20 Best RaulersonGirlsTravel Photos of 2023 (Year in Review)

Heather with a bunch of Lorikeets at Tanganyika Wildlife Park - Best RaulersonGirlsTravel Photos of 2023

Looking at the map below, it would look like I traveled a lot this year, but another year has passed with less travel than I would like. I went on a few fabulous press trips and have more stories to write this coming year. However, the big thing was that I moved from Michigan to Sierra Vista, Arizona, this year and managed to explore some new areas of the United States along the way. Here are the 20 Best RaulersonGirlsTravel Photos of 2023 and my year in review.

Heather with a bunch of Lorikeets at Tanganyika Wildlife Park - Best RaulersonGirlsTravel Photos of 2023
My 2023 Travel Map (via Travellers Point)
My 2023 Travel Map (via Travellers Point)

I took numerous flights, rented cars, and two long cross-country train trips this year. I also knocked off one more state I have never been to this year, Louisiana. Here are some of my travel stats.

  • U.S. States Visited: 6
  • U.S. Cities Visited: 10
  • Total Flight Legs: 14 – 7,275 miles
  • Days on Train: 5 – 2,438 miles

Now, onto the Best RaulersonGirlsTravel Photos of 2023…

Japanese Garden at the Huntsville Botanical Garden

This was the second time visiting Huntsville for a travel conference. I was one of the 50 journalists invited to the STS Domestic Showcase. We were shown around the town, where I saw new activities in Huntsville. They have a new concert venue, the Orion Amphitheater, where you can listen to music concerts, see plays, and so much more. I was a little bummed to hear that the Alabama Constitution Village was closed, but a nice alternative is Burritt on the Mountain, where you can get above the city and have a panoramic view of Huntsville.

Heather playing cigar box guitar in Huntsville at Lowe Mill

One of my favorite things to do in Huntsville involved music. Specifically learning how to play music on a cigar box guitar. Several friends play in bands, and I always enjoyed listening to them play. Now, I know how hard it is to learn how to play an instrument. But, what fun to try, and the artistry on these guitars is absolutely beautiful. If you are visiting Huntsville, you have to explore Lowe Mill. There are so many creative artists in this transformed warehouse that you will be surprised by what you’ll find.

Inside the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

Muscle Shoals was the destination of the FAM trip after the conference. Another new destination for me that entertained and educated me simultaneously. I previously have been to one part of the music triangle, Memphis, and Muscle Shoals is another part along with Nashville. Visiting the FAME Recording Studios, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame was a walk through musical history. From the 1960s legends of Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Percy Sledge, and Otis Redding recording at FAME to the artists recording with the Swamp Rats., the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Roger Hawkins, Barry Beckett, Jimmy Johnson, and David Hood at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, the music created here was magically resulting in over 400 gold records. To walk into the sound booths where these musical legends created music gave me goosebumps.

CSX Train in Decatur, Alabama

On my moving road trip to Arizona, I stopped in Decatur, Alabama. I spent much time photographing the trains at the Decatur Historic Depot. They even had a bridge that covered the tracks with holes set in for camera lenses to capture the trains as they went under the bridge. I also explored the Civil War sites around town, including the Old State Bank, which is haunted. I didn’t have anything happen there, but the guides showed me a video of an actual ghost encounter with ghost voices…goosebumps again!

Coca-Cola Museum in Monroe, Louisiana

Exploring Louisiana for the first time was fabulous. I loved visiting the smaller towns of Monroe and West Monroe. I was able to capture photographs and experience what Louisiana is known for, like Cyprus trees in swamps, alligators, eating catfish, and delicious BBQ. And if you know me and how much I love Coca-Cola, you wouldn’t be surprised that I explored the Coca-Cola Museum right when I arrived. Joseph Biedenharn was the first to bottle Coca-Cola in 1894, and it was neat to see how the process has changed over the years. After the museum, I also toured the Biedenharn Home, which Emy-Lou Biedenharn beautifully decorated from her travels worldwide as a famous opera singer.

Cyprus trees and their reflections in Monroe, Louisiana
Deer looking at me while on a walk through Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge

West Monroe had many places to explore that had me enjoying nature at the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, where a deer and dragonflies stopped for photographs as I walked through. I even went through the Duck Commander Warehouse and created a duck call. Quack!

West Monroe has plenty of delicious food and drink options that I couldn’t get enough of. The place to go is Antique Alley, where you can find many antique shops and great restaurants. I had Seafood Nachos at Trapp’s, samples of Two Warriors Meadery, munched on great BBQ at JAC’s Craft Smokehouse, and splurged on the Flying Waffle at Flying Heart.

