We woke up fairly early because there was a lot of thunder going on and the radar showed a line of rain coming directly towards us (it actually did end up blowing over, ah well).  We had about an hour drive to where we were supposed to catch the ferry, but we thought we’d take our time and maybe get there a early and see if we could catch an earlier ride over.

Along the way, we stopped at a visitors’ center and a museum, learning more about the Cape Lookout National Seashore, and trying to decide whether or not we should take Pruitt (our ’08 Honda Element) across on the ferry and try driving it along the shore.  Tom was pretty apprehensive about it, since the Toaster is all-wheel, not four-wheel, drive.  However, I’d already made the reservation to take it across and paid a deposit.  In the end, we decided that if they ferry would give us back our deposit (since we were still going across just ourselves) then well and good, but if they wouldn’t, then we’d go ahead and go across and, if nothing else, just park the Element right by the ferry landing.

When we got to the ferry, no one was there, and there wasn’t any place particularly marked as an office.  We wandered around, starting to feel apprehensive, since the place looked a little sketch.  In the end, we figured that we were there over two hours before our scheduled departure time, so hopefully someone would show up by then.  We were super hungry, but hadn’t really passed any place to eat since Beaufort – we were catching the Morris Marina Ferry in Atlantic to go across to the North Core.  We decided to continue driving north on 70 to see if we could find someplace to eat and, if nothing else, see how far it was to the state-operated ferry we were going to have to catch Thursday.  We eventually ended up eating sandwiches from a little everything-store and then went back to the still-deserted marina to play cards while waiting to see if anyone showed up to take us across.

About twenty minutes before departure time, the place suddenly came alive.  Several other passengers arrived, the ferry owners appeared, and we all heaved a sigh of relief.  The people running the place were super friendly and relaxed.  We got the impression that this time of year, most of their passengers were people wanting to go stay a day or two and fish, and most of the other passengers had been over before.  One young couple, in a Jeep, were first-timers like ourselves, and just as confused.

We couldn’t get our deposit back, so we decided to see what Pruitt could really do.  The ferry people were totally confident, telling us just to let a bit of air out of the tires and go with it.  Then they loaded up the cars, and we headed across.

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The trip over was about a half-hour long.  The North Core (and South, from what I understand) is super long and skinny.  The cottages are all close to the ferry landing.  If you have a car, you can either drive on the sand road that runs along the middle of the island, or on the shore itself.  Still feeling uncertain about Pruitt’s capabilities, we cautiously began driving up the road.  We went about a mile, just far enough to be away from the cottages and the people there, and then drove to the shore and parked.  (Pruitt was doing fine, but Tom didn’t want to push our luck.)  We found sheltered places for our tents and set up camp, all the while enjoying the most beautiful and perfect beach I’ve ever seen.

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Loads of seashells, perfect sand, and just miles of empty, peaceful shore.  It was lovely.  And there is nothing quite like camping right next to the ocean.  We spent the afternoon walking along the beach, finding shells, and just watching the ocean.

After a hearty supper of Mountain House, Tom and I decided to take an evening stroll up the beach and back.  The moon was out, and it was just perfectly magical.  The night was fairly warm and completely clear, so we slept with the rainfly off, able to see the stars and moonlight.  Lovely, lovely.

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So, any votes on whether or not I’ll actually finish posting about this vacation???  Someday!

Tuesday dawned bright and clear, and we got an early start (sadly foregoing breakfast by Joe…  while delicious, it wasn’t the fastest breakfast choice).  While we had originally talked about only driving part way across North Carolina, we concluded that we’d rather do the whole drive at once, and camp in the Croatan National Forest near the coast.

First off, though, we went back to Crabtree Falls.  It was just so beautiful that we really didn’t think Timmy and Erin should miss out on it entirely.  While it wasn’t as mysterious as it had been in the rainy fog, it still held up quite well in the sunshine.

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One advantage to traveling with other people is that Tom and I actually got to have pictures taken together – when we were in Colorado last year, we got one picture of both of us (except for a few terrible selfies lol) because not only were we not traveling with anyone we knew, most of the time there weren’t even other people in sight!

Anyway, after a quick breakfast stop in Spruce Pine, we headed down out of the mountains and east towards the coast.

