Posts Tagged With: Hiking

OF PRECIPICES AND PORCUPINES

We have arrived at our big destination for this trip, Acadia National Park in Maine.  After our arrival day, driving through Bar Harbor and dodging the tour buses and cruise ship tourists, we set camp in Blackwoods Campground.  Nice wooded spot in the spruce woods, dry camping but we have a full tank of water and plenty of propane. Of course we had rain overnight, so the chairs and footstools we set out got wet once again, but they will dry.  Cold and dreary morning, but we set out anyway to explore.

Our first stop on the loop road, some of which is one-way only, was at Jordan Pond.  It has the only restaurant in the park and the pond (more the size of a lake) has two mountains as the backdrop known as the bubbles.  This morning it was pretty socked in, so we really couldn’t see much. Nice gift shop where we might end up buying some long-sleeved tee shirts.

As we drove further on and upward along the roadway to Cadillac Mountain’s summit, the air started to clear and by the time we reached the top it was clear blue skies east toward Bar Harbor, but still low clouds on the west side.  Wisps of mist and cloud would roll over the summit from time to time. We had a gorgeous view of the harbor, the cruise ship in port and the out islands. The pictures will tell you how awesome it was. We walked around the summit trail, down along the rocks for a better view of the harbor and back to the car.  We continued along the loop road to the visitor’s center, watched the short film and then continued on the loop road until we got back to the motorhome to eat lunch and let Kodi out.

Since it had turned out to be a much nicer, sunny afternoon, I thought we should try one of the hiking trails.  Our book listed the Precipice Trail as challenging but about 1.7 miles and I thought it sounded like fun. When we reached the start of the trail, Jackie was very cautious, in fact she really didn’t think we were up for it, but I was a bit stubborn about it and said we should try.  Well, I might have been wrong on this one. It was definitely a challenge, mostly because it was way longer than it should have been. I am certain it was closer to 3 miles before we were done.

 

So what was it like?  Well definitely more of a rock climb than a hike.  We climbed our way up a boulder field, over some big rock faces using iron rungs and grips, along other sheer rock slabs, under boulders, up stone steps and down stone steps … it really was a workout for us both.  We reached an intersection where the trail either continued further up the mountain (ohhh, no) or down to the roadway. But that trail back to the road still went up! It was a long way back. But we did have one cool moment that ALMOST made it worthwhile.  While chatting for a break with some other hikers headed the other way, we spotted a porcupine ambling along. Seriously. He seemed as curious as we were and we quickly snapped pictures. Further along we saw another porcupine, or perhaps the same one. He might have made faster progress than we did.

Ok, once back in the car and headed back to camp, I was told firmly to listen to the advice of my partner in these adventures and if it was a “no way” then that is what it should be.  But we both kind of admitted it was a huge personal challenge to have done it. We both took showers and hit the sack pretty early.


Day 3 in Acadia was a rare sunny day that got rather warm – upper 60’s.  We heard it was to be nice, so we packed a lunch and hit the loop road along the shoreline to see some of the rocky coast.  

Sand Beach was just that, a nice sandy cove. Thunder Hole was rather tame, but loaded with the tour bus crowd. It is a spot where the surf roars into a slot in the cliff and makes a big splash and a lot of noise.  But not if the water is calm like today.

 

The coast has lots of cool vistas and the rocky shore is very picturesque with the clear, dark water. We circled back to Jordan Pond and got to see just how scenic it is. But crowded, with parking spots at a premium.

One cool bit of architecture is the gatehouse beside the gated carriage roads put in by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  

We had lunch at the edge of the ocean in one of the coves, then drove around to the town of Bar Harbor to play tourists.  Just as crowded as the first day we drove through, but the harbor is a pretty sight. A different ship was in port today and if you were careful, you could spot many of the crew around town on shore leave (seemed like the hospitality and entertainment group).  After buying some long-sleeved t-shirts we found our way to a wifi spot that served beer. Yes, we found yet another brewery: Atlantic Brewing. Actually, their beer was darn good. We loved all their ales, but particularly the Weiss and Scottish Ales. Blueberry Amber Ale was a close second.  We met some folks from Michigan and had a chat about beer and some of the places we saw and that was fun.

