Stunning Santa Fe, New Mexico

For my first trip to New Mexico, even though the first part of my time was spent in Albuquerque (Quirky Albuquerque, New Mexico), my time in that city was primarily for a half marathon (The Albuquerque Half Marathon, Albuquerque, New Mexico-50th state). As much as I enjoyed Albuquerque, I’m not sure I would have chosen to go there otherwise, but Santa Fe, on the other hand, was always slated as my highlight to New Mexico. I literally went straight from the race to my hotel for a quick shower and finished packing my bags, (all of which I did in about 20 minutes), before I hopped in the rental car for the one hour scenic drive to Santa Fe. When I was driving past all of the Native Indian Reservations, I kept thinking to myself how much it reminded me of parts of Colorado and Arizona mixed together, not surprising given their geography.

Albuquerque was a good introduction for me to the higher elevation of Santa Fe, since the former is at about 5300 feet and the latter is at about 7200 feet. Santa Fe is a quaint town nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and it has a definite artsy feel. New Mexico’s capital city isn’t the largest city by population in the state but there is plenty to do year-round. Here were some of my favorite things to do and places to eat in the Santa Fe area.

Quintessential Santa Fe

Things to Do

Museum Hill has four museums all in the same area so you can walk from one building to another. The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art has almost 4,000 pieces of Hispanic New Mexico art. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture gives more of the story behind the American Indian people in the Southwest and includes prehistoric through contemporary art. The Museum of International Folk Art has 130,000 pieces of folk art from all over the world. There are dolls and unique displays, some of which are enormous with elaborate detail. I enjoyed this museum much more than I thought I would. Finally, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian has historical Native American art through contemporary art and includes the Case Trading Post, which sells jewelry, art, ceramics, and textiles. Check the website for hours and tickets: https://www.museumhill.net/

I loved the Museum of International Folk Art so much!

Right beside Museum Hill is the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. This is definitely one of the smallest botanical gardens I’ve been to and it’s entirely outside with no conservatory but I still enjoyed it. There were some unique sculptures and it was nice to just casually stroll around the grounds and not feel rushed to take it all in, which you can easily do in an hour or less. https://santafebotanicalgarden.org/

Even though I had heard of Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, an immersive art experience, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. It seemed a bit “out there” to me and I wasn’t sure it would live up to the hype. After going, I have to say I absolutely loved this place! It was bizarre and creative and just made me laugh at times. Although it’s completely hands-on where you have to touch things, crawl through tight spaces, open cabinets and drawers, climb into the dryer, and play the dinosaur rib cage to get the most out of your time there, there were multiple bottles of hand sanitizer in every single room and masks were required. If you’re claustrophobic or don’t like/aren’t able to go through small areas or climb ladders you likely won’t enjoy it as much but many things are completely optional and have multiple entries and exits. I would love to go to the one in Denver now and see how the two places compare (there’s also one in Las Vegas but I have no plans to go back there). https://meowwolf.com/visit/santa-fe

Photos definitely don’t do Meow Wolf justice

One thing I skipped just because I don’t care for her art work is visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum but I know it’s hugely popular. She was known primarily for modern art work, of which I’m generally not a fan and the $18 admission ticket seemed a bit steep for someone who probably wouldn’t even enjoy the art. Since art is subjective, there are obviously many people who appreciate her art. You can also visit her two former homes in northern New Mexico, Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu Home and Studio. https://www.okeeffemuseum.org/

If you want to go shopping, which I highly recommend, Old Town is a fun place to walk around and pop into the local stores. There are several art galleries, jewelry shops, and stores selling fetishes, which as I mentioned in my post on Albuquerque are made by the Zuni pueblo people. They carve small animals from stone, wood, antlers, glass, or shells and these animals are sacred, each with symbolic meanings. I didn’t buy a fetish in Albuqueque because none of them “spoke” to me, and neither did any speak to me in Santa Fe. I was looking for something to commemorate my running a half marathon in all 50 states, with New Mexico as my last state, but I’m not even sure what kind of animal would represent that.

Jackalope Mercado is a shop that was recommended to me by a friend who knows someone who used to live in Santa Fe. It’s a large store with an outdoor area as well as indoor items, with mostly pottery and home decor but also a wide selection of souvenir-type items. I was told the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market is a good place for local foods and handmade items but when I went, it was a bust. There were only a handful of vendors and I didn’t buy anything. It’s probably much busier in the summer months than the late fall when I was there.

Places to Hike

Santa Fe is a hiker’s paradise, with a multitude of places to hike for all abilities, with trails ranging from easy to difficult. Originally I thought I’d visit Valles Caldera National Preserve and Bandelier National Monument, which are about an hour drive from Santa Fe. However, after seeing all of the trails that are much closer, I decided to just stay in the Santa Fe area.

I had so much fun hiking in Santa Fe!

Some of my favorite trails were in the Dale Ball Trails, with 22 miles of trails. Right beside these trails is the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary with hiking trails, guided bird walks and tours of the Randall Davey Home. These areas are in the eastern part of Santa Fe.

Directly south of Dale Ball Trails you can find a cluster of trailheads; one of my favorites was the Atalaya Upper Trail. You can park at the St. John’s College parking lot (free) and find the Atalaya and Dorothy Stewart Trailheads from this parking lot. Conveniently enough, St. John’s College is right by Museum Hill.

Northern Santa Fe has the La Tierra Trails including Calabasas Trailhead and La Cuchara Trailhead. One day I hiked seven miles along the Rio Grande River (which was dry when I was there) and it was beautiful with the Cottonwood trees all around and their golden yellow leaves that rustled in the wind like paper. I was able to hike at least portions of all of these trails in about five days. Their close proximity to each other makes it easy to go from one trail area to another without losing much driving time in between. https://www.alltrails.com/parks/us/new-mexico/santa-fe-national-forest

Places to Eat

As good as the food was in Albuquerque, Santa Fe raised the bar another level. There wasn’t one place where I ate that wasn’t at least very good and most were outstanding. Some of my favorite places included:

Two sister restaurants La Choza and The Shed for excellent New Mexican dishes https://www.lachozasf.com/ and https://sfshed.com/

Some of the best Ethiopian food I’ve had in my life and one of the best meals I had on this entire trip at Jambo Cafe https://jambocafe.net/

Very good ramen at this small restaurant also with great service, Mampuku Ramen http://places.singleplatform.com/mampuku-ramen/menu

Good pizza if you start to tire of New Mexican food and want something different at Back Road Pizza https://www.backroadpizza.com/

For desert, if you haven’t tried Mexican ice pops, this is a good place. I will warn you all of the toppings and endless options can add up, so be mindful of what you’re ordering. Also, this is a chain and is not only in several places in New Mexico, but also Colorado, Arizona, California, and Florida. https://www.thepaletabar.com/

I’m a huge tea-lover so I highly recommend The Teahouse Santa Fe if you also love tea. They have an enormous selection of teas to drink in the restaurant as well as tea you can buy and take with you. The food is also very good and the setting is quaint with both an indoor seating area as well as a nice patio. https://teahousesantafe.com/

It’s a good thing I hiked so much with all of the good food in Santa Fe!

I really loved Santa Fe and highly recommend going there if you haven’t been. With all of the hiking trails, shopping, museums, and great food, there’s something for everyone no matter what your interests. It is a bit on the pricey side (but not as much as what you’d spend in a large city like New York City or Los Angeles) so you might want to factor the costs in when planning a trip there, especially for accommodations.

Have you been to Santa Fe? If so, what were some of your favorite places or things you did there?

Happy travels!

Donna

Quirky Albuquerque, New Mexico

Not only did I think that is a cute title and I liked the sound of it, it’s also quite fitting. I found Albuquerque to be quirky in many ways, similar to how everyone that lives in Austin, Texas likes to say, “Keep Austin Weird.” There should be a saying for Albuquerque, “Keep Albuquerque Quirky.” Why do I think Albuquerque is quirky? I found many of the local people I spoke to from shops and restaurants to have a quirky sense of humor and many decorations at shops and restaurants were a bit quirky to me.

When I was flying into Albuquerque, I was surprised the area is as big as it is but then again I didn’t really know a ton about the area other than the basics like some things to do and places to eat. I looked up the population and was surprised to find it’s around 565,000, which is only about a fourth of the metro area where I live, but still considerably bigger than the capital city of Santa Fe, with around 85,000 people.

I found plenty of things to do for the days I would be spending in Albuquerque other than the half marathon I ran for my 50th state. For a brief overview, Old Town has most of the touristy shops and restaurants and is definitely worth going to even if you don’t like touristy places. Sawmill Market is a more modern place with an array of restaurants all together in a market hall setting. There is no shortage of restaurants with Mexican food, so much so that you may find yourself getting tired of it, like I did and seeking out alternatives. Here are some of my favorite restaurants and things to do in and around Albuquerque.

