Behind the Waterfall

Number 116 on my adventure list was to go swimming next to a waterfall.  I have always loved waterfalls (but really, who doesn’t?)  When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was Behind the Waterfall.  I won’t spoil it for you, but there is something magical hidden behind the falls in this film.  When I think of waterfalls now, I still think of magic.  That’s probably why this one ended up on my list.

Living in the midwest, I don’t get the chance to see very many waterfalls.  But in January, I found myself at this enchanting little spot in New Zealand.

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This swimming hole is on my brother-in-law and his fiance’s property.  The privacy and seclusion of this spot just adds to the charm.

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Although the water was a little cold, and I was a little afraid of potential eels lurking about, it was definitely worth it to jump in.  This was one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen.

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Also works as a water slide

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Top of the falls

GOPR0572.jpgWe didn’t find anything mysterious behind the waterfall.

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But there’s always next time.

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-A

When Someone You Love Loses Someone They Love

Tonight I’m writing about a topic that has been weighing on me for the past couple months.  As some of you may know from reading my recent posts, my grandpa passed away unexpectedly on Christmas morning.  This also happened to be my 28th birthday.  It was the worst day of my life.  My grandpa and I have always been close.  He was one of my very favorite people.  My world, and my family’s, stopped spinning that day, but everyone else’s lives continued on.

IMG_5846.JPGWhen people found out about my grandpa’s death, many friends expressed how sorry they were for my loss through texts and Facebook comments.  But why did some of these messages leave me feeling more empty than supported?  rain-1567616_960_720.jpg

Text messages and social media are great inventions, but I think some of us (my generation especially) have lost touch with the importance of real touch, real connections.

3344044448_55bbe6f420_b When someone you love loses someone they love, it’s hard to know what to do or what to say.  I’ve been the friend who did nothing, and I’ve been the friend who in hindsight didn’t do enough.  A few years ago, a friend of mine lost his dad.  I didn’t find out until later, and at the time, we weren’t as close as we used to be.  Now that I’m a little older, I really regret not reaching out to him.  Last year, another friend’s father died.  I went to the visitation and donated to the memorial fund, but looking back, I wish that I had done more.  I wanted to do more.  I just really didn’t know what to do.

After experiencing my grandpa’s death, I finally understand what I should have done when my friends lost their loved ones.  I wanted to share these tips with other people who don’t know what to do.

When someone you love loses someone they love, you should:

-Be present.  This is the most important thing you can do.  So how can you be present?

  • If you live within driving distance, go to the visitation or the funeral.  Even if you didn’t know the deceased person well, going to the visitation is a sign of support to your friend.  It will mean a lot to them to see you there.
  • General offers of assistance are fine, but being specific is better.  If you say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”, your grieving friend likely isn’t going to take you up on it.  Instead, ask something like, “Would it be better for me to bring food by your house on Thursday or Friday?”
  • If you live too far away or can’t make it to the visitation for another reason, send flowers or a plant to the funeral home in memory of the deceased.  Or, give a monetary gift in memory of your friend’s loved one.  If you’re not financially able to send flowers or give money, then mail a card to your friend.  A handwritten note will mean a lot.
  • If you live far away, but still want to help out, consider sending your friend a gift card to a restaurant that has delivery or carry out available.  In the days and weeks to come, your friend is likely to have days where they can’t seem to make it to the grocery store and can’t bring themselves to cook.  A gift card would be much appreciated for times like this.
  • Call.  You may feel like you don’t want to bother your friend, but trust me, if your friend doesn’t want to talk, they won’t answer.  You should still call.  Ask how your friend is holding up, and then listen.  Really listen.
  • Offer to meet up for dinner whenever your friend is ready.  Ask your friend to share their favorite memories of the deceased person.

So what if your friend lost someone they love a few weeks or months ago and you didn’t do any of the above things?  It’s not too late.  You should:

-Be present.

  • Call or offer to meet up.  Apologize for not being there for your friend.  And start being there.  Ask how they’re holding up.  Ask about your friend’s favorite memories of the deceased person.  And listen.
  • Send a card to let your friend know you’re thinking about them and offer condolences.
  • Check in on your friend.  Don’t be afraid to ask about the deceased person.  Bringing up their name won’t remind your friend that they’ve lost someone they love.  Trust me, they already know and think about it all the time.  Bringing up the deceased person’s name means that you remember that that person lived and once played an integral role in your friend’s life.  Bringing up their name shows that you recognize that your friend’s loss is now part of who your friend is.

