Mermaids Are Real (we have proof)!

In the crystal clear waters of Weeki Wachee Springs there reside  mermaids, seriously. We wouldn’t make up something like this.

As a matter of FACT, the Florida State Park Service is a leader in the preservation of these exotic rare creatures.

We were lucky enough to have the chance to observe their graceful antics in a natural habitat and… CONTINUE READING >> 

The northwest coast of Florida (yes, Florida has a west coast) is loaded with giant fresh water springs that attract tons of manatees.

There are theories that manatees like these are the source of the legend of mermaids.

The Mermaids of Weeki Wachee SpringsThese rely on the idea that the sea cows have some slight resemblance in shape and size to humans, and that after a long time at sea a sailor will see a woman no matter what he is actually looking at, so they are likely true.

But what do these have to do with each other, or our travels through The Sunshine State?

Well, in the crystal clear waters of Weeki Wachee Springs there reside both mermaids and manatees, so we figured what better place to test the theory?

When we got our first look at the spring, several manatees were lazily drifting through the crystal clear water, from far away and perhaps with some poor eyesight and the wishful thinking of several weeks of shipboard celibacy, one might mistake them for some sort of swimming female.

The Mermaids of Weeki Wachee SpringsThe Mermaids of Weeki Wachee SpringsWe could see it, until we saw the poster of the famous Weeki Wachee Mermaids that is, then… well let’s just say there must have been some sailors in serious need of spectacles.

While these mermaids may not be the legends of lore, they do have quite a history. Back in 1947, former U.S. Navy diver Newton Perry hatched a plan to turn the spring into a tourist attraction.

He came up with the idea of underwater breathing through air hoses instead of tanks, built a little eighteen seat theater with a glass wall for viewing into the spring, found some pretty girls, trained them, and put up signs along Highway 19.

The Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs

Only problem was that back then there were more alligators than tourists around.

Traffic passing by was so rare that when they heard a car approaching the girls would run out to the road to beckon the travelers in, a lot like their mythological ancestors, the sirens.

But as Florida grew, so did Weeki Wachee. In 1959, ABC bought the business, expanded the theater to five hundred seats, and introduced highly staged and themed performances.

The shows were a big hit and thrived, but by the 21st century modern attractions were drawing the bulk of the Sunshine State’s tourists and Weeki Wachee was fading.

Luckily Florida’s State Park Service took it over in 2008 and created one of America‘s most unique state parks.

The River Boat Cruise at Weeki Wachee Springs

We had arrived between shows, but not to worry, there were other activities to occupy our time until the next mermaid spectacular, including a boat tour down the river that flows out of the massive spring.

We like boats, in fact we are up for just about any ride on the water, so we headed across the park to The River Boat Cruise.

The River Boat Cruise at Weeki Wachee Springs

More African Queen than Delta Queen, our little river boat took us downstream on the Weeki Wachee River as in makes its twelve mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.

We only went about a mile of that, but we did get an informative look at many of the local flora and fauna, including a majestic bald eagle.

After our cruise, we took in a bit more zoological observation at the Animal Encounter show where we met snakes, turtles, and the star of every Florida animal act, an alligator.

The Animal Encounter at Weeki Wachee SpringsBut the time was near for the main attraction, so we high-tailed it over to the theater to stake out some front row, glass-side seats.

The extravaganza kicked off to music, and one by one three fish-tailed divers entered the underwater stage. They performed a choreographed swimming number with reasonable precision and definitely impressive lung capacity.

The ability to hold one’s breath for long periods is imperative to becoming a mermaid because the air hoses are only used to grab quick breaths between routines. This became a key feature later in the show.

The Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida

The Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida

Their most impressive move, a rotating circle of the three, came early in the show. Then, as it turns out, was repeated often.

We kept waiting for a school of more mer-folk to arrive, but alas, they never did. In fact, a turtle that decided to endlessly pester one of the performers was fast becoming the star of the show.

Florida Mermaid eating an apple

Throughout the program the camp factor (and we LOVE camp factor) was definitely high, with many fin-and-tail puns and even some underwater apple eating.

This was true Americana, but the show didn’t take advantage of it as much as we hoped.

