Sightseeing

Hiking Clingman’s Dome

Scenery No 1

Part of my North Carolina plan was to start hiking.  I have a friend that I used to work with (shout out to Jan!) who moved here and started hiking.  She is so healthy now and I want to be like her. She is my inspiration.  Except I really do not like the outdoors, or sweating, or hiking for that matter.  I am an indoor, read a book, or binge-watch Netflix kinda gal.

Unfortunately I have found all my years of non-outdoor activity have made me rather soft.  Walking the parking lot at the grocery store can cause me to want to take a nap.  I am actually afraid that I am so out of shape that I can never recover.  Everyone says it’s never too late to start getting in shape, but I think I am the exception to that rule.  I am marshmallow soft.

Mike came to visit for his birthday and he gets hold of Jan who happens to be in town and we all meet up.  We catch up for a while and then the talk goes to taking a hike.  I start to get nervous because everything around here seems so hilly.  I am not good with hills or non-paved walkways.  But I figure I can tough it out, it is the least I can do.

They decide on Clingman’s Dome and off we go to the National Park.  I learned along  the way that it is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at 6,643 feet.  Obviously, I realize we are not going to actually climb this peak, like from the bottom of it to the top.  That is not an adventure you start at 3:30 pm on a Wednesday.  There is a parking lot with a half mile walk to the top.  I was much more at ease as I know I can probably walk that amount without major injury.

IMG_1517

The drive to Clingmans is worth the experience.  The National Park is overwhelmingly beautiful and is beautiful from all angles.  As we climbed, in the car, the temperature dropped and dropped from a hot and humid 90 to a refreshing 70.  Ok, I was loving this trip so far.  We did not see any wildlife on the way in but we did see a black bear and a few elk on the return trip.  That was very cool.

After about an hour, we get to the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome.  Remembering it is only a half a mile, I put a spring in my step and we started off. Little did I know that, although it would make sense since this is a mountain, that the half a mile was all uphill.  Not just up a hill, but intense, steep grades that would make a grown man or woman cry.  Luckily, there were benches every few feet and I utilized them all.  Finally, I told my walking companions that I was never going to make it before sunset and that they should go without me.  They tried to talk me into continuing but I fought them on it.  So they eventually went on without me.

As I sat on the bench I watched a variety of people coming down from the top.  Each person shouting encouragement and saying how worth it the trip was.  I saw older than me people, some were handicapped, some were out of shape like me and many other varieties of shapes and sizes.  I was wimping out and became very disappointed with myself.  Quitting, especially this early on, was not what this adventure was all about.  So I started walking up some more.  After several stops, some short and some longer, I made it to the top just as Mike and Jan were heading down.  Their faces showed such surprise and happiness that I had made it. It was worth doing just to see them. They accompanied me to the top of the observatory where it is said you can see up to five states because you are so high up.

The scenery was breathtaking and surreal at the same time.  It did not seem possible to be over 6,600 feet up, on top of a mountain.  My brain was having a hard time believing what my eyes were seeing.  It was beautiful.  As I took some time to catch my breath, I realized that climbing this mountain, albeit not so much climbing as walking a path, was more than just taking a hike for me.  It was overcoming my fears of heights, and fears of having a panic attack due to the strain.  The fact that I even made it without collapsing made me so inspired to keep trying new things.

By the time we got back to the car, I was exhausted but in a good way.  I was thrilled that I toughened up and did it.  Mike and Jan were proud of me and that encourages me to do more.  At first glance, the mountain seemed to have won, but I steadied myself and talked myself into completing the journey.  I also prayed a lot for strength as I struggled up the walkway.  But it got done and I could not be happier.

Muhammad Ali said “Don’t count the days.  Make the days count” and that day counted in my book as an accomplishment that I can be proud of.  If you ever get the chance to “climb” Clingmans Dome, I highly advise you do it.

Observatory

Please note:  the photographs in this post were not taken by me.  I have some great shots that I took.  Once I figure out how to get them transferred from my camera, I will post separately.

Riding the Tail of the Dragon

Dragon #3

I do not own any of the images used in this post.

