National Park Service: An Appreciation

The U.S. National Park Service is one of the best things about America. It is America. 100 years old, it’s a national treasure to learn about our nation’s history and lands. I really love visiting different sites, from urban memorials to remote parks. See a list of National Park sites.

While I don’t want to get political, as a NPS lover and free-speech advocate, what is going on now is breaking my heart for the group I love. In January, the new president restricted the speech of parks employees via official social media accounts and talking to the media, for things like climate change, publishing reports and things like that. A group of parks employees are resisting and continue to get information out via Alt National Park Service.

The parks really provide so much value culturally and educationally to me. Aaron and I plan our trips with the National Park Service in mind, and enjoy our time at the sites. I love all the social media accounts for the park services, as the beautiful photos and informative captions always brighten my day and make me proud to live in a wonderful country.

While I’ve been going to National Park Services sites since before I could walk them without getting tired (so, at least the toddler years), I want to share some of my favorite photos from recent trips.

You can follow Alt National Parks. Get involved with the National Park Service, including donating.

I would love to see your photos and hear about your favorite park. If you have something to share, please leave it in the comments below. You are welcome to share or use my photos on this blog post for non-commercial use, don’t manipulate the photos in any way and credit Valerie Dennis at These photos follow Creative Commons license.

Aaron and me hiking a small portion of the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains. Near the highest point in the park, Tennessee on one side, North Carolina on the other.

Grand Canyon | Kale and Ale

Entrance to Grand Canyon. I’ve been here once as a teen and once last year, 20 years later. Much more appreciation when I’m older.

San Felipe del Morro Fortress is part of San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico.

Golden Gate Park | Kale and Ale

15-year-old Valerie looking as thrilled as any teen not fully appreciating escaping an Iowa winter to see the Golden Gate Bridge.

Blue Ridge Parkway | Kale and Ale

When in North Carolina we headed north out of Asheville and went up the Blue Ridge Parkway. Beautiful drive and tons of lookouts.

Mississippi Minneapolis | Kale and Ale

The view of the only waterfall on the Mississippi and the Stone Arch Bridge is beautiful at the Mississippi National River area in Minneapolis.

Zion beer | Kale and Ale

Enjoying a hard-earned beer at the lodge in Zion National Park, perhaps our favorite place we have visited yet.

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Tips to Drink Beer From Afar at Home

Tips for drinking beer from afar in your home | Kale and Ale

Original photo by Flick user quinnanya.

One thing I love about craft beer is its exclusivity. By nature craft beer is not as widely produced, meaning it’s not as widely available. (There are exceptions to this, for example, some brewers have set up shop on both coasts.)

Because of this, it’s exciting to get my hands on brews not available in Minnesota. When I travel—even home to Iowa—I look for beers I can’t get from my own liquor store. It’s part of what’s fun about traveling.

Case in point: A recent weekend I had beer in my home in Minnesota from three well known places to have a unique selection: Wicked Weed in Asheville, N.C., Surly in Minneapolis and Russian River in Santa Rosa, Calif. Only Surly is sold anywhere near here.

Wicked Weed Russian River Surly beer Kale and Ale

From top left: Russian River Pliny the Elder, Surly Barrel Aged Pentagram, Wicked Weed Freak of Nature

Through the years, and specifically more recently, I’ve gotten more savvy about getting beer to me that I can’t buy locally, from transporting it myself or getting it from others. Below are some tips I’ve learned to cast as wide a beer-sampling net as possible in your own home.

Get a Growler to Go

A growler is a jug used to transport tap beer. The vessel is usually 64 ounces, and it’s often found at breweries and taprooms where you can fill up beer from their tap (typically good for three to five days) and take it off site for consumption. This is good because if you have a growler or buy one their, you can take beer that might not even be bottled, or certainly not sold where you live. Growler laws vary widley by state, so know before you go (can you bring your own growler, can you use the growler your size, etc.). Find growler laws by state.

Friends Going on Trips

Find a beer buddy near you and let them know what you like. I can think of two people this year alone who brought me back beers from their travels without me asking before. And because of that, I’ve done the same for them. I’ve also asked non-beer drinkers to keep an eye on things for me, too. So don’t be shy and ask, the worst they can say is no.

Pack Carefully

The above Wicked Weed bottle came back thanks to bubble wrap that I brought for that purpose. I’ve had 3 Floyds Zombie Dust the day it was bottled from the brewery by my husband Aaron packing the beer in his clothes and shoes. Take a chance if it’s worth it to you (beer won’t usually stain if you take care of it right away) and the reward can be great.

The Travel Channel video gives inspiration on the best ways to pack and travel with glass bottles.

Beer mail

Another option that you have to be careful about is trading beer via mail. You have to be careful as it’s a liquid and alcohol, so check with the carrier. Also important to keep in mind is the actual shipping. Beer Exchange has an excellent guide on how to ship beer. You can ship among people you know or find people on beer boards. Again, be smart and find out what you can ship, where and with whom.

