Eight years ago we started this journey of exploring the country. A sign hangs in our bedroom; a gift from our son.. “Travel.. the only thing you buy that makes you richer“. On the other walls hang canvas photos from Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Utah. We seem to be drawn back to the west over and over. Those mountains get in your blood and call you back; over and over. Our latest adventure happened around our 38th wedding anniversary. We boarded a Southwest plane destined for Boise, Idaho. Yes, Idaho .. the random reactions for two Middle Tennesseans choosing a vacation in Idaho were comical. “Where is your next trip?” Our simple response: Idaho — almost always followed with the words — “Idaho? What’s in Idaho besides potatoes? Or “Who goes to Idaho?” .. one person even referred to our vacation destination as “potato land”. Ignorance is bliss.. and we knew from some sneak peaks and travels THRU Idaho, along with a bit of research.. that much beauty was to be found IN Idaho. And we were quite optimistic of less crowds than our latest National Park trips. Discovery of what to see near Boise, Idaho came thru a Christmas gift – National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways & Byways. Truthfully, if the drives are scenic .. the stops must be also. We planned two nights in Boise, Stanley, Salmon and one night in Bellevue. Starting and ending in Boise with a few particular destinations: mainly the Sawtooth Mountains and Salmon River. A combination of the Sawtooth Drive and Salmon River Scenic Byway from a Christmas gift that keeps on giving with sweet memories and beautiful photos.

The Christmas Gift that keeps on giving

Friday June 11th

Travel day from Nashville to Boise via Southwest Airlines included a short layover in Vegas to stretch on the plane. Six hours with just snacks equals two hungry travelers. Easy car rental pick up and off to find a meal. Our Boise Air B and B host recommended several local places, we chose CopenRoss. Delicious bacon cheeseburgers, tater tots (of course we had potatoes in IDAHO!) and local brews — a BuzzBuzz coffee porter and a blackberry hard cider. Our studio apartment Air B and B was only a mile from the airport, quiet and cozy, convenient to downtown and had backyard chickens. Friday night traffic in Boise? Nope.. it seemed rather non-existence.

CopenRoss Boise, Idaho

Saturday June 12th Downtown Boise; Eagle Rodeo with friends

Awake way before any humans in Boise or daylight, we moved slow .. made coffee and our way into Boise. Albertson’s grocery was the first stop for purchasing breakfast food and picnic snack stuff. Arriving downtown early, we walked thru the Freak Alley Art Gallery an open air mural gallery then the State Capital Building. Kathryn Albertson Park was next , such a beautiful park so near downtown Boise. Next stop was the Idaho Old State Penitentiary, our first admission price for the day. So much rich dark history here, we spent a few hours wandering thru the different building, reading story after story of a hard place. One local guide recommended Basque Block for lunch, Bar Gernika was great. Support the locals is important when we travel, plus helpful in really feeling the culture of a new place. Places we visited today were from research off Trip Advisor. A list I never imagined could be done in one day. After a short afternoon rest, we drove to Eagle Rodeo for an amazing Western Rodeo with some friends who had just moved to Idaho. An outside PRCA rodeo, basically in the middle of a field. Really cool, and probably about five hours long with many people. It was an incredibly full day, but didn’t feel rushed. The traffic and crowds, even in downtown, were nothing compared to home or other vacations we have taken. A day filled with beautiful roses of all colors, ducks, geese, Osprey, Lilly pads, carp, turtles, PRCA rodeo, Basque culture, pickled onions, backyard chickens, gallows, Merci boxcar, spruce trees, parking meters.

Sunday June 13th Boise to Stanley via Sawtooth Drive

Breakfast with our Idaho friends at Joe Mammas in Meridian. Sweet conversations, hugs and one last photo together taken by a first unwilling and then very apologetic 6th generation Idahoan. Saying goodbye was hard, who knows when we will be in Idaho again. Before driving to Stanley, we took a road trip to the Human Bean coffee shop, using a rodeo ticket freebie. Equipped with a Green Tea Smoothie, coffee expresso beans and a black coffee, we drove Hwy 21 out of downtown Boise to Stanley. Following the Scenic Highways and Byways Christmas gift .. we took Warm Springs Avenue out of downtown. This route follows the Boise River, climbs into the hills above Boise then opens to expansive views of the Snake River Plain. Idaho City, then Mores Creek Summit at 6117 feet. Temps were a super warm 98 “dry” heat degrees. For us Tennesseans it felt like being in a sauna.. a beautiful sauna. Driving among Ponderosa Pines, blue sky, water, and again not a lot of traffic, we stopped at several overviews, more than one Pit toilet and wildlife areas. We arrived in Stanley, Idaho – population 63 — right after our first glimpse of the Sawtooth mountains. Stanley, a mining town turned ranching town that caters to fishermen, hunters, backpackers and white-water rafters. The Sawtooth Hotel located at 755 Ace of Diamonds Street is Stanley’s authentic hotel, built in 1931 – super cute place with only nine rooms and a downstairs restaurant, our home for two nights. We ate dinner outside on their front porch, a delicious meal prepared by a chef whose parents accidentally mixed up rooms with us. But that’s another story for another day, a funny one. Dinner was Sour Dough rolls, Beet and Manchego Salad with Smoked Trout, a Salmon Entr√©e with Sockeye Amber beer… so delicious. Beautiful cozy rooms with a great king-size bed and perfect showers. A wild west feel that somehow seems familiar. Stanley, Idaho immediately felt like home and became a special place in my heart.