A few weeks back I wrote a post about the lovely Tapoco Lodge and I purposely left out the information about how I got there.  Today, I will explain about the Tail of the Dragon (also known as US 129)

The Tail of the Dragon is a 11-mile stretch of paved road between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest.  It is, unbeknownst to me the first time I drove it, a coveted road for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts.  I have read that there are no intersections or driveways to interfere with the drive.  To be honest, I never even noticed that and I have driven it three times now.  When you ride the dragon, you keep your eyes on the road and that is it, end of story.

You see it is not just a scenic little drive through the mountains-although it is that–there are actually 318 curves, twists, and switchbacks on that 11 mile strip of road.  318!!!!  Did I mention the sheer drops, no berms and the possibility of animals crossing the road?  And there is always the chance of rock slides and fallen trees in the road.

Dragon #1

The first time I drove it I was totally ignorant of the dragon.  I had never heard of it.  In fact, it was my third time driving it that I even realized what was going on.  Then it all made sense.  Until then I thought it was just some poorly executed road through the mountains.  My first drive on the dragon was at night and during a rainstorm.  The absolute terror I felt has basically wiped most of the memories away of that night.  I thought I was in some bad horror movie.  The dark (very dark) road went on and on for what seemed like hours.  I had motorcycles and sports cars passing me at high speeds and there was no where to turn off or turn around.  There is very little phone reception due to the mountains.  I was sure that somewhere along the road was going to be my final resting place.

I made it to my destination about an hour late, then I had the great pleasure of driving it again to get back to where I was staying.  Luckily, the GPS found a different route back but it was still a challenge especially at night.

The second time I drove it was during the day and I just took my time.  Again, motorcycles and sports cars passed me with a vengeance.  It had to look funny seeing this middle-aged woman driving this four-door SUV on this road.  I was still clueless as to what was going on.  Again, I made it to my destination.  This time I stayed a while and did not give the dragon another thought.

It was when I booked the room at the Tapoco Lodge (I had stopped there on one of  my trips looking for directions–that is when I decided I wanted to stay there) that I started to read about the Tail of the Dragon and learned just how many curves there actually are. 318!!  Sitting on the porch of my cabin at the Tapoco Lodge I watched dozens of motorcycles, Corvettes, Porsches and other sports cars zoom past on their way to quite an adventurous drive.  That was in December, I cannot imagine how crowded the road can get in the summer.

Dragon #2

Riding the Tail of the Dragon (not once, but three times) was never on my plan when I started this trip.  But it actually has turned out to be one of my proudest achievements.  I am not sure how many SUVs make the trip, but Devi rose to the challenge, hugged that road and kept going.  She is an amazing vehicle!  The things I have put her through!

There are many accidents along this road.  I have read that it can take an hour or longer to get emergency personnel to an accident scene due to the remoteness.  This road is to be respected and not thought of lightly.  People have lost their lives here.  So if you ever find yourself on the tail, tread lightly but have fun.  It is quite a road and the scenery is breathtaking if you get a chance to see it.

dragon #4

 

 

 

One Night in Tapoco

Tapoco

These are photographs from the brochure. I will add my photographs shortly.

Have you ever tried something out of the blue and it turned out to be magical?  One night in Tapoco proved to be that for me.  Let me explain.

I had one night to myself between home stays and I thought I would treat myself to a night in a hotel. The night before the stay I made my reservation at the Historic Tapoco Lodge in Robbinsville, North Carolina.  I had been there once for a few moments when I was lost, and I thought then that I wanted to return there one day.

The Tapoco Lodge was built in 1930 by ALCOA.  It was used for company functions and corporate getaways during the hydroelectric efforts going on at the time.  It changed hands over the years and reopened to the public in 1955. Now the lodge has a rightful place on the National Register of Historic Places.

I am going to save the details of actually getting to The Tapoco for another post.  You get there by “riding the dragon”.  My friends, that is a story in and of itself!

At The Tapoco you have several choices for lodging.  You can stay in the hotel or one of several cabins sprinkled throughout the woods. I opted to stay in one of the cabins. I was thinking it would be rustic but I was wrong.  The cabin was so absolutely cozy and inviting.  It was small (which is right up my alley) but it felt like home as soon as I walked in the door.  I never wanted to leave.  I am sure the hotel rooms are lovely, but I cannot imagine that they can even compare to the comfort of the cabins.

