Geppi’s Entertainment Museum

Happy September! September has been a quiet month in many aspects for me, so I’m still able to keep up with the bi-monthly postings. It’s nice to be able to pass on information that is still relevant. Any who, continuing on in Baltimore…

Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, located in Baltimore, Maryland

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Geppi’s Entertainment Museum (GEM) is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Admission to the museum is $10. (Groupon has a 2 for $10 deal sometimes, so check before visiting. I got really lucky that there was $10 off code with no minimum limit when I was purchasing the Groupon, so I went to the museum for free.) The museum is easily accessible via driving, walking and public transportation. If one chooses to drive, note that there is no free parking at the museum, there is however a paid parking lot right in front of the museum and there are parking meters nearby. Walking to Geppi’s from the Inner Harbor takes about 15 minutes. For museum access via free public transportation, take the orange route of the Charm City Circulator, and get off at either Howard Street (stop 205) or Pratt Street (stop 219) and walk about a block or so to reach the museum. The museum is also easy to reach with the Baltimore Light rail as it is located near two light rail stops. Geppi’s is right by the Baltimore Convention Center and Oriole Park, so it’s a nice stopover if one is attending an event at either place. Other attractions to visit in the area include Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, and Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry.

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Geppi’s Entertainment Museum is located on the second floor of the building, and is easily accessible via the elevator or stairs on the south side entrance. (We thought the museum was closed when we visited as the doors of the building appeared locked, but we just had to walk around the building to find the correct entrance.) The museum has a set route to be taken, so we followed it. First up is “A Story in Four Colors”, which gives a brief history of comic books. The museum’s comic book collection is massive, with titles from as early as the 1800s to popular comics such as Superman, Spiderman and the Avengers. Next up is “Pioneer Spirit: Baltimore Heroes”, where visitors can learn a little about the founder of the museum in addition to other famous people hailing from Baltimore, such as Edgar Allen Poe, Babe Ruth and Oprah.

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The rest of the exhibits are in chronological order, detailing the evolution of popular culture in America. “Extra! Extra!” focuses on the rise of pop culture from the 1890s to 1927. America had transitioned from a farm based economy to a leading industrial nation by the early 1900s, thus people had more time and money for entertainment. Motion pictures and radios became widespread entertainment options, and newspapers introduced comics to the mass. Popular characters at the time featured on merchandises and comics include The Brownies and Yellow Kid. “When Heroes Unite” spans from 1928 to 1945, a time of gloom and poverty for the American people during the Great Depression and WWII, yet it was booming period for popular culture as people escaped the hardships of everyday life through comic pages, radio shows, and movie houses. This era brought about well-known household names such as Mickey Mouse, Disney and Superman, and was a golden age for the film industry with productions such as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.

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“America Tunes In” covers the evolution of pop culture from 1946 to 1960. The invention of the television took Americans to outer space, and to the old west, and to the peanut gallery right in the comforts of their own homes. Visitors can see a lot of items relating to popular TV shows, such as The Three Stooges, Howdy Doody and Hopalong Cassidy. Don’t miss the Elvis memorabilia; the 1950s was the age of rock and roll. Although America was embroiled in tensions both on the home-front and on a global scale between 1961 and 1970, pop culture continued to thrive as captured in “Revolution”.  The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews broke box off records, and The Flintstones became the first animated series to air on prime time television and continued to be a success for decades. This era also experienced the British Invasion, as James Bond was king on the screen and the Beatles were beloved by many.

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As the American economy transitioned again, from industrial to information, popular culture also changed as presented in “Expanding Universe”, which spans from 1971-1990. Entertainment was now not only in the home through televisions, but people could bring it with them via video recorders (VCRs) and compact discs (CDs) and even  envision themselves as characters via game consoles and computers. This time period saw the birth of Star Wars, which became a cultural phenomenon and continues to influence modern day pop culture.  Last in the chronological exhibits is “Going Global” spanning from 1991 and onward. There didn’t appear to be much in this exhibit, except for merchandise as it shares the space with the museum store.

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The museum also has two temporary exhibits on view. First is “The Dark Knight through the Decades”, on view from March 1, 2017 to October 1, 2017. (If you like Batman or just want to see this exhibit, you still have time.) The exhibit features art from various artists and contains a variety of memorabilia relating to Batman. The other exhibit is “Will’s War: Will Eisner’s WWII and Military Comic Work”, which is on view from March 5, 2017 to October 1, 2017. This exhibit can be found by the 3rd floor stair area (visitors can’t go up the stairs), and as the name suggests, it showcases artwork pertaining to the military. Also don’t miss the various posters, artworks and comics hanging on the walls of the hallway.