So “Piedmont” is  a new word for me, but apparently it is the official term for that boring area between the mountains and the ocean.  We concluded that we did not want to live in the Piedmont, as its easy accessibility to both mountains and ocean seem to be the only thing to recommend it.  Still, the drive was easy enough.  We swapped around driving and pushed through, with only minor disasters, like the worst service I think we’ve ever had at a fast-food restaurant (ole Bojangles).  But when you’re on vacation, even troubles turn into entertaining adventures and much laughter.

We camped that night at a small campground in Croatan National Forest.  While the camp host seemed to be suspicious of people under the age of 67, we kept things quiet.  It was good to just unpack, unload, and stretch our legs.  We’d stopped at a random Food Lion and picked up hot dogs and fixins for supper, and enjoyed our fire, including gigantic marshmallows.

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Isn’t our little campsite so cozy??  I actually really enjoy car camping.

While Croatan isn’t on the ocean, it is along a very wide river mouth.  After setting up camp, we had some couples-time taking walks and enjoying the lovely evening.

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As we settled into our tents that night, completely happy, listening to the distant roll of thunder that never seemed to get closer, I couldn’t help but be excited – we were only 20 miles from the ocean!!!

The next morning, we woke up to see that our view was not nearly as spectacular as the day before!

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Along with the rain, the fog had rolled in.  It was a lot chillier, too.  However, we had planned a day of indoor activities to avoid the weather (after eating our spectacular breakfast cooked to order by Joe!).

First stop, the Linville Caverns.  While not huge, the Caverns are a fun stop, especially on a day where the outdoor weather isn’t so great.  There’s a nifty gift shop that we puttered about in for a while, and then took the tour.  I’m not a huge cave person, so I’m not going to rave about the caverns themselves, but our tour guide for that trip was absolutely hilarious.  She was honestly one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had for any tour ever (and I *love* tours, so this is saying something).  I got the impression that she actually knew a lot more about caves/geology than is normal for the job, and now she’s trapped telling amateurs about stupid shapes in the rock that kind of look like pickles or bats.  She was the perfect level of sarcasm, and she had the four of us laughing out loud on multiple occasions.

The caverns themselves were interesting but not amazing.  They are limestone caves, and very watery – before floors were added to make walkways, they were really just underground streams.  We had a good time at the Caverns, but the pictures didn’t really come out well, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

We were still pretty stuffed from our huge breakfast (Joe seriously knows how to cook), so we decided to check out the little town of Spruce Pine.  We’d already seen their WalMart, but we were pretty sure that the town had to have more to offer.  We visited a sketchy thrift shop (every single thrift store we visited/passed in North Carolina was linked to women’s shelters; it was weird), and meandered around before finally finding the actual downtown.  Tragically, it was a Monday, so most of the stores were closed.  But we poked around a bit before deciding we were hungry.  Pizza Hut for a late lunch, and then back to the hotel.  Timmy and Erin decided to rest for a bit, but Tom and I were feeling the need to be outside, despite the continuing drizzle and fog.  So we headed back south on the Parkway a bit, destination Crabtree Falls.

The fog actually gave the drive (and hike) a lot of ambiance.  The tunnels were especially fun.

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We chose the Crabtree Falls hike because it was not only close, but it didn’t have the word “vista” in the trail description.  Obviously, the weather didn’t lend itself to vistas, but a hike down into a valley to see a waterfall sounded perfect.

Hiking through the misty rhododendrons down the rocky trail was actually delightful – mysterious, quiet, otherworldly.

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We could hear the falls long before we could see them.  When we finally found them, we were delighted to see a picture-perfect waterfall.

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It was a great hike, about 3 miles all around.  The climb back up was steep, but the falls were so beautiful and the weather so fun that it was well worth it.

The evening was spent watching a movie and shooting some pool.  Because of the weather, the expected other guests hadn’t shown up (Joe told us), so we had the place to ourselves for a second night.  Good times indeed.  :-D

Well, I didn’t do such a great job updating while actually traveling this time.  I’m just too lazy to do all that typing on my phone!  We’re home now, and happy to be getting back into regular life, but I’m hoping to finish updating about the trip, if for no other reason than my own personal records.  :-D

Sunday morning dawned clear and beautiful, if a little cool.  The sun was coming up over the mountains, and we enjoyed a peaceful breakfast of oatmeal before breaking camp.  We hiked back to the parking lot and rearranged our packs so that we just had a day pack before climbing up Table Top.  The weather was brilliantly clear, making the views breathtaking.  However, I have to admit that there was a huge forest fire in Linville Gorge in November, so many areas are still a bit…  well, burnt.  We definitely would love to back in the summer when everything has greened up.  Despite that, the views were still fantastic.

