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Travelblog Gone with the Wine Blog

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Utah & Arizona - We are Coming Back!

Paula Gaston

In April we are heading out to Utah and Arizona again. My dream was actually to visit Mexico at Spring Break, but we had to push that plan forward. In November we had to say good bye to the great gramma while we visited some family in Utah, and now we are going back for her ash scattering. On that trip in November we visited Dead Valley, Las Vegas and several other places in Utah. This time we have one week to our road trip, so we thought we could drive around in Southern Utah and in Arizona. Our travel plan is mostly ready but we also have some free days there, so our plan is flexible.

ST. GEORGE JA SNOW CANYON STATE PARK

We will head out from San Francisco Bay Area on Thursday after school, and try to get as far as we can. The school day before holidays is usually shorter, so hopefully we get on the road at early afternoon. The next day we will drive through Nevada, passing by also Las Vegas, to Arizona and then to Utah. We are scheduled to be in St. George, Utah, in Friday evening. We will be staying in the same town where we stopped at Severn Wives Inn on out last trip.

On Saturday we will be visiting the Snow Canyon together with the family. That will be the Gramma’s final resting place. I had never heard of this place before but it looks absolutely beautiful! It actually reminds me of Zion National Park. It is said, that if Snow Canyon would be in any other state, it would be a national park. But Utah already has so many national parks that Snow Canyon just didn’t fit on that list. For that Sunday our schedule is still open, and we hope to spend some time with the family. Maybe we can visit Zion and do some hiking together, or we can do that on Monday, since we have always wanted to return there.

Zion National Park is full of beautiful rock formations and hiking trails

Zion National Park is full of beautiful rock formations and hiking trails

ANTELOPE CANYON, HORSE SHOE BEND AND RAINBOW BRIDGE

From St. Georgista we head towards Kanab and make a quick stop at Pipe Springs National Monument. Pipe Springs is an area that has a rich history with American Indiands and Mormon pioneers. In Kanab we will probably visit Little Hollywood Museum which is like a little western town, and where they have filmed many old television shows and movies. I am looking into booking a hotel over in Kanab area. There is so many cool hiking places close to this town, but some are too difficult to us with kids. My ultimate dream is to visit Wave someday. Unfortunately we had to rule that out since we were already late for the permit lottery, and it is too challenging to hike with kids. Hopefully someday we can return to see it, since it is truly an amazing!

Then we will continue to the city of Page. On the way there, there is some cool hoodoos, almost statue like rock formations which we would like to see. A hike to Toadstool Hoodoos is not very long, so it should be something fun for the whole family. We will stay the night in Page and for Thursday we have booked a tour at Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon formed by the rain water, and is absolutely beautiful. Since the canyon is very popular, and it is located on Navajo Indians’ land, so people can’t just walk around there by themselves. One must book a tour to visit the Antelope Canyon. It is also a safety concern. In case of a rain close by, the water might run through the canyon with a huge force, and give you an unpleasant surprise. In fact, people have died visiting the Antelope Canyon. Therefore, they wont let people in without a guide. Now we are just hoping that there wont be rain while our visit!

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Then it is time to go check out the Horseshoe Bend which I have seen so many photos in the last years. It is an amazing view point to the Colorado River in a spot where the river makes a u-turn just like a horse shoe. We will also visit Lake Powel, and secretly I am dreaming about a trip to the Rainbow Bridge, which is the biggest rock arch in the world. It too, is on the Indian land, so you can’t just go see it. You must have a permit or take a boat tour. We are still considering wether to do it or not.

FROM GRAND CANYON TO THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE AND HOME

We have never visited Grand Canyon South Rim, so we want to go there since we are this close. We did visit the North Rim in 2014. After that we will start our long drive back home. We will first drive to Southern California to take our youngest daughter to a small operation, and then drive to our home at Northern California. We are incorporating this operation to this trip since there were no doctors closer to us who could have done it. After the surgery we still have about six hours drive back home. Hopefully it will go without too much pain.

Metsäpaloista johtuen Grand Canyon oli näin savuinen kun viimeksi olimme siellä. Kiva siis päästä sinne uudelleen, toivottavasti auringonpaisteessa tällä kertaa.

Metsäpaloista johtuen Grand Canyon oli näin savuinen kun viimeksi olimme siellä. Kiva siis päästä sinne uudelleen, toivottavasti auringonpaisteessa tällä kertaa.