Monday June 14th Redfish Lake Trailhead – Fishhook Creek – Salmon River

Experienced a great night of sleep with open windows in the corner upstairs room #9 at the Sawtooth Hotel. Self Serve coffee downstairs ready by 7 am, the creak of wooden steps on the way down. So many hikes in the area to choose, Redfish trail head was our destination. It took a bit to figure out the trail system. We hiked Fishhook Creek Trail. A beautiful 4.5 mile hike, along Fishhook Creek – with Aspens shimmering above us, water flowing beside. The trail was not hard or busy with people, however it was pretty warm temperature wise. Glad we got an early start. All our senses were engaged; the smell of sage, sounds of birds singing, cold water to step in, the taste of outside, the feel of the sun.. so clear and pure. Idaho feels similar to our Wyoming experiences, so crisp and the Sawtooth Mountains may not as tall as the Tetons, however they are very majestic. We saw butterflies, picas, maybe a prairie dog or two? Hard to tell what those fast little creatures are. At the end of the trail, we removed our shoes and socks to wade in bone chilling Fishhook creek. Or should I say .. just put our feet in, beautiful place. After returning to the car, we grabbed a picnic lunch from our stash, ate on a fallen tree limb by the creek. The shade felt great, the water was wonderful. After eating, we explored a bit, finding Redfish Lake, a few miles of the Salmon River Byway, skipping rocks in the Salmon. Clear and pure water with very blue skies and great views.. and not a lot of people. Cute little local coffee shop called Perks and Peaks made for a nice afternoon stop – Huckleberry and White chocolate .. caffeine, sugar and beauty alongside my person on a bench gazing at the mountains. Spent the evening looking for wildlife; found sandhill cranes, pronghorn antelope, bluebirds, prairie dogs, a golden eagle, mule deer and elk.

Tuesday June 15th Alpine Lake Hike – Salmon River Byway to Salmon

Checkout day @ the Sawtooth Hotel, but Stanley offers so much, we remained there after checking out. With lower temps predicted, we choose to hike. After a delicious breakfast at the Sawtooth Baking company, Alpine lake trail – an 8 mile 1274 feet elevation hike was our choice. A beautiful hike, long with different surfaces which included rock, gravel, dirt, even some snow. Turquoise snow melt mountain Alpine lake; where we stayed a while to eat lunch at the water edge, got in the lake knee deep. Watching the snow melt into the lake was magical. Again, not a lot of other hikers but enough to not feel totally alone. After the hike out, we returned to Stanley, grabbed coffee at Peaks and perks again, then drove the Salmon River Scenic Byway to Salmon, Idaho. A beautiful drive, two hours plus with river views, farmland, mountains. Our Air b and b in Salmon — J&J Cabins, a 12 X 16 cabin that offered everything you could need in a super small space. Dinner was at a local place called Junkyard Bistro. Long spectacular day of hiking, driving, lake and river views, dry desolate land or lush irrigated farmland, what looks to be a hard life, and a town called Clayton – population 7.

Wednesday June 16th Salmon, Idaho

Happy birthday morning conversations with our oldest son back home, before an easy day of exploring Salmon, Idaho. The morning was spent exploring the Sacajawea Interpretative Center. Walked the trail thru their meadow and a nature trail along the river. Standing under Aspen and Cottonwood trees by the Salmon River listening to Warblers and possibly meadowlarks sing .. Horses to pet, Bitterroot Mountain views and a film on the history of the area – the Shoshone tribes. In downtown Salmon, we walked thru the Veteran City Park and the Lemhi Museum. Lunch was at the Pork Peddler, then we wandered in a few stores, An art store, hat store and a fly fishing place. Grabbed some deli food for dinner and spent the afternoon reading at the cabin, then caught a Braves game on ESPN.

