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Valentines, Goats & Vacations

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New year lanterns

Don’t leave us February! This month was full of love, Chinese New Year celebrations, exotic locales and ski trips on Findery. Our map has never been so colorful. Thanks for leaving such beautiful notes and for sharing your family’s traditions.


— AWESOME PEOPLE TO FOLLOW —

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Skimbaco: I left my home country Finland without a return ticket. I met my American husband in Germany, and we have been traveling together since 1997.

AnAmericanInGermany: Live in the Kaiserslautern Germany now but I’m originally from US. I Love to travel all over Europe. I’ll try my hand at highlighting great places to eat visit or experience…got a question? Let me know I’ll be happy to talk about any place I’ve been.

Wanderlustliving: I’ve climbed an ice tower, bungee jumped, skydived, zip-lined, para-glided, para-sailed, trapezed and swam naked in the grotto at the Playboy Mansion (which was probably the most frightening of all).


—  NOTEMAPS TO CHECK OUT —

CNY 2015 Trip: Findery’s own, Tommy Singh, travels to Singapore and Indonesia to celebrate Chinese New Year and introduce his family to his new baby.

Taiwan Sojourn: Memories from my time in Taiwan. From quirky oyster shacks to remnants of a Golden Age, check out Alexander Synaptic’s tour through Taiwan.

London Underground Stations: Hop on the Tube and give yourself time to check out these neat details at various stations through London.


— Gong Xi Fa Cai! 恭禧发财! 

May the Year of the Goat bring you good luck and good fortune! We have a fondness for goats around here, so we are excited for the future.

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New Sharing Tools: Buttons and Widgets

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It’s Time To Get Social:  Introducing New Findery Sharing Tools. Add buttons and widgets to your website or blog. Let your visitors find you and your notes on Findery.

Follow buttons and icons: Findery now has follow me buttons and icons to add to your blog or website. Just a simple snip of code to let people find your notes left on Findery. Check out the “Follow on Findery” button on Girl Gone Travel:

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Findery Embed Widget: Make sure your website visitors never miss your Findery notes by adding our new widget. It’s easy to add the code and the notes will update automatically on your site. The “Find me on Findery” widget is embedded on Skimbaco Lifestyle:
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Our Findery Sharing Tools are available now. If you have any issues or just want to show us how pretty your website looks, drop us a line at hello@findery.com.

Introducing Findery 2.0 for Android

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multi-platform

Findery for Android is better!  More beautiful, more streamlined–it’s great.

What’s new?

+ Simplified user experience and easier navigation.

+ Browse nearby places and explore faraway destinations with Near and Far.

+ New search feature. What are you looking for and where? Street Art in Chicago? Beaches in Hawaii? Bam! You’re there.

Download the latest version from the Google Play Store, and check out Near and Far. And if you’re on the web, or iOS, we’ve got you covered too!

Biosphere 2: Real Life Reality TV

The 30th season of Survivor, premieres on February 25th. For 15 years, I have indulged in my guilty pleasure of watching castaways try to outwit, outlast and outplay each other for a million dollars. I am comforted by the ratings: I am not the only sane educated woman who can’t get enough of this ridiculous show. What fascinates me so much? The “confined environment psychology.”

Watching a diverse group of people thrive or crack under the merciless conditions brings me back to Psych 101 class. How would I behave after sleeping in the rain? Who would I find comforting while living on rice and doing impossible physical challenges? Would I lose my mind if sent to Survivor’s famed exile island? I recently discovered a real human isolation experiment at Biosphere 2.

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Image courtesy of Jessica Reid

Biosphere 2
Thirty minutes outside of Tucson, Arizona lies Biosphere 2, the Earth’s largest closed system science research facility ever created. The Earth, of course, is Biosphere 1. Biosphere 2 is on a 40 acre plot of land surrounded by mountains and desert landscape- the ultimate survivalist environment. In the 1980’s a group of scientists and investors came together and built a structure of biomes filled with greenhouses, a living sea, desert and rainforest, savannah and living quarters for people. Two controversial missions tested survivability by sealing people (known as Biospherians), birds, goats and insects into this incredible glass structure. This project had noble goals of environmental research, but the larger aim was space colonization. They hoped to patent a system that could be set up on other planets. No doubt, the Biospherians inspired Mars One, the upcoming human settlement on Mars.