Since we will be driving along Route 66 for a while, I’m sure there will be something to see as well. One interesting place to stop is a Bottle Farm where one can see over 300 trees made out of old bottles. What a bizarre but interesting place that must be!

Oh wow, that should keep us busy. We are in for a busy but fun week. This is what we have planned but we still have to set up most of the reservations. And if you have been following my blog you probably know, that our trips will never go quite as planned. So we will see where we actually end up this time!

Have you been to any of these places? Do you have any recommendations what to see or do?



Hiking with the Kids

Paula Gaston

We are huge nature lovers and we enjoy being outside during the weekends and on our vacations. Before we had kids, we used to go for longer and more challenging hikes here close to home and in national parks. We liked hiking because it gave us an opportunity on exercise while being in nature. And that was very easy here in California where we have a lot of mountains and hills. After having kids our hobby changed drastically, but we haven´t given up on it. In fact, we are always waiting for opportunity to go out hiking as a family.

Even though it is always about getting out and moving, our main focus on hiking now is more spending time together and enjoying nature. The trails have gotten shorter and easier for us, and we are especially happy every time that our kids learn or see something new. Oh, how much fun it is to run into a lizard or a chipmunk while hiking! At the same time one will learn a lot about plants, animals and being in nature. I think it is good that from a young age the kids will learn some survival skills so they will know for example, which plants they shouldn´t touch or which animals not to approach. And they will learn to respect nature and protect it.

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CHOOSE THE BEST TRAIL FOR YOUR FAMILY

It is better to stay on trails that you can for sure manage when hiking with kids. If you get too adventurous and choose too difficult ones, you might have to turn back in the middle which is never fun. Though that has happened to us a few times, we try to make the best of the situation. One time we had to turn back inside a cave because it was getting too difficult to walk down with a little one. We changed the trail and tried to spot some condors instead, and we still had so much fun. The main thing is that you know you can make the trail before it gets dark and wont get lost, and that everyone has a good time!

I think that it is easier to hike with a smaller baby or bigger kid than a toddler. A baby will go wherever mommy or daddy will, since he or she will be in a carrier, and bigger kids can already walk longer distances. However, a toddler who just learned how to walk, wants to do it by herself, but is slow and gets tired quickly. Luckily our little girl still fits into a baby backpack and likes to be there. We usually start walking with her in it, and then after our snack break she gets to walk a little. When she gets tired, she will be in the backpack again. For a bigger child you can always bring some entertainment with you. For example, a note book to write notes about things she has seen, or binoculars. National Park here in the USA often hand out Junior Ranger booklets, which kids can fill out while on their visit.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

The timing can definitely affect how your hiking trip will go. Here in California, it is often hot later in the day, so we prefer early morning for hiking. Otherwise, afternoons can be good after the kids wake up from a nap and have all that new energy. A baby backpack is great, since it is easy to nap in it while hiking. Many babies fall asleep easily from the gentle rocking that comes from walking.

Evenings are not always working so well, since everyone is already kind of tired and it’s hard to get kids to get excited about things. Although, we have sometimes done some hikes to see the sunset. At those times we might have pyjamas in the car which will be put on before the drive home. In that way, when we get home, we can just lift them straight to bed.

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INVEST IN THE GEAR

Hiking is one hobby that we have been happy to invest in. There are especially two things that can make hiking with kids a lot easier; good shoes and good carriers or bags. Sometimes, I see families where the parents have trendy and expensive gear, but their kids are walking in the forest with sandals. It is important to make sure that the kids are comfortable walking also. Our kids walk in sneakers, but once they are big enough to walk longer trails, we get them actual hiking shoes. They are not only great for walking a long time, but they also protect your ankles.

Investing in a good baby carrier or backpack will eventually pay itself back in how practical they are. And you don’t have to spend all you’ve got; there is plenty of good second hand gear for sale. With a smaller baby we used a baby carrier but when the baby learns to sit, the backpack is even better. It is easier to carry, more sturdy and good to sit on since the seats are usually adjustable. Most of them come with a sun shade, and you can carry diapers and other baby stuff in the backpack’s pockets. Our backpack also has a removable pillow where the baby can lean on if they fall asleep. At first, I was bothered that I wasn’t able to see my child on my back, but my friend gave me the tip of bringing along a little mirror. Some backpacks actually come with a mirror that is attached to one of the pockets. The same goes also with other backpacks and bags. The more comfortable they are to carry, the better hiking experience you will have.

