Ok, so this one actually came before the California trip as well, and I forgot it too! Oops! Anyway this was a road trip my buddy Matthew took with me. He lives in Guam but comes to Florida to visit often. We have been throughout Florida so much, and I have the travel bug so I suggested we take a road trip out of state when he got here. The. plan: leave for Savannah, GA on day one, and stay the night there; get up the next day and drive to Congaree National Park; from there head toward Asheville and make an overnight stop there; get up the next day and go to Great Smoky Mountains National Park; stay the night in Cherokee, NC; travel and stay the day and night in Clayton, GA; return to Florida. In other words: a lot!
Unlike literally EVERY SINGLE OTHER TRIP in this blog, this one had not so good weather. My good weather streak ran out, so things were not ideal. It was not terrible…but not ideal. I had hope to do some more exploring in Savannah, but unfortunately it was pouring so dinner and a quick stop at a brewpub was it. The next morning we stopped at Congaree National Park, SC, home to some of the largest cypress trees in the country, and is some kind of special bottomlands hardwood forest. It was sparsely attended, very serene, very green, and there was not a ton to do aside from a boardwalk hike that turned into a small trail through the immediate area. I understand there is some kayaking and canoeing that one can do on the Congaree River if one desires.
After departing Congaree we decided to stop at a place called Chimney Rock, just outside of Asheville. There was some good hiking around the area and it seemed really neat. But the weather was not great, we ran into a copperhead, and it was ho hum because of all of that. I could see how it would be spectacular in good, non snakey weather though!
My buddy and I made it to Asheville and did some of the same things I did just a year earlier. No pictures or further commentary because I just wrote about that trip a few days ago! So the next morning we drove from Asheville up to Gatlinburg, TN. There was a new Skybridge situation they had built there and it seemed worthy of checking out before going into the Smokies. It took a lift to get up there and unfortunately while we were up there storms moved in and we got stuck for a while. Annoying, but what can you do?
When we finally got down it was time to get into the Smokys. Before I get to further into this and it sounds like a not so good experience: The Park itself is splendid and a real gem – easy to see why it’s the most visited national park! Obviously, this was June, so heavy crowds were to be expected but it was pouring and I was hoping that the silver lining could be less crowded. But, no. It was crowded AND pouring rain. My hiking aspirations went out the window. We drove awhile in the park and managed to get some better weather in the Cades Cove area…and the dumb long line of cars slowly inching their ways through the area. The weather turned annoying again so we basically just finished the drive south through the park and checked into our Airbnb in Cherokee. We found a cool short trail to a neat waterfall before heading to dinner. While at dinner it cleared up and the sun came out! I told my friend: “Hey, let’s go back into the park.” So we did, and it was much nicer experience. We decided to try the drive up Clingman’s Dome at around 7 or 8 o’clock, which was a mistake. The sign said exactly how many miles it was to the summit and I don’t know if I ever watched the tenths of miles click off on the odometer so closely! I couldn’t tell you if the drive was crazy scary and exposed or not. It’s like we were driving through a cloud the entire time! We eventually made it to the top and did the short hike up to the top of the observation deck. I assume from the signs up there that you can see miles and miles, but we could see like 15 feet.
The next day we headed down toward Clayton, GA. I was there just the year prior and it is only an hour or less from Cherokee, so a return was warranted. We hiked Black Rock Mountain, the Tennessee trail, from start to summit, about 2.5 miles or so. The year previous I had just driven up to the top, but the summit was actually off in the woods. We did the Tallulah Gorge hikes which I had already done before we saw goats on top of a country store, and had dinner at the restaurant I had been to the last time. Protip: if ever in Clayton, GA, check out fortify kitchen and try their homemade butter…you can buy a big container of it, and it’s not cheap but OH SO GOOD. After the long trip back to FL, this trip was in the books!
Overall impressions: Pros: Two national parks. Smokys after the crowds and rain cleared out. Clayton, GA (again) Cons: Weather. Smoky’s with the crazy crowds and not so good weather. Congaree is neat, but not much to do there.
The Adventurer Final Word: 4 Stars! It was a cool roadtrip for sure. Had the weather been better if might have been close to 5 stars.
I might have mentioned at the beginning of the blog that I would try to keep everything in some semblance of order. Done pretty well so far! However, I forgot this one. And it’s going to be a short one. The FIRST trip of a very travel heavy 2019. The friend I went to Colorado with in 2018 had his 50th at a restaurant in Islamorada, one of the northern Florida keys. He, his wife, some friends and family made the 6 hour drive from the Tampa area on Saturday and were to come back the very next day.