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Tom was also able to continue his Nalgene water bottle photo shoot.

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(Sometimes my water bottle photo-bombs.)

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Originally, we had talked about hiking from Table Top all the way down to the bottom of the gorge (you can barely see the river in picture #2 above) and then back to the car, but Erin and I convinced the husbands that it was not a total cop-out to park at the lower parking area and hike from there, since all we would be missing would be about 1200 feet of down/up through a burned-out forest.  I’m glad we won the guys over, because we still hiked around 1000 feet from the lower parking lot to get down to the river.

It was worth the hike, though, because the river was gorgeous.  Unfortunately, a flood earlier this year wiped out the bridge (hasn’t been a good year for Linville Gorge), and this time of year, with the water high and cold, it really is impassable without the bridge.  But we cooked ourselves lunch and rested up before climbing back up to the car.

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Part of the fun of this vacation was its flexibility.  Because we were camping some of the nights, we only had certain nights where we had reservations and had to be somewhere.  The rest of the time, we were easily able to adjust plans by weather and how we felt about life.  Initially, we had talked about spending our second night along the gorge, but the washed-out bridge nixed that idea.  Our secondary plan was to camp on Mount Mitchell (the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi).  With that idea in mind, we headed south on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In May of 2010, my family, including Timmy and Erin (but not Tom, as we weren’t married yet), drove the  Blue Ridge Parkway – eight of us in an eight-passenger Honda Pilot (it’s a whole other adventure, which is actually recorded on this blog if you’re interested).  Along the way, we stopped at Mount Mitchell.  Unfortunately, it was a ridiculously foggy day, and the views were not all that impressive.  Determined to redeem Mount Mitchell, Timmy, Erin, and I were particularly keen to reach the top on a clear day.

You can drive almost to the very top of the mountain (thankfully).  However, our information on camping in the region was sketchy at best, and everything was closed because it was still so early in the season.  While trying to decide what to do, we climbed to the summit and enjoyed the view.

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You may notice that we’re wearing winter coats.  That’s because Mount Mitchell is over 2000 feet higher than we had camped Saturday night, and it was only in the mid-40’s at the top.  Rain (or snow or freezing rain or sleet) was moving into the area that night, and it was supposed to be in the low 20’s at the higher elevations.  After much dithering, we decided to see if the hotel we’d reserved for Monday night would be able to accommodate us a day early as well.  Back down the mountain and up the Parkway we went!

The Skyline Village Inn is  just off the Parkway near Little Switzerland.  Built into the side of a hill, you can enter the front of the building on the first floor, or drive around to the resident parking in the rear and walk in on the third floor.  It’s a smallish hotel (17 rooms, I think), but clean and neat.  We got there just in time – after cleaning up from their Friday/Saturday night guests, the owners were getting ready to leave for Charlotte for the night since no one had a reservation for Sunday night.  However, they fixed us right up, showed us our rooms and showed us around, told us their manager, Joe, would be there later that evening, and left us to our own devices!

We had never had a hotel to ourselves, so it was quite exciting.

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The view was lovely from our balcony.

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Tom and I took the single, and Timmy and Erin were next door with a double room.  After showering up and settling in a bit, we headed up the road towards the town of Spruce Pine, where our hosts had assured us we would find restaurants and a WalMart – and we did!  We devoured a supper at an all-you-can-eat buffet, found some supplies at WalMart, and headed back to the hotel.

There, we met Joe, the manager.  He told us that for $6.50 each they served breakfast in the mornings (cooked by his own self) – all you could eat eggs, bacon, hash browns, and waffles. Who were we to pass up a bargain like that?  He even said he’d cook it whenever we wanted since we were the only guests!  After arranging breakfast, we checked out the lounge area on the second floor – particularly fun because we could do it in our pajamas.

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Super cozy!

That night, as the wind and rain was whipping around the eaves of the building, I was very content with our decision to snag the hotel a day early!

So we are traveling yet again, but because we are spending a lot of time camping – which means nights where the car is unattended – I didn’t bring my laptop. But this morning (last night was a hotel night) I got to wondering if WordPress had an app…and they do! So I’m going to try it out. Maybe I can still post some updates on our travels!

