Escape to the Shut-Ins

I had previously heard of Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park, and that it was very popular, but I really didn’t know exactly what a “shut-in” even was or why I would want to visit. But, it was one of the destinations for my dad and I on our 2020 Show-Me September Adventure.

The shut-ins are a unique geological formation. It is when a river is limited by erosion-resistant rock. The water cascades around the smooth igneous rock and creates a natural water park to the delight of swimmers of all levels and observers of the beauty of the gorge. There are areas with water low enough for wading and small children, much deeper areas to explore and rocks to climb for those who want that challenge. There are places in the rocks that are filled with water and look like little hot tubs.

If you are planning to swim, be warned that the parking lot can fill fast in the afternoon and the area is closed to additional people. The day we were there was just after Labor Day on a weekday and by afternoon, the lot was about half full. I would imagine in the middle of summer, you would have to arrive in the morning to secure your spot. Life jackets were recommended and sturdy water shoes are a must. We saw several random lost sandals at various locations. With the movement of the water, sandal straps can become soaked and loose and you can be suddenly without a shoe that you may never see again, if you are in an area with rushing water. They have a flag system tied to the rate of the water flow that allows visitors to know how safe the conditions are. At a red flag level, the area is closed to swimmers.

Because I had a new full-face snorkel mask I had never tried, I decided to bring it and my snorkel vest along to test them out. It wasn’t the ocean or the Great Barrier Reef, but I did get nose to nose with some local fish and was able to advise my dad about the fishing possibilities in the Black River. I had fun.

The park was originally the homestead of the Johnson family who eventually sold the land after three generations to Joseph Desloge, who was a St. Louis community leader and conservationist who developed the park and donated to the state. There is a family cemetery at the park that my dad and I explored.

Swimming, of course, is the big deal, but you can enjoy hikes of different levels, including a short accessible hike on pavement, a boardwalk hike with a lot of steps to view the shut-ins and a deep blue-green pool. There is gravel trail to view other sections of the park. There were also a couple of dirt and rock trails that were rated moderate.

In addition to the scenery of the shut-ins, you can also view the surrounding St. Francios Mountains, that include the highest point in Missouri, Taum Sauk Mountain. If you really want to make a day (or two) of hiking or backpacking, the Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park adjoins the Taum Sauk Mountain State Park via the Ozark Trail. It’s 12.3 miles one way. We did not hike any of this and from what I have read, sections of it are quite challenging, so definitely do more research on it.

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Wild Horses Couldn’t Drag Me Away

On the first day of the road trip, I had planned some sightseeing that was on the way to our destination. As we headed east on Highway 60, we drove through several small towns, including Mansfield, MO, the home of my favorite author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the “Little House” series of books about her childhood and coming of age. I mention this location because the first time I heard the title phrase from this blog post, was in her book from Laura’s beloved Pa. I also mention this location because had I not already been here several times in my life including with my family when I was ten, taking my own son to enjoy it and leading a couple of field trips with a hundred of so of my closest friends, I would have stopped here. At the historical site, is a beautiful, fairly new museum where real artifacts from the stories, such as Pa’s fiddle make her stories even more real. But, the short hike out to the home that her husband, Almanzo, built by hand is amazing. Each rock was carried up from a nearby river. The home is furnished as if the occupants had just left for a while and the visitors are pulling a “Goldilocks” and walking through the home. (Obviously the Goldilocks reference ends here, with no sitting, eating, or sleeping.) Laura was a tiny woman, and the house was built to her scale, so it is somewhat like a doll house.

My dad and I discussed these things as the car rolled towards the Eminence area in Shannon County, Missouri. Alley Springs Mill was our first stop. This is probably one of the most photographed sites in Missouri, with good reason. It is almost impossible to take a bad picture of the bright red mill reflecting into the blue waters of the Alley Spring, which is the 7th largest spring in Missouri, releasing 81 million gallons of water each day. The trail that we took was short and traced the perimeter of the spring. The mill was open to the public with artifacts from its past on display. I would coin this location the “gem of our trip.”

The “wild horses” in the title also refer to part of the reason for the trek around Shannon County. In the rural areas along the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways designation, live four herds of wild horses. We were hoping to find at least one of the herds sometime during the day. We traveled back into the town of Eminence and then north to Round Spring and Round Spring Cave to walk the trail and possibly spot the horses in the park. The cave was closed to visitors at the current time.

The Round Spring, which gets its name from being round like a silver dollar, was less than impressive. Actually, the photo doesn’t do the location justice, for the opposite reason people normally say this phrase. The 25-ish mile round trip out of the way, would have only been worthwhile had we found the horses. But, they remained elusive, with only some evidence on the trail that they had once been there.

After returning to Eminence, we drove east on Highway 106 to find the rest of the day’s destinations down county roads, some paved and some, not so much. Rocky Falls is another area where some of the wild horses hang out and although they were not there on this beautiful afternoon, the falls were active and lovely, despite our stretch of mostly dry summer weather in Missouri. It was a short hike to the rocky beach and a swimming area just below the falls. There was a small trail that made for fairly easy access to climb the falls, but if you decide to do this, know that the wet rocks are slick. Some people were crossing the swimming area to climb the rocks and watching a person slide off with her wet feet, was evidence that this was not the best way to do it. As I safely climbed down from the photo op on the falls, I noticed a trail of red that indicated to me that someone else who had climbed the falls prior, was not that fortunate. Speaking of unfortunate, this word also describes the search for wild horses.

Blue Spring was our final stop before continuing to our cabin along the Black River for the night. This spring, the largest in Missouri, and one of the largest in the country, is deep enough to sink the Statue of Liberty with her torch five feet under water. The amazingly blue spring boasts a flow of 87 million gallons per day into the Current River. Confusingly, there are two Blue Springs in the area, so directions are important. (The other one is part of the same National Riverways, but on the Jacks Fork River and not nearly as big.) Also, be aware that there is a steep gravel road leading to it for several miles. It is fine for a regular passenger car most of the time, but it is not recommended for RVs or buses. We were in a two-door sedan and there was no problem.

Wild horses couldn’t drag us away from this trip. Well, that’s mostly because we never found the wild horses. I guess that means we’ll have to return to this area again sometime.

