Grandfather Mountain

The name Grandfather Mountain may sound old, but the area is vibrant with a variety of experiences. The fun begins immediately as visitors receive an auto tour cd upon entering the park. Pop in the cd and immediately, you’re immersed in the history that appears at every turn.

With a movie highlighting the area, restaurant, fudge shop, and animal encounters, the first visitor center has plenty to do. My favorites were the animals and animal feedings. If you get a chance, definitely check out the bear feeding which provides an opportunity to view the black bears up close and yet safely.

The drive up to the next visitor center via the narrow, winding road, is not for the faint of heart, but provides stunning views along the way. For those wishing to forego the final steep ascent to the visitor center, there is a lower parking lot with a short, scenic hiking trail that leads to the visitor center.

The second visitor center at the top of the mountain is less commercial, but provides more outdoor activities via hiking trails, the mile high suspension bridge (mile high in elevation, not from the ground), and plenty of unencumbered views.

One day was hardly enough to scratch the surface. I could see easily spending more time fully exploring the area. For all the pertinent details go here: www.grandfather.com

Scenes from the waterfall at La Fortuna, Costa Rica

The waterfall located just outside of La Fortuna Costa Rica is an easy side trip to add to your agenda. The steep path takes visitors through lush jungle terrain whose thick foliage blocks out the sun. The first views of the waterfall are reminiscent of a scene from a movie: white water thundering down a tall, lush mountain and splashing into an emerald pool creating tons of white spray.

As you look to the right of the falls, you’ll notice a lot of little black dots and hear strange noises. Those are Swifts, birds who inhabit the area of the falls. There is plenty of access to the falls, pools, and the stream providing visitors plenty of opportunities for photos or to soak in the cool water.

The walk down is steep and however, going backup feels even steeper. The slow ascent gives you ample time to admire the diverse foliage and possibly observe some wildlife. If you find yourself in La Fortuna and want a quick, fun sight seeing adventure, consider the picturesque waterfall.

For more information: http://www.arenal.net/la-fortuna-waterfall-costa-rica.htm

Taking the Summit and Going Within

Why am I doing this!! I asked as I searched for a path up the steep mountain slope. The fourteen thousand foot summit of Mt. Sneffels was only a 1.2 miles from the trail head, but it was scary steep and covered with loose rocks that seemed to give way as soon as you set foot on them.

It was anything but easy and I had similar thoughts the last time I climbed a fourteener. As I took a break, my mind politely reminded me that I’m on vacation. Several miles away, I had a large beautiful camp site next to a crystal clear mountain stream. I could be stretched out in my reclining camp chair napping peacefully in the sun.

Instead, I’m up here breathing hard, with a heavy pack and trying not to climb up and not slide the long way down. Geez, I could take it easier on myself, ya think???

After a while my pack began to annoy me. It seemed heavier with every step and it felt heavier than it should be. It only had two bottles of water, a bag of almonds, granola bars, first aid kit and a DLSR. Yet, it felt like I was carrying a week’s worth of supplies.

The summit loomed ahead and was close enough to not give up, but not close enough to just run up. Each step required a test for solid ground with my trekking poles. I made my way up in short increments and a few times found myself in a seemingly no win situation. I can’t step forward because there isn’t a solid step ahead. I can’t step backward because I’ll fall for sure.
Now I know what a cat feels like when it climbs a tree!

As I made my way up in short increments, I encountered fellow hikers returning from the summit. Each one had two things to say: 1) awesome view, worth the trip 2) it’s slick up there and I’m glad to be headed down.

After two hours I reached the top and enjoyed the amazing, breathtaking view composed of jagged peaks set against a blue sky. Some peaks looked like they were carved and others looked like they just fell into place. I could see forever in all directions and felt like I was on top of the world. The most memorable part of sitting on top was the incredible deafening sound of silence. It was clearing and yet a bit eerie at the same time.

When it came time to leave, I peered down that steep, rocky, slope and wondered how I’d get down without falling. I watched other hikers slide along on their butt, using their trekking poles to keep them from sliding too far.

Everyone that I had passed had dirty pants from sliding or falling on their butt. I was a bit determined to get off this mountain with clean clothes. After some closer than I’d like to slides, I managed to pick my way down that mountain without falling and stayed clean.

I totally agreed with all the hikers I’d met; I’m glad to be off that steep, rocky, feel like I’m going to fall anytime slope.