Since we have yet to find a laundromat, Jackie washed some essentials back in camp and we hope they will dry by morning.  What started as shorts and t-shirt weather today has quickly turned to much colder air and we expect 50’s and rain for the next few days,  Who knows, maybe it will change. It was a good day all around.

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New Hampshire and Hiking

It is now Friday, Day 13 of our leaf peeping adventure and we finally have sun and blue skies!  That’s great, because we have a short drive east across the rest of Vermont, over the Connecticut River and into New Hampshire.  We are heading toward the White Mountains and Franconia Notch State Park. The colors of the leaves are pretty much near their peak, with oranges, yellows, and reds interspersed with dark green triangles of spruce and fir.  White trunks of paper birch pop out and in many spots there is a bright green carpet of pasture to set it off. With the blue sky and wispy white clouds, this is our best day yet for viewing.

 

 

A spot along the way, Beaver Pond, is just the perfect mix of water, sky and fall colors.  Actually, the AT crosses our path here and we took a moment to walk maybe 100 feet of it, just to tell our nephew Adam that we did it.

Further on, the town of Lincoln, New Hampshire also sits along the AT, with several hiker friendly trail stops, and a little bit of crazy with the Hobo Railroad and Clark’s Trading Post featuring bear shows.  

Just beyond that is the start of the state park and we pull off to hike the Flume Gorge. It is a pretty popular spot with the bus tour crowd, but once we got through the gift shop and started uphill it was fine.  I remember coming to this area with my family as a youngster and hiking up through the flume, a cool, damp hike up stairways and ramps. I was not disappointed with this return visit at all.

The gorge is a split in the granite outcropping through which the Pemigewasset River flows.  The entire hike is about 2 miles round trip, but the actual gorge is less than half a mile. I will let the pictures tell the story of the catwalk through the gorge (which is removed in winter and rebuilt each spring).

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It was a great hike up and back, not too strenuous at all, and we were soon on our way back to Vermont and camp at Ricker’s Pond.  Since it was such a nice night, we bought some firewood and sat outside around our first campfire (really?) until it got too darn cold.  Mid 40’s is winter for us Georgians!

It is now Day 14 and our last one in Vermont.  Dry camping in Vermont means we are being conservative with our water supply and careful with our propane for heat.  We fire up the generator a bit in the morning and evening to heat food, water and charge devices. We have both been hauling water in a gallon jug from the spigot down the hill to keep the tanks at two-thirds.  One reason is the shower house is metered (feed quarters) and we aren’t certain there is hot water. There certainly isn’t heat in the cement-floored building, so that isn’t an option. That means a very quick shower onboard.  This will be much the same situation in Maine for 5 days – and it’s not a problem, just a shift in how you do things.

 

 

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Ok, then, on with our day.  We opted to stay close today and take Kodi along for some hiking.  As you can see by the pictures, the colors are even more vivid. We walked the Cross Vermont trail a bit – an old railroad line that actually goes through our campground along Ricker’s Pond.  Then we hiked up a bit more hill to reach Owl’s Head overlook and were glad we did. What a spectacular view of the mountains to the east. Just breathtaking.

   

   

   

We made a loop drive that took us to Danville, where we stopped for lunch at the only place in town that was open: Bentley’s Bakery & Cafe.  Sandwiches were huge and delicious (pastrami panini and grilled chicken with cranberries and walnuts) on fresh made breads. Washed down with maple iced coffee and we were set.  

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Actually, we took half the meal back for dinner. The liquor shop next door had some Vermont beer from 14th State brewing that I just had to buy: “Maple Breakfast Stout” made with coffee and maple syrup.  The heck with breakfast, that was going to go great with dinner!