At least not until the big climax, when one of the mermaids attempted to dive over one hundred feet deep toward the bottom of the spring without any oxygen hose.

The Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida

Without a doubt a breathtaking spectacle, except for the fact that the entire feat took place below a rock ledge that obscured any view from the audience.

While the emcee dramatically counted off the time she had remained submerged without air, we all simply stared into empty water. It was riveting.

Or maybe not, depending on the viewer’s level of skepticism. Perhaps she was simply hanging out in the underwater dressing room where the performers prepare for the shows.

Either way, amazingly she reappeared no worse for wear and proceeded to join in on the grand finale. We were treated to one more round of the rolling circle of mermaids and sent on our way.

David poses with a Weeki Wachee Mermaid!

At the exit of the park we were bid adieu by one last mermaid sitting on a throne.

A wave goodbye seemed fine to me, but Veronica insisted, “you get over there and get your picture taken with that mermaid!”

As I sheepishly made my way up to the young lady turned real-live mythical creature, it occurred to me that getting to hear a statement like that is what Weeki Wachee is all about.

David & Veronica,

YOUR TURN: Have we convinced you to visit Weeki Wachee? Do you believe in mermaids now that you have photographic proof?

The World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade

In a clever ploy to get us to visit, Veronica’s dad dropped a little “have you ever heard of The World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade” on us early in in March…

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY! Here’s a look at a great way we spent it a few years back.

Where in the world is the most fun in the shortest distance on St. Patrick’s Day? Why Hot Springs, Arkansas of course.

In a clever ploy to get us to visit, Veronica’s dad dropped a little “have you ever heard of The World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade” on us early in March.

How could we possibly resist an invitation like that?

Simple answer, we couldn’t. We love a parade, and anything world’s shortest, longest, biggest, or smallest.

Bright and early on March 17th, we motored into the heart of “The Valley of The Vapors” and staked a claim on a spot to watch the compacted cavalcade.

Unlike some St. Paddy’s Day processions, this one is always held on March 17th, and every year it’s the First Ever #th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Hot Springs really decks out for the occasion, dying the famous fountains of healing waters Kelly green.

Historic Bridge Street, America’s shortest street in daily use –according to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not — was cordoned off and ready.

The entire route covers a mere ninety-eight feet.

All Hail the King of the World's Shortest St. Paddy's Day Parade in Hot Springs, Arkansas

The course may be small but the event sure isn’t.

Tens of thousands of revelers line the tiny boulevard to welcome the numerous local dignitaries, Shriners, bikers, bands and babies in “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shirts.

All of that was just a warm up for the big guns. The crowd really got All Shook Up when a couple of dozen Kings of Rock & Roll took to the street as the International Order of Irish Elvi.

WATCH: The party comes alive – Elvis-style – with the International Order of Irish Elvi!

All we could say was “Thank you, thank you very much!”

Hard to believe, but once Elvis had left the building, it wasn’t the finale.

Each year a fabulous celebrity Grand Marshal finishes off the procession. This time Bo Derek, showed everyone that she’s still a 10.

Previous participants have been John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clayborn from Cheers), Pauly Shore, and George Wendt (NORM! from Cheers), with Jim Belushi slated for the First Ever 11th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Afterward a band takes the stage at the end of Bridge Street, segueing the parade into a street party / pub crawl before the last piece of candy gets snagged by a kid.

We decided to join the crowds in a libation or two at some of the local watering holes, with one strict rule, we would drink nothing green.

After a stint at Hot Spring’s version of an Irish Pub, where many of the Elvi were still strutting their stuff, we set out to explore another offering – The Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival.

This indie extravaganza takes place at several venues around town, and has the good sense to time their festivities to coincide with the parade.

Thus insuring well-lubricated crowds to cheer on the up-and-coming bands from all across the country.

Ears ringing with the strains of several of these combos, we waded back into the night just in time to see the last of the beads, confetti and fake green fingernails being swept up.

Just in time start counting the days until until the next First Ever Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Only 364 to go.