The timing of this visit was just after Thanksgiving and the lobby was decorated so beautifully with Christmas trees, sparkling lights, giant bulbs and wreaths galore.  A fire was blazing and I set there for a while enjoying the exquisite view of the river nearby.  Never have I felt so relaxed sitting in a hotel lobby.

Since the hotel is not an easy place to get to, their hours are curtailed during the winter months.  I believe they even close completely for the brunt of winter.  Luckily, I wanted to stay over a weekend night and they were still open.  As I walked the grounds on a cool, yet sunny, November afternoon, I noticed a rather large quonset hut which turned out to be an actual working movie theater.  At 7:30, the movies start.  I thought that was wonderful.  At 8:00, you can go to the communal fire pit and enjoy smore’s and popcorn.  Those are amenities you just do not get everywhere.

I was starting to get hungry and wondered what my choices were going to be out here in the middle of, basically, nowhere.  There are two restaurants on the premises.  You can enjoy a very fine and proper Appalachian meal at Jasper’s or you can sink your teeth into some good old-fashioned cooking at the Slickrock Riverside Grill.  Since I am more of a hamburger-kinda gal, I went to the grill.  The salad, burger and fries were some of the best I had eaten and very fresh.   You can sit outside enjoying the river or watch a game on the inside.   Could this place get any better?

Yes, it can.  The grounds of The Tapoco are breathtaking.  There are 120 acres of the most stunning landscapes you can find.  There are mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and forest all around.  You can choose from several hiking trails or go biking…it is your choice.  Beauty is all around.

Everyone I met there was truly friendly, even the maintenance man waved as he drove by in his golf cart.  The staff are trained in the art of customer service and it shows everywhere.

I know this sounds like a long-winded commercial for the hotel, but I was just really impressed.   It was one of those respites that comes along when you are so tired and overwhelmed.  My few hours there proved to be so healing.  Everything from seeing the Christmas lights to enjoying a small hike around the grounds helped to calm me and restored my focus.  A place can do that and I am so glad I got to visit this place.

I am sure summers are a little more chaotic due but the time I spent was time well spent and I would do it again!

Here’s to a respite for a weary traveler and for enjoying the little luxuries that make life truly amazing.

P.S.  I have pictures, but I cannot find them now. Once I locate them I will post them.

 

 

 

 

The Road So Far – Lessons Learned

The Road So Far

I do not own this image, but I am respectfully using it in my blog and it is a homage to my favorite show ever, Supernatural!!

 

It has almost been one month since I left the only home I have known most of my life and with very few belongings. A lot has happened in the last few weeks and I have actually learned a lot about me and about life. Here are some of the lessons that have hit home:

 

  • Plans NEVER go the way you think they will: I cannot tell you how many plans I have made only to have them change a few times into something completely different. I am learning the hard lesson of going with the flow. This is hard for me but it is a lesson that must be learned in order to cancel out all the chaos all around.
  • Strangers are amazing: I am still amazed that complete strangers will take me into their home and give me shelter and food in exchange for some work. It is so easy to live in a bubble, just seeing your own life and not venturing out much. That is how I lived my life; consumed by my problems with a very small worldview. My Hosts are bigger view people and it is helping me to see that way too.
  • Even if you get rid of most of your stuff, it is still too much stuff: I seriously downsized. I cannot believe how much stuff I got rid of and, guess what, I still have too much stuff. As you start to live a life without things, you realize how little you need to actually live. Of course, I am lucky enough to enjoy the things our Hosts have, but having lived on the road for a few weeks prior to all this showed me that I can still live good and not have a lot. It is not about living without, but about truly living with what you have.
  • Being old and living on the road is not for the weak: I have spent most of my life working behind a desk and not really exercising or moving much. Now my life consists of movement and activity. It is hard on this old woman!!! Some days I think actual work is easier than this lifestyle. Even though I am still kind of weak, I am getting stronger by the day and thinner (yippee).
  • There are days when you just plain miss a fluffy bed: Having slept in the car (front and back seat), in a tent on an air mattress, on a thin mattress in a cabin and a futon. This goes along with the previous lesson, getting old is hard but you adapt and it all works out. It is still better than sleeping on the ground which I cannot ever imagine doing anyway!!
  • You cannot go anywhere or get anything done in five minutes: the next time someone says I will be there in five minutes, expect it to be at least 20. I guess there are a few things that can get done in that time frame, but for the most part life is messier and takes longer to clean up after.
  • Buy local and meet the locals: The local people of any place are the gems of the area. I have learned to go to hometown hardware stores, fruit markets, diners and more. The local people love to tell their stories and it is a slice of Americana that we must preserve. Local businesses are the backbone of this country and need support!!