The Cottonwood trees were beautiful! I took so many pictures of them!

Things to Do

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is a good place to begin your visit to Albuquerque. Here you’ll learn about the American Indians in New Mexico and the pueblos in the area. As someone with American Indian in my family history (my great-grandmother was part Cherokee), I’m always interested in places like this where I can learn more about the history of American Indians. I found the displays interesting but they also made me sad for how poorly the American Indians in this area were treated and what they went through. The $10 admission is well-worth it. https://indianpueblo.org/

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

ABQ Biopark is a steal for what you get for the price of admission: the botanical garden and aquarium or the zoo are just $14.50 for adults. Each section (the garden and aquarium is one section and the zoo is the other) takes a couple or so hours to walk through so you could easily spend most of the day here if you went to the zoo, aquarium, and garden. In the botanical garden, I really enjoyed the Railroad Garden, Old World Walled Gardens, Mediterranean Conservatory, and Desert Conservatory. Normally I love Japanese gardens but I didn’t care for the one here that much. The aquarium is on the small side but my favorite section was the one with the sharks and jellyfish. https://www.cabq.gov/artsculture/biopark

Why yes, those are naked mole rats in the bottom corner!

If you like science and/or history, there’s the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, a Smithsonian Affiliate. You may or may not know the main assembly plant for the Manhattan Project took place in New Mexico and the first atomic bomb was successfully tested here in 1945. There are sections devoted to the Cold War, WWII, Nuclear Medicine and Radiation, Nuclear Waste, and more. Admission is $15 for adults. https://www.nuclearmuseum.org/

One thing I didn’t do because I didn’t make reservations in advance and they were sold out the day I could go is take a Breaking Bad RV tour. If you’re a fan of the show, this looks like a fun way to spend three hours on their film location tour. In addition to Breaking Bad filming locations, the tour also includes stops from Better Call Saul and El Camino. I did, however, stop by the Breaking Bad Store in Old Town, which I’ll cover below. If you’re going to be in Albuquerque during a busy time of year or only have a short time planned in the city, I suggest making reservations in advance because believe me, they do sell out. https://www.breakingbadrvtours.com/

Places to Hike

The Sandia Mountains, part of the Cibola National Forest lie to the east and northeast of Albuquerque and are easily assessed by car. There’s a popular tram (https://sandiapeak.com/) you can take to get some great mountain views and reach the ski area and hiking trails. When I was researching hiking trails online in advance, I saw the Sandia Peak Tram was closed for maintenance when I was going there so I had thought about driving to the La Luz Trail and hiking there. However, when I saw the many warnings and read some comments online by other hikers about the sheer drop-offs of 1000 feet and how dangerous this trail can be, I decided not to hike it.

Views for days

“I could slip off the side of a cliff and no one would even know until they found my rental car,” I thought, so I decided to hike another trail that didn’t have sheer drop-offs. This trail went to a CCC building (Civilian Conservation Corps: the former U.S. federal agency (1933–1943), organized to utilize the nation’s unemployed youth by building roads, planting trees, improving parks, etc.) and there were amazing views of Albuquerque below. Even on this trail, there were some places with some steep drop-offs but I tried to stay away from the edge and I felt mostly safe. It was also freezing here and I quickly started to get cold, despite wearing my winter coat, hat, and gloves. When they say it’s 10-15 degrees colder at the top of the Sandia Mountains than down in the main part of Albuquerque, they aren’t exaggerating. It was also extremely windy, which was also a part of my decision to skip the La Luz Trail.

The small structure built by the CCC is shown here

There are a wide variety of trails to choose from in the Sandia Mountains, ranging in distance and difficulty so there’s something for everyone. Just make sure you read about them in advance and decide which one is right for you. There are small fees (a few dollars) charged for parking at some of the lots, including the one at the tram and gift shop. You can either pay by cash, (put your money in an envelope then in the lock box and put a paper hanging tag on your car mirror) or you can pay with an app using your phone, following the instructions at the parking lot. Here’s a link to the Sandia Mountain trails: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd574112.pdf

For a bit tamer hiking trails, you can go west of the city to Boca Negra Canyon and Petroglyph National Monument where you can see one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America with thousands of designs and symbols carved into volcanic rock. You can also see petroglyphs at Rinconada and Piedras Marcadas Canyons. $1 or $2 parking fee (daily/weekend) is charged at Boca Negra Canyon but not at the other trailheads. These trails are short and you can easily combine multiple hikes in a day. https://www.nps.gov/petr/index.htm

Places to Eat

As I mentioned above, there’s no shortage of Mexican-style restaurants in Albuquerque. One of the most unique places in my opinion is actually in a pharmacy, Duran Pharmacy, where you can find the usual things you would find in a drug store but also a plethora of quirky items you might find in a tourist shop. Why is this listed under “Places to Eat,” you ask, well, there’s also a restaurant that serves hand-rolled tortillas and some of the best Mexican food in the area. The enchiladas I had were some of the best I’ve ever eaten.

Housed inside the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is the Indian Pueblo Kitchen. Ever since I first had a taco made with fry bread (I believe my first time was in Arizona many years ago), I loved it so much I’ll seek it out when I’m anywhere in Arizona, Utah, or now, New Mexico. My taco with fry bread here was every bit as good as I remembered it to be.

Taco made with fry bread- so good!

If you find yourself tiring of yet another enchilada, taco, burrito, etc., Sawmill Market is a nice option with a variety of choices for lunch or dinner. I went to a pasta place where they made the pasta fresh and it was delicious! There are some Mexican restaurants but also places with Vietnamese food, pizza, burgers, bars, coffee shops, dessert places, and even a restaurant with Louisiana-style food. This is also one of the few places in the area where parking is free.

The Grove Cafe and Market is a great choice if you’re one of those people who could eat breakfast all day, because you can do just that here. In addition to breakfast, they also serve lunch and have cookies, cupcakes, and French macarons on the weekend.

Shopping

Old Town has several dozen unique shops, art galleries, and jewelry shops all within a walkable area. There is metered parking in addition to parking lots so just park your car for an hour or so and plan on exploring all of the quirky shops here. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, the Breaking Bad Store is here and not only can you buy shirts, collectibles, mugs, etc. here but you can also pose by the props from the TV show and see memorabilia from Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and El Camino.

Some of the photo props from the Breaking Bad Store

There are also many jewelry shops selling turquoise and other locally-made jewelry in addition to the many “fetishes” you’ll find. Fetishes are primarily made by the Zuni pueblo people. They carve small animals from stone, wood, antlers, glass, or shells and these animals are sacred, each with symbolic meanings. For example, bear paws represent inner strength. I was told by a shop keeper not to seek out a particular fetish but when the right one for me would present itself, I would just know. I looked at some but none spoke to me so I didn’t buy any.

For even more local shopping, head to Nob Hill, Albuquerque’s largest independent shopping district. You can find Mariposa Gallery with locally made arts and crafts, jewelry, and sculptures. In the summer, Nob Hill hosts Route 66 Summerfest with music, food trucks, and show vehicles and in the winter there is Nob Hill Shop and Stroll for holiday shopping.

In summary, Albuquerque is New Mexico’s biggest city and is a fun place especially if you enjoy hiking, history, and great food in a beautiful desert setting along the Rio Grande. The elevation is around 5300 feet, which is relatively low for a mountain town and unlikely to cause severe altitude sickness in most people. I found the quirky little aspects to just add to the city’s uniqueness and charm.

Have you been to Albuquerque? If so, what did you do and what were some of your favorite parts of the city? Did you also find it quirky?

Happy travels!

Donna

My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Days Two and Three

If you missed the first part of this series, you can catch up here: My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Day One

On our second day at Yosemite, after a filling breakfast of oatmeal with added nuts, chia seeds, and dried apples, we all packed up our backpacks and rode in a van provided by Lasting Adventures about one and a half hours to get to May Lake. I had never heard of May Lake before but found it to be absolutely stunning with trees and mountains surrounding the crystal-clear water.

We only had a short one mile hike to our campsite from the trail head where the van dropped us off. This was a good opportunity for everyone to get more of a feel for hiking with our backpacks. We were told to periodically tighten or loosen straps and see what felt better. As we all found out, it takes some getting used to carrying 35+ pounds on your back (I never got a firm estimate from Bella or Savannah on how much weight we were carrying but it felt like at least 35 pounds to me if not a solid 40 pounds).

Not a bad place to sleep for the night and the views are pretty incredible

As soon as we reached our campsite, the first thing I did was take off my backpack. Then we all set up our sleeping areas, meaning we laid out the Tyvek sheet first then placed the sleeping mat on top, and our sleeping bag on top. We were told everything should be “tidy and neat.”