I went ahead and left Friday morning with the intent to stay in the Wynwood area of Miami. Think of a grungy industrial, craft brewery area and you got it! I also was meeting up with a former student of mine from many years ago who works in Miami now. He lives in a high rise in an area of Miami called Brickell, so we cabbed it down there and checked out some cool spots for the evening. Miami is NUTS. It’s huge. I had been down there once or twice when I first moved to Florida and its either grown like crazy or I just forgot. Anyway, Saturday morning I got up and tid a tandem drive by of two national parks near Miami.
I first went to Biscayne National Park and to be fair this visit is not really even a visit. I walked around outside along the shore a bit and checked out the visitor center, but the bulk of the park is off shore in the waters and islands off the coast. I simply didnt have the time it was going to take to get out to the islands and …. walk around them like any other offshore island in Florida.
Some may not know this, but the entrance to Biscayne National Park is literally like 30 minutes from the entrance to the Everglades National Park. So I zipped it over there real quick like! I went in, found a visitor center and found a short hiking experience down the road a bit and called it a park. I had been there once before is some fashion…and to be honest? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…Florida is not that varied really. Once you have seen one swampy alligator infested marsh you’ve seen em all!
Off to the 2 hour drive to Islamorada. I have done this drive all the way to Key West before, and it is very pretty. The water is gorgeous! If it were not so far from me I would go down there much more often. The Fish House is a super awesome place to go if you like seafood! I apparently did not take many pictures on this trip. Weird. But it is what it is!
Overall impressions: Pros: The water down in this part of Florida is great! The keys are cool for sure. Two national parks (ho hum as they are for me) are within a stones throw of Miami. Cons: The scenery is not very good unless it’s the waters around the keys. It’s not easily accessible from me. The keys themselves are still a good ways from Miami and the traffic is a nightmare.
The New Orleans crew, dog included (well traveled dog!) had already booked this California trip before we booked that New Orleans trip I believe! Destination: wine country!
As a prelude I will say that I really had to idea what to expect from this trip! I had never been to California before. I did not know what the terrain was like, what the weather was like, and I used to be fairly non-discriminate in my wine drinking! I came back very impressed with this area of California and somewhat a wine snob!
We landed in San Francisco later in the evening and got a start the following day! We spent the next two days in the immediate San Francisco area. I had never been to San Fran and never to California either. The nice parts of the city were definitely nice and it was definitely HILLY. We rented bikes and biked around the north shoreline from the piers and out to the Golden Gate Bridge. I do not believe many people know there is a fort under the bridge that is a national historical park. The basically built the bridge over it…kinda neat! Beautiful sights of the city from that area. We then biked over the bridge. It’s longer than I thought! And lot of people running/walking/biking. Cool experience for sure! We continued over the bridge biked down into Sausalito. This is a really neat looking town! It reminded me of towns you would see in Greece or Italy with the way the houses were built into the hills. The great thing about the biking excursion was that you could ferry the bikes back across the bay, so doing the biking and the ferry past the bridge and Alcatraz all in one! That evening we stopped by and visited some supposedly famous San Francisco Bar called the Tonga Room…a place that seems…like it shouldn’t be successful, or even popular. It’s like a kitschy ass older folks place with a young crowd and a big barge in the middle of a swimming pool with a live band? I dunno, weird.
So the next day we got into our rental truck and headed north, over the bridge and out of the city back to Sausalito. Such a pretty spot! And we wanted to take the dog there and get a nice lunch! Afterword we headed up the road to Santa Rosa, our home base for the next several days.
Our AirBNB was in a really neat, quiet spot kinda at the bottom of a large hill/small mountain, it was probably good that we had a truck for getting up and down the road the house was on! And, the best part? It was conveniently only about 1 mile from a really nice winery with killer views and pretty lavender fields! To clarify, Santa Rosa is in Sonoma County. Wineries could open at 10 but they had to close by 6, I think, and you could buy wind by the glass and drink on the property in Sonoma, which was not something you could easily do in Napa as we found out later.
Santa Rosa is also home to a world renown brewery called Russian River Brewery, named after the area close by where there are also lots of vineyards. So, we definitely had to check out that scene!
In addition to visiting wineries in Sonoma County, we also ventured off into Napa County next door, and down to Napa proper. But, it was quite irritatingly different! Apparently there was an old law in place for older wineries and a new law in place for newer wineries that dictated whether or not a winery could sell a person wine by the glass to be consumed on the property. You could spend a fortune buying a whole bottle of course, or spend for a proper wine tasting event (which we did a couple times) but if you wanted one glass of that wine you just tasted and liked, you might not be able to. Lame! Sonoma county had no such laws, so Sonoma became the preferred spot!
In addition to lots of winery stuff we also took a really cool hot air balloon flight over the Sonoma area!
On our way back to to the airport we made a stop at nearby Muir Woods National Monument. Super large redwoods! Surprising that it is just right outside of the city! Protip: the drive down hill to this spot is intense also.
