Traverse City’s Fairy Trails and Hippie Tree

One of the last places we visited on on Tour of Michigan was the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area.  This is 140 acres located on the former grounds of the Traverse City State Hospital – a late 19th century asylum and psychiatric hospital.  It became the Munson Medical Center in the 1950s, and closed in 1989. Redevelopment into multi-use residential and commercial use began in the 2000s, but much of the land was preserved in its natural state.  There are numerous hiking and biking trails in the Natural Area now, with multiple trailheads.  In the winter it’s a popular snowshoeing and x-country skiing area.

On a loop hike through the park we ran across a charming area called the Fairy Trails.  Along the trail were lots of these tiny themed fairy dwellings, largely made of natural materials.

Traverse City Fairy Trails

So many very cute and clever fairy houses.

Peter Pan, Mary Poppins fairy houses

The first houses were apparently built in 2016.  Since then many more have been added, and in fact, people are encouraged to add their own as long as they contain natural materials and are built near the trail head.  We were impressed that people have actually left them alone and not vandalized them…which is probably what would happen if they were here in California.  Sigh.

Hansel and Gretel, Circus, and another Peter Pan fairy house

Just a lovely little site that really made us smile!

Further into the woods is the Hippie Tree.  It started as one tree that over the years has been brightly spray-painted, but now there are multiple trees that have been painted.

Hippie Tree

According to local legend the un-quiet spirits of former residents of the hospital reside there.  I didn’t feel anything like that – for me it was a whimsical, happy place.

Hippie Tree

And with this stop, our Tour of Michigan comes to an end. We had a wonderful visit, and packed a lot into a short time, thanks to our expert guides!

Additional Information:

History of Traverse City State Hospital

Trails at Traverse City Commons

The Fairy Trails

The Hippie Tree


Nature’s Art Gallery: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Our recent tour of Michigan continued with a visit to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, on the shores of Lake Superior (our third great lake).  It’s known for the colorful sandstone cliffs that rise up to 200′ above the lake.

The first thing I would tell anyone who might be planning to visit: The weather on Lake Superior can be very unpredictable and changes rapidly.  We experienced just about everything except snow in the ~30 hours we were there.  You definitely want to wear layered clothing that’s appropriate for a variety of temperatures and conditions.  We had drizzle, pouring rain, wind, fog, bright sunshine, and colorful sunset; the temperature went from 42 (and felt much colder with the wind chill) up to almost 70.

The best way to see the Pictured Rocks is from a boat tour.  The boats, most of them large catamarans, leave from the town of Munising, on the west side of the park.  From May-October they run multiple times per day, weather permitting.  The tours often sell out, so advance purchase is recommended.

Pictured Rocks Cruises

We thought about doing a sunset tour, but it was going to be really cold on the boat (though as it turned out we could have sat inside), so we decided to do the 10:00 tour the next day instead.   The weather got better and better, and ended up mostly sunny.  The light wasn’t optimal for photos at that time of day, but the cliffs were still beautiful.

Grand Portal and Battleship Rock

We did the Classic Cruise, which was 32 miles round trip, and took about 2 hours and 30 minutes.  I was pleased at how close the boat was able to get to the cliffs – I had expected to be much further away.  At one point the pilot maneuvered us quite close.  There are lots of formations to see, like Indian Head, Painted Coves, Grand Portal, and Battleship Rock.

The Flower Vase was really nice.  You can see the kayaks in this photo – a kayak tour is another popular way to see part of the cliffs.  Unless you’re very experienced, it’s highly recommended that you take a tour rather than trying to do it on your own – as I’ve mentioned before, conditions on the lake are quite unpredictable.

Flower Vase

The final sight we saw just before we re-entered the harbor was the Grand Island East Channel Light, which looks like a schoolhouse.  It’s on Grand Island and is not part of the park; it is privately owned.  But it’s still very picturesque.

Grand Island East Channel Light

Of course there is a lot more to Pictured Rocks than just the cliffs.  There are miles of trails, including the North Country Trail that runs 42 miles along the length of the park, staying as close to the lake as it can.   But there are also lots of fairly short but scenic walks, and we did a few of those.

We had entered the park from the city of Munising, and our first stop was the Munising Falls Visitor Center.   The Munising Falls Visitor Center is so named because 800 feet up the trail is, wait for it, Munising Falls.  A nice leg stretch.

Munising Falls

There aren’t very many places to see the dramatic sandstone cliffs from the land – one of the best is the Miners Castle overlook.  From the parking lot it’s a short walk to the main overlook – this one is wheelchair accessible.

Miners Castle

Continuing down the trail, through the woods, and down some stairs brings you to a platform that overlooks the top of the Miners Castle formation.  Maybe not as scenic, but interesting to see what it looks like.