 

That is all I can think of for now. I am sure more will come to me as this crazy journey continues. In the meantime, I absolutely need to tell you about a new friend: Luke P. As I was running errands today in the rain, I saw a man walking with a broken umbrella. Since my journey started, I look at people’s situations differently and clearer. I ran and got a new umbrella and new gloves. NOTE: I am not telling you this because I am such a great person, but because what happens in a minute.

 

I stopped and gave Luke the umbrella and asked where he was going. To a town less than an hour away he told me, so we decided that it would be better to drive there in the rain than walk. On the way, I found out all the things Luke has done: walked around the country, rode his bike in snowstorm in Colorado, took culinary classes and now he is a cook at a men’s shelter. He was a respectful and courteous young man and quite the inspiration. He loves helping people and seeing new things. His worldview was amazing to me and getting to speak with him for even a short time inspired me to be a better person (which is what my sojourn is all about). I am so glad I got to meet Luke and hear his unique story. The more I travel and meet travelers, the more I grow as a person. The stories I am hearing are changing my life. Everyone told me that travel would change me, I never realized how much travelers were going to change me. What a wonderful lesson learned!!

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.

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.

My Dream to See the Pacific Ocean Again…Amazing it Was!!

I have been looking through all the pictures I took over the 16 days of my journey.  I thought I would share some of the best of the best with you.  I hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

“The Pacific is my home ocean; I knew it first, grew up on its shore, collected marine animals along the coast. I know its moods, its color, its nature. It was very far inland that I caught the first smell of the Pacific. When one has been long at sea, the smell of land reaches far out to greet one. And the same it true when one has been long inland.”
John Steinbeck

Pacific Ocean Fact:  The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world covering 63.78 million square miles.

Pacific Ocean Fact: The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world covering 63.78 million square miles.

Pacific Ocean Fact:  The Pacific Ocean is also the deepest ocean with depths that reach up to 13,740 feet.

Pacific Ocean Fact: The Pacific Ocean is also the deepest ocean with depths that reach up to 13,740 feet.

Pacific Ocean Fact:  Seven (7) of the  deepest ocean trenches in the world are found in the Pacific Ocean.

Pacific Ocean Fact: Seven (7) of the deepest ocean trenches in the world are found in the Pacific Ocean.

Pacific Ocean Fact:  The Great Barrier Reef calls the Pacific Ocean home. It is the largest coral reef system in the world!

Pacific Ocean Fact: The Great Barrier Reef calls the Pacific Ocean home. It is the largest coral reef system in the world!

Pacific Ocean Fact:  There are several volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean Basin.

Pacific Ocean Fact: There are several volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean Basin.

Pacific Ocean Fact:  25,000 island also call the Pacific Ocean home, including Hawaii.

Pacific Ocean Fact: 25,000 island also call the Pacific Ocean home, including Hawaii.

The Pacific Ocean (and all oceans) need our help, there are many organizations that want to help save the oceans.  We just cannot live without them.

The Pacific Ocean (and all oceans) need our help, there are many organizations that want to help save the oceans. We just cannot live without them.

She is a beautiful ocean, even when the sun cannot come out and play.  I am so sad that she is considered by some to be nothing more than a landfill for garbage.  The thought makes my heart break.  We cannot afford to lose this resource and all the creatures and plants that live in her.  Thank you for listening!!

Surprise Date Night: Red Robin and The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Rockside Train Station

Rockside Train Station

Our 25th wedding anniversary just sort of came and went as we were still on the road and having to make some decisions about returning or going on.  Last night, Mike decided it was time to celebrate our first 25 years together and planned a sweet outing.  It started with my favorite hamburger place, Red Robin, in Independence.  Lexi was our server and she worked very hard to make sure everything was just right (and it was!).  Not much pleases me more than a great tasting hamburger served with a sweet smile.