My travel buddy and I spent approximately 1.5 hours at the museum, but as usual, others may take more or less time depending on their interest level. Geppi’s is a very entertaining museum, and definitely worth the full admission price for the amount of material that is on view. Anyone interested in comics, pop culture and history will enjoy a visit. The museum contains a lot of reading and not much interaction, so it’s best for families with slightly older children who enjoy comic books or for a day out with friends. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has plenty to do and see, but why not venture away from the crowds to the land of comics and pop culture at Geppi’s Entertainment Museum.

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American Visionary Art Museum

I went to see the solar eclipse recently, which was exciting, but I missed totality because of a cloud, it just wouldn’t move. I’ll have to try again next time. Nevertheless, I got to experience something new, and got to visit some new places, so more material for the blog. I like weird museums, and this next one is definitely strange…

American Visionary Art Museum, located in Baltimore, Maryland

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The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Admission to the museum is $15.95. (If you also plan to visit the National Aquarium while in Baltimore, consider the Baltimore Harbor Pass as it gives you admission to both places and two additional sites for $51.95, which is nearly the combined admission cost for AVAM and the aquarium; the Harbor Pass has several different plans to choose from. If you happen to be a Bank of America card holder, you can get free admission during the first full weekend of the month, but it’s only applicable for the cardholder, anyone else going will have to pay, unless he/she has a card too.) AVAM is accessible via car, walking and public transportation. If you choose to drive, note that there is no free parking for the museum; there are metered parking spots available near the museum and paid parking at a public lot nearby. The museum is easy to reach by walking if you are in the downtown area or the Inner Harbor area, not more than 30 minutes on foot. The free Charm City Circulator is a convenient way to reach the museum via public transportation. Take the Banner route to stop 404, American Visionary Museum, and walk a few steps to the museum. Other forms of public transportation will also take you to the museum, please check Maryland’s MTA website for more info. AVAM is right by the Inner Harbor, so you can explore the area or climb the steps up to Federal Hill Park to take in the view of the harbor.

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Before we go further, AVAM defines visionary art as outsider, isolate, or raw art, and visionary artists as self-taught people who make art in a very personal way, so one should approach the museum with a very open mind to appreciate the works inside. The American Visionary Art Museum is comprised of two buildings and its surrounding grounds. The main building is three stories, but it also has a basement, so there is actually 4 floors of exhibits altogether. Since the museum entrance is on the first floor, my travel buddy and I decided to head to the basement first and work our way up. The basement contains two exhibits, “Flatulence Post” by Bob Benson and “Baltimore Beasties” by Brian Dowdall. The “Flatulence Post” contains art relating to farts; the exhibit is non-odorous, but does contain sounds. “Baltimore Beasties” is a collection of paintings with animals. Both exhibits are sort of silly and best not to be taken seriously (Remember to keep the mind wide open, or you shall be disappointed.)

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The first and second floors of the museum contain the pieces from the permanent collection, which are interesting, for the lack of a better word. The museum really highlights the fact that anyone (and I mean anyone) can be an artist, and anything can be considered art. Also spanning both the first and second floor is the rotating exhibit, “YUMMM! The History, Fantasy and Future of Food”, which is on view from October 8, 2016 to September 3, 2017. (Once again, I made it with a few days for the information to still be relevant. Go take a look if you can.) The exhibit contains a variety of pieces showing the complex relationship between humans and food. Everything imaginable and unimaginable is represented in the exhibit in relation to food. (There was a piece about eye candy that I thought was really clever; it had magazine cutouts of hot male bodies inside a valentine’s chocolate box, it was literally eye candy.)

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On the third floor of the museum was “Matt Sesow: Shock and Awe”, which was on display from May 27, 2016 to May 28, 2017. Matt Sesow is a Washington D.C. based self-taught artist, and his collection of paintings incorporated a wide variety of topics. Asides from the exhibits on each floor, the stairway also contains paintings and is collectively known as “The Marilyn Meyehoff Stairway to the Stars”. Among the stairs is a hanging figure of Icarus, the boy from Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun; see him rotate in all his sparkly glory.