So why did I do that instead of napping at my peaceful camp? I admire Sir Edmund Hillary, but my answer is much more than “because it’s there”. For me, being on that mountain forces me to face my inner self and accomplish things I’d never otherwise do.

It’s about being in the moment, for better or worse, and moving out of that moment to the next one. It’s about looking at something that appears impossible and yet finding out it’s not. It’s where I find myself and what I’m truly capable of.

Now when I’m faced with “difficult” tasks or don’t know what to exactly what to do I remember that mountain climb. If I can successfully face those unknown obstacles, surely I can figure this out.

For me, that is the beauty of exploring and challenging myself. It’s way more than the interesting people I meet or the amazing scenery and photographs; it’s about finding what I can really do and that is the greatest journey.

Finding the path in the Eliada Corn Maze

“Do you know where number 11 is?” The little girl asked. “Sorry, I’m only up to number 6”, I politely replied. Then I looked down at the map and realize d I’d lost my place. Oh no!

I’ve driven solo across the country, but finding my way through this corn maze was proving quite challenging. A friend and I were finding our way through the Eliada Corn Maze, in Asheville North Carolina. The first maze was listed at 2.7 miles in length. Definitely a larger challenge than my last corn maze!!

The corn maze has numerical check points and you punch your card at each checkpoint. The goal is three-fold; find all the checkpoints and find your way out, preferably before dark, and have fun.

We embarked and found the first couple of checkpoints relatively easily. Then there was a long stretch on the map. Actually it was a section where several trails made a circle all together. One trail was correct and the others wrong.

Right turn, then left, and the next check point should be right here. Except it’s not and I can’t see anything that looks close to where I think we should be. Uh-oh…….

My friend and I take another look at the map and then back tracked some. The trail still didn’t look familiar; we back tracked more. In a corn maze, you can’t see out or around; you have to follow the map. If you lose your bearings, like we did, it’s challenging.

Shoot, we were doing so well too!! Fortunately, it is the south and everyone was more than friendly mainly because we’re all in the same boat. “What number are you looking for?” a gentleman asked. “Six” I replied. “Oh that’s over there” as he pointed in the opposite direction. That’s nowhere near where I thought; obviously….

We said thanks and promptly found number six. Ok, now I’m concentrating on this map much harder because it’s a long stretch to the next one. For me following the map, took all of my concentration and I became “the map”. I wasn’t getting lost again.

We managed to find our way through not just one, but all three of the mazes. It was fun and a great sense of accomplishment. However, the corn maze was just the beginning of the fun.

As we were in the corn maze, I kept hearing this “whoosh” sound periodically and wondered what it was. Once I saw it, my eyes lit up. Lined up, three in a row, were air canons. You put a corn cob in the end, aim, and fire. Sometimes the corn would fall a few feet in front and other times, it sailed off into the forest. Oh yeah, I’m so doing this!!

Who knew something so simple could be so much fun!! I could’ve spent a few hours launching corn cobs into the forest. After that we hopped on the adult hay ride and took a leisurely tour. There is also a hay ride for the kids so whatever the age, anyone can enjoy a hay ride.

All of these activities benefit the Eliada Homes which are dedicate to helping kids succeed. Having been a kid myself, I’m all for helping kids succeed. It can be tough sometimes and a little help goes a long way.

If you’re in the Asheville area, come have some fun, support a great cause, and spend an afternoon at the Eliada Corn Maze.

For more information: http://www.eliada.org/get-involved/eliadas-annual-corn-maze

Here’s a very short, no frills video I took:

Turkeypen hike; mushrooms, bushwacking and great scenery

“How much farther up does this go?”….. Up being the key word as we had climbed for about half an hour and still were climbing. I knew we were on the right trail, but I couldn’t see where it ultimately went. The thick Carolina foliage only revealed the trail as you hiked along.

I had heard this trail was one of the tougher hikes on the hiking challenge and so far it was living up to its description. We were taking on the Turkeypen hiking trail near Ashville, North Carolina and it is one of eight hikes listed on the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy’s hiking challenge 2.0. When you complete all eight hikes, you’ll receive a White Squirrel patch; I just saw a couple of white squirrels in person and that was really cool! Squirrel or not, the hiking challenge is a great way to encourage people to get out and explore new scenery.