Overall impressions: Pros: Lots of close alcohol access 🙂 Great scenery, much better than I expected. The balloon trip was super cool if not a bit pricey! Cons: Not really any. Getting around San Francisco was a little annoying and time consuming and I would say that was the only gripe, and they only affected the first day and a half or so of the trip.
The Adventurer Final Word: Five Stars! Highly enjoyed this trip! Very relaxing, beautiful, and great wine!
The beginning of 2019 brought some new travel opportunities! My bff Nicki (from here on out, the Adventurer Sidekick) got a sweet deal with a Chase Southwest credit card. For a little spending within a set time period she got a decent chunk of points with Southwest and a companion pass for the rest of the year! Translation: she got a super awesome travel opportunity and I got to tag along! Our first trip was to the big easy, NOLA, with Nicki’s pup Charlie, and our friend Katie! This was my first time here. *There may be some slightly inappropriate pictures in here…it is NOLA after all!*
This was a spring break trip, second half of a week in mid march. We got into town, no rental car, just uber/lyfted or used the street car stop close to the AirBnb. So we got situated and headed out! First stop was a snack and beverage at a staple called the Columns. Seems like a swank little place on St. Charles Ave.
From there we found a roof top bar called Hot Tin and checked that out. Killer views of the city from here!
Now for the rest of this trip…there was a lot of good food, drinking, late nights, and some awesome music! One restaurant of note was the Court of Two Sisters where I had some delicious baked oysters. I also found some tasty…but how the hell do you eat these? boiled crawfish.
Other highlights during the trip: having a drink at Willie’s Cocktails, getting a Huge Ass Beer, Nicki and her dog getting a psychic reading (?), loving on the dog in general, meeting and hanging out with one of the Walking Dead Cast members, checking out the Carousel Bar, looking in on the Jazz National Historical Park and seeing some great live music!
Overall impressions: Pros: Fun, relatively easy to get around, and many options for party type things, great food, great music! Cons: Lots of tourist trappy type things, I’m too old for this stuff, the Bourbon street smell is …not pleasant.
The Adventurer Final Word: Four Stars! The trip itself was a fun one! I am not sure I will ever find myself in New Orleans ever again, but it was definitely worth stopping in, especially with some friends!
This was my last trip of 2018! If you read the previous entry on my June trip to Colorado you may recall that one was supposed to be my first ever solo trip. It was half solo, so this one became my first full solo trip. Now you may think to yourself what is so special about this area? Well…there really isn’t anything! But, I was looking into a fall whitewater rafting option and came across the Deerfield River in Western Massachusetts. There are only so many fall rafting options to be found and they are almost all dam release, like this one was, and that means sporadic days are available to raft. A quick bit of research found a Southwest airport in Hartford, CT, and a quick drive up to the Shelburne Falls, MA area where this company, Crabapple Whitewater has a spot and some weekend rafting trips! I didn’t pick the area just for that. My research into the area showed a driveby of New Hampshire was possible, a good hiking option in Burlington, VT, and a loop to another mountain spot in extreme Western Mass.
After flying into CT (is there a point for this state to even exist?) I headed north toward Shelburne Falls, MA. It was a surprisingly pretty drive! I have been to Boston a couple times, but never out in the main part of the state. Very pretty, indeed. My Airbnb was right on the Deerfield River, near a local landmark called the Bridge of Flowers. I spent the afternoon and evening in the quaint little river town. A good spot to here a brew and some surprisingly good homemade bar food was the West End Pub and if you are looking for a more high end sit down experience check out Blue Rock Restaurant!
The following morning was an early start to the rafting company. I was a little nervous about the whole situation due to being solo. I ended up getting lumped with a group of early 20s Granite Staters (I looked that one up!)….and these dudes looked the part, let me tell you! The rafting experience was fun! As I learned along the way a dam release river starts off pretty tame, but gets progressively more challenging as you go down stream. This one basically started with baby rapids and culminated with a big class IV at the end. There were some new experiences this time though! Our guide found places where we could actually get the boat to stay in one spot in a rapid while the raft dipped down into the water to …flood?..it was pretty neat!
After the river experience it was off to Burlington! I had never been to Vermont or New Hampshire and the road north from MA north into Vermont before cutting over to Burlington basically straddles the state line so I had to make a stop! I do not remember the name of that town at all…but it was very New England looking, big white church in the middle of the town and all. I stopped at a bar and grill and had a burger and some New Hampshire beer and called it a new state!