Here is our packing list for a shorter hike: shoes, sunhat, sunscreen, sunglasses, baby carrier or backpack (with sunshade, pillow and mirror), diapers and wipes, changing pad, a bag for trash and dirty diapers, snack and hand sanitizer, lots of water, phone and quite often also a camera.

Also depending on the trail we might also need a map, flashlight or headlamp, mosquito repellant, etc.

When it comes to clothes, I always favour layers when going out with kids. Then it is easy to take extra layers off if it gets hot or add some if it gets chilly. Sometimes the mornings can be cold and I will use long pants but even then I might pack my shorts to my backpack.

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Hiking with kids can be so much fun and enjoyable! You can start with a shorter trail and when you see how it goes, move on to a little more challenging area. The most important thing is to enjoy the outdoors and the family time!

 

Jelly Belly Factory Tour in California

Paula Gaston

A few weeks ago we did a day trip to a Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield. Jelly Belly Factory is the home and the headquarters to one of the most famous candy in the U.S.; Jelly Beans. Jelly Beans are small, bean shaped sugar candies which come in many different tastes. Jelly Belly Factory is located only about an hour drive from San Francisco, in Fairfield, and is a great place for a quick visit for example on a rainy day. And the best part is, that visiting it is completely free!

 
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JELLY BEANS ARE BORN

The history of Jelly Beans go all the way to year 1869 when young Gustav Goelitz opened his first candy store in Illionois. Jelly Beans were born in 1960s when Gustavs grand kids were testing new candies and tastes. At the same time the famous Candy Corn candies were born which are especially eaten here in the U.S. at Halloween. In 1966 Ronald Reagan, who was the governer of California at the time, tasted Jelly Beans and liked them very much. So much in fact, that he wrote a letter and mailed to the factory, saying that they barely held a meeting without Jelly Beans offered. Jelly Beans published some new flavours like Root beer, Licorice and many others in 1976, and they instantly become a hit. By 1980 they already had 40 official flavours which are all still sold today too.

The last push for the Jelly Bean fame came when the President Ronald Reagan ordered 3,5 tons of candies to his inauguration in 1981. Five years later the company started a major construction project, and built the candy factory to Fairfield, the one that we just visited. At that time the manufacturer was still known as Herman Goelitz Candy Co., but the name was later changed into Jelly Belly Candy Company. They also opened another candy factory to Wisconsin, on the other side of the country.

Today one can find Jelly Beans from almost every store in the U.S.

Candy art

Candy art

THE FACTORY TOUR WITH KIDS

The factory tours are done in both factories; in Fairlfield and in Wisconsin. Fairfield factory is also the company headquarters. The visit to the factory was a great experience, and I was actually there already for the 3rd time. Right when you walk in you will see the factory store and a waiting area for the tour. Tours go often, so we didn’t have to wait for long in a line. The earlier you get there, the less there is people and less of a line.

In the beginning of the tour the guide is there to tell you how it works, and shows you a short video. You will also receive some samples of the candies. Then you are free to walk through the factory on your own paste. The tour starts with a group photo with the Jelly Belly mascot, and the photos can be purchased at the end of the tour. After that you will see what happens at the factory. They will do everything from candy making to colouring and packing them. On the walk you can stop and see videos about how the candy is made or about the history of Jelly Bellies. Or you can read it from the wall cards. They have also taken the smallest members of the family into a consideration, and there are two sets of windows in different hights. And you can go in with a stroller if needed.

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Here they are adding some colour to the candy…

Here they are adding some colour to the candy…

… and then they are packed.

… and then they are packed.

In my opinion the funnest part of the whole tour was the “Jelly Belly Smell Station”. Different Jelly Beans of course taste and smell different, and one can challenge herself here to match the right smell to a right flavour.

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By pressing the button you can smell the candy flavour from the machine. They also give you a hint, and under that you can find the answer.

By pressing the button you can smell the candy flavour from the machine. They also give you a hint, and under that you can find the answer.

So many Jelly Beans in every colour and taste

So many Jelly Beans in every colour and taste

At the end of the tour everyone got a small bag of Jelly Beans and Bean Boozled box. Bean Boozled was a surprise for us since it was not an original candy box. There were a set of identical looking candies in the box, and the other one with a normal flavour and another with some yucky flavour. We tried dead fish, tooth paste, dog food and Minion farts. Quite gross! Another similar candy box that they have is with Harry Potter theme. Enjoy!

