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
Petroglyghs

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.

IMG_1392

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.

IMG_1375IMG_1374IMG_1373

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..

Grayson Highlands State Park

Mouth of Wilson, Virginia — a recommendation from a friend¬†last year.¬† After seeing a few mountain photos¬†via the web.. we determined it¬†a place that beckoned a visit.¬† Traveling to Virginia from Middle Tennessee is no small feat.¬† From our spare bedroom at ‘travel command center’ we checked the traveling distance, then reserved a tent only no electricity – no water¬†camping spot at Hickory Ridge Campground for our June anniversary.¬†¬†Choosing number 55 .. reserved for the weekend of June 8th thru 11th..¬† January 2017 was our confirmation email¬†date.¬† Never hurts to get an early start planning!¬† Especially if you have a schedule like ours.

This past weekend was our 34th wedding anniversary.¬† The travel plans and weather predictions were perfect.¬† With car packed and a short day on Thursday, we headed to Virginia via I40 and I81 to explore, hike and see some amazing mountains.¬† Knowing we would arrive late to an unseen campground and for the first time set up in the dark, we packed the car accordingly.¬† With a new air mattress and battery pump, headlamps with new batteries all within easy reach .. we left Middle Tennessee.¬† Hours later, darkness came as we¬†neared the destination.¬† A¬†full moon provided¬†help to trek the dark curvy mountain roads and keep our curiosity alive at the vast openings that had a beauty of their own.¬† Following the¬†GPS we found campground entry and¬†our late packet at the information station – then located number 55 in a quiet, dark mostly sleeping campground.¬† We carefully managed set up with bright headlamps¬†and teamwork.. found a bathhouse and crawled into bed about midnight Eastern time.¬† As Siri would say.. “arrived.”

Friday morning sunlight and a cool mountain breeze greeted us.¬†¬† A ‘wonder what it looks like in the daylight’ explore mode was immediate.¬† After¬†camp stove breakfast with coffee,¬†we set off with hydration packs, sunscreen and picnic lunch.¬† The day included a stop at the Visitor center for trail map and info, our first hike¬†with amazing views on¬†the Twin Pinnacle Trails, picnic lunch then the Rhododendron Trail hike near Massie Gap.¬†¬†¬†We saw our first wild ponies galloping around near the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and Horse Trail North.¬† A beautiful place to stand and gaze around.. blue skies, clouds, green grass¬†and a multitude of trails that intersect and beckon those who walk and those who ride horses to come meander.¬† I knew we had to come back .. with fresh feet and legs tomorrow; exploring this area further.¬† It held me captive.¬† We finished our Friday night with a campfire and dinner.

After a restful night of sleep and a Saturday morning quick breakfast, we refilled the hydrations packs to revisit Massie Gap.  A popular place, we took the Rhododendron trail to the Appalachian Trail again, this time continuing the 3 miles to Rhododendron Gap.  Words and pictures barely express the beauty.  Everywhere we turned was amazing,.. Blackberry bushes blooming only knee high from the Wild Ponies appetites, sunshine and perfect blue skies, the most beautiful mountains that seemed three dimensional, more wild ponies traveling to and fro, spruce trees that shouted Christmas throughout the landscape, gigantic rocks for sitting, as well as multi-sized one for climbing, green grass lush under our feet, and others who were exploring.. horse riders, day hikers, backpackers, AT travelers.  Families with children, groups traveling together, couples with dogs, seniors.. all exploring and enjoying the mountain beauty and breeze alongside us on top of Wilburn Ridge.

Reaching Rhododendron Gap point was very rewarding as the pink blooms were abundant and gorgeous.    The weekend we choose is most popular.. due to these beautiful pink blooms.  We had no idea when choosing this weekend   SCORE!

Returning to our starting point of Massie Gap was 3 miles mostly downhill.  With deliberate steps we made our way back.  More wild ponies, photo ops and even two AT hikers celebrating their 500 mile marker!  So thankful for strong legs, steady feet, ability to see and experience the day on a trail.

Pretty exhausted we returned to the campground, showered, built a campfire and made dinner.¬† One of our neighbors came over to ask us a question.¬† “How did you get this site?”¬† Our response .. “we reserved it online about six months ago.. in January.”¬† She lives in the area and had tried many times to get number 55.. according to her ‘the best site in the campground.’¬† In disbelief she goes on to say.. “you guys have never been to this campground before.. and you pick the best spot.. six months ago.. sight unseen..?”¬† SCORE!

With one more day and a check out time of 3 PM, Sunday morning we explored The Rock House Ridge Trail and took in a few more awesome views.  Packing up and fitting the jigsaw puzzle back together in the back of our CRV .. we returned home with visions of pink rhododendrons and wild ponies, mountains and skies, dirty laundry and dusty hiking shoes.  All part of the adventure.

A beautiful place, well worth exploring – Grayson Highlands State Park.. does not disappoint.

This entry was posted on June 16, 2017. 1 Comment