And what about if your friend lost someone they love quite awhile ago and you didn’t do any of the above?  It might not be too late.  You should:

-Again, be present.

  • Contact your friend, whether it’s by calling, or mailing a letter, or meeting up.  Apologize for not being there during that difficult time when your friend lost someone they loved.  Again, ask them to share their favorite memories.  Open up the floor and let them share as much or as little as they want.  The most important thing you can do is be there for your friend and listen.

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If you take away one thing from this post, it’s that it is never too late to try to be there for your friend.  Grief changes over time, but it never completely goes away.  Your friend may not have brought up their loved one’s name around you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t miss that person or want to talk about them.  Months or years may have passed, but you can still be present for your friend right now.  Be the person that asks, “How are you?” and then really, really listens.

-A

7 Tips for a Short Stay in Vegas

 

Four best friends in Vegas…

No, I’m not talking about The Hangover.  In November, I traveled to Las Vegas with my husband and our two friends.  We didn’t steal a tiger or throw a mattress off the roof, but we did have a great time.

We played the slots.  And some of us won.  And then we all lost.

We played Blackjack.  And some of us won.  And then we all lost.

We ate at a classic Vegas buffet.  And some of us ate too much.  Okay, we all ate too much.

If you’re planning a trip (and you should), here are my recommendations:

  1. Stay in a central location on the Strip (or on Fremont street).  We rented an awesome condo on the Strip through Airbnb.  Our place was walking distance to almost everything.  The condo also had the added benefits of providing coffee (much needed after a late night) and a spa pool (great for relaxing after a long day of walking).  Have you tried Airbnb before?  We love using it.  We have gotten to stay at some great places for a cheaper price than a hotel, but with more space, a kitchen, and a local’s recommendations for things to do in the area.  Sign up here and get $40 off your first trip.  Just make sure the host you choose has positive reviews from other people, first.  🙂

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    The view from our room

  2. Try to see as many of the unique casinos as you can.  Even if you’re not a gambler, the architecture of the the buildings is worth seeing.  The Luxor, Excalibur, and The Paris were a few of my favorites.
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    The Paris

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    Excalibur

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    The Cosmo

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    The Luxor

  3. Make sure you check out Fremont Street.  It’s a different vibe from the Strip.  I would love to spend more time here on our next trip.IMG_3316.jpg
  4. Go to a lunch buffet.  It’s cheaper than dinner, but still has amazing food.  We went to The Golden Nugget – so good. IMG_3318.jpg
  5. Go see the sign.  You know the one.  The iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign.  It’s touristy, packed with people, parking is terrible, but seeing the sign in person is worth it.  We did have to drive here from the Strip (but you could take an Uber or taxi if you don’t want to rent a car.)  15232299_10208394089912120_1892026850154465942_n.jpg
  6. If you have time, get away from the city and check out the Hoover Dam.  Truly an amazing sight. IMG_5517.jpg IMG_3336.jpg
  7. If you have lots of time (or in our case-one day), drive to the Grand Canyon.  You can make the trip in a day, which is what we did, but I wouldn’t recommend that.  It’s a long drive (~4 hours each way).  It would be better to stay the night (or a few nights) near the canyon (maybe in Flagstaff), so that you have more time to enjoy the park.  Oh, and make sure you check the weather before you go.  Because apparently, it does snow in Arizona in November.  IMG_5526.jpgIMG_3422.jpgIMG_3426.jpg

Las Vegas is an unforgettable experience.  Brightly decorated buildings as far as you can see; aggressive street solicitors loudly slapping cards at you; peppy slot machine music echoing through your head (even after you leave); the flicker of excitement running through your body as you push “spin again”; cloudy rooms full of smoke, hope, regret.  There’s no place quite like Vegas.

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Have you been?  Would you like to go?

-A

 

 

One Day at a Time

Number 45 on my adventure list was to complete the 52 books in 52 weeks reading challenge.  2016 was my third year attempting to reach this goal.  During my first year of this challenge, I read 31 books.  The second year, I only read 13 (eek).  But 2016 was finally my year to cross this goal off my list – I read exactly 52 books in 52 weeks.  Here’s a list and short description of the books I read this past year.

