Getting away from it all during Quarantine

The late afternoon sunlight danced around us; an ever-changing movement of light and dark, warm and cold, as it filtered through the tunnel of trees we walked through at the edge of the lake. The water sparkled as a duck quietly drifted by. I took a deep breath and briefly thought how nice it was to be out hiking away from it all. Then I stopped and laughed because I was hardly “away from it all”.

Our world’s have all become very small this past month. Most of us are in our home now almost 24/7. The place you know better than any place in the world just feels different when you can’t leave it. For some it might be filled with loneliness as you spend each day alone in your home’s rooms and for others your residence might be becoming exceedingly crowded, filled to the brim with family members who are always around, day after day. I, every once in awhile, will feel claustrophobic, missing driving hundreds of miles each day for work.

What helps is getting outside. It’s spring which means the weather here is all over the place. Some days and warm and sunny, others cold and damp. The wind always blows, carrying with it pollen and, some days, the threat of tornadoes. Yet, we get outside daily. With most parks and trails closed and travel discouraged, outside is now what is directly around us. We walk, circling our neighborhood and those nearby. Houses with manicured yards, rows of townhomes with the end units still being framed, apartments with kids on scooters circling the parking lot; we walk past it all. Over and over…and over and over again.

Then one day my son and I decided to venue out of our daily circling on pavement to an area across from one of the developments we frequented. We stepped off of the sidewalk and onto a faint trail and followed it into the “wild” and into our own small adventure.

The trail started around a lake. We passed a number of people who were fishing. I asked a man who was watching his young son cast a line into the lake if they’d caught anything. “Oh yes, we’ve caught a lot,” he told me as he held his hands up to show the size of what they were catching. We continued on and soon reached an ancient man-made dam. Water flowed out of the lake here and disappeared underground as it descended to a river far below. We too turned and scrambled down to the river.

At the river we stood and watched the water that had disappeared underground at the lake’s edge, reappear creating a couple small waterfalls as it flowed into the river. It had rained a lot earlier in the week so the river was high and flowed past us splashing noisily over rocks and creating some nice rapids.

We hiked back up towards the lake, crossing over the dam, and continued on into a large field. As we walked we heard some chattering and saw a bird running along the ground beside us. She ran up to us and then flew in a large circle around us only to land and run beside us again, chattering the entire time. We quickly realized why as we passed a nest with four speckled eggs in it just a foot off the path we were walking along. “Don’t worry, your babies are safe,” we told her as we quickly moved along.

A little further along we came to a basketball hoop in the middle of the field. An old soccer ball lay next to it so we shot a few baskets. It’s all that remains of what was once someone’s home and was a good reminder that we were not on a trail in the wilderness somewhere, but rather we were walking along a bit of land at the edge of civilization. A bit of wild surrounded on every side by suburbia.

In fact, a major highway ran north to south next to us; its noise a constant reminder that we were not in the middle of nowhere.

I love that there are scraps of wild left in the middle of civilization. Places where the road ends and cities have not yet encroached upon. These little pockets of wilderness that are easy to get to and explore. They’re often places where people once were and have left, allowing nature to once again take over. And nature does take over; the trees and grasses and birds and deer not caring that they are near civilization as they create their own pocket of wild.

As we continued on we came upon more old homesites. Nothing was left but the flat area where a home once stood and a few trees that would have shaded the house from summer’s heat. Here, the homes would have overlooked the lake. We stood in the empty space and, with the birds chirping around us and a warm breeze lifting our hair, for a moment we could imagine how peaceful it would have been to have a home here. The only sound’s then being the wind in the trees and water lapping along the shore. The spell was broken as a semi drove by on the highway behind us and we moved on, exploring our bit of wilderness.

Hiking the magical Lauterbrunnen Valley Waterfalls in Switzerland

The day had begun misty with low hanging clouds, concealing the mountains all around us. But by late afternoon the clouds had lifted, once again revealing the majestic Swiss Alps. It was time to hike!

Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. It was also my favorite hike that we did in Switzerland. It’s a hike we’ll all remember the rest of our lives.

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There’s always time for a cave adventure

The cave we were exploring made a sharp turn to the left and narrowed so that we had to crawl through this new passage. We continued down it, my son going first. Soon we came to a room large enough to stand up in. My son went in and, just as I was about to enter, he turned around and began crawling out crying, ” Quick! Turn around!”

Earlier that day my oldest son and I met in the kitchen, each looking for something eat. We realized that we were both home for the rest of the day; me with a day off from work and he had finished a final at school and was home early. The December day, which had started off with bright blue skies, was now gray but fairly warm. We decided then and there that it was time for a mini adventure, so we did a quick wardrobe change and 10 minutes later we were off in search of a couple caves we had heard about.

