pictures

Chillin’ at the NOC

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As I have mentioned in previous posts, my current job on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is spectacular.  The people are great, the train is very cool, the waters of the river clear as can be and the scenery is absolutely stunning.

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The railroad takes a westbound excursion to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (AKA the NOC) where passengers get to experience the sights of Fontana Lake and the Nantahala River among other things.  As the train melodically moves down the track at its leisurely pace,  one can see rafters and other outdoor people enjoying the natural beauty that is Western North Carolina.

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The NOC has over one million visitors a year.  Activities they can choose from include: whitewater rafting, paddling school, an outdoor leadership institute, fishing, hiking, biking, climbing, great food and zip lining.  The center also hosts festivals and other events during the year.

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Personally, I am not the outdoorsy type, but I have found myself considering a whitewater rafting trip and/or a zip line adventure.  Oddly enough, the last time I through caution to the wind was a trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  On that vacation, I parasailed and did a few other things that the “old Lois” would never have done.  It only makes sense that I create a few more adventures during my time in North Carolina.

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North Carolina was never a place I would have intentionally chosen to visit, let alone stay for a time.  Yet, I have fallen in love with its natural beauty and elegance.  The people are friendly and welcoming.  It is a lovely place and I am glad I get to chill here for a while.  I am thankful for all the adventures I have had so far and look forward to more.

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A Day Spent with the Lady on the Hill

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These are photographs I took for my blog, they have no commercial value and are not being used commercially.

Last Monday was an extra calendar day this leap year, so I wanted to take advantage of the time and do something different.  I decided to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.  The Biltmore Estate was opened on Christmas Eve 1895 for the Vanderbilt family.  I believe it is the largest private residence in the United States.

Here are a few interesting stats:

  • It has four acres of floor space.
  • 250 rooms:  33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley and a gym
  • 125,000 acres of forest and farms
  • 250 acre park
  • Garden and conservatory with orchids and other plants
  • Elevators, indoor plumbing and refrigeration were just some of the extras (remember it was built in the 1890s)

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I expected some garish home that was only lived in a couple weeks a year.  I was incorrect. Do not get me wrong, the house is over the top, even by today’s standards but the house was actually lived in and their children were raised there.  It was much more than just some rich family’s fancy weekend home. There were many parties and extended family was always invited to stay for a while.

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The house is amazing, way different from the tiny house models I love (obviously).  But I could appreciate the added touches that were everywhere, especially given when it was built.  Although the house is not what you would call cozy, it was not cold and unlivable either.  According to reports, the staff were treated well and the family was very philanthropic. You read about these people who have homes all over the world and hardly even go to them. That was not the case with the Biltmore.

After touring the home, I toured the gardens and walked on one of the many trails.  The day was beautiful.  The leaves had not budded yet nor were the flowers in bloom but it was still breathtaking.  I cannot even imagine how stunning it is when everything comes back to life after a winter’s nap.  There are streams, ponds and a waterfall.  So much beauty all in one place.

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All in all, it was a great way to spend the extra time given from Leap Year!!

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God’s Healing Hands

God's Healing HandsThere are so many things going on in my life right now, so many changes.  Though I am trying to walk a new path, I sometimes doubt myself and my strength to do this.  I feel like I cannot go on, but then I realize that it is the fire that purifies and on the other side of these trials is the hope of peace and healing.  I need to take the focus off of me and focus on God.

Where Does Food Come From? — Hint: It Does Not Start in a Grocery Store :-)

The beautiful farmlands of this country!!

The beautiful farmlands of this country!!

As a child, I had no idea that food come from anywhere other than a grocery store.  I did not know that meat did not come packaged in plastic, that potato chips were really made from potatoes, that milk came from a cow and many other food misconceptions.  I was in my 20s before I even realized that you could make homemade macaroni and cheese, that it did not have to come from a box.  Over the years, I have tried to educate myself on food and I am much more enlightened.

I even tried growing my own vegetables.  Let’s just say, a gardener I am not!  But it made me appreciate farmers and their farms more.  That is why I really enjoyed traveling through the “heartlands” of Iowa and Nebraska.  The fields were beautiful and my appreciation was high.  I am so glad that I know where food really comes from now.  I just want to thank our farmers for their hard work, dedication and give them some much needed gratitude.  There would be no life without them.  Thank you Farmers of America!!

