Door County, Wisconsin

Friends make the best suggestions. Visiting the state of Wisconsin for a long fourth of July weekend, exploring Door County introduced a lot of firsts. The cool temperatures, cherry orchards, cheese curds, dairy farms, ferry ride, lavender farm, smoked white fish, ship building, rock beaches, Yacht clubs, and the chocolate chicken just to name a few.

We flew out of Nashville late Wednesday July 3rd into Minneapolis, caught the last shuttle to our hotel near midnight. The shuttle bus driver was from Memphis, spent the last 40 years in Wisconsin and is looking forward to retiring soon near Memphis somewhere across the line in Mississippi. We slept hard then enjoyed hotel breakfast before returning to the airport for our rental car – a 2019 Nissan Sentra.

Driving north toward Door County the dairy farms were abundant. America’s dairy land .. beautiful fields of green, the memories of his own Michigan dairy years came to life in Mark’s mind. Silos, equipment, cattle, wind turbines all along the drive into Door County. Renard’s Cheese was a first stop, tasting cheese curds, fudge. A lively place full of friendly employees and great samples to try.

Peninsula State Park was our second stop.. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and views of Lake Michigan, fishermen, folks riding bikes. We purchased some groceries at Pic and Save (which is Kroger), some dried tart cherries from a farmers stand and checked into our Air B and B in Sturgeon Bay.

Packing an evening picnic, we spent the evening of the 4th of July on a private beach, slathered in bug spray to ward off the mosquitos .. watching the water and relaxing. Too exhausted to find the town’s fireworks, we crashed early with plans for exploring more later.

The morning of July 5th with a high predicted of 82 degrees we drove toward the Northern tip of Door County; Gills Rock. Up highway 57 to hwy 42, where we purchased Ferry tickets to Washington Island and tickets for their Cherry Train. Walking on the ferry for a very enjoyable 25 to 30 minute Ferry ride with a lake breeze. The Cherry Train was 3 hour guided tour that stopped at five different places; a farm museum, School House Beach, Nature and Art Center, a lavender farm – Frangrant Isle and Stavkirke (a church built on the custom of Viking Ships. Washington island is 35 square miles with a population of 700 year round folks. Summer expands their population 3,000! Such an enjoyable day, we ate Smoked white fish, ice cream, watched the ferry and relaxed by the water.

July 6th we made breakfast at our Air B and B, waiting out a rain shower, then drove into Sturgeon Bay to Sunset Park and the Ship Building facility called Fincantieri Bay. There we saw a large 1000 foot laker docked. Finding the Northpoint Pier Lighthouse proved a challenge, however after several attempts we found it! Later we drove to a working dairy farm, however their public store is now closed. We ended up at the Door Peninsula Winery where we tasted Cherry Mimosa, Blackberry and Red Chaos wines. Driving up towards Horseshoe Bay we found the Frank E Murphy County Park and spent some time on the beach. The blue sky and sunshine was a welcome site, the water was cold. A couple of hours on the beach is good for the soul. Driving up the coast to Egg Harbor we parked and walked thru this busy town. Visited the Chocolate Chicken; a coffee and ice cream shop. Walked thru Egg Harbor sipping an ice coffee – thru their Plus Bottom Art Gallery. Nice day weather wise to sit on a bench and people watch, enjoying the sunshine. Lots of people, lots of cars. Returning the back roads to Sturgeon Bay and our Air B and B, we spent the evening packing for an early morning trip to the airport. A lovely getaway, thanks to a beautiful suggestion from an amazing friend.

til next time,

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Glacier National Park

For me one beautiful part of travel is researching and discovery, learning from others while listening to their adventures. Summer months may be actual “go time”, yet winter can play an important role. Once our vacation days are scheduled, we are like Santa — checking his list. The list of places to go, things to see.. and National Parks never seem to disappoint. Do you have a list? My aunt told me years ago, “Get out there and make some memories. Cause when you are old and can’t do it anymore .. you can remember. You will have a box of memories to revisit.” Maybe now is your time to start planning, to build a box of memories. Set some money aside, investigate, make some plans. Don’t just talk, make it happen.

Glacier National Park made the top of the list, Montana a state we have yet to visit. For cost efficiency, using our Southwest points we flew to Spokane, Washington then rented a car to experience a beautiful drive across Idaho into Kalispell, Montana then to Glacier Park. Leaving the Spokane airport, we drove I-90 to Sandpoint, Idaho for Cozy Cabin Air B and B our first night.

Waking up Sunday to a cool Idaho morning, the obvious choice for breakfast was a Trip Advisor recommendation lakeside restaurant called Spuds. After breakfast we purchased a few grocery supplies, then headed north to Bonners Ferry taking Hwy 2 the scenic route into Kalispell, Montana. Traveling along the Kootenai River wildlife was abundant including mule deer, ravens, and a bald eagle. After arriving in Kalispell, a walk downtown from our upstairs Air B and B to Hops for dinner felt nice. Slider burgers made from Yak-Bison and Elk were the menu choice. After dinner we explored the Flathead Lake area and learned of the native Bullhead trout.