After a simple lunch of salami and bagels with a view of May Lake, a few of us went with Bella to hike up Mt. Hoffmann and the rest of our troop stayed back with Savannah at the campsite. We were told the hike to the top of Mt. Hoffmann is 6 miles round-trip and the view from the top was great. What I wasn’t aware of at the time is that the elevation of May Lake is 9270 feet and there’s a 2000 feet elevation gain to the peak of Mt. Hoffmann. Oh, and did I mention some of the steepest parts of the trail are covered in decomposed granite, which is notoriously slippery?

See a trail here? Neither did I. Good thing we had Bella to guide us up Mount Hoffmann!

The trail definitely had some incredible views of May Lake and the surrounding area and I was doing pretty well trudging along, trying to keep up with Bella and our fast and fearless girls until we reached the very last part to the summit of Mt. Hoffmann, where I looked down and saw a sheer drop on one side. My fear of heights got the best of me and I announced that I was good where I was; I didn’t want to continue any further up.

Bella found a safe spot for me and our troop’s other chaperone, who said she was happy where we were as well and she would stay with me. I wasn’t sure if she was just saying that to make me feel better but I welcomed the company either way. We watched as the brave girls from our troop continued up the vertigo-inducing steepest part of the trail to the peak with its views of Clouds Rest and Half Dome and took in the views until they joined us shortly later.

When we got back to our campsite, we all changed out of our hiking shoes and enjoyed the refreshingly cold water of May Lake. After the intense hike to Mt. Hoffmann, the water felt great on my tired legs and feet. I could see the girls enjoying the views of the lake and mountains all around us and one kept saying, “I can’t believe I’m actually here. It’s so beautiful.” Indeed, I thought.

After a dinner of ramen noodles fortified with mixed dried vegetables we all collected wood for a fire (May Lake was one of the few places in Yosemite where a campfire was allowed because of recent wild fires and extreme drought in California). Bella really had the fire going and it was just what I needed to take the chill off the air. Because we were so high in elevation, it was considerably cooler here than where we started in Yosemite Valley. We were treated with mugs of hot cider and played a rousing game of Balderdash before turning in for the night.

The many views of May Lake

Day 3 was slated for our longest hike yet, at just around 7 miles. There was a lot of downhill hiking but also plenty of uphill to round things out. With the heavy backpack it was intense and we were all glad when we made it to the campsite. Bella and Savannah told us we would have incredible views of Half Dome from here. They even joked (or perhaps they were serious) that since there was no toilet at this campsite, unlike the previous ones, we could have the best view around when squatting to do our business.

One little note on that subject. I had peed in the wild many times when hiking or camping but I had never been without a toilet when I had to poop, not even on my epic multi-day trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. Believe it or not, the group we were with in Peru even had portable toilets for us spoiled Americans. There would be no portable toilets here. Bella and Savannah briefed all of us on the proper way to poop in the wild, which I’ll share here.

First you need to gather your supplies: a trowel with a blade that’s six inches long, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and a Ziplock bag to put your used toilet paper in. That’s it. The significance of the six inches for the trowel is that’s the Goldilocks spot for burying human excrement; too shallow and animals can and will dig it up, too deep and it’s not at the ideal depth in the soil for getting properly broken down and decomposed.

OK, so to poop in the wild, first find a spot approximately 200 feet from water sources and trails. Next, you dig a hole six inches deep with your trowel. Then you do your business, put the used toilet paper in your Ziplock bag, and use the hand sanitizer before covering the hole back with dirt using the trowel. The trowel should never touch anything but soil so it won’t need to be sanitized. That’s it! You just pooped in the wild!

Now back to day 3. As soon as we reached our campsite and set up camp, we went to a nearby creek where some of us just stuck our feet and legs in and others fully immersed themselves. As before, the water was quite chilly but refreshing especially after a challenging hike with a pack.

Our view for dinner on day 3- pretty nice, huh?

We had a delicious dinner of rice, soy curls and soy sauce. I had never had soy curls before but thought they were good enough to make a note to myself to look for them at the stores when I got back home. Also, if you haven’t caught on by now, almost everything we ate was dehydrated to save on space and weight. I learned on this trip that dehydrated food has come a long way since I had it many years ago, both in the taste and variety available now.

Bella and Savannah cooked our dinner at what they referred to as the “bluff,” with amazing views of Half Dome directly in front of us. We were hoping to see a bright pink sunset against the granite but it was too cloudy for that so we got a muted pink sky instead, still beautiful. Later, we were rewarded with a night sky full of stars and some shooting stars were thrown in for our added pleasure. Our entertaining guides captivated us with folklore stories about the constellations while we all sipped our hot cocoa.

Not to imply that our sunset wasn’t absolutely gorgeous because it was as you can see!

This was one of the chilliest nights we had experienced, with temperatures in the 40’s, but our sleeping bags kept us warm, and we slipped off to sleep to the sound of utter silence. A few of us were lucky enough to witness the Perseid meteor shower late that night.

To set the scene, this campsite was really deep in the wilds of Yosemite, with no other humans in sight. If I had been hiking in that area by myself without our guides I never would have even known it’s a designated campsite. Also, there was a bear in this area known to swipe bear cans and throw them over the cliff, knowing they would break open when they hit the bottom, spilling out their contents and providing dinner for the bear.

To be continued…

State and Local Parks Plus Daytrips From Duluth, Minnesota

When I was planning my first trip to Minnesota I knew I wanted to spend some time in the northern part of the state that is surrounded by Lake Superior. As I saw it, there were a couple of options: 1) Stay at a campground at one of the state parks in the northern part of the state or 2) Stay in Duluth and have the best of both worlds with easy access to the state parks plus be able to go to museums and do some shopping in the Duluth area. I chose the latter and was so glad I did in the end.

For many runners, Duluth is the site of the famous Grandma’s Marathon. I personally know some people who ran it and they all raved about not only the race course but the area in general and how beautiful it is. By the time I tried to register for the half marathon portion of Grandma’s Marathon this year, the race was full so that wasn’t an option for me. No problem, I would just spend some time in Duluth after my race in Lake City instead (Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota- 48th state).

First of all, I don’t claim to be an expert on Duluth or the state parks there or really anything Minnesota-related but I will give you a recount of my experience there. I stayed about four days in Duluth and hiked in state and local parks, went to some unique museums and a mansion, and ate some incredible meals. Oh, and had all.the.ice cream. What is it with Minnesota and ice cream shops? I tried on several occasions to find a bakery for some baked goods but was unable and ended up going to an ice cream shop instead because I found out there was no shortage of them. I wouldn’t have thought there would be SO many ice cream places in such a northern state but at least in my case, that seemed to be what I found.

Parks in and Around Duluth

There are some of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen in this area that you can easily do a day trip from Duluth to reach by car. I’ll start with the ones that are the closest and work my way out geographically.

Lester Park is within Duluth city limits and is bigger than it first seems when you pull into one of the parking lots. There’s an area just a short walk from a parking lot where we saw kids playing in the water, which would be a nice respite on a hot summer day. I later learned the names of the bodies of water we saw: Lester River and Amity Creek. There are also picnic tables and grills scattered around and several mountain bike trails in addition to over nine miles of trails. https://duluthmn.gov/parks/parks-listing/lester-park/

Congdon Park is also in Duluth and has a bit of a story behind it. If you go to Glensheen Mansion you will know the family that lived there was the Congdon family so if you’re like me you will wonder if there is a connection. Indeed there is. It seems Chester Congdon was building his estate, Glensheen Mansion in 1908 and discovered the city was using Tischer Creek that runs through what is now Congdon Park as an open sewer. Mr. Congdon gave Duluth the land and paid for the development of the park on the grounds they would stop using the creek that ran through his property as their sewer. Although Congdon Park is small, there are some small waterfalls that run along the trail and it’s really quite peaceful despite being so close to a neighborhood. https://duluthmn.gov/parks/parks-listing/congdon-park/

Although this is just two parks, Duluth has 83 (!) parks that includes dog parks, a disc golf park, Lester Park Golf Course (public), community parks, tennis courts, and a wide range of other parks and what they offer. I encourage you to check some out when you’re staying in or near Duluth. The city of Duluth has a wonderfully extensive webpage with their parks and a search engine you can use to search by amenities. https://duluthmn.gov/parks/parks-listing/

Jay Cooke State Park

Jay Cooke State Park is about 10 miles southwest of Duluth and is one of the most-visited state parks in Minnesota. Established in 1915 with a donation of land by the St. Louis Power Company, this park is over 9,000 acres and even has a gorge at one part of the park. There are cabins and campsites but swimming is not allowed because of the currents. Vehicle permits are required and can be purchased at the entrance.

