To all who love a road trip

To anyone who has gone on a road trip or longs to do so:

It’s dark out as you pull your car onto your street.  You pass by neighbor’s blackened windows wishing, for a second, that you too are still in bed fast asleep.  But then you think of what lies ahead.  You remember the road trip and all thoughts of sleep vanish.  You reach for your coffee and punch the gas. Continue reading “To all who love a road trip”

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Our favorite hike in Arkansas: the Lost Valley Trail

The cool, rainy morning was a relief after a number of brutally hot and humid days.  Not that the heat and humidity should have surprised us, this was Arkansas after all.  

We had come to the Ozark Mountains for a long weekend of hiking and exploring.  Crossing the Mississippi River in Memphis, we immediately hit the flat, fertile flood planes of Arkansas.  Rice paddies (who knew?!!) stretched out in front of us for miles and it was a long time before we entered the hills of the Ozark Mountains.  Fields gave way to pines and the small towns grew further apart.  The road curved sharply, climbing higher as we passed vacation homes clinging to the sides of the mountains.  


We stopped for gas at a station with an amazing view and a dog blocking the entrance of the store.  He raised his head and looked at us with half open eyes as we entered, but did not move.  The two women behind the counter, excited, it seemed, to have a customer, told us of a hidden waterfall nearby that they had just explored.  The waterfall sounded great, but we had to keep moving.  We reached our hotel just as storms rolled in and watched the rain fall in sheets from the dry safety of our room.

The rain stopped mid-morning the next day as we drove through rolling farmland.  A misty fog clung to the hills as we passed dirt roads leading to small farms set among fields filled with cows.   It seemed hard to believe that there was a hike set among the farms, but soon we entered a lush hollow and saw the sign for the trailhead named, appropriately, Lost Valley Trail.

Lost Valley Trail, located within Lost Valley State Park, is a great hike that at just 2.2 miles R/T is accessible to anyone.  It’s a popular hike, so the trail is often crowded.  But the great thing about the hike, the reason we decided it was our favorite, is that it is so varied.  There is just so much to explore on this short hike.

The first half mile or so of the trail is flat and handicap accessible.  There are even a few benches to sit and rest and enjoy the cool quiet of a hardwood forest and the Clark Creek.  After that the trail becomes less level and starts to climb some.

The entire hike is through a box canyon which might have once all been underground.  High bluffs surrounded us on both sides.  Many of the feature on the trail point to this, such as our first stop to look at massive stone blocks that fell long ago from the surrounding bluffs.


We hiked some more and soon came to a natural bridge.  Here the creek has carved through limestone to create an arch.  The water was low enough that we were able to climb through the “tunnel”.  The sun came out, rapidly burning off the remaining fog and the day started to heat up, so we stopped to rock hop and play in the creek. 

Our next stop on the hike was Cob Cave.   It’s not actually a cave, but rather a giant bluff shelter once used by Native Americans that gets its name from corn cobbs found on site.  We spent some time exploring the cave and marveling at the sheer size of it.  It was easy to imagine this being used as a shelter and place to stop and rest for the night.


Stop number four on the hike was Eden Falls.  It’s a series of four waterfalls that plummets 170 feet down the bluffs.  The hike brought us to the base of the falls and then turned to steeply climb out, providing good views of the entire waterfall.


The trail climbed some more, up a set of mossy stone stairs.  They twisted around large boulders and disappeared into the green forest.  Water from last night’s storm still dripped down on us as we stared up at the canyon walls.  They surrounded us and made us feel very small.

Lost Valley.  Here, you could feel how the area got its name.  Standing quietly in the forest, you had a sense of timelessness.  Of the ancient hitting against the present; unchanged by time.  It was comforting to know a place like this still existed!


We hiked on, still climbing some until we reached the last stop of the hike; Eden Falls Cave.  Water from Clark Creek flowed out of the entrance to a small underground cave.  We crossed the creek and climbed up a ledge which the water flowed over, creating a small waterfall.  Peering inside the murkiness of the cave, we were excited.  It was time to go explore!

 The cave has been carved by the stream but there is still a good deal of dry land to walk on.  We strapped on our headlights and began to walk back into the darkness.  You definitely need a flashlight to explore the cave as it is very dark once inside.  We decided to head to the left and soon were on our hands and knees crawling because the ceiling of the cave was so low.  