Monday morning rainy and somewhat chilly weather greeted us, however Going to the Sun Road had just opened for the season and I couldn’t wait to see this magnificent place! Loading our cooler with snacks and water, along with cold weather and rain gear, maps, etc. we drove to the West Entrance. Spending the day along the entire 50 mile Going to the Sun Road., stopping at pull offs to gawk, finding restrooms, tossing a snowball, visiting St Mary’s Visitor center – a recon mission of sorts .. Cascade falls, snow, clouds in the sky, mountains, bighorn sheep, waterfalls, traffic, rain, fog, the weeping wall, elk, bison. The Snow Goose grill, equipped with a warm fire was our late lunch spot. The day spent exploring from Kalispell to the West Entrance, GTSR and the East Entrance then back to Kalispell made for a lot of driving. Temperatures ranged from 51 to a low 39 near Logan’s pass.

Tuesday we packed everything leaving our Kalispell lodging. Sunshine and blue sky made today’s drive to the park and Going to the Sun Road look amazingly different. Some of the views were breathtaking. Who knew there were so many shades of green? Our original hiking plans were thwarted due to a full trail-head, our second idea met with crowd capacity full at Many-glacier. Our word for today was ‘fluid’. If plan A doesn’t work, then it’s always good to have plan B and C in mind. Our plan C was to head to Waterton. At the Canadian border, we used our passports for the first time and had a conversation with the border patrol agent about RC cola and Moon Pies. Passing thru part of the Blood Indian Reservation and realizing the 80 speed limit sign is kilometers not miles per hour was part of this trek. We hiked to lower Bertha Falls which had beautiful scenery plus a nice cool waterfall. Waterton wildlife included mule deer, mountain goats and a black bear. Free range cattle roam freely, nice looking cows which we often stopped and watched cross over the roads. Almost like herding cows with a car. At the end of the day we checked into our cabin at Rising Sun inside Glacier National Park. Nice cozy place to call home for four more nights under the Montana sky.

Wednesday morning our plan was to hike a couple of waterfalls near the Sunrift Gorge trail head. However, due to a paving project on GTSR that trail head was closed. Having our breakfast with us .. the good old peanut butter and apples .. we found a pull off and ate. Once again adopting the word ‘fluid’ we chose plan B and drove to Many Glacier. Sunscreen, snacks, hydration packs all on our backs, we spent the morning hiking Red Rock Lake, Red Rock falls and Fishercap lake. A busy trail with abundant bear grass in full bloom and lots of other hikers. Such a beautiful day, we saw a grouse and Lake and due to a local fisherman’s advice another waterfall on ‘the horse trail. A hidden gem that required lots of singing and made up songs due to the privacy and possibility of bears. After our hike lunch at Nells hit the spot along with some delicious Montana trading coffee. Many Glacier lodge was a nice stop before heading back to Rising Sun. A Blackfeet dance program at St. Mary’s Visitor center was our evening entertainment, learning history, seeing dances and beautiful regalia.

Red Rock Falls Hike
Hidden Gem Waterfall

Thursday – Two Medicine

Thunderstorms and rain predicted this morning, we got a late start and drove to Two Medicine in the rain with a 90 percent chance for most all morning. Passing thru the Blackfeet Reservation where bison were abundant, and thru Browning where most live. Arriving at Two Medicine and not too excited about hiking in the rain, we purchased afternoon tickets for a boat ride then wandered thru the gift shop, got some lunch and enjoyed the window view of Two Medicine Lake. After an enjoyable ride on the old wooden boat named Sinopah, the sun popped out for what turned into a beautiful afternoon of hiking to Aster falls, then out to Paradise Point. Glad we didn’t give up and waited the rain out. Leaving Two Medicine we traveled highway 49 to Kiowa pass seeing amazing views and one red fox. Dinner at Two Dog flats restaurant was yummy end to the evening, along with Huckleberry Ice cream desert.