Top of Miners Castle

And there were some nice wildflowers.

The trail to the Au Sable Light Station follows a gravel path about 1.5 miles to the station.  Along the way there are a couple of places to go down to the lakeshore and see what you can see.

Sandstone shore of Lake Superior

In mid-June it was a lovely walk through the woods, with many wildflowers in bloom.

The Au Sable (pronounced Ah SAW-bull) lighthouse and museum are open for guided tours most days from mid-June-September.  There’s a nominal fee.  We were too late for one tour and didn’t want to stick around until the next one, so we missed that.

Au Sable Lighthouse

There’s a beautiful view from the edge of the hill near the fog signal building which looks toward the Grand Sable dunes.  And those are the Grand SAYble dunes, not Grand SAWble.  I don’t know why.  You can see the remnants of a fog bank that had enveloped the coast for the previous hour or so – see my earlier comment about rapid changes in the weather.

Grand Sable Dunes

The last trail we did was the Log Slide Overlook.  This is a short .4 mile round trip walk to an area where loggers used to slide the logs down to Lake Superior for transport.

Log Slide

While you can go down the Log Slide, it’s not recommended.

Don’t Do It!

I was able to pick up a number of NPS passport stamps at Pictured Rocks – the only one we missed was at the Lakeshore Headquarters, which isn’t even a place I would have though to look.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is another place that’s worth a return visit!

Additional Information:

Official NPS site: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks Cruises

Munising Visitors Bureau


Mackinac Island – More than Fudge and Taffy

Mackinac Island – it brings to mind fudge, salt water taffy, and horse-drawn carriages.  There’s much more to it than just a tourist attraction, though – the island has a rich history.  Our overnight visit in mid-June showed us a lot more.

Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron, not far from the Mackinac Bridge.  (By the way, though they are all spelled Mackinac, they are pronounced Mackinaw.)  While there is a small airport, most people arrive by ferry from Mackinaw City, Michigan.  These are passenger ferries only – motorized vehicles are not permitted on Mackinac Island.  Everyone gets around either on foot or via bicycle, horseback, or carriage. Likewise, all cargo and supplies arrive by boat and are delivered in wagons by a livery service.  One thing we noticed on our visit is that the teams of horses are matched in terms of color and markings – we saw some beautiful dappled grays and bays. Very attractive.

And despite all of the horses, the streets were pretty clean…because there are horse-drawn street sweepers!  The brushes and collector are motorized – it’s the propulsion that is horse-powered.

Mackinac Island Street Sweeper

I mentioned history…did you know that Mackinac Island was America’s second national park?  It was designated in 1875, after Yellowstone, and maintained by the U.S. Army soldiers at Fort Mackinac.  In 1895 Fort Mackinac was decommissioned, and the fort and park were turned over to the state of Michigan to become Michigan’s first state park.  (The National Park Service was not created until 1916.)  About 80% of the island is part of the state park, the rest, which includes most of the “downtown” area and the hotels, restaurants, and shops, etc., is privately owned.

One of the “don’t miss” sights is Fort Mackinac, which is easily accessed from downtown – though you have to go up the hill.  Tickets were $13.50/person this year, and I thought it well worth it.  Fort Mackinac was originally built by the British, but was turned over to the United States after the Revolutionary War.

Fort Mackinac

There is a beautiful view from there.

During the War of 1812 the British took it back – let’s just say that the Brits kicked some American butt in the Great Lakes region during that war.  But at the end of the war it was relinquished to the Americans again.  During the late 19th century Fort Mackinac was a desired Army posting – it even had a bathhouse.

Fort Mackinac Bath House

Now there are interesting historical exhibits in many of the buildings, and costumed “soldiers” and their “wives” who answer questions and engage in various demonstrations.  One of the cannons is fired multiple times a day…it can be quite startling if you’re unaware of it!

Up on the hill not far from Fort Mackinac is the Mackinac Island Botanical Trail.  This is new – just opened this year. We were there in mid-June and there were lots of beautiful flowers in bloom – my favorites were these lovely Lady Slipper orchids.

Beyond the end of the Botanical Trail is Arch Rock.  We were lucky enough to be there on a sunny day, and the color of the water of Lake Huron in the background was amazing.   Rather than retracing our steps we took the stairs down to the road below Arch Rock and walked about a mile back to town.

The perimeter road around the island is paved.  It’s a very nice bike ride – 8 miles to make a full circuit.  If you don’t bring your own bike on the ferry there are plenty of places to rent one.  On our afternoon bike ride we stopped at several places along the road: Skull Rock, Devil’s Kitchen, the British Army’s landing area in 1812, and we also saw Arch Rock from the bottom looking up.  There were a number of other trails and roads we could have done if we’d had time.