The drive across Vermont to Burlington was very pretty. The whole area is actually very mountainous. Despite being fairly short they looked just as big as any I had seen (low base elevation of the land)! Driving into Burlington you could see the big 4000 footer overlooking the town that I had picked to hike. It is called Camel’s Hump, is the second or third highest point in the state, but at that particular location it is high enough to have a tundra summit. How bizarre! Burlington was a really cool place but expensive. It’s about Asheville size, has that same eclectic vibe, but is clean and fancier rather that dirty and grungy. I got there Saturday afternoon and the entire downtown was blocked off into a big pedestrian event. I wandered into a couple pubs for live music and a beer. I found out pretty quickly how “interesting” Vermont people are. I asked a bartender about the Magic Hat Brewery and was quite surprised at the “we don’t talk about them” response I got. How weird. More on that later. It was an early night for an early hiking start the next morning.
So the next morning was the Camel’s Hump hike. I took a trail called the Monroe Trail which connected with the Long Trail (this is actually a part of the AT) that hits the summit of Camel’s Hump. I started around 6 or 7, early enough to be ahead of most people on the way up. It was very serene, very quiet, and the weather was pretty perfect! At some point I decided to take a side trail to find an old plane crash, but unbeknownst to me I went the wrong way and the section of trail I was on…not one human was spotted. I actually slipped pretty good down a small rocky opening, no problems, but be careful! Had I been hurt, who knows how long I would have been there! Eventually my side trail got me to the Long Trail and I was able to make my way to the summit. It ended up being about a 10 mile trip! The top was disappointing due to weather. The tops of these mountains are anything if unpredictable with weather. The last 1/8 of a mile or so on the ascent, the temperature plummeted, the wind picked up, and the fog was pervasive. Usually there are spectacular views across the state from up there. I could see about 25 feet. Oh well, win some, lose some! It was still an awesome experience for me. Afterward I came back into town STARVING. I found a delicious menu (but expensive) at the Farmhouse Tap and Grill. Note: You will not find any chain merchant in Burlington. I think I saw a Dunkin Donuts, and that is it. Everything else was a local place, which is super cool!
Other things I discovered in Vermont included the answer to my Magic Hat question, the world’s tallest filing cabinet and a neat park called Red Rock point. Let’s start with that filing cabinet. So, randomly, seemingly in the middle of an open grass lot in the town sits a very tall filing cabinet -well, set of filing cabinets attached to each other. There is thick graffiti on it up to a certain point. There also happened to be a brewery adjacent, Switchback Brewing Co. Sitting down for a beer I noticed normalish sounding beer names but then “Connector IPA.” I chatted up the bartender about this beer’s name. He informed me that right next to the brewery was to be an end point of a highway to alleviate Burlington traffic (it might smallish but yes, there were traffic problems). And due to red tape of some sort or another it never got done. Ah. That filing cabinet? Yep. Every 4 years that passes without a road they add another 4 drawer filing cabinet on top. It’s about the most damned Vermont thing I can possibly think of. I also asked him about that Magic Hat situation and learned that they sold out to a bigger regional brewery, so essentially Magic Hat was/is dead to them! Ah, Vermont. (I did make it to Magic Hat, by the way and I still liked the beers :))
Red Rock Point is a pretty cool spot. It is right on a point overlooking Lake Champlain with view out into the New York Mountains. There are a couple miles of hiking trails in the park, and is very easy, but nice, and the part along the lake is very nice. It is elevated maybe a good 50 feet off of the surface of the lake so don’t do anything stupid!
The next morning I was off toward the Adams, MA area and Mt. Greylock for my last hiking stop. On the way I got sidetracked and found some neat old fort ruins at a spot called Crown Point Historic Area right on the NY/VT border.
From there I decided to audible my day through the sticks in New York. And after having a near gas shortage experience in a huge area of no cell signal in the middle of nowhere NY I managed to make it North Adams, MA. My Airbnb was actually really close to Natural Bridge State Park. I had planned to hike Mt. Greylock the following morning, but there was road up to the summit and I was very sore after the Camel’s Hump hike, so that afternoon’s drive up was good enough. And then the following morning I hiked around and explored that state park. Neat spot, but nothing awe inspiring. Finally, my big loop took me back through my first couple stops, I found the Yankee Candle factory back near the interstate and I had an hour or so to kill exploring historic Deerfield, MA. Then, it was back to Florida and the last trip of 2018 was in the books!
Overall impressions: Pros: The whitewater rafting was very fun, if not super challenging. The hike at Camel’s Hump was great. Burlington is worth a second look for sure and I would definitely consider another Vermont/Burlington Trip Cons: There wasn’t really anything super amazing about any particular part of this trip. If I ever find myself up in this part of the world again, it would probably be just Burlingtown and maybe other parts of VT.
The Adventurer Final Word: Four Stars! Rafting and hiking and a cool visit to Vermont!
