Humor Travel Life
Humor. Travel. Life.
The last stop on our road trip out west also happened to be a pretty grand finale. I had never made it to the Grand Canyon, but it’s certainly one of those ‘bucket list’ places in the U.S. to visit.
This part of the journey brought us to Arizona, where we went to the Grand Canyon’s south rim. Despite the fact that it was October and we were in a pandemic, it was still somewhat busy at the Grand Canyon. I can only imagine what it must be like there under normal circumstances!
For the highly adventurous traveler, you can hike to the bottom of the canyon, but it takes quite a bit of time so instead we just walked along the canyon’s outlook trail with the other tourists. When you walk from the parking lot and are finally able to see the canyon at the trail it really does blow your mind just how massive it is and how many millions of years it’s been around – definitely one of those wonders of nature.
As you walk along the trail it’s inevitable that you’ll want to take pictures, and there are some spots where you can take some epic – albeit somewhat scary – adventure shots. Seriously, if you attempt this please be safe. Now, one of the rather annoying aspects of traveling to the most famous places in the world is that everyone is clamoring to get their photo, only it’s not just a photo – it’s a photoshoot. Not once, but twice, my dad and I had to wait for several groups as they took photo after photo, changing poses and holding up the line. And just when you think they’re done, boom now they’re taking a video. Eventually I just chimed in and asked if we could get in to take a picture. My advice to fellow travelers is to also be considerate of others when getting your travel pictures. If you see other folks waiting on you, then don’t take an endless amount of photos. It’s just common courtesy.
As far as lodging, visitors can stay in the nearby town of Williams, which is pretty cute and the famous Route 66 heads through there. For dinner, I recommend the local restaurant Pine Country. They have incredible food and even a bunch of delicious-looking homemade pies. To this day I regret not trying one of their pies...
I’m grateful for the sites I got to see along this trip – places I had never imagined I’d have the time or chance to get to. The road trip definitely had it's challenges, but we made it to California in one piece. And speaking of pie, finally seeing that sign that says "Welcome to California" is definitely the cherry on top of a great road trip.
One of the meanings of the word ‘Zion’ is that it’s meant to describe a heavenly place – a Utopia if you will. I’m not exactly a very religious person, so I did look that up to confirm. That being said, it’s no wonder one of the most stunning national parks in the United States bears that name. I didn’t think it could get much prettier than Capitol Reef, but Zion National Park took my breath away. It’s absolutely stunning. You’ll find yourself taking more pictures than you can possibly imagine. That’s because you think you’ve seen the most beautiful spot, only to see one even more gorgeous just 10 minutes later.
The park was our second stop in Utah. It was significantly busier than Capitol Reef, but it’s understandable considering Zion is more well-known. Global pandemic or not, I’d definitely recommend trying to go here during the off-season. It was busier, but we were able to still find parking and the weather wasn’t unbearably hot.
Dad and I decided to hike the Watchmen Trail, which is one of the moderate ones. It seems a lot of other people chose to do this trail too. In the time of Covid, it can feel a little nerve-wracking since the width of the trail itself isn’t very big, but everyone was super courteous of one another. People would take turns going to the side so others could pass. It can feel like a long hike going up, but I honestly think it’s for several reasons: you’re going uphill and you’re regularly stopping to let others pass and to take pictures. The top of the trail was pretty but honestly there were so many incredible views on the way up as well. Going back down we even spotted some deer relaxing in the shade. Of course, it’s best to just leave the wildlife alone, which we did.
As far as lodging, visitors can camp at the park, but if a hotel is your thing, you can stay in the nearby town of Hurricane. I kid you not, that’s the name of it.
Next up, it’s the last big stop on our trip: The Grand Canyon
It seems the coronavirus pandemic has led to a resurgence in road trips, in particular to national parks, and that’s just what my dad and I set out to do as we made our way from Michigan to California in early October this year. For our road trip, we pretty much drove straight on through until we made it to Utah where the first national park on our list was located.