Turkey Pen/South Mills River gap would be my 4th hike in the series, and it’s rated very strenuous at 6.4 miles and elevation gain of 1,240 feet. As you stand in the parking lot there are a couple of trail options. We took the one on the left, as if you were walking in front of your car. Up is up, but I think this might have been the easier way to tackle the terrain, because you climb the all of the elevation in the beginning.

We continued the steep ascent stopping along the way to photograph the tall trees and tons of mushrooms. I’ve never seen so many different mushrooms on one trail. I enjoy fried mushrooms, but I have no idea which ones to pick so I just took photos.

Finally, we reached the top of the trail and were greeted with a survey marker noting the trail and elevation. The top was shrouded in thick foliage so it was shady, but the expansive views were hidden. Take this hike in the fall and I bet you’d see a long way.

Happy to have the hardest part of the trail behind us we descended into a lush forest with babbling brooks and moss covered logs. The guide labeled this section the Garden of Eden and it was easy to see why. Just as the Garden of Eden had a surprise, the trail had one more surprise for us.

Descending into an open area, the trail mysteriously just disappeared into a stream. There weren’t tracks around the stream as expected. It just stopped. I’m used to walking down a stream a bit, but usually you see the trail on the other side. I didn’t see any signs of trail here.

Backtracking a bit didn’t reveal any missed turnoffs and the trail guide didn’t note anything about crossing a stream. This has to be the way to go, so I decided to go scope it out and return with a report.

I picked my way over the rocks and headed down the stream. After a few yards, I found the only exit point which was through tall brush that appeared to have remnants of path through it. Although it appeared to not have been used in eons.

There were two options here; snakes or poison ivy. I’d prefer the snakes because generally they move, although in a similar area, I saw a rattlesnake hold its ground and I moved. Well, here goes…trekking poles in hand, I made my way through the dense foliage.

About 100 feet later, I exited the jungle into a wide open space and there was the trail. I’m not sure how people were getting to this section, but I think I was the only one through that overgrown area in a long time. Fortunately, there weren’t any snakes or poison ivy.

Shortly after that adventure, the trail again dead ended in a large creek. However this was noted on the trail guide and there is a trail that goes to a fun swinging bridge. I say it’s a fun bridge; it wasn’t too high over the water and was easy to make swing. I bounced, rocked my way over the bridge and just had fun playing. Don’t ask me why I found that so entertaining, but at one point I almost swung myself right into the river.

Leaving the bridge, the easy trail follows the creek with access points among the trees. One stop was too inviting to miss and I stretched out on a rock in the warm sun. The sound of the water, the warm sun, and warm rocks and I could’ve been out for a long time. I must be part cat; I enjoy a good nap in the sun, plus I had been walking for hours. Days it seemed.

The trail crosses more bridges, then makes another small ascent and ends up in the far end of the parking lot behind the sign with the big map. 5 hours and 6.4 miles later, we were done and mostly spent. It turned out to be a combination of hike and adventure, which I always enjoy.

As I took one last, long look at that creek babbling among the green trees, I can only imagine how beautiful it is in the fall. They say October is the best month to see the fall foliage. I may have to make a visit back just for that.
For more information:
www.carolinamountain.org/hikingchallenge2/turkeypen

Rich history and Golden views in Animas Forks

What a view! I said to myself standing on the porch of the house. Several fourteen thousand foot peaks lay at the end of large grassy meadow; the house was situated perfectly to take in the view.

It’s always interesting that no matter the culture, or time in history, people always enjoy great views from home. The home I was in was famous because it was the “first” in the area to have indoor plumbing. Back in the 1800s that was something to brag about.

It was called indoor plumbing because the path to the outhouse was enclosed. Can you imagine having an outhouse down the hall from your living room? If you’ve used a pit toilet in the National Forest, you know what I mean. And I thought my cat’s litter boxes were bad…

History:
Animas Forks was initially known as Three Forks of the Animas in 1873. The name was changed in 1875 to Animas Forks to accommodate the post office. In the summer time, the population swelled to 450 people. As a side note, the town of Ouray Colorado today only has around 896 people.

The town survived the boom/bust cycles of mining from 1873 all the way to 1920. Another fun fact; at 11,200 feet the Animas Forks Pioneer was the only newspaper published and printed at so high an elevation in the United States. Other interesting facts are on the picture of the sign, just enlarge it to read it.