Some of the best trails at Jay Cooke State Park include the following:

Silver Creek Trail, aka Hiking Club Trail, a 3.5-mile loop with some hills and bare rock. You will cross a swinging bridge, climb a short section of rock, and follow a grassy path through the trees. There are views of the St. Louis River and Silver Creek.

Carlton Trail Trip, a 5-mile loop that is steep with rugged terrain, bare rock, and packed dirt. Although this trail isn’t for everyone, it will give you great views of the St. Louis River and pass by an old cemetary and through a shaded forest.

CCC Trail, an easy 1.8-mile loop on grass that is mostly flat. Start behind the River Inn and stop at the benches near scenic points along the St. Louis River before heading into the forest. An alternative is to start from the kiosk at the back of the River Inn parking lot and work your way that way, saving the river views for the end of your hike.

Thomson Dam Trip, a 2 mile one-way, out-and-back trail with some hills and paved. Hike up the Forbay Trail and follow the Willard Munger State Trail west toward a trestle bridge. Explore the rocky river gorge in the area before heading back the way you came.

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Gooseberry Falls State Park is about 40 miles from Duluth and 13 miles from Two Harbors, the closest “city” of any size in this area. You’ll want to stop in Two Harbors for gas and food for the largest selection of both. Park at the Gooseberry Falls State Park visitor center and pick up a free map of the park that includes all of the trails. As they mention on the park map, if you only have an hour to spend here, walk the short distance from the visitor center to the Upper and Middle Falls or take the longer 1-mile Falls Loop Trail. As you might imagine, the waterfalls are the highlight of this park. Swimming is prohibited in the Upper Falls but I saw plenty of people swimming and cooling off in the Middle and Lower Falls.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is about an hour from Duluth (48 miles) and just north of Gooseberry Falls State Park. The lighthouse was in service from 1910 to 1969 and is supposed to be one of the most visited and photographed lighthouses in the US. In the summer for a fee you can walk inside the lighthouse and go up the steps of the lighthouse and walk around the grounds with the Fog Signal Building, three keeper’s houses and the Visitor Center. There are some pretty extensive trail systems that go through this park including the Gitchi-Gami State Trail that you can take 8.5 miles to get near the Middle Falls waterfall and spot parts of the Upper and Lower Falls from Gooseberry State Park. There is also the Split Rock River Loop Trail that connects with the Superior Hiking Trail which stretches along the North Shore, from Duluth to Grand Portage.

Tettegouche State Park is about 60 miles from Duluth and takes a little over an hour to drive there. This was the most northern park we went to in Minnesota and it was my favorite of all of the parks we went to. The views reminded me of Maine especially at Acadia National Park with the sheer cliff faces overlooking the water with wonderful hues of green and blue from minerals. My favorite trail was the Shovel Point Trail and at only 1.2 miles out-and-back, that might not seem like it’s so difficult. However, there are 300 stairs on this trail, making me huff and puff going up, but the views were most definitely worth it, even before we reached the top. You can hike this from the visitor center with no permit required, as is the same with the Cascades Trail (ending at a waterfall) and the High Falls Trail. You can drive down to the trailhead parking lot for High Falls Trail and cut the length of the trail in half, from 3 miles to 1.5 miles, but you’ll also have to purchase a permit to park at the trailhead parking lot.

Tettegouche State Park

We didn’t do all of this hiking in one day but we did hike the last three state parks in one day (Tettegouche, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Gooseberry Falls) and while we were tired at the end of the day, it is completely doable if you’re already in good hiking shape. If you’re not much of a hiker, you could still visit all three of these parks in one day and just spend more time at the visitor centers and do some short hikes. As always at any park whether it’s a national or state park I’ve found the people working at the visitor center to be helpful and usually you can pick up a map of the area including the trails. This time was no exception to that!

One Brief Mention of Food– as I alluded to above, you’ll find the best selection of restaurants in the town of Two Harbors. We ate at Black Woods Bar and Grill, which I later found out also has restaurants in Duluth and Proctor, and greatly enjoyed our food there . There’s a nice outdoor patio area as well as indoor seating. We also happened upon a food truck around lunch time in Two Harbors and picked up some great grilled cheese and ham sandwiches (but fancier with brie and another cheese that I’m forgetting, apple slices, and gourmet bread) and made-to-order donut holes.

After all of this hiking, we were ready for some time doing other things, though, so in my next post, I’ll talk about what we did and saw then!

Have you been to Duluth or the upper part of the state that borders Lake Superior? If so, where did you go and what did you do?

Happy travels!

Donna


Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux

Even though I’m sure I visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park at least once if not twice before my recent trip, I honestly didn’t remember any part of it. Nothing looked familiar, none of the trail names sounded familiar, and no parts of it seemed vaguely familiar to me. Granted, my first visit would have been roughly 22 years ago and the other visit around 19 years ago, but still, I would have thought I would have remembered at least some of it. Then again, the first time I was with a friend of mine in high school and her family so I would have just been driven around by her parents, totally clueless about my whereabouts. The second time would have been a quick trip so I’m sure I didn’t spend much time in the area and certainly wouldn’t have had time to do as much hiking as I did this time.

I feel like I really didn’t give the park enough justice before when I was there but this time, I thoroughly got some hiking miles in and saw at least a big chunk of the park. That being said, Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers over 500,000 acres divided between Tennessee and North Carolina (so maybe just a little chunk of it). It is the most visited national park by far, with more than double the number of visitors at the second most visited park, the Grand Canyon. The elevation ranges from 875 feet at the mouth of Abrams Creek to 6,643 feet at Clingmans Dome; sixteen mountain peaks exceed 6,000 feet in elevation.

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Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I’m primarily going to go over the trails we hiked since that’s the vast majority of how we spent our time at the park. We spent five full days plus a partial day hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and went to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on our first day. This was a good place to start because you can get a feel for the history in the park. Many years ago, log buildings were gathered from various places in the Smoky Mountains and preserved at places like this visitor center. We saw a historical house, barn, applehouse, springhouse, smokehouse, and blacksmith shop. The Oconaluftee River Trail is easy and short at 1.5 miles from the museum entrance. We were also excited to see an elk by the visitor center as we were leaving.

We also visited the Sugarlands Visitor Center, on our second day. There’s a short and easy trail to Cataract Falls, but I felt like the waterfall was pretty small and disappointing (good thing it wasn’t a long, strenuous hike). One of the more popular trails we hiked is the Alum Cave Trail, a moderate hike of 4.5 miles. On this trail we saw Arch Rock and Alum Cave. After a quick lunch of sandwiches we had previously bought that morning, we hiked Chimney Tops Trail. This was listed as moderate and is only 3 miles, but it’s extremely steep with only a few switchbacks so it felt like we were climbing straight up the mountain. We saw plenty of rhododendron and wildflowers but not a whole lot else.

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Highlights from Chimney Tops and Alum Cave Trails

On our third day, we did the Roaring Fork Auto Tour. For this, you turn onto Historic Nature Trail, which merges with Cherokee Orchard Road. Our first stop was the Noah “Bud” Ogle Place, a historic house. There was a short nature trail behind the house that we took but somehow we ended up on a much longer trail, the Gatlinburg Trail, which we hadn’t planned on hiking and we ended up having to get back to the main road and walk back that way rather than backtracking, which would have taken much longer.

Next stop on the Roaring Fork Auto Tour was Rainbow Falls Trail. This trail is 2.8 miles each way, if you can actually find parking close to the trailhead, which we couldn’t, so we ended up hiking more like 6.5 miles total. There is a much smaller falls area just before (maybe 0.5 miles) you get to the actual Rainbow Falls. Don’t make the mistake of stopping at the first waterfall, as we almost did, but keep going until you see a massive waterfall.

After another quick lunch of previously purchased sandwiches, our next stop was the Trillium Gap Trail, also known as Grotto Falls Trail. This hike was pretty easy compared to the others in the area and is 1.3 miles each way. The waterfall was one of the best we had seen so far and absolutely worth the hike. We also saw a bear! It was slowly lumbering around the long line of cars, not paying any attention to any of the people. We were walking to our car when we saw it and it was far enough away from us that I wasn’t scared. That would come later during our second bear encounter.

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Sights seen along the Roaring Fork Auto Tour

There were historical sites next on the drive but we only stopped at Ephraim Bales Place. By now most of the historical sites seemed the same- small two-room log cabins, completely empty, with low ceilings and maybe one window (to save money on wood and windows). We probably would have stopped at the most “modern” of the historical sites on the drive, Alfred Reagan Place, but there were only three parking spaces and they were all occupied, so we skipped it.