I hadn’t head of Capitol Reef National Park prior to this trip, but it certainly did not disappoint. Of the three we went to, this was the least crowded - a welcome environment in the middle of a global health crisis. Of course, driving into Utah alone will take your breath away. You’re instantly greeted by orange and red western landscapes that make you feel like you walked right into the Old West. Since we weren’t camping at the park, our main focus would be to hike and sight-see. For those who love hiking, I can’t recommend the parks out west enough. The weather is almost never a problem, though if you have a flexible schedule I’d recommend going in the Spring or Fall when it’s not quite so hot. If you’re not into camping outdoors, the nearby town we stayed in is called Green River. You can book a small hotel there if you choose to do so and then drive to the park.
When we got to Capitol Reef, the next step was deciding on which trail to take. Even for experienced hikers, the advanced ones can be difficult, so I’d recommend going with a moderate one. The great news is the parks usually provide a list of trails and how strenuous they are. If you’re worried a moderate one might not be challenging enough, trust me, you’ll still have a fantastic workout and not keel over in the process.
We choose to go with the Cohab Canyon Trail, one of the moderate ones. We were there around mid-day. It was warm, but not unbearably hot. That being said, be sure to pack some water. The first part of the trail was the most steep. After that is stayed pretty flat until we got to the part of the trail where we could climb to the top of the mountain for the view. I highly recommend doing this. It’s not hard to get further up there and the view is totally worth it. We even saw some prairie dogs and tiny green lizards running around up there as well. Very harmless. I promise, the lizards are actually kind of cute.
Coming back is pretty easy. The main thing you want to watch out for is loose dirt when going downhill. You can easily slip and possibly get hurt, so take it at a comfortable pace.
Unfortunately, my day had suddenly taken a turn for the worse after that hike. My dad and I had stopped to get outside the car and take pictures in another area of the park. I stupidly left my purse on the back of the car, only to forget about it as we drove off. 20 minutes later I realized my mistake and we hustled back as quickly as we could to the same spot but the purse was nowhere to be found. I was in a state of panic. The purse had my credit cards, license, extra set of car keys, and more. Thankfully, I had my phone with me, so that wasn’t also missing. We then went to the visitor center and asked the park rangers if anyone had turned it in. Nothing. I filled out a report in the event it was found, but the cynic in me figured all was lost. I called the bank immediately to cancel my credit cards.
Tired, hungry, and feeling helpless, I was in need of a fantastic dinner to ease the pain. That evening we stopped in a tiny town for dinner on the way to the next park. The town was so small that we didn’t even know what it was when we pulled in. Our goal for the week was to eat at local restaurants if we dined out, and we came upon a restaurant called Butch Cassidy’s Hideout. Thanks to the help of Google though, I was able to discover later on that this hidden gem is located in the town of Circle, Utah. My dad and I both had the roast beef dinner and oh my goodness it was so good! In addition to the roast beef, you get mashed potatoes, green beans, and a side salad (or soup if you opt for that instead). The salad alone was fantastic.
Coming up: Part 2 at Zion National Park and the good Samaritan who saved the day
They say you can’t go home again, but what about to the big city you had moved to from your home? I’m typing this blog post as I sit in a hotel room in Williams, Arizona about to return to Los Angeles – this time to stay. Well, that’s the plan at least. If there’s anything life has taught me is that you never know where it takes you.
Tomorrow I’ll arrive in LA. I first made the move there 10 years ago. I was a terrified recent college graduate who had big acting dreams. Now, I’m in my early 30s, grown, and to my own disliking, a bit more pragmatic. I’m not scared, but I also don’t yet know what to expect this time around. You see, the coronavirus pandemic has practically shut down LA. Sure, there are some productions, but as if things weren’t competitive enough before, the work isn’t nearly as frequent as it once was. It begs the question then: is Los Angeles as desirable without an abundant entertainment industry?