Skull Rock, British Landing Site

Most people just make a day visit to Mackinac Island, but we were there overnight at Haan’s 1830 Inn.  We stayed in the newer part – built in 1847.  The rooms have been modernized with indoor plumbing, but the furniture and decor retains that late 19th century charm.  It was really lovely.

Haan’s 1830 Inn

And yes, I tried the famous Mackinac Island Fudge.  And it was delicious.  There are multiple shops that make fudge – I got mine from Ryba’s.  They use a high quality chocolate, and while the fudge was sweet, it was not overly sweet.  It was also nice and smooth.  Yum.  I didn’t get any salt water taffy, though.

Mackinac Island Fudge

It was a short visit to the island, but that just means we will have to return and stay longer!


Additional Information:

Discover Mackinac

Fort Mackinac

Mackinac Island Trails


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is located on part of the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, not far from Traverse City.  We have friends who live in Traverse City, so we have visited twice now – once in October and once in June.   It’s a favorite place for them, and I can see why they love it so much.  There are so many things to do – hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, fishing…

The area gets its name from a legend with a sad ending.  A mother bear and her two cubs attempted to swim across the lake from Wisconsin to find food.  The cubs became too tired and drowned.  The mother bear reached this side of the lake and lay down looking out over the water.  The two cubs resurfaced as two islands – and to this day she still watches them.

Mother Bear and South Manitou Island

One of the most popular, and easiest, activities is the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  The 7.4 mile one-way road offers several scenic overlooks as well as information on the human and natural history.   (Pierce Stocking was a lumberman.  He privately built the road, which opened in 1967, and operated it until his death in 1976.  It later became part of the Lakeshore.)

One of the best views at Sleeping Bear Dunes is from the Lake Michigan overlook on the Scenic Drive.

Lake Michigan Overlook

From there it looks as though you could easily go down to the lakeshore.  And that’s true…the 450′ DOWN is easy – but the 450′ back UP is another story.  In soft sand it’s two steps forward, one step back.  Steep and difficult, especially in the warm summer months.

Don’t do it!

But if you want to play in the sand…There is a “Dune Climb” trail which goes up and over the dunes.  It’s 3.5 miles round trip to Lake Michigan, and quite strenuous because it’s a slog through sand.  Wear shoes and take plenty of water!  You can opt to make it shorter and go just far enough to get to the top of the dunes – and then it’s downhill all the way back.

There are many trails in the park: these are the two that we have done so far.

The Empire Bluffs Trail is a short (1.5 mile round trip) out-and-back trail through forest that ends at a boardwalk with a view of Lake Michigan.

View from Empire Bluffs trail, about halfway up

Nice wildflowers in the spring, and probably beautiful fall foliage later in the year.

The Pyramid Point Trail in the northern part of the park is a 2.7 mile loop with excellent views of Lake Michigan and both North Manitou and South Manitou Islands (the bear cubs).

Sand Dunes and Rainbow from Pyramid Point Trail

While we’ve gotten a nice overview, we’ve only experienced a small part of the park.  Sleeping Bear Dunes holds many more areas to explore, including North and South Manitou Islands, Platte Plains and the Glen Haven and Port Oneida historic areas.  We look forward to a return visit.


Additional Information:

National Park Service website:

Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Bureau – beautiful photos in the slideshow on the main page

Galaxy’s Edge: Food Options for Off-Worlders

There are a number of locations on Batuu which offer food and beverage options intended to appeal to off-worlders.  Since we were trying to get the most of our four hours there we only had time for one meal and some snacks.  We took advantage of mobile order to minimize time waiting in line to order, though as it turned out that really wasn’t a problem.

The first thing we had to try was blue milk.  The Milk Stand offers a choice of blue milk or green milk.  Both are $7.99.  They are a plant-based blend of coconut and rice milks, plus some additional non-disclosed flavorings.  They are soft-frozen, sort of like a slush, and you have to ask for a straw if you want one.  We didn’t get straws, but the milks were soft enough that we could sip them.  Since they were non-dairy they had a different mouth feel…I found they left me with a “coated tongue” sort of sensation afterward.

Blue and Green Milk – Galaxy’s Edge

The blue milk had a hint of coconut and was slightly sweet, but there was no other particular flavor that I could identify.  Lee preferred that one (which has been the consensus among most people).

I actually had a slight preference for the green milk, which puts me in a distinct minority, because many people think it’s awful.  Again, no flavor that I could really identify, but I’d say it was less sweet than the blue milk, with kind of a citrus rind flavor.

To be honest, neither of them was that good, and we probably will not buy it again.   Mobile Order is available but we didn’t use it – no line and we just walked right up.

Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo is an indoor quick-service location serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It has the most extensive food menu in Galaxy’s Edge.  Mobile Order is available here, and we used it to pre-order our lunch a couple of hours in advance – though we didn’t need to.

We ordered the Smoked Kaadu Ribs  – $16.99.  These are sticky pork ribs served with a purple cabbage slaw and a blueberry corn muffin.  We did NOT receive a “spork” utensil here…instead we got a plastic fork and a metal knife (a plastic knife would not have been of much use to cut the ribs).  The ribs were pretty tender and easily came off the bone.  There was a rub on them that was a little too spicy hot for my taste, but Lee enjoyed them.  I thought the slaw was very good – nice and vinegary – but Lee didn’t care for it.  Most importantly there were no bell peppers in the slaw! The corn muffin was also good.

Docking Bay 7 Kaadu Ribs

Other options are a kefta salad, shrimp and noodle salad, roasted or fried chicken, and fish.  A vegetarian “meat loaf” and beef pot roast are available for dinner only.

We tried Moof Juice – fruit punch and orange juice with chipotle-pineapple.  This was very refreshing, but just a little too sweet.  I didn’t taste the chipotle at all.

Some of the items used to create seating areas are pretty interesting…it was fun to walk around and just take a look.

Docking Bay 7 Seating

There is also seating available outside.

Docking Bay 7 Outdoor Seating

I think Ronto Roasters was the best-themed of the restaurants we visited – though bear in mind we have not been in the Cantina yet.   It’s an open-air restaurant, where the exhaust of a hanging podracer engine cooks the ronto meat on a spit as it’s manually turned by a droid.  (Though if it’s a droid, then I suppose it’s mechanically turned and not MANually turned.)

This is definitely a place where there are things to see and you want to look up, down, and all around.  Off to one side is a screened area which appears to be a pantry…with some rather interesting ingredients.

Ronto Roasters Supplies

We had the famous Ronto Wrap: pieces of roasted pork and a grilled sausage topped with cabbage slaw and peppercorn sauce, wrapped in pita bread – $12.99.   This was very good, but it would have been excellent without the sausage (a hot dog by any other name), which struck an alien note (so to speak).  Again, no bell peppers in any of it.  Yay!

Ronto Wrap

We tried a Tatooine Sunset – iced tea, lemonade, melon, and blueberry.  Lee liked it, but I tasted too much of an artificial powdered iced tea flavor in it.

Ronto Roasters also serves turkey jerky – choice of sweet or spicy – but we didn’t try that.

Mobile order is available. There’s no seating here, but there’s some counters around the roaster and the inside perimeter where you can stand to eat and set down your food/drinks.

Ronto Roasters Counter

In the Marketplace is Kat Saka’s Kettle.  This is one of the locations that Coca-Cola products in their thermal-detonator-shaped containers are available.  Also available here is Outpost Mix – flavored popcorn. $6.49 in a plain brown bag, also available in a souvenir droid container.    It was colorful, but I didn’t like any of the flavors.  Reminded me of Kool-Aid.

Outpost Mix

While I didn’t care for the snack items, I thought the foods we had were interesting and tasty.  There are other menu items at Docking Bay 7 that I would like to try.  I wish there were some additional snack options available, though…there has got to be the Batuu equivalent of a churro or funnel cake that some street vendor should be selling.  🙂

Beam Me Up, Chewie – My Close Encounter with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

On Sunday Lee and I finally had the chance to visit Disneyland’s new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.  It opened on May 31, and there’s been tons of coverage which I’m sure you’ve seen.  So I’m not going to try to show you everything – just share my thoughts about this new area of the park.  And I still know this blog is going to end up being longer than I really want.

Let me start off by saying that I was impressed – and I didn’t expect to be.  When something gets as much fanfare and advance publicity as Galaxy’s Edge has received it rarely lives up to my expectations when I see it in person…but Galaxy’s Edge did.  The detail is amazing, and very complete.  I haven’t seen that level of theming since I visited Tokyo DisneySea – and that is high praise.  When you hear someone talk about “immersive”, this is what they mean.  It feels real.

To give you the lay of the land…this area is called Black Spire Outpost, and it’s located on the planet Batuu, on the Outer Rim of a galaxy far, far away.  There’s a busy spaceport and a bustling marketplace – and also a not-so-hidden Resistance base.

To keep the crowds at a reasonable level a reservation system is currently in place, and only people with a reservation are allowed in during their designated four-hour window – ours was 8am-12pm.  This was VERY effective and it made for a very enjoyable experience.  The only time the land felt crowded was during the last hour, when the 11am-3pm group was sharing the area with us.  And even then it wasn’t bad…when we left Batuu and went back into Disneyland that seemed a LOT more busy to us. Starting on June 24 there are no more reservations – instead Disney will use a virtual queueing system to limit the number of guests in Galaxy’s Edge. Once capacity is reached, new guests won’t be allowed in until previous guests depart.  I spoke to a Disney producer on Sunday and when I asked, he told me that the intent of virtual queueing is to keep the crowds at about the same level they are now.