David & Veronica,

Vatanmed Clinic Leads Istanbul’s Hair Transplantation Services, Making Turkey the Ultimate Destination for Beauty Tourism

With its world-class medical facilities and highly skilled cosmetic professionals, Turkey has become one of the leading destinations for health and beauty tourists seeking quality and affordable medical and beauty treatments… CONTINUE READING >> 

Turkey is on a mission to establish itself as a global hub for health and beauty tourism and has made significant strides in recent years. With its world-class medical facilities and highly skilled cosmetic professionals, Turkey has become one of the leading destinations for health and beauty tourists seeking quality and affordable medical and beauty treatments. In particular, Turkey has established itself as a top destination for hair transplants, with around 1 million people coming to the country for this procedure last year.

One clinic that has been at the forefront of Turkey’s health and cosmetic tourism industry is Vatanmed, a leading hair transplant clinic in Istanbul. Vatanmed has been providing high quality hair transplant services to both local and international clients since 2007. The clinic’s reputation for providing natural-looking results has earned it a loyal following among patients seeking to improve their physical appearance and regain their self-confidence.

One of the reasons for Vatanmed’s success is its commitment to keeping up with the latest technology and hygiene standards. The clinic uses state of the art equipment to ensure that its patients receive the highest quality of care. Vatanmed’s team of professionals is highly trained and experienced, and they are always ready to provide patients with the support and guidance they need to make informed decisions about their hair transplant procedures.

Vatanmed Clinic’s services include hair loss treatment, hair transplantation, eyebrow transplantation, and beard transplantation. The clinic’s expertise in these areas has made it a go-to destination for anyone seeking to improve their physical appearance through these procedures.

But Vatanmed Clinic is more than just a hair transplant clinic. The clinic is also committed to giving back to the community and has been involved in various humanitarian efforts, particularly in the wake of the 2023 earthquake in Turkey. Vatanmed employees have been involved in solidarity efforts and the clinic has staff in the affected regions to help assess the needs of the communities affected by the disaster.

Vatanmed Clinic’s humanitarian efforts are part of its daily business, and the clinic is committed to donating a portion of its profits to organizations that help those in need. By prioritizing its humanitarian efforts, Vatanmed has established itself as a socially responsible company committed to improving the lives of those around it.

For those who wish to combine their hair transplant procedure with a trip to Istanbul, Vatanmed Clinic is the perfect choice. Istanbul is a beauty heaven with many attractions and activities to keep visitors entertained. From historic sites such as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia to modern shopping malls and luxury hotels, Istanbul has something for everyone.

In addition to its world-class hair transplant services, Vatanmed Clinic also provides its patients with comprehensive support before, during, and after their procedures. The clinic’s team of professionals is always available to answer questions and provide guidance, and patients can expect to receive personalized care throughout their treatment.

In conclusion, Vatanmed Clinic has established itself as a leading provider of hair transplant services in Turkey and is at the forefront of the country’s health tourism industry. The clinic’s commitment to providing the highest quality of care to its patients and its dedication to giving back to the community make it a socially responsible business that is dedicated to improving the lives of those around it. For those looking to combine their hair transplant procedure with a trip to Istanbul, Vatanmed Clinic is the perfect choice, offering world-class services and comprehensive support throughout the entire process. With Vatanmed’s help, Istanbul is well on its way to becoming the health and beauty tourism capital of the world.

More info at

A Winter Wonderland Aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder

Join your GypsyNesters aboard Amtrak’s iconic Empire Builder as we head through a winter wonderland in luxury!

See Glacier National Park out the huge windows of the Sightseer Lounge, celebrate Veronica’s visit to her 48th state over crab cakes (for breakfast!) in the dining car, share a fun-filled wine and cheese tasting, and enjoy tours of our sleeper car and all the fabulous amenities that you never knew Amtrak provided! … CONTINUE READING >> 

Here is a great way to catch the last of winter in the comfort of your train car. And don’t worry, there is still plenty of snow!

David the train nut is in heaven! The Empire Builder in Chicago!
David the train nut is in heaven! The Empire Builder in Chicago!

As a bit of a nut about trains since childhood — train nuts actually prefer the term railfan — David was pretty fired up when Amtrak invited us to take a trip aboard the legendary Empire Builder. There was no way we were turning down two round-trip tickets to the ultimate “winter wonderland” experience — riding in style from Chicago to Whitefish, Montana through the breathtaking and frozen Glacier National Park.

