Duluth Minnesota – Hwy 61 North Shore Drive

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

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

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

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

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 – root beer colored waterfalls  due to tanninIMG_1402

Tettegouche State Park – rock beach at Baptism RiverIMG_1418

Temperance River State Park –  a powerful show of rapid waterIMG_1427

Silver Bay – Taconite plantIMG_1410

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

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

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

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

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

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

Til next time,

Advertisements

Roan Mountain State Park

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

IMG_1222IMG_1228IMG_1227IMG_1225

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.

IMG_1251IMG_1249IMG_1244

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.

IMG_0872

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.

IMG_0902

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

Unicoi State Park, Helen Georgia

Weekend vacations that include a tent camping plan almost always need an alternative rain destination.    We made a reservation months ago for a first time visit to an East TN State park.  As the weekend approached,  an eye on the daily changing weather forecast included 60 – 80 and 90 percent chances of rain each day.  We began to question ..  We enjoy tent camping.. but tend to avoid any known rain storms.  Our tent is old, and so are we.  And what fun is it to camp in the rain?    Seeking an alternative destination with lower rain chances and available tent camping spots Helen, GA seemed the best option.   Yet another place recommended  as ‘beautiful’ with lots of hiking opportunities .  We packed uncertain of which destination we would choose.. still watching forecasts..  preparing for a non-electric, no water tent site.  With an eye still on the ever changing rain chances and unpredictable mountain storm predictions we made the call Thursday morning before leaving at noon .. Helen, GA won the toss.  So without a reservation but armed with several campground options we left town determined to tent camp somewhere!

Trip Advisor and Google reviews pointed us toward Unicoi State Park, although the only available tent spots were ‘walk-in with no electricity or water’ and ‘comfort stations’.  Not knowing distance from the car to the site and what exactly a comfort station is .. we decided to stop in the park and get a look.  We met the park manager, David at the visitor center ten minutes before closing time.  A quiet mannered, welcoming soul who explained the walk in sites to us and assured us only three others were there.. we had access to any showers and comfort stations in the park.  We paid for a spot and headed over to set up at number 53.  Beautiful spots, with a comfort station that included two showers and four flushable toilets.  One thing about Georgia parks.. they are very nice!  In my mind a ‘comfort station’ was an outhouse.. not at this park.

We set up our tent, ate some snacks, read the park trail maps and made a tentative plan for the next day.  So fortunate that our work schedules allow three day weekends.. and glad to have a full two days to play and explore in this new area.

Friday morning we woke to what sounded like a bird sanctuary.  Lots of sounds, including a small trickle of a creek near the tent.  Made some camp stove coffee, a nice cast iron cooked egg and meat breakfast  — then headed to explore the Lake Trail.  A few miles of easy walking around Lake Unicoi, we saw beautiful Mountain Laurel in bloom, a family of Canadian Honkers feeding their little ones, ferns, butterflies on the sand beach, blue skies and Zip Line adventure stations in the canopy.  From the ground looking up.. Mark said to me, “Can you imagine being up there?  Walking on those sky bridges?”  “Nope.. “I replied.. “not me.”

After finishing the Lake Trail we saw a group headed to the Zip Line adventure.. they looked like us.  Middle-age regular folks.. Mark commented, “Look at those people doing the zip line.”  I replied.. ‘Yep.’

As a mom, I’m always looking for information to pass along to our adults sons.  So I texted the two of them separately.. to tell them about the Zip Line.  In my mind, some day they might wanna come check it out.  In my mind.. young, fun daring people would Zip Line.  Their responses surprised me.. actually they both told me I should do it.

What?

Me.. I don’t think so.. but they didn’t stop there.  My oldest son in particular challenged me and reminded me of a video he recently showed us.  Will Smith talking about jumping out of a plane.. and how scared he was .. yet how rewarding it was.  The quote was “God placed the biggest thrills of our life just on the other side of fear.”  My son went on to say.. “Mom, you may never have another chance to be at this particular park and do this Zip Line.. one day you may look back and wish you had done it.”   Meanwhile son number two is texting me “Mom.. you should so do this!”  It seems like they were talking to each other.. and saying the same things to me.  Only later did I learn that neither of them knew what the other was saying to me.