Early Friday morning we loaded our hiking packs and drove to Sun Point Parking trying one final time this waterfall hike that includes three beautiful waterfalls. Bingo! Room at the trail head, no paving projects and off we went for what was our longest and probably favorite hike. Maybe it was knowing it was our last, maybe it was the turquoise water at St. Mary’s falls or the peaceful walking along St.. Mary’s Lake. Beautiful views of the lake itself, the undergrowth of newness appearing from the fire of 2015, blue skies and multiple colored wildflowers. Baring Falls across a wooden bridge along with a bear footprint was first. St. Mary’s falls was next – the beautiful teal turquoise water, wooden bridge and plenty of places to gaze and eat a snack. Actually saw a hummingbird visiting some of the wildflowers along the rocks and listened to the song of other birds. Then off to Virginia Falls along with many other hikers. A popular trail, many friendly hikers. Of all the parks we’ve visited, these seem the most friendly. Encouraging each other along, loaning bug spray, taking photos or simply offering information. After Virginia Falls, we started the return trek back on this in and out trail. Lingering a while at St. Mary’s falls .. it was hard to leave this one. A very hungry mule deer was grazing along the trail. The return trail was just as beautiful as the entry. A shower, dinner and seeing both a black bear and a grizzly while driving on GTSR rounded out the day along with giving a Continental Divide hiker named Compass a ride.

We packed for a super early departure from the cabin, drive back to Spokane and flight home to Nashville. Saturday was a stupid long day .. leaving the cabin at 6 am Mountain Time and arriving home at midnight central time after two delays in Denver. Who even can calculate how many hours that entailed? Thankfully we cushioned this trip with a day of nothing before heading back to work. And thankfully we savored the drive back thru a different Idaho route.

Glacier National Park; expansive and rugged. A beautiful place of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, great coffee and friendly hikers. You must might wanna add this one to your list.

Going to the Sun Views
Going to the Sun Road view
Going to the Sun Road view
Heaven’s Peak

Duluth Minnesota – Hwy 61 North Shore Drive

Chronic pain has been a part of my life for many years.  I usually recognize pain in others, by the way they walk, sit or stand.. or sometimes just by the look in their eyes.  The eyes are so revealing.  About five years ago, we started traveling.  Discovering beautiful places isn’t hard .. especially if you listen to others and watch their eyes.   There is a glimmer that represents beauty .. a place they enjoyed or possibly lived once.  We learn much from each other.  I look for that glimmer and of course follow with google searches.

July 4th in Middle Tennessee is hot, humid and days off work.  2018 was no different —  the idea of escaping the heat took us way north to Duluth, Minnesota, exploring the coast of Lake Superior.  I had never heard of Duluth .. but in conversation with a young patient in our office, I saw the glimmer.  Her eyes as she spoke of it, a place she once lived near peaked my interest.

We flew to Minneapolis the morning of July 4th then drove three hours Northeast to AmericInn – Proctor Minnesota.  Super nice hotel with an indoor pool, local manager who gave great advice, yummy continental breakfast and helpful staff.

Early the next day we headed north along Highway 61 from Duluth to Grand Marias.  The shoreline of Lake Superior is beautiful, with a nice lake breeze the temps perfect.

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Visiting towns thru the day, we learned fun facts, discovered the Iron ore industry, stopped at many state parks – the day was quite educational.

Gooseberry State Park – root beer colored waterfalls  due to tanninIMG_1402

Tettegouche State Park – rock beach at Baptism RiverIMG_1418

Temperance River State Park –  a powerful show of rapid waterIMG_1427

Silver Bay – Taconite plantIMG_1410

A picnic lunch at Palisade Head  and a fresh seafood meal  at Harbor House Grille. 

The city of Duluth was our agenda for day two.  We spent the day on foot exploring the city.  First stop; Canal Park where we watched a 1000 foot Laker arrive in the canal and go under an Aerial Lift bridge. Pretty fascinating for a Tennessee girl!

Next we took a short boat ride on the VISTA cruise around Duluth – seeing the city from the Lake was fun.  IMG_1437The Lake Walk around Duluth took us around the city, with access to restaurants, shopping, a malt shop, beautiful rose garden.  Train tracks, a mosaic tile mural, Vietnam memorial .. access to restrooms .. a great way to spend the day.

Our last day we enjoyed a quiet morning on the beach at Minnesota Point skipping rocks.  It looks so much like the ocean .. yet no tide and the temperature is about 38 degrees.

Heading north up Hwy 61  in Two Harbors, we found Heritage days and a fourth of July parade.  Probably several thousand folks lining the streets with chairs, we joined in and watch the local parade. IMG_1477.JPG Before heading back to Minneapolis, a visit to Russ Kendall’s smoke fish in Knife River for some amazing smoked lake trout and cheese.

Three very full days of exploring uncharted territory.  Pleasant people, beautiful places, and we made it out with no mosquito bites!  Look for the glimmer .. chase the beauty .. and enjoy learning a new place.

Til next time,

Roan Mountain State Park

A simple  discovery after adding creamer to my coffee.  The creamer in our camping box was bad .. so instead of flavoring the coffee – it ruined it.  Tossing the ruined coffee out,  Mark offered me another cup.  I do not drink coffee without creamer .. so processing thru what items we had in our camp supplies,  I decided to use the only thing close to creamer  – butter.   It was delicious and became a staple for the rest of my week.  Improvising, Overcoming, Adapting .. we just returned from a week of tent camping at Roan Mountain State Park in East TN.  A butter in your coffee type – IOA type of week where the unexpected weather changes presented challenges and opened our eyes to new opportunities.