    

 

The route back took us up and over rolling hills and bright green pastures, dotted with barns and silos.  One of the cutest towns, and not a tourist stop at all, was Peacham, dating to 1776. Oh my goodness, the houses were charming and everything just looked postcard perfect.  We soon arrived in Groton (pronounced like “rotten”) just as their fall festival parade ended and the town was jammed with people and cars. Just yesterday it was empty. But since there was no traffic light in town, just the Constable directing traffic, it didn’t take too long to pass through and back to the campsite.

Kodi was pretty quiet back in the camper, falling asleep in the passenger seat while Jackie took a power nap and I tried to burn off the last of the firewood.  Tomorrow is going to be a hitch-up and get-outta-town day. Destination: Farmington, Maine (with full hook-ups!).

 

 

 

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Grand Tetons Moose Hunting

Smoky in the Tetons

Getting from Yellowstone National Park to Grand Tetons National Park is not really a long drive at all.  It took us maybe an hour and a half, through the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway (a link made possible by the family’s donation of land).  That meant we actually got here earlier than the Coulter Bay campground wanted us.  No problem, we simply unhooked the car, fixed lunch and walked to the camp store and visitor center.

Coulter Bay Camp check-in

Coulter Bay campsite

Once in our pull-thru campsite we actually then took off 30 miles for Jackson, or Jackson Hole (it seems to go by both) to restock on groceries at a beautiful Albertson’s market.  The town seems to be trying for a wintertime mecca along the lines of Vail and the Colorado ski towns.

Some of downtown Jackson Hole

One of several elk antler arches

Lots of timber, rock and steel in construction, and a bit pricey around town.  Naturally we had to stop in at the local brewery for lunch and a flight.  Snake River Brewing was a great spot to hang out.

a Snake River Brewing

Snake River Brewing

Jackson’s town square was really cute, with several arches made of elk antlers.  Since it sits next to the National Elk Refuge, it plays up the animals.

Visitor Center at National Elk Refuge

The NER visitor center was pretty cool, featuring a herd of elk inside (stuffed), but we didn’t see any on the long drive through the sagebrush flats.  One lonely bison, not the large herd we were warned about.  A few small groups of pronghorn, that’s all.  Once back in camp we reviewed the park literature and maps and plotted out the next 4 days.

Since the Tetons were all but invisible in the smoke of wildfires, we decided the first day should be a local hike around the Coulter Bay area.  This is a different sort of National Park, because the whole backdrop of the park is the Tetons – they rise up out of the sagebrush flats and tower over the Snake River, Jackson and Jenny Lakes below.  You almost don’t interact with the mountains; you just gaze at them and hike to their base.  And if you can’t see them, it diminishes the experience.

Beaver lodge on Heron Pond

Beaver dam … but no beavers active

So our hike took us to Heron Pond and Swan Lake, which were marshy beaver ponds that looked like prime spots for moose.  Our goal here in the Tetons is to find moose!  The hike was a bit like walking on bowling balls, since the rounded stones are pretty much everywhere, and we did see two beaver lodges and a beaver dam, but no beaver and no moose.  Had a nice lunch next to the pond though and then made our way back.

Around Jackson Lake

Jackson Lake shoreline

Whitewater

Next day was to be a big adventure for sure.  We had booked a small-boat whitewater rafting excursion on the Snake River and were ready for action.  With quick-dry clothing and water sandals on, we joined the others on the school bus and rode the half hour to the drop-off point.  We were using Jackson Hole Whitewater Rafting, although there are many other outfitters in town, and the total group was 4 rafts, both small and large.  We snapped into our lifejackets, grabbed a paddle, paired up with a family of six (raft of 8), joined our river guide Sky, and set off into the river.  Air temp was 80 or so, water was probably 65 degrees.  Clear and swift.  As we moved along, Sky gave us instructions, we practiced our paddling moves and got into position.  Doug and Adam, were the two lead paddlers in the front, Jackie a few spots back.  But everyone paddled when told.