After a couple minutes of crawling we reached a large room in which we could easily stand.  This is the waterfall room which is about 200 feet back from the entrance of the cave.  We could just make out the 35 foot falls through our headlights.  It was really neat to see a waterfall so deep in a wild cave. (I included a picture of it but it was difficult to get a good one with an iPhone in a dark cave!)


We turned to head out of the cave and realized that there was a narrow passage to our left that we could take that did not require us to crawl.  It was so much easier! So, if you don’t want to crawl, take the passage to the right when you first enter the cave.  You might need to stoop here and there, but will stay on your feet.

We exited the cave, blinking against the shock of bright sunlight after the darkness of the cave, and crossed back over the creek to the trail.  Eden Falls Cave is the end of the trail, so we headed back; a quick one mile hike out through the forest.  The cool solitude of the forest was enjoyable and before we knew it, we had reached our car.

This was a great little hike!  Definitely a must do if you’re ever in Arkansas.  I’ve included a link to the trail information and location below.  Have fun exploring!

Lost Valley Trail

the road to nowhere

Lakeside Drive.  It was a typical enough road, climbing out of downtown as it took us past a school and houses and farms.  Typical enough, at least, until we rounded a corner and saw the sign that let us know we were on the Road to Nowhere.

Fontana Lake is beautiful.  Mountains drop straight down to its’ tourquoise-green waters while fish jump and bald eagles fly overhead.  It twists and turns through 30 miles and is so remote that you rarely see another boat.  But, it’s what’s underneath the lake that is the most interesting.


In the 1940’s, WWII had finally reached America and an increase in aluminum was needed for wartime efforts.  The rugged and remote valley of the Little Tennessee River was chosen to create a dam to produce electricity for the ALCOA aluminum plant in Tennessee as well as for Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manhattan Project.  

The valley was filled with small towns.  People who had been there for generations, working in mines or for lumber companies.  People who loved the beauty and isolation of the area.  Old Highway 288 connected these communities to each other and to their cemeteries.  But, because of the war, things moved fast and, before they knew it, more than 1300 families were forced to leave the area.  The TVA built the dam, the tallest in the east, in a little over two years and Fontana Lake was formed, submerging the towns and Highway 288 far below.

The towns were gone but the Federal government promised to replace Highway 288 with a new road.  The road was to hug the north shore of Fontana Lake from Bryson City to Fontana, providing a way for the former residents to have access to the generations that remained behind in the old family cemeteries.

Construction began on Lakeview Drive in Bryson City.  The road entered the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and everything was going well until an environmental issue halted construction.  The issue was eventually resolved, but construction of the road never resumed.


The road now follows the lake about six miles into the park and abruptly ends at a tunnel.  It truly is a “Road to Nowhere”.   You can now park at the tunnel and hike through it.  Once through the tunnel, the asphalt ends and half finished guard rails give way to hiking trails that continue around the lake.  



 And the cemeteries still remain, more quiet and isolated than ever.  The only way to access them is by hiking in or taking a ferry that the Park Service offers during the summer so former residents can visit their ancestors.  One of the only reminders that this was once a valley filled with small towns bustling with activity.
Below is a map of the area.  You can reach the tunnel by taking Lakeview Dr. East (aka the Road to Nowhere) out of Bryson City.  The road ends at a parking area near the tunnel.

the most romantic picnic spot

It’s difficult to find a more beautiful place than the Smoky Mountains in June.  Spring’s lush green is everywhere.  Colorful wildflowers blanket the hillside.  The sun sets late, slipping slowly behind the mountains as lightening bugs flicker in the evening sky.  The heat and humidity of later months has yet to arrive.  And, best of all, the rhododendrons are in full bloom.


Catawba Rhododendrons, native to the Southern Appalachians, bloom in late-May at lower elevations and in mid-June higher up. The purple-pink bloom lasts only for a short time but is beautiful. One of the best places to view them is at the Roan Mountain Gardens on the North Carolina side of the NC/TN state line.  

Here you can wander through a naturally occurring rhododendron garden high up at an elevation of over 6000 feet. The main path is paved so it is accessible to most people. The bushes are dense and, when in bloom, make for a magical hike.