As we traveled  I-40 Monday afternoon, I took a peak at the weather forecast.  Storms were moving thru the area, with rain chances predicted; 80 and 90 percentage for at least three of our five reserved days.  Not exactly what we had imagined, but just like the bad creamer in my coffee – we improvised, overcame and adapted – looking for the ‘butter in the coffee’.  What could we do instead, how could this week be fun anyway? And what might we discover that would be even better ?

Arriving at campsite #35, our first time at Roan Mountain, we quickly put up the tent between rain showers and took a peak at the Doe River that ran beside our campsite.  With a tarp on the ground under the tent and a large blue tarp to cover the tent – it was up and under cover before the first rain came.  Air Mattress, sleeping bags, pillows in position  ..our most valuable piece of camping equipment for the entire week .. the BLUE TARP!  It kept us dry thru storms and heavy rains.  All our food and cooking gear was kept in our car .  We rotated between three covered picnic pavilions to make some pretty amazing meals – played multiple games of SkipBo together, had some great conversations, reconnected and unplugged from daily life all under cover, dry and among the rhododendron blooms, the Doe River, and wildlife.

 

IMG_1318A couple of short hikes happened on Tuesday, one behind the visitors center under the cover of trees carefully maneuvering over wet tree roots and rocks.  In the brush, we spotted our first deer.  Another hike, the Roan Mountain Bluff trail near the Catawba gardens we saw only fog at the observation point.  So many ferns, rhododendron and Fraser Firs along the trail, this area had a terrarium feel to it.   Keeping our raincoats within arms reach the entire day, not being afraid of the mud – we found some butter in the coffee.  The afternoon was rainy – finding shelter at another picnic pavilion,  we played more SkipBo and made another tasty dinner.  Between showers we watched the waters at the Doe admiring the colors of rocks along its bank.

The evening brought heavy rains, inside the tent was dry and loud.  Most of the night we heard rain – and were both pleasantly surprised in the morning  — everything was dry inside the tent.  Yay for the Blue Tarp!  Sunshine predicted for Wednesday morning – we made a pork chop/egg breakfast on the Coleman stove, then spent the morning at the Miller Homestead.  A Monarch butterfly Waystation, flower and vegetable gardens, outbuilding and so many hummingbirds.  A beautiful tribute to the farming homestead spirit of the Miller family who settled this area in 1870.  A Big farmhouse, root cellar, chicken house, and barns, all without electricity or running water.  IMG_1333IMG_1323

Thursday had some promise weather wise – but also rain also predicted.  We decided after breakfast to shower and go explore nearby Boone, NC.  Our friends in Boone had invited us for dinner.  We left the campground early enough to explore the Blue Ridge Parkway finding sunshine, a waterfall (The Cascades) and an antique store (Appalachian Antiques).  Dinner with friends and their four young boys was a fun part of the week.

 

Friday was amazing!  We actually uncovered the tent .. packing away the heroic blue tarp.  No rain.. just sunshine and our opportunity to hike the balds at Carver’s Gap.  After a protein rich breakfast, we packed lunches in our hydration packs and spent almost six hours hiking from Carver’s Gap to the Grassy Ridge.  Over Round Bald and Jane Bald .. along the AT with 360 degree panoramic views, sunshine plenty, mountains, treetops, clouds and one snake .. it was a great day of accomplishment in the hike, the sense of togetherness and teamwork, and gazing over such magnificent beauty.  Ended Friday with our only campfire of the week – cooking our meal over the fire.

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Discovering butter for my coffee was a glimpse into our entire week together.  Finding something that works in the midst of the unexpected.  Tent camping is not for the faint of heart.  Our first time in rain, our first time for five nights.  Economical, adventurous, a sense of togetherness and teamwork, we found our butter in it.

Til next time,

 

 

This entry was posted on July 1, 2018. 1 Comment

Shenandoah National Park

A place of awe, inspiration and renewal.  A sanctuary of sorts where wildlife abounds, birds serenade with their songs and mountains captivate with their beauty.  So lush and green, so peaceful and serene.  Where the fog may hide the panoramic views only to magnify the wildflowers and waterfalls.

We spent the day traveling to Shenandoah National Park in a rented black Toyota Camry.  Packed with a multiplicity of bags, we traveled I-40 out of Tennessee to I-81 in Virginia; then found our hotel in Luray, Virginia.  Noticing many black Angus cows and beautiful green farmland.  After a nice dinner at Uncle Bucks, we crashed in the nice comfy King Size bed at The Cardinal Inn.