And what work it was.  Splashing and bouncing our way through some rapids, we paddled, spun around, hit the waves and cheered as we made it through.  Soon we got some total dunks and did a high-five with paddles.  Ah, but it gets better.  Someone could volunteer to “ride the bull” at the very front, one leg in, one leg out, holding tight on a strap.  Stuart volunteered first and got some good dunks.  About halfway down the 9 mile trip Doug took the front spot and got totally drenched in the Big Kahuna rapids.  In truth, the entire raft got doused, Jackie was bounced to the center of the raft and we all were very wet, but excited.  Photos were cleverly captured at that spot and they reveal a wild ride and crazy expressions from the crew.  What a rush. I highly recommend it.

Moose Hunt

Discovery Center at Grand Teton NP

Thursday was to be an early morning drive to a spot just off the south end of the park where beaver pond marshes were known to have moose.  Up at 5:30 a.m. we were off to find those critters for sure. Just past Jackson Lake dam we spotted a beautiful bull elk on the shoulder of the road with a beautiful rack, a female just a bit further – a good sign that we were finally going to see wildlife today.

On the road along the marshes we noticed a Wildlife Management pickup and a ranger in the roadway, which meant something was nearby.  Yes, there was a bull moose not far off, sloshing his way through the marsh.  We tried to stop for a look, but he waved us on.  When we got the chance, we turned back around for another look, but he was moving farther off and out of sight.  Darn.

Moose at last!

We found a small parking area, pulled in and followed another group to the bank of a large wetland.  We were probably 50 feet above the marsh, so it was a good chance to scan for moose.  Nothing.  Heading back to the parking lot, we met one of the other couples who had also been scanning the area for moose and they said “you just missed the female and calf …”  Really??

Actually, they were still moving along the water’s edge, so we hustled and huffed our way further along to watch them.  What fun, as they moved along, in and out of the water, eating the willow shoots and other greens.  Junior would stop and look up at the crowd on the hill every once in a while, mom paid little attention.  Good day for moose.

Drove back on Moose-Wilson road and were rewarded by a great view (and pic) of the bull moose.  Awesome!

We made our way north back into the park, stopped at another beautiful visitor’s center and then to Jenny Lake.  The plan was to follow a short hike to the other side of the lake to see Hidden Falls, have lunch and hike back.  All the maps had this listed as about a 2.5 mile hike one way, so we were pretty confident it was do-able.  It did give us a good look at the mountain peaks, even though still hazy.

Partway along a ranger told us there were moose at Moose Ponds, a short diversion.  So of course we had to go, and we got a great look at another female in the pond, munching on something underwater.  Her calf was nearby, but we couldn’t see it.

At Moose Ponds, naturally

Back on the main trail it was a definite uphill climb.  As I recall, we had gone up almost 700 feet.

A narrow slice across a boulder field was downhill for a bit, with a great view of the lake below, but we knew it would be uphill on the return.  Just before the falls we stopped to have lunch and catch our breath.

Little further along, and downhill, we found the falls.

Hidden Falls

Nice, but it was quite the hike to reach.  You can shorten the journey by paying for a boat ride across the lake, which we opted not to do (after all, we were tough hikers).  But on the way back we were reconsidering the wisdom of that decision.

In fact, it got downright tedious and exhausting as we kept going uphill … until it finally began to slope down toward Moose Pond and finally the parking lot.  Checking our fitbits and also Jackie’s phone step tracker, the hike came in at over 10 miles!!  Not what we had expected.  But we made it, just a bit sore and weary from the effort.

Arriving in camp we were delayed by a mule deer doe and two youngsters, as they crossed the road in front of us.  They do have a peculiar “bouncy” way of running.  So it really was a good day for critters.  Dinner was a quick bite at the lodge restaurant, a couple glasses of wine in the Winnebago to recover and off to bed.