The traffic (or lack of) was much to my liking!!

The traffic (or lack of) was much to my liking!!

The sky did get scary a couple of times, but nothing really happened.  Just looked menacing.

The sky did get scary a couple of times, but nothing really happened. Just looked menacing.

I thought this might have turned into a tornado.

I thought this might have turned into a tornado.

More storm clouds!

More storm clouds!

Rays of light from above were trying to shine through and eventually did.

Rays of light from above were trying to shine through and eventually did.

The sky then turned very blue.

The sky then turned very blue.

Wind power -- love it!!

Wind power — love it!!

The greenest of green fields.

The greenest of green fields.

Acres and acres of this view -- it was incredible!

Acres and acres of this view — it was incredible!

Love the open road!!

Love the open road!!

Today’s To Do List for a Better Me

I compiled a list of things I need to do today and everyday in order to find inner peace.

I compiled a list of things I need to do today and everyday in order to find inner peace.

During my journey I was hoping to find some peace in my life.  I thought getting away from the stresses of everyday life and living on the road would provide the answer I was looking for.  I found many things on the road but peace, unfortunately, was not one of them.  I came home very disappointed with that aspect of the trip (all the other aspects of the trip were wonderful).  Then I realized that I need to look inside myself first, I need to lose the drama that surrounds everyday life, I need to think of others first, I need to pray and be thankful for all things, good or bad.

Running away from problems or situations is never the answer for they just follow you wherever you go.  You may be able to outrun them for a time, but they always catch up with you.  I may not have found actual peace on the road, but I did figure out a way to have more of it in my life.  I am going to try to practice this to do list everyday  along with living a more simple lifestyle and maybe, just maybe, I will experience the inner peace I so desperately seek.

Sedona, Arizona – One of the Most Beautiful Spots on Earth

When I first posted a few pictures from Sedona, Arizona, I may have been a little bit harsh about the area.  What I forgot to realize was that just driving through the actual town (which was a nightmare) is only part of the story.  The other part of the story is the natural beauty that surrounds the town.  The scenery was breathtaking.  Once I stepped back and really looked at it, I was amazed.

The start of some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever enjoyed.

The start of some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever enjoyed.

The start of the amazing red rocks and red soil.

The start of the amazing red rocks and red soil.

Then come the rock formations and the amazing sky.

Then come the rock formations and the amazing sky.

A scene from the bustling downtown area.  Too many people and cars for me.  But a lot of REALLY interesting shops and restaurants.

A scene from the bustling downtown area. Too many people and cars for me. But a lot of REALLY interesting shops and restaurants.

This is one of the amazing views right from the downtown area.

This is one of the amazing views right from the downtown area.

Here is Devi loving the view.

Here is Devi loving the view.

Amazing red color all around.

Amazing red color all around.

The road back to the highway.  The sky out west is truly a wonder.

The road back to the highway. The sky out west is truly a wonder.

The area of Sedona was truly amazing.  I apologize for not being more impressed with it right away.  The road there was a difficult one for Devi and I was very worried about her, so much so that I lost sight of the wonder all around me.  But in the end Devi made it and when I relooked at the photographs I could see the landscape with amazement.

California: Harsh Yet Beautiful

Lush green groves.

Lush green groves.

I had mixed feelings about California.  The Pacific Coast was stunning, the traffic was horrible, the drought was (and still is) devastating and the scenery was amazing.  The California that I remembered from my youth was not the California I saw on this trip.  But nothing stays the same, everything changes.  Plus memories tend to soften over time.  I was surprised at California, but I enjoyed my time there also.  It was sad, beautiful and a wonder all in one.

Devastating effect of the drought.

Devastating effect of the drought.

Devastating effect of "man" on the land.

Devastating effect of “man” on the land.

Rain is needed badly.

Rain is needed badly.

The California landscape may be stark in places, but there is still a lot of beauty.

The California landscape may be stark in places, but there is still a lot of beauty.

It definitely was temperature HOT!!!!!

It definitely was temperature HOT!!!!!

California:  Harsh and Beautiful

California: Harsh and Beautiful

Look at that temperature!!  WOW!!!

Look at that temperature!! WOW!!!