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Show-Me September Adventure

A year ago at this time, my dad and I were on a major road trip through the western United States. It was not so “bad” as we cruised through the Badlands, took our time through Mount Rushmore, drank the world’s freshest water in Montana, breathed the alpine air of Glacier National Park, explored the wonders of Yellowstone, saw the wild bear all the signs had warned about, photographed horses with the Grand Tetons as a backdrop, met a moose family near our Idaho cabin and saw even more moose, up close and personal in the Rocky Mountains. On our way home and for several months thereafter, we began planning our next adventure… another trip out west, but this time our route would head in a southerly direction and include sights such as the Grand Canyon, Brice National Park, and Zion National Park and more.

However, things changed. Enter Corona Virus. This tiny invisible enemy foiled our travel plans. Admittedly, if the virus hadn’t done it, the historic wildfires would have. While we were not going all the way to the coastal states, the smoke from these fires travel for thousands of miles creating very poor air quality in its wake.

After accepting the reality that the next road trip would not be as we planned, I began seeking out sights that would be closer to home. The Show-Me September Adventure was planned.

There are plenty of places to explore in the Show-Me State. Missouri has mountains, beautiful springs, and rivers so clear you can hardly see the water. The upcoming posts will share the specifics of the adventure.

Beauty is the in the eye of the beholder and we did find some gorgeous and fun sites in our very own state. Like this “giant” fish (don’t you think it’s at least four feet or so?) finding the beauty along the way is all about choosing the right perspective.

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Happy Yogaversary!

Today is my two-year “yogaversary.” It’s been two years since the day I decided to use the extra 15 minutes I had each morning during summer school to start a yoga practice. I figured I could build a habit during the month of June, continue in July during my vacation and then it would be ingrained enough to get me up 15 minutes earlier in August when my regular school schedule resumed. The plan worked.

In two years my yoga journey has taken me many places as my life has changed drastically. To a place of relaxation and release. To a place of added flexibility, strength and balance. To create a dedicated peaceful place in my home. To literal places I’d never been before like beautiful Costa Rica. To places where I’ve met new friends, both real-time and online.

All of these places were not on my radar the day I decided to dedicate 15 minutes a day to myself and my wellness. So, in reflection, I realize that today I have no idea where this journey will take me next. I’m not even going to try to imagine. I’m just going to breathe and enjoy today.

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“Head”ed out for another great day in Maui

Every time I look at a map of Maui, it looks like a turtle to me. So, if you want to get into a honu’s head, there is a trip around the north shore that won’t disappoint!

Our first stop was a lookout over the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Here there are placards with information about the whales, a fairly short trail that leads towards the shore and a panoramic view of the ocean, which was “whale soup!” March was an excellent time to visit Maui and see the whales.

Our next destination was Kaanapali, where shopping and a beach were a winning combination. The mall features several high end stores and a Hawaiian favorite, ABC. There is a fee to park here, but if you spend at least $20, you can avoid the charge.

We continued on the road around the head of Maui winding around the beautiful scenery until we arrived at Honalua, the home of deliciousness in Hawaiian shave ice. I’m talking about the Coconut Caboose, where their shave ice is made from coconut water and served over gelato. There are several flavors to choose from, but I prefer lavender syrup and cinnamon gelato. As we savored the deliciousness, we looked out onto the beautiful bay. There were several vendors at the overlook with native art and jewelry for sale. As with many locations in Maui, I could have stayed longer enjoying the breeze and view, but it was time to move on the journey.

We stopped at Julia’s Banana Bread Stand, which was quite tasty, according to my friends. While they waited in line, I took off on a red dirt trail to see what I could see, since I am not a fan of banana bread. I was rewarded by more beautiful ocean views, with waves crashing into the black lava rocks at the end of the red sandy dirt.

Then it was a feast for the eyes at the blowhole, where the waves hit the rock formations and burst upwards like water spewing from a whale. Often my eyes were treated to a “rainblow” as the sun played in the ocean spray. It is a short hike from the parking area to the view from the top and then the trail continues down towards the blowhole. I hiked about halfway down the rocky trail and stopped to watch the spectacle from that point. It is possible to hike all the way to the blowhole, but signs in the area advise of the dangerous nature of this journey and fact that people have died doing it.

We made a couple of stops in Wailuku. We took a break at a little house with more banana bread (the best on the island, according to the purveyor) for sale, which we bought in exchange for using the restroom. We walked into the backyard of this property where there was a picnic table with an incredible view. Then we stopped at an art gallery and sculpture garden with amazing pieces for amazing prices (by amazing, I mean it was a look, but don’t touch place.)

After Wailuku we finished up our journey. It was another incredible Maui day.

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Beyond Hana to the end of the rainbow

After a quite eventful lunch break, we continued our adventure with our first afternoon stop at Wai’anapanapa State Park just outside of Hana. The waves were rough as they crashed into the lava rocks and washed across the black sand beach.

There is a small lava tube and an uphill hike to explore.

The view from the trail was awesome.

We could have spent much more time at the beach, but the Road beckoned us to continue the adventure. On the way out of the beach area, we noticed a furry friend perched high above us in the bramble on a cliff.

The next stop to note on our adventure was probably the tallest waterfall we had seen all day.

The trip continued through Haleakala National Park. We didn’t go to the crater this time, but know that “The Trip to the Sun” is not for the faint of heart, as we had spiraled the 10,000 feet to the summit on a narrow road that encircled the crater on a prior trip to Maui and were rewarded with other worldly views and an incredible sunset into the clouds below us. One of the interesting things from the road was how the landscape changed from rain forest, to a forest that looked quite “Missouri-like” to a scrub desert in a relatively short amount of time as we went around the crater.

However, the view from below the crater is quite lovely, with the rock beach extending towards the never ending expanse of blue Pacific.

We had always heard that the road beyond Hana was very rough, but we found, for the most part, that it was very much like the Road to Hana. There was dirt and gravel at times and there were definitely some hairpin “don’t look down” kinds of curves with a mountain on one side (that required the side mirror to be folded in to protect it) and a steep drop to the ocean on the other. But, some of the road looked like this:

We ended up in Kula, where we had to pay to use an outhouse, cows were causing a traffic jam and we saw beautiful rainbows from a very windy overlook.