This time around, we are spending a week in North Carolina. My brother Timmy and his wife, Erin, are along for the ride. Were traveling in Pruitt, our 08 Honda Element (that car is brilliant) and spending the first half of the week exploring mountains and the second half on the Outerbanks.

So far, the trip had been brilliant.

We left Saturday morning and headed south. The drive was fairly uneventful, but we were grateful for the clear weather.

Our destination for the day was the Linville Gorge wilderness area, which is quite near the Blue Ridge Parkway about 70 miles north of Asheville. As we wended our way up the forest roads, we were surprised at how busy the parking areas were. As we looked, though, we realized that almost all the license plates were North Carolina tags – the locals were taking advantage of the gorgeous weather before the tourist season!

We parked at the Table Rock picnic area, which, we discovered, is super popular with rock climbers and rappellers. Timmy loves rappelling, so he got quite excited about trying to come back here someday to try the cliffs.

Like I said, the weather was clear and almost too warm. We loaded up our packs and headed south down the trail. It was narrow and rugged and rocky and quite fun.

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A little over a mile out we found a perfect campsite near (I think) Chimney Rocks. The view was spectacular.

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We set up camp, and then wandered further down the trail a bit before coming back to fix supper and build a fire.

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Unfortunately, I haven’t been taking very many pics on my phone, so while I will try to update later, yesterday’s adventures won’t have very much photographic evidence!

I’m not sure how it’s happened, but every day here has gotten more beautiful.  Today, we drove south of Gunnison to Lake City and San Juan Mountains.  IT WAS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE I HAVE EVER BEEN.  Literally, at one point, I looked at Tom and said, “I am feeling so overwhelmed by the beauty of this place that it’s almost making me sick.”  I’ve never seen anything like it.

One of the intriguing things about Colorado (to me) is how swiftly the terrain can change.  Here in Gunnison, it’s a high mountain plateau, so rather flat with random rock formations and bluffs here and there.  Yesterday, when we drove west to the Black Canyon, the terrain became much more rugged, with deep chasms.  Today, the San Juan Mountains are tall and beautiful (the continental divide runs through them), full of pine and aspen forests, and so many creeks and rivers–water everywhere.  

The drive to Lake City took about and hour and was beautiful every minute of it.

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Lake City turned out to be a charming little town tucked in close to the mountains.  Much the downtown (about two blocks) consists of historic buildings and little shops.

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We found a coffee shop that would definitely have appealed to Dad:

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After purchasing a few souvenirs, we started out on the day’s main adventure: driving the Alpine Loop.  This is a road that swings west of Lake City, across two passes, and back into town.  Much of the road is 4×4 passable only (especially over the passes).  Although our rental happens to have four-wheel drive, we weren’t sure how far we could push that (especially with the tires that are on it).  However, the long stretches leading up the valleys to the passes are 2WD accessible (theoretically), so we decided we would drive as far as we could, and then come back if it seemed too rough.

We started with the north portion, which starts right on the edge of town.  It follows a narrow canyon, alongside the most beautiful creek (river?) you could ever wish to see.  We could hardly stop taking pictures of it.

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We also got to see some wildlife today, including a hummingbird and several deer.  We even got a picture of this little family.

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Along the Alpine Loop are the remains of several mining towns.

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In Lake City, we had bought sandwiches at a little grocery store, and we stopped to picnic along that lovely little creek.  Here is Tom, enjoying what he calls the happiest moment of his life.

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I’m pretty happy, too.

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It just kept getting more and more beautiful.

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Eventually, we decided to turn around.  Although the road was still passable, it was very rough and narrow, and Tom feared for the tires.  Driving back past the same scenery was no hardship.

After stopping at the Mocha Moose for smoothies, we headed out of town to pick up the southern part of the loop.  And, not surprisingly, it was just as overwhelmingly beautiful, although much more open.

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There were trailheads all along the road, and we stopped at a few.  Most of them followed narrow valleys up to the ridgeline (which was the continental divide on the south of the south part of the loop).  We followed one trail about 1/8 or 1/4 mile (my idea of distances gets fuzzy when I’m climbing straight up a mountain at high altitudes), following another of those beautiful creeks.

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Do you see what I mean about being overwhelmed by beauty?!?!  I stopped taking pictures after a while.  I just couldn’t handle it.