Back to Batuu…

Eventually there will be two rides, but the only one open now is Smuggler’s Run.  Where all of us have the chance to go on board the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy…the Millennium Falcon.  If that doesn’t totally geek you out then you are not a Star Wars fan.

Millennium Falcon

The pre-show includes an encounter with Hondo Ohnaka – the most sophisticated, like-life audio-animatronic figure that I have ever seen. Most impressive.

Hondo Ohnaka

Before the actual ride part there’s a few minutes in the cabin of the Millennium Falcon, where you might have the chance to sit at that famous chess table (the official name of the game is dejarik).  Let the Wookie win.

Millennium Falcon Cabin

I thought the ride was a surprisingly intimate experience…the actual cockpit holds only six passengers.  And everyone has a role to play: pilot, gunner, or engineer.  That’s really my only issue with the experience: because you have a “job” to do you have to pay attention to that, which for me detracted from actually REALLY experiencing what it’s like to be in that cockpit.  We rode twice, and it was easier the second time since I knew what to expect…but that first time wasn’t quite what it could have been – especially since the first time Lee and I were pilots, sitting in Han and Chewie’s seats!

Millennium Falcon Cockpit

I was pleased that the ride was much longer than I expected – about 5 minutes from the time you enter the cockpit, plus whatever time you have in the cabin.   So I felt like you really get something for the time invested in waiting.  Though our waits weren’t long – about 20 minutes the first time and 15 the second time.  I would wait 45-60 minutes for this one – but I’m glad I didn’t have to.

One nice thing about Batuu…the exit of the attraction did NOT dump us into a gift shop!  But speaking of merchandise…there are lots of shops.  There are more shops than anything else on Batuu.  The open-air marketplace has the feeling of a souk, with small specialty shops.  The merchandise offerings there are more unique, with a lot of variety.

Black Spire Outpost Marketplace

At the Toydarian Toymaker you’ll find “hand-crafted” items, or at least they look more like that.  Many of them are made of wood.  I was intrigued by the music boxes that play the Imperial March.  🙂

Toydarian Toys

And is this the Jawa equivalent of Noah’s Ark or what?

There’s also a Creature Stall, where most of the critters do something – squeak, growl, chirp, oink, etc. No Loth-cats available for me this time – all “adopted”, as I was told.

Creature Stall

The residents of Batuu (Batuuans?) recognize a business opportunity and there’s a place for all of us off-worlders to purchase Black Spire Outpost souvenirs.

Black Spire Outpost souvenirs

Another stall offers the Kowakian Monkey-Lizards.  These will sit on your shoulder.

Other shops around Galaxy’s Edge feature First Order merchandise, and Jedi apparel and artifacts – both Light Side and Dark Side.

First Order merchandise
Jedi merchandise

Two premium merchandise experiences are Savi’s, where you can build your own lightsaber, and the Droid Depot, where you build your own astromech. In the latter there’s a conveyor belt of droid parts and you pick what you want as they go by.  Other accessories are available separately.  It seemed as if the majority of people were carrying either a lightsaber case or a “Custom Astromech” box – or both.  We didn’t buy either one.

Droid Depot

There are several places to get food and beverages.  The big deal is Oga’s Cantina, which serves alcoholic beverages, and hey, it’s a Star Wars cantina!  And who doesn’t want to experience that?   It’s had longer lines than anything else in Galaxy’s Edge.  We didn’t get to go in there this time.  I’ll have another blog with more info on the food and beverages that we sampled.

Oga’s Cantina

One thing I enjoyed was the random appearances by some familiar faces, like Chewie, Rey, and a couple of Storm Troopers.  (Kylo Ren also appears, though we didn’t see him.)  These are NOT formal meet and greets – they are moving around the area on their own business, though they will sometimes stop for a quick “image capture”.  The Storm Troopers were looking for Resistance fighters, demanding to see ID, complimenting First Order attire, etc.  We were on the receiving end twice…the second time we were accused of being Resistance spies. (Someone blew our cover!)

Storm Troopers

Rey seems to have a special affinity for kids in Star Wars costumes…we saw her enlist a young boy and his sister – the latter dressed as Rey – in a mission to accompany her and spy on the Storm Troopers.  Adorable.

Rey and Chewbacca

The cast members all have a back story and their own role to play…though with some of them I could tell that the role-playing was already wearing a little thin.  Still, we were greeted with the phrase “bright suns” much of the time.  I asked why they say “SUNS” when there is only one in the sky.  Everyone was prepared with an answer: either the others hadn’t risen yet or were hidden behind the spires.  One commented that it was cooler with just the one sun.