There it is! The end of the rainbow. And it’s in Maui. Are you surprised?

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Dreams of travel in the time of the pandemic…

These are strange times. I’m interrupting my series of stories from my beloved Maui to write about our current reality. I’ll try not to use words like “unprecedented,” “pandemic,” or “COVID-19,” but it’s almost impossible while writing about the today’s state of affairs. As you read this, most states have some form of “stay-at-home” order, so travel is nearly impossible. My world has been turned upside-down. So, what’s a retired girl to do?

I did take up a new hobby. Actually, it is an addition to my yoga practice. 30 days, 30 poses (so far). Inversions are fun.

At least outdoor fitness is one of the exceptions to “staying-at-home,” so daily trips for hiking or running to a favorite trail are a beautiful diversion.

In the travel blogging world, there is a dilemma or debate as to whether or not to continue posting about travel to various locations, when it’s not possible at the moment. Some bloggers are crafting articles and writing about travel, but waiting to post until such a time as traveling resumes. Some are writing about other topics temporarily to provide information that is relevant to living in this present moment. Some are continuing to blog as normal with the idea that people do want to read about travel and beautiful places in the midst of our current reality, because there will be a future that includes traveling.

So where do I stand on this?

“Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.”

I just rewatched the movie, “Rudy,” the other night mostly to hear this one line. My late husband used to say it all the time, when he came up with “plans” and ideas that didn’t seem realistic as I pointed out the reality.

So, where do I stand on travel blogging? Not that there is a right answer, but, if having dreams is what makes life tolerable, I am contributing to the world, if I can inspire you to dream or entertain you with my travel stories.

So, stay tuned for more Maui adventures and gorgeous pictures of my favorite place on earth (so far).

Fortunately, Unfortunately… a tale of Road to Hana Survival…

“I survived The Road to Hana” took on a new meaning as we dined on fresh caught seafood at our favorite food truck about four miles outside of Hana. We relaxed under the canopy with our delicious selections while the one-eyed store cat nuzzled our ankles hoping for a tasty morsel. (Friends who have seen this photo have felt very sorry for this cat, but honestly, I think he has a pretty good life sharing meals with the customers at the food truck.)

After we finished lunch and were wandering around the small shop and taking silly tourist photos, Dave walked up and said we were going to be here a while because the tree right next to our SUV fell over.

Fortunately for us, it fell the opposite direction of our vehicle, but unfortunately for everyone, it took down a power line and blocked the road. Traffic was at a standstill until some of the small brave vehicles tentatively limboed under the tree as a lady (who may have crossed the line between brave and crazy, considering there was a power line involved) held up a limb.

After the first couple of cars made it unscathed, the opposing lines of traffic showed much aloha as they took turns in the limbo game. Mustangs, Cameros, nondescript economy cars and sedans of every color all emerged victorious.

Yep, our SUV had been just the vehicle for us, but was it up for this challenge? (Take the upgrade, they said. It will be great, they said.)

But, we were excited when a silver oversized twin vehicle was the next to approach the limbo tree. (Limbo lower, now. You can be a limbo star!) Whew! He just made it! We thought that if he could do it, we can do it! Get in! We’re out of here! So, David skillfully navigated our silver beast under the limbo bar as we collectively held our breaths and sucked everything in… Success! We were free to continue towards Hana. It was fortunate that we left when we need because eventually the road was completely closed and turning back would have been our only option.

What was next on our great adventure?

Halfway to Hana

The Road to Hana is definitely a not-to-be-missed attraction in Maui and may be its most famous. Many a tourist shirt says, “I survived the Road to Hana!” Survived? Really? Really. This blog post is only going to get us halfway, because there is so much to see on the road. In fact, I would say there is no way you can stop at all the available attractions and views in one trip and I didn’t include every stop we made in this post. This was my third trip on the Road to Hana and I still haven’t seen it all. I felt like this trip took two days, not because it wasn’t fun and time wasn’t flying, but because I saw so many things, it didn’t seem possible that they fit into a single day. It’s not a trip for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach, as you will ascend and descend winding, winding, winding, narrow roads that sport hairpin curves. And by hairpin, I mean you will see yourself coming and going. You will meet traffic on blind curves and many passages and bridges that are only wide enough for one vehicle at a time. Sometimes the two-lane road has been reduced to one lane due to mudslides. Needless to say, you won’t be setting any land speed records. Supposedly there are 600 curves on this 45-ish mile stretch of highway. (Rental Car Place: “Take the upgrade, they said. It will be great, they said.”) So we ventured out in our giant Ford Expedition rental vehicle to tackle the famous Road to Hana. We learned on our first trip down the road that it is important to leave early in the morning. (We learned the hard way that returning in the dark, in the rain, was a harrowing experience not to be repeated.) This is just the first of several tips that I will boldly imbed in my narrative. You want to have plenty of daylight to see the sights and find your way back home. You will want a Maui guidebook. This is no place to wander unassisted, as viewing locations are often hidden or come up suddenly and cell service is spotty at best. I recommend Maui Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook by Andrew Doughty. He is a native of Maui and provides turn by turn information labeled by mile marker along with all sorts of cultural and historical commentary. We started in Kihei, our Hawaiian “home,” and headed towards Paia, which is a charming artsy town. If you have ever been to Eureka Springs, AR, it’s kind of like that, only with a mermaid-ish flair. The town is adorable and fun. (I would recommend coming to visit this town and nearby Ho`okipa Beach and its overlook on another day to give them the time they deserve. See “With Aloha, Honu” for more details about this area.)

I was really anticipating our first stop, where we were getting out to explore the rainbow eucalyptus trees. I had seen them before, but we didn’t happen to stop in this location and actually experience them on road trips. These trees are incredibly beautiful and look like they have been painted, only that’s the way they are in real life. As we approached the eucalyptus grove drops of water began to collect on the windshield. After we parked, the clouds became more generous, but that didn’t deter us from finding the entrance to the trail near the trees. It was important to note that there was a low barbed wire fence that we had to navigate, but it was worth the experience of wandering through the huge colorful trunks and smelling the heavy rain-scented air with a touch of fresh eucalyptus, all while feeling the rain rolling down my face and splashing on my shoulders.