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The loneliest spot on earth

“Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn, silent, sail-less sea–this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth –is little graced with the picturesque. “

– Mark Twain

My first glimpse of Mono Lake was late at night. We had just driven up and over Sonora Pass, which had opened for the season a few days earlier. The road had been descending out of the snow covered mountains for quiet awhile when I caught a glimmer out of the corner of my eye. I glanced out of the window and saw nothing but thick darkness. A few minutes later we rounded a bend and there far below us was a glistening moonlit lake. The road continued down and ran alongside the lake. From this viewpoint the lake seemed to go on forever and it was impossible to tell where it began or ended. Then we rounded another curve and it was gone and we were left to stare into the inky blackness of night.

A few days later we made it back to Mono Lake, this time in daylight. Even in the light, we still felt a moment of surprise to round a corner and come upon the lake. A shimmering mirage in the middle of a dry, dusty landscape.

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The underwater ghost town

Tennessee is a beautiful state with amazing state parks. Parks that range from high mountain peaks to the Mississippi delta, from battle fields to Native American burial grounds, from gorgeous blue lakes to diverse river systems. There’s just so much beauty and variety. So, I’ve made it a goal of mine to visit every state park in Tennessee in 2018. Below is my story of my adventure at one park.

I stood high on a hill overlooking a vast expanse of water far below me. The lake, glistening blue in the late afternoon sun, was empty save one man fishing from a boat in a shallow cove. All was quiet and tranquil; a picture-perfect spring day at the lake. But this would have been a much different view some 80 years ago, before everything changed.

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The park that lost its namesake

Tennessee is a beautiful state with amazing state parks. Parks that range from high mountain peaks to the Mississippi delta, from battle fields to Native American burial grounds, from gorgeous blue lakes to diverse river systems. There’s just so much beauty and variety. So, I’ve made it a goal of mine to visit every state park in Tennessee in 2018. Below is my story of my adventure at one park.

The year was 1973 and things were really looking up for a bit of land in Northwest Tennessee. A state park had been created around a huge cypress tree, one that people came from miles around to look at. They named the park, creativity, Big Cypress Tree State Park.

The tree was the oldest and largest bald cypress tree in the United States and the largest tree of any species east of the Mississippi River. The tree was 175 feet tall, taller than any other tree in that bottomland forest. The circumference at the base was 40 feet, while the diameter measured thirteen feet. It was believed to be 1,350 years old and was named the Tennessee Titian.

Then, in July of 1976, tragedy struck. Continue reading “The park that lost its namesake”

Chasing bald eagles

Tennessee is a beautiful state with amazing state parks. Parks that range from high mountain peaks to the Mississippi delta, from battle fields to Native American burial grounds, from gorgeous blue lakes to diverse river systems. There’s just so much beauty and variety. So, I’ve made it a goal of mine to visit every state park in Tennessee in 2018. Below is my story of my adventure at one park.

 

Early morning had brought with it freezing fog that coated all surfaces with a sheen of ice. Now, though, the sun was out and quickly warming everything. The blue skies were such a great sight after days of rain. We were excited to begin our trip, searching for bald eagles.

The largest naturally occurring lake in Tennessee is relatively new.  During 1811-1812, a series of earthquakes hit the area. They were so strong that they caused the ground to drop ten feet and the Mississippi River to flow backwards for a period of time, filling in that 15,000 acres of collapsed swampland to create Reelfoot Lake.

Despite being tucked away in the far northwest corner of Tennessee, close to nothing, Reelfoot Lake gets tens of thousands of visitors every year. They come for the water and the cypress tress, they come to fish and hunt, and they come for the the reason we were there- the bald eagles. Each January and February, Reelfoot Lake State Park offers tours that let you observe and learn more about the American bald eagle.

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Hiking with boys

The other day I found myself on a hike different from any other I’ve ever taken; I went on a hike with just my two boys. We are a family of six with two boys and two girls, alternating boy-girl-boy-girl, so it’s just not a combination that has happened in the past.

I’m used to hiking with our entire family, the kids running ahead while my husband and I lag behind until our youngest usually ends up joining us. Or sometimes it’s just the kids and me, off on some adventure. On these hikes, my oldest daughter often hikes with me and we have civilized girl-type conversations or, often with her, just walk along in silence enjoying the day and scenery. But, hiking with just boys is…well…let’s just say different!