Thursday June 17th Salmon River Byway to Bellevue, Idaho

Ah, the goodbye tour begins. Checking out of the cabin, we drove the scenic Salmon River Byway back to Stanley and then onto Bellevue. Seeing the river fresh in the morning light, the irrigation pivots that define green and life vs the dry parched desert land. The spiritual symbolism was so evident, how Living Water can give life and renewal to us. At one pull off, we watched a family of geese nurture their five little ones along the Salmon. Arriving in Stanley near lunchtime, we purchased take out sandwiches from Sawtooth Baking Company. Settling on a log near Red Fish Lake, we ate lunch with the beautiful clear water and blue skies in sight of the snow covered sawtooth mountains. On our continuing drive more mountains, green ranches, up and down elevation thru Ketchum into Bellevue .. where we found out first traffic! Away from it for nearly an entire week, we experienced a little reality check. The last Air B and B – Long Horse Ranch in Bellevue, Idaho was the most roomy one of all. Perfect to repack for the flight home. So grateful for a chance to get away, have companionship and provision, for safety, protection. For rest and a healthy desire to travel. We spent the afternoon/evening repacking and relaxing on the front porch of this cabin.

Friday June 18th Back to Boise – Mexican lunch – Dog Park – Late night to Nashville, TN

Ah.. the gift of a super long night of sleep and a bathtub soak to start the day. Our last day in Idaho, the drive back to the airport from Bellevue to Boise was beautiful. Thousands of acres of alfalfa fields along highway 20 to interstate. We saw black angus cattle, antelope, and even a few tractors busy at work in their fields. I always enjoy watching Mark relive his farm days as we pass thru farm lands. And know he will tell his dad; they speak a farm language together; share that bond. When we arrived in Boise, we chose a local Mexican Place for lunch, recommended by our first Air BNB hosts. Andrades; where we both had a lunch taco salad and I celebrated our spectacular week in Idaho with a strawberry margarita. Then off to find another Human Bean for coffee .. using our last rodeo ticket stub coupon. With time still left, we drove to the Ann Morrison park in Boise, drank our coffee by the pond, watching labradoodles, labs, and even two fluffy white dogs that reminded us of our Dixie, play in the dog park and pond. Fetching and running all while surrounded by geese, ducks and seagulls. We returned our Enterprise rental car with ease; and possibly the greatest amount of dust and dirt ever! Boise is a small airport, we were caught a little off guard at the Southwest Line .. but made it fine. Boise to Denver; about an hour and twenty minutes. Then home to Nashville where our son graciously picked us up, returning us to our car parked at his place.

Random things we learned this trip: Soma underwear can be wash and wear .. Teva Sandals for men are comfy .. Idaho is not just for potatoes.

Random things we pack: flashlights and a nightlight

The one piece of clothing I did not wear: Blue jeans

Scenic Drive = Scenic places to explore

“The Sawtooth National Recreation area: an enchanting land of towering granite peaks, rushing rivers and pristine wildlife habitat.”

Idaho may be the best kept secret of all …. shhh!

til next time,


Hungry Mother State Park

Tent camping is not for wimps or whiners. The phrase improvise, adapt and overcome comes into play. And having a partner who can manage a tarp when rain is predicted, build a fire when temps drop certainly matters. With a long Memorial Day weekend, we made reservations months ago for a return to Hungry Mother State Park in Marion Virginia. July 2020 was our first experience in Royal Oak Campground – tent camping for the first time on a platform. Hungry Mother offers much; hiking and bike trails around the lake, beach area, kayak rentals, the small town of Marion and is close to Grayson Highlands State Park . Another park that offers beautiful hikes, wild ponies and great picnic spots.

With several tent camping experiences under our belt, we premade much of the food. Pancakes, bacon, sausage and hard boiled eggs – all for a quick breakfast. Leftover squash spaghetti, salad stuff .. plus frozen hamburgers, hotdogs and beans, snacks .. a menu that works for the two of us. Ah.. and of course apples, celery and peanut butter.. the staple of life on the road. Packed and headed out by mid morning Thursday – we stopped to fill our gas tank, grab a bag of ice and jumped on I-840 .. only to come to a complete halt less than five miles from our house. And there we sat for over an hour, watching the Life Flight Helicopter come and go .. knowing up ahead someone was in trouble, and their weekend wasn’t off to a great start. Engage Audio book .. a fantastic travel companion .. this trip was a C.J. Box book Out of Range, part five of the Joe Pickett series. My, how the time flies traveling listening to some serious suspense with a little humor.

Stopping a few times for bathroom breaks, a gas fill up and dinner off the age 55 plus menu at Perkins Family Restaurant, we arrived at campsite number 5 around 8:30 pm. We constructed the tent, filled the air mattress, carefully placed our pillows and called it a night. Sometime around midnight, a shower of rain came. Just the first water of this adventure.