Saturday morning we purchased our 7 day pass, then drove into the park at Thorton’s Gap.  Skyline Drive, the heart of Shenandoah; a 35 mile per hour 105 mile long road stretch was foggy.  As we exited the car at the first overlook, I spotted an Indigo Bunting.  So beautiful and deep blue, the colors popped in the fog.  However, from the overlooks you could see nothing but FOG in the distance .. but looking closer we found a deer resting in the bushes.  And could hear birds singing.  For just an moment the thought occurred to me.. “what if the fog doesn’t lift?  What if we are here for five days and only see this?”  Remembering what I had read — on foggy days look for wild flowers and focus on the waterfalls hikes – we went looking for suggestions.  At Big Meadows Byrd Visitor Center, Shari suggested The Rose River Falls loop which included two waterfalls – Rose River Falls and Dark Hollow.  She did warn us it would be wet, they had lots of rain the past several weeks.  We gathered our hiking gear and spent the next several hours hiking the 4.5 mile loop.  Wading two mountain creeks and more than one stream, we experienced rocks, mud and a beautiful path all along the sights and sounds of a cascading creek.  It was a beautiful way to spend our first fog filled day at Shenandoah National Park.  After our hike it began to rain.  We returned to our hotel, showered and back to Uncle Bucks for dinner plus ice cream from the Sugar Shack.  The owner of the Sugar Shack is from Nashville.  It was fun talking to him.  Today’s words:  Fog/Water

Sunday’s forecast was sunny.  We took full advantage of Skyline drive and the beautiful overlooks.  A no fog day of panoramic views from Thorton’s Gap to Loft Mountain we meandered at the 35 mile an hour speed limit, listening to the bird songs along the way.  Blackberry bushes, Timothy, Alfalfa up close and mountain ranges in the distance. Views that no camera does justice, but we tried to capture it.  On our return drive from Loft Mountain, we saw our first black bear on Skyline drive.  We ended the evening at Big Meadows with a short hike, The Story of the Forest.  Somewhere along the way, we read the stories of how this park came to be.  The history lessons embedded on the walls at Big Meadow.  Then sat on a bench and watched deer.  They are plentiful in the evening.  Today’s word:  Overlooks

We began our Monday morning with two  packed picnics .. breakfast on St Mary’s rock tunnel overlook and lunch for later.  A promising sunny day we hiked to Stony Man. A short .9 in and out hike that showcases the park’s floral emblem, the large-flowered trillium.  A wonderful springtime floral display which also provided sweeping views of Page Valley to the west and Skyline drive to the east.   We took a seat on the rock overlooks to soak in the views.. trees, mountains, clouds.  And the fog rolled in.  It had no smell or feel, was just really cool rolling over us and covering the view below.  Thankful we had arrived before the fog.  On our return hike we stopped to notice a particular pair of birds singing .. only to watch as one of them flew into her nest right along our path.  Some type of warbler, with some light yellow and a beautiful song.  Thankful we stopped to listen.  Lunchtime was a picnic at Pinnacle Picnic Grounds, then Skyland lounge for coffee.  You know it’s a good day when you have two picnics and a coffee break.  Our next trek for the day was Hawk’s Bill Summit, which actually takes us to the highest mountain in the park at 4051 elevation.  Again, beautiful views and a warm ascent which included part of the fire road.  Near the observation deck is one of four Byrd’s nest shelters included on the Appalachian trail.  Today’s word was:  Summits

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Tuesday morning returning to Skyline Drive at Thorton’s Gap we traveled north for the first time.  The East side of Skyline was foggy – nothing to see off those overlooks.  The Westside however was clear with beautiful views of the valley below.  Tranquil, simple and pure views of farmlands.  Once again we were serenaded with bird songs.   The weather forecast an 80% chance of rain, however the sky was clear.  A beautiful day to visit Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and see the South fork of the Shenandoah River. We learned from the ranger at Dickey Ridge the mountain names; Massnutten, which is home to the George Washington National Forrest.  The Alleghany Mountains which are in West Virginia.   On our return drive, near the Matthew Arms campground, we spotted a mama bear and her two cubs along Skyline Drive.  She was very protective and somewhat nervous of us watching her.  We followed Skyline Drive back to Big Meadows before heading back to Luray for dinner and sleep.  Thankful for the beauty of yet another day in Shenandoah.

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Wednesday morning after breakfast we drove to Meadow Spring  trail head for a hike to Mary’s Rock.  One more summit hike before leaving tomorrow.  A 2.8  in and out trek that included some of the Appalachain Trail.  A beautiful day to hike, with abundant sunshine – this hike had several surfaces, an old chimney, a few muddy spots and one amazing view at 3514 ft.  Hard to leave this place, with the beauty that brings tears to your eyes and joy to your soul.  We ate our lunch on top of this summit and held on tight to our hats as the wind blew.  On the way out we met several other hikers, and smelled a bear.  We never saw it, but made a lot of noise just in case.  They stink.  After returning to the car we drove back to Luray, showered and picked a picnic supper at West Main Market.  Back to Skyline Drive to watch the deer at Big Meadows, then eat our picnic and watch a sunset at Spitler Knob, listen to Blue Grass music at Skyland and end our week with a dark drive out on Skyline Drive.  Twenty four polite deer and one lone black bear said goodbye to us as we slowly made our way out of the park.  Stopping at one last overlook in the dark – seeing all the lights below – was a nice way to end our time.