Picked up Route 66 while in California.

Picked up Route 66 while in California.

California, yes it is amazing.

California, yes it is amazing.

Post shout out:  I pray for all the brave men and women who are fighting the fires in the West (not just California).  We did not see a fire, but drove through the smoke created by one and it was amazingly thick and made it hard to breathe.  I cannot imagine fighting one of these fires up close.  I pray for the safety and that this drought might end soon.

Dubuque, Iowa – My First Attempt at Car Camping

A large part of my Epic Journey was to do the trip spending as little money as possible, learning to live with less and going without a lot of extra comforts.  Car camping seemed to be my best solution as I am not much of a tent camper.  My first attempt at camping, many years ago, did not go well and I ended up sleeping in the car rather than a tent, so I naturally figured I could drive across country sleeping in my car.

The Dubuque City Park had a lovely veteran memorial.

The Dubuque City Park had a lovely veteran memorial.

It was an interesting concept, although not very well thought through.  But Devi was my home during this trip and I did sleep in her several times.  The original concept was to have an air mattress in the back and sleep on that, but I ended up bringing too much stuff and could not do that.  In Dubuque, I slept in the front seat and that proved rather crampy.  After that I would clean out the back seat and sleep there.  That worked a little better.

In future adventures, I will have to re-think the entire car camping process and come up with a little bit better way to do it.  I still feel it is a viable way to camp, it is a lot less expensive than motel/hotels but to just think you can curl up and go to sleep in your car every night, without a plan, is not very smart (no one ever said I was smart when it came to camping).

During the first night of car camping, I stayed in the Dubuque, Iowa, City Park.  It was actually a lovely site right by a river.  I watched barges go up and down the river and heard the strangely comforting sounds of trains passing by in the distance.  The cost was perfect at $12.00 per night and I felt completely safe there.  I would definitely stay there again as it was a truly lovely location.

This was the view from my campsite.

This was the view from my campsite.

One of the many barges that I watched float on by.

One of the many barges that I watched float on by.

The park was extremely well taken care of.

The park was extremely well taken care of.

Preparing Devi for what turned out to be a long night of tossing and turning.

Preparing Devi for what turned out to be a long night of tossing and turning.

A beautiful sunset in Iowa.

A beautiful sunset in Iowa.

An artistic view of the bridge as I left the next morning.

An artistic view of the bridge as I left the next morning.

On the road again to the next adventure.

On the road again to the next adventure.

Cedar Rock-The Walter Estate-A Frank Lloyd Wright Home-Independence, Iowa

I do not own this photograph.  It was taken from:http://www.galenfrysinger.com/iowa_cedar_rock.htm

I do not own this photograph. It was taken from:http://www.galenfrysinger.com/iowa_cedar_rock.htm

I blame my Humanities instructor at Lakeland Community College for my love of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Before taking that class, I had no idea who the man was or what he had done with his life.  Then came the assignment to visit Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania and it all changed.  I became a fan of the man and his architectural style immediately.  Whenever possible, I try to see one of his beautiful homes when I happen upon one.

Many, many years ago, Mike was working in Phoenix for an extended amount of time and I went to visit him for the weekend.  We decided to visit Wright’s winter home and school, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale.  But, alas, we got there too late and it was closed.  I never did get to see it.

As I was driving west recently, on my Epic Journey, I saw a sign for Cedar Rock, The Walter Estate in Independence, Iowa.  I was thrilled and got off of Route 20 to make the short trek to the home.  This was a Monday and guess what?  The estate was closed on Monday.  I never got to see it.  Maybe another time.

That is me in front of the locked gate.  Just my luck!

That is me in front of the locked gate. Just my luck!

So I took a few photographs of what I could see and I thought I would share them.  I do not really have much luck when it comes to visiting the Wright homes but I am going to continue to try.  I hope to add more to my list than just Fallingwater.  But I guess if that is the only one I ever get to see, it will be enough.

I got to see the official sign.

I got to see the official sign.

Here is a small glimpse of the yard and a little of the house.  His work is amazing to me.

Here is a small glimpse of the yard and a little of the house. His work is amazing to me.

Even Devi wanted to see it.  We will try another time, the next time we are in Iowa.

Even Devi wanted to see it. We will try another time, the next time we are in Iowa.