There seem to be a lot of cast members who aren’t really doing much of anything – though they provided some additional atmosphere as they moved around.  I wonder if that will change when the second attraction opens.

The other attraction, which will be called Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, is located on the other side of Galaxy’s Edge.

Rise of the Resistance

Because the attraction is not open there’s not much going on there right now…photo ops with an X-wing and an A-wing, and a kiosk selling Resistance attire – including an X-wing pilot suit.  It’s nice and quiet for now…but that won’t last.

With the opening of Galaxy’s Edge Disney has greatly expanded the PlayDisney app and there are many opportunities to interact with it.  Lee spent a fair bit of time using the app, and found it to be an enhancement to the Galaxy’s Edge experience.  He was able to find different cargo, and also polish up his hacking skills.  All of that earned him credits and virtual items like a jet pack and a blaster.  The credits he earned on Smuggler’s Run should have appeared in the app, but for some reason they didn’t. We don’t know if there’s a real-life use to the credits or not.  (If you’re going to use the app I recommend a phone with a newer battery.)

It wasn’t all perfect, though – there were a couple of things I thought could have been better.  For one, I was surprised that there was NO live entertainment.  While I understand they are keeping to a theme, I still would have expected something like musical street performers.

And second: it’s a large area, and there’s a lot of it that’s used for large props – full-sized fighters, an Imperial TIE fighter, landspeeders.  Why wasn’t some of that space used for a third attraction?  Only two attractions in a land of this size?

TIE Fighter

But overall, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is still a worthy addition to the Star Wars legacy.

Some final thoughts:

  • We noticed so many details that existed NOT because they were disguising something functional, but because they completed the look of something.  Which means that money was spent on a lot of things that weren’t strictly necessary – something the U.S. Disney parks have scrimped on in the past.
Engine cowling used as planter
  • There’s no way to take it all in on a first visit – I know that I will see different things when I go back.  I’ve already noticed new things just looking at my photos!
  • Remember to look up – there are lots of things to see above you, especially in shops.
  • Of course I didn’t believe that I was on another planet…but I forgot that I was in Disneyland.  Galaxy’s Edge is very separate from the rest of the park and I couldn’t see or hear anything from outside, except the one time I glanced up and caught a brief glimpse of the masts of the Sailing Ship Columbia through the trees.

I’m looking forward to a return visit to Batuu – I’m especially eager to see it at night.

Till the Spire!


Hiking in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

One of the most visited areas of Yosemite National Park outside of the Valley itself is the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, where there are over 500 sequoia trees.

The area was so popular that it was in danger of being “loved to death”- among other things, foot and road traffic over the years had compacted the soil, affecting the health of the shallow roots of the sequoia trees.

So the Grove closed completely in July 2015 for what was supposed to be a two-year restoration process – it took almost three years.  The Grove re-opened in mid-June of 2018.  Our recent visit last week was our first opportunity to visit the “new” Mariposa Grove.

Mariposa Grove Entrance

The first change that visitors will see is the new “Welcome Plaza” near the South Entrance to the park (off highway 41).  There’s a large two-level parking lot now which holds about 300 cars – many more than the old lot.

Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza Parking

There’s also the Welcome Center itself, which includes a small store and MUCH larger restroom facilities than were available before.  (The Yosemite National Park Passport stamp is available inside the store.  Unfortunately there’s not a specific Mariposa Grove Stamp – it’s the same stamp that is available at the Visitor Center in Yosemite Valley.)

Outside the store are a few displays on sequoias, as well as descriptions and a map of the trails available in the Grove.  I suggest taking a photo of the map, since no paper maps are provided.

Mariposa Grove Trails
Trail Descriptions

Between the hours of 8:00 am and 8:00 pm, visitors must ride the free shuttle to travel the two miles to reach the actual Grove.  There is an exception for vehicles displaying a “disability placard” which are allowed to drive directly to the Grove’s parking area.    Before 7:30 am and after 8:00 pm, private vehicles can drive to the Grove, as long as parking is still available there.

Mariposa Grove Shuttle Bus

The shuttles run every 10 minutes, so it’s not a long wait to get on one.  The trip to the Grove takes less than 10 minutes.

As part of the restoration project within the Grove, the tram tour and gift shop there were removed, and a new set of (badly needed) restrooms was added.

Since there’s no tram tour now, a small portion of the Grove offers accessible trails.   The Big Trees Trail is .3 miles.  It’s relatively flat, and the surface is a combination of pavement and boardwalk.  There are several beautiful sequoia trees along the route, as well as the tree called the Fallen Monarch.