Kodi at the Tetons

That meant the last full day would be restful.  We did some laundry, checked the weather and news online, called Dad to review Hurricane Irma evacuation plans and then made some plans for our next destination.  It was probably best, since the sky is once again hazy and smoke-filled.  You can’t even see the mountains across Lake Jackson, which is right along the campground.  They say there is a chance of thunderstorms tonight, but it seems doubtful.  Crazy that it is so dry in the upper west and so wet from hurricanes in the south and southeast.

Sunset at the lake

Finally clear on last morning

Tomorrow we break camp and head southeast ourselves, hoping to pass Rock Springs toward Cheyenne.  From there it will be one nighters across Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi until we reach Grayton Beach on the panhandle of Florida.  Probably won’t be another post until we are in Florida, but I do appreciate that you are following along on the journey.

Stick with us, there is more to come (and one day soon, some video from my gopro)!

 

 

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Badlands: Prairie Sandcastles

Badlands vista

If someone dropped you here blindfolded, then said to open your eyes, you would probably think you were on some alien planet.  It is a strange landscape.  What the Lakota Indians called mako sica and early pioneers just called the bad lands, can be a wonderful experience for today’s adventurers.  After all, we don’t actually have to guide our horses and provisions down steep slopes and rocky ravines, we simply have to follow the scenic loop road through the park.

Down to the Missouri River

We arrived in Badlands National Park after leaving Mitchell and the famous Corn Palace.  On the banks of the Missouri River we stopped at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center to learn about their trip up the Missouri River for President Jefferson.  Also on the banks of the river was the tribute statue Dignity.  There was a definite change in the landscape as we moved further west across the grasslands and prairies, with crops of sunflowers, millet, and flax and less corn.  Spotted a small herd of pronghorn along the way.

Dignity sculpture

Rest stop tipi sculpture

As we drove into the park, we began to see the wall, an eroded landscape of rock and silt that is the edge between a northern prairie of higher elevation and a much lower prairie leading to the White River (aptly named due to the light color of the sediment it contains).  All of it used to be an ancient seabed, so the layers of silt, sand and ash are subjected to wind and water erosion, leaving behind a landscape that looks like giant sandcastles.  It’s hard to believe it doesn’t just collapse on itself, but with only 16 inches of rainfall a year, these hills have baked into a hard rock known as popcorn rock.

Backdrop to our campsite

Our campground is below the wall in the area called Cedar Pass.  We have the backdrop of scraggy brown peaks behind us and flat open prairie in front of us.  What a sight!  Before the day was done, we hiked some short trails to view the landscape and took the longer stairway trail along one face of the wall at Cedar Pass.

Relaxing

Back in camp we had a nice breeze and were glad the temperature dropped from the low 90s to 65 or less.  We relaxed with a few adult beverages, grilled the last of the fresh corn from Minnesota and tucked in under the covers.

Foggy start to the day

Next day was an early start, thanks to Kodi.  As we move west, now in the mountain time zone, he seems to wake closer to 5 am.  Argh.  But it gave us time to get ready for more hiking – besides, a bank of fog rolled in and we had a light drizzle to start the day.  Great hiking weather to try two trails before it got too hot and sunny.  The Notch Trail is a mile and a half round trip across the sandy rock ledges to get a view of the White River valley from behind Cedar Pass.  It involves a trail ladder of sorts that is a one-at-a-time ascent or descent.  Some narrow edges and steep slopes made it a tricky hike at times, but it was truly a strange landscape.  Reminded both of us of Arches NP and Zion NP.

You can see the ladder climb in the distance

The ladder climb

Driving west on the loop a bit further we stopped for the Saddle Pass Trail.  

Saddle pass

Saddle Pass

This one was half as long, but much steeper and one with lots of loose sand and gravel underfoot.  But the view and the challenge were definitely worth it.  