We continued until our way was too rough, then turned around.  I like the picture below because you can see the road winding off along mountain.  Mom would have hated that part (although she would love the parts in the valleys), but the views were definitely magnificent.  The road is open to vehicles of all kinds, including ATVs, horses, dirt bikes–so there was an interesting mixture of traffic all day, too.

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On the way home, we took some back roads to see some more scenery.  I didn’t take as many pictures, but it was actually probably my favorite drive of the day.

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And that pretty much wound up our day.  We ordered a pizza and showered up.  Tom is already asleep, and I’m just finishing this up before heading that way myself.  Tomorrow, we are driving up to Boulder.  Vacation is on the downhill slide now!!

Oh, and when I talked to Mom this morning, I promised to upload a couple of pictures of the outside of our little home in Gunnison.

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The view from our front porch–a nice little yard/campfire/picnic area between us and the road.

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The Jeep is parked in front of our room!!  Isn’t it adorable??  (The room, not the Jeep.)

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View from the road.

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This has really been just a charming place to stay, and a perfect staging area of the day trips we had planned.  We’re sad to be leaving Gunnison tomorrow, even though we’re headed off to more vacation!

Part 1: Colorado Has Ruined My Life

At some point, I’ve realized that Colorado has possibly destroyed my ability to live contentedly in Ohio.  I don’t know why I love it here so much more than when I was here before.  But the beauty, the openness, the mountains, the views, the way you can go miles without seeing another person–I love it.

This morning, we woke up super early yet again (0500 local time), and, wide awake, decided we may as well be up and about.  We puttered a bit until daylight, and then walked back behind our motel.  The reason that it’s called Island Acres is because it’s on a river island.  Behind our place is about a quarter mile walk with other houses, and then you get to where the river splits and goes around our bit of land.  It’s quite lovely, actually.

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After we got back, Tom headed off to Hartman Rocks, which happens to be across the street and down a piece from where we’re staying.  It’s a very famous location for mountain biking, and has hiking/biking/dirt bike/jeep trails all over the place.

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While he was gone, I finished settling in our stuff, finished my book, and updated this blog.  By the way, something I forgot on this morning’s post was a picture of the amazing rainbow we saw yesterday evening!

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I don’t know if it’s the thinner air or what, but it was truly the most vibrant rainbow I have ever seen.  It was a full double, too.

Anyway, this morning, while I was updating the blog, I kept hearing this weird noise.  You know how when you turn on a gas burner it  makes a clicky noise and then sort of VOOSH.  Well I kept hearing something similar to that VOOSH but couldn’t figure out what it was.  Although there are couple more people here now, as of this morning, there were only two other cars here, and both were in another building entirely.  Finally, I looked out the window, and this is what I saw:

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This would be a pretty awesome area for a hot air balloon ride!

After Tom got back and showered and breakfasted, we headed further west.  Today, by the way, we traveled the furthest that I have ever been west.  So that was exciting.  Gunnison is just east of Blue Mesa Reservoir, which is about twenty miles long.  It was beautiful.

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A stop at the visitors’ center landed us some maps and trail descriptions.  We decided to try one further up the gorge–Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  It’s an incredibly deep valley, with a river that empties into the reservoir.  The trail wound down the canyon wall, along a feeder river, and ended where the feeder river fed into the main river (sorry, don’t know their names, lol).  We knew that it would be a vigorous hike (although only a 4-mile round trip), and it was totally intense.  It was also one of the most beautiful–if not the most beautiful–hikes I have ever taken.  The pictures don’t do it justice.  It was exhausting but exhilarating.

We started at the overlook at the top of the trail.  The view was where the two rivers met.

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As you can see, it is very far below!

The descent was lovely, full of beautiful views, both of the mountains above us and valley below.

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After a little over a mile of downhill, we reached the canyon floor.  The trail leveled out and followed the creek–a real mountain creek, crashing over boulders.

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Finally, we reached trail’s end!  It’s a beautiful spot where the water comes together.  The trail doesn’t go far enough (there is literally no place to put a trail) to see around the bend, but water is deep and beautiful.

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We paused for a snack and to refill our water bottles, using our awesome water pump for the first time!!!

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Then came the fun part–climbing back out of the canyon!  Slow but steady wins the race, right?

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It was so beautiful that it was like a whole different trail on the way up!  (Or maybe that was the lack of oxygen changing my vision…???)

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It’s amazing how much flora there is to see when one is gasping for air whilst struggling up the side of a mountain.