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Image courtesy of Jessica Reid

Living in Biosphere 2
I have visited Biosphere 2 a few times. The most fascinating person involved in this experiment is Jayne Poynter. She was in charge of food production on Biosphere 2. She makes the science come alive in quotes and videos throughout the tour. Plus, she is funny and has a cool British accent. A couple of the living areas, including Jayne’s bedroom and the kitchen, are preserved as a museum that you can visit. Her book, The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2, chronicles the problems of hunger, low oxygen and conflict. (Spoiler alert: she married one of her fellow Biospherians.) The Biosphere 2 tour shares her story along with everyday dramas including a severed finger, an ant invasion and a raid on of the emergency food supplies!

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Image courtesy of Rafe Sagrin

The Living Sea
I wonder if the Biospherians ever skinny-dipped in their own private ocean? I hope so! The living sea, complete with coral reef, was created for Biospherians to manage waste and provide food for the people and fertilizer for their crops. Weird and awesome, right? The 700,000 gallon saltwater tank is the largest contained ocean in the world. The University of Arizona, along with a crowd funded research project led by Rafe Sagrin, is currently transforming the ocean into a “Desert Sea” that will highlight the ecology of the Sea of Cortez. It’s pretty incredible to think that no matter how hard we try, we can’t compete with the real thing- our Earth, Biosphere 1.

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Image courtesy of Biosphere 2

The Tour
Biosphere 2 has tours daily from 9-4. Tickets are steep at around $40, but the tour is unforgettable. I recommend taking the weekend tour if you want more history on the early closed-mission years. You might even meet a former Biospherian! The tour route is about a mile long and includes over 150 stairs, so accessibility is an issue for the full experience. Bring a large water bottle, comfortable shoes and sunscreen. The desert is unforgiving. Photos are encouraged and the docents love to answer questions. When you take the tour you will pass the trees with coffee beans that were harvested for the Biospherians coffee. It’s these little details that really connect you to the real Biospherians. There are also art installations and solar energy experiments throughout the grounds. The gift shop has a great selection of unique gifts for science lovers, including many local products made from rocks and plants in the desert. The mementos are an excellent reminder that you have one of the best happy hour stories to tell.

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Image courtesy of Hi-SEAS/Ross Lockwood

Simulated Mars Mission on Hawaiian Volcano
I have found that people young and old are intrigued by the story of my Biosphere 2 visit. Like Survivor, it brings out the curious in all of us. Could you survive a year in Biosphere 2, on a Hawaiian volcano at Mauna Loa or in a research center on Antarctica? Personally, I think the producers should consider Biosphere 2 for the 31st season of Survivor. I am working on my audition tape…just in case they decide to go for it.

The Best California Weekend Road Trips

There is something really harsh about the beginning of a new year. We all need something to look forward to. Are you ready to get out of town? While you may not be able to take time off from work, there’s always the weekend. Hop in the car, put on your favorite music playlist, and drive to one of these California destinations, where a weekend is just enough time to explore and none will disappoint.

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Lake Tahoe
Oh, the glittering blue waters of Lake Tahoe. Fah-reezing, but nice on the eyes. Some say that the best time to go to Tahoe is in the wintertime. With the many choices of top ski resorts, they may not be wrong. But snow, or no snow, it’s a majestic, peaceful place to enjoy the outdoors with your peeps. Tahoe is a big place: Should I go to the North or the South? North is more rustic and spread out. Come here to rent a cabin and really get away. South Lake Tahoe offers more to do in a compact area. Snow sports! Casinos! Resorts!

