Celebrating three years on the road!

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It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for three years now.  It seems like just yesterday that we embarked on this journey to explore our beautiful country on March 1, 2012.  How time flies!  And here we are three years later, continuing to make wonderful memories along the way.

We are pretty much still on track with our set goals, and we picked up 10 new states during the past year.  But unlike previous years, our pace slowed down a bit and we stayed longer at most stops throughout the midwest.  On previous anniversaries I posted about our favorite hiking and biking trails.  Alas, we had fewer opportunities for those activities this past year.  It’s not that we didn’t stay active, but we just didn’t do enough memorable walks or bike rides to give a useful report.

So instead I will commence our celebration with highlights of what things come to mind as we review our third year on the road.  Note that the map below depicts our travels during calendar year 2014 – on March 1st we were in northern Florida and heading west:

Our actual route followed our planned route fairly closely, including a couple of detours. We began our third year in the Florida panhandle and traveled  to our farthest northern stop at Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Then, back down we went – about as far as you can get in south Texas – for the winter.

Along the way, we just had to detour for some time with the birds on our favorite Island at Dauphin Island, Alabama.  And even though it was a bit out of the way, our second detour was to have the excellent team at Freightliner do Betsy’s annual maintenance in Gaffney, South Carolina.

Highlights during our third year of travel:

Weather – Gulf Shores, Alabama

Looking back at what we endured while at Gulf Shores, Alabama makes us shudder.  A five-hour non-stop parade of severe thunderstorms went right over us, with the downpour, winds and thousands of lightning strikes forcing a sleepless night.  We got 15″ of rain that day, an all-time record for the area.  Being in the middle of an historic storm was not exactly what we had signed on for, but we really had nowhere to run to.  We were fortunate to not have any serious damage from that one, because other folks around us certainly did.

The full story is here.

Chiggers Attack – Peru, Indiana

How can I forget those nasty bites?  I was miserable for several weeks from the party those microscopic monsters had on my waist and tummy.  Non-stop itching and scratching reddened my skin and was very uncomfortable.  Oh my, I’m scratching myself right now just thinking about it!

The full story is here.

Adult Chigger

My number one arch enemy, the larvae of a nasty Chigger.  Look out you little monster, here comes my finger to crush you!

The Great Lakes

As we hail from California, the Great Lakes were just “big lakes out there somewhere” to us.  But after seeing and touching all of them I can easily name them now – with a vivid picture of each in my mind.  Now I know that the Great Lakes consist of five separate lakes, and together they form one interconnected body of fresh water.  Four of them are bounded by both the U.S. and Canada – Lake SuperiorLake HuronLake Erie and Lake Ontario.  Only Lake Michigan is entirely within the United States.

The full story is here.

Great Lakes

The Great Lakes on a t-shirt

Film Locations – Mackinac Island, MI and Dyersville, IA

Who doesn’t want to see a place where a great movie was set?  Biking around Mackinac Island was a must for us and our friends, and while there we stopped at the Grand Hotel. That’s where the 1980 film “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, was filmed on location.  We just gawked at the grounds and outside of the majestic hotel, as $10 was a bit pricey just to step into the lobby for a picture.

The full story is here.

Grand Hotel, Mackinaw Island

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, viewed from the ferry we took across

25 years later, the iconic phrases “If you build it, he will come,” and “Is this heaven?  No, it’s Iowa.”  are not forgotten.  We visited the site that made those words famous, the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa.  The cornfields and baseball field were just as they looked in the 1989 movie. To complete our experience, we watched the movies again and commented about how fun it was to be there.

The full story is here.

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams – Dyersville, Iowa

Man-made Marvel – St Louis, MO

Yup, you guessed it – the 630 ft. tall Gateway Arch.  It is the monument to memorialize the role of St. Louis in the westward expansion of the United States.  Riding to the top of this awesome structure was on our bucket list, and we were amazed by the grand view of the city of St Louis and beyond.

The full story is here.

Gateway Arch, St Louis, Mo

You have to see this thing in person to believe it!

Fall Foliage in the Ozarks – Fayetteville, Arkansas

The south has its own version of Vermont for taking in the fall colors – the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.  If you can’t make it to Vermont for leaf peeping in Autumn, a great alternate would be the Ozarks.

The full story is here.

Yellow Rock Outlook

Vermont? No, but still gorgeous!

Birding Galore – Alabama, Wisconsin and Texas

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting is so darn beautiful!

The birding experiences I had during the past year were rich and varied, from Alabama to Wisconsin to Texas. We were very fortunate to be at Dauphin Island, Alabama when spring migration was underway.  It seemed to be just raining beautiful birds!

At Gulf Shores, Alabama I joined Laurel and Eric to observe bird banding and do some bird watching as well.  In Baraboo, Wisconsin I visited the International Crane Foundation, whose stated mission is to work worldwide to save the endangered Whooping Cranes.  It was here that I saw all 15 species of cranes in the Gruidae family.