Golden Eagle

Bighorn sheep

Prairie dogs

Down from our climb we continued west on the loop road through the jagged landscape.  We spotted another herd of pronghorn and two large groups of bighorn sheep.  Also caught a golden eagle circling overhead.  The photo isn’t as crisp as I would like, but it sure does evoke the paintings of thunderbirds by the Native Americans.  Probably the most entertaining were the several prairie dog villages we saw.  At first you thought you were looking at large ant mounds in the grass, but soon noticed the critters pop out of their holes and whistle out a warning.  Off they went to gather grasses and bring them back to the den, tails upright as they ran.  

Ahh.. the Jackalope

Last stop before camp was in Wall, the home of the famous Wall Drug Store.  Probably has twice the roadside signs than Rock City.  Kind of a strange collection of western wear, Native American art, souvenirs and whatnot.  Of course, this is where you find the jackalope, stuffed and mounted for you to take home.  But we only bought some of the recommended maple-glazed donuts that certainly did taste awesome.  Across the street was the Badlands Bar, with cold beer on tap calling out to us.  I had a local brew with a Brunch Burger.  Lesson learned here: a fried egg on a juicy burger with onions, hashbrowns and cheese sounds like a good idea, but it is waaaay too drippy.  The beer helped, though.  Dinner tonight might just be PB&J.

Sunset over Badlands

Tomorrow we strike camp and head to nearby Custer State Park for more wildlife sightings and exploring  as the adventure continues. . .

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Hike Inn Anniversary

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Rainy start to the 5 mile hike

You’re gonna love this post. For our 41st wedding anniversary this year we wanted to try something different and extend our adventures to a Georgia mountains challenge. So we booked a night at the Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls State Park. If you don’t know about this place, let me fill you in.

Amicalola Falls

Amicalola Falls

 

View from Amicalola Falls

View from Amicalola Falls

In 1998 the state built their first backcountry inn as a place that you could only reach by hiking 5 miles into the Chattahoochee National Forest from Amicalola Falls. Officially named the Len Foote Hike Inn, it is operated by the non-profit Appalachian Education & Recreation Services, an affiliate of the Georgia Appalachian Trail club.  The inn is just one mile from the Approach Trail that leads to Springer Mountain and the trailhead for the Appalachian Trail.

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The Hike Inn has 20 guest rooms in four clustered buildings: bunkhouse with lobby and gathering spot, bath house with showers and restrooms, dining hall reminiscent of summer camp, and a library of games, puzzles and sofas with wraparound deck and rocking chairs.  In fact, each building has a wraparound deck for great views.

Hike Inn

Hike Inn

You are provided with sheets, pillow and blankets for your bunk (two to a room) and a washcloth and towel to use in the showers … there were even cloth bathmats!  Afternoon snacks and drinks are ready for you when you arrive, which is a good thing, since you will probably be eager for some of that blueberry crumble or banana bread and iced tea after the 5 mile hike.  Dinner and breakfast the next morning are served family -style for guests.

View from Hike Inn

View from Hike Inn

So you get the picture.  A remote location in the Georgia Mountains that is pretty much on the Appalachian Trail.  An easy way to experience the trail without having to pack in your tent, food and supplies (and didn’t I mention hot showers, too?)  So while we couldn’t bring in a celebratory bottle of Champagne or even a nice Merlot, it was going to be a peaceful, backwoods hike in the mountains.  We hoped to chat up some new peeps and learn about other good day hikes in the area from folks like us — I mean, who else would be there on a Tuesday night in May?  Umm… well it’s a funny thing about being retired teachers: you are never really far from students.

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At last! Made it to the lodge.

 

Len Foote Hike Inn Lodge

Len Foote Hike Inn Lodge

As we joyously arrived at the end of the hike and stepped up to the lobby check-in, it became apparent that something was amiss.  Where were the seasoned hikers and elders who were ready to tell tales of their favorite treks?  We were surrounded by a class of twentysome 5th graders who were staying the night with us.  Seriously?  Oh yes, there it was.  All the familiar behaviors of middle-schoolers-in-training.