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The other building that is part of the museum is the Jim Rouse Visionary Center, which is two buildings over from the main building. The Jim Rouse Visionary Center is also 3 stories, but most of the exhibits are congregated on the 1st floor, with another exhibit on the 2nd floor, and the 3rd floor is mainly for private events. Foremost up on the first floor is my favorite of all the exhibits that are part of the museum, “The Cabaret Mechanical Theatre of London”. The exhibit contains a variety of automata, self-operating machines that move with the push of a button; the exhibit was highly entertaining and interactive. (I didn’t know that automata were called automata prior to visiting, now I know.) The next exhibit is “Screen Painters of Baltimore”, where visitors can see full size replica row houses with screens painted by Baltimore artists. Scattered about is the “Kinetic Sculpture Race Vehicles”, which are combination vehicles and  works of art used in the annual East Coast Championship Race. There are several other large sculptures, such as Baltimore icon Divine and the bra ball, also on display.

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On the second floor is the exhibit “Remembering Jim Rouse Into Our Future”, which is about and dedicated to Jim Rouse, who was a pioneering real estate developer and activist hailing from Maryland. The second floor also contains classrooms for hands-on work. (There were two weddings happening at the museum that day, so we skipped the outside art as there were too many extra people milling about for my liking.)

My travel buddy and I spent about 1.5 hours visiting the museum, but had we looked at the outside art, it would have taken maybe another 15-30 minutes. As usual, other visitors will take more or less time depending on their interest level. On its own, the museum admission is too expensive for my liking, since I’m not the biggest art fan and don’t believe that art museums should cost so much, but with the Harbor Pass, it made the admission more bearable, so look into the pass if you are visiting Baltimore. Fans of weird museums will most likely enjoy a visit to AVAM, as will people who enjoy art that is outside of the box. Go by yourself or with your closest friend, (one who isn’t too critical and has an open mind) to discover what visionary art is at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Let’s Go To The Museum’s 4th Anniversary

Happy 4th Anniversary, Let’s Go To The Museum!

Another great year, more views, likes and comments than the previous year. Thank you to those who have passed by and looked at the content. Thank you to those who have liked the posts and/or commented; it nice to see a like and/or a comment, thanks a bunch!

I hope that the blog continues to do well in the coming future. I’m still trying to increase the posts per month, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to stick with my current schedule of at least one post a month and maybe occasional double or triple posts a month. I will definitely travel more in the coming year, so look forward to more varied locations.

On a side note: The blog is running low on space, about 90% of the allotted storage space is filled. I’ll be storing pictures on Flickr, as I don’t need all the bells and whistles that come with a purchased plan, so don’t be alarmed if you click a photo and it leads you there.

Walters Art Museum

This past Memorial Day, I visited Baltimore for a long weekend trip as I’ve never been before. Baltimore kind of has a reputation for being a dangerous city, so many people are a bit wary to go, but if you just practice common sense, you can have a great time. I’m happy to report that I had no issues in Baltimore, but then again my travel companion is sort of paranoid so we didn’t stay out too late or wander too far from the more populated areas. First stop is…

Walters Art Museum, located in Baltimore, Maryland

The Walters Art Museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, and on Thursdays from 10am to 9pm. Admission to the museum is free. The museum is accessible by driving, walking and using public transportation. If driving is your preferred method of transportation, there is parking across the street from the museum, however there is a fee. (Check the museum’s website for more information as I didn’t drive, so I’m not sure about the rates.) The Walters Art Museum is about a half hour walk from the downtown and inner harbor areas. (Downtown Baltimore is a bit scary with plenty of homeless people, so just ignore them and keep going if they talk to you.) The museum is accessible via various forms of Baltimore public transportation: Charm City Circulator, MTA buses and the light rail. The best way to get to the museum via public transportation is through the Charm City Circulator, Baltimore’s free bus that circulates around the tourist area. Take the purple route to either the Washington Monument or Centre Street stops, depending on which direction you’re coming from, and walk about 2 blocks to reach the museum. Other attractions to visit nearby include the Washington Monument and the George Peabody Library (which is definitely worth a visit as the library is really photogenic).

The Walters Art Museum is four floors, thus to best conserve energy, my travel buddy started on the fourth floor and worked our way down, so we wouldn’t have to double back. There’s actually two set of staircases, one being more scenic than the other. The scenic staircase is the one overlooking the main entrance, where the free lockers and free audio guides are located. (You have to ask the information desk for the guide; I didn’t get one cause I didn’t realize there was an audio guide till about half through the museum.) The other is the one within the building, the typical stairs surrounded by four walls. The whole fourth floor is one exhibit, “From Rye to Raphael: The Walters Story”, which features material about the Walters family alongside works of art that the family collected. Learn about who the Walters were and how they came about the pieces in their collection.