There’s much to love about LA: the ocean, beautiful sunny days, city life. There’s also a lot to hate about it: a severe homeless problem, pollution, heavy traffic. But for many, myself included, acting dreams always outweighed any negatives. So, as I make my way west once again, I’m curious to see if LA still holds that magic. The truth is I’ve had LA on a pedestal after two years back in the Midwest, but who’s to say if I’ll be in for a pleasant surprise or a rude awakening? I’ve visited LA several times since leaving, but living there, especially now, will likely prove to be more challenging than ever.
So while I may be more pragmatic these days, the doe-eyed actor with the big dreams is still in me and I’d like to think that LA still has some magic left.
Michigan is hands-down a beautiful state – well, except for that whole pesky winter thing (sorry snow bunnies!). There’s certainly plenty of great trails to go hiking on, and even though gyms are open, there are many of us still more comfortable exercising outside or at home.
Now, as someone who’s hiked in both California and Michigan, it’s no secret that California does have a leg up on that whole elevation thing. That’s not to say Michigan’s trails are any less awesome, but hiking up a mountain is a much more strenuous workout than a relatively flat trail. The good news is that I found a trail that actually kicked my butt – quite literally.
The Walk-a-Mile trail at Hoffmaster State Park was a great find. It starts you at the parking lot and takes you to the beach. If it’s a hot day, I totally recommend packing a swimsuit and going for a jump in the lake while you’re there. Once you are at the beach you’ll then hang a left where you’ll keeping walking until you see an opening to head back up to the trail in the forest. This is the part that was actually a really solid workout. The hill going back up is pretty steep and it’s all sand, so the combination really worked my legs and butt. Then, once you’re at the top it’s kind of fun because you sort of glide down with the sand through the trees and come out at the parking lot.
So, even though the trail itself is a little shorter, if you’re looking for a hike in West Michigan with a little more elevation, I definitely recommend this one. Plus, you get a great view of Lake Michigan while you’re there!
I Traveled During the Coronavirus Pandemic: Here’s Why the U.S. Is Losing the Fight Against COVID-19
When it comes to pet peeves, my biggest one is people who are inconsiderate of others. Whatever happened to manners? People taking selfies in locker rooms, men who don’t pay on a first date, neighbors who play loud music, anyone who doesn’t say “thank you” when you hold a door open for them. The list goes on! Somewhere along the lines we’ve gotten so focused on ourselves that we can disregard the other people around us. Sure, other countries aren’t immune to bad manners, but when it comes to the ‘Me, Myself, and I’ mentality, no one does it better than Americans. Think about how we treat our citizens when it comes to education and healthcare. It’s no surprise that chivalry is going out the door faster than the next celebrity cancellation.
We’re in a pandemic. This is a time of science and healthcare, yet here in the United States, something as simple as wearing mask has somehow morphed into a political issue. I’m not sure if I’m in America 2020 or Thunderdome. When did we stop listening to doctors? And no, I’m not talking about those people in YouTube conspiracy videos. The same folks who’ll gladly listen to their doctor when it comes to any other health-related issue now shun wearing a mask despite the nation’s top disease experts saying we should. The point of the mask is protect to each other – to be considerate of one another – and we’re failing miserably.
I just recently traveled to California and while my trip going home was fine, the journey out there was a rude awakening that even in the most vulnerable situations, some people just don’t care. Now, before you criticize me for traveling in the first place, I had booked this birthday trip a while back and it was a break that I desperately needed. Time away from home and work is part of self-care as well, and Lord knows I was feeling burnt out. And because I understand the risks, I was going to make sure I did everything in my power to be safe while I traveled.