First of all, I logged in today and see that I have likes and views! If you all see this, thank you! I did not actually expect anyone to have stumbled upon my humble site yet! I have not posted it on any of my social media places yet, so even my friends and family have yet to see this!
So, very soon after getting back from the trip to Northern Georgia I was off again! The genesis of this trip was an idea to do a solo trip on my own. I had never done that. I was sitting at a Rays game with a trumpet player colleague and good pal of mine and was discussing this plan with him. (I had pegged down Colorado but I was thinking more in the fall.) He told me he and his wife were planning on going out to Colorado to visit a pal out there in June and I should tag along for part of the trip! I thought about it for a couple days and booked it! We would be flying separately and I was still going to be doing part of this trip on my own, and was excited about it!
I believe I flew in on Tuesday. A couple things immediately came to my attention as not meeting expectations, First of all, it was about 9 million degrees out. Secondly, I was not entirely sure I had not mistakenly landed in Kansas and thirdly, WHERE WERE THE MOUNTAINS?! Contrary to popular belief Denver is actually not in the mountains. There are mountains past Denver, but Denver is not in the mountains at all. Mind blown! So, I hopped in the lyft to get to a car rental place in Denver proper. Protip: it is sometimes MUCH cheaper to rent from a site far enough removed from an airport to get around their sphere of fee influence. In this case it was like more than a 100 dollar difference, even with 60 bucks in lyft rides! Anyway, I got my rental car and it was go time!
From Denver I stopped for a case of water (you will drink water like its going out of style out there) and drove straight to Estes Park. This was actually unplanned but I was to be staying that evening in an airbnb in Boulder and could not get in until sometime later in the afternoon and I had several hours to spare, so I thought, hmm…let’s check out this Rocky Mountain National Park thing! The drive between Boulder and Estes Park was pretty damn cool. It basically follows a small river, through a canyon with no cell signal for large swaths of the drive. And when you get over the last hill going into Estes Park what a view! At an elevation of around 7500 feet or so and surrounded by these huge peaks it was quite the sight! Even though I had a few hours to kill, of course that wasn’t much time to do anything. I drove up the main road, Trail Ridge Road, through the park all the way up to its highest spot at just over 12000 feet. I jogged to the top of a hill at 12005 and surprisingly had no elevation problems! As a reminder of what a small world it can be, there was a lady working in the visitor center at that spot who actually lives nor far from me here in St. Petersburg, FL and had even seen a performance of the big band I play with! So then I headed back down toward Boulder.
After getting unloaded at the airbnb I found myself in downtown Boulder to get some supplies and grab a couple beers at a local bar. Be sure to check out Midnight Sun and Pubin downtown. Boulder is a cool little place to visit for sure! The next morning, Wednesday, I got up and it was hiking time! So that airbnb I picked wasn’t just any random airbnb, I picked it for its location within walking distance of the trailhead for Bear Peak, an 8500 feet elevation mountain that I wanted to hike. The hike started off not too exciting. I did the NCAR trail which is mainly a fireroad and the first 30 minutes or so (and last 30 minutes or so) are just in the blazing sun. Once in the forested area it is much nicer! I did attempt the summit trail, but I was alone, and there did not seem to be many people at all and I shied away. I also had to meet up with the friends in Denver in the afternoon so I couldn’t dilly dally. I do regret not finishing that peak and it might be on a return trip some day! But anyway, I did hike the entire length of the fire road and got some pretty killer views at the top, including of Denver which was a decent distance away! On the way down I took a side trail up another area of the mountain toward a Batcave. Seriously. It was a cave for bats! That was a pretty fun trail with some scrambling. I believe it is called Mallory Trail or Mallory Cave. I found a hiking buddy and I am glad I did because I think I would have got lost…and I think she was a little lost as well, but with both of us paying attention to the land we got up there and back down. Despite the boring fire road part, this was a really cool hiking area for sure!
After finishing that hike I met up with my pals in Denver. We hit an area of town called RINO which is big brewery/hipster kind of area. It is a fun spot for sure and there is some really good beer going on there! I enjoyed Ratio Beerworks, and there was a cool outdoor beer market, if you will, in that area as well. This is a neat spot to visit if you get a chance to be in Denver!
The next morning the crew got up and headed south to Colorado Springs. We had a date with a whitewater rafting company in Canon City. We used Royal Gorge Rafting and Ziplining Company. This stretch of the Arkansas river is usually pretty challenging but I understood the snow pack that winter was light so the run was mainly class III, but it was still super fun and the Royal Gorge itself was a great experience! I actually got knocked out of the raft on this one….it wasn’t my fault! We went askew and the guy across from me fell into me from across the boat…my buddy also went out there too! Despite the fear of going out in a rapid, I actually was mulling over staying in the water! This trip was HOT. It was 108 or 109 air temp…and the water was in the 60s. It felt great! But alas we had to be back in the boat to finish her up!