A class trip? Seriously?

A class trip? Seriously?

“So, Jackie, let’s go get a glass of iced tea and a snack in the dining room.”  Oh, but of course 5th graders live on sugar and iced tea, so it was slim pickins.  “I hear they have a game of cornhole set up,” Jackie said.  “I really wanna try it out.”  Nah, that location was now some sort of bean bag dodge ball going on.  “Ok, how about that nice porch swing out front?”  Nope, there was a game of musical chairs between the swing and the rocking chairs.  “The library?”  Now that was just too cozy a spot to pass up, if you were a youngster with no internet — so it was a mash-up of Jenga, a half-finished game of Monopoly, a puzzle (?) being worked on by the quiet one and kids flopped about on the comfy sofas.  And did I mention the wraparound decks?  You know, the kind where you can get away from someone who is chasing you and then, like, spy on someone else or maybe, I dunno, cut through the lobby for the fourth time in 15 minutes?  Well, at least there was the 5:00 tour of the buildings to look forward to . . .

Now don’t get me wrong, the location was great, the dinner and breakfast were delicious and there was a group of six other retirees who had hiked in for the night together.  But they were sort of huddled together for safety most of the night.  Oh, and the teachers and parent chaperones for the group (and our teaching buddies will know how that played out) were fun to chat with as we stood at the rail watching the antics around us.  It just wasn’t quite what we were expecting.

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Boardwalk was just that: boards.

As for the hike to the lodge, it was a good workout.  The day started with thunderstorms, but by the time we started the hike it was just all wet, drippy and a bit of slippery mud.  We crossed a few streams and climbed some steep inclines, and saw some woodland plants in bloom.  The mountain laurel that were in bud when we hiked Cloudland Canyon were in full flower here – large groves of them.  The rhododendron had finished, but there were literal forests of them — larger than I have seen.  I would pause to snap a picture, which was a good breather for Jackie, and suddenly we would notice a cluster of something new around us.

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Four-leaved milkweed

Four-leaved milkweed

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Cinnamon fern

Eastern hemlock

Eastern hemlock

False Solomon's seal

False Solomon’s seal

Solomon's seal

Solomon’s seal

There were patches covered in fourleaf milkweed, a delicate pink-white flower, and other places covered with mayapples.  Galax were pushing out their blooming stalks.  The best photo story is when I stopped to snap pics of club mosses and ground cedar (while avoiding the ever-present poison ivy).  As I stood up, I noticed distinct orchid leaves and mentioned it to Jackie.  She quickly spotted a couple of blooms back off the trail and we saw that they were gorgeous pink ladyslipper orchids.  So I navigated my way through the hollies, briars and poison ivy and knelt down to get a shot or two, awkwardly.  But heck, I got the shot, right?  Well, not 10 feet further down the trail there was a cluster of them right at the edge of the path – perfect location, hassle-free.  Oh, well.  It was a large patch of them, and we easily spotted the pink blooms all around us.  How cool.

Pink ladyslipper orchid

Pink ladyslipper orchid

Ground cedar

Ground cedar

Clubmoss

Clubmoss

Rattlesnake plantain

Rattlesnake plantain

Rhododendron forest

Rhododendron forest

Mountain laurel

Mountain laurel

Trillium

Trillium

Four-leaved milkweed

Four-leaved milkweed

Galax

Galax

Mayapple

Mayapple

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Local wildlife

Blackberry

Blackberry

Thump, thump, thump, thump.  Clackety, clackety, clackety (sounded like someone’s carry-on bag being dragged across the decking).  Oh, it was just our 6 am wake-up call, courtesy of the very active, yet somehow direction-challenged 5th graders.  As we finally stumbled out of our bunks, we realized we only had a half-hour to get to the kitchen for a cup of coffee before breakfast would be served to the masses.  Hurry!  Breakfast was worth the early rise — eggs, bacon, grits and peach spoonbread served up hot in a cast-iron skillet.  And we had one we only had to share with two other adults!