The final stop on the drive is at Place of a Thousand Drips. This is a unique waterfall, as the flow of water splits into numerous channels, cascading around rocks and “creating a thousand drips.” There were several people climbing around the waterfall and of course my teenage daughter wanted to climb up. I chose to watch from the bottom and was glad for my decision when I saw so many people slipping and/or falling (my daughter was fine and never fell but said it was extremely slippery coming back down).

On our fourth day, we hiked Laurel Falls Trail, the most popular hike in GSMNP. It’s one of the few longish paved trails in the park, at 2.6 miles roundtrip. It’s an easy hike and the payoff is big, with a 25-foot waterfall that seems even bigger than that, after just 1.3 miles of easy walking. After lunch (yes, you guessed it, sandwiches we had previously purchased) we drove to Jakes Creek Trail, near the village of Elkmont in a historic district referred to as “Daisy Town.” The Little River Lumber Company logged the area into the mid-1920’s. Adjacent Daisy Town was an escape for the elite people of Knoxville. Currently, the park is restoring 19 of the former 74 homes. You can walk through some of the former homes, which we did before starting out on the trail. Jakes Creek Trail is 3.7 miles each way and runs along Jake’s Creek for a huge portion of the trail, giving plenty of water views and the sound of water flowing all around you as you hike. There was hardly anyone else on the trail, so it was quiet and peaceful.

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Jakes Creek and Laurel Falls Trail Highlights

Our last full day in the park was the most exciting, as you will see. The longest single hike for us was Ramsey Cascades Trail, at 8 miles long. We expected to have bathrooms at the trailhead, as was common at many other trailheads in the park, but alas there were none, and the tea we had at breakfast was running right through us. Maybe a mile into our hike, I found a huge boulder not far off the trail and told my daughter to go first while I waited for her, then I went to use the bathroom. As I was walking back around the boulder, my daughter said in an extremely calm voice, “Momma, there’s a bear.” Sure enough, there was a bear standing right in front of me maybe 4 feet away. My daughter started slowly walking away from the bear, going further up the trail. The bear looked at me, made a grunting sound, clawed at the tree in front of it, then slowly started walking away in the opposite direction from us. I slowly backed away and we continued on our way up the trail.

I kept checking to make sure the bear wasn’t following us, but it didn’t appear to be. When we passed people going the opposite direction from us, we were told a couple of times that they had seen a bear, but we never saw another bear on that trail. Finally after 4 miles, we reached the waterfall, which was an impressive one, at 100 feet tall. The trail was pretty intense towards the falls, with slippery rocks that we had to scramble over, but most of the trail was fairly easy, with gradual climbs. When we reached our car, we decided to dip our feet in the ice-cold water and it was so refreshing!

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Ramsey Cascades Trail (nope, no bear pics this time! We just wanted to get away!)

There are of course many more trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but those are the ones we chose to do. Some came recommended by the hotel staff where we stayed and others were ones I had researched on my own that sounded interesting. You can also easily just drive around the park, park at overlooks, and take in the views that way if you’re not really into hiking. I believe that’s what we must have done the first time I went with my friend and her family, as best as I can remember, but you obviously don’t get as much of a real feel for a place when you see it that way.

For information on camping, pets, history, wildlife, and all the information you could possibly want or need to plan a trip there, check out the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website by the National Parks Service.

Have you been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? If so, did you hike when you were there? Any amazing trails I missed that you recommend? Did you see one (or two) of the estimated 1600 bears in the area?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Long Weekend in Greenville, South Carolina- An Unexpected Surprise

Once things started opening back up during the COVID-19 crisis and it became clear that South Carolina was a safe choice to visit, I wanted to plan a road trip from North Carolina for a long weekend getaway. I’ve been to Charleston, South Carolina and all along the coast many times but I hadn’t been to many places inland. I had heard good things about Greenville so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do some exploring.

Greenville, South Carolina is on the northwestern corner of the state, about an hour from Asheville, North Carolina or 2 1/2 hours from Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s only the sixth- largest city in the state with almost 71,000 people, but there is plenty to do especially for a city of its size.

I knew we wanted to do as much hiking as possible, because that’s what we enjoy doing on vacation. On our first day, I knew we wouldn’t have much time for hiking, though, so a visit to Lake Conestee Nature Preserve was perfect. The Preserve is 400 acres on the Reedy River 6 miles south of downtown Greenville. There are both an evergreen forest and hardwood forest, wetlands, and wildlife from deer, raccoon, beaver, fox, river otter, and hundreds of bird species. Unfortunately, only paved trails were open due to the pandemic, but we were still able to spend a couple of hours walking around in the peaceful setting.

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Lake Conestee Nature Preserve

We arranged to spend the entire next day at Paris Mountain State Park, which is about 20 minutes from downtown Greenville. There is an admission fee for entry of $6 for adults and $3.50 for children. Tent or RV camp sites are available and there is a designated swimming area. However, we were there for the trails and there are 15 miles of hiking trails in the park.

We decided to hike the Sulphur Springs Trail first. It’s 3.6 miles and is labeled strenuous. There are several steep sections, deep ravines and running streams lined with mountain laurel and rhododendron. We saw a few waterfalls and came to a large dam. Since we like to pick up lunch at a grocery store and eat along the trails when we hike, this saved us time of not having to leave the park for lunch and re-enter, plus we had a nice view while we ate. Before the day was over, we also hiked several other trails including Lake Placid Trail, Mountain Creek Trail, and Turtle Trail. You can find all of the information on trails in the park here.

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Our third day was reserved for the Falls Park on the Reedy area. My daughter and I ran along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, an incredible greenway system consisting of 22 miles of paved trails along the Reedy River on a historic rail bed. We absolutely loved running here- there were trees and flowers everywhere and so many choices of directions to run (or biking is also a popular option). This was my unexpected surprise; I knew we would spend some time on the Swamp Rabbit Trail but I had no idea it’s as extensive as it is nor as absolutely beautiful as it is.

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The Swamp Rabbit Trail (just a tiny fraction of it)

After a 6 mile run on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, we met back up with my husband and the three of us went to breakfast at a unique and tasty place, Coffee Underground. With our bellies filled, we walked around Falls Park on the Reedy and explored around there. You can hear the rushing falls as you walk around the numerous gardens and over Liberty Bridge, a suspension bridge built as a work of art.

Shops and restaurants are all within walking distance of the falls. There are no shortage of art galleries and one of our favorites is Open Art Studios, where we bought a small painting. They have a diverse collection of art at affordable prices. In fact, we enjoyed the Falls Park on the Reedy area so much we decided to go back on our fourth and final day in Greenville. On that return trip, we came upon a small arboretum and more gardens we hadn’t seen before. We also had a filling breakfast at Maple Street Biscuit Company, which is near the falls.

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Falls Park on the Reedy

A final place I’d like to mention is The Commons, a 12,000 square-foot food hall with open dining, outdoor seating, and is right by the Swamp Rabbit Trail. For food, you can choose from Automatic Taco, Bake Room, The Community Tap, GB & D (Golden Brown & Delicioius), and Methodical Coffee. We picked up some freshly baked goods from Bake Room, some beers from The Community Tap, and a kombucha from GB & D and sat outside with our dogs and enjoyed the beautiful day. There are also a couple of shops, Carolina Triathlon for people who like to run, bike, and/or swim and Billiam, a custom-designed denim shop.

Greenville, South Carolina may not be a top vacation spot for many people but I found it to be even better than I expected. It’s a place I highly recommend spending a long weekend in if you’re ever in the general area and are up for a road trip. Greenville has so many different places to hike, bike, run, walk, eat, and shop, I feel it has something for everyone.

Have you been to Greenville, South Carolina? Never heard of it but are intrigued?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Stories from Chile

I was recently talking to a friend about traveling and she asked me, “You’ve traveled pretty extensively. What’s something that’s happened that caused you to feel out of your comfort zone?” I immediately thought of my two weeks in Chile a couple of years ago. There were times where my family and I were the only English-speaking people around and there were several days where we had no cell phone coverage or even Wi-Fi when the Wi-Fi went down for the whole town for a few days. We had to rely solely on our knowledge of Spanish and hope for the best.

My friend asked me if we ever felt unsafe or scared in Chile and I replied, “Never. Not a single time.” While I felt out of my comfort zone and even a bit frustrated at times, I never feared for my life or anything remotely like that. I always knew deep down that everything would be fine in the end, and it was. That’s largely in part to the extreme kindness of strangers in Chile. We literally had people hand us their cell phones in restaurants and walk away from our table while we used their phones to pull up Google maps or look up other information after we explained to them (in our shaky Spanish) that we couldn’t use our cell phones.