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In search of frozen waterfalls

I stood on a narrow strip of ground and looked at the ice beneath my feet. The ravine was deep here. On one side of me was the creek, snow and ice covered cliffs on the other. I gingerly stepped forward and began to slip. Inhaling sharply, I grabbed at the rock next to me only to get a handful of icicle. “Mom!”, came a yell from behind me and I realized that the kids had followed even though I had told them to wait while I checked things out first. “Well, were all in this together now”, I thought and continued to gingerly make my way forward.

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The secret of Old Stone Fort State Park

Early American hunters and traders traveling ancient, well-trodden paths in what is now Middle Tennessee, came upon a stone structure built on a peninsula created by the confluence of two rivers. Rock and earthen 4-6 foot high walls boarded the entire peninsula. This “old stone fort”, as they believed it to be, sat high on bluffs carved out by fast moving rivers and was protected by a moat on one side. They wondered who had built the impressive structure; thinking perhaps it was Buccaneers or Vikings or some other group of early Europeans, but no one knew for sure. The answer, when it was learned, shocked everyone.

January 1st, 2018. Everything always seems so new and fresh and hopeful on January first, as though anything’s possible. I like to start the year with an adventure, hoping it will set the tone for the rest of the year. So, each year, our family does a First Day Hike. State Parks across the country offer these ranger-led hikes as a way to get out, explore, and start the new year right. This year we chose Old Stone Fort State Park.

The day was bitterly cold; wind-chills hovering in the single digits. Usually our entire family goes, but this year because of some sick kids and husband, only my 16 year old son and I ventured out. I bundled up- long underwear, multiple layers of clothes, wool socks, hat, two pair of gloves, face mask, boots, and hand warmers- so that when I was finished, only my nose was showing. My son threw on a fleece, hat, and gloves because he “doesn’t get cold”, and we were off.

I had often passed the brown signs on the highway for Old Stone Fort State Park, but this was our first time at the park. We arrived and went into the museum where I was surprised to see so many people waiting to go on the hike on such a cold day. We all signed in, finished putting on hats and gloves and scarfs and boots, met the ranger, and were off, back into the cold. There ended up being 41 people and 1 dog on the hike which made me happy to see that so many others liked the tradition as much as we did, cold and all!

The hike was a 3 mile loop that followed the rivers. The peninsula that the park is created around is formed by the confluence of the Duck River and Little Duck River. This river system spills over a shelf in the Cumberland Plateau known as the Highland Rim and rapidly drops in elevation as they approach their convergence. This has led to deep gorges cut in the limestone around the peninsula. There are a series many rapids and waterfalls, one of which was our first stop. This was the site of one of a few mills and factories that were built along the river in the 1800s, harnessing the Duck River’s power. We all took picture as the biting wind blew off the water, and then quickly moved along.

The hike continued, heading down now out of the wind, to the fork of the Duck and Little Duck River. We turned to now follow the Little Duck River whose banks were edged with ice as were rocks protruding from the middle of the river. Yet it was a beautiful location. High bluffs behind the river gave privacy to the boulder and tree lined river. It was the perfect spot to wile away a warm summer day- hammock strung between two trees, fishing, napping, and enjoying the peaceful sounds of the river and forest. But not on January 1st! My son and I vowed to come back in the summer!

The Little Duck turns sharply here, forming a horseshoe. We followed it until we came to the base of a narrow ridge. The trail turned and we began to climb away from the river up the spine of the ridge. We could now see why the trail we were on is named Backbone Trail. We hiked along the narrow ridge, the river far below us on both sides. Then it was back down the spine.

Back in the bottom of the forest again, we reached the Moat Trail; a narrow flat open section. This was where early settlers thought the ancient moat that protected the fort was located. But it never was a moat at all! Our ranger told us that they actually think the Little Duck River once flowed here before, at some point, it rerouted to where it is now. We followed the moat/riverbed for awhile and then the trail turned and climbed sharply. This is the steepest section of the trail, heading up and out back to the Old Stone Fort high on the peninsula. The trail continued with the open grassy area that was the supposed fort on our left and the river flowing through rapids and more waterfalls far below us on the right.

And then we learned the truth! This was not an old stone fort as was once thought, but rather an ancient ceremonial site dating back to 30-430AD. Native Americans, not Europeans, had built this gradually over several hundred years. This was before the tribes of Native Americans that we know today even existed. It is thought that no one ever lived here, but would journey to the location for ceremonies. They have found that the sun rises perfectly down the center of the path into the site during the Summer Solstice. A very sophisticated design well before it was thought there were sophisticated people in the United States! Now a great state park with a completely misleading name!

You can learn more about the park here. Go and visit it, you won’t be disappointed!