Reminder, the Road to Hana traverses a rain forest. It’s going to rain. It has rained at some point on every trip to Hana, so instead of wishing it would be sunny the whole time (you’ll get some), prepare for the rain. If you don’t like to get wet, bring an umbrella, but if you’re like me and you think umbrellas are just a hassle, wear clothing made out of wicking material, so it dries quickly and bring a towel. You’ll thank me when you’re not shivering in the car.

Our next major stop was at Ko`olau Forest Reserve. There were restrooms, which are few and far between on the Road to Hana. My advice: use the restroom every time you find one. Even if it’s a portapot. Even if you have to buy something or pay. Yep, paying is a thing some places. But, aside from the necessities, there was a muddy trail into the tropical forest and a nice ocean view.

I think I could spend forever at Kaumahina State Wayside Park watching the water rush into the shore and splash the black lava rock. It is an interesting place to climb around and explore. It’s also a great place to be still and just breathe as the ocean sings its song with the crashing percussion of the rocks. Be careful if you’re sitting on the rocks, as they are sharp and I have one less pair of shorts thanks to this activity.

We rolled along the road marveling at the lushness. At times it almost seemed that a dinosaur could come roaring out of the vegetation. The sun alternated with rain throughout the journey as we approached the halfway point to Hana. It is marked with a roadside food stand, all important restrooms (clean portapots), kitschy wood cutouts if you are inclined to take photos and a somewhat sheltered picnic area, which was important at that time, as the clouds decided to unleash their bounty even though the sun was still shining. You would think the next picture I posted would be a rainbow, but the time of day didn’t create the right angle so you are going to have to wait for an upcoming post with this colorful Maui icon. Until then, aloha!!!!

A Whale of a Tale

Greetings from a beautiful humpback whale off of the shores of Maui! Our whale watch excursion was amazing as we journeyed into the protected waters of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary on a 15-passenger raft, where hundreds of migrating Alaskan humpback whales are making their home and propagating their species in these warm tropical waters.

It was the apex of the migrating season! Whales can be seen in these waters typically starting in December. Their numbers increase through the end of February and beginning of March, before the whales and their new young begin the long swim back north to Alaska and the numbers decrease in the waters of the sanctuary as the calendar turns to spring and gives way to the month of April.

Interestingly, while they are here, there is no food for them, so the adult whales lose a considerable amount of weight while hanging out in Hawaii. The calves, of course, are nursing. When I went whale watching in the Monterey Bay back in October, I had learned to look for flocks of birds that circled the whales, right before they came up out of the water. I noticed immediately that while every once in a while there would be lone seabird here in Hawaii, no flocks were gathering. Then I remembered that the reason for the birds to follow the whales in the nutrient rich waters of California was to capture the spoils of the humpback lunge feeding. While the humpbacks retained much nutrition filtered through their baleen, stunned krill that escaped experiencing the belly of the whale were easy prey for the sea birds. With no lunge feeding behavior, the birds in Hawaii, we not interested in whale watching.

Before those mama whales can head back north with their young, they have to teach them many things and build their strength for the long journey. Here, in my favorite photo of our whale watching time, a mama whale is teaching her calf to pec slap.

Our guides, Captain Darryll and Ryan, with Hawaii Ocean Rafting, were great. They used a clock system for spotting the whales with the bow at 12 o’clock making it easy to know exactly where to look. This was easier than using nautical terms like bow or starboard for many of us “landlubbers”. They didn’t really do a lot of talking, but were ready with answers to passenger questions. I appreciated that, because it was easier to be in the moment during the whale experiences. The adult whales’ girth can be 40 feet and they can weigh up to 60 tons. Their fins can be up to 16 feet long and their tails 18 feet long.

Sometimes it didn’t matter where we looked, it was “whale soup” with whales everywhere! There were an estimated 700 whales in these warm, protected waters, so we were fortunate to see a lot of activity. Guide Ryan would holler, “Just look anywhere you want!” Everyone laughed and found a place to view. Speaking of viewing, I have to say that the raft experience is amazing compared to a larger boat. Everyone has a good seat facing out into the ocean. Although the ocean was pretty choppy yesterday, the ride was usually fairly smooth.

But, oh… those whale behaviors! Just minutes into the trip we watched a whale breach in the distance! It was a moment that took our breaths away. Over the course of the trip we saw many blows (including one “rainblow”), pec slaps, backstroke, dives, tail slaps and more. At times groups of males were fighting with each other to impress their desired females. These fights can go on for days punctuated by brief truces in the action. For two full hours we were entertained by these enormous and majestic creatures and their antics.

David, one of my friends I was traveling with, was able to capture this mama and her baby underwater with his GoPro. We saw several pairs. One baby came right up to our raft and swam underneath it. Our guide said that the mama must be experienced and comfortable with her baby near boats or she would have moved him away from us. As federal law dictates, we never approached the whales at a closer distance than allowed by law, but nothing stops them from approaching us!

Of course, all good things must come to an end! The end of this whale tale is literally “the end”!

The “tail end” if you will. As the 15 excited passengers and two crew were headed back to the harbor, we were rewarded with the view of a whale dancing on his head and repeatedly slapping his tail into the water. It was funny and awe inspiring at the same time.

Aloha, Kahola! See you next time! (Saturday). Yep, we booked another excursion!

With Aloha, Honu

I spent the afternoon with the most amazing creatures at Hookipa Beach in Paia, Maui. The multitude of sea turtles was incredible as they rode in on the waves and made their way to the sandy shore to bask in the afternoon sun.

After taking many photos, (with a long lens and maintaining all legal requirements) I watched the turtles. After landing on shore via the waves, they slowly made their way to the group, sometimes climbing upon one another to find their just right spot.

Honu live about 80 years. They are four feet long and can weigh over 300 pounds. It is important to remember that they (and all sea turtles) are federally protected animals and must be respected.