So all fun and games aside there was one scary moment, though, and a cautionary tail. An older lady, probably mid to late 50s, and not in great physical shape, went out in a rapid and had to be rescued…it was alarming! She ended up ok and in our raft, but she went out in a legit rapid and then managed to get caught in some rocks but in a spot where we could get to her. As fun and exhilarating as it is, don’t do it if you are not in great shape, at least not the harder, more technical runs! It was a super fun trip, I would have preferred a little more difficulty, but what can ya do?! After finishing up and grabbing lunch, we all stopped at the Garden of the Gods and did some exploring there for a couple hours. The group split again. My friends went back to Denver and I stayed in Colorado Springs. My airbnb was near a brewery with some delicious pizza called Cogstone Brewing Co., and also a city park called Palmer Park. If you ever get a chance to hit Colorado Springs, there are several other cool things to do there but I highly suggest both Garden of the Gods and Palmer Park. Both have some good outdoor activities and killer views of Pike’s Peak. Garden of the Gods will offer you the quintessential Pike’s Peak through the GoG rock formations while Palmer Park will give you the mountain looming over the city view!
I really cram things into short periods of time! My last full day in Colorado got me up super early to make the drive up to the top of Pike’s Peak. What a cool experience! Some gorgeous scenery, pretty lakes, and a pretty crazy drive up to 14K plus feet! Despite no troubles with altitude at 12K, 14k was a totally different story. I got out of the car and almost fell down! I was quite concerned! After slowly acclimating in the visitor center (BTW, the donuts they make there are well known, and they are legit!) I was ready to venture back out again. I had planned to hike about a mile down from the summit to see a particular feature down the trail…I made it a couple hundred feet and was feeling ok, but then I turned around to go back to the car and get my back. And, that was all she wrote. As soon as I started back up the spins came back. So, I just hiked around the summit for a while, taking in the views! Side note, it’s COLD and windy AF at the top of these mountains! It was 42 degree and gale force (at least) winds up top, and about 90 and fairly calm at the bottom! At the bottom of the mountain is this tourist trap called the Cave of Winds. I stopped in briefly and was on my way. I took side roads from Pike’s Peak back to Denver which took me to another hiking spot in a tiny town with no cell service.
The last night in Denver and I think we went back to the Rino area. The next day was my flight home but we weren’t done yet! We got up early and made a quick stop to visit Red Rocks Amphitheater. Super cool place! Loved the vibe and energy of the Saturday morning yoga and exercise crews there! Plus there is a museum of sorts open and free to the public inside the bowels of the Amphitheatre!
Overall impressions: Pros: Pretty much everything. The drive and experience to the top of Pike’s Peak, while not as ideal as hiking the whole thing, is a must do. RMNP is world class and a serious competitor for coolest place ever. Cons: Not many. The air is very dry. That causes lots of issues for me, but that’s about it. If anything, not a con for Colorado but a con for me, there is so much to do that it’s hard to filter out things to do to maximize enjoyment rather than number of things done, but yet, I would not have cut any of these experiences from my trip!
The Adventurer Final Word: Five Stars! I do not particular care for the city stuff, but the outdoor stuff is superior and Colorado is super cool to visit!
In early June, my troupe and I (3 humans and 2 dogs) crammed into an old Rav 4 and headed up ten or so hours to Northeast Georgia. Why you might ask? Well, my best friend’s old dog was ill and she wanted to do a last hurrah with the pup, so that meant a road trip! We looked for cool spots within a reasonable drive and found Tallulah Gorge just outside of the small town of Clayton, GA. Further investigation found a world class, serious white water rafting outfit based in Clayton, the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a very close proximity to Asheville, some ziplining, and some great hiking! So Clayton and Asheville it was!
We stayed at a pretty amazing AirBNB on top of a mountain called Screamer Mountain in Clayton. I cannot rave enough about this place. It is called Halfway to Heaven, at an elevation of about 3000 feet. The place was 3 stories built into the side of the mountain, each level had bedrooms, a bathroom, AND a balcony looking out into the mountains. For three of us for 6 nights its was only like 1000 bucks, so not bad at all (fewer nights actually is not a good deal with a hefty cleaning fee).
One day was reserved for a 6 or 7 hour Whitewater rafting excursion with Southeastern Expeditions. It was a class 5 run, and it was not messing around. That was some fun ass, dangerous stuff, and I LOVED IT. We found some pretty awesome restaurants and bars in the town as well. Pro tip: there is a butter you can buy in bulk from the one restaurant called Fortify Kitchen that is OUT OF THIS world delicious! We spent a day visiting and hiking in Tallulah Gorge. This was sort of the big draw for this area. They call it the Grand Canyon of the east, and it sure is spectacular! We also spent a day going to Saluda, NC to zipline with a company called The Gorge. I had done one previous zipline in Florida, of all places. It was pretty much a flat zip ten feet above the ground. This was a serious (to me) zipline experience for sure.