Thankful, so thankful to have eyes to see, a partner to share it with, ears to hear, and legs to hike.  Shenandoah is a beautiful sanctuary, a place to meander.

#GoShen

 

Our Runaway Thanksgiving

More than two decades our family Thanksgiving meal has been held in our home. A teamwork effort of sharing the responsibility of cooking, we have hosted up to 25… family from both sides, friends. Basically we move all the furniture against the wall, set up tables and chairs, clear off the counters and make room. Each year we join hands forming a circle and tell what we are thankful for. It all began when our kids were young. I remember borrowing decorations that first year. For a while we established a special theme.. the year of 9/11 using red white and blue, along with GI Joe toys as table centerpieces. One year we drank from mason jars, using my family quilts for table cloths. Along with the basic turkey dinner — we added new vegetables or salad .. then venison.. maybe ham.. every year holding a special memory. One of my favorite responses to an invitation came from my very pregnant niece.. “Yes, we can come! But Aunt Beverly.. I’m gonna need a really strong chair to sit in..”

Last year both our now adult sons were out of town for Thanksgiving .. so we decided to ditch the traditional day of stuffing ourselves with food and run away. Our destination was the Natchez Trace Parkway. Maybe an odd way to spend the day.. but a nice change. Traveling at a slower 45 mile per hour pace, with historical stops along the way and not a lot of holiday traffic we spent the entire day exploring.

Early Thanksgiving day we left home with a cooler packed for a picnic and a hotel reservation in Florence, Alabama. Beginning the day on Hwy 96 in Franklin, TN and ending some seven hours later. Stopping often, enjoying short hikes and beautiful fall foliage, reading markers and monuments. Our chosen picnic spot overlooked a cattle farm with wild turkeys and a large buck exploring the grassy area. We encounter several families out exploring and seeking fresh air.

We spent the night in Florence, Alabama ending the day with a swim at their indoor pool. The next morning we continued into Florence to visit Wichahpi Commemorative Wall. Great highlight of the trip, we listened to Tom Hendrix tell the story of building this wall in honor of his great grandmother. A beautiful tribute and moving experience. Later we traveled as far as Tishimingo State Park, then returning to Florence to experience a local restaurant – the Rattlesnake Saloon. Spending another night in Florence, we returned home the next day.

Traveling into this historical experience without cell service in many areas, doing your homework before making this trip is important. Many possibilities of enjoying the trace.. a camp out opportunity at Meriweather-Lewis .. many bed and breakfast options along the way. NatchezTraceTravel.com was such a helpful website to learn from. A great place to runaway.. spring or fall.

This entry was posted on November 5, 2017. 1 Comment

Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, Colorado — where Swift Current Lodge became our home for eight days.  A cozy cottage with a patio on the Big Thompson River where the truth of ‘we have so much yet need so little’ became apparent.  The river sang us to sleep each night and greeted us in the morning.  We prepared breakfast on the two burner stove then ate on the patio while watching the hummingbirds do their ‘river dance’.  They ducked and dived, eating insects and impressing us with their agility and beauty.  What a great place to start the morning; the sounds of rushing water, the freshness of open windows and the promise of a day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

TRAIL RIDGE ROAD

Trail Ridge Road was our first destination.  Equipped with water, sunscreen, hats and warm clothes we entered RMNP on a blue sky beautiful Tuesday morning.  A Ranger at Beaver Meadow Visitor Center gave us a few suggestions on nice stops along the way.  Trail Ridge Road is forty eight miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake and includes 11 miles above the tree lines, amazing snow covered mountain views and the Alpine Tundra “where the sky is the size of forever and the flowers the size of a millisecond.”  The altitude was as unfamiliar as the views, a grand example of the Lord God’s handiwork.  Fresh first looks at pull offs .. Many Parks Curve, Hidden Valley, Rainbow Curve and Rock Cut were places we chose.  At Rock Cut we added clothing layers and hats to walk the 1/2 mile to Mushroom rock where a marmot entertained us.  The temperature was at least 30 degrees cooler than Estes Park and the wind very strong.  Walking into the wind gave new meaning to Bob Seger’s song “Against the Wind”… so thankful for a hat and heavy sweatshirt!