Oddly enough, I nearly didn’t make it out to California in the first place. I was traveling on American Airlines and had booked my flight through Cheap Tickets. I had used this booking site a dozen times, but somehow this time around they failed to notify me that my flight time had changed. So, upon arriving at the airport in Grand Rapids, I was shocked to find out my flight already took off. I was put on standby, and if there’s one silver lining of traveling in a pandemic, it’s that your odds of making it on the plane if you’re standby are greatly improved. Instead of having a layover in Chicago, I’d be stopping over in Dallas, Texas. It was this second flight out of Dallas, however, that made me a nervous wreck.
I got onto the plane, relieved to find that the middle seat between myself and a male passenger was empty. After wiping down my seat, handles, and tray table though, I began to notice one by one the people sitting around me not wearing their masks. The mother across the aisle in my row took hers off as she gazed at her phone. The guy in the window seat beside me moved his below his mouth – seriously dude, at that point why even have it on your face. Then the guy across the aisle in the row in front of me removed his. And don’t even get me started on the young woman directly in front of me who waltzed onto the plane not wearing a mask at all! Not only that, she never wore it for the entire flight – only putting it on once it was time to de-board the plane after we landed. I watched as multiple flight attendants walked by and said nothing. Mind you, these people were physically capable of wearing masks to get onboard and they weren’t eating or drinking. If I was ever going to have an anxiety attack, this would be the time. My in-flight wifi purchase simply became a Facebook and Twitter vent on how poor this experience was. It’s easy to roll our eyes at people we see on social media bash wearing masks, but when that lack of consideration directly puts your own health at risk, yeah, you become angry. Gone are the days of just being bothered by people who lean their seat back or put their bare feet up. Simpler times…
I don’t envy the job of a flight attendant right now, and while I do think it was their responsibility to enforce the mask policy that American Air has adopted, more than that I believe it was the responsibility of those passengers to be considerate to the well-being of others – even strangers.
So, when we ask ourselves why the U.S. is seeing such spikes in Coronavirus cases, the answer may very well lie in the fact that some of us still need a good hard lesson in manners.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to take our indoor workouts at the gym and bring them outside, to our homes, or both. In a silver lining of sorts, the gym shutdown also coincided with Spring, which meant the weather in Michigan was final warming up - making working out at the park much more feasible than in mid-January.
But that was months ago, and while I’ve been enjoying getting in my exercise outside, running on my own at a park can get rather boring after a while. I miss the energy of being around other people. As someone who taught Zumba for practically a decade, I love group exercise classes, so perhaps it was divine intervention that when I googled “outdoor workouts in Grand Rapids” this past week, I was met with an entire list of free outdoor workouts that were beginning the same week!
I immediately made time in my schedule to go to the next upcoming class, which is called SoulfulMOTION. This one involved a lot of squat exercises, so if you’re looking for that, you’ll definitely want to hit up their class. The class began at 9:30am on Saturday morning at the North Monroe Lot in Downtown Grand Rapids and lasted for 45 minutes. There were a lot of people there and yes, everyone was still practicing social distancing. Of course, weather in Michigan can be unpredictable but thankfully it was a nice sunny day for us. The energy was awesome. The music they use is workout remixes of Christian songs, but it's such a positive environment that it didn’t make me feel uncomfortable by any means if perhaps I don’t share the same personal views. At the end of the day, it’s a workout class, not Sunday School. And I genuinely had a great time!
That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. The free outdoor workout classes in Grand Rapids include things like Zumba, Yoga, Kickboxing, and more. The city of Grand Rapids has provided a list of the workouts including times and locations on their website, which you can find here.
So, while we may have to wait a little while longer for those gyms to reopen, free outdoor workouts sound like a pretty fantastic option right now. It's a wonderful way to lift your spirits and connect with the community.
Hopefully we’ll see each other there. In the meantime, hope you are staying healthy and well!