In addition to all of that, we took a two day diversion up to the Asheville area. It was my first visit there and…it’s ok…little too dirty, hippie scene for me to be sure. But, there was some good beer, of course! We also went to check out the Biltmore House. Granted we got there close to closing of the ticket office, but for 70 dollars a ticket, I feel it’s overpriced. It’s cool to look at, the inside is definitely some good American history, and the gardens are pretty…but 70 bucks? Naw. Protip: Go to the FREE balcony overlook at the Omni Grove Hotel, but buy a drink to be nice!
We also ventured up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grandfather Mountain and explored! I hiked to the top of the peak from the visitor center, my first mountain summit! To get there is a hike with a lot of exposure on some ladders and ropes. Awesome technical hike. It’s listed as difficult but I don’t think it’s that bad. The girls sat in the parking lot, drank beers, and staged pictures to look like they actually did the hike :)!
One more day back in Clayton to prepare for the journey back. I explored a little more out on my own and drove up to the top of Black Rock Mountain. I saw some good hiking opportunities there and actually found myself back a year later! More on that one later!
Overall impressions: Pros: Clayton is a nice and not too touristy mountain town. The whitewater rafting is KILLER. The ziplining in Saluda was great. Grandfather Mountain and the Blue Ridge parkway are beautiful and the hiking was great. Cons: As nice as Clayton is you will probably find yourself at the same two or three places if you are going “out” and there is not a lot to do outside of what I did. Asheville is not as great as advertised. The Biltmore house is underwhelming for the price.
The Adventurer Final Word: Five Stars! I definitely suggest this mountain get away if you need a short week or an extended weekend that’s no more than a state or two away! EDIT. I initially gave this one 4 stars for the drive. However, as fun as the trip was and the fact that it IS within one day drive, I am revising to 5 stars. I don’t really know what I was thinking. I made it a point to come back to the area the very next year and would like to make it an annual stop at some point!
SUPER AWESOME TRIP. This was my first “major” trip: furthest I have ever been away from home base, longest ever flight, probably the most different spot I have been to, and the place with the most “things” I have ever done on a vacation. This is a lengthy post, and I apologize for those reading it, but there were lots of things on this trip to document!
Firstly, it was myself, my best, Nicki, another great friend, Katie, and two other pals, Bob and Lori. Nicki, Katie, and I flew together and arrived in Anchorage in the evening, maybe 8 or 9ish. Nicki mistakenly thought I would be blitzed from the travel day. That’s not how I work! I figure when traveling do as much as possible and recover when back home! So we landed, got the rental pickup, checked into the hotel and went for downtown. We found a cool spot called Humpy’s. I had a great Rudolph Burger and my first (of many) Alaskan beer. It was June 17th, and wouldn’t you know it, we found a damn SOLSTICE Party and partied until 1 or 2! And guess what!? STILL LIGHT OUTSIDE. I can see why alcohol is a problem in Alaska (it is, especially in the villages) – it’s either depressingly dark for long swathes of time, or the nighttime drive to go to bed doesn’t exist because it’s so light out the rest of the time!
The next morning the 3 of us met up with the other 2 and made our way to Girdwood, a bit southeast of Anchorage, along the Seward Highway. The highway itself is quite scenic and parallels a river/glacier spillway/inlet. Girdwood is gorgeous! There is a ski resort there on Mt. Aleyeska. From there one can take a tram up a couple thousand feet to a delicious restaurant called Seven Glaciers. Super tasty food but its expensive, but oh soooo good!! I also found a trail at the end of a road in the town called Virgin Creek Falls. This is a pretty simple trail, short, but has a neat waterfall with both a pool at the bottom and higher vantage point above. Neat little rainforest trail! We also encountered a black bear that had broken into the local bar. But the highlight of Girdwood was the adventure that Katie found for her, Nicki, and I with an Iditarod dog musher. We got to have an adventure just the three of us with dog musher Nick Petit. This was SUPER FUN and probably one of the coolest things I have ever done! The drive up to his spot was neat enough, going through the Alaska rainforest into the area between all these mountains where he and his dogs were. There was no snow but he had them pull us on a sleigh with wheels through and abandoned gold mine. How cool!
The next day the entire crew went further down the road to Seward to catch a whale watching cruise. That was a pretty neat experience as well! Seward seems like a pretty cool place to return to! There is a national park there as well, Kenai Fjords, which I was unaware of at the time. Oops. I will be back. Anyway, the cruise was definitely neat. There was a lunch stopover on an island, lots of golden seal viewing, and then, after a bit, THAR BE WHALES HERE!