I initially set this goal back in 2013 when I first started my blog.  Reading 52 books in 52 weeks made the cut for my adventure list because I used to read all the time, but life happened and slowly I stopped being a reader.

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In undergrad and grad school, I did a lot of non-fiction reading for classes, so the last thing I wanted to do was read a book for fun.  After I graduated and started working, I had more time to read, but I didn’t.  It was easier to turn on the TV or spend hours browsing Pinterest or getting lost on Youtube.  But although that was the easier choice, those things did not leave me feeling fulfilled or happy.  Hence, I set a goal to read more.

Looking back on all of this gives me a little glow of satisfaction and pride.  I did it, one day at a time.  Today I am more the person I want to be than I was when I started this little blog three years ago.

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So how did I manage to read 52 books in one year?

By crossing Number 59 off my adventure list – become an early riser.  Just like with my goal of reading more, I have tried to become an early riser since my blog started.  And it took three years before I finally made it.  Somehow, pairing these two difficult goals was the magic solution to reaching them both.

My problem with achieving my reading goal during the first two years I attempted the challenge was that the only free time I felt like I had was after work.  But after work, I was tired and drained – reading a book was near impossible.

It was nearly midway through 2016 before I seriously started becoming an early riser.  I can’t really say what finally made this work for me.  Waking up early is something I’ve tried (and failed) to do for years.

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Perhaps it was a combination of several things perfectly aligning that finally made this happen.

First of all, a little over a year and a half ago, I started a new job.  This was my first job after graduation that had set hours, starting at 7:45 a.m. Monday-Friday.  My two previous jobs, on most days at least, did not require me to get up early as most of my appointments were in the afternoon or evenings.  So for the first time in many years (since probably high school), I had to be up and leaving the house at the same time 5 days a week.  Having a set schedule definitely helped set the tone for me becoming an early riser.

Second, I was tired of feeling rushed in the morning, drinking my coffee in the car and praying I wouldn’t be late to work.  Starting my day stressed and in a hurry was not in line with the life I wanted to live.

Third, I was determined to not fail my 52 books in 52 weeks goal a third year in a row.  Now or never was my motto.

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And finally, I realized that I was not going to reach my reading goal by trying to pick up a book after work (when I was tired) or on the weekends (when we often had plans).

And so I read many, many articles about how to wake up early.

And I tried many, many ideas from said articles, such as…

Set out your clothes the night before (this one didn’t work for me).

Move your alarm clock so you can’t turn it off without getting out of bed (this one definitely helped me get started in the beginning).

Go to bed earlier (so simple but so true).

Plan something exciting for breakfast (some days this helped).

And slowly, it happened.  I was getting up, every day, an hour before I needed to get ready for work.  I had a whole hour to myself, and it was beautiful.  I leisurely drank my coffee and read a book, and then read some more.  I drove to work, feeling peaceful because I had already had this wonderful time to myself.

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After several months of this, I realized – it’s happened.  I’m an early riser.  I did it.

And I read 52 books.

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Although I have officially crossed these goals off my list, both encompass qualities I want to continue having in my life.  I’ve still been reading this year (but at a more relaxed pace).

However, I have not been getting up early the past couple months, and that is something I want to get back to when I’m ready.  My grandpa passed away unexpectedly at the end of December, and I have been struggling with this loss.  He was one of my favorite people in the world.  I’m trying to be forgiving of myself because it has been such a difficult few months.

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Having goals and pushing yourself is great, but this loss has taught me that it’s okay to take a break when you need it.  There have been days lately when the only thing I’ve accomplished is going to work, days where I push the snooze button 5 times in a row, days where I cry the whole drive home, days where I curl up on the couch after work, and days where we eat fast food for dinner because I don’t have the energy to go to the store.  Right now, I’m taking things one day at a time.  I’m healing one day at a time.  And that is okay.

I’ll leave you with this.

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-A

Change Your Life

Number 125 on my adventure list – watch 1 documentary a month for an entire year – inspired me to make some big changes.