Cowboy and Texas Longhorn at Fort Worth Stockyards

I’ve been wanting to see Fort Worth for a while. I started my one-day visit to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame by exploring the two-story museum filled with rhinestone-studded cowgirl costumes, artwork, memorabilia, and the history of cowgirls in the Wild West. My next stop was the Fort Worth Stockyards. The sun was shining, and the heat level was through the roof, which ended up canceling the afternoon cattle drive I was looking forward to. This makes me have to come back and visit again. However, I did manage to capture some photos of the Texan Longhorns behind the Live Stock Exchange building.

Texas Longhorn at Fort Worth Stockyards
Butterfly on Sunflower

Another stop discovering the Midwest on a Media Event in Wichita, Kansas. I thoroughly enjoyed my time exploring the best of Wichita with its amazing food, drinks, art, and animals. Of course, Kansas has some epic sunflower fields in the fall that you have to wander through. But, the highlight of my Kansas trip was interacting with the animals. The first was painting with the alpacas at the Lazy Moon Ranch; the second was feeding the animals at Tanganyika Wildlife Park. Feeding a giraffe and lemur, petting a sloth, kangaroo, and porcupine, letting a bunch of Lorikeets land on me while feeding them, and feeding a rhino were bucket list adventures that had me in stitches, laughing so hard. Wichita surprised me with all that it had to offer visitors.

Heather with a bunch of Lorikeets at Tanganyika Wildlife Park
The Alamo in San Antonio

On one of the many cross-country Amtrak journeys I have taken, I decided to get off and explore San Antonio during the overnight long delay, switching from the North/South train, Texas Eagle, to the East/West train, Sunset Limited. It didn’t matter that everything was closed; I felt comfortable enough to walk down to the Alamo and the River Walk to capture these beautiful night photos. And once again, another place I’ll have to visit during the daytime.

San Antonio River Walk at night
Alligator looking at the Heron on the McGee's Louisiana Swamp Tours

Yes, that is an alligator creeping up to the white heron. Lafayette was a fabulous city to visit on an IFWTWA press trip with fellow travel writers. I have been super excited to visit Lafayette for over a year. I was supposed to go to Lafayette in 2022 for a travel conference and had to cancel. So, imagine my excitement as I stepped off the plane in Lafayette and even more with a bigger smile on McGee’s Louisiana Swamp Tour. Seeing the Cyprus trees and tree trunks sticking out of the shallow water was a sight. I even saw a bald eagle and, of course, a few alligators.

A group of Cyprus Trees in the Atchafalaya Swamp in Lafayette, Louisiana

Lafayette was in full swing with the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, the Official Boudin Cutting, great Cajun and Creole music, and much food. I tried the Boudin, Shrimp and Tasso Pasta, and Garlic Parmesan Grilled Oysters. What I found fascinating at this music and food festival is that the crowd got up and danced when the music started playing. I have been to many music concerts and festivals and have never experienced such jubilee and comaradie that I saw happening in Lafayette. I’m unsurprised that Lafayette was named one of the “Happiest Cities.”

Bonsoir, Catin at Festivals Acadiens et Créoles

On our last day, we were treated to an un-scripted activity to explore Avery Island. Our first stop was the Tabasco Fan Experience. I’m not a big spicy eater, so this was an enlightened, self-guided tour. We saw the whole Tabasco growing and bottling process, with the benefit of even the smells. After touring the process, we spent some time in the gift store sampling the sauces. I even tried the Reaper sauce. Ouch! That was rough.

Tabasco flavors on Avery Island at the Tabasco plant

The last place we visited was Jungle Garden on Avery Island. Alligators, birds, and beautiful old oak trees in this nature preserve can be seen.

Old Oak tree in Jungle Garden on Avery Island
A Sandhill Crane landing at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is the place to be during the winter to see the migration of thousands of Sandhill Cranes in Southeast Arizona. Most sites will tell you to come at sunrise or dusk to see the cranes leaving or coming in after looking for food. I have visited a few times and found the best time to see the active cranes is between 10:30 am and noon. Watching hundreds of sandhill cranes flying in and landing around the marsh is fabulous to see and hear. They are so loud! You will see them if you show up in the afternoon, but they might be all napping.

Thousands of Sandhill Cranes wintering at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area
Heather with wings in Decatur, Alabama

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of my favorite photos from my 2023 travels. I hope this inspires you to look at new destinations for your next vacation. I hope you have a great New Year and Happy Travels!

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Let me know in the comments if you have been to any of these cities, have questions, or need ideas for your next vacation.


  • Robin Smith 2January2024 at 8:41 PM Reply

    Enjoyed reading about your 2023 adventures!

    • Heather 3January2024 at 6:09 PM Reply

      Thank you so much, Robin. I hope that I can get out and meet up with you sometime this year.

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