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Enjoying the area around Lago Rapel

All of this of course leads to many stories to tell others later. Despite posting several things about Chile, there are many stories I never told, until now. Now I’d like to share some of the stories that happened to my family and I while we were in Chile and I hope you enjoy them.

To give a little background, we were in three separate areas of Chile, beginning in Santiago for a couple of days, then to Valparaiso for four days, and to Punta Verde in the O’Higgins region for a week. I feel like our adventures got more and more intense as our vacation went on. There weren’t many stories to tell from our time in Santiago that I can recall. We stayed in a super-nice 5-star hotel that my daughter still talks about, which if it was in the United States would have cost more money than we likely would have paid. We took our own walking tour of the city based on blogs and other information I had read about Santiago. Not much unusual happened, though. Probably our biggest adventure was driving from our hotel to get out of the city. The traffic was some of the worst we had encountered anywhere, but my husband handled it like a pro and got us out of the city (and the rental car) unscathed!

When we drove from Santiago to Valparaiso, there were two options to get there, one was a toll road and one was not. I decided we should take the “more scenic” non-toll road. It turns out they were doing major construction on part of that road, parts of which were not paved, and all of that slowed us down considerably. Then my husband noticed how low the gas in the tank was. We thought we were going to run out of gas on this deserted road where we hadn’t passed another car let alone seen a gas station in a very long time. We had no cell phone coverage and besides who on earth would we even call? Fortunately we came to the end of the construction, got back on “regular” paved highway roads near civilization, and came to a gas station just as we rolled in on fumes and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

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View from our huge Airbnb in Valparaiso

Valparaiso is a beautiful coastal town in Chile and our Airbnb there was HUGE with three big bedrooms and a large living room all with balconies overlooking the ocean below. There was a slight issue with the heat, which I had to talk to the host about over the Airbnb messaging site, but once we got that figured out, it was all good. I didn’t realize prior to going to Chile that most apartment buildings and houses there don’t have central heating because it’s too expensive. Our apartment building was heated by hot water than ran through the walls and floor boards. Once the Airbnb host told us how to turn the hot water pipes for heating on, we were able to stay comfortably warm there.

One very sad story about Valparaiso and the other parts of Chile that we were in is due to the huge epidemic of stray dogs everywhere. One day while we were walking around Valparaiso, a friendly black dog started following us. She followed us a long time, turning when we turned, stopping when we stopped, and so forth, until we ultimately reached the gate for the funicular (if you don’t know, a funicular is sort of like an outdoor elevator that goes up the side of a cliff or mountainside usually) to the apartment building where we were staying and we had to say goodbye to her. We named her “Chile.” Shortly after we got back from our vacation in Chile, we adopted a black dog whose foster mom had named “Millie.” This puppy did not in any way resemble a “Millie” to me but I didn’t want to drastically change her name because she was already answering to Millie. We named her Chile (although not pronounced like native Chileans pronounce their country, “Chee-lay” but more like the pepper, “Chil-ee” so it would still sound similar enough to her former name so as to not confuse her).

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Our sweet little “Chile” in Chile

After Valparaiso, we drove to Punta Verde in the O’Higgins region. Our adventure began on the very first day there, as soon as we drove up to the resort. The guard at the gate spoke no English at all and our broken Spanish wasn’t enough to communicate to him that we were staying there. We were in what I’ve read called “The Lake” region because of Lago Rapel (Rapel Lake), which apparently is quite packed with visitors during the warm months. Since we were there during the shoulder season and it was a bit cooler, literally no other guests were staying at this resort when we pulled up. The guard seemed to be completely baffled as to why this English-speaking family was trying to get onto the resort this time of year.

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I loved watching this Gaucho in Chile with his horses

Eventually, the guard called a friend of his who knew someone who spoke some English. The English-speaking person’s name was Claudia, and this guard’s friend brought Claudia to our rescue, who communicated to the guard that we would be staying at the resort for a week, and thus needed a key to our apartment and to be allowed entry into and out of the resort while we would be staying there. Claudia showed us around the apartment, which was a large three bedroom unit with a full kitchen, dining room, living room, two bathrooms, and sunroom. She told us to make ourselves at home and gave us her phone number if we needed anything (even though we had no cell phone coverage there so we would have to have a local call her if we needed to talk to her). Claudia told us no one else in town spoke English so we would pretty much be on our own as far as communicating with others.

I should note here that I had several years of Spanish in high school and college and I’ve brushed up on my Spanish several times before visiting a Spanish-speaking country including this trip to Chile. My husband has been teaching himself Spanish for the past several years and our daughter has had Spanish in school since she was in preschool. At the time of our visit to Chile, between the three of us, our knowledge of Spanish was usually enough to get by even when the person spoke no English. I learned many years ago that less is better when you’re trying to communicate in another language so I would try to keep my questions or answers brief and to the point. Usually the person was able to figure out what we were trying to say and/or we were able to figure out what they were trying to say, although there were exceptions like the guard at the gate of our resort in the O’Higgins region. Still, we are by no means what I would call fluent in Spanish.

We had so many adventures in the O’Higgins region that I’m sure I’ll forget some of them. One funny story happened when we went to the Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva, a national park. We hadn’t seen another person hiking all day and were surprised when my daughter said she saw other people hiking on the trail we were on. As we got closer to the people, she realized it wasn’t human legs she was seeing but cow legs. It wasn’t people in front of us, but rather a couple of cows. What we thought were hoof prints from horses on other trails earlier that day that we also thought must have been carrying riders on these supposed horses turned out to be hoof prints from cows that were grazing randomly in the park. Several times we had gotten turned around on the trails and had decided to follow the hoof prints since surely it was horse prints so surely it must have been part of the trail and the way we should go. We were of course very wrong since we had instead been following cows wandering around aimlessly. Somehow we figured out where to go on the trails and didn’t end up getting too far off trail to get truly lost.

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Some of the cows we saw at the national park- the baby cow was adorable!

I’m going to back up a bit, though. Just getting to the Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva was an adventure. My husband had downloaded Google maps of the area when we had Wi-Fi so we would have it offline and he thought it would be a relatively easy drive to the park from our resort. That is until we had to take a traffic detour. Somehow, my husband still figured out how to get us there just using his awesome sense of direction and by studying his offline map. Driving to other places in the O’Higgins region was often an adventure as well. Once we came upon what looked like a big wooden gate to a personal property that was closed but our GPS was telling us that was the way we needed to go. There were a couple of men standing outside the gate. When we asked if we could go through, they opened the gate and let us in, no questions asked. Once we were on the other side, we quickly realized this was not the right way to go, and drove back the way we came and my husband had to study the downloaded map once again to figure it out on his own.

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Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva was worth the effort it took to get there

There was also the small local market in Punta Verde that we discovered sold warm, freshly made rolls every evening. We stood in line with the other locals to get some fresh baked bread and other food to make for dinner. There weren’t that many restaurants in town and the one at our resort was hugely over-priced so we only ate there once or twice. Even after our vacation and we had returned home we still talked about that fresh bread we used to pick up for dinner every evening during our last week in Chile. I remember the first time we went to that market, everyone turned around to look at us when we spoke in English to each other. We still got stares and people turning around to look at us when we spoke English on subsequent visits, but we didn’t think anything of it. Presumably not many people go there that speak English, and certainly not during the off-season. They weren’t doing that to be unfriendly or rude but they were undoubtedly surprised to hear us speaking in a language none of them knew.

As I said, there weren’t that many restaurants in town. One evening we went to what was supposed to be a restaurant and that turned into an adventure. We pulled up to what looked like an average-looking house in the area and wondered if we were in the right place, but there was a sign outside with the name of the “restaurant” so we went in. Immediately I noticed how cold it was in this house. They must not have had heat or perhaps it was turned down to save energy but I really didn’t want to eat dinner in my coat. A man greeted us and was very friendly and obviously happy to have some dinner guests, so we thought we’d at least see what they had to offer. We asked to see a menu and were told they had chicken, chicken and rice, and chicken another way that I’m now forgetting but our choices were chicken, chicken, or chicken; no menu necessary for that. What I can only assume was the man’s wife popped her head out of the kitchen, getting ready to cook us our dinner. I told my husband I didn’t feel comfortable eating at these people’s house/restaurant and we should go but I didn’t want to seem rude. My husband told him we had changed our minds and would be leaving and the disappointment on the man’s face was palpable. Who knows, maybe that would have been a fabulous chicken dinner, but the microbiologist in me just wasn’t willing to risk getting Salmonella or Campylobacter, not that you’re always safe in a true restaurant, but still.