Coastal birding with Ingrid in Port Aransas was so much fun – I think the birds knew our names and tried to hide from us!  Then at the birding mecca, also known as the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, Birdie and I were involved in finding and identifying our feathered friends.  Many of them are Texas specialties.

Full stories of my birding escapades:

Dauphin Island is for the birds – Dauphin Island, Alabama

The blogger’s biking and birding bonanza in ‘bama – Gulf Shores, Alabama

If you’re into Cranes, read on! – Baraboo, Wisconsin

Two Birders of a feather – Port Aransas, Texas

Winged Wonders Abound – Rio Grande Valley, Texas

Hiking

We did lots of hikes, but the best of them were in the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.  Those mountains provided a beautiful scenic backdrop for some heart-pumping, lung-busting hikes.  We’d love to go back there!

Full stories on the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains

Family and Friends

Family and friends, old and new, always make our journey fun and exciting.  Reconnecting with old buddies from my hometown and some of my family is always a joy.  Best of all, I got to spend quality time with my super-cute grand niece Hattie in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The connections we made with fellow bloggers continued to flourish.  We met new friends Laurel and Eric of Raven and Chicadee; Carla and Jerry of CozybeGone and Faye and Dave of the Wandering Camels.   Reuniting with Ingrid and Al of Live Laugh RV and Bob and Susan of Travelbug in Texas was icing on the cake.  Bloggers are all fun-loving people who shared travel stories, a few drinks and some home-cooked meals and outdoor activities.  Having a grand time with these lovely people created memories that we’ll always cherish.  Somewhere, someday we’ll meet again.

Health

While in Port Aransas in January, we kept several doctors busy as we were pronounced alive and well.  But come February, shortly after our birthdays, I had some scary symptoms that prompted two visits to emergency rooms.  For unknown reasons, my blood pressure had spiked like crazy.  Much to my disdain, I am now taking daily medication and everything seems to be fine.

An eye exam for Steve showed early traces of glaucoma, which was not unexpected since his dad had it when he was in his 50’s.  He decided to be proactive and underwent laser surgery.  This was the best option for our nomadic lifestyle, since it should lower his eye pressures for quite a while with just daily drops and fewer follow-up appointments.

Now we are in good health, and Steve determined that we can haul our new medications around without exceeding Betsy’s weight limit 🙂

Steve said he’s glad his heart is in good shape, because the medical bills should start coming in any day now!  We’re glad to have Betsy and ourselves “good to go”, and excited to start heading back north to get back on track with some serious hiking!

Finally, the stats for the past year:

My wonderful hubby and recorder of all things travel-related has this to report:

Miles traveled:  5,631

Diesel burned:  729 gallons

Average mileage:  7.7 mpg

Average price per gallon for diesel:  $3.66

Number of campgrounds we stayed at:  46

Average campground price:  $29/night
(we budgeted $35/night, so we’re happy with this)

In closing

Blogging is sometimes a chore 🙂   But with the connections we have made during the past three years, sharing our experiences in the blogosphere is so worthwhile and satisfying.  I thank all of our readers and followers who have been with us for the ride.  I hope you are still enjoying it, for we are not done yet!  Whether you’d like to drop us a line or just read through our stories, we appreciate you stopping by.

We have 10 states to go, and estimate that we’ll have them all completed by the fall of 2016.  Then we’ll start traveling more like “normal” adventurers, taking long trips to places we missed or just want to spend more time at.

 

Next up:  Where to in 2015?



 

Final hikes at the Blue Ridge Mountains – NC

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Mount Pisgah
WNC Farmers Market

WNC Farmer’s Market

We did so much hiking while at the Blue Ridge Mountains that I couldn’t fit them all in one post!  Maybe not surprising, when you consider the Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long with limitless hiking opportunities.  However, during our 10-day stay we drove and hiked on only about 69 miles of its southern end.  We’ll just have to come back to see more!

On the way to our hike at Chimney Rock, we swung by the area’s very popular Western North Carolina farmer’s market. This place is huge!  It even has its own exit off of I-40.  We stopped by there just to grab a few items and were amazed by its size.  This is not your ordinary small-town farmer’s market, for it sits on a 36-acre site with a beautiful panoramic view of the mountains.  We soon decided to stop back by again on our way home, knowing that it’s open every day until 5pm.

Our destination for the day was Chimney Rock State Park, where an ancient 535 million-year-old geological monolith was the main feature.  Before the state of North Carolina bought the park for $24M in 2007, it was privately owned and operated by the Morse brothers for over 100 years.  Their legacy began in 1902 when they envisioned preserving the rugged beauty and towering Chimney Rock, and at the same time sharing the magnificent views at the top with the world.  The eventual sale to the state accomplished that, and we were some of the lucky folks who got to enjoy it on this beautiful day.

Chimney Rock State Park

That’s where we’re headed!

The rock is a huge 315′ tall pillar of granite which stands apart from the side of the mountain.