Big Trees Trail
Fallen Monarch

The most popular trail is the 2-mile Grizzly Giant Loop.  That’s the one that we did.  It continues on past the Fallen Monarch, and be aware that it goes uphill, gaining about 300′ in just over half a mile, until it reaches the Grizzly Giant.  This is the largest tree in the Grove, and estimated to be about 1000 years old.

Grizzly Giant

Surprisingly, sequoias live in a wetland habitat – restoring that habitat was also part of the project.  At this time of year there were a number of little streams running through the area.  And a few wildflowers – mostly we saw many, many wild strawberry blossoms.

Wild Strawberry

We also saw some deer, like this one.

Deer and Sequoia Trees

And lots of Douglas squirrels.  I enjoy these squirrels – they are cheeky, impudent little creatures.  But very important to the propagation of sequoia trees.

Douglas Squirrel

At the Grizzly Giant, the trail splits.  The Mariposa Grove Trail is a more strenuous route that continues upward, eventually reaching the Upper Grove, including the Galen Clark Tree, and terminating at Wawona Point.  It’s 3.5 miles each way from the shuttle area.

The Grizzly Giant Loop continues slightly downhill to the California Tunnel Tree. This is one of several giant sequoias that had a tunnel cut through it…I think it is the only one that is still living.

California Tunnel Tree

Vehicles with a disability placard are allowed to drive up the old tram road to a parking area near the Grizzly Giant, where there’s a short accessible trail to view it and the Tunnel Tree.

Educational signs like this one are placed in various areas around the Grove.

The rest of the Grizzly Giant Loop is pretty anti-climactic.  It takes a longer more round-about route down the 1.3 miles back to the shuttle area, going through mostly pine and fir forest.  The trail passes some fairly young sequoia trees, but very few older trees. It’s a pleasant walk, though.  The Grove is a very peaceful and serene place.

If you have kids (or fun-loving adults) there are a number of places to take some fun photos with trees that have large openings in their trunks – these are trees that are right along the trail, and not inside a protected area.

You could also pose with some of the sculptures, like this Pacific Fisher (a large weasel).

Pacific Fisher statue

I would recommend getting to the Mariposa Grove before 10:00 if possible – or going late in the day.  The parking lot will fill up on busy days.   Be aware that no food is available at the Welcome Center but there are drinking fountains and a water bottle-filling station.

If you like to hike and you have a full day, you can easily spend it exploring the Grove.  But if you have limited time you can still see some beautiful sequoia trees and get a very nice overview of the Grove in 1-2 hours.


Palo Duro Canyon State Park – Lighthouse Trail

Today is June 1, and this entire month is Great Outdoors Month – a month-long celebration of the outdoors and the benefits of being outdoors doing whatever you enjoy – hiking, biking, fishing, boating, camping, playing, gardening, etc. Today is also the first Saturday of June, making it National Trails Day – a great day to get outside and go for a hike during Great Outdoors Month!

If you live in the Texas Panhandle, then here’s a suggestion for an interesting place to visit this month.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is in Texas about 30 miles from Amarillo.  It is the second largest canyon in the United States.  (Can anyone guess which one is the largest?  Anyone? Bueller?) Palo Duro is about 120 miles long and up to 20 miles wide in places, and 800-1000′ deep.

Palo Duro means “hard wood” in Spanish – I’m not sure what that has to do with a place known for its mesas, caves, and hoodoos, though.

The canyon was carved by the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River.  Which is its proper name, and it should not be called “Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River”, “Prairie Dog Town Fork of Red River”, or “South Fork of the Red River.”

I’ve never been there, but my friends Kristin(e) and Matt visited recently, which is why I’m writing this blog.  It really looks like an interesting area – but not a place I’d want to be on a summer day. My friend Bill HAS been there in the summer – he’s told me about the 95-degree NIGHTS.  Yikes.  Kristin and Bill both shared photos for me to use in this blog, as well as some of their thoughts and observations – thank you to both of them.

One of the interesting things about Palo Duro is that, unlike Grand Canyon, visitors actually drive down into the canyon to get to most of the trail heads as well as campgrounds and picnic areas.  So a lot of the hiking is relatively flat.   This photo was taken from the Visitor Center, which is on the rim.  The formation is appropriately named “Spanish Skirts.”

Palo Duro Canyon – Spanish Skirts

While there are a number of hiking trails, the signature hike is the Lighthouse Trail, which goes to the most iconic feature of the park, called (wait for it) The Lighthouse.  Bill took this photo on one of his trips there.  It’s an almost 6-mile round trip, on a mostly flat trail with one small steep hill at the end.

Palo Duro Canyon – The Lighthouse

There are lots of nice views of colorful mesas from the trail.