Friday morning started like every morning .. Mark made coffee. Except at a campground with no electricity and water, it looks a little different. He uses trusty Coleman stove and his new silver coffee percolator along with one of the seven gallons of water we brought .. between coffee and hydration backpacks we use a lot of water. He is a master of many trades .. and coffee making definitely makes the top ten. Driving to the Visitor Center, we officially registered for our campsite, then ate breakfast by the lake on a picnic table. Beautiful yellow and black Eastern Tiger Swallowtails entertained us. It was a pleasant morning, we took a stroll around part of the lake and decided to rent kayaks for the afternoon. Neither of us are really expert at kayaking .. we know the basics and had four hours to meander around the lake. About an hour and a half in, when we were nearly a mile away from the boat rental place.. it started to rain. Can I rephrase that? It came a downpour .. straight down with thankfully no thunder and lightning or wind.. So what do two adults do after being caught in the rain? Paddle.. and giggle .. and make a few jokes .. all the way back to the boat rental place. Seriously .. when was the last time you played in the rain? Completely soaked to the bone .. it is laugh out loud worthy.

An invaluable lesson for tent camping .. you can NEVER have too many towels! We keep large towels on our car seats .. and returning off the lake to drive back to our campsite .. those towels were golden. We dried off a bit and drove straight to the bathhouse for a hot shower. But wait — more excitement was waiting. As we drove into the campground, Mark let me off at the bathhouse. A large tree fell right across the campground road .. just behind us near the entrance. And yes — if a tree falls in the campground, it makes a lot of noise! While we showered, some diligent campground employees arrived. With their trusty chain saws, the road in and out of the campground was cleared quickly. So much excitement in just half a day.

With a forecast of more rain – we decided to put our famous blue tarp over the tent. This blue tarp has saved more than one camping trip! Valuable lesson number 2: if you tent camp you need a tarp or two. Camping on a platform is different, we were a little unsure. Not wanting to create puddles under the tent was most important. Mark left a ‘front porch type’ awning near the front. We ate dinner then headed out for Music in the park, our Friday evening entertainment. The group Supper Club played under a pavilion by the lake. We enjoyed their sound, met some super nice folks and stayed dry under the tin roof. Went to sleep that evening with raincoats in the tent; for those necessary nighttime bathroom strolls. It seemed the smart thing to do.

Saturday morning we slept in super late, made coffee and ate breakfast. A cool morning with rain chances, we hiked the Clyburne Hollow and Clyburne Ridge trail; where beautiful mountain laurel along with pink rhododendrons dotted the woods. Not a lot of other hikers, a quiet trail and great way to spend the morning together. By mid afternoon, we were back at our campsite dodging raindrops, attempting to dry our towels and clothes from the previous day. Clothes line and paracord worked great, even if it did look like a miniature homeless camp.. We cooked hotdogs and warmed beans over a campfire. With low 40 degree temperatures predicted, we bundled up for a cool night in the tent.

Sunday morning .. fresh coffee and the end of the premade pancakes topped with applesauce, peanut butter and granola. With super cool temps plus wind, we chose to drive into Marion and explore their downtown area. A visit to the Memorial Day flag display at their courthouse was sobering. Quite an impressive display of patriotism and support for those who gave all. We then drove to Grayson Highlands State Park, about 45 minutes away. Sunshine was a welcome find and we ate a picnic lunch at the Homestead Place then drove to the Massie Gap trail area. A familiar place for us, we hiked the Rhododendron trail and then a less known Cabin Creek Trail. A lollipop trail that included a beautiful waterfall, soft surface, and several creek crossings. We witnessed an amazing 81 year old lady scramble up a steep tree root area by the waterfall. She was surrounded by family, supporting – cheering – videoing her. It was inspiring. “She is very determined.” her daughter told us. I wanna be her when I grow up.

The evening temps were super cool, Mark made a fire where we sat for hours captured by the warmth and beauty. Conversation, food, companionship just hits better by a fire. As the day ends – and the darkness introduces the insect noises, nothing soothes and relaxes my mind like a good fire. And a good man to share it with. Dinner was burgers cooked in a cast iron skillet over the fire on top of a homegrown spinach salad. Another 40 degree cool snuggle into the sleeping bag night, the last night. Forty degree nights in June? Invaluable lesson #3 .. always travel with a warm sweatshirt.

Monday morning; the campground started to empty, folks headed back to life and work. We deflated the air mattress, rolled up the sleeping bags, then gathered and carefully placed everything back into the car and headed for home. Thankful for the sweet memories and inexpensive getaway. Leaving somewhere you long to return .. to the beauty, the freedom, and simplicity. Let’s come back when we can.

Until next time.