Right now the world is coming together in solidarity with the black community. Speaking up, protesting, making calls to local leaders, donating, getting educated - these are just some of the ways we all should be helping. When it came to this travel blog, however, I had to ask myself ‘how can I address the current social climate and continue to write about travel and things to do?’. My answer was that I wanted to support black-owned businesses and black voices in the travel community by sharing them on here with all of you. And while it's one way to show support, I want to emphasize it doesn't replace all those other active steps that I will continue to do and that I hope anyone else reading this will do as well.
The first black-owned business I’d like to share is Malamiah Juice Bar, which is located in the Studio Park Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have to give a shout out to my awesome comedy group, Funny Girls, for letting me know about this place. They have all sorts of healthy juice and smoothie options, as well as several different acai bowls to choose from. During my visit, I ordered the Berry Bowl. It costs $10.50 and then with a tip it’s about $13-$14. I’m a sucker for an acai bowl and this one did not disappoint. It was so good! It had acai blended with coconut milk, bananas, and strawberries. Then it’s topped off with gluten-free/vegan granola, banana and strawberry pieces, and honey. Plus, it’s really filling too. One of those and you’re set for breakfast or lunch. Because of the coronavirus pandemic right now, you can order online ahead of time at malamiah.square.site and they’ll bring it out to you once it’s ready. I ordered out front when I got there and it was a quick wait. I definitely want to go back soon and try their Peanut Butter Bowl next!
Now, something else really cool about this place is that they also give back to the local community. On their Instagram they recently shared that they’ll be donating part of their proceeds from their Justice Juice to GR’s Pride Center. I think that’s pretty awesome. And that’s just one example of how Malamiah gives back.
You can read more on that at their website, www.malamiahjuicebar.com.
I would encourage anyone reading this to stop by Malamiah Juice Bar ASAP for a healthy treat, and if you need some company, I am definitely ready to try that Peanut Butter Bowl!
If there is one positive to come out of us staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic, it is that the world finally has discovered how fabulous Leslie Jordan is. The actor and comedian made a name for himself as the nemesis of Karen Walker on Will and Grace - hilariously entering scenes uttering the phrase "Well, well, well" in his distinct southern accent. In the era of lockdown boredom, however, his signature phrase has now become "Well shit. What are y'all doing?"
His recurring role on Will and Grace as the character Beverly Leslie was how I discovered this incredible comedic talent, so you can imagine my joy when I began seeing him at my local Starbucks in LA. Of course, wanting to be respectful I never dared to actually say hello. That is until I was having coffee with some of my Zumba students one day on the outside patio area, when suddenly Leslie walks by. My students, knowing I am a fan of his, call him over and he gladly comes and chats with us for a bit. I could not believe it! Here I was talking and grabbing a picture with Leslie Jordan and he could not have been sweeter! I would continue to run into him from time to time and we would have a nice chat. He really is a sweetheart, which is why I am thrilled to see how popular he has become, all while making us laugh when we need it more than ever.
In a matter of just several months, Leslie Jordan's popularity has skyrocketed thanks to his witty, hilarious videos on Instagram. At the basis of it, he is really just rambling into his cell phone camera, but it's pure comedic gold.
This wasn't anything new though. The veteran comedian had been doing these types of videos for a while on his Instagram account. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit and folks were searching for something to make us laugh again, Leslie delivered. He has become a pop culture phenomenon and truth be told, no one deserves it more. He's unique - there is no one like him on the comedy scene. Plus, he's so nice and gifted. It's about time the world knows his name too.
Lord knows I have been dealing with moments of sadness throughout all this. I have things to be grateful for, but the uncertainty of our world has me scared. What helps me get through tough times? Laughter - and I know I'm not alone. Here's the great thing about Leslie Jordan: his comedy is also endearing. His sweet nature and joyful humor will lift your spirits and bring a smile to your face.
So, if you find yourself looking for something to sustain you right now, follow him on Instagram.
Leslie, if by some miracle you read this, thank you for your kindness. That meant the world to me and I hope we can bump into each other again at the coffee shop someday again soon.