Road Trip Estimates (to South Lake Tahoe):
From San Francisco – 3 hours
From Sacramento – 1 hour, 45 minutes
From Bakersfield – 6 hours
From Los Angeles – 7 hours, 30 minutes

Weekend-2

Los Angeles
The only problem with a weekend trip to Los Angeles is that there is so much to do and see, and it’s all so spread out. As a kickstarter, here are some things we consider essential LA. Go to the Getty (pictured) for the antiquities, the architecture, and the view. Or LACMA for contemporary art and the outdoor sculpture. LA knows how to do art. And as the filmmaking headquarters of the world, there are unbelievably gorgeous movie palaces still up and running. The Vista for one, in Los Feliz, has screenings every day. And believe it or not, hiking is a popular pastime here. Check out the Observatory at Griffith Park, then take one of the many hiking trails for a view of the expansive city. While you’re in the neighborhood, stop by The Dresden (featured in several films), where the jazz duo Marty and Elayne perform almost every night, and have been for 30 years.

Road Trip Estimates:
From San Francisco & Sacramento – 6 hours
From Bakersfield – 2 hours
From San Diego – 2 hours

Weekend-3

Palm Springs
First of all, the average high temperature in Palm Springs rarely goes below 70F. (Isn’t that reason enough to make the trip?) And sometimes, on the weekends, one needs to restore a sense of sexiness. Palm Springs will certainly do that. With the swingin’ architecture, the numerous swimming pools, cocktail bars, and one really fabulous art museum, it’s the best place to regain your cool. Also, it’s fun to imagine Hollywood’s elite driving over for the weekend back in the 60s. Drive by Elvis’s honeymoon hideaway, which looks much as it did when the King was around town. Catch a glimpse of John Lautner’s fabulous architecture, which has been featured in numerous movies. Pay your respects to ol’ Frankie Blue Eyes, and last but most importantly, treat yourself to a massage. Or a mud bath. Or a facial. Or whatever.

Road Trip Estimates:
From Los Angeles – 1 hour, 45 minutes
From San Diego – 2 hours, 15 minutes
From San Francisco – 7 hours

Weekend-4

Point Reyes
Roll down the windows and breathe in the earthy air. A small, two-lane road winds in and out of the town of Point Reyes Station. Make sure to spend some time here. Stop by Cowgirl Creamery for cheese, Bovine Bakery for coffee and baked goods, and learn about the history of the area at the old restored dairy barn. Then, drive further up the coast to Tamales Bay, for oysters and kayaking. Also, don’t miss the glorious Point Reyes National Seashore. The lighthouse is a must. At least once.

Road Trip Estimates:
From San Francisco – 1 hour
From Sacramento – 2 hours
From Bakersfield – 5 hours
From Los Angeles – 6 hours, 30 minutes

Weekend-5

San Diego
We’ve heard San Diego referred to as a more relaxed, more conservative version of Los Angeles. We would have to agree. But don’t let the conservative part dissuade you. As a weekend destination, this place…c’est parfait. From the mild, sea air to the plethora of restaurant and bar choices to the numerous outdoor activities…it’s simply 100% pleasant. Check out the old footbridges in Hillcrest. Spend some time wandering around Balboa Park. Take a tour of the Salk Institute – there’s much more to the architecture than meets the eye. Eat Mexican food. Watch the hang gliders over the La Jolla cliffs. Check out some old ships. Visit one of America’s most haunted houses. And finally, drink a cocktail with a view.

Road Trip Estimates:
From Los Angeles – 2 hours
From Bakersfield – 3 hours, 45 minutes
From San Francisco – 7 hours, 45 minutes

Weekend-6

San Francisco
San Francisco is one of those unique places that you can return to time and again, and always find something new. Situated majestically on the bay, there are countless views, from the hilltops to the bridges to the beaches. For first timers, take a walk on the Embarcadero. Or, take a ferry ride. Visit City Hall, take the free tour, and gawk at the numerous newlyweds posing for photos. Walk or bike through Golden Gate Park, stop at a museum, then watch the rollerskaters. Eat oysters, burgers, or dim sum. Best place for a selfie with a view: Twin Peaks. At night, check out the Bay Bridge Lights.

Road Trip Estimates:
From Sacramento – 1 hour, 30 minutes
From Bakersfield – 4 hours, 30 minutes
From Los Angeles – 5 hours, 45 minutes

Weekend-7

Wine Country
Welcome to wine country: Napa, Sonoma, and all that surrounds. Each winery has its own special history and methods they share on their tours. Sit outside with a bottle of wine that was grown, harvested and fermented on location. Now, let’s talk about some places every wine country weekender should try. If you’re looking for an over-the-top experience, go to Castello di Amorosa in Napa. In Glen Ellen, visit the historic Benziger vineyard, where they use certified biodynamic, sustainable growing practices. Amista, in Healdsburg, is small and rustic, but personable and perfectly picturesque. Near Santa Rosa is Matanzas Creek, where there is an impressive lavender field that blooms every spring.