Chimney Rock

315′ tall Chimney Rock at an elevation of 2,280 feet

We were warned that this state park is always crowded.  In planning our hiking strategy we decided to park our car at the top parking lot and begin our exploration from there.   With Chimney Rock itself being the most popular attraction, we would see it first thing in the morning before the crowds hit.  An elevator built through solid rock in 1949 takes visitors up 26 stories to the flat top, or folks can opt for the considerable task of climbing hundreds of stairs.  I know what you’re thinking – the man-made contraption could kill the natural way of accessing the rock – but the Morse brothers were really thinking of those who just couldn’t make it up there any other way.  We had planned to take the stairs anyway, but as luck would have it the elevator was broken and we think a lot of people probably didn’t even try that climb.

Stairs at Chimney Rock

491 steps to the top – the legs and lungs were burning!

 

Chimney Rock Flat top

We made it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stairs and walkways took us up through a huge jumble of rock outcroppings and boulders near the base of the Chimney.  At the top, the view was quite extraordinary.  We enjoyed some time alone there until the quiet was shattered by screaming teenagers on their way up.  Oh my, school must be out and summer vacations are underway!

Lake Lure

Remember Dirty Dancing ? That’s Lake Lure where it was filmed.

Chimney Rock

At the flat top near the memorial for the three Morse brothers

Anyhow, we moved on after enjoying the beautiful vista and ascended another 200′ up to Exclamation Point.  On the way up we were presented with some named outcroppings:

Devil's Rock

Devils Head – can you make it out?

Exclamation Point is a rocky outcrop on the edge of the gorge, and the highest point within the Park at 2,480′.  To get there we went up yet more stairs and around some switchbacks on the cliff’s edge.

Exclamation Point- Skyline Trail

More stairs to Exclamation Point – viewed from Chimney Rock

Tall thimbleweed

Tall thimble weed were abundant on cliff ledges

From the the overlook we could see the Gorge and valley floor more than 1,300′ below. This place is about the views!

Chimney Rock Village

Looking down at Chimney Rock Village

Chimney Rock

Looking back down at Chimney Rock from Exclamation Point and Lake Lure in the background

With the main attraction out of the way, we went back down all those stairs to another popular spot in the park, Hickory Nut Falls.  To get there we followed a moderate 1.5 mile round-trip trail.  We learned that the 404′ waterfall was featured in the movie The Last of the Mohicans, which I have yet to see.

Hickory Nut Waterfalls

Hickory Nut Waterfall

Hickory Nut Falls

My experimental shot using shutter mode at 1/15 sec at f/22

Next we combined the Hickory Nut Falls Trail with the Four Seasons Trail to give us a longer hike down the mountain.  We went down 70 stairs to the downhill path which wound out through a meadow area and into hardwood trees with a rock formation under one giant overhang.

White Wildflower at Chimney rock

Carolina Horse Nettle seen on the trail

It was  a strenuous hike with a 400′ gain in elevation, making it really invigorating and quieter than other areas of the park.  We spent about 4 hours hiking all of the park’s trails, making the most of our $12 per-person admission fees.  For the past 100 years and long before the park was purchased by the State, an entry fee has been charged here.  I’m pretty sure it will continue forever.

On our way home after 7 miles of tough hiking, Mount Pisgah beckoned us.  See that mountain with the tower on top?  That was to be our next challenge!

Mount Pisgah

Mount Pisgah as seen from highway 151

Located at the Blue Ridge Parkway’s mile marker 408, Mount Pisgah was only 6 miles from our campground and we saved it for last.  The mountain is visible from Asheville and is one of the most-recognized peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Mount Pisgah’s 5721′ summit supports the transmission tower for an area TV station.

Mount Pisgah SignThe  trail began at the back of the parking lot, behind a large sign board.  At that point we were just shy of 5000′ in elevation, and in the midst of a high-elevation northern hardwood forest.  This trail is rated moderate, an out and back trek with a total length of 3 miles.

The entire hike was very rocky, and there were  some rooty and wet sections as well.  We gained about 200′ in elevation during the first half of the hike, then another 550′ in the second half, making for a “huffing and puffing” arrival at the top.

wpid26541-2014-06-10-NC-1350131.jpg

 

Arriving at the summit, we were at the base of the transmission tower for WLOS-TV channel 13, and an observation deck.  Although the tower sort of ruined the feeling of being in the wilderness,  the views were spectacular. 

Mount Pisgah Summit

Frying Pan Tower

That other tower is the Frying Pan tower that we climbed a few days ago

Since this is our last hike at the Blue Ridge Mountains and we were the only ones here this morning, we had the views all to ourselves this time.

Mount Pisgah

Each day, after our long hikes or outings, we would sit by the creek relaxing.  Our favorite entertainment during this happy hour was watching the American Finches feeding at our neighbor’s bird feeder, while totally ignoring my fully-stocked feeder.  But this industrious American Robin put a smile on our faces, as we watched it working hard for its meal.

Well, that about wraps up our ten days of hanging out at the Blue Ridge Mountains.  This was a great stop for killing some time and getting hiking muscles back before moving on to Gaffney, South Carolina for Betsy’s annual check up.

 

Next up:  Betsy robs our bank account!