Viewing the honu was both exciting and relaxing. It was exciting to watch them come on shore. Seeing the shear number gathered at this location was amazing. It was also so relaxing that I fell asleep near one that had decided to find his own spot and wasn’t hanging out with the group. Napping with turtles? I think so.

It’s easy being Green(sboro)

I flew to the state that was “First in Flight” for a long weekend. The primary purpose for the visit was cheering on my “Ninja Nephew” at the #nnlworlds2020 held in Greensboro.

But, we found some time to take in some of the local flavor starting with Dame’s Chicken and Waffles. Dame’s did not disappoint. The chicken and waffles were “Goldilocks”, meaning they were the just right blend of savory and sweet. Personally, I went for the shrimp and grits, which was just right as well blending creamy texture, succulent shrimp and a spicy kick.

We walked around the neighborhood near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd after lunch admiring the neat brick buildings with wrought iron balconies containing cute shops and then headed downtown.

We loved the in-jean-ous sculptures of headless, torso-less pants hanging out in various places. These “painted on jeans” featured unique designs brought to life by local artists and celebrated the hometown of Lee and Wrangler jeans.

We headed to the Four Seasons Town Center for a little shopping. The mall had three floors connected by escalators and a glass elevator on a smallish footprint. This shopping area has not received the memo about the demise of the Anerican mall, as the store fronts were filled with the typical retail suspects anchored by JC Penney and Dillard’s. After snapping up a few bargains, we headed outdoors to enjoy the beautiful day. We followed Siri’s directions to locate Country Park, which was recommended online, but became sidetracked on the way as we approached Bicentennial Park with its flowers, trees, sculptures, bridges and mill.

Signs led us across the street to Bog Garden, which was an immersive hike along a boardwalk. The bamboo stared at its reflection between the muddy banks and old trees towered over us sheltering the birds and squirrels. The root system on the fallen tree was probably ten feet in diameter.

After our happy detour, we continued to Country Park. It was a little tricky finding a place to park because the road into the park was gated on weekends. This seemed strange, but after finding our way in via parking at an adjacent park, it was obvious why cars weren’t allowed. The roads had become trails covered with walkers, runners, scooters and bicycles navigating up and down the rolling hills that encircled the fishing lakes and areas of playground equipment. At the top of a hill we spied and interesting building, so we headed up to explore. As we pressed our hands against the window and peered through the glass, we discovered an amazing carousel. The artwork was incredible with hand carved, hand-painted horses and many other creatures including endangered animals from the science center and North Carolina college mascots. The canopy featured paintings depicting the history of Greensboro. This project, funded by the Rotary Club and many individuals will open soon.

We finished our day’s adventure at Lucky 32, a local southern comfort food restaurant recommended by a local. The Art Deco decor, cloth napkins, white chinaware and weighty utensils gave the restaurant an air of formality, but guests were not dressed up. Our server was friendly and gave accurate recommendations. We particularly enjoyed the fried green tomatoes, Carolina catfish and pulled pork with Johnny cakes. We finished our meal with a dessert sampler featuring flourless chocolate cake, peanut butter pie and chess pie.

Greensboro is a delightful destination with friendly folks and a lot to see!

Swan Lake

I visited a real-life “Swan Lake” today in Heber Springs, Arkansas. The town is the winter home of more than 100 trumpeter swans. From mid-November through February several local lakes are their homes. The story goes that several years ago, three trumpeter swans somehow got off course and ended up in Arkansas. Normally they hadn’t gone any further south than Kansas or Missouri. But, these three brought back more of their friends and eventually this became a popular winter destination for these birds.

The swans are the largest waterfowl in North America weighing 30-35 pounds and boasting an 8-foot wingspan. They stand nearly 4 feet tall. When they were standing near me, they didn’t seem quite that tall, but I imagine when they completely extend their necks upward, they probably are.

They were quite entertaining to observe. Most of the time they were peacefully gliding across the lakes in pairs or small groups, but they did have some more exciting behaviors. At one point a large group of swans decided to really put on a show, or rather a parade. Mostly in a line, they swam across the lake with their necks synchronized stretching up and down making the loud trumpeting sound that is their namesake. That was amazing. Other times they seemed to dance on the water with their wings extended or running across the waves to take off in flight or upon landing. Then, there was the bickering among members of the group that resulted in snapping beaks and annoyed honking sounds.

The advertised location of the swans is Magness Lake, which is a privately owned lake. That location has a fence between the viewers and the lake, so I opted to go to two other unnamed private lakes, that also allow visitors, but have an unrestricted shoreline. I found them by following advice I had read to “ask a local” where the swans are. The lakes are down a two-lane paved rural road a ways from the highway, but not too hard to find with the landmark directions I had.

The only feed that is recommended for the swans is shelled corn, which was abundantly provided at both locations. The birds were quite adept at eating at the feeder, but they also were assisted by visitors that tossed the corn into the lake, where the swans happily submerged their beaks and gobbled the golden goodness.

The best time to visit the swans is from late afternoon to sunset because they spend their days in fields looking for fallen corn instead of hanging out at the lake.

And, the sun goes down on Swan Lake.

The early bird sees the sunrise. I decided to join the swans once again the next morning. My thoughts in planning this were two-fold. One, I would have a different light for photos and two, I hoped to see the swans take off from the lake, since they normally leave during the day. The lighting was great and instead of take-offs, I had landings.

The fly-ins were incredible, heralded by majestic trumpeting echoing in the distance growing louder as the swans emerged from the horizon. The swans on the lake seemed to reply back like air traffic controllers making sure the path was clear.

Their approach was like the landing of an airplane. They circled the lake in a descending spiral. Their feet jutted out as landing gear and they positioned their wings as rudders as they encroached the surface of the lake.

The splash down was climatic as the arrivals skidded across the water and all the swans on the lake trumpeted their approval, welcoming their new friends.

No matter how many eloquent words I find or how many beautiful pictures I post, they cannot capture the experience. If you are enchanted with these majestic creatures, check out this short video I shared on my You Tube channel.

Lovely Lavender Farm in Carmel Valley

A few blog posts ago, you learned that the entire reason for the stay in the Monterey Peninsula was about a quest to see the purple sand beach. The beach was not the only great “purple” destination.