The Empire Builder is the best way to see Glacier National Park once the snow gets deep enough to be measured in feet. Veronica was pretty jazzed too, since The Builder has long been known for premier service and is considered by train nuts, oops, railfans as the ultimate in rail travel.

The sleeping car lounge for train passengers for Amtrak at Chicago's Union Station
The sleeping car lounge in Chicago’s Union Station.

In Chicago’s Union Station, we discovered the well-appointed waiting lounge reserved for sleeping car passengers and enjoyed the complementary great service, coffee and wifi, before boarding our westbound train for a journey across the Great Plains, and over a century of history.

The route to the Pacific Northwest still follows the original path laid out in the 1890s by James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railway and namesake of the train.

Hill’s tenacity toward finishing a railroad to the Pacific earned him the title “Empire Builder.”

Although he didn’t live to see the train that was named in his honor, it was an immediate success and soon became the Great Northern’s premier train.

We had plenty of outlets to keep us charged up and ready to rock in the Sightseer Lounge – check out the HUGE windows!

Working our way north along the shore of Lake Michigan, we stopped in Milwaukee before turning inland and racing across the snow-covered dairy farms of central Wisconsin.

We staked out a couple seats in the Sightseer Lounge, reminiscent of the original “Great Domes” that debuted on The Empire Builder back in 1955, to watch the scenery, The Dells, and the setting sun roll by.

Sunset from the Sightseer Lounge on Amtrak's Empire Builder

The Sightseer, like its predecessors, features panoramic dome windows running the entire length of the car. We knew this was going to be THE place to be to watch Glacier National Park pass by.

Having scouted the entire train for the optimal spots, we headed up front to our roomette in the sleeper car.

We’ve covered a lot of ground on Amtrak in the past, but always in coach (click here to see 6’2″ David showing off how comfy coach seating is!), so we were really curious about the set up in the sleeper cars.

The ingenious design makes for both riding and sleeping comfort.

Equally as cool is the access to showers when staying in the sleeper car. Really, really nice.

Weather in the morning on Amtrak's Empire Builder!

Nightfall brought us into Minnesota where we crossed The Mississippi River and into a serious arctic chill.

Waking briefly near Fargo, North Dakota, we checked our weather app and it was 17 degrees below zero… wind chill of 31 below.

Luckily we were all safe and warm nestled in aboard our Superliner. We simply pulled up the covers and let the train rock us back to sleep.

Nearing the Montana state line we began to see dozens of drilling rigs and oil wells through the swirling snow as we blazed across the prairie. It meant we were getting close to the oil boom town of Williston, North Dakota.

A remarkable story akin to the old gold rush days, the town has more than doubled in size in the past few years due to new technology for extracting oil.

As the rigs rolled by our dining car window, we shared breakfast and conversation with one of the oil field workers and learned that these reserves, in what is known as The Bakken Formation, may possibly hold several billion barrels of oil.

That would make it the largest in the United States and this has propelled North Dakota past Alaska to become the second largest oil producing state in the union behind Texas.

Veronica marks her 48th state - North Dakota! Celebrating with crab cakes for breakfast on the Empire Builder
Veronica marks her 48th state – North Dakota! Celebrating with crab cakes for breakfast in the dining car!

This was also the portion of our journey where Veronica marked the milestone of visiting her 48th state.

By stepping off the train in North Dakota she has set foot in all of the contiguous lower 48.

Since Amtrak has no current plans for a bridge to Hawaii, looks like we’ll need some alternate form of transportation for her to finish the task of seeing all 50.

Later in the day, as an added entertainment bonus for sleeper passengers, the dining car is transformed into a tasting room. Amtrak hosts a wine and cheese event on the second afternoon of every Empire Builder run.

We settled in for an array of tasty cheeses from Wisconsin, spirited wines from Washington State and some laughter and great conversation with our fellow travelers.

Wine and cheese pairing aboard Amtrak's Empire Builder! Fun Trivia and great conversation!