Arches National Park; Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park

Our 2020 October Utah trip was so amazing. It literally ended with a plan to return .. to finish what we started and see the other side of Utah — the rest of their National Parks. On a Southwest napkin during the flight home a budget was scribbled .. monthly saving plan created and that very next week an Air B and B reservation made for Moab. St Danes Cabins, an amazing little cabin seven miles south of Moab. Our first trip of 2021 which was actually an extension from 2020.

We scored cheap Southwest flights, two round trip tickets for $49 each way to Denver from Nashville. Leaving early on Monday morning we arrived shortly after 8 am. Headed southwest on Interstate 70 toward a first night in Grand Junction. In Golden Colorado we had a great breakfast at Launch. The drive to Grand Junction was really pretty, lots of snow covered mountains, elevation changes and beauty. We found the Grand Junction Air B and B and headed for our routine Sam’s club purchase of pillows, Aztecas Family Mexican Restaurant for dinner. A long day of travel .. means a good night sleep.

Tuesday morning was cool with a threat of rain. Downtown Grand Junction had an amazing little breakfast cafe; Main Street Bagels. Coffee and bagels with a smear of spinach cream cheese, a fruit smoothie and delicious coffee. We wandered around downtown seeing their art sculpture displays long enough to get a $15 parking citation. The art displays were really cool and although it was too early for any of the shops to be open it seemed like a great downtown area. Colorado National Monument was our destination for the day. Using our America the Beautiful pass we entered with a wandering mentality. No real plans, just drive – stop at overlooks – enjoy the beauty – and possibly see some wildlife, take a short hike maybe. With snacks in the backseat and raincoats just in case, we traveled Rim Rock Drive – 23 miles of amazing views of red rock, cloudy skies, green junipers showcasing canyons plus one big horn sheep named Uni (because she only has one horn). Enjoyed this drive on our way to Moab for sure. The Colorado National Monument’s Rim Rock Drive is a most spectacular drive.

Tuesday afternoon we arrived at Arches National Park for a quick peek before heading to the cabin. Again using our America the Beautiful pass from October 2020 .. we drove to the Windows section of the park, took a quick walk out to North and South Windows .. then Turret Arch. That evening we checked into our cabin – St Danes; about seven miles south of Moab. Away from the hustle and bustle, a small cabin with everything we could possibly need for the next four nights. Finished off the evening at Susie’s Branding Iron for dinner and a quick trip to City Market for food supplies for the remaining days.

Wednesday mornings temps were in the 30’s with 15 miles per hour winds. Layers are clutch! And we always pack plenty. Amazing how temps can swing in just a few days. Today we packed our lunches and drove to

Canyonlands National Park, a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes by the Colorado River. Somewhat of a remote feel with a beautiful quiet depth to the canyons. Pictures only remind of us the beauty, but never really capture it. Island in the Sky was our first stop ,, such depth .. canyons within canyons .. we drove the park road to Upheaval Dome, found a parking spot at the trail head then hiked to the first and second overlook. Not a lot of folks on this trail, the wind was a factor .. had to literally “hold on to our hats” .. stampede strings required. At Grandview overlook we ate our picnic lunch, a beautiful site to behold. Mark was quite fascinated with the White Rim Road — because we were in a rental car, and had not researched it we only watched from above. It looked like quite an experience .. and can only imagine how dark these night skies are.

Before returning to Moab, we also visited Dead Horse State Park for some pretty views of the very green Colorado River. Strolling along the Rim trail, lots of beautiful views and rocks. Dead Horse has a $20 entry fee. Such a gorgeous windy cool day.

Thursday morning we gathered snacks then headed out pretty early. A much warmer day predicted to be 80 degrees. We drove to Devils Garden trailhead, happy to find a parking spot and head out to explore Arches National Park. Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Landscape Arch. Then off to Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch where we hiked thru it and scrambled a rock to continue to a lesser known Tapestry Arch. Most of the trails were pretty crowded with folks, however we took a different route after leaving Tapestry thru the campground and found some solitude. It may have been our favorite places .. where no one else was going. Cairns were our friend on this one!

Friday morning, our last day before traveling back to Denver. We ran a little later getting to Arches; really crowded with no parking at Delicate Arch trailhead. We opted for the overlook parking instead. Really warm also today! After taking the overlook trail we meandered a bit thru some of the less crowded stops enjoying the views on what we called our goodbye tour. Met a couple from Ohio at one of the stops, during this trip we met several people from the South .. it truly is a small world. Tried to capture the snow covered Lasalle mountains, walked around balance rock, and every single other stop we could. Moab was a zoo traffic wise, so we opted for a stop at City Market to purchase steaks to grill and veggies to cook. Spent the last afternoon relaxing at the cabin .. away from crowd .. doing what we sometimes forget on vacation .. resting. Even a little star gazing from the back patio. Reading, enjoying a great evening meal together in prep for the long travel day tomorrow. It just felt right.

