girls to see while giving them a chance to stretch their legs after a long drive.
Des Moines Fun
When our eldest was just a baby and we could strap her to us and it was not a big deal to go and see an art museum.  She loved going for walks in her BabyBjorn.  Always quiet while we would walk around and take in the art on display.  Of course, once she out grew it we become a little apprehensive about taking her to an art museum.  Would she enjoy it?  What happens if she gets bored too quickly?  After a visit to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park we might have found the perfect compromise and a good way to introduce a little art culture to our girls.
Des Moines Sculpture Garden
The Pappajohn Sculpture Park was a surprise for us in Des Moines.  When I think of Des Moines I am not thinking let’s see some world’s class art. But there it is.  Maybe I need to shift my perspective of the Midwest.  The park is home to realist and abstract art.  From a drift wood horse to one of its more iconic pieces a 27-foot-tall human form made up of letters.
Good day
There is paid parking all along the park.  As well as a sidewalk that goes around and through the park.  They have a map key of the place to explain the work and their creators.  Several different fine dining options on the adjoining streets.  It was easy to see that this is a pretty popular spot of the city.  Clean well taken care of a nice little place to take a stroll.
Des Moines
Both of our girls ended up loving our visit to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park.  The art was definitely unique. There is also the aspect of getting out of the car which was probably a big draw.  It was enjoyable for us as well.  The park’s venue is very scenic with the Des Moines skyline as the backdrop.  I am not an art aficionado, but I enjoy looking at it.  Diving into the deeper meaning of work and the emotional side of art is not for me.  I am perfectly happy being a Neanderthal.

To see our reviews of other Iowa attractions, click here
Do you want to build a snowman
Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Located at 1330 Grand Avenue
Hours of Operation: Sunrise to midnight 7 days a week
Cost as of this Posting Free
For more information visit their website at http://www.desmoinesartcenter.org/visit/pappajohn-sculpture-park

Jun 26

Chase Lake Falls – Cottonwood Falls, Kansas

Chase Lake Falls
Chase Lake Falls is a scenic spillway waterfall located near Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.  Like many waterfalls in the state they are man-made from reservoirs.  Meaning that their beauty and water flow is determined by the amount of water in the lake they flow from.
Start of the Trail
On our particular visit to Chase Lake Falls the water was flowing at a trickle.  So, we were not privy to the full beauty of the waterfall.  However, Chase State Fishing Lake is scenic and we were in the area to see the Tallgrass Prairie Nature Preserve.  All-in-all a pretty good day of sightseeing.
Chase Lake Waterfall
Chase Lake Falls is located just few miles West of Cottonwood Falls off of Lake Road.  Once at the park find a place to pullover near the earthen dam.  It is located at the beginning of the Chase State Fishing Lake area.  Walk across the dam and turn left and there you will see the short trail that will take you to Chase Lake Falls.  The trail is well worn and easy to see and follow.
Chase Lake Falls Trail
The waterfall itself has three main parts and several little drops further along the creek.  Upper Falls area is about a 10-foot drop.  The Middle is the most scenic especially when it is really flowing with 25 to 30- foot drop and the Lower Falls that is wider then it is tall.  Over the course of the creek it probably drops about 100 feet.  While we were not at the most scenic time it was still worth a visit if the falls are flowing.  An earlier spring trip or a visit following heavy rains would have produced better results.

To see our reviews of other Kansas Attractions, click here
Chase State Fishing Lake
Chase Lake Falls
Located at 1130 Lake Road Cottonwood Falls, KS
Hours of Operation 24/7
Cost as of this Posting: Free
For more information about Chase Lake Falls visit the state website at http://www.kansastravel.org/chaselakefalls.htm

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