Finding a waterfall (and a creek) along the Lost Creek Trail

Pay your daily use fee (or whip out that national parks annual pass) and make your way onto Red Rock Canyon’s scenic loop drive. About 3/4 of the way around the circle, you’ll find a road leading off the main loop. Take a right and follow this road to the first little parking area on the left. You’ve found the trailhead for the Children’s Discovery/Lost Creek Trail.

(But don’t take my word for it. Grab a map on your way into the park. Otherwise, if you miss your turn, you’ll need to go around the horn again, since the scenic loop is a one-way street. Trust me. I know from experience.)

"wilderness"

“wilderness” | Image by Sarah Vernetti

The Lost Creek trail is categorized as “easy – moderate,” which seems appropriate. It isn’t particularly long, but you will have to navigate a fairly rocky pathway to reach the small waterfall. Although “waterfall season” ends in early spring, we were able to see a trickle of water when we visited in mid-April. Even if you don’t find a torrent of water, it is still a lovely little spot with shade (What?) and trees (You’re kidding!).

The other highlight of the hike, besides the creek, is the presence of several varieties of wildflowers that grow here in spring, especially the bright orange Desert Globemallow.

This trail goes through a wash, so if it has rained recently or if rain is in the forecast, use caution.

For more information: Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association

desert wildflowers

Wildflowers and mountains at Red Rock Canyon | Image by Sarah Vernetti

tiny waterfall

A tiny waterfall in mid-April | Image by Sarah Vernetti

trail

Along the trail | Image by Sarah Vernetti

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Travel Tip: Visit McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

Our recent trip to Phoenix, Arizona centered around Cubs baseball. We arrived at the ballpark early and checked out batting practice, bought some new Cubs gear at the team store, and soaked up the sun during the afternoon game. However, before leaving the next day, we took the time to stop by Scottsdale’s McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.

My travel tip of the week: families shouldn’t miss the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park | Image by Sarah Vernetti

The kiddie train¬†might be the park’s most popular attraction. The small but historically accurate train carries passengers along a one-mile route. Kids will also love the park’s historic carousel.

McCormick-Stillman is home to two playgrounds, one of which has shade covers. Swings, slides, and climbing structures abound, and they appear to be well-maintained.

In addition to the kiddie train and the model railroads, McCormick-Stillman also features a few real train engines and pullman cars, including the Magma Arizona Railroad Engine that greets visitors as they enter the park.

If you like to seek out those souvenir pressed penny machines, stop by the small general store near the carousel. Don’t forget to bring your shiny penny and two quarters.

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park provides families with an inexpensive outing, since admission is free and ride tickets are reasonably priced. So throw on your conductor’s cap (and plenty of sunscreen), and visit the park the next time you’re in Phoenix.

For more information: McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

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Journal: A brief history of my life as a reader

When I was a kid, if you’d asked me if I liked to read, the answer would have been no. However, a more accurate way to describe it would be to say that I liked to listen. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mom reading to me at bedtime. We read Edgar Allen Poe, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the Nancy Drew series (The Secret of the Old Clock still stands out in my mind). And dinosaur books…lots of nonfiction paleontology.

When I was a newlywed in my early twenties, I worked at a public library. I would come home from work on Monday nights with a stack of 10-12 books and finish them by the end of the week. I wasn’t a parent yet, and for the first time in my life I was no longer a student, so I had my evenings to myself for once.

I read everything. I read classics that I’d somehow missed like Anna Karenina and Dracula. I read Brat Pack fiction (Bret Easton Ellis and company), Joyce Carol Oates, travel guides, and every installment in a cheesy mystery series the name of which I can’t remember. I read so much that I kept lists: lists of books I’d already read, lists of books I’d seen at the library and wanted to remember for the future.

Then I became a mom. The idea of spending my free time diving head-first into a book seemed laughable. When I did have time to myself, I spent it drinking wine in front of the TV, watching some vapid reality show because the act of critical thinking seemed like too much of a strain. I was just so tired.

I read a book here and there, but not with the ferocity with which I’d read before. In fact, I didn’t start reading again on a regular basis until we moved to Las Vegas and my daughter started school.

Although I certainly haven’t rekindled my pre-parenthood pace, I do carve out time to read at least a few times per week. What have I been reading lately? I read A Fair Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates sometime last fall, and I just finished her Evil Eye: Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong a few weeks ago. Other recent reading included a collection of short stores called USA Noir and Jenny Offill’s novel Dept. of Speculation, both of which I really enjoyed. Next up, I’d love to try Offill’s first book.

My taste in books has changed…and yet it hasn’t. Isn’t Joyce Carol Oates a logical next step for a kid who grew up listening to Poe?

What have you read lately?