Road Trip Estimates:
From San Francisco – 1 hour
From Sacramento – 1 hour
From Bakersfield – 4 hours, 45 minutes
From Los Angeles – 6 hours

Costa Rica Family Adventures

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Image courtesy of Girl Gone Travel

Most travel stories of Costa Rica consist of young, adventurous backpackers excited to discover the natural beauty of the one of the world’s most eco-friendly travel destinations.

What is not often talked about is how much this Central American country has to offer outdoor-loving traveling families as well, and what an enriching experience it can be for little ones.

There are a lot of ways to experience Costa Rica. It can be as active or as relaxed as you want it be. But, if you are looking for a unique family adventure, the best approach is to be open to everything. Costa Ricans, or Ticos, call this Pura Vida, which means to enjoy life to the fullest. There are so many ways for travelers with kids to do this as well.

Don’t stay in one place. One of the best ways to explore Costa Rica is by traveling from one end to the other. Whether you travel from coast to mountain to jungle, planning a trip where you move around helps give a better sense of the beautiful diversity in landscape. Don’t expect to see it all and definitely don’t rush. The slow-paced lifestyle in Costa Rica is a perfect opportunity to enjoy the moment and de-stress.

We found that crossing from the Northern coast to the Southern part of the country required travel by jeep, small plane, and a boat. This allows for different experiences because you’ll get to see how diverse the landscape is from region to region. Each area offers different activities as well, such as hikes through the jungle or surfing on the beach. You also get a chance to get closer to the wildlife, such as howler monkeys, giant golden orb web spiders (no, really, they are huge!) and colorful frogs, all of which are beautiful to look at, but should never be touched.

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Image courtesy of Girl Gone Travel

There are a lot of resorts to choose from. Some with more amenities than others, so make sure to research carefully. A family favorite is Lapa Rios in Puerto Jimenez, nestled in the rainforest of Southern Costa Rica and overlooking the Pacific ocean. This all-inclusive resort has a menu that varies depending on what is available on any given day. The food is delicious, but don’t expect to find chicken fingers and hot dogs here. Fresh fruit, fish, and other locally sourced items are prepared in a way that is simple, fresh, and authentic to the area. They also offer a list of excursions led by local guides who highlight the biodiversity of the area. From night walks to bird watching, there is plenty to do and see.

A must: the guided hike through the rain forest in search of waterfalls. We have kid-tested it and agree that this experience is the one that your family will remember forever.

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Image courtesy of Girl Gone Travel

Let the adventurer in you shine through. The best place to do this is in Monterverde’s Selvatura Park. Here you can select from a few activities, such as a nature hike, a zip-line excursion through the cloud forest, or jumping from the Tarzan swings.

One thing you won’t easily find is WiFi. This is the case for most of the spots you will visit, making it the perfect vacation to disconnect from the world and bond as a family.

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Image courtesy of Girl Gone Travel

Kids will find that Costa Rica is a like having a huge outdoor playground to themselves. This is the one place where getting dirty is part of the fun and where they can view wildlife in its most natural environment. Adults, in turn, will re-discover the kid in themselves.

So, don’t be afraid to take the kids on the adventure to Costa Rica. Just pack up some eco-friendly bug spray and some comfy hiking shoes, and take in the Pura Vida.

Follow Girl Gone Travel on Findery.com

2015: The Year of the Staycation

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Me on my new bike. With it, I’m seeing San Francisco through new eyes.

[Excerpt from How To Travel Without Going Anywhere, a Findery for Huffington Post Travel blog post.]

I didn’t make any New Year’s Resolutions this year. But I did make goals. Such as: spend one Saturday afternoon every month as a tourist in my new hometown (San Francisco). Through several books on personal finance – something else I’m working on this year – I’ve learned that you can’t make changes without a clearly defined goal. For instance, if you say that you want to enjoy the weekends more, but don’t define what that looks like, you’re not likely to do it. “I want to spend 3 hours every Saturday afternoon exploring my city” – now that’s a good goal. So without buying a plane ticket or packing my car, I made guidelines on how to travel without going anywhere.