 

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However, we did not die, and we eventually made it back to the car, a bit more than tired, but quite pleased with ourselves.

We continued the drive up the canyon for several miles, before realizing that we were ravenous and heading back towards Gunnison.  The views were amazing, but most of my pictures were taking out the window again.

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This is actually the very same creek that we followed, at a much earlier point in its life.

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Part 2: Off-Roading is Awesome

We finally made it back to Gunnison and found some food.  We popped into a local bike shop to see if we could find a map of Hartman’s Rock.  While Tom enjoyed his ride, the place is riddled with trails and no clear directions.  The bike shop man was incredibly helpful (almost too helpful…  he gave a LOT of directions!).  We were so inspired that we drove back to Hartman’s Rock so Tom could show it to me and we could check out a couple of the trails.

Many of the trails are dirt roads that wind through the park, so we put the Patriot through its paces.

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This Jeep has definitely been where no rental was ever intended to go.  And tomorrow we’re going to drive sections of the Alpine Loop near Lake City!

Hartman Rock is pretty nifty.  Completely different from where we were earlier–much more open and arid, with jagged rocks poking up through the landscape.

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Tom is pretty excited about riding there again tomorrow.

Well, that about wraps up the day.  I started this entry sitting out on our little porch enjoying the cooling evening air.  Now I’m back inside at our retro table.  Tom is looking for painting jobs in Colorado Springs so we can move out here forever, and I think we’re going to watch an episode of Doctor Who before going to bed.  Tomorrow–Lake City and the Alpine Loop!

Part 1: Corrections & Additions to Day 2

First off, the small diner where we ate lunch yesterday is actually located in eastern Colorado, not western Kansas.

Secondly, somehow I completely forgot to tell you about the MOST EXCITING THING that we discovered in Kansas yesterday–real, live, honest-to-goodness wild pronghorn antelope!!!!  I cannot tell you how thrilled I was.  From what I read, while not rare, pronghorns are also not super common.

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They’re a little fuzzy because they were kind of far away (and fast!) but definitely pronghorn antelope (plus we could see them better in real life than you can through the pics).  How cool is that?!?!

Thirdly, now that Tom’s awake, I can show you some of his pics from Manitou Springs.

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All I can say about  my presence in this picture is that I didn’t know he was taking my picture and it was raining and the temperature had dropped so I’m a bit wet and cold and also hungry because we hadn’t had supper yet, lol.  Anyway, the flood damage really was crazy.  This afternoon (okay, so I started writing this entry yesterday (Monday) evening, but am actually finishing/posting it Tuesday morning, so this would actually be yesterday afternoon, lol), many of the roads were closed again because the water was rising, but we can’t find anything on the news that says that there was any kind of damaging floods like they had Friday night.

Part 2: Garden of the Gods

So this morning (aka Monday morning), we woke up fairly early (I think we’re still on eastern time, which means we are even earlier early birds than usual!), loaded up and checked out, and had breakfast had a local pancake house (“Uncle Sam’s House of Pancakes,” I think; it was FULL of red, white, and blue and stars and I felt super patriotic while eating my French toast…) and then we went to drive around Garden of the Gods.

And seriously, is there any place in the world more fascinatingly beautiful??

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(“Kissing Camels”)

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(That’s Pike’s Peak in the distance.)

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This is actually the view of the park where we walked Sunday evening, Red Rock Canyon.

We also stopped by the visitors’ center to visit some old friends of mine.

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Then it was time to head to the Academy Riding Stables for our next big adventure–horseback riding through the Garden of the Gods!!!

Now, I have been on many trail rides in my life, and for the vast majority, I have basically been a passenger on a horse that needs to no guidance whatsoever–it would do exactly what it’s doing even if I wasn’t there.  But this was not the case with this ride.  I have never been on such frisky trail horses.  Plus, the terrain was crazy, actually super steep up and downs and riding along ledges.  Honestly, it was a little terrifying at times, but also awesome.  Because the horses were rather independent, a lot of our focus was on them rather than picture taking (actually, I think my horse would have been thrilled if I had died on that trip, but we reached an understanding eventually).  Anyway, point is, most of Tom’s pictures were just of me on Lady.