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Dante’s View: A Sphere of Heaven at Death Valley

Magnificent views aren’t particularly rare in the American Southwest. The Grand Canyon is mind-bogglingly expansive when seen from the south rim, the memorial bridge on the Nevada/Arizona border offers a bird’s-eye-view of Hoover Dam, and several points along the Las Vegas Strip provide folks with a perfect vantage-point from which to enjoy the sparkling landscape below.

And the views at Death Valley National Park in California deserve a mention right alongside these impressive, better-known vistas.

Dante's View, Death Valley

Dante’s View | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Located just off the main road that leads into the park, Zabriskie Point seems to be the overlook of choice for most Death Valley visitors. The overlook can be reached by taking the short(ish) trek up the paved walkway. Although this overlook is certainly worth a stop, I prefer Dante’s View.

Visitors drive about 10 miles off the main road to reach the Dante’s View overlook. Although this is a two-lane paved road, it is winding and shoulderless in most places. Thank goodness for guardrails, because near the top, the road seems to cling precariously to the mountainous terrain.

Those who take the time to venture to the top are rewarded with a stunning view of the Badwater Basin salt flats. The ground below holds undulating patterns of salt that almost make the valley seem like it is in motion.

For more information on Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point, and other noteworthy spots within Death Valley, check out NPS.

Dante's View, Death Valley

Dante’s View | Image by Sarah Vernetti

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Postcard: Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

Mooooo….Spring Mountain Ranch State Park | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, main ranch house

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

Running free…Spring Mountain Ranch State Park | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Pros: Spring Mountain Ranch State Park is located just past Red Rock Canyon’s busy scenic loop. Even on weekends, the ranch is less crowded than its neighbor.
Cons: Although this park offers a healthy dose of fascinating history, it might not be the park-of-choice for serious hikers who would be happier at Valley of Fire or Mount Charleston.

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Vernetti Stadium: why not?

Before I got married, I had a run-of-the-mill, unremarkable last name. I can’t remember a single time that it was a topic of conversation. I used to make a reservation or hand over my debit card without incident.

Then, I became a Vernetti.

“Vernetti” is unmistakably Italian. It is Italian to the point that it becomes a topic of conversation. It prompts strangers to start speaking to me in Italian because, they assume, anyone with the last name Vernetti must be fluent. It is misspelled and misheard (Bernetti? Verneppi? Verneth?).

However, it also instills a strange sense of pride. “Ver-nett-i” (Come on…say it in your best Godfather voice.)

So, while most people probably would not visit someplace simply because it is named after a Smith or a Jones, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see one of the few places that actually shares our name.

Vernetti Stadium, Coronado

Vernetti Stadium, Coronado Island, CA | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Vernetti Stadium is located on Coronado Island, just over the bridge from San Diego. My husband discovered it online, so on our way to the beach, we made a quick stop. To call it a stadium seems a little generous. It is more like a ball field, probably home to many weekend Little League games.

We were glad we took a few minutes to see it and snap some photos. After all, us Vernetti’s are a rare breed. We have to stick together, even if we’ve never actually met.

Vernetti Stadium is located at:
1323 Orange Ave.
Coronado, CA

Ciao!

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In which I destroy each of your excuses for not going to Valley of Fire

If I had to make a list of my favorite destinations on Earth, Valley of Fire State Park would be up there in the top five. To my Midwestern eyes, it is so unfamiliar and special that I can’t imagine spring without a trek northeast of Las Vegas for some outdoor fun.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park | Image by Sarah Vernetti

I’ve written about the park a few times before: for my family travel blog, Wandering Off (here and here) and for the March 2013 issue of the digital magazine, Real Family Travel. So, I’ve already got your Valley of Fire itinerary set. Now, it’s time to convince you to get going.

Got an excuse or five for not visiting the park this spring? I’m about to dismantle each of them.

1. “I don’t have time.” Yes, you do. It’s only 56 miles from the heart of Las Vegas to Valley of Fire. Once you get there, you can spend as much or as little time in the park as you want. If you’re short on time, focus on the beehive rock formations (near the park’s entrance), Atlatl Rock, and the relatively short Mouse’s Tank trail.

2. “I can’t afford it.” Grab some friends and split the cost. You can all chip in for gas. Once you arrive at the park, the $10 entrance fee is per car, not per person, so that can be divided up among you and your friends too. Also, Nevada residents receive a $2 discount. Bring snacks for the car and a picnic lunch to help cut food costs for your day out.

3. “I’m out of shape and can’t do a long hike.” That’s ok! There is plenty to see at Valley of Fire that doesn’t involve a lot of walking. Drive through the park and stop to take photos, have a picnic lunch, or check out the visitor center.

4. “I can’t leave my sweet, beloved dog, even for a day.” You’re in luck. Valley of Fire allows dogs in the park as long as they remain on a leash. We took our dog with us during our most recent visit to the park, and he had a blast.