After I had determined I was headed to the purple sand beach, I had a few details to work out including where I was going to stay. One of my favorite ways to find accommodation is AirBnB. I have found some unique places and typically they are a more inexpensive option than a hotel. This was so true of my stay at the lavender farm.

It was such a beautiful setting, nestled between the vineyards and the mountains. I can only imagine how much more beautiful it would have been if the lavender field was in full bloom, but it was still a lovely place. I enjoyed the picnic area for meals and for morning yoga when the temperature allowed under old live oaks. There was also a little “wildlife fun.” At night the skies were wide open and full of stars.

If you are traveling to the Monterey Peninsula and thinking about staying here, stop thinking and book it! The hosts were fantastic, the setting was beautiful, the apartment was spotless and beautifully decorated. Superhost, Daphne personally greeted me and showed me around the apartment so I knew where everything was and how to work the electronics. The bed was so comfy that sometimes it was hard to get up, but there is time for sleeping later when there is so much to explore on the central California coastline. The complimentary muffins and yogurt were convenient for a meal. If you are planning to cook, you have everything you need. There are quite a few dining choices in the village about a mile away. It was a 12-13 mile drive up Carmel Valley Road to get back to the main highway and head out to other attractions in the area, but after making the trip a few times, the familiar route seemed shorter.

One of the things I noticed as I traversed the route through the valley was Garland Ranch Regional Park. On my hiking day, I chose this park, partially due to the location and partially due to the fact the parking lot was always full of cars when I drove by, making me think there must be something worthwhile there. My assumptions were right. There were multiple trails of varying lengths and terrains in the park. One of the trails was near the Carmel River, where I found a lovely place to eat a picnic lunch.

My favorite trail, however wound among a grove of eucalyptus trees. I found it on my morning run and breathed in the delicious air. I returned in the afternoon for a yoga session. The river ran near the grove, so in addition to the refreshing air, I enjoyed the rippling water sounds during my practice. I spent time being intentional about my presence and love that I can summon the vision and the memory of this beautiful trail anytime.

Watching for Whales

This is my “I’m going on a whale watch” face!

The sea was rough and the morning was cold and windy as the boat set sail for a three-hour tour, but I was layered and comfortable. I had been advised that it was a cold trip the day prior when I went to the dock to check on the details wearing shorts, sandals and tank top during the hot afternoon. The employee at Monterey Bay Whale Watch, said, “You’re going to have to wear more than that,” as she surveyed my outfit. I reassured her that I had brought plenty of warm clothes for the adventure. I signed up for the 9:00 a.m, tour the following day. I chose this particular tour company over the others that were available because it is operated by a marine biologist, Nancy Black, and the focus is studying and preserving marine life. I also had been following their page on Facebook. With daily posts, they documented many sightings of various types of whales and other marine life. While, no nature tour can guarantee sightings or a particular experience, it seemed that the tours I had followed online, were quite eventful.

I couldn’t help but have the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song as an earworm wriggling around in my brain as my shipmates and I were briefed on important safety information. They emphasized the importance of pre-medicating for seasickness or at least sucking on some ginger candy that was available for sale. Having never been a victim of seasickness, I really wasn’t that worried. They also described in detail what do and where to go on the boat if one became sick. The back of the boat on the lowest level was the place to throw up into the ocean without disturbing other passengers. We were also advised to maintain three points of contact with the boat at all times. At that moment I was glad that I had only brought my shorter lens, as it would be impossible to take photos with my long lens with one hand.

When it was time to board the vessel in preparation for setting sail, I headed to the top level of the boat, where I thought I would have the best view. I realized quickly, why three points of contact was critical (even when sitting). I had been on other whale watching and dolphin watching excursions in other location on much smaller vessels, but there were not nearly as rough. As marine life was spotted, it was necessary to move from one side of the boat to the other. This required care and grabbing on to poles, seats or counters to keep from being tossed about. Because of the weather conditions that morning, we didn’t get to head out as far as the trips typically go into the Monterey Bay, which is one of 14 federally protected areas of ocean that allows people to use and enjoy the water, but protects the natural and cultural features. Think of it as a national park, but in the ocean.

We saw Risso’s dolphins, mola mola, jellyfish, sea lions, California seals, porpoises and a humpback whale. We followed the whale for a long time and saw lunge feeding and many dives. In fact, until we returned to shore, I didn’t realize we had only seen one whale multiple times. I thought we had seen several.

Do you notice all the birds flying around the “blow”? I learned on this watch that one of the best ways to locate a whale in the distance was to watch the bird behavior. Flocks of sea birds tend to follow the whales around when they are near the surface, happily waiting for the spoils from the lunge feeding behavior. Although the whale consumes many sea creatures on a lunge, others are missed, left dazed and confused, making them easy prey for the sea birds.

Although the tour company has all-day trips available, the three hours was long enough for me, as I was ready to resume my usual landlubber status and get some lunch by the time the trip was coming to an end. Since I had headed downstairs to use the restroom, I decided to find a place to observe from the bottom instead of going back up. I went to the front of the boat and found it to be a delightful place to from which to observe. As we returned, we were greeted by California sea lions sunning on a large rock outcropping.

When I return to beautiful Monterey someday, I will head out on another whale watch. I will hope for a day with more sightings and more species like the many I read about on Facebook, but, of course, I am grateful for the animals I did get to see and understand that nature tours produce no guarantees. I have mentioned that the seas were very rough. It was particularly windy that day. During the trip, there was radio chatter about the wind speeds and possibly having to return early for safety. The marine biologist and crew were great and I felt like I was in good hands. The only time that personal safety crossed my mind was when another company’s similar vessel was nearby and I observed how much it was tossed and rocked by the waves. I realized that our boat was obviously doing the same thing, even though when I wasn’t looking at the other boat, it was not my perception. The afternoon excursion that day was cancelled due to the winds. If you’re wondering about seasickness, I was fine, but there were others on the trip who succumbed to the rocking waves almost immediately and found themselves at the stern leaning over the railings and were not well during the trip. So, thumbs up on the whale watch. Dress in warm layers (including gloves and a secure hat) and load up on Dramamine or ginger if you are prone to seasickness (or you’re not sure) for a whale of a time!