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haha, not particularly thrilling.  But the ride itself was amazing and beautiful and felt like a real adventure.  It’s the first trail ride that I’ve been on where it was legit horseback riding, if that makes sense.  (Apparently, most of the horses run wild in an 8000 acre pasture in the winter time and get rounded up in the spring and sort of re-broken for the season??  Our guide was actually super, super interesting…  he used to break wild mustangs for the Bureau of Land Management…  although he specifically said he worked “with the BLM, not for the BLM” as though that should have some significance…)

So, we weren’t finished with that until about noon.  We went to the Trading Post at the Garden of the Gods to load up on souvenirs and postcards, then headed to Pike’s Peak!

I, personally, did not have a strong desire to go up this mountain.  If Zeb Pike didn’t do it, I didn’t feel like I had to!  But Tom was seized with a strong desire to see the summit, so we headed up.  The clouds were starting to roll in up on the moutaintop, but the road was still open all the way up.  The recommendation is that you drive straight up, and then make your stops coming back down so your brakes have some time to recover (you’re also supposed to come down with your car locked in the lowest gear).  I tried to take pictures out the window because the views were just so amazing, but most of them came out like this:

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(This piece is entitled: “View that was an amazing view five seconds ago.”  Prints are available while supplies last.)

However, by the time we were nearing the timberline, my taking-pictures-out-the-window skills were getting better, plus there were fewer trees to interfere.

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(That is our road winding down below.)

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However, by the time we reached the peak, the clouds were really rolling in.  The views were quite reminiscent of Mount Mitchell

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But we did find some friendly hippy hitchhikers who took our picture to prove we made it to the top:

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It was cold and difficult to breathe on top…  I did feel a bit lightheaded.  The drive down was a bit nervewracking, because the fog was closing in (by the time we reached the gift shop three miles down the road, they’d closed the road to the summit), but there were glimpses of the same gorgeous views between the clouds.

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The reason I look cold is because it’s only 41*.

Then, it started to snow/sleet/rain.  We stopped at the gift shop to give the brakes a rest, and it was raining pretty steadily by then, with sleety snow mixed in.  Good times.

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(As an aside, Mom would have hated this drive.  Winding roads, few guardrails, steep inclines…  I was glad to get off that mountain myself!)  By the time we reached the bottom, Manitou Springs was under a flash flood warning again and they had closed US 24.  Even though we wanted to head west, rather than east back into town, traffic was all backed up, so that was good times.  (If you haven’t seen the video of cars getting swept down 24–which is the main artery west out of Colorado Springs–you should watch it, and you’ll understand why everyone is so jumpy about any rain falling on the burned mountains.)

Anyway, we got detoured around and eventually made it to 24 west, just east of Woodland Park.  Along the way, I did get a couple of pictures of where the wildfires were.

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You can really see the contrast between where the fire was and where it wasn’t!

After finding food and gas in Woodland Park, we began our final journey of the day–west, over the continental divide, to Gunnison.

To our surprise, west of Woodland Park, the terrain really opened out into a high mountain plain.  It was just stunningly beautiful.

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I don’t really know what I was expecting–winding roads like we had to use to get up Pike’s Peak, I guess.  But instead, the drive was wonderfully pleasant, thousands of acres of open land, ringed around by layers of mountains.

Eventually, the mountains did close in, as we climbed up and over the 11,000+ foot pass across the Divide, but it wasn’t nearly as picturesque because of all the trees.  On the other side, we descended back into those high  mountain plains again.

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We got to Gunnison and found our little motel.  Island Acres Resort is right on US 50, and was originally one of those delightful little motels that were the only place to stay in the 1950’s.  Although recently renovated, they’ve kept that 1950’s vibe, and it’s just as adorable as it can be.

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We are quite contentedly cozied in here until Thursday.  We explored a bit more around here this morning, but those pics will have to wait until next time.  I think this post has gone on long enough!

Part 1:  Kansas Isn’t as Bad as Everyone Says

So we woke up refreshed and happy in Hays, Kansas, this morning, and headed west yet again, after stopping at a gas station to fill up and attempt to scrub the bugs off the car.  Seriously, I have never seen bugs like what we have had on this trip, especially through Kansas.  I could barely see through the windshield by the time we stopped last night!

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And as we drove, we realized that we actually like Kansas.  It isn’t terribly exciting, true, but there is something beautiful about the openness of it, just huge expanses devoid of people, and I like that.  A few miles away from Colorado, we decided to ditch the interstate, because I happened to notice something on our atlas.  “Mt. Sunflower: Highest Point in Kansas.”  How could we resist something like that?  I looked it up on Tom’s phone (seriously, the internet is bizarre) and found that there is a little picnic table there; it’s on private land but the owners let people visit there.