In addition to introducing each selection, our crew entertained with trivia challenges, with bottles of the wines as prizes, that ranged from real brain teasers to hilarious farces… and nearly everybody won something. Perfect, a nice Columbia Valley Gewurztraminer to go with dinner.

The full service kitchen on Amtrak's Empire Builder

Speaking of dinner, Amtrak serves full, cooked-to-order meals aboard all long-haul routes, often featuring regional specialties.

No airplane food zapped in a microwave in their dining cars.

This is possible because there is a full kitchen below the dining room on the double-decker superliners. Elevators are used to send the entrees up so every dish is fresh and piping hot.

Our amazing server aboard the Empire Builder, Sophia!
Meet Sophia, our amazing server!

Highlights of the culinary offerings were cage-free eggs cooked to order for breakfast, the Amtrak Signature Steak or Spice-rubbed Salmon for dinner, decadent desserts, as well as gluten free, vegetarian (the Chipotle Black Bean and Corn Veggie Burger is amazing – get it) and lite fare.

Not gonna lie, we were really impressed.

Dinner selections on Amtrak! Steak and salmon

For a less formal repast, or those between meal cravings, the cafe car on the lower level of the Sightseer Lounge dome car has a wide assortment of snacks and beverages (click here for a tour with “Ellis the Cafe Guy” aboard the California Zephyr).

Our passage through Glacier National Park westbound from Chicago was in the dark, so we spent a few nights in spectacular Whitefish, Montana, where we took in the offerings of the wonderfully quirky little mountain town, and even zipped through Stillwater State Forest in a dogsled.

Getting ready to dog sled in Whitefish, Montana!
All warm and cozy and ready to dog sled! Can’t wait to share the video with you!

Sunrise over the train depot in Whitefish Montana

Catching back up with the Empire Builder at the picturesque Whitefish Depot, our snowy early morning return trip had us glued to the windows of The Sightseer Lounge as we snaked our way through the The Lewis Range along The Middle Fork Flathead River.

Other than snowshoes or cross-country skis, this really is the optimal method of Glacier Park winter exploration.

Not surprisingly we, not being big on the idea of walking the icy wilderness with tennis rackets or two-by-fours strapped to our feet, or icicles hanging from our noses, chose the comfort and luxury option of Amtrak.

Glacier was designated a National Park on May 11, 1910, after lobbying efforts by The Great Northern Railway. Most all of the park’s early development was directly related to the railroad, in fact The Great Northern built several lodges to increase their tourist traffic.

The train skirts along the southern border of the park, and we wore the shutters out on our cameras while climbing up to 5,213 feet to cross the Continental Divide at Marias Pass. From there one could truthfully say, “it’s all downhill from here.”

Glacier National Park from the Sightseer Lounge on Amtrak's Empire Builder

Click here for more photos of Glacier National Park from the Sightseer Lounge!

Veronica is served breakfast in bed on Amtrak!

On our way back down to Chicago we discovered that meals could be served to the comfort of our roomette.

Is there a better way to start a day than breakfast in bed?

Veronica doesn’t think so.

David & Veronica,

Here’s a Way to Afford Living in New York City

We are always on the look out for new ideas, and that is why we were so excited to find an interesting prospect in New York City called co-living…

Years ago we solved the dilemma of the cost of living in New York by living miles outside of the city in Poughkeepsie. But that meant spending hours on the train and missing out on many of the things that make the Big Apple so great.

After that we ended up in Southern California for a while. So now, as we move into the grandparent period of our empty nest lives, we have been discussing some new possibilities. We are most interested in finding ways to see not only our grand babies, but also our full grown adult kids as much as possible.

As our three children set out on their own, each of them settled down in very different places. Our oldest, and mother of our two grand daughters, married a French man and lives in Paris. Her sister, the middle child, lives in New York City. And our youngest, the boy, is a pilot up in Anchorage, Alaska.

These far-flung locations are all great places to visit, but they are also all very expensive. So that has led us to start looking at options for staying close to the kids that don’t involve spending hundreds of dollars a night on hotels or hoping for the best at an unknown Air B&B.

Is There an Affordable Alternative?