Would you like to try some Stinky Socks or Rotten Egg?

Would you like to try some Stinky Socks or Rotten Egg?

LUNCH AT JELLY BELLY STYLE AND THE GIFT SHOP

Since we left home early, we hadn’t had lunch yet. This time we decided to eat the Jelly Belly Factory since it was raining and we didn’t want to drive around finding a restaurant. And we were hungry already. I was surprised to see that they had a lot to choose from; everything from salads to sandwiches, soups and burgers. I was debating wether to get a salad or bean shaped pizza, but ended up ordering a burger after all. They had some nice, fresh condiments so one could fill out the burger yourself, and everything looked fresh and tasty. Nice!

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After eating we headed to the gift shop. One have to get some candy after all while in a candy factory! They also have a Sample Bar at the gift shop where you can taste different candy flavours. Everyone gets to choose three flavour they would like to try. I tried some more exotic flavours like Strawberry Daiquiri, Mojito and Peach Bellini. We also got some fresh fudge from the Chocolate Shoppe. So yummy!

How about some Chocolate pudding or Pancakes & Maple Syrup…

How about some Chocolate pudding or Pancakes & Maple Syrup…

…or something spicier like Tabasco?

…or something spicier like Tabasco?

We had a fun day the Jelly Belly Factory, and especially the kids liked it. This place was actually on our older daughter’s wish list, but we all enjoyed the visit. So if you are visiting San Francisco or the Bay Area, this isn’t a bad way to spend few hours!

 

Dining at Rainforest Cafe, Las Vegas

Paula Gaston

On our last trip to Las Vegas, we had an early dinner at Rainforest Cafe. This is a restaurant chain where you can hop in a middle of a rainforest. Even though it might seem a little comical with its hawling animals, it is a fun place and especially kids love it. Animals at the Rainforest Cafe are not real of course. They are all mechanic and I think even the plants are plastic. We went to this same restaurant some years ago, and I have also visited the one in San Francisco which was closed in 2017. I am almost positive that I have also been in one at Chicago. We have had good experiences in this restaurant and our daughter had a blast on this visit.

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TROPICAL ANIMALS AND NORTHERN LIGHTS

Rainforest Cafe is a chain which was first started in 1994 at Mall of Americasta, Minnesota. From there it expanded to ten different states, and even out of the USA. Usually you can recognise the Rainforest Cafe from far away because there are lots of plants and steam at their front door. Every now and then the animals inside the restaurant will start moving and making noises. The elephants will flap their ears, a money hanging in a swing closed his eyes and even the snakes were showing their tongues to us. There was also one a little bit bizarre thing going on in this rainforest. After the day turned into a night, the sky full of stars was lit at the ceiling. And with Northern Lights! I could bet that the countries that actually have Northern Lights don’t have rainforests.

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While visiting the Rainforest Cafe one should take a little stroll around it while waiting the food. Just to check out all the animals they have. They usually also have a souvenir shop at the lobby where especially kids can find all kinds fun things to take home.

WOW, WHAT A DRINKS AND SOME DELICIOUS SHRIMPS

Since we were in Vegas, I decided to have a drink before the dinner. I was looking at the Margaritas and wanted to try something new, so I ordered an CoronaRita. It wasn’t until I saw the drink that I realised what I had ordered. It is two dinks in one; a margarita with a beer bottle. And I don’t even like beer. For some reason my brain didn’t register that I was ordering something with beer. But hey, since we were in Vegas, the rest of the drink was given to us to go.

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CARIBBEAN COCONUT FRIED SHRIMP

CARIBBEAN COCONUT FRIED SHRIMP

This appertizer we shared with a bigger group one year and it was so yummy! AWESOME APPETIZER ADVENTURE; Chimi-Cha-Chas, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Cheese Sticks, Chicken Strips, guacamole

This appertizer we shared with a bigger group one year and it was so yummy!
AWESOME APPETIZER ADVENTURE; Chimi-Cha-Chas, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Cheese Sticks, Chicken Strips, guacamole

Rainforest Cafen menu is pretty typical American restaurant menu. There is plenty to choose from and something for everyone. Salads, snacks, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, fish, chicken and meat… and of course, a separate menu for kids. I wasn’t terribly hungry so I chose some coconut shrimps with smashed potatoes. This was easily sharable with our little one too who still needed puree type of foods.