Dining hall

Dining hall

After we showered, turned in our linens, filled our water bottles, tucked in our packs, and collected our lunches (which were awesome, by the way) we waited just a bit for the munchkins to get out ahead of us, but it seemed they lingered around and … well, we finally just asked “So which trail are you taking back down?  The Hike Inn trail or the Appalachian Approach trail?  Oh, the Hike Inn?  Great, good luck.”  Any guess which one we took?  Actually, it was a good trail back, seeming to head downhill more than uphill.  We connected with the portion that went on to Springer Mountain and the AT, turned left and headed back down to Amicalola Falls.  It was just a quarter mile longer (5.25 mi), so it was fine.  And quiet.  We got to the bottom of the trail just as the group of six other adults joined us from the Hike Inn trail and we briefly laughed at our shared experience.

So we had a great anniversary after all:  a quiet, romantic night in a remote backcountry inn, surrounded by the night sounds in a National Forest that you can only reach by hiking five miles . . . well, something like that.  I’ll check the Appalachian Trail off my bucket list and try to remember that even though you can retire from teaching, the kids are never very far away.  (you might recall our posting from St. Augustine of last year).

Next trip is our return to Florida and St. Andrews State Park.

Be sure to check out the gallery in Places and some new pictures in Happenings!

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Grand, Grand Canyon

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A half day of travel from Page took us across the higher Colorado Plateau and down into a lower plateau where we crossed the Colorado River at Navajo Bridge (oh yeah, a California Condor was perched below the bridge)

California Condor on Navajo Bridge

California Condor on Navajo Bridge

and along the base of the Vermillion Cliffs. Beautiful panoramic vistas of these cliff walls and then an ascent to Jacob Lake and into the Kaibab Plateau and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Slow go uphill, sometimes only 25 mph with our size and weight. What is so different about driving in this area is that you can see exactly where you are headed, the ribbon of road stretching way ahead of you into the distance, unless it is uphill and all you see is the next curving switchback.

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North rim campsite is great, dry camping with only 2 hours of generator time in the morning and 2 hours at night. Since we got here at 1:00, we headed out for another hike, which was probably 4 – 5 miles total. The Transept Trail was 1.5 miles along the rim from campground to the Grand Canyon Lodge, then another half-mile out to Bright Angel Point. These overlook points are breathtaking, as you perch at the very edge of the canyon and look out over the eroded layers of sedimentary rock. The elevation here is just over 8,000 feet, so we are higher than we were at Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains. You look south into the canyon and into the sun, so a lot of the canyon walls are in shadow and there is a surprising bit of haze and ozone across the distance. Maybe clearer air tomorrow, although it has been nearly cloudless skies.

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Brave soul

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Lots of Douglas fir, Ponderosa Pine and spruce trees here, making you think about those perfect Christmas trees with some Aspen just hanging onto their shimmering leaves.

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Jackie explained that there is a modern evolutionary example here with two species of squirrel that developed differently once separated by the canyon. So I am on the lookout for the Kaibab squirrel, which has different coloration from the Abert’s squirrel of the South rim. Oh, and there is a herd of bison in the park, but of course we saw none coming in through the meadows and fields. Maybe tomorrow.

Abert's squirrel

Abert’s squirrel

Kaibob squirrel

Kaibob squirrel

Next day in camp we decide to head out to explore a few more trails and vistas along a 14 mile roadway to Cape Royal Trail. The journey was a very winding road that went through spruce, fir, Ponderosa pines, aspen and then to Pinyon pine, sagebrush and cliffrose (which looks a lot like a cedar). We had short hikes out to some treacherous overlooks but gorgeous views all the way down to the Colorado River. Way cool. Tonight we want to stargaze over by the lodge before we pack up and head out to Zion tomorrow.

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Thanks for checking in. A note to family: no cell service in the area at all, but wifi at the camp store.

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