We are always on the look out for them, and that is why we were so excited when we found an interesting prospect in New York City with The idea they call Outpost Club, is a concept of coliving New York City that makes it possible to afford living in the city without going broke.

So How does it Work?

1. The unique rental system provides a private room connected to shared spaces such as kitchens and living rooms. This allows for much lower rent.

2. When it comes to utilities or WiFi all of the worries and expense have been removed, because they are included in the rent.

3. The little essentials needed for the apartment, along with regular cleaning, are also included. This means that there is only one bill for all of the housing necessities.

Who can Benefit from Coliving?

While we became interested in Outpost Club because of our unique situation as digital nomads, the set up sure sounds like a great option for younger folks who are looking for an affordable way to get started in the big city.

The mission of Outpost Club is to build a community of people with shared passions and visions, and by working together create thriving communities that will help to make the world a better place. This makes it possible to meet like-minded creative people, such as entrepreneurs and experts from many fields, and develop professional, long-term relationships.

I can tell you that we certainly wish this had been available back when our kids first moved to New York City years ago. The savings and the networking could have been a huge boost for their fledgling careers.

But now that they are all settled, we would also love it if the Outpost Club expanded to new cities around the world… like maybe Anchorage… or Paris.

David & Veronica,

Jeanerette Louisiana’s Marvelous Mardi Gras Parade

They don’t call Jeanerette “Sugar City” for nothing – this town doesn’t mess around… CONTINUE READING >> 

This year the Grand Marais Mardi Gras Parade in Jeanerette is on Sunday March 19th. Here is our look at a visit a few years ago. 

Jeanerette's Krewe of Ezana Mardi Gras Parade

Some Mardi Gras parades are focused on floats and bead throws. Not in Jeanerette.

Jeanerette's Krewe of Ezana Mardi Gras Parade

This little town of 6,000 throws a real show. Marching bands, twirlers and dancers of all ages fill out the spaces between the floats.

Jeanerette's Krewe of Ezana Mardi Gras Parade

They don’t call Jeanerette “Sugar City” for nothing – this town doesn’t mess around with the treats they throw – candy, beads, stuffed animals, candy, trickets, oh, and candy. And gum. (click here to find out more on Mardi Gras outside of New Orleans)

Jeanerette's Krewe of Ezana Mardi Gras Parade

Jeanerette's Krewe of Ezana Mardi Gras Parade

Jeanerette's Krewe of Ezana Mardi Gras Parade

Jeanerette's Krewe of Ezana Mardi Gras Parade

Jeanerette's Krewe of Ezana Mardi Gras Parade

Jeanerette's Krewe of Ezana Mardi Gras Parade

Jeanerette's Krewe of Ezana Mardi Gras Parade

Click here to find out more on Mardi Gras outside of New Orleans

David & Veronica,

Delve deeper:
See our entire journey discovering Mardi Gras outside of New Orleans
Visit the crazy Courir de Mardi Gras, in Church Point – chicken chasing!
Check out the authentic celebrations in Eunice and Mamou
Go hog wild at an old-fashioned Boucherie meat fest!
Watch dogs celebrate Mardi Gras at the Krewe des Chiens Dog Parade
Find out how to get booze at a drive-thru window
Join us at the parade in Lafayette
Learn more about the Acadian, Canadian, and Cajun connection
See our thank you to the mysterious person at the Dog Parade who commited a wonderful act of kindness!

Just in Time for Valentine’s Day – Travel Pick-up Lines!

When Lonely Planet put out the word that they wanted submissions for clever Travel Pick-up Lines we were all in.

We love us some puns. The more corny the better… CONTINUE READING >> 

When Lonely Planet put out the word that they wanted submissions for clever “Travel Pick-up Lines,” we were all in. We love us some puns. The more corny the better.

You’d think after thirty years of marriage we’d be a little rusty, but they were flowing out of us so fast it was hard to get them written down. Frankly, it was a bit disturbing how un-rusty we were.

Here are our winning submissions:

Here are some of our favorite entries:

Haven’t had enough? See all of the winning pick-up lines here!

YOUR TURN: Which is your favorite? Would you use any of these? Do you have one to add?