In a nutshell:
1. Make the time to explore.
2. Determine where to go.
3. Bring the gear of an urban explorer.
4. Pick a different form of transportation.
5. Talk to people.
6. Turn off the inner noise.
7. Look around.

I wrote a more detailed version of the guidelines for Huffington Post Travel: How To Travel Without Going Anywhere. Trust me, it really works! You can see it in my Findery notemap, Discovering San Francisco.

California Desert Visions

The desert is an unforgiving place. It has attracted the daring, the outcasts, and the visionaries for centuries. Certain souls have flocked to the desert whether called by God, aliens, the earth, or the lawless lifestyle and have miraculously adapted and flourished here. Perhaps it’s heat stroke or maybe it’s the drugs, but true geniuses thrive in the desert. The things I saw in the Southern California desert were so unexpected and alien that they seemed like a mirage.

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Integratron
The stark white geodesic dome, dubbed The Integratron, is easy to spot in the dusty desert landscape of Landers, California. It was constructed in 1954 by George Van Tassel (a student of Nikola Tesla) based on the directives given to him by aliens from Venus. Yes, aliens. The purpose: to rejuvenate living cell tissues. Perhaps because of this, it is the only one of its kind standing 38 feet high with a 55 foot diameter built entirely of wood on a powerful geomagnetic vortex. However, it’s not the architecture that is so intriguing, it’s how it sounds. This is a building with perfect acoustics. It brings visitors to the desolate desert town 40 miles north of Palm Springs, by offering “sound baths”, a 20+ minute session of swirling crystal bowls that create sounds that dance around the dome and reverberate in your chest, all the while suspending and cleansing your cells. Hence, the cell rejuvenation and the “bath”. Though some claim to see magnificent colors as they are lying in the chambers or feel the touch of loved ones long gone, others just take the time to relax and reflect. It’s a glorified adult nap time and quite literally the epitome of good vibes.

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Giant Rock
Giant Rock, as it is so aptly named, is a 7 foot tall, 5800 square foot rock that is located down a dirt road in Landers, California. In the 1930s, a gentleman by the name of Frank Critzer excavated under what was considered the world’s largest single boulder to create a dwelling. Critzer was a resourceful and shrewd man and reckoned since he didn’t have the resources to build a home, digging out a dwelling under the boulder was his best bet. This proved to be a perfect desert abode as the rooms would remain cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter. It was through Frank Critzer, that George Van Tassel learned of Giant Rock, which was the key factor in his contact with aliens and thus, the building of The Integratron. In the 1950s Van Tassel acquired the rock and the land it was on and began holding meditation meetings to contact aliens in the room beneath the rock. In August of 1953, a saucer landed from Venus (as the area next to the rock was conveniently ran as an airport landing strip) and Van Tassel was invited on the ship where he learned of cell rejuvenation and time travel. Forget the UFOs – can you imagine living under a giant boulder? Those guys were crazy!

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Salvation Mountain
“God is Love” is the main message at Salvation Mountain, an incredible folk art installation in Niland, CA. Leonard Knight originally set out to spread his love for God via a hot air balloon. After many failed launch attempts from the tattered hand-sewn balloon, Knight was determined to make at least one small gesture. He took a bag of cement and covered mounds of sand in the desert, topping it all with paint. This addictive small gesture progressively grew larger and larger, resulting in what stands today, a 50 foot high and 150 foot wide mountain made of adobe clay and thousands of gallons of donated paint. The way the colors pour down the mountainside is mesmerizing. You are invited to “follow the yellow brick road” to the top. It is a real-life Dr. Seuss scene. People flock to this desolate area because where else can you see a mountain covered in paint and love? It is a lifetime of work from one visionary man. Knight recently passed away in 2014, but the site is declared as a national folk art site worthy of preservation and is maintained as a 501c3 nonprofit. (You can make a donation to help preserve this landmark!)