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There were a few busier months where I didn’t watch a documentary, but I am still counting this goal as complete since I watched a total of 13.  After I watched each one, I summed up one or two main points that I wanted to apply to my own life.  Looking back on this list, I’m happy to say that several changes I made really stuck.

From The Human Experiment I watched over a year ago, I decided to reduce my use of plastic kitchen containers, as well as make my own green cleaners.  Today, we have mostly glass food containers.  I also use my own green cleaners, made mainly from vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils.

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For the most part, we have been eating much healthier after watching Forks over Knives and Sugar Coated.  

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After watching Tiny and Minimalism, I was inspired to reduce clutter, and I did!  (However, I still wasn’t at the point I wanted to be until I completed Marie Kondo’s “Konmari method” this January and February, which I will be blogging about soon.)

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There are some other ideas from these documentaries that are still a work in progress.  After watching Life 2.0, I wanted to spend less time wasting time online or watching TV, and more time living.  This is something I am still working on.  I am also still trying to find my “exercise flow” after watching Happy.  My takeaway from watching GMO OMG was a renewed interest in starting my own garden.

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Watching these films probably wasn’t my sole reason for making changes since I chose documentaries about topics I was already interested in.  However, I did get some solid ideas on how to get started.  It was also a fun way to get some more information (but be sure to do your own research after watching.)

What’s the most life-changing documentary you’ve ever watched?

-A

Under the Town

Number 132 on my list is “Take a boat tour of Bonne Terre Mine in Bonne Terre, Missouri.”  I think I first found out about it when I came across a photo on Pinterest.  When I saw that the mine was in Missouri, I knew I needed to go.  We made the trip in October with my parents.

One of the major highlights of the Bonne Terre Mine is the billion gallon lake, which is 17 miles long.  It was amazing how big the mine is (and we only saw part of it on the tour!)

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The mine is kind of a big deal.  It has been featured in National Geographic and USA Today, among other publications.  It is best known for being a fantastic diving spot.  However, we skipped going underwater and went on the walking/boat tour instead.

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I thought it was fascinating that there are 3 levels of the mine that are completely submerged in water, including a “ghost town” where the miners lived.  If you are into diving (or want to be), this would be such a cool place to explore!  It made me (almost) want to conquer my claustrophobic fears and jump in.

The tour itself was interesting and informative, and the mine was eerily beautiful.  I would definitely recommend that you stop by if you’re in the area.  It felt a bit surreal after the tour as we drove through Bonne Terre, knowing there was a whole other world under the town.

-A

P.S.  My photos don’t really do the mine justice.  Check out this article by St. Louis Magazine for another look.

Over the Mountains and through the Woods

This year, I visited 7 state parks, 6 of which were parks that were new to me.  That means I can cross #126 – Visit 5 state parks that I haven’t been to before – off my list.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about my love of state parks and detailed my visits to Watkins Mill State Park (June 2016) and Lewis and Clark State Park (July 2016).  You can read more here.

In August, I went with my parents to Katy Trail State Park, which is different than a traditional park in that it is comprised of a 240 mile trail on the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.  I only walked a few miles of the park, but it is a really nice trail.

K and I went on our 3rd annual road trip to visit friends in North Dakota in September.  On our way back to Missouri, we stopped at Palisades State Park in South Dakota.  This park is absolutely beautiful.  I wish we could have spent all day there.  The only negative part was that we got a parking ticket because apparently parking is not free at South Dakota state parks.  Alas, it didn’t sour our experience too much.

In October, K and I spent a wonderful weekend in Southeast Missouri with my parents.  We went to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and Elephant Rocks State Park.  Taum Sauk is the highest point in Missouri.  It was a great place to go hiking and there were some really pretty views.

But the highlight of the trip for me was Elephant Rocks.  I have never seen anything like it.  I was expecting just a few big boulders, but the park is covered with these elephant rocks.  Even better, it’s like a giant playground because you can climb and jump your way across the rocks.

I’m really glad I put this goal on my adventure list.  I would not have gone to any new parks this year if I hadn’t made this a goal.  It’s so much easier to do the same things every weekend, but it’s so much more fun to go to new places.

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When’s the last time you went somewhere for the first time?