Sled Dogs & Snow Ghosts – Whitefish, Montana in the Winter

Whitefish, Montana! A quirky, friendly little town with a great sense of humor, a fabulous microbrewery, and some of the most incredible scenery in the world!

Join us as we head into Glacier National Park in the snow and dog sled (!!!) through the breathtaking Stillwater State Forest with goofy grins pasted on our faces… CONTINUE READING >> 

The GypsyNesters go dog sledding in Whitefish, MontanaWhen Amtrak offered us a ride on the legendary Empire Builder we accepted without hesitation.

The only thing we had to think about was where we would like to get off and stay a few days before riding back the other way.

Whitefish Montana, gateway to Glacier National Park, quickly emerged as the clear choice.

Whitefish Montana

The town of Whitefish sprung up almost overnight as soon as the Great Northern Railway arrived in 1904.

Things were built so fast that the stumps from the trees used for lumber were everywhere, giving the new community its original name of Stumptown.

Fortunately for all future residents, the early leaders decided to go with Whitefish, after the nearby lake, when officially incorporating the city a year later.

Whitefish Montana

Logging operations soon dominated the area, so stumps remained an integral part of the landscape for years to come.

Now days tourists like us coming for the proximity to the national park, and skiers to The Whitefish Mountain Resort on nearby Big Mountain, are the main economic engine for the 6,400 citizens.

Glacier National Park

With only a couple days for our explorations, we took a pass on the skiing and opted for a visit to Glacier National Park.

The train travels along the southern edge of the park and is a great way to see it in the winter, but we wanted to venture in a little deeper.

So we rented a car and drove through Hungry Horse to the western entrance to the park and the famous Going To The Sun Road. During the summer months the road traverses the park, climbing over Logan Pass, but once the snow flies only the first eleven miles are open.

Glacier National Park

Click here for more photos of spectacular Glacier National Park in the winter

Glacier National Park

While this seriously limited the amount of the park we could see, the upside was that there were no crowds.

Other than a handful of hardy souls we saw strapping on cross country skis to head off into the back country, we were all alone.

We gingerly managed our way up the snowy road, skirting along Lake McDonald all the way to the iconic Lake McDonald Lodge. The hotel, designated as a National Historic Landmark, has been housing guests since 1914 when it was built as the Lewis Glacier Hotel.

However, it is only open in the summer, so we had the whole place to ourselves, at least the outside of it. We trudged through the snow examining the entire grounds and then down to the lakeshore, where we found a view that was well worth the trip… and slips, slides, and falls.

Glacier National Park

The panorama includes the whole lake and surrounding peaks, but our eyes, and cameras, were automatically drawn to the north end of the lake where Stanton Mountain, Mount Brown, and Gunsight Mountain loom over the water.

Glacier National Park

On the way out of the park we stopped at the Apgar Visitor Center and then got some great pictures from the boat ramp by the campground. Nearly ten miles of lake spread out before us from this vantage point.

Click here for more photos of spectacular Glacier National Park in the winter

The Great Northern Bar in Whitefish, Montana

Even without going all Grizzly Adams mountain man into the wilderness, slogging through knee deep snow can build up a powerful hunger.

Folks in Whitefish have been satisfying their hungers… and thirsts, at The Great Northern Bar for nearly one hundred years, and we certainly weren’t looking to break with tradition.

The Great Northern Bar has signs from businesses of old

Named for the railroad responsible for its existence, The Great Northern has taken on the task of keeping local history alive.

The walls are covered with signs obtained from dozens of nearby businesses that have gone by the wayside through the years, as well as relics from the old GN Railway.

After checking out the menu, for some reason buffalo seemed like the right thing to order.

Click here for more photos of Great Northern Bar

Kokanee Glacier Fresh Beer

Yup, we were going plum Western. When we washed it down with Great Northern’s famous fried green beans and a Kokanee “Glacier Fresh” Beer, a new discovery for us that hails from the nearby neighbors to the north, British Columbia, we had some right-rib-sticking vittles.

Dog Sled Adventures, Olney, Montana outside of Whitefish

As we began investigating Whitefish before our trip, we discovered a winter option that we knew we had to try… dog sledding!