The next part was a tightly held secret and I was not allowed to look at the maps, documentation or any other items Mike had brought with him.  He likes to surprise me, so I have learned to just go with the flow.  His surprises are always very cool.  This surprise took us to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.  I have ALWAYS wanted to ride the train, but never got around to doing it.  The night was lovely and clear.  It was a little overcast but not too much so.  It was perfect weather for a train ride.

Here comes the train into the station.

Here comes the train into the station.

We got to the depot around 6:30 and were able to board for our 7 PM departure.  As I walked into the 1950s train car, I was taken back to a simpler time when travel was a big deal and it was about the journey not just the destination.  Things I am trying to learn on my own Epic Journey, so really it was the perfect thing to do on a warm Friday night.

I noticed that there were not many other people in our car, as most of the nights travelers were enjoying dinner in the dining car.  But everyone traveling in our car was smiling and excited about the night’s journey.  The mood was very upbeat and positive.

Our Trainman was Roy and he was great!  As the train started to move, Roy told us about the history of the train, the park and quite a bit of history about Ohio itself.  He kept asking if we were bored, but everyone seemed to love hearing all the information that Roy had to share.  He made the trip very fun and informative.  He volunteers to do this, as well as watch the bike paths, we were very impressed with his dedication to the entire park system.

Beautiful Ohio Sky

Beautiful Ohio Sky

As we traveled at about 30 miles per hour (the diesel-powered engine could go much faster, but this was a leisurely trip), we experienced beautiful scenery.  Lush wetlands and meadows, flowing rivers, beautiful flowers, green trees, a few deer and an Eagle couple, just to name a few things we witnessed.  The trip went one hour out Peninsula and an hour back to our starting point at the Rockside Station.

The railroad runs scenic tours almost everyday as well as specialty tours throughout the year.  If you search for “CVSR”, their website comes right up and details all their upcoming events.

Things have been fairly hectic lately and seem like it will only get worse, so this respite to celebrate our anniversary was much-needed.  It was relaxing knowing we did not have anywhere to be or have anything to do but watch the amazing scenery pass by slowly.  Peaceful time with the one you love is the best gift available.  As we rocked gently to the rhythm of the train’s movement, I realized that I have had enough drama in my life.  It has become time to start enjoying a simpler life.  That was part of what I was looking for on the road, but I actually had to be on the rails to reach that conclusion.  Travel, even short travel, does change you.

View from a train.

View from a train.

I certainly enjoyed our belated anniversary celebration.  It was so much fun and relaxing at the same time.  Now I want to start planning other train trips in other locations.  It is truly a breathtaking way to see the country.  Hopefully, there will be more train stories in this blog.  I cannot wait to see how that unfolds.  Thank you for listening!

An artistic view from the train.

An artistic view from the train.

More Laundry – More Pictures of Phase 1 – Epic Journey

Going through the camera, I found a few more interesting pictures I thought I would share. I did get a few pretty good nature shots.  Hope you like them!

Mountains and sky are what make up the West.

Mountains and sky are what make up the West.

This one really shows the green landscape against the vibrant blue sky.

This one really shows the green landscape against the vibrant blue sky.

The West is beautiful but can be a harsh place also.

The West is beautiful but can be a harsh place also.

This was a huge lake in Oregon before getting to the Pacific Ocean.  The water was so blue!

This was a huge lake in Oregon before getting to the Pacific Ocean. The water was so blue!

The Pacific Ocean on an overcast day.  Still stunning!

The Pacific Ocean on an overcast day. Still stunning!

I love mountains, just not driving over them.

I love mountains, just not driving over them.

Day 13 – Clinton, Oklahoma to North Little Rock, Arkansas

An Epic Journey

We started the day off by stopping at the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma.  I figured it would be a tourist trap that was designed to only suck your money away.  I was wrong.  It was an adorable, yet small, museum dedicated to preserving the history of Route 66.  The displays included quite a few authentic photographs, props and even cars of the time.  I am really glad we stopped as it was informative and fun.

I love the history of Route 66!!  It is true Americana! I love the history of Route 66!! It is true Americana!

While driving in the west, one cannot help but notice all the casinos along the way.  I totally understand that those casinos bring tourist dollars into the community, provide decent wages to local people and they allow people to better themselves.  I get it, I really do.  But when you look around and you see big, bright and shiny casinos surrounded by…

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