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-A

It Might Taste Good

Last month, the 3-year old daughter of some friends was singing a cute little diddy from Daniel Tiger about how you need to try new foods ’cause they might taste good, and I thought, that’s some great advice.

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It’s so easy to get stuck in the habit of eating the same stuff or cooking the same meals, so at the beginning of the year I set a goal to encourage myself to branch out and try new things.  Number 123 on my adventure list – try at least 10 new foods/cuisines within one year.

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So far in 2016, I have tried Ethiopian, Mediterranean, French, Turkish, American Indian, Egyptian, Scandinavian, Colombian, St. Lucian, and Austrian-German cuisines.  I also tried some Japanese foods that were new to me.  Of the dishes I tried, five were at restaurants I’ve never been to, and seven were samples from booths at an Ethnic Enrichment Festival in my city.

It’s hard to narrow down the list to which foods I liked the best, because I actually liked them all!

The Ethiopian food we had was especially delicious, my favorite thing being the injera (spongy, sour flatbread).  Since our first visit, we have returned to the restaurant and plan to go again in the future.

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I also loved the Mediterranean food we had.  It inspired me to start making my own pita bread, hummus, and lentil soup.

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My new favorite snack – homemade pita bread and hummus

I think the food I was most nervous to try was escargot…703784_10206460995505968_4049882212204343064_o

but it was actually really good!

I was also surprised to find that at the Austrian-German restaurant, I loved the sauerkraut on the bratwurst appetizer.

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Going to the Ethnic Enrichment Festival was an amazing experience.  The only downside was that I got too full too quickly.  🙂  Next time, I would like to go to the festival on more than one day so I can try everything!

My favorite food at the festival was the Colombian empanadas (fried pastry with beef and potato filling, served with salsa verde).

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You can read more here about all the new foods I tried.  Although I can officially cross this goal off my list, it’s far from being over.  I am actually just inspired to try more new foods.  Because you know what?  It might taste good.

-A

 

Sugar and Spice

Number 121 on my adventure list – get a cartilage ear piercing – has been something I have wanted to do for awhile.  My only piercings thus far have been the basic ear lobe piercings that I had done in high school.  I think my inspiration for another ear piercing initially came from Anna Kendrick in the movie Pitch Perfect.

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Anna Kendrick – she is beautiful.

My best friend and I have been talking for the past year about her getting a new tattoo and me getting my cartilage pierced.  We finally made it happen a few weeks ago.

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Feeling nervous pre-piercing

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BF taking the pain like a champ.

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Post best friend permanent accessory bonding time

Now, about the pain.  The piercing itself didn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would.  It was the days after when I had to clean it that the pain was the worst.  I also didn’t think about how I would only be able to sleep on one side at night.  That part wasn’t fun.  However, it’s now the end of week 3, and overall it feels pretty good and is healing nicely.

I think my new piercing adds the little bit of spice I was looking for.IMG_4658 (1)

I’ll leave you with this.

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-A

 

The People’s Parks

I love state parks, and really, what’s not to love?  They’re beautiful, free, a great excuse to get some exercise and fresh air, and a fun way to spend an afternoon.  Growing up, I remember visiting several state parks with my family, my favorite being Ha Ha Tonka State Park.  Shortly after K and I started dating, we took a road trip to this park.  It was just as great as I remember!

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Another park that I went to as a child (but don’t really remember) and later returned to as an adult is Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.  This is hands down one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in Missouri.

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These family trips likely inspired Number 126 on my adventure list – visit 5 state parks that I haven’t been to before within one year.  This summer, I have visited two (new to me) state parks in Missouri.

Watkins Mill State Park (June 2016).  This was a nice park with lots of space.  We enjoyed a long walk on the paved trail.  There was a lake beach, but the posted sign said it was not currently safe for swimming due to bacteria levels.  We also visited the Watkins Mill Historic Site which was part of the park.

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And people are still swimming…

Lewis and Clark State Park (July 2016).  It was a small park, but the overlook of the lake was worth the trip.  Lots of wildlife around the water.  It was interesting that Lewis and Clark were in this exact area on July 4th and that was the same day that we visited.

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I have plans to visit several other parks this summer/fall, including Taum Sauk Mountain State ParkElephant Rocks State ParkGrand Gulf State Park, and Palisades State Park.

What’s your favorite state or national park?

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-A