Saturday morning began the return trek back to Denver, about a six hour drive. Have I ever mentioned that at the end of every beautiful vacation .. as we get in the car to drive away .. I cry? I cry because of the beauty, the opportunity to do this yet again, and the fact that it is over. Maybe it’s silly, but if I have a good cry.. it was a great vacation. This morning,, I cried. At the goodness and kindness of my Father for allowing me to see beauty, the companionship of a husband who knows me well, who follows me on the trails, who drives and it always ready and willing to go exploring.

The drive back was beautiful again, thru Vale and Breckenridge where the snow remained and folks were skiing. In Silverthorne, Colorado we stopped for a late lunch at The Baker’s Brewery. We always look for the local guys when traveling. Pretty sure this entire trip we were successful! Arrived at the Southwest gate with thirty minutes to spare. Boarded and flew into Nashville. Home sweet home, with red rock memories of another great trip to Utah. Next stop .. some green mountains with water .. stay tuned.

Valley of Fire – Zion – Bryce Canyon

Our friend Sandy visited Southwest Utah last year. She shared information with a gleam in her eye. We planned a March 2020 trip, including her advice on Valley of Fire state park, choosing hikes and making reservations in Springdale for Zion .. for Bryce Canyon .. and then a pandemic arrived. Cancelled ūüėĒ

A new opportunity presented for an October vacation — we dusted off the March plans, gathered clothes for all types of temperatures and headed west for a scenic beautiful seven days. A ‚Äúto be continued‚ÄĚ vacation of sorts – with planning nearly a year ago, and one big interruption .. ended up being a scenic wonder.

With three suitcases and a handful of masks, we flew Southwest nonstop to Las Vegas, Nevada. After our Enterprise rental car pick up .. we headed straight to Sams Club for pillows! Traveling is fun .. but not with a stiff neck. We bought the same exact pillows we sleep on every night.. and put them in our very own pillow cases. Felt a little Covid safer also, and for $10 bucks — why not?

Next stop right next door to Sams was a Wal-Mart where we purchased gallons of water, peanut butter, apples, paper towels and several other snacks. Hungry from a long day already, we ate delicious Chili’s fajitas. then drove to our first official destination Valley of Fire State park. Nevada’s oldest state park greeted us with beautiful Aztec Sandstone rock mixed with iron for their red colors. This day park has picnic areas, bathrooms, a visitor center and multiple hiking options. Also petroglyphs in at least two areas. When we arrived, the temps were near 90 with little or no humidity. Since our day had started in the wee hours of morning, plus the time change- our visit was abbreviated recon. Seven sisters was a rock formation we checked out, along with Atlatl rock and even spotted a few desert big horn sheep. We saw enough to warrant a morning return, then chose to call it a day – heading for our nearby hotel in Overton, Nevada. The North Shore Inn @ Lake Meade was a comfy place to sleep. With Covid, no breakfast was available .. but we knew that ahead of time. Who else packs their own oatmeal and or granola, real bowls and spoons? A trick I learned from a coworker. Helps the morning to not feel rushed, saves a little bit of money and gets the day moving at your pace — not the local restaurants. Amazing what you can create in a hotel microwave.

Valley of Fire
Atlatl rock with petroglyphs and 85 steps

Saturday morning we prepared to hike at Valley of Fire, early in the day to avoid the heat. The morning was a crisp 50 degrees. Fire Wave trail was our first choice – the hike started in sand, ended with flowing rocks of red and white. A beautiful contrast along with a beautiful day and temps that warmed up quickly. On this hike we met another empty nest couple from Northern Utah and together spotted a big horn sheep near the top of a rock bluff. Also met a photographer from New Jersey who serves as a guide in Death Valley. Was interesting to hear his stories of the Big Horn sheep there.

Fire wave
Big horn sheep profile upper right

After Fire Wave, we moved to the White Dome trail. Before heading out, ate a quick snack. Another trail that started in sand but included a slot canyon where a nice cool breeze was welcome. We compared these shorter desert hikes to a three day weekend, you can pack a lot into three days. And these 2 mile hikes had a lot packed into them, much beauty and diversity. We met a young couple from Minnesota on this trail, they were awestruck with the magnificent also.

Slot canyon
White dome trail contrast

Last stop was the visitor center, I asked a few questions about their bird population – specifically hummingbirds (which leave in April due to the heat) and rainfall. This area had no rain in the last 153 days. Their annual rain fall is 4 inches. We broke out the medicinal chips (aka a can of Pringles), made peanut butter sandwiches before heading on the drive to Zion National Park. The term medicinal chips came from our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park .. with the higher elevations salty foods are suggested. Pringles! Works every time.