But the best part are the picnic areas. Tucked away in corners of the park are picnic areas. Moss covered tables nestled under pines and the rhodendrons. As the flowers fall they cover the ground creating a pink carpet. A fairytale setting for a romantic picnic!

You can find more information about Roan Mountain Gardens, including its exact location, here.




anything’s possible

My favorite month of the year is June.  

June is a month of possibilities.  It’s when all is new.  Bright green leaves, colorful flowers making even the stubbornest weed look a thing of beauty, newborn deer covered in spots peak up from their grassy hiding spots.  And summer; summer is new.  Stretched out before you seemingly endless.  Anything can happen in June.


There’s always enough time in June.  Always enough time for the adventure.  The sun hangs in the bright blue sky forever beckoning you out to play, to explore, to  relax.  To go somewhere.  Anywhere.

But my favorite time, my favorite part about June, is the evenings.  Day slips into a never ending twilight.  Darkness never comes.  The day’s heat leaves yet the air is still wam, wrapping around you like a blanket.  This is the time of many of my favorite memories and a favorite time to create new ones.

So get out there!

Catch a sunset.  June seems to have some amazing ones and the lateness of them means there’s time.

Catch an outdoor concert.  Music always sounds better outside watching the sun go down and the stars pop out one by one.

Build a campfire. Invite friends over.  Make s’mores, drink wine, tell stories, bring out the guitar.

Take a walk.  The world seems different in the twilight as darkness falls.  More mysterious.  You’ll notice things you never would see in daylight.

And, or course, if you live east of the Rockies, catch fireflies.  Let them light up as they crawl around your hand and then watch them fly off.  Blinking, heading higher and higher into the sky.

There’s still time!  What will you do this June?

the burning town

It was cold, the kind of bright icy cold that takes your breath away as soon as you step outside.  We had not felt cold like that yet this season, but the bright early morning sun pushed us to get out of the car and explore.  After all, we had driven well out of our way, twisting and turning through the mountains to get to here.  To…really nothing, at least not anymore.

Anthracite coal.  It’s discovery is how it all started and is the reason why there are so many towns tucked into the Appalachian Mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania.  These are small towns, difficult to get to, and far from major highways.  Towns where time seems to move forward at a slower pace.  Towns where you have to have a reason to go to.  It was here where we found ourselves on that icy winter morning, traveling through the deep dark hills to a town that was on fire.    Continue reading “the burning town”

adventure in the Kentucky bend

Summer was over.  Our carefree days were about to end.  Soon all of the busyness of the season would return.  School, sports, activities, meetings; all would fill our days.  But we had time for one last road trip.  One last trip to explore and discover.  One last trip together with no need to rush.

We choose one of the most out of the way places we could find for our adventure.  A place so difficult to  get to that it is isolated from its own state and, as of the 2000 census, only has 17 people living in it.  This area is called Kentucky Bend and, while it is part of Kentucky, it does not touch Kentucky at all and the only way to enter it is by one rural road.

The bend is a notch that was created from a tight loop of the Mississippi River which surrounds three sides of the bend.  The bend is tucked entirely into Missouri except for the bottom, which is connected to Tennessee and the only way into the area.  Not a single part of the Kentucky Bend actually touches Kentucky!

Continue reading “adventure in the Kentucky bend”

the summer before life changed

Thanks to a layover in St. Louis the other day, I was able to meet up with my best friend from middle school through college.  We had not seen each other in years but, as best friends can do, picked right up where we left off.  Our friendship had always been drama-free.  Just the two of us facing the world together no matter what.  I’m sure we annoyed others with our inside jokes and crazy schemes, but we never cared.

My flight was delayed, so we had a few hours together.  We grabbed dinner and sat discussing our lives.  Continue reading “the summer before life changed”

fall in the smoky mountains

The season was just beginning to settle into fall. The day had been filled with dramatic clouds, dark against the sun, and on and off downpours. As evening approached, I headed out of Knoxville towards the Smoky Mountains. My destination was the Foothills Parkway.

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Continue reading “fall in the smoky mountains”

fall in the adirondacks

 The past couple weeks have been beautiful in Tennessee!  Sunny and warm with beautiful colors.  It’s amazing how you can see the color of the trees change day to day!  I was reminded of a post I wrote a few years ago about fall in my favorite place- the Adirondacks.  It is below.

Continue reading “fall in the adirondacks”