Much less bone crunching than skiing, and possibly even more fun. Next stop Jeff Ulsamer’s Dog Sled Adventures just up the road a piece in Olney.

Poor little guy is pouting because he doesn't get to go this time
Poor little guy is pouting because he doesn’t get to go this time.

When we pulled up over one hundred dogs were barking their brains out. To be exact, one hundred and twenty-four according to Jeff.

He explained that the barking was because the teams were being set up with the sleds, and the dogs that were not chosen to pull were pretty upset.

They love their jobs!

So we showered some of the unchosen with affection – something you can do for your furry friends at – and readied ourselves for the run.

Getting ready to dog sled in Whitefish, Montana!
All warm and cozy and ready to dog sled!

We wedged our way into a comfy, warm sled and, without a word from our driver, we were on our way. Instantly all of the racket stopped. We slid through the forest with surprising speed, and an even more surprising lack of sound.

Turns out that the cracking whips, yelling of “mush,” and constant barking of the teams are just movie make-believe. In fact, we’ve never seen so much tail wagging in our lives!

Dog sledding through Stillwater State Forest in Montana

In real life the dogs respond to subtle signals from the driver. Most of these are made by shifting the sled, but a few are audible, including periodic “good dogs.”

The team also works on feel, knowing when the sled picks up speed down a hill, or to pull harder on the way up one.

Click here for more exciting dog sledding pics in beautiful Stillwater State Forest

Dog Sled Adventures in Montana

For over an hour we glided through Stillwater State Forest with goofy grins pasted on our faces. It was impossible not to smile watching those eight huskies pull us along.

Actually, we asked about the dogs and they are not necessarily pure bred huskies. They are mixed husky, German shepherd, greyhound, and other breeds that mostly come from a line of rescue dogs that Jeff has been refining since 1979.

Through the years more dogs have been rescued, and the ones that have the right mix of temperament and desire to pull are added into the bloodline.

Some might not have any husky in them at all. In fact, perhaps Jeff’s most famous dog, Bowser (star of local parades, festivals, and fundraisers), is a Blue Tick Hound. Don’t tell him though, he thinks he’s just one of the guys and loves to pull a sled.

Dog sledding through Stillwater State Forest

After the ride we warmed up by the fire with hot chocolate, fresh cookies, and some conversation with Jeff and the folks from the other sleds. Then it was time to say goodbye to the dogs and make way for the arriving next batch of riders.

As we pulled away, the barking told us that the team selection was underway, and rumor had it that Bowser was going to get to pull this time.

Click here for more exciting dog sledding pics in beautiful Stillwater State Forest

The Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish

In asking around as to what we shouldn’t miss in Whitefish one more place kept coming up, The Black Star Draught House at The Great Northern Brewing Company.

Long name, good beer made right on the premises, and the tallest building in town. How could we pass it up?

Sampler beer tray at the Black Star Draught House in Whitefish

Not being craft beer experts, we ordered a sampler tray and let our bartender pick a selection of malt beverage offerings for our consideration.

She returned with six small brandy snifter style glasses filled with Wild Huckleberry Wheat, Going to the Sun IPA, Frog Hop Fresh Hopped Pale Ale, Big Fog ESB, Glacier Chaser Marzen Lager, and Snow Ghost Winter Lager.

The Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish

Most of the names had something familiar about them, glaciers, the famous Going To The Sun Road, or huckleberries (which are everywhere ’round these parts), but Snow Ghost was a new one on us. We asked the barkeep and she explained how snow ghosts are a phenomenon unique to the ski area up on Big Mountain.

Fog and freezing temperatures are common and often leave trees encased in ice that can take on human-like forms. Tales of the eerie creatures were making us wish that we had taken a day for skiing after all, just to see them, but we were in luck.

Snow ghosts on Big Mountain in Whitefish Montana!

The next morning, just after boarding the eastbound Empire Builder for another pass through Glacier National Park — this time from the warmth of the dome car, we met a family of skiers who were more than happy to share some photos with us. (Big photo thanks to Jeff and his amazing son – we always meet the coolest people on the train!).

And unlike most ghosts, these guys showed up on film just fine.

David & Veronica,

This post may contain sponsored links.