5. “I hate being outside.” What? Even when the weather is beautiful? Remember that humans were designed for time outdoors, for fresh air and physical activity. Give it a try. Keep an open mind. You’ll have more fun than you thought was possible.

If you visit Valley of Fire, remember to bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and a map of the park. (Maps are available at the park entrance. Just ask the ranger.) Have fun, and know that you are lucky to be able to visit such a beautiful piece of the Nevada landscape.

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Journal: Lead your own little rebellion

You know how sometimes you’ll see a photo on Facebook even though you aren’t friends with the person who posted it? (For instance, maybe they tagged a mutual friend.) The other day, I saw the photo of a friend of an acquaintance of a friend, and I spotted something.

Wait. Could it be? I must be looking at this the wrong way. Oh my…

I sat there in horror feeling embarrassed for this woman, while simultaneously wishing I could unsee the photo. I started refreshing the page, wondering when someone would clue her in to the fact that the world could see up her skirt. But no. “Like” after “like” and comment after comment, no one seemed to notice or care.

It wasn’t until then that it dawned on me: perhaps this wasn’t a mistake, a hastily posted photo that would soon be deleted. Maybe this woman posted the photo knowing exactly what it contained. Maybe this wasn’t anything like Elaine Benes’ Christmas card.

This made me think about signals. Don’t we all send messages to the world through our appearance, at least through the aspects of our appearance that are within our control? And what are we trying to tell others? Aren’t we, on some level, trying to set ourselves apart? Are we also telling the world how they should treat us?

These signals introduce us to everyone we cross paths with, whether it’s in-person or online. “Hi, nice to meet you. Here’s how you should treat me.”

And while I have never, ever, everevereverever posted a “my skirt is riding up” photo on Facebook, I am sending signals too.

I live in the “beautiful woman” capital of the world. Yet, I almost never wear make-up, I opt for glasses over contacts, and I haven’t dyed my hair in almost two years. I could go on and on about how I don’t like the way globs of make-up feel on my face or about how contact lenses make my eyes itch, but isn’t there more to it than that? After all, the way I present myself isn’t dependent on time or effort or comfort. It is by choice.

When I post a photo of myself on Facebook, what signal am I sending out into the world? Am I not trying to set myself apart from other women? Am I not, on some level, trying to lead my own little rebellion, my own glasses-wearing, make-up-less, nature-loving, approachable, come-as-you-are rebellion?

We are each leading a rebellion–you, me, crazy Facebook lady–and I wish you well in your battle, even if I’m fighting a different one.

Ready to lead a very friendly (and fully clothed) rebellion.

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Postcard: Coronado Beach

Coronado

Coronado Beach | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Coronado

Coronado Beach | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Hotel del Coronado

The historic Hotel Del Coronado | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Coronado

Still fun, even if it’s too cold for swimming | Image by Sarah Vernetti

Pros: Wide, beautiful beach on Coronado Island, just over the bridge from sunny San Diego. Only 333 miles from Las Vegas.
Cons: You won’t want to leave.

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How to visit the Neon Museum with kids

People don’t travel to Las Vegas for the museums and cultural experiences, but maybe they should. One thing I’ve learned during my two years as a resident of this city is that history and the arts are all around us, despite the stereotype that Las Vegas is completely preoccupied with casinos and nightlife. Although I could rattle off a long list of must-visit institutions in Southern Nevada (Clark County Museum, Mob Museum, and the Smith Center to name a few), perhaps the most unique is the Neon Museum.

This outdoor collection of retired signs is the type of thing you won’t find elsewhere. It is distinct in its subject matter and conception. Guests enter through the transplanted La Concha Motel lobby, which now serves as the Neon Museum’s visitor center. The “neon boneyard,” where the signs are stored, is open to visitors via a one-hour guided tour.

The words “guided tour” can make some parents pause, but it is possible to have a successful visit to the Neon Museum with kids. Here’s how:

1. Keep in mind that visitors must stay with their guide during the tour. No wandering away from the group is allowed. There are other rules too, both to protect the visitors and to preserve the historic signs. I recommend this tour for kids who are well-behaved enough to understand and follow the rules.

2. Warn your kids ahead of time that they might not understand everything the tour guide says…and that’s ok! I told my daughter that if she had questions she should save them for the end of the tour.

3. Encourage kids to appreciate the bright colors, crazy fonts, and fun subject matter of the signs.

4. Make sure youngsters are wearing comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and a hat or sunglasses.

5. Purchase your tour tickets in advance.

We enjoyed our visit to the Neon Museum, and my daughter even talked me into buying her one of the “Ugly Duckling” sign t-shirts from the gift shop.

The Neon Museum is located at:
770 N Las Vegas Blvd.

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