Similar to Valparaiso, there were stray dogs all over the place in the O’Higgins region and it was heartbreaking to me as a huge animal-lover. When we left the resort to drive back to the airport in Santiago, we had some leftover food from the refrigerator that we had brought with us in the car but not for us to eat. I brought the food to give to stray dogs that we would inevitably see along the way to the airport. When I would spot a stray dog along the side of the road ahead of us, I’d tell my husband to pull over, quickly leave some of the food for the dog, and we would drive on. We did this the entire drive back to Santiago, which was about 2 hours. I was able to stretch out the leftovers and gave the last little bit of food to a dog I saw when we were nearing the rental car place by the airport.

That pretty much ended our adventures in Chile. If you’d like to read the full posts about my time there, you can find them here:

Walking Tour of Santiago- My First Taste of Chile

Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, Chile

Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region, Chile- A Test of Resilience

An American in Chile- Getting Outside My Comfort Zone

Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva (National Park in Chile)

Day Trip to Pichilemu, Chile

15 Lessons Learned by an American in Chile

Have you been to Chile? What is one adventure you had while there? Do you have another place you visited and had some adventures? Tell me about it!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Book Review- Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather “Anish” Anderson

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably already know I love to hike so I’m going to diverge from my usual Friday running post and write about hiking today. I feel like I’ve always loved hiking in the mountains. Growing up in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia probably sparked my love of hiking mountains. I have fond memories of visiting several state parks in West Virginia as a kid. My love of hiking has only intensified as an adult. I recently wrote a post on hiking tips that you can find here: Hiking Tips for the Beginner.

Recently, I took a four day hike through Peru, ending in Machu Picchu, and it was undoubtedly some of the best hiking I’ve ever done. To be totally honest, however, we were all completely spoiled by hiking standards on this trek. We had porters to carry all but a small daypack, a cook to prepare all of our meals, and a guide to lead us (although he was more often than not lagging behind with one of our fellow hikers on horseback who was not dealing well with the altitude, but he would yell up ahead if we were in doubt of which way to go). My point is, we were far from self-supported thru-hiking (more on that in a second). If you’d like to read about my trek to Machu Picchu, the posts are here:  Lares Trek to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions- Day OneLares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day TwoLares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day Three.

Fastest Known Time attempts (also known as FKTs) are well-known in the hiking community. The people that hold the record for FKTs are another caliber entirely than us mere mortals. FKTs have been set for the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and a surprising 840 more routes in the United States alone, as well as many others around the world.

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I received this book and 4 tubes of Nuun hydration from a random drawing. The Nuun is fitting for the book title!

Heather “Anish” Anderson still holds the record for female self-supported FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail that she set August 7, 2013. Self-supported means you never enter a vehicle along the trail and don’t have a dedicated support crew, but you may use mail drops, facilities in towns along the way, and the kindness of strangers. She walked from southern California to the tip of Washington in a record 60 days, 17 hours, 12 minutes. Thirst:  2600 Miles to Home is a recount of Anderson’s journey for reaching this FKT record.

At 206 pages including acknowledgements, this was a quick read for me. There are 36 chapters plus an epilogue, so I found it easy to read a chapter or two before bed. I felt drawn into her story and enjoyed the bits of back-story she included, which allows the reader to better understand Anderson’s history and why anyone would want to attempt an FKT in the first place.

By no means is this written as a manual for anyone who might be interested in hiking a trail like the Pacific Crest Trail, which by the way is 2655 miles from Mexico to Canada, passing through the Sonoran & Mojave deserts, and then over the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. The PCT crosses California, Oregon and Washington, and passes through 24 national forests, 7 national parks and 33 wilderness areas. This is simply Anderson’s story and some of the things she encountered along the way on the trail.

One thing I should mention here is the “Anish” part in her name for anyone that may be wondering. She adopted the trail name “Anish” in honor of her great-great grandmother, who was of Native American Anishinabe heritage. Trail names originally began on the Appalachian Trail to keep all of the hikers straight from one another, by giving them unique nicknames which usually fit their personality or a quirky part of a hiker. Some people choose their own trail name while others wait until someone else gives them a trail name.

Anish grew up as an overweight child in Michigan who was often teased and by no means had an upbringing to prepare her for what her adult life was to become. However, she proves that she is in charge of her own destiny. In 2019 she was National Geographic’s National Adventurer of the Year. By then she had walked 28,000 miles on trails and had become one of 400 people who have claimed the Triple Crown of Hiking, completing the Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails in addition to the Appalachian Trail in one calendar year. In 2015 she set the record for female unsupported FKT on the Appalachian Trail and in 2016 she set the record on the Arizona Trail.

I found myself cheering her on as I read the book, something it seems other hikers were doing when Anderson was attempting her FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail. She would sometimes go into towns along the trail and overhear other hikers talking about the “Ghost,” which she came to realize was herself. She would be there on the trail one minute and the next, she would vanish and be gone.

Even if you’re never going to attempt an FKT in your life but you enjoy a good day hike (like me) or even a multi-day supported hike (also like me), you would probably enjoy this book. I found the stories about Anderson’s encounters with animals like cougars and rattlesnakes to be frightening but her reactions to be totally empowering, although I’m not sure I would have been that brave.

In the end, I believe this book is about Anish finding her courage in life along the Pacific Crest Trail, and she just happened to finish in the Fastest Known Time for unsupported females.

Have you read Heather Anderson’s book? Have you ever heard of her before? I hadn’t before reading this book to be completely honest. If you read Scott Jurek’s book, North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail and enjoyed that, you might enjoy this book as well.

You can find Heather Anderson’s website here:  Anish Hikes.

Happy hiking!

Donna

 

Hiking Tips for the Beginner

I grew up hiking in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia and as an adult I’ve hiked all over the United States from Maine to California and most places in-between. In Europe, I’ve hiked in the Spanish Canary Islands, Austria, Germany, and Greece, to name a few countries. Although there hasn’t been that much hiking in the various Caribbean islands I’ve been to, where there were mountains or even trails in natural parks or preserves, I’ve hiked them. Hiking in New Zealand probably afforded some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen just because it’s one of the most beautiful countries I’ve seen. In South America, I’ve hiked in Chile and Peru, which were also amazing places to hike and left me with an urge to go back and see more.

I know many people have done much more intense hiking than I have, just as others have done hardly any or no hiking in their lives. What I’d like to discuss here is more for beginners because I feel like that’s the group that I’d like to persuade. I understand for people that have never been hiking or maybe only gone once or twice, it may seem a bit daunting to go out on a several hour hike in the woods. I’ll cover things to do before you ever leave your house to go on a hike so you feel completely prepared and actually look forward to the amazing views you’ll see on your hike.

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Hiking in the Canary Islands- it’s not all beaches here!

First off, choose a place to hike. This can be a state park near where you live, a national park you have plans to visit, or a place you’re going to visit soon on vacation. If you don’t want to hike up a mountain, there doesn’t even have to be a mountain in the area since many trails are along lakes, rivers, or other flat areas.

Once you have a place in mind, pull up the website for the area and see if they have a list of trails. I’ll give you an example to go on for better reference here. Say I’d like to go to Arches National Park in Utah (which I really would like to visit someday). Go to the U.S. National Park Service website for Arches National Park, then click on “Plan Your Visit” then “Things to Do” then “Hiking.” Under the hiking section, you will see all of the trails at the park, listed from easy, moderate, to difficult. There are trail names, round-trip distance, elevation and estimated time to complete, and descriptions. These descriptions are thorough and accurate so if it says a trail is difficult, you should believe it is and not go out there if you’ve never hiked in your life, even if you are in good shape physically.

Just like runners gradually increase the distance ran, hikers should do the same and gradually increase in intensity and distance covered. Choose easy hiking trails to begin with and as you become more comfortable over time, work up to moderate and eventually more difficult trails. Remember that distance isn’t the only factor in the trail rating system. How quickly the trail increases in elevation and the general condition of the trail are also factors in rating a trail (if there are large areas of loose rocks going downhill especially, a trail would be rated as more difficult for example).

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One of many great views while hiking in Alaska

OK. So you have a trail or maybe even a couple of trails in the same park in mind and you’re ready to head out for a couple of hours to go hiking. Now what? First, check the weather for the day. Really, you should do this a day or so before you plan on going hiking. If there’s a good chance of thunderstorms you definitely shouldn’t be hiking in that. If there has been rain recently in the area, you should know that many trails will be muddy and slippery. That may be fine if you’re an experienced hiker but if you’re new, you probably shouldn’t go out under those conditions.

Next you need to pack a backpack to bring along on your hike. Here are some things you should always pack for a day hike:

sunscreen

bug spray

water

snacks

fully-charged cell phone (download the area in Google Maps before you go out so you have it offline)

small first aid kit (that includes matches or a lighter)

printed map of the trail if possible for a back-up

bear spray if there are bears in the area or pepper spray

Also, familiarize yourself with the area you will be exploring as best as you can beforehand. If you are going to an area where flash floods are a possibility, you should be prepared for that and know what to do should one happen. Websites are great but speaking to a park ranger when you get to the park is also a great way to familiarize yourself with the park. Ask specifically about trails you were planning on hiking but also ask about other areas of the park.