First up on the third floor is “Renaissance and Baroque”, which features French, Italian and Spanish art from the 13th to 18th century. Within the exhibit, the pieces are grouped by century, so that visitors can see art from a specific time period and how art has changed over time. Pieces in this exhibit included plenty of portraits and religious art. (I went backwards, starting from the 18th century to the 13th century, no big deal for me, but others might want to go in order.) Asides from paintings and sculptures, there is also a section on European ceramics.

Also on the third floor is the temporary exhibit, “Training the Eye: 19th Century Drawing”, which is on view from May 14, 2017 to August 13, 2017. (I did it, the post is still relevant, even if only for a day or so.) The exhibit features various drawings to illustrate the materials and techniques that were available to artists in that time period. Next to this exhibit is a small section on bookbinding. (Not sure how it fits with the drawing exhibit.)

Finishing up on the third floor is “The Medieval World”, which contains a variety of art from the medieval world that spans from the eastern Mediterranean to Western Europe. The exhibit is separated into sections to highlight the distinct works, including Early Byzantine, Islamic, Northern Europe, Romanesque and Gothic art, and Byzantine, Ethiopian and Russian icons. Another section is The Great Room, where one can sit down and enjoy a game of checkers with friends while surrounded by Medieval and Renaissance paintings and furniture.

On the second floor, “European Art/Sculpture Court” showcases the exhibits name, European Art and sculptures. The European Art part of the exhibit is separated into smaller sections, with each section focusing on a different theme, and it’s in these sections where the museum really shines. The sections include Collector’s study, Arms and Armor, Chamber of Wonders, 17th century Dutch Cabinet Rooms, and The Treasury: 18th century European and Asian Art. (The Collector’s Study and the Chamber of Wonders are my favorite as they contained lots of little trinkets and oddities.) The Sculpture Court contains a few a sculptures around the edges of the room, but the main area was a play place for children, with items supplied by the museum to entertain the younger kids.

The other exhibit on the second floor is “The Ancient World” that includes Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman and Ancient Near Eastern Art. The collection in this exhibit is pretty extensive (I enjoyed the sections on the mummies and the sarcophagi). The first floor contains the museum store, a café, and supposedly more temporary exhibits, but when I visited, there was nothing on display there.

My travel buddy and I spent a little over 2 hours at the museum, but as usual, different people will take a different amount of time. For a free museum, there is plenty to see, and they have free lockers and audio guides, so no complaints from me. The Walters Art Museum is a good family day trip idea since it doesn’t cost anything, and there’s enough material that there should be something of interest for everyone; there’s even a play area for the small children. Anyone interested in art will enjoy the museum, but it will probably be a great experience for the general population, too. Bring you friends and your family to the Walters Art Museum to enjoy a day of art and culture.

Mob Museum

The second post for this month almost didn’t make it due to variety of factors, but mainly due to my desire to procrastinate. Nevertheless, it’s here. Without further fanfare, I end my West Coast trip of 2016 with…

The Mob Museum, located in Las Vegas, Nevada

The Mob Museum is officially the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement (which sounds long and not quite as exciting as the Mob Museum.) The Mob Museum is open daily from 9am to 9pm. Admission to the museum is $23.95 when you buy in person at the museum and $19.95 when you buy online in advance. (Check for other types of discounts online, I was able to get my ticket for $17.) When you buy online, the site tells you to select a day and time for entry, but according to the Mob Museum website, you may enter any time as long as the museum is open regardless of what time you selected. The museum is accessible via walking, driving and public transportation. Should you choose walking as your mode of transportation, remember that the streets of Las Vegas are long, so something 2 blocks away could mean a 30 minute walk. If you choose to drive, there is a parking lot next to the Museum, which costs $6 for 3 hours and then additional after that. Public transportation is pretty convenient in Las Vegas, take the Deuce from the closest bus stop on the Strip and get off at Stewart Ave and 4th Street and walk a short block to reach the museum. Apparently there is a free Downtown Loop shuttle that one can take to reach the museum; unfortunately you’ll have to be in downtown Las Vegas for it to be useful as the shuttle doesn’t quite reach the more populated areas of the Strip. If you’re in the Downtown Las Vegas, check out the Freemont Street Experience or the Neon Museum to make a fun day trip of it.