San Antonio, Texas

Texas Cupcakes | Kale and AleI recently was able to travel to San Antonio, Texas, for the first time. It was a quick, busy work trip, so I didn’t have much free or personal time. However, I was lucky enough to be staying right on the River Walk, so I could easily enjoy a few outdoor walks and meals—a nice escape to temps in the upper 70s and sunny instead of about 30 and cloudy back at home.


When I go on work trips I look forward to new and different beers. This was not the trip of that, though. Those were few and far between. One the stood out was the St. Arnold Endeavor, a double IPA. If you like doubles and see this, get it. It was a hint of sweet fruitiness and the right hoppy balance. I had a few other IPAs, but nothing to mention.

Regarding food in San Antonio, in a group of five it was me (a vegetarian trying to eat vegan as much as possible) and two people who can’t have gluten, and very few restaurants seemed able to accommodate or understand our dietary needs. This blows my mind as I assumed any restaurant on the River Walk or near the convention center where I was would be more service oriented and knowledgeable and able to accommodate. To be fair, we went to a restaurant, Boudro’s, that was good but the server wasn’t, so that was too bad. But my meal was excellent and made vegan with the lack of cheese: a portobello tostado with jicama slaw and black bean puree.

Boudro's Portobello Tostado | Kale and Ale

Portobello Tostado from Boudro’s

Have you been to San Antonio? Was your experience better?

Texas Social Media

The real star of the Texas experience was before and after I was in Texas, though. I tweeted I was going to be in San Antonio and asked for beer recommendations. No hashtag, no @ sign.

A week later @TexasTourism responded, asking me to direct message them information and they would send me beer suggestions and other fun things for my trip. Talk about doing it right! I was pleasantly surprised, bit when I got my goodies I was blown away. It was full-on swag, Texas does it big: a neck pillow, speakers, Post-It notes, a nice notepad with a personal note.

San Antonio Texas | Kale and Ale

Big swag from Texas

This was impressive. The fact Texas Tourism has people and resources to making a more memorable trip for people already going to Texas is impressive. It shows how how far hospitality and branding goes for them, and I will definitely use the items, which are all branded with the Texas logo, getting their name out there even more.

What is the best example of marketing you have seen?

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Raices Fountain | Kale and Ale

In front of Raices Fountain.

This is part three of three focusing on my Caribbean vacation. Read about St. Croix food and St. Croix activities.

Coming back from St. Croix Aaron and I decided to extend our Caribbean vacation a little longer by having a 24-hour layover in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We took a small plane from St. Croix over the most beautiful water to San Juan.

Once we landed we hopped in a cab to Old San Juan. Riding on the interstate, I felt like I was in Miami, but once we entered Old San Juan, with its very narrow, brick streets and colorful buildings that touch one another, I knew I was somewhere special. On first impression I called it a Spanish New Orleans, but it’s its own special place.

We made it to our boutique hotel Monastery Art Suite, which I recommend. It’s a great location, the owner Elena is great and the room is full of old-world charm yet modern. Elena has good recommendations on local places to visit. We freshened up and hit the streets to explore.

We grabbed some coffee and made our way down the tree-lined open street Paseo de la Princesa, stopping at a sculpture park off to the side. Heading east, the street ends at the large Raices Fountain. This is next to the governor’s mansion and leaders to a nice, wide walkway along the shore toward one of the two forts on Old San Juan. It was a warm and sunny yet thankfully breezy day, so it was nice to be outside one more time before heading home to winter and reality. We went to the western fort, Castillo San Felipe del Morro and walked around until lunch.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro San Juan | Kale and Ale

Lighthouse at Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan.

Having looked on Happy Cow, I had few restaurants in mind, but since it was Monday many were closed. We went to Cafe Berlin, which has a great vegetarian selection of Latin food and breakfast late into the day, so everyone is sure to find something. From there we walked past the cruise ships and up Calle Fortaleza, the main shopping and food drag in Old San Juan. Because there were two cruise ships docked that day, there were lots of people walking around, so we browsed some galleries and made our way to more food and drink.

Old San Juan fort look east | Kale and Ale

Looking east into Old San Juan from the fort.

This led us to Club Spritz, a new restaurant and bar with a great location on a closed-off street overlooking water. It’s called Club Spritz because the husband is from Italy and they feature spritzer drinks, which were super refreshing after walking around in the warm sun. We sat and enjoyed drinks while the sun went down. The husband and wife team are very friendly and the place has a good atmosphere. We walked around more, looking at the architecture at night, making our way to Toro Salao for sangria and dinner. Toro Salao is a hopping place near a main square, serving fresh and innovative food. If you are looking for a trendy nightlife restaurant, this is the place. And because we sat at the bar and stayed so long, chatting up the employees, we happened to get free dessert of a cheesecake-type bar and churros in homemade chocolate sauce. I said yes to free dessert on the last night of vacation! After all this food, drink and walking it was time to go to bed.