Later Friday afternoon we took a short drive to Anna Ruby Falls.  A short paved trail to two beautiful waterfalls located in the Chattahoochee National Forest.  With water cascading from the Curtis Creek falls 153 feet and the York Creek falls at 50 feet it was quite a sight to behold.  Cool and serene, just something about water flowing that is amazing.

Back at our campsite I researched the Zip Line.. the cost and times, etc.  Looking at my husband I said the now famous words.. “I think I wanna do this.”  So off we went to sign up.. only to learn that it was too late in the day to do both levels.  We signed up for the next morning (Saturday) at 10 am.. and paid in full.  Level one — 11 zip lines that range from 75 feet to 400 feet in length, 7 skywalk bridges and 2 towers.  Heights range from 20 to 75 feet in the air.  Level two included an additional 8 zip lines with super zips up to 2000 feet.. 2 sky bridges and an aerial tower.  Four of the level two zip lines travel across the lake.  Passing along this information to my adult sons.. they both responded with “Atta Girl”.. and told me to send pics.  Cause if we don’t see pics.. it didn’t happen.    We enjoyed dinner cooked on the camp stove in cast iron, a campfire and more people joined us at the campground.

Saturday morning came.. and I’m not gonna lie.  I was so nervous, anxious.. and clinging to Hope and Trust in my Father.  Songs of truth.. the promise of His presence.. facing fear of heights ..the unknown.. water.. what if I panic questions? ..can I really do this?  All running frantically thru my head.  I listened to Tenth Avenue North “I have this Hope” twice at breakfast.. I don’t wanna live in fear..I wanna trust that You are near..  I have this hope in the depth of my soul.. in the flood or the fire You are with me and You won’t let go.. whatever happens I will not be afraid … cause You are closer than this breath that I take… You calm the storm when I hear you call my name.. I still believe that one day I will see Your face.

Making it thru the waiver signing was a challenge.. my mind and body were screaming panic loudly.. but once we started getting the harness and helmets on, learning how to lock on to the cables.. Zip Line was happening.  Trust the guides.. they know what they are doing.  Listen, follow instructions.. From one tree to the next.. across sky bridges .. physically challenging .. each time they gave me permission to ‘go’ .. I said to myself, “sit down.. this harness is gonna hold you.”  Across the lake, turning backwards.. landing on ramps, walking on a tight rope cable .. with a small group of others and my husband close behind.. for three hours I had the experience of facing fear head on.. of heights.. of water.. of closed in spaces.. the unknown.  Pictures were taken because it really did happen.  And He was near.

My adult sons responded with the words, “I’m so proud of you mom.”  My body was exhausted, my heart was full.  A first, something just the day before seemed an impossible feat.  We returned to the campsite and chilled out.

Later that evening the weather forecast caught our attention.  While listening to a Braves game, just a few hours away.. they were experiencing a rain delay.  With a certain chance of heavy rain, we entertained the “what should we do?”  One option was to pack up and leave now, the other was to load everything except the tent and bedding then wait it out.  We chose the second option.. and at 8 pm it started to rain.  Part of the night we hung out in the lodge and read books.. then decided to head in for the night.  With rain falling on the tent (which is loud by the way).. we went to sleep.  About 3:30 am it was pouring rain,  I reached for a blanket inside the tent and it was wet.  Waking up hubby we used our flashlight to see the inside of our tent.. just a little too much rain to stay dry.  We grabbed our pillows and rain coat.. sort of abandoned ship and headed to our dry car to finish the night.  We dozed for a few hours.  At daylight the rain slowed enough to pack tent and air mattress in garbage bags, toss in the car and head home.  Yet another first.. never been rained out of a tent before!  Adventures live on..

We traveled home a different route, mostly in the rain.  Took a quick drive thru another Georgia state park Amicalola Falls on our return.  Another place to add to our growing list of places to visit.  One can never have too many ideas!  Coffee and breakfast on the road.  A return home with post tent camping laundry, a wet tent to dry out and a smile on our faces.  New places, new adventures,, and new ideas.

The best news.. less than a month another reservation awaits.  Wonder what the weather forecast will be? I think we might be adding a new tarp to the packing list.