Make sure you wear proper footwear for hiking. Many times I’ve been amazed at how many women wear flip flops and dressy sandals on trails. With so many great hiking shoes available now, there’s just no excuse for not wearing appropriate shoes on a trail. I personally like Merrell’s hiking shoes because they’re fairly light-weight, comfortable,  have great traction and they’re not bulky like traditional hiking boots. While plenty of people go hiking in regular athletic shoes/running shoes/tennis shoes or whatever else you want to call them, they just don’t have as good of traction as hiking shoes unless they’re specifically trail running shoes, which would of course be fine for hiking.

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We came upon this fox while hiking in Chile

You should also be appropriately dressed for your hike. This will be dictated partly by weather conditions, but you’ll be more comfortable if you wear “wicking” fabrics basically made to speed-up the evaporation of sweat from your clothes. Cotton, by the way, does not do this but actually holds moisture in the fabric. While it may sound crazy to some people, merino wool socks are great year-round (not just when it’s cold outside) as they are great at quickly evaporating moisture. A hat and sunglasses are also good for sunny days. Long pants will of course protect your legs better than shorts if it’s not too hot for pants. Layers are always a great idea especially if you’ll be going up in elevation since it’s cooler at the top of a mountain than at the bottom.

It’s a good idea to let others know where you’ll be especially if you’ll be in a more remote area, so let someone else that won’t be hiking with you know where you’ll be hiking and what time you will be on trail. Likewise, after you return, send them a quick message so they know you’re no longer hiking. Some parks also request that you sign in at a trailhead.

Sometimes a permit is required to hike a certain area. Check online as soon as you know you will be hiking in a particular area to see if you need a permit because some permits are only available during a certain time frame. There will be a link on the website for permits if they are necessary. Usually this is for longer, overnight hikes but some places do this to limit the number of hikers per day.

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Hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter was one of my favorite experiences!

Keep your distance when (if) you see wildlife. If you come across a bear, moose, elk, or even deer and you’re pretty sure it doesn’t see you, slowly and quietly back away (facing the animal so you can still see it) the way you came until you’re well away from the area. What ever you do, don’t run! The animal will think you’re prey and chase you. If a mother has her babies near-by, she will be extremely protective of them and will be willing to fight you to the death. There’s a trail near where I work and several years ago a runner came upon a mama deer and her babies and made the mistake of approaching them. The woman was kicked in the face by the deer and was so badly beaten up that she looked like she had been in a boxing fight.

Finally, if you want to go hiking in a new place and want to take along your dog, make sure dogs are allowed first. Some places allow dogs on specific trails but not others and other places don’t allow dogs at all. Be extremely cautious about letting your dog off-leash on a trail even if you do it all the time near your home; you certainly don’t want to lose your dog in a huge park and/or a place you’re not familiar with.

Do you like to go hiking? Did I leave any other important information out? If you don’t like hiking, I’d be curious to know what you don’t like about it. If you have any questions for me about hiking, I’d be glad to answer them.

Happy hiking!

Donna

 

 

 

Tips for Viewing Geysers, Springs, and Pools in Yellowstone National Park Plus Hiking Trails and Waterfalls

Previously, I discussed the layout, entrances, and basic information about geothermal areas within Yellowstone National Park, in my post here. Now for a little more in-depth information about the fun stuff. As I mentioned previously, Yellowstone is famous for its hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, and geysers. Over 10,000 different hydrothermal features are estimated to be active within the park and more than half of the world’s active geysers are found in Yellowstone.

Everyone’s heard of the most famous geyser, Old Faithful, but this is just one out of many geysers in the park. Also famous is Grand Prismatic Spring with the blue center surrounded by green, green, yellow, red, and orange hues, but again, it’s just one of many springs in the park, with all colors of the rainbow represented. In general, what I learned is to try to see as many geyser basins as possible and get an early start or you’ll have to wait in a long line to find a parking spot (even then you’ll have to wait for parking as the day goes on).

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Viewing Old Faithful from above

Tip for viewing Old Faithful:  go up the Observation Point Trail for views of the Upper Geyser Basin, which includes Old Faithful. From the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, walk about 0.3 miles (0.5 km) counter-clockwise along the Old Faithful boardwalk, turn right at the Geyser Hill sign, and continue on the path. The trailhead is just after the bridge crossing the Firehole River. Although there will be some people up here with you, it is far less crowded than if you watch at the designated seated area directly in front of Old Faithful, and you’ll get a better view. Plus, there are many geysers, springs, and pools along the trails in the Old Faithful area. You can easily spend several hours in this area.

Tip for viewing Grand Prismatic Spring: park 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Midway Geyser Basin at the Fairy Falls Parking Lot. The trail is 0.6 miles out-and-back, or 1.2 miles total from the Fairy Falls Trailhead for a view from above of Grand Prismatic Spring and the Midway Geyser Basin. You can (and should) also walk around the boardwalks that surround Grand Prismatic Spring and the other springs and geysers in the area, for up-close views.

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Mystic Falls

If you want to see waterfalls, some of the best are Fairy Falls, Mystic Falls, and the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. Fairy Falls are part of the Midway Geyser Basin, as I mentioned in the paragraph above. To get to Mystic Falls, go to the Biscuit Basin parking lot and you’ll see the trailhead for the falls there. Although it’s an easy hike to the falls, if you want to go down for a better view of the falls, it’s a bit rocky and slippery going back up so make sure you have good hiking shoes. The Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River are in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Take the South Rim Trail for the best view of the falls. Actually, Artist Point Trail, which is off the South Rim Trail will give you the best views of the canyon and falls together.

One trail to skip is the Ribbon Lake Trail. We got eaten alive by more mosquitoes on this single trail than we had encountered on all other trails in Yellowstone combined and this was with us wearing bug spray and bug bands. I didn’t even think the trail or lake were that scenic and definitely not worth all of the mosquito bites to get there and back. The Ribbon Lake Trail is off the South Rim Trail.

Safety

Buy or bring bug spray and bug bands especially if you’re coming during the summer months. You can buy bug spray at all of the general stores throughout the park. If you want to buy bear spray, you can find it at gift shops, outdoor stores, service stations, and bookstores inside the park. You can also rent bear spray in Canyon Village at the rental kiosk at the northwest corner of the visitor center plaza. Be aware that regular pepper spray is not good bear deterrent and is not recommended by park rangers.

Although there are bears at Yellowstone, my family and I never saw a bear on any of our hikes or driving through the park, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t bear aware. In any area of the United States where there are known bears, you should never hike alone; the recommended number is three or more people. It’s also a good idea to carry bear spray and make noise when you’re hiking so you don’t sneak up on a bear and startle it. Another option is to hike with a ranger.

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We saw this bison hanging out by one of the springs

In addition to bears, Yellowstone has many other wild animals. Always stay at least 100 yards (91 meters) away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards (23 meters) away from all other animals, including bison and elk even though they may seem harmless. Less than a week after I was at Yellowstone, a small girl was thrown into the air by a bison, who park officials believe was spooked by noises from people hovering around it.

Keep on the designated pathways and trails. Children should be under close supervision by parents at all times. Do not touch thermal features or runoff, regardless of how beautiful and enticing they may be. More than 20 people have died from burns when they fell or entered Yellowstone’s hot springs (meaning some were on purpose and others were accidents).

See Everything (Within Reason)

Yellowstone is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful national parks I’ve been to and one that I’d love to return to and see more of the northern part. For me, part of the appeal is that it’s one of the most diverse parks I’ve seen, with everything from canyons, waterfalls, geysers, pools, forests, and wild animals. Probably my biggest tip for Yellowstone is to try to see everything you possibly can in the time you have there without spending the majority of your time in the car. Remember, it’s an enormous park and there’s no way you’ll be able to see everything so just choose where you want to spend your time and focus on those areas.

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Just one of many beautiful pools in Biscuit Basin

One way to save time is to skip at least one meal per day eaten at a restaurant and buy food and snacks you can quickly eat in your room or at a designated picnic area where there are picnic tables or seating areas (say, for lunch). Also, don’t focus on just one or two geyser areas but try to see as many as you can. At first, I was hesitant about Biscuit and Black Sand Geyser Basins, because I wasn’t sure what was there and if it was worth it. What I learned is everything is worth seeing (well, except Ribbon Lake, which I re-named Mosquito Lake).

Have you been to Yellowstone National Park? If so, what were some of your favorite things you saw or did? If not, is it on your bucket list?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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