Arriving in Zion late afternoon – we purchased the $80 annual America the Beautiful pass and incredibly found a parking space at the visitor center. The park was packed with people .. the shuttle lines were incredible .. people everywhere. We tried a short hike near the visitor center, but so many bike riders and already having a pretty full day – dinner in town seemed like a good idea. The night was quiet at our Air B and B in Toquerville, Utah – the Lundell Family Farm where we were greeted by pet rabbits and a friendly rooster welcomed the morning.

Next day (Sunday), our timed shuttle entry ticket was for noon. We arrived early again (does anyone sleep late on vacation?) and were rewarded with a parking spot at the visitor center. From the visitor center we hiked the Watchman Trail – a beautiful climb with an additional loop option. Amazing views with lots of other hikers, and a surprise visit from a Scrub Jay at the top while we took in the wonder. Returning to the visitor center, we boarded the shuttle and rode into the canyon. Because of Covid, no personal vehicles were allowed. However, you could rent Ebikes. So many bikes! I was glad our plans to rent one did not come thru. Every bike rider had to come to a complete stop before the shuttle could pass. We rode to the temple of Sinawava, wondered along the Riverside walk trail, ate a picnic on the Virgin River. This trail was the bottom of the canyon, where the Watchman had been the top. Quite the contrast, quite the sacred place. So much beauty.. surreal.. hard to leave. We grabbed a deli dinner from the local grocery store – Davis Market and returned to the Air B and B for a soak in the tub (me) and some Braves baseball (Mark).

Watchman trail
Scrub jay
Picnic spot on the virgin river

Monday our timed shuttle tickets were for 11:00, but we were awake and at the visitor center early again – and found another parking spot. Each time we found a parking spot saved 20 bucks parking in Springdale! That was fun. We studied the map, called our parents, chatted for a bit, went to the visitor center – then boarded the shuttle for a day of hiking the Kayenta trail to both middle and upper Emerald Pools. Beautiful views of the Virgin River, Zion red rock, gorgeous trees and a small water fall. We met two young couples traveling together from Arkansas, shared stories and found much in common. Before returning to the Air B and B, we drove to Kolob Canyon, the northern boundary of Zion. Much less crowded with similiar amazing beauty dotted with fall colored Aspens which made me smile.

Views from the trail
Majestic indeed

Tuesday morning, we chose not to board the shuttle again in Zion – and instead drove thru and out the East side of Zion, which includes a one mile tunnel toward Bryce Canyon. Panguitch, Utah was the location of our Air B and B. We ate lunch at Kenny Ray’s before driving into Bryce Canyon National Park. First sighting of a hoo doo .. and a drive of the entire park road to Rainbow Point, stopping along the way to gawk a bit. Day of driving and enjoying the beauty, we checked into our air B and B-The Clover Patch for the first of our three night stay.

Bryce canyon

Wednesday morning started with a 34 degree temp, so thankful for heated seats and layers! We started with part of the rim to rim trail at Inspiration Point to Bryce Point. So amazing, such depth to the rocks. Hard to describe, even with photo after photo .. the beauty has to be seen in person to comprehend. Walked the Bristlecone trail, thru the forest. Enjoying the views from the top of the park – planning to see it from the lower canyons tomorrow. Made a date night for dinner at Kenny Rays again, after a quick shower. The Clover Patch had a nice inviting fire place – comfy hang out to spend the evening reading and listening to more Braves baseball. Also a clawfoot bathtub for more Epson salt soaking .. gotta love it.

Inspiration point

Thursday morning a 42 degree welcome with a brisk wind, called for the first fleece! We had packed a lot of cold weather clothing, and this was our first chance to use it. But it didn’t last long .. down a few layers while hiking the Queens Garden Navajo loop combo trail. Layers are clutch! And so are hydration packs large enough to hold a fleece. This was a busy trail, starting clockwise descending. Walking alongside the hoo doos, looking up from the canyon was awesome. Wallstreet was quite a climb out, and so pretty. We actually ran into the young couples from Arkansas here again. What are the chances?!

Queens garden Navajo loop
Looking up at the hoo doos

Friday morning we drove scenic highway 143 out of Panguitch toward Parowan chasing yellow Aspens. After stopping in Cedar Breaks National Monument for some amazing cool views at 10,000 plus elevation, then Brian head Ski resort – we made the discovery. Yankee Meadows in the Dixie National Forest was yet another happy place…where shimmering aspens still held their leaves — just waiting for me to come stand under them. Such amazing beauty, yes I cried. On this drive we passed thru thousands of empty aspens trees.. I can only imagine what they looked like two weeks ago.