Palo Duro Canyon – Capitol Peak

They take heat safety VERY seriously here – a gallon of water per person or animal is recommended.  At this time of year Kristin said they should have worn bug spray due to biting flies.

Hikers, dogs, horses, and mountain bikes are allowed on this particular trail.  There are other multi-use trails in the park as well, but also some that are restricted to hikers only, bikes only, or horses only.

Kristin sent me these photos with the message: “Channeling my inner Laura…I don’t typically take pictures of flowers…”  I’m glad she did – very pretty!


Another interesting fact about the park…for the last 54 years an outdoor musical has been staged during the summer in the amphitheater.  It’s called “Texas” and it tells some of the history of the area.  It is also the official play of the state of Texas.  Bill mentioned it to me – it’s how he knows that it can be 95 degrees at night!  He said: “almost everyone in town remembers when they were high school/early college students and either acted or helped out.”  You can read more about the musical  here.

Have you visited Palo Duro Canyon State Park?

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Fun Facts – and Realities

Since today, May 31, 2019, is the official opening day of Star Wars:Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, I thought I would post this Disney press release of Fun Facts.  And I’m sharing my comments in brackets [].

By the Numbers

  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge spans more than 14 acres, making these the largest single-themed lands in Disney Parks history. [Gotta go big when it’s a galaxy far, far away.]
  • More than a dozen venues fill the lands, including Resistance and First Order encampments, a spaceport and a bustling market. [Resistance and First Order in the same place?  I have a bad feeling about this.]
  • Two attractions will entice guests to live their own Star Wars adventures – Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and (opening later in 2019) Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance[In other words: Rise of the Resistance isn’t ready, but let’s open the land anyway and start making some big bucks.]
  • There are three entrances into the new land at Disneyland Park, and two at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (otherwise, the lands are nearly identical).
  • The Millennium Falcon docked in the Black Spire Outpost Spaceport measures more than 100 feet long. [“What a hunk of junk!”]
  • Among the ancient-looking spires across the lands, the tallest is more than 130 feet high.
  • The lands were created with more than 200,000 square feet of rockwork and approximately 260,000 square feet of themed plaster in each location.
  • More than 7,000 props were created for each land.
  • Nine different retail locations in the lands offer nearly 700 unique items, ideal for those looking to take a memory of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge home with them. [And Disney is counting on the fact that you will want to do so.]
  • There are more than 120,000 possible combinations for constructing a lightsaber using all the available pieces in Savi’s Workshop – Handbuilt Lightsabers.  [Yes!  You too can build your own lightsaber for the low, low, price of only $199.99! (Plus tax)]
  • There are nearly 280,000 possible combinations for constructing an R-series or BB-series astromech droid using all the available pieces in the Droid Depot. [A bargain at just $99.99.  (Plus tax)]
  • Five locations within Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge offer guests a chance to purchase food and beverages. The lands’ menus feature more than 50 distinct, out-of-this-world items. [And a lot of the meat tastes like chicken. Or hot dogs.]

Did You Know?

  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge marks the first time a full-size, 100% complete Millennium Falcon has ever been built. [Maybe not quite complete…I’ll bet there’s no restroom inside.]
  • Guests enter the Millennium Falcon through the same starboard airlock used by Han Solo and Chewbacca in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” [“We’re home!”]
  • The chess-type game played on the table in the Millennium Falcon main hold and lounge is called Dejarik; guests can sit at the table inside Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, and the game is available for purchase in the Toydarian Toymaker marketplace stall. [Of course it is.]
  • At Black Spire Outpost, the droid in charge of music at the local watering hole, Oga’s Cantina, is DJ R-3X, the former Starspeeder 3000 pilot from Star Tours. [Apparently his first Star Tours flight was also his last.]
  • For the soundtrack inside Oga’s Cantina, Walt Disney Imagineering commissioned musicians and composers from around the world to craft original music for a galactic playlist.
  • Kowakian Monkey-Lizards and Porgs are among the “critters” guests will find at the Creature Stall. These are just a few of the many items guests may purchase during their visit. [The many, MANY items that Disney is counting on you to purchase.]
  • Academy Award-winning® composer John Williams created an all-new suite of themes written especially for the lands and their attractions. [And there is no truth to the rumor that all of the music whispers “buy, buy, buy…”]

Development Timeline

  • The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm Ltd. In 2012.
  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has been in development since 2014.
  • Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Bob Iger announced Star Wars-themed lands would open at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios while at the D23 Expo on Aug. 15, 2015.
  • Construction in both Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios began in April 2016.
  • Approximately 6,700 construction workers and artisans were employed during the development of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
  • To operate the land, 1,600 new jobs were created for Disneyland Resort.
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, one of two attractions in the lands, will open on both coasts by the end of 2019. [Second grand opening, second rush to purchase new merchandise.]