Land of the Purple Sand (Part 2)

I made it to the purple sand beach, but it wasn’t easy! It was about 38 miles on Scenic Hwy 1 from my lovely Air BnB on the lavender farm in Carmel Valley. You know when they name highways “scenic” they’re narrow, curvy, hilly, etc. This was no exception. The highway wound along the coast with the Pacific Ocean on one side and a mountainside on the other.

At least they believe in guardrails here. Eventually the road veered away from the ocean and cut through a forest of redwoods that completely shaded the road from both sides.

When I found the unmarked turn to the purple sand beach, it was narrow and steep. But, despite the fact that everything I had read said it was hard to find, it wasn’t that hard, because a bunch of people were already there. It was a Clark Griswold-Walley World moment. The moose out front, I mean the park ranger out front was making everyone turn back out. I asked if I was going to be able to get in today and he said, “You can try again in about 20 minutes. You can try as many times as you like, but you can’t stay on this road.”

I pulled out and continued south, not sure where I was going to go. I figured I might as well stop at some of the pullouts along the road. I spent about 20-25 minutes driving and stopping and then decided to try to go back. By this point I wanted to find a restroom. There was one at the beach, but I thought I better not count on getting in. I rounded a corner and there was a library.

In the middle of the forest. Open. I stopped thinking maybe there was a restroom. It was an interesting place, with an outdoor stage.

I walked in and there were lots of books for sale. I found the restroom out back. Amazingly there was also a redwood forest back there. It was closed off, to be viewed from the deck, but it was really cool to be that close to them.

I looked at them a little longer and returned to my car to complete my original mission. This time after turning down the nearly hidden road, I was greeted by the same ranger, who commented that he was glad I got to make it back. I guess he remembered me. They sent me down a one lane road with two-way traffic. There were pull-offs periodically and cars going out had the right-of-way. There was a gate where they collected a $12 parking fee. Finally I arrived in the parking lot, unloaded my stuff and walked up a sandy trail lined with redwoods to the beach. It was gorgeous. And, yes, there was actual purple sand.

Not a lot of purple sand. On the side of the beach, where the mountains framed its beauty, were the purple sand deposits, a product of erosion from the manganese garnet that washes down the mountains when it rains. The beach did not disappoint and was worth the trials to get here. In fact, had there been no purple sand, the beach would have been spectacular, nonetheless.

The panoramic views of the Pacific were amazing and the waves crashing into the large rock formations ascending from the sea were not only seen and heard but, felt within my very being.

The keyhole, the second most photographed feature in Big Sur, was definitely interesting. As the sun descended in the sky, more and more people gathered with their cameras, seeking for the perfect sunset shot.

Staying at the beach until dark is a must. All the stages of the sun’s evening ritual were gorgeous. The “golden hour” was magical.

More and more of the ocean found its way through the keyhole as the rays of the evening sun peeked through the opening. I read that at a certain time of year, the sun is in line with the keyhole can be viewed through the opening.

Eventually the sun kissed the water and the sky exploded into all of its variegated sunset hues.

Predictably, the colors darkened and intensified, until they faded into navy and black.

I slowly trod up the sandy trail through what now seemed to be a haunted forest in the darkness. So long sunset. So long rocks. So long purple sand.

Land of the Purple Sand (Part 1)

It all started here. As my final year as principal of Kirbyville Elementary was winding down, people began to show their appreciation of my 17 years of service with gifts. One of the most precious gifts I received was a collection of four professionally published books written by my kindergarten through third grade students about the topic of my retirement and how I should spend my time. “My kids” knew me well and sent me on trips to the ocean and to study butterflies. Some of my kids found new jobs for me and even sent me to McDonald’s. The book elicited both smiles and tears. But, these pages started me on a quest to find the “Land of the Purple Sand…”

After I had a chance to read the books to myself, I went “on tour” in the school to each grade level to read some of the books to the authors. Each grade level was so excited that their work was actually in a “real book” and they were “real authors”. Each group predictably wanted to see their own book first. I read with expression and stopped to comment on each page or ask a question of the author. When I was reading to second grade and reached these pages, I gushed, “What a wonderful imagination! You took my favorite color and my favorite place in the world and combined them! I would love to see a purple sand beach!”

The second graders immediately protested in a chorus, “It’s not imagination. It’s real!”

“There really is a purple sand beach!”

“We saw it on Mystery Science!”

After declaring that our free trial of Mystery Science must continue if it was teaching the kids valuable information like this, I listened as the students explained more. A spectacled young man launched into a scientific explanation of the sand. He described gemstones in the mountains being eroded and the tiny fragments being washed down the mountainside covering the sandy valley with purple sparkle.

I continued reading the book with the kids, but part of my brain was churning away beginning to dream of a beach with purple sand and wondering where it was and how to get there.

When I returned to my office, my fingers danced across the keyboard while the computer googled and I learned that there were several purple sand beaches in the world, but I settled on this one, Pfeiffer Beach. (adventure continues in Part 2)

Butterfly Town, USA

I loved Pacific Grove, known as Butterfly Town, USA. The monarch sanctuary was a great place to clear my head, literally, as it was a forest of pine and eucalyptus. Photography was challenging because the park is set up with some distance between the trail and host plants.

While photography was fun, I intentionally put the camera down and really watched and enjoyed the butterflies too. There were not as many as I expected, but it wasn’t the height of the season yet. I didn’t get to observe them clustering.

After spending a couple of hours with the butterflies, I went in search of the oldest working lighthouse in California. I paid the admission and went in. It was quaint with antique furniture and displays of how the lighthouse worked long ago. I climbed the narrow winding staircase to observe more living quarters and displays about the lighthouse’s role during WW2. I saw Coast Guard officials and the volunteer said they were like celebrities, only coming about every three months to change the light bulb. Then when I started to go up to the top, she said it was closed today, because the CG was working. Usually it’s open. I wondered how I could get so lucky?