The Mob Museum contains three floors of exhibits with a set route to explore the museum, starting on the third floor. Immediately getting out of the elevator, there is a photo-op for those interested to get a picture of themselves in a police lineupAs the photo-op is optional, those not interested can bypass the line and head to the first exhibit, “The Birth of the Mob”, to learn about the origins of the mob and how it came about in the early 1900s. There’s a short movie in this exhibit about Lucky Luciano, who is considered to be the father of modern organized crime in the United States.

In “A Tough Little Town”, visitors can learn how Las Vegas began as a frontier town and evolved to become a global capital of gambling and entertainment due to the construction of the Hoover Dam and the legalization of gambling and prostitution in Nevada. Next up is an exhibit documenting the Prohibition Era from 1920-1933, entitled “Prohibition”. The 1920s was a time of great economic and social change, where it was easy to defy Prohibition with bootleggers and speakeasies. The Prohibition Era saw a rise in crime due to the diversion of law enforcement to regulating alcohol distribution and to the establishment of black markets dominated by organized crime syndicates, which led to a stronghold for the Mob. The Great Depression brought about the repeal of Prohibition and ended the need for bootleggers and speakeasies, but the Mob had already laid deep roots and continued to thrive.

“The Feds Fight Back” focuses on law enforcement’s response to the growing Mob influence and rising crime sprees post-Prohibition. The exhibit highlights J. Edgar Hoover and his group of G-Men, known initially as the Bureau of Investigation, later as FBI. Originally, the agents weren’t allowed to carry guns or make arrests, but because of two sensational crimes of the era that led to murders in both cases, the G-Men were permitted to carry guns, make arrests and cross state lines to chase down suspects, as it isn’t within local police’s authority to do so. When the G-Men couldn’t get a Mob member through a serious criminal offense, the government brought in the T-Men, agents of the U.S. Treasury, who took down Mob members for tax evasion. (I find that quite funny and interesting.) Finishing out the third floor is “The Tentacle Spreads”, which focuses on the Mob’s endeavors after the Prohibition. With the end of Prohibition, people no longer needed to obtain alcohol illegally, so the Mob found other ways, such as gambling  and dealing drugs, to make a profit.

First up on the second floor is “The Kefauver Hearings”, which includes a short 10 minute video in the actual courtroom used for the hearings in Las Vegas. The Kefauver Hearings provided many Americans with their first glimpse of organized crime’s influence in the US as the hearings were televised live on national television. The hearings concluded that the Mob existed, which was denied by some, including J. Edgar Hoover.  “Open City” is another Las Vegas centered exhibit. Due to gambling being illegal in many states, mobsters focused on Las Vegas as the place for their ventures since Nevada legalized gambling. See a variety of items on display, including showgirl outfits and a small display of cheating methods, and learn how casino owners skimmed money to avoid taxes.

“Spinning A Deadly Web” explains how the Mob has a hand in everything, from politics to world affairs. Last exhibit on the second floor is “We Only Kill Each Other”, which focuses on how the Mob lifestyle affected the individuals, their families and innocent bystanders. Visitors can view a variety of weapons used for hits, and images of some of the Mob’s most notorious hits.

The first exhibit encountered on the first floor is “Bringing Down the Mob”, which focuses on the joint efforts of law enforcement to convict the mob. The exhibit highlights some of the newer technologies in the 1970s, such as wire taps and listening devices, to get incriminating evidence on criminals. Also, there is a small section on undercover work. “Weapons Training” is an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to test their skills and judgement in the virtual world. (It’s quite fun, you get to shoot bad guys, but also weird cause other people are just watching you act silly.) Right next to the this exhibit is “International Organized Crime” that explains about crime in the 21st century; modern crime transcends traditional boundaries and is a more global affair.

Next is “Memories of the Mob”, which contains a room full of pictures relating to the Mob members and their families. “100 Years of Made Men” highlights the most notorious figures from 100 years of Mob history; a brief story for each figure is included. Last, but not least is “Hollywood and the Mob”, which details how Hollywood has merged fact and fiction pertaining to the Mob to create fascinating stories for public entertainment.