Walking around:
The historic site has several old buildings that you can actually go in and walk around. I enjoy going into historic places and imagining what it must’ve been like to live back then. There’s just something about being in the same room and walking on the same floor as the people who lived there in the 1800s.

Oh, and if you have to use the restroom during your visit, there are modern day outhouses just down the road about a block.

Looking away from town toward the mountains you can see Cinnamon Pass snake up the side of the mountain which goes to Lake City. To the left is the main road that eventually goes over Engineer Pass which will also take you to Lake City. One fellow explorer said it was about two hours over the pass which requires four wheel drive.

One of the most intriguing parts of Animas Forks is down the road and behind the old town. Following the dirt road through town and to the left, you’ll embark on a very rocky road. Just around the bend, you’ll see a giant old building looming ahead.

It’s sheer size and state of ruin is irresistable; you have to go see it. Again, you are allowed to walk inside the building and see the history first hand. (See the below video) Most mining ruins are dwarfed by the Rocky Mountains; this one holds its own. I believe it was the Gold Prince mine which was constructed for $500,000 in 1904 making it the costliest mine built in Colorado at that time.

Getting there:
Animas Forks is located SE of Silverton Colorado. From downtown Silverton follow the road past the museum and head toward the signs for a mining tour and Engineer Pass. The road will change to a wide dirt road and stay that way for a while. After a bridge,the road narrows and will be a little rougher.

When the road is dry, you should be able to reach Animas Forks by car; it’ll just be bumpy in spots. Or you can rent a Jeep in town and head out. Either way, give yourself some time to enjoy the history and scenic views. If you leave early enough and have a 4wheel drive, you can explore Animas Forks and then head over Cinnamon or Engineer Pass for more breath taking views.

Either way, take the time to enjoy the history and spectacular views; you’ll be glad you did.

This video starts with a pan of the surrounding area and then I walk inside, enjoy!

Otterbox 3500, is it really waterproof?

It’s been raining here for literally weeks so I took this time to field test the Otterbox 3500. The Otterbox 3500 securely holds a handheld Canon HD video camera, GoPro camera, Garmin handheld GPS, and a handful of other small accessories. At 8x5x4 (approx) it easily fits in my backpack and I’ve used it for a couple of months without any problems.
I really wanted to test the waterproof claims and this rainy weather gave me the perfect opportunity. Enjoy the video below:

Crabtree Falls Hike

Crabtree Falls“Services closed” was the first sign I saw when I pulled into Crabtree Falls off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Those signs always make me a little sad because being outside and enjoying nature is good for the soul, no matter your age or background.

Thankfully, the parking lot was still open which provided access to the hiking trail. The trail starts out as a paved trail and as it descended became a dirt path. Passing an empty amphitheater, I couldn’t help but wonder what shows had been there and if it would be open again.

Continuing through a grassy area, the trail then takes a right turn and goes through part of the former campground. Nestled among the trees, and away from the road, this would be a great place to camp!

After the campground, there was a sign that said Crabtree Falls loop, 2 miles, strenuous. Hmmm….it is late in the day, but it can’t be that bad. Taking the right fork of the trail, we headed into the forest and began our descent.

Through the lush forest, the path descended via a long series of stairs made of stone and logs. Nothing unusual there, a lot of mountain hiking trails have stairs. This trail was different because each turn brought on more stairs that continued the trail’s steep descent.

Downward we continued and the amount of stairs reminded me of walking down a lighthouse, just not as steep. Ok, I think I know why this trail is called strenuous; going back up is really going to suck! Hiking is a blast, but you know whatever you go down, you’ll probably have to come back up.

The decent continued through the forest and I felt like I was on a quest more so than a hike. Around one more corner and the sound of rushing water and a muddy trail signaled we were close. A wooden bridge came into view and we had made it!!

Aside from Looking Glass falls, this was one of the widest waterfalls I’d seen in the area. The mist of the falls highlighted the sun beams as the afternoon sun broke through the tree tops.

I’m not sure what it is, but you always have to get closer to a waterfall. Fortunately there are two short trails on either side that provide some inspirational photo ops. The area isn’t that large so once a few people arrive, it can feel crowded.

After a few photos and being misted by the falls, it was time to head back. The question was which way? The ascent from hell or the unknown other half of the loop, which could be just as steep.
The choice was quickly made to take continue on the trail and see where it exited. Greeted by steep stairs, this trail appeared to be similar as the other one. Up it went through the lush green forest, but the stairs were short lived.