Toro Salaeo Old San Juan | Kale and Ale

Free dessert!

The next day before our flight to reality, we visited Castillo de San Cristóbal (pro tip: save your receipt from a fort, you can visit both with the same admission) where it was pretty similar a fort and display, but it was neat to see a different perspective. After that we got a filling lunch at a restaurant next to Cafe Berlin, Caficultura, which has good coffee, nice sidewalk seating and a filling breakfast.

Old San Juan Courtyard | Kale and Ale

Beautiful buildings all around Old San Juan.

All in all this is a great place to visit, but a stop on a cruise or a few days to try more food, a water sport or perhaps the Bacardi rum tour would be enough.

Have you been to Puerto Rice? What did you do/see/eat that you loved?

St. Croix, USVI: Food

Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Bay hammocks | KaleAndAle

View from the hammocks at the resort in St. Croix. Did not want to leave that spot.

Last week Aaron and I went to St. Croix, the largest and least-developed of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was an amazing escape any time of year, but the fact that right before we left the highs in Minnesota were negative temps made it even better. In this post I will discuss the food I ate and two followup posts will discuss activities and our 24-hour layover in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Food. This will be the most difficult of the three posts. Food is my biggest hesitation when travelling places other than large cities in the United States. I don’t let it stop me, but it gives me pause and slows me down. If anyone has seen a vegetarian or vegan write about how to travel easily with dietary restrictions, I would love to read it.  I would write the post myself but I have’t figured it out. Other than checking the wonderful resource Happy Cow and mentally preparing myself for disappointment, I don’t have solid answers.

Annaly Bay tide pools pano St. Croix | KaleAndAle

View from Annaly Bay, St. Croix, how could you not want to be here?

We decided on St. Croix by looking at tropical locations where we could use hotel points that were somewhat secluded yet relatively easy to access by plane. And I don’t regret for one second the location we picked. St. Croix is relatively undeveloped, with two cities. Only one road on the island is more than two lane and faster than 35 mph. It’s a hilly and lush tropical island, and because it’s the U.S., they speak English and its easy to travel there. Ill save details for what we did in our next post, but here are a few views of the island. Never a bad view whatever direction you look!

However, it is an island in the Caribbean who, for much of its history, wasn’t part of the U.S. they even drive on the left side of the road! Therefore I knew seafood would be plentiful, and I wasn’t sure what they might think my diet contains when I mention I’m a vegetarian. Fortunately, their definition of vegetarian is the same as mine. Unfortunately, staying at a resort, the options were limited. When I ate there, the options were salads or pre-made veggie burgers. The two times we took a cab off the resort, the options were much better.


Rum cake 40 Strand St. Croix | KaleAndAle

Rum cake at 40 Strand was so good.

We went to the capital city the evening the art galleries—which I would learn to mean is Crucian gold—are open late. We ate at 40 Strand Eatery known for fresh local food. It’s a small place and, without reservations, we had to sit at the bar, which meant we could talk to the bartender, watch food prep and see a little of it all. My eggplant was great, and since we were on vacation I decided to have dessert, something I don’t normally want. I had to go with the rum cake. I haven’t had any since living in South Florida, and St. Croix is known for its rum. The cake was topped with a caramel sauce that balanced well. It was a great meal at a good price.

Cane Bay

Cane Bay is the next bay over from where we stayed and have a local vibe. We went on Sunday and the beach and few waterside restaurants were hopping. We had lunch at Off the Wall, which is run by someone who moved from Wisconsin (can’t blame her!) and features fresh food you would want for a filling yet light meal at the beach. The veggie sandwich was packed with fresh veggies and the loaded nachos hit the spot. They are also known for their pizza, which looked great and smelled even better.

Off the Wall St. Croix | KaleAndAle

Entrance to Off the Wall keeps it casual

Later we went to Spratnet Beach Bar. The people were nice, the menu extensive (especially for seafood). Locals and tourists kept coming and going, and they have a house-made infused rum shot that was very warming. We had fried cauliflower—I’m a sucker for any fried veggie—and grilled cheese and cole slaw to go, only because I couldn’t eat another veggie burger or salad.


Spratnet St. Croix | KaleAndAle

All the rum drinks at Spratnet in Cane Bay

I can’t talk about St. Croix without mentioning rum. It’s all over. Cruzan is named for the island. Not being my go-to drink, I had enough rum to last me a while. But I did have some good drinks that taste better with sun on my face, toes in the sand and the sounds of waves crashing.

All in all I put the food dearth aside for the views, but some good food and drink options are available, especially if you have a car (which we didn’t).

If you have dietary needs, how do you ensure good meals while traveling?