My travel buddy and I spent about 3 hours exploring the Mob Museum, but as usual others may take more or less time depending on interest level. The museum contains lots of reading material, but it was pretty crowded when we went, so it might take some more time if you want to read everything. (I skipped some of the more crowded sections as there was just too much people.) The price of admission at the door is slightly steep in my opinion, so try to look for deals, or at least buy online in advance to save some money. Anyone interested in Mob or organized crime history, or just history in general, will have great time at the museum. The museum has several videos and plenty of interactive exhibits, but is much better suited for adults and older children as there is a lot of reading involved. Las Vegas is known as Sin City, so it’s only befitting that its history is deeply entwined with the Mob’s, and where better to learn about both then at the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, or better known as The Mob Museum.

Grand Canyon National Park

It’s that time of the year again where I’m declaring there will be double posting per month. I can’t seem to keep up with the double postings for long, but we’ll see how I do this time around. I’ve already been on several trips this year, during the Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, so I have a lot of material for the blog. Moving along with the West Coast adventures is…

Grand Canyon National Park, located in Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park is separated into the South Rim and the North Rim. The South Rim is open 24 hours a day year round whereas the North Rim is only open from May 15th to October 15th each year. Admission to Grand Canyon National Park is $15 per person or $30 per vehicle. The admission fee includes access to both the South Rim and the North Rim, and is valid for seven days. (The NPS has an annual pass for $80 that grants access to various NPS sites if you plan to visit a lot of parks for the year.) The South Rim has two visitor centers: Grand Canyon Visitor Center, which is open from 9am to 7pm, and Verkamp’s Visitor Center, open from 8am to 8pm. The North Rim Visitor Center is open from 8am to 6pm. The South Rim is accessible via car, bus, shuttle or railroad, whereas the North Rim can be reached by car or shuttle only. Regardless of which form of transportation, expect to take at least 1 hour to get to the park or more if you’re coming from further away. Grand Canyon National Park covers a lot of land, however it’s possible to visit a few of the lookout points in a couple hours, but it can take a couple of days to hike down the canyon and back.

The Grand Canyon is majestic; pictures don’t do it justice, you just have to go yourself to see it in all its glory. I wasn’t able to make it to the North Rim during my visit, so this post will cover only the South Rim. The South Rim is the more popular side of the Grand Canyon, receiving about 90% of the visitors to the national park. One of the highly recommended things to do at the canyon is to watch sunrise or sunset (or both). The lookout at Hopi Point provides a great view of sunset and isn’t extremely crowded as it’s further away from the visitor centers. Mather Point lookout is quite popular for viewing sunrise and sunset as it is close to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. (However, a part of the canyon blocks the view during sunrise. You might want to try Yaki Point that lies a bit further east, so it probably offers a better sunrise view, but since I woke up late, I couldn’t make it there in time.) Regardless of where you choose to go to view either, go early as the lookouts are often crowded. Also make sure to dress appropriately, as the temperatures vary widely between the day and night. The lookout points are located relatively close to each other, so it’s possible to walk from one to the next. However, if you don’t want to walk, there are three free shuttle bus routes that connect all the lookout points to one another. For those who aren’t experienced hikers, but want something easy with nice views of the canyon, do the Rim Trail, which is a mostly paved trail with slight inclines. The total distance of the Rim Trail is about 13 miles, however the trail has conveniently placed shuttle bus stops so that one can start and end where they like. I only covered the distance from Grand Canyon Visitor Center to the Grand Canyon Village, which took about 1.5 hours and is about 2 miles. For others who are more experienced, the park offers 4 other trails to explore. In addition to hiking, there are ranger lead programs that visitors can attend free of charge. One can also ride a mule into the canyon, but you have to book early as the mule rides get filled up quickly. (Early as in a year in advance; check the NPS website for more information.)

Grand Canyon National Park has two visitor centers where one can get more information about whatever activities they wish to do. One can view a short 20 minute movie, Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder , at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center in addition to seeing various exhibits containing historic artifacts pertaining to the canyon. At the Verkamp’s Visitor Center, there are exhibits about the history of Grand Canyon Village; what it was like to live and work at the canyon.

Yavapai Geology Museum is located within the national park, so there is no additional admission fee. The museum is open from 8am to 8pm, and is most easily accessible via the Rim Trail or the orange shuttle bus. The small two room museum contains exhibits that explain the rock layer deposits of the canyon and how the Grand Canyon was form. The museum has a topographic model of the Grand Canyon that includes both the North and South Rim to demonstrate the vastness of the canyon. In addition to the exhibits, the museum offers a great view looking out across the canyon. It took about 30 minutes to view everything at the museum thoroughly, so others may take a little less time if they aren’t particularly interested in the subject matter.