We got off the highway just in time to visit a lovely little town called Kanorado.  Isn’t that just the best name ever??

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Not a lot going on in Kanorado.

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Then we headed south, searching for the elusive Mount Sunflower.

We found a dirt road.

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We found cows.

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We found actual sunflowers.

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We found cacti.

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And we finally found Mount Sunflower!

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The views were breathtaking.

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(It’s fenced in because we were actually in the middle of a cow pasture.)

And people say Kansas is boring!

Eventually, we moved along, finding a (paved) US route and heading west again.  We stopped in a very, very small town (although bigger than Kanorado) and ate lunch at a hole-in-the-wall diner where everyone else who came in got greeted by name and gossiped about whoever had just left.

We crossed in Colorado and took a state route towards Colorado Springs.  About 70 miles out, we finally got our first glimpse of the mountains.  WE WERE SO EXCITED.

Part 2: Manitou Springs

So, we eventually made it to Manitou Springs, here at the foot of Pike’s Peak.  It’s beautiful, with an artsy little shop-neighborhood just down the way from our hotel.

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Isn’t our motel just the cutest thing??

Friday night, there was a huge flash flood/mudslide right through the middle of Manitou Springs.  There is still tons of mud and debris everywhere.  Bunches of shops flooded that had never flooded before.  It happened super unexpectedly; a couple of people even died.  Amazingly, things are cleaning up incredibly fast.  There were volunteers everywhere, long-haired hippy-looking folks with huge grins, extremely muddy pants, shovels, and dogs.

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Tom got some better pictures of the lower streets, covered in mud and branches, but they’re on his phone and he’s already asleep, so you’ll have to wait for another day.

Anyway, we walked around the town until our check-in time for the motel.  After checking out our room, we headed off to the Maintou Cliff Dwellers Museum.  On the way, we realized that we really are on the verge of the mountains

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We probably won’t make it down to the legit Mesa Verde this time around, so this little park was a nice substitute.  The gift shop was HUGE.  We puttered about and enjoyed the semi-restored ruins

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By the time we finished there, there were ominous rumbles of thunder in the distance.  We drove back to our motel and parked, and then walked back downtown to find a place for supper.  It was raining by the time we ducked into a little pub, with terrific wood floors, for supper (I had the most amazing pizza).  We sat at the bar counter with the locals and listened to them talk about all the clean-up that was going on and how suddenly it had all hit.  Everyone was a bit jumpy over the next round of rain.  Apparently, all of this is flooding because of the wildfires earlier this summer.  Where everything has been burned, the water just runs off and washes away large chunks of land with it.

It was raining pretty steadily when we walked back to our motel, and the temperature had dropped almost 20*.  We watched a couple episodes of Doctor Who until the weather cleared, and then went for an evening walk at an almost 800-acre park right in the middle of town.

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Now we’re back in our snug little room.  Tomorrow should be busy–Garden of the Gods and possibly Pike’s Peak, then heading west into the mountains!

 

So, if you live in Ohio and you want to vacation in Colorado but you have to drive there, the problem is that the driving seems to take up all the time you have for vacationing.  So, we decided that we would make our first day a “push” day and make it about 3/4 of the way to Colorado Springs.  We left the house a little before 0600 this morning.

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Here’s the Patriot, by the way.  

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It’s pretty full up, but we’re confident that we can still fit a moose head in the back when the time comes.  

We stopped in Indianapolis for an hour or so to visit a friend who just bought a super nifty old house there.  He had promised to make us breakfast, but he just got the keys to his new house yesterday, so he isn’t really moved in yet.  They haven’t turned on the gas, so he couldn’t use his stove (which he didn’t know until he went to cook eggs…  luckily, he realized it before actually cracking said eggs…), so in the end we had hot chocolate and sausage links (which we cooked off in the oven and had to eat without any silverware because that hasn’t been moved yet), but it was all good times.  :-D

The rest of the day?  Driving.  We drove through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri (including Saint Louis and Kansas City) and about 2/3 across Kansas.  We’re in the city of Hays now, and super glad to be here.

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Over 950 miles of listening to happy music, looking out the windows, and just hanging out.  It’s been a good day, but I’m definitely ready for bed!

Sarah E. McCafferty

July 2017
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