Let’s Get Physical: The Best Parks in Grand Rapids and Lansing To Safely Be Outside and Exercise During The Coronavirus Pandemic
*Subject to change pending updates in regulations amid the Covid-19 outbreak
The reality of our world under the coronavirus pandemic is that we have to find new ways to occupy our time and go on with our daily lives. Even for those of us still working, life as we know it has been turned upside down. Even something as routine as going to the gym is no longer an option right now. So, what can we do to remain healthy and active?
For me, exercise isn’t just about being healthy; it’s also a way to relieve stress and feel better. The same goes for being outside. I love to go hiking and my workouts have usually been a combination of time at the gym and at the park. Well, considering I’m not heading to the gym anytime soon, my options during this pandemic are either at-home workouts or the park – and yes, we are allowed to go outside to get exercise under Governor Whitmer’s Stay At Home order here in Michigan.
Personally speaking, the at-home workouts just don’t do it for me though. I feel cooped up if I stay indoors too much, so that means I’m heading to the park. If you've been used to going to the gyms, you might not be sure where to go right now, and heading to the same park everyday can get boring after a while.
So, if you’re in need of some parks to go to right now, here are my top picks for the Lansing and Grand Rapids areas:
1. Hawk Meadow Park
Pros: Good for running, walks, longer trails, more nature
Cons: 5k trail can get really muddy in certain parts, parking available but limited spaces
This has become my go-to park in the Lansing area for the past month. It’s about a 5 minute drive from the Saginaw Highway exit on I-96. This is a pretty big park, which means plenty of trails and space to run. In addition to paved trails, they also have an extended 5k trail further into the woods. Mostly people tend to stick to the main trails, so if you’re looking for more distance and less people, I’d try out that route. If you do the 5k trail though, be sure to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy. There will be definitely be a few spots along the way where you’ll have to stop and try to get around the mud and puddles.
2. Granger Meadows Park
Pros: Good for running, walks, plenty of parking
Cons: shorter trail, more built up
This park was originally recommended to me by a co-worker. It’s located in the East Lansing area near the Eastwood Towne Center mall. It’s definitely more built up than Hawk Meadow, since this one has a baseball diamond, tennis courts, and a playground. However, it’s a good trail for running and I’ve been going here for quite a while so I’d definitely recommend it. There’s also a hill there. If you climb to the top it’s a nice view, especially at sunset.
1. Aman Park
Pros: longer trails, plenty of nature, good for walking and running, parking available
Cons: no signs to find your way around
According to my father, this was a park I went to frequently as a kid, though truth be told I only remember coming to this specific one only once or twice. Nevertheless, rediscovering it in the era of Coronavirus has definitely come in handy. This is a large park with plenty of space to explore.
2. Lake Harbor Park
Pros: access to Lake Michigan beach views, plenty of nature, longer trails, good for walking, parking available
Cons: not good for running, takes a little while to get there since it’s on the coast
I’m always up for a hike that includes some beautiful views of Lake Michigan. This is definitely one of many advantages Grand Rapids has over Lansing as far as hiking goes. The only bummer about this trail is that it’s not great for running. That being said, it’s not totally flat either, so you still get in a good workout.
3. Riverside Park
Pros: plenty of trails, great for running or walking, along the river, parking available
Cons: more people on nicer days
I just ran here the other day. It's right outside downtown Grand Rapids, which means it is going to be busier than other parks. While normally that may not be an issue, it can be a little more risky in the age of social distancing. Nevertheless, I love the space and it's perfect for running. If you decide to go here, try to head there during non-peak hours or to a different park if it's a nice day.
I hope you guys are staying as healthy and sane as can be expected amid all this. It’s a difficult time but we’re in this together and things will get better. While I do have a few more posts from California to share, I will put those on standby until this is done. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing other ways to help stay healthy, creative, and in good spirits. Be safe and be well.
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer, comedian, and television producer who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com