After a quick return to Anchorage to swap out the truck for a proper RV, it was off to Denali National Park. The drive up took a few hours and was very scenic. We had reserved a campground spot in Riley Campground and basically did some glamping for several days. We did some hiking around the campground, The McKinley Station Trail, around a lake called Horseshoe Lake, took the tour bus over Polychrome Pass and the 60 miles to Eielson Center to get a good view of Denali…if it weren’t hidden in the clouds! We did get a quick peek at some point, but the mountain was mainly shrouded in clouds. Additionally I went on my first ever white water rafting trip! Not too bad for the first trip, on the Nenana River in Alaska! We also saw some kitschy dinner theatre shows at the Alaska Cabin Nite and also the Music of Denali. My friend Nicki used to actually work there back in the day! A couple other noteworthy spots: The Salmon Bake, which is a must visit for food, drinks, and some late night partying, Lynx Creek Pizza for some great pies and another great pizza place but has the pizza bar tap I think I had ever seen, of all Alaskan beer is Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse.
When we finally departed Denali we were not actually done with Denali! We saddled that big ole RV into a spot in Talkeetna for a couple nights. When we got there Katie, Nicki, and I headed to the airport and got on a bush plane through K2 Aviation to fly and land on a glacier right below Denali. That was super cool, too!
At long last we headed back to Anchorage and ate at a local mainstay, the Moosestooth (great pizza and beer!) and the next morning back to Florida!
Overall impressions: Pros include stunning scenery, great views, many things to do, wide open spaces, a different take on life (it really seems different up there) . Cons: pretty much the only con to this is the distance to travel the dollars to spend!
The Adventurer Final Word: Five Stars, everything. It was all great and worth doing more than once!
Ok! Here we go! So, firstly, this was not my trip and was not planned by me. I was accompanying my best friend on a personal journey. This was her trip. That being said it was an EYE OPENING experience for many reasons.
This was my first journey west. We flew into Phoenix and landed while it was still light out, but by the time we got the rental car and began the trek to Flagstaff en route to the Canyon, it was totally dark. There was nothing to see, and was BLACK. We rolled into the national park late in the evening as we were lodging in the park. The only thing along the journey that was noteworthy to me were the occasional elevation signs, which were different, yet totally insignificant….but growing up in Indiana and then living in Florida, one changes elevation by about 15 feet maximum, ever, so those elevation signs don’t really exist. The last sign was 7000 feet!
The first morning was the walk up to the rim of the Canyon. A friend of mine (who I have previously mentioned, and will mention again in the blog) once told me it was a big hole in the ground and not much else. My experience was wholly different! First, it was hard to breath. At this point I was pushing 300 pounds and had never been anywhere near this elevation my entire life! But, I digress. The most noticeable thing was that as you approach you are walking uphill and you actually start seeing the FAR side of the canyon rising up over the horizon … and it is IMPRESSIVE. Also, there are trees. I kinda thought the canyon was in the middle of the desert, but there is a national forest there called Kaibab. Who knew!? So, after getting to some various lookout points and exploring the views and some harrowing climbs off the trail, we had lunch at a pretty neat restaurant that looks out into the canyon.
After those initial hours we did some of the bus tour to see some other view points. We did a super fun and awesome bike excursion. I cannot recommend this enough, super awesome way to see the canyon! We had a fancy dinner, met a Shoshone couple (more on this in a minute), saw some mule deer, did some minor hiking, found a thing called the Desert View Watchtower, and I did some mid night sky watching when the moon went down (awesome!).
A really neat part of the trip was meeting that Shoshone couple. My friend and I had reservations at a nice restaurant and we got there a bit early. As we are prone to do, we found the bar to have a couple drinks. We were looking for a nice quiet secluded spot for her journey but were having trouble navigating the crowds. That couple at the bar next to us overheard us and pointed us to this spot called Shoshone Point. It’s off of a trail outside of the the main tourist area and was unmarked with a small, very easy to miss parking spot. They told us one of their myth stories and that this was a very special spiritual place to their people. SUPER COOL!
Overall impressions: Pros include stunning scenery, great views, many things to do, wide open spaces, great weather in the Spring, important cultural heritage. Cons include it’s a bit far off of a convenient lodging path, and lodging there is expensive, it’s pretty touristy, and with that comes crowds.
The Adventurer Final Word: Five Stars, an absolute must see.
There will be a separate entry for the trip to the Grand Canyon. I was bitten by the travel bug on that trip. There was a gap between that trip and the next big one where I really got the travel fever, but it has been a pretty jam packed few years of traveling!