My travel buddy and I spent about 2 days at Grand Canyon, which is sufficient as we got to see sunrise and sunset, did a bit of walking on the Rim Trail, and visited the Visitor Centers and the museum. How long one will spend is very dependent on what they want to do there, so plan ahead, but I recommend staying for sunset if you can; the canyon is a lot prettier during that time. Admission to the national park is pretty inexpensive, since it allows access for 7 consecutive days. Most people will probably enjoy a visit to the Grand Canyon, as it’s not something you see every day, and it’s definitely something to see in person. The Grand Canyon is a good trip idea for families with older children as there’s a bit of walking involved and lots of non-enclosed space, so safety might be a concern for younger children. Dress in multiple layers and wear your comfiest shoes to wander in one of the world’s greatest wonders at Grand Canyon National Park.

Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay

My big trip in 2016 was to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. The Grand Canyon is one of those places that I’ve felt that I should see, and now I have, it was majestic. Las Vegas is a destination that a majority of people will visit at least once in their life, so why not. Let the western U.S. adventures begin…

Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, located in Las Vegas, Nevada

The Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay is open Sunday to Thursday from 10am to 8pm, Friday to Saturday from 10am to 10pm, and during the summer months, it’s open until 10pm daily. Admission to the aquarium is $20. The aquarium is accessible by car, public transportation or walking. The resort where the aquarium is housed does contain a parking lot, but I’m unsure if there are fees are not, as I didn’t drive around. The aquarium is easy to get to using public transportation, just take the Deuce or SDX buses to the Mandalay Bay stop. The Deuce or SDX buses are the two that visitors will become most familiar with when visiting Vegas as they are the two buses that travel along the Strip and to downtown Vegas. If you’re in Vegas and need to take public transportation, buy the 24-hour pass as it’s only $2 more than the 2-hour pass, and is valid for a full 24 hours. (There are other types of passes available, check the RTC website for more information.) Finally, walking to the aquarium is a possibility, but note that the blocks are actually more like really long avenues, walking just one block will take about 10 minutes. (I did some walking some days to save money, but if you plan really well, you can get by with the 24-hour pass.) Las Vegas has lots of fun things to do, so check out the various hotels and resorts to see what is interesting.

Shark Reef Aquarium is nestled within the resort, so it’s still a bit of walk inside, but there are plenty of signs to lead visitors to the correct place. The aquarium is on the small side, where the rooms are interconnected by hallways, so that all visitors take the same pathway to view the animals. The aquarium starts with what it designates as the “Jungle” area, where visitors can see a Golden Crocodile, a Komodo Dragon and Amazon Predators. The area is decorated rather lavishly with trees and even a statue (since this is Vegas, even there aquarium is a bit vibrant). Moving on is the “Temple” area, where the first of two underwater tunnels is located; this one highlights Indo-Pacific fishes, which include angelfish and sharks swimming all around and above (I’m a big fan of underwater tunnels, so this was a pleasant surprise). Exiting the underwater tunnel, visitors can  view sea jellies and an octopus. Also in the “Temple” area is a touch tank featuring horse crabs and stingrays. The last area is “Shipwreck” and highlights the aquarium’s namesake, sharks. There are actually two shark exhibits, one is a standard exhibit with the big window for viewing, and the other is the underwater tunnel where the sharks are swimming everywhere. (This one was popular when I visited, people were lingering in the tunnel. )

My usual travel companion and I spent only 30 minutes at the aquarium, but I think most visitors will need another 15-30 minutes to fully take in everything the aquarium has to offer (we had to move fast since we had a timed excursion after.) As always, the times are just suggestions, so others may take even less time or a lot more if they deem it necessary. As to the admission price, I’m not sure if it’s a fair price or not. On the one hand, there are plenty of exhibits (and underwater tunnels), and the aquarium is clean and well maintained. However, on the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be enough to see since I was able to go through it so fast, it makes me feel it wasn’t worth the price. Any who, shark enthusiasts should definitely take a visit since there’s plenty of sharks to see. Families with children may want to consider visiting as it’s something the kids can do in Vegas ( I don’t think they can be gambling in the casinos just yet.) When you need a break from all the gambling and entertainment that Vegas has to offer, take a visit to the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay to feel slightly closer to nature.