We spent Friday night back in Overton, Nevada near Valley of Fire. Dinner and ice cream at the Inside Scoop before sleeping one last night on our Sam’s pillows at Northshore Inn @ Lake Meade again.

Saturday morning, before returning to Vegas for a late afternoon flight – we revisited Valley of Fire for a goodbye tour. After walking to Elephant Rock and visiting the Cabins built in the 1930s by the CCC, we spotted at least 25 bighorn sheep near the visitor center. Rams feeling frisky and head-butting each other. It was a beautiful goodbye tour. Fire Canyon, the scenic road – all the wow you can pack into seven days. The joy of companionship – and the provision of time off – and a love of travel and discovery, together. A beautiful thing.

Cabins at Valley of Fire
Big horns
Bryce canyon

Utah Dust
This entry was posted on October 23, 2020. 1 Comment

Savoring the Sequester

Planning a vacation in March can be tricky. But when given that time off; our search started last fall. Researching and pulling out the master ‘places we want to go’ our choice was Zion National Park. Hotel reservations made for Springdale, Utah and plane tickets into Las Vegas were purchased, along with the reality of how much there is to see in Southern Utah! Yet all the while, the threat of snow, rain or nasty temperatures kept nagging at me. I even researched going to Death Valley and Joshua tree instead of Zion .. if the weather was bad. Never had such a hard time settling into the original plan. Equipped with plan A and plan B .. just days before our departure the threat of Coronavirus arrived.

Feeling determined and maybe just a bit bullet proof .. we packed our bags and planned to forge ahead with our plans. Being warned by more than a few family members about traveling .. we left home to spend the night near the airport. Our plane was scheduled to leave Nashville at 6 am .. a direct flight to Vegas .. but around 2 am our phones started blowing up. The early morning flight had been changed .. not only to a later time but with a lay over in Denver. All of a sudden, the reality of Coronavirus and the effect on airlines was real .. so many what ifs suddenly crowded into our decision .. so close to departure ..we both decided to cancel. With three clicks .. canceling the flights, the rental car and the hotel .. our entire months of researching and choosing hikes .. poof! At that point of united decision, we chose not to regret the decision .. and have stuck by that choice.

Returning home, we unpacked, took a nap and regrouped for what evolved into the beginning of a 35 day break from normal life. We call it our 35 day date, who knew? New words like social distancing, unemployment certification, self quarantine, stay home orders, Zoom meetings, live stream church services, and face masks. Grocery stores with empty aisles, no toilet paper .. the opportunity to explore the pantry. Savoring the sequester .. together.

What exactly do two empty nesters do with 30 something days off? Stay up late and sleep in for one! And take full advantage of being stuck at home with someone you love and enjoy. Each day we looked for someone to encourage, a creative activity, something physical and something fun. Occupy ourselves, entertain ourselves .. with things like this;

Cast iron creations; make some amazing home-cooked meals together

–Support the local doughnut place weekly – Donut Country

–Bike ride and walks, a picnic lunch at a nearby State Park

–Work a jigsaw puzzle

–Complete your entire mental to do list .. no rushing or pressure necessary

–Plant raised garden beds

–Late night backyard campfires with our adult kids

–Games of Scrabble, Skip Bo and Seven

–Porch visit your parents

love this face at my parents house

–Afternoon coffee drinking on our front porch pew

Delicious discovery

–Audio books from the local library

Highly recommend The Nightingale!

–Drying clothes on our clothesline

yes, we are country born and bred

–Pressure washing the house

Thanks to the neighbor for lending us his pressure washer!

–Afternoon hot tea with a neighbor on her porch

–Walks and bike rides thru the neighborhood

–Backyard swing sitting; bird watching; conversations

–Spray paint projects

A girl can have a lot of fun with a can of turquoise

–Eating take out Sushi

Lemongrass Sushi

–Back patio picnics

Sunshine is my friend

–Creation of a galvanized herb garden

Herb garden beauties

–Playing ‘what’s in the pantry game?

Surf and Turf .. freezer finds

–Empty toilet paper rolls count

The Toilet Paper buying craziness made me wonder .. how many rolls will we use during quarantine? Last count was 7 .. and we have plenty.

Slowing down, enjoying the days of unknown — such a different time of life. Hopefully we have all learned something about ourselves, and have found this time as a gift. And all those plans for Zion? Maybe those ideas won’t be wasted .. just maybe there will be a next time. Banking all those ideas for another attempt, another day.

Until next time

Wash those hands .. and stay well.

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,

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 РProctor 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.


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 Рroot 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 Рseeing 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 Рit 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  Рbutter.   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 РIOA 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 Рit 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 Рplayed 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 Рwe found some butter in the coffee.  The afternoon was rainy Рfinding 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 Рbut 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.


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


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.


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.