Leaving Rock Cut we encountered some mountain rain.  Drove several miles of Trail Ridge Road in a rain shower, skipping stops but yet enjoying the views.  We saw two herds of elk along the way, basking in the beauty.  At Grand Lake Lodge we ate an awesome late lunch with a beautiful view.  Rainbow Trout and buffalo meatloaf with salad, coffee and a local brew.  Afterwards were entertained a bit by watching someone complete chain saw art from the lodge front porch swings.  We switched drivers and made the return trip on Trail Ridge Road to Estes Park.   Snow plow poles, Pika, Magpies, Prairie Dogs and Ravens along the way.  Stopping at the local grocery store — the Country Market to gather food for the week ended our day.  Beauty overload and days of discovery ahead.

NYMPH, DREAM, EMERALD LAKE

After a protein rich breakfast, we headed out for the first day of hiking.  Hiking shoes, hydration packs, snacks and a plan for the Bear Lake area — we rode the park and ride shuttle into Bear Lake.  Destination to Nymph lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake, stopping all along the way for pictures and views.  Mountain lakes are amazing.. the clearness of the water.. the temperature.  Surrounded by sunshine and lots of people we climbed in altitude seeing lily pads and meeting our first ouzel at Nymph, a trout fisherman at Dream and one lone rock climber on the snow covered mountains that touches the sides of Emerald lake.  We crossed several ‘snow structures’ along the 3 and a half miles.  Each lake held its own beauty and captivated us.  Stunning and peaceful.. even among the crowd and occasional teenager snowball fights.  The temps were great, with just one threat of rain.  Thankful for rain gear that fits inside our hydration packs.

After the return shuttle ride we made a quick stop by Sheeps lake in hopes to see Big Horn sheep.  The rangers tell us these animals are unpredictable.  Several herds in the park but knowing when and where to see them is a challenge.  We will continue to watch for them.  While at Sheeps lake two coyotes entertained us a while.  A late afternoon lunch near the Fall River Visitor center, yet another visit to Country Market for food and ice cream.  Before dark we took a stroll near our lodging at Swift Current into the park.  Beautiful peaceful way to end the evening.

ALBERTA FALLS and LAKE HAIYAHA

Started the morning with grilled pork chops and eggs on the patio.  Yet another protein rich start for hiking.  Returning to Bear Lake via the park and ride shuttle, this time we choose Alberta Falls as a destination.  Beautiful hike thru the Aspen trees to Alberta.  We climbed to the top of the falls and enjoyed the water spray along with many others.  After checking the map, then decided to continue the hike to Lake Haiyaha.  Sunshine and blue skies yet again, we climbed in altitude for what seemed like many miles.  Shedding layers of clothing, we hiked over rocks, into soft pine laden forest, around several snow structures, even in mud with less people and a few mosquitos.  Reaching Lake H as we called it, required some bouldering skills. It truly was a beautiful destination, peaceful and worth the effort.  Thankful for snacks and rest stops along the way, I teased Mark about his math skills on this one.  The map shows five miles.. however I insist it must be closer to 8.  Finishing the loop back to Bear Lake Trailhead included views of Dream and Nymph lake, a grouse, one giggle meltdown on the last snow structure, two drops of hail and a strong sense of togetherness.  Teamwork and sharing this beauty together.. each dependent on the other, offering our gifts of navigation, strength and direction was assuring.  This hike was  hard, yet rewarding.  Worth every step.. and every mile.

Returning to the cottage we showered, grilled meat and veggies.. and rested well.

OUZEL FALLS – WILD BASIN AREA

Colorado Hwy 7 to the Southeast side of the park to the Wild Basin Area, where parking at the trailheads were questionable.  We drove in via the gravel road and found one last parking spot that only a master at parking could manage… (and my Mark is a master at parking) Our destination was Ouzel Falls, via a five mile total out and back hiking trail all along the river.  Constant beauty of water pouring over rocks .. Copeland falls, Calypso Cascade along the way.  Beautiful swift moving water with somewhat of a roaring sound.  The trail was both rocky and soft, with beautiful mountain views, spruce, aspens and the most delicate wildflowers in purple, yellow and red colors.  Ouzel falls itself was magnificent and so was the climb to the top.  Actually a hard spot to leave.. Another day of sunshine and blue skies.  After returning to the parking area, a picnic lunch hit the spot.

GREELEY STAMPEDE

Saturday took us to Greeley Colorado to meet family from Kansas for the 96th annual Greeley Stampede.  A beautiful drive thru the Big Thompson River Canyon into Loveland then Greeley.  Thru cropland – wheat, corn, soybeans and hay .. beautiful country.   Arriving at 11 am, we found Jim and Jana in the parking area.  Wandering thru the booths and food courts together before settling into our shaded seats for the 1 pm rodeo  was fun.    Timed events .. bronc riding, barrel racing, bull riding, team roping.. even a mutton busting event that still brings a smile to my face.  A very nice rodeo event in the heart of the west that  ended with a group of Wild Mustangs in the arena and music from “the Man from Snowy River” movie.. it brought tears to my eyes.  Before the four of us returned to Estes park, we enjoyed some Serious Texas BBQ, a nice visit in Loveland and made plans for the following day.