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International Banana Museum
The International Banana Museum is literally the most apeeling spot around. Located on Hwy 111 in Mecca, California, there are over 20,000 banana related items. When you walk into the small space it is more than a banana split, it’s a banana explosion! Every inch of the place is covered in banana trinkets from the standard toys, pins, and keychains to the obscure like hangers, pipes, a record player, and even a petrified banana. Chill out with a banana-chocolate shake or a chocolate dipped banana on those hot summer days. The desert sure is bananas.

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Bombay Beach
The Salton Sea is the largest manmade lake in California. It was accidentally created in 1905 when the Colorado River was being diverted for farming purposes. This newly formed lake was seens as an “oasis in the desert” and soon homes started popping up in the area. Bombay Beach was built as an affordable vacation home community for families in LA; however, the unnatural lake has some unnatural side effects. With ever-increasing salinity levels, the shore recedes, and fertilizers that run into the lake create large algae blooms. A major (and majorly spooky) side effect is a beach full of dead and decaying fish that can no longer stand the saline content levels and each crunchy step is a reminder that the “sand” is actually decimated fish bones. It’s hard to tell the abandoned vs. lived-in homes when driving through the 10 block town of Bombay Beach. The lake level has changed so much over the last couple decades that many of the houses have been swallowed up by the sea and then left to sink and rot in salty mud. It is a living breathing post-apocalyptic town that is so unbelievable it feels like a movie set.

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Pioneertown
If Bombay Beach feels like a movie set, Pioneertown actually is a movie set. Built in the 1940s as a motion picture set for old westerns like The Cisco Kid, Pioneertown has since been transformed into a real town. However, it’s hard to differentiate between the old and the new (if there is any), between what’s real and what’s fake. Mane Street (get it?) is lined with buildings like The Bathhouse and The Livery that are set up with old-timey props from long ago and some actual souvenir shops for tourists. Intermingled with these buildings are residential homes with signs stating “private property”, as clearly there is a lot of confusion here. However, the real heart of the town is Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneer Palace, opened in 1982 by husband and wife team. It has since gained notoriety as a finger lickin’ mesquite BBQ joint and named a Top Ten Hidden Gems Of the Country for a music venue by Billboard Magazine.

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Robolights
Robolights is what happens when you mix 8.5 million lights and a 12 year old’s vision that has developed over 20 years resulting in an explosion of lights and a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic Christmas scene. For decades now Kenny Irwin Jr. has salvaged, repurposed, and recycled what others may consider junk: fax machines, microwaves, remote controls, tools, cans of Touch ’n Foam sealant, and lots and lots of paint cans since everything here is covered in it. Pay a $5 suggested donation to enter this Christmas wonderland. It spans a 2 acre yard in the Movie Colony East neighborhood of Palm Springs. Upon entering you are greeted by an alien Santa’s battle wagon led by 12 robot reindeers. It’s slightly overwhelming, but mostly just impressive as the robots get bigger and the scenes get more elaborate the further you wander down the path. You can hear whispers of “creepy,” “crazy,” and “genius” as everyone is walking around wide-eyed and smiling big. One thing for sure is that it is guaranteed to light up your night.

I’d like to think that it’s something in the water that leads to all of these unique desert manifestations. Then again, maybe it has to do with the lack thereof. Next time you’re looking for some inspiration, hit the dusty road and see what oasis awaits inside of you.

There’s more to discover! Follow Erin (@lostandfound) on Findery.com.

Top 5 Winter Fakes

It’s January. Winter is about to hit hard in the wintry regions. But snow in the Caribbean? Nope. For those of us who don’t live in a snowy region, we long for it. Well, maybe just for one little ol’ day. Wish granted! Here are a few fake winter activities in surprising places.