The path became a dirt path among the trees with a waterfall view to the left. The trail was still steep here, but it wasn’t stairs and a few benches along the way provided water stops.

Once the trail made it past the falls, it leveled out significantly and was more of “normal” trail. As I crossed a wooden bridge, I looked at the creek below and commented “I know where that’s going!” We always see waterfalls at their end, so it’s intriguing to see them at their beginning.

The trail continued to ascend on the way to the old campground. Here I got a little confused because I recognized the campground and knew we came in from across it. Cutting across the campground, we found the original path and made it to the parking lot.

The entire loop is 2.5 miles and rated strenuous, but with enough time and plenty of hydration it can be done. For more information: http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/v.php?pg=38

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The Preserve Welcomes a Long Lost Friend

As I opened the gate to the preserve, a rush of emotions flooded my mind. The crisp blue sky of the fall afternoon provided the perfect backdrop to the green trees and shrubs enjoying the warm sunshine. Why don’t I come here more often, I sternly asked myself? It’s not far, it’s in my backyard, literally.

Location, location, location
I live in a community that is bordered on the south by a state preserve and on the east by the intercoastal waterway. How many times have I sat at home and said “I want to go experience nature and pondered where to drive?” Now here I was, only a short 10 minute walk, in the midst of what I crave every day.

With camera in hand and a sense of purpose, I began meandering down the trail. Yep, meandering, something I don’t do very much anymore. I pride myself on getting places the shortest way possible and hopefully before others. Slow was the word today and my sense of purpose? Just soak up everything like the cracked drought stricken ground eagerly soaks up the gentle rain.

I approached the signs for a hiking trail and wondered “was this a new trail?” or had my absence been longer than I remembered. Either way, I took in the sites like a child’s first visit to a museum. What I call the “boring” signature Florida landscape of scrub brush and sand welcomed me like a group of long lost friends.

It’s the little things:
Along the trail I heard a rustling ahead. I raised my camera in anticipation of a wild boar, a snake, or the ever elusive panther. It was just small sparrows flitting about and enjoying their community tree. I stopped and watched them hoping they didn’t see me and instantly fly away. They flew without a care and just went wherever they decided. I soon moved on and experienced more wonders along the trail.

Like nature itself, the trail changed along the way. Scrub brush gave way to a mixture of trees which gave way to mixture of growth so dense, I felt like I was in a South American jungle rather than a few minutes from home.
Rounding a corner, I saw a glimmering thread across the trail.

A tiny spider’s web was catching the rays of the afternoon sun. Spider webs aren’t unusual in these parts, what was unusual was that I going slow enough to see it.


I hadn’t seen any footprints in a long time so who knew the last time a person walked this way. Making sure my passing wouldn’t damage the shimmering web; I gently placed my camera bag on the ground and slowly crawled under. All day long I solve complex problems, but figuring out the simple act of not disturbing a spider’s web was much more rewarding.

Leaving it all behind:
The more I explored, the lighter I felt. All the usual noise in my head was being replaced with peace and wonderment of the world around. It’s a good thing mental clearing isn’t visible; otherwise I’d still be picking up trash from that trail. All the running around I normally do didn’t seem to matter anymore. Just being and enjoying the moment right here, right now was the most important thing.

Along the way, several open places just begged to be stretched out in. Sitting and letting whatever thoughts come and go through my mind was surely relaxing. If I drifted off to sleep, it would be one of the nicest naps in ages.

Coming home:
Losing all track of time as I explored, I finally decided to slowly make my way back. I hadn’t told anyone where I went or how long I’d be gone. I walked slowly and took in all the sights in reverse. Everything looked different on the way back.

Reaching the gate, I paused before going through. Like leaving a world of peace and beauty and stepping into one of chaos, I took a long look at the preserve.

Thankful for this time to rejuvenate and become clear, I confidently stepped through and shut the gate behind me. Often we look long and hard for answers, peace, or just solitude. Often, what we want is closer than we think and it’s been right there all along.

Green River guest post

I spent 11 days in Asheville and wrote about many hikes. Here’s a fun hike, I submitted as a guest post. Enjoy!
http://blog.exploreasheville.com/2013/06/green-river-hike.html