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If you are traveling with kids or just want to experience something different, the Rainforest Cafe can be fun. The food is good but a little bit pricier than normal restaurant. We left the place to Las Vegas streets with full bellies and with an emptier wallet.

A Family Favorite in Las Vegas - Excalibur Hotel

Paula Gaston

Before Christmas we did a road trip from California through Nevada to Utah. On that trip we spent two nights in Las Vegas. Maybe you already read about out tips what to do in Vegas with kids (or even without). At that time I promised that I will tell you more about the Hotel Excalibur later. It was our first time in this hotel, and here is all the info you need when deciding if it could be a hotel for you.

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Excalibur Hotel & Casino is one of the theme hotels on the Strip, the main road in downtown Las Vegas, and is popular especially among the families traveling with kids. It is built in a medieval theme and looks a little bit like a castle. It also attracts families with its entertainment. And it was very easy to find in the evening, since the castle towers were lit and looked amazing. After circling around a while, we managed to find the self parking entrance too. Parking there cost us $10 per day.

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EXCALIBUR ROOMS

I had booked our room through Booking.com, and since we travel with two kids, I always choose a twin queen or twin king room. These rooms are most practical for us and usually available in most hotels. We do have a travel bed for the baby too, but when staying in a twin room we don’t really need it.

While checking in to the hotel, we were offered an upgrade to the Royal Tower with for $10 per day. And since my husband had been a little doubtful that the Excalibur, that it would be outdated, we decided to go ahead and upgrade. I kinda thought that all the rooms in the hotel had been renewed last century, but we were told that the Royal Tower had rooms that were remodeled only a few years ago. That sounded good to us. Later I was a little bit bummed out that I didn’t ask for a room where we could see the colorful towers outside. The view from our room was to the Strip as the receptionist proudly told us. Oh well, I would have rather been looking at the towers than the street.

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The room was very basic and to be honest, it had already seen better days in my opinion. And in that regard, overpriced as well. But that was not a surprise for us since most hotel rooms in Vegas seem to be old and used. I felt exactly the same in Luxor few years ago. Overall, be prepared for the Vegas hotels taking your money every possible way they can. This time however, we got free wi-fi. The room prices vary hugely depending on the time, even from $40 to a couple hundred. Guests can use the pool area and the gym when they are open. Unfortunately when we visited in November, the pool area was closed for the winter season already.

EATING AT EXCALIBUR

There are plenty to restaurants to choose from when looking for food in Excalibur, but be prepared to wait. There are almost always lines to get in to the restaurants. The first night we ate at Buca di Beppo, which turned out to be a great family restaurant with good food. I had read about Dick’s Last Resort but after seeing it, it didn’t seem like a place we would like to eat with kids. It was very loud and people were in a party mood. They offer obnoxious service in a funny way and guests sit with paper hats on their heads. Maybe if we visit without kids someday we will try it out.

Finding breakfast turned out to be a little bit more challenging, since everywhere we went had huge lines. We ended up getting some breakfast sandwiches and coffee from Starbucks in Luxor, and then ate a bigger lunch that day. We were thinking about the breakfast buffet, but the line looked like it would take us hours to get in. Even though I love a good breakfast now we just needed to get something before getting out to explore.

TAKE A TRAM TO LUXOR AND OTHER THINGS TO DO

Like most hotels in Las Vegas, there was of course a casino downstairs. And the ones in Las Vegas are especially complex, so that you will get lost many times while trying to find places. We walked around many extra miles while on our visit. If it was summer time, we would have for sure been at the pool too, but now we didn’t spend much time at the hotel. Excalibur Family Fun Center didn’t seem appealing to us and even the roller coaster looked too scary for our kids. The Family Fun Center has all kinds of activities from mini golf to go karts, but we wanted to see more of Vegas. Excalibur also has other entertainment like Tournament of Kings (a joust), Cirque de Soleil and other shows.

The Mandalay Bay Tram is a free tram which will take you from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay or Luxor which are both part of MGM Resorts. At least Luxor is a fun place to visit since it is shaped like a pyramid and had an Egyptian atmosphere.

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Our experience at Excalibur was ok. Nothing bad or especially good that stood out on our stay. But our 6 year old still remembers her night in a medieval castle.