Winter-1a

Indoor Skiing
First off, one can’t go to an indoor ski resort and compare it to the Alps. This is a novelty, people. And because most locals probably don’t have a full ski suit in the back of their closet, the resort provides you with everything needed – apparel and a full set of equipment. Ski Dubai is the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East (there have been other, now defunct resorts in Australia, Japan, and surprisingly the Netherlands). It may only take 30 seconds to get to the bottom of the slope, but where else in the world is the outdoor environment – a hot, sandy desert – more contrasted to an indoor winter wonderland? (Image: Expedia)

Winter-2a

Sand Sports
If artificial snow isn’t an option, there’s always the sand. Especially in Namibia, where dunes are plentiful. The country has the lowest rainfall in sub-Saharan Africa. And the dunes are the highest in the world! But don’t head into the African desert alone. Dune expert Henrik May has been taking groups of visitors down these sandy slopes since 2003. Sled, ski or roll down the hill, all equipment is provided. (Image: Powder)

Winter-3a

Ice Bars
Enter an ice bar and you’ll find all ice everything: the bar, the seats, the cocktail glasses. Because the thermostat in these places is kept at 23 degrees Farenheit, the establishments provide down parkas. It’s no surprise that glitzy, touristy places like Las Vegas and Orlando have them, but the tiny island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean Sea has hosted Magic Ice since 2012. (Image: Magic Ice)

Winter-4a

Ice Blocking
No snow? No sled? No problem. Truly the “winter” sport for all, ice blocking only requires a decently steep, grassy hill, and well, a block of ice. Because most of California is not a snowy region, it’s a particularly popular pastime. See you at the local park! (But, beware. It’s not an endorsed activity by your local authorities. Wink, wink.) (Image: Poulsen’s)

Winter-5a

Iceless Ice Skating
The ice skating rink in the photo is made of plastic. That’s Michelle Kwan giving a performance at the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. Throw a little water on the polymer and the ground is a slick as ice. There are many famous rinks made of iceless ice: the Polar Rink at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Kego Park in Japan, and Mawsons Skate in Australia. It has the same effect with none of the work required. Plastic for the win! (Image: Red Dot Photo)

High Roller: Must See Attraction of 2015

Las Vegas is fascinating. I come to Las Vegas often and always find cool things to do on and off the strip. Yesterday I was on a mission to see the High Roller, the World’s Largest Observation Wheel.  The High Roller has 28 glass cabins soaring 550 feet high with 360 degree views of Las Vegas.  These types of attractions are usually “do once and take a picture” for me. The High Roller was an experience I can’t wait to share with more people.

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(Image: Vital Vegas)

So, what’s it really like? When you buy your $25.00 ticket, you’re greeted with high ceilings, electro swing music and large scale original art. I wished I was dressed a little nicer! I was expecting more of an amusement park experience. The next stop is a room full of turnstiles with a high production video of street artists recreating Las Vegas backdrops. The intro is followed by a witty video describing the physical nature of the observation tower and tips on how to get the best photos (turn off your flash and stand on the right when you get high in the air). People with acrophobia are encouraged to walk away!

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(Image: Jessica Reid)

Next, we were led to a dimly lit bar with gorgeous murals by Chris Reccardi. The full bar had well and specialty drinks, plus beer and wine. The selection of spirits was impressive, but the juice was all from the gun and the margaritas were made with sweet and sour mix. For $17, you could get a souvenir cup with your drink inside. My bartender was from Wisconsin, so I was able to get the inside scoop on the High Roller. He said that he had bartended on the ride over 1000 times and loves coming to work everyday. Pay for a $5 upgrade to go on the ‘Happiest Half Hour” party cabin, he said. This cabin comes with a bartender and an open bar. Good call!

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(Image: Jessica Reid)

After leaving the bar area, I was escorted to a waiting platform. The drinkers go in a special line.  We were rushed into our waiting glass pod.  The pods don’t stop for loading so it’s an amazing smooth experience. Most ferris wheels are stop and go for the loading procedure. As we gracefully ascended into the sky, we made fast friends with our tour-guide/bartender.

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(Image: Jessica Reid)

The glass pods can hold up to 40, or 25 with a bar set-up. The sunset over the mountains and the shine of the Las Vegas strip bonded our 15 person group. We snapped pictures of each other and pointed out landmarks and favorite places. I chatted with a mother from Australia and her son from Canada. They had bought cheap tickets to Las Vegas to see each other. I was instantly jealous, wishing that I had a loved one with me to experience the view and sunset.  Of course the ride ended with a trip to the gift shop. I bought a few decks of cards to remember the experience. It’s amazing, an engineering marvel. Go see this must-see!

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