I left there and found Oceanview Ave. and drove around the peninsula along the ocean and found the Asilomar State Park, which was a trail along the Asilomar Dunes. I parked and walked the trail for a couple miles and then found a nice spot for some yoga. I originally thought I would hang out until sunset and then get food, but my stomach had other ideas. I had time to find a restaurant and return before sunset. I hadn’t seen any restaurants, but figured I’d just ask Siri. Alas, my phone was dead. I went to the car and plugged it in and decided to drive around until the phone charged enough. I saw a street with a stoplight, so I turned down that street and found the downtown area. I spied a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place, but no where to park. Then, I ran across the farmers market with food trucks, so I got some street tacos and sat in a park for dinner. I went back to the state park and watched the sunset from the beach.

I am a Tree

I am a tree.

I am strong.

I am grounded.

I am flexible with branches waving.

I extend from all directions accepting what I need from the universe.

I am a shelter.

I am a protector.

I am beauty.

I am dormant and resting. A shadowy figure on a backdrop of grays. Learning to appreciate the calm.

I am budding and springing forth with all that is fresh and new.

I wear a crown. I soak in the sun.

My leaves flame and then wither. Crunchy when they no longer serve me. Drifting away. Thank-you and goodbye.

I am two.

I am twenty-two.

I am all those other numbers too.

I am a story.

On the inside. Measured by rings of life. Rings of abundance. Rings of drought.

I cannot be what I haven’t been.

Yet.

Rocky Mountain High

Our final national park destination of the trip was Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent a day and a half there. We arrived in the afternoon and scaled the narrow, winding and sometimes shoulder-less Trail Ridge Road which ascended to the Alpine Visitor Center and the highest point in the park. On the trek, we observed sub-alpine and alpine features and saw a few elk through the scopes at the visitor center.

To get to the highest point in the park, it is an uphill hike up this final peak. Due to the “thin” air at this elevation, even though there are stairs, it is definitely a challenge and it is important to take your time and stop and take some cool photos along the way.

Cute photos, like this really cool marmut! But, the very top is the goal and the view is amazing.

The following day we planned to hike at Bear Lake and have a picnic lunch, but the crowded parking lots had other plans. When we arrived at the parking to catch the shuttle to Bear Lake, it was already full. Apparently, it had been full for a couple of hours, so if you plan to go to this popular destination, it’s important to arrive around 7:00 a.m. to make sure you have a parking spot. I will qualify this with mentioning that it was a Saturday on an unseasonably warm day in September, but according to their website, full parking lots are a common occurrence every day in the summer between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at all of the popular stops. While it was possible to park at a nearby lot and catch a shuttle to the Bear Lake lot and catch another shuttle to Bear Lake, it seemed that we would be wasting a lot of our time waiting on shuttles, so we decided to visit Sprague Lake instead and hike in that area. There is a really easy paved trail all the way around the lake and then there are other natural surface hiking trails that wander in the area around the lake. It also was nice that we were never so far from the car that we had to pack our lunch along while we hiked. We could hike for a while and then return to the car any time we wanted. It turned out to be a great day for wildlife viewing and, of course, breathtaking views of the mountains.

So, this was our last destination on a two-week road trip. At the end of the day, what was left were memories, photos and two-day trek home. Across Kansas.

Oh, yeah. And planning for our next adventure.

Bearly made it through the Grand Tetons

The Grand Tetons National Park is small when compared to the other parks we visited, but it was tall on beauty.

The mountain range towered over the grasslands, meadows, river, and forested areas below.

The mountains guarded the horses grazing in the fields and provided a gorgeous backdrop to the colorful wildflowers.

This view was entertaining to me as the snow at the top of the mountain looked just like the surrounding sky and it appeared to be a hole through the mountain. (You’re welcome. Now it’s impossible not to think of it that way. Some things cannot be unseen.)

But, the highlight of the Grand Tetons for us was seeing that bear that all the signs had been warning about for miles! Our animal viewing wish list was complete, but the best was yet to come!

Wildlife fun

One of the goals my dad and I had with our national parks visits was to have some “wildlife fun” and by that I mean observing and photographing. We definitely hit that goal during the trip! During the drive we saw antelopes and a wolf. One of our largest and closest encounters was with this bison on the roadway in Yellowstone.

Bison vs. Mustang. Who wins????

Elk were plentiful throughout Yellowstone.

This raven joined us for lunch as the Yellowstone General Store.

Mule deer were a common sight, even in town in Montana!

These are Island Park’s most famous residents, Mama Moose and her babies. When we first arrived, as we crossed the bridge, there were a group of “paparazzi” standing on it, so we figured there must be something up there. Then when we were getting directions to a restaurant, the guy said, you know that bridge you crossed with all the people standing on it? Turn right on the next paved road. Then he told us about Mama Moose and her babies. Then when we got to the restaurant, they were the talk.

This was the guy that all the signs warned about! My dad was happy to have gotten this shot. It was a challenge as the park ranger was shooing everyone to their cars.

I doubt these horses are actually wildlife, but the Grand Tetons in the background made for a beautiful photo.

This busy little guy was not exactly rare or vicious, but he was a little cutie seen while hiking at Rocky Mountain National Park.

This goose was checking out his reflection at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

But…these majestic moose at Rocky Mountain National Park’s Sprague Lake were probably the most enjoyable wildlife encounter.

Yowser! Yellowstone!

Yellowstone may not have won the beauty pageant of national parks I visited, but it certainly won the “oh, wow!” award! It is a thermal wonderland that covers three states. The most famous geyser, Old Faithful, is a must see event. She erupts every hour to hour and half or so give or take ten minutes. The crowd gathered and waited in anticipation as the trickle of steam commenced.

Eventually the exciting event unfolded, just as predicted:

There is much more to see in this steamy, sulfuric adventure.

Mammoth Hot Springs is an interesting area to explore with thermal water escaping from the ground mixing with lime and painting the rocks with icy looking liquids. Boardwalk trails throughout the springs are great for really exploring.

On the third day at the park, it was a beautiful blue-sky, sunny day and perfect for visiting the Paint Pots and seeing some incredible color. This was another favorite part of the visit for me.

Within the Paint Pots, Mustard Springs was bubbly and active.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to America’s first national park and I hope it won’t be my last! It’s a seasonal park with frequent and rapid weather changes. Always check out their website for the current conditions.

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