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Wild Mustangs

RETURN TO TRAIL RIDGE ROAD

The four of us met at the Country Market to purchase sandwiches and picnic foods.  Mark drove the Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake.  The holiday weekend increased the amount of cars.. however it was still as beautiful and fun to play tour guide for family.  As the altitude increased, the amount of space in our Lays chips did not.  They “popped” open near the Alpine Tundra .. and we declared them medicinal .. salty foods in high altitudes are a good idea. Driving, stopping for photos and mountain views it was fun to see it again thru their eyes.  We took a photo op at the Rocky Mountain National Park sign. Ventured into Grand Lake Lodge where we sat again in the swings near an inside fireplace. At a picnic table near the Kawuneeche Visitor Center we ate our lunch.  Slightly disappointed at the lack of wild life we had seen .. we began the journey back to Estes Park.  In the distance on the return we saw a herd of elk and moose from the distance.

With so much traffic, the driving pace was a little slow.  Near Milner’s pass at the Continental Divide the most amazing moment happened.  From the back seat I felt the car stop and heard the words, “IT’S A BIG HORN SHEEP!”  Right in front of our stopped vehicle on the highway stood a Big Horn Sheep.. and to the left off the mountain came another one.  And another one.. we lost count .. but the photos show at least a dozen.  As they crossed the road, the four of us held a front row seat to what the park rangers assure us was a once in a life time event.  It felt like a gift… many evenings we had looked for them in hopes to catch a glimpse… never dreaming we would get a front row seat while driving along Trail Ridge Road.  Definitely a highlight of the trip.  To witness them so close, in action as they climbed down the mountain, full curled horns, rugged beauty strutting across the highway pavement and off the side of the mountain.  It was awesome with a capital A.

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BIG HORN SHEEP

Returning to Sheep’s Lake we shared our excitement with the volunteers there, headed into Fall Rivers Visitor Center for some souvenir purchases, ice cream and coffee.  It was a lovely day of sharing Trail Ridge road and sheep adventures.

We spent some of our evening packing up for the trip home.  With a busy, long day ahead that included a trip to Denver for a baseball game it was a good plan

ESTES PARK, RIVERWALK  and COORS FIELD

The next morning we met Jim and Jana at the Estes Park Visitor center to ride the shuttle thru town.  Estes has a very enjoyable shaded river walk behind the shops.  On Mondays a local Artisan group has their art on display.  Beautiful bead work, painting and crafts lined the tent filled streets.  Together we visited spent the morning in several shops — Leather goods, glass blowing, etc.  Grabbed some lunch together before the two of us left for Boulder to catch the bus into Denver for a Rockies game.

Parking our rental car in Boulder, we rode the RTD bus into Denver near Union Station and walked to Tupelo Honey for a very nice dinner.   Lots of purple in a sea of Rockies fans.. we found our way to the stadium and our top row seats.  We were greeted by a gentleman in the seat beside us who assured us .. “these are the best seats in the house!”  I tend to agree.. top row, shaded with a breeze to our back.  Our neighbors shared their peanuts and Twizzlers with us.. along with high fives each time the Rockies scored against the Reds.  One of my favorite moments was the 7th inning stretch.. while the crowd stood and sang God Bless America.. the line “from the mountains” brought a loud cheer from the 49,000 fans.  Dorothy.. we aren’t in Kansas anymore.. we truly are in the mountains!  And these cheering folks are celebrating.

Not just a great baseball game, (which the Rockies won) but an incredible fireworks display after the game.  A beautiful night in Denver, a great meal, baseball game and fireworks to celebrate July 4th a day early.   The walk back to the bus station was filled with Rockies fans… and lines waiting to board.  We arrived back in Boulder, drove to our cottage in Estes park and climbed in bed about 1 am.

ROCKY MOUNTAINS IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR

One last breakfast on the patio.. as our return flight approached.  The hummingbirds came back,, just to dance for us one last morning.   With everything packed and ready.. and a check out time of 10 am.. we savored the last moments.. closed the door.. dropped the key off and drove away.  I always cry at the end of a great vacation…out of thankfulness and appreciation of the experience.  These eight days were some of the best.. a beautiful place that was hard to leave.  With the Rocky Mountains in our rear view mirror we headed to Denver to return our rental car and fly home.  Ice Cream at the gate as we waited.. and taking off we peaked out the windows at the mountains until they were out of sight.

Colorado is a beautiful place.. amazing things to see and do.  Thankful for this opportunity.. and family to share it with.  The mountains truly are calling.. we must answer.. go explore.. you will not be disappointed.

Til next time..